Friday, April 24, 2015

Hard hitting journalism by Black Press

Mount Polley Mine meeting important to attend, by Ken Wilson, Williams Lake Tribune (Black Press), Apr 17, 2015
Over the years companies, governments, and those in-between have created some major public relations gaffs (sic) by not addressing bad situations in time, hoping the publicity would die soon.

...Imperial Metals Mount Polley Mining Corporation (sic) has, in my opinion and many others, acted very responsible in keeping the public informed.

...Of course many meetings attempting to get the mine underway have been held and will carry on until the mine is back is in some capacity of production.

I suggest the public relations by Imperial Metals and Mount Polley since the tailings pond break has been very good.

It is a tough job and I congratulate Steve Robertson for all he has done to communicate with the workers, surrounding communities, and he should get some kind of PR medal for all he has done.

Thanks Steve.

...That was a long lead up to tell you about the Mount Polley Mining Corporation Community Open House at the Gibraltar Room in Williams Lake on Wednesday, April 22 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

The Williams Lake Chamber is helping promote this event that everyone who is interested in the Mount Polley situation and wants updates should attend.

This is part of the ongoing communications of the company with the community and is a component of the public comment period related to permit applications for the proposed restart of the mine...
Black Press might be a leader in 21st century newspaper journalism. Apparently, it involves unedited copy from untrained hacks who pander to potential advertisers with deep pockets. The objective, of course, is lower costs and higher profits and the formula works for Black Press. Torstar, owner of 19.4% of the private company, booked $4 million as its share of Black profits in fiscal year 2014. In the preceding year, Torstar's share was $5.5 million so, while other media companies struggled, Black Press earnings over two years were about $49 million.

This item raises a separate but important issue. The meeting promoted here by the Williams Lake Chamber of Commerce, of which writer Ken Wilson is a director, is part of a process managed by a Regional Mine Development Review Committee. RMDRCs, formed and managed by the Ministry of Energy and Mines, are creatures of government initiatives to shortcut review processes and expedite mining operations.

The BC Government committed in 2012 to maintain a 60-day turnaround time for Notice of Work permit applications, which include work details and measures for protection and reclamation of land, watercourses and cultural resources affected by proposed activities. At Mount Polley, we saw the effect of inadequate oversight of self-regulated industrial activity.

Instead of learning from the disaster, Liberals pretend it was a minor event, caused by no one and now adequately healed. The picture here is taken from a government web page titled "Mt. Polley Mine incident" where readers are invited to view a portfolio of government pictures on Flickr. These include photos of politicians, a fawn, an owl and other pastoral scenes.

Truncated review processes that assume government should trust and work hand-in-hand with mining proponents, even ones proven to be callous toward civil responsibilities, are certain to result in more ecological mishaps. The Fair Mining Collaborative offers this overview of environmental assessment failings:
BC’s current EA law lacks a clearly defined purpose provision and decision-making criteria. This was not always the case: BC’s former EA Act contained an explicit purpose provision that included:
  • promotion of sustainability by protecting the environment and fostering a sound economy and social well-being;

  • provision of an open, accountable and neutrally administered process; and

  • participation of the public, First Nations and various other agencies.
The importance of the purpose provision was highlighted in a judicial review of a provincial government decision approving the reopening of the Tulsequah Chief Mine in 1998. In that decision, the BC Supreme Court held that the EA review did not adequately consider the sustainability of the Tlingit First Nation’s land-based way of life, and therefore ran contrary to the promotion of sustainability required by the purpose of the EA law.245 Issue Without an explicit purpose clause or principles to guide the exercise of discretion, BC’s EA Act provides inadequate guidance to government decision-makers reviewing EAs.
A photo that won't be found on BC mining ministry website.
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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Do you care?

This item was first published here July, 2009:

Radio talk shows are often wastelands of puffery, babble and prejudice. Well conducted programs, with knowledgeable listeners, occasionally break through with moments of simple passion.

One of those occurred recently on Bill Good's CKNW show. A Vancouver Island caller named Mike thought too much had been made of the Burrard Street Bridge bicycle lane changes. He said:
In Vancouver there, you’re are all high and mighty about getting off your cars and getting on bikes and walking around. You live in the biggest clear cut in Canada, in Vancouver. You don’t care about the fish, you don’t care about the damming of the rivers, you don’t care about the heart and the soul of British Columbia. You get what you deserve. So, if you want condos from coast to coast, you’re going to get it. Congratulations.

You should care. You should care about the fact we can’t take our kids fishing and catch salmon the way we used to right off the dock. You can’t get spring salmon 40 or 50 pounds anymore. That people are dragging the bottom and ruining the deep sea coral and sponges. We have nothing to pass on to our children. You should care. That’s what British Columbia used to be about. It’s what makes it special. It’s what makes it different and unique and vibrant. And you don’t care. All you care about is a fight over a stupid bridge in the middle of downtown Vancouver.

Mike struck a chord. I grew up on the coast near Powell River. At 10, I skippered an almost 8 foot punt with a powerful 2 HP Elgin outboard. We fished almost every day in summer and seldom came back empty, pulling in salmon, cod, dogfish and things with names we could only could guess. We shared the ocean with seals, seabirds and sometimes a pod of orca. We sunned and swam for hours most days from May until October. Every year, we could sit by the clear river that emptied into the ocean by our house and watch spawning salmon so thick they formed a barely moving raft, covering the river from side to side. Today that same river depends on a fish hatchery for its life.

Mike, I care. These little men are cousins, part of the fifth generation of our family to walk on this ocean beach. Will generations to come have the pleasure?

We hope.

Here, get me a bucket of water!

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Laila rules

Almost a year ago, blogger Laila Yuile reported on retaining wall defects along the Sea to Sky Highway. Pictures were included:
Troubling photos spark Ministry of Transportation inspections of Sea to Sky retaining walls, creating new concerns over Kiewit construction.
Laila followed that with additional information, including:
Sea to Sky retaining wall questions continue as ministry employee emails indicate Kiewit inspected their own work.
In 2014, the transportation ministry reported the problems were merely cosmetic although correspondence uncovered by Ms. Yuile suggested government was relying on inspections conducted by the original contractor, not by ministry staff or independent engineers. It seems the ministry of transportation and infrastructure is not revealing the full extent of problems with the highway. One thing is clear, Laila Yuile has been ahead of others in reporting on financial and engineering aspects of the Sea to Sky Highway and the ministry's responses last year to her inquiries are now proven dubious.

Today, CBC reports:
Sea-to-Sky Highway in need of repairs near Horseshoe Bay
The Sea-to-Sky Highway is to undergo repairs to a retaining wall near Horseshoe Bay — just five years after the Winter Olympics for which the B.C. government spent $600 million to widen and straighten large sections...
The depth and quality of CBC's current reporting may be revealed by their small ($195 million) error in quoting the cost of the roadway. As a matter of fact, the Auditor General revealed in 2012, "Capital costs increased from $600 million to $795 million." The watchdog office also reported:
...the Province (represented by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure) entered into a P3 agreement with the Sea-to-Sky Highway Investment Limited Partnership (a group of private companies) to design, build and finance about two-thirds of the highway improvements and to operate and maintain the entire highway for 25 years. The ministry is responsible for managing the remaining one-third of improvements...
Of course, the entire business deal has never been revealed. That's a benefit of public private partnerships, if you are a private partner; it's a disadvantage if you are a member of the public. However, we learn from public accounts about the stream of payments going from taxpayers to the private partner.

From B.C. Public Accounts (Updated for FY 2014):


Fiscal Year Payments Future Obligations Grand Total
2006 $ 7,104,157
2007 $ 25,369,209
2008 $ 36,364,125
2009 $ 53,795,523
2010 $ 58,293,523
2011 $ 63,003,619
2012 $ 66,140,676
2013 $ 58,173,389
2014 $ 53,578,713
2015 $ 52,000,000
2016 $ 51,000,000
2017 $ 50,000,000
2018 $ 50,000,000
2019 $ 48,000,000
2020 & beyond $ 500,000,000
Totals $ 421,822,934 $ 751,000,000 $ 1,172,822,934

More than three years ago, Laila Yuile wrote excellent pieces on the Sea to Sky Highway. Click HERE to begin looking at her work.
There was previous information about this roadway at Northern Insight:
Sea to Sky Highway subsidy $12-$15 each vehicle

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Liberal transparency: secret agreements, no oversight

If politicians become so focused on reaping rewards for themselves, their friends and associates, they begin to act as British Columbia Liberals are acting now. Like furtive night prowlers, government members seek the cover of darkness.

Publicly owned lands and natural resources have values minimized or ignored, then are privatized without oversight. Construction projects - Convention Centre, BC PLace, NW Transmission Line, Port Mann and other bridges and highways - are commissioned at contract amounts that elsewhere have no precedent. Lobbyists enjoy access and influence not allowed elected MLAs. While the disabled and the most poor are denied relief, senior insiders line their own pockets with multiple salaries, pensions and payments from the provincial public service and from what the British call Quangos (quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations).

Think the preceding are overstatements? Then, look at British Columbia's proposed Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act. It would allow:
  • The Minister to enter into agreements with oil and gas companies without clear oversight, allowing backroom deals that hand-out public resources at rock bottom prices;

  • The minister to bind the province through secret oil and gas royalty agreements without Cabinet approval;

  • The minister to keep agreements undisclosed and secret;

  • Agreements that can last for decades under any terms or conditions the minister "considers necessary or advisable."

  • Future governments to be bound by agreements that cannot be altered without taxpayers paying damages;

  • Agreements that limit taxation of LNG facilities by local government for 25 years;

  • Oil refineries operated by Chevron and Husky be designated "not an oil and gas activity."
In 1958, Socred cabinet minister Robert Sommers was convicted and sentenced to five years for accepting benefits worth about $60,000 in 2015 dollars. The family of another minister had serial good fortune from owning vacant land at intersections on new provincial highways. Yet, those were comparatively small acts of individual mountebanks. What we experience today are comprehensive acts of organized crime where the entire structure of government conspires to subvert public interests for delivery of benefits worth billions to parties who pay to play.
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Sliding from have to have-not

Statistics Canada provides surveys that allow analysis of employment. In my opinion, one data set that gains too little attention is the employment rate. It refers to the number of persons employed, expressed as a percentage of the total population 15 years of age and over.

When the economy is difficult and opportunities are scarce, some individuals give up the search for employment and disappear from the ranks of the unemployed. When the economy is vibrant and opportunities are plentiful, inactive individuals are drawn into the workforce.

Recent events emphasize the BC government's lack of focus on delivering benefits to citizens. Instead, it is the servant of special interests. There is little interest in developing industries that add value to provincial resources and encourage manufacturing and processing, but Liberals are willing to spend billions on subsidies and megaprojects like Site C so that foreign owned companies can ship provincial assets overseas with a near zero share of value remaining for citizens.

Over time, BC has ranked poorly compared to other Canadian provinces. Not surprisingly, in measures of job growth, the province also ranks poorly, although that was not always the case.

We must admit these numbers could have been worse but for the actions of BC Liberals. Had government not spent millions advertising the BC Jobs Plan and employed platoons of public relations folks to imagine all kinds of scenarios aiming to turn bad news into good, even fewer jobs would have been created. We should be grateful for small mercies.

Source: Statistics Canada CANSIM 282-0002

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Would you trust a prevaricator with $128 million? - UPDATED

Less than three weeks ago, a 2,100 ft² house on a 3,350 ft² lot in east Vancouver sold for $2.2 million though the asking price was $1.6 million. Two weeks ago, a modest 60-year-old home near my North Vancouver residence sold for $1 million, also above the asking price. The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver said February sales were 20% above the 10-year sales average for the month and the average price for a single family detached property in Metro Vancouver is over a million dollars. Houses are routinely selling 100 to 200 thousand above asking price.

In other words, the residential real estate market in urban British Columbia is hot, hot, hot. In the Burke Mountain area, small building lots are listed over $600,000. Yet, the Province of British Columbia made a hurried deal to sell vast tracts of residential property at a fraction of appraised values. The buyer is a company controlled by Hassan Khosrowshahi, a large BC Liberal contributor. The responsible Minister? None other than Amrik Virk who was party to a scheme that demonstrated minimal dedication to protecting taxpayers' financial interests.

BC Minister Failed to Disclose..., Andrew MacLeod, The Tyee, June 2014
NDP Advanced Education critic David Eby is questioning why Premier Christy Clark is keeping Amrik Virk as the minister responsible for British Columbia's post-secondary system after the release of a damning report related to Virk's actions on the board of Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
Payments scandal at Kwantlen University, Macleans Magazine, June 2014
B.C.’s Ministry of Finance reprimanded Kwantlen Polytechnic University in suburban Vancouver for flouting rules meant to limit public sector compensation. The school offered Alan Davis, its current president, and Anne Lavack, a former vice-president, $50,000 each in consulting fees before their terms began, plus more than $100,000 to cover unusual expenses, on top of maximum salaries. Kwantlen’s board of governors failed to disclose some of those payments to the Public Sector Employers Council Secretariat (PSEC), which acts as a compensation watchdog. Amrik Virk, now minister of advanced education, was part of that board. Opposition politicians have called for his resignation...
Amrik Virk moved..., CBC, December 2014
Beleaguered B.C. government minister Amrik Virk has been shuffled out of his post as advanced education minister... on the same day that a report into the pay scandal at Kwantlen Polytechnic University was revised to show that Virk was aware of secret bonuses paid...

NDP Leader John Horgan said Virk should be dumped from cabinet.

"Mr. Virk has demonstrated bad judgment not once, not twice, but three times and it's probably time for him to get out of cabinet," he said.
Hansard, April 14, 2015
John Horgan: My question is to the Minister of Citizens' Services. For some time now, we on this side of the House have been concerned about the government's haste with selling public lands to meet their budget objectives. In fact, we raised these issues before the election. We raised the issues during the election and we've been raising them in this House ever since.

So to the Minister of Citizens' Services, who is responsible for this through Shared Services B.C.: what steps did he take to ensure that we got fair value for land sold by this government?

Amrik Virk: Property sales are indeed part our government's ongoing plan to release unused and surplus government properties and assets for new development. There are properties that are indeed surplus that are indeed unused. It's in the best interests of the British Columbia's public to re-use, to reinvest that in education, to reinvest that in health. This province is absolutely committed to ensure we get the best value for the land that we sell.

John Horgan: Here I am agreeing that the government should get best value for properties that they sell. In the case of the Burke Mountain lands, recently sold for $85 million, that appears to not be6 the case.

When we raised this issue, we asked for an evaluation of the properties, and we were told "We can't have it." We went through FOI, and we got redacted documents. But we now, with the efforts of the Privacy Commissioner, have access to the appraisal documents, which show that the Burke Mountain lands were appraised at $128 million and sold for $85 million.

My question again to the Minister of Citizens' Services: what possibly went wrong when we had $128 million worth of property, and to meet your single-year budget objectives, you sold them for $43 million less than they were worth?

Amrik Virk: As I said before, it's important to ensure that those surplus lands that we have in the assets of government be reassessed, be re-evaluated on a continual basis. We continue to re-evaluate and reassess those lands that we have, and we continue to ensure that we get the best value for the land that we sell.

John Horgan: That border-lines on an outlandish answer to a fairly simple question. The government retained Equity Valuation and Consulting Services, as they should, to assess the value of public properties before they were disposed of. They must have paid a considerable sum for that evaluation. They got a 137-page report appraising the value of the Burke Mountain lands.

The report says in part:
"In determining value, the appraisers considered various sources, including area maps, consulting with the city of Coquitlam, MLS information, land core B.C. Assessment Authority, realtors, developers and other persons knowledgeable to the local marketplace." They said specifically that to get maximum value for the properties, they should be exposed to the marketplace for six to nine months to get with the city of Coquitlam, MLS information, Land Corp, B.C. Assessment Authority, realtors, developers and other persons knowledgeable to the local marketplace."
They said, specifically, that to get maximum value for these properties, they should be exposed to the marketplace for six to nine months to get full market value. Even though they hired someone to do the valuation, got a detailed report about how to best maximize the public benefit from this sale, instead of having the properties out for six to nine months, they did it in three. They did it in three, and they gave them away at $43 million less than the appraised value.

Again, to the Minister of Citizens' Services, if I had something that was worth a whole lot of money, I certainly would not sell it for 33 percent less its value — particularly when it wasn't mine, it was the people of British Columbia's.

Can the Minister of Citizens' Services put aside the speaking notes and explain to the people of B.C. why he gave away public lands when he could have got $43 million to go into health care, to go into education, to go into any number of good public purposes, maybe even an arena in Hazelton? ...

Selina Robinson: The minister speaks of best value. Well, one parcel was given a market appraisal of $5.6 million and was sold for $100,000.

Here's another example of best value. Another parcel was given a market appraisal of $17.5 million and was sold for $6.9 million. Another parcel was given a market appraisal of $20.6 million and was sold for $13.9 million.

To the Minister of Citizens' Services, why did government ignore its own real estate expert and sell these lands for far below their actual market value?

...To make matters worse, the Coquitlam school district will soon need to buy back some of these lands to build two new schools. So much for planning for the future.

To the Minister of Citizens' Services, why would government sell public lands to a developer and then force the school district to buy them back to build schools?
Ms. Robinson's points are important because this is a time when school districts around the province are denied money needed to maintain educational standards. Also, parents are told their children must attend schools that are not safe from earthquake damage because upgrades have been postponed yet again, for financial reasons.

Christy Clark and her BC Liberal associates believe that enriching themselves and political friends is the most important job of government.

In recent times, I have demonstrated that the public share of billions of dollars worth of natural resources extracted from these lands is negligible. If mining exploration tax credits are deducted from mining taxes, resource companies are paid to remove assets from the province. Additionally, companies like Teck and Imperial Metals, major financial supporters of the Liberals, buy electricity from BC Hydro at a fraction of what BC Hydro pays independent power producers, also Liberal contributors, for electricity.

As of March 2014, the Liberal Government had committed to pay $56.5 billion for private power at rates more than three times the average market price in the Mid-Columbia power hub. (The liability is reported on BC Hydro's audited statements and is in addition to $15.7 billion of term debt. The utility has not publicly updated the amount of the purchase obligation in the past year.)

Liberals plan to bring Site C power on stream and, at the same time, they are negotiating electric power deals with the gas industry at prices less than half of what Site C power will cost. Residential consumers and small businesses will pay extra so foreign companies can be subsidized.

BC Hydro has now deferred over $5 billion in costs. These expenditures, instead of being treated as expenses are deemed to be assets; assets a future government will write off at a future time. Except for the cost deferral, BC Hydro's 2014 equity would have been in a deficit position of more than $1 billion. However, government didn't want a deficit shown because that would have precluded transfers of borrowed monies from the utility to the provincial treasury. It is, of course, easier to pretend to balance a provincial budget than to actually balance it in real terms.

Citizens of British Columbia today, and the next generation of this province, are being dispossessed by BC Liberals. This government has ethics equivalent to infamous nations that rank among the world's most corrupt.


Elections BC report $716,376 in contributions to BC Liberals by Hassan Khosrowshahi and associates. This listing may not be complete.

Contributions by Khosrowshahi by NRF_Vancouver

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They're really good at ineptitude

Digital database incomplete, Justine Hunter, Globe & Mail, April 14, 2016
An $842-million project to transfer patient health-care records to an integrated, digital database has gone off the rails after three B.C. health authorities abandoned their contract with IBM, leaving 85 per cent of the job unfinished.

...Mr. Lake said a confidentiality agreement prevents him from explaining why the health organizations and the company “decided to part ways.”

...NDP Leader John Horgan, however, noted this is just the latest example in a string of B.C. government IT projects that have run into trouble. In another high-profile case, the province’s new $182-million computer system for welfare and child-protection services has been widely criticized for technical flaws, privacy risks and bigger workloads.

“Today, the people of British Columbia were shown the ineptitude of the B.C. Liberals when it comes to managing their dollars,” Mr. Horgan said.
I'm told the professionals involved saw this failure coming long ago. We must create a special gallery of BC Liberal megaprojects because they share common attributes:
Overdue - Overbudget - Off the Rails

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Takin' care of business

For each $1 million of Nestle branded water sold, BC is paid about $2. Mind you, this is a better rate of return than the province gains from resource companies mining for metals and minerals.

According to the 2015 Budget and Fiscal Plan, revenue from "metals, minerals and other" is forecast at $83 million. However, revenue from the mining sector is offset by "tax expenditures" of $114 million, all but $10 million credited to corporations. That suggests a current year deficit on direct mining revenues of $41 million, despite $6,989,151 worth of production reported by Natural Resources Canada for 2013. In addition, the Energy and Mines ministry costs taxpayers $30 million yearly.

Most people would be surprised to learn that the BC Liberal Party receives more in contributions from mining companies than BC citizens earn in direct revenues from mining of metals and minerals.

April 13, Emma Lui, water campaigner for the Council of Canadians, talked with Ian Jessop on CFAX1070 about the water issue. Here is the segment.

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

When the bells ring, political pets respond

Of course, not all journalists react in Pavlovian ways but the Black Press crew is reliable.

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