Sunday, July 26, 2009


Re. The profile of the local media

The Comox Valley Record is by no means the largest newspaper in British Columbia. It serves, as I say, a region of about 120,000 people, and as it is delivered via mail (and on-line) without subscription, its “reach” may approach or even exceed those numbers. Two things make it an important beach-head. One is that community newspapers across BC pool much of their material. Letters-the-editor and noteworthy stories, for example. Often a letter that is published in one such paper, like this one, is reprinted in others across the province. Secondly, the Comox Valley is a laboratory of growth, the venue for in-migration in Western Canada. It features a climate that is balmy by Canadian standards, and recreational opportunities that are second to none. Developers are like crocodiles who know that 500 wildebeests are going to cross a certain point in the river, and simply have to lie in ambush for them. But it is much more than that. Developers have not only profited from the out of province demand for land there,--- they have generated that demand.

This is how it worked. Developers looked at the booming oil economy of Alberta and saw a lucrative market for real estate purchases in the Comox Valley. Rich Albertans craved a winter get-away that would also serve as a soft landing spot for retirement. They had the money, and the ambition, but not the practical means. Why? There was no quick, convenient way to fly to the Comox Valley and back. Air traffic would have to be routed with a stop-over at Vancouver, “de-planing” , then taking a small turbo-prop jet to Comox----doubling the travelling time essentially. So developers hatched a game plan. Manipulate the local council into building a runway at the Comox airport that would accommodate wide-bodied jets so that they could fly direct from Calgary and arrive in an hour. Once an election of pliable councilors could be bought, it was a done deal. Westjet, the carrier of choice, was then enticed to offer such flights. The marketing plan fell into place. “Come to the Comox Valley on a Friday afternoon in January after work, golf all weekend, then return to Calgary on Sunday night, in time for work the next day” Or alternatively, “Come and retire in a winter paradise. Leave the frigid temperatures and the blizzards behind.” A key complementary move to this Machiavellian plan was getting local ski operators at nearby Mount Washington on board. Thus a coalition of big money was formed to have the road to the resort upgraded. Voila. A brand new “market”.

And of course, Albertans came, and according to one realtor I spoke to, accounted for 25% of the new home purchases in the region, way up to my island too. Word got out that there was now a worm-hole from Alberta to the Comox Valley and the North Islands, eg. Quadra Island. The developers used Alberta media to advertise that fact. This is in addition to the job the internet has done in luring rich Americans as well. The consequences of this in-migration are analyzed in my paper “Sustainable Tourism---an Oxymoronic Delusion”. They come initially as tourists, and leave as speculators or absentee owners who inflate the cost of land beyond the reach of locals, build large houses, and leave them empty for most of the year. Low income locals are denied the chance to rent them, so there is a chronic dearth of affordable housing. Or those homes that are made available for local renters in the winter are denied to them in the summer. The locals must play musical chairs every year, moving twice each calendar year. An upheaval that many young families cannot tolerate for more than a few years, and are essentially driven away from the community they grew up in---which is ghost town in the off season and a zoo in the tourist season. The business sector thrives on this circus show. The realtors reap big commissions. A home maintenance and property management business for empty homes has sprung up. Tradesmen feed off the home construction and renovations ordered by a wealthier caste of clients. Small shops and stores and tour operators feed off this seasonal boom that gives ballast to their books so that they may survive the winter. And the victims, the lowly paid service workers, dare not oppose a process which pays their pitiful wages. And the media, again, depends on business advertising. Not an audible voice is heard against this transformation, which divides the community and impacts the environment. Neither wildlife nor commoners have a say. They are like the evicted farmers of the enclosure movement. It is a story played out across British Columbia and much of the world. In the west of Ireland, in Australia, in New Zealand, in Hawaii and in Europe. Every formerly quiet haven from the rat race is shopped around the world by the profiteers of growth, and visitors come and conquer. We are sold down the river to the highest bidder. Gentrification and the dispossession of natives is the price of global tourism. It is in fact, the signature of capitalist industrialism, from its inception 250 years ago in your once green and pleasant land to the present day of time-share condos and bustling airports. Bring on $200/barrel oil !

What is most galling is that after engineering and stimulating this kind of growth, the regional planners of the district then went to communities like ours and said that we must accept our “share” of growth by casting aside or remaking our community plans to provide for greater density. Growth, after all, was “inevitable”. And the boy scouts in the Sierra Club responded, not by uncovering this plot or challenging growth, but by rushing in to make sure that it was done “right”. The environmentalists are, as I call them, dutiful janitors who come to tidy up the mess, like an indulgent mother who fixes her son’s room every day rather than tell him to stop turning it into a pigs-sty.

Galling too is the fact that this story has not be told. I have tried to break through numerous times but have been rebuked, scorned and ostracized. The media depends heavily on real estate advertising, and anti-growth letters and articles are bad for business. Not so the articles and letters written by the Sierra Club and their green colleagues. They don’t oppose growth, they only want to channel it. In fact, they are an asset to developers because they make growth more palatable. But the ecological consequences are still severe. More people leave a greater footprint, regardless of where their homes are compacted.

My conclusion remains the same. In order to save the environment, the environmental establishment MUST BE DESTROYED. Their role is to harvest public discontent and re-direct out of harm’s way, away from confronting the growthist coalition of developers, cheap labour employers, energy companies, credit institutions, and the media. They are part of the problem, not part of the solution. The Comox Valley is Canada in microcosm. In fact, it is a case study relevant to the world at large.

Tim Murray July 11/09

1 comment:

Mark Allan said...

An interesting analysis, with quite a bit of truth.
However, as the editor of the Comox Valley Record, I wish to clarify one point.
It is true that community newspapers do share information and on occasion use stories and photos from other papers. However, this does not happen as often as the blog's author might have you believe.
Priority is always given to locally generated material that deals with the local readership area.
Sometimes, this local-first priority can be a disadvantage by limiting the scope of the coverage, but ultimately it is the strength of community newspapers.