In the wake of the Federal Government’s phenomenal decision this week to purchase a 65-year-old leaky oil pipeline and the unbuilt TMX project, it is worth examining the truthfulness of the arguments made to justify it. The arguments, parroted endlessly by Liberal spin-doctors and mainstream media, include:
Lie: Expanding oil and gas pipelines is consistent with meeting climate targets: Of all the assertions, this is by far the most questionable. Many people find it deeply insulting to their intelligence. This Government, elected on a promise to curb carbon emissions, has approved 3 oil pipelines, a dozen LNG plants and a plethora of coal shipments, all of which runs counter to any discernible plan, other than an anemic carbon tax proposal, to curb emissions. Failure to take any action against the fossil-fuel industry – the source of at least half of our emissions – is more reminiscent of the Harper era than the “real change” and reduced oil subsidies we were promised.
Lie: Getting Kinder Morgan’s TMX built is “in the national interest”: Serving Canadians better is certainly “in the national interest”. To argue that bailing out a dodgy Texan oilco with $4.5 Billion of Canadian taxpayer dollars outranks getting affordable housing built, educating our workers for industries of the future, improving access to health care and getting clean water to First Nations reserves shows a profound misconception of the concept of “national interest”.
Lie: We are missing out on getting a higher price in Asia for our oil: This is not, nor has it ever been, a provable assertion. Instead, the evidence shows that heavy oils like Alberta’s tarry goop sell for a discount from U.S. prices in Asia. Small wonder then that none of the oil from the existing pipeline goes to Asia – the tankers all turn South to the U.S. That’s odd – surely some would go to Asia if there were a better price to be had there.
Lie: The project will generate 15,000 good, middle-class jobs: Wish that it were so! Unfortunately, Kinder Morgan’s own figures show only 52 long-term jobs in BC associated with the TMX project- running the expanded Burnaby tank farm, the terminal and maintaining the pipeline. There are more employees in an average tourist hotel. All others – digging and laying the pipeline, feeding and housing the workers – would be temporary workers during the 2-year construction period. And there are dozens of hungry pipe-laying crews in Texas and Oklahoma all geared to fill those construction jobs.
Lie: We have no more important relationship than that with First Nations: Mouthing frothy apologies for 151 years of cruel mistreatment and promising to ratify UNDRIP (the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples), doesn’t cut the mustard with First Nations. They know that old colonial attitudes remain deeply embedded in the loathsome Indian Act. Offering them a way out of grinding poverty if only they will agree to a dangerous pipeline serving a sunset industry – shameful!
Lie: The Ocean Protection Plan will protect against oil spills on the coast; The Feds say that “their” science says diluted bitumen floats (so no need to worry). It didn’t in the 2010 Michigan spill. Eight years later, bitumen is still being scraped off the bottom of the Kalamazoo River. And, even if it did float, at best 10-20% of the spill will be recovered. The rest of it will end up on the riverbed or ocean floor or wash up as tar-balls on our beaches. The bottom line is that all of the $1.5 Billion of vaguely defined Oceans Protection Plan won’t make dilbit float.
Lie: There are investors lined up to take this off the Government’s hands: Alas- no. Neither Enbridge (trying to reduce debt on its books) nor TransCanada (busy with Keystone XL) showed the slightest interest in taking on this deadbeat project. Some pension funds showed vague interest as investors, but their pipeline know-how ranks below even that of the Federal Government. It is likely that taxpayers will be stuck with this for a long time. That is odd – didn’t the West react unpleasantly the last time a Trudeau wanted to nationalize Alberta’s oil industry?
Lie: Kinder Morgan has spill insurance: Well – not really! As economist and former ICBC CEO Robyn Allan explained, Kinder Morgan (U.S.) baulked at the NEB’s insistence that it set aside a hefty insurance fund for spills. The Federal Government – yes, the same Feds/politicians that paid billions of public money to settle the Nathan E Stewart, Marathassa, Mount Polley and Lac Megantic disasters – have now stepped in to put taxpayers on the hook for spills from TMX’s pipelines and tankers.
Abraham Lincoln famously said “You can fool all the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but never all the people all of the time”.
Face it – TMX is an economic basket-case.
Eoin Finn B.Sc., Ph.D., MBA, is a resident of Vancouver and a retired Partner of Accounting/Consulting firm KPMG. After 35 years in the business world, he describes himself as an “accidental activist”.
One of the first duties of the physician is to educate the masses not to take medicine. – Dr. William OslerYou may have heard about Stanley Milgram, the American psychologist who carried out some of the most infamous research on obedience back in the 1960s, but have you heard of the psychiatrist Charles K. Hofling?
Hofling carried out a very interesting hospital-based experiment in 1966, in which hospital nurses were given orders by an unknown doctor to administer a potentially life-threatening dose of a drug to a particular patient. The fake doctor phoned the nurse on night duty and told her to administer 20 mg of “Astroten” – a fake drug – to a patient, promising he would drop by later for the required signature. A bottle of “Astroten” was in the drug cabinet with its label clearly stating that 10 mg was the maximum daily dose.
The result? Twenty-one out of the 22 nurses were prepared to give the patient the Astroten as ordered and actually had to be prevented from doing so during the experiment. Like Milgram’s experiments, Hofling showed that even when people have strong reasons to question authority – such as being asked to deliver a potentially lethal drug– they often won’t question the orders they received. You likely wouldn’t get the same result today, but undoubtedly one stark fact remains: the authority of doctors or specialists over nurses and patients can seem invincible.
While Milgram and Hofling’s experiments have been criticized for cruelly tricking people into following orders, they are incredibly insightful, showing that many of us are hard-wired to not question or disobey authority. After all, “just following orders” is the oldest excuse in the world to explain away bad behaviour, even that of Nazis and those who carried out atrocities on an industrial scale.
In the modern world of pharmaceutical consumption, complying with authority – following a doctor’s prescription, for example – is considered one of the highest duties of a patient. Despite all the new-age assurances around “informed consent” and “doctor-patient collaboration,” we still live in a world where expecting and rewarding obedience endure and thrive.
Patients who are ‘non-adherent’ to their doctors’ orders do so at the risk of souring their good relationship with their GPs. Healthcare professionals understandably expect compliance from patients because they believe that not listening to good medical advice could be risky. Yet in the prescribing world, how big and how bad is this problem?
“Medication non-adherence is truly an epidemic,” according to Mary De Vera, a pharmacoepidemiologist and assistant professor in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at UBC. Last summer, she was awarded a university position funded by AbbVie, a major pharmaceutical company.
The “Professorship in Medication Adherence” focuses on, as far as I can tell, the problem of disobedient patients; this is a head scratcher worthy of being filed in the “truth is stranger than fiction” file. What’s clear to me is that Big Pharma’s business model depends on drug sales so they must do their best to squash disobedience. After all, disobedient patients who won’t buy their products are bad for business.
There are certainly times when refusing a prescription may be fatal – getting bitten by a poisonous snake and refusing the antidote or having an asthma attack and refusing a bronchodilator, for example – but the vast majority of prescription drugs don’t fall into that category.
Clearly, not adhering to your doctor’s script is wasteful from an economic point of view. As a patient, if you get a prescription from your doctor, pay for it, but then don’t take it, you’re wasting your doctor’s time and the drug insurer’s and your money. You might also be missing out on something that works to deal with your health complaint.
Dr. De Vera maintains that “non-adherence is a leading cause of preventable morbidity, mortality and cost,” but I would beg to differ. As Peter Gotzsche so colourfully outlines in his book Deadly Medicines and Organized Crime, prescription drugs are the third leading cause of death so how could refusing prescribed drugs be a leading cause of dying or getting sick?
But that’s the line the drug industry and its surrogates like to peddle. One of my colleagues has a good counter to this. He pointed to the arthritis drug Vioxx – likely 150,000 dead after three years on the market – and said, “Nobody died by not taking Vioxx.” How true. Now substitute Prepulsid, Bextra, Baycol, Rezulin (etc.) and dozens of pharmaceuticals removed from the market in the last decade because of their propensity to kill and this ‘medication non-adherence’ crusade seems almost preposterous.
The theme of “non-adherence” isn’t a sentiment that would sit well with the doctors I know because they’ve been raised drinking a different Kool-Aid where “shared decision making” rules. Instead of ‘non-adherence,’ progressive doctors are now talking about “minimally disruptive medicine” and ways to rationalize and reduce peoples’ prescription regimes because they are aware of one indisputable fact: more drugs often lead to more harm.
I looked for research to see if it was harmful to patients if they did not adhere to their prescriptions, but there is very little information available. A recent systematic review by the Cochrane Collaboration found that, even though only about half of all patients take their medication as prescribed, there was scant evidence to show that this made much of a difference. Only five of 180 studies on how to improve “adherence rates” could show any improvements in health outcomes for patients. As the authors noted, “Even the most effective interventions did not lead to large improvements in adherence and treatment outcomes.”
While it seems the pharmaceutical industry’s “take-your-meds” approach is working under the 1950s banner of “Father knows best,” a noticeable counter-movement called “de-prescribing” is starting to emerge. Because the problem of excessive medication use in the elderly is becoming more and more known, efforts to ‘deprescribe’ – especially among the overdrugged and frail elderly – are expanding. New educational programs and tools are springing up all over the place to help doctors recognize and act on the problems related to polypharmacy (multiple drug prescriptions) and to try and reduce the potential harm related to all those drugs.
Doctors are starting to recognize that the more drugs you take, the more problems such as drug-to-drug interactions, errors and serious adverse drug reactions you are likely to have. This means – especially in older people – more falls, confusion, delirium and otherwise feeling sicker. One of the biggest reasons many seniors end up in hospitals – and have prolonged stays there – is that they have actually taken the dozens of drugs as prescribed, probably from multiple doctors. As foolish and as crazy as it sounds, many of those drugs were given to deal with the side effects of drugs the patient is already taking!
Even though doctors are starting to work to reduce the risk of polypharmacy, we can all be involved. Here’s one suggestion for seniors and those who care for them. Try taking this line for a test-drive: “Doctor, I don’t want to take all these drugs because they make me feel bad – weak, dizzy, confused, restless, etc. Can you do a trial on me and cut out those drugs that are not essential to keep me alive or which control my symptoms? Can you help me do this?”
No reasonable doctor will refuse this request, if you ask nicely. This is not being disobedient to your doctor’s orders. It’s not about being “non adherent.” It’s about reminding yourself that sometimes you have to be the first one to say, “enough is enough.”
Alan Cassels is a drug policy researcher in Victoria. He is currently working with other researchers in BC and across Canada to develop and test deprescribing tools. Follow him on twitter @akecassels or read his other writings at www.alancassels.com
Indigenous leaders, conservation organizations and community groups are calling for an all-party investigation into the federal approval for Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker expansion project after revelations in April that insiders rigged the federal approval process.
Whistleblowers in the federal government revealed they were pressured “to give cabinet a legally-sound basis to say ‘yes’” to the pipeline and tanker proposal,” one month before the pipeline was actually approved.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, stated, “We are absolutely shocked and outraged to learn that the legally required consultation process for the destructive Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion may have been disingenuous. Even though consultation and accommodation is a red herring in the era of consent, it exists as a minimum legal standard that the government is required to carry out. We expect a full and independent investigation immediately.”
Seven First Nations are awaiting court decisions which could overturn the approval due to improper consultation. These revelations appear to confirm concerns at the time that the federal government had already made up its mind.
“The serious allegations in this reporting, if true, means the Kinder Morgan review process was a rigged game from the very beginning,” said Mike Hudema, Climate Campaigner with Greenpeace Canada. “We need an investigation to look into the claims, to determine whether Indigenous leaders and people across the country were lied to and whether the only answer the federal government would hear for this destructive project was the one Kinder Morgan demanded.”
High-ranking public servant Erin O’Gorman ordered the five involved federal departments to create a rationale for the approval on October 27, 2016, while consultation talks with local First Nations were going on. The Ministerial Panel that was to fill gaps in the National Energy Board process under the Harper government didn’t issue its report into meetings along the pipeline and tanker route until November 1, 2016. The panel was the centerpiece of Justin Trudeau’s election campaign promise to reform the National Energy Board.
“Thousands of people took time out of their day to voice their opposition to the only federal representatives who would listen,” said Peter McCartney, Climate Campaigner for the Wilderness Committee, who attended all of those meetings. “To know that Cabinet didn’t even consider their input is a slap in the face to all British Columbians.”
Source: Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (“UBCIC”), ubcic.bc.ca
The Wilderness Committee is Canada’s people-powered, citizen-funded wilderness protection group. wildernesscommittee.org
Greenpeace: The organization’s goal is to “ensure the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its diversity” and focuses its campaigning on worldwide issues. greenpeace.org
350.org uses online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions to oppose new coal, oil and gas projects and build 100% clean energy solutions that work for all.
Dogwood is BC’s largest nonpartisan citizen action network. dogwoodbc.ca
The Council of Canadians is Canada’s leading social action organization, mobilizing a network of 60 chapters across the country. canadians.org
SumOfUs is a community of people from around the world committed to curbing the growing power of corporations. sumofus.org
BROKE (Burnaby Residents Opposed to Kinder Morgan Expansion) is a group of local residents whose mission includes preventing the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline and related infrastructure in Burnaby and supertanker traffic. brokepipelinewatch.ca
Coast Protectors: The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs are working towards the recognition, implementation and exercise of inherent Indigenous Title, Rights and Treaty Rights. www.coastprotectors.ca
The Pipe Up Network is made up of residents of Southwestern BC who have come together because of their concerns about the safety, environmental and financial implications of shipping tar sands along Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline. pipe-up.net
“Now is the time to stand beside Indigenous people in support of our timeless struggle to defend Mother Earth, whether our Indigenous Land Rights are being violated in BC, by Kinder Morgan’s TMX pipeline, the Site C Dam, the Pacific Northwest LNG plant or in Standing Rock with the Dakota Access Pipeline. There is a battle being waged across the globe by Indigenous Peoples and their allies demanding a safe, healthy world for future generations. This is about water versus oil and life versus death, and ultimately, survival versus extinction.” – Grand Chief Stewart Phillip
Sign the pledge to Stop Kinder Morgan
“With our voice, in the courts or the streets, on the water or the land. Whatever it takes, we will stop the Kinder Morgan Pipeline and tanker project.”
On April 25, MP Nathan Cullen stated in the House of Commons, “The Liberal’s Kinder Morgan approval process is looking more rigged than a Russian election. The Prime Minster promised the people of Alberta a credible process. He broke that promise. He promised British Columbia meaningful consultation with First Nations. He broke that promise too.
Now, with leaked papers from the Prime Minster’s own administration, we have proof that the decision on Kinder Morgan was made before the process even started. Today in Parliament, I asked Justin Trudeau to release the Kinder Morgan papers and the rebuild the trust of Canadians. He chose not to answer the question.”
We Don’t Want Your Pipeline is Bob Bossin’s musical response to the Kinder Morgan pipeline. The musicians on the live stage recording are Marie-Lynn Hammond, Keith Bennett, Ben Mink, Calvin Cairns, Paul Gellman and Dinah D.
The original We Don’t Want Your Pipeline was written by Robin and Linda Williams when people in Virginia had their own pipeline battle. Robin and Linda graciously let Bob write new verses for the Kinder Morgan fight.
Full credits, lyrics, sheet music and other info about “Pipeline” can be found here.
Five years ago, I set out on a mission along with my co-director Devyn Brugge: to understand the impacts of the Kinder Morgan pipeline on local communities and give a voice back to those who had been ignored by the National Energy Board process.
I have interviewed residents affected by the 2007 inlet drive spill, and covered the protests on Burnaby Mountain – and journeyed to First Nations communities such as Fort Mackay, Alberta to witness the impacts of fossil fuel extraction, to New Brunswick where many of the energy workers are from, as well as to France for the Paris Climate talks.
What I found was a growing storm of opposition from all walks of life and confusion over Prime Minister Trudeau’s climate plan – how to achieve it while building a major oil pipeline?
Directly Affected: Pipeline Under Pressure – A feature length documentary we produced is screening at The Clutch on April 8th, The Rio Theatre April 22nd, Evergreen Theatre Powell River April 13th, Comox Tuesday April 3rd at North Island College Theatre, The Vic April 28.
Cambridge Analytica targets voters to influence election outcomes
Revelations late last month about Cambridge Analytica’s use of psychographic targeting to influence elections should be of special concern to Canadians because of our first-past-the-post electoral system and the way it amplifies minor swings in electoral preferences. This makes us especially vulnerable to the sort of targeted manipulation of the electoral process that brought Donald Trump to power in the US.
In Canada, a few thousand votes in a handful of swing ridings can make the difference between one party or another forming government. Seats in swing ridings can swing on a dime and governments can rise or fall from grace based on the smallest of changes. Some stark examples:
In 2011, Stephen Harper’s majority government was won by a total of just 6,201 votes in 14 highly contested swing ridings.
In 2014, the Ontario Liberal Party went from minority status to a strong majority position after increasing its share of the vote from 37.7% to 38.7%.
In 2017, the BC NDP went from opposition status with 39.7% of the vote to forming government with 40.3% of the vote. Had they lost the Courtenay-Comox riding, which they won by only 189 votes, the Liberals would have formed a majority government instead!
This is standard fare under first-past-the-post in one way or another. And not just in Canada. The UK faces the same problem, as does the US.
It stands in contrast with proportional systems, where an increase from 1% increase in a party’s share of the vote leads to a 1% change in its share of seats and it takes hundreds of thousands or millions of votes to significantly influence the result.
The sensitivity of our first-past-the-post system to small shifts in voter preferences leads to the sort of hyper-partisan behaviour we have come to expect in Canada and increases the incentives to engage in dirty tricks and wedge politics. While we have come to expect this, modern social media technology is taking the dangers of our electoral system to new levels.
The stage is set for a perfect storm when politicians’ all-consuming passion to win under first-past-the-post is buttressed by companies like Cambridge Analytica, which is capable of manipulating key segments of the voting population with misinformation and scaremongering tactics targeted at vulnerable segments of the population.
Cambridge Analytica’s website boasts of involvement in more than 100 elections around the world. One should add to this their involvement in the continent-shaking Brexit referendum.
Could the same thing happen in Canada? According to Fair Vote Canada’s President Réal Lavergne, “Canadians have every reason to be worried because of the ease with which results can be manipulated under our our winner-take-all electoral system. It’s time for Canadians and politicians to wake up to the fact that our antiquated electoral system is not just excruciatingly unfair to voters. It is downright dangerous!”
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.
It’s getting down to the wire for the NDP-led government to announce its decision on Site C Dam. The corporate media and some big guns for labour have been making a sales push to throw the beleaguered project a lifeline and many fear they could succeed. That would be the biggest mistake the NDP could make. They didn’t create this monster, but they will own the consequences if they keep it alive.
There are three reasons given for carrying on with Site C: 1. We’d be throwing away four billion if we killed it; 2. We’ll eventually need the power; 3. The jobs!!! All of these are bogus and the cost of getting this wrong, for ratepayers and taxpayers (YOU), is astronomical.
A bottomless hole
Even if you buy the overstated remediation costs for the project, even if you accept the far-fetched premise of $4 billion lost (experts like the head of the Site C Joint Review Panel peg it closer to $3 billion), you’d have to consider the cost of not cancelling Site C. For once, let’s be frank. Even the BC Utilities Commission, when it found the project could easily exceed $10 billion, even go as high as $12.5 billion (up from Hydro’s estimate of $5 billion-6.6 billion in 2007), wasn’t fully appreciating how bad this could get.
Just look at Newfoundland’s yet unfinished Muskrat Falls project, estimates for which have more than doubled from $6.2 billion to $12.7 billion. At $6.7 billion spent, many there say it’s past the point of no return (familiar), but Site C isn’t nearly that far along, so it should be viewed differently. The net result for Newfoundlanders will be an additional $150 a month in electrical costs per homeowner – forever! Newfoundland has a smaller population to absorb its cost overruns, but we’ve got our own share of problems to compound the damage from Site C. Think of the lawsuits from First Nations whose treaty rights are being undeniably violated (while both the provincial and federal governments tout UNDRIP – i.e. they know better).
But the biggest issue is the shaky ground on which the project is being built – literally. Way back in 2009, I interviewed a longtime farmer in the region, Dick Ardill. His family has been in the Peace going back as far as mine, the Beatties, who lost their ranch to the first big dam there, WAC Bennett. Dick must have been well into his eighties when I spoke to him, with a lifetime of practical knowledge of the soil and slope stability in the valley. He told me then the biggest reason not to build the project was the unstable land. He’d seen firsthand the Attachie slide of 1973 and many others over the years. The mixture of shale, clay and alluvial soils made for an awful place to put an earthen dam.
Slumping around the Williston Reservoir, circa 2008
The 80-kilometre section of the valley, from Hudson’s Hope to the foot of Fort St. John, where Site C was proposed was in some ways worse in this respect than where the Bennett Dam and Williston Reservoir were built (the Williston gobbled up far more land than originally contemplated, due to slumping, including my grandfather’s property above the planned reservoir). Granted, the Williston Reservoir behaves differently than would Site C, which is more a massive run-of-river project than a storage reservoir with large swings in water levels, but a 1991 report by geologist Norm Catto for the Ministry of Energy and Mines had this to say about the eastern Peace Valley, which includes the area where the dam itself is proposed:
“Thus, all of the major terrain units present in the eastern Peace River region are subject to slope failure. Extreme caution should therefore be observed in any effort to exploit or utilize river valley slopes.”
This report appears to have been ignored by Hydro in evaluating Site C.
Cracks in the dam
Flash forward to the tension cracks formed around the dam site and the hundreds of millions of dollars of cost overruns already attributable to these very stability issues and you see that old Dick knew what he was talking about. And here’s the thing: there’s no bottom to this problem. Like a highly leveraged 2008 stock deal, we have no idea how deep this hole gets. Ten billion? How about 15? Or 20?
If everything went perfectly according to plan (the opposite of what has happened thus far), Hydro intended to have the dam paid off by 2094! That’s now blown, so what are we talking? 2120? 2150? How many generations of your descendants will be paying for this mistake? And what’s the interest on $20 billion amortized over a century, at much higher interest rates than we currently enjoy? (The BCUC rightly chastised BC Hydro for assuming low rates in perpetuity). In other words, what’s the real cost of this project? I could take a stab and say $60-80 billion, and you could say that’s just a wild-eyed guess. Then I would reply, “Exactly – I’m using BC Hydro’s methods.” (For the sake of argument, though, at a rate of 5%, $20 billion, paid off over 100 years, comes to roughly $100 billion in principal and interest. Just sayin.’)
Oh, and remember the NDP wants to do all this while freezing Hydro rates. LOL! If they’re serious, they’ll have to raise taxes or make massive cuts to social services. They can’t have their cake and eat it too.
According to Moody’s, the single biggest threat to our Triple-A credit rating is BC Hydro-related debt. In other words, Site C – piled atop all the sweetheart private power contracts and financial blunders the crown corp committed under the Liberals’ direction – will cost us our rating. Then up goes the province’s cost of borrowing – for all our debt – and the house of cards comes tumbling down. We’re worried about (at most) $4 billion in sunk costs, remediation and cancellation fees? Chump change!
But that’s not the worst of it. Dr. Vern Ruskin (PhD, MCom, BSc, Retired PEng [BC]) warned the BCUC of serious safety concerns, partly due to the above stability issues around the dam site. Dr. Ruskin is no less than the former director of BC Hydro’s planning division, responsible for planning, designing, budgeting and contracting more than 10 dams in BC, including WAC Bennett, Peace Canyon and Site C in its early stages. Among other things, Dr. Ruskin warned that changes made in 2011 to the original dam design pose increased risk of dam failure, as do these recent tension cracks and the instability they suggest.
The BCUC did not consider these concerns of Dr. Ruskin because dam safety was outside of the terms of reference for its review. But there is no reason the NDP-led government should ignore Dr. Ruskin. The enormous consequences of a dam failure – potential human injury and loss of life, widespread property damage – would make these financial concerns seem trivial by comparison.
“We’ll eventually need the power”
Here’s a thought: For the last decade, our population has been growing; we’ve been building bigger houses and acquiring more gadgets, but our power consumption has remained flat. Is it so wild a concept that 10 or 20 years from now same thing could be true? Our gadgets are getting more efficient, our building codes more stringent and we’ve seen an exodus of heavy industry, which once consumed a third of our total electricity. Wait, are we stopping raw log exports tomorrow? Did I miss the memo about a whole bunch of pulp mills reopening? Are there dozens of new mines breaking ground this year? Will BC defy global economics and magically produce an LNG industry after all the years of failure?
But let’s play this out, for the sake of argument. Say in 20 years we do need more electricity. We sure as heck wouldn’t be building Site C to supply it. At the rate renewables of all stripes are dropping in cost, we’d avail ourselves of the latest, best technology, which wouldn’t be a 70-year-old idea for a mega-dam. No less than the head of the Site C Joint Review Panel, Harry Swain, the BCUC itself, and other eminent energy experts not tied to Site C, Hydro or the government, have come to the same conclusion. We won’t need the power for a very long time and if and when we do, Site C will not be the best option, either environmentally or in terms of cost.
One final point that connects to the cost issue: since we don’t need this power, it will have to go into our grid and across our borders to customers in Washington State and Alberta. In real terms, it will cost over $110/megawatt hour (MWh) to produce, yet the going rate to sell this power has been hovering around $35/MWh for years. You do the math. Every megawatt produced carries a loss to the ratepayer.
But the jaaaawwwbs!!!
A few quick notes:
1. BC’s big unions aren’t getting these jobs; a different, quasi-union called the Christian Labour Association of Canada already has the lion’s share of this gig. It is also noteworthy that one of BC’s biggest unions, the BCGEU, has come out against the project so there is a divide within labour on the issue.
2. We keep hearing 2,000 jobs – balderdash. With a series of layoffs and a significant decline in vehicles and visible work on the property – much of that related to these tension crack issues – local sources suggest the real number of workers is far lower than Hydro and the government claim, pegging the number at 500 or less. These jobs are temporary and have come under criticism for allegedly unsafe conditions.
3. If we’re prepared to spend large quantities of tax dollars and hydro fees simply for a make-work project, there are far better ways to employ far more British Columbians for far less money, as a new analysis from UBC’s Program on Water Governance underscores.
This jobs argument is the weakest link of the pro-Site C camp and the NDP should treat it as such.
NDP deciding its own future
If Site C proceeds, this could be the one and only time John Horgan and his NDP cabinet are sworn in by the Lieutenant Governor (Photo: Province of BC / Flickr)
The costs to ratepayers and taxpayers, along with all the other impacts on farmland, First Nations and the environment, are impacts Site C would have on British Columbians, fauna and flora. But the NDP would be wise to consider the impacts the project would have on them, politically. Had the BCUC come out with rosy outlook for the project, that would perhaps have given them some cover to continue forward. It didn’t. Now, the ball is in the current government’s court and it is not only deciding the future of Site C, but its own future.
Many in the environmental community appreciate the moves the NDP has made thus far: (partially) banning the grizzly hunt, (sort of) taking a stand against Kinder Morgan, reviewing professional reliance, reviewing Site C. Yet I have spoken with many colleagues and seen scores of comments on social media to the effect that if the NDP proceeds with Site C, they will abandon the party.
On the flip side, if the NDP kills Site C, will it lose labour votes? Will union lobbyists Bill Tieleman or Jim Quail turn their backs on the party? Hardly. It’s unclear what the Greens will do in the short term, but this delicate, temporary arrangement will be severely strained and, in the long run, Site C will further drive a wedge through the Left, causing the NDP to lose votes in the next election. This will all be compounded by the fiscal woes that will accompany this inevitable boondoggle. Just look to Ontario and Newfoundland to see the political fallout from poorly made decisions on large-scale energy projects.
Green MLA Sonia Furstenau said it best in the legislature [in late November]: “Up until now, this has been a BC Liberal boondoggle. The cost overruns, the ballooning debt, the questionable need for such a costly project: this is the Liberals’ mistake alone. But if the government decides to continue with Site C, they will become responsible for the impacts. It will be on the shoulders of this government.”
Indeed, if this government chooses to flood the Peace Valley (again), we may look back in years, drowning in unbearable power bills and debt, and realize that 2017 was the NDP’s high watermark. Then came the flood.
Posted November 29, 2017 by Damien Gillis in Economics. Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues, especially relating to water, energy and saving Canada’s wild salmon. He is co-founder of the online publication the Common Sense Canadian.
For the vast majority, the future isn’t what it used to be. The inevitable reckoning and consequences, still unscripted, will be Shakespearean in scope and proportion. “To be, or not to be” really “is the question” right now.
And ‘’All the world’s a stage… all the men and women merely players” is a fact of daily life, and death. We all have new roles and lines to learn for this looming, real-life epic. There are no exceptions and for better, or for worse, very few choices.
Warning: Canadian Microsoft researchers recently determined people now lose concentration after eight seconds, down from 12 since 2000 when our digitalized lifestyle began. The average attention span for the notoriously ill-focused goldfish is nine seconds.
Keep KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) in mind and a single Word of the Year (WOTY) in hand to help clean up our act. Dictionary.com has selected: “Complicit” as this year’s WOTY. It is defined as “Choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others; having partnership or involvement in wrongdoing… to be responsible, at some level, even if “indirectly” [emphasis added].
In last December/January’s issue, Common Ground focused on Oxford Dictionary’s 2016 WOTY “Post-truth.” It has stood up and stood out in the interim, ubiquitous on its own, and in synonyms such as “fake news” and “lies.” In fact, Collins Dictionary just recently put “fake news” on top for 2017.
But “complicit” is more significant in reflecting the ethos and capturing the zeitgeist of our time, attracting more interest and provoking much conversation. In 2017, we looked complicit up, on-line, at a rate of 10,000% more than the previous year.
The first spike in searches was on March 12, the day after a Saturday Night Live satirical ad featured an Ivanka Trump look-alike hawking “Complicit, the fragrance “for the woman who could stop all this, but won’t.” In a glittery gold dress, the fake first daughter was tagged: “She’s beautiful, she’s powerful, she’s complicit.”
The next spike on April 5, up more than 11,000%, followed a TV interview with the real Ivanka Trump. When asked if she and husband Jared Kushner were complicit in her father’s actions, she responded, “If being complicit is wanting to be a force for good and to make a positive impact, then I’m complicit.”
A few days later, the mother of all spikes occurred, when an outed, Ivy-league-educated, Ivanka, mouthed, “I don’t know what it means to be complicit.”
This 2017 WOTY had many other moments, including US Senator Jeff Flake’s unexpected retirement. “I have children and grandchildren to answer to, and so, Mr. President, I will not be complicit,” he explained, citing a “flagrant disregard for truth or decency,” adding, “It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.”
We have been complicit in speech and action and also when we remained silent. The cultural and political landscape – and the very landscape itself – demanded answers to not only what complicit means, but also what it means to be complicit.
And we turned to dictionaries. No one knows definitively what sends us looking for word meaning, but lexicographers report it’s a combination of seeking definition and searching for inspiration and emotional reinforcement. These quests, online, now show up in ongoing, digitally trending big data.
Complicity hit every hot button, globally. Touching everything from Russian collusion, to mass murder, opioids, Site C, Syria, the evil oil industry. extreme weather, humanity’s role in planetary implosion, obscene growth in inequity, normalized hate speech and groups and myriad other results, enabled through the collective ‘turning a blind eye.’
“Our choice for Word of the Year is as much about what is visible as it is about what is not,” explains dictionary.com’s Jane Solomon.”It’s a word that reminds us even inaction is a type of action. The silent acceptance of wrongdoing is how we’ve gotten to this point.”
Refusing was “a grounding force of 2017.” Five million stood in the worldwide Women’s March. Dozens of professional athletes knelt in anthemic protest against systemic injustice. The most impactful, far-reaching F**k You ever. Personal stories of sexual harassment and assault with the hashtag #metoo, finally gaining traction against age-old foundations of white male hierarchy, right down to micro-fiefdoms.
What does it mean to be complicit? Silent? Processing our current, globally existential question requires questioning our own behaviour, including co-dependency. Who knew what, when? Could I have spoken out? Did I go along because it was the path of least resistance?
Some silence, of course, is essential to self-preservation. And sometimes speaking out is a privilege unto itself. Not everyone’s voice is heard, after all. But refusals to accept the reprehensible, the repugnant and the questionable, transform apocalypse fatigue into action.
How tragic, absurdly comic or happy we make 2018 is down to us – most definitely down to our resistance. Last word on this most useful 2017 WOTY, to dictionary.com lexicographer Solomon: “We must not let this continue to be the norm. If we do, then we are all complicit.”
Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola Island-based banjo player, gardener, writer and author of Our Clinic.
photo: Prize winners International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) holds press conference at UN Headquarters, led by Beatrice Fihn (centre), Executive Director of ICAN. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Statement by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)
It is a great honour to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2017 in recognition of our role in achieving the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This historic agreement, adopted on 7 July with the backing of 122 nations, offers a powerful, much-needed alternative to a world in which threats of mass destruction are allowed to prevail and, indeed, are escalating.
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is a coalition of non-governmental organizations in one hundred countries. By harnessing the power of the people, we have worked to bring an end to the most destructive weapon ever created – the only weapon that poses an existential threat to all humanity.
This prize is a tribute to the tireless efforts of many millions of campaigners and concerned citizens worldwide who, ever since the dawn of the atomic age, have loudly protested nuclear weapons, insisting that they can serve no legitimate purpose and must be forever banished from the face of our earth.
It is a tribute also to the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – the hibakusha – and victims of nuclear test explosions around the world, whose searing testimonies and unstinting advocacy were instrumental in securing this landmark agreement.
The treaty categorically outlaws the worst weapons of mass destruction and establishes a clear pathway to their total elimination. It is a response to the ever-deepening concern of the international community that any use of nuclear weapons would inflict catastrophic, widespread and long-lasting harm on people and our living planet.
We are proud to have played a major role in its creation, including through advocacy and participation in diplomatic conferences, and we will work assiduously in coming years to ensure its full implementation. Any nation that seeks a more peaceful world, free from the nuclear menace, will sign and ratify this crucial accord without delay.
The belief of some governments that nuclear weapons are a legitimate and essential source of security is not only misguided, but also dangerous, for it incites proliferation and undermines disarmament. All nations should reject these weapons completely – before they are ever used again.
This is a time of great global tension, when fiery rhetoric could all too easily lead us, inexorably, to unspeakable horror. The spectre of nuclear conflict looms large once more. If ever there were a moment for nations to declare their unequivocal opposition to nuclear weapons, that moment is now.
We applaud those nations that have already signed and ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and we urge all others to follow their lead. It offers a pathway forward at a time of alarming crisis. Disarmament is not a pipe dream, but an urgent humanitarian necessity.
We most humbly thank the Norwegian Nobel Committee. This award shines a needed light on the path the ban treaty provides towards a world free of nuclear weapons. Before it is too late, we must take that path.
Support and congratulations to ICAN
“If Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr were alive today, they would be part of ICAN.”
– Martin Sheen Actor and activist
“I salute ICAN for working with such commitment and creativity.”
– Ban Ki-moon Former UN chief
“Governments say a nuclear weapons ban is unlikely. Don’t believe it. They said the same about a mine ban treaty.”
– Jody Williams Nobel laureate
“Because I cannot tolerate these appalling weapons, I whole-heartedly support ICAN.”
– Herbie Hancock Jazz musician
“We can do it together. With your help, our voice will be made still stronger. Imagine peace.”
– Yoko Ono Artist
“I can imagine a world without nuclear weapons, and I support ICAN.”
– Dalai Lama Nobel laureate
“With your support, we can take ICAN its full distance – all the way to zero nuclear weapons.”
– Desmond TutuNobel laureate
“Let’s act up! Ban nuclear weapons completely and unconditionally.”
– Ai Weiwei Artist and activist