Friday, May 02, 2008

Pick a project to move us off the "stuckness"
April 25, 2008

We’ve got the motivation. We’ve got the ideas. We’ve certainly got the money, and all the knowledge we need to fix the problems taking root on B.C. streets.
So why don’t we? That’s the million-dollar question - or the $852-million question to be more precise, which is roughly what it costs British Columbians every year to ride herd on the 15,500 people living on our streets. With the Olympics a mere two years away at this point, I would have expected urgency tinged with panic to have reached the highest levels by now, and yet it never seems to.
Richard LeBlanc calls it “stuckness.” He should know, given the challenges he has faced trying to set up a therapeutic community on the old Woodwynn farm in Central Saanich (
“There’s a grand stuckness in Victoria,” says LeBlanc, who I first got to know several years ago through his highly successful Youth Employment Program. “We need to pick a project like Woodwynn - or any project, really - to get through it. Let’s pick one we feel passionate about and get past this.”
LeBlanc says he has been overwhelmed with support for his project, modelled after Italy’s famous San Patrignano therapeutic community. He recalled one two-minute trip through an office building that turned into a 45-minute meander due to so many people stopping him along the way to tell him how much they supported what he was doing.
Central Saanich council dealt the project a significant blow in February by nixing institutional or residential use of the property before LeBlanc had even presented to council. But LeBlanc would rather sort that challenge out than go find another piece of land - a lengthy and potentially futile process at the best of times in our region, and a major contributor to stuckness.
“If not here, where? If not now, when?” asks LeBlanc. “If you pick a new property, nine to 12 months from now we’ll be finished with due diligence and be back in the exactly same place as we are right now - and a year later.”
LeBlanc and I got chatting about Woodwynn a couple weeks ago over coffee with Ray Howard, who’d brought us together to talk about his own dream to do something with the five decommissioned BC ferries that are coming out of service in September. Howard wants to use them as floating treatment centres for people with addictions, and even has a low-profile spot picked out in Saanich Inlet where the ships can anchor.
Howard says everyone’s first reaction is to scoff, then declare that it can’t be done - but really, why couldn’t it? It’s an interesting idea.
As is LeBlanc’s project. As is a bottle depot similar to Vancouver’s United We Can, designed to work with, train and hire the “binners” out there who earn a living redeeming the bottles and cans we can’t be bothered to return. (There’s even a depot licence available in Victoria right now.)
All sorts of innovative projects are out there waiting to be tried. They’re going to require us to take a chance on doing things differently, and to stifle that automatic “No!” that rises to our lips so easily in this region. In my opinion, no idea should be considered too wacky to dismiss out of hand, because nothing could possibly be wackier than leaving things as they are.
But all the ideas in the world won’t get us far if we stay stuck. Let’s do something big, bold and dramatic for a change, and prove to ourselves - and the world that will soon be on our doorsteps - that it’s possible.
Speaking of saying no, the Capital Regional District was none too happy about my column last week about separating out returnable bottles and cans so that binners can benefit from some of the $18 million in deposits that go unredeemed in B.C. every year.
The CRD contract with Metro Waste - the company that buys the recyclables collected through the blue-box program - is based on three to four per cent of the “container stream” being redeemable containers, says a CRD spokeswoman. In other words, the CRD got a cheaper deal by telling Metro they could count on people like you and me to put at least some of our redeemable bottles into our blue boxes, which Metro then takes in for a refund.
With all due respect to the CRD, I’ll do as I choose with the deposits on my redeemables, and eagerly await word of other ways to put our forfeited deposits to work on social fronts. In Vancouver, a pilot project to collect workplace bottles and cans is generating funds for the United Way.
B.C.’s redeemable containers are managed by non-profit Encorp Pacific, and our unredeemed deposits are its major revenue stream. But Encorp has the means to make up that revenue elsewhere, says spokesman Malcolm Harvey, and would be happy to see deposits being rerouted to help binners.

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