For councillor, money grows on trees

Victoria’s quick-thinking Chris Coleman harvests $2,000 in left-behind coupons

Bill Cleverley
Times Colonist

Originally published: Sunday, October 05, 2008

It really does pay to read the fine print — and sometimes even the big print, too. Victoria Coun. Chris Coleman literally scooped up almost $2,000 in provincial grant money left for the taking at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention last week.

Most of the 1,200 or so local politicians who crowded into the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre auditorium to hear Premier Gordon Campbell address the UBCM convention paid little heed to the brochures left on the chairs before their arrival.

Maybe it was Coleman’s training as a lawyer that piqued his interest, or maybe it was sheer boredom waiting for the speech to start. Regardless, after he read the “Trees for Tomorrow” brochure tucked in among the campaign literature left on each seat, he looked around the room and it was like seeing a $20 bill on every chair.

Young boy planting a tree

“I sat down and I looked at it, and it was called ‘Trees for Tomorrow,’ and it explained it was a new provincial program related to reducing the carbon footprint at the municipal level.

“And it said each of these certificates can be redeemed for $20 as long as you commit to spend the money on purchasing new trees,” Coleman said.

“I don’t think most other people in the room had bothered to read them. … So I’m looking at the room and thinking, there’s about 1,200 chairs here. There’s one [brochure] on each. So there’s about $24,000 sitting in the room.”

Coleman calmly waited until Campbell had finished his address and delegates began to leave.

“I just started hoovering from the back of the room, picking up all that I could,” he said.

The brochure explained it could be redeemed only by a municipality.

Partway through his cleanup efforts, he was interrupted by a program official who confirmed Coleman’s belief that the coupons were valid and confirmed there was nothing prohibiting lots of them being cashed by one municipality.

“I was just over 100 at this point, and he said it would be helpful if I shared with some of the others.”

Community Development Minister Blair Lekstrom chuckled when told of Coleman’s collection efforts.

“Well, that wasn’t the intent,” Lekstrom said, adding that the hope was several municipalities would take advantage of the coupons.

The coupons are redeemable as part of the province’s $13-million Trees for Tomorrow program — a climate-change initiative run through Lekstrom’s ministry, designed to encourage urban forestation.

The stone bridge at Beacon Hill Park.
Photo: Blake Handley

“Certainly everyone would agree planting a tree is a good thing. So it’s unfortunate if people left them there. I’m not sure if they didn’t pay attention to them,” Lekstrom said.

Lekstrom congratulated Coleman for his innovative approach and said the province would certainly honour the coupons when they come in.

Coleman said he gave some to the mayor of Fernie and some to representatives of Prince George and Chilliwack.

“I still ended up with almost 100 — almost $2,000 worth.”

He handed the coupons over to acting city manager Mike McCliggott last week.

“As it happens, we had a street tree assessment done about two years ago that says we have about 20,000 street trees in our urban forest, but 2,000 of them are holes because they’ve died off and haven’t been replaced.

“And then last winter, we had those winds that hit [Vancouver’s] Stanley Park really badly but also did some damage to Beacon Hill Park. So we’ve got lots of capacity to invest in the urban forest.”

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