Sunday, May 24, 2015

Recalling BC pioneers

This item is recycled from the summer of 2010. I was reminded of it after a Twitter exchange about natural resource revenues and the lack of transparency surrounding them. This is not related but may give a sense of how my opinions have been influenced over time.
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Blogs such as this are personal forums but conventional wisdom suggests writers should not wander far from a continuing theme. I cannot resist occasional urges to step sideways. However, even this piece follows my oft-stated belief that we in BC today, are stewards for future generations.

I blogged a few days ago about the arrival of my fifth grandchild. He comes into a modern world, far different from the one his great-great grandfather came to 108 years ago. Nature and my grandfather, Jim Mahood, born James Alexander Sharpe in Gravenhurst Ontario 1885, were inseparable throughout his life. He claimed, probably correctly, that he never went past Grade 4 and received his life education from an old Indian woman near Muskoka Lakes.

He came to British Columbia still a teenager, first working as a cook for a survey crew and soon climbing over mountains and through virgin forests in lands unseen by white people. He retired a respected Forest Ranger in 1950 and lived 26 years beyond, keeping strong and active until the last few years. When he was 75, he decided to build a new house, next door to the family home. He had a helper, an old friend who was 78. Neighbors trembled when the old buzzards were putting on the roof. My grandmother hated, hated, hated, the new house. There was no reason for it except that he wanted to build it.

An occasional hobby of mine is genealogy. At one point, I thought I would do something up to my own generation and then pass it on to my kids. However, the subject doesn't interest many young folks so I've got a few decades before I need anything to turn over. Today, scouting the Internet, I came across this article, supposedly written by my Grandfather. I saw him wield saws, hammers, shovels, rifles and other things but never a pen. I suspect his oldest son, Ian Mahood, actually wrote this. That uncle and his three brothers were involved in BC forestry throughout their working lives. They loved the timber business and had little patience for people who were bothered by logging. Ian Mahood said that loggers were farmers except the crop cycle was 75 years long.

I reprint this piece because it provides detail about our province and the industry that was its foundation. There is an addendum written by one of Grandfather's associates, a person not known to me. I hope you enjoy.


Published by the Forest History Association of British Columbia

No. 79, Victoria, British Columbia, April 2006

(date unknown)

I came to the Chilliwack Valley in 1902 on a visit to my grandparents, who had homesteaded near the present site of the Abbotsford airport. Farming among stumps four and five feet in diameter was difficult and unrewarding. The debris from logging had to be cleared off, brush removed, and grass sown for cattle feed. Getting the ground broken for crops was back-breaking, frustrating work that few people today remember. Being Irish, my grandparents knew how to raise potatoes and pigs. Without this skill, the people would not have survived to clear the land.

As a young man I went to the Yukon in the late stages of the Gold Rush days. In 1910 I married Miss Patterson, a Glasgow girl visiting Burnaby. This proved to be the most beneficial decision of my life . After soldiering in 1914-1918, I returned to the Fraser Valley as a forest ranger for the B.C. Forest Service.

In those days the Chilliwack Ranger District started just south of Lytton, extended to New Westminster, and included all the land from the U.S. border to the headwaters of the Pitt, Stave, Harrison and other drainages flowing into the Fraser River. This vast area was virtually undeveloped and unknown as to its forest resources. Before 1920, there was almost no forestry activity east of Hope. Westward, along the C.P.R. line, near Ruby Creek, Harrison Mills, and the Mission area there were some small sawmills cutting mainly railway ties.

Logging was mainly by horse and just to supply local demand in the course of land clearing. In the Rosedale area and along the sloughs to New Westminster, long before 1921, oxen had been used to skid logs to the river to supply sawmills downriver. I remember many old skidroads with cross stringers of logs that loggers had to paint with grease to get their skidding done.

In those days stumps were cut ten or twelve feet above the ground so that the flared butts would not dig into the ground in the skidding process. There were no power saws and the fallers had to balance on springboards to chop their undercuts and pull their long handsaws back and forth. It was a grand sight to see two big "Swedes" stripped to the waist moving muscles in rhythm to fall a big tree. Men worked together, in pairs, in those days. Also, there were not many fat men. They worked too hard.

In the 1920s, operators on Harrison Lake began to open up railway logging shows . P.B. Anderson went into Green Point and ultimately had many miles of railway in that area. South of Cultus Lake the Campbell River Timber Company, that operated from White Rock, logged Columbia Valley using a logging railway and moved the logs to their mill near White Rock via the American side.

Near Abbotsford, the Abbotsford Timber and Trading Company, which had been developed by the pioneer Trethewey family, was winding up a railway show that covered a large area south and west of Abbotsford. The Pretty family were active near Harrison Mills and shortly after Chehalis began a railway show. It is still an active area, with trucks of Canadian Forest Products, Ltd., hauling logs out of the hills west of Harrison.

In the late 1920s the famous Green Timbers area west of Fry's Corner was logged by the M.B. King Company. This was one of the last pieces of timber on the flatlands south of the Fraser in the area from Rosedale (in the east) to New Westminster (in the west). In those days, all over the valley, homesteaders were clearing land for agriculture and as rapidly as loggers completed a show the ranchers moved in. In the Langley area, chicken ranches replaced the forest. Near Chilliwack, formerly forested land near the natural farming areas was taken over for cattle grazing.

As a forest ranger, a great deal of my work was administering the Homestead Act. There were scores of small sawmills scattered throughout the valley that bought logs from the ranchers that cleared off the land that the big railway logging shows did not reach. Without a market for sawlogs the ranchers would not have had a cash income. Horse-drawn wagons moving the logs on crude dirt roads, mud up to the axles, were a steady event. In the twenties and early thirties, trucks, the forerunners of modern truck logging began operating. The early truck loggers used fore-and-aft plank roads – they were common in the Rosedale area up on Promontory Mountain.

Orion Bowman ran a sawmill at the foot of Promontory Road well before 1910. He provided a market for the ranchers' logs and cut lumber for them. Without this mill a lot of farms would never have been cleared. His sons, including Oliver Bowman, and a daughter carry on the business and I understand they have a fine modern mill. It is one of the oldest continually operating sawmills in the province.

Before the 1920s, near Stave Lake, the shingle men had a method of logging that is now but a memory. They built a flume to carry shingle bolts from the steep ground down to shingle mills on the flatlands. These structures were engineered to wind down the contours and carry water that floated the bolts. The hard work to build the trestles that supported the flume was expensive and difficult to engineer. In the modern era I don't think there are any men left that could build such flumes and not many fellows who would be willing to lift shingle bolts into a flume by hand.

Incidentally, the power saw was not yet invented and handsaws were used to cut the logs and wedges to split out the bolts. Chinese and Japanese workmen were used in the hills, and people used to joke that they never sent a payroll into the woods, just bags of rice. One of the big shows of the railway logging era was the Abernethy-Lougheed Company near Haney. Their log dump was at Kanaka Creek where it joins the Fraser River. The railway went north to what is now the Malcolm F. Knapp Research Forest of the University of British Columbia. The company finished its operations in Haney in 1928 and moved up the Coast, only to go out of business during the Depression of the 1930s.

That Depression set back all of the logging industry and for nearly five years almost nothing was done in the valley. The wheels began to roll again in about 1935 when B & K Logging opened up the Vedder River show. They built a railway that used the Vedder Canal dike and crossed the river at Vedder Crossing, then went up the south side of the Chilliwack/Vedder River nearly to Chilliwack Lake. Was a tough show in mountains and sidehills, but the bottom land turned out some of the best Douglas-fir peeler logs ever harvested.

Paul Jorgenson was the engineer that designed that railway location and the bridges. Albert Wells, one of the old-time loggers, was superintendent. In 1938, the year of the big fires, the Campbell River fire got all of the newspaper attention, but a much bigger and more costly fire raged up the Chilliwack River. It nearly wiped out the B & K operation and they withdrew from the valley to log the Vedder Mountain and Cultus Lake areas.

People will remember the big railway trestle that crossed the Cultus Lake road at Vedder Crossing. This was one of the last railway trestles ever built in B.C.

Also in the thirties, the Silver-Skagit operation flourished. This was one of the first really large truck logging shows. It was organized to clear out the areas in Canada to be flooded for the hydro development on the U.S. side of the border. The logs from the American side were moved to the Fraser River, west of Hope, over a high quality truck road. Huge specially designed trucks, with 20,000 board foot payloads, worked around the clock. Many of the methods, pioneered at great expense on that show, were transferred into practice that has evolved into the modern, efficient truck logging of today.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s Harrison Lake became a centre of operations and Earl Brett, the Clark brothers, and one or two other Chilliwack men developed logging operations on Harrison Lake. I remember flying in with Earl Brett in one of those early open cockpit machines he operated. Coming around a hillside we hit an air pocket that bounced a camera case out of the aircraft. It caught on the rudder and jammed the steering. Earl side slipped down the hill and manoeuvred to a hazardous landing on the lake. I had to swim to the tail and pull off the offending strap so we could take off again. Earl not only pioneered logging but flying as well.

During the war years (World War II), all through the valley ranchers and loggers were busy getting out birch, cottonwood, and Douglas-fir suitable for plywood manufacture. This material, particularly the birch, was used in the manufacture of Mosquito bombers, one of the planes that helped to win the war.

All through my time in the Forest Service, fire control was a big part of the job. In the land clearing days, the settlers had the fires going steadily, and they used to flare up. Some of that land around Abbotsford was burned so many times, year after year, that I wondered if we could ever get people educated to be careful with fire. Then there were the big fires south of Hope near what is now Manning Park. These fires were caused by lightning – by the time men got to them the fires were out of control.

All my life I fought fires, and somehow or other we controlled them with hand tools, guards, and backfires. Nowadays the bulldozer builds the guards, roads are everywhere, and aircraft are used to drop retardant. Fire control is so much easier now that we do not have these big fires anymore.

I retired from the Forest Service in 1950 and since that time forestry has changed. Logging is no longer cut-and-get-out. Foresters schedule the harvest to have cut equal growth. Chilliwack centres the Dewdney Public Sustained Yield Unit. The allowable annual cut is about 60,600 thousand cubic feet. This can go on forever, provided reforestation follows logging.

This sustained yield unit has over one million acres. I am told that each 250 acres under forest management provides work for three people directly and indirectly. This means that the one million acres of public forest in the trade area of Chilliwack provides about 12,000 jobs. These, in turn, provide purchasing power that helps support the storekeepers, garages, carpenters, and all the people who work in our society.

As I look around, I marvel at all the second-growth forests, including plantations that cover the forest lands I have seen logged in more than eighty years. I worked at Parksville in 1918 and on the highway from Alberni, looking over the Parksville flatlands there was a sea of snags and slash. It was all reseeded and now there is a fine young forest that is ready for logging again.

Behind Mission, up the Sylvester Road and on Sumas Mountain there are now forests better than the old. I remember Sumas Mountain in the 1920s when much of it was clearcut and fire-blackened. At that time I despaired of ever seeing forests there again. I am happy to say how wrong I was.

After watching this valley develop I think that the people have one treasure they must never destroy. That is the forest. Happily, British Columbia has one of the best forest management systems in the world. The land is owned by the public and they benefit by the income that goes to the government, the jobs that provide the economy and standard of living. It is no idle comment that about 50 cents out of every dollar transferred from person to person, even in Chilliwack, stems from the public forest.

There are people who call themselves conservationists, who would like to take public lands out of sustained yield forest production. These people may talk about the need for recreation. There are acres and acres of recreation lands available and just because lands are used for forestry does not mean that they cannot also be used to provide recreation, wildlife, and fish. Our greatest resource is our productive land and if I learned anything in my lifetime it was that we must farm our forests. That we are doing this makes me proud to have worked my lifetime for the Forest Service. - END -

From the reminiscences of Jack Ker

The Mahood family was to have a profound effect upon my life . It was headed by James (Jim), who was the forest ranger with headquarters in Chilliwack. With his Scottish wife, Bessie, he had five [seven] children: Isabel, Ian, [Vivian,] Brian, and twins Ernest (Ernie) and Ray and Shirley.

Jim Mahood was my initial contact in forestry, when I learned in early 1935 that there were two job opportunities in forestry available that summer, for forest ranger assistants. It was Jim who arranged for me to have an interview shortly afterwards with Mr. Joe Smith, the forestry supervisor. I met him in his car in front of the barber shop in Sardis for that initial interview. The one observation he made that remained forever with me was: "I don't know your politics and I don't want to know, though this job is with the government, it is apolitical!"

I was to remember that word of caution in the years ahead! I often accompanied Jim Mahood on his rounds; he confided in me and became almost a father figure to me. He taught me many things about forestry and the B.C. Forest Service that would stand me in good stead later.

Jim was employed by the federal forest service in the days before 1930 when the federal government had jurisdiction over the Railway Belt, a band of land through British Columbia which extended a distance of ten miles on both sides of the Canadian Pacific Railway, that had been granted to the federal government by the province in return for construction of the railway. After 1930, when the Railway Belt was returned to the jurisdiction of the province, Jim became a provincial forest ranger with headquarters in Chilliwack. He thus had a wealth of experience and was probably one of the most respected forest rangers in the province. I was indeed fortunate to have him as a teacher!

I was to work as a forest ranger assistant in Chilliwack for three summers: 1935, 1936 and 1937.
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Friday, May 22, 2015

The outrageous special deal for Basi and Virk - REPLAY

First published January 7, 2011:

A reader pointed us to a recent BBC News report about a British politician convicted of financial fraud. Please compare this legal action to outrageous conduct witnessed in the Basi Virk trial related to BC Rail et al. Ex-Labour MP David Chaytor was jailed for 18 months for fraudulently claiming more than £20,000 in expenses. The former MP is now facing a large legal bill for both his defence and the costs of bringing the prosecution against him.

Mr Justice Saunders said that the public was entitled to expect honest treatment of public funds. He said Chaytor could not attract sympathy for having limited means, that these kind of offences are difficult to detect and amounted to a serious breach of public trust:
"MPs are trusted by Parliament to make honest claims and the rules make that abundantly clear. The foreword by the Speaker to the Green Book which sets out the Rules says that ‘Members are responsible for ensuring that their use of allowances is beyond reproach’. It is right that MPs should be trusted. They hold an important position in our constitution. These false claims were made in my judgment in breach of a high degree of trust placed in MPs to only make legitimate claims."
The sentencing guideline in Britain for this level of crime against public trust was two years imprisonment. Chaytor was allowed a 25% reduction for pleading guilty. Had the size of the fraud been larger, the prison term would have been longer. For breach of trust involving £1 million, the guideline is ten years in jail.

Ordinarily in Canada, fraud involving breach of public trust is a very serious offense carrying lengthy terms in custody. The Basi/Virk case resulted in very mild punishment and a $6 million cash payment by the public for the benefit of the convicted men. Additionally, the BC Government released without compensation real estate held as security for defendant's legal costs.

There is a prima facie case that BC Liberals provided Basi and Virk with a sweetheart deal in exchange for guilty pleas that allowed the trial to be ended. The prosecution had hoped to keep government documents out of the hands of defence lawyers but prosecutors lost that issue through rulings from the bench. Many documents were said to be destroyed but, through electronic recovery, these became part of the evidence. With those documents, Basi and Virk might not have proved themselves innocent of wrongdoing but the people directing their actions would have been exposed as well. That is why the Liberals wanted to stop the trial and explains why the defendants were willing to accept a conviction that involved only symbolic punishment.

The rest of this article was written in October. I think it is worth re-reading because this, the largest issue of political corruption in BC history, is still unsettled.

____________From Oct 19/10 ____________

Despite claims this week by mendacious politicians, the Basi/Virk case ended because Liberals deemed the consequences of halting the trial to be less damaging than harm from continued testimony or claimed memory losses by a parade of insiders certain to be embarrassed by indisputable documentary evidence.

For years, Basi and Virk claimed innocence, saying that they were acting on instructions of political superiors. Now those same bosses have facilitated a deal that allowed the convicts to avoid significant punishment, to have millions of dollars in legal costs paid by taxpayers, to have certain charges reduced or abandoned and to walk away without further public explanation or examination.

The Special Prosecutor admits he never saw the settlement agreement until minutes before it was announced in court. The judge claims she had no part in negotiating a plea arrangement but she took only moments to consider and approve settlement and decide penalties of a complicated prosecution that had dragged on for seven years. The Attorney General states his government agreed to pay millions in fees to the defendants' lawyers - among the highest priced defense counsel in the province - but was not motivated by self-protection. The Government waived its right to recover legal fees from personal assets owned by Basi and Virk and avoided embarrassment of testimony that then Liberal Finance Minister Gary Collins was under RCMP surveillance when he met with BC Rail bidders.

This new policy of paying trial costs of employees, despite conviction, is contrary to usual government practice. Attorney General de Jong said public payment was dictated by the special circumstances of today's "mega-trials." However, in the infamous Pickton serial murder case, the BC government was less generous:
"The B.C. government registered a $10-million mortgage against the [Pickton Family] property on Feb. 28, 2003, as security for payment of legal fees for Mr. Pickton's defence against the homicide charges." Robert Matas, Globe and Mail.
We know the Basi/Virk defense cost more than $6 million. The prosecution, conducted by a former partner of senior Liberals, including advisor and former AG Geoff Plant and former Deputy AG and Gordon Campbell's present Deputy Minister Allan Seckell, cost over $5 million. Add the many internal government, court and investigatory expenses and losses to the taxpayer for this travesty rise to over $20 million.

Consider that two senior government officials are convicted of accepting bribes to subvert sale of a valuable public asset. They breached, among other things, their oaths of office. They resisted prosecution for seven years, substantially compounding the taxpayer losses. Under the criminal codes, breach of trust is a very serious crime:
Every one who, being a trustee of anything for the use or benefit, whether in whole or in part, of another person, or for a public or charitable purpose, converts, with intent to defraud and in contravention of his trust, that thing or any part of it to a use that is not authorized by the trust is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.
This is the maximum penalty available in the Canadian Criminal Code, short of life imprisonment. Proposed amendments under Bill C-21 would impose a mandatory sentence of two years imprisonment for fraud over $1 million. Basi and Virk walk away with conditional house arrest for two years less a day, a term that  keeps them in the provincial system, away from the federal correctional authorities. To soften that inconvenience, the Judge said they can travel to and from work, go outdoors for physical activity each day and participate in activities with their children. Since these conditions will be almost impossible to police, it is equivalent to a fully suspended sentence.

Basi, despite being convicted of a separate and additional offence of receiving a $50,000 bribe from a land development company seeking release of property from the agricultural land reserve received no additional time on his conditional sentence.

It is interesting to note that in Britain the sentencing guideline for breach of trust involving losses of more than one million pounds is 10 years or more of custody. Former newspaper baron Conrad Black, convicted in the USA of fraud involving $6.1 million received a prison term of 78 months. Clearly, the punishment of Basi and Virk is mild, outrageously mild.

BC did not always tolerate breaches of public trust. Robert Sommers, a BC cabinet minister in the W.A.C. Bennett government, convicted in 1958 of receiving fraudulent benefits totaling about $7,000 was sentenced to five years in jail. What a difference.

People who formerly had faith in Canada's police and judicial system and British Columbian taxpayers are the losers in this whole affair.  Dishonest political operatives made off with valuable public assets. The perpetrators and those that facilitated the coverup were enriched. For example, the trial judge earned a promotion and the trusted Special Prosecutor billed millions. Despite having little experience or qualification for criminal prosecution, he had close business connections to senior Liberals. The defense teams were not limited to typical Legal Aid rates and restrictions; they made their own lucrative deals for public funding.  The Premier that orchestrated the corrupt sale of the BCR decides that no public inquiry will be allowed to inquire into his government's misconduct.

By the time a new Government is in position to appoint an inquiry commission, remaining evidence will no longer exist. You can bet that shredders and degaussers worked overtime, at our expense. Thieves and fraud artists have been directing the BC Government for ten years and the master criminals remain in charge.
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Gordon Campbell making history - REPLAY

First published in December, 2009
History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind.
- Edward Gibbon, English historian of Rome (1737 - 1794)
Doug McArthur at SFU's Public Policy School cast his eye on one of British Columbia's crime scenes:
I have suggested that since this whole system essentially involves a non-earned transfer of billions of dollars from BC citizens to private power producers, and that this result is perfectly obvious to anyone who takes the time to follow the money, the whole arrangement is essentially corrupt. The fact that the whole program has been developed behind closed doors in association with private power producers simply strengthens that argument.

Some have objected to this characterization, saying that while it may be bad policy it is not necessarily corrupt. I remain to be convinced. Meanwhile, it is perhaps worth noting that on the very week that Campbell profiled the Danish program, investigators in Denmark commenced a corruption investigation into the arrangement there. Perhaps a closer look at what is happening here in BC is warranted after all. Especially since the BC program is almost a total replica of that of Denmark.
We had a similar story HERE at Northern Insights October 2009. Imagine if Campbell's policies guided W.A.C. Bennett and Gordon Shrum when they developed the two-rivers policy years ago. Today, citizens would have no low-cost heritage benefits from the Peace and Columbia rivers. Instead, every kW-h would cost consumers whatever the market would bear in today's dollars, not those of 1965. That would have been bad for British Columbians but good for Wall Street, perhaps delaying its meltdown by 15 minutes or so.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

You are not special

A thoughtful message to new graduates: the 2012 Wellesley High School graduation speech delivered by David McCullough, Jr., son of the famous American writer, historian and broadcaster.

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

"You cain’t pray a lie" - H. Finn

Canadian Press, April 7, 2013:
[Premier Christy] Clark told a Vancouver Island economic summit her government’s highly touted September 2011 jobs plan — with its focus on increased trade with China and Asia and promoting liquefied natural gas exports, new mines and exploring innovations in technology and agri-foods — was working.
Vancouver Sun, April 15, 2013:
There was Premier Christy Clark Monday, dedicating herself to the goal of a “debt-free British Columbia,” and telling reporters that debt reduction has always been “a central value for me.”
As a central part of her campaign, Christy Clark promised more jobs and a debt-free province. What she's giving us instead is a province drowning in debt with a declining portion of gainfully employed residents. In fact, according to the most recent Statistics Canada report, there are fewer job-holders in British Columbia than May 2014, or May 2013, or May 2012 or even May 2008.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

"Jobs, jobs, jobs" Or, maybe not

The audio file above is a recording of my time with Ian Jessop May 12. We talk about jobs and natural resources but we don't deliver BC Liberal talking points like many others in media.

I urge readers to visit the CFAX podcast pages. Ian has been holding conversations on subjects not often covered elsewhere. For example, at 2:30pm May 12, Damien Gillis of Common Sense Canadian followed my interview and gave important information and insights on the Site C dam, which, at $10 billion or more, may become the single largest boondoggle in Canadian history.

May 11 1:05pm, Alexandra Morton, one of BC's true heroes, talked about her efforts to force government to follow their own rules and legislation in managing fisheries. On May 8, Andrew Mitrovica talked with Ian about federal Bill C-51, Canada's anti-activist legislation.

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Myth busting

Andrew Nikiforuk wrote advice for Albertans in his recent article Eight Steps to Reform the Broken Petrostate:
Behave like an owner: Alberta's oil and gas resources belong to Albertans. The Tories' "strip it and ship it" approach was not only wasteful, but also environmentally destructive.

…Governments that run on taxes raised from the general population represent their people. Governments that run on resource revenue represent the resource and its multinational extractors.

…The Tories consistently avoided transparency on bitumen revenues, and the impact of volatile prices or mining of unconventional resources on royalties. They gutted their own expertise on the subject under Ralph Klein and became highly dependent on industry numbers and analysis. This move has been disastrous for the province.…

…But the path for reforming a petrostate is clear: [Notley] must restore accountability, rebuild public institutions, and reintroduce a representative taxation system. She must embrace more economic openness, and invest in human resources and greater transparency. Last but not least, Notley must also address the province's glaring environmental deficits and pathetic record on climate change.
Nikiforuk's analysis is worthwhile but wrong in one important element. The Alberta government does not run on resource revenue and that fact is demonstrated by a graphic from the recent Budget 2015:

Alberta resource revenues had been close to $9 billion but are forecast at under $3 billion in the current fiscal year. By comparison, Norway's 2015 budget projects $55 billion in oil industry revenues. (Note: The population of Alberta is about 20% less than that of Norway.)

Nikiforuk is correct that Alberta Conservatives represented oil and its multinational extractors rather than the general population. However, that was not because government depends substantially on petroleum industry taxation. Clearly the industry employs many people and is a large consumer of goods and services. The resulting economic activity results in payment of personal and corporate taxes by the general population. As a result, taxation and representation are not decoupled, as Nikiforuk argues.

I respect this writer's entire body of work but I wonder if he fears to offer the bold prescription that is needed. Even Albertan progressives hesitate to state what seems obvious to outsiders, which is that fossil fuel extractors are not paying a fair share of value to owners of the petroleum resources they exploit. According to the Winnipeg Free Press, the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta struck a faustian bargain by selling out to the oil industry.

Leif Wenar holds the Chair of Ethics at King's College London. His Property Rights and the Resource Curse includes:
The resource curse results from a failure of institutions: specifically, a failure to enforce property rights. This defect in the system of global commerce allows authoritarians and insurgents to capture for themselves the money that consumers around the world spend on everyday goods. The authoritarians and insurgents have no right to this money. The natural resources of a country belong, after all, to its people. The blessing of resources turns into a curse when tyrants and insurgents are allowed to sell off a country’s resources…

The principle that the resources of a country belong to the people of that country is widely accepted and embedded deep within international law…
That assumption is subverted by force in less developed parts of the world. Elsewhere the subversion is by propaganda and influence peddling. Author Donald Gutstein has written about:
“the incestuous relationship” between the mainstream media and big business. He writes that, because of the success of its corporate propaganda, business is not just one voice among many in the democratic debate: “It controls the debate.”
Regular readers won't be surprised that I agree with the words above. British Columbia's ruling politicians are less concerned than recent Albertan counterparts about gaining value from natural resources. Rather than taking a low level of taxation from mining and petroleum industries, Christy Clark's government is actually subsidizing producers with funds taken from other taxpayers.

Shockingly, BC Stats reports that oil and gas extraction employs only 0.27% of the provincial workforce. Mining directly employs 0.58%. So, despite all of the spin doctoring from Christy Clark's government and the massive business subsidies it provides - such as the almost $1 billion northwest electricity transmission line - these extraction industries employ a fraction of the people working at food and beverage retailers. You won't find that information reported on the business pages of daily newspapers.

The political attention and favours granted to resource industries - forestry excepted - demonstrates two things: the strength of the business lobby and the corruption of the BC Liberal Party.

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

At least we're not last in sparkle ponies

The final item is intended to remind us that, for corporate welfare bums, creating good quality jobs is not high on the list of priorities.

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Friday, May 8, 2015

Flawed analysis

Following the passing of Alberta's Conservative party, Macleans writer Colby Cosh described a drawn-out illness that made the result inevitable. Followers of British Columbia politics will recognize symptoms also found west of the Alberta border:
Elections Alberta, despite some political and legal controversies, did important work in investigating and documenting the web of illegal kickbacks from schools, municipalities, and other provincial institutions that the Progressive Conservatives had come to take for granted in hinterland Alberta.

Political financing disclosures added to this picture, showing that the PCs have consistently relied on donations from corporate clients of government—contractors, builders, professional associations—that would make heads rotate and/or explode almost anywhere else in the continent…

…Not only did senior Alberta civil servants (working for a grateful Redford) violate rules about sole sourcing, but a $240,000 Navigator contract was almost totally undocumented, and other contracts were much more expensive than usual…

…the Tories were beginning to be perceived not only as bunglers, but crooked bunglers…
Colby Cosh is sympathetic to the most conservative of Conservatives - he's been used as an "educator" by the Fraser Institute - and his analysis here focuses on ethical failings of Alberta's politicians rather than policy misdirection. He largely ignores the cozy relationship between Conservatives and rich resource industry magnates. Directly and with agents, they have pumped huge sums into Conservative party coffers and hundreds of billions into their own.

Cosh disparaged royalty reform, not because government efforts were feeble but because they lacked "buy-in from the industry." It's fairly predictable analysis of a libertarian who values market fundamentalism, privatism and minimal government: "Our fleet was headed in the right direction but needed a better Admiral."

Friends and contacts tell me that Albertans were enraged by almost 60 new taxes affecting individuals without even token increases to corporate taxation. They are unhappy too with an oil industry that wants to dictate rules of production and pay little or nothing for the public resource it exports. People examine Norway with its regular budget surpluses, free education and childcare, low unemployment and a per capita GDP among the highest in the world. In addition, Norway has well more than a trillion dollars invested through its oil wealth fund, savings intended to ease transition to a post-fossil-fuel economy.

Cosh says comparisons of Norway and Alberta are a suffocatingly hot trend and he asks, "Why should lottery winners born in 2050 have the benefit of the oil our agents extract now?" He could also have said, "Why should ordinary Albertans have the benefit of the oil our agents extract now? It's wealth best left in the hands of private companies, even if those companies are owned by the government of China and, oh yeah, the people of Norway."

Regardless of the inadequacy of Cosh's diagnosis, the Alberta situation provides warnings to BC Liberals and hope to ethicists that social media and more effective political opposition will bring change to British Columbia in 2017. Given the hundreds of millions spent by the Liberal government on partisan communications and the tens of billions in subsidies given or planned for exploiters of BC's natural resources, it hard to believe that an untendered $240,000 PR contract factored into the Prentice government's downfall. That's a drop in the ocean compared to the way public business is conducted in British Columbia.

When the soon to be unemployed bunglers of Alberta take up jobs in the BC Government, they will be thrilled to learn that politicians here don't have to rely on crude kickbacks from scattered public institutions. No, here, contractors and government beneficiaries can write 7-figure cheques to politicians and score near-instant profits from public business. And, best of all, there are few people watching. Almost without exception, the corporate media is blind and declawed, happy to exist on lucrative government and corporate advertising.

The people who matter are comfortable and intend to stay that way. If the price is millions spent to fund propaganda machines, it is what it is. Evidence shows that paying money for the benefit of government politicians provides significant return on equity and profitability.


I included a short reference above to Colby Cosh's relationship with the Fraser Institute. It is taken from Donald Gutstein's book Not a Conspiracy Theory: How Business Propaganda Hijacks Democracy. A more extensive excerpt can be found HERE but I recommend the entire book.
The student seminar has become the Fraser's initial recruitment tool. The net is cast wide for promising candidates, with up to a dozen day-long seminars held each year in cities across Canada on the full range of libertarian topics: how the market protects the environment; how smaller government leads to greater prosperity; and why we need to privatize health care to save it. A big draw is that the seminars, including coffee and lunch, are free and held in prominent downtown hotels. Seminars are free because they are sponsored by corporate and foundation backers: Lotte and John Hecht Memorial Foundation (B.C. seminars), W. Garfield Weston Foundation (Toronto), EnCana Corp. (Calgary and Edmonton), CanWest Global (Winnipeg). Individuals and companies can sponsor specific components: one student costs $120, lunch is $1,875, coffee break, $500, speakers' travel and accommodation, $4,000. An entire seminar costs a tax-deductible $17,000.

The seminars mix lectures and small-group discussions, presented from a narrow ideological perspective. Discussion groups are led by staffers from the Fraser or its sister libertarian think-tanks like the Montreal Economic Institute. Lecturers are senior fellows at the institutes or executives from the National Citizens Coalition or the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Featured guest speakers run the gamut from Tony Clement, then minister of health in the Mike Harris government, to National Post columnist Colby Cosh, to Brian Day, president of the private Cambie Surgery Clinic in Vancouver. In short, the range of expertise presented at the seminars runs from right to far right.

Students… whose views are approved by the institute, in contrast, are identified for further orientation…

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