Seen with singer-lawyer-artist-wife Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson, artist-carver and Order of Canada member Robert Davidson is the subject of director Charles Wilkinson’s feature-length documentary, Haida Modern. Malcolm Parry / PNG
SWEET DREAMING: Ronald McDonald House’s recent A Night to Dream gala was a recurring one for Lindsey Turner, who chaired it for the fourth consecutive time. The 17th annual event reportedly grossed $680,000 to help accommodate the 2,000-a-year families who occupy the 73-suite facility for an average 13-day stay. CEO Richard Pass and new board chair Patrick McGuinty may soon announce that up to 52 suites will be added to five-year-old Ronald McDonald House on the B.C. Children’s Hospital campus. Four-bedroom satellites are also expected beside Royal Columbian Hospital and Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. They’ll duplicate one at Surrey Memorial Hospital.
MODEL CITIZEN: Masset-raised artist Robert Davidson is the subject of Charles Wilkinson’s documentary, Haida Modern, that premiered during the recent Vancouver International Film Festival. Called “a protégé and friend” by celebrated late carver Bill Reid, Davidson also perceives the Haida tradition not as inviolable rules but as the basis for evolving, living art. His own wide-ranging artworks include gold coins that the Canadian Mint released to accompany his 1997 elevation to the Order of Canada. $50,000 in ordinary currency came his way in 2010 with the Audain Prize for Lifetime Achievement. “I’ve been thinking about a new car,” the ever-modest Davidson said before cheerfully admitting that he’d forwarded the entire amount to fund post-secondary bursaries for Haida Gwaii students.
FELICE ANNIVERSARIO: Italian Cultural Centre president Michael Cuccione welcomed community members to a recent 42nd anniversary fundraising gala. Such events have been staged annually since 13 Italian associations founded the Slocan-at-Grandview “Il Centro” on a 3.25-hectare former city dump site. This year, Cuccione inducted former B.C. Lions football team head coach and general manager Wally Buono into the centre’s Hall of Fame. Happily, his old team defeated the Toronto Argonauts 55-8 the following day. Buono likely approved the teamwork when catering director Fabio Rasotto’s kitchen squad served the centre’s fourth full-capacity banquet that week, then repeated it the following night when the Confratellanza Italo-Canadese Society honoured longtime community benefactor John DeLucchi.
BON APPÉTIT: Lazy Gourmet owner Susan Mendelson celebrated her catering firm’s 40th anniversary at the Roundhouse Community Centre recently. She likely didn’t foresee that when a UBC arts-and-social-work degree scored her a $350-a-month job at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, now the Cultch. To meet her rent, she made carrot cake, cheesecake and Nanaimo bars for sale during intervals. She and friend Deborah Roitberg then founded Lazy Gourmet, but Mendelson’s brush with dramatics continued. That was when “two beat-up cars jammed in (a departing customer) and all these scruffy-looking people were waving guns.” Suspecting that it wasn’t part of an earlier movie shoot, Mendelson asked if she should call the cops. “We are the cops,” one fracas member replied. Her business maxim: “I always hired people who were better than me.” That doubtless pleased seven-year general manager Kevin Mazzone at the anniversary beano.
TREES AND APPLE: Actor-moviemaker Mark Oliver, who recently screened his 2018 short Elvis Strung Out, may appreciate late singer Judy Garland’s lyrics: “I was born in a trunk in the Princess Theater in Pocatello, Idaho.” Oliver has a trunkful of theatrical antecedents himself. Grandfather David Oliver owned theatres and produced films in 1910s and 1920s Germany. Grandmother Edith was a screen actress. A great grandmother danced with the Kirov ballet. Oliver’s late Berlin-born father, H.A.D. (Bert) Oliver, sidestepped the stage to study with a London firm of solicitors founded in 1560. “But inside every solicitor there’s a barrister struggling to get out,” he said after moving to Vancouver and pleading criminal law cases. But the theatrical gene survived. One of Bert’s many acquittals involved him holding up a pre-punctured cup of water that dripped steadily for 30 seconds. Then, facing the judge (he later became one himself), he said: “This decidedly reminds me of the case for the Crown.”
CENTENARIANS: Rana and Rupa Vig staged another 100 Year Journey gala recently. The annual event began in 2014 along with a same-name book marking the centennial of Canadian officials turning back South Asians aboard the ship Komagata Maru. The book, which contains illustrated accounts of 103 successful immigrants and their families, was developed from Mehfil, a glossy magazine that Rana and brother Minto founded in 1993. Four years later, then-premier Glen Clark called Rana “a politician in the making.” Evading that dubious assessment, he achieved something comparable in 1994 by becoming a diamond-direct dealer of the Amway multi-level marketing firm.
BOTTOMS UP: Actress and animal-activist Pamela Anderson has joined others opposing a proposed roadway through a Port Moody park. If successful, they could celebrate with toasts of Anderson’s name-brand wine. That would be a step-up from the tankerloads of Baby Duck produced by Port Moody’s old Andre’s winery. Coincidentally, that concern’s former site is contentious, too, with three towers and nine lower buildings now proposed.
DOWN PARRYSCOPE: Brexiteering Britons may ruefully sing Three Blind Mice on that children’s rhyme’s 510th anniversary Oct. 12.
Portrayed with a Red Arrows aerobatics team’s poster, British High Commissioner Susan le Jeune d’Allegeerschecque, Consul General Nicole Davison and guests had just seen the real Royal Air Force jets fly past them. PNG
STRAIGHT ARROWS: A key factor in aerial combat — literally a matter of life and death — is to be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. Having the sun behind you helps, too. Full marks, therefore, to the Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows aerobatics team that was scheduled for a Coal Harbour flypast at 1700 hours recently. With the declining sun glistening on their red-white-and-blue tail fins, the team’s BAE Hawk trainer jets skimmed over at 5 on the dot. As they banked and climbed away, workhorse aircraft — de Havilland Beaver and Otter float planes — resumed their everyday takeoffs and landings.
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, Chief Constable Adam Palmer, Bard on The Beach artistic director Christopher Gaze and others watched the proceedings from the Pan Pacific hotel’s eighth-floor deck. They were guests of British High Commissioner to Canada, Susan le Jeune d’Allegeerschecque, formerly ambassador to Austria, and Vancouver-based consul-general Nicole Davison. “The Red Arrows are the best ambassador our country has,” said le Jeune d’Allegeerschecque, whose married name is more common in Brussels than London. As those two cities duke it out over Brexit, the fast-flying Red Arrows might remind Gaze and especially British Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Hamlet’s “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Ditto for that soliloquy’s humbling conclusion: “And thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.”
HAPPY ENDING: Cultural organization heads sometimes roll amid a blizzard of finger-pointing, trustee bickering and other nastiness. Not at the Vancouver International Film Festival where eight-year executive director Jacqueline Dupuis announced in July that she’ll leave at year’s end. Looking as relaxed and, dare one say, glamorous as in 2011, Dupuis launched the 38th annual festival by escorting director Atom Egoyan to a screening of his Guest of Honour feature film and to a gala later. Although called “a masterful piece of subtly sophisticated filmmaking” in the VIFF program, showbiz bible Variety deemed the Egypt-born Torontonian’s picture “hopelessly muddled … overplotted and under-reasoned, hysterical and stiffly earnest.”
CONSONANTAL DRIFT: If asked to define modern-day political equivocation, habitual phrase-tangler William Spooner might have replied with a self-defence tip: “Trust in judo.” Then again, his spoonerism of voters’ “elementary affluence” would entail a mere vowel movement.
MORE AID: Dr. Peter Jepson-Young succumbed to HIV/AIDS in 1992 at age 35. CBC-TV’s weekly Dr. Peter Diaries detailed his then-almost-inevitable approach to death. Founded that year, the Dr. Peter AIDS Centre and related foundation began caring for those still living. A decade later, Nathan Fong recruited fellow chefs to launch the annual Passions gala that reportedly raised a record $220,000 recently. Executive director Scott Elliott said the centre now helps clients deal with hepatitis C and supports older ones “isolated and not participating in health care.” It will soon offer twice-weekly programs for female HIV/AIDS patients, he said.
DIRTY DISHES: Wearing a whistle-clean apron, Dirty Apron co-founder David Robertson marked the cooking school’s 10th anniversary by launching his second cookbook, Gather. Some of the 100,000 folk he’s reportedly taught filled the Beatty Street joint to buy the book and sample such dishes as sake-braised pork belly, seafood and chorizo belly and Robertson’s sensational Thai-style coconut-lemon grass braised beef short ribs.
TAIPEI TIES: There were complaints when electioneering defence minister Harjit Sajjan attended a recent gala honouring China. Not so when San Francisco-based Taiwan Tourism Bureau director Linda Lin inaugurated Maggie Sung to head our town’s new information centre for the island China claims to own. The ceremony followed Vancouver’s recent 100-event TaiwanFest that began celebrating Taiwanese culture in 1991.
BED BUDS: As the huge IDS design exhibition ran downtown, furniture designer-manufacturer Kate Duncan and curator Amber Kingsnorth staged their own fifth annual show titled Address. It occupied five-times-larger premises at Malkin Street’s Eastside Studios. As well as mature and emerging exhibitors from Pacific Northwest states and Alberta, the event welcomed newcomers from Saskatoon, Toronto and Texas. Port Alberni-raised Duncan exhibited a solid walnut bed and side tables tagged at $30,000. Calgary native Kyle Parent added a $2,100 bedspread from his ktwpquilts.com concern.
GO EAST, YOUNG WOMAN: Vancouver’s creative activities are enhanced — some say dominated — east of Main Street. The 23rd annual Eastside Culture Crawl alone will include 500 artists, artisans and designers Nov. 14-17. The latter include interior designers Annaliesse Kelly and Madeleine Sloback who, although business competitors, share chic Pender Street premises. They mount thrice-yearly exhibitions there, most recently by Mexican-born painter Miriam Aroeste and Okanagan-raised photographic artist Sandra Lowe.
TOP HAT: California-based Canadian Paisley Smith wore a simulated oil-pipeline helmet to promote her “immersive” VIFF film, Unceded Territories. Screening in a Vancity Theatre kiosk to Oct. 2, it addresses climate change and Indigenous civil rights with animated interpretations of works by Cowichan/ Syilx artist Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun whose usual headgear is a four-feathered straw fedora.
DOWN PARRYSCOPE: Crown yourself inventively for Mad Hatter Day Oct. 6.
The B.C. government’s new budget will probably look a lot like its old budget. That is deliberate, says Finance Minister Carole James, because the governing New Democratic Party’s priorities haven’t changed: affordable housing, child care and climate change.
“What we’re looking at is budget 2019 basically building on what we did in budget 2018,” James said of the budget she’ll deliver on Tuesday.
“We started off with a shift in approach from the previous government, where they really told people you either had to have a strong economy or investments in people. It was either-or. Our budget really said we need both.”
There’s another reason for the similarities between this year and last year: The NDP government’s biggest promises on affordable housing and daycare are 10-year visions that aren’t even close to fruition. Each year, James said, she’ll put aside more money to try to get closer to specific election promises like $10-a-day child care.
“Young families haven’t had a lot of hope in British Columbia, in our urban centres in particular,” said James. “They’ve seen their costs rise and struggled to get by, whether it be on housing or child care. So we’re really focused on how we can give back hope to those families.”
There will be one major difference, however. Most of the revenue-generating measures the NDP promised in the 2017 election — tax increases on high-income earners, corporations, luxury homes and the increased carbon tax — have already been enacted. James might have to curtail some spending ambitions unless she can find new sources of cash for the provincial treasury.
Despite a healthy surplus, the province’s fiscal security is at risk with the financial meltdown at the Insurance Corp. of B.C. — where losses could reach $2.5 billion over two years — and a $1-billion taxpayer bailout on deferral accounts at B.C. Hydro.
“ICBC and B.C. Hydro have been a huge challenge to the budget, a huge challenge to families and the public when it comes to the dollars they’ve had to take on for the messes left us,” said James.
“But it’s a big issue and I continue to be concerned. It’s not a piece I feel comfortable about. We’re headed in the right direction and making changes we need to occur. But there’s a cost to that.”
Last year, Postmedia spoke with several people about what they were hoping to see in the February 2018 budget, including a prospective homebuyer, a renter, a mother and a businessman.
We’ve caught up with those people to find out if the improvements they had hoped for in 2018 happened — as well as their wish lists for the NDP’s second full budget on Tuesday.
LISTEN: Mike Smyth and Rob Shaw answer all the important questions raised by the B.C. NDP government’s throne speech. Why all the populist measures? Can the B.C. government really act on changing your cellphone bill? What do allies and critics think of the speech? Smyth and Shaw also talk about Liberal MLA Linda Reid having to resign her assistant deputy speaker’s job and Premier John Horgan resisting calls for a public inquiry into money laundering.
The main theme of the NDP’s throne speech on Feb. 12 was affordability, and the government focused on several areas that include tackling expensive ferry fares, stopping mass ticket-buying by scalpers and taming sky-high cellphone bills. But the speech offered little new on the main reason B.C. is expensive: the cost of homes.
Housing affordability was a key campaign promise when the NDP was elected in 2017. But to help renters, the throne speech made only a general promise to “speed up much-needed rental housing” and a vague prediction that rock-bottom vacancy rates would rise.
Last year at this time, Liam McClure, of the Vancouver Renters Union, hoped the 2018 budget would include specific measures, such as a rent freeze, improved tenant rights language to deal with issues such as renovictions, and the creation of more social housing.
But renters are still waiting for significant action.
“We just haven’t seen the movement in the last year that we were hoping for, and it has been a bit of a disappointment,” McClure said.
“I think at the provincial level there hasn’t been as much energy as we’ve seen at the municipal level in terms of putting forward policies and solutions for some of the problems we are seeing.”
Last fall, the government accepted a Rental Housing Task Force recommendation to keep 2019 rental increases by landlords to the rate of inflation (2.5 per cent), rather than the 4.5 per cent hike recommended by the residential tenancy branch. This was helpful to renters, McClure said.
But the task force, which consists of three MLAs appointed last April by the premier, stopped short of backing a key idea that many tenants’ advocates, including McClure, believe is important: so-called vacancy control, which would tie rent controls to the unit, not the tenant, to stop a landlord from jacking up the rent when a new person moves in. Landlords were happy this policy was not endorsed, saying it gives them more money to invest in rental stock.
The task force’s top recommendation was to end renovictions — when landlords evict long-term tenants to renovate and then find new residents at higher rents. But McClure said the suggested changes don’t go far enough, and he would like to see stronger language in this year’s budget.
“I don’t have my hopes up, but I’m interested in hearing what they are going to do around ending renoviction because we haven’t had enough movement,” he said.
He would also like the budget to include funding for more social housing and non-market homes for low-income families and individuals.
Last year, the government introduced a speculation tax and a tax surcharge on homes valued at more than $3 million, part of a 10-year plan to help build up to 114,000 new affordable homes.
What is different going into this year’s budget is that home prices are falling, which has benefited Jodi Harris — who just bought a townhouse in Langley after trying to get into the real estate market for the past 18 months.
The lower prices allowed her to remain in Metro Vancouver, as the frustrated woman had been house hunting in areas like the Okanagan, which has slightly lower real estate prices. “I had prepared to leave the Lower Mainland. I really didn’t see my housing prospects changing,” Harris said.
She believes the province’s speculation tax played a role in dropping home values. “I think the frenzy around purchasing is starting to diminish.”
But she stresses the provincial government should not let its guard down because she knows many young professionals still struggling to buy their first home. Even as a nurse practitioner at Royal Columbian Hospital, and making a higher-than-average salary, she had extreme challenges buying a modest home.
“I don’t think any millennial has illusions of grandeur, that they will walk into (buying) a detached home,” she said. “I don’t know how everyone can be so short-sighted with this problem. You need young people to power the economy.”
Jock Finlayson, of the B.C. Business Council, said he believes the speculation tax has played a role in lowering prices for large homes and high-end condos, but he believes the federal government’s move to “tighten up mortgage rules coupled with higher borrowing costs has really been the key to the broader softening of the market.”
James says the speculation tax is just one element in her government’s 30-point housing plan. She promised to continue to boost the housing supply, although she offered no specifics. She also promised to improve transparency around home ownership and to create a condo flipping registry.
“I’m feeling cautiously optimistic in looking at the housing market right now. We’re seeing some shifts in all types of housing, a moderating of prices in detached homes, townhomes and condos. That’s really critical,” she said.
Child care: the $10 challenge
Tamara Herman put her son’s name on multiple waiting lists for licensed child care more than four years ago, before the boy was born, and he still does not have a spot in a daycare.
Even though the NDP promised universal $10-a-day child care when the party was elected in 2017, Herman is patient because she believes this government is moving toward positive change, albeit slowly.
“Our situation hasn’t changed because it is going to take many years to repair a completely broken child care system,” said Herman, whose 3½-year-old son, Emil Porter, is in the care of a nanny collective.
“It’s a little late for us personally, but I’m encouraged to see that progress is being made in general on child care … for the first time in many years.”
After the throne speech, Premier John Horgan said this year’s plan will likely include the continued development of the government’s fee-reduction subsidies of up to $350 a month and pilot projects of the $10-a-day model.
Herman is happy the NDP is investigating the $10 model, arguing it puts families back to work and therefore reduces poverty, but is “less enthusiastic” about the fee- reduction subsidies. “Instead of subsidizing individual parents, I’d rather see them investing in building more child cares and making it a fair industry for people who work in the field.”
Opponents of the universal $10 model argue it will be too expensive and will unnecessarily subsidize middle- and high-income families who can afford to pay for their own child care.
However, Sharon Gregson, with the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C. which has long lobbied for the $10 plan, hopes Tuesday’s budget will fund an expansion of the prototypes. She would also like the budget to include moving child care out of the Ministry of Children and Family Development and into the Education Ministry to become better aligned with the school system. She also wants a pledge of $200 million to build more licensed spaces and to train more workers.
“There has been more positive action on child care in the last 10 months than in the preceding 16 years,” Gregson said.
“(But) there’s still lots to do and it’s not perfect. Families need much more access to licensed spaces — especially non-traditional hours and in rural and remote communities — and early childhood educators need better wages.”
James said the government has 53 sites in B.C. testing the $10 plan, and that residents must wait for the government to finish designing its new child care plan to ensure quality, space and accessibility.
“It’s a 10-year program and we’re only going into year 2,” the finance minister said. “We have a review program going on on the prototypes for $10-a-day to make sure we see how they went and successes, and are there any pieces that need to be adjusted. And so that will be part of the work over the next year.”
She added that child care is the topic that most residents raise with her. “Despite the speculation tax and housing measures, it’s probably the biggest piece I get stopped by families to tell me the biggest change it’s made for them.”
The fiscal reality: taxes and spending
The NDP has now enacted most of the new taxes it had promised, including a one per cent hike to the corporate income tax rate, an income tax increase for those who earn more than $150,000, and those taxes on high-end and empty homes.
But besides the woes at ICBC and BC Hydro, though, there is mounting financial pressure on the NDP because the cooling housing market has reduced property transfer fees.
“There are some new revenue sources but that’s being chipped away by the decline in (home) sales, and therefore property transfers. So I’ll be looking to see how does the arithmetic on all that add up,” the B.C. Business Council’s Finlayson said when asked about budget finances.
“We are not going into the (budget) lockup assuming there’s going to be a lot of tax changes. Sometimes you are surprised.”
If there are no new taxes, it’s not clear where the NDP will get more revenue to fund new ideas or the growth of big-ticket programs.
There is good news for the province’s bottom line, though, in that the economy is still strong, the carbon tax is set to rise from $35/tonne to $40/tonne on April 1, and the previous Liberal government’s $500-million Prosperity Fund remains available.
Finlayson would like to see a small reduction in one of the NDP’s taxes, arguing the tax bracket for higher income taxes should rise from $150,000 to $250,000, to align with policies in Alberta and Ontario. He also wishes for some type of relief for the industries that are the most affected by the increasing carbon tax.
Still, Finlayson anticipates James will produce a balanced operating budget. He would like to see a slight increase on the capital projects side — but wants B.C.’s current debt-to-GDP ratio of 14 per cent to stay below 20 per cent so that the province can hold on to its triple-A rating.
“We think there is a lot of unmet need for capital, both maintenance and to build new bridges and tunnels and infrastructure,” he said.
The throne speech was silent, he said, on attracting business investment in B.C. “To me that sends a signal that the budget won’t have much around building the economy. Because that has not been much of a major focus of this government. Their agenda has been more social and environmental.”
Climate change, poverty reduction and other priorities
There are other items that are expected to be crucial elements in Tuesday’s budget.
Climate change, once dominated by discussion of the carbon tax, has taken on a new face with the NDP’s CleanBC plan. It is an aggressive proposal to increase electricity use across the province and reduce fossil fuel pollution from cars, homes and businesses. The budget is expected to lay out incentives for items such as heat pumps and electric vehicles.
Other issues that could be touched on in the budget include tackling money laundering, although the premier has deflected calls for a public inquiry; potential costs associated with the promise of historic legislation to enshrine into law the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and past promises to boost staffing levels in seniors’ care homes and reform the annual school funding formula.
The throne speech did pledge to roll out a poverty reduction strategy, after the government initially promised to do so last year. That could come with a hefty price tag.
“Certainly the throne speech is a roadmap, the aspirational road map for the government for the year ahead,” Horgan told reporters after the speech.
“The budget will be where you will find the resources, the funds, and the initiatives that we talked about. When we brought forward legislation on the poverty reduction plan, and when we brought forward our CleanBC plan, it was with the view of funding those initiatives in the coming budget. And I know Carole James is very excited to tell you about that herself (on Tuesday).”
For most, although not all, New Year’s Eve is an optimistic time for celebration. Many also reflect thankfully on a dying year that enhanced their and their families’ well-being and that saw them benefit others. Those portrayed here appeared in this column during 2018 and are remembered for being among the myriad who contributed to the character of a community that many value as second to none.
Vancouver Symphony Orchestra president Kelly Tweeddale welcomed music director Otto Tausk after a debut concert conducting works by Edward Top, Francis Poulenc and Igor Stravinsky.
Malcolm Parry /
With his net worth topping $17 billion, 27-year-old Hugh Grosvenor, the seventh Duke of Westminster, attended a reception alongside city-based Grosvenor Americas chief executive Andrew Bibby.
Malcolm Parry /
Heiltsuk artist KC Hall and Haida Clarence Mills contributed designs to 60 female and male fashions by Chloe Angus that also featured Coast Salish, Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka’wakw) and Ojibway motifs.
Malcolm Parry /
Dr. Chan Gunn was honored by University of B.C. President Santa Ono when his $5-million donation spurred creation of a sports-medicine and pain-research-and treatment facility on campus.
Demonstrating a curry that his mother used to make, restaurateur-chef Vikram Vij told Audi car-launch attendees: Chicken white meat is the most boring meat there is. Always cook with the bone in.”
Malcolm Parry /
When the Pants Off gala benefitted Prostate Cancer Canada, Angus Research Institute chief Shachi Kurl and CBC TV news anchor Mike Killeen sported identical Joe Boxer smiley-face shorts. Photo for the Town Talk column of Dec. 29, 2018. Malcolm Parry/Special to PNG [PNG Merlin Archive]
Malcolm Parry /
Opening his and wife Laura Byspalko’s eighth annual Indian Summer Festival, Sirish Rao said the 14-day event was devised “for the curious mind. The more it is fed, the more curious it gets.”
Malcolm Parry /
When dealer Christian Chia debuted Rolls-Royce’s titanic Cullinan SUV, silver-painted Cynthia Doucet wore fan-driven flowing attire to simulate the maker’s Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament.
Malcolm Parry /
Inez Cook and Lauraleigh Paul Yuxweluptun’aat prepared and served smoked oolichan and barbecued salmon to guests at the West Vancouver Harmony Arts Festival’s alfresco Indigenous Feast.
Malcolm Parry /
Night of Miracles gala chair Bob Rai accompanied wife Harpreet when the ninth annual event reportedly added $755,000 to the $5.4 million raised earlier for the B.C. Children’s Hospital Foundation.
Malcolm Parry /
The Neeko Philanthropic Society’s Mana Jalalian admired artist Mona Malekian’s traditional painted eggs that were part of the Haft Sin display at a celebration for Persian New Year.
Malcolm Parry /
Yolanda Mason sculpted a bicycle entirely with bones from 10 species for her participation in the local heat of an international art tournament sponsored by Bombay Sapphire Gin.
Malcolm Parry /
Early childhood educator Lule Abbay was happy to see Commercial Drive’s Havana restaurant reopen after renovation although son Solomon still looked for nourishment directly from mama.
Malcolm Parry /
City photographers Lincoln Clarkes and Dina Goldstein were ready for anything when the fifth annual Capture Photography Festival opened with a reception at the Contemporary Art Gallery.
There is a push on in B.C. to provide more mental health services to first responders, the people we depend on to help us in times of trouble, but who often shun asking for help themselves.
Adding to the traditional grimness that B.C. paramedics, police officers and firefighters endure — fatal accidents, devastating fires, murder scenes — is the opioid overdose crisis that has killed more than 3,500 people have died since January 2016. Thousands more have been saved by injections of the overdose-reversing medication naloxone.
“We will go to a call involving a fentanyl overdose, we will give the person naloxone. When they regain consciousness, they will have no idea what happened. They are often combative and often will refuse hospitalization. Sometimes they are in hospital gowns with the hospital tag still on because they just got released,” says Matt Johnston, a firefighter in Metro Vancouver.
“You go back to these repeated customers, and pretty soon it will wear on your spirit and you (think): My ability to be compassionate against this patient is next to nowhere.
“So when you are going to three or four calls of overdoses per shift, all of a sudden the world doesn’t look as shiny any more. And it has a way to generalize to other areas of your life where you are more cynical about human nature.”
Johnston is acutely aware of the effects of trauma on first responders. Before becoming a full-time firefighter in 2012, he graduated from UBC with a masters in counselling psychology and opened a local practice that helped at-risk youth. Even though he worked as a registered clinical counsellor, he still occasionally struggles when responding to calls in his new profession.
Combining his two worlds, Johnston now sits on the B.C. First Responders’ Mental Health committee, which has brought together management and workers from a variety of agencies to develop a provincewide best practices guide and online resources for problems such as suicidal thoughts and depression.
Research has shown that first responders are at an increased risk of mental health problems. A 2017 national study by University of Regina psychology professor Nicholas Carleton that surveyed nearly 6,000 dispatchers, correctional workers, police, paramedics and firefighters found 44.5 per cent showed signs of least one mental health disorder, much higher than the average of 10 per cent in the general population.
In April, the provincial government announced it was removing barriers to helping first responders get mental health help. PTSD and other mental health conditions are now presumed to have been caused by the nature of their work, so first responders no longer have to prove such illnesses happened on the job.
“First responders, sheriffs and both provincial and federal correctional officers who experience trauma on the job and are diagnosed with a mental disorder should not have the added stress of having to prove that their disorder is work-related in order to receive support and compensation,” Labour Minister Harry Bains said at the time.
This is a significant policy change, said Sean Gjos, owner of Boreal Wellness Centres in Yaletown, which is developing a new trauma counselling program for first responders.
“For many of these individuals, their normal day-to-day work life is dealing with situations that, for most of us in the general public, is one of the worst days of our lives. … And over a period of years, all of those experiences can accumulate and be a really heavy burden for first responders,” said Gjos.
“So making it easier for them to access appropriate care is a huge win, and long overdue.”
The mounting number of suicides by first responders in B.C. showed that change was desperately needed. A website kept by a retired paramedic, Lisa Jennings, counts nearly 60 suicides by police and corrections officers, paramedics and firefighters over the past three years.
And yet, for a province with about 17,000 police officers, firefighters and paramedics, the number of claims made to WorkSafeBC for mental health problems is low. There were 269 claims in 2017: 84 allowed, 41 refused, and the rest abandoned.
The Labour Ministry said it is too early to know whether April’s rule change will substantially boost these numbers.
Why are there so few claims if research suggests almost half of first responders have some type of mental health injury? Stigma. This stops many in paramilitary, “tough guy” careers from asking for help, experts say.
“We did a survey to find out what first responders’ current attitudes were about mental health, about seeking help, and about stigma. And the response we got back from that was: Yes, stigma does exist in these organizations,” said Trudi Rondou, WorkSafeBC’s senior manager of industry and labour services, who chairs the First Responders’ Mental Health committee.
Last year, the committee launched the “Share it. Don’t Wear It” campaign, featuring the stark faces of first-responders covered with chilling words, such as: “There’s this heavy feeling. It’s more than a bad call or a bad day. It’s like all the time.”
In a survey this year, 62 per cent of respondents said they were more likely to speak up for help as a result of the campaign, said Rondou.
That’s a promising sign for first responders, whose most common mental health diagnosis is depression or anxiety, with PTSD making up just seven percent.
But to whom do they turn for help, once they are ready to ask?
Johnston, who has done mental health outreach work with firefighters, has designed a two-day course for mental health professionals interested in working with first responders. Over the past year, 250 clinicians in seven B.C. cities have taken the course.
Given how hesitant first responders are to seek help, the course gives clinical counsellors tips on the appropriate language and approach to use so that these workers will continue to return. Through his website First Responder Health, Johnston has also created a telemedicine option that links first responders in rural communities with trained clinicians.
“First responder jobs can be brutally difficult,” said clinical psychologist Mary Ross, who has taken Johnston’s course and whose expertise includes PTSD. “And more than I think the public appreciates, there are very kind, well-meaning, sensitive people joining these organizations and some of what they deal with impacts them hugely and, unfortunately, makes some really, really sick.”
Responding to the increased number of calls where people have died or are in need of repeated intervention because of the opioid crisis makes it even more difficult for first responders to find a balance between staying emotionally unattached at work and being emotionally open in their personal lives.
“You create the barriers you need to stay sane (at work),” said Ross, who works at Boreal. “Then how do you go home and be a dad and a husband when you’ve been building walls all day?”
Gjos, who worked in financial management and had several health care organizations as clients before opening Boreal, said first responders, veterans and nurses make up 40 per cent of the clinic’s patients. He expects that the 10-week, outpatient trauma program that Boreal is developing will be popular with first responders, and could also help emergency-room doctors and nurses, dispatchers, correctional officers and Crown attorneys.
Gjos is in discussions with WorkSafeBC about his clinic becoming a recommended provider, which would mean those seeking counselling there for approved claims for workplace injuries would have their sessions covered financially.
“We are trying to help people who have had traumatic experiences to develop tools and become more resilient so they become more functional across all layers of their life,” Gjos said, adding that vocational rehabilitation experts work with patients who have taken a leave of absence.
“We are collaborating on their return-to-work path. It is a really important aspect, especially in safety sensitive jobs.”
Ross, who has been a clinical counsellor for 20 years, believes first responders are more willing to ask for help than they were in the past.
“Now it’s a little easier to do it more openly and have the support of your workplace behind you in a way that wasn’t quite there before,” she said, but added that more work needs to be done.
Johnston believes changing the language from “disorders” to mental health “injuries” will encourage more first responders to come forward for help, just as they naturally would with an injured arm or leg.
He also senses a change from the dire situation a few years ago, when his department lost two members to suicide in just seven weeks, to more encouraging times now.
For those in the early stages of feeling down, Johnston has a few recommendations: Get more sleep, which is often a challenge for those who work shifts; stay connected to friends and family, which can also be difficult when you work nights and weeknights; and have a physical outlet or hobby that can clear your head. For Johnston, a former Team Canada distance runner, it is going for long jogs.
For those more mired in workplace gloom, he hopes his take-away message for first responders is that “taking a knee” in counselling will make them more confident in other elements of their lives.
“If firefighters can understand that idea that it will help you become stronger in your job and your personal life, not weaker.”
SOS Children’s Village B.C. executive director Douglas Dunn and gala chair Nesrine Jabbour looked forward to a 4.9-hectare Mission site providing up to 30 new houses for foster children and youths to occupy. Malcolm Parry / PNG
CRYSTAL CLEAR: Chairing the B.C. Children’s Hospital Foundation’s Crystal Ball for the second time, interior designer Jennifer Johnston saw it raise approximately $4 million. That is a substantial increase, if less precisely, over last year’s $2,815,129. The Beedie Group-sponsored 35th-annual event’s theme was unchanged, though. Funds raised will support B.C.’s “84,000 children and youth experiencing mental health issues,” of whom, “70 per cent aren’t getting the care they need,” Johnston said.
Raising four megabucks is now now more or less expected by big-time galas. Still, this Zen-themed event’s attendees witnessed something less achievable. As waidoko drummer Nori Akagi generated rolling thunder, Alcvin Ryuzen Ramos played the four-finger-hole shakuhachi bamboo flute with fluency, tonal frequency and chromatic range that might mentally challenge others striving to do so.
JUSTICE SERVED: At its recent gala The Justice Institute of B.C. Foundation honoured Marvin Storrow with the Anthony P. Pantages QC Award. It recognized the litigator and former gala chair having “made a significant contribution in the field of justice.” The award also symbolically reconnected Storrow to a fellow “east-end yo-yo champion when we were kids.” That was former Supreme Court of Canada justice and past honoree Frank Iacobucci.
Longtime B.C. Sports Hall of Fame trustee Storrow attended the gala following the two or three sets of tennis he plays up to five times weekly. As combative athletically as in the courtroom, he once reported his nose broken four times by sports encounters and twice by “differences of opinion.” Representing JIBC’s 30,000-plus student enrolment, graduates-turned-lifesavers Franjo Gasparovic and Megan Rook received the Heroes & Rescue award. Wendy Lisogar-Cocchia and Sergio Cocchia were cited for community leadership, and the late Douglas Eastwood and Heather Lyle for lifetime achievement.
RING TIME: As for broken noses, the Confratellanza Italo-Canadese and North Burnaby Boxing Club’s 10-bout Night of Fights helped fund those organization’s scholarship and boxing programs. It also benefited the East End Boys Club and Camp Miriam. Italian Cultural Centre catering director Fabio Rasotto all but knocked out 600 attendees with pork spareribs, roast beef, chicken, salmon, pesto pasta, five salads, cold cuts, cheese and Italian pastries. The Angelo Branca Sportsman of the Year award went to local boxer Tommy Boyce, who won 175 of 185 amateur and 17 of 18 pro fights. An earlier recipient, Olympian Manny Sobral, founded and heads the Burnaby club. Calling under-141-pound light welterweight Freya Orr’s split-decision win over Aanika Sehgal, “a barn burner and fight of the night,” Sobral said the latter “feels better about her body image and more confident” after shedding 60 pounds at Surrey’s Savard Boxing Gym.
PUSH TO SHOE: The 15th-anniversary PuSh International Performing Arts Festival got off on the right foot recently. On the left one, too. That’s because board presidents Jessica Bouchard and Mira Oreck fronted a kickoff event for the 15th-annual running at Gastown’s Fluevog shoe store. The two described the Jan. 17-Feb. 3 festival’s 26 staged works as “visionary, genre-bending, multi-disciplined, startling and original.” Somewhat like designer John Fluevog’s shoes, that is. Interim executive director Roxanne Duncan and interim artistic director Joyce Rosario filled in for now-retired and much lauded PuSh founder Norman Armour. They and attendees also acquired shoes, Duncan’s being appropriately theatrical silver glitter “Munster” platforms at a price of $399.
HOTFOOT: Costlier footwear was offered at Aaron Van Pykstra’s bazaar-style charity event in his Autoform dealership’s showroom. Along with artworks, cigars, handbags, watches and suchlike Aleix Dai showed rare sneakers from his Richmond-based Stay Fresh operation. Priced at $3,300, Dai’s red-white-and-black “Off-White” Air Jordans complemented a 1964 Chevrolet Impala V8 convertible that cost US$3,196 (CAD$3,436) new in 1964. According to Van Pykstra, $54,995 would put your clodhoppers on its pedals today.
RIDE DALI RIDE: Howe Street passersby might paraphrase the 1953 novelty song by asking: “How much is that Dali in the window?” They’d be referring to the sculptures, lithographs and other works by late Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali in Susanna Strem’s Challi-Rosso gallery. In fact, a self-portrait in the window recently was by local big-canvas artist Pamela Masik, whose other paintings inside “interpreted classics of the master: Dali.” Somewhat surreally, two topless women pressed their pigment-coated upper bodies against canvases that, on a smaller scale, echoed Masik’s performance-art creations.
FOSTERING GROWTH: SOS Children’s Village B.C. should soon receive a 4.9-hectare site worth $6 million in Mission’s Silverdale area. With the Vancouver Native Housing Society, it plans to house foster children in some 30 dwellings there by 2021. So said executive director Douglas Dunn at a gala that reportedly raised $68,000 with more pending. It was chaired again by financial planner Nesrine Jabbour whose second child is due in February. Thirty-nine youngsters presently occupy the 34-year-old SOS chapter’s 12-house, five-transition-suite Surrey facility, Dunn said. The expansion should please delegates at the organization’s international conference here in May.
DOWN PARRYSCOPE: Trackside bettors might discount the pleas of jockeys whose horses ran second and third past the post.
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