Monday, August 31, 2009

Thanks to readers #2

I finished July blog entries by saying thanks because we doubled the visitor count and almost tripled the page views, in comparison to June. I'm keen to say thanks again because August showed accelerating growth with visits up 275% and page views rising almost fourfold compared to July. That proves untrue the warning a cynical friend gave me at the start. He said, "Remember, some writers can double readership by convincing their spouse to read the blog."

I appreciate the cooperative encouragement of other bloggers. This is an interesting world of people with passion, expertise and altruism. Each might have a different approach but most share a desire to see full discussion of issues. Too often, the main media utilizes talking points provided by interested parties. The professionals have too little time and support to complete thorough examinations.

For example, a Global TV reporter this past week stated, almost as an aside, that the BCUC had ruled out production of green power in favor of running the Burrard Thermal generating station. Well, I might be outraged if that were true. But it is not.

You can bet that reporter didn't read the BCUC's 125 page report and its 1,400 pages of attachments. No, she would have read a one pager, prepared by someone who doesn't want citizens to know the true and complete story. That wouldn't serve the needs of people who pay for disinformation.

Again, particularly to regular readers, I offer sincere thanks. I appreciate your emails and occasional comments. Feedback from you will help me shape Northern Insights' future directions.
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Takin' care of business

Gordon Campbell and Colin Hansen sell HST as "the single best thing" that could be done for business in British Columbia. Not surprisingly, those with much to gain, the large beneficiaries, agree. A coalition of business groups held a press conference recently to say they support B.C.'s planned harmonized sales tax. Wow, I didn't expect that.

Some supporters were so enthusiastic they predicted that HST would lead to higher wages and lower prices. That might even be a theoretical possibility, if we lived in a competitive economy. However, we will never know because, except within small business and a few other sectors, truly competitive environments do not exist in Canada.

Political-economic oligarchies have effectively captured our governments, federal and provincial. These oligarchies institutionalized regulation to protect businesses at the expense of not only consumers but, ultimately, the nation itself.

An example, minor except for its typicality, arose this week. Federal Industry Minister Tony Clement, under pressure from cellphone providers, scrapped the launch of a publicly funded online cost calculator designed to help consumers compare cellphone plans of different companies.

Critics have long complained that competition between cellphone providers is illusory. The Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA), a branch of Industry Canada, agreed and developed a tool they called: Which Cell Phone? A Calculator. Tested across Canada, focus group response was overwhelmingly positive. As the tool was about to debut, Industry Minister Clement suppressed it.

University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist suggests that with public dollars having funded the mothballed project, the government should now consider releasing the calculator’s source code and enable other groups to pick up where the OCA left off.

Without doubt, that won't happen. The telecommunications business in Canada is the preserve of very influential people. A comparison tool designed for the public and paid for by the public will never see the light of day in public because it doesn't suit the needs of very influential people.

Canadian icon Randy Bachman wrote the song but Takin' Care of Business wasn't intended to be a mantra for politicians.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ending up where we're headed

Best known for the incomparable Monty Python, Terry Jones has not been easily categorized throughout his long career. Choose any label: Producer, Director, Actor, Narrator, Author, Columnist, Pundit, Playwright, Screen Writer, Comedian or Historian. They all fit.

I am enjoying The Terry Jones Collection; five hours of ancient history presented on DVD in his idiosyncratic, occasionally bizarre, manner. Paying casual attention to The Hidden History of Rome, I suddenly focused intensely on Jones' concluding comments. The message seemed to speak, not just of a time long ago, but of the society evolving in North America today.

I was reminded of a drawing that shows a person crossing a barren landscape toward the precipice of a void. A Chinese Proverb provides the caption:
If we don't change our direction we're likely to end up where we're headed.

Jones' episode about Rome reveals the ever-widening gulf that existed between the classes of the declining empire. This is Jones' epilogue:
Behind the glorious story of the Roman Empire, the story of military campaigns and imperial triumphs, there lies another story, the one that actually shaped the lives of [ordinary people].

It's the story of how Rome was run as a Mafia-like business, of Senators worth thirty million dollars who supported a system that let the poor go to the wall while they supported free trade and low taxes on businessmen.

It's the story of a society in which the noble families flaunted their wealth while the majority drifted into relative poverty. A society based on inequality, on the tantalizing luxury that was possible for a few as long as the vast proportion of the population had no rights at all or could be fooled into compliance with bread and circuses; a society that had no need for orphanages or contraception because unwanted children could simply be left on the town rubbish dump, or turned into slaves.

For minimum wage slaves of British Columbia, the circus comes to town February 12, 2010. Enjoy.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Timorous terrier

We've all seen a fainthearted hockey player who demonstrates an ornery streak after teammates arrive to restrain and protect. Once safe, the mock tough guy shouts impolite words, words he would not dare speak moments before.

Vaughn Palmer is like that. He's back at the legislature after a quiet summer giving after-dinner speeches or doing whatever political writers do with free non-working days. Spring time was more onerous; there was a government to elect, private power schemes to promote, cults to belittle and a railway scandal to ignore.

August 27, the Vancouver Sun's featured columnist gave us a somewhat critical review of the BC Liberals. He acknowledges that Campbell has taken a blow to his credibility but Palmer avoids using harsh words such as lie, deceit, deception, distortion, falsehood or similar.

No doubt, it had not been easy for Palmer to depart from the path of political righteousness but here are examples:
Thus, by the Liberals' own account, their entire third term will be consumed with cleaning up a mess of deficits and debt that was (to hear them tell it before they took office) unthinkable under the firm, fiscally conservative leadership of Gordon Campbell.

The Liberals can't claim any kind of mandate from the voters for their pending effort to revise the budget, nor for their farcical re-rewrite of the balanced budget law. On the contrary. They insisted throughout the campaign that it was two deficits max and no chance of a multi-billion dollar overrun or any major cuts in program spending.

But there are plenty of HST-related matters for the Opposition this fall, most notably the government's ducking of questions about the impact on consumers, who'll pay much more in sales taxes as business pays considerably less.

Best estimates suggest the shift will be somewhere between $1 billion and $2 billion a year, a hard sell, particularly for an administration that rode to power on a promise of tax-cutting, not tax-boosting.

However, again I prefer the consistent political analysis of Paul Willcocks. He relates the situation in a way that shows he is Paying attention.
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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Deceitful voices trash democracy

Speech from the Throne - August 2009

The pace, depth and scope of the economic crisis surpassed expectations. We have been hit by seismic economic shifts that were unpredictable and brutally deceiving in their speed and force.

News Headlines:
  • Apr 14/09 - International Monetary Fund put losses from crisis at $4.1 trillion;
  • Mar 10/09 - Job prospects hit 27 year low;
  • Mar 03/09 - U.S. Government announces $200 billion for consumer-backed debt;
  • Feb 19/09 - Credit Union predicts 42,000 BC jobs lost in 2009;
  • Feb 11/09 - Mortgage applications at 8-year low;
  • Feb 04/09 - Construction industry hit hardest by recession;
  • Jan 11/09 - NATO Chief: Financial crisis poses risk;
  • Jan 15/09 - B.C. caught in recession downdraft, credit union economist says;
  • Jan 05/09 - 2009 U.S. national debt to rise $2 trillion;
  • Dec 17/08 - U.S. housing slump worsens;
  • Dec 11/08 - B.C. headed for recession: TD Bank economist;
  • Nov 29/09 - What to do about global economic meltdown;
  • Nov 03/08 - Economic meltdown hits Canadian universities;
  • Sep 22/08 - U.S. meltdown puts heat on Canada

Speech from the Throne - February 2009
  • Now is not the time to take more money out of our economy through higher taxes.
  • Education is the best economic development and health promotion program ever invented. In tight economic times, it is only smart to maintain and expand educational investments.
  • Now is the time to build. Interest rates are at record lows, commodity prices are at rock bottom and competition is intense. The federal budget offers a major new pool of capital that can help the province to meet tomorrow's needs by building today.
  • [We plan] a total of $14 billion in new and ongoing public capital construction and 88,000 jobs throughout the province. Many of those projects will be launched in the next 90 days. All will be accelerated to the maximum extent possible.

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Hands . . .

On one hand:
  • In 2001, British Columbia's NDP Government set the minimum wage at $8 per hour. After eight years of BC Liberal administration, it remains at $8 per hour, the lowest in Canada. An individual on minimum wage working 35 hours a week earns $14,560 in a year.

On the other hand:
  • In 2007, a retroactive pension windfall worth an average of more than $800,000 per member went to 41 lucky MLAs, almost all BC Liberals.
  • The new Vancouver convention centre, originally to cost $495 million, was completed with a final budget for $883.2 million. According to a report from the Auditor General, there is no guarantee that this will be the actual final cost.
  • Despite finishing the convention centre project $388 million over original budget, B.C. Pavilion Corporation CEO Warren Buckley was paid $597,438 for fiscal 2009 (including a bonus of $125,000), up from a reported $127,016 the preceding year.
  • In 2007, British Columbia's highest paid public servant was fired B.C. Lottery Corp. CEO Vic Poleschuk who earned $929,027, about the amount 64 full time workers would earn at minimum wage.
  • David Hahn, B.C. Ferries CEO, guided the company to declining ridership and rising fares. He earned $1,034,680 including salary and bonuses during fiscal 2009 and Executive VPs Michael Corrigan, Glen Schwartz, Robert Clarke and Trafford Taylor had compensation packages for the same period that ranged from $485,509 to $561,747.
  • Adrienne Salvail-Lopez, Vice Chair, B.C. Securities Commission earned $851,206 in 2007.
  • Larry Blain, CEO of Partnerships BC earned $503,424 with $32,140 expenses in 2008.

  • Premier Campbell saw his annual compensation rise by 48.1% between 2006/07 and 2007/08. That was a one-year hike of $60,951.
  • In 2001, MLAs' pay package and legislative operations cost $36.3 million, or $484,000 per MLA. In 2008, that grew 60% to an estimated $58.1 million, or more than $735,000 for each MLA.
  • In total, MLA and cabinet minister compensation grew from $8 million to nearly $9.7 million between 2006/07 and 2007/08. That's an increase of 20.3 per cent -- and does not include increased payments made to the MLAs' pension plan.
  • Two years after B.C.'s Liberal government dealt its top political staff a 25-per-cent pay hike, it gave them another boost -- ranging from 22 per cent at the low end to 43 per cent for Premier Gordon Campbell's deputy minister. Retroactive to Aug. 1, 2008, Jessica McDonald has seen her $243,936 salary level boosted to $348,600 -- about $100,000 more a year. Lara Dauphinee, Premier Campbell's companion and assistant, had a 2002 salary of $87,000. Her fiscal 2008 salary was $138,926 and she is reported to have one of the government's largest expense accounts. About 20 other deputy ministers were dealt a raise of 35 per cent, with salaries rising from $221,760 to a maximum of $299,215. About 80 assistant deputy ministers go from $160,000 to a maximum of $195,000.
  • BC Railway Company paid four senior executives in excess of $1.2 million in both 2007 and 2008 despite having sold its fundamental assets in 2003.
  • After less than two years service, UNBC President Don Cozzetto resigned and, in addition to salary, was paid nearly $600,000 in severance, pension, relocation, tuition waivers, housing allowance, car allowance and vacation payout.


Read Will Mcmartin's Huge Pay Raises, the Silent Issue in archives of The Tyee.
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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Underground economy meets overseas economy

Last week, the U.S. government announced its deal with UBS to settle a case that could have thrown the Swiss bank into bankruptcy. At issue was whether UBS would – or could – hand over the names of tens of thousands of American citizens believed to have used their UBS accounts to hide assets and dodge paying taxes. The amounts are said to add up to billions.

In February, UBS paid $780 million in penalties and unpaid taxes. The IRS and the Department of Justice then decided to go after the account holders—and that’s what last week’s settlement was about. The bank will hand over 4,550 instead of the 52,000 the government reportedly wanted. But the problem of tax evasion isn’t limited to UBS, or even to Switzerland. U.S. loses $100 billion in tax revenue every year due to “offshore tax abuses.”

UBS agreed to pay $780 million in taxes and penalties, and “disgorgement of the profits” of its offshore business. The bank admitted that its employees operated in the U.S. without licenses and in apparent violation of the Securities Exchange Act. The company also admitted that it helped its U.S. clients conceal income from the IRS by referring them to lawyers and consultants who, the bank knew, would help them set up sham offshore companies.

The IRS has said that hundreds of people with overseas accounts have applied to a voluntary disclosure program, which allows some errant taxpayers to escape prosecution by paying their taxes and penalties. UBS is not the only bank that has offered accounts to American taxpayers. Two other large banks, Credit Suisse and HSBC, have asked clients to waive their rights under bank secrecy laws.

Tax experts say the UBS case will ricochet through the industry. Other banks dread becoming the next UBS, said Ethan Burger, a Georgetown law professor who specializes in international crime.

While the aggressive actions against UBS have caused optimism among some tax experts, they point out that cracking down on Switzerland or UBS alone won’t solve the problem of rich Americans avoiding taxes.
“There are lots of other jurisdictions that are offering bank secrecy,” said Raymond Baker, at the Center for International Policy. “Indeed, Switzerland is still offering bank secrecy, so it isn’t going to end tax evasion through tax havens.” While many people have rushed to get their finances in order as a result of the UBS prosecution, others have already moved money elsewhere, Baker said.

“There’s also been some flow of money out of Switzerland into Dubai and Singapore as people continue to look for an alternative,” he said. “This issue isn’t finished."

--- Extracted from UBS and the Taxpayers' Hidden Billions from ProPublica, journalism in the public interest.

------------------------------
One can extrapolate that Canada loses about $10 billion per year in tax revenue through overseas tax evasion. British Columbia's share would be about $1 billion annually. Canada Revenue Agency has refused comment on whether or not it is pursuing enforcement actions similar to those of the American IRS.
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Sunday, August 23, 2009

P-for-P

What is P-for-P? A new government project like Public Pays Private Partnerships? Maybe, a formalized policy titled Piss on Poor People? No, it is a new style of public hospital management, Pay-for-Performance, and it has been on trial during the past two years, funded by the province's Health Innovation Fund.

It's another step in the Americanization of Health Care brought to us by the British Columbia Illiberal Party. As a result, we move one step closer to a result predicted years ago by a doctor friend. He said:
The time will come when financial decisions will override life-saving medical choices. Government willingness to fund health care will fall short of the public's need for services.

The principle will be more broadly at work in September when BC Illiberals present the real provincial budget to replace their pre-election sham.

The provincial health authority claims P-for-P rewards improved performance and uses financial incentives to drive change. This concept moves away from block funding to a reimbursement model in which payments are provided per procedure or for specific outcomes. For example, if an emergency department patient who requires admission receives a bed elsewhere within 10 hours, emergency is paid $600. A lower acuity patient sent home from emergency within two hours results in a payment of $100.

Under the traditional public system, funding is provided and patients are moved according to medical needs. If an unstable patient in emergency requires extended monitoring and intensive care, they are kept until medically appropriate ward care is arranged. Under P-for-P, emergency personnel have an incentive to move the patient elsewhere, even if tests and evaluations are incomplete and the destination ward lacks adequate resources. In fact, hospital personnel -Progress Chasers - are assigned to the task of ensuring "decongestion" bonuses.

Similarly, payment for sending a low acuity patient home within two hours may discourage best practices. Sometimes, passive observation is medically appropriate or a lab test or x-ray is needed. Time constraints work against those choices. Also, will contact with a new arrival be postponed to delay start of the two hour treatment window?

The underlying direction to emergency departments is, "Do less, send the problems home or at least move patients somewhere less visible." Emergency departments are high profile with congested wait lines open to public view, 24 hours a day. They give confirmations of inadequate service availability. If a patient awaiting treatment is instead housed on a stretcher in the hallway of a convalescent ward, that is not a public event. Reality doesn't change, the perception of it changes.

While applauding the trial program, Vancouver Coastal Health admits that block health funding is likely to be replaced by payments for medical procedures, based on schedules prepared by funding bureaucrats. Government caps its contribution, regardless of a procedure's cost. That may result in Health Insurance BC deciding that it will pay $x for a knee replacement. If in fact the procedure costs $y, a patient will pay the excess.

This is the system now used for pharmaceuticals. Health Insurance BC determines that it will recognize an amount assigned to the lowest cost generic form of a drug, or of one similar, instead of the medication prescribed. If the scheduled price is exceeded or the non-generic drug is required, the patient privately pays the excess. Extended medical insurers follow these directives, even where a prescribed drug has no generic equivalents. A reasonably similar generic will do. The aim is to cap the cost, not to deliver the best medical outcome.


Medical necessity ought to be the motivating factor in determining a patient's experience in hospital. Programs such as P-for-P may result in minor cost reductions but that is realized through reduction in service quality. Inevitably, reduced health service will be paid for with patient lives.
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Less-lethal weaponry belongs to City of Surrey

Updated August 24, 9:20 pm

Commenter Marc provided a link to Rod Mickleburgh at the Globe and Mail, writing an update to yesterday's story by the Surrey North Delta Leader. Mickleburgh reports that RCMP was not involved in this stunt with chicken manure. It is a project of bylaw enforcement officers at the City of Surrey. Acting Mayor Barinder Rasode says that no council members were involved in the initial actions and the mess was cleaned after senior officials became aware.

I apologize to the RCMP for passing along incorrect information without independently checking the Surrey North Delta Leader article. However, the health concerns I raised are real and the City staff involved deserve condemnation and reeducation. The blog article is altered according to the new information.
--------------------------

The City of Surrey and RCMP lined a Whalley social service building with chicken dung to keep homeless and vagrants away . . .

The desired effect was to create a smell so repugnant that it would repel vagrants who were hanging out around the building . . .

An e-mail to the mayor from Deputy City Manager Dan Bottrill says that "Surrey RCMP initiated this in order to dissuade individuals from loitering against the buildings bordering the lot."

[Witness Kevin] Smith said he heard of several other buildings in North Surrey that have been sprinkled with the stenchy soil to keep vagrants away.

Mayor Dianne Watts said she was "flabbergasted" to hear of the chicken dung directive. "I'm certainly going to get to the bottom of this," said Watts, adding it's disgusting and a health hazard.

The RCMP were unable to comment on the incident . . .
From Kevin Kiakiw, Surrey North Delta Leader


Is the RCMP City so bereft of management skill and ignorant of public relations that "Project Chicken Dung" would seem like a good idea to someone? Well, it is not just noxious odors they are spreading. A study by John Hopkins University demonstrates that chicken manure harbors antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Poultry producers commonly use antibiotics to promote growth of the chickens. This can lead to bacteria in the chickens' digestive system becoming resistant to antibiotics. The antibiotic-resistant bacteria are excreted and wind up in the manure and can survive even extended aging periods. In this situation, manure selected for its repulsive smell is not aged and therefore even more toxic.

The results from John Hopkins University raise concern that typical storage conditions may fail to keep the microbes from reaching people through contaminated food or drinking water. We can extrapolate these findings and reasonably conclude that a high level of risk is posed by the malignant spread of chicken shit in areas where health challenged people congregate.

This is not an amusing issue of minor inconvenience. Antibiotic resistant bacteria are responsible for more deaths each year in North America than the AIDS virus. MRSA is a common form of antibiotic resistant staph infection and is associated with thousands of deaths annually, a number that is growing.

Street people often suffer chronic diseases associated with drug and alcohol use, diabetes and nutritional deficiencies. This results in immunosuppression, with the result that homeless are at higher risk of developing acute illnesses when exposed to putrid carriers of bacteria.
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Friday, August 21, 2009

The organization is intellectually bankrupt

If you care for wild fish, don't miss Brian Lewis of the Province writing about Alex Rose, author of Who Killed The Grand Banks?
"Regardless of those other contributors, for the past 25 years we have been decimating our B.C. salmon stocks, primarily by over-fishing," he says. "No single group is to blame because we've done this collectively -- we're all on the same hook."
Management of the West Coast salmon fishery by DFO is also a significant culprit, just as it was on the East Coast, in Rose's opinion:
"Sure there are some good and honourable people within DFO, but as a former employee I have to say the organization is intellectually bankrupt.

"Politics always takes priority over policy and the fish resource."
Rose explains that, often, when a DFO biologist recommends a closure, fishing groups lobby Ottawa politicians to block it.
"This is all about greed, because fish equals money," he says, "and none of us wants to admit that we're fishing our wild-salmon resource into extinction.
Alex Rose's book is available here:
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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Justice delayed, is justice denied.

From RightsCity, a project of the BC Civil Liberties Association, with thanks to Jesse Lobdell:

The BC Coroner has scheduled an inquest for November 2009 to probe the in-custody death of Robert Knipstrom in November 2007. The inquest will occur two years after Chilliwack RCMP officers used batons, pepper spray and a Taser on Knipstrom. The cause of Knipstrom’s death has never been released. The BCCLA filed a police complaint shortly after Knipstrom’s death, which will not proceed due to a subsequent complaint initiated by the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP.

For deaths in custody, coroner’s inquests should be automatic, timely, and include funded legal counsel for the family. Conduct investigations also ought to be automatic, timely and released to the public whenever deadly force is used.

It is unfortunate that the BCCLA must initiate complaints in order to obtain information about in-custody deaths. It is unfortunate that the BCCLA seems to be the only organisation that does this in Canada. It is unfortunate that the quest for accountability is met with resistance, hindrance and delay. Robert Knipstrom’s family, his friends, and the public deserve better.

---------- end

The Commission for Police Complaints Against the RCMP (CPC) announced it will continue its review of the incident in accordance with the terms of the Chair-initiated complaint initiated on November 20, 2007, to assess:

  1. whether the RCMP officers involved in the events of November 19, 2007, from the moment of initial contact until transfer to the care of emergency health personnel, complied with all appropriate policies, procedures, guidelines and statutory requirements for the arrest and treatment of persons taken into custody, and whether such policies, procedures and guidelines are adequate; and

  2. whether the RCMP officers involved in the criminal investigation of the members involved in the events of November 19, 2007 complied with the RCMP policies, procedures, guidelines and statutory requirements for the conduct of such an investigation and whether such policies, procedures and guidelines are adequate, and, further, whether such investigation was carried out in an adequate and timely fashion.


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Broken Promises

Broken promises cast doubt and fear
Upon those vulnerable souls in later years
Now only a remnant of trust remains
By deposed parties enduring the strain
Love once given without reciprocation
Now hatred looms without provocation
For I meant something to you in the past
But now remain a mere outcast


From Broken Promises by A. Keith Barton

PROMISE MADE:

Speech from the Throne
Iona Campagnolo, Lieutenant Governor
Thirty-seventh Parliament of British Columbia
February 12, 2002
My government vowed to stop the expansion of gambling that has increased gambling addiction in our province and put new strains on families.

PROMISE BROKEN:

BC Gaming revenue, 1999/2000
$525 million

BC Gaming revenue, 2008/2009
$2.61 billion


Read more at Paying attention, Paul Willcocks on B.C. politics and life.

Liberals shed principles in online betting binge


A consummate professional, Paul writes with skill and perception that many of us blogging wish we could emulate.


PROMISE MADE:

On April 23, 2009 - just weeks before the May 12 provincial election - Gordon Campbell said:
"I can tell you this: the deficit for 2009-2010 will be $495 million maximum."

In the late stages of the provincial election campaign in May, Premier Gordon Campbell was still insisting the deficit would remain at $495-million, despite the recession. When the NDP's election platform called for three years of deficits, the Liberals accused them of being "patently dishonest" for previously supporting a bill that allowed the government to run deficits for just two years.


PROMISE BROKEN:

B.C. taxpayers should brace themselves for a "very, very difficult" budget in two weeks, Finance Minister Colin Hansen warned on August 19.

The government is desperately trying to maintain key services, but a $3-billion shortfall is making that a real challenge, Hansen said.

British Columbia's finance minister says his government will run a deficit for four years - two more than promised.


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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

History's most open and accessible government

Lawyer Cameron Ward applied to the independent Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for release of information. His request was short and simple:
The RAV Line (now Canada Line) project is a unique public works project involving an expenditure of a massive amount of public funds. Therefore, all records pertaining to the project should be available to the public, and I submit there are no valid business or proprietary grounds for concealing or expurgating them.
Of course, in British Columbia's public affairs, nothing can remain simple for long. This request soon had executives and lawyers scurrying for these organizations:
  • Canada Line Rapid Transit Inc. "Canada Line"
  • Greater Vancouver Transit Authority "TransLink"
  • InTransit BC Limited Partnership
  • InTransit British Columbia GP Ltd. "InTransit BC"
  • SNC-Lavalin Ltd. "SNC"
  • SNC and Serco Group plc “SNC/Serco”
Executives wanted to keep secret some documents because, they said, the Canada Line could be target of a terrorist attack or criminal activity. They did not explain how the information might be used nor illustrate that any of the withheld information is of a sensitive nature.

Canada Line also sought to block release of information about consultations with First Nations, partly because that knowledge might encourage an expectation of consultations in future situations, when less convenient. They pointed out that if disappointed, aboriginals might make other projects more difficult for the provincial government.

The Commission found that Canada Line’s arguments on harm are vague, speculative and hypothetical. It also disagreed that releasing information would harm negotiations on future projects because, by Canada Line’s own admission, it is unique in its magnitude. Future projects would therefore be influenced by their own unique requirements and the then prevailing financial climate.

The transit authorities also sought to prevent financial information from being made public, claiming that might harm the competitive aspects of their relationships. The adjudicator held that they failed to demonstrate how harm would flow from release of the information.

The OIPC adjudicator's order, signed August 11, was short and simple:
I require Canada Line to give the applicant access to all of the information it withheld.
Cameron Ward is a lawyer attracted to interesting cases, often related to civil rights and justice issues. The front-page of his website highlights words of Martin Luther King Jr:
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Ward took on the case of Susan Heyes, Cambie Street merchant who operated Hazel & Co., a small retail business. Heyes argued that those responsible for the rapid transit line that impacted her business had misrepresented the nature of the manner of construction, had created a nuisance and/or were negligent. After a comprehensive pre-trial process, the issues were heard in BC Supreme Court and, following a three week trial, Ms. Heyes was awarded $600,000 for lost business income, plus interest and costs.

The defendants appealed the decision and tried to delay payment of damages pending the outcome. Ward argued that Ms. Heyes' business might be ruined permanently if she didn't receive the money. The appellants argued that since Ms. Heyes was in questionable financial shape, they might be unable to recover the funds if they were successful in overturning the judgment.

I would love to hear an ethicist analyze that proposition. The quasi public defendants cause irreparable financial harm to an innocent individual, lose the court case yet argue they should be allowed to increase the plaintiff's suffering, perhaps to a fatal extent, because the almost ruined victim is in a financially weakened condition. Why is she in that condition again?

Happily, B.C. Court of Appeal Justice Edward Chiasson rejected the defendants' arguments and the damages have been paid to Ms. Heyes.

Remember, these government and transit people speak as citizen representatives, our representatives, in this matter. It was really you and I talking to Ms. Heyes, saying she mattered not at all. Those same people who dragged their feet on the Heyes miscarriage mistreated numerous other merchants similarly.

They are also the people who refused to disclose important parts of the Concession Agreement that sets out the parties' rights and obligations regarding the transit project over 35 years. Every single argument they made to justify the secrecy was rejected by the OIPC. Why are these public officials trying to oppress public interests?

Well, we do know who sets the policy. It is the man who said:
Secrecy feeds distrust and dishonesty. Openness builds trust and integrity.
Also, in his 2001 victory speech, newly elected Premier Campbell said:
We will bring in the most open and accountable government in Canada. I know some people say we'll soon forget about that, but I promise that we won't!
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Monday, August 17, 2009

Mendacious Liberals target the arts

Minister for Tourism, Culture and Something, Kevin Krueger, said in a radio interview that arts groups are not concerned about government cuts to funding, "I don't think anyone is lighting their hair on fire at what is coming down the pipe.”

That came as a shock to sizzling members of the arts community according to Fiona Morrow of The Globe and Mail. She says the executive directors and board chairs of the seven major provincial art groups sent a letter to Premier Gordon Campbell outlining exactly their fears for the future of the arts in British Columbia. Almost $10 million a year in support was cut in the February budget and some predict additional reductions are likely when the post-election Liberals bring forward a real budget.

Vancouver Arts Club Theater Company GM Howard Jang says Krueger's statement was bewildering: “His predecessor, Bill Bennett, had asked the community to write and tell him what these cuts would mean to their organizations, and there was a considerable amount of communication sent in. Where has that all gone?”

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra CEO Jeff Alexander says that any cuts would prove to be “anti-stimulus.” According to the ministry's own research, for every $1 invested in the arts, the province gets back $1.38.

Scott Walker of Victoria's ProArt Alliance was stunned by the minister's response, saying, "I know my colleagues are really worried about the next two years."

Krueger said BC Liberals are supporting employment in the arts in other ways and noted that only this week they installed a 19-meter polystyrene raindrop in front of the new Vancouver convention center. This million dollar piece was designed by four German artists and constructed by Calgary fabricator, Heavy Industries. Krueger added:
The future will prove us right. The sculpture will jumpstart B.C.'s raindrop building industry, create thousands of jobs and become phenomenal moneymaking statues for the taxpayers of B.C.
The Minister, perhaps taking his title too literally, offered a biblical reference to those troubled by financial cutbacks, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

Krueger explained the meaning of that passage to The Globe and Mail but he has not yet explained the meaning of his explanation.
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Saturday, August 15, 2009

You should read someone else's work

I was thinking about writing a piece on how Taser International is using the courts in an effort to suppress the Braidwood Inquiry's report on conducted energy weapons. No doubt, it is important for them to claim defective bias and keep this issue unresolved as long as possible. I hope the court deals with it expeditiously and tosses their action immediately into the waste bucket, where it belongs. No doubt Taser's lawyers have pointed to numerous precedents in high courts of Canada that make their claim near impossible to support.

After reading this article at A Creative Revolution, anything I say would be superfluous.
Litigious International files against.....Braidwood

Another article by the same writer "Pale" is certainly worth reading too:
The SPIRITED origins of "excited delirium"

Michael
Smyth of The Province says BC voters have been sandbagged, again, "with plenty of post-election switcheroos..."
Summer of surprises leaves voters stunned
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RCMP worry about media inaccuracy

I guess Chief chief William Elliott is correct; they are making changes in the RCMP after all. Apparently, now when they perceive misinformation sneaking onto the public record, they act quickly.

Within hours of the Globe and Mail reporting an unenthusiastic police response to Paul Kennedy's August 13 CPC report, The Commish issued a strongly worded press release and wrote the newspaper with the force's own version of its reaction.

Under the old policy, correcting misinformation had a somewhat lower priority and was certainly not handled by the top cop, or any cop for that matter. Readers will recall that after many untruths were articulated by RCMP spokesmen following the homicide of Robert Dziekanski, Superintendent Wayne Rideout, M.O.M., ordered the media department not to correct the record.

Can we assume the new policy for senior officers to immediately correct misinformation will apply to all situations, even when the RCMP is in full-out CYA mode?

Elliott's actual defense is rather weak. He begins by saying, "... the RCMP would prefer if we never had to investigate our own members." Yes, we knew that before.

His major point is "... that our officers’ conduct was free of bias in 100% of those [28 reviewed] cases." Because of the comment about bias, Elliott supposes that findings of any inappropriate conduct is, well, inappropriate. A careful reading of the CPC report suggests Elliott misconstrues it. The finding that officers were not biased hardly excuses the faulty process these guys struggled to work under.

Kennedy's statement regarding bias should not be separated from offsetting comments. For example, if a junior officer is asked to investigate misconduct of his supervisor, the lower ranked one might be absolutely free of bias but that would still be an inappropriate examination. I thought the situation was similar to when a guy tells the wife, "You look fairly decent, but you're fat." Chances are she will not focus on the first half of that statement.

Elliott complains the CPC report pointed to a lack of national standards for investigations of officer misconduct. In the next sentence he admits that statement to be true and promises, without specifying a time frame, that new policy will be issued. Mr. Elliott, you are complaining about what?

The most insincere comment by Elliott is this:
As I have often publicly stated, the RCMP is very supportive of enhanced independent oversight and review. We believe that the more credible independent oversight and review is, the more credible the Force can be. We are also very seriously committed and very seriously engaged in bringing about positive change in the RCMP. This is not being defensive as has been suggested. It is proactively striving to improve the RCMP and live up to the highest standards Canadians rightly expect of us.

Come on Mr. Commissioner, the Mounted Police were formed in 1873; internal scandals are not new. You were appointed more than two years ago, Ian Bush was killed 4 years ago, Robert Dziekanski almost 2 years ago. That you still have no national standards for internal investigations is appalling. Your mewling defense has no credibility. None. Zero. Nada.

It seems though, that the RCMP has at least a national standard for refusing to take responsibility for its long standing faults while disingenuously claiming to support accountability. This is not a problem of the constables working the streets. This is a problem in the board room, in Ottawa.

Regular readers will recall an earlier contribution from Commissioner Elliott. There are similarities.


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Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Faustian bargain

I recall Colin Hansen speaking as an opposition critic about the problems of BC Ferries a decade ago. He noted successive provincial governments had failed to install competent management and had subjected the corporation to impulsive political interference. Hansen expressed concerns about conduct of government business. He talked about the need for carefully structured planning, extensive consultation, full disclosure, orderly review and systematic risk analysis.

Hansen struck me then as thoughtful, insightful and articulate. He seemed relaxed and forthright. In short, both knowledgeable and trustworthy.

After the election of Gordon Campbell's Liberals, it was not surprising that Hansen played a senior role. He spent about three and a half years as Minister of Health, a position that presents near insoluble difficulties, conflicts and expanding demands. While not hugely successful there, Hansen was far from the worst health minister to hold the difficult portfolio.

Observers of early Liberal days sensed palpable ambition of a few cabinet ministers but Hansen's name didn't much surface. At least publicly, he kept further ambitions discretely leashed and attended to business. Now, fast forward to 2009 and we find Hansen playing the sidekick role, the Premier's beardless Fuzzy Q. Jones, a specialist in cultivated subservience.

From the moment that Deceiver Campbell and Colin Hansen announced the HST, the Minister of Finance looked pained and discomforted. In interviews, he relies on verbal contortions and vagueness, trying to avoid ownership of the Liberal's obvious pre-election guile. But, that could only work if the population were to suffer a broad lapse of logic and common sense.

Hansen admitted that on the day HST takes effect, prices won't decline. But, perhaps, "They will rise less than they otherwise would rise." A safe statement that because it can't be proven right or wrong now or in the future.

Hansen declares, "HST is a much more fair tax than the PST it is replacing. Think tanks are saying that shifting taxes to consumers is a good thing for the economy, the single best thing we can do."

Quelle surprise! Yes, good common folks like those at business supported think tanks all agree; business should pay less tax and consumers should pay more, even if those are searingly regressive.

I'm reminded of a story told by John DeLorean about his installation in the seventies on the prestigious 14th floor of General Motors' headquarters, a place designed to bless its occupants with an aura of sacrosanct wisdom. DeLorean said these men were hemmed in by tradition, swamped in paper work and totally in thrall to their company careers. And, with great salaries, bonuses and stock options, each and every executive was a multi-millionaire, totally out of touch with the customers needed to maintain their lives of luxury - a prescient prediction we know now.

So the BC Liberals deigned not to talk to the electorate about a fundamental tax shift. They consulted with The Progress Board, a committee of 12 millionaire business people from around the province, and the infamous Fraser Institute where even multi-millionaires are held to be disadvantaged, unlike their billionaire colleagues.

How dare BC Liberals ever speak of holding a mandate of the people. The May general election was an out and out fraud, conducted at the behest of an inveterate liar to enable duplicitous politicians and friends to continue bottom trawling the province for greater wealth.

The question left in my mind is this. Did I misjudge Colin Hansen a decade ago or has he changed? Perhaps he fell victim to group-think. LSE social psychologist Sandra Jovchelovitch says that:
When individuals are insulated in a group, are very much part of a group with a common background, a common set of ideas and practices, they will tend to behave in a way that forgets larger moral values, that forgets acceptable social norms, that forgets how one is expected to behave in relation to the wider society.

I offer this advice to Colin Hansen. Your character is worth more than the power, influence and luxuries of this job. At your funeral, no one will speak of riches, people will talk about character and human qualities of courage, honesty, reverence for nature, self-sacrifice and strength.

Mr. Hansen, your body language reveals you are uncomfortable. Resign and keep your remaining honor intact.
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A bit dated, but fun

BOYBANDS VIDEO, a song from comedian Mitch Benn.

Ain't it funny how time flies
Twenty minutes have gone by
Since I met these other guys
And we've already had a hit
And you're listening to it
And I'm sure you think it should be number one already
I'm the one who can actually sing
I wanna get up and do my thing
But they say that I mustn't make the other guys look bad
I'm the one who's quiet and shy
They still let me sing but I don't know why
And now the tune is wearing thin, the chorus should begin

And we all sing the chorus together
'Cos we can't do harmonies yet
And this song will stick in your head forever
Though you try so hard to forget

I'm the one they hired to dance
When they offered me the chance
To sing one verse I said no thanks
And I'm the one who wrote the song
I'm wondering where the money's gone
And do I need these hangers-on?
I'm the one that the chicks desire
The one who sets their pants on fire
I don't need these ugly losers standing in my way...
I'm the one that the mums adore
Are we going to split? Well I'm not quite sure
But I think I'm going to slip away and sign a solo deal today

So we'll all sing the chorus one last time
Then we'll go our separate ways
And we practised the harmonies for ages
Oh well they weren't that good anyway

Off the stools!

Well I guess that it was fun while it lasted
And the song was hard to avoid
For a minute we were all lucky bleeders
But tomorrow we're unemployed
Yes tomorrow we're unemployed
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Open letter by a real friend of BC

Hello All:

In the last two weeks nearly 2,000 more people have signed our letter asking the Minister of Fisheries to apply the laws of Canada to salmon farms.

The Fraser sockeye are returning at 1/10 of their predicted number. While government continues to guess at the reason, they refuse to respond to the one factor shown to have exactly this effect worldwide and is easily fixed.

Please read this and stay tuned for how we can bring reason to this situation.

Thank you all for taking a stand and putting your name to this. The only way government will be allowed to see this situation for what it is, is if there are too many of us to ignore.

We can do this,

Alexandra Morton

------------------

Fraser River's salmon stocks beyond 'a crisis' by Mark Hume at The Globe and Mail.
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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Aspers ask Harper for a lifeline

A restructuring deal to save Canwest Global is being negotiated now behind closed doors. This does not merely involve bond holders being asked to convert defaulted debt to equity. Executives are also urging the Harper Government to make major policy changes because existing regulations may be fatal to Canwest Global's newspaper and broadcasting businesses.

The Income Tax Act precludes deduction of advertising expenses for advertisements placed in a newspaper or periodical that does not meet certain Canadian ownership criteria. Canwest risks losing the vital competitive advantage because their publications may no longer be “Canadian newspapers.”

Similarly, federal legislation and regulations are designed to preserve and promote broadcasting outlets that are Canadian owned and operated. CRTC regulators admitted this week that talks have begun with Canwest Global about the issue.

In the present situation, beneficial ownership of Canwest Global is uncertain. The Asper family apparently holds almost 90% of voting shares but their ability to exercise control is limited by and subject to creditors' rights. Has the company remained Canadian or has effective ownership shifted to foreign bond holders?

The future roles of Leonard and David Asper in managing a restructured company are key items of negotiation. Debt nears $4 billion and the company has produced losses in three of the last four years.

In addition to regulatory and tax act difficulties, many Canwest Global assets are capital thirsty. Sophisticated electronic equipment required for broadcasting is expensive and short lived. New technologies or changes in broadcasting systems demand improvements to current systems. To survive, the company must commit substantial resources to new technologies while the ability to fund such implementation is non-existent.

However, coping with technological change is less critical than ensuring Canwest Global's continued status as a Canadian owned and operated company. If bondholders in New York are effectively running the company, Prime Minister Harper can hardly turn a blind eye. His ability to rescue a supportive media organization may be limited by the Conservative Government's minority status in Parliament.

Is this media empire is too big to fail? Stay tuned.
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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Volunteers don't come cheap, updated

Olympic volunteers (have I offended a trademark?) apparently don't come cheap. One estimate puts the new bill to provincial taxpayers at $28 million. Consider that when the hospital postpones your father's heart bypass surgery, your mother's hip replacement or your child's school terminates special-ed teachers.

Laila Yuile has the news with links to Miro Cernetig's Vancouver Sun story.

The Globe and Mail's correspondent Frances Bula checks in with related news. She reports that about 800 City of Vancouver employees and most of Whistler's 300 staff will assigned for extended periods to help run Olympic events and facilities. Municipal employees at West Vancouver, North Vancouver, Richmond and Surrey will also assist preparation and conduct of events. The Organizing Committee was expected to pay at least part of the civic government costs but that is now uncertain and negotiations are underway.

Ms. Bula states the 2010 Games are suffering severe budget problems. VANOC says because of a very difficult economic climate, they seek new and additional resources and solutions to overcome financial challenges. That is modern speak for "Watch out, a man can have a baby!"
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That oughta do it

Steve Tuttle, a Taser International VP, was trying to defend his company from critics in the comment forum of a Salon.com article, "Let's talk about tasers" written by guest blogger Digby. This was a reader's response:
As a solution to everyone's concerns, I suggest that you design a model that shocks the living shit out of the person holding the controller. That way, cops would be hesitant to use the unit except in the most dire circumstances. As the units are totally safe when used properly, the cops would not mind at all.
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I believe

Lyrics from Mitch Benn, one of Britain's favorite satirists:








I BELIEVE

I believe the Good Lord loves me, and that he loves you as well
And if you don’t believe he loves you, he’ll send your butt to hell
Don’t believe in evolution, it’s too implausible
There’s a rational explanation; God magicked up it all

I believe that you should love your fellow man unless he’s gay
The Jerry Springer Opera’s evil but the Gulf War is okay
I believe the universe is six thousand years old
I’m getting real good at believing almost anything I’m told

I believe that science is witchcraft, they’ve all made Satanic pacts
I believe in faith alone, I don’t believe in facts
I believe the Lord speaks to me, I’d do anything he said
Be it feed the poor and hungry or shoot a doctor dead

I believe that God will stretch out his hand down from up above
And smite the gays and the Arabs in the name of love
I believe in anything the preacher tells me to
And I believe this makes me morally superior to you

I believe
You wouldn’t believe what I believe
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Monday, August 10, 2009

When you don't want to know the answers

Even though I pay for a copy of the The Globe and Mail, I may seem to be a marketing rep. Can't help it though when articles show up like this Mark Hume item.

Hume describes a public information meeting held in the small village of Kaslo for a proposed power project :
For more than three hours, people voiced their opposition to the project and the official attendance count was 1,100 – more than the entire population of Kaslo.

It was a clear sign of the enormous interest in and opposition to the proposed Glacier/Howser independent power proposal, or IPP. The project would see five dams built on the two thundering creeks to generate about 90 megawatts of power for Purcell Green Power Inc., a subsidiary of AXOR Group.

The public comment period for this project has closed at the BC Environmental Assessment Office (EAO). Most comments argue against the Glacier/Howser plan.

The agency does not want a repeat of public outcry on another project so they made an executive decision that the proposed Gold River Power Project will not require an environmental assessment certificate and may proceed without an assessment. I am reminded of the old lawyer's quip:
Never ask a question if you don't want to know the answer.

Can someone tell me why we are on a sudden rush to generate power by destroying rivers in the wilderness? Is the need so intense that it cannot pause for thorough and honest public review?
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Friday, August 7, 2009

Extra! Extra! Canwest publishes truth

I suppose with the pending bankruptcy, job security is no longer a huge issue throughout the Canwest Global system. How else can we explain the publication of a precise and truthful report by their Campbell River Courier-Islander concerning BCUC and private power.

An op-ed written by Damien Gillis exposes in detail what the newspaper's editors call the "shockingly dishonest" backroom deals that commit British Columbians to pay $31 billion (and counting) for power generated on public rivers by private, substantially foreign, corporations, regardless of whether or not the power is needed.

This is like me allowing a stranger to build a shed in my back yard after I agree to rent it in perpetuity for twice its market value, without regard to whether or not I need it or the fact that I could build my own for a fraction of the long term cost.

An earlier blog entry here in Northern Insights examined the inadequacy of coverage about this subject from Canwest's larger media assets in BC. Perhaps the Courier-Islander, a small Vancouver Island paper, was not advised of the company's mindset on BC Liberal private power programs. Or, as I implied above, the editors know that even loyalty to the company line can't save their jobs now.

Follow the link to read Gillis' article without delay because it will probably disappear as soon as Dennis Skulsky hears about it.
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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Electricity in your garbage

Since we have been thinking about power generation and Metro Vancouver is trying to find a final solution to waste, perhaps it's time to look at radical alternatives.

Within The Electricity in Your Garbage by T.L. Caswell at Truthdig there is a link to an L.A. Times story describing how a California grower annually saves $700,000 in power costs and $400,000 in disposal charges by using onion juice to run a fuel cell.

Gills Onions is one of a small but growing cadre of U.S. companies generating their own electricity on site with waste from their production processes. In addition to plant material, firms are using a variety of feedstocks, including animal manure, vegetable oil, whey -- even beer.

Also, see Onion Power at GreenBiz.com.
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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Biting the hand that used to feed

I'm working on my own piece comparing Canwest Global views of the recent BCUC decision to that of Mark Hume at the Globe and Mail. Hume is an insightful and knowledgeable journalist with a record of quality work. By comparison, the others are flacks, reissuing memos and talking points provided to them by the unweaned pups of PAB.

Don't miss Rafe Mair's analysis.

The BCUC and CanWest Global
Save Our Rivers Society - Tuesday, 04 August 2009
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