What Health Canada won’t tell you about their NHP proposals

pill bottle

– but you should tell your MP

Health Canada (HC) never changes! They say one thing when behind the scenes their true motivations are completely different. With the media in tow, they have launched another round of consultations attempting to whitewash their proposals for the regulation of Natural Health Products (NHPs).

See: “Report of Online Consultation on Modernizing the Regulation of Self-care Products in Canada” (March 2017): www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/programs/consultation-regulation-self-care-products/full-report.html

Make no mistake; the sole purpose of these consultations is to ‘manufacture consent’ from stakeholders, the public and politicians for what HC is actually attempting, which is to provide a mechanism for pharmaceutical companies to monopolize NHPs for serious chronic diseases, as drugs derived from natural constituents appear, protected by use-patents.

As has been the case for over three decades, Health Canada’s policies on NHPs are being heavily influenced by the Therapeutic Products Division (TPD), which regulates prescription drugs. The TPD acts as an ambassador(s) for Big Pharma. It is all part of an international alliance between pharma and regulators called ICMRA, the International Coalition of Medicines Regulatory Authorities. (See www.hc-sc.gc.ca/dhp-mps/intactivit/drug-medicament/icmra-eng.php)

ICMRA is looking to internationally harmonize regulations on all medicines, an agenda Health Canada has ardently supported and prime in their sights are NHPs. The current HC proposals boil down to a purely bureaucratic and corporate agenda that has absolutely nothing to do with the benefit of Canadians.

How can such statements be made? In light of examining what Health Canada is actually doing, what they are saying doesn’t hold water.

Firstly, their most prominent theme is that they are committed to “modernizing” the current regulations.
Fact: Canada already has the most modern NHP regulations on the planet! This is like saying you are committed to modernizing a car that automatically drives itself. There isn’t anything more modern. Our regulations are light years ahead of any other country, with mandatory Good Manufacturing Processes and testing of ingredients. As a result, Canadian-made NHPs are in high demand in international markets. So what is HC so intent on changing??

The answer involves the fact that when HC formed the NHP Regulations they never thought so many NHPs would be able to support their claims with scientific evidence demonstrating efficacy. In fact, it was assumed by both HC and the natural health industry that scores of products would be eliminated. One prominent HC inspector was quoted during a plant inspection as estimating that up to 70% of the NHPs on the market would vanish. But the NHP industry rose to the challenge.

As new science on NHPs continued to mount, HC was faced with a new problem: that a large number of claims were being approved by the HC directorate in charge, for example, the Natural Health Products Directorate (NHPD). These claims were/are based on peer-reviewed scientific or traditional evidence. Hence, large amounts of information have been disseminated to the public about what NHPs are capable of. The pharmaceutical industry began to complain NHP claims were not supported, when in fact most were and the NHPs were approved by Health Canada.

Yet the HC document above states the following: “…Many participants from the NHP sector are not supportive of this proposed requirement for scientific proof to support health claims, fearing that it would negatively affect the affordability, availability, and diversity of these products.”

This is doublespeak. The direct inference that NHP claims do not have to be proven is totally false and a major deception being purported by both Health Canada and the media. Presently, to be licensed, a
product must make a claim and it must support it using at least two peer-reviewed human trials or show it has been used for at least 50 years for the claim in question. Also, every ingredient in a formula has to provide a scientific or traditional rationale for its inclusion. The Natural Health Products Directorate (still operating within the larger NNHPD framework) routinely rejects submitted studies for inadequacy because of poor design or small sample size, etc. So it is untrue that the new proposals are just trying to ensure that NHPs prove their claims because they already have to prove their claims, as per the Natural Health Products Regulations.

What HC is actually proposing is that if any NHP claim involves a medical condition, the company in question would have to run clinical trial(s) to be approved, just like pharmaceutical drugs, regardless of how many peer-reviewed third-party studies there are supporting the NHP claim.

This is ludicrous. Firstly, with zero Canadian deaths on record from NHPs in over 60 years, their safety
levels eclipse that of prescription and [over-the-counter] OTC drugs, virtually every one of which has caused death. Further, many NHP ingredients have been used for centuries and intensely scientifically studied for decades. So if both the safety and efficacy of an NHP have already been firmly established, what purpose do further clinical trials serve, other than making it more expensive? The answer: a scheme to keep NHP companies out of the market. This is where the pharmaceutical industry is planning to exert their patents, such as this one on apigenin from chamomile (or celery) for cancer: www.google.com/patents/EP2403497A1?cl=en

Other falsehoods being purported by HC are that they are taking a “Risk-based Approach” and the more serious the condition, the “higher risk” the product in question. This is totally invalid. For example, there is ample evidence that quercetin, derived from citrus or onions, is effective for allergies and is anti-cancer. But what you use it for doesn’t change quercetin’s inherent safety! By this logic, eating a teaspoon of cinnamon on porridge isn’t dangerous, but taking the same amount of cinnamon, at the same meal, in a capsule for high blood sugar is. This is not a “risk-based” approach, it is a “USE-BASED” approach and the only thing it protects is pharmaceutical dominion over disease. If HC was really taking a risk-based approach, they wouldn’t be lumping NHPs together with OTC drugs because their risk levels are not comparable. This exact point was already considered and decided on by the Standing Committee on Health and was one of the driving forces behind establishing a separate set of regulations for NHPs.

HC says it combined the two directorates to save money. Yet if they were really trying to save money, why would they abandon a set of regulations that took 10 years to complete, and at the same time create an entire new directorate, the Marketed Health Products Directorate (MHPD), just to monitor product claims?

Is this how Canadians want their tax-money spent? Inspectors roving all over the country inspecting NHPs who have killed no one? Just think about how disproportional the concern and resources that HC has spent policing NHPs is compared to the low level of harm they have caused, not to mention their benefits or how much money they have saved our health care system. Does this make sense? No, it doesn’t because that’s not what its about. It’s about money and market control.

It is critical that you provide your viewpoint to both Health Canada and your elected officials in Ottawa. The best form of communication is a letter mailed to your MP. But whether by letter, fax, phone, or e-mail, concerned Canadians need to communicate with the MPs and express their views.

Take action at www.citizensforchoice.com/action-page
Source: Citizens for Choice in Healthcare,
www.citizensforchoice.com

Lillooet mayor champions the return of the train

The Cariboo Prospector

interview by Ray Kowalchuk

They used to come for the Gold Rush. Now, they come for the rush. – Old BC Rail slogan

Ray Kowalchuk: What inspired your “Bring Back the North Vancouver to Prince George Passenger Train” petition?

Margaret Lampman: I was contacted by the general chairman of Teamsters Canada – they are the union that represents all the railways – to talk this up again because of the lack of accessibility and tourism opportunities for, not only Lillooet, but for the province of BC.

RK: Tell us about the history of the rail line and how important it was in the region.

Mayor Margaret Lampman
Mayor Margaret Lampman of Lillooet

ML: When it [the Cariboo Prospector] was operating, it used to come into Lillooet three times a week and it gave tourists the opportunity to visit with us for three hours at a time, which was an immense influx of money into the small business community. And it helped them through the leaner times of the winter months. It also allowed our residents to take the train down to the Lower Mainland to access family and medical help or to go north to Prince George for work or social activities. The business community really took a huge blow when the train was deleted due to the lack of those tourists and activity, which is too bad because we like to support our local businesses and it also dropped our tourism in general, which affects your bottom line immensely. Let’s face it, tourists can become residents. That’s the cycle and how economics works. It was really hurtful for our residents who couldn’t get out of town if they didn’t have a vehicle. I keep saying, and will continue to say, we have no bus service in Lillooet.

RK: How did this hit the community?

ML: We had so many BC Rail employees living in the community that, when it was dispersed, quite a few of those employees, in order to keep working, had to be stationed in other areas. So it hit us hard by taking those families who were living here and supporting the businesses, our rec centre, medical facilities and schools. It was tough on the community as a whole. We felt the effects of it all down the line.

RK: How has the deletion of the passenger rail service and the sale of BC Rail in 2002 impacted you personally?

ML: On the personal side, it has hurt me because I have been involved in government for so long that I hear stories of people who have had to hire someone to take them down for medical treatment at a really high cost and that individual then has to decide whether or not to even get treatment. That should not be taking place.

RK: Why did tourists love the rail line?

ML: It has to be some of the most gorgeous scenery anywhere in the world. As you leave North Vancouver, alongside the ocean to the west and the mountains to the east, and coming into Whistler, you travel along rivers and lakes, cutting through mountains and then into the dry air of Lillooet. It drops down and you see our desert canyons – I call it Canada’s only Grand Canyon – and then heads north to some of the most spectacular ranchlands around, right up to Prince George. And the scenery all the way up there is just fantastic.

RK: What steps are you taking to bring the issue to the current government and what is planned for the future negotiations regarding passenger rail service?

ML: I started a letter writing campaign with all of the mayors, regional district chairs, First Nations communities as well as tourism operators from North Vancouver to Prince George. That resulted in a lot of letters of support going to the premier and Minister Stone. We have been working as a little group of cohorts to go to the next step. The response was overwhelming so I am working with the mayor of North Vancouver. He kindly offered his office to set up the meeting and through him we also have the support of the mayor of the district of West Vancouver as well as the MPs from down there, and so the request is in. If we do get that meeting, all the mayors will sit down with the minister, ask him and his staff to contact a private company, like Via Rail, asking for a them to provide a business proposal, then a business plan. That would be a huge win for us.

RK: How optimistic are you?

ML: I’m always an optimist and I think if we have a meeting and the minister looks around at that table and sees all of the support letters and mayors, it will be hard not to agree. I’m still waiting for more support letters to come in from different tourist agencies and businesses, international tourism operators and the teamsters. We will hopefully then have convinced him to give that directive to make it happen.

Ray Kowalchuk is a semi-retired carpenter and naturalist who moved from his home city of Burnaby seven years ago into the mountains of Seton Portage, BC. kowal@writeme.com

Sign the petition!

bring-back-the-passenger-train

 

RCMP admits to cellphone spying

photo of David Christopher

INDEPENDENT MEDIA
by David Christopher

Finally. After years of obfuscation, the RCMP has admitted they are using invasive surveillance devices known as IMSI-catchers or Stingrays to spy on Canadians’ cell phones. The admission came early last month, seemingly prompted by revelations from CBC News that Stingray devices had been in use in downtown Ottawa and at the international airport in Montreal.

In those instances, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale issued a strong denial that Canadian agencies, such as the RCMP or CSIS, were involved, but the controversy brought a great deal of public attention to the RCMP’s own use of Stingray devices.

Stingrays are deeply problematic for a number of reasons. About the size of a small suitcase, they operate by mimicking a wireless tower, tricking all cell phones within a radius of up to two kilometres into switching their connection to the Stingray. Once that connection is made, instead of targeting just a single device, Stingrays indiscriminately vacuum up sensitive personal information from all devices within range, essentially making them a tool of mass surveillance.

There’s no need to be a target of a police investigation to have your private information compromised; you just need to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And when you consider just how many cell phones are located within a two-kilometre radius of, say, a downtown Toronto intersection, that gives some indication of just how many Canadians have likely been impacted.

Secondly, Stingrays are capable of collecting information on everything from your location to details of every call, email and text you make. They can even listen in on and record the content of cell phone calls. Nor should we be reassured by the RCMP saying they only use Stingrays to collect location and device identification metadata. As Brenda McPhail of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association points out, “Metadata includes location information. That is intimately personal. The fact that they only collect metadata doesn’t let them off the hook.”

For those of us working in the field of digital privacy, the RCMP’s belated admission did not exactly come as a surprise. It will, however, hopefully prompt the informed democratic debate Canadians deserve about whether the use of these surveillance devices can ever be justified and, if so, what safeguards are necessary to protect the public’s privacy?

Unfortunately, the RCMP left many important questions unanswered. Why not tell us how many innocent Canadians have had their private information compromised over the past 10 years? Or let us know whether Stingrays have ever been used to monitor a political protest? And why did the RCMP wait until just a few weeks ago before applying for permission from Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada to use the devices?

Last, but far from least, the fact that the use of Stingrays can apparently be authorized based merely on suspicion of wrongdoing is hugely worrying. Surely, a much higher standard of evidence should be required, given the serious privacy implications for the general public?

It’s clear we deserve answers to all these questions from Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. Canadians should keep up the pressure on the government by supporting our 48,000-strong campaign at StopStingrays.org

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

Our special election issue

by Joseph Roberts
Publisher and Founder (est. 1982)

“Many (governments) make a mistake, not only in giving too much power to the rich, but in attempting to overreach the people. There comes a time when out of a false good there arises a true evil, since the encroachments of the rich are more destructive to the state than those of the people.” Aristotle / Politics

Doll house for sale cartoonModern apologists assert that arrogant politicians are generally of high moral character. That has yet to be seen in British Columbia’s last 16 years. Millions of dollars, usually from tax payers, are used to prop up the deception that the government serves the best interest of the poor, and upholds democracy.

Martin Luther King Jr gave his riveting Riverside speech 50 years ago on the day I was writing this introduction. He said “A time comes where silence is betrayal.” “That time has come for us…These are the times for real choices and not false ones.”

He suggested five concrete steps that government must take, and named “the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism.” Please listen to his compassionate sermon posted on our Facebook page. Many closest to King called it the greatest speech of his life, telling the truth about their government, “refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that comes from the immense profits of overseas investment”. A government who takes for their personal gain instead of giving to programs of social uplift is “approaching spiritual death.”

In King’s time, the US government was expanding its military invasion of Vietnam eight thousand miles away. Today, our government is selling BC’s resources to the other side of the world at cut rate prices. Both are corrupt and only serve the very wealthy. There are big financial interests, oil and gas multinationals and land developers, seeking influence with their political donations. Large amouts of money have gone to the BC Liberals while they refused to discuss campaign finance reform seriously – until caught, and with an election pending. They had plenty of opportunities to support the campaign financing reform tabled by the NDP and Greens, but they constantly voted it down. To figure out who that serves, follow the money.

Common Ground’s front cover lists five areas the BC government could have handled better, and each category starts with the letter “E” – representing the grade they deserve:

Education

Instead of negotiating in good faith with the BCTF, the Liberals wasted $50 million of tax money defending their amoral position in court for larger class sizes and school funding reductions. In parts of Surrey, if you now want your child to go to public kindergarten, there are not enough classrooms or teachers. So parent have to enter a lottery to “win” a seat in class for their child. Two high schools in Surrey have 500 students over their maximum capacity, so they have put teachers on shifts in order to double the class room availability. This is just one reason why teachers have been deeply concerned. If someone thinks education is expensive, try ignorance. The generations of students who have already passed through the underfunded school system have lost a precious chance for a better education.

Environment

Exemplified by the largest mining dam disaster in Canadian history, where a billionaire shareholder generously donated to BC Liberals, as did Imperial Metal whose Mount Polley mining wastes poured into the pristine Quesnel Lake, upstream from rivers that flow into the Fraser River’s salmon run. But that is just a start. You have Site C Dam, Kinder Morgan pipeline and Woodfibre LNG approved by Christy Clark’s neo-liberal government.

Economy

The economy is fake, the books are cooked. Bob Dylan said “money doesn’t talk, it swears”. We are told incessantly that somehow private greedy people will help out the public the most. When you look at the real numbers and not the cooked books for voter consumption, you realize that’s a boldfaced lie. The NDP performed better.

Equality

Number one worst child poverty in Canada. Homelessness hot potatoes tossed back and forth between the various levels of government. The basic minimum wage needs to be raise to a living wage. Corruption paves the “trickle up” of money from the workers to the financial elite. Some make a big show about giving millions to various causes, seldom mentioning the tax deductions and insider trading for legislation or re-zone of their other properties.

Ethics

It seems unfair and unethical that the biggest media corporations align with Christy Clark – who in turn runs wall-to-wall ads attacking John Horgan the leader of the NDP. These media corporations are little different in principle from their corporate owners and venture capital masters. They are rewarded with massive advertising budgets from pro BC Hydro, pro Site C Dam, pro LNG, pro pipeline, pro venture capital, pro bank, pro mega developer interests. Notice how Christy gets all the major attention, while John Hogan has been black-listed or ignored. Many people do not even know his name, so Common Ground decided to interview him to find out who he is, and even more importantly, what he stands for.

Martin Luther King Jr ended his speech that day 50 years ago with lines which still echo: “If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony… We will be able to speed up the day…all over the world, when “justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Here is a lesser known writer whose words also ring true today. And for BC.s sake and the sake of future generations, vote to make BC a better place for the 99 percent on May 9.

“These tremendous powers have been wielded with such a lack of scientific or financial skill, and in so narrow and selfish a spirit, that its arbiters have repeatedly plunged the commercial world into bankruptcy, and confiscated or inequitably redistributed its accumulated earnings, either for their own benefit or else to save themselves from the effects of their own blundering.”
– Alexander Del Mar

An Interview with John Horgan

Meet the leader who would be BC’s Premier

interview by Bruce Mason

I believe we are among the most blessed people on the planet to live in  British Columbia. All we need is a government that’s working every day for the people who live here.

Common Ground: Counting down to a provincial election BC is awash in attack ads and you’ve got a bull’s eye on you. How do you respond?

John Horgan: You’ve hit the nail on the head. BC Liberals are spending $20m of taxpayers’ money and not talking about things that matter to people, about the services neglected for 16 years. For example, services for seniors. Nine out of 10 care homes don’t have resources for minimum staffing levels. That strikes me as a failure. Nine hundred people died from opioid-related overdoses last year, also a failure. Yet the government is taking our public wealth and promoting themselves.

On top of that, we’ve got the most well-funded corporate party ever in BC. The Liberals rake in enormous amounts of money from the corporate sector and we’ve been asking over the past 10 years to get big money out of politics. Case in point: the creators of feel-good advertisements, the Pace Group, got $23 million in government contracts as they were donating to the BC Liberals. To me, an obvious conflict, but not to the premier.

CG: With few opportunities for debate and the legislature, basically part-time, would you like a leadership debate?

JH: I believe it’s being negotiated now. The more important issue is our democracy and institutions; it was 200 days between sittings. Last fall, there were cobwebs in the legislature, rather than people representing BC communities. But the Liberals prefer to make decisions behind closed doors in a clandestine way and claim only they have answers to our problems. Whenever a government believes only they know best, that’s the time to throw them to the curb.

CG: Are fear-mongering attack ads really just the voice of the wealthiest 10%?

JH: My approach has been to let them throw the mud and hold the government accountable. If they think they’re getting a free ride, they’re sadly mistaken. I’m going to talk about yesterday and, more importantly, what are we going to do tomorrow?

CG: This is a very important election with a deeply divided electorate, along traditional right/left lines, rural vs. urban, between environmentalists and people who stress jobs, millennials and seniors. How will you bridge these?

JH: You’ve identified the challenge. I’m a born-and-raised British Columbian, had good fortune as an MLA for over a decade, to criss-cross BC, talking to people about the environment and economy. Everyone recognizes you can’t separate the two. If you don’t have an environment, you won’t have an economy. And you need to make sure that economy is working for everybody, not just the select few.

That means ensuring, for example, forestry, a foundational BC industry. I worked in the Ocean Falls pulp mill many years ago, helped pay for my education with a good-paying job. There’s 150 fewer mills today than in 2001; 30,000 fewer people working in the forests, and we’ve never exported more raw logs than we did last November.

In forest-dependent communities, or in downtown Vancouver, people ask why resources that belong to all of us, our natural heritage, are given away to large tenure-holders to do with as they will? Those types of things people want to discuss. The Liberals talk about Conference Board of Canada statistics, but people say, ‘You know, during that period of time I was struggling. I was worried that if I missed one pay cheque, I was going to be in financial distress. And as I was trying to make ends meet I saw the mill down the street, go down.’

And we’re not seeing re-planting and silviculture we expect from the tenure-holders. We should be demanding this, as the public stewards of our land and resources, for this and future generations.

CG: How have BC NDP governments handled the economy better than the Liberals?

JH: We left two balanced budgets to the Liberals and they immediately slashed taxes for the wealthy and corporations, increased medical services premiums (MSPs), claiming that was going to somehow trickle down to the rest of us. Of course, it didn’t work that way. They ran massive deficits for a number of years and declared victory.

My responsibility is to lead the NDP and discuss what people are talking to me about, like childcare. People tell me over and over that young families are looking for services to help them participate fully in the economy. So $10-a-day childcare is not a perk or a nicety. It’s a necessity for many families, especially women. They have anxiety about the patchwork they must set up: their parents, Monday and Tuesday, Aunt Harriet and Uncle Bill, Wednesdays, figuring out how to keep going. The BC Business Council and the Vancouver Board of Trade support accelerating childcare. It’s good for kids, parents and the economy. The Liberals say ‘you’re on your own,’ we’re going to take care of our friends, the rest of you, make do.

CG: What about a $15/hr minimum wage?

JH: There are people working two and three jobs to make ends meet and the premier is working one job and getting two salaries, as premier, and as a Liberal party fundraiser.

Most people are struggling and I believe the least we can do is give a pay raise to those who are paid the least in the most expensive jurisdiction in Canada. The premier wants us to think she’s benevolent. But we need a methodical way to get to $15/hr, lead the country in wages, as we used to, so all wages go up, not just those at the very bottom.

Wages have stagnated for a decade and BC is the worst place for young people to get ahead. The premier talks about statistics that fit her narrative, but the reality is when you’re flying around in a private jet, you’re not talking to people. I’m on the SkyTrain, on buses, in communities, meeting with people, answering questions and taking the heat. I’m hearing about the challenges people face. It’s time we had a government that was working for them, rather than wealthy donors.

When low income individuals have more money in their pockets, they usually spend it. When they do, they don’t go out of town or leave the country. They spend it in the community, which stimulates small business development. We need a systematic approach, to talk to small business owners. The notion of a serving wage, for example. Not only restauranteurs – many of whom have given a million plus dollars to the Liberal party – benefit from a wage that’s even more minimal. I was a waiter, worked for tips and was happy to get them. But I believe a minimum wage should be for everybody and it’s what we intend to do.

CG: We’ve benefited from extracting resources, but there’s a new consciousness that we should be caring for these, as well. Where are the new jobs and how will you stimulate them?

JH: NDP tax credits for the film industry in the 1990s led to a critical mass that’s second to none. That’s how the economy grows. It doesn’t happen with the wave of a wand. It happens over time. Whenever a government is taking credit for everything that’s going on, the chances are pretty good they’re doing that because they haven’t had any impact at all.

In rural BC, on our resource front, we have less revenue from forestry, mining and natural gas than from MSPs in the last budget. That tells me our traditional industries are in decline. Jobs are being created largely in the Lower Mainland, and south Island, skilled jobs in high tech, information technology, green jobs and building the new economy. That’s an area the Liberals ignore. That sector is growing despite the BC Liberals, not because of them.

We’re developing technologies to store energy for longer periods. Once you create electricity, you have to move it somewhere. The advantage we’ve had historically is our reservoir system, in the Columbia and the Peace, we’ve been able to use these as large batteries.

John Horgan
John Horgan speaking at Question Period

Living in a rainforest is advantageous. But as climate changes, we’re seeing different weather patterns, not as much snowfall (hard to believe after the winter we’ve had). With less snowpack, a thoughtful government would ask, ‘How can we supplement our water hydro-based system with technologies not dependent on water?’ The BC Liberals, in their haste to bring on private power, focused on run-of-river projects. They called them small, but some were 250/300 megawatts. Not small; that’s a dam.

I’m not averse to the technology, never have been, if appropriately located with minimal impact. No impact on fish, with an existing logging road in some cases, already a good fall, so you have the run to create energy. The better course of action, augmenting our hydro system, are alternatives like solar, wind and geothermal.

Interestingly, Dr. Harry Swain, chair of the federal-provincial joint review panel on environmental, economic, and First Nations impacts of largest public works, in his report on the Site C dam, said Hydro has a responsibility to look at geothermal. Yet there hasn’t been a penny invested. In the Chilcotin and other parts of BC, we have a tremendous untapped geothermal resource. And wind and solar power – other alternatives – to complement our existing sources. But the Liberals have been short-sighted in this regard.

CG: We’re in an affordability crisis with too many homeless. What can be done?

JH: Housing is a broad affordability challenge, the whole continuum of finding single occupancy opportunities for individuals in distress. Families are living in one bedroom apartments, with a second or third child on the way and no prospects. There’s nowhere for them to go because housing costs are absolutely out of control.

In 2014, when I became leader and appointed David Eby as housing spokesperson, he went like a terror and said, ‘Look at what’s happening around us. We see speculative investments and headlines: “Get Out of Gold and Get into Condominiums in Vancouver.”’ When housing stock becomes a commodity, you’ve got a problem. It’s a fundamental right, not a speculative investment, in my world anyway, and for the vast BC majority. Housing is a safe place to be, to keep out of the elements and grow your family and life. That’s not how the BC Liberals look at it.

When we raised these issues in the legislature, highlighting the extraordinary explosion in the cost of single family homes in Vancouver, the response from the BC Liberals was to laugh it off and say, ‘You don’t like people having equity.’ It has nothing to do with that. People are being priced out of the market and the development community, building condos to sell, rather than units to rent.

The federal government’s been out of the housing business for some 20 years now. Mr. Trudeau made a commitment to get back into it, a great opportunity for a new government led by me to reinvigorate the co-op movement in BC. People living in co-ops are absolutely delighted to be in a safe and affordable environment, with pride of ownership, without all the money to get in.

CG: People, worried about keeping their apartment, now open their Hydro and ICBC bills and can’t afford ferries, but hear about surpluses and balanced budgets.

JH: At what cost? The social deficit created by BC Liberals has to be put up against their so-called surpluses. They’ve been taking money out of our Crown corporations at an unsustainable pace, borrowing money when the companies are actually losing money, and then putting that into these deferral accounts – $6 billion by the end of this term in deferred debt, to be paid by ratepayers.

Before the last election, Christy Clark and Rich Coleman said they had wrestled Hydro to the ground, fired a few people and rates weren’t going up. They cancelled the rate hearing and BC utility process. When re-elected: in the first five years, 28% rate increases and much more to come. At the same time, they were taking an increased dividend from the Crown corporation, even though it was losing money. We have more energy than we need, demand is declining. We used to export to the US at a handsome profit, playing the markets. Now, the US is awash in electricity. So we’ve got nowhere to sell it and more than we need. The average price of electricity in 2006 was $35/megawatt hour. The average price today is the same. Yet we’ve been buying new supply at $100, $110, $120/mwh and building Site C at a conservatively estimated $90/mwh. You can’t buy high and sell low forever; it’s falling on us and on our families.

Liberals said they were gonna fix it, then shut the legislature. When your landlord just bumped up your rent and you look at your Hydro bill, that’s how homelessness happens. It’s critically important to look at the entire continuum of housing, not just those who are currently homeless, but also those on the edge of homelessness, what used to be called middle class. This inequality in our society is the biggest challenge that the new government will have, and, in fact, it’s the biggest challenge British Columbia has.

CG: What about the people who need treatment, but have fallen through the cracks?

JH: Mental health and addictions are rampant all over BC. The fentanyl crisis has highlighted to people in smaller communities that this is not just an urban problem. It’s a societal problem to be addressed. For example, I’m excited about revitalizing Riverview in the Tri-cities – Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody – not as a place to keep or warehouse people, but as a sanctuary for those who want and hope to break addictions. The best way is to have resources available for front-line workers.

I’m making an announcement: a new ministry of mental health and addictions. It’s critically important that there be champions inside government. As a public servant, I know the challenges that government faces and the silos that emerge within the system. But a champion for a cause, whether it’s childcare or mental health and addictions, is someone that’s working within government to make sure the pockets of cash that exist are consolidated towards delivering services for people. NDP candidate Selina Robinson from Coquitlam is a family therapist and front-line worker – an example from our team.

Riverview lands are an outstanding opportunity for a place of wellness to build support systems out into communities. When it closed, there was nothing to receive those who left. We need to reverse that, not as a warehouse, but as a place of wellness, healing and hope for vulnerable people, every day.

CG: Would a Premier Horgan submit Site C to the utilities process?

JH: Yes. It’s the only major project since the Utilities Commission was created that has not gone through the approval process.

CG: What about opening the books on BC Hydro, ICBC, BC Ferries? Are you going to review these with an eye to serving people?

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

CG: Christy Clark ignored recommendations of her expert panel on a climate change plan. How will you proceed?

JH: I met with panel members and was delighted with space for increasing the carbon price after 2018, a new government’s opportunity to look at existing programs, see how we can tweak them, whether that’s low emission vehicles or how to give people tools to reduce their footprint. That one-year hiatus gives me some space to have a real conversation, rather than a knee-jerk reaction, and time to hear all about their conclusions.

The task force wasn’t just passionate climate action people. Municipal leaders, advocates, industry leaders, the LNG Alliance, were also at the table, a bunch of people, horse-trading, to find a way forward. It disappointed me when a 2020 target was just thrown away. One assumes that, okay, let’s move to the 2030 target, but that was just thrown away, as well. The premier rested on reducing our emissions by 2050. That matters to my children and grandchildren. But I want to see action today.

Experts made it clear that carbon taxes are a valuable tool, but not the only one. The only measure of success is a reduction of emissions. If you have and meet targets, it doesn’t matter how high your carbon price goes; it just becomes a tax. We’ve reintroduced a 2030 target. The feds came up with their own strategy of a national carbon price, good news for Canada and for BC because we’re already ahead of the game. They’ve set a price of $50/ton by the year 2020. Our carbon pricing plan focuses on taxing the polluters, creating the largest emissions and giving tools to people who don’t have the wealth of large emitters to reduce their own footprint.

The first government in Canada to legislate climate action plan was Joan Sawicki’s BC NDP plan in 1999 – the only government to table a climate action plan following the Kyoto Accords. I’m passionate about climate action. In over 50 years on the planet, I’ve seen and felt the changes. I was cutting our lawn, taking advantage of a beautiful mid-November day. My oldest son reminded me we live in a rainforest, that climate is changing and that I got elected to do something about it.

I’m dedicated to do what I can, if fortunate to win the election, to make substantive changes and leave a planet that’s healthy. Instead of just giving tax breaks to people, I want to give money back to people so they can change their own behaviour and everything that’s surplus to that will be driven into new technologies, to transit investments, to programs that will reduce emissions. That’s the standard we should be measured by.

The creation of the Agricultural Land Reserve by the NDP Barrett government is the most forward-looking policy I can recollect as a history student and proud BC citizen. It’s endured multiple different governments over time and has stood as a symbol of what we can and should do with our arable land. I look at the First Nation in my community, the Sooke Nation. They’ve opened my eyes to alternative energy prospects with photovoltaic solar panels on all of their common buildings. They’re meeting their needs, selling back to BC Hydro, powering their greenhouses and growing wasabi for export.

They’re also doing shellfish aquaculture in the Sooke Basin with oysters on top of scallops, on top of sea cucumbers, a modest footprint. Food production is through the roof, protein being created by First Nations, with energy from the sun, in the middle of a rainforest. Imagine what we could do in Osoyoos or Penticton or Kamloops where we have arable land and abundant sun? As climate change continues, our imported food sources, Mexico and California, become less viable. It will be more important than ever to protect our arable land and put it to good use, not just growing hay.

I got into government with Mike Harcourt when the Treaty Commission had just begun. I have a masters degree in history and I’ve looked at Canadian history up and down and all ways to Sunday. Harcourt’s commitment to the treaty process really excited me at the start of the ‘90s. I worked with Mike on a range of files, but was passionate about the treaty process as the way forward. In 25 years, successive court rulings have made it abundantly clear: rights and title aren’t just theoretical. I’m excited about the certainty it gives us. To invest in BC, on a land base, talk to First Nations about how to do it.

CG: Electoral reform is needed for a healthy and fair democracy. Are you committed to proportional representation?

JH: I spent years in opposition, without any influence on policy even though the government of the day received less than 50% of votes while the opposition side had the majority of votes, but zero influence on outcome. So in 2009, I voted in favour of STV. It was defeated, but perfection is the enemy of progress. Let’s make progress. Whatever this is, it has got to be better.

I believe we are among the most blessed people on the planet, to live in British Columbia. All we need is a government that’s working every day for the people who live here, rather than the people that write the cheques. I think that day is just around the corner and a New Democrat government, led by me, will have people at the centre of it.

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John Horgan for real change

A former civil servant and well-versed in Canadian history, John Horgan shows himself an able administrator

by Bruce Mason

He says he’s a regular guy who’s lived at the end of the street for 25 years, and he’s gotten to know his neighbours well. He’s raised two sons with Ellie, his wife of 33 years. He’s also a cancer survivor.

Far too many people still don’t know his name, let alone what he stands for.

John Horgan with forest workers
John Horgan in Kamloops, March 2017, talking about forestry sector issues.

John Horgan – Juan de Fuca MLA and NDP Provincial Party leader – often parks his Prius to ride the #61 bus from the Legislature to Sooke, a one-hour and 40 minute, animated, intimate journey home. He calls it his “mobile town-hall, with constituents.”

He’s Irish, a talker who likes to laugh, but who also listens intensely. His eyes glint passion and hint anger at BC Liberals. “They’re arrogant, they’re smug, they believe everything they say and do is correct, a real danger in a democratic society. After 16 years of failure, it’s time for real change.”

The man I met is as rock-solid as his warm handshake, quick-footed in his encyclopaedic grasp of issues and clear-eyed in his perspective on real-life problems and solutions.

Personally, I’m hopeful John Horgan will head a new government, based primarily on a fast-paced, jam-packed, in-depth interview that stands out in my 35+ years in journalism. “Who’s the BC NDP leader?” “What’s John Horgan stand for?” The answers are easy and surprising, especially if you shut off widespread cynicism. Suspend false impressions from shameful, corrupt multimillion-dollar government and attack ads. Put aside misconceptions of NDP financial ineptitude. Above all, drop the biggest, saddest of all, mistaken beliefs: that your vote won’t make a huge difference in your own life and the province on May 9.

Horgan has been aptly described (Globe and Mail) as the “polar opposite of Christy Clark.” She paints him as “spineless, with no backbone,” which is, typically, far from reality. The man I met is as rock-solid as his warm handshake, quick-footed in his encyclopaedic grasp of issues, clear-eyed in his perspective on real-life problems and solutions.

It’s difficult not to think of him as Honest John, a Bernie Sanders, to Clark’s self-confessed Donald J. Trump, with values and “public service” to match.

Like Bernie, John has a long, proud history of fighting for the “little guy.” A civil servant in the NDP Harcourt government (1991-1996), he took on tough files, including the Columbia River US Treaty and balancing land use and First Nation treaties. “I threw him into some deep ends of pools,” recalls his former boss. “John knows the province and has a tremendous amount of experience.”

Horgan became a highly popular and effective MLA in 2005. Very active behind the scenes, off corporate media’s faulty radar, he introduced private member bills to require the legislature to convene in spring and fall, to reform standing committees with proportional representation and conflict of interest amendments. He’s striven for fair taxes, including carbon taxes on exempted, industrial emitters, and to get the Evergreen Line and light rail built. He recommended implementing aquaculture restrictions, fought to ban North Coast tanker traffic and offshore oil exploration and pushed for an Endangered Species Act.

When MLA salaries increased 29% (2007), he and NDP members donated their raises to hospices, food banks and other charities, for the session. On six occasions, he’s tried to take big money out of politics, a hot-button election issue. And he is honestly committed to changing the electoral system so every vote counts.

Horgan was a baby when his father died one Christmas Eve, shortly after inviting the world-renowned Harlem Globetrotters to the family home. They passed the infant Horgan around like a basketball. John’s been a jock ever since and thinks Clark would have benefited from playing competitive team sports.

Also, unlike Christy, who left SFU empty handed after cheating in a student election, John earned degrees from Trent in Ontario and Sydney University (Masters, history) in Australia, while playing varsity basketball on both campuses. “I’ve studied Canadian history up and down and all ways to Sunday,” he says. He credits the single mother who raised him and three siblings and an inspiring conversation with Tommy Douglas as foundational role models.

Once an at-risk teenager, he benefited first-hand from teachers and social services. Horgan, now 57, has driven delivery trucks and pulled lumber in a planer mill; a former plasterer’s helper, he still mixes cement to make rock walls. He works on old furniture, plays disc golf, darts and is a big-time Star Trek fan. He even sought an extra’s role when it was shooting in Vancouver. A Starship Enterprise model sits in his Vancouver office and a jar of tar-sand dilbit on his desk in Victoria.

My favourite, little-known John Horgan fact: he’s colour blind. On a BC road trip with Ellie, he had difficulty distinguishing dead, red trees, devastated by pine beetles and green living trees, temporarily spared. As they began to count and compare them numerically, Horgan saw the forest for the trees and began to evolve from a pro-energy advocate to a passionate climate activist. His climate plan has been embraced and supported as ‘real action’ by the likes of Tzeporah Berman, SFU’s Mark Jaccard and the Pembina Institute. Many prefer it to the spotty Green platform.

“Say anything John,” the ugly cheap shot from Stephen Harper and associates is actually a compliment, considering the source. Building consensus and representing people is slower than fixating on the filthy rich.

For real change in BC, let’s elect John Horgan and his team on May 9. We need and deserve a better BC.

Vote as if the environment mattered

by Theresa Beer

Imagine if environmental issues dominated BC’s election in May. Typically, the environment gets brought up as an afterthought or is relegated to a separate forum for discussion. Yet how we treat the environment affects every British Columbian, in much the same way that health care and education do. Without a healthy environment, economic opportunities, for example, will be heavily curtailed.

Here’s an idea: political parties could base all their policies on the principle of operating within the bounds of nature. This would lead to a different discussion about meaningful jobs and health care, education and housing priorities. That’s why, during the election, the David Suzuki Foundation will be watching what parties say about climate, transit, oceans, grizzlies and the right to a healthy environment.

On the climate front, parties should put forward detailed plans on how they would meet emissions targets. We’re looking for parties to offer policies that would raise the carbon tax each year beyond 2022 and apply it to more sectors. An effective and gradually increasing carbon tax provides incentives to switch to low-carbon energy solutions and fosters innovation and economic competitiveness. We believe it’s time to reinstate predictable, annual increases to the carbon tax to provide industry with a stable market signal to reduce emissions.

In terms of transit spending, the Foundation is encouraging the next BC government to commit to funding 40 percent of the cost for new public transit infrastructure. Metro Vancouver is gridlocked and transportation accounts for 25 percent of BC’s carbon emissions. Congestion costs in Metro Vancouver alone are estimated by the C.D. Howe Institute and Clean Energy Canada at between $500 million and $1.2 billion a year. Political leaders must prioritize and fund transit to address population growth, health, environment and the economy. Adequately funding transit improvements is one of our most effective ways to address climate change. Support for the Mayors’ Council Transit plan is a good place to start. This is an achievable, costed and regionally considered plan to get Metro Vancouver out of gridlock.

As one way to meet our province’s legislated emissions targets, we’d like to see parties introduce plans to accurately measure fugitive emissions from liquefied natural gas production and cut those emissions by 45 percent. The Climate Leadership Team crafted recommendations that put us on the right course for climate action. They would be a strong starting point for parties to support climate solutions.

One of the most powerful ways we can move to living within the bounds of nature is to support healthy and productive oceans. The Foundation urges parties in this provincial election to commit to working with the Federal Government and First Nations to implement and budget for marine planning and a network of marine protected areas. During a tour of coastal communities, we heard serious concerns about the impacts of climate change, fossil fuel shipping and pipelines, pollution and industrial fisheries. Residents told us that ocean management decisions must recognize healthy ecosystems as the basis for healthy communities. To meet these and other biodiversity goals, we are asking parties to commit to reforming regulations and laws to better protect coastal ecosystems and species at risk such as southern resident orcas.

We’re also calling on all parties to support an immediate ban of BC’s grizzly bear trophy hunt. We recommend that the ban avoid loopholes, such as the continuation of the ability to hunt grizzly bears for meat. The Foundation supports regulations that make it illegal to remove, sell, traffic or trade in any grizzly bear trophy items. British Columbians overwhelmingly support ending the grizzly trophy hunt.

The right to a healthy environment is the simple, yet powerful, idea that everyone in Canada has the human right to clean air and water, safe food, a stable climate and a say in decisions that affect their health and well-being. Ontario passed their environmental bill of rights in 1993 and Quebec included the right to a healthy environment in its Environmental Quality Act in 1978. We believe it’s time that BC joined them, and others agree. The Union of BC Municipalities, for example, passed a resolution in 2015 calling for provincial environmental rights legislation. Passing an environmental bill of rights would mean that projects such as the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion would receive greater scrutiny given their impact on the environment.

An environmental bill of rights would put more power in the hands of citizens by ensuring greater transparency and participation in environmental decision-making, which could help balance a system that is heavily influenced by corporate lobbying.

Regardless of the issues under discussion, our hope is that environmentally minded people in BC will get out and vote on May 9. See you at the polls.

Theresa Beer is senior communications specialist at the David Suzuki Foundation, www.davidsuzuki.org

Policy payola? Illegal donations being investigated

BC Liberals linked to illegal donations from Woodfibre LNG for political favours

by Tracey Saxby

The BC Liberals are under investigation by Elections BC and the RCMP after the Globe and Mail revealed the party is accepting illegal donations from lobbyists, highlighting donations by Byng Giraud and Marian Ngo from Woodfibre LNG.

Sukanto Tanoto with Rich Coleman,
Woodfibre LNG owner Sukanto Tanoto with Rich Coleman, BC Minister of Natural Gas. Photo obtained by theBreaker.news via FOI (Freedom of Information).

This latest scandal is simply “business as usual” for Woodfibre LNG, which is owned by the notorious Indonesian billionaire, Sukanto Tanoto, whose companies have a history of tax evasion, animal rights violations and human rights offences. And let’s not forget that Woodfibre LNG vice-president Byng Giraud, who has been linked to a robo-call scandal, formerly worked for Imperial Metals, the company responsible for the Mount Polley mining disaster. Nice guys.

But the scandal prompted us to dig a little deeper: when did Woodfibre LNG start donating to the BC Liberals? How much have they donated?

Since 2013, to date, Woodfibre LNG and their staff have donated at least $166,934 to the BC Liberal Party. The donations start to ramp up almost immediately after the substituted environmental assessment was approved, putting the Provincial Government in charge of conducting the environmental assessment on behalf of the Federal Government. Never mind that the BC Minister of Natural Gas Development, Rich Coleman, who was responsible for reviewing the environmental and social impacts of Woodfibre LNG, also has a mandate to develop an LNG export industry. Let’s ignore that conflict of interest.

There was a flurry of donations right about the time the BC Liberals unveiled Bill 6, the LNG Income Tax Act, which halved the tax on LNG export facilities to 3.5% on net income. This means BC now bears all the risk and no reward, as profits may never be realized.

The donations continued over the summer of 2015, leading up to the inevitable rubber stamp approval of Woodfibre LNG’s environmental assessment certificate by Ministers Coleman and Polak. No surprises there.

The donations kept on pouring into BC Liberal coffers, with some of the biggest donations in late 2016, right about the time Rich Coleman flew to Singapore to meet with Sukanto Tanoto. They signed an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) that the BC Liberals have refused to release to the public, and posed for a photo. A few weeks later, Premier Christy Clark helicoptered in to the Woodfibre LNG site, to put on a hard hat and announce to media fanfare, “Woodfibre LNG is a go” thanks to a new e-Drive subsidy worth $34-45 million every year. By the way, your hydro bill will go up so Woodfibre LNG can have cheap power.

And still the donations kept coming, as Woodfibre LNG now has to apply for an amendment to their environmental assessment certificate. Oh, and there’s another tax break as the BC Liberals eliminated PST on clean energy purchases (including LNG) in February 2017.

That’s a pretty good return on $166,934.

Has big money corrupted the environmental assessment process? Has Woodfibre LNG bought a rubber stamp approval for the project, along with other political favours including tax breaks, tax exemptions, and the e-Drive subsidy? It sure doesn’t look good.

Tracey Saxby is co-founder of My Sea to Sky, an organization started by a group of Squamish citizens in March 2014, in response to growing concerns about the proposed Woodfibre LNG project. Take action at www.myseatosky.org

How big money corrupts politics

BC’s Wild West of campaign funding needs reform

Of the corporate donations to the BC Liberals, the largest group among the top donors are property developers.

by Elizabeth Murphy

The provincial government has jurisdiction over election rules for both the province and municipalities. Here in BC, the wild west of campaign fundraising, provincial and municipal campaign finance rules are currently among the least accountable in Canada. This has been a huge problem for decades and will not change until the province takes action. The British Columbia provincial election on May 9 brings an opportunity to raise the issue of big money in politics and campaign finance reform.

Large donations and cash for access to candidates (often from vested interests) are standard practice with multi-million dollar campaigns. We are becoming the equivalent of a banana republic as globalized capital increasingly influences our governance.

Having the regulators funded by those they regulate is a form of systemic corruption. Limits on individual donations and banning corporate, union and foreign contributions are standard practices in many provinces and at the federal level. But not in BC. Here, at both the provincial and municipal levels, few restrictions exist and existing rules are often ignored.

The Vancouver Sun reported that, from 2005 to the first few weeks of 2017, of the corporate donations to the BC Liberals, the largest group among the top donors are property developers, with 21 of the top 50. Condo marketer Bob Rennie was the BC Liberal’s head fundraiser up to January 2017, leaving the party well funded for the May 9th election. Rennie has also been a prominent supporter and fundraiser for Vancouver’s ruling party, Vision Vancouver and Mayor Gregor Robertson.

These developers include the Aquilini family at the #2 spot ($1.43 million); Adera Group ($1.1 million); Wesbild ($929,576); and Peter Wall and nephew Bruno Wall ($914,425), who own and manage Wall Financial Corp., including the Wall Centre in Vancouver where the BC Liberals held their 2013 election victory win. The top 50 list also includes Polygon, Concord Pacific, Beedie Development Group, Onni, the Redekops and Ilichs.

There are also 10 natural resource companies in the top 50. The coal and metals miner Teck is at the #1 spot ($2.82 million); energy company Encana ($1.18 million); miner Goldcorp ($1.08 million); forestry company West Fraser ($990,320); and also Imperial Metals of the Mt. Polley Quesnel Lake recent mining dam disaster.

The troubling part of all this is the perceived or real influence these donors may have on government policy. Cash for access to government officials or candidates are reported to be a common practice.

Provincial donations are also subsidized by the taxpayer through tax credits to a maximum of $500 tax credit on a donation of $1,150 or more. So a lot of these donation totals are indirectly publically funded, but directed to the big money’s candidates of choice rather than being fairly and equitably distributed.

Property developers seem to have significant influence on both civic and provincial policies. Land use policies favour dense transit-oriented large scale market development of investment luxury pre-sold condos that are often left empty. These tower developments are serviced by expensive, publically subsidized infrastructure. The real estate market has become disconnected from the local economy and this is causing the housing affordability crisis.

This affects housing and affordability in a number of ways. Increased development marketed to foreign capital increases demolition of the older more affordable stock, while inflating land values through rezoning. As these new units are generally smaller and more expensive, they do not work for families.

The BC Liberal’s privatizing and redevelopment of public assets through sales or long-term leases benefit big money, but are not in the public interest. Often, revenue from asset sales below market value is rushed through to balance the provincial budget. This is the equivalent to selling off one’s house below market to pay for living expenses.

Examples include crown land sold off below appraised value for developments like Burke Mountain in Coquitlam; the privatization of BC Rail and the resulting corruption scandal; public schools underfunded, closed and sold off for housing developments; and social housing sold with potential for redevelopment to luxury market condos with resulting tenant displacement like Little Mountain.

There have been land swaps for market housing through deals with BC Housing and the City of Vancouver such as the controversial Brenhill development in New Yaletown. The city-owned social housing land adjacent to Emery Barns Park was swapped at an under-market value of only $15 million, while assessment after rezoning was $130 million. Bob Rennie was on the BC Housing board when a request was brought forward for a $39 million construction loan at 1% for the related social housing project relocation; at the same time, he was also marketing the condo project through his firm and fundraising for the BC Liberals. MLA Rich Coleman, minister responsible for housing – he oversees BC Housing – approved the deal. The 35-storey luxury condo project was marketed in English and Chinese language newspapers as “8 X ON THE PARK.”

Mega-debt projects we don’t need and can’t afford have been approved by the BC Liberals. BC Hydro’s Site C dam bypassed the BC Utilities Commission to subsidize a non-viable LNG fracking industry. The BC Liberals accepted donations from foreign sources such as Pacific NorthWest LNG. The majority owner is Petronas, the state-owned energy company of Malaysia, which seeks to build an LNG plant in northern BC.

St. Paul’s Hospital is being moved from the West End to the False Creek Flats. This will benefit developers at both ends of the move and a private district energy scheme owned by developer Ian Gillespie at the new site that burns wood. The new location is a less seismically stable site and more vulnerable to a related tsunami since the flats are low elevation and mostly industrial fill.

Billionaire Jim Pattison recently announced his foundation’s donation of $75 million to St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation. Pattison was quoted in the Vancouver Sun, saying, “They approached us many years ago and you’re right, I told them I wasn’t going to put any money into renovating that old hospital.” So was this donation influential in the relocation of St. Paul’s to a new site that may now bear his name? Jim Pattison is also a major donor to the BC Liberals through his many companies.

In response to investigative articles in both the New York Times and Globe and Mail, the RCMP are investigating illicit donations where lobbyists and others used their personal credit cards to donate to political parties and were later reimbursed by organizations or employers, a practice that is prohibited under the Elections Act.

But whether this will result in any meaningful charges is yet to be seen, and if so, likely not until after the election. Special prosecutor David Butcher has been appointed to advise the RCMP. Butcher was also hired to manage the BC Liberals’ “Quick Wins” scandal prior to the last 2013 provincial election. A party staffer, while working for the province, conducted partisan business in a plan to win votes from ethnic groups that had been traditionally sympathetic to the NDP. Only one charge came after the election; a communications director resigned and paid a token fine of $5,000.

The Globe and Mail reported that specific instances identified so far have mostly involved the BC Liberals, with nearly $93,000 in illegal donations identified from 43 contributions, compared to $10,000 in donations identified for the NDP. Watchdog groups such as IntegrityBC and the Dogwood Initiative have both further identified lists of suspect donations and handed the information to the RCMP.

Recently, former Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum was sentenced to one year in jail on corruption-related charges. The Globe and Mail reported that, during the trial, former aide Hugo Tremblay testified he led developers and businessmen to believe their projects would be delayed or not approved unless they made a supplemental cash contribution that was then split with Applebaum.

With all the big money legally allowed to be poured into provincial and municipal election campaigns in BC, one could compare BC to Quebec before efforts to stem corruption were implemented.

The civic rules are even less accountable than the BC provincial rules. Civic parties and candidates can accept unlimited corporate, union, individual and foreign donations. They also only have to disclose donations in the year of the election. So three of the four years of donations in a municipal election cycle could go unreported unless done voluntarily. Property developers are prominent donors to Vision Vancouver and NPA, but Vancouver Greens do not accept funding from developers.

The BC NDP have brought several motions to parliament for campaign finance reform that have always been defeated by the BC Liberals. All parties in the City of Vancouver council have, on numerous occasions, unanimously asked for the province to change municipal campaign finance rules, but the province has so far refused to do so.

The BC NDP have said they would ban corporate and union donations with limits on individual donations. They also are willing to change the municipal rules to match. The BC Greens have said they will do the same.

The BC Liberals have refused to make these changes, but after a lot of pressure, they have announced they will initiate a go-nowhere, non-binding review of campaign finance.

In this election, it is critical to put pressure on all parties and candidates to seriously commit to campaign finance reform to stop the current practices that breed systemic corruption. Only the provincial government can change these rules for both BC and the municipal governments. For the sake of democracy, the people of BC deserve better. A change of government would be refreshing.

Elizabeth Murphy is a private sector project manager and a former Property Development Officer for the City of Vancouver’s Housing & Properties Department and for BC Housing. info@elizabethmurphy.ca

Tools: call4change.ca is a new citizen-initiated tool to help voters reach their MLA by phone or e-mail with a message calling for a ban on corporate and union donations. For further reference, see integrityBC.ca, dogwoodBC.ca, cityhallwatch.ca, coalitionvan.ca