What a legacy! Thank you, fossil fuel industry

Dr. Trevor Hancock

25 July 2022

699 words

Gwyn Morgan is cursed with bad timing but remains determined to stay on the wrong side of history. In his latest fossil fuel/ anti-environment spin exercise (Times Colonist, 23 July), this fossil fuel businessman manages to criticize environmentalists and boost the fossil fuel industry without once mentioning either climate change or global warming, never mind the human impact of those processes.

This in the week when we have watched vast areas of France, Spain and Portugal burn; seen Britain hit a temperature above 40C for the first time ever; seen 100 million Americans under heat warnings, and witnessed droughts in India and flooding in Bangladesh, China and Australia.

I am reminded of Donald Trump recording his message to America the day after the January 6th insurrection: just as he could not say “the election is over”, so too Mr. Morgan can’t bring himself to write ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’. This would be funny, were it not so stupidly dangerous.

The fact is that what we are witnessing today in many parts of the world is the result of climate change – actually, climate chaos – driven largely by the combustion of Morgan’s beloved fossil fuels. And it’s going to get worse – probably much worse – before it gets better. If it gets better. Because we are only at 1.1C of warming, likely to surpass 1.5C and on our way to 2 or 3C warming or more.

But as David Suzuki notes in the accompanying article, fossil fuel industry executives “mounted a full-scale campaign to deny, downplay or cause confusion about the growing evidence that their actions threaten our survival – a campaign that’s ongoing” – as Morgan’s column neatly illustrates.

The problem, Mr. Morgan, is not the environmentalists, it’s the fact that our warnings – dating back 50 years or more – were ignored, dismissed, ridiculed and downplayed by people like you. The Club of Rome’s 1972 report “The Limits to Growth” anticipated that “the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next 100 years.”

A 2008 review of their work by Graham Turner, a Principal Research Fellow at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, concluded: “Thirty years of historical data compare favourably with key features of a business-as-usual scenario . . . which results in collapse of the global system midway through the 21st century.” That is less than 30 years away!

But an unholy alliance of corporations and governments, inspired – if that is the right word – by neoliberal economists, failed to understand – or preferred not to understand – what was being said. As a result, they failed to take action to protect us from the consequences of their actions.

Instead, you all chose to try to keep the whole crazy edifice of our industrial consumer economy going, regardless of the consequences – and you are still at it. As Kenneth Boulding, at one time President of both the American Economic Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science told the US Congress way back in 1973, only a madman or an economist – or in this case, a retired business leader – “believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world.” And yet this is still the myth peddled by the world’s government and corporate leaders.

The real problem is that the solutions proposed by the environmental movement for decades, which would have shifted us from our current path to a healthier, more sustainable and equitable future, have been ignored or delayed. As a result, we have probably lost any hope of managing a gentle transition to what the Science Council of Canada, in 1977, called a Conserver Society. But because of the short-sighted, pig-headed and self-serving opposition of the fossil fuel industry and it’s many corporate and government fellow-travellers, we are running out of time.

We now face the prospect of trying to navigate through a rapid decline, even collapse, of key ecological systems. And when ecological systems decline or collapse, so too do the social and economic systems, the societies and communities, that depend upon them, with disastrous health impacts.

Quite a legacy the fossil fuel industry and the entire corporate and government leadership is leaving us. Thanks, Mr. Morgan.

© Trevor Hancock, 2022


Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the

University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy


Creating a more livable region: Build an abundance of housing

(Published as ‘If you want an abundance of housing, don’t micro-manage’)

19 July 2022

Dr. Trevor Hancock

702 words

Continuing my exploration of the ‘Five Big Ideas’ of Livable Victoria, a group of which I am a member, this week I look at our second Big Idea: Build an abundance of housing and implement policies to promote affordability.

We know we have a major problem of affordability, both nationally and in this region; indeed in a report last month CMHC called it a crisis. CMHC found the last time housing was considered affordable was 2003/4 and that “to restore affordability, we need 3.5 million additional housing units beyond current projections” by 2030. Of those, over half a million are needed in B.C.

In fact, CMHC notes, B.C. “seems to have always been an unaffordable province”; since at least 1990, “affordability has not been below 40 percent of disposable income”.  In 2003/4 an average household needed to spend 45 percent of their disposable income to buy an average house in British Columbia. Today, “such a household would have had to devote close to 60 percent of their incomes to housing.” I suspect it may be more in this region.

The CRD’s 2018 update of its Regional Housing Affordability Strategy includes some general recommendations under Goal 1 – Build the right supply of housing across the spectrum but the specifics are missing. Livable Victoria provides some of those specifics in our second ‘Big Idea’: Build an abundance of housing and implement policies to promote affordability.

Our first two recommendations under this idea are: “Update residential zoning to allow, by-right, a diversity of housing types and tenure in residential neighbourhoods, including townhouses, houseplexes, and low-rise apartments” and “Scale-up and encourage purpose-built rental housing through incentives such as pre-zoning areas and allowing for greater densities compared to strata ownership housing.”

This takes us straight to the issue of ‘Missing Middle’ housing, currently being debated in the City of Victoria. The term ‘Missing Middle’ was coined in 2010 by Daniel Parolek, founder of Berkeley-based Opticos Design. It is defined on their website as “a range of house-scale buildings with multiple units – compatible in scale and form with detached single-family homes – located in a walkable neighbourhood”.  They make the point that this type of housing used to be quite common, until the post-war period.

In a May 2021 article Jimmy Thomson, Managing Editor of Capital Daily noted the idea behind ‘as of right’ zoning and pre-zoning is that “large areas – or whole cities – could be designated as places where more units can be built by default, encouraging cities to densify”.

The point of what has been called ‘gentle densification’ with house-scale buildings is that it both creates a more walkable ‘15-minute neighbourhood’ that, as Opticos puts it, “supports locally-serving retail and public transportation options”, and it is more environmentally sustainable. Many older European cities are built that way, and we love them.

But ultimately, this may not be enough, warns Christine Lintott, an architect and Biomimicry Professional and a member of Livable Victoria. Even with as-of-right zoning and pre-zoning, a plethora of other regulations and codes can get in the way of innovative solutions. “While they can often be addressed”, she notes, “processing times for development permits and building permits remain lengthy, adding another year or more to the process, and that added time and cost makes it difficult if not impossible for innovative small-scale developments to be built.”

We need to step back and look at what we are trying to achieve here – “more households on lots in mature neighbourhoods”, as Lintott puts it – and then figure out the best way to get there, including through regulatory reform.

I am reminded of the apocryphal story of the difference between the Ontario and German building codes. The Ontario code is very thick and immensely detailed, describing everything in great detail. The German building code is very thin and results-driven. It tells you to build a wall that holds up the roof and meets other basic needs and then leaves it to the designer to figure out how.

While this is undoubtedly an over-simplification, the point is clear – don’t micro-manage. Know where you want to be, set some basic rules of safety, sustainability etc., then stand back and let the innovation and creativity flow.

© Trevor Hancock, 2022


Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the

University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy

Creating a more livable region: Rapid development of social housing

Published as ‘Social-housing crisis stems from 1993 federal cuts’

Dr. Trevor Hancock

12 July 2022

701 words

Last week I introduced Livable Victoria, of which I am a member. We are an informal and non-partisan group of people who share a passion for making our region a more sustainable, vibrant, healthy, and inclusive place to live. Our aim is to “create a city that respects our planet’s ecological limits while promoting human health and wellbeing”, which has been the focus of my work for much of the past 40 years.

This week I will begin to explore our ‘Five Big Ideas’ in more detail, from the perspective of human wellbeing and its achievement within the Earth’s ecological boundaries. These ideas are intended to provide a balanced and holistic perspective and be implemented together. We want to create a city-region that puts the health of the planet and the wellbeing of everyone that lives here at the centre of decision-making about the built environment.

The first of the Five Big Ideas is to scale-up and facilitate the rapid development of social housing across the region, the provision of which is essential to ensure health and wellbeing for everyone. The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness notes “the term ‘social housing’ refers specifically to housing that is subsidized by a level of government”. It is just housing for ordinary people whose incomes are insufficient to afford market-price housing.

I addressed this issue in my April 10th column “Speeding development of non-profit housing is good for health” and won’t repeat here what I said then. But it is important to understand that the crisis in social housing was the result of the cancellation of the federal social housing program in 1993 and the downloading of responsibility to the provinces in the early 1990s, together with the failure of incomes to keep pace with increased housing costs.

Nicole Chaland, a local housing and homelessness researcher and a member of Livable Victoria, uses data from a 2015 article that shows that social housing fell from a range of 7 – 20 percent of all housing built annually between 1972 and 1994 to 1 – 2 percent after 1996. As a result, she notes, “Canada now has one of the most privatized housing markets of the 38 members countries in the OECD. Only 3.5 per cent of Canada’s housing stock is protected from market influences.”

The good news is that both the federal and provincial governments have finally started to act on the issue of social housing, affordability and homelessness, after decades largely ignoring the problems. But local governments have only a limited capacity to respond to the policy failures of higher levels of government.

Nonetheless, the CRD’s Housing First Program and its Affordable Housing Strategy are beginning to address the issue locally.  In partnership with the federal and provincial governments, the Housing First Program is working “to eliminate chronic homelessness and generate new rental housing options . . . moving at-risk individuals into long-term, tenant-based, supported housing to enable recovery and integration into society.” So far, the construction of over 1,000 units is in planning, underway or completed; of these, 20 percent are provincial income assistance units, 31 percent affordable and 49 percent near-market rental.

We believe this process could be strengthened if municipalities remove barriers to social housing and incentivize and expedite approval processes through measures such as pre-zoning, allowing for higher levels of density, waiving development fees, and providing property tax breaks. Other useful steps can include using existing public land and acquiring new land for social housing; establishing dedicated municipal staff positions to facilitate the development of social housing; providing greater flexibility in land use zoning for social housing, such as allowances for live-work spaces, and broadening the range of accepted design guideline considerations, allowing social benefit, community safety, and cultural features to offset other design goals.

Social housing, an important component of the affordable housing spectrum, is not just an issue for low-income people but a concern for all of us. As the CRD notes, “affordable housing is key to a strong economy and healthy region”.  In fact a CMHC report last month found B.C needs more than half a million new affordable units by 2030. So next week I will look at our suggestions for building more affordable and sustainable housing.

© Trevor Hancock, 2022


Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the

University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy

Creating a more livable region

(Published as ‘Public health plays key role in urban planning’)

Dr. Trevor Hancock

5 July 2022

698 words

In November 2021 the City of Ottawa completed the proccess of revising its Official Plan (OP). My attention was drawn to Ottawa’s plan through a recent news posting by the Canadian Public Health Association, which focused on the role of public health in the development of the new OP.

In Ontario, but sadly not in the rest of Canada any longer, public health is still located in municipal government, making it easier for Ottawa Public Health to co-locate two of its staff in the City’s Planning Department for three years – which is quite a commitment. The goal was to have the City’s new OP rooted in a framework that creates healthy, inclusive and resilient communities.

The success of this strategy can be seen in the presence in the new OP of an entire section on Protection of Health and Safety. Included in this section are policies to prevent injury, loss of life and property damage; minimize incompatible land-uses; build resiliency to the impacts of extreme heat, and enhance personal security through design.

Now it may come as a surprise to some, perhaps many, that public health would play a role in urban planning. But it ought not to. There is a long history, dating back to the mid-19th century in Britain, and to 1912 in Canada, of such involvement. Indeed, in many ways, the roots of urban planning were in concern for the health and wellbeing of city-dwellers.

Building codes, for one thing, are mostly about health and safety, ensuring that buildings don’t fall down or catch fire, that they are adequately ventilated, have sanitation facilities and so on. Zoning policies were initially all about separating dwelling places from noxious industries, while parks were seen as the ‘lungs of the city’.

Indeed, as far back as 1875, in a published lecture called ‘Hygeia: A City of Health’ – one of the inspirations for my work in this area – the Victorian public health leader Sir Benjamin Ward Richardson described a city in many ways like those we strive to build today. Of course, today’s problems are not quite the same as those in Victorian Britain, but at the same time, they are not that different: How do we create urban environments that are healthy and safe for people?

The City of Ottawa’s goal is to become “the most liveable mid-sized city in North America”, with ‘liveability’ encompassing sustainability, social cohesion, economic vitality and the health and well-being of residents. The new OP includes  five Big Policy Moves: achieve more growth by intensification than by greenfield development; ensure that by 2046  the majority of trips are made by sustainable transportation (walking, cycling, transit or carpooling); create stronger, more inclusive and more vibrant neighbourhoods and Villages; recognise the importance of healthy natural and built environments and encourage the evolution of ‘15-minute neighbourhoods’, and embed economic development into the framework of the planning policies.

Many of the key concepts in Ottawa’s new Official Plan closely parallel work here in Victoria in which I am involved. Livable Victoria, which was launched on June 21st,  is an informal and non-partisan  “group of people who share a passion for making our region a more sustainable, vibrant, healthy, and inclusive place to live”. Our members include affordable housing, tenant protection and accessibility advocates, small scale developers, an architect, an engineer, a planner, a transport policy expert, community safety experts and, of course, a healthy city expert – me.

Our aim is to help foster more thoughtful dialogue, advocate for positive change, and encourage bold leadership during this year’s municipal election. To this end, we are proposing ‘5 Big Ideas’ focused on Greater Victoria’s built environment. As we get closer to local elections, we will host events, highlight candidates who share our vision, and provide resources for building more livable communities.

The 5 Big Ideas are to scale-up and facilitate the rapid development of social housing across the region; build an abundance of housing and implement policies to promote affordability; plan neighbourhoods for sustainability and human well-being, while respecting the planet’s ecological boundaries; invest in cycling, transit, and pedestrian infrastructure, and minimize building waste, energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. You can learn more at https://www.livablevictoria.ca/

© Trevor Hancock, 2022


Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the

University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy

Enough with the nastiness and dehumanization

(Published as “Let’s stop calling people ‘bums’ or ‘undesirables’)

Dr. Trevor Hancock

28 June 2022

702 words

I have had it with letters to the editor that seem to be trying harder and harder to be nastier and nastier about people who are, for whatever reason, down on their luck and living on the street. Too often recently I have seen references to such people as ‘bums’, or worse, ‘undesirables’.

Not only is it nasty, intolerant and dehumanizing, it seems to me that in attempting to arouse animosity towards a particular group of disadvantaged people, it verges on and may indeed be hate speech. We should not forget that in Nazi Germany Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, people with developmental disabilities and others were considered to be undesirable, and we know how that ended up.

We need to remember that the people on the streets are our fellow human beings, not bums, not undesirables. They are somebody’s son or daughter (almost two-thirds identified as male), perhaps somebody’s sister or brother, mother or father. They end up on the streets or in the parks for a variety of reasons, but rarely is it because they have decided they want to live there.

So let me remind you who is on the street or homeless – at least, who was when the Homeless Count and Survey was last conducted – and why they are there. On the night of March 11, 2020 at least 1,523 people were experiencing homelessness in Greater Victoria. Of them, only 270 were unsheltered, while 350 were in emergency shelters and the rest were couch-surfing, in public facilities such as halfway houses or hospitals or – about one third of the total – in transitional housing.

The night following the count, just over half of those counted participated in the homeless needs survey. Four in five had been homeless for more than 6 months, 42 percent had lived here 5 or more years. One important factor was that “1 in 3 were in government care as a child or youth” and a third of them “became homeless within a month of leaving care”.

More than one-third (35 percent) were Indigenous, even though Indigenous people only make up 5 percent of the Greater Victoria population. Of them, almost half were women, almost three-fifths of them first experienced homelessness as a youth, more than half had experiences with foster care and more than 3 in 5 had a personal or close family history of attending residential school.

Now this is not to say that there are not people on the streets – not all of whom are necessarily homeless, by the way – who may have violent tendencies. I agree that for the safety of the public, and for their own safety for that matter, they should be off the streets and in some form of custody, where as one letter writer noted, “they would be housed and fed and, hopefully, rehabilitated”.

There are certainly people whose behavior can be odd, uncomfortable to be around. But that does not make them dangerous, and it is not helpful to give the impression that people living on the streets are all dangerous and undesirable.

For most, if not all, life on the street is unpleasant, miserable, hard and can be quite scary and dangerous. Street-involved people are themselves vulnerable, at greater risk of being victimised by criminals, more likely to be victims of violence

It is even worse if you have a mental health problem, a substance use problem or an acquired brain injury, never mind if you have two or even all three of those problems together. Among those surveyed in March 2020, 62 percent had a substance use issue, 59 percent a mental health issue and 29 percent an acquired brain injury. Undoubtedly those problems contributed to them being homeless, which then makes their health problems worse.

So where is the compassion for people who have hard lives, have often had hard lives for years, and need to be helped and supported? As another letter writer reminded us recently, “How a society treats its most vulnerable is the measure of its humanity”.

What we call them matters, and tells us a lot about ourselves. The people who have this attitude really should be ashamed of themselves, not proud to trumpet their intolerance and inhumanity in public.

© Trevor Hancock, 2022


Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the

University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy