Feature

COVID is like the rain—we’re tired of it, but it’s not tired of us.

And just in time for the holidays, there’s a new COVID variant. Only folks are a little confused. The new variant—called Omicron—sounds like something out of a Transformers movie.

No, Ryan, that really doesn’t help.

The province is bringing back some of the mask and capacity restrictions, but only in the Northern and Fraser Health Regions.

They should probably bring them back here, too. VanIsle now has the second-highest number of active cases in BC.

Dr. David Forest told CTV News that  most people with COVID in VanIsle hospitals a few weeks ago were from the mainland. Now, most of them are local.

We don’t know much about the Omicron variant. We don’t know if it will be worse than Delta, which is currently the dominant strain in BC.

But we can be pretty sure that the BC government will put the economy ahead of protecting people again. Once again, Horgan’s crew will dither and delay before making much-needed health orders, likely resulting in another avoidable spike in cases.

Travellers who come into Canada will have to get tested at the airport when they land. They’ll also have to quarantine until they get a negative result.

But for now, the government isn’t doing much to stop the Omicron that is already here.

So it’s a good thing Islanders are good at taking care of each other. Yes, people on VanIsle are still getting sick. We’re tired because we hoped COVID was over, and it’s not.

But we can hunker down. We can make smaller Christmas plans that are fun but also keep folks safe.

And hey, maybe it’s time to buy every one we love a festive N95 mask.

They make good stocking stuffers!

Avalanche Canada has a stern warning for folks on VanIsle: avoid all avalanche terrain for the next few days.

They have raised their alert to “high” for the alpine regions of the Island, from Cowichan Lake all the way to Port Alice.

Maybe it’s a blessing that the weather has been so bad. One skier said the backcountry conditions around Mount Washington were terrible, and that they had already seen small snow slides.

But that was on Sunday.

Monday night was snowy in the mountains, with rain expected Tuesday.

“Heavy rain has affected the snowpack at all elevations. Surface crusts have likely formed at all but the lowest elevations holding snow cover.”

Avalanche Canada says this increases the risk of “storm slabs,” where new snow breaks away from the old crusty layer underneath.

The most dangerous time will be the first few hours of rain. The strong southwest winds won’t help matters.

Their high alert is only in place for Tuesday, November 30. In high alert conditions, they warn that large natural and human-triggered avalanches are very likely.

Interestingly, there have been no warnings from EmergencyInfoBC about the avalanche risk. But then again, their emergency response is to do basically nothing.

The situation will settle down over Wednesday and Thursday. The rain is supposed to stop, and the winds will die down.

By Thursday, Avalanche Canada‘s alert goes back down to “low.”

But until then, it’s best not to go above the tree line. The new snow might look appealing, but it’s super dangerous. And even the rumble from a four-wheeler might cause an avalanche in an area that looks safe.

And if you’re driving through the mountains, maybe keep one eye on the road and one eye on the slopes.

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his new cabinet in late October, he tapped Joyce Murray as the new Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. The post used to be held by Nova Scotian Bernadette Jordan, but she lost her seat in the last election.

The fish farming industry was quick with their opinions. They say that part of why Jordan lost was because she supported the shift of Pacific Coast salmon aquaculture from open ocean to land-based systems.

So when Murray was announced, the industry—which is mostly made up of foreign-owned companies like Mowipublished its best PR to put a positive spin on the situation.

“The members of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA) would like to welcome the Honourable Joyce Murray as the new Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and Canadian Coast Guard and express their enthusiasm to work together to realize the opportunities for Canada through sector development,” the CAIA said in a press release.

Sure, this wet pile of word salad sounds happy. But who are they kidding?

They say Bernadette Jordan lost because she wanted to change fish farming. But that’s basically why Joyce Murray keeps winning.

The veteran Vancouver-Quadra MP is no friend of the fish farming industry. In fact, she supports a complete ban on open-net cage salmon farms in BC.

In a June 21, 2021 letter to constituents posted to her website, Murray made her position clear.

“Wild Pacific salmon are a critical ecological, cultural and food resource for most British Columbians, and especially for Indigenous communities. The health and well-being of wild salmon up and down our coastline and in our rivers is dear to the hearts of most Vancouver-Quadra constituents, including mine, and is the subject of many letters I receive,” Murray wrote. 

“Since first being elected as your MP I’ve worked hard to advance my goal of ending open-net pen salmon aquaculture in BC waters and foster a transition to safer aquaculture systems.”

Murray is a westerner. That’s pretty rare for a federal Fisheries Minister. For the most part, long-time politicians from back east have held that post.

And Murray gets wild salmon. She gets how important they are to First Nations and British Columbians in general.

We all know talk is easy. It’s too early to know if Murray will put her money where her mouth is.

Still, next to her public statements, the cheery welcomes from industry folks are funny. They’re even a bit absurd.

It would be like Alberta Premier Jason Kenney high-fiving Suncor Energy CEO Mark Little after Trudeau made Stephen Guilbeault the new federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change. Guilbeault helped start the Quebec environmental group Equiterre, and was director and campaign manager for Greenpeace Quebec.

The big fish farm folks could have played it cool. They could have toned down the “enthusiasm.”

Does their weird, cheery message shows us how nervous they really are?

BC’s emergency flood preparedness, or lack of, is being put to the test—again.

Interior communities like Princeton and Merritt have barely even thought about rebuilding after the November 12 rains. Now, more atmospheric rivers are flowing toward the province.

Vancouver Island could be hit next.

Flood risk expert Jason Thistlewaite from the University of Waterloo analyzed floodplain maps across Canada. He and his team published their findings in a 2019 paper. They found that BC’s maps are grossly inadequate and outdated. In other words, our maps suck.

Check them out for yourself.

The BC government identifies 17 regions on Vancouver Island that the feds designated as flood risk areas back in the 70s. These maps were all created between 1979-97. They have not been updated since.

The maps don’t include new knowledge about climate change-related risks. They’re also missing the massive developments and roads that have happened since, you know, Y2K.

Take a look at the three maps above. Notice anything missing?

The new Highway 19 that was finished in 2002
Credit: Google Maps

That’s right, the four-lane Highway 19 between Nanaimo and Campbell River is missing. They didn’t finish building that until 2002.  

Do you think the 155 km long concrete highway that crosses hundreds of streams might affect how flood water flows? 

How can towns on Vancouver Island do proper flood planning when its largest man-made structure that impacts untold numbers of streams isn’t even on the map?

They can’t!

Not only are the maps outdated, they’re also confusing and difficult for the public to understand.

“The [maps] are very old. Property has changed. There [are] developments in areas that didn’t exist before,” Thistlewaite said in a Nov. 21 Capital Daily report.

“There’s sort of a thick line that represents the floodplain. It’s very difficult to identify any other geographical markers that would give you a sense of whether or not you were at high risk of flooding.”

Between 2003 and 2012, Canada spent more than $20 billion rebuilding damaged homes and infrastructure after extreme rainfall events. Climate experts say we can expect more, not less, of these flood-causing weather events.

Building climate-resilient communities is key to preventing loss of life and property. But to do that, we need to know what where the floods might happen. We need detailed mapping that uses the best technology and data.

And somehow the BC government is asleep at the switch.

Thistlewaite points to the City of Calgary as an example of what needs to happen here in BC in all communities that experience flooding.

After their devastating 2013 floods, Calgary overhauled its floodplain mapping to make it easy to use, interactive, and visual. It also makes the government accountable for whether they let developers build in flood-prone areas.

“Individuals [and] anyone concerned could have a look at a flood map and get an idea of whether critical infrastructure is at risk,” he said.

Like your house, maybe?

“You could use that information to then go to governments and demand that they manage the risk and [take] the structural measures… but also non-structural measures such as communicating risk warnings.”

Is anyone else a little freaked out by the weather forecast?

A week after the South Island and Lower Mainland got absolutely wrecked by a rainstorm, three atmospheric rivers are lining up to kick us while we’re down.

Suddenly the folks who do the weather are the sexiest people on TV. And seriously, they’re doing their best to help people get prepared. But it’s really not their job.

So we watch the forecast. We buy batteries for the flashlight and an extra couple beers just in case. We call our family and friends to make sure they know what’s coming.

But seriously, when disaster hits, who do we call? The Ghostbusters?

The Provincial government spent the past week telling everyone that things like emergency alerts and evacuation plans are a local problem.

Go ahead, tell that to Sayward. I’m sure their town of 300 has the same kind of resources as the whole provincial government.

Most of the damage from last week’s storm happened in another part of the province. But it doesn’t mean we don’t feel how awful that must have been. It doesn’t mean people on VanIsle aren’t also scared that something like that might happen here.

And you know what? For a lot of things, the local level is probably the best place to get things done. We’re good at taking care of each other, even when the problem is happening somewhere else.

Take Port Alice, for example. The town has its own emergency page on Facebook. There are about 650 people in town and 450 people like the page. So when they publish a warning from Environment Canada, nearly every grownup in town sees it.

But wouldn’t it be better if everyone with a cellphone got the message? Even your teen who borrowed the car? Instead, we’ve got Mike Farnworth telling everyone that an emergency alert isn’t a “silver bullet.”

Well, duh. Of course, it isn’t. But it might have kept a few people off those roads that washed away.

And instead of the Province making a plan to get folks who were stuck on those roads, people organized their own helicopter rescues on Facebook while they sat stuck on the highway.

Sikh folks from the Dukh Nivaran Sahib Gurdwara in Surrey cooked thousands of meals and flew them out to people in the flood zones.

Spencer Coyne, the mayor of Princeton, is a pretty tough guy. His town is about the same size as Port McNeill, and the whole thing got totally flooded.

He told Global News that they’ve organized an “army of volunteers” who are cleaning out people’s ruined homes. He’s putting together events to help take people’s minds off things.

But he’s maxed out. And his community needs help.

It’s a good thing British Columbians are resourceful people.

Back at home, we can make our blackout emergency kits. We can sort out which relative will go get grandma if the power goes out.

But if you look for the flood evacuation plan in your town, you probably won’t find one.

If you want to know which rivers might flood, the best you’ll find is the BC River Forecast Centre. Right now it says that every river on VanIsle is under watch for high streamflow.

Well, ya don’t say.

Climate change is making the weather weirder. We’re going to have to stick together.

But we’ll also need a Provincial government that has a plan. Or maybe even a clue.

Because some bad things are too big for us to handle on our own. That’s not a weakness, it’s just life.

And it’s part of why we have governments in the first place.

Have the recent bad floods got you thinking about food security?

If so, you’re not alone. The atmospheric river that dumped more than a month’s rain in less than 48 hours washed out highways, flooded thousands of homes, and devastated farms across the Lower Mainland.

It also showed us just how vulnerable our food system is to catastrophic weather events, and how unprepared our provincial government is to deal with it.

It’s worth thinking about, especially here on Vancouver Island. One massive storm event was enough to flood the Malahat and put Greater Victoria on fuel rations. The same could happen with food.  

Not long ago, Islanders grew a surprising amount of our own food. As recently as the 1950s, Island farmers supplied 85% of our food needs by some estimates.

Though some people think that number might be wrong, they also know that today more than 90% of our food comes from somewhere else.

Red peppers from Mexico, apples from New Zealand, bananas from Ecuador, almonds from California’s Central Valley. You get the picture—we’re used to being able to fill our fridges with anything, any time of the year.

In 2006, Vancouver Islanders ate their way through $5.4 billion worth of groceries. Yet, Island farms grossed $160 million. That’s just 3% of food spending.

Climate experts predict that our weather will get worse, not better. So isn’t it time for Vancouver Islanders to double down on local agriculture?

Here’s the challenge. There are 2,800 farms on VanIsle. Like lots of other places, Island farmers are getting old and nearing retirement. People like the three Smith brothers, who are the third generation of their family to farm cattle at Beaver Meadows in the Comox Valley. None of their kids plan to take over the farm.

In 2016, the average Canadian farmer was 55 years old. Only 9% were under 35.

That’s not the only scary number:

  • One in two farmers report that an off-farm job is their main source of income,
  • In 1931, one in three Canadians lived on a farm; today it’s less than one in fifty,
  • The price of farmland has more than doubled across Canada since 2007 (up 132%), and
  • On VanIsle, in 2019, farmland prices jumped 13%—that’s the highest one-year per-acre price increase anywhere in BC.

These trends make it even harder for young people to pick up the hoe and start tilling the ground.

These also stats raise some critical questions.

Do we think retirement complexes and sprawling suburbs are more important than food?

Well, real estate agents probably do. They and the construction industry benefit from a crazy real estate boom that shows no signs of ending.

But if Islanders want to protect ourselves against food disruptions, we all need to make changes.

As consumers, we need to buy local produce to support local farmers. Our provincial, regional, and municipal leaders need to change zoning to prioritize farmland. They may need to buy land to make local farming look viable and attractive.

If we don’t, we could be one huge storm away from empty shelves.

Atmospheric rivers have been in the news a lot this week. First, a huge one dumped a month’s worth of rain over November 14th–15th. It caused devastating flooding on Vancouver Island and the mainland.

Now, the NorthIsle and Haida Gwaii are supposed to get another one in the next day or two.

An atmospheric river is a long, narrow band in the atmosphere that sucks up large volumes of moisture from warm, tropical regions. It really is like a river in the sky.

Only when an atmospheric river gets going it can carry up to 70 times the amount of water flowing through the mouth of the Fraser River.

That’s why a big one can do so much damage.

They aren’t a new thing. It’s just that science only figured out how to describe them 20 years ago.

Ruping Mo is a senior research meteorologist with Environment Canada. He and a team of 9 other researchers have been working on a ranking system to help warn folks when a bad atmospheric river is coming. This new system is based on the approach used in  California. It ranks them from AR1 (weakest) to AR5 (strongest).

Think of it like the ranking system used for hurricanes or tornadoes—when the rank goes up; you can expect a worse storm.

Mo told the Times Colonist that the Canadian ranking system “is based on what is the impact, not just the strength of the atmospheric river.”

University of Victoria climatology professor Charles Curry told CTV News that Environment Canada could use the weather data it already collects to help decide on the rank.

“That information can be directly piped from weather forecasts and other data into an analysis which calculates that category.”

Then that data is mixed with information about specific regions to help figure out how much damage an AR could do.

So the same storm might be an AR3 on WestIsle where big rainforests can absorb tons of rain, but an AR4 in places like Hope or Abbotsford where dry forests and farms can’t take that much.

The new system is still being tested out. The research team is working out some bugs.

For example, Mo told the Times Colonist that last week’s colossal storm was ranked as an AR4 until the day before it hit. Then the day it hit, the system bumped it up to an AR5.

It could be because last week’s storm was off the charts, so to speak.

“We’ve never seen an event like that,” Mo said. “This event really caught us by surprise. We didn’t expect the impact would be so huge.”

Another problem is that climate change is making atmospheric rivers stronger. It’s getting harder to figure out what “normal” is these days.

Matthias Jakob, a UBC adjunct professor in the earth and ocean science department, told the Times Colonist that we could expect stronger AR storms in the future.

In fact, we could see storms that dump twice as much rain as this last big one.

“Atmospherically, it’s possible. It’s not out of the question,” Jakob said.

“The sky’s the limit for one of these superstorms.”

Wannabe political leader Aaron Gunn has had a busy few weeks.

After months of hints, on October 9th Gunn launched his bid to be the leader of the BC Liberal Party.

A few weeks later, the party’s leadership election organizing committee announced they had rejected his candidacy and wouldn’t let him run for leadership. Their stated reasons: “Gunn’s candidacy would be inconsistent with the BC ­Liberal Party’s commitment to reconciliation, diversity and acceptance of all British ­Columbians.”

While it is true that Gunn has been labelled a far-right extremist and has used what many consider to be “transphobic, racist and sexist rhetoric,” BC Liberal Party insiders haven’t exactly been consistent, let’s say, in their commitment to diversity and tolerance of difference. Other leadership candidates have uttered extremist views and courted extremist alliances. For example, Kevin Falcon, the front-running candidate, endorsed Maxime Bernier’s Conservative Party of Canada leadership bid.

Perhaps the unstated reason they bounced Gunn from the leadership race is that they are scared of him.

They should be. Gunn’s support is growing. With 80,000 Facebook followers and 500,000 YouTube subscribers Gunn has built a strong following.

And unlike the other less-than-impressive BC Liberal leadership hopefuls, Gunn is a good communicator. He can emotionally hook his followers. While other leadership hopefuls are babbling on about “revitalizing the party” and mushy promises about “affordable housing,” Gunn – however misguided – is stoking division with tough talk much like Max Bernier and the People’s Party (PPC) did in the recent Federal election.

While the PPC didn’t elect any candidates, the math in a leadership race is friendlier for extremist candidates with fierce, loyal followers.

Credit: Twitter

After getting the boot in late October, Gunn responded with comments that strongly hinted that he was launching a new party. The clues lead to it being called something like the “Common Sense.”

It’s not a stretch to think that Gunn may have guessed the BC Liberals wouldn’t let him run. All summer, he speculated about it.

Check the graphic he released when he launched his campaign. Not a mention of the BC Liberals. Hmmmmm. What’s that all about? Was he already hedging when he launched his campaign?

Gunn is a skilled political operative. While he is trying to position himself as a “small ‘c’ conservative,” Gunn’s talking points are from the Cliff Notes of the angry white man playbook. Like Trump and Bernier, he stokes the fires of division by focussing on issues that make people angry—removing statues, taxes, anything to combat climate change, crime and police violence.

One area where Gunn has broken with the Bernier/Trump script is public health measures and COVID. Gunn has been strangely quiet on masks and vaccines. Early during the pandemic, he scolded Trudeau for not closing the borders sooner. This spring, he griped about the new provincial COVID restrictions and condemned Trudeau for “handing out cash to everyone — even those not affected by the virus. Creating a disincentive to those who can and otherwise would go back to work.”

But, overall, Gunn’s been relatively quiet for a guy who has made a career out of stoking populist outrage. Given his track record, it’s surprising Gunn hasn’t copied Bernier’s attempts to harness anti-mask/anti-vaccine mandate extremism.

Twitter / @AaronGunn

You can learn a lot about someone by watching what they focus on. Gunn has attacked climate and logging protestors that have blockaded roads, bridges and logging. However, he has been silent on the anti-vax protestors at hospitals that have prevented people from accessing health care.

Gunn used his ouster from the BC Liberal leadership race to promote his Common Sense enterprise. He teased that there would be a big announcement at a rally in Chilliwack on November 6th. There was speculation that he would announce a new party. However, the event was anti-climactic. Nothing happened.

So, questions still floating around – will Gunn launch a new party that disguises itself as common sense yet caters to his extremist views? Or is this just another one of his signature stunts designed to steal your attention?

VanIsle’s favourite singer/rapper Oktiv6 has released another music video featuring Vancouver Island.

The new video, I’m Okay, is a catchy tune about “[l]oss, and moving forward, and remembering fondly those who had to leave us behind.” Although it has a bit of rap woven in, the ditty is a change of pace for Oktiv6 who is mostly known as a rapper.

As with his last video, Oktiv6’s new song features Island landmarks. Last time it was a travelogue of island towns from top to bottom, east to west. The new video was filmed at the Royston Trestle Bridge and Trent River Falls.

YouTube video
Oktiv6’s I’m Okay

Oktiv6 is the stage name for Eric Ettinger, a married 42-year-old father living in Courtenay. Ettinger works as a support worker for special needs adults.

In a recent Facebook post, Ettinger reflected on his life since he started rapping as a penniless teen in the 90s.

He wrote: “Then I went to a fine arts school, and learned about performance, and annunciation, and blocking, and the Stanislavski method, and was told to stick to “legitimate art”, I kept rapping.”

“I would go on tour and run out of money, and have to get someone to send money so I wouldn’t be stranded in some butthole town, sometimes those butthole towns had their own Hicks that wanted to beat us. I kept rapping.”

“At that point I was living in the city, and mingling with the hip hop scene, which contained some pretty real cats, things got pretty crazy, I lost a few chums. I kept rapping.”

“Then I was a single parent, and student, and a pretty broken and sad individual, who had dealt with way too much pain in far too little time and I felt I had nothing and nobody, daily life seemed to be a pointless chore, I kept rapping.”

“Now I am a Father, and a husband, and I have a career that I love, I am 42 years old, and a lot of people probably wonder why I keep rapping…..well now you know.”

We’re glad you did Eric!

We can’t wait for your next song. Keep’em coming.

 

A small group of orcas decided to swim up the Neroutsos Inlet all the way to Port Alice.

Orca’s swim more than 40 km up Neroutsos Inlet
Credit: Google Maps

They made it at least as far as the mill before turning around and heading back out.

That may not seem like much, just a leisurely swim, but it’s over 40 km from the Pacific.

Orcas are rarely seen this far inland on VanIsle.

https://www.facebook.com/524481054/videos/1754444108080400/