Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Worthy of your support

I'm proud to be a member of the British Columbia Civil Rights Association and I commend the organization to all who care about justice, civil rights and institutional accountability. The organization is supported by members, donors and foundations such as the the BC Law Foundation, The Vancouver Foundation and others. However, funding is always lacking while issues never are.

BCCRA is an important participant in a number of worthwhile efforts listed below. I reviewed financial statements of the association and was impressed. They are frugal, accomplishing much on a limited budget. Believe me, that is not always the case when I read financials of non-profits and charitable groups. For example, the entire budget for ALL employees of the BCCRA is not much more than annual pay of the CEO of BC Children's Hospital Foundation and is less than the income of the CEO at Toronto's Sick Kids Foundation. The full annual budget of the BCCRA is lower than salaries paid four executives of Plan Canada Children's Charity (formerly Foster Parents Plan) or the CEO of Boys Scouts of America.

BCCLA membership is available to students ($10), seniors ($20), individuals ($35) and families ($50). In return, you will support and learn about a number of worthy programs, including:
  • Sobering centres - A group of non-profit organizations, along with police, health authorities, first responders and housing groups will be convened by the BCCLA to discuss how to save the lives of those who are arrested for being drunk, high or otherwise intoxicated in public.
  • Torture inquiry - BCCLA Litigation Director Grace Pastine and Counsel Carmen Cheung have been in Ottawa at the inquiry by the Military Police Complaints Commission into whether military police failed to investigate if commanders illegally ordered the transfer of detainees to a known risk of torture in Afghanistan.
  • Police oversight - The BCCLA discovered that the province of B.C. completed a secret, unreleased audit of the RCMP’s performance under the controversial untendered 20-year policing contract signed in 1990.
  • In-custody deaths - The RCMP confirmed the BCCLA's findings that B.C. had more than twice as many police deaths as Ontario. Professor David MacAlister and BCCLA Executive Director David Eby spoke in Kamloops, Prince George and Vancouver during November on the BCCLA's recently released report on police-involved deaths.
  • Freedom in Action student forum - Close to 200 high school students attended the day-long event held at SFU Harbour Centre. Presentations were made by BCCLA Executive Director David Eby, Caseworker Jesse Lobdell and volunteer presenters such as Joe Saulnier of Smart, Harris & Martland, David Beers of the Tyee, Ashley Zarbatany and Mavaddat Javidd who were G-20 participants, David Dennis from the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, Andrea Reimer, Vancouver City Councillor, Mathew Kemshaw from the Environmental Youth Alliance, Ben West from the Western Wilderness Committee and Romi Chandra from PeerNet B.C.
  • Legal education seminars - Continuing programs for both lawyers and laypersons.
More than 300 volunteers were trained as Civil Rights Observers and hit the street during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Proactive efforts of the BCCLA such as this contributed to a proud civic celebration and resulted in little disturbance during the huge international event, unlike the out-of-control mayhem and oppression experienced in Ontario during G20 meetings.

You can get involved with the BCCLA in a minor or major way. Participate in programs or just read through their website. It is an important part of our community.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

That Smyth guy, what a kidder!

Postmedia columnist Mikael Smyth fits the CKNW political agenda quite seamlessly. This is part of his objective, non-partisan commentary, just before the 1:00 pm news break, November 29:
Carole James, as an NDP leader, can't win. She just can't win. Once you've got Gordon Campbell out of the way, once their favorite whipping boy is not there anymore, then she can't do it. She can't win. She's already lost twice.

Now, can you imagine Christy Clark versus Carole James?  Think about that TV debate. Who wins that debate? Who are the people going to back in an election? I think I give the new Liberal leader a pretty good chance to turn this thing around.
Caller #1:
I think, absolutely, she is going to run. I mean, she's been campaigning for a couple of weeks on the radio now. And, she absolutely will not be successful. I also think that CKNW should give it a rest now. I'ts all you hear. Christy this, Christy that. . . .and, I think you guys should really give it a rest.

I would not be surprised if there aren't already some folks talking to the CRTC about this. You don't give other candidates half the publicity you are giving her.
I disagree with you. She just announced a couple of days ago she was going to step aside and think about this so. . .  I would say this is the first opportunity her own listeners have had a chance to weigh in about what they think about it, and we've got a full phone board. I disagree with you that people are sick of it, cause they're not. Let's go to another call.
Caller #2 (John):
I think your comments about her son are hillarious. Um, she got out of politics because of her kid; she's going back into it because of her kid. It's a joke. If she does run, she won't win but she's definitely got great team support. She's got CKNW. I mean the Liberals have got CKNW. Where would their polls be without your radio station? . . . But good for you Mike. If she does run, maybe you'll get her job.
Eh, eh, eh. Well, I'll tell ya. This Liberal leadership race is gonna be covered by the radio station impartially. I can tell you that, as far as I'm concerned, in my approach to it, at least when I'm filling in for Christy this week.
Ah, Mike Smyth, what a kidder.
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Blog Borg Collective: If the BC Rail Trial was still going through the Court Hoops would we be having a leadership race for the BC Liberals

Blog Borg Collective: If the BC Rail Trial was still going through the Court Hoops would we be having a leadership race for the BC Liberals
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For some, lying becomes a habit

Bob Simpson, MLA
Chronic liars will lie about small, irrelevant details as well as important matters. For them, lying is a habit and everything is fair game. There are quite a few in politics, a fact that will surprise no person.

I don't know MLA Bob Simpson sufficiently to judge but Carole James' former aid Ian Reid dealt with Simpson often enough to have an informed opinion. He provides it, along with convincing evidence, in his blog entry "There's spin and then there's lies."
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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sometimes they deserve vitriolic attacks

Acting Chief Electoral Officer
Last August, Acting Chief Electoral Officer Craig James sniveled:
"I have been frankly saddened by the vitriolic attacks that I and my office have been subjected to in the past week.”
Complaints should come as no surprise given that James sits in that position inappropriately, having been appointed by BC Liberals alone, when the position should be filled by joint approval of the Opposition. Failing that agreement, which the Liberals made little effort to gain, the former Chief Electoral Officer could have been continued. He was willing and acceptable to the NDP and Independent MLAs.

Blog DoneWithDalton demonstrates that Elections BC changed its website after the application for recall petition had been submitted. However, the legislation contains the requirement that a statement justifying recall was limited to 200 words. So, slyly altering their website doesn't really change anything.

However, Craig James, Elections BC head, ruled that acronyms or abbreviations are not words so must be counted as if written out completely. He rejected the application because of word count, an act which treats the legislated intent of the law with contempt. His action is contrary to every dictionary definition of an acronym or an abbreviation. Rules of grammar define those as words, as written. The Oxford English Dictionary provides this guidance:
An abbreviation composed of the first letters of other words so that the abbreviation itself forms a word. . . 
Acronyms are treated just like ordinary words in a sentence, and may be composed of all capital letters, or of an initial capital followed by small letters. . . 
Acting Chief Electoral Officer James is making up rules aimed at preventing operation of the act he is charged with administering. Not the first time, either, Mr. James. Shame.

Application for recall petition

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Pot reproaches kettle for looking black

News item:
Fraser-Nicola New Democrat MLA Harry Lali says he and other MLAs are disappointed and feel a sense of betrayal for being singled out as dissidents. Powell River MLA Nicholas Simons also complained that he was "outed" as a dissident.
In an exclusive interview with Northern Insights, Mr. Lali offered additional comments:
"Our group ran a very quiet campaign against the leader. We complained to others mostly behind closed doors and we leaked criticism of Carole only to a few members of the media. We never once stood up in public and said bad things about Carole. We only did those things behind her back. Well, maybe not everything but most.

"Sure, we might have sent negative signals on the TV news but who knew that cameras would be present when Katrine Conroy resigned as Whip. No one besides Katrine had prepared anything to say. And the timing of that was not intended to embarrass Carole before the Provincial Council meeting. It just seemed that way. The issue of Bob Simpson had just arisen but Bob's been a pain in the ass for years so we think Carol should have grown used to him. Maybe, she's too thin skinned.

"For us, the issue is strong leadership. We want the party led by someone who would object to people causing internal disruption and taking the focus off the Liberal Government. Also, we think the leader should come from one of the under-represented groups of Canadian politics, perhaps a woman or someone with sensitivity to aboriginals and other minorities. Additionally, this is a time when the leader should be very experienced and know about issues that effect the entire province, not someone who has been focused on local issues."
A member of Simons' constituency said he had some sympathy for the dissenters:
“We have always supported the protection of privacy of people who lead a double life, where they are dissidents but maybe still have relations with loyalists. However in circumstances where you are a member of a political party which openly espouses loyalty, then we think it is entirely justifiable that members of that party be outed."
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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

One coin has two sides

We read reports describing how the NDP is funding party president Moe Sihota's stipend with contributions from unions, particularly two large ones in BC: CUPE and USW. It is news, though neither major nor surprising news, that organized labor donated cash to the NDP for a specified purpose. It is not scandalous.

I could point to many individual business people, associations and companies that each have given far more than $30,000 to BC Liberals, while at the same time seeking or doing business with government.  Additionally, one could easily argue that union members' interests are served by supporting a political party that favors employee rights. Union officers decide to spend members' money in much the same way as corporate officers spend shareholders' money.

What makes one story more significant than another? Liberals should not criticize union donations to the NDP. If the governing party were against such donations in principle, they would not be accepting millions each year from the business lobby, particularly when many of those represented are multi-national companies with limited and temporary interests in British Columbia.

There is not a single MLA who goes without a salary for that political position and most will earn handsome pensions too, while continuing regular occupations.  Moe Sihota, I'm told, put his law practice on hold to work for some period of time to reorganize the NDP. It is reasonable for the party to pay a salary according to its established financial practices.

Reporting energy could be well spent examining the money contributed to BC Liberals by companies associated with David Ho, the Vancouver billionaire who was charged in 2009 with gun, drug and confinement CHARGES. Recent payments to the Liberals totaled at least $185,348. Does this financial relationship have anything to do with how Ho's criminal charges are being handled, or not handled? The last public release on this case was given over a year ago. Certainly, it would be a story if members of Abbotsford's Bacon Family contributed large sums to the government party while facing the courts.

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Alex Pareene, next time say what you mean . . .

I have written occasional criticism of mainstream media masters but never quite like this one. I have had the opinion that, as a political analyst, George Will makes a good baseball writer. Pareene slags that work too.

From Salon.com, Alex Pareene, on columnist George Will:
George Will is a sanctimonious moralist, a pretentious hypocrite, a congenital liar and a boring pundit, to boot. In these days of red-faced screaming weirdos like Glenn Beck and obvious dolts like Sean Hannity, Will can seem like a harmless throwback to a calmer era in political discourse, but don't let his demeanor fool you: The guy's as utterly amoral as the loudest talk radio shouter, and he's a living example of the truth that there's never any punishment for bad behavior in punditland.
Ever since he stole Jimmy Carter's briefing book, used it to coach Ronald Reagan before a debate, and then appeared on ABC to pronounce Reagan the winner of the debate, Will's been a consummate hack.
He expressed his revulsion at those hick Clintons: "Having vulgarians like the Clintons conspicuous in government must further coarsen American life." Meanwhile he stepped out on his wife back in the '80s, and she responded by throwing all his stuff on the lawn with a note reading, "Take it somewhere else, buster."
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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Is Canada's legal system worthy of respect

If lawyers, courts or the Attorney General had regard for public education about their mystic world, they would emerge from warm sinecures to explain how our justice system works, if indeed it does work. Lay followers of the Basi/Virk trial were left with the taste of regurgitated detritus when the seven year long $20 million exercise ground to a halt that satisfied no person other than the ones who cashed cheques from bewildered taxpayers.

Basi/Virk though was simply one case among many that deplete public confidence in the justice system, a description that seems out of sync with reality. The ongoing gang wars that lead to shootings in the street and threats to innocents are even more outrageous. Consider this report by Sun Reporter Kim Bolan, one of Vancouver finest and bravest journalists:
. . . I was out at Surrey Provincial Court Monday for an afternoon hearing on an application for a ban on Jamie Bacon's sentencing hearing on his gun convictions, which continues Tuesday.

The Vancouver Sun and The Province are jointly challenging the ban application. But there remains a ban in place on everything that happened in court Monday, so I am unable to fill you in on the arguments of the various parties present.

However Judge Jean Lytwyn will provide a decision first thing Tuesday morning on at least one of the issues before her related to the ban.

Jamie Bacon's sentencing hearing is due to go until Friday. He was convicted in May 2010 on 10 guns charges related to a cache of weapons found in a secret compartment of a vehicle he used. The guns were found during a police investigation that followed a targeted shooting outside the Bacon's Surrey rental home back on April 13, 2007.
Considering ongoing events in Abbotsford, Canada's murder capital, why would the court conduct a post-conviction sentencing for this high profile criminal and prohibit publication of information revealed in court. Might authorities be bothered by public outrage over this continuing fetid ulcer. Do they aim to deal with it as quietly as possible?
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Police reform in British Columbia is stalled - UPDATED

The Harper Government removed Paul Kennedy from leadership of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP and replaced him with a real estate lawyer and political operative who has no police management experience. They had already appointed a career bureaucrat as the first civilian Commissioner. He too had no police operational experience. Since Commissioner William Elliot's appointment, leadership of the RCMP has been in constant turmoil and he recently completed another house clearing of senior police executives.

It is troubling that, after more than three years, Elliott has been unable to build an effective management team. Defanging of the CPC and continuing disquiet within top ranks ensures the RCMP will continue its dysfunctional operation.

After the Braidwood Inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski, The Davies Commission into the death of Frank Paul and other fatal encounters between citizens and police, British Columbians had an expectation of reform in policing and police oversight. That appeared to be happening and Solicitor General Kash Heed was designing major change.

An example of Heeds transparency intentions came from quick public release of a Use of Force Audit examining policing in the troubled Victoria region, where former Vancouver Chief Jamie Graham was experiencing familiar difficulties. When Vancouver Police Chief, Jamie Graham left his position while being investigated for failing to cooperate with investigations into 50 allegations of wrongdoing by members of his force. This resulted in the termination of any proceedings against him, despite a ruling by the Police Complaint Commissioner that he had engaged in “discreditable conduct.”

In what I believe was a dirty trick operation to sidetrack Solicitor General Heed and his intended reform, Heed's campaign team was accused by RCMP of electoral offenses. Similar acts to the allegedly improper behavior occurred in neighboring ridings, but Kash Heed's campaign in southeast Vancouver was the only one targeted for investigation. Not only did the RCMP focus on Vancouver-Fraserview but they kept pushing to advance charges after a Special Prosecutor declined to prosecute the MLA. The result was a leak of embarrassing information by police which resulted in resignation of the Special Prosecutor.

By comparison, RCMP have often dragged their feet for years on files involving their own people. Recently an impaired driving charge against a member was thrown out of court over delays because the trial came three years after the Richmond constable's arrest.  Unprecedented acts against Heed were prioritized.  As a result, he is sidelined from Cabinet while a second prosecutor slowly reviews the electoral practices.

Since Heed had been the driving force behind police reform in BC, it is now sidetracked, probably doomed at least until a change in government. By then, a new 20-year local policing contract will be in place without the oversight controls wanted by Heed. The minister carrying on negotiations with the RCMP now is ex-Mountie Rich Coleman who is untroubled by the old-boy style of operation where transparency and accountability are anathema.

While the need for improved police oversight continues as much or more than ever, sincere efforts toward new approaches are abandoned. Changes will be mere window dressing. The Attorney General's department has had control of the file since Heed's removal as Solicitor General and its thoroughly discredited Criminal Justice Branch helped block meaningful police reform. By review of testimony at the resumed Davies Inquiry into Frank Paul's homicide, it is clear that CJB and police worked together to subvert justice, protect police from discipline and defeat accountability.

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association added to the dialog by its report on Police Involved Deaths. The report is sub-titled "The Failure of Self-Investigation" and it demonstrates that BC leads Canada in deaths of citizens after contact with police. This unfortunate distinction has belonged to British Columbia for years.

Katie Derosa of the Times Colonist contributed an excellent special investigation titled Who is policing our police?

We do not need more examples that dramatically prove the need for transparency, oversight and civilian control of law enforcement. However, ProPublica and PBS' Frontline partnered on extended coverage of police stories involving murder, violence and concealment in New Orleans. These should convince any reluctant citizens about the importance of effectively managing law enforcement agencies.

Louisiana is a grim situation with a long history that includes abject poverty, racial conflict, unqualified police with poor training and low wages, gangsterism and political corruption. However, it demonstrates clearly that society must never tolerate armed thugs conducting illegal acts under cover of authority. British Columbia is not in the chaos of NOLA but we can be much improved from where we are now.

UPDATE - First published November 19, the above is updated November 23 with: -------------------

The BC Civil Liberties Association discovered existence of an audit report has been prepared examining RCMP contract policing performance. Here is part of their release which can be found HERE:
"The BCCLA has discovered that the province of B.C. completed a secret audit of the RCMP’s performance under the controversial untendered 20-year policing contract signed in 1990. As the province prepares to sign on with the RCMP for another 20 years, the BCCLA is calling for the immediate disclosure of the audit and its results.

“The province was wise to do an audit, but we’re not sure why they’d keep the fact that they did an audit, as well as the audit results, secret,” said Robert Holmes, President of the BCCLA. “This is a multi-billion dollar, untendered contract. The secrecy around it is unacceptable.”

When the BCCLA asked for the audit results and any correspondence or reports based on the audit, the government demanded more than $700 before they would search for documents related to the audit. When the BCCLA asked for a fee waiver, the government then refused to release any documents other than the audit itself because release of those documents would cause “harm to law enforcement”, contained “policy advice or recommendations”, and would cause “harm to intergovernmental relations or negotiations”."
During an interview last April, Kash Heed was congratulated for prompt release of the use of force audit conducted in Victoria. He said, "There are more to come, involving others." We should have been watching because, without Heed's commitment to transparency, those have been gathering dust in Victoria.
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This is about trolls, not tolls

One who posts a deliberately provocative message with the intention of causing disruption and argument.
I noted an example Monday. It is a contribution from a former professional columnist who took on a career as a lobbyist some years ago. That effort was stalled by the author's association with convicted criminals and people able to award others immunity from prosecution.

Perhaps Brian Kieran is reduced to pay-per-word work while he reestablishes his writing bona fides. In any case, I thought it rather bold for a person perhaps not yet rehabilitated in the public eye to sling very rude insults at Chris Delaney, a person who displeased the corporate world as Lead Organizer of FightHST. It doesn't take much thought to attach a likely motivation to Brian Kieran's shot. This was part of his open letter to Bill Vander Zalm:
"Next time you turn around and see BC First “leader” Chris Delaney mincing in your shadow, please say “hi” for me. You can tell him I think he’s a silly little man. I don’t know why you hang out with him. As my dear departed colleague Marjorie Nichols use to say: “He doesn’t have the brains that God gave a goose.”
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Our little blog world

Having forsaken home delivered newspapers, I rely on on a web connection to supply news and information. Books are treasured in our house but even a half ton of those can be downloaded and packed around inside a tiny electronic reader.  For web browsing, I rely on favorites to be read frequently. Others are scanned less often and still more fit occasional moods and interests. Google Alerts help keep track of particular interests.

The depth and breadth of the Internet is immeasurable but we each define boundaries and mostly stay on the same trails. However, we're always watching for new sites and the reading community circulates recommendations. There being almost no entry limits means that Internet content creation can be in the hands of almost anyone but, while much is written, not all is worth reading.

In the non-commercial blog world, many bloggers hear the call, but most are overcome by the demands of maintaining a readable site. Published statistics range all over the map. One ad agency claimed in 2008 that "184 million people had started blogs" but no one seems to have counted the number who stopped. Ephemerality is a condition commonly ascribed to blogs. Rightly so since perhaps 80% of blogs last barely a month.

Bloggers who stay in the game for mere days probably had little to add to public dialog anyway but successful blogs become demanding and need to be fed often. A writer must  have substantial interest in the chosen subject matter along with time to pursue the avocation.

The most widely read blogs invariably employ professionals and operate commercially, often as adjuncts to existing media organizations. However, they are subject to commercial restraints. Vested interests demand tender treatment and loving care. Other blogs are independent of large media operations but serve as marketing tools for business. Professional consultants sometimes use blogs as part of their business promotion strategy but, when well done (Bill Tieleman, for example), it consumes major time and resources.

Regional non-commercial blogs, such as that of Laila Yuile or Mary Mackie, and probably this one, continue out of passion for having a voice and for publishing information and viewpoints avoided by the mainstream media. (See commercial restraints and vested interests above.) Additionally, writing may simply be a hobby enjoyed with or without an audience.

Finding an audience is an element that may discourage some bloggers. Unless one has a persona already known to the public, it takes time to build an audience but that is critical to the life of a blog. A tired joke says that if a blogger could convince his/her family to read, the blog audience would double. That probably originated with a snarky newspaper writer who doesn't enjoy his critics having an audience.

Pretty much every blogger keeps an eye on traffic statistics because that may offer the real satisfaction. When tens turn to hundreds and hundreds turn to thousands and tens of thousands, the writer gains a sense of value from the efforts. I certainly do and I'm both pleased and honored to see readership grown to levels that surprise me.

Regional blogs will continue growing because traditional media is not open to information outside their self imposed boundaries. They have a different business driven agenda. That is the case today, more than ever before. An article in The Nation, The Money and Media Election Complex describes how a new threat to democracy has joined that posed by the military-industrial complex as described by Dwight Eisenhower in 1961.
"This is not the next chapter in the old money-and-politics debate. This is the redefinition of politics by a pair of new and equally important factors— the freeing of corporations to spend any amount on electioneering and the collapse of substantive print and broadcast reporting on campaigns. In combination they have created a "new normal," . . . Unchecked by even rudimentary campaign finance regulation, unchallenged by a journalism sufficient to identify and expose abuses of the electoral process and abetted by commercial broadcasters that this year pocketed $3 billion in political ad revenues, the money-and-media election complex was a nearly unbeatable force in 2010."
Canada and British Columbia are in financial minor leagues by comparison to the USA but similar factors are at work. Business successfully purchased the BC Liberal Party and the government's artful use of public funds enabled it to make loyal the broadcast and print media. Having recognized the growing influence and power of the blog world, business strategists are establishing their own loyalists posing as citizen bloggers. Remember, whatever you read, wherever you read it, including this place, stay skeptical. Little you read comes free of bias.
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Monday, November 22, 2010

HST and lower prices

When BC Liberals decided that HST was the single best reward they could offer big business, they relied on loyalists such as the Fraser Institute and the BC Business Council for ringing endorsements. A few otherwise respectable academic economists joined the applause, talking about efficiency and avoidance of tax cascading.

The claim of HST supporters is that large tax savings enable businesses to lower prices. We can examine one example. Taseko Mines Limited operates Gibraltar Mine, near Williams Lake, the second largest open-pit mine in Canada. Taseko, like other manufacturers had already been relieved of paying provincial sales tax on production equipment but they still paid the tax on legal fees, liquor, limo repairs, office chairs, copy paper, brooms and other payments. Under HST, Taseko now gets back all that money previously paid as provincial sales tax. That has allowed them an opportunity to lower prices. Not required them to lower prices, but given them the opportunity. They said no.

This chart shows a six month recap of copper prices spanning the time when HST was made effective:
In the three months following HST implementation, Taseko's copper production costs were $1.40 per pound and the realized copper price was $3.76 per pound. Operating profit for the period rose by 86% compared to 2009.  It was a good thing they did not have to pay provincial sales tax. Had that been the case, their profit increase would have been a point or two smaller.

Clearly, producers selling at world prices don't pass through tax savings, they earn more profits. The price of oil in BC didn't fall because Shell Oil and others paid no sales taxes to Victoria.

A McDonald's Big Mac is $4.19 in St. John's Newfoundland where the restaurant pays starting wages of $10.25 per hour. In Vancouver, where McDonald's pays starting wages of $6.75 an hour, the Big Mac is the same $4.19. Strange. Don't lower costs mean lower prices?

My spouse needed to replace her car's keyless entry remote. Here is what she was quoted.
  • Canadian Mazda dealer, price $199
  • KeylessRide, American based provider of remotes, price $39
The point I've made repeatedly at Northern Insights is that lower costs result in lower prices only when competitive pressures ensure the pass through. Canada has very limited competition in many sectors, particularly in manufacturing and distribution. That has kept prices high in Canada, something particularly noticeable during times when the Canadian dollar is near parity with the USD.

Notice that economists and lobbyists are quick to promote policies that assist big businesses but almost never talk about the need for more effective competition in the markets. The Fraser Institute believes that every economic decision should be market-based but they don't publish papers about improving competition. Their belief is in markets free of government regulation, not free of monopolies.
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Shadows hang over the Sea-to-Sky Highway

Mark Hume of the Globe and Mail paid attention to Laila Yuile's "Shadow Tolls" story and the Globe online provides for an interesting and relatively unmoderated discussion. The PAB-bots are quick to respond leaving me to wonder how much the taxpayer pays for 24-7 media monitor service to the Liberal Party. Mind you, they get pretty good mileage out of the paid staff who, by using a variety of names, can appear to be more than they are.

Sometimes Mr. or Ms. Ordinary Reader leaves a comment that is more convincing than all the rest. By example:

RandyShoop: ....the taxpayer pays for everything, we all know that. The question here, that is being asked by the taxpayer is......... how much are we paying ....... who are we paying ......... and are we getting good value for our money. When you go to the store to buy a product the price is on the sticker, you don't just hold your purse open or give them your card and say " Take whatever you want, the price means nothing to me". So .............. who is the dolt.
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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Can BC politicians be honest for once?

Carole James was affirmed with a resounding vote of the NDP's Provincial Council. To those of us not members of that party, it may seem to matter little. However, British Columbia is being governed by the dysfunctional BC Liberal Party while our official opposition is the dysfunctional NDP.

It matters, people, it matters much. Real public business is being ignored.

Notice that political gossip and speculation has seized attention of the mainstream media. They love this stuff. It is so much easier than real journalism and offends no one beyond a few partisans.

Without prattle, the Davies Commission and the tragic death of Frank Paul and, even worse, the twelve-year-long studied concealment of official guilt, would be on the front page.  Or, we could be examining Stephen Harper's broken promises about withdrawal from Afghanistan or his hypocrisy when, as PM of the country with the weakest anti-corruption laws of G20 nations, he told NATO it should pay more attention to Afghani corruption.

I suggest a solution for MLAs of the two main political parties of British Columbia:
Decide now if you can support your party, its stated policies and its leader. If YES, cooperate fully with your colleagues. If NO, resign from caucus, sit as an Independent. Don't sit with one foot in and one foot out.  Be honest to the electorate and get back to the public's business.
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Friday, November 19, 2010

The Galloping Beaver: The toll you pay so others can play

The Galloping Beaver: The toll you pay so others can play
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Thursday, November 18, 2010

The public needs a pledge

Harvey Oberfeld, journalist with unquestionable credentials. sends a message to Victoria, "If You Really Love B.C., Gordon, Go Now!  At the very least, Gordon Campbell and all BC Liberals should read Harvey's words.

'A Dave', commenter on the article at Keeping it Real, added a powerful contribution. This is part:
". . . he’s refusing to leave until he covers all his tracks on BC Rail, otherwise a lot of influential people associated with that shady sale are going to remain very paranoid about a large boot that The Great Manipulator has prevented from dropping for nearly eight years now.

The whole affair has tainted our justice system, our law enforcement, our government, our bureaucracy, and our mainstream media. Without trust or honour in those key institutions, we cease to live in a functioning democracy. . ."
I was interviewed for an hour today by an American broadcaster trying to understand what is going on in British Columbia. Attempting to draw a circle around events involving common participants can make one sound like a believer in loony conspiracy theories. I'm not that but I understand much about people's collective behavior. The results of that can make active conspiracies seem real.

Connect the current efforts to destroy documents that might allow full examination of the BC Rail sale with the clinging to power of the sale's architect. You are left wondering. Since the Leader of the Opposition has promised a full public inquiry, Gordon Campbell and the Liberal Cabinet or Caucus must immediately pledge:
To preserve until after the next provincial general election all documents, correspondence and communications regarding the disposition of provincial assets, including but not limited to the BC Rail transactions for railroad, land and other assets.
If no evidence of wrongdoing is hidden from view, such a promise would have little consequence other than restoring public confidence. If readers want to suggest this to MLAs, use THIS LINK for email addresses. Perhaps a message of support to Bill Bennett would be appropriate if you believe him worthy. His former colleagues are ganging up to discredit his statements.
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It's not news until the MSM says it's news

Fellow 'Wingnut' blogger Laila Yuile has been demonstrating the government's secret payment of shadow tolls on the Sea to Sky Highway, and probably other transportation projects. The BC Liberals tried to brush off Yuile's reporting and, using artful word foggery, leave the impression that shadow tolls are not paid.

Example, email message from government spokesperson Dave Crebo:
Both the ministry and S2S Transportation Group agree the payment mechanism for the concessionaire is not based on a shadow toll.
The BC Liberal friendly MSM refused to allow reporting or comments on the subject. By example, junior staff in CKNW and CKWX news rooms made passing mentions of the issue but those were quickly disappeared when the overseers realized this was a no-reporting subject.  Problem is though, Ms. Yuile has evidence backing her claims. Apparently, in BC, it is not news until the MSM says it is.

Read Laila Yuile's latest contribution and release of evidence HERE.

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Pernicious solar flare

Sun Stenographer Jonathan Fowlie provides Campbell absent when Bill Bennett given the axe:
"Premier Gordon Campbell was absent from the cabinet room this morning when Bill Bennett was asked to step down as energy minister, The Vancouver Sun has learned."
Was Campbell in the room when they cut off Bennett's telephone, computer access and government credit cards? Those things occurred before the Cabinet Meeting started. Who made the decision to fire Bennett and when was it made?

Fowlie tells the government story but does not bother with the whole truth. His is a story intended to mislead.
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It is what it is

Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer's Wednesday piece quoted from a leaked transcript of a September conference call involving the NDP's provincial executive. The politicos were discussing recall strategy, among other things. No wonder there. Perhaps odd that Palmer has transcripts of private meetings but, with the refractory opposition party, not surprising. Some NDP members look fondly at agitation in the Liberal Party and are aiming for a revolt in their own playground.

In the meeting, party president Moe Sihota laid out the importance of recall to NDP fortunes but he noted that members could participate in the signature gathering efforts only as individuals, not as representatives of the party. Clearly, Sihota wanted the targets of recall to be sitting in ridings where the NDP stood a good chance of winning. Of course, an objective other than that would be nonsense. Again, no surprise.

However, what does amaze is Palmer's shift to a tone of indignation over NDP interest in recall:
". . . this game-show debasement of the process -- "give us what we want NOW or we'll shoot this MLA," rhetorically speaking -- does raise the question of whether recall was ever intended to be used in such a fashion."
Oh, really? Had Palmer turned to Paul Willcock's blog Paying Attention, he would have been enlightened by reading this:
"[First recall target Ida Chong said] the NDP was playing a big behind-the-scenes recall role (likely true) and the effort was an abuse of the recall legislation. Recall was supposed to be used against MLAs who acted unethically, Chong said.

"That’s just untrue. The successful referendum on recall, which led to the legislation, asked if British Columbians should have the right to remove their MLA between elections. Voters would decide what constituted grounds for dismissal."
Willcocks nails the issue accurately because the actual referendum question, framed by Socred Premier Rita Johnson, was this:
Should the voters be given the right, by legislation, to vote between elections for the removal of their member of the Legislative Assembly?
This simple question did not provide for any restriction in reasons for recall. There were no fair or unfair motivations. Whatever voters held to be a valid reason was a valid reason for recall.  Today's BC Liberals and Vaughn Palmer would prefer the referendum and the resulting legislation said something different. Well, boys and girls. Get over it; it is what it is.

By the way, the result of that vote, held October 17, 1991, was YES, with 81% of the ballots cast.
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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Report Bill Bennett's criticism? Not if it were business as usual.

Today, the media is full of reports criticizing Gordon Campbell's management style. Ex-Mining Minister Bill Bennett spoke bluntly and directly, stating his belief that Campbell has driven good people away, running an undemocratic government like an abusive husband, saying, "Its my way or the highway." Campbell defenders, Global TV News, led their News Hour with Colin Hansen's inaccurate account of how Bennett had resigned at request of Cabinet and Global termed Bennett's remarks "outrageous."  Keith Baldrey wrongly reported that Campbell had "refuted" Bennett's charges. The first was an inappropriate editorialization, the second was simply incorrect because Campbell proved nothing.

Rather than a collegial style with the Premier being first among relative equals, Campbell practiced absolutism, with his own tight entourage exercising all real authority. Everyone below, whether a civil servant, an appointee or an elected legislator was expected to fall into line with central policy, without question or reservation.

Campbell shows contempt for democracy by the belief that he is entitled to dominate the elected members of his party. In turn, it shows the weakness of people recruited to stand for election as BC Liberals. The last person wanted by the party was a thoughtful, articulate individual with a mind of her own, or his own.

The professional pundits similarly show contempt for their own profession because little of this style has been reported. Whether it was Campbell's former habit of carousing, his mixing of business and personal life, his temper tantrums, intolerance, favoritism and abuse of power, the writers and broadcasters that cover the Premier regularly ruled those subjects outside the limits of comment.

Not only did the mainstream pundits and political correspondents refuse to talk about Campbell's abusive techniques but they pressed others to keep quiet as well. Junior reporters were told, "Don't go there." Bloggers were criticized for not following rules of reporting the pros thought appropriate.

When Good, Baldry and Palmer spent their weekly hour talking about politics, asking what public services the NDP would cut in the absence of HST, they never discussed lowly Liberal backbenchers being intimidated and forced to toe the leader's policy with no variance allowed. In other words, required to put loyalty to leader ahead of loyalty to voters.

The frequency and intensity of blogger criticism by professional journalists and broadcasters mounted recently. Much of that was to cover their own guilt for incomplete reporting that has held the Campbell Government above substantive criticism. Citizens are owed explanations by mainstream media of why they waited until 2010 to report matters known to many for years.

There is a reason that readership of this site has doubled in the past month. Similar online commentaries also experienced strong growth. More and more people are searching for the rest of the story.
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Campbell's style: bullying and disrespect

Today, Bill Bennett publicly confirmed a fact that many observers and commentators have known for years. In Bennett's words, "Gordon Campbell is not a nice person. He has a terrible temper." He went on to describe a bully who leads by intimidation and recounted an early experience of his own in caucus.

After a retreat of Liberal members, Bennett dared state that the retreat had been disappointingly unproductive for backbenchers. He says Campbell was so angered by the simple criticism that he went into close-talker mode and berated the elected member so vigorously that he spat in Bennett's face.

Bennett says good people such as Carol Taylor and Olga Ilitch were driven out by abuse:
"He can run on me, I’m a tough guy, I can take it. But I’ve seen him do it to other people in caucus, you have almost a battered wife syndrome inside our caucus today, inside our cabinet, it’s really sad and all the man has to do to give the B.C. Liberal party a chance to renew itself is to leave.”
Bennett also made it clear that Colin Hansen was not truthful (again!) when he stated today that Cabinet decided to ask for a resignation. Bennett said that the Premier had a party waiting for him as soon as he arrived for the beginning of the Cabinet session. The decision had already been made by the Premier. Besides, Cabinet has no constitutional authority to appoint or remove ministers, only the first minister has that power.
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Bill Bennett out

Shall we assume that Gordon and Colin are not following advice written last night at Northern Insights? Second Assistant Minister of Dirt Bill Bennett, or perhaps it was Junior Dirt Minister Emeritus Bennett, today was tossed from Gordon Campbell's Cabinet. This is a decision the Premier is not claiming as his own. Unlike HST or the $2 billion tax cut, this was a collective choice of all Ministers. Sure.

Deputy Premier Hansen says, with faux excitement, the leadership campaign will allow Liberals to explore new directions and new policies. However, he notes that candidates from Cabinet had better not vary from old directions and old policies. Kevin Falcon says this is not a problem; he doesn't have any new ideas. George Abbot is not so sure. The dynamic Education Minister, third in that important position during the past 17 months, intends to resign Cabinet if he runs for leader. He will decide next March.

Hansen claimed that Bennett was the only person in Cabinet troubled by Campbell staying on. He talks about traditions of solidarity and cabinet confidentiality. However, he does not understand the principles. For example, if Hansen believes that all Cabinet discussions are confidential, why does he claim that Bennett was the only Minister troubled by Campbell's personal decision to stay in office.  Isn't that confidential?

Tradition requires that solidarity is maintained for all decisions of Cabinet. Bennett was fired not for arguing with a Cabinet decision but for suggesting that Campbell's continuation would constrain leadership candidates. Kevin Falcon expressed the opposite thought.  Neither was disputing a Cabinet decision.
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Knowing when to leave

Star athletes may not know when to leave. They remember money, cheers, luxuries and praise and the feeling of command and superiority. But, stay too long, the applause is muted and cheers turn to jeers. The lineup needs new blood but when faded stars hang on, the losses mount and wins decline. The inevitable can only be delayed at someone else's cost.

Politicians may be similarly reluctant to depart. Whether public careers last ten years or forty years, some officeholders cannot imagine changing roles.  They perceive themselves as leaders, not ex-leaders, not retirees. They are too important to step aside and presume much remains to be done that needs their particular skill.

Unfortunately, the experience of leadership feeds a person's capacity for narcissism. We all have that to some degree but individuals tended by platoons of minions, guarded by security forces, pampered by social elites and able to sign deals worth billions are vulnerable. The real world doesn't exist for them and the concept of fallibility remains abstruse.

So it is in Victoria. When Premier Campbell should have been packing up, he was in California at a a summit meeting of subnational politicos promoting a global green economy. Having exhausted political capital at home, perhaps he plans to travel the world for the next months preparing projects to follow his involuntary departure from Victoria.

British Columbia, to say nothing of the Premier's colleagues, would be better served if he left immediately and assigned the Premiership to someone supported by caucus. Someone, that is, other than Colin Hansen. The Finance Minister, author of the latest fudge-it budget and co-author of the HST blunders, should be departing as well. If anyone in government has less credibility and public confidence than Gordon Campbell, it is Colin Hansen.
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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Reining in political troublemakers

A short while back, on behalf of BC bloggers, I strutted about influence:
"Everyone knows that the mainstream media, with near unanimity, has supported Gordon Campbell and his government through thick and thin, or recently, through thin and thinner. It must be discouraging to newspaper editorial writers, columnists, talk show hosts, etc. that, despite their constant singing of praises for their political hero, the great unwashed of the province wasn't buying."
I should not have made the statement. At best, it was way premature; at worst, completely naive. Of course, as soon as important people recognize threats to maintenance of the favored order, they go behind closed doors and start working on solutions. Reining in political troublemakers has always been a goal of the ruling class.

Michael Geist, University of Ottawa professor and one of Canada's foremost experts on technology law, provides the detail at Lawful Access Bills Would Reshape Internet in Canada .

The Harper Government intends that:
  • Internet service providers (ISPs) must disclose complete customer information and device identification tags, with no court oversight.
  • ISPs must reequip networks to allow real-time surveillance of any user, enabling interception of communications of targeted individuals and multiple simultaneous interceptions.
  • ISPs must provide detailed reports of customer activities and network technical capabilities. Their employees will be subject to RCMP background checks.
  • Police will have new power to preserve, access and utilize surveillance data and ISPs may be prohibited from advising customers they have been subject to surveillance or disclosures.
Beyond privacy issues, the new laws impose financial burdens on ISPs, particularly damaging to smaller independents trying to compete with the handful of telecommunication companies that dominate the Canadian market. Through increased costs and complexity of operations, competition within the industry will be decreased. That and hard costs associated with surveillance facilities will drive up Canada's already high Internet access costs and discourage establishment of extended service to rural areas.

Most citizens would agree that law enforcement should be able to monitor communications to address crime, provided their acts are subject to court approval and oversight. The proposed laws go far beyond that principle.

Privacy is not a minor right. Every true democracy guards against unsanctioned invasion of privacy. Using online resources, individuals expect to do personal banking and file tax returns, conduct correspondence and exercise free speech. Business people and researchers expect to conduct lawful work without that information being recorded or disclosed to others.

Whistleblowers are a class of good citizens that government wants to disable. In our present environment, public service insiders with knowledge of criminal influence peddling and fraud have provided information to journalists in return for anonymity. Political masters want to break through privacy shields to discourage spread of unauthorized information.  With contracts and business arrangements potentially worth billions, privacy is absolutely necessary for personal safety of whistleblowers. The case of Karen Silkwood is but one of the justifications.
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Appreciation for another contributor to the BC political blogosphere

Don't miss Gordon Wilson's call for Campbell's early departure and an election following selection of a new Premier by the BC Liberal Party. Here is a small part of his very logical argument.
"If Gordon Campbell’s real motivation was to do “what is best for the province” when announcing his “resignation” he would have clearly outlined the steps to be followed toward an orderly transition of power. Then, he would have left office. He didn’t, and the result is uncertainty, confusion, and the potential for a serious breach of his fiduciary obligations and therefore an abuse of the public trust."
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Who serves the public interest?

Walter Cronkite (1916-2009):
“A democracy ceases to be a democracy if its citizens do not participate in its governance. To participate intelligently, they must know what their government has done, is doing and plans to do in their name. Whenever any hindrance, no matter what its name, is placed in the way of this information, a democracy is weakened, and its future endangered. This is the meaning of freedom of press. It is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.”
Readers interested in thorough examinations of public issues can only treat newspapers as one part of the information spectrum and not an infallibly reliable one. With the industry's steady decline, newsrooms contracted, original reporting reduced and diversity of opinions suffered. Instead of initiating news stories, papers took to rewording or printing press releases with little scrutiny. Additionally, they eliminated local experts reporting on specialty subjects such as science and education. Instead, sports, business and celebrity news became the focus.

In British Columbia, the Liberal government manages the largest "news" distribution entity in the province: the infamous Public Affairs Bureau. With an annual budget exceeding $30 million, PAB provides detailed releases and background papers routinely used by the mainstream media. The Fraser Institute has an annual budget of about $15 million to promote its quasi-libertarian pro-business agenda. Organizations such as the Business Council of BC, the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association, the BC Chamber of Commerce, Mining Association of BC, Council of Forest Industries, Coast Forest Products Assoc., Salmon Farmers Association and others pour money into supporting their particular self interests.

Whether by using commissioned reports, biased coverage or paid advertising, the mainstream media reflects the economic interests of its owners and supporters. They have a plutocratic viewpoint and little interest in the affairs of common people like Joe and Martha Sixpack.

Now, the Internet provides so many sources of knowledge. The tricky part is finding places to which one commits time without falling victim to ideological segregation. There is an almost universal tendency to read only material that reinforces the views we already hold. Through 'niche-ification', the web enables us to concentrate on comfortable viewpoints without ever being challenged to consider alternative visions, an unhealthy situation that was near impossible in days when quality journalism was typical and before Internet access became common.

Something I appreciate with web based news reporting and analysis is the opportunity to provide and read immediate feedback, unfiltered by anything more than requirements for lawful conduct and civility. The best blogs and online news sites welcome and receive intelligent contributions supporting and opposing the writer's positions. Compare that to pompous newspaper editors who restrict online comments and maintain tight control over articles with alternative views or even innocuous letters that wound their perceived interests. Vancouver Sun editors, when questioned about editorial choices, generally refuse to respond in any way. Most businesses are keen to defend their practices to customers or potential customers.

Despite the success of Northern Insights and many other excellent blogs that are enjoying steady increases in readership, I mourn the loss of excellent centrist news choices. Perhaps the reason that todays versions of radio and TV news bother me so much is that I grew up listening to radio news generated by Warren Barker's team at CKNW or watching television news generated by Cameron Bell's incredibly professional staff at BCTV. I was also an avid reader of newspapers and business press and, unlike many employed in the trade today, I can still recall what made a newspaper great for its city.

Despite endless consultants designing varieties of structures for future news operations, nothing stands out as a scalable business model. New journalistic enterprises are needed if common interests are ever to be served again. Alternatively, news gathering organizations funded publicly or by private benefactors must be developed. This poses likely problems of accountability but there are some successes in the USA. The one I am most familiar with is the independent non-profit newsroom Pro-Publica, a specialist in public interest journalism. Its beginning were funded by philanthropists Herbert and Marion Sandler.

British Columbia could have an independent organization like Pro-Publica with less than one-third the funding provided each year to the Public Affairs Bureau. Of course, the public interest would be served instead of the interests of government or big business. Perhaps that is not the Canadian way. However, something must change to protect democracy.

If you share my interest and concern for quality journalism, I suggest you spend time listening to or reading Media Matters with Bob McChesney. He is a Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois and President and co-founder of Free Press, a national media reform organization. McChesney hosts the "Media Matters" weekly radio program every Sunday afternoon on WILL-AM radio; this top-rated program is available online and by free podcast subscription.  McChesney earned his Ph.D. in communications at the University of Washington in 1989. His work concentrates on the history and political economy of communication, emphasizing the role media play in democratic and capitalist societies. McChesney has written or edited seventeen books.
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Monday, November 15, 2010

Geohegan's allegation of interference demands review - updated

Dave Basi had his fingers slapped today by Supreme Court Justice Anne MacKenzie. She yanked his chain lightly, adding to his previously inconsequential sentence conditions, making them now slightly inconvenient. The purported reason: Basi made himself available for a TV news interview at the home of colleague Bob Virk.

For taking a bribe to facilitate land developments worth hundreds of millions, for separately corrupting the sale of government railway assets and for causing the public to spend more than $20 million dollars to investigate, prosecute and defend criminal acts, Basi was given little more than a verbal reprimand from the court.

However, soon after taking the generous plea bargain offered by government and approved by Justice MacKenzie, Basi spoke publicly without showing even slight contrition. That raised the court's ire. It didn't take seven years to resolve this issue. It took days. The lesson is clear:
Hundreds of millions in commercial fraud may be no big deal but don't get the judge pissed off. Play the game, leave the stage quietly and let this matter die.
Bill Tieleman and Mark Hume are both reporting on statements by Victoria lobbyist and Basi ally Michael Geohegan.  He claims that authorities are trying to pressure Basi to cooperate in destruction of evidence from his trial so that a public inquiry, as promised by the NDP, could not access the sensitive documents.

Clearly, this allegation, if true, suggests systemic corruption at the highest ranks involving government, police and court officials.

Update, 7:30 pm:

Alex Tsakumis is reporting that crown prosecutors are demanding defense lawyers return documents provided to them before trial. This important material would be vital to an independent examination of affairs related to the Liberal Government's sale of BC Rail. It may also include evidence of political tampering with the Agricultural Land Commission.  Tsakumis states that demand for return of documents by prosecutors is unusual.

Premier Campbell's former Chief of Staff Premier Martyn Brown demonstrated why the information must be kept outside of government for future review. Brown, despite close involvement over many years with intimate political business, claims he has no files or written records and cannot remember details of projects that consumed his time in government.  As the head political operative of Gordon Campbell's reign, if Brown knows nothing and cannot maintain files, his underlings are not likely to know or do more. Therefore, the documentary evidence held by defense lawyers must be kept safe in non-political hands.
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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tales from a police state

If you are not following the Toronto Star's coverage of what a billion dollars gets when provided, along with carte blanche, to men with big hats and empty heads, you should be :

Porter: Tales of horror from a police state — ours

Refugee Blues by W H Auden

Say this city has ten million souls,
Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
Yet there's no place for us, my dear, yet there's no place for us.

Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you'll find it there:
We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.

In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,
Every spring it blossoms anew;
Old passports can't do that, my dear, old passports can't do that.

The consul banged the table and said:
'If you've got no passport, you're officially dead';
But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.

Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;
Asked me politely to return next year:
But where shall we go today, my dear, but where shall we go today?

Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said:
'If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread';
He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.

Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky;
It was Hitler over Europe, saying: 'They must die';
We were in his mind, my dear, we were in his mind.

Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin,
Saw a door opened and a cat let in:
But they weren't German Jews, my dear, but they weren't German Jews.

Went down the harbour and stood upon the quay,
Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:
Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.

Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;
They had no politicians and sang at their ease:
They weren't the human race, my dear, they weren't the human race.

Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
A thousand windows and a thousand doors;
Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.

Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;
Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:
Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.
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"Some cultures would call us elders, think we're cool and listen to us"

Corky Evans did not run for reelection in 2009 and his Victoria departure was notable, not necessarily because it was subject of a very early entry in Northern Insights. One news writer said at the time, "The legislature will be significantly poorer for the absence of Corky Evans."

The modestly self-titled "elder" spoke to a meeting organized by The Common Sense Canadian. Looking happy and fit, Evans is like a favorite uncle, welcome always because he entertains and enlightens. Born in California with the formal name Conrad St. George Evans, Corky moved to Canada about 40 years ago and settled into the Kootenay region. After experience as an NDP member of the provincial legislature, Evans finished second to Ujjal Dosanjh in the party's leadership race a decade ago.  British Columbia might have been a different place today had those results been reversed.

Slow talker Evans provides wisdom that may not be appreciated by modern high flyers until they gain the sagacity that comes with age. There is hope that the rest of us are paying attention. Here are some excerpts from the speech:

We got laws now made by men we never met, in rooms we have never seen, in countries we've never been to, guarded by soldiers we pay for. That's called globalism.

As soon as they [the wealthy] could move money at the speed of light, we said, 
"Oh, man, we better fix it so the rich people don't take the money away. So, we better lower their taxes so they like to stay here."
Then, when they got the transnationals, we said,
"Let's not tax profits or they won't come here."
We now make less money on corporate income taxes than we do on our children paying post-secondary education fees.

Remember the guy who said,
"I don't mind paying taxes because with taxes, I buy civilization."
Previous generations decided sometimes to be poor -- rather than to sell the farm. Our generation, on both sides of the legislature, have decided, for a long time, that you would rather be comfortable, than have them defend the farm. . . . They will sell the farm, to keep us comfortable.

I want to beg you to engage on a different level, on a political level. The kind where you actually join the party you vote for, the kind where you write a letter and you sign your name about what you think.  . . . If you don't participate at the level where the decisions will be made, no matter who wins, they'll think all you care about is lower taxes and comfort.
* * * * *
Perhaps people of the Kootenays have a special respect for common sense and plain speaking. Today, Liberal MLA Bill Bennett gave the honest answer instead of the PC one when he was asked if Gordon Campbell was wrong to hang on at least until 2011. Bennett said quite frankly that the Liberal Party would be better off if Campbell left in a timely fashion. In effect, he admits that new directions are difficult with the discredited skipper at the helm.
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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Watts in the news is a Liberal dose of politics

November 14 update:  Mayor Watts declines to run for the Liberal Party leadership. As a commenter here stated, she puts her family first at this stage of life and also says her job as Mayor in Surrey is unfinished. Good reasons both.

In the second half of 2010, Liberal party members learned that Gordon Campbell would soon be man overboard. Despite diligent bailing by friendly mainstream media, the Premier's political boat floundered. Citizens were reading alternative media in ever growing numbers and, by October, even the sycophantic Vancouver Sun admitted that Campbell's support had hit "rock bottom." By then, the back room masters of the BC Liberals had concluded a leadership change was necessary.

The Liberal Party is polling above Campbell but well behind the opposition NDP. Because reputations of once-potential leaders such as Mike de Jong, Colin Hansen and Kevin Falcon were dirtied through association with the Campbell government, a shiny new outsider is the only considered alternative. Campbell, having participated in the coup against previous Liberal Leader Gordon Wilson, knew the tricks that could be employed against him if he tried to hang on. Campbell knew his vulnerability and after abject failure of his November 3 TV speech, the Premier, out of options, agreed to resign.

However, he and the back room influencers from big business aim to control the agenda for as long as possible. There are files to be shredded, small and large patronage to be awarded and longterm commitments worth billions to be finalized. The gravy train needs a smooth road to continue chugging down the line. It cannot be rocked by the rough ride of uncertain leadership.

I'm not pals with Dianne Watts nor any of the Liberal dance-masters. In fact, I'm as outside that loop as one can be. Of course, knowing little about Ms. Watts does not stop me from commenting on the next Premier of British Columbia. After all, pundits never lack opinions. We're profilers but, if needed, we read tea leaves.

First elected Mayor of Surrey in 2005, Watts swept back three years later, with six times the votes of her closest competitor and she demonstrated powerful coattails for her Surrey First slate. Before October, she claimed no ambition to lead the BC Liberal Party.

By early November, disinterest had turned to uncertainty. "I think it's really premature to have any discussion for anybody about leadership." Asked to confirm her previous claim that she would not run for Liberal leader, Watts declined.  "I'm not going to say anything further on that."

By November 10, Mayor Watts said that she would be weighing her options over the next few days:
“Any time an opportunity is presented, it's important to weigh all the options. It's about taking a step back and evaluating the landscape, evaluating the impact that it has on your life and moving on from there."
November 15, Mayor Watts appears on CKNW, the Liberal host broadcaster. She will discuss leadership but may not be ready yet to announce her candidacy. Negotiations with kingmakers (queenmakers?) must be completed.

Watts has been doing a walkback, preparing for a pivot point where the announcement can be made that, indeed, she is a candidate. I conclude the decision is made and the campaign has begun. As part of its continuing effort to promote the Liberal Party, the folks of the Black Tower, Radio Free Corus, know what they want. Listeners tuning in for the noon news Friday got frequent reminders and voice clips about the Liberal Party and the Mayor of Surrey:
  • 11:58:30 am - Promo for Monday interview on CKNW with Dianne Watts (“. . . the potential saving grace for the BC Liberal Party!”) about her political future. . .
  • 12:01:13 pm - News report about a Liberal Party “townhall” meeting with three Liberal MPs and Richmond Secondary students.
  • 12:02:20 pm - News report on the Liberal Party establishing a separate fund raising arm and hiring professional fundraisers to pitch potential supporters according to “issue affiliation.” (See, they do read your letters.)
  • 12:03:47 pm  -  News report reminding us that "Dianne Watts is keeping a close eye on a high profile criminal trial . . . “ with voice clip about sentencing of an impaired driver.
  • 12:04:14 pm  - News report that begins, “Meanwhile the Surrey Mayor [Diane Watts] says she is running out of patience with the owner of a big piece of property near 64th Avenue. . .” 
  • 12:15:07 pm  - News reader Gord MacDonald introduces Christy Clark and asks her to explain why the Liberals are considering changing from the one member - one vote system for election of a new leader. This leads to Christy explaining that the provincial party wants to ensure it is not dominated by urban populations of the lower mainland. She tells us that one vote is not equal to another but her show would have a number of guest discuss the dilemma.
  • 12:30:15 pm  - Christy Clark says the headline, “Liberals report it could cost $5 billion dollars to cancel the HST, we’ll find out the background after the news . . .”
  • 12:30:28 pm  -  News report leads with “ 'Clean-it-up or get ready to pay-up,' says Surrey Mayor Diane Watts about a piece of property near 64th Avenue. . . "
  • 12:32:43 pm  - Speaking at a town-hall meeting in Richmond, [Liberal leader] Michael Ignatieff says blah, blah, blah . . .
  • 12:36:17 pm  - Christy Clark says, “Five billion dollars is the price tag that bureaucrats are putting on getting rid of the HST . . .” Christy also remembered "This report from inside the Finance Ministry came out through Freedom of Information. It wasn't something the Government leaked intentionally to the public. It's full of scary scenarios."
  • 12:49:50 pm  - Clark says, "When I look at this document, having been in government. . . , I actually don't see a political document." (Except that she didn't see this document because the G&M quoted from it but didn't publish the paper.)
  • Guest David Schreck talked about how 40% of BC people that file returns do not now pay provincial income tax so receive no benefit from the 2011 tax cut announced November 3. By contrast, the top 20% of earners each gain the full individual $620 per year tax cut, in total half of the overall reduction. Christy says the poor are doing well in this province under the Liberal Government because "You can't do better than payin' no taxes." (Perhaps another benefit of the ten year freeze on minimum wages.)
I wonder if this hour of broadcasting from the Black Tower measures up to the canons of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council. Part reads:
[Members] recognize the responsibility of broadcast journalists to promote and to protect the freedom to report independently about matters of public interest and to present a wide range of expressions, opinions and ideas.
Is a broadcaster who largely works as a mouthpiece of the ruling political party paying respect to the required standards? Is it time to start holding stations to account by using the complaint facilities of the CBSC?
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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dear Colin . . .

A valued member of our little blog community, reader Warren White of Victoria, wrote this letter to Colin Hansen. Like others, Warren is out of patience with unprincipled politicians and the corporate media that spin stories without regard for accuracy, completeness and balance. The scare campaign kicked off this week is disrespectful but at least it demonstrates that BC Liberals are finished and we have reached the end of an error.

Dear Colin (I can call you Colin, can’t I ? I feel I know you, I’ve seen so much of you – too much of you):

I’m just following up on the Ministry of Finance papers you may have seen today on the internet at the Globe and Mail and the CBC.

I wonder if Ian Bailey from the Globe, or anyone from the CBC, ever happened to ask you to give an explanation of the figures in the report and how it came to be written?

With all the secrecy around “advice to the government” black-outs in previous FOI requests, didn’t Ian [Bailey] want to know why this HST cost information just seems to have slipped “under the radar” and been given out?

No, he didn’t ask? I guessed not.

Maybe you can tell Ian, if he ever does ask, that you and he and your friends at the Public Affairs Bureau need to seriously work on your game before you’ll get any more of this past the public’s BS meters…

Warren White
Gordon Head, Victoria
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