Why approving Site C could sink NDP

by Damien Gillis

cabin photo: Diane Perry

It’s getting down to the wire for the NDP-led government to announce its decision on Site C Dam. The corporate media and some big guns for labour have been making a sales push to throw the beleaguered project a lifeline and many fear they could succeed. That would be the biggest mistake the NDP could make. They didn’t create this monster, but they will own the consequences if they keep it alive.

There are three reasons given for carrying on with Site C: 1. We’d be throwing away four billion if we killed it; 2. We’ll eventually need the power; 3. The jobs!!! All of these are bogus and the cost of getting this wrong, for ratepayers and taxpayers (YOU), is astronomical.

A bottomless hole

Even if you buy the overstated remediation costs for the project, even if you accept the far-fetched premise of $4 billion lost (experts like the head of the Site C Joint Review Panel peg it closer to $3 billion), you’d have to consider the cost of not cancelling Site C. For once, let’s be frank. Even the BC Utilities Commission, when it found the project could easily exceed $10 billion, even go as high as $12.5 billion (up from Hydro’s estimate of $5 billion-6.6 billion in 2007), wasn’t fully appreciating how bad this could get.

money bucket
graphic by Damien Gillis

Just look at Newfoundland’s yet unfinished Muskrat Falls project, estimates for which have more than doubled from $6.2 billion to $12.7 billion. At $6.7 billion spent, many there say it’s past the point of no return (familiar), but Site C isn’t nearly that far along, so it should be viewed differently. The net result for Newfoundlanders will be an additional $150 a month in electrical costs per homeowner – forever! Newfoundland has a smaller population to absorb its cost overruns, but we’ve got our own share of problems to compound the damage from Site C. Think of the lawsuits from First Nations whose treaty rights are being undeniably violated (while both the provincial and federal governments tout UNDRIP – i.e. they know better).

But the biggest issue is the shaky ground on which the project is being built – literally. Way back in 2009, I interviewed a longtime farmer in the region, Dick Ardill. His family has been in the Peace going back as far as mine, the Beatties, who lost their ranch to the first big dam there, WAC Bennett. Dick must have been well into his eighties when I spoke to him, with a lifetime of practical knowledge of the soil and slope stability in the valley. He told me then the biggest reason not to build the project was the unstable land. He’d seen firsthand the Attachie slide of 1973 and many others over the years. The mixture of shale, clay and alluvial soils made for an awful place to put an earthen dam.

Slumping around the Williston Reservoir, circa 2008

The 80-kilometre section of the valley, from Hudson’s Hope to the foot of Fort St. John, where Site C was proposed was in some ways worse in this respect than where the Bennett Dam and Williston Reservoir were built (the Williston gobbled up far more land than originally contemplated, due to slumping, including my grandfather’s property above the planned reservoir). Granted, the Williston Reservoir behaves differently than would Site C, which is more a massive run-of-river project than a storage reservoir with large swings in water levels, but a 1991 report by geologist Norm Catto for the Ministry of Energy and Mines had this to say about the eastern Peace Valley, which includes the area where the dam itself is proposed:

“Thus, all of the major terrain units present in the eastern Peace River region are subject to slope failure. Extreme caution should therefore be observed in any effort to exploit or utilize river valley slopes.”

This report appears to have been ignored by Hydro in evaluating Site C.

Cracks in the dam

Flash forward to the tension cracks formed around the dam site and the hundreds of millions of dollars of cost overruns already attributable to these very stability issues and you see that old Dick knew what he was talking about. And here’s the thing: there’s no bottom to this problem. Like a highly leveraged 2008 stock deal, we have no idea how deep this hole gets. Ten billion? How about 15? Or 20?

tension cracks Site C geology
Site C Dam construction site with tension cracks highlighted (PVEA)

If everything went perfectly according to plan (the opposite of what has happened thus far), Hydro intended to have the dam paid off by 2094! That’s now blown, so what are we talking? 2120? 2150? How many generations of your descendants will be paying for this mistake? And what’s the interest on $20 billion amortized over a century, at much higher interest rates than we currently enjoy? (The BCUC rightly chastised BC Hydro for assuming low rates in perpetuity). In other words, what’s the real cost of this project? I could take a stab and say $60-80 billion, and you could say that’s just a wild-eyed guess. Then I would reply, “Exactly – I’m using BC Hydro’s methods.” (For the sake of argument, though, at a rate of 5%, $20 billion, paid off over 100 years, comes to roughly $100 billion in principal and interest. Just sayin.’)

Oh, and remember the NDP wants to do all this while freezing Hydro rates. LOL! If they’re serious, they’ll have to raise taxes or make massive cuts to social services. They can’t have their cake and eat it too.

According to Moody’s, the single biggest threat to our Triple-A credit rating is BC Hydro-related debt. In other words, Site C – piled atop all the sweetheart private power contracts and financial blunders the crown corp committed under the Liberals’ direction – will cost us our rating. Then up goes the province’s cost of borrowing – for all our debt – and the house of cards comes tumbling down. We’re worried about (at most) $4 billion in sunk costs, remediation and cancellation fees? Chump change!

But that’s not the worst of it. Dr. Vern Ruskin (PhD, MCom, BSc, Retired PEng [BC]) warned the BCUC of serious safety concerns, partly due to the above stability issues around the dam site. Dr. Ruskin is no less than the former director of BC Hydro’s planning division, responsible for planning, designing, budgeting and contracting more than 10 dams in BC, including WAC Bennett, Peace Canyon and Site C in its early stages. Among other things, Dr. Ruskin warned that changes made in 2011 to the original dam design pose increased risk of dam failure, as do these recent tension cracks and the instability they suggest.

The BCUC did not consider these concerns of Dr. Ruskin because dam safety was outside of the terms of reference for its review. But there is no reason the NDP-led government should ignore Dr. Ruskin. The enormous consequences of a dam failure – potential human injury and loss of life, widespread property damage – would make these financial concerns seem trivial by comparison.

“We’ll eventually need the power”

Here’s a thought: For the last decade, our population has been growing; we’ve been building bigger houses and acquiring more gadgets, but our power consumption has remained flat. Is it so wild a concept that 10 or 20 years from now same thing could be true? Our gadgets are getting more efficient, our building codes more stringent and we’ve seen an exodus of heavy industry, which once consumed a third of our total electricity. Wait, are we stopping raw log exports tomorrow? Did I miss the memo about a whole bunch of pulp mills reopening? Are there dozens of new mines breaking ground this year? Will BC defy global economics and magically produce an LNG industry after all the years of failure?

But let’s play this out, for the sake of argument. Say in 20 years we do need more electricity. We sure as heck wouldn’t be building Site C to supply it. At the rate renewables of all stripes are dropping in cost, we’d avail ourselves of the latest, best technology, which wouldn’t be a 70-year-old idea for a mega-dam. No less than the head of the Site C Joint Review Panel, Harry Swain, the BCUC itself, and other eminent energy experts not tied to Site C, Hydro or the government, have come to the same conclusion. We won’t need the power for a very long time and if and when we do, Site C will not be the best option, either environmentally or in terms of cost.

One final point that connects to the cost issue: since we don’t need this power, it will have to go into our grid and across our borders to customers in Washington State and Alberta. In real terms, it will cost over $110/megawatt hour (MWh) to produce, yet the going rate to sell this power has been hovering around $35/MWh for years. You do the math. Every megawatt produced carries a loss to the ratepayer.

But the jaaaawwwbs!!!

A few quick notes:

1. BC’s big unions aren’t getting these jobs; a different, quasi-union called the Christian Labour Association of Canada already has the lion’s share of this gig. It is also noteworthy that one of BC’s biggest unions, the BCGEU, has come out against the project so there is a divide within labour on the issue.

2. We keep hearing 2,000 jobs – balderdash. With a series of layoffs and a significant decline in vehicles and visible work on the property – much of that related to these tension crack issues – local sources suggest the real number of workers is far lower than Hydro and the government claim, pegging the number at 500 or less. These jobs are temporary and have come under criticism for allegedly unsafe conditions.

3. If we’re prepared to spend large quantities of tax dollars and hydro fees simply for a make-work project, there are far better ways to employ far more British Columbians for far less money, as a new analysis from UBC’s Program on Water Governance underscores.

This jobs argument is the weakest link of the pro-Site C camp and the NDP should treat it as such.

NDP deciding its own future

If Site C proceeds, this could be the one and only time John Horgan and his NDP cabinet are sworn in by the Lieutenant Governor (Photo: Province of BC / Flickr)

The costs to ratepayers and taxpayers, along with all the other impacts on farmland, First Nations and the environment, are impacts Site C would have on British Columbians, fauna and flora. But the NDP would be wise to consider the impacts the project would have on them, politically. Had the BCUC come out with rosy outlook for the project, that would perhaps have given them some cover to continue forward. It didn’t. Now, the ball is in the current government’s court and it is not only deciding the future of Site C, but its own future.

NDP in deep
Jonathan Ramos cartoon

Many in the environmental community appreciate the moves the NDP has made thus far: (partially) banning the grizzly hunt, (sort of) taking a stand against Kinder Morgan, reviewing professional reliance, reviewing Site C. Yet I have spoken with many colleagues and seen scores of comments on social media to the effect that if the NDP proceeds with Site C, they will abandon the party.

On the flip side, if the NDP kills Site C, will it lose labour votes? Will union lobbyists Bill Tieleman or Jim Quail turn their backs on the party? Hardly. It’s unclear what the Greens will do in the short term, but this delicate, temporary arrangement will be severely strained and, in the long run, Site C will further drive a wedge through the Left, causing the NDP to lose votes in the next election. This will all be compounded by the fiscal woes that will accompany this inevitable boondoggle. Just look to Ontario and Newfoundland to see the political fallout from poorly made decisions on large-scale energy projects.

Green MLA Sonia Furstenau said it best in the legislature [in late November]: “Up until now, this has been a BC Liberal boondoggle. The cost overruns, the ballooning debt, the questionable need for such a costly project: this is the Liberals’ mistake alone. But if the government decides to continue with Site C, they will become responsible for the impacts. It will be on the shoulders of this government.”

Indeed, if this government chooses to flood the Peace Valley (again), we may look back in years, drowning in unbearable power bills and debt, and realize that 2017 was the NDP’s high watermark. Then came the flood.

Posted November 29, 2017 by Damien Gillis in Economics. Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues, especially relating to water, energy and saving Canada’s wild salmon. He is co-founder of the online publication the Common Sense Canadian.

Free your vote 2.0

vote

by Paul George

“Your input will help shape the future of our democracy,” declares a November 17 BC government press release. The release announces the BC government has introduced legislation to hold a referendum in the fall of 2018 through a mail-in vote that will ask voters to decide whether BC should keep our current voting system (First-Past-the-Post) or move to a system of Proportional Representation. https://engage.gov.bc.ca/howwevote//

It also introduced a public engagement process with feedback via an online questionnaire to help shape the referendum. Public input ends on February 28, 2018 at 4PM, after which the input will be compiled into a report by the Ministry of Attorney General and made public.

But before the government’s process was even launched, the BC Liberals were vigorously fighting against any electoral reform. Why? Why not give the process and ultimate proposal a fair hearing?

The Liberals had a different tack after they won the 2001general election. That election blatantly illustrated the unfair results that a first-past-the-post voting system can deliver in multi-party democracies. The Liberals, with 57% of the popular vote, elected 77 MLAs, a whooping 97.5% of the seats in the legislature. The NDP, with 21.5% of the vote, won just two seats (Joy MacPhail and Jenny Kwan). The upstart Green Party, with 12.4% of the popular vote, got no seats, no representation and no chance to present its ideas in the legislature for debate.

Nearly everyone, including Campbell, realized election results like that aren’t good for democracy and so he created the Citizens’ Assembly On Electoral Reform to come up with a fairer voting system to put to the electorate for a vote.

Unfortunately, the Citizen’s Assembly did not deliver an alternative that voters supported. Under the tutelage of two political scientists who were experts in a system called Single Transferable Vote (STV), a system used only in Malta, Ireland and certain jurisdictions in Australia, the Assembly voted to adopt STV and worked to craft a tailor-made version suitable for BC.

STV systems are inherently complicated. They are characterized by multi-member ridings, with voters ranking their candidate preferences and a ballot tallying system that redistributes an elector’s votes when their more preferred choices meet defeat. Computers are used to determine who is elected in a timely way.

BC’s 2005 provincial election included the first “Yes” or “No” referendum question on STV: “Should British Columbia change to the BC-STV electoral system as recommended by the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform?” 57.7% of the voters said yes, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to overcome the 60% super majority passage imposed by the BC Liberal government at the onset of the Assembly.

The voters at the time truly did support the Citizens Assembly. It was an innovative and exciting process involving people just like them. But there was no way they could have understood the system they voted “yes” for. There were no details. The made-in-BC STV system had not yet been designed.

To their credit, the Liberal government gave BC voters another chance to adopt the STV system in the 2009 provincial election. Between the two elections, the made-in-BC STV system was developed and a map of the proposed new ridings was circulated.

In the 2009 STV referendum, voter support plummeted. Why? Most political pundits figure it was because the devil was in the details. It was a complicated system. Electoral districts had varied numbers of MLAs. Some had seven; others (in the north) only two. Voter choice and the chance for representation varied as to where a person lived, which some perceived as not entirely fair. Some BC voters did not like the idea of ranking a long list of candidates. Some didn’t understand how voters got “transferred” and didn’t like having to trust a computer to tell them the results. This time, voters soundly rejected the Citizens Assembly’s recommendation. Only 39% voted for BC STV.

But the rejection of STV did not necessarily mean voters didn’t support electoral reform and a fairer voting system for BC.

What the Citizens of the Assembly proposed and what BC voters wanted were at odds. This was even known by some Assembly members before they decided on STV.

Prior to choosing which electoral system to propose for BC, the Citizen’s Assembly had narrowed their options to STV and one other proportional representation system: Mixed Member Prepositional (MMP). Used in Germany and New Zealand, MMP systems give voters two votes: one for a local representative for their riding, just as we do today in BC and a second vote for their party of choice. After the votes are tallied, if a party does not get its fair share of seats through the vote for local representatives, the party’s seats are “topped up” so the percentage of the popular vote that a party gets equals its share of seats. The method to “top up” seats varies. It is most commonly from a ranked list of candidates provided by each party, but it could be based on the top “vote-getters” that didn’t get elected from each party.

Interestingly, one of the Assembly members independently went out on the street to test sample ballots representing the two different voting systems. He found that people overwhelmingly liked the MMP ballot better.

When the Citizen’s Assembly held meetings in 50 communities around the province seeking public input on a new voting system for BC, more than 80% of all those who showed up expressed their preference for a MMP system.

In the light of this, why did the Citizens Assembly choose STV?

One of the professors assured Assembly members they could decide independently of public input because they themselves were a random sample representation of the whole province. He also implied they could ignore much of the public input because it was “politically” initiated. Although Adriane Carr, then Leader of the BC Green Party, in the year prior to Campbell establishing the Citizen’s Assembly, had previously personally sponsored an Initiative under the BC Recall and Initiative Act to hold a referendum on whether or not to adopt an MMP system, it was apolitical. Her Initiative garnered almost 100,000 signatures, not enough to be a success, but enough to widely educate the public.

I believe that what BC voters want and will readily adopt is a simple, easy-to-understand, inexpensive-to-implement and familiar-way-to-count-vote electoral system where a party’s percentage of popular vote translates into the same percentage of seats in the legislature and the vast majority of electors’ votes end up actually electing MLAs to the BC legislature – a made-in-BC MMP system.

I’ve improved on the system originally proposed by Adriane Carr (now a Vancouver City Councilor) in her Citizen’s Initiative, making it simpler and removing some elements, like a party “top-up” list, that were controversial in her 2002 Initiative bid.

  1. Electoral Districts (ridings) stay the same – in number and geography – as they are today. No need for redistribution.
  2. Voting for MLAs to represent electoral districts is carried out exactly as it is done today through the familiar first-past-the-post system.
  3. A second vote for “Which BC political party do you support?” is made from a list of registered BC political parties printed on the ballot. This vote is counted province-wide to determine each political party’s popular support.
  4. To be eligible to have representation in the legislature, a party must exceed a threshold of 5% of the popular vote. This is the same as in New Zealand and Germany.
  5. Up to 15 extra MLAs are added to the legislature to achieve as close as possible a fair proportional representation for those parties that exceed the 5% threshold of support required, but elect less than their fair share of MLAs based on their party’s percentage of popular vote.
  6. The 15 “top up” MLAs (or less) as needed to most fairly adjust to achieve proportionality are selected from that party’s unsuccessful candidates in that provincial election ranked by the candidates’ vote, from highest vote to lowest. (Note: many candidates who don’t win achieve a very near-to-winning vote in an electoral district.)

While having only 15 extra MLAs – easier to accommodate in BC’s current legislature chambers – will not always result in a fully proportional Legislature, almost all the time it will. I can only think of one election that was so skewed, that 15 extra MLAs wouldn’t be enough to correct the imbalance and that was the 2001 election, which started the whole process of considering a Proportional Representation voting system for BC.

Paul George is a Canadian environmentalist living in Gibsons, BC. He is married to Adriane Carr, former leader of the Green Party of British Columbia. He cofounded the Western Canada Wilderness Committee and was the first recipient of the BC Spaces for Nature Wild Earth Award. He is the author of Big Trees, Not Big Stumps, a history of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee.

Calling All Coffee Lovers

Level Ground Trading

“We have one goal: to alleviate poverty through trade.”
– Stacey Toews, co-founder of Level Ground Trading

It all started in 1997. Four families in Victoria, BC came together with the idea of improving the lives of disadvantaged farmers through trade. They were inspired by groups like Ten Thousand Villages and set out to be fair and direct with small-scale producers of everyday consumables.

Their first relationship was with small-scale coffee farmers in Colombia. The social impact portion of their purchase price has been funding education for farmers’ children since Level Ground’s inception. For them, it’s been rewarding to see children go to school, become educated, and return to their communities to work as Doctors, Agronomists, and Social Workers. Level Ground’s work didn’t stop there: soon other Fair Trade relationships followed. Today, they import the annual harvest of 5000 farmers in 10 countries trading coffee, tea, dried fruit, sugar, spices, rice, vanilla beans and coconut oil.

Storytelling has always been foundational for Level Ground. Their stories start right on the package. On each package, you will find a farmer face and name. Each farmer is paid for the use of their photo. For Level Ground, it’s one more way they can provide transparency.

But, what does this practice of Fair Trade mean for consumers? It’s simple: quality. When you pay farmers a fair price, they save the best for you. Level Ground goes directly to the source, cultivates relationships, and receives the highest quality products in return.

Level Ground is proud to celebrate 20 years of partnering with small-scale farmers in developing countries. It is their mission to trade fairly and directly, offering consumers ethical choices. To learn more about Level Ground, its products and farmers, or purchase online, visit levelground.com

Visit us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/LevelGroundTrading/

Complicit – 2017’s “Word of the Year” defines our future

complicit

For the vast majority, the future isn’t what it used to be. The inevitable reckoning and consequences, still unscripted, will be Shakespearean in scope and proportion. “To be, or not to be” really “is the question” right now.

And ‘’All the world’s a stage… all the men and women merely players” is a fact of daily life, and death. We all have new roles and lines to learn for this looming, real-life epic. There are no exceptions and for better, or for worse, very few choices.

Warning: Canadian Microsoft researchers recently determined people now lose concentration after eight seconds, down from 12 since 2000 when our digitalized lifestyle began. The average attention span for the notoriously ill-focused goldfish is nine seconds.

Keep KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) in mind and a single Word of the Year (WOTY) in hand to help clean up our act. Dictionary.com has selected: “Complicit” as this year’s WOTY. It is defined as “Choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others; having partnership or involvement in wrongdoing… to be responsible, at some level, even if “indirectly” [emphasis added].

In last December/January’s issue, Common Ground focused on Oxford Dictionary’s 2016 WOTY “Post-truth.” It has stood up and stood out in the interim, ubiquitous on its own, and in synonyms such as “fake news” and “lies.” In fact, Collins Dictionary just recently put “fake news” on top for 2017.

But “complicit” is more significant in reflecting the ethos and capturing the zeitgeist of our time, attracting more interest and provoking much conversation. In 2017, we looked complicit up, on-line, at a rate of 10,000% more than the previous year.

The first spike in searches was on March 12, the day after a Saturday Night Live satirical ad featured an Ivanka Trump look-alike hawking “Complicit, the fragrance “for the woman who could stop all this, but won’t.” In a glittery gold dress, the fake first daughter was tagged: “She’s beautiful, she’s powerful, she’s complicit.”

The next spike on April 5, up more than 11,000%, followed a TV interview with the real Ivanka Trump. When asked if she and husband Jared Kushner were complicit in her father’s actions, she responded, “If being complicit is wanting to be a force for good and to make a positive impact, then I’m complicit.”

A few days later, the mother of all spikes occurred, when an outed, Ivy-league-educated, Ivanka, mouthed, “I don’t know what it means to be complicit.”

This 2017 WOTY had many other moments, including US Senator Jeff Flake’s unexpected retirement. “I have children and grandchildren to answer to, and so, Mr. President, I will not be complicit,” he explained, citing a “flagrant disregard for truth or decency,” adding, “It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.”

We have been complicit in speech and action and also when we remained silent. The cultural and political landscape – and the very landscape itself – demanded answers to not only what complicit means, but also what it means to be complicit.

And we turned to dictionaries. No one knows definitively what sends us looking for word meaning, but lexicographers report it’s a combination of seeking definition and searching for inspiration and emotional reinforcement. These quests, online, now show up in ongoing, digitally trending big data.

Complicity hit every hot button, globally. Touching everything from Russian collusion, to mass murder, opioids, Site C, Syria, the evil oil industry. extreme weather, humanity’s role in planetary implosion, obscene growth in inequity, normalized hate speech and groups and myriad other results, enabled through the collective ‘turning a blind eye.’

“Our choice for Word of the Year is as much about what is visible as it is about what is not,” explains dictionary.com’s Jane Solomon.”It’s a word that reminds us even inaction is a type of action. The silent acceptance of wrongdoing is how we’ve gotten to this point.”

Refusing was “a grounding force of 2017.” Five million stood in the worldwide Women’s March. Dozens of professional athletes knelt in anthemic protest against systemic injustice. The most impactful, far-reaching F**k You ever. Personal stories of sexual harassment and assault with the hashtag #metoo, finally gaining traction against age-old foundations of white male hierarchy, right down to micro-fiefdoms.

What does it mean to be complicit? Silent? Processing our current, globally existential question requires questioning our own behaviour, including co-dependency. Who knew what, when? Could I have spoken out? Did I go along because it was the path of least resistance?

Some silence, of course, is essential to self-preservation. And sometimes speaking out is a privilege unto itself. Not everyone’s voice is heard, after all. But refusals to accept the reprehensible, the repugnant and the questionable, transform apocalypse fatigue into action.

How tragic, absurdly comic or happy we make 2018 is down to us – most definitely down to our resistance. Last word on this most useful 2017 WOTY, to dictionary.com lexicographer Solomon: “We must not let this continue to be the norm. If we do, then we are all complicit.”

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola Island-based banjo player, gardener, writer and author of Our Clinic.

Rick Hanson: grow your core of calm, strength & happiness

An interview by Fiona Douglas-Crampton

Rick Stanton Hanson
Rick Stanton Hanson

The holiday season often brings additional stress. The days are getting shorter and colder and we have to cope with multiple demands to make our loved ones happy: Christmas shopping, parties, cooking, cleaning and more. Add a growing sense of helplessness in the face of climate change and negative world news and it can seem an impossible task to maintain a sense of personal happiness, well-being and calmness. Negativity and stress take over.

Psychologist and New York Times bestselling author Rick Hanson became aware of unhappiness in his family and in the world at a young age. Now a Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC, Hanson turned to psychology and brain science for answers and realized that if you can change your brain, you can change your life. In his new book, Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness (co-authored with Forrest Hanson, release March 2018), the author of Hardwiring Happiness and Buddha’s Brain draws on 40 years of experience of working with people to offer practical ways to grow the 12 essential strengths of resilient well-being.

Hanson shares insights into what people can do now to build lasting well-being in their daily lives and replace a sense of deficit and disturbance with fullness and balance.

Fiona Douglas-Crampton: What inspired you to focus your work on happiness and neuroplasticity?

Rick Stanton Hanson: I had a sense as a young child that there was a lot of unnecessary unhappiness in my school, my family and out in the world. But I didn’t know what to do about it. Then as I got older and learned about psychology, brain science and contemplative wisdom, I became excited about the practical tools they offered for using the mind alone to change the brain for the better.

The brain is the final common pathway of all the causes streaming through us to make us happy or sad, loving or hateful, effective or helpless, so if you can change your brain, you can change your life. I have personally gained from these methods – my wife of 35 years says I have become nicer, which could be the toughest test! – and have seen many others get many benefits as well.

FD-C: What are the specific challenges we face today in a world that require us to build a core of inner strength?

RH: There are big problems in the world, plus ordinary life is full of stressors, losses, conflicts and illnesses. To deal with adversity and pursue opportunities in the face of challenges, we need to be resilient, able to endure, bounce back and keep on going.

Methods in self-help, positive psychology, transformation, new age, human potential and spiritual practice are often framed as a kind of magic carpet ride: just do X (e.g., be grateful, compassionate, meditative) and you’ll be whisked to happiness. But it’s just not true.

Any kind of lasting well-being requires coping with the hard things in life. Want to be happy? Be resilient.

Resilience is usually presented as something we need for trauma, combat, etc. True enough, but that is an inaccurate and overly narrow view. Resilience is for every day of your life, not just for surviving the worst day of your life.

FD-C: How do we get started?

RH: Resilience comes from having inner strengths such as grit, motivation and love. These are the resources we draw on to deal with hassles and setbacks, manage frustration and disappointment, ride waves of pain and face inevitable aging and death.

Resilience is not static. Actually, it is something you can develop over time. Most research and interventions related to resilience focus on just identifying and using inner strengths. This is good, but it misses the key question: where do these inner resources come from and how can we get more of them?

This is where the neuropsychology of learning comes in. To grow more empathy, mindfulness, self-worth or any other psychological resource, first you must have an experience of it or a related factor. Second, that passing experience must be installed as a durable change in neural structure or function.

Experiencing alone does not equal learning. Think about all the times we experience something useful – a moment of satisfaction at finishing a task, an insight into how to be more skillful in a relationship – and we zip along to the next experience so that first experience is wasted on the brain. Besides the impact on everyday life, this is the weakness of much psychotherapy, coaching, human resources programs and spiritual training.

This general problem is worsened by the brain’s evolved “negativity bias,” which makes it like Velcro for bad experiences but Teflon for good ones. We overlearn from stress, worry, irritation, sadness and hurt, while underlearning from moments of confidence, determination, calming, kindness and realization.

Here are two practical suggestions a person can use every day:

1) Half a dozen times a day, focus on and stay with a useful, usually enjoyable, experience for a breath or longer. Feel it in your body and notice what feels good or meaningful about it. This will help the experience be more consolidated and installed in long-term memory systems. In effect, you can make it “stick to your (mental) ribs.”

2) Pick an inner strength that would really help to have more of. Perhaps greater calm, gladness or the sense that your own needs matter, too. Then look for opportunities to experience this strength each day and take these experiences into yourself.

You’ll notice that most experiences of inner resources are enjoyable – an aspect of well-being. Resilience promotes well-being and as you take in experiences of well-being – including experiences of inner resources – that will make you more resilient. Resilience fosters well-being and well-being fosters resilience, in a wonderful upward spiral!

FD-C: What are some things you do to take care of yourself?

RH: Firstly, I try to frame taking care of myself in a larger context of service to others. Second, I try to take care of myself by having many little moments in the day in which I take in whatever might be calming, soothing, wholesome, beautiful, loving or happy.

Fiona Douglas-Crampton is the president and CEO of the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education, a charitable organization focused on “Heart-Mind Well-Being.” dalailamacenter.org

EVENT

February 23-24: Rick Hanson, Ph.D will be speaking on resilient well-being at the next Heart-Mind Conference hosted by the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education in Langley. For information and to register for Heart-Mind 2018: Take Care of Yourself – the Science and Practice of Well-Being, visit www.dalailamacenter.org/conference/heart-mind-2018-take-care-yourself

Blood supply donors and privateers

DRUG BUST
by Alan Cassels

I get a regular phone call that I won’t answer. I know what the caller wants and I’m not willing to get into a discussion about why I don’t want to talk to them. The caller? Canadian Blood Service (CBS), an organization whose sole mission is to collect blood donations to meet the health needs of Canadians, a huge, vital service that depends on volunteers like me.

Last year, I got a nice little certificate from the Canadian Blood Service honouring me for my “generosity and commitment to helping others” in recognition of the 50 blood donations I’ve made over the last decade or so. The bargain always felt good: as a donor, I give them a pint of the red stuff, “the gift of life,” and, in return, I get some juice and a few cookies. But, for now, I’ve taken a hiatus. Let’s call it a one-man boycott.

In Canada, over the last few decades, we’ve seen the slow privatization of many things related to healthcare. Each time, when the moneylenders are let into the temple, a little bit of our public healthcare system dies. We are now seeing the beginnings of the privatization of our blood supply. Not quite blood, per se, but a component of blood: plasma. Plasma is the clear, yellowish liquid part of blood that remains after you’ve removed the red and white blood cells and platelets. Plasma is essential for delivering proteins for blood clotting and fighting diseases. It helps treat hemophilia, shock and trauma. It is also made into products, such as drugs to treat bleeding disorders and immune deficiencies. And that’s what has the moneylenders mighty interested.

An Iran-based pharmaceutical company called Canadian Plasma Resources has already set up plasma donation centres in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan and they want to set up more. The argument they give is that Canada needs to move towards self-sufficiency in blood products. Canada is currently 100% self-sufficient in fresh plasma, however, for the stuff needed to make plasma-based drug products, we currently import about 70% of those products from the US. The key difference between Canadian Plasma Resources (CPR) and the Canadian Blood Services is the plasma folks are a for-profit company and they pay donors to donate their plasma, which you can do about every two weeks. Once you’ve passed the initial screening, every donation you make will earn you a $50 VISA-card type reward. The company then turns that plasma around and makes plasma-based pharmaceuticals out of it, which they can then sell to other countries or back to Canadians. Sounds good, right?

There are many reasons some think allowing for-profit plasma donations in Canada is just plain wrong. In fact, it is indefensible. We’ve just celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Krever Inquiry on Canada’s notorious tainted blood scandal where over 2,000 Canadians contracted AIDs and another 30,000 or so got Hepatitis C from tainted blood. That report was a damning indictment of the way blood was screened and distributed in Canada and showed how good, old government incompetence, ass-covering and unaccountability conspired to kill and injure Canadians. But what have we learned? One of the key recommendations of the Krever report was that Canada should maintain a volunteer-only blood system in order to have a safe and guaranteed supply of blood and blood products.

Yet 20 years later, we see the Canadian government granting licenses to a private company so they can expand their private plasma drug business. In November, a shocking, in-depth article in Maclean’s magazine drew heavily from an 800-page freedom-of-information request and showed the extent to which our regulator – Health Canada – is trying to open the doors to the moneylenders. That article, examining correspondence between CBS and Health Canada, clearly showed Health Canada has been colluding with this company and essentially helping them establish their private blood donation clinics in Canada. Some provinces have responded by banning for-profit private blood donation clinics (Quebec, Ontario and Alberta so far), but that hasn’t stopped the other provinces from being courted.

Many people have argued that the for-profit system won’t be as safe as the purely voluntary system we have now, a position staunchly defended by the Canadian Blood Service, which maintains the blood Canadians voluntarily donate is so thoroughly screened, another tainted blood scandal is highly unlikely. Even though the level of blood screening is more thorough than perhaps 20 years ago, the safety of our blood supply is not the biggest issue. The bigger danger is that the volunteer aspect of our blood supply now has to compete with for-profit companies that pay donors.

The CBS already collects plasma and has seven voluntary donor plasma collection sites, but how long will they last when they have to compete against a private company setting up clinics near universities, luring students who need a few bucks? Adrienne Silnicki with the Canadian Health Coalition told me, “We have evidence that, in Saskatoon, CBS has seen a reduction in donations from their target demographic 17-24 year olds.” In other words, the worry that for-profit clinics will steal blood that volunteers would otherwise donate is justified.

CBS, in a letter to Maclean’s magazine, cited the example of Hungary which has seen its voluntary service drop off after the for-profit plasma organizations set up shop.

Publicly, the CBS has warned Health Canada and provincial governments they shouldn’t be allowing private collection of blood products, yet those requests seem to be falling on deaf ears. This has led groups like the Canadian Health Coalition and BloodWatch to start a campaign to oppose any expansion of for-profit plasma centres. In their press materials, they say our plasma will be sold overseas and once that happens, because of international trade deals, “We will not be able to safeguard and store Canadian plasma for Canadian use even in the event of a blood borne virus which may affect the international plasma supply.”

Adrienne Silnicki reminded me the Canadian Health Coalition’s mandate is to protect and expand public healthcare so they are naturally opposed to these for-profit clinics. The company, however, is blasting ahead. Apparently, they need 10 Canadian clinics to be profitable and are currently proposing a new clinic for Saint John in New Brunswick.

What can the feds do? Well, at the very least, the regulators can, well, regulate. The federal government can revoke the establishment licenses of these clinics and refuse to issue any new ones. But will this happen?

What was so appalling in the Maclean’s article was how “cosy” the relations were between the Canadian Blood Services and Canadian Plasma resources. Adrienne Silnicki called it a “disgusting cosiness,” noting, “We’re obviously very concerned about it.”

CBS immediately sent a letter to Maclean’s slamming the magazine for “fostering panic over unfounded safety concerns.” But why didn’t they slam Health Canada for mismanaging this file? Their response seems to be to just increase the amount of voluntary plasma donations they can get. Seems they have convinced the provincial health ministers to go along with that plan. A health minister meeting in Edmonton in October resulted in a consensus statement stating, “Immediate action is needed to improve and expand domestic plasma collection.” Good luck on that front.

This isn’t good enough for me. If the Canadian Blood Service wants to keep the voluntary blood donation system going, they will have to play hardball with the regulators in Canada and tell them, in no uncertain terms, that the viability of our voluntary blood system is in jeopardy.

Will this happen? Hmm, good question.

We have seen on the pharmaceutical file that Health Canada seems to think its job is to protect companies and not patients, so don’t expect them to crack down anytime soon on the moneylenders. Not unless they get the right pressure. It’s too bad CBS is caught in the middle, trying to be nice. But let’s face it, they’re cowards.

In the meantime, I’ll do without the cookies and the juice while they’ll have to do without my blood.

Alan Cassels is a pharmaceutical policy researcher in Victoria. www.alancassels.com

Copyright in the new TPP: A milestone or a PR move?

photo of Marie Aspiazu

INDEPENDENT MEDIA
by Marie Aspiazu

In early November, citizens watched in suspense as leaders from 11 of the original Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) signatories met in Vietnam at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit. They were there to discuss the future of the controversial trade agreement without the US, which withdrew from the agreement back in January.At first, reports indicated the Canadian Prime Minister didn’t show up, delaying the process. Moments later, it was confirmed the 11 nations had reached an “agreement in principle” on “core elements” of the TPP, now relabelled as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

The news dismayed hundreds of thousands of Canadians who had spoken out against the politically toxic deal for years. This was a clear sign that, once again, the government had ignored the feedback of Canadians before making a major decision, merely using the consultation as a public relations strategy.

However, in a win for digital rights advocates, the Canadian government took a strong stance on the Intellectual Property (IP) chapter, despite strong pressure from other nations to rush the deal through. While it significantly improved the TPP’s original unbalanced copyright rules by suspending the Intellectual Property provision almost in its entirety, the suspended chapters in the new agreement are still subject to discussion and could be reopened, should the US decide to rejoin the deal down the line.

Additionally, as Electronic Frontier Foundation points out, other problematic provisions for Internet users are still pulsating in the deal, like ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement), a provision that allows multinational corporations to sue governments for millions of dollars for laws that simply don’t fit their business interests in unaccountable tribunals.

So it’s still too early for Internet users to throw confetti; the fight isn’t over yet. And despite a significant improvement to the original agreement, this whole process still happened behind closed doors. We cannot let this become the norm for how Canada negotiates future trade agreements and builds its relationships with other nations. If the government is truly committed to “progressive” trade, as they claim, they must embrace open, transparent and democratic processes throughout the entirety of the negotiations.

It will also be interesting to see if the Canadian government takes a similar approach in the renegotiated NAFTA. Hopefully, Canada will show leadership in achieving a balanced copyright approach in the face of extreme proposals by US industry lobbyists and even Canada’s own largest telecom, Bell. The company has proposed to introduce a website blocking system and radical new copyright rules that would criminalize everyday, online activities, resulting in an unprecedented, widespread chilling of free expression.

OpenMedia, Leadnow, Private Internet Access, United Steel Workers, CUPE and CWA Canada are teaming up to do a massive bus ad campaign in Ottawa to remind Prime Minister Trudeau we will not be silenced on the TPP. Citizens can contribute to the initiative at act.openmedia.org/trudeauTPP/donate and follow OpenMedia on Facebook and Twitter for the latest updates.

Marie Aspiazu is a campaigner and social media specialist for OpenMedia, a community-based organization that works to keep the Internet open, affordable and surveillance-free. openmedia.org

Our munching munchkins

photo of Vesanto Melina

NUTRISPEAK
by Vesanto Melina and Claudia Lemay

Like a super-powered magnet, children are often drawn to sugary and non-nutritious foods. However, regular consumption of junk food can lead to health problems, such as chronic illness and poor performance at school and in sports. It can also lead to kids becoming overweight, fostering low self-esteem. Even when they are protected from junk foods as infants, watch a young tot’s eyes light up with the first lick of something sweet.Registered dietitian Claudia Lemay explored this phenomenon with her lively young daughter, Amelie. Every time they went grocery shopping, Claudia would discover candy bars, chips and lollipops in her cart that little Amelie had added with Houdini-like deftness. The result became a children’s book, Stargold the Food Fairy: The Plant-Based Edition. This beautifully illustrated story takes readers on a journey towards healthy eating. It features young Lucie, who is swept into an adventure by Stargold, the food fairy. Together, they reach Growland where Lucie is amazed to find elves building magical houses that represent our human bodies. Each food group, and the nutrients it provides, furnish an essential building material. Only when the proper types of foods are eaten does the house, and thus the human body, grow healthy and strong. With the help of Stargold, Lucie learns to associate choosing nutritious foods with an energetic and healthy body.

Some people may be hesitant about an entirely plant-based diet for children, but based on a solid and vast foundation of scientific evidence, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics gives the following reassurance. “Appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood and for athletes. Plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable than diets rich in animal products because they use fewer natural resources and are associated with much less environmental damage. Vegetarians and vegans are at reduced risk of certain health conditions, including ischemic heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, certain types of cancer and obesity.”

The metaphor that compares house construction to the building of a person’s body helps kids visualize how food choices either positively or negatively impact growth and well-being. This book is a wonderful resource for parents, dietitians and educators. It is backed by science, yet fun and easy to understand. This book and Claudia’s earlier edition, Stargold the Food Fairy (non-vegan) are available at amazon.ca and stargoldthefoodfairy.com Claudia’s writing has earned a Mom’s Choice Award®. Part of the proceeds from the book sales will go to the Malala Fund, which helps promote the access of education to children worldwide. “Good foods build the brain; good books expand it.” (malala.org)

EVENT

DECEMBER 10: Meet author Claudia Lemay (5-7PM) at Vegan Supply, 250 E. Pender in Vancouver. Vesanto Melina will also be present to chat and answer questions. Lemay and Melina’s books will be available for purchase.

Claudia Lemay is a Surrey-based dietitian, author and consultant. www.truehealthnutrition.ca

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian author and consultant. www.nutrispeak.com, www.becomingvegan.ca

Democratic change and climate change

photo of David Suzuki

SCIENCE MATTERS
by David Suzuki

In 1952, my grade 10 civics teacher asked us what we hoped to become as adults. One of the most popular boys answered, “I hope to go into politics.” We were delighted because we knew he wanted to make the world and Canada better and we admired him for it.

Things have changed in half a century. In 1992, my daughter Severn, then 12, created a minor sensation with a speech at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, upbraiding delegates for not protecting the future for children. “You grown-ups say you love us, but please, make your actions reflect your words,” she said.

Back in Canada, CBC Radio host Vicki Gabereau interviewed her. “So, Severn, when are you running for politics?” she asked. My daughter’s answer stunned me: “Oh, is that an insult?” To her generation, running for office was not admired or inspiring. Her response made me realize I was constantly decrying politicians who made grand statements, but failed to follow through. To a child, my complaints indicated that politicians are hypocrites.

Democracy is far from perfect, but it’s better than the alternatives. We must strive to improve. Women were once thought to be incapable of making decisions and were denied the vote. Asian-Canadians and African-Canadians, even those like my parents who were born and raised here, couldn’t vote until 1948. The original peoples of this land didn’t gain the franchise until 1960! Homosexuality was a crime in Canada until 1969. Change can happen in our political and judicial systems, but we have to work for it.

When far fewer than half of us fail to vote in federal, provincial and municipal elections, democracy flies out the window. It should be our civic duty to participate in the democratic process, as it is in Australia where people are required to vote.

I often wonder what’s gone wrong… Often it seems politicians prioritize corporate interests over those of the citizens who elected them. As prime minister, Stephen Harper avoided discussing climate change even though Canada is more vulnerable than most industrialized nations. He pulled us out of the Kyoto Protocol, arguing that reducing greenhouse gas emissions would “destroy the economy.”

Many of us thought things would turn around after Justin Trudeau was elected. He put climate change back on Parliament’s agenda and we rejoiced at Canada’s strong position in Paris shortly after. Two years later, we have to ask, “What happened?” To meet the Paris target, science shows we have to leave most known fossil fuel deposits in the ground. That means no more exploration for new sources, a halt to fossil fuel industry subsidies, no new pipelines and winding down fracking and deep-sea extraction.

We must also subsidize renewable energy expansion and seek methods to store energy, reforest large tracts of land and outlaw disposable products.

Each of us has a responsibility to change the way we live to minimize our carbon footprint, but we need the folks we elect to step up and restore our confidence. The window of opportunity to avoid climate chaos is narrow. We have to use our civic responsibility and tell elected representatives that Canada must honour its commitments. The Paris Agreement is one of the most important we’ve ever made.

Excertped from Corporate influence inflames political cynicism. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Be the change you want to see in the world

photo of Gwen Randall-Young

UNIVERSE WITHIN
by Gwen Randall-Young

The title above is a quote that is often mis-attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. But it is only a paraphrased, shorthand version of his actual quote and, as such, it gets his message across. But there is much more to understand about this concept.Here is his actual quote: “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”

If we choose to be the change we want to see in the world, what would that look like? It would mean that we focus on our own thoughts, beliefs and behaviours rather than on what others are doing. We would stop judging others and instead of complaining about others, we would practice self-reflection. We would realize the only thing in the world over which we have any control is ourselves.

Gandhi goes on to say that changing our nature is the source of our happiness. This is powerful because most have a codependent relationship with the events in their world. Codependency is a psychological term, which means excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner.

I have co-opted the term and used it to define the ego’s dependency on things happening according to what it wants and being unhappy when it does not.

So, when everything works out the way we want it to, we are happy. If not, we may feel shortchanged by the world, victimized and even depressed. When our plan does not work, ego goes into a place of criticism, judgement and blaming others for our state of mind.

Ironically, it is a version of “what you see is what you get.” If we view the world and our lives negatively, our experiences will be negative. If we focus on our own growth and development and become the opposite of all we dislike in the world, we produce our own happiness and equanimity. Equanimity is defined as “mental calmness, composure and evenness of temper, especially in difficult situations.”

It is our own polarized thinking, judgement and reactiveness that makes equanimity impossible. It is not others who stir our internal pot; rather, it is our ego reactions. Ego takes everything personally and sees things only from its own perspective.

We have political systems that are based on criticism. And more often than not, it is the individual who is criticized, not just their policy. Politics is the outside manifestation of ego qualities writ large. However, you can go into any office, classroom or neighbourhood and see the same thing. It is also present in personal relationships. Hence, the world is mirroring the ego dynamics of individuals.

If we, as individuals, change our inner dynamics, we may well see that same change manifesting in the world. That is what Gandhi was saying and this is the only way to create real change.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. To read more articles or to order books, “Deep Powerful Change” hypnosis MP3s or MP3s for Creating Effective Relationships, visit www.gwen.ca or check out her Facebook inspirational page.