UVic prof on climate-change deniers payroll Connections to fossil-fuel funded think-tank Heartland Institute cause concerns – Martet

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Mark Worthing – http://www.martlet.ca

The university of Arizona is currently conducting investigations of the funding of its professors by the controversial Heartland Institute. UVic has yet to begin investigations of similar funding to one of its own professors.

The Heartland Institute is an industry-lobbyist think tank focused on “free-market solutions to social and economic problems.” Amongst other things, the institute claims human actions are unlikely causes of global warming and climate change and suggests rising temperatures and carbon dioxide concentrations may be beneficial to humans, plants and wildlife.

Three Canadian university professors were identified as being on the Chicago-based Heartland Institute payroll in documents released through Greenpeace U.S.A.’s PolluterWatch project. Two of the professors have confirmed receiving funding from the Heartland Institute — Madhav Khandekar, a retired Environment Canada Meteorologist, and Mitch Taylor, a Polar Bear researcher at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. Tom Harris, previous Carleton University Professor associated with the University of Calgary and past Executive Director of the Natural Resources Stewardship Project is listed as a non-paid advisor.

The third paid professor is UVic’s Susan Crockford, a sessional adjunct professor in Archaeozoology in the Pacific Rim with research focuses on the domestication and breed development, evolutionary theory and the evolution and history of the domestic dog.

“It is regrettable that anyone affiliated with the University of Victoria participated in the activities of an organization like the Heartland Institute,” says Dr. Thomas F. Pederson, Executive Director of the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) at UVic. “The University prides itself on being an institution of higher learning that deals with facts and that is nowhere more true than in the field of science. Those who deny that the planet is warming as a direct result of human activity are denying facts.”

Leaked documents stated that Crockford has been the recipient of $750 per month from the Heartland Institute. The Institute has a slew of contributing donors, such as ExxonMobil, Philip Morris, Altria, Reynolds American Inc, GlaxoSmitheKline Pfizer, and the Koch Industries family empire of for-profit and not-for-profit foundations (Koch Industries is the second largest privately held company in the U.S. with $98 billion in revenue annually, built on oil refinery investments).

“The Heartland Institute is one of a collection of so-called think tanks that have been extensively supported by elements within the American fossil fuel industry,” says Pederson. “Their mission is quite clearly not to think, but instead to sow confusion with respect to the global warming issue.”

Crockford would not respond to emails, and refused to speak with the Martlet. The university stated that she is not in contravention of the conflict of interest rules of the universities academic freedom regulations.

“The answer is no, as [Crockford] is not a member of regular faculty,” explains Patty Pitts from UVic Communications. “She is a member as a non-remunerated appointment as an adjunct, a professional zooarcheologist associate.”

Therefore, she does not need to provide the university with financial disclosure statements that would include funding from organizations like the Heartland Institute.

Views on the environment like those espoused by the Heartland Institute are not unheard of at UVic. Other UVic professors such as economics professor Dr. G. Cornelis van Kooten, and English department professor Paul MacRae claim that there is, at best, a correlation, but not causation between CO₂ and global temperature increases.

“CO₂ has no relation to temperature rises,” van Kooten told the Martlet last year.

MacRae makes the case that researchers who have skeptical or climate change denying perspectives are afraid to speak out in their fields for fear of losing funding for their research.

MacRae previously wrote an occasional climate column in the Times Colonist and received an editorial submission from UVic’s Dr. Andrew Weaver — who is a UN International Panel on Climate Change contributing researcher — that stated that anyone who denied that the planet was warming was scientifically illiterate. MacRae took it upon himself to seek out a level of climate change literacy that ultimately led him to write and self publish a book on climate change skepticism called “False Alarm: Global Warming — Facts Versus Fears”, and has been delving in to some of the climate computer modelling data sets for a few years.

“What’s happened here is that we have a paradigm that has been extremely successful for climate scientists, because they’re getting the life blood of science: research grants. And they’re also like the rock-stars of the science world right now. And why would you want to mess with that?” says MacRae.

“In other words, if you follow the money, you’ll discover that 99 per cent of the money on climate research is going to people who support the paradigm. And people who don’t support the paradigm get nothing, or relatively small amounts. So if I were a young climate scientist, I sure as hell wouldn’t be questioning the system,” he adds.

MacRae claims that there are several scientists at UVic who are skeptics but are afraid to come out publicly for fear of their careers being jeopardized. He says he even knows someone at PICS who has skeptical inclinations.

“Today we have managed to develop an economy, at least in the developed world, where the average person lives reasonably well. That’s not going to be the case if we take the measures required to actually affect climate. It’s going to be a blood bath, economically. Don’t believe the stuff they tell you about — these are all sustainable green energies and they’re going to make profits,” he continues. “What’s at stake is that we could have an economic problem of major proportions — which is not a good thing because the stronger your economy, the easier and the more money you have to do environmental work. Environmentalism is really expensive. The reason that the environments in the developed world are improving is because we can afford to fix it. If we make ourselves poorer we will have less resources available to do environmental work.”

MacRae would love to be paid for his research, and feels that his integrity would not be compromised if he were to have an oil company fund his research because he believes in what he’s researching. However, Pederson of PICS contests this.

“Any scientist who developed a credible hypothesis that could explain global warming by recent natural processes would have no difficulty finding funding support for such research from existing granting agencies. Those who complain that no funding is available for contrary viewpoints are misguided because they are unable to produce a credible hypothesis.”

Executive Director of Greenpeace U.S.A. Phil Radford and the PolluterWatch campaign has sent UVic President David Turpin a letter inquiring about what types of financial disclosure are required for UVic researchers. He has not received a reply.

Enbridge Faces Resistance Across Island – Martlet

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Mark Worthing, http://www.martlet.ca

Enbridge must know something we don’t. Despite efforts the Martlet was unable to hear or find anyone at the March 31 Comox Joint Review Panel (JRP) hearings for the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Project who was in favour of the pipeline project that would send oil tankers out of Kitimat, B.C. to Asian markets.

“We have a lot of relatives up the coast in Bella Bella, the Haisla, Nisga’a, and different areas,” says Andy Everson, K’omoks community leader and Northwest Coast artist. “And it’s important to help their initiative, their drive to stop this pipeline because it’s running through their traditional unceded territory and I don’t believe that it’s right for them to push it through without permission from the hereditary leaders of the territory. I’m willing to do whatever it takes. Right now we’re all trying to do this all peacefully and in good order and come together. And I think that if necessary that things will have to escalate and we’ll have to really oppose with force, if necessary, this pipeline being built.”

The three Joint Review Panelists cancelled hearings April 2 in the coastal community of Bella Bella Monday because they said they felt they were in an “unsafe environment.” They then allegedly told community leaders that no protest signs or placards would be allowed if hearings were to resume. This, followed by the Conservative government’s federal budget that has chopped the environmental review process of such mega-industrial projects, like the Enbridge pipeline and the proposed Raven Coal Mine to a two-year limit, begs the question: Why ask for the public’s input if you don’t want to hear it?

“Panel staff met with community leadership today to talk about logistical issues and what would be the best way to receive the oral traditional knowledge would be,” said Kristen Higgins, communications officer for the National Energy Board.

Higgins told the Martlet on Monday that panelists in Bella Bella were figuring out how to continue the hearings, but members sitting in on the meeting with JRP staff and panelists held with community leaders tweeted that the JRP told the community that no protest signs or placards would be permitted if the hearings were to resume. The JRP resumed Tuesday, April 3 at noon.

The Comox hearing, which went ahead as planned, was attended by more than 1 000 people in opposition to the pipeline.

“It threatens Vancouver Island and it threatens British Columbia,” says John Hird, a Comox resident with 38 years of commercial fishing and coastal marine navigation under his belt.

“There are 300 oil tankers about come onto this coast, about one a day,” says Hird. “The largest waves ever recorded in history are on the top of the Queen Charlotte Islands [Haida Gwaii]. It’s one of the most dangerous passageways of water in the world. To think that an accident is not going to happen here is delusional. We need to support these kinds of movements. And young people need to get out and vote, and change the way we vote in this country — to go to some form of proportional representation, not the system we have now. The only way you can change or work with democracy is to become part of it.”

While 40 or so people gathered inside the hearings in Comox to listen to a 10-year-old boy tell the panelists that oil and water don’t mix, and a presenter representing the Sea Kayak Association of B.C. (SKABC) explain the rugged terrain where the tankers would traverse, hundreds more gathered outside the hearings chanting “No, No, No, No.”

A community forum with panelists, and a movie screening about the pipeline project followed the rally in a nearby elementary school with some people discussing the nature of, and need for, direct action if the proposal is pushed through.

Buses organized by environmental, student and community groups to go from Campbell River, Nanaimo and Victoria to the hearings saw anti-Enbridge banners coming off of the highway into Courtenay. They passed critical mass cyclists with a chorus of solidarity honks and waves as the southern Vancouver Island pilgrimage to the hearings was underway.

Given the incredible outpouring of opposition and civil society mobilization to end the pipeline proposal, and the fact that the company continues to carry itself with confidence leads one to believe that they must know something that we don’t — the Harper government will push through this pipeline.

Keeping Diapers out of Dumps – The Martlet

The Martlet Publishing

No one likes change but babies in diapers,” once said Barbara Johnson, American literary critic and poststructuralist professor at Harvard University who died in 2009.

But change is exactly what is coming down the pipe for babies with soiled diapers in the Capital Regional District (CRD) this year. The Solid Waste Advisory Committee (SWAC) and the Environmental Sustainability Committee will be addressing the issue of disposable diapers in landfills and the potential for a cloth diaper subsidy in the CRD.

“There is a natural parenting culture that is emerging — it’s big on the West Coast,” says Rachel Aube, a cloth diaper advocate who works in the industry. “So we’re lucky to be in Victoria because there already is a larger percentage of people that use cloth diapers. The second best place is Montreal. But they never really stopped cloth diapering there — they are a traditional culture, and they have subsidies there. They truly are a model for the rest of Canada.”

Local businesses, retailers, health and safety advocates and environmentalists are working together to set a new precedent in western Canada, starting with southern Vancouver Island. The push for a cloth diaper subsidy is seen as one way to reduce the waste flow of disposable diapers, which are extremely toxic and very slow to break down. Those calling for a cloth diaper subsidy are calling it a win-win situation for everyone involved.

“Generally these things start as a pilot project . . . If there is a clear line forward and it’s all green lights, it would be in the form of a pilot project for all sorts of stakeholders to engage,” says Jane Mendum, chair of SWAC, vice-chair of the Environmental Sustainability Committee, and mayor of the Victoria Highlands.

“We look forward to having this come forward to have a good dialogue on it. Staff have been arranged to investigate it and will be putting together a report,” says Mendum.

Cloth advocates armed with a petition and a Facebook page are gearing up against the three million diapers sitting in the Heartland landfill, at a sum of 3.28 per cent of total waste according to the 2011 Waste Composition Study. Advocates plan to present their case to the SWAC and the Environmental Committee this spring.

“I think there is probably three big reasons that people choose to go with cloth,” says Stephanie Baird, owner of Abbey Sprouts baby store on Gosworth Street. “One, of course is cost. To use disposable diapers on a child can cost more than $2 000 over two years. And that’s to say that they are potty trained at two, which kids aren’t nowadays.”

“And number two is health. There are all sorts of chemicals and perfumes in the child’s diapers that you don’t exactly want against a child’s skin. I mean there are dioxins, which was taken out of tampons for toxic shock syndrome. And the third is the waste and ecological impacts. Not necessarily in that order.”

Abbey Sprouts opened their doors in June of 2011, but was an online retailer of eco-friendly toys, and cloth diapers since 2009.

“The margin on [cloth] diapers is less than any other product in here,” says Biard. “I’m not sure why they don’t make it so they are more expensive, so that there is a larger profit margin because then more retailers would carry them. A lot of retailers will look at them and say, oh no I won’t sell that, there isn’t enough money in them, so you really have to believe in them to want to sell them,” she says sitting in front of a wall of monkey-, butterfly-, and heart-patterned cloth diapers. The store is littered with eco-chic products for toddlers and young kids.

“Many people have the misconception that cloth diapers are the old style of diapers, with the pin, that takes longer . . . It will just be about mis-education, and people not understanding. I had a mom in here the other day and she was telling me that at her prenatal class the nurse was telling her about cloth diapers with pins and rubber pants. How bad is that?”

Baird hands me a crowd favorite in the cloth diaper options and it’s so soft, I find myself wishing it were my pillow.

In Saguenay, Que., the municipality has $100 subsidies for the purchase of 25 cloth diapers. In Coaticook, Compton, Lac Megantic, Lambton, and Magog, Que., there is a 50 per cent off subsidy of cloth diapers up to a maximum of $200. In Essex, England you receive a £10 refund for every £10 or more on washable nappies, liners or wraps. And in Dundee, Scotland parents receive a £25 discount voucher towards a purchase of real nappies, or a laundry service. Similar programs are in place in Sweden, Finland and Ontario — where parents receive $200 towards cloth diapers.

“One of the things I am receptive to is getting ideas from people that want to provide solutions for a problem,” says Victoria City Councillor Lisa Helps. “Awesome. Show me the economics. It’s a reorganization of resources to benefit people and the environment. The best place to do it is with the CRD, and I’m in favour of that. I think it’s a really important regional issue.”

“I was lucky. Most of my cloth diapers were gifted to me from my mother,” says Janaya Honka, a mother of two who is balancing family, children, and a small business, as well as cloth diaper activism. She is a daycare provider who offers cloth diaper services. “That’s what she used, and knew. But many families have to rely on disposable diaper donations,” she says.

“When it comes to low-income families, it’s mainly that they are less educated. And they don’t realize that using cloth diapers would be a lot less expensive for them,” says Baird. “But then I think the other major hurdle is that cloth diapers are expensive up front. $20 a diaper, and you need 15 diapers, bare minimum up front, I would think. And that’s exactly where a subsidy would come in.”

After the Second Word War the increased desire for freedom from washing cloth diapers and drying them gave birth to a heightened demand for disposable diapers. And the industry that is famous for the rivalry between Kimberly Clark’s Huggies and Proctor and Gamble’s Pampers was born. This industry, that emerged in the ’50s and boomed in the ’60s and ’70s, has led to an average of 27.4 billion disposable diapers used in the U.S. annually, producing 3.4 million tons of used diapers in landfills every year.

The push for alternatives to disposable diapers has flared since environmental consciousness has become common sense again. But the recent lawsuits filed against Proctor & Gamble’s Pampers for chemical burns or “severe rashes” caused by their “Dry-Max” technology has brought the debate home for a lot of parents and public health safety officials. In June of 2011, according to settlement papers in a Cincinnati court, Proctor & Gamble will have to pay $1 000 to each of the 59 parents who filed in the case, cover their $2.73 million in shared legal fees, and spend $400 000 to fund pediatric training programs designed to educate on how to treat diaper rash.

“If we can get 10 per cent more people or 20 per cent more people to cloth diaper because there is a subsidy in place, that means there is going to be less in the waste stream,” says Aube. “It means there is going to be more people patronizing our local business — our female, for the most part, owned business — so it’s good for small business, minority businesses, the Victoria community, and the biggest part is that it’s all within the CRD. We’re not going online and buying diapers from China and shipping it here.”

“We’re mompreneurs, and we’re lucky that [cloth diaper companies] are great female-led businesses,” says Mary Lucas, co-owner and operator of HipBaby on Johnson Street. “People need to come to cloth diapers on their own. I’m here to provide people with information. But I always ask, would you rather wear plastic underwear, or organic cotton underwear?”

Lucas offers information and training programs for parents new to cloth diapering, and is also in favour of a cloth diaper subsidy in the CRD.

“It’s exciting because it makes sense,” she says. “Parents would be doing such good in diverting waste from the heartland landfill. I think some flexibility with the subsidy would be best. Either a voucher, or something they could bring in and I could get reimbursed from the CRD. It’s important for parents to come in and see and touch things.”

Lucas points out that parents are realizing the impacts of how they parent, and that in the choices parents make, diapers are the most wasteful. Traditionally newspapers are the number-one waste product in landfills and diapers are a close second.

Michael Ziff, a.k.a. Cloth Diaper Dad, who guides information sessions and cloth diaper workshops in Vancouver, says “I think we’re going to have to turn up the crank a little bit this year for a subsidy. There is plenty of interest, but you really need to push it . . . for parents, it’s a little more up front, but with a huge payoff in the end. Especially if your kids are potty trained earlier because of cloth diapers.”

Ziff expressed concern with the fact that human waste is a banned substance in landfills in light of the 7 220 tons of disposable diapers in Vancouver Metropolitan landfills each year — about one per cent of the landfill.

“For myself, there was a few times when I used disposable diapers. But knowing that human waste is a banned substance in landfills, I would always put the waste in the toilet. And I think people need to do that even if they are using disposables,” says Ziff.

“It’s hard. We all have families, and kids, and run business, and trying to be activists as well,” says Rachel Aube.

In 2011 a Guinness World Record was set for the most cloth diapers changed with 5 026 participants in 127 locations in five countries. The cloth diaper advocates are closing in on this spring for the Great Cloth Diaper Change on April 21, where various cities will gather their poopiest poopers and set their crosshairs on the previous record. With some luck, not only will they change the most diapers, but the diapers themselves will change.

Martlet: Kai Nagata–media chameleon. Former bureau chief at CTV makes waves for mainstream media

When Kai Nagata quit his job as CTV’s Quebec Bureau Chief in July and drove across the country in a pickup truck, he was reincarnated as a highly insightful, alternative media shape-shifter. Nagata’s fall from grace landed him a job at the online news source The Tyee as writer-in-residence, where the Vancouver native will practice journalism in a less stifled mainstream media environment.

“Can we salvage TV news?” asked Nagata, pointing out that the CEO of CTV used to sell Kit Kat bars in Ohio, and that his credentials are well suited to what is being sold on CTV.

“Something is wrong, and it’s a case of too much sugar and not enough medicine,” he said at UVic last Tuesday during his tour kickoff presentation. “I have decided that TV news is not a medium that I can put another day into. Not to say that we didn’t try.”

Much of Nagata’s personal blog post, that ripped through social media like a B.C. forest fire, pertained to the hardworking nature of many TV news reporters in this country who are forced through the failing corporate bottleneck that pours out our nightly newscast.

Nagata says he is in the lab right now running experiments on zero-budget journalism. He wants to leverage free technology, mixing the tradition of journalism holding up democracy with contemporary tactics.

“I’ve got a blog, a Twitter account, a borrowed laptop from The Tyee and a half-paidoff pickup truck — so I’ve got resources . . . I’m totally committed to continuing my work. But the question is: in what form? What’s the blueprint?” said Nagata. “That’s why I’m here to ask you what you want out of Canadian journalism. That’s why I’m doing this tour.”

Nagata’s relative success and prestige in mainstream media, considering his age of 24, have been speculatively attributed to his ambiguously ethnic appeal and multicultural name. However, a strict work ethic, willingness to accept sacrifices and the motivation to work his ass off have proved steadfast in his transitioning career.

His insights into the inner mechanics of big media are humbling and angering. He exposes the struggling and understaffed light in which corporate media is often portrayed, while also confessing that the airtime allows a narrow spectrum of views. The image he paints is an industry in a fight for its life — if it hasn’t died already.

“Canada, among the G8 countries, has the least public funding, and CBC is understaffed. The fact that I shop-talked on Twitter just blew their minds. So they’re getting lapped by these kids on Twitter in Libya,” said Nagata. “There are people who are doing visual journalism that are more qualified to tell the story than some news anchor that shows up in a hotel, walking around in a tight t-shirt talking about this revolution.”

In Nagata’s pilot presentation at UVic, he alluded to an exclusive documentary story that he is seeking funding for and presented a challenge to big media.

“You have a media culture that doesn’t reflect the reality of the voting pattern of the public that it supposedly serves . . . I think the burden of proof is on these media organizations to prove that they don’t have a corporate bias,” he said.

A lot of Nagata’s criticisms about big media are old news in many alternative media environments. The “Why I Quit My Job” manifesto posted on his personal blog has received criticism for overshadowing and overlooking the work of many long-standing alternative media perspectives. Nagata has made friends and enemies in various places on the media spectrum, and many are holding their breaths to see where this media chameleon will end up.

Nagata’s reincarnation, seen as both a descent and an ascent in media culture, poses an interesting question: has Kai Nagata struck a nerve with the inadequacies of a polarized Canadian media, or is he just another good journalist who got lost in the corporate empire?

“It’s a blend of both. I mean, I think that if I’ve got Post Media attacking me and I’ve got The Dominion attacking me, then I’ve probably got that Goldilocks spot right in the middle and the porridge is just the right temperature,” he says.

Fish and Chimps – The Cohen Commission, The Canucks, and the Center of the Universe

A good friend of mine once explained that for the counter culture and ecology movement in the 60’s and 70’s that gave birth to Greenpeace International, Vancouver was the center of the universe.  In a spacio-temporal conception of time as cyclic, ultimately nothing has changed in the universe and may never.  All is here and now. Central energies are always present for one to engage with – to-be-in-relation to, always.

It’s June 15th and Vancouver is impregnated by the green and blue glow of Canucks fans filling the veins and arteries of this glass, concrete, and metal environment.  Tonight the streets will billow with intoxicated, riotous Vancouverites either celebrating the return of the Stanley Cup Canadian soil – or they will be splitting at the proverbial seams in a strange and unusual social wake.

~ – ~

 Her Majesties Royal Postal service has rendered postal workers curbside, leaving hyper communication of blackberries, iPhones, and the World Wide Web taunting the utility of snail mail.  But one thing is certain for snail mail.  Though easily overlooked, if the small gastropod – a terrestrial mollusk – was to leave our communication ecosystem, what would this indicate about the message of our medium?  What type of coalmine would the canary die in?  Long live mail.

It seams that the only Canucks instilled in our minds are the ones in jerseys, on rinks, on naked breasts of young women posing for pictures on Georgia and Granville Street in front of a paparazzi of male cameras.  A sighting of a breast in public – an indicator of wealth, opportunity, liberty, sex and a rejection of the pejorative patriarchic superego.  Or something less profound.

However, the Canucks that occupy the marine environment – the environment most overlooked, ignored, disrespected, exploited – is the reason that I have arrived at Georgia and Granville.  Eight stories above the pulsing streets of Vancouver the fate of the Orcinus Orca, Killer Whale’s primary food source is being determined by a phenomenon known to the late genetic brothers of Chimpanzee’s, the Homo sapiens, as Justice.

~ – ~

 The federal inquiry in to the collapse of the Fraser River Sockeye Salmon is chaired by Justice Bruce Cohen.  The Cohen inquiry is investigating the ecological, systemic, cultural, industrial, and commercial causes of the collapse of one of the North-Pacific’s strongest and most valuable natural resources: the Fraser River Sockeye Salmon.

Justice, a strange structural animal created and placed at the height of the animal kingdom by another animal within it.  And through appendable thumbs a long story occurred (I’ll tell you about that some other time) known as evolution, the development of a pronounced frontal lobe, advancements in communication, technology, history and all-that-jazz – we have arrived at a moment in time where we will decide the fate of a sacred creature.

Salmon has been described as the silver thread sewing the seams between the most supreme liquid, and the most supreme solid: the ocean and the land.  It moves nutrients from our oceanic origins up the rivers to the forests of the land.  Few creatures occupy two realms of life.  And it is for this reason that Salmon stand firmly as one of the most sacred of the sentient creatures, feeding one of the widest spectrum of dependent predators, such as the mythic (endangered) Orca.

~ – ~

 And it is in a banal ivory tower on (a continued) occupied Coast Saalish territories that, what could possibly be the most important natural phenomenon in the North Pacific, will be determined by a European judicial system of inquiry favoring reason above all other forms of knowledge, that the Fraser River Salmon will find justice. (probably an irrelevant concept to salmon who follow a more realistic set of rules – ecology).  But often, there is a banality of evil.  And good intentions lose themselves in systems of structural violence.

So I ask myself, as horns and shouts rip the air on the streets below, what the fuck are chimps from another land doing when they bring justice to fish here?

Battle over farmland in Central Saanich turns into SLAPP suit

by Zoe Blunt and Mark Worthing – Focus Magazine

When a 2009 rezoning application by Peninsula Co-op to convert several acres of farmland into a supermarket was opposed by candidates seeking election to the Co-op’s board, the Co-op acted in a way that an arbitrator later found was “unlawful.” Now, on the eve of a new election for a board of directors, Peninsula Co-op has filed a legal suit against seven people, including one of the candidates.

It’s a stormy spring for Peninsula Co-op, and two pivotal events this May will shape the future of the influential 56,000-member gas and grocery chain. On May 4, the Co-op’s rezoning application for a larger food store in Central Saanich goes to public hearing. And on May 25 comes a court-ordered board election that could turf out the pro-development majority.

In the past two years, the Co-op has spent tens of thousands of members’ dollars trying to convince them to support rezoning. The Co-op has  also stated that it will pull up stakes (and jobs) in Central Saanich if its zoning application is denied. And, in a surprise move, the Co-op has filed suit against some of its own members, while the incumbent board and staff risk potential contempt of court charges and another invalid election.

The latest brouhaha began back in 2009, when Peninsula Co-op introduced a rezoning proposal to allow a new 40,000-square-foot grocery store and Co-op office near the intersection of Keating X Road and West Saanich Road. Some members, neighbours, and farm advocates took exception to a plan to pave farmland and overturn the Regional Growth Strategy. Rezoning the Co-op property also could unlock future development on a stretch of rural land strategically located between the urban boundaries of Brentwood Bay and Keating.

Concern over the zoning application brought member Randy Pearson out to the Co-op’s fateful 2009 annual meeting. “I was pretty upset about the farmland—putting up a food store and blacktopping eight acres of farmland instead of looking at food security is what upset me in the beginning,” he told Monday Magazine.

At the meeting, Pearson witnessed procedural abuses that drove him to file a complaint under the Co-operative Association Act. Last year, arbitrator Jakob De Villiers threw out the results of that 2009 election. De Villiers concluded the manager and directors engaged in “unlawful,” “illegal,” and “undemocratic” behaviour. He concluded they acted in “bad faith,” in a way that was “oppressive” to members—interfering in election campaigns, refusing access to membership lists, setting up a bogus “nominating committee” to screen candidates, and more.

But the Co-op directors didn’t hang their heads before this blast of condemnation. Rather, they negotiated for a modified Consent Order to let the disallowed board members serve out their terms. The revised judgement orders the Co-op to put up six board positions for election this May, instead of the usual three. Furthermore, even though arbitrator Jakob De Villiers ruled that manager Pat Fafard “unlawfully” interfered with the 2009 election, the Co-op board later promoted Fafard to chief executive officer.

Also in 2009, it became clear that Peninsula Co-op’s political ambitions were not limited to its own members and property. Its involvement in the 2008 municipal election in Central Saanich came to light after the RCMP investigated a complaint about improper campaign contributions. The Mounties recommended 19 charges for campaign finance violations. That’s when members learned the Co-op spent $16,488 supporting pro-development candidates—without consulting the membership. (The Crown declined to lay charges, stating the prosecution was “not in the public interest.”)

How much support does $16,488 buy? The rezoning proposal recently took a great leap forward with a recommendation for approval from Central Saanich’s Committee of the Whole. Perhaps that’s just coincidence, but Co-op member and former board candidate David Lawson doesn’t think so. “It was apparent to me that the Co-op’s motivation for having these developers elected was to get farmland, agricultural land, converted to a big box store,” he said.

Sue Stroud, another Co-op member, said, “There’s all these shenanigans going on over municipal elections, backing the developers and getting their crews on the council to get their stuff done…It’s not what’s best for the community.”

“Those [councillors] who are voting in favour of the Co-op development are the people who were supported by Co-op during the last election,” says David Wilson, a two-time Co-op board candidate. “Essentially, it appears the Co-op put people into council that are going to owe them favours.”

MORE “SHENANIGANS” STARTED in late November 2010, when an unknown prankster tacked up a “For Sale” sign on Peninsula Co-op’s zoning application notice and followed up with a fake press release, using a phoney email address, phone number, and voicemail recording of manager Fafard. Besides announcing the decision to sell the disputed property and find a more suitable location for the larger store, the release committed the Co-op to develop only within the CRD’s Urban Containment Boundaries, and apologized for past behaviour and election irregularities.

A few media outlets picked up the fake November 29 press release, and the Friends of Peninsula Co-op, a group opposed to the development, celebrated the good news, but only briefly. By the next day, the release had been exposed as a hoax. But the Co-op board, which included two police chiefs and a former deputy chief, reacted to the April Fools-style joke as if it were a siege.

Along with pasting an unauthorized Crimestoppers logo into ads to catch the pranksters, Co-op president Ron Gaudet, then the Oak Bay chief of police, confused matters by altering the fake press release so that it appeared as if it was sent by Friends of Peninsula Co-op. Whether it was accidental or intentional, the alteration was quickly exposed.

Days later, Gaudet retired from the Oak Bay Police Department, but still reigns as president of the Co-op, the seat he occupied when the board decided the prank warranted calling in the Central Saanich police (led by Central Saanich police chief and fellow Co-op director Paul Hames). The local police, perhaps mindful of the optics, bounced the investigation over to the RCMP. In February, an officer turned up at Sue Stroud’s provincial government workplace wanting to talk.

The interrogation was surreal, said Stroud, who denies any involvement in the hoax. “He said things like, ‘Do you people realize this [prank] puts the profitability of the Co-op in jeopardy?’”

Stroud told Focus she is filing a police complaint, because the board’s behaviour goes beyond Co-op politics. “It’s dangerous because it’s messing with the community, it goes to misuse of farmland, and it puts the community, our ability to feed ourselves, at risk.”

IN FEBRUARY 2011, TENSIONS ROSE FURTHER with the arrival of defamation notices addressed to individuals who publicly criticized the Co-op. People felt intimidated, said Lawson. “I can tell you that the [legal threats] have been pervasive. There are a number of groups and individuals in this area that are trying to protect and preserve what we have. It’s anybody trying to protect property, and land, and farms…who are getting those letters.” Lawson declined to name names, saying he feared he would be next.

As it turned out, he wasn’t. But on April 8, Peninsula Co-op served a notice of motion for a civil action against the Residents and Ratepayers of Central Saanich Society (RRoCSS), three Co-op members, and others not yet named. The complaint alleges Chris Paynter, Sue Stroud, Alicia Cormier and others engaged in an elaborate conspiracy to engineer the November hoax. It cites no proof and no criminal charges have been laid. The Co-op demands “damages and injunctive relief for defamation, injurious falsehood, trespass to real property, trespass to chattels and civil conspiracy.” The defendants had 21 days to respond to the claim.

Stroud and Cormier strongly deny any involvement in the hoax, and Paynter, a director of RRoCSS, would not comment, citing advice from his lawyer.

Ian Cameron, president of RRoCSS, vigorously rejected the Co-op claim: “There is no truth whatsoever in the allegations made in the lawsuit that RRoCSS was involved or had knowledge of the hoax,” he said in a statement.

Cameron labels the court action a “SLAPP” (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) and “an attempt to silence reasonable debate about the Co-op plan to use perfectly good farmland for an unnecessary supermarket. It’s contrary to the Central Saanich Community Plan, and RRoCSS has been fighting it, and will continue to do so, in spite of this attempt to muzzle our voice,” the statement said.

According to the Society of Professional Journalists, “a SLAPP suit is filed in retaliation for public participation in a political dispute. The plaintiff is attempting to intimidate a political opponent and, if possible, prevent further public participation on the issue by the person or organization.” In a Toronto Star editorial on SLAPP suits, Devon Page and Rick Smith state: “What is at stake is nothing less than the democratic process itself. And whether ordinary citizens can continue to defend their communities and their environment without fear of devastating financial liability.” While the legal complaint itself may be baseless and may never see a day in court, it still has the effect of chilling debate and smearing the reputations of those named.

Jeanette Sheehy, a pro-farmland candidate for the Co-op board, notes the Co-op civil suit may end up sidelining potential pro-farming candidates. “They tried to disqualify two of our candidates because of the special resolution that says if you’re involved in a lawsuit with the Co-op, you can’t run for the board of directors,” she explained. The special resolution, adopted in 2010, states that anyone involved in a “legal dispute” with the Co-op may not stand for election. Cormier has filed to run for the board, but by naming her in the civil action, the Co-op may succeed in knocking her off the ballot. (In all, the Co-op Action Network has endorsed six candidates.)

Pearson said he considered standing for election to the board, but in the event of ongoing complaints about the election rules, the Co-op would have banned him under the new rule as well.

The new, improved election that’s supposed to fix the old, discredited one is set to begin May 25, but it’s already falling off the rails. Sheehy reports the directors are defying the court order by refusing to hand over the membership list to candidates. In answer to Sheehy’s requests for the membership list, director and chair of the current nominations committee Gord Griffiths wrote: “as a director I do not have access to a membership list to provide to you…It’s also my understanding that as an organization, we (say management/operations) cannot share it with you either. On a legal basis, the Privacy Act (provincial one, not federal) precludes this from happening.”

Griffiths appears to flatly contradict arbitrator De Villiers ruling in 2010: “The Manager’s refusal to provide the candidate access to the list of members on the spurious ground that he was concerned about members’ privacy was plainly unlawful, and by itself constituted a serious irregularity, handicapping Mr Lawson’s election campaign. Sections 128 to 133 of the Act gave Mr Lawson the right, not only to inspect the membership list, but also to be provided by the Association with a copy of that list on payment of a reasonable charge.”

Randy Pearson said he’s watching the election closely. “If they violate the consent order, I would have to go to court to contest it,” he said. “That would be contempt of court. They have to be very, very careful, and follow the election procedures and all the rules.” He added, “This is serious. Contempt of court is a criminal charge.”

Attempts to reach CEO Fafard were not successful, and general manager Ron Heal was “too busy” to discuss the upcoming elections. When asked for the list of candidates, he said it would be available from the nominating committee at some future date.

Cormier said the conflicts at Co-op made running for the board the most challenging event of her life. Given recent events, she thinks “the 2011 election will be equally difficult.” But she said she remains committed to her campaign for regional food security and economic sustainability.

Pearson says he’s not about to let the board off the hook. “[The Co-op board has] never taken responsibility for their failings in the 2009 elections,” he said. “They shouldn’t be blaming others for their own bad behaviour. They’ve put themselves in a bad light.”

The legal threats haven’t changed Pearson’s mind. “They want development on farmland—we intend to go after them,” he said. “We are going after them.”