Today’s Poll

Council candidate Charles Jeanes thinks Nelson should put a stop to growth

Bill Metcalfe
By Bill Metcalfe
August 26th, 2014

This is the second in a series of Q&A sessions with people running for city council in the November elections. The first was with council candidate Michael Dailly, here.

This is Charles Jeanes’ seventh run for Nelson City Council, and he has also run for mayor once. He’s never been elected. Here’s The Nelson Daily’s recent discussion with Jeanes about his 2014 candidacy.

Why are you running for council?

I run because I get to say things about issues that would otherwise receive no publicity.

I have no expectation that I could convince voters to vote for me. I will spend no money campaigning, and will not go door to door.

What are the main municipal issues for you?

Everything that I think is important flows from one premise that seems to be most outrageous to people: that Nelson should stop growing.

In fact, de-growth is the wise course right now. My take on what towns in Canada should be doing now has a really global perspective. I think the world is in a perilous place. It is not just climate change. Many things we have done to the environment beyond changing our climate indicate that we cannot maintain our level of growth.  

I pay attention to what economists say and I read the business pages. Growth is the only understanding they have. Nelson, for all that it seems to have a thin patina of consciousness-evolving people who talk a lot about awareness and spiritual attainment, is not any different.  It is disheartening to know the people I know, to move in the circles I move in, to hear what people say about their dreams for a different kind of world, and then to discover that Nelson has really pedestrian, commonplace ideas about its future.

Nelson will continue to add population and it will continue to develop vacant land for residences, because there is a demand, or if there is not a demand, you can create one. Economic growth will continue to be on everybody’s lips—people who have a business, no matter how small the business and how progressive its goals may be, maybe it is a health food store, or an organic this or that—people still talk in terms of starting small and growing the business.

They can’t talk in a new day about a static equilibrium, where you reach a point where things are just fine and you don’t grow any more. I think Nelson was like that. I came here in 1987 and they said Nelson was depressed. I think Nelson was fine in 1987.

If a city council in Nelson decided, “Charles Jeanes is right, we need to de-grow,” what would they do first?

They would make it extremely difficult for anyone to get permits for any new development. Our bylaws and our community plan seem to be clear about not allowing this or that kind of development, but every time push comes to shove—the push comes from the developer and the shove comes form politicians who see an expanding tax base and from businesses who see an expanding consumer base— then things get passed, variances are allowed, permits are issued. Kootenay Landing was such a perfect instance, and we were only saved by the failure of the markets in 2008. The original plan was never more than four stories high and you see what happened.

So one solution would be for council to stop giving out permits for development. What else would they do?

Well, I know that would mean that just outside the borders of Nelson, development would go on. There are towns that have done this, like Okotoks, Alberta. If you stop growth inside your city limits and it is still a really desirable place to live, the developers buy up all the land outside your borders and develop there.

So the second thing Nelson has to do, and the odds against it are colossal, would be to expand Nelson to a greater regional municipality, take in everything from Balfour and Proctor out to Playmor and up to Apex, all subject to planning.

What else would council do, to follow your de-growth philosophy?

They would declare, in some sort of founding constitutional document, that Nelson does not want to grow. It would be a statement so people would know that we do not want more people, that we are not moved by the call of more consumers and a bigger tax base, that we see ourselves differently.

Canada will not get better by adding more people. Here is my favourite historical analogy.

When the Roman Empire went through catastrophic collapse and great deterioration in the so called dark ages, there were several centuries there, after about 400, when European history was quite dark, there was a relapse into barbarism. One little island, Ireland, stood out as a beacon of light and it still had learning and culture that was being destroyed on the continent, and it sent monks and clerical people back to the old empire and kept the light of learning alive. Sir Kenneth Clark calls it civilization surviving by the skin of its teeth.

Regarding Nelson not growing, some might say that it has actually not grown in the past 25 years because the population has not increased in that time.

Well, that is illusory because it might not be right inside our boundaries, but everything between here and Balfour, here and Playmor, into the valley. Salmo has had a population boom.

Beyond refusing to give development permits and expanding the municipal boundaries, what else should city council do?

I am always open to listening to the people who have worked in the practical field of de-growth, trying to create new economic systems. I am clearly someone who reads a lot and thinks about stuff but I am not active in creating food security, not farming, not gardening, not trying to create alternative sources of power or preserving water. There are people who know all that. They are the people I would turn to for concrete answers to what would it look like to turn Nelson away from the growth path to a more sustainable economy.

Food security comes to the top for me. Anyone who talks about having our food close at hand and not bringing it in by fossil fuels is dead right.

We have to do everything we can to discourage people owning cars now. We should be talking about letting the streets of Nelson deteriorate. Maintain a few good ones for public transit and stop spending tens of thousands on pavement. What if we decided that streets drop so low on our priority list that don’t even talk about it, we are not fixing streets.

I don’t see, on a world level, many of the rich countries talking the way I am talking but I am very aware that there are countries in Europe, smaller ones, who have been doing things better. They have already weaned their people off gasoline, they have tremendous public transit and they plan and control. I know, I have heard the comeback, is that Europeans don’t mind giving up their freedom to the state, but we are Canadians. When I talk about more government, more planning, more collective infringement on individual liberties, some people get very upset.

If you don’t expect to get elected and if you aren’t going to campaign, how will you get your ideas out there?

What I have done in the past is put up a few posters, go to all the all candidates meetings, accept every offer from the media to appear, any chance I get, I am there. It depends on the media who create the opportunities, to have my say. I will not increase my say by investing in brochures and putting them in mailboxes. I have always been, as Bob Hall once said, the dark house candidate. My vote counts have always been among the lowest of the low.

If by something miraculous, or if, as they say in Nelson, “it manifests, because everything happens for a reason,” if there is a need for Charles Jeanes to be on council, then I would be there and do the work.

Is there anything in your election platform that would not fall under de-growth?

There is a touch feely thing called community, which is very related to the size of your community, the bigger the community gets the more we lose a sense of community and civility. I have an ideal of people being much more engaged in their community, where each person is not just a voter every few years and then turn off politics except during elections.

What should city council do to enhance that sense of community?

I am not sure it is anything city government can do. It has to come from people who care about civility or community and there is a thing about Nelson that has happened in the time I have been here that has gone against that, there is a polarization of wealth and poverty.

There are people with a lot of money here, and you don’t necessarily know it because they are not ostentatious. They don’t want to admit they have money, they are very careful, very cagey, about talking about their material wealth.

At the other end of things is Nelson’s national and even international reputation as a welcoming place for people who are down and outs, the disadvantaged, the underprivileged, the homeless, even the mentally ill and drug addicted go to Nelson, because people are more accepting there, people are generous, there are services. But it is illusory that Nelson has some special formula for taking care of the underprivileged.

What do you think a municipal council could do about this growing gap between rich and poor?

I guess I have knee-jerk answers about how to deal with the wealthy. I am very galvanized by the kind of language I heard around the occupy movement. That did not actually eventuate any serious change, but it got people talking about the 1%.

But lets talk about the 20%, the really well-to-do, who could afford to pay more taxes and give more to charity, but they don’t.  I have no idea how you get people who have great material wealth to give back material wealth, reach into your pocket and give to people at the bottom. Stop taking your holiday three times a year, stop going to Bali and Tibet, and stop flying so much.  That takes me back to my Marxist days, when I start thinking about what to do about the wealthy.

Is there anything this current council has done well?

Probably not, because they are trapped in the old paradigm. They can’t do things better because they don’t think differently.

It has been a business as usual council. And anything that is business as usual seems to be so out of touch with the way things are likely to go. They are much like anyone else in the wealthy world, and even places like India and China—they want what they want, and they don’t know how to be different.

Has the current council done anything particularly badly, in your opinion?

Yes, this plan, the redevelopment of downtown, that involves more traffic. All of that is 19th century thinking. At least since the 70s we have known better. The Limits to Growth was written in 1973.  “Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s”— Neil Young wrote that more than 40 years ago.

What do you think of how council communicates with the public?

They are adequate. An awful lot of how much citizens know about what their council is doing can be thrown into the lap of the citizens. It is not hard if you want to know. I would not put onus on council to do more. I remember the experimental stage, during Dooley’s first term, having some council meetings not at city hall but in other parts of the city. People didn’t come. There have been so many studies about how to increase democratic participation. But it is really up to people themselves, that they want to, and that they believe in the system, and unfortunately the stats seem to say that our generation, the boomers, are less interested than our parents were and the generations after us are even less so. The disenchantment with politics is mammoth.

Is there anything relevant to your candidacy that we have not covered, that you would like to mention?

Many people talk in language that is not appropriate about what you do when you’re elected, that you represent your electors, and I don’t wish to be included in the people who talk that way. I think it is no longer the way we need to do our politics. We need to think about other species as well as humans, and I don’t want to ever find myself saying I am trying to represent this or that constituency—youth or the homeless or business or any of those.

It is time for an entirely new way of thinking about what we are trying to do as politicians, as people with some serious resources.

You know, we can do things, there is no denying that council has money spent to do one of two things, you have a choice—will you fix the road or will you do something for the homeless. That is a meaningful decision, very concrete, that is not illusory power. People say politics is all bullshit and meaningless. It is not meaningless. It is very meaningful, how you spent the money you have got, to do this or that. The this or that is everything, it is what you decide to do with the money and resources you have. Your city hall staff—are they going to work on this, or on that? 

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