Charging ahead with car sharing

modo Rav4 hybrid

Photo: Modo CEO Patrick Nangle at the wheel of a Rav4 hybrid. Image courtesy Modo.

Vancouver leads North America with about 3,000 shared vehicles. Now, if it could just electrify the fleet.

by Robert Alstead

Maybe we should have marked it on the calendar? Ten years ago: our personal car-free anniversary. The day we broke free from hefty insurance premiums, maintenance costs and parking fees. Free from the temptation to reach for the car keys when a bike would do. Free to use the precious space that had been liberated in our garage. Free from the responsibility – ecological and economic – that goes along with owning a car.

But then it never really felt like a clean break from motordom. We may have given up our worn-out 1991 Mazda 626, but after putting down $750 for joint membership in car share co-operative Modo, we, along with several thousand others, became owners of a whole fleet of vehicles.

Transportation in this city and province still revolves around cars. As our family has grown over the years from two to three to four, there’s always been the temptation to buy our own.

That we’ve remained car sharers this long is largely down to Vancouver’s increasing cycle friendliness, as well as reasonably good, albeit strained, transit system. Paying as we go with Modo has served us well when combined with our bikealot lifestyles, and the list of other options for those times when we need four wheels has just kept growing: Zipcar, car2go and Evo. Peer to peer Turo (“Airbnb for cars”) recently launched in BC and there’s even a hybrid bike/electric vehicle (EV) share, Veemo, being piloted at UBC. Actually, Veemos are three-wheels, but you get the picture.

Gearing up

When, a decade ago, we joined Modo, or the Co-operative Auto Network as it was known before its brand makeover in 2011, we booked a car over the phone and then retrieved the car key from a secure box at the back of the car. There were slips of paper to fill in with miles driven and gas bought at the beginning and end of every trip. Now, you can book by app, web or phone, in increments of 15 minutes. Trip logging is automated and you key in and out with an electronic, key ring fob. There’s a good variety of vehicles. We now have a 2017 Hyundai Elantra on our block where, until recently, the nearest family sedan was based a five-minute bike ride away. When elderly relatives visit, there’s various minivan options and a pick-up truck down the road is my go-to for lugging furniture. If we don’t drive during the month, we don’t pay anything.

Modo started life 20 years ago as an SFU thesis project with two cars and 16 people in Vancouver’s West End. Today, it has over 50 different vehicle models in a 600-strong fleet spread across Metro Vancouver, in Greater Victoria, Saanich and Nanaimo. The Co-op’s 18,000 members can book anything from an eight-seater Kia Sedona mini van in Fairfield, Victoria, to a 2017 Toyota Prius V at Vancouver City Hall, a 2015 orange Scion coupe at Lafarge Lake-Douglas SkyTrain in Coquitlam or a Nissan frontier truck outside Surrey City Hall.

It’s not perfect. Don’t try last-minute booking that seven-person mini van at long weekends. Plus, the two-way carshare model, exemplified by Modo and its counterpart Zipcar, where you have to return the car back to its home location at your pre-chosen time, can seem inflexible.

Modo’s fees have also been creeping up; in the last year, they went from $4 an hour and $0.40 per kilometre to $5 an hour and $0.25 for Modo Plus (i.e. shareholding) members.

“A price change is a pretty soul searching exercise here,” says Patrick Nangle, former CEO of Purolator who, as new Modo CEO, brought in new rates in August. “It’s the last thing ever we want to do because of our value proposition. Affordability is top of the list.”

Nangle defends the new pricing structure as necessary to cover basic operating costs, for better quality cars and better maintenance of vehicles so they’re not scratched and dented. They’re also cleaned more often.

Certainly, for occasional drivers like us, carsharing still means thousands of dollars a year saved over solo ownership, while enjoying the benefits of a diverse and regularly updated fleet of vehicles. There’s also those carsharing perks: being able to park in resident-only spaces, not having to worry about insurance and gas or changing the winter tires. It’s covered.

What’s more, Modo’s day rates, up to 250 km over 24 hours for $80, with taxes included, are hard to beat and the winter season overnight rates, from 7pm to 9am of $12.50 plus $0.25 per km, are a gift for night owls.

“We are a co-operative. We are owned by the members. It is sharing in the truest sense of the word,” says Nangle, in his small office in a tower opposite the Waterfront Skytrain station on Granville Street. “So we run the business just to break even and a little bit more than that. We’re not trying to make a big profit.”

Nangle is keen to press home Modo is not always the best option. He welcomes new entrants on Vancouver’s carsharing scene, seeing them as “complementary” rather than competition, and stresses that sustainability is part of the bottom line. While his wife needs the family Volvo to get to work, Nangle himself buses and bikes to work when he can. “We advocate very strongly in Modo to walk, ride your bike, use the bus first. If you need to use a car, use a shared car. But don’t take a car as your default choice to go three blocks to buy some milk.”

Are you going one way?

evo car share
Robert Alstead phot

Sometimes you don’t want to return a car to its original starting point as with the Modo two-way model. “Floating” or “one-way” car shares car2go and Evo, which launched in Vancouver in 2011 and 2015, have gone some way to filling the gaps, particularly as they grow their Vancouver fleets and expand the geo-fenced “home” areas in which their cars operate. The one-way carshare model is ideal for urban trips: going to a restaurant, cinema or ball game. You can book any free car via an app, drive to your destination and walk away.

Vancouver has the largest member base of the 11 North American locations that Daimler-owned car2go operates in, says Tim Krebs, the company’s communications manager. There are 137,000 Vancouver members.

Unlike Modo, with its diverse fleet, car2go’s 1,100 vehicles are a few select models: the familiar Smart cars, as well as more roomier Mercedes-Benz CLA and GLA models.

The car2go home area spans most of Vancouver and North Vancouver, with satellite parking at UBC, BCIT and the Pacific Gateway hotel for airport access. You can go outside the home area, but you must return back home to end your trip.

With BCAA-owned Evo, it’s been a similar story of rapid expansion. “We’ve grown the fleet from 250 to 1,250 in just a short two and a half years,“ says director Tai Silvey. As well as Vancouver, Evo is in New Westminster (since May), North Vancouver and university campuses like UBC, SFU and BCIT. It has satellite parking also at Grouse Mountain and the airport.

Evo’s fleet is 100% comprised of Toyota’s hybrid subcompact, the Prius C, a roomy hatchback that can fit five people and bikes or skis on the roof rack.

You can start an Evo trip using the app or, unlike with car2go, a dedicated keycard, with reservations possible up to half an hour beforehand. Customer support is good and a simple, but useful, feature is the Evo button on the dash to make hands-free calls to customer support.

Which one to join? A lot of people join both as membership fees are negligible and it gives you more driving options. Both companies also have promotions where they waive the sign-up fee and offer free minutes.

From carshare to EV share

car to go car share
Robert Alstead photo

In recent months, a succession of countries have announced they are going to ban conventional fuel combustion engine (ICE) cars, including China, India, the UK, Norway and France. Some cities will call time on gas-fuelled cars even sooner than national governments: Paris is going free from noxious car emissions by 2030, Oslo is turning roads into bike lanes for its 2019 ban and Oxford will phase in its ban, even on road gritters and garbage trucks, between 2020 and 2035.

GM is going all-in on EVs, Shell is buying up charging stations by the tens of thousands, and a rebranded Toyota doesn’t want us to call it a car manufacturer anymore; it’s a “human movement company” now.

Canada may still be pushing dilbit pipelines and its consumers buying bigger vehicles, but it is pricing carbon. At the provincial level, the BC government’s decision to remove bridge tolls may be exacerbating traffic congestion, but some form of mobility pricing is expected to replace it. “Greenest city” Vancouver has joined Paris and 10 other cities in pledging to de-carbonize the “major areas” of their cities.

The trend is clear

Around a quarter of BC’s greenhouse gas emissions are from road transport. Car share operators, who have a frequent turnover of vehicles in their fleets, would seem well-placed to take a chunk out of that. Not everyone can afford to buy a new EV. They probably can afford to share one.

However, there are only three all-electric carshare vehicles in Vancouver: Modo’s 2 Nissan Leafs and a Prius PHEV.

What’s holding us back? Lack of charging stations is the response from all of the car share operators I talked to. “I know the city of Vancouver is taking steps towards increasing their infrastructure, but there’s a long way to go,” says Evo’s Tai Silvey. “We’re very focussed on creating the greenest fleet possible,” he says, adding, “The first step to that in our opinion is hybrid and that’s why we have a fully hybrid fleet.”

Patrick Nangle says Modo has been gathering data on the duty cycle of 40 Modo gas vehicles to build a business case with Fraser Basin Council and West Coast Electric Fleets for evolving its fleet more quickly toward EVs. Currently, 20% of Modo’s fleet is hybrid or electric. “There is some subsidy from provincial government, but it’s still more expensive. We don’t believe people will pay more. So how do we make sure that we get the right level of utilization, the right economics on the car. We want to introduce more. We think it’s the right thing to do,” says Nangle.

Car2go already has exclusively EV fleets in Stuttgart, Amsterdam and Madrid with 1,400 vehicles in total. Yet the company retired its electric Fortwo Smart cars in EV-friendly Portland because the long charges meant the cars were out of rotation for too long. Last year, car2go switched its all-EV fleet in San Diego to gas after a major charging station provider went bankrupt. Parent company Mercedes Benz will be phasing out gasoline Smart cars for electric only, so the trademark tiny car will gradually be replaced in North American car2go fleets by the larger Mercedes GLA and CLA vehicles.

Vancouver has around 250 public, level 2 charging stations and, importantly, as far as hardworking shared cars are concerned, only one DC fast charging station, which the City of Vancouver runs in conjunction with BC Hydro at Empire Fields. Fast charging stations allow for top-ups that take minutes rather than hours, but cost much more to install. BC Hydro has set up 30 fast charging stations across the province since its launch in 2012, with around 27 more being planned as part of “Phase 2” of the fast charge network rollout.

By comparison, Amsterdam, which saw the launch in October of another free-floating, all-electric car share with 100 Hyundai IONIQ EVs, has 2,200 public charging stations with more fast chargers about to go into gas station forecourts.

City of Vancouver climate policy analyst Ian Neville says that Europe’s 220 volt electrical standard versus North America’s 120 volt system makes them a “little more advantaged.” Amsterdam’s municipal government also has more control over land use, which helps when it comes to putting in kerbside charging stations. But Vancouver can learn from Amsterdam’s experience.

“Part of it is it’s hard to predict right now,” says Neville. “We know with autonomous and shared, together that’s going to have a very different impact, but it’s a hard thing to plan infrastructure.”

BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver has been calling on the provincial government to make it easier for industry to install charging stations and sell electricity. At the moment, businesses must register as a utility to resell electricity or give it away for free as Tesla has done for Tesla owners with its 10 BC Superchargers. “BC Hydro is the single biggest barrier to the introduction of electric vehicles in the province,” says Weaver.

Self-driving, wirelessly charging, shared pods may become common on city streets in the 2020s, but Vancouver’s immediate focus is on fast-charging public stations as well as steadily adding residential charging in new buildings. By 2020, the City expects to have deployed eight to 10 EHubs, which will have DC Fast Charging units plus Level 2 stations for charging over longer periods.

Given what we know about their impact on our climate and health, it’s clear that gasoline vehicles have outstayed their welcome in our cities. We are on the cusp of a huge transition in mobility.

Nangle points out that Metro Vancouver expects 700,000 people over the next 20 years. “At current ratios, they will bring almost half a million cars. So you’ve got this tidal wave of cars coming. So 3,000 shared cars today. I would be happy if it was 10,000. And it won’t be just Modo. It will have to be a combination of different kinds of business models to serve different kinds of needs. And better transit system, and better bike lanes, and, and, and…”

Please see March Common Ground for part two.

Robert Alstead covers transport, technology and climate change at

BC Hydro – until debt do us part

dark cloud of debt

by Reimar Kroecher and Eoin Finn

For most of its existence, BC Hydro, a publicly owned utility company, operated on a non-profit basis. Enough revenue was collected to cover costs and its customers benefitted from low rates. If there were any profits, they were reinvested into BC Hydro.

Sometime shortly before Gordon Campell’s Liberals swept into power in 2001, the NDP government had a change of mind and decided to demand a $300-million dividend from BC Hydro. Although criticizing the NDP for this while in opposition, the Liberals collected $5.8 billion in dividends during their stay in power. The Campbell government also dictated that all new power was to be purchased from private producers (IPPs) at rates far above the rates at which BC Hydro could produce it! That squeezed BC Hydro’s finances from two sides: high dividend payments to government and expensive power to be purchased from IPPs.

The obvious way out was to increase electricity rates substantially, but the BC Utility Commission, on orders from the provincial government, approved only modest increases. The members of the commission are government appointees, puppets in the eyes of many researchers. A second way out was to go into debt by selling more BC Hydro bonds. That was also disallowed because as BC Hydro’s debt increases, the triple A rating for all provincial debt could be lost and interest rates might rise as much as one and one-half percent. To get out of this dilemma, BC Hydro decided to introduce “Deferred Expenses” – treating expenses as if they are assets – in its accounts. The easiest way to understand this accounting concept is to look at the example of a house:

Mr. B owns a house and sublets it to Mr. H who rents it out to a large number of Mr. B’s friends. Mr. B does not want any return, so the rents are kept low enough to cover costs and there is no profit for Mr. B. He is happy and his friends like him.

The house is worth $100,000. The mortgage (debt on the house) is $80,000 so Mr. B’s equity is $20,000 ($100,000 minus $80,000) The ratio of debt divided by equity is four to one. The yearly income from the house is $30,000, exactly equal to the yearly expenses.

Now Mr. B has a change of heart and wants a dividend of $4,000 while at the same time the expenses on the house go up to $34,000. “Well,” says Mr. H, “we will increase the rent to collect $38,000 per year and Mr. B will get his $4,000 dividend and I will get $4,000 to cover the extra expenses.” “No,” says Mr. B, “my friends would be unhappy and would not like me anymore.” “Well,” says Mr. H, “we will borrow the money by increasing the mortgage by $8,000.” “No says Mr. B, “the bank would think I am a bad credit risk. My debt to equity ratio is four to one now and it would go higher than four to one;” 88,000 divided by 20,000, which is 4.4.

However, Mr. H has a plan: “We will ditch the internationally accepted accounting standards (IFRS), which don’t allow “Deferred Expenses” and instead use the more permissive American Accounting standards (FASB) which do allow such deferrals.” So here is what they do: they take $10,000 of the expenses and treat them as an investment in the house. They might take the gardening expense and maybe some pressure washing and gutter cleaning and claim that these are really not an expense this year, but improve the value of the house by that much. They also borrow $8,000 from the bank, by increasing the mortgage.

Now the house is worth $110,000, the debt (mortgage) is $88,000, the equity is $22,000 and the debt to equity ratio is four to one; $88,000 divided by $22,000. Clearly, Mr. B’s friends are happy because the rent has not increased. Mr. B is happy because he gets his $4,000 dividend while his debt to equity ratio has not increased. He maintains his AAA credit rating. Mr. H is happy because he can cover the extra expense of $4,000.

Both Mr. B’s dividend of $4,000 and the extra expenses of $4,000 were paid for by increases in the debt, yet the debt to equity ratio did not increase.

In this example Mr. B is the BC government, Mr. H is BC Hydro and Mr. B’s friends are the ratepayers. The house is equivalent to the various assets of BC Hydro. So we see that the dividends the province collected were paid by increases in BC Hydro’s debt. The same applied to its rising expenses. In fact, during the last 10 years, BC Hydro debt went up by some $10 billion, even though no new generating facilities were built. At the same time, using “Deferred Expenses,” the ratio of debt to equity did not go up so the government could continue to claim its annual dividend.

FASB, the American accounting standard, has two conditions: a) Deferred Expenses must be approved by an independent regulator, and b) they may not be deferred longer than 10 years. On government orders, BC Hydro blissfully ignored both of these. Deferred Expenses is an accounting trick that can mask the financial difficulty a company faces. However, it is not the only accounting trick concocted by the previous Liberal government. When BC Hydro requested rate increases of 9% and was only allowed 3%, it was instructed to show in its books what it requested, not what it actually received. So the books show 6% fictitious revenue that was never received!

It should be obvious that, when a company pays both for dividends and rising expenses by increasing its debt, and on top of that creates fictitious revenue it never received, year after year, that company is on a fast track to financial ruin. In BC Hydro’s case, that ruin could be prevented by the following policies:

  • No more dividends to the province for quite a few years.
  • Realistic electricity rate increases that cover expense increases.
  • An end to “cooking” the books and a switch back to internationally-accepted accounting standards. The books of BC Hydro right now are worthy of consideration for the Governor General’s award for fiction.
  • Replacing the current BC Hydro Board of political appointees with a new board of experts, whose mission should be to nurture BC Hydro back to financial health and to manage it in the best interests of ratepayers, not government. This new board must stop political meddling.
  • Cancel Site C.

If it continues on this course, financial insolvency is a near-certainty for BC Hydro, whose financial health will not be improved by borrowing at least another $9 Billion to complete Site C. Spread over the expected 70-year life of the dam, it will have to pay over $20 billion in interest payments on that debt. It must also pay back the borrowed $11 billion and pay the operational and maintenance costs totalling over $9 billion more. All totalled, the revenue from 70 years of power sales must cover at least $41 billion of these costs, excluding dividends to governments. To break even on that investment, it must sell all of Site C’s 5 terawatt-hours of energy at around $120 per megawatt-hour, 50% higher than today’s average consumer rate. But all indications are that there will be no domestic demand at all for this massive amount of extra power and the only option will be to export it at bargain basement prices.

The trifecta of sticky problems with this are that BC’s consumer demand has been decreasing as power rates rise, Alberta’s rates are now far lower than BC’s and wholesale power prices in the US have dipped below $30. If 100% of Site C’s power is to be exported at those prices, losses on the project could well balloon to over $23 billion, or $11,500 out of the pocket of every BC ratepayer. And that’s assuming borrowing rates stay below 4% for the entire 70-year period. Site C is indeed a very large gamble.

As a result of rapidly rising debt with no corresponding increases in real assets, equity will go negative. As that point, BC Hydro will be near-worthless and big, private-sector corporations will pounce and buy it for a pittance. Like vultures in a tree, eying a sick animal, they have been licking their chops for years to get their hands on North America’s best hydro facilities. Once privatized, rates will be set by demand and supply. There will be no publicly-minded utility commission. And the people of the province will have lost one of their best assets and control of our electricity rates.

Eoin Finn is a 40-year Vancouverite, a retired KPMG Management Consulting partner and a contributor to BCUC’s recent Site C review. He holds a Ph.D in Physical Chemistry and an MBA in International Business. Reimar Kroecher, MA in Economics, taught Economics at Langara College for 30 years. He is currently retired and lives in North Vancouver. For more information:

photo montage by Tom Voydh

Dave Barrett: when true socialism shaped BC and made it more beautiful

Dave Barrett

by Bruce mason

Dave Barrett’s recent death has inevitably brought to mind the first-ever NDP Premier’s legacy of brilliant public policies, which helped make BC a better place for everyone, every day, including you and me.

However, today, at least two of his signature policies are threatened. Public auto insurance, ICBC, is wrecked and a write-off. And the Agricultural Land Reserve, designed to protect farmland, is being diminished with the largest-ever removal of farmland by flooding the Peace River Valley for Site C.

In three short years (1972-1975), the Barrett government passed 350+ bills, an average of one every three days.

Barrett and his caucus created the BC Day holiday, Pharmacare and citizens’ right to sue government. They forced politicians to reveal donors, launched a daily question period and were the first to record and publish legislative debate in Hansard (the traditional name for transcripts of parliamentary debates in the British Commonwealth).

They dramatically expanded parkland and halted mining in them, banned pay toilets, put a stop to spanking in schools and jailing 12-year-olds, lowered the drinking age to 19 and enabled neighbourhood pubs. In Vancouver alone, we have the Seabus program, the preserved Orpheum Theatre and Robson Square.

And Barrett accomplished so much more: North America’s strongest labour code, consumer protections, human rights legislation, increased pensions for the elderly, increased support for the disabled, assistance for tenants, higher welfare rates and implementing the highest minimum wage in Canada.

Ninety-seven legacies are listed in The Art of the Impossible: Dave Barrett and the NDP in Power, 1972-1975, by Rod Mickleburgh and Geoff Meggs, who is now NDP chief of staff in the current minority government. In many ways, Barrett was 40 years ahead of his time and, hopefully, we’re now catching up. “None of the things we did, not one, was radical. Not one. And in the light of history that’s even more evident,” Barrett explained.

Dave Barrett was the youngest child of Isadore, a communist, and Sam, a twice-wounded Great War veteran who was gassed at Passchendaele and limped behind a horse-drawn fruit wagon before opening a fruit market on Powell Street in Vancouver. He was also the first Jewish born – albeit educated at Jesuit universities in Seattle and St. Louis – and the first socialist to hold BC’s top elected position. A champion of the little guy, he was an MLA for a quarter-century, an MP for five years and later headed two inquiries into the leaky condo fiasco.

Referred to as “little fat guy” by the press gallery, he self-deprecatingly nicknamed himself “Fat Li’l Dave,” laughingly, saying, “They’ve called me a Marxist. I say, ‘Which one? Groucho, Chico or Harpo?’”

He took off his shoes to jump on the table at a first cabinet meeting, shouting, “Are you here for a good time or a long time?” Revolutionary, compared to the cautious, current NDP, which stresses “affordability “ and “’administration over activism.” In contrast, Barrett bristled at an economic system even he never imagined would cause today’s obscene inequity. Redistributing wealth more equally, rather than consantly growing economy on our finite planet, was his life’s work, which he acted on rather than endlessly study.

Worth recalling is his first trip to Ottawa when Barrett told then-prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, “I didn’t come here to B.S.” A far cry from today’s contrived, polite federal-provincial relationship. Also worth remembering: in 1983 when he was forcibly dragged out of the legislature at 4:30 am for refusing to withdraw a challenge to a Social Credit restraint and austerity program. A first in the 112-year history of the chamber, characterized even now by whipped back-benchers and spineless cabinet members on short leashes.

“In my political career I’ve always been blunt, very blunt. As a consequence, either people love me or they hate me. There’s not much middle ground. That’s really how I operate,” Barrett recalled.

I remember late August in 1972: Watergate, the Arab oil embargo, rampant inflation and reactionary right-wing politics. When TV took over, it was the toy department of journalism. Dave Barrett’s landslide victory was on the tube, everywhere, including a pub where I witnessed folks buying rounds, passing joints and hugging complete strangers, well past closing time.

A few months later, on the evening of the long-awaited day when live music was finally allowed in bars, my band was hired to play music. A few measures into the first song, the bar emptied as people lined up at pay-phones to call friends and family. It was a joyous time, much like the NDP functions I later played at and the live, paid gigs on BC Ferries.

Imagine that. I mention culture because it too matters. And Dave Barrett, deeply rooted in NDP principles, was music to our ears. His honesty, bold vision, unapologetic action and passion gave us the hope and justice we now urgently need to hear and see from BC’s legislature as we run out of time in 2018.

From revolving door to revolution in the patch: an interview with Kevin Taft

by Jeremy Appel

Why are ostensibly environmentally friendly governments, like the federal Liberals and Alberta NDP, still so attached to oil sands extraction, with its disproportionate impact on carbon emissions? Former Alberta Liberal leader Kevin Taft has an answer in his recent book, Oil’s Deep State (Lorimer, September 2017), and it’s one that many Canadians and Albertans will find unsettling.

Oil's Deep StateTaft argues that the oil and gas industry has developed a stranglehold over federal and provincial governments, as well as large swaths of academia and the media, corroding Canadians’ ability to meaningfully address the threat of climate change. I spoke with Taft about his analysis, how we got to this point and what the future holds for oil’s deep state.

Jeremy Appel: When we hear about the deep state it’s usually a reference to the power elite running the show in Washington, DC, despite Trump’s alleged goal to “drain the swamp” of corporate influence. What do you mean by the term in your book?

Kevin Taft: When I finished the manuscript, the term “deep state” hadn’t hit the popular agenda very much yet. In fact, it was a concern of mine and the publisher’s that the term wouldn’t really resonate with people.

It’s a term that goes back to the 1970s and has been used commonly in Europe, Turkey, the United States and Canada. What’s happened in the US since the Trump election is that the far-right has grabbed and torqued the term “deep state” for their own purposes and that’s what happens with political language, unfortunately.

I tried to bring some theory to the idea of a deep state by connecting it to the notion of capture. There’s a long history of literature studying how democratic institutions get captured by private interests. The question I had is what happens when a whole series of democratic institutions are captured and held by the same private interests?

What happens when the governing party, the opposition party, the regulators, the civil service, universities, for example, are all captured and held by the same private interest? I argue at that point you have a state within a state, which I call a deep state.

JA: How did the non-renewable energy industry get so powerful in Canada in general, and in Alberta in particular?

KT: It was a very slow process in Alberta. The oil industry here has been active for 100 years and gradually built strength. A key variable for Alberta is that we have a comparatively small population, so all of Alberta together has less people than metropolitan Phoenix or Seattle and we own the third largest oil reserves on the planet. This little population of Albertans owns more oil than all of Russia or all of the United States.

It’s an overwhelmingly large resource for such a small population. As that resource is being developed, especially the oil sands, the economic weight of that has bent our democratic society into a warped shape. It gives immense power to the private interests who have managed to gain control of that resource.

It’s very difficult for a government to manage a resource as large as the oil sands without losing control of the resource. I think that the only country who’s done that really effectively is Norway. We had a chance. In his first term or two, Peter Lougheed actually stood up and waged a struggle with the oil industry. He wrestled a lot of control away from the industry and into the hands of the people who actually own the resource, which is the government and people of Alberta.

Those successes of the early Lougheed years began to decline in the later 1980s and Ralph Klein’s election in 1992 led to a compete abdication of control of our oil resources, turning it over to the private sector. We’re going to pay a price for that.

JA: What happened in the intervening years, from Lougheed’s battle with the industry to Klein’s subservience to it?

KT: There was a broad shift in the social-democratic discourse through the 1980s. You had the rise, generally in the English-speaking world, of the right. You had Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the US, as well as the Chicago school of economics, who became champions of markets and the private sector.

That was combined with a slowing in Alberta’s economy in the later 1980s and then a very deliberate and successful attempt, starting in the very late ‘80s and through the 1990s, by people in the industry, to take command of the Alberta government. You had, for example, a whole series of energy and finance and other cabinet ministers coming from the oil industry, spending a couple of terms in cabinet and then going back to the industry. It’s no surprise that those people took the royalty and regulatory systems and turned them to the benefit of the industry.

JA: How did your personal experience in Alberta politics inform your analysis?

KT: My experience had a profound shaping of my view. When I left politics [in 2012], I really left it completely. It was a couple of years after I left that I was invited by a university in Australia to give some serious thought to the relationship between fossil fuels and democracy.

As I began reading, thinking and studying the theory, I realized that everywhere I looked, when I was in office, the oil industry was right there. Whether they were lobbying me or when I walked over to the legislature, they’d be lobbying the government, financing the political parties, funding the universities. Everywhere I turned, there would be the oil industry. When you’re in the middle of it, that just seems normal. But after a couple of years away and doing more serious thinking, I realized it was the oil industry that was running Alberta, not the people of Alberta.

We have to remember the interests of the oil industry are not the same as the interests of the people of Alberta. That’s something Peter Lougheed said over and over again. The people of Alberta have to think like owners and we stopped doing that in the early 1990s. We’ve given up one of the most valuable resources on the planet.

JA: More recently, Ed Stelmach attempted to raise royalty rates and the industry responded by shifting its financial support from his PC party to the upstart Wildrose. What does this tell us about the machinations of oil’s deep state?

KT: Behind the scenes, there’s a very well-orchestrated campaign by the oil industry to control the public agenda. The backstory to the rise of the Wildrose party is part of that.

I spend the first two chapters of the book talking about oil lobbyist and former Stephen Harper adviser Bruce Carson’s court case in Ottawa. All the documents, emails, bank statements and minutes tabled lay bare some of the behind-the-scenes efforts and millions of dollars spent by the oil industry to get a grip on the civil service, Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada, the political system, through cabinet ministers and prime ministers, top civil servants, the universities and provincial governments.

Of course, the public would never have a clue that that happened if a court case hadn’t allowed the police to actually seize these documents and computers and present the evidence in court. When I read through all those filings, it’s just stunning to see how systematically the oil industry works to orchestrate the public agenda, whether it’s pipelines, approval of oilsands expansion, undermining environmental initiatives.

This is not random chance. You can trace this back to a core, which is the command centre of the oil deep state in Canada: the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

JA: What’s the way out of this situation?

KT: Change in Alberta is going to be forced from outside. That change is going to come in a few forms. One is that a very rapid shift in energy technology is going to unfold in the next decade. It takes away a good part of the market for Alberta oil, which will unfortunately bring Alberta’s economy to its knees, creating a political crisis in this province.

Another way out is the kind of citizen actions that we’re seeing across the country and around the world: the actions of First Nations, court actions challenging the pipelines and escalating civil disobedience.

Frankly, a form of energy revolution is coming that will put the end to the oil industry, but that’s not going to be clean and tidy. It’s going to be a long and messy process.

Originally published in The Monitor, (Jan 2, 2018). Reprinted with permission. Jeremy Appel is a multimedia journalist and currently a reporter/editor with the Medicine Hat News. Kevin Taft is a best-selling author, consultant, speaker and former provincial politician in Alberta, Canada. His latest book is Oil’s Deep State.

Science betrayed: the crime of denial

by Elizabeth Woodworth and Dr. Peter Carter

Climate change denial has been led by industry disinformation, which, according to Merriam-Webster, is “false information deliberately and often covertly spread in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth.”

A crime against humanity is, according to the Oxford Dictionary, “a deliberate act, typically as part of a systematic campaign that causes human suffering or death on a large scale.”

A brief look at the origins of denialism

unprecedented crime book coverIn 2010, a landmark book, Merchants of Doubt, showed how a small group of prominent scientists with connections to politics and industry led disinformation campaigns denying established scientific knowledge about smoking, acid rain, DDT, the ozone layer and global warming.

Written by Dr. Naomi Oreskes, Harvard science historian, and NASA historian Erik Conway, Merchants was reviewed by Bill Buchanan of The Christian Science Monitor as “the most important book of 2010” and by The Guardian’s Robin McKie as “the best science book of the year.” It was followed by the 2014 documentary of the same name, also widely seen and reviewed.

The research showed how the disinformation tactics of the tobacco companies in the 1960s to undermine the scientific link between smoking and lung cancer served as a model for subsequent oil company tactics suppressing climate change science.

Following the U.S. Surgeon General’s landmark report on smoking and lung cancer in 1964, the government legislated warning labels on cigarette packages. But a tobacco company executive from Brown & Williamson had a brainwave: people still wanted to smoke and doubt about the science would give them a ready excuse.

His infamous 1969 memo read: “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”

Tobacco industry executives never directly denied the mounting evidence that cigarettes were linked to lung cancer. Instead, they stated publicly that the science was controversial. In this way they managed to delay regulation and lawsuits until the 1990s.

When the global warming science began to emerge in the 1980s, the oil industry employed the same deceptions. The whole focus was now on creating doubt in the minds of the politicians, the media and the public about whether we really know for sure that climate change is a problem. Doubt, as the tobacco industry had learned so profitably, delays action.

When the IPCC was formed in 1988 and began documenting and publicizing the impacts of climate change, the climate disinformation campaign grew more intense. Big Oil employed the same tactics, arguments, vocabulary and PR firms that the tobacco companies had used to cast doubt on the dangers of smoking 25 years earlier.

The American Petroleum Institute convened a Global Climate Science Communications Team in 1998 to devise a plan targeting the media, schools, government officials, Congress and other influential groups.

The team’s mission, exposed in a leaked 1998 memo, was to initiate “a national media relations programme to inform the media about uncertainties in climate science; to generate national, regional and local media on the scientific uncertainties and thereby educate and inform the public, stimulating them to raise questions with policymakers.” They said victory would be achieved when:

  • Average citizens understand (recognize) uncertainties in climate science; recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the “conventional wisdom.”
  • Media “understands” (recognizes) uncertainties in climate science.
  • Media coverage reflects balance on climate science and recognition of the validity of viewpoints that challenge the current “conventional wisdom.”
  • Industry senior leadership understands uncertainties in climate science, making them stronger ambassadors to those who shape climate policy.
  • Those promoting the Kyoto treaty on the basis of extent science appears [sic] to be out of touch with reality.

A 2009-2014 study shows that climate change deniers promoting these uncertainties were prominently featured on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Fox Business, ABC, CBS, and PBS in a striking number of TV appearances – indeed three years after the publication of Merchants of Doubt. These deniers included the non-climate scientists:

  • Marc Morano (Bachelor PoliSci) from Climate Depot, 30 TV appearances.
  • Tim Phillips (Bachelor PoliSci) from Americans for Prosperity, 7 appearances.
  • Fred Singer (physicist) from the Science and Environmental Policy Project, 8 appearances.
  • James Taylor (lawyer), from the Heartland Institute, 8 appearances.

Although these men lack credentials in climate science and have been widely exposed as imposters, the major cable TV and networks still give them credibility on their free media platforms.

The corporate media has thus given a relatively small group of science deniers with financial connections to the fossil fuel industry immense influence in sowing doubt on the scientific consensus of human-made climate change.

Climate denial propaganda & influence continue to rise

In 2016, the Union of Concerned Scientists reported that “an in-depth analysis of eight leading fossil fuel companies finds that none of them has made a clean break from disinformation on climate science and policy.” The companies included were ArchCoal, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Consol Energy, ExxonMobil, Peabody and Shell. The industry has responded to the spotlight by intensifying propaganda through the agents below.

The Heartland Institute: In March 2017, the Heartland Institute began targeting the nation’s 200,000 science teachers by mailing each a copy of its new book and DVD, Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming. The slick package stated that, even if climate change were real, “it would probably not be harmful, because many areas of the world would benefit from or adjust to climate change.”

The Koch Brothers: The multibillionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch are two of the most powerful people in the global oil industry, owning Koch Industries, a $100-billion conglomerate employing 100,000 people in 60 countries. They control 1-2 million acres of Alberta’s tar sands. The Kochs, bigger than either of the Democratic or Republican parties, manipulate both. A major focus of Koch money has been to ensure that no legislation is passed to curb the burning of fossil fuels. The brothers have gained pledges from 170 members of Congress that they will never support a tax on carbon. While attacking legitimate climate scientists, the Kochs were funding prominent pseudo-climate-scientists.

ExxonMobil: In 2015, we learned from its own research that Exxon has known since 1980 that global warming is real. Kert Davies, former research Director of Greenpeace USA, revealed through that, meanwhile, ExxonMobil’s climate change denial funding totaled at least $33 million during the period 1997-2016. “At least $33 million” because much of the funding has been channeled through dark identity scrubbing groups such as Donors Trust and Donors Capital.

Secret funding by coal companies: In April 2017, Peabody Energy, the country’s largest investor-owned coal company, declared bankruptcy, following Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources. In all three cases, court-ordered disclosures revealed creditors well known as climate science deniers. These included Chris Horner, who regularly disparages climate science on Fox News and has called for investigations of IPCC and NASA scientists.

As Dr. James Hansen had observed in 2012, this is “not an accident. There is a very concerted effort by people who would prefer to see business continue as usual.”

Whitehouse was one of the first in Congress to propose a civil case, similar to the racketeering suit Bill Clinton brought against the tobacco industry, against fossil-fuel companies for deliberately misleading the public on climate science.

Dr. Michael Mann sums it up: “The gulf between scientific opinion and public opinion has been bought with hundreds of millions of dollars of special interest money… The number of lives that will be lost because of the damaging impacts of climate change is in the hundreds of millions; to me, it’s not just a crime against humanity; it’s a crime against the planet.”

Climate change denial as a crime against humanity

As cited earlier, a crime against humanity is “a deliberate act, typically as part of a systematic campaign that causes human suffering or death on a large scale.”

We have established that the decades-long blocking and lying about scientific evidence on the dangers of human-caused global warming has been deliberate. So the question arises, how many people have been, or will be, hurt or killed by climate change?

Many studies have been done over time. To cite a few:

“Climate change is increasing the global burden of disease and in the year 2000 was responsible for more than 150,000 deaths worldwide. Of this disease burden, 88% fell upon children.”

According to a March 2017 report from the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health, “a quarter of Americans can name one way in which climate change is affecting their health. This is seen by physicians across the country.”

A 15-author 2016 report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program warns that people suffering chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, mental illness and obesity are being threatened by climate change.

A global estimate was supplied by an independent report commissioned by 20 countries in 2012 to study the human and economic costs of climate change. The DARA study wrote that it linked 400,000 deaths worldwide to climate change each year, projecting deaths to increase to over 600,000 per year by 2030… Heat waves kill many, to be sure, but global warming also devastates food security, nutrition and water safety. Since mosquitoes and other pests thrive in hot, humid weather, scientists expect diseases like malaria and dengue fever to rise. Floods threaten to contaminate drinking water with bacteria and pollution.

When the report looked at the added health consequences from burning fossil fuels – aside from climate change – the number of deaths jumps from 400,000 to almost five million per year. Carbon-intensive economies see deaths linked to outdoor air pollution, indoor smoke from poor ventilation, occupational hazards and skin cancer.

When disinformation known to be false is systematically used to deny dangerous realities that harm public health and kill millions of people, the deception clearly crosses the line to become a crime against humanity.


The 2014 IPCC 5th assessment Summary for Policy Makers, along with previous IPCC assessments, is solid proof of the unprecedented crime represented by today’s level and rate of increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas pollution. It is definite because policy makers representing all world governments sit on the IPCC Panel and before the assessment can be published, they scrutinize the assessment line-by-line for government approval.

As governments from high-emitting countries continue – against the will of their own citizens and of the nations most vulnerable to climate change – to allow the global climate catastrophe to unfold, they simply cannot say that they did not know. Participation in formulating the IPCC summaries makes the large GHG-polluting national governments undeniably culpable for their continued lack of action to bring about a rapid decline in global emissions.

Not only have they betrayed the IPCC science. While doing so, they have pampered the lucrative fossil fuel industry with trillions of dollars in subsidies worldwide. But worst of all they have failed to protect their citizens – now and for future generations. This is the crime of all time.

Excerpted with permission from Unprecedented Crime: Climate Science Denial and Game Changers for Survival by Elizabeth Woodworth and Dr. Peter Carter (Clarity Press). Elizabeth Woodworth is a writer on climate change science and activism, co-author of Unprecedented Climate Mobilization and co-producer of the COP21 video A Climate Revolution for All. Dr. Peter Carter is founder of the Climate Emergency Institute. He served as an expert reviewer for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fifth climate change assessment in 2014. He is a former family and emergency medicine practitioner.

John Horgan on the record: is he walking his talk?

John Horgan

by Bruce Mason

Last March, when BC was awash in costly ads attacking John Horgan, describing him as “Say Anything,” “Flip Flop,” “Angry” and “Spineless,” Common Ground asked the then-opposition-leader to carefully lay out and explain his pre-election platform.

Sensing, correctly, that only the NDP could end 16 long years of neo-liberalism, we videotaped and posted the extensive interview as well as on our website. We also published and made available tens of thousands of free copies in print (April 2017), with the magazine’s headlines reading: Time For Change. Make BC Better. We were told by many NDP and Green insiders that it had made a difference; mercifully, Christy and Co. were shut down.

That was then, this is now, on the eve of the first full Horgan NDP budget. Post-election, Premier John Horgan grinned through the skin of his teeth, boasting, “The majority of British Columbians voted for change!” Fast forward six months and we now know, or should know, much more about the leader of the razor-thin minority government. To a growing number of voters, including former supporters, angry activists and sad and disenchanted citizens, his agenda is hidden, surprising and alarming.

Central to this undeniable and justifiable concern, and outrage, is the unfathomable, multi-billion dollar Site C “decision” to flood a 100km sacrifice zone in the irreplaceable Peace River Valley.

However, Horgan is also simply ruling out, or second-guessing, among other things: legislation to halt foreign housing ‘investment,’ returning BC Ferries to government and freezing Hydro rates, while, apparently, just tooling around Kinder Morgan, fudging on Reconciliation and a fair “last chance” transformation of our badly flawed and broken first-past-the-post voting system.

Meanwhile, NDP lobbyists like Bill Tieleman have joined forces with the Liberals, such as Susan Anton, to kill the urgent call for proportional representation. There are many questions, few answers and a discomforting, even infuriating silence, or mumbled rationalizations by cabinet ministers and back-benchers, who campaigned against what now appears to be new NDP policy.

“Wait,” we are told for the budget in February. In the meantime, the fundamental question: What did John Horgan say and mean? Really.

Below are highlights from the 2017 Common Ground video interview:

John Horgan on Site C:

I’m dedicated to do what I can, if fortunate to win the election, to make substantive changes and leave a planet that’s healthy… Interestingly, Dr. Harry Swain, chair of the federal-provincial joint review panel on environmental, economic, and First Nations impacts of largest public works, in his report on the Site C dam, said Hydro has a responsibility to look at geothermal.

Yet there hasn’t been a penny invested… And wind and solar power – other alternatives – to complement our sources, but the Liberals have been short-sighted in that regard.
 But as climate changes, we’re seeing different weather patterns, not as much snowfall… a thoughtful government would ask, ‘How can we supplement our water hydro-based system with technologies not dependent on water?’… We have more energy than we need, demand is declining. We used to export to the US at a handsome profit, playing the markets. Now, the US is awash in electricity.

So we’ve got nowhere to sell it and more than we need. The average price of electricity in 2006 was $35/megawatt hour. The average price today is the same. Yet we’ve been buying new supply at $100, $110, $120/mwh and building Site C at a conservatively estimated $90/mwh. You can’t buy high and sell low forever; it’s falling on us and on our families.

On housing affordability:

“Look at what’s happening around us. We see speculative investments and headlines: “Get Out of Gold and Get into Condominiums in Vancouver.”’ When housing stock becomes a commodity, you’ve got a problem. It’s a fundamental right, not a speculative investment, in my world anyway, and for the vast BC majority… People are being priced out of the market and the development community, building condos to sell, rather than units to rent.

On Reconciliation with First Nations:

‘Rights and title aren’t just theoretical. I’m excited about the certainty it gives us. To invest in BC, on a land base, talk to First Nations about how to do it.

On BC Ferries:

“Almost 800,000 people live in ferry-dependent coastal communities. I’ve forgotten more about this than the Liberals know. They don’t understand ferries, that’s why they do so poorly on Vancouver Island. The ferry system is an extension of our highway system. So, yes, we’re going to look at those three major Crowns – ICBC, BC Hydro and BC Ferries – with a magnifying glass and find a better way forward that has people at the centre.”

On agricultural land:

As climate change continues, our imported food sources, Mexico and California, become less viable. It will be more important than ever to protect our arable land and put it to good use, not just growing hay.

On electoral reform:

… in 2009, I voted in favour of STV. It was defeated, but perfection is the enemy of progress. Let’s make progress. Whatever this is, it has got to be better.

There you have it, on the record. Post-interview (on tape) Horgan noted, people were “devastated by Trudeau’s backing out on proportional representation,” for which he been “pretty categorical.” But the PM also deceived voters on climate action, transparency, corruption and pipelines, as well as electoral reform.

Horgan now seems only slightly better than Clark and a long way from what many in BC voted for. He is breaking fragile trust and authenticity. Lose that and it all goes – like some burst dam.

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

Tribute to Shiv Chopra

Shiv Chopra

A champion of truth, integrity and food safety (1934 – 2018)

by Helke Ferrie

Civil disobedience becomes a sacred duty when the state becomes lawless or corrupt. The first step to fighting injustice is to make it visible. – Mahatma Gandhi

Shiv Chopra was born in India. He was 13 years old when independence from Britain was achieved amidst the blood bath of ‘Partition’ and Gandhi’s assassination. After obtaining his degree in veterinary medicine in India, he also received a Ph.D. in microbiology from McGill in the 60s and became a drug and vaccine evaluator for Health Canada in 1969, joining its veterinary division in 1987. There, he observed with increasing alarm the systemic corruption of Canada’s health policy as the federal government put increasing pressure on him to approve drugs that were already known to be harmful. Yet he stubbornly insisted on the safety studies and tests that Canadian law requires before he would approve these veterinary drugs.

These antibiotics and growth hormones, used to increase the weight and size of food animals to increase profit, are not metabolized/detoxed out of the animal, but instead wind up being ingested by people who eat this meat. Because consumers cannot metabolize them either, their health is compromised and drug residues end up passing through their urine and into the public water supply. They also contribute to antibiotic resistance.

After observing the corrupt drug approval process present in his department, Dr. Chopra decided not to keep quiet and he began to blow the whistle: That’s when Canada received a hefty dose of Gandhi’s political philosophy. Gandhi summed it up in the Sanskrit word satyagraha (grounding in truth). Not only corruption is infectious, but satyagraha is too. Shiv received support not only from his immediate colleagues, Drs. Margret Haydon, Gerard Lambert, and others, but more than 200 Health Canada scientists wrote to then Health Minister Alan Rock in September 1999, demanding that the government stop serving corporate interests and return instead to serving the public interest.

During these years, Dr. Chopra and his colleagues were supported by PIPSC, the 36,000-member strong Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada. “PIPSC scientists don’t squeak, they roar!,” their information pamphlet asserted, objecting to the pressures put onto Health Canada scientists to do the bidding of corporations and ignore the law. They also pointed to the increasing deregulation designed to accommodate corporate profits and undermine public safety. PIPSC expressed its outrage at gag orders imposed on Health Canada staffers, which even forbade them to publish in scientific journals. A precedent setting legal case in federal court occurred in September 2000 when Justice D. Tremblay-Lamer ruled that Health Canada could not place gag orders on scientists because a civil servant is responsible to the public, not the government of the day. Equally helpful were the media whose relentless exposés exasperated many politicians of the day.

Fierce defenders of food safety

The government’s aim, regardless of which party was in power, was to move Health Canada away from risk assessment and towards risk management (the US model), but they did not expect such resistance. To this day, Big Pharma works along the lines of managing harm and death as part of doing business, not preventing harm. For example, in his book, Corrupt to the Core, Shiv commented that, in 2001, Bayer lobbyists, in the presence of Diane Kirkpatrick (then the Director General of the Veterinary Drugs Directorate), opined: “The risk of one in one million people dying due to the use of any products, including veterinary drugs, pesticides, etc., was considered to be manageable. I disagreed, saying that this was not so according to the Canadian Food and Drugs Act. I stressed that if Canada were to apply this definition to risk and knowingly allow even one person to die, someone else above my head will have to make that decision.”

Kirkpatrick, unwilling to accept Dr. Chopra’s refusal to approve the highly toxic antibiotic Baytril for use in food animals, “spoke as if on behalf of Bayer,” asking Shiv “to explain why it should not be allowed … in Canada while the USFDA [U.S. Federal Drug Administration] raised no objection to it. My response … was that I couldn’t care less about what the USFDA did and that I must apply due diligence to my job description under the Food and Drugs Act of Canada.”

With the above in mind, it’s no surprise that an internal 1992 government memo stated that the reason Dr. Chopra was consistently passed over for promotion was because he could not “be groomed into a senior management position”; that he was not “a team player”; that he appeared unable to understand “the North American way of doing business.” These “deficiencies [were due to] his racial and cultural background.”

The conflict between assessment and management is the key which ultimately led to Chopra, Haydon and Lambert being fired on July 14, 2004 for “insubordination.” In a nutshell: if health policy is governed by management instead of risk, abnormal drug test findings can be ignored. Drug assessment requires investigating how the liver, especially in rats, reacts to a new chemical compound. If liver enzyme production signals toxicity, the proposed drug is too dangerous. Rats are endowed by nature to metabolize/detox tremendously harmful compounds which other test animals, such as mice whose enzyme system is virtually identical to humans, can never survive.

Dr. Haydon, for example, delayed the Bovine Growth Hormone application by nine years because Monsanto would not provide the legally mandated rat studies. Since Dr. Haydon already had some proof from scientific literature that this synthetic hormone not only caused mastitis in cows, but also birth defects in calves, this evidence would have been amplified had Monsanto complied with the mandatory rat studies. In 1994, her office was broken into and all her files were stolen. This event eventually led to a Senate investigation chaired by the late Eugene Whelan, starting on October 22, 1998. In an attempt to stop the truth on Bovine Growth Hormone from coming out, and knowing that a Senate’s subpoena to testify must be obeyed, the government “coached” Shiv and his colleagues on what to say at the hearing and ordered him to testify from a two-thirds blacked-out version of his own official report.

When Dr. Chopra was sworn in at the Senate, he asked, “Which oath takes precedence? The one I just made to God or the one I made as an employee of the ministry?” Senator Eugene Whelan told him to “go with God” and the whole rotten story came out. That is why Canada does not currently allow the use of Bovine Growth Hormone, a proven carcinogen and endocrine disruptor. And that is why the European Union and other jurisdictions banned it too.

Shiv Chopra and Margaret Haydon did not get the Order of Canada for stopping Bovine Growth Hormone’s release into the Canadian food supply; they were fired instead. Being fired was a family affair at the Chopras. His wife, Dr. Nirmala Chopra, was head of the Pre-Marketing Review Section at Health Canada’s Bureau of Medical Devices from 1979 to 1993. She insisted on checking out immunological reactions to breast implants, but that legally-required satyagraha approach was inconvenient and she was fired. Today, about 300,000 women receive such implants annually in the US. Nirmala’s Health Canada story was documented in Nicholas Regush’s 1993 book Safety Last.

Canadian Government no longer oversees drug safety

Today, Dr. Kelsey [who saved American women from the drug Thalidomide in the 1950s] would probably also be fired because in 1995 the US passed “cost recovery” legislation. On January 6, 1996, Canada adopted the same, without parliamentary debate, in secret, through an Order in Council. This transferred the responsibility for drug safety and efficacy from Health Canada civil servants (mandated to act in the public interest) to the manufacturers of those drugs, thereby removing all independent oversight. Health Canada employees were informed that now their “client” was not the Canadian public “but the companies” applying for drug approval documentation. To safeguard against another Margaret Haydon, time limits were placed on regulators reviewing drug applications.

This regulatory abomination is still in place and was followed up in 2003 with the so-called ‘Report on Plans and Priorities’ which absurdly opined that the Food and Drugs Act has “too narrow a focus on safety … and does not allow for taking into account considerations other than safety in managing health risk.” What was needed, said this report, was “to unleash business energies and reduce the regulatory burden on business.” Adding insult to injury, this report was followed up by “Health and Safety First,” the government’s plan describing “a higher level of protection” by revamping the Food and Drugs Act such that drug manufacturers would be completely protected against all possible liability once their products passed into the market. Prime Minister Harper tried to make this happen with the infamous Bill C-51 in 2008. This enraged me so much that I published a book entitled What Part of No! Don’t They Understand? The first two copies, hot off the press, were personally handed to Harper. Then Shiv and I lectured on that proposed Bill in many venues, helping to put the breaks on it – for awhile.

In the January 11, 2018, issue of Toronto Star, Dr. Joel Lexchin, a public policy expert from U of T, informed us that, last October, Health Canada proposed increasing drug companies’ cost recovery fees to 90% in exchange for even faster reviews. But Dr. Lexchin stated that research shows that, if a review is mandated to be complete within 300 days, there is a one in five chance of serious post-marketing harm to people. If the review period is only 180 days, the incidence of adverse events rises to one in three. Dr. Lexchin proposes a “return to complete funding” by parliament ensuring responsibility only to Canadians. (That would be acting according to satyagraha. Don’t hold your breath.)

During the time that Shiv and his colleagues were fighting to protect us from cancer- causing, hormone-disrupting and antibiotic resistance-producing drugs, other scandals hit the world scene. For example, in 2004, FDA regulator Dr. David Graham started blowing the whistle about hundreds of thousands of deaths from Vioxx. And University of Toronto’s Dr. Nancy Olivieri refused to obey Apotex’s order to exclude “known liver failure” from patient medication consent forms. In 2017, the United Nations declared antibiotic resistance to be the greatest unfolding global health disaster, mainly due to antibiotic overuse in food-producing animals.

I am proud to have been Shiv’s friend for almost two decades and the publisher of his fantastic account of speaking truth to power: Corrupt to the Core: Memoirs of a Health Canada Whistleblower (2008). Having grown up in India myself, my visits to Shiv and Nirmala were always a bit like coming home. While Shiv cracked open cardamom pods for our chai, I took notes on background for upcoming events in courts and before Senate committees as the battle for safe drugs and food progressed.

Shiv gave us the perfect blueprint on how to achieve food safety because he said, “It is our divine right … to eat and feed our families the food that the earth produces naturally.” His “Five Pillars of Food Safety” demand: 1) No pesticides; 2) No GMOs; 3) No animal hormones; 4) No animal antibiotics; 5) No rendered animal protein feeds.

All of us who eat owe a big debt of gratitude to Shiv Chopra for his scientific rigour and personal integrity.

Originally published in Vitality Magazine ( by Helke Ferrie, Reprinted with permission, Support Democracy Watch, Council of Canadians, and initiatives. Corrupt to the Core: Memoirs of a Health Canada Whistleblower by Shiv Chopra (Kos 2009) available on disk at Shiv Chopra inspired the Canadian Council on Food Safety Health at

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

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Consumerism no longer serves us

photo of David Suzuki

by David Suzuki

My parents were born in Vancouver – Dad in 1909, Mom in 1911 – and married during the Great Depression. It was a difficult time that shaped their values and outlook, which they drummed into my sisters and me.

“Save some for tomorrow,” they often scolded. “Share, don’t be greedy.” “Live within your means.” The most important: “You must work hard for the necessities in life, but don’t run after money as if having fancy clothes or big cars make you a better or more important person.” I think of my parents often during the frenzy of pre-and post-Christmas shopping.

We moved to Ontario after the Second World War. We were destitute. As Canadians of Japanese descent, we had been treated as enemy aliens and lost everything, including all rights as Canadian citizens. I needed a coat for the cold eastern winter so my parents purchased a new one, a big expense for farm labourers. Unfortunately, I was 11 and going through a growth spurt and quickly outgrew the coat so it was passed on to my twin sister, Marcia. She wore it for longer but also outgrew it and gave it to our younger sister, Aiko. My parents boasted the coat was so well made, “it went through three children.” It’s been a long time since I’ve heard durability as a positive attribute of a product.

How did “throw-away,” “disposable” and “planned obsolescence” become part of product design and marketing? It was deliberate. Wars are effective at getting economies moving and the Second World War pulled America out of the Great Depression. By 1945, the American economy was blazing as victory approached.

But how can a war-based economy continue in peacetime? One way is to continue hostilities or their threat. The global costs of armaments and defence still dwarf spending for health care and education. Another way to transform a wartime economy to peacetime is consumption. Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, wrote in 1776, “Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production.”

Seized upon by the Council of Economic Advisers to the President under Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s, consumption was promoted as the engine of the economy. Retailing analyst Victor Lebow famously proclaimed in 1955: “Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life… We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever-increasing rate.”

We are no longer defined by our societal roles or political status (voters), but as “customers,” “shoppers” or “consumers.” The media remind us daily of how well we’re supporting continued economic growth, using the Dow Jones average, S&P Index, the price of gold and the dollar’s value.

Nature has long been exploited in commercials: the lean movement of lions or tigers in car ads, the cuteness of parrots or mice, the strength of crocodiles, etc. But now animals are portrayed to actively recruit consumers. I’m especially nauseated by the shot of a penguin offering a stone to a potential mate being denigrated by another penguin offering a fancy diamond necklace.

How can we have serious discussions about the ecological costs and limits to growth or the need to degrow economies when consumption is seen as the very reason the economy and society exist?

Excerpted from Consumer Society No Longer Serves Our Needs. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Learn more at

Human rights for all?

photo of Gwen Randall-Young

by Gwen Randall-Young

Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.
– Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Most reasonable people would agree all humans should be treated with respect and dignity. We no longer tolerate it when any group is put down or belittled.

But many women, who would never make a racist comment, regularly participate in a practice that is degrading to others. We do not hear too much about this even though it is common, if not rampant, among women. I am talking about male bashing: “Men are pricks.” “All men are pigs.” “Men think with their dicks.” “Men only want one thing.” “Men are idiots” and on it goes.

Recently, I saw a Facebook post with the title, How Women See Men, followed by a video of men imitating apes.

I was inspired to write about this after one of my male clients asked me why women sit around and bash their husbands.

With all of the appropriate focus on the way women have been treated, it seems obvious women need to look in the mirror as well. We can just imagine the outrage if a man made those kind of disparaging comments about women.

The horrifying thing is that women think it is okay to say these negative things about men because they believe they are true! Racists also believe their comments are true. Sure, there are unscrupulous men out there, but generalizing to all men is like saying all Muslims are terrorists or all Italians belong to the Mafia.

So I want to address two things. The first is the kind of language used about men as shown above. As women, we must stand up to this, as we would want men to stand up when a guy says women are too emotional to be CEOs.

The second more subtle one is the habit many women have of complaining to their female friends about all the faults they perceive in their partner. I have always felt that once a woman starts badmouthing her partner outside of the marriage, it is the beginning of the end.

If there are problems, talk to the man about them. If they cannot be resolved, seek counselling. If they are really bad and cannot be fixed, do not just stay in a bad situation and continue to vent toxic energy about it. Either take steps to get out or choose to live with it. When a woman bashes her partner, other women should try to guide that person towards problem solving rather than piling negativity on the man.

We do need to show more evolved behaviour than junior high girls gossiping and saying terrible things about another. Junior high girls may not have the skills or wisdom to do it differently. I want to believe adult women do.

Right now, it is clear men need to do things differently. But women, many of us need to step up too. Let’s call it when we hear demeaning talk and attitudes, regardless of where it is coming from.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For articles and information about her books, “Deep Powerful Change” hypnosis CDs and “Creating Effective Relationships” series, visit ‘Like’ Gwen on Facebook for daily inspiration.