Category Archives: Uncategorized

Being Vancouver

Vancouver+Boring+20150527Vancouver’s trenchant and highly talented Stephen Quinn pretty much nails it with this column…our fine city is certainly among the prettiest in the world, but we are still a century away from the complexity, vivacity and global relevance we claim.

While i laud our chamber of commerce, development barons and political leaders for their aspirational assertions of Vancouver’s “world-class” status, it isn’t true until the world says so…

Yes, tourists and wealthy foreigners seem to be indicating a fondness for our vistas, resort neighbourhoods and stable polity, but Vancouver is far too self-aware, precious and fresh to rank with the scarred, well-tested and (relatively) ancient cities of London, Paris and NYC. These cities are notable for their self-confidence. Vancouver is notable for its self-consciousness.

Quinn likens us to an insecure adolescent among venerable adults; the latter know that to say one is “world-class” is to reveal one is not yet there.

Let’s speak of what we hope to be and act to make it so. One day, i am certain, others will notice, and everything we are will be valued by the world.

There endeth my epistle. bh

Why I’m voting Yes in Vancouver’s transit referendum

I took great exception to Jeffrey Simpson’s recent column implying the only people who will vote no in the transit referendum are either elderly, poor, or anti-establishment and anti-taxes on principle. I am neither elderly nor poor—and I actually believe taxes are the best mechanism we have to pay for public investments.

Yet I still want to vote no. I want to vote no because I simply don’t believe that a half-cent-levy on goods and services is an imaginative or progressive way to pay for the Mayors’ Transportation and Transit Plan. I agree with the idea of asking citizens about the best way to fund that public investment, I just don’t believe this referendum asks the question fairly.

A fairer question would start with the presumption that the need to fund key Metro infrastructure is a given, and then ask people how they prefer to pay for it. What about increasing ICBC payments? And/or introducing a new tax on car sales? And/or raising the price of gasoline? And/or imposing a development levy on luxury car franchises?

I don’t know if any of these are viable funding schemes to this forward-thinking, comprehensive plan, and I guess I never will. As is too often the case with government consultations, this referendum presents a false dichotomy. It says, in effect, the only choice is this plan and this funding scheme, or nothing. And it suggests that people who don’t want the tax increase don’t want improved transit.

As a voter, I seriously resent being put in that position. And yet, I am going to vote yes, and here’s why: In 2013, my husband and I took a four-month hiatus to road-trip around America. In our baby-footprint, 2008 Honda Fit, we logged 25,000 kilometres exploring the southern states.


When we reached Georgia, we paid heed to the guidebook-warnings (their caps) DON’T DRIVE IN ATLANTA. We read that traffic congestion was heinous in that city, and wise travellers would never to try to traverse it by car. So we opted for a hotel at the outskirts and used public transit system to move around.

The MARTA was fine, but no more or less sophisticated or simpler to use than TransLink’s offerings. What was remarkable was what we saw on the streets around us. The downtown congestion and chaos described in our guidebooks was comparable to Metro Vancouver’s relatively mild, mid-day, mid-week flows. We thought: “And you guys call this traffic?”

As a third-generation Vancouverite, I think we’ve become inured to just how much traffic congestion plagues our city; we seem to think long delays going over bridges or reaching freeway entrances are part of the price of living here. And we say to ourselves, because “traffic is so bad,” that every inch you can grab in a car—from turning left on yellow or red lights, to sitting in pedestrian intersections to wait for car space—is just normal driving behaviour.

But it’s not normal; it’s dangerous. And given current growth predictions, it’s going to get much, much worse. It’s a truism in the transportation planning department that “traffic flows like water—it will always find the easiest course to take.” So the only way to change courses is to develop convenient public transit alternatives for moving people without single-occupancy vehicles. We need to put bike paths over viaducts and bridges, and we need to usurp roadways for rapid transit corridors and HOV lanes.

If the only way to do this is to say “Yes” to this unfair referendum question, then so be it. I just wish there were a different, more nuanced statement I could make.

– lb –

Abbott and Othello? Geopolitical Tragi-Comedy Unfolds

Stephen Harper & Tony Abbott (AKA underDown & Downunder)

According to a weapons-industry blog published by the über-hawkish Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the Shakespearian comic duo (and co-leaders of the shadowy anglo-governmental spy treaty known as Five Eyes) are getting together in Ottawa to coordinate more than their Prime Ministerial wardrobes.

As we watch Australian PM Tony Abbott trending across the public sphere for his #Canadia tongue malfunction, it’s easy to lose sight of the significant policy matters being plotted by the PMs on our behalf. How convenient. Watch for Stephen Harper to refer to his “good friend, the Austrian Prime Minister,” further distracting news media from more serious affairs.

It’s also distracting (but not news) that Harper & Abbott — CSIS code names: underDown & Downunder — are being “frank” about marshalling forces to deny climate change, but they’re not saying much about their mutual security cooperation agenda.

Shortly after his election, Tony reportedly told the Australia-Canada Economic Leadership Dialogue that he and Steve are mind-melding:

“[The Canada-Australia] relationship is strong but under-developed even though we are as like-minded as any two countries can be. So, I want to make more of this friendship: for our own good and for the good of the wider world.”

And — I guess because good surveillance makes good, like-minded neighbours — it’s for “the good of the wider world” that our PMs can compare notes on the way to Washington DC, reports the Canberra-based think tank (emphasis added):

“As Abbott’s speech makes clear, he values the [Can-Aus] link for its historical foundations in military cooperation during WWI. The PM was too savvy to use the term ‘Anglosphere’, because that would have been reviled by the usual glassy-eyed suspects, but it’s clear the government sees the intelligence relationship between the five-eyes countries as bedrock national security.

Call me glassy-eyed, but this suspect is eager to hear more from these two status-quo apologists about why the US should turn away from carbon pricing.

I’m hoping a reporter asks this question: Are the Prime Ministers planning to offer up the digital privacy of Canadian & Australian citizens in exchange for American foot-dragging on what you call the “job-killing carbon tax?”

Just think of how tasty that offer would be to both the data collectors and the Big Carbon industry lobby.

Why, our PMs could even push for White House endorsement of a new Fair Fossil Fuel™ program to protect temporary foreign workers in our oil sands, LNG plants and coal mines.

Hell, this commonwealth comedy team could cap it all off in Vancouver with a three-fer appearance alongside Premier Clark to announce her new provincial marketing campaign: Green Coal From the Best Place on Earth ©

Think of the coverage! One call from The New Christy Minstrels, and Global BC & The Vancouver Sun will sign their newsrooms on as Official Media Partners for a white-hardhat-only campaign launch event & gala at the Fraser Surrey Docks. Premier Clark could call it her Black is the New Green Ball, and all proceeds could go to the Vancouver Aquarium whale-pool expansion project. What a show that would be, eh?

Alas, that would all be a bit too Shakespearian — even these like-minded clowns know how Othello ends. The Bard didn’t say this, but I will: methinks they loved fossil fuel too well.


MFAQ: What makes news?

NewsAfter 25 years in public communications work, it’s pretty safe to say the most frequently asked question I get is “What makes news, anyway?”

It’s usually posed by organizations puzzled by their low public profile and frustrating irrelevance to local newsrooms.

Sometimes, it’s a client with too much attention from reporters: “Why the *!$ is this news, anyway?”

None of my interrogators want a long discussion of the political economies of newsrooms, so I’ve developed a short reply to these two MFAQs. It goes like this:

The ST Test — Anything accurately described with adjectives ending in “st” is news:

first | oldest | newest | biggest | smallest | fastest | most | worst | best | last

The 3 Cons Test —  If any of these three elements are part of the story, it’s news:

Controversy:       Is it a matter of active and salient public debate?

Conflict:               Are there clear sides with clashing agendas?

Contradiction:   Is there evidence of mixed messages, hypocrisy, deceit, manipulation?

Oversimplified, for sure, but surprisingly comprehensive when you check it against today’s news coverage.

These are the questions editors and reporters ask when they’re deciding what’s news; these are the tests every public-facing organization needs to pass if they want to be in — or out — of the public sphere.


Citizen, know thyself


What good is a compass that only shows east and west?  What about north and south and the other 356 points on a useful positioning device?

Can all your cultural, societal, political, moral and personal beliefs and opinions be accurately described as a single point on a straight economic axis between communism and capitalism?

I’ve worked in politics and I’ve worked in journalism, and I’ve never been happy with the old leftright spectrum as our frame of reference for understanding individual and collective ideologies.

People, polities and politics are far too complex and complicated to be described or understood accurately as a single point on a line between liberal and conservative, somewhere left or right of a shifting centre.

Ten years ago, I would introduce journalism students to the idea of multi-axis political description by asking them to take the short online survey at this Web 1.0-ish site that evaluates political beliefs by adding a vertical social axis between total individual freedom and complete state control — adding north & south to the Political Compass, as it were.

It’s not political science, but it is a fun way to see which ideological quadrant you might fall into…and which world leaders are plotted nearby.


What’s in a name?

The public sphere is anywhere and everywhere citizens exchange ideas, information and opinions. It’s the place where the private spheres of everyday life interact with the official spheres of government and society to affirm or challenge the status quo.

The public sphere is an open marketplace of meaning where public opinion, public attitudes and public culture are continually formed and re-formed by acts of communication.

It exists wherever private spheres gather to talk, read, listen and write about the legitimacy of the official spheres.

There are many voices and many audiences in the public sphere. As communications management consultants, our goal is to help organizations participate meaningfully, authentically, and effectively. As bloggers, we’re here to join the expanding conversation about the quality of public communications in a digital public sphere.