Sunday, October 31, 2010

Extirpators neutered BC's former top-dog

I listened to political reporter and weekend host Sean Leslie on CKNW, a station not usually on my radio dial. Unlike NW's flagship talker, Leslie is a capable interviewer, unafraid of tough questions or guests with opposing viewpoints. Luckily, Corus management won't hear Leslie because even they don't listen on weekends, which mostly present dreadful infomercials and syndicated twaddle.

CKNW used to offer meaningful programing every day. Four years ago, Sean Holman's Public Eye Online featured a story titled Black Tower crumbling? about the work of Corus Radio's extirpators. Sean's short report is followed by a number of interesting reader comments. A person named Pluto left a long contribution that included this list of folks departed, some forever:
So here's to Bill Rea, Bob Hutton, Jack Kyle, Jack Cullen, Frosty Forst, Hal Davis, Ted Smith, Dick Abbott, Paul Preston, Ron Bremner, Jack Braverman, Pat McPherson, John McKitrick, Maury Hesketh, Ted Wendland, Rick Honey, Jack Webster, Ed Murphy, Art Findlay, Gary Bannerman, Ed Murphy, Dave McCormick, Leigh McKay, Erm Fiorillo, Earle Bradford, John Ashbridge, Al Davidson, John Plul, Bill Hughes, Gerry Davies, Warren Barker, George Garrett, Norm Grohman, Jim Robson, Wayne Cox, Lee Powell and all of the other talented people who laboured at CKNW over the years.

These are the people who made CKNW great. Yes, CKNW, the same radio station that Plasteras and Co. now seem intent on annihilating.
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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Premier still doesn't get the need for honest debate

I usually whine about the Vancouver Sun's lack of balance when reporting on political and economic affairs. So they deserve credit for publishing this piece, a Chad Skelton item that does not praise their favorite Premier or his graphic presentations in last week's TV address. In the article, experts tell us to not trust graphs that hide labels on the Y (vertical) axis:
One of B.C.’s leading experts on tax policy says the charts Premier Gordon Campbell used in his TV address gave such a misleading picture of tax rates in this province that, had they been turned in by his students, he would make them do the assignment over again.

“If a student did this, I would say this is deceptive, maybe intentionally deceptive,” said Jon Kesselman, an economist with Simon Fraser University’s School of Public Policy. “I would say: ‘Fix this and resubmit.’”

James Brander, an economist with the University of B.C.’s Sauder School of Business, agreed.

“These graphs are misleading as presented,” said Brander, who, like Kesselman, has generally been supportive of the Liberals’ tax policies. “There’s this little book called How to Lie with Statistics and Chapter 1 says [to avoid lying] you shouldn’t do it this way.”
SFU economist Jon Kesselman is a proponent of HST but he has written about how changes in consumption tax should be accompanied with other changes. He might agree that HST is being oversold by some proponents.  I blogged about Dr. Kesselman almost six months ago and had a subsequent email exchange with him.  He was mentioned in the report Depends on what the meaning of 'is' is.  To his credit, the economist admitted to accuracy of a challenge about business passing tax savings to consumers:
You are right that the taxes lost from rebates of HST to exporting industries will not be reflected in any compensating price reductions to BC consumers."
I particularly like Dr. Kesselman's willingness to address progressivity in taxation, an issue that cannot be separated from review of consumption taxes. In this Financial Post counterpoint, he wrote:
[Tax experts] cited concerns about how to implement this reform of personal taxes without reducing revenues or undermining effective progressivity.

One solution to this problem and Canada’s fiscal deficit is to shift the personal tax base further toward consumption while also raising tax rates at upper-middle and high incomes. The result would be a tax system that is more efficient and equitable while also generating additional revenues.
BC Liberals failed to initiate a reasonable public debate on tax policy before imposing HST. Had they conducted an effective discussion, taxpayers would tolerate a consumption tax, provided that other taxation changes were made to improve fairness and efficiency of tax collection. Consumption taxes are part of our future but we must fight for fair implementation.

Since the provincial government won't begin the debate on fair taxation, academics or the political opposition must do so.
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Friday, October 29, 2010

Judges "must be seen to be independent and impartial" - Beverley McLachlin

"In its majestic equality the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets or steal a loaf of bread."
 Anatole France - 1894


Justice Anne Mackenzie had a meeting with Dave Basi today. Conditions of the convict's house arrest were under review but a publication ban prevents release of information. Despite the ban, Neal Hall of the Vancouver Sun says that Basi's conditions were tightened and the court will consider use of electronic monitoring. According to the Globe and Mail, Basi remains able to go out for work, exercise and grocery shopping. Apparently, he is also able to leave the house with immediate family members and for medical and religious reasons.

Justice Mackenzie leaves us in the dark on details of the offense(s) but CBC reported that house arrest terms may have been broken by TV interviews involving Basi. One was given on the street in downtown Victoria and another while Basi was in Bobby Virk's house.  Perhaps, he and Virk were exercising together and the TV cameras happened along during a rest break. Clearly, courts prefer that prisoners stay out of spotlights while on house arrest, even if conditions allow generous absences. Sentencing judges are embarrassed when culprits demonstrate so little regard for sanctions imposed.

Both the appointment process and performed work of Special Prosecutors have been questionable before but many lawyers are shocked at lax terms of the Basi/Virk and Young/Duncan/Shambrooke plea agreements. They are bewildered that a Supreme Court judge agreed to a settlement so evidently motivated by political considerations. That Basi was hauled into court days after sentencing suggests the judicial system is sensitive to the controversy and they ensured news of Basi's court appearance was broadcast widely. That is ironic considering the court administration's previous efforts to shield the case from public view through unpublished schedules and the like.

The public has been clear in expressing disapproval but so have many in the profession. Not only is the Supreme Court held up to public contempt in this case but the whole justice system faces growing cynicism. We heard conflicting explanation for the plea deals from the crown but the AG and staff should not have been skating. By tradition, that is one department of government that must be independent of politics. They failed that test badly and, by doing so, exacerbated public irritation. Under an outdated practice, the persons most involved, Special Prosecutor, defense lawyers and Justice Mackenzie, are not talking.

This ignores advice from Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin. She talks repeatedly about the need for accountability:
Judges are accountable. They are accountable to the Canadian public . . . For at the heart of the concern about accountability is the belief that in healthy democracies, power should not go uncontrolled. It must be responsible to and responsive to the community. . . .the judiciary, are expected to carry out their roles and responsibilities with integrity and efficiency, in the service of the public. They are expected to be accountable.

. . . Time was – not too long ago – judges were universally held in high esteem. And they were comfortable – dare I add – with their status.

. . . any notion that judges are above scrutiny has lost currency.

For the individual judge – looking at the matter in its most simple terms – accountability should encourage good decision making. A good decision is one that is just, according to law. The methods by which decisions are made must be seen to be transparent and fair. The decision maker must be seen to be independent and impartial.
Despite what Chief Justice McLachlan opines, in the absence of moral failure, judges of Canada's Superior Courts are really only accountable to other judges, when decisions are reviewed by Appeal Courts, and then only on application of the crown or defense lawyers. In the cases under discussion here, no application will go forward. If both sides are party to error, the wrongdoing is unlikely ever to be corrected.

For the reasons expressed here, the Supreme Court of British Columbia needs to explain its performance in the Basi Virk situation. Justice Mackenzie could explain:
  • Why Justice Dohm interfered with Justice Bennett's initial conduct of the case;
  • Why the Premiers' staff member Ken Dobell was given access to sensitive documents without appropriate authority or pledge of confidentiality;
  • Why the provincial government was allowed to break the law on document destruction, without sanction;
  • Why the Judge did not ask RCMP to investigate possible obstruction of justice regarding disappearance of potential evidence;
  • Why Anneal Basi was granted a stay as part of the other defendents' plea bargain. If the case against him was unwarranted, why was he not released previously in the past seven years?
  • Why was no statement of facts entered into the court record with respect to bribery charges against the Vancouver Island development company;
  • Why individuals who gave bribes were allowed immunity or had charges dropped.
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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Not merely consistent with guilt but inconsistent with innocence.

Written in April 2010, this is one of the most popular reads on Northern Insights. I want to keep it at the top for a while longer because it deals with many issues that are in play right now.  Did Premier Campbell restore any faith by his October 27 speech? Not with anyone who has been paying attention.

During the Liberal years, Gordon Campbell remade British Columbia. While the provincial economy grew, the fortunes of ordinary people declined, for the first extended period ever. Beneficiaries of change had demanded redistribution of wealth to the disadvantage of all but a few. The end result was not incidental or accidental.

For success, the Liberals needed heroes and villains. That required a massive long-term campaign, involving information and disinformation. It was organized more easily than most citizens would expect and paid for by the public purse.

Media cooperated readily to carry messages. With ownership by sympathetic plutocrats, these dependable friends gained from government advertising campaigns. PAB brought together major elements of the information enterprise by centralization of government communications. With considerable funding, hundreds of servants loyal to the Premier shaped and filtered messages.

"Think tank" Fraser Institute, financed by large industry, particularly the energy and private medicine sectors, spends over a million dollars a month on its campaign against the public sector. Libertarians who aim to defund government, resource companies that abhor royalties and regulations, corporations lobbying for privatized healthcare and large tax resisters develop Fraser Institute philosophies.

Message making began even before the 2001 election. Creating villains was the first act. A few old guard political opponents, Stupich and Williams, come to mind as easy targets. Destroying Harcourt and Clark took longer because they were essentially good people, as lives after politics demonstrated. Clark, for example, flourished as a Jim Pattison Enterprises executive and people do not survive in that empire if they are dull or corrupt. That did not stop media from portraying him as a cheat because a friend helped him make home improvements.

RCMP even arranged for TV news cameras to be present for a search of Premier Clark's east Vancouver home. It may be significant that the officer in charge of the investigation once said, “Smear campaigns are our specialty” and Campbell had invited him to stand as a Liberal candidate with possibility of joining the Cabinet.

Media did not show the man that neighbors knew, the father of a young family who stood easily in a crowd of fellow parents watching their kids play minor hockey. Ultimately, a Supreme Court Judge tossed the politically motivated charges.

Labor unions were equally important targets. British Columbia prosperity had been based on its high wage economy. Communities, including Powell River where I did high school, lived happily, largely in middle class egalitarianism. We joked about "two boats in every driveway."

For decades, provincially controlled resource companies and unions survived with times of creative tension but the working classes were empowered, unlike the days when company towns exercised centralized control of jobs, housing, merchandising and every other life element. Workers could be summarily discharged and run out of town - and they were - for offending a manager or being suspected of socialist sympathy.

Education, healthcare, roads and ferry services, main enterprises of government, were targeted for intensive mistreatment. Part of the strategy was to attack the status of employees, accuse them of radicalism, inefficiency and greed. The object of government HR policy was not good labor-management relations; it was to create divides and disruptions. Old contracts were revoked, new ones imposed. Privatization was the aim, even if the contractors were disreputable dodgers headquartered in havens far removed from regulation and taxation.

Campbell's political operatives spread through the public sector, replacing professional managers with agents of the downtown Politburo. Our fine paramedic service has been, and is, subject to intensive disrespect to ready it for privatization. Lee Doney is there to ensure that happens according to plan.

Fast aluminum ferries were taken out of service to shame the NDP. Ships that could have been made serviceable were given away to Liberal supporters for less even than scrap value. After keeping them on public display in the Vancouver harbor, the company sold the ships for service to the UAE, for an undisclosed price with a gain known to be substantial. Of course, the public that paid to build these ships gets no disposal detail.

A long history of inexpensive clean power was targeted for elimination. Premier WAC Bennett said that low cost power would be the foundation for job development as long as the resource was used at home, not exported south to run factories of the USA. Gordon Campbell turned that policy on its head. Now, BC Hydro is obliged to purchase high cost interruptible power so they can dump it in the export market at a loss.

BC gains hugely now from low cost "heritage" generation sites. Without publicly owned projects, there will be no new ones because private facilities will demand "world prices" in subsequent contract terms. Imagine if private companies had built the Peace and Columbia River dams in the sixties. The utility would triple today's electricity prices.

Even worse, BC Hydro intends to allow private producers to sell their own non-firm-power as firm-power by lending from BC Hydro's predictable resource, when private supply runs low. So irregular power production will be topped up from public sources while the price premium stays in private hands. At times of high demand and high prices, BC Hydro power will be given to the privates to sell. When export demand and prices are low, BC Hydro will take back from the privates. We will be told it was merely a balanced commodity trade, one kwh traded for another kwh; balanced trade sounds so innocuous. This is planned fraud, shielded from public view by government imposed secrecy. The beneficiaries are common to other frauds.

Commuters in the working class suburbs of Pitt Meadows and Langley pay tolls to cross the Fraser River while luxury SUVs head for the ski slopes of Whistler on the $600 million untolled highway. By the way, if you want evidence that Canwest Global newspapers are message carriers for the Liberal government, examine this puffery in the Vancouver Sun. (Writer's note: Laila Yuile discovered that taxpayers are paying shadow tolls to to the Sea to Sky Highway private operator (S2S Transportation Group) for all vehicles driving the roadway.)

One attitude of citizens that Gordon Campbell's governance has reinforced beyond all reasonable levels is distrust. Distrust is the confident expectation that another individual's motives, intentions and behaviors are sinister and harmful to one's own interests. Regular readers know that I have written about how one hand cleans another when plutocrats do the washing up.

We have accumulated so much indirect and circumstantial evidence of corruption that, despite frenetic efforts of Liberal defenders, a reasonable person can draw only one conclusion. The facts are not merely consistent with guilt but inconsistent with innocence.
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Fair and balanced - to whom?

I notice the Globe & Mail is hosting a Thursday morning live discussion to examine Gordon Campbell's $100,000 speech to the province. Or, was that a $568 million speech?  Columnist Gary Mason leads the discussion, joined by newly rehabilitated Liberal shyster John Les. No doubt Mason and the Globe are trying to be fair and balanced, at least in Mr. Campbell's eyes.  I guess Carol James, Bruce Ralston and the remaining opposition politicians were unavailable, so we get one of Gordo's boys to analyse Gordo's performance. That will be a tough review.

The new Toronto Globe and Mail has stopped trying to be Canada's national newspaper of record. Instead, it aims to become a daily magazine, loaded with photos, fluff and fiction aimed at the wealthy set. That will make life easier for Postmedia's Vancouver flagship, whose work has not compared well with that of the Globe's small Western Bureau.  The Sun will continue offering sophisticated editorial styling of Fazil Mihlar and his Fraser Institute helpers, not least of whom are Niels Veldhuis and Charles Lammam, the pair responsible for a recent Sun Op-Ed that declared Gordon Campbell the finest Premier in the history of Canada, or perhaps in the history of democracy. I'm not sure.

I revel in the diversity of views on the Internet. How sad it would be if the web was confined to the narrow range of opinions published in Canadian newspapers.  Gatekeepers at the Vancouver Sun have grown worse under its new ownership. Letters to the Editor never criticize the paper's work. Reporters who do not conform with corporate editorial positions, are unwelcome. As a result, a few have retired. Even the most respected reporters are subject to substantial rewrites if they stray too much.

The Vancouver newspaper has always supported the strongest pro-business party (usually Liberal) but that support used to be grounded in principles. I recall that long ago Socred Flying Phil was jetting family and friends on personal junkets using public aircraft. The Sun complained vigorously. They also reported on real estate deals where land speculators favored by Socreds seemed to have advance knowledge of road plans wherever the Highways Department was building new community by-pass roads on arterial highways. I recall tough reporting of the Sun during NDP wobbles too, including Bingogate, fast ferries, casino licensing and deck building. Today, the newspaper has a libertarian economic and political agenda. It serves only that. Ethics and honesty matter little to the newspaper.

How marvelous it is that blogs provide access to all sorts of political opinions. There are places for anarchists, libertarians, neo-conservatives, neo-liberals, social conservatives, progressives, socialists, rhinos and more.  Unfortunately, too many talk only to each other but, if one is brave enough to read all sides, those sides are available on the Internet.

To prepare material for this blog, I read widely and not everything I look at is enjoyed. I hope that I'm always prepared to listen to the arguments of others. After all, the point of learning is to gain new information and new insights. If we simply chew on the same old concepts year after year, we would not grow intellectually and would miss the joy of gaining knowledge.

By the way, at the suggestion of another blogger, I look regularly at Terrace Daily Online. It is interesting to read material that is not dictated from a corporate board room. This is small town communication with a difference. They still publish news about minor hockey, fire calls and bus schedules but they also offer provincial and national stories. They are fearless when it comes to talking about government, even though that precludes advertising contracts. Today, I read another piece by Merv Ritchie. It is thought provoking, worthy of further examination, and a point of view commonly held in the heartlands of BC:
Many moves have been made during Campbell’s decade long run with the reigns of power. His very first move was to close in his circle of control and authority. His office became the fortress of power with many unelected executive positions for influence and direction. Nothing happened without it first going through the Central Government Agency, the secretive Campbell Office.
Even many of his own cabinet ministers never knew what they were going to announce and handle before Campbell or ‘The Office of the Premier’ announced it. Then the moves came swiftly, so fast the public couldn’t keep up and the media ignored it all. The BC Rail sale was the most striking and public betrayal, however the break up of and the sale of the management of BC Hydro to an Enron subsidiary was almost as absurd.
Then we had the Gambling (gaming) expansion, the public private partnerships, the selling off of the power potential of our rivers to IPP’s, the ripping up of public contracts, the permission to build private medical facilities, the HST fiasco and the secret creation of new taxes still not discussed, the sale of BC gas, the medical record keeping in the USA for all British Columbians (hope you didn’t see a shrink) . . . 
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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Which services should be eliminated to pay for the income tax cut?

Quick thoughts on the Premier's address:
  • Hope Global TV and Corus were well paid for broadcasting this. They've been loyal soldiers for the Liberals, deserving of rewards.
  • The tax cut offers something for the lower middle class, earning below $72,000. However, is that family or individual income? The devil, as always, is in the details and we won't know those until budget day next spring. Regardless, income tax reductions will be clawed back by higher user fees and other government charges. The tax cut is well less than cash recently scooped out of ICBC and, with electricity rates about to rise dramatically, money will disappear from taxpayer pockets. Remember, medical services plan charges are rising again in weeks and they are introducing new daily charges for hospital stays too. When Grandma is laid up with a broken hip, she better have more than $200 a week for hospital stay fees.
  • Campbell's aim is to reduce progressive income taxes and raise money through regressive user fees, excessive service charges and, also, consumption taxes. Ultimately, corporations will pay no tax, individuals will fund government almost completely.
  • The promise to improve early childhood education is strange since they have been in charge of the system for a decade and suddenly, the most untrusted government in history makes it a new priority. Can we trust them? I'm skeptical the provincial government that tolerates the highest child poverty rate in Canada suddenly cares about children. One more thing to make us go hmmmmm.
  • Gordo claims he has talked to ordinary folks and small business people. One of the latter complained about paying 7% more on haircuts so Gord reminded him that he saved $5,000 buying his truck.  The guy said, "Oh, I hadn't realized. HST is wonderful after all."  Question:  Is this small business guy smart enough to drive a new truck that cost more than $75,000? Apparently, Campbell told the story with slight variation at the UBCM. Did he think the reworked version was better?
  • Gord forgot the BC Rail scandal and the Basi/Virk settlement. He hasn't been able to talk for 7 years while it was before the courts so I thought he would be anxious to explain what really happened or maybe, at least, what his close friend Patrick Kinsella did for $300,000 to explain government to a government enterprise.
  • The speech was short and more or less empty. They've been working on this for months?  Perhaps the real story is that caucus wars caused a few elements to be removed at the last moment.
  • Campbell's approval rating is 9%. He is trusted by rather few. Why did he not address the single most important problem he faces?
  • Will Bill Good and other CKNW voices be asking callers which government services should be chopped to pay for the income tax cut?
Your reactions?
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Blooper reel of the month

Vancouver Province editorial cartoonist Dan Murphy offers the blooper reel of the month.

Preparation, night before taping
Confidently, to the studio
First, be assimilated
Truth revealed



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BC's police accountability shame will continue indefinitely

Globe and Mail's Ian Bailey writes Police related deaths in British Columbia:
British Columbia had twice as many jail and police-related deaths as much more populous Ontario in a recent 15-year period that was the focus of a study on the issue for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. (Link attached)

The study, released Wednesday and calling for reforms in the investigation and prevention of such incidents, also finds that B.C. had the highest number of deaths a year of any of six provinces and territories for which numbers were available.
This is not news to anyone who has followed recent history but it is worth considering because, with no announcement made, the Liberal Government this month surrendered to the province's police agencies and abandoned the effort to improve and radically revise police management and accountability.

I noticed that former policeman and past Solicitor General Kash Heed spoke publicly last week about how the BC government had lost its appetite for affecting real change in police accountability. Until derailed by electioneering misconduct, Heed had focused on forcing change on reluctant police agencies. Observers expected the Solicitor General's problems to be swept under the bumpy Liberal carpet but the usual friendly partnership between police, prosecutors and politicians misfired. An offended police group conducted a smear campaign targeting Heed. There were two purposes. One was to settle an old score and the other was to discredit the driving force behind unwelcome change.

Aided by a couple of newspaper people, a whispering offensive had been mounted against Heed because he offended tradition and stomped on the Thin Blue Line in West Vancouver PD where he was trying to improve ethical standards.  As newly arrived Chief, he disciplined senior officers after they fumbled a situation involving a police station drinking party that resulted in a traffic smash and impaired driving arrest of a WV officer. She was in a motor vehicle collision on her trip home from the soiree but, to make matters worse, she was soon approved for promotion in the small West Van service.

Kash Heed was also quick to suspend a young officer, one of three policemen who attacked a middle aged newspaper vendor after a day of off-duty drinking. Heed acted quickly and publicly and most active police officers wished he had used a Jamie Graham styled stall, admitting nothing and merely waiting for public uproar to subside. Heed was seen by his uniformed colleagues as too rash when it came to internal affairs. A fairly nasty smear effort was directed at Heed largely because he favored modern police methods that included strict accountability. The usual style was cover your ass, turn inwards and stay loyal.

The West Van struggle became moot when Gordon Campbell invited Kash Heed to run for the Liberals in a safe seat held by Wally Oppal. The Liberals were in trouble in South Delta and they reasoned that the sitting Attorney General could capture that seat and leave his old one to the new guy. A Dave Basi style operator was assigned to manage Heed's Vancouver campaign and Liberal dirty tricks began. The outcome was that Heed was successful but Oppal defeated when he ran into the independent buzz saw Vicki Huntington.

As desired by Heed, he was installed as the Solicitor General and quickly went to work on his pet projects of police modernization and accountability. He was particularly insisting on guarantees in a new RCMP service contract that their officers would face the same standards of local accountability that Heed was preparing for municipal forces.

Heed also supervised an intense audit of policing in the Victoria area where questionable practices were under scrutiny.  The audit identified many difficulties that needed to be addressed with external direction. Heed's plan for new policing rules was unpopular with senior RCMP but their position was weak after numerous recent problems, worst of which was the Dziekanski killing and the failed cover-up efforts. Heed had enemies still in West Van and Victoria and, with RCMP brass after his scalp, he was at risk.

The election problems for which Heed deserves to be accountable made him vulnerable. Despite a Special Prosecutor finding that misconduct was limited to campaign workers, the rumor mill was being stoked and the Special Prosecutor was discredited when it was revealed that his office had made a financial contribution to the Liberals. Donations by lawyers to government election campaigns is so common that insiders tend not to give them second thoughts. However, the folks mounting this effort had media friends and Heed was embarrassed and soon stepped away from Cabinet so that a new prosecutor could review the file once again.

This week's reappointment of ex-cop Rich Coleman as Solicitor General was Gordon Campbell's signal to all that Kash Heed was now gone for good along with his intentions of truly reforming police accountability and local civilian management.  There has been a full surrender by the Liberals. Gordon Campbell owed RCMP brass a favor. The only changes that will go forward now are cosmetic ones aimed at preserving the status quo.
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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Labour Day - a Canadian heritage moment - 2009 Rerun

I was out of the country during September but had intended to run this article from last year about labor day.  Since my return to blogging, other stories have taken attention but I think it is worth bringing this back to the top.  The other day I came across a BC government document that was congratulating itself because union membership has fallen below one third of the workforce during Liberal administration.  They are proud of that! Proud to remove wage and pension protection that earlier people struggled to achieve at unbelievably high cost.  Think about this as we prepare for change in Victoria. 
------------------------------------------------
From September, 2009:
I was flipping the radio dial on Labour Day and noticed that CKNW's Christy Clark featured a guest who seemed a strange choice. It was a Fraser Institute automaton, there to talk once more about our "unsustainable medical system." This is content that the silver-spooned Shaw Family, owners of Corus Radio, want you to focus on during the day set aside to honor the Canadian labour movement.

How fortunate we are to have the Fraser Institute available on this statutory holiday. Here to counsel us about social programs. Under the chairmanship of one of BC's lesser billionaires, with a who's-who board of preciously rich folks, where anyone whose wealth can be measured with fewer than nine digits in front of the decimal is patronized, the Fraser Institute steps forward to tell us we don't deserve universal medical care.

After tossing my radio over the fence, I reflected on what Labour Day means to me.

In modern times, the Canadian union movement has lost power and influence so it's easy to forget that unions enabled a broad middle class. Workers in unionized company towns in BC's 20th century resource economy set the bar for others. They showed how positive full employment with good wages enables high quality life for the entire community.

I experienced that because I was schooled in Powell River and what was then the world's largest pulp and paper mill provided good jobs and reasonable supports to almost any local family with a member who chose to work there. High school graduates - well, males anyway - were almost guaranteed summer employment if they went on to university. Countless people who became lawyers, engineers, accountants and other professionals had their higher educations enabled. Not just in Powell River either. Other single industry towns, with workers benefiting from healthy union wages, were similar.

These communities had comparatively few social problems, little poverty and excellent facilities, from schools to recreation centres. My wife and I recently attended our 45-year high school reunion in Powell River. People returned from all over to join with those still resident in the coastal town. Interestingly, over 90% of our class survive and hold happy memories of our youth. Sadly, the great employment opportunities we had are mostly gone, with the paper mill now a shadow of its former self. It offers about 15% of the jobs that it provided in 1964 and none of those are truly secure.

On Labour Day, more than most days, we should remember and reflect upon a page of history. Inspired by the nine-hour movement in England, the Toronto Printers' Union asked for a reduced workweek in 1872. Employers called the demand for six 9-hours days foolish, absurd and unreasonable. George Brown, a “Father of Confederation” and leading Liberal, was also founder of the Globe newspaper. He wrote:
It is utterly ridiculous to talk of the rapacity and despotism of the employer. The tyranny of the employed over his master would be an infinitely truer version of the case. Proprietors have suffered for years from intolerable and increasing oppression.
Unwillingness to compromise led to a strike although timid supporters of the action warned against “obstinate dogmatism”, “ruffianism”, demagoguery and revolutionary ideas. Using a law from 1792, newspaper owners launched a legal action against the union for "conspiracy" and police jailed the 24 member strike committee.

Thousands of working class citizens took to the streets. Public outrage encouraged Prime Minister John A. Macdonald to rescue the imprisoned men by passage of a Trade Union Act, which legalized and protected union activity. However, alongside the Trade Union Act, Parliament passed the Criminal Law Amendment Act which made demonstrations and picketing illegal. And while unions were now legal, employers did not have to recognize or negotiate with them.

The first mass Canadian workers' movement had a lasting legacy and it was celebrated annually in Toronto. Under pressure, the Canadian government made Labour Day a national holiday and the celebration spread across Canada and the continent.

Labour Day in the United States began in 1882. After the deaths of workers by the hands of the military and US Marshals, American leaders desired reconciliation with the Labour movement. In 1894, fearing further conflict and worrying about American alignment with international May Day workers' events, Congress passed legislation making the September Labour Day national holiday.
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No crooks in this story

Like Fox News, I want Northern Insights to be fair and balanced. Therefore, after the encomium of my previous blog entry, this one will demonstrate how Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer pulls punches to grant indulgences to the gentry. In Deal to let Basi, Virk off hook for legal costs needs hard look, Palmer writes:
The attorney-general was, in effect, challenging the critics to accuse the respected [Special Prosecutor William] Berardino of corruption, incompetence or both. No one who stood to be sued for such a baseless accusation -- meaning no one this side of crank commentary or Internet anonymity -- was likely to do so.

But the more problematic part of the deal for the Liberals was the second line of decision-making, namely to forgo any attempt to recover the $6 million advanced by the Crown to cover the cost of Basi's and Virk's legal defence.

The special prosecutor had nothing to do with that part of the deal. It was made in Victoria by deputy minister of finance Graham Whitmarsh in concert with deputy attorney-general David Loukidelis.
Now, wait a moment. Even without me redrawing the former partnership connections between Bill Berardino and senior Liberals such as once Liberal AG Geoff Plant and Premier Campbell's Deputy Minister Allan Seckell, that is untrue.

Government and the supposedly independent legal-beagles told us that terms of the plea arrangement were mutually dependent; that financial relief to Basi and Virk was as necessary a part of the consideration as the absence of jail time, lax rules of house arrest and dropping of charges against nephew Aneal Basi. I won't discuss the additional deal to drop charges against two Victoria developers accused of bribing Basi. Without each element in place, there would be no plea bargain, they all agreed.

It is disingenuous of Palmer to suggest that prosecutor Berardino conducted his part of the negotiations without regard to the government's decision to waive millions of recoverable legal fees and to discharge liens against property and income.  If I drove my neighbor's car to a dealer and tried to purchase a $20,000 vehicle with $10,000 cash and $10,000 paid by trading-in the neighbor's car, could I make that deal without that person's consent and approval? No, if the deal got made, it would require all of the parties to agree together.

Palmer has minimized the BC Rail scandal for seven years, saying he was unaware of evidence that indicated wrongdoing. Had the timid reporter attended Richard Nixon's famous 1973 press conference and heard, "I'm not a crook", he would have dropped the story and told his readers that all was fine. There was no evidence proven in court that Nixon was other than what he claimed.
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Toward a non-professional, partisan public service

When Vaughn Palmer wears his radio hat, he often morphs into a BC Liberal apologist. On his own newspaper beat, he remains capable of occasional insight and credible commentary. The column following dear leader's shuffling of deck chairs is worth reading. Here is part from Premier shuffles his team out of sheer desperation:
"The guy [Martyn Brown] who staged managed every political move out the premier's office for the past nine years was better qualified than anyone who worked his or her way up through the bureaucracy on expertise and dedication to the public service.

"This from a premier whose many New Era promises included one to "restore a professional, non-partisan public service, appointed strictly on merit, not on patronage."
Perhaps retirement would be a better choice for Mr. Brown. His weeks testifying in the BC Rail Bribes for Bribes case, indicated early onset dementia. If I can remember correctly, those symptoms include:
  • Memory Loss 
  • Confusion 
  • Impaired Judgment

    Recommend this post

    Monday, October 25, 2010

    Laila Yuile's big story

    Who knows what it might be? Laila Yuile is promising to break  broke a big story this week, perhaps Tuesday. Considering the demotion of Martyn Brown, the Cabinet shuffle, the apparent end of Kash Heed's political career and, of course, the bribes for bribes cases (BCR & ALR) tossed in the dumper after a generous taxpayer contribution of $6 million, Laila must have has quite a story.



    Stay tuned and keep your eye on Laila's blog, another antidote to political reporting in BC's mainstream media.
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    Aunt Blabby wants to know who is using her name?

    From Neal Hall, of the Vancouver Sun's Nothing to See Here Department:
    Kieran's e-mail said he had been fishing that day with Paul Taylor, then deputy minister to finance minister Collins, and Kieran said he "got the real goods" on the B.C. Automobile Dealers Association.

    [Lobbyist Brian} Kieran said in his e-mail that [Deputy Minister Paul] Taylor had talked to Glen Ringdall, then president of the association, who said Ringdall needed government relations and it would cost about $50,000 a year.

    Kieran's e-mail said they should offer to do the work for Ringdall for ,"$6,000 [a month] and be prepared to retreat to $5,000. It will be more than $50,000 but Glen doesn't have many options..."

    Elmhirst, a former ministerial assistant less than a month earlier, replied in an email: "Yah, well, I could come up with this kind of great intel too if I lived next door to a blabby deputy minister!". . .

     "It appears Paul Taylor has a very cozy relationship with Pilothouse," Bolton suggested to Brown.
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    From July 2010 - A cheapjack's parachute is stained

    Tales from the True History of a Young Man’s Adventures as a Fortune-Teller, Grafter, Knocker-Worker, and Mounted Pitcher on the Market-Places and Fairgrounds of a Modern and Enterprisingly Romantic British Columbia:

    Apr 5, 2008 News report, The Province
    "Insurance Corporation of B.C. boss Paul Taylor resigned Friday in the wake of a police probe into the insurance company’s sale of rebuilt salvaged cars at its research facility."
    Apr 7, 2008 Press release:
    "Vancouver, British Columbia – NaiKun Wind Group Inc. (“NaiKun”) is pleased to announce the appointments of Paul Taylor and Steven Eckert to the company’s senior-executive team. Mr. Eckert’s appointment is effective today, while Mr. Taylor’s is effective May 5, 2008.

    "Mr. Taylor, President and CEO of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) will join NaiKun Wind Group as President and Director. Steven Eckert, a former consultant to BC Hydro . . . "
    Jun 2, 2010 Press release:
    "Vancouver, B.C. – June 2, 2010 – NaiKun Wind Energy Group Inc. (“NaiKun Wind”) (TSX-Venture: NKW) announced today that effective June 15, 2010, Paul Taylor, President & CEO, will be leaving NaiKun Wind and also resigning from the Board of Directors. . .

    "NaiKun Wind will incur a one-time charge of approximately $665,000 arising from the buy-out of Mr. Taylor’s employment agreement."
    Jul 1, 2010 News report, The Globe and Mail:
    "Defence lawyer Michael Bolton read out in court part of an e-mail about information exchanged between a member of Pilothouse Public Affairs and the then deputy minister of finance Paul Taylor while they were on a fishing trip.

    “Paul was making it clear he will be there for us,” writes lobbyist Brian Kieran to his colleagues, after describing how Mr. Taylor tried to get the lobby firm work with a car dealer association in August, 2003.

    "At that time, Mr. Kieran and his colleagues were also working for Colorado-based OmniTrax, one of three bidders for the Crown-owned BC Rail."
    Jul 1, 2010 Blog report, EastoftheSun:
    [Martyn] Brown testified Wednesday that [Jessica] McDonald got on this shady business as soon as it came to light seeking to ascertain, through an independent investigation with KPMG forensic, “how much if any of the email was correct?”.

    And then, according to Brown, McDonald asked KPMG to investigate and answer this question: “what was the nature of the relationship in this instance and was there anything that would be inappropriate for the deputy minister of finance”.

    Except that’s not true. McDonald did no such thing. Here’s what McDonald asked KPMG to investigate after the issue was first raised by the Leader of the Opposition.

    “The terms of reference for this investigation focused on the following issues:

    “Whether Taylor’s dealings with the British Columbia Automobile Dealers Association (BCADA) and its members were compliant with the standards of conduct in accordance with Taylor’s role as deputy minister; and,

    “Whether Taylor attempted to influence the government on behalf of the BCADA or its members during his tenure as deputy minister in a manner that was inconsistent with his position.

    Except the real issue wasn’t about the Automobile Dealers. It was about Pilothouse and Taylor’s relationship and promises to them. After all Pilothouse was in the middle of the BC Rail process, lobbying for their client Omnitrax. But there was nothing in the investigation about Pilothouse. Nothing about offering lobbyists a benefit while they were engaged in the BC Rail bidding process – a bidding process Taylor was partly responsible for. Nothing about the real issues at play that day out on Kieran’s fish boat.
    Question. Knowing dirt was about to hit the fan blades, did Naikun decide that it was more valuable to pay Paul Taylor $665,000 to leave than to stay? Influence peddlers are crippled when lights shine too bright.
    Recommend this post

    Sunday, October 24, 2010

    Op-ed does not mean 'opposing editorial'

    Definition:
    An op-ed (opposite the editorial page) is a newspaper article that expresses the opinions of a writer who is usually unaffiliated with the newspaper's editorial board. These are different from editorials, which are usually unsigned and written by editorial board members.
    With political controversy raging in British Columbia, might this be an appropriate time for Vancouver's largest newspaper to feature an independent writer presenting opinion contrary to its editorial board? Is the newspaper brave enough to expose new ideas, at least occasionally?

    Well, visiting the Vancouver Sun website today, I pushed past the important stuff at Home Page,  about a storm near Belize, a report on a drug death last June, full coverage about a minor Hollywood celebrity who fears "star-whackers" and sports and various non-political news, except for a bit about a complaint in Ottawa over heating costs. I aimed to look at recent op-eds to see who was filling space at the Sun's Issues and Ideas page. I found this:
    • The Friday item was commentary on why the Disney company deserves a gold star, written by Fazil Mihlar. "Wait a minute", I thought. "Isn't he the ex-Fraser Institute guy who is the Sun editorial pages editor and a regular Sun columnist?"  Hmmm, I thought he already had a platform.
    • Also, there was a dramatic call by the Sun's religion reporter to silence North American restaurants and retail outlets that blast out increasingly louder music. I know. I know. My grandmother hated that too.
    • Dan Gardner, columnist with Sun sister paper Ottawa Citizen, provided a profile on 85-year old Monkombu Sambasivan Swaminathan, renown Asian scientist. Gardner also weighs in on why the pundits are wrong on Barack Obama.
    • Then we had ex-Liberal politician, and current BC Liberal government consultant on Special Prosecutors, Stephen Owen. I suppose he's an alternative voice and from his current senior management position at UBC, he is able to tell us why the university is so well run by its senior managers.
    • Don Sandberg advises aboriginals how they should throw off the yoke of oppression and accept outside financial controls and eliminate native leaders from tribal government and get rid of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), which is - gasp - subject only to the will of elected band chiefs.  Sandberg, by the way, is associated with Winnipeg's Frontier Centre for Public Policy (FCPP) which last year brought us the Friends of Science radio commercials and website promoting a handful of obscure climate change deniers. The FCPP is a minor league Fraser Institute, also substantially supported by oil money, with helping hands from private healthcare providers and other "enlightened" philanthropists.
    There was a collection of other short essays: on chimps, on Calgary mayoral politics, on how, despite record high unemployment and falling wages, international trade is rebounding nicely and growth is strong, for somebody, somewhere, particularly for multinational businesses located in tax havens.

    Too bad there is nothing going on in BC politics worthy of comment in op-ed pages, particularly comments by people who don't already have a podium; new voices, not ones representing the same old vested interest. People able to discuss topics like:
    • the failure of journalism to cover an ethical meltdown in government, 
    • the politicization of the Supreme Court and the justice system of BC,
    • the foot-dragging on introducing true public accountability to all forms of policing,
    • the looming crisis in school funding, 
    • the failures of public-private partnerships,
    • the elimination of open bidding on government mega-contracts,
    • the destruction of equal access to healthcare for all,
    • the change from a system of progressive taxation to one based on user-pay fees,
    • etc., etc.
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    Democracy crushers

    A recurring theme within Northern Insights is my belief that the big business plutocracy exercises near total control of North America's economic and political systems. Money is the fuel for destruction of democracy. It has allowed a small group of little known, unaccountable people to direct nearly all paths of governance. If you think that might be an overstatement, read "Invasion of the Democracy Crushers" at TomDispatch.com. Rebecca Solnit reports:
    Karl Rove’s right-wing front-group American Crossroads, among others, “expects to raise as much as $250 million dollars to flood the airways in the last weeks of the [2010] election.” 
    . . . a bevy of top corporations (Chevron, Goldman Sachs, Texaco, and Dow Chemical, to name just four) who funneled multi-millions through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce into massive national ad and influence campaigns in these last years -- and one right-wing contributor stepped happily out of the dark to the tune of $7 million.
    In British Columbia, we get the same action with money from people in dark shadows paying to dominate the media and control client politicians. Business is lining up now in a grand effort to save the HST. That tax delivers billions each year from consumers into their hands. Business are willing to spend rashly to protect their financial interests and Liberals will toss millions more of taxpayers money into the effort.
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    An old voice speak out . . . about plausible deniability

    Gordon Wilson was the BC Liberal leader pushed aside when business interests decided to install Gordon Campbell as the politician best able to deliver their wishes.  Wilson remains a man who understands the hardball tactics of Campbell's patrons and he knows that fraud artists are expert in creating plausible deniability. Wikipedia provides a definition of the term:
    Plausible deniability refers to the denial of blame in loose and informal chains of command where upper rungs quarantine the blame to the lower rungs, and the lower rungs are often inaccessible, meaning confirming responsibility for the action is nearly impossible. In the case that illegal or otherwise disreputable and unpopular activities become public, high-ranking officials may deny any awareness of such act or any connection to the agents used to carry out such acts.
    Do you understand why the Premier has had rather little to say publicly about the $6 million inducement - bribe for a bribe? - from taxpayers used to seal the final Basi/Virk BC Rail cover-up? And, how much availability have we seen from Graham Whitmarsh, Allan Seckel and David Loukedelis?  Gee, is there a pattern here?

    However, back to Wilson. The retired politician writes about his various interests at gordon f d wilson and this week gives the backroom strategy employed when the Premier's operatives put an end to the embarrassing Basi/Virk trial.
    De Jong tried to spin us that the agreement to pick up the $6 million of the defendants’ legal bills was the primary issue for the public. At first this spin looked like it might work because the public was furious.

    The response to the Basi/Virk deal was, like everything else that comes out of the Campbell government, a carefully orchestrated partisan response, and it was a pretty good one because De Jong was on firm ground. Berardino had the legal right to cut the deal, although it is quite doubtful that he did so alone.

    The process gave de Jong plausible deniability. The fact that the trial didn’t finish meant that there was no assignment of costs by the court. The $6 million in legal fees could be signed off by the Deputy Attorney General and Deputy Minister of Finance. Cabinet would not have to be involved, thus more
    plausible deniability.

    It was all pretty slick. I seriously doubt that it all happened without considerable discussion amongst the senior Deputy Ministers. This includes Allan Seckel.
    Recommend this post

    Saturday, October 23, 2010

    Liberal wealthcare - updated

    BC Liberal spinmasters say that recovering any or all of the $6 million paid in lawyer bills on behalf of Basi and Virk is not worth any effort.  Shannon Daub, writing at Policy Note discusses how that policy does not apply to citizens living in poverty:
    Take for example the single-mindedness with which the province pursues welfare “overpayments.” As the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre (BCPIAC) has extensively documented, the Ministry of Housing and Social Development routinely takes welfare recipients to court in an attempt to recover benefits paid in error or through alleged fraud.

    Setting aside the fact that most of these cases don’t stand up to scrutiny in court, and the fact that our government is spending money  chasing after people whose incomes range between $600 and $1,300 per month, what’s ironic (in the way that makes me want to throw something) in relation to the BC Rail trial is that these very welfare recipients are not eligible for legal aid. That’s because the provincial government eliminated poverty law legal aid during its slashing of civil legal aid funding in 2002-04. (Poverty law legal aid used to be available to low-income British Columbians for help with legal problems related to housing, welfare benefits, debts, disability pensions, etc.
    Since pictures are worth more than words, we'll illustrate the difference. Here is a photo taken from a welfare recipient's living accommodations. This shows a place lived in by a family taken to court by the BC Liberals to collect a welfare overpayment made through a government administrative error.


    Below is the Victoria neighborhood showing a David Basi property upon which the BC Government held a mortgage securing repayment of legal costs. This and perhaps other mortgages were forgiven as part of the plea agreement for the crimes of Basi and Virk where the convicted men plead guilty and accepted house arrest for less than two years (with generous absence provisions). Also, according to the Globe and Mail:
    "Dave Basi insisted that the charge against his cousin be dropped as part of the plea bargain agreement he signed."

    According to Rob Shaw of Postmedia News:
    Land title records show the government had placed claims on all of Basi's current and future land and personal property, including a mortgage on his Victoria-area home, as part of an indemnity deal to recover some of his legal costs.
    But instead of pursuing the money it had worked to secure, it abandoned its claims, saying the amounts were too small to warrant the effort.
    . . . [However] the government announced earlier this year it would take 317 welfare recipients to court to recover only $3 million in overpayments -- half of the $6 million in legal bills incurred by Basi and former Liberal insider Bobby Virk.
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    Walk like a duck, quack like a duck ...

    I remind people often to pay attention to how friends care for friends. The biggest media fans of BC Liberals are the Vancouver Sun and Global TV.  The newspaper and the TV station bend over backwards to ensure supportive treatment of the provincial government. Both favors and cash flow in reverse.

    Strictly by coincidence no doubt, days after friendly coverage about the settlement of the BC Rail and the Agricultural Land Reserve bribery and influence peddling cases, Global TV, courtesy of BC taxpayers, will present Premier Gordon Campbell's October 27 "State of the Province" speech.

    This week, the province gave Global TV and the Vancouver Sun "exclusives" to tour and photograph the $600 million BC Place stadium refit. Now, how did they earn those exclusives?  Why were competing media excluded?

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    Truth might be finite, but the possibilities are endless

    The Times Colonist is certainly a newspaper that walks on more than one side of the street.  Another don't-miss contribution from the Times Colonist and Jack Knox:


    This is good work.
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    Friday, October 22, 2010

    A special welcome

    Hello to all the readers visiting from domains at gov.bc.ca and leg.bc.ca.  Good to see so many paying attention to these issues at Northern Insights. What we need now are whistle-blowers from the people who have had to stand by while political operatives destroyed respect for the professional civil service.
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    Officers of the Supreme Court owe more to the public

    Once upon a time, bribing a public official with $50,000 would be a serious crime, one particularly offensive to public trust in government. I don't know if developers Anthony Ralph (Tony) Young and James Seymour (Jim) Duncan worried about the ethics of this sort of transaction. Concern probably crossed their minds when they faced criminal charges, accused of paying Ministerial Assistant Dave Basi to influence the Agricultural Land Commission to release almost 400 acres of land from Vancouver Island's shrinking land reserves.

    Now resolved, the bribe may have have been a fine business move. Apparently, Prosecutor Janet Winteringham (yes, she of the Basi/Virk prosecution team) dropped charges against Young and Duncan as individuals. Instead, she accepted the guilty plea of a company, Shambrook Hills Development Corp. The company's lawyer entered a guilty plea today to one count of paying a bribe to a public official in connection with the ALC. Justice Anne MacKenzie levied a $200,000 fine against Shambrook. (Where have we heard that judge's name before?)

    Pretty rough treatment of that corporation, eh? Two hundred thousand seems a fair amount but let us put it into better context. The property involved is 382 acres along the Sooke River, now substantially developed with homes that listed for a half million dollars each and more. The plan is to develop 700 homes but there is still more ALR land in the area that could be subject to future development.

    So, if 700 residential units result in $350 million dollars in sales, the fine of $200 K is less than one seventeenth (1/17) of ONE percent of the business generated, a fraction of the real estate commissions that will result.

    A real estate friend suggested another analysis. He said that moving 382 raw acres from the ALR to ready-to-build residential property probably added about $35 million to the land value. Again, the fine of $200 K is less than half of one percent of the increased value. A commenter at Paul Willcocks' blog calculated that $200,000 fine divided by 700 homes equals $285.71 per lot. Small price to pay, one thinks.

    Nobel winning economist Joseph Stiglitz was recently quoted:
    Legal penalties for financial fraud in the U.S. have become "just a cost of doing business," Stiglitz said. "It's like a parking fine. Sometimes you make a decision to park knowing that you might get a fine because going around the corner to the parking lot takes you too much time."
    Every citizen in this province, excluding land developers, believes that retaining agricultural land becomes more important as years go by. The ALR is designed to protect the rights of future generations. We despoiled prime farmlands of the Fraser Valley in early days. The land reserve was introduced by David Barrett's government in 1973 and no government since has dared repeal the policy. So, bribery to defeat laws as important as those protecting agricultural land is particularly egregious.

    Just as in the main case involving Basi and Virk, the so-called independent prosecutors have minimized criminal acts and dealt out another slap on the wrist. In this case, the people paying the bribes don't even get a criminal record. Instead, a company pays a fine, one that wouldn't even begin to pay the costs of prosecution.

    Prosecutor Janet Winteringham, a lawyer who failed in a bid for 2009 election as a Bencher of the BC Law Society, acting more like a BC Liberal Party spokesman, had this to say after court:
    "This land was coming out of the Agricultural Land Reserve in any event and so the payment of the money was really for nothing."
    Oh, really? Clearly, the developers did not believe that to be the case when they put $50,000 cash into Dave Basi's hands.

    Justice Anne MacKenzie owes an explanation to the public for her actions in this case and in the larger BC Rail scandal. She has a responsibility to ensure justice has been done in fact and in appearance. The Chief Judge of the Supreme Court of Canada has encouraged such accountability. MacKenzie must stop hiding behind her silk robe and make public all facts known by the court in the matter of political corruption. She should start by ensuring that all documentary evidence is made public and not destroyed. Without openness, the Supreme Court will be accused of aiding in a cover-up in the most significant political scandal in BC History.


    In the words of the late great Peter Cook:
    "I could have been a Judge, but I never had the Latin for the judgin'. I never had it, so I'd had it, as far as being a judge was concerned. . . I would much prefer to be a judge than a coal miner because of the absence of falling coal."
    Sun River Master Development Plan
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    Where Gordon Campbell's ethical principles are stored

    Recommend this post

    Thursday, October 21, 2010

    More gifts by the Attorney General?

    Has the BC Government also agreed to look after income tax accruing to Basi and Virk after their former employer paid $6 million in personal legal bills?  That could add more millions to the cost of the BC Rail scandals.

    Rob Shaw in the Times Colonist tells us about another shoe set to drop in the courtroom of Justice Anne MacKenzie:
    Shambrook Hills Development Corporation — also known as Sunriver Estates — has been indicted on one count of paying a $50,000 bribe to former government official Dave Basi, in connection with an application to the ALR.

    The alleged offence against Sunriver Estates — which falls under the criminal-code category of fraud on government — occurred between January 2002 and September 2003, according to the indictment.

    Friday's hearing in a Vancouver B.C. Supreme Court is scheduled as a guilty plea and sentencing in front of Associate Chief Justice Anne MacKenzie, the court confirmed.

    Developers Tony Young and Jim Duncan, of Shambrook Hills, were originally charged with allegations that they paid government officials benefits to help exercise influence over the ALR's decision to allow the land to be removed.

    A new indictment was released Thursday, mentioning the entire company of Shambrook Hills Development Corp.

    Young and Duncan — longtime developers in Victoria — were not mentioned, and it is unclear whether those charges are proceeding.
    I suppose we can assume that another government embarrassment is being made to disappear. I wonder what Young and Duncan gain in the deal. Are charges against them personally dropped? Is the BC Government paying their legal costs?
    Recommend this post

    Vancouver Sun shames itself and journalism

    The Vancouver Sun is actively campaigning for BC Liberals. That may not be new but this week they plumbed new depths in presenting false news to readers. As recipient of countless millions of public advertising dollars from the province, should we expect anything else?  Let us examine a few of the recent efforts to serve the cause of Gordon Campbell's party.

    Sun editorialists, supervised by former Fraser Institute apparatchik Fazil Mihlar, distort the events and outcome of the aborted trial. They claim that the case dragged on because of "legal wrangling" but ignore the fact that the delays were over disclosure of  documents and communications that the BC Liberal government fought  every step of the way. The government even destroyed many documents despite knowledge those very items had been requested by defense lawyers and should have been preserved for judicial review.

    Of course, with the trial ended after only two prosecution witnesses - both made ridiculous by defense questioning - and with post-trial plans to obliterate all documentary evidence, including wiretaps of the former Liberal Finance Minister, the newspaper makes an assertion that can never be tested:
    "[There were] years of speculation that the sale of BC Rail to CN was somehow tainted. It was not. There was no evidence of any wrongdoing on part of the government or CN in the thousands of documents examined as part of this case."
    What is the authority for that claim?

    There is none.

    Fazil Mihlar and colleagues have not seen those thousands of documents. The defense lawyers demonstrated during testimony of Campbell aide Martyn Brown and Brian Kenning the power of their potential evidence. Despite having had seven years to negotiate an earlier capitulation, the Liberals' prosecutor wanted no more. He surrendered because he was unable to limit questioning of his witnesses. The Vancouver Sun sees that as vindication of BC Liberals. It was not.

    Columnist Ian Mulgrew, keen for readers to believe that "wild conspiracy theories" (the ones they've refused to write about) are now proven untrue, wrote this:
    "The Liberals were going to be cleared, according to what went down in court. This unexpected volte-face is an embarrassment for the two formerly high-flying politicos and all those who accepted their original finger-pointing version of events. For six years the public has been kept in the dark and subjected to the most provocative and unsubstantiated rumours imaginable, primarily that the Liberals used sleight of hand to flip a $1-billion-plus public asset to their corporate friends at CN Rail for a bargain-basement price.

    . . . Attorney-General Mike de Jong . . . said the ministry wasn't going after Basi and Virk for their legal costs because "
    there's nothing left to go after."
    Ok, Ian Mulgrew, do you know that for a fact or are you just a stenographer here?  Our intrepid VanSun reporter needs to read a real newspaper. That would be The Globe and Mail, where Robert Matas has a  contrary story.
    "At first glance, it appears Mr. Basi is a man of property with significant resources to contribute to at least a sizeable portion of the cost of his legal fees.

    Mr. Basi, his wife Inderjit and mother Sukhbir had four houses in Victoria in 2003 that were valued at $1.2-million, according to media reports after the raid on the legislature.

    A year later, in March, 2004, the media reported that Mr. Basi bought five acres near Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island. Five months after that, Mr. Basi and his wife bought a $279,000 house in Esquimalt, the media reported.

    It’s not clear what happened to Mr. Basi’s real estate holdings over the years while the court case dragged on. Mr. Basi was not prepared Tuesday to clarify anything. He referred a request for an interview to his lawyer, Michael Bolton, but Mr. Bolton then said he was not prepared to comment on the matter."
    It seems that when charged, Mr. Basi had considerable resources. We also learned today that the BC Government held a mortgage against a Basi property with a value approaching $1 million. Now, for those who might wonder, property transfers made to avoid liability for debts are routinely challenged and reversed by government agencies. Canada Revenue Agency does it regularly. People can't avoid a debt by making sham transfers of titles to friends and relatives.

    Craig McInnes, another helper from theVanSun's editorial board, joins the effort to claim that, with the trial ended, all the associated accusations (again, the ones they won't write about) are proved to belong to loony theorists:
    Conspiracy buffs are agog at the notion that Attorney-General Mike de Jong's decision last week to forgive $6 million in legal fees in the BC Rail corruption trial was made to end the trial and avoid any more embarrassing testimony.
    Notice how the prevaricators haven't kept their stories straight?  Negotiation of the legal fee forgiveness has been credited to Mike de Jong, David Loukedlis, Graham Whitmarsh and Bill Berardino and the prosecutor's staff. The agreement didn't include a confidentiality clause except for the clause where everyone agreed to keep the agreement confidential and that has, or has not, been waived. There was no political involvement in negotiation except that both the Deputy Ministers who may or may not have been involved are appointed by and report to Premier Campbell's office. In other words, they are political appointees, not civil servants. Similarly, Special Prosecutor Berardino was a carefully chosen independent, except that he is a former partner of key Liberals.

    Now, one more question should be raised. Will Basi and Virk pay income tax on the $6 million paid on their behalf by their former employer?  Or, has that been relieved, to be picked up by taxpayers as well. My bet is on the latter and that would amount to another few million down the drain.


    I think our friends at the Sun need a copy of this classic drawing from the New Yorker.

    Basi Mortgage
    Recommend this post

    Canada has loosest corruption laws of any developed nation, by design

    In June of 2009, I posted A country of ugly Canadians? examining a few ideas of Ottawa law Professor Amir Attaran. His statements about Canada's tolerance of corruption need re-emphasis in the light of the BC Rail scandal.

    Despite indisputable evidence of wrongdoing, plutocrats closed ranks to protect their own. Political corruption needed and got assistance from the legal profession (Berardino, Seckel, Loukedelis et al), the Supreme Court of BC (MacKenzie, Dohm, etc.), the RCMP (Bass, DeBruyckere, etc.) and, worst of all, the self-censoring media. (Canwest/Postmedia, Global TV, Corus).

    Should we be surprised? Do you suppose Professor Attaran would be surprised? No, this is business as usual. From my article last year:
    Attaran accuses Canada of deliberately maintaining the loosest corruption laws of any developed country. Bribery of foreign public officials is only criminal if the transaction occurs entirely in this country. Canadian executives can pass out cash stuffed envelopes around the world but they enjoy exemption from prosecution here. None of the other 29 OECD countries has this loophole and, despite mighty complaints from abroad, Canada cravenly refuses to close it.

    Attaran faults fellow academics and NGO leaders for failing to speak out and complacently accepting the drift away from effective internationalism. He blames widespread self-censorship on the dependence of individuals and institutions on government funding. He also says that government has given in to the convenience of employing experts and consultants selected from a sycophantic gallery. As in most established bureaucracies, contrarians are unwelcome, even driven out.
    Contrarians are rare in the mainstream media (Paul Willcocks - exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis). Respecting BC Rail, the entire story cannot be understood without reading the blog world. Sad, is it not?
    Recommend this post

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    Basi & Virk: house arrest (except absences for work, family and recreation)

    This criminal paid his own legal costs:
    Steve Ellis, former immigration adjudicator, stood impassively in court [July 29/10] as a judge sent him to jail for 18 months.

    Ellis, 51, was found guilty in April of breach of trust and bribery after being caught on videotape trying to pressure a refugee claimant into having sex in return for a favourable decision.

    Superior Court Justice Thea Herman said Ellis’s conduct “breached the significant trust placed in him” and undermined public confidence. . .  A period of incarceration is required to send a message of denunciation and general deterrence, the overriding principles of sentencing in breach of trust cases", Herman said.

    The Crown had asked for a federal penitentiary sentence of between three and three and a half years. The defence had asked for a conditional sentence to be served in the community.
    So did Sharon Louise Keller:
    An accountant, she was sentenced to six months strict house arrest, two years probation and 50 hours community service for defrauding a school Parent Advisory Committee of $9,750, since repaid. She also lost membership (CGA) in the Certified General Accountants Association of BC and is barred from reinstatement.
    Principles of deterrence and denunciation (Ontario Department of Justice)
    The two sentencing principles given the most consideration in sentencing for fraud are general deterrence and denunciation. General deterrence is particularly emphasized in sentencing for large-scale frauds. Similarly, general deterrence is also strongly emphasized in cases where the fraud (large-scale or not) involves a breach of trust.
    In R. v. Inglis it was held (R. v. Inglis, [2002] B.C.J. No. 1551 (Prov. Ct.)) that:
    The law has made it clear that unless there are exceptional and unusual circumstances, people who find themselves before the court on offences that involve a breach of trust should expect that a period of incarceration is the likely consequence.
    A preference for custodial sentences may also be found in cases dealing with frauds affecting public funds.
    R. v. Howe, [2002] A.J. No. 1443, the Alberta Court of Appeal held that:
    In order to express society’s abhorrence for those who would abuse this system, and to send a strong and clear message to others who might contemplate doing the same thing, only in the rarest of circumstances would less than a penitentiary sentence be appropriate.
    R. v. Wilder, [2004] B.C.J. No. 1030, 2004 BCSC 644
    The offender was found guilty of 7 counts of defrauding the government. The trial judge decided that a total sentence of 9 years imprisonment was appropriate in view of the sentences imposed on Wilder’s accomplices and the need for deterrence.
    R. v. Lawrence, [1996] B.C.J. No. 3027 (C.A.)
    In the companion case to Wilder, three offenders were found guilty by a jury of defrauding the government. Mr. Lawrence and one other offender were sentenced to 7 years imprisonment and ordered to pay $1 million restitution. The other offender was sentenced to 6 years and also ordered to pay $1 million restitution.
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