West Vancouver - Capilano Report |Summer 2012
Editorial – Advocating for the Advocate
With Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition complaining government is “not moving fast enough,” Victoria is about to appoint another advocate, this time for seniors.
We already have an independent Representative for Children and Youth (RCY), Ms.Turpel-Lafond, a resolute former judge in Saskatchewan. She is frequently in the headlines advocating the needs of B.C. children, and not infrequently castigating the government. There are approximately 8,200 children in provincial government care (12,000 by some definitions). Typically as a consequence of parental neglect and domestic violence, it has not proven difficult for the RCY to uncover troublesome situations. The Ministry of Children and Families operates with a $1.3 billion budget, growing about 5 per cent annually.
The new seniors’ advocate is not yet appointed, but like the RCY, the advocate can be expected to dig into the new assignment with gusto. Seniors account for a significantly high proportion of the North Shore population. Cases involving housing, pensions, income assistance, elder abuse, long-term care, financial exploitation, Alzheimer’s and dementia are readily encountered in this target-rich environment. As telephone calls, emails, and visits to my office illustrate, perplexing situations are not hard to find.
Serious money is at stake. While the provincial government does not have a Ministry of Seniors, I have calculated that perhaps one quarter of all government expenditures – provincial and federal combined – are directed to seniors.
MLA Ron Cantelon’s consultation process, currently underway, will help define the role of our new seniors’ advocate, perhaps encompassing advocacy services, information and advice, listening and referring, public awareness, collaboration and engagement. Also, since the RCY costs taxpayers $7.5 million a year, how much should we spend advocating for a million seniors?
Based on our experience with Ms. Turpel-Lafond, I am sure the new seniors’ advocate will be noticed. Service providers: fasten your seat belts!
Province Partners with Kiwanis on Seniors’ Housing
Politicians love to turn the sod, particularly when it comes to foundations for seniors’ housing.
Recently, I joined Kiwanis officials and others to dig a symbolic hole in the ground for the latest addition to the “seniors’ campus.” The project is evolving in West Vancouver between 21st and 22nd St., in the vicinity of the Seniors’ Centre, our glitzy Recreation Centre, and Pacific Arbour’s latest private project on Marine Drive. Let’s call it Seniors’ Plaza.
The Kiwanis Seniors’ Housing Society has owned and managed affordable seniors’ housing in this community since 1947. Kiwanis currently provides 214 units, some of them leased to Vancouver Coastal Health for “assisted living.” Construction has now commenced on 300 residential units, replacing the obsolescent dwellings and providing a net gain of 86 units.
Total capital cost of the project is $36 million, and everybody pitched in to make it happen! The contributions began with Kiwanis itself, which has thriftily accumulated capital from existing operations (value of land and cash totals $19 million). The three levels of governments along with the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation provided the balance.
Next in line is the re-acquisition of lands on 22nd St., now owned by Vancouver Coastal, but on which Squamish Nation has laid claim. To make things even more complicated, Finance Minister Kevin Falcon is aggressively seeking surplus provincial assets for possible disposal. Much high level jaw-jawing is going to be required, plus another financial balancing act led by our former Mayor and current Kiwanian Ron Wood. I’m committed to making this happen.
Housing – whether it be seniors’ housing, affordable housing for working folks, or housing for the homeless – is a big challenge on the North Shore. Some days it seems everybody in the world wants to move here, bidding up prices for existing housing stock. All of us endorse affordable housing – as long as it doesn’t impact the net worth we have come to enjoy!
Lobbying in the Dark
To visit my office, constituent Rosamund Van Leeuwen takes a challenging 2-mile walk: she wends her way down the steep Hollyburn slopes, through many street lights, across Marine Drive and Taylor Way, one of the busiest intersections in Metro Vancouver; dodges the growing traffic on Clyde Avenue; finds her way into my office building on the Capilano River; pushes the 4th floor elevator button; navigates her way down the hall; finds the door to my office; and presents herself.
Rosamund is totally blind – has been since age 2. Guide dog Rory, her only companion on this walk, has the eyes.
She is a director – and passionate advocate for – the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), B.C. and Yukon Chapter. In B.C.’s world of slickly promoted non-profits, CNIB stands out: only 9% of its funding comes from government, with the balance coming from private contributions. BC has the lowest ratio in Canada. I suggested they be more aggressive in seeking government money for everything from white canes and loss-of-vision rehab to independent living skills training, guide dogs and technology (there’s a lot of new stuff).
Taking me up on my advice, Rosamund and Rory showed up at a large North Shore reception for Premier Christy Clark. Rosamund introduced herself to Christy, and was invited to visit the Premier at her office in Canada Place.
We helped set up the appointment. We three, Rosamund, Rory and Ralph, made our way downtown, navigated the underground parking lot, found Christy’s office, where Rosamund pitched Christy on provincial government participation – side by side with the federal government which has committed $7 million nationally – in a high-tech “hub” library for the “print-disabled.”
The print-disabled are the approximately one in ten who, either from blindness, stroke, MS, brain injury, autism, dyslexia, or some other malady, have difficulty reading an ordinary book or newspaper. The solution is a national digital hub using the latest computer technology to support local libraries serving those with such a disability.
Thanks to programs such as these, about one-third of the approximately one million print-disabled Canadians are gainfully employed. Sounds like a good idea to me.
Annals of Civil Liability
I have had an outstanding obligation to my constituent, Dale Bridges. Let me explain.
Eons ago, it seems, and faithfully following party protocol, I proposed an amendment to the Family Protection Act, whereby someone could seek compensation for non-pecuniary loss arising from “wrongful death.”
What does that mean? For example, I’d like you to imagine the unimaginable, say that through somebody’s negligence, your child dies. Money would understandably not be your primary concern at such a horrific time, you get words of sympathy, but no financial support. There is no financial loss – except maybe some funeral bills – so the aggrieved receives nothing in terms of compensation. That’s the way civil law is written in British Columbia. Only financial loss may be recoverable.
Without getting into the details, my constituent Dale believes her spouse Russell was the victim of wrongful death. Dale thinks the law of civil liability should be changed. With the help of friend Andy Sandilands, a lawyer, she proposed a simple amendment to existing law, which I was pleased to present to the Legislature as a private member’s bill.
Now, the way it works is that any MLA in the Legislature can stand up at any time and move passage of any bill he or she wishes. That bill will politely pass first reading. Whether it receives second or third reading, and becomes law, is up to the government. Most private member’s bills “die on the order paper.” And so did mine.
The reality is that a private member must successfully lobby internally to make a private member’s bill pass. More often than not, if the government thinks it is a great bill (a distinctly rare occurrence), the government will adopt it as its own, and probably rewrite it before becoming law.
So it was that my bill, allowing limited compensation for non-pecuniary loss, was fed into the internal system. To make short a long and tortuous story, I believe it was well received by most MLAs, it was not greeted with any particular acclaim by the government insurer, and it was loudly criticized by the very lobby that I naively supposed would be supportive: the trial lawyers – the folks who sue for a living. The financial reward promised in my bill was, in their view, too measly. Add a crowded legislative schedule, and my private bill never got to second or third reading.
Older and wiser, I will try again next year.