The figures on the Site C dam that count: why our electricity rates will skyrocket

View of the Peace River Valley

photo: view of Peace River which would have been flooded by Site C Dam courtesy www.peacevalley.ca/future. Photo by Don Hoffmann and Andrea Morison

by Reimar Kroecher

Estimated cost of building Site C Dam: $9 billion. BC Hydro sells $9 billion worth of bonds to investors to pay for the construction of Site C Dam. At interest rates of 2% paid on these BC Hydro bonds, the yearly interest bill will be $180 million; at 3% it will be $270 million; at 4% it will be $360 million.

Site C dam has a life expectancy of 90 years. After that, it is worthless. $9 billion needs to be depreciated over 90 years. Depreciation per year is $100 million.

The total cost of interest plus depreciation per year will be $280 million at interest rates of 2%; $370 million at interest rates of 3%; $460 million at interest rates of 4%. The total cost of Site C electricity is completely dependent on interest rates, over which BC Hydro has no control.

BC Hydro’s claim that Site C power can be produced at a given low fixed cost is pure public relations fabrication. The total revenue produced by selling Site C power may well be zero since there does not seem to be a market for it.

More likely, the power will be exported at a price that does not even come close to covering the total cost mentioned above. The resulting deficit will be made up by huge increases in residential electricity rates.
Easily overlooked is the fact that the $9 billion debt will never be paid off. As BC Hydro bonds mature, they will be paid off by selling new bonds to pay off the old bonds, thus passing the debt on to future generations.

Now retired, Reimar Kroecher taught economics at Langara for 32 years.

Unlimited growth increases the divide

Unlimited growth at the Delmar Hotel

by Bruce Mason

The wisest words on Vancouver’s streets, “Unlimited Growth Increases the Divide” offer a strong medicine for healing the obscene growth for growth’s sake that’s killing us, our economy and the environment.

The seven-inch copper letters are artfully emblazoned across the front of the humble, 30-room Del Mar Hotel and tiny art gallery at 553 Hamilton Street, next to the skyscraper headquarters of BC Hydro.

In fact, the Del Mar credo did fundamentally alter the path of BC Hydro, in David and Goliath fashion. It’s a story that bears repeating in order to find workable alternatives to big developers’ vision for Vancouver and BC, a vision that saps our resources, robs our commons and prevent honest, affordable housing.

George Riste, former owner of the unassuming Del Mar, said, “I love watching people debate the meaning of “Unlimited Growth Increases the Divide.” But in her 1990 artist’s statement, Kathryn Walter clearly spelled out the intention: “It is directed at those who operate our free-market economy in their own interests, while excluding those interests that would be responsive to the needs of the community.”

In 1981, Hydro began their attempts at acquiring the property, the only domino still standing on the city-block of demolished ruins, on which to raise their edifice. Turning down hundreds of offers and a fortune in increasingly desperate bids, Riste said, “We’ve decided to keep this property for low-cost housing, and BC Hydro thinks we’re silly. But I really believe that we should try to put something back into society.”

And so, for once, the crown corporation had to modify and reluctantly re-design its grandiose plans, a victory for the integrity and mission the Riste family carries forward.

In stark contrast, a few blocks away, another building tells a much different story with “T-R-U-M-P” spelled out in large, gaudy, chrome letters, branding the 63-storey International Hotel and Tower.

Riste never forgot his childhood poverty in the Fraser Valley. Unlike ‘The Donald,’ George provided affordable rooms a few blocks from hellish skid row hovels. Riste explained, “We used to lease buildings, but we found the landlords were terrible people. So we went to the bank and managed to buy our own hotel. This is my life; this is what I love doing.”

One wonders what he would think of the recent count of 3,605 homeless in Vancouver, up 30 percent since 2014. Half have lived here for 10 years or more before becoming homeless. The numbers, like unemployment stats, don’t really add up. They don’t factor in borderline impoverishment, people in inadequate slums, squatting in structures, parks, and doorways, never intended for housing, couch-surfing with friends and family, sharing studio apartments and huge rents. The frequently reno-victed reluctantly flee the city of their birth, or choice, and its interminable housing crisis and near-zero vacancy rate. In May, the average price for a detached house in Vancouver reached a record $1,830,956, among the most unaffordable in the world.

Riste, who died in 2010, at age 89 would be appalled at the new luxury condos for “super cars” in Richmond. The 2,500 square-foot units boast options of luxury furnishings and decoration packages, featuring a mezzanine level, from which to guzzle something high-priced and choke back a hand-rolled Cuban stogie. Due for completion in 2019, two-thirds of the 45 units are already sold. Similarly, all condos in the 45 digs have been scooped up.

And if you search online for best deals for the ultra-rich, rooms at the Trump Tower are often fully booked, boasting that their ‘hyperbolic paraboloid’ triangular tower is the “premier luxury hotel,” featuring Canada’s first Mar-a-Lago brand, a 6,000 square-foot spa by Ivanka Trump.

Hyperbolic, indeed.

“Never settle,” the Trumps post. But for the 10,000 locals who applied to serve, massage and clean up those for whom the “Sweet-tastic experience” is chump change, the advice is irrelevant.

As Trump is unhinged and Site C and Kinder Morgan are exposed for what they really are – in courts of law or through public opinion – what we need to know is “Unlimited Growth Increases the Divide.”

The check-out bill for the rich is overdue and it’s time for a stop-payment on Site C. Put the money into job-rich renewables and for-purpose social housing. While we’re at it, take down the T-R-U-M-P sign as the public did in Toronto. “Unlimited Growth Increases the Divide” must now be the litmus test to take to politicians at every level of government, and the street.

Del Mar’s motto provides the inspiration and awareness to Stop Site C and other highly questionable anti-social projects. Better to build the Commons on common sense, insight and wisdom. More Riste-like, not Ritz-like, within reach of those who do the actual work.

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

Know thy activist – on carrots and sticks in Parliament

Rafe Mair cartoon by Gerry Hummel

by Rafe Mair

cartoon by Gerry Hummel

I’ve been an activist for too many years to count. In earlier times, I’d catch hell when my Establishment mother heard me rant on the radio, but knowing her love of nature, I think she was secretly a little proud! Do I support protesting Kinder Morgan and the proposed LNG refinery on Squamish? You betcha, on both counts. I’ve watched activism become more acceptable to more people. Sadly, some activist groups have much to learn about the subject for which they claim expertise – and about basic honesty. That’s what this article is about.

First, let’s remind ourselves why there is activism.

Merriam Webster defines activism as “a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.”

Jesus was an activist and an extremely effective one, such that it cost him his life. His throwing money-lenders out of the temple and the giant rallies he held were substantial threats to the elite, and, as the scriptures tell us, they lay in the weeds until they could nail this dangerous activist and put him away once and for all.

History teaches us that every single right that we possess came not from the generosity of the king, but by the threat of force, as in the case of the Magna Carta in 1215, or actual force as in America in 1776 and France in 1789.

Rafe Mair
Rafe Mair 1931-2017

Rights we now take for granted, such as the male franchise, the extended male franchise, the universal franchise of males, the partial enfranchisement of women, and the eventual franchise of all adults, coming as late as 1991 in Switzerland, only came by force, real or threatened.

Rights of British workers were nonexistent as late as the 1830s, and it was a serious offence to form groups to pressure an employer to alleviate the appalling conditions and increase pitiful pay. In 1834, a group of Dorset agricultural labourers known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs were convicted of swearing a secret oath as members of the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers, even though the society’s rules showed it was clearly structured as a friendly society and operated as a trade-specific benefit society. They were banished to Australia and their case became a flashpoint for a struggle for basic reforms that took 100+ years, during which virtually all improvement in conditions and pay were gained by force or threat of it.

The notion that people should run their country’s affairs was considered idiotic until Thomas Jefferson’s July 4, 1776 Declaration of Independence made this a sacred principle, yet women and slaves were not included, and both groups say to this day (with justification) that this hasn’t happened yet. I’m always surprised to hear women oppose civil disobedience when without it, they would not yet have any vote, much less an equal one with men. Again, basic civil rights had to be extracted by activism, often extreme. Oppression by the elite, far from going away, keeps emerging from stacked legislatures and loftily imposed under the guise of the “Rule Of Law.”

Do I go too far? I think not when you consider, for example, the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Do you recall any debate, much less approval by Parliament or the BC Legislature, of this project? How about the Woodfibre LNG plant? Tanker traffic in Howe Sound? Increased fossil fuel exports? Masses of tankers in Burrard Inlet and the Salish sea? Just for starters.

Enterprises clearly not in the interests of those hurt by their operation are shielded by laws passed by the elite, supported by the elite, and paid for by the elite. Those adversely affected are powerless unless they disobey the laws in which they had no say. Our legislatures and parliament have the trappings of democracy but little more, and opposition, with nowhere else to go, must find other methods.

In spite of these struggles for democracy, a vacuum exists in our system of governance that activist organizations have filled. In raising funds they declare goals to be met. Money being limited they must therefore be effective – and honest – for if an organization raises money through deceit, deliberate or not, they’ve effectively stolen it from other activists that know their business and only state goals with a decent prospect of success.

Sadly, not all achieve that reasonable standard.

This is utter deceit if groups asking for donations pretend to not know when they ought to know that no Liberal member would vote against any government bill no matter how sincerely they opposed it personally.

To understand the way the system really works, one must know that since 1867 only one majority government has had to resign. In 1873, before true party discipline had evolved, Sir John A. Macdonald, with a tiny majority and perceiving he could lose a vote over the Pacific Scandal, resigned. All prime ministers since have, through strictly enforced party discipline, kept ironclad control over their members.

The method, simplicity itself and 100% effective, only requires some carrots and sticks.

The carrots? It starts with little things like promising to visit the MP’s constituency, and perhaps attend a rally; or sending the MP to a tropical isle for a useless convention in the middle of an Ottawa winter. Even better, there’s cabinet, double the money, a car and driver, first class travel, a permanent Honourable in front of his name, and the virtual certainty of a cushy job when he retires.

Now the sticks: the PM can demote or fire a minister or a parliamentary assistant, but if the MP votes against a PM in a major vote, here’s what happens, as Liberal MP John Nunziata in 1993 and Tory Bill Casey in 2007 found when they broke ranks. By the time the Liberal MP gets back to his office from his fatal vote, he’ll have an email from the PMO expelling him from the Liberal caucus and the Liberal Party, meaning he can’t run under the Liberal banner again. In short, the political version of capital punishment.

Read that again and ask yourself if a single Liberal MP, let alone enough of them to defeat CETA, is likely to throw his political career away?

The only effective protection against oppression by the elite is an activist organization – just make sure that they know what they’re talking about before sending your cheque.

Rafe Mair was BC Minister of Environment in the W.R. (Bill) Bennett government (1975-8), a Michener Award-winning, Canadian Broadcasters Hall of Fame radio broadcaster, and a founder of and writer for commonsensecanadian.ca. His 13th book, Politically Incorrect: How Canada Lost Its Way and the Simple Path Home, from Watershed Sentinel Books, is at the press now. Rafe was born Kenneth Rafe Mair New Year’s eve 31 December 1931 in Vancouver and died 9 October 2017.

This article was originally published in the Watershed Sentinel, Summer 2017. www.watershedsentinel.ca


Politically Incorrect:
How Canada Lost Its Way and the Simple Path Home

by Rafe Mair

Part memoir, part history, part constitutional analysis and part pure Rafe – on federation, BC’s role, how Canada’s “responsible government” undermines democracy, and what to do about it.

Watershed Sentinel Books, $20 plus $6 shipping.
www.watershedsentinel.ca/incorrect
Box 1270,
Comox BC V9M 7Z8

White Poppies – new Remembrance Day ceremony highlights the true costs of war

white poppies

by Teresa Gagné

The white poppy was first introduced in Britain in 1933, only 12 years after the red poppy. Alarmed by the rising tide of post-war militarism, British women, many of whom were the wives, mothers and sisters of men who had been killed – looked for a symbol to express their belief that civilized nations should never again resort to the terrible and ineffectual method of war for the settlement of international disputes. The wearing of a white poppy on Armistice Day became a focus for the British peace movement and the newly founded Peace Pledge Union undertook its promotion and distribution.

The growing demand for peace poppies highlighted the need for Remembrance Day activities to reflect the diversity of Canadian perspectives on war and remembrance and to acknowledge the war experiences of many immigrant Canadians. With this in mind, Vancouver Peace Poppies partnered with The BC Humanist Association in 2016 to co-host “Let Peace be Their Memorial,” a Remembrance Day wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate refugees and other overlooked victims of war. The following is largely excerpted from my address at the 2016 ceremony.

The first armistice day was in November of 1919, pretty close to 100 years ago, a year after the end of a war so huge and horrible it was regarded by many as “The War to End War.” People thought that surely nothing this terrible could happen again, that governments and nations had learned from this horrific and wasteful experience. But 100 years later, we find there have been well over 300 more wars, with close to 200 million people killed and every year on November 11, we get together and remember. But really, what have we accomplished with all our remembering if 200 million people have died in war since then? Do we really think that was the torch John McCrae and his comrades threw to us? They would be appalled to think they had lost their lives and we had learned so little from it.

There are lots of reasons to be against war: it’s immoral and it’s wasteful, but I think the inarguable reason now is that it doesn’t work; it just doesn’t work. The reasons given by our governments and our press for why we have to enter this or that conflict aren’t valid: that it will make the world safer, it will spread democracy and that it will increase human rights for persecuted minorities. In fact, it isn’t working. If we look at the most recent effects of 20 years of war in the Middle East and ask, “Is Canada safer? Is the US safer? Is the Middle East safer? Is the world safer?” No! “Is it more democratic?” No! So all those deaths, all that money spent, all that waste haven’t really achieved their stated goals and we have to raise our voices to say, “Your way isn’t working.”

Around the world, we need to be training hundreds and thousands of people as a mediation resource available to communities and countries to deal with the difficult situations that are always going to happen. Not providing training for peacekeeping forces or the military or the police.

We need to commit ourselves to counting all the different costs of military conflict: the social costs, the environmental costs, the desperate refugees, the lost potential of 50 million children whose schooling is disrupted by war, the women traumatized, abducted or sexually assaulted, the conscientious objectors who sometimes pay with their lives for standing up and refusing to fight, the psychological costs of PTSD on veterans and civilians. We need to include all those things and we owe it not just to ourselves to do so; I would say we even owe it to our military.

If we ask somebody to risk not just their physical health, but also their mental health, on a military endeavour, we’d better be sure it’s likely to succeed and that in the cost-benefit analysis, it’s worth the costs. So I don’t see any disrespect to the military in saying, “Let’s count all the costs of war and evaluate if it’s really going to achieve what we want to achieve.” If we don’t do that and find a better way, we will really have ‘broken faith’ with those who died and with those who will continue to die.

This year, wear a White Poppy to:

  • commemorate all victims of war.
  • mourn the environmental devastation it causes.
  • reject war as a tool for social change.
  • call for dialogue and peaceful conflict resolution.
  • show your commitment to building a better future.

Because Remembering is important, but it isn’t enough.

Teresa Gagné is the co-founder of Vancouver Peace Poppies (www.PeacePoppies.ca). White poppies may be ordered on the website. The poppies commemorate civilian victims of war and encourage people to challenge the ‘normalization’ of militarism.


EVENT

NOVEMBER 11: Wreath Ceremony to recognize overlooked victims of War, 2:30-4PM, Seaforth Peace Park, 1st Avenue & Burrard Street, Vancouver.

Canada: the case for staying out of other peoples’ wars

white poppy and flag

by William S. Geimer

This book presents the case for staying out of other people’s wars. By other people’s wars, I mean those in which Canada’s national security, by any reasonable definition, is not measurably at risk. We will examine all of Canada’s wars, assess their costs and benefits and consider the vision of a better role for Canada in the world.

This is a particularly important time for a rational conversation about Canada and her wars. We are remembering the centennial years of the Great War (1914-1918). The recent change in government provides an opportunity for this conversation that has not been possible for a decade. The years of the Harper government featured rigid information control and a relentless propaganda campaign in support of Canada as a warrior nation. The only message was that we achieved our national identity on the battlefields of the Great War. If that were true, it follows that Canada should not shrink from invitations to join armed conflicts. Indeed, she should be alert to new opportunities.

The new government of Justin Trudeau has tentatively expressed a different vision. Within 24 hours of coming to power, Trudeau notified the U.S. that Canada would withdraw its planes from the war in the Middle East. He was immediately subjected to criticism for this move, as well as for the decision to fast-track acceptance of Syrian refugees. The government, however, remained committed to the war and pledged to explore new ways to assist the latest coalition assembled by the U.S. This is the time for Canadians to look critically at our war history and be heard.

I am a trial lawyer. I present my case, not the case of my learned friends who promote Canada’s continued involvement in other people’s wars. Their case is not difficult to access and it is put by those with far greater resources than I. Consult any works of David Bercuson or Jack Granatstein.

The outcome of this case will have important consequences for us as a people. For example, if military action really is good for our position in the world, we must accept that we will always lack the capacity to be a major military power in our own right. That means we must ally ourselves with a strong military patron. That patron was once Great Britain and is now the United States. Attaching ourselves militarily to a patron requires ceding some of our sovereignty and independence in decision-making, thus yielding control of an important part of how we are perceived in the world. It also includes being, and being seen as, complicit in the human rights abuses of the patron.

We do well to remember also that any call to join in military action will be made on the basis of what the patron sees as its national interest, not ours. Persuading the Canadian public to accept such subservience requires, in turn, accepting the notion that we need the protection of the patron, and dealing with what the patron requires in return.

Why do people continue to support war in general, in spite of its poor record of benefits? Why does Canada in particular involve herself in other people’s wars? An examination of Canada’s wars suggests that there are recurring factors, each with characteristics and themes that begin to inform the answers to these questions. We will see that most of them appear each time Canada goes off to fight someone else’s fight. These factors, individually and in combination, provide compelling reasons to stay out of any particular war. For that to happen, however, the factors must first be recognized and evaluated. It really does not matter whether the evaluation is done in a personal emotional manner or as a cold cost-benefit analysis. The war loses. But in reality, war always wins. And Canada, never under any realistic threat of invasion, continues to fight. Why? j

William Geimer is a veteran of the US 82nd Airborne Division. Through his work as a lawyer and law professor, Bill presents a compelling case that Canada can end its fealty to powerful patrons like the UK and the US and instead make a more valuable contribution to international relations.


EVENT

Come here Bill speak

VICTORIA: Saturday, October 28th 2:30 p.m. Pilgrim Coffee House,1910 Sooke Rd (Colwood Corners).

VANCOUVER: Sunday, Novemeber 4th Elizabeth May, MP, Green Party of Canada speaks at 10:30 service Canadian Memorial United Church and Centre for Peace, 1825 W 16th Ave. (16th and Burrard). Following the service, she will be joined by William Geimer, who will speak about his new book Canada: The Case for Staying Out of Other People’s Wars. tarheel@shaw.ca

On love and forgiveness

Scott Stabile

by Scott Stabile

I forgive the man who killed my parents completely and without reservation. I forgave him a long time ago, but not until years after he took their lives and uprooted mine.

Photo: Scott Stabile at Banyen Books

I have four distinct memories from my mom and dad’s funeral when I was 14. I remember sitting at the funeral home, as hundreds of people paraded past my parents’ closed coffins to pay their respects. The only face I recall is that of my classmate, Jodie Goldberg, whose eyes caught mine as she waited in line. She gave me a nervous, sympathetic wave. I stared for a second and then looked down at my lap. I also remember crying in a side room away from all the mourners, with two of my sisters standing nearby. I overhead one sister tell the other she didn’t know how I, the baby of the family and devoted mama’s boy, would be able to survive without our mom. I didn’t know, either. How would I? How could I? The third thing I remember was the moment before my parents’ caskets were going to be carried off. I leapt from my chair and threw myself against my mother’s casket, screaming and crying so they wouldn’t take her away. “Mom! No! Mom! No!” I remember shouting, over and over, not willing to say goodbye. One of my brothers – I’m not sure which one – pulled me off and led me out of the room.

Incredibly, I don’t know if that last scene really happened or if I saw it in a movie or read it somewhere and owned it for myself. I can see the moment in my mind and feel it in my bones, but there’s a part of me that questions whether it actually took place. It feels much more dramatic than I knew myself to be. Of course, many things I thought I knew about myself changed when my parents died. I was one Scott the day before their death and a different one the day after. An orphan can never be the same person he was with parents. The day of the funeral, and the weeks around it, are mostly lost to me. Still, I have that vision of myself, body pressed against her coffin, screaming, arms outstretched, holding on to a little more time with her. I’ve never asked my siblings if it happened because I don’t want to know if I made it up. I want my last memory with my mom to be real.

The last thing I remember that day was being in the funeral home parking lot with my three brothers. They were talking and smoking as I sat on a ledge staring at the ground with one thought in mind: I will never forgive my father for my mother’s death.

Luckily for me, I didn’t end up keeping that promise.

The man who killed my parents was caught and sent to prison for life. He’s still there. I have a vague memory of being at his sentencing with my siblings. I don’t know why we were there, really. I’m not sure what difference it made to anyone. Maybe we wanted the judge to see our devastated family so that he wouldn’t be lenient in his sentencing. Or we wanted our parents’ killer to see the faces of the seven orphans he’d created so that he couldn’t ignore the magnitude of his crime. Perhaps his sentencing promised the only closure my older siblings knew they would find within their grief; being present for his conviction provided a breath of relief within a universe of hopelessness. With mom and dad’s killer off to prison, we could at least lock away that part of the horror.

Though that day remains a blur, my parents’ murderer does not.

I remember his name, of course, and even his face, sometimes more clearly than I remember my parents’ faces. Maybe because his actions, even more than my parents’ up until that point, impacted most profoundly the person I would become. He had changed my life more than anyone. He had taught me the meaning of loss and introduced me to unimaginable grief. He had turned me into an orphan overnight.

Even so, I forgive him.

I forgive the man who killed my parents completely and without reservation. I forgave him a long time ago, but not until years after he took their lives and uprooted mine. Not until I simmered in blame and rage and fantasized all the violent ways I would have loved to take revenge. Not before I quieted my fury by imagining his troubled life to that point and the saddened loved ones he would likely never see again. I forgave him many years ago, but not until I learned that forgiveness of others is the only choice that lives in love, and that love is the only choice I want to live by.

To love is to forgive. To forgive is to love. I don’t see exceptions, not where my heart is concerned. I don’t believe any of the justifications I produce for not forgiving. The only way something could be unforgivable is if I’m not loving enough to forgive it – if the darkness that lives within someone’s actions proves greater than the light that lives within my heart. I’m not willing to accept that. I won’t discount the strength of my love for anything, or anyone.

I used to think my parents’ murder was unforgivable. For many years, I didn’t even consider the possibility of forgiving their killer. It didn’t register as an option, not when he’d done something so profoundly terrible. When I thought about him, which wasn’t that often, I hated him, and I was fine with that. He deserved it, I thought. But it felt awful to rest in a state of hatred and rage. It hurt. I grew to understand that to feel more at peace with myself, I would need to find a greater sense of peace with him. Without knowing how I’d find my way there, I eventually considered the possibility of forgiveness. What did I have to lose?

“How do you forgive?” People ask me that question a lot. Some have struggled to forgive ex-spouses who treated them horribly while others refused to forgive friends who betrayed them. Abusive bosses, backstabbing colleagues, selfish parents, thoughtless children, corrupt politicians, greedy executives, bigoted neighbours – all have provoked in us the need, and inability, to forgive. Is there someone in your life right now you have yet to forgive? Or someone from your past you refuse to forgive? Maybe you don’t think they deserve it. Maybe you want to forgive them, but don’t know how. Maybe you’ve tried and failed.

I wish I had an answer that guaranteed success, but I’m not sure a definitive path to forgiveness exists, beyond a clear commitment to it. We have to want to give it in order to find it. If we don’t, we’ll never really start searching. There are loads of articles, books and videos that promise to guide us to forgiveness and that, no doubt, offer some valuable tools to help us along the way. Still, all the best forgiveness recommendations in the world won’t make a bit of difference if we stay committed to the belief that something is unforgivable. We won’t climb a mountain we have determined to be unclimbable. Once we shift that belief, and truly want to forgive someone for what he’s done, even if that’s solely for our peace of mind, our desire alone will likely lead us there. My desire has.

Forgiveness takes dedication and awareness, and it takes work.

Excerpted from Big Love: The Power of Living with a Wide-Open Heart. Copyright ©2017 by Scott Stabile. Printed with permission from New World Library, www.newworldlibrary.com

Digital issues at the top of MPs’ agenda

photo of David Christopher

INDEPENDENT MEDIA
by David Christopher

Now that Parliament is back at work after its long summer break, Canadians will be watching expectantly as MPs get to grips with a packed agenda of pressing digital rights issues this fall.

Top of mind for many Canadians will be the government’s proposed reforms to Bill C-51, the controversial and unpopular spying legislation forced through Parliament with scant debate by Stephen Harper’s government.

These reforms were set out as Bill C-59 in June by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould. As my colleague Marie Aspiazu observed in last month’s column, parts of Bill C-59 represent a positive step forward when it comes to privacy, especially in the long neglected area of surveillance oversight.

However, the government’s proposals also leave very important gaps. For example, they completely fail to address Bill C-51’s information sharing provisions, which turn the personal information Canadians hand to the government in the course of their everyday lives into an open-ended surveillance dragnet. A group of over 40 organizations and privacy experts (ccla.org)

have also warned the reforms threaten to legitimize mass surveillance and data-mining activities by Canadian spy agencies.

While some progress has been made, a ton of work remains to be done to fix the significant remaining problems with Bill C-59. Goodale has promised these reforms will be thoroughly reviewed at committee stage in Parliament; MPs, especially those sitting on the parliamentary committees tasked with studying the bill, will continue to hear an earful from Canadians seeking to finally turn the page on the poisonous legacy of Harper’s Bill C-51.

Surveillance reforms are far from being the only major digital item on MPs’ to-do list. NAFTA talks are stepping up amidst well-founded concerns that the renegotiated deal threatens to replicate the worst aspects of the failed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Readers may recall how the TPP’s draconian copyright rules would have greatly restricted how Canadians share and work together online while also costing our economy millions. There’s no doubt the powerful media conglomerates pushing extreme copyright proposals will pull out all the stops to achieve with NAFTA what they failed to do with the TPP. To stop them, we’ll need to ensure that MPs hear loud and clear from Canadians that NAFTA must not be allowed to threaten innovation or restrict our access to information and content.

The fall session is also likely to see the publication of the government’s proposals on the future of Canadian content in a digital age. We’ll be watching closely to ensure these don’t undermine net neutrality or force low-income Canadians offline through the imposition of a Netflix Tax, an Internet Tax or similar, unfair fees. And we’ll need to keep up the pressure on the government to finally come up with the new investment required to create a national broadband strategy that ensures all Canadians, no matter their income level or place of residence, benefit from affordable, high-speed Internet.

David Christopher is interim communications and campaigns director for OpenMedia, a community-based organization that works to keep the Internet open, affordable and surveillance-free. openmedia.org

Ready to Rumble? Keep calm and decolonize

photo of Bruce Mason

MUSIC RISING
by Bruce Mason

Indigenous/Aboriginal /First Nations/Inuit art is one of the most exciting creative forces in Canada and on our endangered Earth. At once a Renaissance Revival and a ‘resistance,’ it’s rising, Phoenix-like, from the still-smouldering ashes of what can only be described as genocide.

Pick a genre – music, visual arts, live theatre, literature, fashion – and you’ll find unique offerings, including the raising of Jim Hart’s Reconciliation Pole at UBC, Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun’s art, Brian Jungen’s life-size dinosaur skeletons, crafted from white plastic lawn chairs, the plays of Tomson Highway, the multidisciplinary Red Sky, A Tribe Called Red, guitar virtuoso Don Ross and some proud, defiant and powerfully feminist voices, including Tanya Tagaq and resurgent Buffy Sainte-Marie (Power in the Blood).

“I continue to keep my nose on the joy trail and if something is missing, I try to create it,” Sainte-Marie told Common Ground magazine in an April 2015 cover story. “It’s pretty much the moneychangers taking over the temple, nothing new, but now everybody can see it. And this is a genuine grassroots response to the realities we all face today – most extremely in the front lines of Indian country – the destruction of the environment and ongoing horror of missing and murdered Indigenous women.”

Link Wray
Link Wray in Rumble: The Indians who Rocked the World

The summer-long CBC Radio series, Reclaimed, provided a platform to put listeners in touch with the explosive pulse of contemporary Indigenous music, including traditional songs, acoustic sounds, incendiary political hip-hop, R&B and the dance floor-filling beats of electric powwow. Now, in the dog days of a fizzling sesquicentennial – 150 years since Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick confederated – we have blown through a cool half-billion in federal tax dollars to celebrate. First Nations, however, rained on our year-long parade and rightfully so. One highlight: Kent Monkman’s super-imposed nude, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, lounging in the foreground of the 1864 Charlottetown constitutional meetings. “She’s trying to get a seat at the table or she could be a hired entertainer,” the artist explained.

An extraordinary new Canadian documentary, Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, uncovers untold stories and missing history. The Sundance-award-winning film takes its title from a 1958 Link Wray recording. The only instrumental ever banned by radio, Rumble unleashed power chords in three growling, fuzzy blasts that inspired a generation to pick up an electric guitar; it still resonates, undiminished by time.

In the film, some three dozen marquee celebrities cite major influences in jazz, blues, rock, folk and heavy metal, including “Father of the Delta Blues” Charley Patton (Choctaw/African-American), “Queen of Swing” Mildred Bailey (Couer d’Alene), Jimi Hendrix (Cherokee/African-American), Wray (Shawnee), Sainte-Marie (Cree) and many more.

Front and centre is The Band’s Robbie Robertson (Mohawk), who says, “From childhood, I was told, ‘Be proud of being Indian; but be careful who you tell.’” Today, he vows, “You wouldn’t let me talk about it before. Well, now I’m going to talk real loud.”

One signpost in reclaiming cultural territory is the Grammy-nominated Native North America (Vol. 1), featured in Common Ground (January, 2015). More than a decade in the making, the package of 34 tracks with 120 pages of liner notes was curated by Kevin Howes, who continues to compile unheard, undocumented and unavailable Indigenous music.

Howes now says, “During our current era of reconciliation, music is an extra-special connector, teacher, and healer. It saves, unifies and informs us, like nothing else. The time is most certainly now to celebrate life and to show people that we will not stand for ignorance, intolerance, oppression and hatred.”

Arctic-focused Aakuluk Music, newly formed to promote contemporary Inuktitut music, globally, is just one example. One artist on the fledgling label, Riit, reports, “Every time I perform for non-Inuit crowds, it feels like I take a step forward into decolonization. Going from a generation shamed for speaking to a generation making music in Inuktitut, I’m pretty damn proud and thankful!”

We have more than enough scientific evidence about anthropogenic climate change and now need more stories from front lines, especially the Arctic. Ditto the appalling, ongoing unjust conditions, truthful history and real-life First Nations’ perspectives.

This is painful stuff, folks. But as Buffy Sainte-Marie advises, “Keep calm and decolonize.” All that is required is what the Common Ground community does best: to listen respectfully and supportively. We are truly blessed and the payoff, including visionary art and leadership, is inestimable and far too-long overdue.

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

Environmentalism a way of being

photo of David Suzuki

SCIENCE MATTERS
by David Suzuki

I’m often introduced as an environmentalist. I prefer to be called a father, grandfather, scientist or author, as these terms provide insight into my motivation. Environmentalism isn’t a discipline or specialty like law, medicine, plumbing, music or art. It’s a way of seeing our place in the world and recognizing that our survival, health and happiness are inextricably dependent on nature.

We’re clever animals – so smart we think we’re in command. We forget that our inventions have created many crises. Atomic bombs represented an incredible scientific and technological achievement, releasing the power within atoms. But when the US dropped them on Japan in 1945, scientists didn’t know about radioactive fallout, electromagnetic pulses or the potential for nuclear winter. Those were discovered after we used the weapons.

Swiss chemist Paul Mueller won a Nobel Prize in 1948 for his discovery that DDT was a potent insecticide. Many years after the compound was put into widespread use, biologists discovered a previously unknown phenomenon: biomagnification up the food chain.

When people started using chlorofluorocarbons, no one knew they would persist in the environment and float into the upper atmosphere where the sun’s ultraviolet rays would cleave away chlorine-free radicals. As a geneticist, I only learned about the protective ozone layer when other scientists reported that chlorine from CFCs was breaking it down.

Our knowledge of the biological, chemical and physical components of the biosphere and their interconnections and interactions is too limited to enable us to anticipate the consequences of our inventions and intrusions.

What we need is humility. Clever as we are, nature is far more creative. Over 3.8 billion years, every species has had to evolve ways to find food, water and energy, and to dispose of wastes, find mates, reproduce, avoid predators and fend off parasites and infections… If we had the humility to learn from nature, using an approach called “biomimicry,” we would find far more and better solutions.

The Canadian Cancer Society recently reported that half our population will develop cancer. This isn’t normal, but it shouldn’t surprise us. After all, we have synthesized hundreds of thousands of new molecules that have never existed on Earth. Most have never been tested for their biological effects and tens of thousands are now used in products and enter our waste stream.

When we dump this vast assortment of new molecules into air, water and soil, we can’t anticipate how they might interact within living organisms or what their long-term consequences might be. Throwing more money into cancer treatment and research will not alone stem the disease. To arrest the cancer crisis (and it is a crisis), we must stop using the biosphere as a garbage can or sewer for these new molecules.

Along with humility, we should be grateful for nature’s generosity, something I’ve learned from Indigenous peoples. They acknowledge the source of their well-being: clean air, clean water, clean food and clean energy. In the urbanized industrial world we inhabit, we tend to think the economy is the source of all that matters to us. It’s time to see with new eyes.

Excerpted from Environmentalism is a Way of Being, Not a Discipline. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Are you a people pleaser?

photo of Gwen Randall-Young

UNIVERSE WITHIN
by Gwen Randall-Young

Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.
– Lao T

When we are young, we learn that if we please others we gain their approval. If we displease them, we feel unloved. Even an infant can feel a parent’s energy when they are annoyed about having to change yet another diaper. Human infants depend on adults to keep them alive, so instinctively they will feel stress if they feel rejected.

As we grow, we learn that getting the right answer in school feels good. The teacher seems pleased. We learn to try and figure out what the teacher wants to hear and respond accordingly. Even at university, students often try to align papers with the instructor’s views.

On some level, many come to equate the displeasure of another with a failure on their part. They have failed to be what another wants them to be. Here lies the crux of a major block to authenticity and personal evolution.

Sadly, I have seen students struggle with the pressure of wanting a different career path than the one their parents envision for them. Imagine the conflict for a bright, young compassionate person who yearns to be a teacher because of their love for children, but knows it would be a huge disappointment to their parents who want their child to be a lawyer. Think of someone who abandons their love of art because they are told, “You will never make a living doing that.”

The fear of displeasing can become much stronger than the desire to please. I have worked with many mature adults who are stressed out at being controlled by their parents’ or partner’s expectations. They learn it is not okay to be their true selves.

This carries over to other areas of life as well. It manifests as a fear of displeasing others, which turns the person into a pleaser. They become trapped in a life that is stressful and unsatisfying. They cannot say no and cannot stand up for themselves when being controlled due to an intense discomfort at the thought of any confrontation.

If you cook for others, but never feed yourself, you will starve. If we live our lives for others, always doing what they want, our soul begins to starve. We lose touch with our true nature. Many in their fifties and sixties have shared they do not even know who they are.

The path to healing begins with first acknowledging the things we are doing that we do not want to be doing. It is beginning to recognize when our heart is saying “no” while our mouth is saying “yes.” It is up to us to begin to develop clear boundaries and to listen to that inner voice that is not happy with the way we have been doing things. We can blame others for being controlling, but we must recognize we are allowing it.

Standing up for ourselves can be done in a non-confrontational way. Rather than focusing on the behaviour of another or accusing them of being controlling, we just learn to speak our truth. Our truth is what we want for ourselves, not what we think of others. Speaking our truth starts with the word, “I,” not “you.” For example, “I am going to take some time for myself” is a statement that says, “I am in charge of me and I am taking care of myself.” After all, if you don’t, who will?

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 www.gwen.ca ‘Like’ Gwen on Facebook for daily inspiration.