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SULLIVAN: Bonehead PR Hall of Infamy’s newest inductee

It’s human nature. People are naturally drawn to traffic accidents; they can’t look away. As a communications consultant, I’m a little different than most people. I’m drawn to public relations fatalities.

It’s human nature. People are naturally drawn to traffic accidents; they can’t look away.

As a communications consultant, I’m a little different than most people. I’m drawn to public relations fatalities. I’ve got my own Bonehead PR Hall of Infamy, featuring inexplicable stupidity committed by people who should know better.

For some time, the undisputed number one PR bonehead has been CP Rail, which decided to negotiate ownership of the Arbutus Corridor with bulldozers, when all along it was just a matter of sitting down and working out a deal. Even Donald Trump knows you go for the deal.

CP has plenty of company, including our own Park Royal, which for some unknown reason decided to persecute its chess-playing regulars, the benign heart and soul of the little community that makes the mall something more than a crass retail emporium. As is often the case with these things, a month of bad publicity was followed by abject capitulation … by Park Royal. Mission accomplished! (As George W. Bush, that other remarkable Republican, likes to say).

But this takes the cake.

Move over CP and Park Royal. There’s a new kid in town: Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. CMHC, as it’s known, insures mortgages. It is also, apparently, the landlord of a vast, 644-acre chunk of forest stretching up Mount Seymour from Mount Seymour Parkway near Northlands Golf Course, a tract teeming with hiking, dog walking, and mountain biking trails, including a portion of the legendary Baden Powell trail.

One day earlier this month, CMHC decided to assert its authority and posted two dozen Private Property signs at the trailheads leading into the forest. In case there was any ambiguity, the signs made it clear: “Unauthorized access for recreational or any other activity is strictly prohibited.”

OK ...

Forget that CMHC has allowed, either through neglect or by intent, complete trail access to anyone for decades and has given no reason, other than “safety,” for shutting down the forest tout suite, all at once.

Forget that the posting of signs starts everyone wondering what’s up. Is this a prelude to some unthinkable development scheme, where CMHC decides to rip up the Baden Powell Trail for a condo development called, invariably, The Baden Powell?

Forget that CMHC has imposed its will unilaterally, even though the actual ownership of the land is murky – is it really jointly owned with the province, as has been reported? If that’s the case, whatever that land is, it’s not “private property” and CMHC can’t just do what it wants.

Forget that CMHC’s move caught the District of North Vancouver by surprise, even though the two parties had been talking about the land before the No Trespassing signs came up.

Forget that the CMHC decision was made in “Ottawa,” wherever that is. The last time “Ottawa” reached out and botched something big time in B.C. was the Kits Point Coast Guard station, which helped defeat the Harper government. Are you listening, Mr. Trudeau?

The really breathtaking bonehead behaviour here is that the CMHC is completely oblivious to how the mountains define the North Shore way of life. “It’s who we are,” says North Vancouver District Coun. Mathew Bond, who has mounted a spirited Facebook campaign, encouraging people to let the CMHC know how they feel. And even though Bond has sternly advised everyone to play nice when commenting, Ottawa is getting a well-deserved earful.

Bond, who’s emerged from the confusion as the clear champion for the mountain, is past-president of the North Shore Mountain Bike Association, so he’s more than just a political opportunist (although this stand will hardly hurt come re-election time). He’s gathered more than 500 likes and some stunning comments, including a memorable reflection from Sarah, a police sergeant who depends on the mountain trails for “solitude, serenity and reflection.”

“I, personally will suffer,” she writes. “I, as the public servant will be less effective. We, as a community, will be less engaged with nature and one another. The spirit of the Seymour forest will be diminished.”

If I were CMHC spokesperson Karine LeBlanc, eloquent opposition like that would keep me staring at the ceiling at night.

It’s all so unnecessary. By the time you read this, the CMHC will have met with the district and presumably, some clarity, or a process, or something at all, will have emerged.
Which was all they needed to do in the first place: Don’t put up a bunch of rude, nasty signs; talk to the people, and stay out of the Bonehead PR Hall of Infamy.

Journalist and communications consultant Paul Sullivan has been a North Van resident since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of Madonna.

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