Monday, May 31, 2010

The judge said this

Unhappily, the author of these words is not Justice Anne W. MacKenzie:
"Upon reviewing the evidence of Mr. X's conduct and applying the ethical rules and guidelines in force at the relevant times, I find that Mr. X contravened . . . the 1985 Ethics Code, which provides that public office holders have an obligation to act in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny, an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law," . . .

"In my view, Canadians are entitled to expect from those who govern, particularly the holders of high office, exemplary conduct in their professional and personal lives. [They] must live up to the standards of conduct expected of them in order to preserve the integrity of government."
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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Misinformation in Liberal amounts

Gordon Campbell and his sacrificial minister Colin Hansen defend the HST but voices of others in the Liberal government are muted. In fact, the voices of backbenchers are largely silent on this issue. Today though, Rogers' CKWX played a short clip of Abbotsford-Mission MLA Randy Hawes speaking out.

As usual, Hawes claimed that misinformation about HST is the only problem and when misinformation is corrected, people support the Liberal program, particularly small business people. I decided to check that claim and called a small business person I know.

I asked the barber who cuts my hair whether or not he supports HST.

He said, "Well, if my shop takes in $100,000 a year for cutting hair, I will have to send $10,700 to government as their HST share. After wages and rent, I don't have that money left so my prices have to go up or I close my shop.

I said, "Yeah, but you'll save all that money because you'll get back the provincial sales tax paid whenever you buy a new pair of scissors or a comb or a broom. And, you will get back the HST you pay on rent every month.

His reply, "I'll save $47 a year in PST that the shop now pays. I pay 5% GST on rent but the tax is going up to 12% so every month, I have to pay more to the landlord and then wait to get that extra back from government when I file my sales tax return. I've got less money and have to carry a bigger account receivable for the HST refunds owed to me. "

I then asked, "But, you will collect HST every day but only remit that to government every three months, so that will help finance the amount owed to you for tax rebates.  His response, "No, the tax department says that's their money,that I hold in trust. I'm not allowed to use it or they will give me trouble."

So, I said, "Well, you'll have to put your prices up.'

He said, "Exactly."
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Friday, May 28, 2010

Stop, hey, what's that sound. Everybody look what's going down

After an artful letter to the editor by James Dartnell of Surrey, my attention was drawn to a column by BC Liberal reporter Keith Baldrey.

Baldrey offered the usual Liberal positioning, making these points about HST:
  • the tax is here to stay.
  • no matter how many signatures the anti-HST petition eventually garners, the prospects of actually getting rid of the tax appear dim.
  • the province is locked into a contractual agreement with the federal government.
  • it's unlikely there will be much political pressure on an NDP government to repeal the tax.
  • their voices (a lot of economists] have been shouted down by the outcry over the HST).
  • the earliest [voters] can begin a recall campaign is mid-November. . . Will the public anger still be there by that time? Perhaps, but the rules are stacked against a successful recall (just as they are stacked against a successful petition).
James Dartnell says:
"Sorry, but we the people are not finished with this issue yet. First of all, I bet Baldrey is amazed (as a lot of others) that this anti-HST petition has even got this far -- following his earlier pieces.

Secondly, there is historical precedence of the HST being repealed. The Saskatchewan government in the mid-'90s repealed the HST after the incumbent government was tossed out and the new one elected over this very issue. So, for him to say it is "unlikely" the NDP would repeal the tax if elected in 2013 seems funny -- especially if that were to be the primary reason for their election win.

Thirdly, recall in the fall is a distinct possibility. Does he really think the signatures of 40 per cent of the registered voters in certain ridings is insurmountable? This is in light of now more than 5,000 anti-HST canvassers. So, as this situation plays out (and presuming all of his other reasons for petition failure are correct) -- it looks as if it could be a good old-fashioned "Showdown -- Recall in the Fall!"
Now, even amateur pundits know that after the Liberals sidetrack the HST referendum, they will be ignoring the single largest objection ever voiced in Canada by voters. Something like 600,000 have already signed the petition, 75% report they are willing to sign and 82% of the population oppose HST. By the end date, probably about 800,000 citizens will have signed the petition.

One thing I predict, as do many other commentators, is that the Liberal Party will pay a high price if they ignore the clearly stated will of the people. Never in our province's history has a message been sent to government that is stronger. The Liberal Party will end up like Ujjal Dosanjh's version of the NDP in 2001 if they pay no attention.

Will voters wait until 2013 to throw out Campbell and his crew. Not at all likely. Residual anger will make recall a simple process and it will be focused on hand picked ridings and an army of angry, experienced organizers and workers are primed to go.  Baldrey limits his discussion of recall to an effort against Gordon Campbell. That is not going to be opposition strategy. The real targets will be seven  of the 98 lb weaklings in his caucus, the ones who scraped in with small margins, have been quiet ever since and will not survive a general rejection of Liberals.

The Party should take no comfort from Keith Baldrey's words. His judgement is questionable since he is one of the writers who has been saying for years that the BC Rail Scandal held no story and the referendum process was completely unworkable. I bet the Liberals wish those things were true.

This is a fascinating time in provincial politics. It should bring out the passion of any reporter not suffering from near fatal ennui. Instead, we get recycled talking points and press releases.  Keith and his press gallery colleagues should have a look at Adrian Raeside's editorial cartoons at the Times Colonist. Raeside voices the opinions of most people outside the partisan loop of Liberals and their corporate sponsors. Here is an example, you'll have to imagine the drawing.
  • Question: How do you start a small, marginal political party in BC?
  • Answer: Start a large mainstream party, appoint Gordon Campbell as your leader and wait.
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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Why (some of us) hate politicians

Gordon Campbell claims that HST will "encourage billions of dollars in new investment and lower costs on productivity."  Bill Phillips, Editor of the Prince George Free Press, in Why we hate politicians, asks:
If the harmonized sales tax is truly the “best thing we can do to stimulate the British Columbia economy,” why didn’t the Liberals institute it in 2001?

. . . There is no guarantee that the HST will stimulate the economy. I’m reminded of another columnist’s comment. Diana French, in talking about the end of the recession, stated she would be more inclined to believe it was so if the folks telling us the recession is over weren’t the same ones who didn’t see it coming in the first place.

The same holds true for the HST. I would be more inclined to believe that the HST is the single best thing we can to for the economy if the people telling us this is so weren’t the same ones who adamantly said the opposite for their first two terms in office.
The Black Press editorial is worth reading and I find it refreshing to see a common sense analysis instead of the usual repetition of BC Liberal talking points.

Chris Delaney, writing in the wonders why HST, if it is about to give British Columbia billions of economic growth, more jobs, higher wages and lower prices, is a common factor to troubled economies. Delaney points a finger at Canadian maritime provinces who were the leaders in employing HST but still lag as much as ever behind other provinces.

He also talks about Europe, where long established consumption taxes have resulted in strong economies with high growth, full employment, low consumer prices, declining national debt and falling taxes. Oh, wait.  Sorry, he didn't say that. He couldn't. By the way Chris, Greece already raised its tax to 21% from the rate you researched.

No, Europe has long relied on high consumption taxes because this tax is efficient, as economists like to remind us. Efficient, that is, in a perfect world of law abiding taxpayers. Any person who spends a little time in small town Europe knows that tax avoidance is a national sport in most countries. Nearly a quarter of the Italian economy goes untaxed, according to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. “What distinguishes Greece from the rest of the pack is the extent of tax evasion,” said Michael Massourakis, chief economist at an Athens-based bank. Portugal's government last month introduced new measures trying to reduce fraud and tax evasion and even the Spanish government admits that tax evasion has been a way of life for its citizens.

A Liberal sock puppet commented at Delaney's article that economists at SFU and Calgary had written recent love letters about HST. I engaged one of those economists privately in dialog but after a meek effort to defend his position paper, he went silent but not before admitting that his generic consumption tax position might not apply in whole to the BC economy.

Someone who doesn't follow economic and taxation matters wondered recently that, if HST will result in lower prices and be good for consumers, why are all those businesses advertising for customers to beat the HST?  Interesting question.

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The Greeks get it

By Chris Hedges at
Here’s to the Greeks. They know what to do when corporations pillage and loot their country. They know what to do when Goldman Sachs and international bankers collude with their power elite to falsify economic data and then make billions betting that the Greek economy will collapse. They know what to do when they are told their pensions, benefits and jobs have to be cut to pay corporate banks, which screwed them in the first place. Call a general strike. Riot. Shut down the city centers. Toss the bastards out. Do not be afraid of the language of class warfare—the rich versus the poor, the oligarchs versus the citizens, the capitalists versus the proletariat. The Greeks, unlike most of us, get it. . . .

What is happening in Greece, what will happen in Spain and Portugal, what is starting to happen here in states such as California, is the work of a global, white-collar criminal class. No government, including our own, will defy them. It is up to us. . .

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The dog ate my homework and other justifications

BBC’s h2g2 considers Why People Lie and begins with a definition:
Lies. We hear them everywhere. Be it from the mouth of a politician glossing over the facts or a desperate student trying to cover up for his night of hedonism and disregard for homework, lies are being told all over the place by just about everybody you can name.
A lie is an untruth, a deviation, big or small, from what is known to be real. It is a false statement deliberately presented as being true, thus misrepresenting a situation or giving a totally wrong impression about something.
Throughout time, philosophers have considered the appropriateness of telling lies. Ancient philosophers Aristotle and Augustine and 18th century thinker Immanuel Kant argued that lying is never morally permissible while Machiavelli held that a leader must be a “great pretender and dissembler” and Nietzsche said, "lying is a necessity of life." Other philosophers fall between those extremes, believing that untruthfulness is appropriate in certain circumstances. Dishonesty and deception are serious crimes according to Jewish law with the Torah demanding that one should “distance himself from a false matter.” Yet, that religion’s collected laws approve of deception in certain narrow circumstances, such as to protect the peace.

USC Prof. Jerald Jellison calculates that today, ordinary people tell 200 lies a day, including white lies and false excuses. Jellison says that once people learn how easy it is to lie, they are more willing to repeat, even with embellishments. Soon, lying becomes second nature.

Harvard Philosopher Sissela Bok says casual lying has become entrenched and is now an accepted part of many professions, including law, medicine and journalism.  Bok also argues that lying by the government has begun to corrupt politics.  She says that political lies are rarely justifiable and exceptions should themselves be openly debated. "Otherwise government leaders will have free rein to manipulate and distort the facts."

These academic views surprise no thoughtful person. In British Columbia, it is apparent that Gordon Campbell and his associates, after tasting electoral failure in 1996, resolved that truthfulness was an impediment to power. This is best demonstrated by the sale of BC Rail. Campbell acknowledged the sale to be his aim in 1996 but that unpopular policy contributed to his defeat at the polls. So, in the 2001 election, Liberals told voters they would NOT sell BC Rail. However, that promise was quickly broken and a strategy set in place to devalue the public asset and move it into the hands of the party's largest financial supporter.

Will McMartin, in The Tyee's Liberals, Stop Lying about BC Rail tracks the original dishonesty and presents the still continuing deceptions:
One such is the ongoing falsehood that BC Rail was a money-losing, debt-laden Crown corporation -- an unaffordable burden on provincial taxpayers -- before it was privatized by Gordon Campbell's B.C. Liberal government in 2004.

In Victoria last week (Thursday, March 25), Transportation Minister Shirley Bond stood in the legislative assembly and repeated the litany of nose-stretchers she and other BC Liberals have peddled on countless occasions over the past seven years.

"We're not going to stand on this side of the House and take advice from a group [the NDP] that actually saw a bankrupt railway that was in complete disarray when they were in government," said Bond, who in June 2009 was named as Campbell's transportation minister.

She again reiterated, "We inherited a railway that was bankrupt and in disarray."
Shirley Bond stood in the legislative assembly and lied.  In fact, audited statements of the railway disclosed that BCR had posted 23 years of uninterrupted operating profits before the Liberals assumed office. That has been said to Liberals frequently, yet their chosen strategy is to continue the lies, proving true a statement of one former party member who said there is a  "Culture of corruption and deceit within the Campbell administration."

Of course, when politicians lie so blatantly about an issue under close scrutiny, imagine what they feel licensed to say in situations where public attention is not focused. Indeed, lying has become second nature to them. They now believe they have free rein to manipulate and distort the facts. It shows in almost every ministry, even those charged with protecting children and the environment. The culture of deceit is willingly accepted by Liberal backbenchers who according to Paul Willcocks "are responsible people, accomplished and respected in their communities."  Paul would have been more correct had he written "were responsible people."

Members can assert almost anything as a fact in the legislature. What they cannot do though is to call another on the deception. You are allowed to lie but not to call another a liar. We have an example this week when Gordon Campbell finally joined the discussion about HST.

C. James:
"I'll tell the Premier and the B.C. Liberals what is clear. The B.C. Liberals told the public during the election — in fact, they even put it in writing — that they weren't going to bring in the HST. The B.C. Liberals betrayed the public in British Columbia. That's what's true.

Three days after the votes were counted, the B.C. Liberals were in negotiations with Ottawa. They betrayed the public. The public overwhelmingly has rejected the HST, and most importantly, the public has rejected the way it was brought in.

Again, my question is to the Premier. Will he stand up today, do the right thing and get rid of the HST?
G. Campbell:
This government believes the right thing is encouraging investment. This government believes the right thing is encouraging job creation. This government believes the right thing is strengthening the economy. That side has constantly been against that.

This government believes in creating a competitive tax regime that will encourage forestry, mining, energy, small business and economic growth in every single region of this province, and we will continue working on that option throughout.
An Hon. Member:
How about telling the truth?
Mr. Speaker:
Member, please withdraw that statement.
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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Disaster, baby, disaster

From Tomgram by Subhankar Banerjee, photographer and author of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land:
Despite the sobering vision of BP's collosal mess in the Gulf, Shell Oil is reportedly “moving vessels and other equipment from distant locations, in preparation for assembling its Arctic drilling fleet” . . .

The difference between the Gulf of Mexico and those northern waters is this: the climate is far less conducive to clean-up operations. . . . real help would be in short supply and a long way off.

. . . the nearest Coast Guard base would be almost 1,000 miles distant, the nearest cleanup vessels and equipment too few and 100 miles away, the nearest airports capable of handling large cargo planes similarly at least 100 miles away, and the nearest “major potential supply city,” Seattle, a couple of thousand miles away. Combine this with extreme local conditions and you have a surefire recipe for turning “drill, baby, drill” into “disaster, baby, disaster.”

Read also: Michael Klare, The Oil Rush to Hell

See Subhankar Banerjee's breathtaking images of the Arctic:

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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Fairness for whom?

Andrew MacLeod at The Tyee writes: Fairness of Hydro's Clean Power Call Entrusted to Lib Donor.

G West leads off the Tyee comments asking, "What else is new?"
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Connecting dots to draw lines

There are reasons why oil contamination in the Gulf of Mexico is a particularly important story to residents of British Columbia. First is the Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal for super tankers to carry Alberta oil from Kitimat through Douglas Channel. The second reason is the energy industry's persistent aim of drilling for oil and gas in coastal waters.

Northern Gateway is a controversial project that would allow export of product from the Alberta oil sands but environmentalists worry that the pipeline and tanker traffic present substantial risks to the west coast ecosystem. A poll of BC residents suggests that 75% object to tankers plying inside coastal waters. The Canadian Government is arranging a Review Panel to consider the environmental threats. However, it appears that the Government of China is already certain that the project will proceed. That country recently announced its third major investment in Alberta oil sands production. With additional deals under discussion, the Chinese investment in oil sands will soon exceed $10 billion, a sum that indicates this oil hungry nation expects to burn more oil sourced in Canada.

The BC Liberals have already indicated support for the Kitimat super port and the federal Conservative Party is unlikely to erect barriers. The only issue they worry about is avoiding political damage from approving a project that is broadly opposed. First Nations people, other residents of the north coast region and the province's environmental lobby are unhappy with a major oil port. Campbell's Liberals will not care about a little more political damage because, despite being in the midst of self-destruction, they remain reliable servants to big business.

Calgary oil industry consultant Dr. Henry Lyatsky has been a leading proponent of ending the west coast exploration moratorium, which exists not as law but simple policy that could be changed without legislation. Dr. Lyatsky speaks of about 10 billion barrels of oil and huge natural gas reserves in the Queen Charlotte basin, from northern Vancouver Island to Haida Gwai. If government is proceeding with the Northern Gateway port, they are not likely to ignore a trillion dollars of petroleum assets under the west coast ocean floor, particularly when they allow dangerous deep water drilling off the east coast.

Were I a strategist for the oil industry, I would be confident that regulatory barriers could be overcome but I would worry about public opinion, which does not now favor either super tankers or oil rigs in BC waters. BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster is a near fatal blow to the industry's hopes for Canadian west coast action. The Gulf Coast, where more than a quarter of U.S. oil production takes place, has vast resources serving the drilling industry. Yet, they have not the ability to deal with the BP spill, now in its second month.

The oil industry is following a strategy to minimize negative public relations caused by the oil spill. As ProPublic reported:
When estimates of the size of BP's oil spill in the Gulf quickly shifted from no leak to 1,000 barrels a day to 5,000 barrels a day—with BP telling members of Congress the daily flow could rise up to 60,000 barrels—it was pretty obvious the estimates weren't entirely reliable. 
Additionally, while oil gushed, BP kept the flow of information to a trickle, according to ProPublica. BP prohibited experts from estimating the oil flow but when video was finally released, observers soon determined that the initial estimates were far too low.

For those who might rely on Vancouver television as a source of news and information, we examine a May 21 report on the Gulf of Mexico oil contamination. Pay attention to the introduction by Emmy Award Winner Chis Gailus on Global's TV "flagship news broadcast."

From the Gulf coast, all the way up the U.S. east coast, frustration is growing tonight over the hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil that have poured into the Gulf of Mexico. As more and more of that oil from the sunken rig hits the coastline, soiling at least ten locations now, critics are blasting BP for not providing enough information about what it's doing to handle the disaster.
There are two possibilities that led to that report. Either Global TV's newsroom is incompetent, unable to assemble a factual report, or this is another example of shaping the news to fit an objective other than accurately delivering news. They report a spill of hundreds of thousands of gallons that has soiled ten locations along the Gulf Coast. In fact, by BP's lowball estimate, about seven million gallons of oil have entered the Gulf of Mexico. According to Purdue Professor Steve Werely's estimate, the flow has been closer to 100 million gallons of crude. The statement that only a handful of locations are soiled by oil will come as a shock to residents of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and the many Gulf Coast families who earn their livings by fishing and tourism.

The Gulf oil spill may be the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history and that will not be relieved soon. Riki Ott, a toxicologist who wrote two books about the Exxon Valdez spill, says she believes the scenario is far worse than officials are presenting to the public. Ott added that the continental shelf ecosystem and open ocean ecosystem are linked very closely:
"The shrimp that depend on wetlands and marshes for nurseries, when they migrate offshore, they become food for red snapper and grouper. It's too much oil, too fast, not to have a pretty big impact on generations of wildlife that's in the water column. Birds eating shellfish getting sick and dying marine mammals, land mammals getting sick and dying. You have birds feeding oiled fish to their chicks, the chicks have stunted growth."
Again, could Global TV be so wrong without having an intention to mislead? Is this part of the corporate agenda that aims to minimize the risk of the oil industry gaining free license to carry on business as they wish?
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Friday, May 21, 2010

Are you going forward or backward?

You must watch all of this video:

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Bob from Burnaby, you'll be the first caller

[B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell's chief of staff Martyn Brown] also denied ever encouraging Basi and Virk to call in to radio talk shows and lob "softball questions" to the premier and other Liberal politicians. He said he encouraged ministerial assistants to get others to call talk shows.

"I think it's a perfectly acceptable and long-standing political practice in B.C.," Brown testified.

. . . The court heard how Virk often called radio talk shows when Liberal politicians were guests and identified himself as "Bob from Burnaby," asking the politicians easy questions.

"It's nothing to be apologizing about," Brown told the court. "It's about getting your message out."

NDP Justice Critic Leonard Krog had this response, but don't expect to read it at Canwest Newspapers:
The suggestion that Mr. Brown is making that all political parties engage in those kinds of political tricks with paid government, taxpayer funded, staff is just patently false.
Referring to not officially accredited Supreme Court reporter Mark Hume's article at the Globe & Mail, Alexandra Morton notes:
. . . there are allegations arising in BC Supreme Court that the Campbell BC Liberal government paid people to support salmon farms at a protest rally in Victoria several years ago.

If it is true, there is no reason to expect the salmon farming issue to ever be resolved.

You might want to contact government and ask if your tax dollars were used in this manner to disrupt a democratic process concerning a public resource.
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Thursday, May 20, 2010

It is the nature of ambition to make men liars and cheats. . . (Sallust)

Bruce Ralston is the hunter, Colin Hansen the quarry.

2010 Legislative Session: Second Session, 39th Parliament
COMMITTEE A BLUES, TUESDAY, MAY 18, 2010, Afternoon Sitting


Hon. C. Hansen. . . . What that response stated quite clearly in those surveys is that the HST was not contemplated in the B.C. Liberal platform, and that is an absolute factual statement.

B. Ralston: Well, the responses to the questionnaire were a little bit broader than saying simply: "It's not contemplated." The B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association reported in their response…. I'm quoting here from the response of the minister's party talking about why the party would not harmonize the PST with the GST.

"It would extend the PST tax base to a broader range of goods and services that are presently exempt from the provincial sales tax…. This is a major concern. The B.C. Liberals are also mindful that a harmonized GST would reduce the provincial government's ability to unilaterally adjust sales tax rates." In short: "A harmonized GST is not something that is contemplated in the B.C. Liberal platform."

It wasn't a question of just saying it's not there. It was a question of a series of responses that cast doubt on the wisdom of the policy and made it very clear that as a logical consequence of having doubt about the premises of that policy, it would not be implemented. So is the minister saying that he doesn't stand by that promise, that he never regarded it as binding on the party and that in the future any promise made in those circumstances should be disregarded as having no value?

Hon. C. Hansen: I repeat: there was never a promise made by the B.C. Liberal Party or anybody speaking on behalf of the party that the HST would never be brought in. What it said was that the HST was not contemplated in the platform, . . .

B. Ralston: Well, certainly the minister has offered an explanation of a sort of what was said and what was promised in this response to the questionnaire. But others interpret it much in the manner that I'm interpreting it, and I think that perhaps most notably, Ian Tostenson, who was the president of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association.

He wrote an open letter, and in that letter just after the HST was announced on July 23 — and I'm going to quote from the letter — he said: "Last week the Minister of Small Business told me that all impacts of harmonization would have to be considered before any implementation would be contemplated. What a difference seven days make. In my opinion, this was a Ministry of Finance decision based on billions of dollars of incentives that the federal government grants to participating provinces." He was completely surprised, based on the assurances that had been given to him in writing before the election, and expressed his surprise and outrage in this letter.

. . . There seem to be a number of people who didn't agree with the interpretation that the minister is now offering. They thought it was a simple promise not to do it and if it was going to be contemplated that there would be a consultation process, not a single announcement, as there was on July 23.

. . . I would say that it's very clear, I think, to most people, whether in the media or members of the public, that a promise was made not to implement the HST without consultation. That promise was broken on July 23, and that's part of the reason for the anger of the public ever since.

The minister can choose to reject that if he wishes. That's his right, and I suppose that'll become part of the public debate in the future.

Now, the Premier said on July 23 that the HST was the single best thing that could be done for the B.C. economy. Does the Minister of Finance still support that view?

Hon. C. Hansen: Yes.

B. Ralston: Can the minister explain why he still regards that one policy alternative, notwithstanding all that's taken place since July 23, as the single best thing that could be done for the B.C. economy? When one comes to look at economic policy, there's a broad range of alternatives available, certainly in debate. Other jurisdictions have taken a different route to what they regard as economic prosperity. So can the minister explain why he stands by that position?

Hon. C. Hansen: . . .  You know, you can look back over the last ten years of B.C. history, and there was probably not a time when the adoption of this value-added tax is more compelling than it is now, given the fact that we are in the early stages of recovery. There are literally trillions of dollars of investment globally that are looking for a home, and we want to make sure that that home is British Columbia.

B. Ralston. . .. When did the minister become convinced of this very emphatic view that he's advancing — that this is the single best thing that could be done for the B.C. economy?

Hon. C. Hansen: During the second half of May last year. . .

B. Ralston: Was the HST as a policy alternative mentioned by the Premier or by the minister himself at this meeting on May 14, 2009?

Hon. C. Hansen: No.

B. Ralston: Why not?

Hon. C. Hansen: The subject did not come up.

B. Ralston: Well, as the minister knows by now, the following day, on May 15 — according to a freedom-of-information request tabled by Canadian Press and responded to — the provincial head of tax policy contacted his federal counterpart to request information about the HST. That's a fairly high-level discussion between officials following immediately upon the meeting between the Minister of Finance, the Premier and the Deputy Minister of Finance.

Is the minister saying that he, in that discussion, played no part in that inquiry being made, that it was simply a coincidence that one day later this inquiry was made of the federal government?

Hon. C. Hansen: Yes.

B. Ralston: I'm sure that the minister can appreciate why it might be difficult for some to accept that. . .

Well, I'm glad there's an exception to the policy that the minister has just enunciated, at least to issue a denial. I suppose that kind of logical conundrum is the corner which the minister has retreated to.

The minister says that the issue of the flexibility of the federal government did not arise until his discussion in late May 2009. Was the minister not aware of the position that the federal government took in their January 2009 federal budget? I'm quoting from the budget document: "Provincial retail sales taxes, RSTs, are outmoded and inefficient…. Modernizing these harmful taxes by implementing a value-added structure harmonized with the GST is the single most important step that provinces with RSTs could take to stimulate new business investment, create jobs and improve Canada's overall tax competitiveness." There's that "single most important" phrase again.

That was set out in January 2009. Was the Minister of Finance not aware of that? Because he claims that he first became aware of federal government flexibility, as he calls it, only at the end of May 2009.

. . . Indeed, the Premier himself was in Ottawa for the federal budget, to listen to the budget. Is the minister saying that there was no discussion between himself and the Premier? I appreciate this might be what he regards as a private conversation. Frankly, I think it's a matter of public policy — but no discussion between himself and the Premier when the Premier returned from Ottawa or, indeed, while he was in Ottawa to listen to the federal budget about this initiative of the federal government?

Hon. C. Hansen: We had discussions about the federal government. The subject of the harmonized sales tax did not come up.

B. Ralston: In the budget document, the "Federal-Provincial-Territorial Collaboration" section states the following: "The government remains committed to working with the provinces that still have RSTs to identify and evaluate potential areas where changes to the current framework for federal-provincial harmonization could facilitate provincial movement towards the creation of a fully modernized and efficient consumption tax system in Canada."

Was the minister aware of the offer of changes to the current framework? Was that a subject of discussion between himself and the Premier while he was there in Ottawa listening to the federal budget? I believe he met the Prime Minister. Obviously, this was high on the list of priorities for the federal government. Was there no discussion that was reported to him by the Premier of potential changes and the implementation of an HST?

Hon. C. Hansen: None.

B. Ralston: The Minister of Finance seems very emphatic on that. Has he checked his notes or consulted with his officials about any meetings that might have taken place upon the return of the Premier from listening to that budget in Ottawa?

Hon. C. Hansen: I will repeat it again. I talked to the Premier about the federal budget and his trip to Ottawa and some of his discussions. The subject of the harmonized sales tax did not come up.

B. Ralston: The other event that took place earlier that year, prior to the budget, and led to the policy that's now being implemented in this fiscal year and, therefore, the subject of these estimates was Ontario's decision to move to the HST. Is the minister saying that once again there was no discussion with either himself at the ministerial level or his officials at his direction in Ontario about the implementation of the HST there?

Clearly, we moved from an offer of federal government flexibility in the budget of January 2009 to an acceptance and negotiation by Ontario. The minister has been very insistent on the importance of this move by Ontario. Was there no discussion as a result of that shift? The federal government makes the announcement. Ontario announces they're considering it and ultimately implements it in their budget that spring. Again, no discussion by the minister with anyone in Ontario, either by himself or officials at his direction?

Hon. C. Hansen: There were none.

B. Ralston: The minister, then, is saying that the policy to shift to the HST or even consider it came as a bolt out of the blue at the end of May after this fairly wide-ranging national debate at both the federal level and at the Ontario level — and it became a subject of considerable public discussion in Ontario.

Is the minister saying that he participated in none of that? There was no discussion, and nothing happened. He wasn't even aware of it, didn't ask officials to report to him. Then only at the end of May did he become aware that there might be a possibility of this debate taking place. Is that his position?

Hon. C. Hansen: Yes.
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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Oil Rush to Hell

Michael Klare writes at
In the first days after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20th, reports from the Coast Guard and BP indicated that no oil was leaking into the Gulf from the damaged well. Then, the oil giant reported that, actually, about 1,000 barrels a day were coming out of it. Almost immediately the federal government raised that figure to 5,000 barrels, which remained the generally accepted estimate until, under pressure, BP finally released a dramatic 30-second clip of the actual leak at the wellhead. By then, according to ABC News, both the company and the White House had had access to the video for three weeks and obviously knew that the gold-standard estimate was wrong by a country mile. Since then, estimates by scientists viewing the video clip (who have been prevented by BP from visiting the site itself, looking at more material, or taking more accurate measurements), run from 25,000 barrels to a staggering 70,000 barrels a day or more -- up to, that is, 3.4 million gallons of oil daily, which would mean an Exxon Valdez-sized spill every few days.
The BP disaster in the Gulf may prove historic in the worst sense -- especially since much of its damage still remains out of sight, hidden below the surface of the Gulf’s waters in what already are gigantic plumes of oil in the water column going down 4,000 feet that threaten to rob Gulf waters of oxygen and create vast dead zones in areas previously rich in sea life. Simply put, this is scary stuff, environmental damage on a scale we don’t normally contemplate. And it’s probably just a start, given that whatever news story comes next only seems to have more of the same -- including the fact that the Obama administration’s Interior Department followed in the infamous footsteps of the Bush administration. In 2009, it “exempted BP's calamitous Gulf of Mexico drilling operation from a detailed environmental impact analysis.”
. . . Continue reading

Is this spill 12 times larger than estimated by BP or the Coast Guard?

From The Guardian

National Public Radio in the United States last night reported that the well is spewing up to 70,000 barrels of oil a day – the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez disaster every four days. Nearly 11 million barrels of oil were spilled in Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989 when the Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground, oiling beaches and poisoning marine life for generations. NPR said scientific analysis of newly released video footage from the ocean floor suggested the gusher was 12 times more powerful than estimates offered so far by the Coast Guard or BP.

Its analysis was conducted by Steve Werely, an associate professor at Purdue University, using a technique called particle image velocimetry, a method was accurate to 20%. That puts the range of the oil spill from 56,000 to 84,000 barrels a day.

Werely told The Guardian he based his estimate on techniques which track the speed of objects travelling in the flow stream.

"You can see in the video lots of swirls and vortices pumping out of the end of the pipe, and I used a computer code to track those swirls and come up with the speed at which the oils is shooting out of the pipe," he said. "From there it is a very simple calculation to figure out what is the volume flow."

He said he had use the method for 15 years, and elsewhere it had been in use for 25 years.

Scientists had spent the day scouring the video footage of the gushing pipe on the ocean floor to try to arrive at estimates.
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Single best thing they can do for business

BC Minister of Misinformation Colin Hansen worries that HST is misunderstood by four out of five British Columbians. Of course, what he really means is that tax opponents have not confined discussions to talking points approved by Liberals. We examine another unapproved analysis.

A major claim in support of HST is the elimination of tax cascading, which arises when a product's final selling price contains tax that is taxed when PST is added to a consumer's cost. Liquor sales provide the worst examples of cascading tax. Take an example of Schloss Schonborn Riesling with a BC Liquor Store price of $19.99 total. In fact, the winemaker's distributor received $9.10 for the bottle of wine. Governments added $8.28 tax but called it excise, fees and markup. Add in the final GST and PST and the difference between the distributor's cost and the final consumer price shows combined tax of $10.89 or 120%. The cascading effect occurs because the feds collect GST on excise tax and the province collects PST on liquor taxes that it prefers to be called markup.

Now, Colin Hansen wants you to know he opposes cascading taxes but not all of them. Instead of allowing liquor prices to fall because the HST rate is lower than combined GST and liquor sales tax, they will raise the markup and thereby exacerbate the cascading effect. Under the tax legislation Liberals enacted, they made sure that HST applies to the Translink parking tax of 21%, thus creating another example of cascading, the very thing they say should be eliminated.

Let's imagine a different example. If your 8-year-old water heater dies, you call a plumber. Under present rules, the tradesperson quotes this: parts $400 and labour $500, GST $45, Total $945. Under the new system, the quote would be: parts $380 and labour $500, HST $106, Total $986. The parts price declined $20 to reflect the plumber's PST saving when he purchased the water tank. We eliminate the cascading tax but the consumer pays $41 more.

Campbell and Hansen are selling a program that takes money from the pockets of consumers and gives it to business. Without doubt, the revised tax regime is good for business, in fact, they say, this is the single best thing that can be done for business. Other than giving them direct grants, that is true. Since the policy is revenue neutral but saves business $1.9 billion in year one, we know who pays that $1.9 billion more in tax. The consumer. Now, could someone explain how this article misleads anyone?
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Depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is

According to a report issued by the Business Council of BC, an organization that supports the 10 year freeze on BC's minimum wage, HST will lead to better paying jobs in British Columbia. I wonder if the Council has a new policy that now values improved wages.

Author of the report cited by the Business Council is SFU economist Jon Kesselman, a C.D. Howe Institute Research Fellow. However, Dr. Kesselman has favored shifting the personal tax base further toward consumption while also raising tax rates at upper-middle and high incomes. BC Liberals follow only part of that prescription.

Jock Finlayson is executive vice-president of the Business Council. He has been a leader of the pro-HST campaign despite his claims that the business community is not launching "a coordinated campaign to support the tax, or to formally speak out against a petition organized by former Premier Bill Vander Zalm that is seeking its repeal." In making this claim, Finlayson probably was thinking of Clinton's infamous remark, "It depends on what the meaning of the words 'is' is."

In 2009, Dr. Kesselman participated in a Globe and Mail live discussion. Kesselman made the claim that is a central talking point of BC Liberals. "Tax harmonization is not part of a scheme to cut business taxes and stick it to the consumers. . . Reduced taxes on business will yield lower consumer prices. . . "

A participant named Dale challenged that claim, noting that many BC companies that will realize tax savings under HST are exporters, who sell at prices set by global markets. No doubt, he was thinking about the province's main export commodities, which include coal, lumber and natural gas. (Hands up all those people who think consumers will save money because profits of mineral and energy industries rise.) Truth is that allowing tax rebates will simply increase profitability of these mostly multinational companies. And, as is common, much of those profits will be sheltered in overseas tax havens because corporations don't like to pay income tax. The Campbell government has been steadily reducing corporate income taxes and now they offer relief from consumption tax. Liberals move toward a tax free environment for corporations and this provides a fabulous rate of return for the $20 million or so contributed by business to the BC Liberal Party during the four year election cycle.

The Globe's anti-HST commenter could have added that most consumer products sold in BC are imports that will not reduce in price substantially. Clothing and shoes I wear this moment are manufactured in Asia, just as is the computer that I use to write this article. Moreover, if the machine suffers problems, I will contact a service centre in India for assistance and if a part is required, it will be mailed from an American fulfillment depot. Again, the so-called harmonization benefits are elusive. To his credit, Dr. Kesselman admitted to the accuracy of the challenge, "Dale, You are right that the taxes lost from rebates of HST to exporting industries will not be reflected in any compensating price reductions to BC consumers."

Colin Hansen and Gordon Campbell, people who know much about rearranging truth, complain that HST opponents are misleading the public. Yet, whereas the extra HST costs to consumers are readily identifiable, the scale of savings that Liberals claim will ease consumer burdens are at best uncertain and, at worst, improbable. The economist makes arguments that fit theoretical models of mature and balanced economies but British Columbia is an exporter of raw materials and an importer of finished goods.

Kesselman made another interesting remark in the Globe and Mail piece. This was the comment and response:

Robert Matas:
A lot of the resentment seems to stem from a feeling that the Liberals were less than honest. British Columbians are left with the question, when should I start believing what you say?
Jonathan Kesselman:
Robert, Okay, the Liberal government of BC was not forthright prior to the election as to its thinking (or even plans) regarding harmonization. No government could have survived the election while promoting such a hot-button issue. Sad but true, as Kim Campbell said some years ago when vying for prime ministership, an election is no time for candid discussion of real policies. But I hope that you can believe the overwhelming conclusion of tax economists that the HST will be superior to the current BC sales tax and will lead to many benefits for all of us as workers and consumers.
While some voters are outraged by Campbell and Hansen's tax deception, Dr. Kesselman appears to condone or accept untruths, since the subjects are "hot-button" issues. That would be unfortunate if it were true. We value democracy too little if we tolerate without complaint politicians who promise one thing during an election while planning to do the opposite.
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Monday, May 17, 2010

A chilling interview at CBS 60 Minutes

Scott Pelley speaks to one of the survivors of the deadly Deepwater Horizon oil rig blast who was in a position to know what caused the disaster.

Ocean effects:
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Friday, May 14, 2010

Here is a description, you match with a name

A perfectionist who is very concerned about self-image, often driven to succeed and seen as successful.   Must prove their own attractiveness by the number of people they can conquer sexually.  People relating to them will often will feel judged and inadequate.   Needs admiration and lacks empathy, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

(1) has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

(2) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

(3) believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

(4) requires excessive admiration

(5) has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

(6) is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

(7) lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

(8) is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her

(9) shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitude.
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Information doesn't always add up to knowledge

It is said in business that, over time, relationships must please both buyers and sellers. In negotiations, we examine the other side to understand their objectives and we seek ways to merge our interests with theirs in a mutually satisfactory way. Whether we stop to consider it or not, our skill at evaluating the needs and motivations of others is a key to everyday success.

That skill applies whether you are trying to get the best deal on a purchase, trying to inspire your teenager to achieve a task or encourage your spouse to whistle a song by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields.  In public affairs, we examine the objectives of people we evaluate but first, we need to  pose questions about our own learning and consider the knowledge set we use to judge. By example:
  • Where do we get information, is it sufficient and is it filtered fairly and objectively?
  • What are the motivations of our knowledge sources?
  • Do we consider multiple and alternative points of view?
  • Do we ourselves process information with reasonable objectivity?
I started thinking about these issues recently when I noticed what seemed to be a sudden surge of remarks criticizing Alexandra Morton in online comments and letters to editors of community newspapers. This coincided with her Walk for Wild Salmon and there was a sameness to content and style even though the writers' names varied. A number of those were untraceable and a few were connected with the salmon farming issue. Another was a technician in a community college who was has a record over some years of making pro-industry contributions, using the college name for prestige even though he lacks demonstrable expertise in the subjects of his contributions. I concluded that an organized effort was underway trying to mitigate the public relations damage Morton was causing the open net fish farming business.

We are going to see more of this technique because, feeling wounded by alternative media, industry whipped out their chequebooks to establish opinion factories specialized in new media manipulations.

The HST campaign is a perfect example of old media fairness, or lack of it.  When polls indicate that 80% of the BC population objects to HST, I find it amusing to have the corporate media regularly roll out business spokespeople to promote the opposite view. It would make sense to have a proponent and an opponent debate each other but what we get is a parade of one side's opinion. CKNW Radio is particularly guilty of leading a one sided debate as are the Canwest newspapers. They have demonstrated repeatedly that their role is to uphold the corporate agenda while minimizing expressions of consumers. Global TV News is Vancouver's ratings leader but earns that status by avoiding hard news and focusing on life style and human interest stories. It is more or less pointless to include them in a discussion about news.

I accept that people are entitled to put forward whatever points of view they wish but it is an old confidence game to salt the samples, to mislead by trying to create an impression that something is more or less than it truly is. Canwest Newspapers did this by misrepresenting the numbers attending Alexandra Morton's rally at the Legislature. Radio programs are manipulated by flooding the phone boards with callers who share common persuasion and producers routinely select participants to reflect the aims of the station message. Information consumers need to be vigilant and observant. Nowadays, there is much information spread around but it does not always add up to knowledge. Caveat emptor.
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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Staggering statement of regulatory impotence

Coast Guard Captain leading hearings Wednesday:

"It's my understanding that [a blowout preventer is] designed to industry standard ... manufactured by the industry, installed by the industry, with no government witnessing or oversight of the construction or installation. Is that correct?"

Regional supervisor, federal regulator MMS:

"That is correct..." 

Shadow Elite: Think BP's The Bad Guy? Think Bigger, Way Bigger

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Views of an oil spill

Our Mission is to be the premier offshore drilling company providing worldwide rig-based, well-construction services to our customers through the integration of motivated people, quality equipment and innovative technology, with a particular focus on technically demanding environments. Our operations will be conducted in an incident-free workplace – all the time, everywhere.

Tony Hayward, BP's group chief executive:
"Safety is fundamental to our success as a company and 2009 was important because of the progress we made in implementing our operating management system (OMS). The OMS contains rigorous and tested processes for reducing risks and driving continuous improvement. I see it as the foundation for a safe, responsible and high-performing BP. . . "

Complex challenges exist, but tremendous opportunities and rewards make deepwater activity a driving force. Halliburton technologies have played a key role in the success of many deepwater Gulf of Mexico wells. . . The complexity of the challenges presented by Miocene and Lower Tertiary trends, coupled with the Salt Canopy in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, are immense. Success in these deepwater environments calls for a service company with reliable and proven technology, along with the experience and customer commitment to achieve efficiencies through the entire process. Our experience speaks for itself.

"The more I learn about this accident, the more concerned I become. This catastrophe appears to have been caused by a calamitous series of equipment and operational failures'' said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee
Read more:

BILOXI, Miss. — Nineteen days after oil started spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, experts appeared Sunday to have no certain plan for sealing anytime soon a runaway well 5,000 feet below the gulf's surface.

Full Stream ahead for BC offshore drilling, by Kevin Potvin, March 2005:
Eventually the price of oil will rise to the point where it will be profitable to rip out Stanley Park and drill for it there. Those who meekly protest will be accused of blocking business from providing government with the revenue to treat the sick in hospitals, as John Hunter, president and CEO of Hunter and Associates in Vancouver did, regarding five Western Canada Wilderness Committee protesters who campaigned against drilling in the Queen Charlotte basin outside the meeting at Victoria's Delta Point hotel.

Or, as Neufeld, apparently the representative of the people of British Columbia, said to this gathering of capitalists, “When we see 10 billion barrels of oil offshore, why shouldn't we go get it?” It may not be the sentiment of the people, but it was certainly the sentiment in that room. Market economics can be very charming in its blindness and enthusiasm, but aren't some of these people ever tempted to cautiously peek out from under their blindfolds at the road directly ahead?
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Finally, Campbell comes clean about HST

Global TV Wednesday reported on "a long string of PR nightmares Gordon Campbell's Liberals faced over the first year of this current term."  Certainly it is a struggle for a politician to admit error when he has thoroughly pissed off the public and made truth a casualty of his government's effort to explain itself.
On the anniversary of the 2009 election victory, BC Liberal Victoria correspondent Keith Baldrey, shown here with colleague Minister of Citizens' Services Ben Stewart, talked with Campbell about the Annus Horribilis. The Premier acknowledged that HST has been a public relations disaster for both him and his Government.  Campbell said, "People are very upset. They think that they were mislead. . .  It came out of the blue for the public . . ."

Campbell indicated regret for Liberal strategies in the past year. He said:
"One of the disappointments is the first casualty of this discussion has been the truth. It is disappointing to see someone who's had the opportunity to serve as premier deliberately misleading the public with regard to something like this."
That is Gordon Campbell's first clear admission that, having been given the opportunity to serve as premier, he has been deliberately misleading the public over HST. Sure, it has been apparent to all since the beginning but it was refreshing for Campbell to admit that finally.

Of course, it had been impossible to believe that a government that usually studies major policy options for months, within four days of the election, would reconsider its position on HST, attain Cabinet and Caucus approval and prepare position papers and briefing notes for a policy change involving billions of tax dollars. After all, if they had done that complex change of course in four days, that would have been proof of unlimited stupidity.
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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I am shocked, shocked to find that lawyers give money to politicians

One of the first articles posted at Northern Insights was a praise piece about Norman Spector. You cannot read it now. It is gone, retroactively redacted by the truth fairy. A few moments of Monday's CKNW session involving Spector and Bill Good confirmed that my previous opinion needed revision. I still regard Spector as a cagey old pundit, able to analyze and discuss a political situation with great precision, if he cares to do so. However, as Vancouver Sun Editor-in-Chief Patricia Graham says, sometimes, there are agendas to deal with.

Most of us will remember a scene in the classic movie Casablanca. German officers ordered Captain Renault to close Rick's Café. In response, the Claude Rain's character turned to Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and said, "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!" Captain Renault emptied the room but first took his share of the night's take because, of course, Rick's indeed was a casino.

Like Captain Renault, Norman Spector has had his own shocking epiphany this week and he told us about it on CKNW. The radio conversation had turned to special prosecutors and cash flowing to BC Liberal party coffers from special prosecutors and BC law firms, even legal offices that have been billing substantial fees to the BC Liberal government and its agencies. First, Bill Good asked, "Is our system broken or was this simply a matter of one person with bad judgment?" Spector had this to say:
"I think it's exposed a hole that, I'll admit, that I did not see. I've been very very high on this special prosecutor system. In this case, the real problem was caused by Mr. Robertson himself. He should not have accepted the assignment. He should have brought this to the attention of Mr. Gillen at the Attorney General's ministry and not accepted the assignment, or other assignments either, the assignment looking into Ken Dobell, the assignment looking into Bountiful. The whole range of it.

I think it's opened an even bigger hole than the question of political contributions and it's this. A lot of these law firms that are donating money – since 2005 by the way, only to the Liberals – are also doing a lot of government business, whether it's for ICBC or Hydro etc. And, I think that really compromises the independence of the partners of those firms. Because, you nail the senior provincial person and you could easily find the government work drying up and government work constitutes a large part of the work of some of these law firms. So, I'll be the first to admit that I did not foresee this hole but I think that something fundamental is going to have to be done beyond the little tweak or the little regret that Terry Robertson did not reveal his conflict of interest before he took on the assignment."
Well, I suppose the subject just never came up before. Who would have imagined that law firms would be taking public money from government while shipping cash toward elections funds of that same government? Or, that special prosecutors investigating members of the government might be compromised by existing financial relationships between the prosecutor and the politicians?

Certainly, no professionals or executives should be expected to understand anything about conflicts of interest. After all, this is a 20th century concept, rarely discussed in universities and boardrooms. I even checked a catalog and found fewer than 1,500 books published on the subject. One of them, by the way defines it:
"A conflict of interest refers to a situation or set of circumstances that creates the possibility that a professional may provide a judgment or take an action motivated by something other than the interests or well-being of someone owed a professional duty."
In the Terrence Robertson case, he never considered the possibility of a conflict. A person less honorable might have supposed that the people who appointed him special prosecutor had an interest in his decisions and therefore, were more or less likely to appoint him again according to their views of the decisions rendered. And that instead, by taking payment from the public, he owed his professional duty to the public interest.

British Columbia's political nabobs make interesting claims that one rogue lawyer derailed the special prosecutor process by not revealing his conflict of interest. Come on gentlemen, a real surprise would have been the discovery that Robertson's law firm was not a substantial Liberal contributor. And, Robert Gillen QC, the Deputy Attorney General who appointed Robertson, did not fall off a turnip truck from the back forty. He had no knowledge that lawyers are heavy political contributors and could be seen as partisans?

The people who claim that decisions are made in the Criminal Justice Branch without concern for political factors should remember that Allan Seckel QC, moved directly from running the CJB to serving as Premier Campbell's Deputy Minister. Some separation of duties and interests, eh?

I have it on good authority that William Berardino never considered the possibility of a conflict in his Basi/Virk prosecution, despite the close ties he has had to Liberal politicians and bureaucrats. And, of course, the aforementioned Mr. Seckel played a large role in the Basi/Virk case, deciding on government disclosure of evidence.

Bill Good, still warming up after vacation time, only took time to point out that lawyers may have contributed to NDP election funds a decade or two ago. That was pretty timely analysis, I was starting to think something was wrong with Liberals.
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Monday, May 10, 2010

Chevron Canada promises extra care as they drill 70% deeper than BP

ProPublica is the single best news source for information on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, about questionable drilling practices by the ungoverned oil and gas industry and about biased and inadequate reporting about the industry by traditional media.

Today, ProPublica offers Regulators Let Industry Drill Deeper, Despite Safety Concerns and Unproven Fixes. It describes how deep water drilling has become increasingly common yet the industry and regulators have little idea of how to respond to complications. If the difficulty is an unconstrained high pressure blowout such as that now dumping oil into the Gulf of Mexico, disaster is certain because, as one participant admits, the industry lacks capability to cope with deep spills.

This inability is demonstrated by BP's failure to place a 100 ton concrete and steel funnel over the uncontrolled well. Because of the high pressure at 5,000 feet, water-based solids resembling ice formed inside the funnel and thwarted the attempt. That apparatus has now been pushed aside as BP tries to find alternative control methods and spreads various chemicals, many with toxic qualities, as oil dispersants.

As war against devastation is waged this week in the Gulf of Mexico, Chevron Canada begins deep water drilling at 8,500 feet, in Orphan Basin, 430 kilometers northeast of St. John's Newfoundland. Canadians are in luck though. Chevron has promised to be extra careful. Good thing too because any problems experienced there will be near impossible to resolve.

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Integrity - easier kept than recovered

Following the inquest into the death of Raymond Silverfox, Yukon RCMP Superintendent Peter Clark demonstrated an improved standard of responsibility for managing individuals under his command.
". . . I acknowledge that the RCMP did not meet the high standard of care we have established for ourselves and that you should expect us to achieve. I want to speak openly about this and how the RCMP has reacted.

Before I do that – I would first like to again express my sincere condolences and regret to Mr. Raymond Silverfox’s family, his loved ones, his friends and his community.

I am shocked and disappointed, as are many members of the RCMP that Mr. Silverfox had to endure the insensitive and callous treatment he endured while he was in our care.

We have failed you and we have failed ourselves.

I can only imagine how difficult it must have been hearing about how he was treated while in custody.

He deserved much better from us and there is no question that we fell short… we didn’t live up to your expectations or the standards we have set for ourselves....and for that…we apologize . . . "
I have written much here at Northern Insights about failures at the highest levels of  the RCMP.  There have been many situations where wrongdoing was clear to any reasonable person yet admission of error was not in the RCMP playbook. And, since recognition of error is a precursor to correction, similar incidents were repeated. The organization has been unwilling to learn from its mistakes.

There are signs of change. Sup't Clark's near unequivocal apology is one of those. It took 18 months and questions remain unanswered but this is a far better performance than we have seen in typical deaths in custody. One issue that I see as troubling and inadequately explained is that the audio recordings from the cell block were not transcribed until April 2010, three days before the Coroner's Inquest. It is beyond belief that experienced investigators of sudden death paid no attention to the audio tapes for almost a year and a half.

But, this is an improvement in the RCMP's self-examination. Citizens must continue paying close attention and the organization must keep improving. Read more at the Whitehorse Star.

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Sunday, May 9, 2010

News not fit to print - not part of the Canwest agenda

Alexandra Morton and friends took their walk for wild salmon to Victoria yesterday, gathering on the steps of the Legislature.

According to CKNW's morning news, hundreds of protesters gathered. Victoria's Times Colonist and the Vancouver Province newspaper says almost 1,000 people crowded the capital streets. Brennan Clark of the Globe and Mail counted 4,000 and Global TV's Saturday late news reported that 5,000 demonstrators met on the steps of the Legislature. Rafe Mair says the crowd was 4,000+ and reports:
Vicky Husband, a veteran environmentalist and activist, who holds an Order of Canada, who said it was the biggest environmental gathering that she had ever seen and very likely the biggest in BC history.
So how many did the Vancouver Sun reporters count? Well, they didn't have any reporters there. As of 8:00 am Sunday morning, the Sun website was reporting nothing. There was a story about a fine for a barking dog and a story, with pictures, about "dearly departed" Olympic mascots Quatchi, Gloomi and Crappi and regular updates from a 10km fun run. No story on the march to Victoria.

Think about the New York Times front page motto, "All the News That's Fit to Print."  Instead, Vancouver Sun editors might say, "Alexandra Morton does not fit our agenda."

Update: later Sunday, the Sun reprinted the Times Colonist article, again discounting the numbers of people gathered. That is strange because credibility should matter to a newspaper although Editor-in-chief Patricia Graham has admitted that the Sun attends to "agenda matters." Not hard to identify those agenda items, is it?

Photo from
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Filthier and richer

A friend said, "Hey, did you notice that Britain had an election, and everybody lost."

Governments don't usually fall because of a single mistake or policy error. They fall when ordinary people, unengaged politically, are fed up with patterns of unacceptable behavior and conclude that time has come to get the bastards out. However, when they view the opposition politicians as equally unacceptable bastards, confusion reigns.  In Britain today, confusion reigns. Neither major party is well regarded throughout the country.

A map of electoral districts demonstrates the UK is a nation divided by wealth. The red/blue map of Labour/Conservative ridings is similar to the divide shown on Britain's wealth map.  Areas of core poverty, shown by the darker areas, are typically areas of strong Labour Party support.

Many traditional supporters thought that "New Labour" under Tony Blair would address economic inequality but they did not. The Joseph Rountree Foundation recently examined poverty and inequality and their study shows inequality at a 40-year high. British writer Johann Hari complains about New Labour:
"We thought we were voting for a more equal Britain when in fact the "filthy rich" – to use the term Peter Mandelson purred – became filthier and richer and crashed the global economy. We thought we were voting for "an ethical foreign policy" when we got a war that killed a million civilians, and complicity with torture."
Loss of optimism and diminished faith in national purpose are precursors to social unrest. The Financial Times wondered if the British Disease - industrial unrest - already has reappeared and others now ask if the civil upset in Greece could be contagious. Currency and stock markets wobble and citizen anger builds as news confirms suspicions of gigantic frauds associated with bailouts of the financial industry.

The gathering storm in the Gulf of Mexico seems able to cause incalculable harm. Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the west coast of Florida are now marshaling efforts to contain oil spill damage. Yet the scale of the disaster is so large that vital coastal marshes seem defenseless. They are like sponges to the poisonous oil. The extent is made worse by timing because for wildlife, this is the season of hatching and rearing. The Atlantic blue fin tuna, already endangered, spawns in the affected Gulf and the spill covers a vital breeding area.

Can one be optimistic for the near future?  Unlikely. Environmental and economic disaster, failures in both war and diplomacy, rising structural unemployment, security concerns, inequality and many other problems, not least of which is the perhaps fatally fractured political system, suggest that pessimism is the only logical attitude in the USA.

David Sirota writes of gloom in his home country:
. . . America once flourished by valuing what “we”—as in We the People—need (food, shelter, infrastructure, etc.). Conversely, today’s America teeters thanks to a Reagan-infused zeitgeist that reoriented us to worship whatever I the Person wants. High-income tax breaks, smog-belching SUVs, cavernous McMansions carved into pristine wilderness—it doesn’t matter how frivolous the individual craving or how detached it is from necessity. What matters is that the “I” now assumes an entitled right to any desire irrespective of its affront to the allegedly Marxist “we.” . .
In British Columbia, despite the great Olympic distraction, Gordon Campbell's Liberal government drops ever lower in public support. Yet, they move forward, or is it backward, as if totally separated from reality. Although more than 80% of citizens oppose HST, not a single Liberal MLA voted against it. So the hated tax that will transfer $2 billion a year from consumers to business begins. Senior bureaucrats, lobbyists and Liberal insiders reward themselves with huge salaries, pensions and expense allowances while the Liberals refuse adjustment to the ten year freeze of the minimum wage. As the politicians lay claim to the best economic performance in Canada -  because of a temporary rise in part-time Olympics related jobs -  they hold the line on what is now the lowest minimum wage in Canada.

The flow of private cash and favours from lawyers to Liberals and the  payment of public cash and favours from the Liberal Government back to lawyers has been revealed to all. The legal profession is just one more cozy participant in the culture of entitlement. Cooperation for mutual benefit is the rule of the political game.

While Special Prosecutor William Berardino finally takes the Basi/Virk BC Rail corruption trial into court, public confidence in the administration of justice has never been lower. The CJB, allegedly independent masters of justice are demonstrated as partisans. Terrence Robertson, before he cleared Kash Heed, had cleared Campbell's long-time pal Ken Dobell of influence peddling because it was not in the public interest to seek a conviction. An extraordinary conclusion.

But Liberals have done well for the legal business. They've driven up civil court costs so much that ordinary people cannot afford to use the courts without being victimized by the law profession. Even claimants with strong cases give away their rights by low value settlements or through extortionate contingency fee arrangements with lawyers.

British Columbia moves into a risky zone of threatened civil order.  Gordon Campbell leads us toward the society described above by Johann Hiri: "The filthy rich are becoming filthier and richer."
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Friday, May 7, 2010

". . . as natural as the ocean water"

When regulators at the Minerals Management Service had concerns about the safety equipment for offshore oil rigs, the agency did not impose stronger regulations and instead allowed industry to police itself, according to two pieces in The New York Times [1] and The Wall Street Journal [2] today.

Stuart Whatley says,
Perhaps the most enervating element of the BP-Deepwater Horizon disaster is its eerie familiarity—the sheer, inexorable predictability of it all.

Oil Rig Blowout Triggered by Methane Gas Bubble by Associated Press / CBS News
. . . Seven BP executives were on board the Deepwater Horizon rig celebrating the project's safety record, according to the transcripts. Meanwhile, far below,  . . . continue reading
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