Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Keeping crème de la crème fraîche

Northern Insight's most-read article is brought back to the top at the request of readers. It was first published July 27/09.

Moving to HST by broadly applying a 12% combined federal and provincial sales tax, is good for British Columbia consumers, particularly poor folks who are too often denied opportunities to contribute their full shares to government coffers. And, this consumption tax will ease the burdens on businesses because PST on their costs is eliminated and any HST they pay will be rebated.

We can be confident that business will be better off because the Premier and the Minister of Finance, high officials noted for truthiness, said that businesses would save $1.9 billion dollars a year from a revenue neutral tax change. We can applaud this because the financial interests of business should be protected by government; that is a fundamental principle of progressive liberalism, or at least it should be, if it is not.

Every time poor consumers pay the harmonized tax, they will be reminded that government services are expensive. Studies have shown that people forced to pay painful taxes and user fees, particularly those who pay disproportionally high amounts of income, are less likely to demand new services from government. For example, when eye examinations were no longer covered under MSP, many older folks and children stopped selfishly seeking expensive eye glasses just to satisfy some whim of vanity or to improve vision. Ordinary folks were clogging the system, harming the speedy access desired by people able to use their own money for service.

The tax change fits with the BC Liberal Government's program of improving lives of the more worthy people in our province – la crème de la crème. We've reduced their high income taxes, moving toward flat tax rates and funding government with user fees, tolls, licenses and MSP premiums that apply equally to rich and poor. The policy is fair. How can rich people stay rich if they are required to help others? Civil rights of wealthy citizens are sacrificed when government imposes a progressive tax system.

The next step is to reduce health care services that are flooded mainly with common folk – le lait écrémé. Shutting down public operating rooms and hospital beds and rationing hospital based imaging and specialist services will boost the private health care sector. They can focus efforts on those private patients best able to afford their fees. Everyone knows that readily available public health care, where not even basic user fees are charged, reduces the financial productivity of the private clinics that look after our important citizens. People with busy schedules shouldn't have to wait months for medical care like ordinary people.

Provincial governments of the past occasionally harassed private medical care providers, even threatening to enforce the Canada Health Act, the law that bans user fees, extra billing and other barriers to universal physician and hospital care across Canada. We can thank the BC Liberals for beginning the move away from naive egalitarianism toward tax fairness and better treatment of la crème de la crème .
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Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Minister of Finance for Louis XIV of France:

"The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the
largest amount of feathers with the least possible amount of hissing."
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Inflation means higher interest rates, eh?

With this week's uptick in term mortgage rates and new federal qualification rules aimed at keeping unprosperous people from entering the housing market, I decided to bring this article back to the top. The subjects, worthy of reconsideration, are:
  • interest rates,
  • inflation and,
  • income distribution.
Interest rates have always been a key tool of economic management but, in my view, often manipulated with too little consideration of social consequences. (I can still remember the pain of our mortgage renewal at 18.5% some years ago.)

For example, the Bank of Canada considers that one of its first weapons in fighting inflation is higher interest rates. However, if we are experiencing cost-push inflation, is that effective? In the following article, first posted March 25, my argument is that government action is the single largest factor causing inflation and not restrained by higher interest rates.

I also believe that the graph shown below demonstrates a dreadful economic trend that, taken further, will cause social disruption. If the richest 1% of the population continues to gain wealth disproportionately, as it has done in the last few decades, unrest and repression are certain to follow.
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News reports today suggest we will soon be faced with interest rate hikes because the Bank of Canada believes inflation is rising. Well, I can't argue with the latter point.

The cost of living is definitely going up. Bus passes increase 10% next week, parking taxes are rising to 35%, medical premiums (BC's head tax) climb 6% soon with more later and property and school taxes move only in one direction.  ICBC had half a billion stripped, so car insurance will increase to rebuild those reserves. Days ago, BCUC approved a 13% increase in Terasen's gas commodity price and BC Hydro is implementing 25% increases over the next while. Metro Vancouver warns that cost overruns on filtration and distribution mean that water rates are about to increase. And, the carbon tax is rising and the cable company needs to charge $10 a month more so broadcasters can earn better profits. BC Ferries increased its rates and so did Canada Post. Road tolls are being implemented and they're predicting a vehicle levy for transit subsidies. And, Premier Campbell promises a completely new tax to start the Evergreen Line while my kid's post-secondary tuition just increased, again.

The barber says I'll have to pay him another $3 because of HST which also applies to everything else I need, from bicycle and shoe repairs to cappuccinos and golf greens fees. The person who cuts the grass needs to charge 12% HST and wants another $10 a week for herself. I tried to buy a 59 cent light bulb the other day but they can't sell those anymore. The new money-saving one cost $5.00 plus taxes, of course. The language school I signed with to learn 100 words of Spanish is going to charge HST and, regardless of whether I have my old shirt mended, or buy a new one, the price is going up because of HST.

I, for one, am glad we have the Bank of Canada and Colin Hansen looking after us, worrying about inflation and taking protective action. I guess if my cost of living keeps going up, they will keep fighting by raising interest rates and taxes even more. If they fight inflation hard enough, I won't be able to pay the mortgage.

Then, instead of the cost of living, I'll be worrying about the cost of leaving. And, that will attract 12% HST too.

ADDENDUM

From the New York Times, Income Inequality, Writ Larger:
The rising economic tide is lifting a bunch of yachts, but leaving those in simple boats just bobbing along.

. . . It takes an optimist to find good news in the fact that the top 1 percent have steadily increased their haul while the other 99 percent haven’t . . .

Related Posts
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Don't miss this great journalism

Liberals, Stop Lying about BC Rail, Will McMartin, TheTyee.ca
Shirley Bond receives a salary and allowance in excess of $160,000 per annum, but she seems to lack either the inclination or the intelligence to learn how to read financial statements. Or, perhaps the transportation minister knows her comments about BC Rail's finances are untrue, but cares little about misleading British Columbians.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A friend called this "blog perfect"

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Can you think of Canadian parallels ?

By George Monbiot, guardian.co.uk

Why do our paranoid, anti-fun police seem to think they run the country?
Morality policing here is starting to rival Saudi. At protests and festivals, we need to reassert the right to gather in public spaces

This Thursday a year will have passed since Ian Tomlinson died after a police assault at the G20 protests. No charges have been brought against the police; no one has been punished. Despite 300 official complaints about the policing of the protests on 1 April, and plenty of video and photographic evidence, no officer has faced serious disciplinary proceedings. Those who removed their identification numbers, beat up peaceful protesters and bystanders and then repeatedly lied about what had happened remain untroubled, either by the law or their superior officers. There has been no apology to Tomlinson's family.

Read MORE
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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Leaked documents

Leaked documents from the offices of a party insider show that BC Liberals are developing a plan to streamline the province’s ‘antiquated’ system of graft. Profiteering, influence peddling and unethical practices are under review. This includes not only self-dealing, kickbacks and minor frauds but also larger transactions, including forest, water, petroleum, mineral and other resource disposals.

Saying it’s time for more efficient ways to misuse authority, Gordon Campbell told planners:
“We must modernize our illegitimate activities right now, today, before it becomes impossible for BC Liberals to act in our best self-interests. Times are tight but we are prepared to make the tough decisions. We can't afford to lose one cent of our shady, under-the-table incomes. We have a duty—not just to our families, but to our second families with our mistresses—to create jobs and expand illicit programs to ensure that our brothers and sisters and cousins and brothers-in-law never have to put in an honest day's work."
One novel idea is to privatize authority to collect fees for un-metered water delivered to homes by rainfall. This would create a lucrative new green industry, conserving water by encouraging homeowners to collect it instead of allowing someone's potentially profitable resource to drain into storm sewers or run into rivers that don't yet have private power generators.

The wholesale graft revision is being designed by lobbyists, lawyers and former deputy ministers. Gordon Campbell is under pressure from long-time patrons who fear he will be forced out of office before their profit-making schemes are complete. Recent disruption in the international economy slowed plans to move major public assets and it is believed that an NDP government would be less cooperative in going forward with programs for privatization and other business frauds.

Campbell’s advisers applaud the recent decision to  sell  lease a downtown Vancouver site for a gambling ‘epicenter’ owned by Las Vegas based Paragon Gaming. Liberal supporters note that, during its time in office, NDP fraud was modest by comparison. As an example, they pointed to NDP association with community bingo halls whereas Liberal efforts have concentrated on massive increases in both legal and illegal gambling. That has led to commercial development in associated industries such as loansharking, addiction services and family counseling.

Despite reputed ties to organized crime of a few Nevada gamblers, Paragon Gaming instead has specialized in political influence, having been formed originally to organize casinos on American Indian lands, an art perfected by Republican convict Jack Abramoff. Liberals expect that Paragon will increase private gambling returns by assuming management of First Nations casino operations throughout BC. Right now, much of those profits are being squandered on band welfare, housing and public services.

* * * * *
Inspired by the ONION but dedicated to Mary who deserves a smile for her relentless unpaid work on behalf of BC citizens
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Entitled aristocracies

In the world I want, the public service ethos includes accountability, trust, probity and equity. This is not merely a naive dream because, in practical terms, the qualities are essential to continuation of democracy. If trust in social and political leadership is deficient, individualist self-interest will replace cooperative mores, the voluntary behavioral guidelines that encourage lawful behavior in civil society.

What are the ultimate consequences if society loses mutual trust and broad desire for social cooperation? Do we become bands of survivalists, reliant on fortified retreats dominated by the strongest preying on the weakest? Or, does government become totalitarian by which oppressors regulate all aspects of life without regard for civil rights.

Sure, those are extreme outcomes, seemingly impossible in our comfortable land. However, empires have been rising and falling for millennia and our democratic tradition is surprisingly short, certainly less than 150 years, really only 50 years because First Nations people were not allowed voting rights until 1960. We take for granted that peaceful democracy is an unassailable birthright but it may not be. Simple research shows that the present incomplete status was gained painfully, against the reluctant objections of ruling elites.

For example, in the 19th century, two members of British Parliament were elected for the borough of Old Sarum by only 13 voters. Similarly, two members for Dunwich were elected by about 20 people and other so called rotten boroughs elected members of parliament to represent tiny electorates. At the same time, industrial cities Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds, even Manchester, with 250,000 residents, had no MPs. Additionally, voter qualifications ranged from "any adult male" to male householders with a hearth able to boil a pot of water (the "potwallopers"). Effectively, voting was controlled by wealthy male landowners who were suspicious of and resistant to any reform.

In 1960, a public opinion poll asked Americans to prioritize issues they wanted to be addressed. Despite being the time of JFK and MLK, civil rights rated last. A college study reworded the Bill of Rights and asked citizens if they would support a law guaranteeing those already existing rights. A majority said no. Similarly, as the Bush Administration repudiated human rights and practiced torture, it was done with embarrassingly little mainstream resistance.

In the 20th century, Canada gradually moved from government by elected representatives to administration by First Ministers and their appointees. Beyond a handful, members of federal or provincial parliaments have no significant powers. They vote as instructed by the leader and face discipline for varying from the party line. This is modern representative government. The people cede authority to elected members who in turn cede authority to a party hierarchy. First Ministers share as much or as little power as they wish and the country moves toward a presidential system that is unimpaired by checks and balances

Too often, leaders gather a coterie of non-elected officials who, in return for providing political management to sustain the leaders, are provided with access to the public treasury, directly and indirectly. In British Columbia, we've seen a cadre of political fixers earn personal rewards beyond comprehension. Double, triple, quadruple dipping is apparently not outrageous or unusual. Laws and administration of laws are manipulated to benefit the favored few or those they are paid to represent. Principle becomes meaningless; truth stood on its head.

We've seen BC Rail executives paid millions either to manage a non existent railway or care for confidential files, then paid more in severance when the lucrative endeavors drag slowly to an end because even the benefactors are embarrassed by the scale of largess. The Campbell Government grants extravagant monopolies to non-operating shell companies made rich by administrative fiat obliging BC Hydro to contract for electricity at premium values.

But, BC Liberal operatives don't understand citizen discomfort. They are merely playing by the rules of the game, cheating only a little at the margins, as do their colleagues and apparatchiks in other jurisdictions.

Canadian Press reports that former Liberal Health Minister, The Honourable David Dingwall, P.C., Q.C., is about to return $350,000 paid improperly to him by Shire Biochem, the company awarded a ten year contract to supply vaccines to the federal Liberal government in 2001. The contract was worth up to a quarter of a billion dollars.

In 2005, a similar amount was recovered after Dingwall received a "success fee" from Bioniche, a separate biopharmaceutical company, which received millions of dollars from Industry Canada. Federal government rules prohibited payment of contingency fees to lobbyists.

The Honourable David Dingwall is also remembered for his time as CEO of the Canadian Mint. He left there after documents revealed that Dingwall and top aides had office expenses of more than $740,000 in 2004. That total included $130,000 in foreign and domestic travel, $14,000 in meals and $11,000 in hospitality. Despite Liberal statements that he chose to resign the Mint job, they paid Dingwall almost half a million in severance, plus pension benefits and additional expense reimbursements.

In 2005, Dingwall was called to a parliamentary committee to testify about executive expenses paid by the Royal Canadian Mint. At the hearing, Dingwall proclaimed:
"I am entitled to my entitlements."
Then, he returned to his office and billed the committee $39,789 in expenses for the appearance. Dingwall's arrogance may seem incomparable. The sad truth is that it is unexceptional, even commonplace among entitled political and bureaucratic aristocracies. Today, in circles of fixers, the wealthy Dingwall is admired as one of those intensely partisan old-boy wheeler-dealers. A man for whom public service was never about trust, probity and equity.
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Saturday, March 27, 2010

GUBOG - Give us back our game

Here's an admirable concept. It's parent dependent for initiation and the principles would work in any sport. If you know someone involved in kids' sport, send them a link.
By Ben Fenton, Telegraph.co.uk, Jan 8/07
Football's pushy parents shown the red card
Give Us Back Our Game, a grassroots campaign to reclaim children's football from the tyranny of pushy parents and overbearing coaches has taken off by word of mouth. [It] aims to revive the spirit of playing on the streets, now regarded as too dangerous, but which lay at the heart of football for earlier generations.
The basic aim of the organisers, Paul Cooper, a coach based in Gloucestershire, and Rick Fenoglio, a sports scientist from Manchester, is to rid children's football of its rigid format of seven-against-seven games in smart kit, hectored by foul-mouthed parents and overseen by obsessive coaches and punctilious referees.
"Football is no longer beautiful for our kids: it's ugly."

From the Give Us Back Our Game website!


We are advocates for children and their right to play and have access to age-appropriate, positive sport. These rights are guaranteed by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
(David, 2005) and have been ratified by 192 countries.

Give Us Ba ck Our Game (GUBOG) is also a successful and proven method for delivering children’s sp orts and activities. The GUBOG Approach is a practical 10 – point guide which helps practitioners e nsure that children are always engaged, always having fun and always learning new skills.

Through our campaigns, events, workshops, magazine and website, we influence policy and help others see how developmental and beneficial children’s sport truly can be….and how to organise and deliver programmes which place the rights of the child over the expectations or demands of adults. GUBOG is fun!

Give Us Back Our Game began as an emergent grassroots football campaign in the UK in 2006 but has since broadened its scope to include all sports….such is the breadth and severity of issues facing children across the sporting spectrum.

The goalposts of Give Us Back Our Game are immovable.

We work to:
  1. Provide and promote for children the highest quality sporting and activity experience possible – an experience where they are empowered to become independent and active learners and develop a lifelong love of physical activity, sport and health;
  2. Increase participation and reduce drop-out in sport;
  3. Help children to achieve their personal and/or sporting potential;
  4. Connect the dots between childhood, sport, play, physical activity and physical education.
Give Us Back Our Game was launched by Paul Cooper, a grass roots football coach in Cirencester, UK and Rick Fenoglio, an American sport scientist at Manchester Metropolitan University, UK. Since then, the programme has been highlighted in over 200 media outlets and been delivered in at least a dozen other countries, including the USA, The Philippines, India, Sweden, Canada and Peru.

So, if you’re a sporting parent, a youth coach, a sports administrator, a volunteer or simply someone who cares about the future of children and the effect of their childhood experiences….
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Thursday, March 25, 2010

More Afghanistan, more of the same

I can't improve on the reporting of ProPublica so click on the link and read Frustration Abounds With Afghan Army, Police Force.
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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Evolution of policing


It is interesting to consider the evolution of surveillance capabilities available to police.  Within one person's lifespan, authorities moved from no-tech to high-tech. In the 20th century's first half, police depended on walking patrol observations communicated through call boxes scattered throughout the city. Today, officers interface with each other instantly and access broad data bases using hand held or vehicle mounted electronics. Additionally, they are served by sophisticated camera platforms, movable and fixed, that enable visual surveillance of the entire lower mainland region, day and night. The most advanced aerial cameras can show detail from 150 miles away although these are yet reserved for military use.

We have computerized systems to examine license plate numbers of cars whether parked outdoors or driving on the street, body recognition software that enables identification of people, faces covered or not. Be certain that the mask-wearing female "black-bloc" member taped in an act of vandalism during an Olympic demonstration was easily identified.

The Bush years revealed massive facilities to monitor communications worldwide. No method of remote interchange cannot be reviewed. Some of the electronics police use today are for information gathering alone since Canadian courts are reluctant to authorize speculative surveillance and invasion of space where privacy is commonly expected.  However, Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) systems can prospect for grow-ops even if other evidence must be found to gain a search warrant.

Most citizens are willing to provide the latest technology to police since obviously criminals use every means to achieve their aims. However, when trust is broken between law enforcement and citizenry, trouble lies ahead. The Taser experience is an example of casual acceptance of a device, encouraged by product research not independent of the manufacturer, that has been involved in hundreds of in-custody deaths in North America. Despite now established dangers, the stun guns continue in common use and are now being sold to private citizens in the USA.

As local police ramp up the use of weaponry, armored personnel carriers, SWAT teams and electronic surveillance, we should have a public review process that ensures technological decisions are not made in secret by unelected bureaucrats and unaccountable law enforcement officers.

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Note: Here is the link provided by Leah in comments:
The Tyee - Sweeping New Powers Would Threaten Privacy: Watchdog
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An odd coincidence, or ?

From the Vancouver Province, March 23, 2010:

Orion Hutchinson was impaired when he was killed in a collision with an allegedly impaired off-duty Mountie, a coroners report revealed yesterday.

The 21-year-old motorcyclist was over the legal limit and speeding at between 66 and 96 km/h when he collided with Cpl. Monty Robinson's vehicle in Tsawwassen, coroner Mark Coleman wrote in his findings.

"Speed and alcohol intoxication on the part of Mr. Hutchinson were contributing factors," Coleman wrote.

The coroner's conclusions were released on the same day bereaved mother Judith Hutchinson found herself sitting in a Surrey courtroom hoping to find some justice for her son.

Robinson — the RCMP officer charged with obstruction of justice in the fatal crash involving the motorcyclist — was not present in court, but had a not-guilty plea entered on his behalf.

Hutchinson died October 25, 2008. The Coroner's Report respecting his death is dated January 20, 2010 but it was released to the public on March 23, 2010, the same day RCMP Corporal Monty Robinson was scheduled to enter a plea in charges related to Hutchinson's death.

Who decided to hold the Coroner's Report from its date of completion in January until the day of Robinson's plea? Incidentally, the Corporal has not yet attended court. His plea was entered by a representative. No perp walks for these guys.
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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Judge for yourself



Read also Multiple Offenders from March 11. An extensive audit of the Victoria Police revealed:
One of the findings - noted as an area of "key concern" - was that 13 officers (5% of the police service) were responsible for 1/3 of the use of force reports.
Are you surprised this involves Chief Jamie Graham's newest gang? Not to worry though. Police colleagues will investigate thoroughly before they announce that the use of force was appropriate and the constable in the yellow jacket feared for his life.

I wonder if use of force guidelines sets limits on the number of times it is safe to kick or knee a prone victim near the spine? This officer, Sgt. Chris Bowser, needs additional training since he appears able to kick and stomp effectively only with his right foot. He needs to practice with the left as well. Heavier boots would help too although we can presume Bowser wore steel toed shoes to avoid injury to his right foot. Not surprisingly, Bowser has been down this road before. Is he one of the 13 officers?

Probably the final police report will have one of the usual statements, like standard response #67 for explaining injuries:
“He fell several times while being taken into custody but was uninjured when released without charges.”
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Justice is blind . . . to abuses

Attorney General Mike de Jong expressed concern about ". . . a growing disconnect between the justice system and the people."

No doubt, he is talking about citizen discomfort over his own department. For example, secret deliberations by the Criminal Justice Branch and refusals to be accountable for politically sensitive charge administration, unconscionable delays and dropping or bargaining charges down solely for reasons of budget. Read: BC criminal prosecution earns failing grade.

The finest evidence that the CJB rejects public accountability is the Attorney General's decision to further delay the inquiry into Frank Paul's death in 1998. Yes, despite the passage of 12 years, no one has been held accountable for the cruel treatment and death of a Mi’kmaq man, who died of hypothermia shortly after being dragged from jail and propped against the wall of an east Vancouver alley by the VPD.

PublicEye reported the Province of BC is appealing:
. . . to the Supreme Court of Canada a ruling that would see two Crown prosecutors testify in the Frank Paul inquiry. The commission is looking into why the prosecutors didn't lay charges against police in Mr. Paul's death. The British Columbia Court of Appeal ruled on July 23 that the principle of prosecutorial independence wouldn't prevent the commission from compelling that testimony.
If not the issues discussed above, perhaps de Jong worries that BC Liberals have driven up court costs to barrier levels so that ordinary citizens cannot afford their days in court. Even when plaintiffs' cases are unequivocal, only affluent corporations and citizens can proceed without being forced into undesirable settlements or bargaining generous contingency agreement rewards to avaricious law firms.

Vancouver lawyer Peter Ritchie told how two clients could not afford a planned 30-day civil trial after suing BC Ferries for wrongful death of their father. The daughters of Gerald Foisy settled out of court for a modest sum because they did could not pay up to $70,000 in court and witness fees. As de Jong well knows, the system is designed to favor wealthy defendants.

In fact, his predecessor, Stonewally Oppal once said, and this quote is not a joke:
Cost is a barrier. Ours are more expensive. The government has spent $12 million studying the problem.
I have it on confidential authority that the $12 million was paid to designers who were asked to draw plans to shuffle the deck chairs on this BC Liberal Titantic.
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Monday, March 22, 2010

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should

Vancouver Police Deputy Chief Steve Sweeney covets electronic cameras used for Olympic security. Mayor Gregor Robinson says that City Council has no appetite to keep the devices. However, they might as well discuss angels dancing on the point of a needle; the argument is overtaken by reality. Thousands of cameras are already installed, privately owned and operated. More are on the way. Privacy is at death's door.

We cannot now travel in urban space without moving repeatedly through electronic fields of view. Most places of business, the streets, parking lots, bridges, apartments, even private residences record endlessly, commonly without human intervention. Using web connections, parents can monitor babysitters while out of the house and employers can oversee workplaces from the parlour at home.

Not only is the number of installed cameras rising rapidly but technological advances make the details captured far more revealing. Tiny, inexpensive cameras are leaving the research laboratories with astounding capture capabilities. However, it is time to reconsider. Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should.

You might recall our reporting about a Pennsylvania school district spying on high school seniors using school issued laptops. Now, comes this story from guardian.co.uk - Schools 'break law' to spy on pupils:
Pupils in schools are as frequently monitored by CCTV cameras as inmates in prisons and customers at airports, the report by Salford University says. Most secondary schools have at least 20 cameras.

Schools have installed cameras to improve teaching, as well as detect vandalism, intruders and bad behaviour. At least one school has put cameras with microphones in classrooms and corridors, and given staff earpieces to listen in on what the cameras pick up.. It is now common for secondary schools to fingerprint pupils.

Researcher Emmeline Taylor examined surveillance practices in 24 comprehensives in north-west England and analysed the law governing CCTV use in schools as part of her PhD thesis.
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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Déjà vu all over again

$6 billion to create an effective Afghan police force, but the program has been a disaster. Many are undisciplined, can't shoot straight, sell their ammunition to the Taliban and aren't trusted by the people they are supposed to protect . . .

From ProPublica: Six Billion Dollars Later . . .

Pratap Chatterjee
, an expert on the of the Pentagon’s corps of private contractors (whose classic book on the major private military contractor of our era, Halliburton's Army,has just been published in paperback), considers the full history of our woeful Afghan police-training program. Eight years of bizarre efforts that add up to vanishingly little.

From TomDispatch.com: Failing Afganistan's Cops
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Friday, March 19, 2010

Tax cheats paying up, or not

According to the Globe and Mail, Canada Revenue Agency can:
already boast that it has unearthed six times more offshore income, $600-million, this year than last thanks to a wave of international whistleblowers and the agency's willingness to piggyback on a beefed-up campaign in the United States.
Six hundred million dollars recovered from folks who dislike income tax enough to hide assets and income overseas, in Swiss bank accounts for example. Of course, had you read last year's Northern Insights article Underground economy meets overseas economy, you would not be surprised. Or, satisfied.

While paying almost $1 billion extra in taxes and penalties, Swiss bank UBS admitted helping US citizens conceal income and UBS turned over banking records of thousands of Americans to the IRS. The tax agency, losing $100 billion annually through offshore tax abuse, was pressing other large foreign banks for similar information. The cracking of Swiss bank secrecy led to a run of voluntary disclosures as nervous tax non-payers raced to settle before IRS investigators came knocking.

More from the Globe and Mail:
In the past year, European countries with strict banking secrecy laws and low tax rates have suffered repeated blows because of employees stealing internal records and offering them up to other governments facing large deficits. The European principality of Liechtenstein, population 30,000, is still reeling after a tech worker at a division of one of its largest banks, the LGT Group, sold information on suspected tax evaders to the German authorities – data that was then distributed to tax agencies around the world, including Canada.
Fears echoed through Canadian offices. Canada Revenue Agency offers a program for voluntary disclosures that waives penalties and prosecutions. CRA collections through that program surged 600% in the last year.

But, is that satisfactory? If the USA is losing $100 billion annually to illegal offshore sheltering, a logical extrapolation indicates Canada is losing about 1/10 of that, or $10 billion a year in lost tax revenue.  Still OK with $600 million collected?
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Let's make a deal

Capital Regional District must decide which door to open.
  • Door number 1, pay $1.65 billion
  • Door number 2, pay $2.03 billion
  • Door number 3, pay $2.36 billion
The province ordered the CRD to end its controversial practice of pumping raw sewage into the ocean.  But it  also ordered the CRD to consider using a public private partnership (P3) for the project.

Common sense says, "Take door number one!" Gordon Campbell says, "My friends prefer door number three!"

The rest of the story is at policynote.ca "Victoria's billion dollar P3 decision."
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Thursday, March 18, 2010

More from ProPublica

Abraham Lustgarten 

EPA Launches National Study of Hydraulic Fracturing,
Responding to reports of environmental contamination [1] in gas drilling areas across the country, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will conduct a nationwide scientific study [2] to determine if the problems are caused by the practice of injecting chemicals and water underground [3] to fracture the gas-bearing rock. . . con't

Congress Launches Investigation Into Gas Drilling Practices
Two of the largest companies involved in natural gas drilling have acknowledged pumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of diesel-based fluids into the ground in the process of hydraulic fracturing [1], raising further concerns that existing state and federal regulations don't adequately protect drinking water from drilling. . .  con't

These stories matter, if only for the environmental risk from oil and gas activities in British Columbia's northeast.  Read earlier articles HERE.
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A worthwhile read

MLAs in Victoria - Does this give you any ideas?

Empower the House - Control the Executive - by Peter MacLeod 
The prime minister has made it clear that he is no friend of Parliament. Consequently, opposition MPs should work to elevate the stature of the Speaker, and governing bodies like the Board of Internal Economy. Together, they could play a more muscular role in determining the tenor of debate and asserting the primacy of Parliament over the executive.  . . . con't
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Privatizing the wilderness

From the Powell River Peak:

. . . one road that was supposed to remain passable to ATVs is now impassable, according to the president of Powell River ATV Club, Dave Hodgins.

Last December Plutonic Power Corporation removed a bridge at Squirrel Creek, up Goat Main. . . .. “With high water in Squirrel Creek, ATVs could not ford the creek until February 12,” he said. “The road beyond Squirrel Creek was found to be impassable by ATVs, plus the further two bridge areas had the banks of the creeks fortified with boulders that prevented any type of safe passage.”

“The complete closure of this six-kilometre road section above Squirrel Creek has now prevented access to an old road system [Branch G-100] that would take you to one of the most scenic areas in Powell River,” Hodgins said. “From its road end, a short hike of less than two hours places you in the alpine. The future for this area to the hiking public and tourists can not be measured in mere dollars, it has to be experienced. The view of Barkshack Lake surrounded by various coloured rock formations is spectacular. For the non-hiker, just the scenery of the valley is worth the trip.”
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BC criminal prosecution earns failing grade


I am left wondering what the Criminal Justice Branch does with its time when it takes four years to charge an individual who apparently is the sole person responsible for loss of life and the destruction of MV Queen of the North. I suspect work throughput of the British Columbia Criminal Justice Branch may measure up reasonably to Canadian standards but not so well compared to those of other nations. Consider the Greek experience discussed in the previous article of Northern Insights. Let's review part of the public record.

Our system theoretically provides that persons accused of an offence are protected from wrongful prosecution by formal procedures overseen by independent courts, by access to defence counsel and speedy resolution of charges. One measure provides that, if trial is to be in Supreme Court, a preliminary inquiry will take place in Provincial Court, to determine if there is sufficient evidence for the accused to actually stand trial.

A further protection for the accused has evolved, at least for some accused. That is, in determining whether a charge is to be approved, prosecutors consider whether there is a substantial likelihood of conviction and, if so, whether a prosecution is required in the public interest. Of course, Gordon Campbell's underlings have a different view of public interest than do others. Under this evolved system, civil servants in the CJB make decisions better made in open court, by a judge who is accountable publicly and through appeals to higher courts and not concerned with budget issues. CJB officials argue vigorously against outside review so their exercise of prosecutorial discretion is practically unchallengeable.

The current charge approval policy shifted authority out of the courtroom into the hands of civil servants employed by the Attorney General's department. Citizens must trust completely in the independence of those officers and do that knowing that senior departmental appointments reside in partisan hands. There is no substantive separation of political influence, as evidenced by Deputy Attorney General Allan Seckel, responsible for administration of justice in the province, moving directly from the CJB to Gordon Campbell's office as the Premier's Deputy Minister. That situation hardly comforts a citizen who expects independence and objectivity, both real and apparent, from the justice system.

Prosecutors should represent the interests of society as a whole, not the interests of a government. This role was set out in the Supreme Court of Canada in the following quotation:
"It cannot be overemphasized that the purpose of a criminal prosecution is not to obtain a conviction; it is to lay before a jury what the Crown, (the prosecutor), considers to be credible evidence relevant to what is alleged to be a crime. Counsel has a duty to see that all available legal proof of the facts is presented: it should be done firmly and pressed to its legitimate strength, but it must also be done fairly. The role of prosecutor excludes any notion of winning or losing; his function is a matter of public duty than which in civil life there can be none charged with greater personal responsibility. It is to be efficiently performed with an ingrained sense of the dignity, the seriousness and the justness of judicial proceedings." Boucher v. The Queen (1954) 110 C.C.C. 263 at 270 (S.C.C.).
Mostly, the prosecution system functions without serious controversy, attracting scant attention beyond people directly involved. The CJB claims it screens nearly half of all cases within 24 hours of police making an arrest. However, the system comes to a near stop when public officials, police or high profile events are involved. Whereas the progress of a typical case is measured in days, the progress of a highly publicized case may be measured in years. Some examples:
  • Queen of the North, a single charge for criminal negligence laid four years after the event.
  • RCMP Cpl. Monty Robinson was charged with obstruction of justice, but not impaired driving, 13 months after the traffic death of Orion Hutchinson. His defense was accepted by the CJB despite rejection of it by a judge reviewing an administrative suspension of Robinson's license for driving while impaired.
  • A decision to lay no charges was made 27 months after Vancouver PD shot and killed Paul Boyd.
  • A decision to lay no charges was made 82 months after a Special Prosecutor was appointed to review possible charges against people associated with the defence team of Inderjit Singh Reyat.
  • A decision to lay no charges against RCMP Cst. Ryan Sheremetta was made 52 months after the shooting death of Kevin St. Arnaud.
  • An independent prosecutor has made no decision 24 months after appointment to review the investigation of former Solicitor General John Les. The case remains open.
  • After 28 months, no charges have been filed against RCMP officers involved in the death of Robert Dziekanski. The final report of the Braidwood Inquiry is withheld because the Liberal Government does not want the issue given attention during the 2010 Winter Olympics.
  • In 1998, Frank Paul was dragged by constables from Vancouver City jail and dropped in a wet cold laneway, propped against a wall, where he was found dead of exposure the next day. The CJB refused to approve charges against the police officers who contributed to Paul's death. The Davies Commission of Inquiry sought to compel evidence about the CJB's decision. The Branch argued against explaining its actions, appealed to the Supreme court, lost and took the case to the Court of Appeal. It lost there and, still refusing to comply, has taken its appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. Eleven years after Frank Paul's death, the British Columbia Department of Attorney General continues to battle against disclosure of information that might be embarrassing to the Department. The Paul Family and natural justice continue to be abused.
  • Of course, the infamous BC Rail case drags on 75 months after RCMP raided the Ministries of Finance and Transportation.
Only the very credulous could imagine that political influence is absent from administration of justice in British Columbia.
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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Our wheels of 'justice' turn slowly


MV Queen of the North is in the news again. Examination of its sinking soon enters the fifth year, with little known that was not immediately apparent. After years of judicial consideration, Karl Lilgert, the navigator on the bridge that night, is charged with criminal negligence. Captain Colin Henthorne, not charged, was discharged in 2006 by BC Ferries, but reinstated, with back pay, benefits and interest, in 2009.

By comparison, Express Samina, a similarly aged Greek ferry, sank in 2000. Within days, the captain, first mate and other officers appeared in court, charged with multiple offenses, including manslaughter. The Captain, who said he was asleep when the ship ran into difficulties, spent 16 months in jail pending trial and was eventually sentenced to 16 years. The First Mate, also imprisoned following the incident, and three other officers were convicted and jailed, as were two employees of the ship's operator.

BC Ferries faced no open process that examined its responsibility or preparation and performance. Management declared itself blameless but imposed confidentiality agreements on victims it compensated with public funds and kept private the documents in which it admitted liability. The corporation did not account publicly for the absence of a voyage data recorder (VDR) on an old ship that regularly sailed through difficult passages and open water subject to severe weather.

Shipping authorities quote varying hull life spans, depending on encountered loads and stress levels. Tanker life is generally under 20 years. Greece now limits ferry hulls to 30 years. The Queen of the North was 37 years old, with a considerable amount of that time plying in heavy weather.

The Transportation Safety Board of the federal government reported:

. . . we were able to determine that sound watch keeping practices were not being followed. As such, a critical course change was not made and the vessel continued on its course until it struck Gil Island, suffered damage and sank.

Because we did not have a VDR, including bridge audio, we could not determine the exact circumstances leading to the missed course change. The question in many peoples' minds was: "what happened in those final 14 minutes?" We may never be able to answer this question with finite detail or absolute certainty.
Why was no VDR system on board? The federal government requires recorders on ships moving internationally and the Transportation Safety Board believes the devices are essential to conducting successful and thorough accident investigations.

The TSB admits that operators oppose additional surveillance in their workplace. With an eye to that opposition, BC Ferries management chose not to install the vital equipment, preferring doubt to certainty in the event of liability claims. After all, an asset rich corporation can survive legal proceedings more easily than a typical citizen. Why collect evidence that may help a plaintiff?

Did the Campbell Government hold ferry managers accountable for disregarding needs of safety investigations? No, as evidenced by dramatically increased salaries and bonuses for senior management during the period in which the mishap has been under review. Of course, the ferry corporation, despite its putative private status, is an adjunct of the provincial government.

Typically, Canadian governments design review and regulation processes to be not effective and timely. Instead, they are leisurely, lucrative and protective of established order. A few dissociated souls might be censured or sacrificed eventually but unseen ramparts remain intact, keeping senior management and supervising agencies safe from reprobation.

This happens by consent of all participants. The public is told that certain events are fraught with complexities, beyond comprehension by ordinary folks and in need of lengthy examination. In practice, depth of inquiry is limited but the time frame, and of course the budgets, stay generous.

So, it takes four years in Canada to determine that only one person could be faulted for loss of two lives and a ship. In the Greek ferry tragedy, relatives of shipwreck victims and survivors expressed satisfaction with the verdicts passed down on senior crew members but said they had hoped for stricter sentences for the two members of the ferry operating firm, who received four-year sentences, and the ministry inspector, who was acquitted.

Survivor Stamatis Kotsornithis said after the Greek court verdict:

It seems to me that the sergeants were sacrificed to protect the generals, who are the real guilty parties.
What might Mr. Kotsornithis say about the Canadian process?

* * * * *
Update
British Columbia Ferry Services Inc. has won an appeal allowing it to fire Colin Henthorne, the captain of the Queen of the North the night it sank.
The Tyee learned of the previously unpublicized March 11 decision today, the same day the criminal justice branch filed charges of criminal negligence causing death against Karl Lilgert, the officer who was responsible for steering the vessel when it struck bottom near Gil Island in Wright Sound . . . con't
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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Multiple offenders

Police chief Jamie Graham and his boys are in the news again for accusations of assault. This time in Victoria. Two constables, Brent Keleher and Ryan Young, are charged with assaulting prisoners in custody during transport and later in police cells. The charges arose by intervention of the BC Police Complaints Commissioner after the Victoria Police Department conducted an internal investigation. As a result of the internal process, one officer was suspended briefly and the other was not disciplined.

Commissioner Stan Lowe found the response inadequate and referred the matter to Crown Counsel. Subsequently, prosecutors laid criminal charges against the two policemen. On the same day charges were announced, Solicitor General Kash Heed released two extensive audit reports of the Victoria Police Department.

One of the findings - noted as an area of "key concern" - was that 13 officers (5% of the police service) were responsible for 1/3 of the use of force reports. This statistic speaks for itself, confirming a situation that all police insiders understand. Rather few officers are involved in multiple incidents of violence while dealing with the public.

Another interesting element of the report discusses use of force after the killing of Robert Dziekanski by four RCMP members. The audit indicates that Taser use by the Victoria police service declined 85% after policy changes in the aftermath of the YVR death. Interestingly, records show no increase in reports of officer injury. We had known about usage creep in recent years as more stun guns came into service but a drop of this magnitude indicates that previous use was excessive and, given officer injury stats, unnecessary.

The audit revealed that Victoria Police does not have a policy dedicated to prisoner transportation. It also found the need for improvement in other areas, including:
  • qualifications and policies for use of weapons and lateral neck restraints;
  • requirement that all use of force events be reviewed;
  • requirement for annual weapons qualifications;
  • clarification of policy regarding use of police dogs as a force option;
  • requirement that all commanders attend mandatory training days;
  • improved policies for carrying, storage and tracking of weapons;
  • requirement that use of force by jail guards be reported.
Given the fundamental nature of these shortcomings, we are left to wonder how this situation came about in a service headed by long experienced police executives. It will be interesting to see if public audit reports become more commonplace in British Columbia. With a Solicitor General who understands policing services first hand and expected momentum of the pending Braidwood Inquiry report, BC may take real steps forward in improving police accountability.

Victoria is an excellent starting place. Controversy and questionable behavior are subjects familiar to Chief Graham. After a long career with the RCMP, he was appointed Vancouver Police Chief in 2002, after what Vancouver Sun writers called, "...a gruelling and, at times, bizarre selection process..."

In 2005, Graham was investigated in regard to a Police Act examination of donations to the Vancouver Police Foundation. Half of the sum involved had come from now defunct Harmony Airway, owned by billionaire David Ho. He is the well-connected Vancouver billionaire tycoon currently facing gun, drug and unlawful confinement charges. Ho and Graham had earlier shared a controversial connection when Ho's MCL Motorcars provided a Jaguar dressed in RCMP colors to the North Vancouver detachment that Graham commanded. There was also an allegation that Graham had used hotel rooms at a conference of Chiefs of Police and those rooms were paid for by Ho.

Graham was criticized regularly by media and citizen groups for tolerating deficient behavior of officers while he served as Vancouver police chief. In one such case, six Vancouver PD members transported three street people to Stanley Park where the captives were beaten. Graham was accused of regularly ignoring complaints of brutality and was found guilty of misconduct for failure to cooperate with a review of multiple accusations being conducted by RCMP. The Chief left VPD before discipline against him was enforced and he next surfaced later as head of the much smaller Victoria police force.

See also: Judge for yourself
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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Words may lie, actions do not

Two Canwest journalists provide information in their blogs that, together, demonstrate the ethics and humanity of the BC Liberal Party.

From Paul Wilcocks, Paying Attention, Health care cuts for disabled cost us all:
The latest cuts to health services for the poorest British Columbians crossed a line.
The income assistance and disability benefit cuts are cruel, wasteful and petty.
And the hypocrisy and contempt for the public - everyone, not just those disabled and poor people hurt by the cuts - is shameful.
The cuts weren't announced as part of the budget last week or included in the ministry's service plan.
Instead, the public affairs bureau - the government's $26-million-a-year communications arm - put out a news release headlined "Province protects services for low-income clients."
In fact, it was cutting services for those people.
The basic goal is to reduce the health benefits for people living on provincial disability benefits and income assistance.
They are already dirt poor.                         . . . cont'

From Vaughn Palmer, View from the Ledge, Convention centre: the bailouts continue
Remember the budget overrun on the B.C. Liberal government's fast fer...oops, Vancouver convention centre expansion?
Promised at $495 million? Delivered for $850 million or thereabouts?
Well the bailout continues, as my colleague Derrick Penner reported in the business pages Saturday.
The aforementioned overrun was just on the capital side.
Convention centres can also be counted on to lose buckets of money on operations and the Vancouver expansion is no exception.
 Details from the background papers for last week's provincial budget.
Deficit for the financial year ending March 31: $40 million. For the year beginning April 1: $30 million. Projected four-year running tally: $120 million.
But you will be happy to know they aren't just going to let the deficits fester and multiply. Government is even now considering options.
Those are: 1)a subsidy. 2)a grant.
That's pretty much it.
 On the one hand, taxpayers cover the deficit and on the other hand, taxpayers cover the deficit.              . . . cont'

Elsewhere in this blog, I said BC Liberals put structures before people. If further evidence had been needed, this would be it.

Follow the links for the rest of the stories.
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Note to readers

Please don't miss comments following Now is time to speak to MPs. Readers provide copies of fine letters sent to Parliamentary members of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.

With regulation of fish farms moving from provincial to federal governments, thanks to Alexandra Morton's court action, the federal committee members should have growing authority, if they decide to exercise it. With the Harper Government in a minority position, individual MPs can exert real influence on policy, again, if they decide to do so.

Thanks to people for following the links and sending messages. They don't have to be long and comprehensive, just let MPs know you care about westcoast fisheries and want to see the death spiral reversed. They will pay attention if many citizens raise the issue.

Invite others in your circle to do the same.
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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Now is time to speak to MPs

The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans was formed this week in Ottawa. The Minister of this department is Gail Shea and her knowledge of fish biology is, umm, shall we say, deficient (follow the link).

Can we rely on the parliamentary committee to make a difference? They are now establishing an agenda for this session's work. I sent each MP on the committee an email that repeats the story told in the blog entry When gatekeepers hold the gates open.

I asked this:
The video evidence gathered by Alexandra Morton and colleagues demonstrates that commercial factors rank above environmental factors in present day fisheries management. The evidence seems clear, the time to act may have passed but you MPs have a chance to begin needed change. If the current trends continue, the children of our children will walk on lifeless beaches. Will you stand up for nature?

Sound your voice now. Here are the email links to members of the committee:

    Chair, Rodney Weston, MP

    Vice-Chair, Raynald Blais, MP

    Vice-Chair, Lawrence MacAuley, MP

    Member, Fin Donnelly, MP

    Member, Randy Kamp, MP

Damien Gillis' new short documentary, "Farmed Salmon Exposed: The Global Reach of the Norwegian Salmon Farming Industry" is now available online
(http://www.youtube.com/user/PureSalmon)
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Monday, March 8, 2010

Surprise, surprise

Jack Mintz, former head of the CD Howe Institute - Ontario's version of the Fraser Institute - was hired by Gordon Campbell to consider the subject deeply and give an independent and unbiased report supporting HST for British Columbia.

This long time business apparatchik, champion of business tax reductions, privatization, free trade and globalization, opponent of public pensions and social programs, considered the subject deeply and gave an independent and unbiased report supporting HST for British Columbia.

He also gave British Columbia a large invoice for this independent and unbiased report. Thank you sir for telling us what is good for business. We did know that before though. BC Liberals make that certain. By the way, Mr. Mintz, with business being enriched with provincial taxes no longer paid, can we afford to lift the ten year freeze on minimum wage? Too soon, perhaps?

NDP economist David Schreck provides a useful analysis of the Mintz conjectures at Strategic Thoughts.

Paul Willcocks at Paying Attention adds his succinct analysis of this report.

The Tyee has a priceless editorial drawing titled Liberal Messaging.
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Sunday, March 7, 2010

When gatekeepers hold the gates open

If Northern Insights / Perceptivity achieves one positive thing, that will be encouragement of readers' support of Alexandra Morton. I don't know the woman personally and never met her. But, I admire her because for years she has been shaming industry and governments, both federal and provincial, by doing their jobs of protecting west coast fisheries.

I spent every summer from age 5 on the beaches of British Columbia, first near Campbell River and then at Lang Bay, 10 miles south of Powell River. I remember autumn when Wolfson Creek (now Lang Creek) was so thick with wild salmon pushing upstream to spawn that, to a child, it looked like a slowly moving conveyor that could be walked upon.

We splashed in the estuary three seasons of the year, trolled for salmon from an 8 foot plywood punt and never came home without fish. We did it with cheap lines and dull hooks, not pricey fishing tackle and multifunctional navigation systems. No chartplotters, fishfinders and GPS for little boys in paradise.

The same river today is home to a hatchery and artificial spawning channels. This is supposed to demonstrate how humans are guardians of the the seascape. We teach the young that we, the life creators, can manage nature.


We can not. Rather than being guardians of the land and waters, we are antagonists. A few good people dabble at protection and restoration, always with exiguous resources spread far, while the spoilers write cheques to public relations consultants, lobbyists and compliant politicians.

Nothing demonstrates this more clearly than the controversy over sea lice where Alexandra Morton and friends conduct a fight against the wrongdoers and the governments that should be regulating against harm. From Alexandra's blog this week:
After a four year battle, fish farm disease and sea lice data collected by the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands (MAL) has been ordered released. The Norwegian company Mainstream argued releasing their disease information would damage their business. MAL agreed to hold this information private even though these pathogens are in public waters. The Information & Privacy Commissioner disagreed and ordered MAL to release the information within 30 days. We await to see if MAL will appeal to protect the fish farmers.  

see article

Please sign up for her weekly email and help her if you can.
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Saturday, March 6, 2010

AAAGH!!!

The Campbell crowd - they don't qualify to be called Liberals - is willing to chop programs and degrade services to people. However, they still enjoy spending, provided monumental schemes are involved.  If Peter Kiewit Sons can construct it, BC Liberals will borrow to build it. Structures before people!

There are conflicting schemers at work in Victoria. Their compromise is to approve capital spending and refuse operating resources. We build hospitals but keep the rooms dark and empty.

The monumentalists want to hold extraordinary events and build lasting tokens of self-tribute.  Thus, we get the Olympics, the Convention Centre, The Gateway Program, new Bennett and Golden Ears bridges, genesis of a private power industry, German ferries, Sea to Sky Highway, Canada Line, Evergreen Line, BC Place Stadium, Site C and other mega-projects.

Individualist libertarians want to dismantle government and privatize all that can be privatized. The rallying concept is, "Defund government." So, we get tax cuts for the rich, layoffs and closed doors for the poor.
Given reduced tax rates on high incomes and continued capital spending, British Columbia's government debt will increase $14.5 billion under the latest three year budget plan. Even that projection requires optimistic growth forecasts.

I asked a friend who works in public finance where this Campbell Government is taking us.  His reply:
Although our credit rating is still triple A, that is also followed by a G, an H and three exclamation marks.

AAAGH!!!
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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Nincompoops gather to rant, dress unknown


For NDP reaction to the BC Budget, I joined other bloggers in a conference call with finance critic Bruce Ralston. This is the second time I've participated in a Ralston conference for new media writers. The opposition party indicates willingness to continue regular dialogue with bloggers of all political stripes, a sensible approach because the growing numbers of blog readers are engaged and knowledgeable news consumers.

Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer is one traditional journalists who pretends the abject blog world should be ignored. His words on CKNW, "Nincompoops ranting in their underpants is the term for people blogging, for me." 

Mind you, Vaughn got two columns out of Laila Yuile's research into Tercon v. British Columbia that recently wound its way through the Supreme Court of Canada. The case exposes scandalous behavior by business masters of the BC Liberals. He provided a way too modest credit to "freelance writer" Laila Yuile on the second column. It's OK Vaughn, you can call Laila a blogger. She won't mind nor will her many readers.

Stacey Robinsmith of the leftcoast.ca asked Ralston if there was any chance the Vander Zalm petition could derail HST. The finance critic holds little expectation that process will be successful; reminding it has "a very difficult hurdle." Even if 10% of voters in each of 85 ridings sign, the initiative remains in government hands, likely to be sidetracked endlessly. Ralston did admit that NDP members helped create the unworkable process.

The finance critic said the property tax deferral offered owners with young children was unimpressive and that providing a debt trap for a few does nothing to add inventory, reduce costs or improve rental conditions. Ralston also warned people to be aware that federal grants and contributions were being manipulated, saying this involved a shell game by mutually sympathetic governments where allocations could be shifted by political whim. The Liberals have done this twice already with the HST transition payment and federally funded infrastructure projects were traded for Olympic funds. Ralston says the Harper and Campbell governments cooperated to obscure Olympic security costs. He said the transfers situation will be uncertain until the Auditor-General reports.

I reminded Ralston that the provincial government sets higher standards of financial reporting for public companies than it follows itself. I asked if the NDP avoided pressing for improved standards because they didn't want to be constrained by tougher rules when they come to power. Ralston said the report of the Budget Process Review Panel tabled in September made numerous recommendations for improvements and the NDP supported those changes. The first panel to review budgeting was appointed by the NDP ten years ago. Twenty-five changes suggested in that report were implemented. In the current report, Douglas Enns and colleagues laid out 16 new recommendations and updates to earlier ones.

I also inquired if BC regulatory agencies were sufficiently funded to ensure safe development of north-east gas, particularly with the use of hydraulic fracturing. Ralston said he had recently reviewed the fracking process and was following American efforts within many jurisdictions to exercise controls. He agreed this is a troublesome subject that needs closer scrutiny and said the Liberals appear to trust excessively in the producer companies' "self-regulation." 

Read more about environmental risks involving shale gas HERE

Instead of stimulating further exploration, I wondered if last year's changes to gas royalties and tax credits had the effect of increasing profitability of reserves already discovered. Ralston agreed that the markets for natural gas were changing with new shale reserves but he had not previously heard that analysis. We'll follow up with him later on the subject.

I missed the opening moment so I'm not sure about names of all participants but they also included Northern BC Dipper and Politics, Re-Spun. Check them out.
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BC Libs love regressive taxation

The single overriding purpose of the Gordon Campbell government has been to widen the gap between rich and poor. It is a self-serving plan of 2% to enrich themselves at the expense of 98%. Over time, the policy will lead to economic disaster and social unrest. No empire of the rich and powerful has survived for more than a few moments in history. Like a stick, ordinary society can only be bent so far.

Cast your mind to the earliest financial moves of this Campbell administration. It was to reduce income taxation on the highest earners and corporations. Campbell's Liberals have been steadily shifting tax burdens from business and the wealthiest citizens to individuals less affluent. While income tax rates rise with income, sales taxes and fees apply uniformly, regardless of income or wealth.  Under Liberals, the highest personal tax rates dropped substantially while fees and sales taxes rose and rise dramatically. Remember increased ferry fares, rising tuition, parking taxes, transit levies, fees for government services, carbon taxes, planned bridge and highway tolls, etc. Regressive taxes all.

Tax revenues from business continue to fall. The Government's three year revenue forecast expects a growth in personal income tax of $865 million and a reduction of corporate income tax of $70 million in the same period.  Additionally, the move to HST this year takes billions more from ordinary consumers so it can be paid as HST tax rebates to businesses, including huge foreign companies that will quickly repatriate the money.

Liberals plan now to strip more than $500 million from ICBC reserves. Clearly, that will lead to large insurance premium increases for all drivers. In reality, excess premiums resulting from payments to Victoria by ICBC, and its assumption of driver and vehicle administration costs, are regressive taxes.

Liberals will remove billions more from BC Hydro and require the crown corporation to increase domestic rates by 29%. That will fund, not system maintenance as they claim, but the fortunes to be paid to independent power producers under secret take or pay agreements signed with Liberal friendly privateers.

Medical Services Plan premiums increase again, 6% this year. Despite reductions in coverage, MSP fees rise annually, accounting for about $1 billion more each year now compared to when Liberals took office.

The 2001 model of Campbell promised not to encourage gaming because of "the harmful impact of excessive gambling." The 2010 model plans to extract another $400 million from gaming over the next three years. The Liquor Distribution Branch too will dip more deeply into pockets of BC citizens.

WorkSafe BC and other public agencies are being harvested for funds as well. The Campbellites are already planning for their eventual ouster. The next Premier, whether it is a rebellious Liberal or from the present Opposition, will find the financial cupboards bare.  Every agency surplus will have been picked clean and a legacy of billions will be due private operators who are being franchised to control this province.
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