Living/Working: Feb. 24, 2023


February 24, 2023

Award-winning Vancouver Indian restaurant announces plans for third location

Another location, another Vancouver neighbourhood for Sula Indian Restaurant

Sula Indian Restaurant, which has locations in East Vancouver on The Drive and in Mount Pleasant on Main is adding a West End location this spring | Sula Indian Restaurant/Facebook

Sula has just revealed plans are underway for the popular Indian restaurant to open its third Vancouver location, and this time they're headed to the West End.

Though the Indian restaurant has not disclosed the exact address, the business shared in an Instagram post Thursday (Feb. 23) a few of the exciting details about its third venture.

"This new location’s cocktail program will be designed by none other than Jeff Savage, head bartender at Fairmont Pacific Rim's Botanist. In addition to killer cocktails and an exciting menu, the third location’s beautiful space will be designed by Dave Wong, principal of WHG Design," notes Sula in its announcement.

Sula began on Commercial Drive, and in late 2020 revealed a second location was moving into the vacated Reef restaurant space on Main Street.

The award-winning restaurant is known for its menu of curries, Indian breads, and tandoori meats and vegetables, all of which are prepared using recipes from the Indian states of Rajasthan, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Karnataka, Kerala, Chennai and Goa.

Sula is also known for its well-appointed interiors, using vibrant jewel tones and warm wood furnishings, and greenery.

The restaurant operators say they hope to be open in the West End this spring.


Feel the forest and the ocean at this new coffee shop in New West

Coasters Coffee is the newest addition to the cafe scene in downtown New Westminster

This prime downtown spot at Sixth and Carnarvon streets is home to Coasters Coffee, which just saw a soft opening | Julie MacLellan

A newly opened coffee shop at 6th and Carnarvon in New Westminster has been creating a lot of buzz in the last few days — and for good reason.

The West Coast-inspired independent coffee shop, Coasters Coffee, softly opened its doors in the heart of New West last week, and New Westies are here for it.

The coffee shop is the brainchild of the Kruse sisters, Tamarah and Alisha, who put their love for coffee into action in launching the business.

Long before the coffee shop materialized, Tamarah Kruse worked in retail. But after losing her last position to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was in search of ideas for starting her own business. After several brainstorming sessions with her sister, who was once a barista, they settled on opening a coffee shop.

The business was in the works for a while — the idea came to Kruse about a year ago, she said. But everything from planning and finding a lease to fleshing out the design took 10 months before they opened this month.

Their hours are limited during their soft launch — from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., but that hasn't stopped them from getting a lot of attention from the community.

They are offering complimentary coffees as they test out the machines, get staff up to speed and get the word out. And it’s worked — folks have already been raving about this cozy coffee addition in their neighbourhood.

“We’re just getting all the systems set up," she said. "We started with the espresso drinks and then we have the drip coffee. “We have started doing some of the baked goods. So from day to day, as we test each machine, it is kind of different what we are giving out.”

Kruse said she is expecting the shop to be fully open by March 1.

The coffee shop aims for a cozy ambience to make customers feel at home — bringing elements of the woods and the ocean together. Kruse’s design background helped in creating the interior look, she said, and she built the whole place out with the help of her husband, Jim Hobbs.

There are forest murals on the walls, real plants adorning the space and wooden decor, bringing a forest-like feeling. The floors are painted turquoise, emulating the ocean. Kruse hopes that the ambience is relaxing.

She said that all of the wood for her decor was procured from Gabriola Island — from near her husband’s parents' house. “His parents brought [the wood] on an RV,” she said.

Building the business from the ground up was a family endeavour, she added. “It's a family thing that everyone's trying to help out a little bit. I had some of my other siblings [come] to help paint the walls or trying to help put up drywall ... just whatever they could do to help out.”

With her business acumen, her sister’s barista skills and coffee procured from locally based Agro roasters, Kruse is glad that she can give back. “I love the community here…it’s just a tight-knit group, and I’m happy.”

She expects that after the soft launch, the shop will be open Monday to Friday 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.


As storm approaches, snow summit proponent says region missed chance to learn from November snowstorm

FOI records reveal parts of the discussions that took place behind the scenes during the November 2022 snowstorm that stranded hundreds

A snow summit to review mismanagement of a November snowstorm that stranded hundreds of commuters could have helped the region better prepare for future weather events, summit proponent says | Shutterstock

Almost three months since a rush-hour snowstorm stranded hundreds, if not thousands, of commuters overnight on bridges and feeder routes, a New Westminster city councillor is disappointed that the idea of a regional snow summit didn’t gain traction.

Coun. Daniel Fontaine and Surrey Coun. Linda Annis proposed a high-level, multiparty meeting about the Nov. 29-30 debacle.

There were more dumps in December and fierce February flurries are forecast for Saturday night. Environment Canada has advised that 10 to 30 centimetres of snow will fall across Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley and the Sea to Sky.

Fontaine speculates there are likely internal reviews about brining, salting, sanding and plowing in various jurisdictions, “but it’s all out of public sight.”

“What we could have done better, or areas that we could improve, that was the main thrust and the main purpose behind the summit,” Fontaine said. “Bringing everybody together to discover what happened, and if there are ways for us to prevent it from happening again.”

Documents obtained via freedom of information about the end-of-November storm show key arms of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and TransLink were not working as a team.

A draft Nov. 29 memo from TransLink CEO Kevin Quinn outlined TransLink’s plans, while appealing for the region’s mayors to muster resources to deal with as much as 25 centimetres of snow.

“To ensure our transit vehicles can travel safely on the roads in the winter weather, I kindly ask that your engineering teams continue to prioritize the clearing and treatment of transit routes, especially major roads, bridges and boulevards that could create bottlenecks for commuters of all modes. TransLink will be focused on rapid identification of trouble spots and will communicate with your staff as needed,” Quinn wrote.

TransLink was calling in extra staff, deploying special anti-icing trucks for trolley wires, replacing articulated buses with standard 40-foot-long buses, running special de-icing cars on the SkyTrain, preparing brass cutters to break ice on trolley wires and “snow socks” to install on bus tires for hilly routes in Vancouver, Burnaby and the North Shore.

TransLink held a mid-afternoon conference call with more than two-dozen managers Nov. 28 to gear up for the next day. The situation was dire by mid-evening Nov. 29.

“All municipalities are having clearing issues – Surrey is critical area. Heavy crowds at Surrey Central. City of Surrey, all snow mitigation assets have been deployed. Heavy delays,” said notes from the 8 p.m. conference call.

Contractors were having issues with traffic and a transit supervisor had been dispatched because coaches were stuck on the Alex Fraser Bridge.

The 6 a.m. conference call notes mentioned 176 stranded buses, 30 of which were abandoned.

“Team has a detailed list of bus locations and if there are passengers/drivers on board.”

“Escalated Concern: Passengers stuck on bus since 8 p.m. last night — everyone is safe and working to get them. Focus on recovery of operators and passengers.”

There had been 30 accidents, with one “pedestrian contact,” but no report of an employee injury. More than 90 operators were unable to come to work. There was an update during the call, that two buses stranded overnight with passengers had been returned.

TransLink is best known for bus, rapid transit, commuter train and SeaBus divisions, but it also oversees 2,600 lane-kilometres of major road network that connect local roads with provincial highways, four vehicle bridges (Knight, Pattullo, Golden Ears and Westham Island) and the Canada Line bike and pedestrian bridge.

Yet the highest-profile problem areas were provincial — Alex Fraser, Port Mann and Queensborough bridges — and provincial staff had nearly 12 hours to react.

“Rapidly accumulating snow will make travel difficult. Visibility may be suddenly reduced at times in heavy snow,” read the forecast in Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure snow and ice program manager Steve Robertson’s email box at 5:31 a.m. Nov. 29.

Snow and ice teams were mobilized before 9:30 a.m. to monitor the Port Mann and Alex Fraser. Maintenance contractor crews and rope access technicians were sent later. Seven ministry staff and four from contractor Mainroad met at 11:30 a.m. to plot strategy.

But it wasn’t enough, the weather had the upper hand. Next morning, Robertson provided a statistics report to staff.

The snowpack between 2 p.m. and 6 a.m. was 20 cm, but actual snowfall amounts were higher as the snowpack was settling while the snow was falling.

“With the high precipitation rates we saw, I would expect 25-30 cm fell in some areas,” Robertson wrote.

Between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., it came down at a rate of three to four centimetres per hour, increasing to five to six centimetres per hour, and then seven to 11 centimetres between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. The accumulations continued until 10:30 p.m.

Port Mann temperatures started at -2.5 Celsius and ended at 0.5 Celsius when precipitation stopped in the morning. High winds, throughout the first three-quarters of the event, were steady from the east at 30-40 kilometres per hour, gusting to 60 kilometres per hour between 2 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.

“This blowing snow greatly affected the roads by reducing visibility and depositing snow drifts on the roads,” Robertson wrote.

Meanwhile, the NDP government’s freedom of information office has decided to delay the release of internal correspondence about the pre-Christmas storm response in the Lower Mainland and the Christmas Eve bus crash that killed four people on the Okanagan Connector until March 21 and March 28, respectively.


Destination BC reveals new corporate strategy

More attention set for province's regions, shoulder-season visitors

mt robson
Nature around Mt. Robson is one of the places on the route between Vancouver and the Alberta border that Destination BC plans to market to international visitors | E+, benedek, Getty Images

The Crown corporation that promotes B.C. as a tourism destination today revealed its new corporate strategy.

Destination British Columbia executives told industry in a Zoom call key prongs in their blueprint to attract the world and stimulate the province's economy.

Their plan to promote Indigenous tourism, which has become more prominent throughout the past decade, remains intact.

One thing that is new is the organization's more concerted focus on promoting B.C.'s regions as distinct destinations, apart from promoting the province as a whole.

Another new focus is a heightened effort to lure travellers during the province's shoulder seasons.

The organization's vice-president of global marketing, Maya Lange, used the analogy of an octopus, which she said has nine brains – one main brain and one mini-brain in each of its eight tentacles – to illustrate her organization's planned decentralized approach to marketing B.C.

Destination BC's future work is set to be done more in partnership with large destination management organizations (DMOs), such as Destination Vancouver, Tourism Whistler and Tourism Kelowna, she explained.

"We need to simplify the number of B.C. travel options being promoted," said Lange, adding that marketing too many experiences can confuse potential visitors.

"We want to move towards promoting and developing a small number of globally compelling routes and places that cover all of British Columbia."

BIV asked Lange after the Zoom call how the province would whittle down the number of experiences that it promotes to global travellers.

She said that the potential trips that are promoted will not be as specific as focusing on a single tourist attraction. Instead, the proposed visits being marketed would cover larger territories, and have multiple options for things to do along the way.

Two of these "routes and places" that Destination BC plans to start marketing later this year include B.C.'s North, and what she called a route from the rainforest to the Rockies – or going between Vancouver and the Alberta border. Other routes and places are set to be unveiled in future years, Lange said.

Destination BC's role is not simply as a marketer but also as a destination developer, she stressed.

That means focusing on "the experiences and the infrastructure that needs to be built out over the long term."

Initial promotion of the route between Vancouver and the Rocky Mountains will be on road travel, she said. Marketing material will highlight that it is possible to travel by electric vehicles, given that there is a sufficient number of charging stations along the way. Travel on the route in recreational vehicles will also be suggested, Lange said.

The Rocky Mountaineer luxury train travels the route between Vancouver and Banff and is a "tremendous experience," Lange said, but it will not be a major focus of the initial campaign to highlight the "rainforest to the Rockies" because it is not on roads, but rather railway track.

Nonetheless, Rick Antonson, a travel author who spent many years as CEO of Tourism Vancouver until 2014, before that organization rebranded as Destination Vancouver, in April is set to release his new book Train Beyond The Mountains: Journeys on the Rocky Mountaineer.

That memoir could nicely complement Destination BC's campaign on the rainforest to the Rockies as it documents Antonson's 2019 voyage on the luxury train with his grandson, who was then 10 years old.

Given that the campaign is focused on travellers using Highways 1, 3 and 5, however, attractions in the campaign are likely to include things such as:
• the Yoho National Park's Burgess Shale forest hike (Highway 1);
• Nk'mip Desert Cultural Centre (Highway 3); and
• nature around the Canadian Rockies' highest peak, Mt. Robson (Highway 5).

Lange said her organization's renewed focus on marketing for tourists to come to B.C. during shoulder seasons is because the province continues to have months where there is little tourism.

"Despite our best efforts, the majority of visitation to most rural areas and small towns still takes place during the peak season," she said. "For the last 20 years, over 64 per cent of international visitors to B.C. have traveled here in our core summer months, between May and September."

She suggested that creating storm watching in Tofino as a winter experience could help that community's tourism businesses even out monthly revenue.

Turning the weakness of winter storms into an attraction is a concept similar to one that Destination Vancouver CEO Royce Chwin last week outlined in a presentation to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade.

"Let's stop apologizing for the rain," Chwin said. "That's part of what makes us awesome....The city is not green by accident."

He then noted the popular shoulder-season March festival in Austin, Texas, known as South by Southwest, which celebrates the convergence of technology, film, music, education, and culture.

"Why don't we have a North by Northwest?" Chwin asked. "Why do we not pull the city together, pull that event off and showcase that we're not just producers here, but we're builders in the space that we can wrap up, with technology, arts and culture? We can be a powerhouse. We just have to pull it together."


Rob Shaw: Gold-plated public sector severance deals need a critical review

Public sector severance packages – which can add up to six figures – need to be revisited, writes Rob Shaw | Darren Stone/Times Colonist

An eye-watering severance payment to a top government official who was then immediately awarded another job has shone a spotlight on loopholes that need to be fixed to limit unnecessary costs to taxpayers.

The NDP government announced this week it had named Lori Wanamaker as chair of the BC Hydro board – a job that paid the previous chair more than $93,000 a year.

The appointment would be unremarkable, except for the fact the government had just announced it was paying Wannamaker $591,089 in severance to fire her as deputy minister to John Horgan, so that Premier David Eby could replace her with his own deputy.

Severance payments are supposed to compensate a person for abruptly lost current and future income. They use a formula that takes into account years served, age and future earning potential. Normally, if a person gets a new job within the public sector during their severance period – in this case, 18 months of pay – they either have to stop collecting the money, collect a lesser amount or repay some of the funds if they were paid out in a lump sum.

But it turns out, there’s a loophole.

The government doesn’t consider the lucrative board appointments that it awards to people as actual jobs.

“For the purposes of severance in this case, membership on a board would not be considered employment and not subject to the re-employment and repayment provisions,” the Ministry of Finance said in a statement.

“A board appointee is not considered an employee for the purposes of repayment as an employee is under the control and direction of the organization while a board member is not.”

Fancy that.

Not only does Wanamaker get to keep her half-million-dollar severance package (paid for with public funds), but taxpayers also have to shell out for her second, new, lucrative job at BC Hydro at the same time. A sweet double-dip.

It should also be clear: Wannamaker herself hasn’t broken any rules with this deal. She’s imminently qualified for the position of Hydro board chair, having served for 30 years in the public service. By law, she’s technically entitled to the money – or, as the saying goes, entitled to her entitlements. Every last penny.

But during an affordability crisis, with ordinary people stretched to the max by inflation and interest rates, you can forgive the public for being a tad aghast at the largess in question.

The detailed timeline makes it even more difficult to swallow.

Turns out, then energy minister Bruce Ralston signed the order to appoint Wanamaker to the Hydro board on Nov. 18, 2022 – the same day she was removed as deputy minister to the premier as part of Eby’s transition into the job.

That means the government offered severance with one hand, while awarding a new job with the other, all on the same day.

Current Energy Minister Josie Osborne bumped up Wanamaker’s role from ordinary board member to chairperson on Feb. 21, 2023. The promotion is effective June 1.

Opposition Liberal critic Peter Milobar said the deal raises all sorts of concerns.

“I think the public is right to be a little cynical around very large severance packages that within the space of a couple of months are now replaced with appointments on boards that pay very well that are completely under the discretion (of government),” said Milobar.

Wanamaker was one of five people terminated by the Eby administration when he took power; their collective severance totalled severance totalled $1.3 million. They were not all good deals for taxpayers, including a former deputy chief of staff who accepted a new position under Eby, made it seem like she was then going to retire and somehow managed to collect severance from the NDP government anyway.

B.C.’s severance policies are written into law, within the Public Sector Employers Act.

Clearly, they need a rewrite – or at the very least, a serious refresh.

With an economic downturn on the horizon, and government services like health care starved for cash, the loopholes in government’s gold-plated severance packages fail to pass the sniff test.

It’s public money. The NDP government should start treating it with a little more respect.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 14 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.


The grim implications of a missed opportunity

The Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa | Ken Yuel Photography / Royalty Free / Getty Images

A decision Thursday by the Supreme Court of Canada has left British Columbia as the province where it is perhaps the most difficult for journalists to protect their confidential sources.

The High Court dismissed an application for leave to appeal by our parent company, Glacier Media, aimed at fortifying a principle of journalism that sources ought to be able to come forward without fear of being publicly identified.

It might not have been the aim of the B.C. courts for its rulings to affect journalism in that way in requiring us to provide our organization’s research last year to the defence counsel in the sexual assault trial and eventual acquittal last July of former Vancouver Canucks player Jake Virtanen – but it is the result.

It ought to make B.C. journalists wary about developing confidential sources and may make confidential sources wary about entrusting journalists.

It might steer B.C. journalists away from taking any kind of notes for fear that unpublished material could be ordered by a court to be disclosed.  The days of the furtive parking lot verbal encounters with Deep Throat and Watergate would be safer.

And it ought to leave the door open to successful libel cases against individuals and organizations that choose not to create those notes in the first place and are left rather defenceless in chronicling their research.

The Supreme Court gave no reason Thursday for dismissing our appeal, consistent with its practice in such matters. But in choosing not to hear the appeal, it has left in place disquieting circumstances for the craft of journalism and those who might otherwise wish to tell us their stories.

It is also worth wondering today if the circumstances of this and other cases are failing to fulfill the wishes of Parliament when in 2017 it created a law, the Journalistic Sources Protection Act, with the objective of shielding journalistic sources.

The law had a dual purpose: to require the state and others to look everywhere else to build their legal arguments, and for those arguments to outweigh the public interest of preserving confidentiality. It was designed as a check on warrants that sought to break the journalist-source covenant.

The law was described at the time as a sea-change for media in their efforts to investigate and publish what are typically the most challenging and sensitive stories and to safeguard those who alerted us to them. Today it is more of a shipwreck than a sea-change. 

Before Virtanen was charged and acquitted in July 2022, before he was the object of a civil suit in 2021, a women stepped forward to tell her story to Glacier Media reporter Alanna Kelly.

Like every source and every journalist, she and Kelly expected information that could identify the complainant could be shielded from disclosure. Instead, when Virtanen was charged and the case came to trial, the B.C. Supreme Court sided with a disclosure application by Virtanen.  We were compelled to provide Kelly’s unpublished communications with the complainant and a video recording of an interview, which it might bear noting was never broadcast by Glacier.   

We argued that these records amounted to research, were the equivalent of note-taking, and deserved their historic protection unambiguously. But the court decided our protection of them must yield to Virtanen’s right to a fair trial. B.C. Supreme Court Judge, Catherine Wedge ruled that the impact on press freedom was “minimal” because the source had herself gone to police. Her ruling was upheld by the B.C. Court of Appeal.

We asked the Supreme Court of Canada to weigh in. We argued that those B.C. rulings have left journalists and their sources in a precarious position that ill-serves the public interest.

Given that our work product had already been turned over to the defence, the Supreme Court would have had to deal with a “moot” issue to define the protections. It rarely engages in moot matters, so it might not have come as a large surprise to some of those watching that our application for leave was dismissed. Still, it doesn’t leave us in a good place.

On the basis of my four decades of experience, I think it will be a lot less likely now that sources will agree to tell their stories if these conditions stand and journalists cannot with greater certainty commit to shield their identities. 

As a result of Thursday’s decision that declines to bring the High Court’s interpretation on the boundaries of how journalists can protect sources under the federal law, we are left with living under the B.C. court’s limitations.

It is hard to see how this environment will not provide a chill on daily journalism.

Any B.C. journalist now must wonder if it will be credible to commit to protect the anonymity of a source. All Canadian journalists also have to wonder whether their province’s courts will look to the B.C. judgments for guidance if a similar case emerges there. (It might be a good strategy to conduct research in Quebec, where an earlier court ruling was more generous to the protection principle.)

The functioning of a democracy depends on the service of the public interest by journalism. We have adequate legal guardrails in such fields as defamation and national security to prevent or penalize journalistic abuse of information. But we find ourselves in an environment that appears to impede our pursuit of that service, and we will need someone, somewhere in authority to set the problem straight. 

Kirk LaPointe is the publisher and executive editor of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.