News

A look back at 2012 in Victoria

Mayor Dean Fortin lights the Victoria 150th anniversary cake in August. The city
Mayor Dean Fortin lights the Victoria 150th anniversary cake in August. The city's 150th celebrations included events throughout the year.
— image credit: Sharon Tiffin/News staff

The year 2012 included many stories that got people talking. Here's a list of some of the major issues that caught the attention of the News through the year.

January

News of a shake up at the Provincial Capital Commission starts off the new year, as the provincial government takes over management of such PCC assets as Crystal Garden, the CPR Terminal Building – home of the Royal London Wax Museum and various offices – and St. Ann’s Academy.

The changes effectively reduce the PCC’s mandate to community outreach programs. Several local-government PCC board members quit over the changes.

The PCC itself downplays the news, saying it will maintain control over its assets. According to the official reasoning behind the announcement, the consolidation of facility management with the province will save $200,000 annually.

That doesn’t stop the rumours from flying, however. In the weeks that follow, there is much public speculation about the fate of the high-profile properties – especially after the province announces its intention to sell off many of its land holdings throughout the province. So far, no sell-off announcements.

February

February marks the point of no return for the Johnson Street Bridge – or the rail portion of the bridge, at the very least.

More than 100 people brave the pouring rain for hours to watch the dismantling of this half the bridge.

A crane lifts the span and lowers it onto a 100-metre barge. It is then moved a short distance up the harbour to Point Hope Shipyards, where it sits for months before being chopped into pieces.

The City of Victoria originally intended to keep both halves of the bridge open until the replacement bridge was completed in 2016.

But an inspection reveals greater deterioration than expected and the plan is changed.

Despite the fact passenger trains are no longer running across the bridge, the city deems it too much of a liability to leave it open for pedestrians and cyclists.

March

The bridge steals the headlines again, with proponents and opponents of the replacement project lamenting news of a massive cost hike.

The estimate escalates from $77 million to $92.8 million. Thankfully – or strategically – the bad news comes on the heels of a $16.5-million federal grant for the bridge project.

City council calls the news of the jump in costs surprising and disappointing, but the News reveals city staff knew of the increase (though not the exact amount) months earlier.

April

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission visits Victoria for two days, setting up at the Victoria Conference Centre.

Thousands gather to listen, and hundreds of Indian Residential School survivors and their families speak about attending the schools and the lasting effects it has had on generations of families. First Nations people from all over Vancouver Island travel here to attend.

The commission gathers statements as part of its mission to create a national record of this long, regrettable chapter in Canada’s history.

May

The disposition of city-owned assets and land dominates the news in May. First, city council votes to consider selling off four marine industrial lots to Ralmax Industries, to accommodate the company’s expansion plans.

The two dissenting councillors in the vote, Ben Isitt and Shellie Gudgeon, plan a public forum to hear what residents and business owners think of the sale of public lands. That forum brings to light concerns over transparency in city dealings around such sales, and inconsistent treatment of some buyers over others.

It comes as the details of Reliant Properties’ plans for the Northern Junk prime waterfront lots are coming to light, including the possible transfer of a section of city-owned land in exchange for public amenities.

June

After the Esquimalt Policing Panel says the RCMP would be its first choice to provide policing services for the municipality, B.C. Justice Minister Shirley Bond announces that the Victoria Police Department will continue to police the smaller municipality, as it has done for seven years.

Esquimalt Mayor Barbara Desjardins is furious.

She calls the decision, based on a mediator’s report, “an insult” to the panel process the province put in place to resolve the matter.

Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin says the ruling gives certainty to the situation and provides a “blueprint” for the Victoria police board to improve service to both jurisdictions.

That doesn’t appease Esquimalt, which later considers taking legal action against the province to recover the costs of implementing the report’s 43 recommendations, in the wake of the rejection of the panel findings.

July

Now that the provincial and federal governments confirmed they will each contribute one-third of the estimated $782-million cost of building a new sewage treatment facility, area taxpayers start to think about what they’ll pay to cover the Capital Regional District’s share.

Estimates range from $200 to $500 or more per year, depending on where you live and the value of your home or commercial property. The announcement of the commitments from higher levels of government comes just before the feds mandate treatment for all metropolitan areas in Canada.

It doesn’t take long for the primary opponents of the plan, a group calling themselves the Association for Responsible and Environmentally Sustainable Sewage Treatment (ARESST) to come out swinging. Backed by former federal environment minister and Victoria MP David Anderson, they denounce the project as a waste of taxpayer’s money.

The group argues that the current practice of pumping screened sewage a kilometre into the Juan de Fuca Strait is not causing marine environmental damage.

Says Anderson of the federal regulations: “If the federal government decided to have the same snow-removal requirements for Victoria as in Quebec, we would call that ridiculous.”

August

As the culmination of Victoria 150 celebrations, the city hosts a weekend of activities at Centennial Square to help mark its 150th anniversary. Events have been going on for much of the year, with local history the common thread running through most of them.

Historian John Adams remarks that in 1862, the site of the celebrations would have commonly seen peddlars carrying vegetables at the end of a bamboo pole. A short walk from the current Chinatown in Victoria, the land was once owned by Kwong Lee and Co., a Chinese merchant house that rivalled the Hudson’s Bay Company in the area. The historical look back notes that Thomas Harris, a butcher, was the city’s first mayor and was elected with a show of hands.

Denise Savoie, whose first election to the position of Victoria city councillor came about 140 years later, was on hand for the 150th gala. Later in the month, however, she makes news by resigning as the member of Parliament for Victoria, due to health reasons. She had served as MP since 2006.

September

Representatives from more than 200 municipalities, First Nations and regional districts descend on Victoria for the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities conference in late-September. The event takes the annual pulse of municipal concerns, and offers local governments a chance to lobby the province and federal government.

“(UBCM is) the voice of service delivery and infrastructure,” said James Lawson, University of Victoria political scientist. The conference also provides a venue for municipal leaders to share ideas and to build political clout, he said.

The most notable of the 203 resolutions this year? A call for a provincial ban on the possession, sale and distribution of shark fins and a federal ban on importation of shark fins; opposition to more oil tanker traffic through coastal waters without proper safeguards, and opposition to Enbridge pipeline and Kinder Morgan pipeline projects; and a call for the federal government to decriminalize marijuana and research its taxation.

October

The Belfry Theatre’s annual wine auction fundraiser is thrown into disarray after the province’s liquor control and licensing branch denies a special occasion licence to the charity.

Without warning or explanation, liquor inspectors begin enforcing a rule that makes the sale or auctioning of wine illegal, a move that left charities confused and angry.

The minister responsible for liquor, Rich Coleman, eventually admits the law needs updating and makes a temporary concession to allow charities to auction wine, so long as it remains part of a gift basket. The Belfry goes ahead with an online version of the sale in November.

The government is expected to introduce legislation sometime before the May 2013 election to explicitly permit charitable wine auctions.

November

Although the NDP’s Murray Rankin wins the Nov. 26 byelection to represent Victoria, Oak Bay, and a slice of Saanich, the chatter is all about Green Party candidate Donald Galloway’s near-upset on election night.

While there are a number of campaign issues – including several relating to the environment – the one that garners the most attention is the Capital Region’s $783-million secondary sewage treatment project. Three of the four major party candidates oppose it.

In the end, the race comes down to the Greens and NDP, while the Conservatives and Liberals finish with a disappointing 15-per-cent and 13-per-cent share of the vote, respectively. For much of the evening, voting results have the Greens and NDP neck-and-neck, separated by only one vote at several points throughout the evening. Rankin wins by about 1,100 votes – roughly 2.9 per cent of those who cast a ballot. Voter turnout is 44 per cent.

December

A plan by the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority to install railings along the beloved breakwater at Ogden Point kicks off a cyclone of criticism and support in mid-December. The $500,000 safety upgrade is ordered after a review by Labour Canada finds workers were being subjected to unsafe work conditions.

“Retaining the unique experience of the breakwater was an important consideration in designing this safety upgrade,” GVHA president and CEO Curtis Grad says.

“In selecting a handrail design, GVHA was very conscious of preserving the spectacular views, while providing the necessary protection for the public and our maintenance team.”

In addition to the post-and-cable design of the handrails, the lighthouse staircase will also be upgraded to improve safe diver access to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

editor@vicnews.com

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