Mayday! This is Spaceship Earth

spaceship earth

Houston, we have a problem.

by Bruce Mason

It was a summer of fire, smoke and hard rain. Of nightmarish hurricanes and awakened dead reckoning. All connected and predictable, in fact, meticulously forecast for decades. Equally predictable is how quickly we forget the lessons and how easily we fall into death traps, exacerbating rather than mitigating. And it’s all down to a tiny, but global, cabal of fossil fools and liars and their financiers, followers, cheerleaders and enablers.

In late August, the real costs and consequences of inaction were on full public display, complete with smoking guns and dark, watery scenes of crimes against Nature, as fires and floods increased exponentially.

Surely, it’s time to stop naming hurricanes after people. How about Hurricane Exxon, Koch, Chevron and Shell, amongst the 90 companies responsible for two thirds of human-caused catastrophe? The 1 percent scooping virtually all new income, world-wide, while playing a losing game of chicken with Mother Nature.

Forty years ago they knew and fully understood the science, spent billions on government and so-called Think Tank disinformation, promoting the very technologies warming the planet, making disasters inevitable.

Just as the US National Weather Service introduced new colours on satellite maps to show the unprecedented magnitude of the 50+inch Houston downpour, we must make adjustments to fathom the cataclysmic scale of our collective problems.

“Global warming” morphed into “climate change” and “climate sceptics” have become “climate deniers.” It’s now time to call it what it really is: “climate crisis.” The World Health Organization conservatively warns it will be killing millions within a decade if left unchecked.

It’s tragically ironic that Harvey and its aftermath touched down in Houston, pounding the very centre, and quintessential symbol, of fossil fuel. A handful of scientists huddled in a small section of Mission Control, not underwater, to bring three astronauts – two American, one Russian – back to Earth.

As the trio of anxious space travellers slipped into gumboots on Texas tarmac, stark space images of dystopian flooding and fires were fresh in their minds, including BC’s continuing “season” of 1,000 fires. One million hectares – an area the size of half of Vancouver Island –burned, and in LA’s biggest-ever fire, it was much the same, while deadly smoke eerily returned: Seattle, to Denver, and Greenland, linking up, obscurring, more and more of the planet.

“It looks like an atomic bomb when you see the big billows of smoke,” 150 Mile House fire-chief Stan McCarthy reported, expressing his heartfelt concern for firefighters’ mental health.

The astronauts also witnessed historic rainfall affecting 41 million people in Asia, more in Africa; Europeans dubbed their searing heatwave “Lucifer” and regions of Australia were suddenly uninhabitable. Bangladesh was two-thirds underwater as floods ravaged Northern India, Nepal, the basin of the Himalayas and the financial capital of Mumbai, crossing the border into Pakistan.

Those particular events were all but missed in the America-centric corporate media, not wanting to “politicize” human catastrophe. “Unprecedented” and “record-breaking” became clichés, flavours of the week or hour, amid endless echo-chambers that all regulation is harmful and stunts economic growth.

Instead of clarity, we’re handed a prism of suffering; heroic man vs. nature narratives carved from the rubble, with no view or discussion of causes, let alone policy. Our attention capriciously re-focused on panicked speculation of nuclear war and endless examples of democracy, devolving into distracted idiocracy. Ignorant hubris, staring into an eclipse with naked eyes, praying for blind luck.

As flood waters subside, disease is becoming rampant. Irma has struck and other hurricanes are poised to strike, as more of the West catches fire. We are literally witnessing the end of the world as we know it. Look around. Where are the birds, insects? Why are trees and plants dying. Five-hundred-year floods don’t necessarily happen once every five centuries. They are events with a one-in-500 chance of occurring in any given year. Houston has now had three in the past three years.

While Fort McMurray burned, Justin Trudeau shilled for his elite donor class, who are now little more than arsonists. Their disaster capitalism is sure as hell amplifying damage, fundamentally altering everything in its insatiable, predatory path. As a species, we must take hold of our destiny and plan for something infinitely better.

“Talking honestly about what’s fuelling this era of serial disasters –even while they’re playing out in real time – isn’t disrespectful to people on the front lines,” observes Naomi Klein. “In fact, it’s the only way to truly honour their losses, and our last hope for preventing a future littered with countless more victims.”

Pope Francis pleads, in God’s name, “Listen to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor, who suffer most because of the unbalanced ecology.” We must re-visit consequence, the only way to break the cycle of ignorance and denial. Stop refusing to hold the negligent accountable, strike back with adequate force at toxic climate denial and corruption. The costs of engaging and heeding scientific guidance are nothing compared to the probability and gravity of coming loss, not even close.

Our strength is collective. It resides in the vast majority of people for whom homelessness is just an injury, an illness, a bad season, bad luck or one pay cheque away. We aren’t as disposable as the 1% treats us. It’s time to fight back against the greed, pipemares and other fossil fuel evils. To stand up for a better BC, in a better world.

Our home on native land

William Shatner

Why BC’s First Peoples should have the right to directly elect their own MLAs

by Paul H. LeMay

Image: William Shatner Sings O Canada directed by Jacob Medjuck, produced by Paul McNeill. Photo credit: Jordan Ancel 2011, all rights reserved. Link to NFB video.

Remember when William Shatner narrated his own playful version of O Canada, suggesting “Our home and native land” be converted to “Our home on native land”? At the time, he got more than a laugh. He reminded us that Canada was largely built on stolen land.

Despite treaties feebly asserting narratives to the contrary, backed by courts representing the conquering side, as Leonard Cohen might have sung, everybody knows the deals were rotten. They were perpetrated under the guise of a nobly-intentioned British Empire “burdened” by a moral obligation to civilize a largely uncivilized world populated by “primitive peoples.”

Today of course, we know better. We can readily see through the myth-making political spin of yesteryear, and in doing so, we take moral comfort in our more sophisticated political knowledge and think ourselves superior to our forebears. But are we really?

Sure, the Government of Canada sponsored its own version of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but it came nearly 20 years after South Africa’s own commission on apartheid. And yes, Canada signed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2016, but it came nine years after it was originally endorsed by the majority of the world’s nations. And yes, Canada commissioned a national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, but only after years of protests and stalling.

So our track record is pretty clear; when it comes to indigenous peoples’ issues, we are still slow to act, especially when it comes to settling land title claims. Though many assembling at large social gatherings in Vancouver will utter phrases such as, “We would like to begin by acknowledging we are gathered on the unceded territory of the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish Peoples,” such phrases are little more than symbolic acknowledgments of the de facto state of affairs. While the sentiments expressed may be sincere, what has actually changed?

To date, of British Columbia’s 198 or so First Nations, only 16 or 17 treaties have involved the ceding of any land rights. These deal with territories in BC’s northeast, northwest and small portions in the southwest. Vancouver Island alone boasts its own dubious collection of 14 treaties “negotiated” in the 1850s. As for the rest of British Columbia, most of us really do live on native land.

If we are truly sincere in our intent to heal our relationship with this land’s First Peoples, our generation needs to demonstrate greater effort at tangible redress than what has transpired so far. One place where this can occur is within our still representatively-impaired body-politic. When the incoming NDP government enunciates its Speech from the Throne this month, which is widely expected to contain a promise to move swiftly on the topic of electoral reform, it should enfold within it some effort to mend our society’s still damaged relationship with First Nations peoples. Here’s one place they could start.

Owing to the new government’s intent to incorporate some measure of proportional representation by the next election, the BC Legislative Assembly could reserve a number of legislative assembly seats exclusively for Indigenous representatives. Since BC’s Indigenous people comprise 5.4% of BC’s overall population, according to 2011 Stats Canada figures, given the 87 seats in the current legislature, the most reasonable number of seats would be four. Among other things, granting BC’s indigenous peoples such a guaranteed seat allocation would give something they’ve never had: actual voices in the province’s legislature.

But for such a proposal to work, the four aforementioned MLAs would need to be directly elected by BC’s indigenous people in a manner they deemed fit. For example, they could opt to vote using a preferential ballot from a province-wide list of indigenous candidates, and/or the province could be divided into four electoral districts representing four distinct geographical regions, such that each indigenous MLA would represent a single region.

Either way, provincial legislators need to be open to what First Nations themselves prefer, as might be expressed during anticipated electoral reform committee hearings. As such, and as a gesture of good faith, the next legislature should only consider drafting enabling legislation that would give indigenous peoples the latitude to tweak their own representational approach as they deemed fit over time.

Moreover, by giving indigenous peoples some say in the formulation of our laws, we in the non-indigenous majority would be doing something more: We’d tangibly demonstrate a sincere effort to reconcile with First Nations people in a fair and transparent way, an effort that could well serve as a model of what might later follow in the rest of Canada. After experiencing more than a century and half of social injustice, our indigenous brothers and sisters deserve no less.

Paul H. LeMay is a Vancouver-based independent writer specializing in psychology and politics. He once worked as the special assistant to Senator Sheila Finestone and since 2006 has written commentaries for The Hill Times in Ottawa. He also co-authored two books, with a psychiatrist, on the victimization process and the evolution of the human mind-brain system entitled Primal Mind, Primal Games.

Bill C-59 will help safeguard privacy

But more needs to be done

photo of Marie Aspiazu

INDEPENDENT MEDIA
by Marie Aspiazu

After over two years, the federal government finally delivered on a long overdue promise: namely, the reforms to the draconian Harper-era gem, Bill C-51. These proposals were set out in the National Security Act 2017, or Bill C-59. Thepublished after a tireless, nationwide movement calling for the full repeal of Bill C-51 and a lengthy national security consultation that began last fall.

Amongst the top reforms called for in Bill C-51 were stronger oversight and accountability measures, rolling back expanded powers for the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) to conduct police activities, repealing provisions for broad information sharing between government agencies and rejecting mandatory data retention laws for telecom companies.

But did Bill C-59 go far enough to address the top privacy concerns of Canadians and tackle the many other deeply troubling aspects of C-51? Or is it just a half-baked measure by a federal government seeking to claim it did its part while leaving some of the worst pieces of C-51 lurking beneath the surface? The answer lies somewhere in between.

Bill C-59 is undoubtedly a positive step toward safeguarding the privacy of Canadians, as it includes encouraging reforms such as a new pan-government review body for our spy agencies and a much narrower definition of “terrorist propaganda,” so that this term no longer encompasses activities like peaceful protest and artistic expression.

However, it falls short of addressing some of the most serious concerns associated with Bill C-51, namely information sharing and police powers for CSIS. This is particularly disappointing, given the national security consultation revealed Canadians have significant concerns related to the sharing of sensitive data with foreign governments. Furthermore, broad powers for CSIS to collect and retain “publicly available” datasets went woefully unaddressed.

There was also no mention of measures to protect Canadians from invasive mass surveillance devices like Stingrays or proactive measures to protect encrypted communications, which have become essential for many of us in our everyday lives and critical to our digital and economic security.

Overall, the reform leaves worrying gaps that indicate the new legislation fails to give Canadians the privacy standards they’ve been asking for in an era where privacy is under constant threat by both government agencies and powerful corporations.

More importantly, despite C-59 making some progress on privacy, it remains clear Canadians are still hungry for a full repeal of C-51 and won’t be satisfied with half-measures. What is certain is that C-59 will have to be substantially improved to give Canadians the robust privacy protections they deserve. And there is an opportunity for this to happen through amendments as the bill goes to committee in the fall.

There’s no doubt this will be near the top of MPs’ to-do list when Parliament returns. Use OpenMedia’s online tool to message your MP with a simple click at act.openmedia.org/ProtectPrivacyC51 and ask them to fill in the current gaps and strengthen our privacy protections.

If we flood our MPs’ inboxes before they resume Parliament in the fall, they will not be able to turn a blind eye to our pressing concerns on C-51. Canadians can speak out at act.openmedia.org/ProtectPrivacyC51

Marie Aspiazu is the social media specialist at openmedia.org

Reflections of Canada – now that the party’s over

Canada reflections

by Bruce Mason

It’s been 150 years since the old province of Canada was carved up into Quebec and Ontario and joined by the hip to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in Confederation. We’re spending a cool half billion – plus security, promotional items, provincial expenditures and other unforeseen costs – to celebrate. Never mind the big bucks spent on beer, flags and assorted props and memorabilia. Some of us even learned to utter “sesquicentennial.”

The feds picked up the tab for 500 “projects” – 3,285 were pitched – for everything from the Gros Morne Summer Music Festival in Newfoundland and Labrador to a giant game of snakes and ladders in Calgary and Ontario’s six-story high, 11 ton rubber duck, which cost $150,000 to rent and transport to six cities. In the Lower Mainland, the SkyTrain stopped running to an overflowing Canada Place. There were so many parties and goers that a mobile application and website, Passport 2017, was created, to the tune of $1.3-million, to help us find nearby events in all this glorious and much-touted diversity.

Refelections of Canada book cover
The provocative book includes a foreword by Governor General David Johnston

But one of the biggest surprises had to be the number of citizens who opted to utilize, at least part of the day, to reflect on the current state of their nation. I spent July 1 with a remarkable book I had been saving for the occasion. It’s been getting a bit of a buzz in the press and deservedly so. Reflections of Canada: Illuminating Our Opportunities and Challenges at 150+ Years delivers on its promise on the book jacket “…to communicate a complex and engaging landscape of what Canada is at this point in its history. This is a book of lively, respectful and thoughtful debate.”

The book is a product of UBC’s Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies. Founded in 1996 through a donation from Peter Wall (of iconic Wall Centre fame) of $6.5 million shares in the Wall Financial Corporation, it was worth $15 million at the time. It was the largest single private donation in the university’s history. The institute is a significant community of scholars; more than 450 faculty associates “address fundamental research questions through collaborations that transcend disciplinary boundaries.”

The book includes a foreword by Governor General David Johnston, a preface from UBC president Santa Ono and an introduction by the editor, followed by a poem, “Diverse by Design,” from George Elliott Clarke, who will soon be an artist-in-residence at the Institute.

However, it is the first of 41 easily accessible essays that sets the tone and hits the reader right between the eyes. This is a collection that is more provocative than celebratory and “Practising Reconciliation” starkly lays out our collective “horrific reality.” It is conversation between three scholars who work in partnership to locate the burials of children who died at the Indian Residential School on Kuper Island, now called Penelakut Island, in the Salish Sea. And if you still don’t get reasons for the urgent need for Reconciliation, you will find them here in a handful of pages.

The book covers the state of Canadian democracy, environmental challenges, changes to our health-care system, income and other inequalities, the Arctic, arts and culture, technology and even relations with China. In “The Hygiene Hangover,” UBC microbiologist Brett Finlay and public-health physicians Perry Kendall and David Patrick address the unfortunate consequences arising from Canadians’ zeal for cleanliness, which include a sharp rise in asthma rates and other auto-immune diseases.

If you experienced the viral video of Trudeau’s explanation of quantum computing, you will enjoy Philip Stamp’s, “A Quantum Parable,” which offers a different take on the topic from PM Justin Trudeau. While Canada has been a global leader in quantum computing, it could be on the verge of hemorrhaging high-tech talent by not supporting Burnaby-based D-Wave, an innovative pioneer in the field. Stamp likens it to Avro, the Canadian company that manufactured the world’s most advanced fighter plane in the late 1950s: the CF-105 Avro Arrow. At its peak, the company employed 50,000 people, but after the program was cancelled by the Diefenbaker government, it led to a massive “brain drain.”

There is much more to recommend in Reflections of Canada. In the months that still remain in 2017, on the beach, in the fall and during the onslaught of an uncertain Canadian winter, this is a must-read for a sober analysis and for answers to ubiquitous questions, such as “What’s happening?”, “What now?” and “Will Canada grow into it’s legacy of hope and leadership in the world?

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

Mr. Premier, do it now for democracy

John Horgan cover

Summer is upon us. While we enjoy the bounty of sunshine, we must be careful not to fall asleep and get burnt. As with the outdoors, so it is inside politics. Ecology, equality, food security, affordable housing, etc., and democracy itself are getting baked. Here’s what some of Common Ground’s contributors have written:

The prominent issue that the BC NDP was elected for was to get big money out of politics at the provincial and municipal levels.

The NDP and Greens committed to banning corporate, union and foreign donations with limits on individuals. We also need limits on campaign spending.

These changes should be the first order of the new BC government and apply to the anticipated City of Vancouver by-election, likely in October.

Unfortunately, with the NDP’s appointment of Geoff Meggs as the new Chief of Staff for BC, it sends a confusing signal.

Geoff Meggs was central to the split within COPE forming the development industry backed Vision Vancouver that continues to accept large corporate donations with enormous influence on housing policy.

– Elizabeth Murphy

In April, Common Ground published and videotaped our extensive interview with John Horgan, providing a rare opportunity to present his platform beyond a few disconnected seven-second sound bites. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwtiLzC5pck Here are some highlights for which we intend to hold him accountable:

“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.

“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…That’s the standard we should be measured by.”

“I’m grinning like the Cheshire cat at those three crowns – ICBC, BC Hydro and BC Ferries particularly, fundamentally… So, yes, we’re going to look at those three major crowns – with a magnifying glass and find a better way forward, that has people at the centre.”

Voters in BC will be watching closely. In the meantime, here are a few quotes from UK Labour Jeremy Corbyn for everyone – especially our new government – to keep in mind.

“Nothing was given from above, nothing was given from above by the elites and the powerful, it was only ever gained from below by the masses of people demanding something better, demanding their share of the wealth and the cake that’s created.”

“You should never be so high and mighty you can’t listen to somebody else and learn something from them. Leadership is as much about using the ear as using the mouth.”

– Bruce Mason

The real price of democracy is eternal vigilance, i.e paying active attention after voting, so those we elected keep their word. We voted for change, specifically: 1) get big money out of politics, 2) proportional electoral reform; each are fundamental for improving our democracy. Both the NDP and Greens promised no less. And during their swan song Speech from the Throne the Liberals joined the consensus.  The parties are lined up, now the job must be done before the forces against democratic reform attack. The sharks are circling, having left the warm waters of neo-liberalism. They smell fresh blood in the NDP-Green government in the making. Big money and big developers want to insert their agenda into the mix. The newly forming government must be protected from the same big financial, land-flipping forces that made Vancouver housing unaffordable for most. Don’t let what corrupted Vancouver infect the rest of BC.

Will political power remain with the old economic rulers or become fresh, new power of the people? This is the choice before us. The commoners are 99 percent; big money is 1 percent. 99 percent is a far larger democratic majority. In BC we have suffered 16 years of 1 percent rule, now it is our time to shine.

Former SFU professor, R. D. Mathews, told Common Ground: “John Horgan can call or appoint people to a public inquiry into the financial operations of BC Hydro. The prior government used BC Hydro as a cash cow, milking it dry by taking profits from utility bills we pay, and putting that money into general revenue to make it look like they had a balanced budget all the time running BC Hydro into debt.”

Some experts believe their goal was to bankrupt BC Hydro and then privatize it by selling it to their corporate friends. We have the opportunity now to bring the real workings of BC to light. Let us save our most precious public asset from privatization. We can stop this further theft of the commons now.

As well, the scandalous made-in-secret Independent Power Producer contracts have directed money away from the public purse into private hands. Many of the original owners of IPP contracts, which include run of river licenses, have flipped their IPP licences to much bigger multi-national corporate interests like General Electric. When sold the new owners receive the lucrative IPP secret contract. Our new government can open the books and let the public see what the previous government has done.

There are a host of other non-transparent issues: Kinder Morgan pipeline, Woodfibre LNG agreement with Indonesian billionaire, Site C Dam, ICBC. And while we are cleaning up the mess, let’s review BC Rail and BC Gas privatization sales. The prior Liberal governments kept much from the public, let the new government open the books.

Give us the change we voted for, and get it done now. Thanks in advance.

– Joseph Roberts

To the heartfelt cheers from a massive audience at Glastonbury Music Festival, Jeremy Corbyn quoted Shelley:

Rise like lions after slumber,
in unvanquishable number.
Shake your chains to earth like dew:
Which in sleep had had fallen on you.
You are many, they are few!

PS Send us your comments for future editions to editor@commonground.ca

Clean tech, green jobs, and disruption

workers in a wind turbine factory

by Bruce Mason

There’s light at the end of the tunnel and it’s solar powered and unstoppable. Fossil fools, who still have their heads buried in tar-sands and other 20th century technologies, can’t see it and risk being totally blind-sided. But for those who “get it,” the bozone layer is lifting around the world, particularly in places where new, common-sense, but revolutionary, vision is promoted and nurtured.

One way to grasp the inevitable and transformative nature of this powerful emergent force is through the term “disruptive technology.” It refers to new approaches that overturn traditional business methods and practices. History dubs these pivotal times as ages, such as stone, bronze, iron and information. We’re taught how the industrial age quickly displaced agriculture and how steam speedily overpowered previous forms of harnessing energy. In our lifetime, we’ve actually witnessed, first-hand, the Internet overtaking snail-mail and the virtual disappearance of video rentals and industries, from media to music, which have been forced to cope, in desperation, with changed and challenging realities.

Just five years ago, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) completed its first survey of renewable energy jobs. In 2012, five million people were employed in the sector worldwide. In their just released report, that number doubled to 9.8 million for 2016.

The countries with the largest renewable jobs are Brazil, China, Germany, India, Japan and the US. Remember when knuckle-dragging “Drill Baby, Drill” advocates rationalized turning their backs on reducing emissions, citing that China and India, highly populated and underdeveloped, weren’t up to the task so why did they have to be? Well, coal-rich China, which now has the largest share of renewable energy jobs – 3.5 million – is home to the world’s largest floating solar farm.

As Donald J. Trump touts massive job growth in something called clean coal, India cancelled plans for that form of filthy energy in favour of plummeting solar prices. In fact, 62 percent of the renewable jobs are located in Asia where much of solar panel manufacturing is taking place. And IRENA predicts renewable energy jobs will number 24 million by 2030, outpacing the loss of fossil fuel jobs.

Closer to home, where we don’t make the top renewable job list, Justin Trudeau approved Kinder Morgan with the statement, “No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there.” That’s news to oil-rich countries such as Saudi Arabia, which just launched a $50-billion investment in renewable energy.

In Vancouver, IRENA director-general Adnan Amin explained the massive global transition to renewable energy: “They’re doing this not because they’ve suddenly become climate advocates or they’re against oil, but because they see the future in a very different way and they know that energy in the future is not going to be what it is today.”

So-called “leaders,” from presidents and prime ministers to governors and premiers, are tone-deaf if they think voters are torn over the transition to clean energy. In BC, for example, the “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” mantra is now discredited oligarchy propaganda. A new poll from from Abacus Data indicates that two-thirds of Canadians favour prioritizing economic growth in ways that don’t involve fossil fuels. And Americans don’t lag far behind in the recognition of the urgent and essential need to tank fossil fuels.

A leading light in analyzing and predicting the impact of clean disruptive technology is Stanford economist, Tony Seba. In a jaw-dropping, comprehensive, two-hour viral video , he dramatically illustrates our future in the first few minutes. From a photograph of a New York’s Fifth Avenue, taken in 1900, he asks his audience to pick out the automobile in the packed crowd of horse-drawn vehicles. Then, in a picture from 1913, in the same location, it is just as difficult to spot the one horse amidst the automobiles that materialized in just 13 years. The experience is highly recommended.

New York City, 1908
New York City 1908. Where are the cars?

Seba earned his reputation through his spot-on predictions of the solar boom. His current projections, based on technology cost curves, business model and product innovation, include: 1) By 2030, all new energy will be provided by solar or wind. 2) All new mass-market vehicles will be electric and autonomous (self-driving) or semi-autonomous. 3) The car market will shrink by 80%. 4) Gasoline, natural gas and coal will be obsolete (nuclear is already obsolete). 5) Up to 80% of highways and parking space won’t be needed. 6) And not only will the auto insurance industry be disrupted, car ownership and the taxi industry will be obsolete.

Streets of Detroit, 1910
Detroit 1910. Where are the horses?

Not fanciful when you consider expensive automobiles now sit idle, on average, 20 hours a day and electric vehicles are price competitive, especially when you factor in maintenance. Just before going to press, Common Ground had a conversation with Guy Dauncey, an author – his latest book is Journey to the Future: A Better World Is Possible – and activist. Dauncey has developed a positive vision of a sustainable future and he is translating that vision into action. “Guess how many people in the Lower Mainland have joined the handful of car-sharing opportunities?” he asked. “The answer is 120,000!”

Dauncey had another question: “What if BC and Canada – like Norway – had governments that not only subsidized the purchase of electric vehicles, but also provided HOV lane access, free parking and free charging (from street light lampposts)?”

Our economy no longer provides what most of us, unlike Christy Clark, consider real, good jobs. Fighting climate change supports families, sustains communities and provides a more equitable distribution of wealth, which our current economy no longer provides.

In his most recent book, Just Cool It!, David Suzuki (co-author Ian Hanington) writes, “The economy is a human invention, a tool that can be changed when it no longer suits our needs. The environment is the very air, water, land and diversity of plant and animal life we cannot live without. Why not work to build a healthy prosperous economy that protects things?”

Drawing on new innovations such as grid power systems, biochar soil technologies and algae-based biofuels, the authors outline practical, forward-thinking solutions for not only resolving the climate crisis, but also to create more meaningful work to directly benefit more people. All that is missing is that people demand change and action, as they apparently have just done in BC. When finally this happens, the results will be monumental.

When looking for a new job, start by changing your mindset and searching for something society needs. And think disruptive. In the aftermath of the provincial election, it’s past time to demand that elected public servants not only take big money out of a reformed electoral process, but that they also take disruptive action in order to catch up and build a better, re-imagined, BC.

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

Lead photo: Inside a wind turbine factory.

The Powers of GO – The Green and Orange evolution

happy about green and orange

by Joseph Roberts

Sixty-five years is a lifetime without a minority government in BC. Now we have, just by the slimmest of margins, one! It is 41 NDP and 3 Greens vs. 43 Liberal Members of the Legislative Assembly.

A blessed granddaughter was born the day of the election. And like a new born baby this relationship between the Orange and Green needs TLC and nourishing. We dedicate this edition of Common Ground to all of us finding common ground to grow a better democracy.

This is not the first Orange and Green agreement, but certainly the first here in BC.

The Irish tricolour flag (Irish: bratach na hÉireann) is Green White Orange. The green represents the older Gaelic tradition while the orange represents the supporters of William of Orange. The white in the centre signifies the lasting truce between the ‘Orange’ and the ‘Green’.

The Quare Fellas sang The Orange and the Green in 1960’s, later sung by the The Irish Rovers. The song’s lyrics tell the humorous story of a lad born into a mixed religious and political family.

“My father he was Orange and me mother she was Green” the son born of a Protestant dad and a Catholic mom. “My father was an Ulster man, proud Protestant was he. My mother was a Catholic girl, from county Cork was she.” It brought a smile to my heart, you can listen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=63m-6zxfUyE

Making peace and forming agreements takes courage, creativity and also forgiveness in order to make our lives better.

We have friends in both the New Democratic and the Green parties. Prior to the election there was a lot of friction and animosity. Suspicion and animus raged between the two parties now in agreement. A number of NDP’ers were troubled by the Greens because they saw them as splitting the vote and keeping them out of power against the neo-liberals. Some Greens disliked the NDP.

Both sides have their stories to tell, their blame games, and their personal pains. No person or party in this situation is perfect, but then perfection can get in the way of progress. To have a progressive, democratic, environmentally aware governance of BC things had to progress.

The Greens have a lot to learn from the NDP and the NDP have a lot to learn from the Greens. Rekindled appreciation and respect will allow this now.

For 16 years the extractive capitalist and the donor class of the ruling Liberal-Conservative-Socred coalition, renamed BC Liberals, had free-rein to feed the profits from our land to the 1% while the middle working class watched powerlessly as Gordon Campbell-Christy Clark governments sold our province to the highest bidder. Big money ruled the body politic. There was no proportional representation. 39% of the vote took 100% of the power from the people, leaving 61% with no real representation.

We had taxation and exploitation without fair proportional representation. The NDP felt the impotence of sitting across from a ruling party that voted down any progressive motion they presented, such as taking big money out of politics which was crushed by their first-past-the-post (FPTP) overlords.

The sting was personal for John Horgan and the NDP who previously voted against electoral reform when the Single Transferable Vote STV referendum was offered.

Since then, the NDP realized while sitting in opposition how FPTP condemned them to democratic poverty with no real power against a BC Liberal majority government who, with only 39% of the popular vote, pushed through egregious legislation and slashed health, social or education budgets.

After watching the Christy Clark train-wreck in slow motion, they have realized that in order to have a government for the people the system has to be unrigged from the infrastructure and process that served the Liberals donor class. Get big money the hell out of politics and instill a proportional representation electoral process.

The Greens had already built these two principles into their platform and so the common ground was in place for John Horgan and Andrew Weaver to cooperate in order to better serve the people of BC.

And the magic happened. A minority government with the Greens holding the balance of power! The first time in Canada’s history. So, we stand before this amazing opportunity to bring real democracy and fairness into the governance of BC.

It has been said that when the people lead the politicians will follow. And the only real safe place for democracy is in the hearts and minds of the people themselves. So lets take out some life insurance for this new and fragile unity by getting to know each other whether you are Orange or Green.

We at Common Ground invite the members of the NDP Party and the Green Party to actually party together and meet each other face to face, share food and joy.

Of course, all are welcome who voted Green or Orange to come out and really get to know each other.

We really have more in common than we know. It is through connecting in person that friendship is built. With direct experience of each other we can develop the necessary trust to grow strong. Let’s be resistant to the divide and conquer techniques of the previous FPTP divisive electoral rules. Yes, we can move beyond hostile partisanship into a joint appreciation. We can cooperate together and better operate the levers of political power through a fairer, more democratic process to serve the 99% rather than just the 1%.

This may seem radical but at one time it was deemed radical to have women vote, or, it was unthinkable if one was a slave, to be truly free. Such is the moment we live in now.

But our effort did not end when we cast our single vote. Rather, the recent election has given us this golden opportunity. Now let’s solidify our goodwill. We can reverse the economic and environment damage done by former government’s controllers, who, being in power for too long, became arrogant, entitled and corrupt.

This is a new day for British Columbia and a beginning of a new era for Canada and what better time than on Canada’s 150th birthday. Just as UN-Habitat I and Greenpeace were born in BC and spread east across Canada, then across the globe, we at this time can stand for a truly people-focused democracy based on our shared values and common goals. And done well, this will be BC’s greatest gift to the rest of Canada on our 150th birthday. Implicit in this renewal is the honouring of those whose cultures were here long before the most recent 150 years, and to work together in the spirit of reconciliation with First Nations for the betterment of all.

Here is the opening section of the agreement signed by the leaders and caucus of both parties. Please do take the time to read the whole document on-line at the NDP or Green Party’s website, or at commonground.ca

2017 Confidence and Supply Agreement between the BC

Green Caucus and the BC New Democrat Caucus

This agreement between the BC Green Caucus and the BC New Democrat Caucus is effective [2017], for four years, or until the next fixed date election as set by the BC Constitution Act.

Section 1 – Foundation of Relationship

This agreement establishes the basis for which the BC Green Caucus will provide confidence in a BC New Democrat Government. It is not intended to lay out the full program of a New Democrat Government, nor is it intended to presume BC Green support for initiatives not found within this agreement.

Both the BC New Democrats and the BC Greens campaigned for a government that put people at the centre of their decision-making. Our policy proposals included many points of agreement, including:

1. Making democracy work for people

2. Creating jobs, acting on climate change, and building a sustainable economy that works for everyone

3. Fixing the services people count on

4. Making life more affordable for people

This agreement sets out a new relationship between the two parties, founded on the principle of “good faith and no surprises”.

Both parties agree that the legislature works best when all MLAs are able to put forward good ideas – and come together – to support those that advance the public good.

Remember, this is only the beginning. May we all find common ground and make our province, country and world a better place for peace and prosperity from this day forward.

Erin is a derivative of the Irish word for Ireland – “Éire”. Erin used for both sexes, is principally a feminine forename. Erin is also a name for Ireland in Welsh and one of the most popular girls’ names in Wales.

The baby mentioned at the beginning is named Erin.

So host a Orange and Green house party, block party, musical concert, improv flash mob, country fair, farmers market or any other place where people can gather together. Get creative and initiate you own celebration to bring both Green and Orange together. It is up to each one of us now.

Canada’s democracy a convenient fiction

First-past-the-post unchanged

by Kelly Carmichael

Politicians hold up democracy like the gold standard although few would be able to define it. They affirm that expressing your will at the ballot box is key to a functioning democracy. Yet citizens have no power to effect change, despite the fact they fund the infrastructure of government through their tax dollars.

What many do not compute is that all policy decisions find their foundation in the way we allocate power through our electoral system. Winner-take-all majoritarian systems offer an illusion of choice, but are actually designed to keep the commons out. You can vote for a candidate, but your options to effectively elect an MP aligned with your political values is quite slim. In 2015, over 9,000,000 Canadians chose losing candidates.

The other problem with first-past-the-post voting is the system most often returns skewed results. When we say 39% ‘majorities,’ that illustrates the total amount of votes for a winning party, but the inconvenient truth behind that number reveals that half of those voters voted for the winning party in ridings where an opposition candidate won. Many would be surprised to hear that a mere 4.6 million Canadians elected the 184 MPs that hold all the power in our House of Commons.

Providing such a small minority all the power in our government makes accountability very precarious and illusive. For instance, it would appear the government is very busy consulting on a variety of issues: electoral reform, trade, climate change, etc. These exercises provide a slick semblance of transparency and government accountability.

Unfortunately, most of these consultations expose a well orchestrated political theatre and lack the proper mechanisms and outcomes for responding to the evidence or the will of the people.

When you drill down into the consultations set up by the Special Committee on Electoral Reform (ERRE), you find 88% of the experts who expressed an opinion on systems told the government to implement some form of proportional representation (PR). Additionally, 87% of the public who testified at the public hearings asked the government to move to a proportional system. The ERRE’s own online survey found strong support for both the principle of PR and specific proportional systems.

This consultation was the 14th of its kind in Canada. Each one recommended moving to proportional representation. Add this to the fact that 80% of OECD Countries (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) use PR and a body of research spanning 50 years suggests you get better democracy and governance through PR.

Alarmingly, the more the evidence and public sentiment pointed to proportional representation, the more the Liberals seemed to retreat citing they could not find ‘consensus.’

In November of 2016, Justin Trudeau announced that perhaps electoral reform wasn’t as important since now he was Prime Minister. In February of 2017, the Prime Minister sent his newly minted Minister of Democratic Institutions, Karina Gould, out to face the media and tell Canadians the government had chosen to kill the file. A few weeks later, addressing a room of citizens and reporters, Trudeau announced killing electoral reform was his decision to make. Most suspect the decision was made in the shadowy backroom of the PMO.

Trudeau has since admitted that he was, and remains, an advocate of the alternative vote system (AV) – a ranked ballot used in a majoritarian winner-take-all system – which is basically first-past-the-post on steroids, a phony reform that continues to guarantee that up to half of all voters in every riding remain unable to elect the MP they prefer.

The truth was the Liberals could not find consensus for Justin Trudeau’s preferred system so they killed it.

The Liberals are leaving the once condemned first-past-the-post scheme intact along with their own undeserved domination of the House of Commons. j

US may hit emission targets before Canada

by Tom Sandborn

As Jeff Rubin, former economist for CIBC World Markets and author of a number of books, including The Carbon Bubble and The End of Growth, prepared to speak to a full house of fund managers, bankers and NGO figures interested in responsible investment at a meeting sponsored by the Responsible Investment Association (https://www.riacanada.ca/) early on the morning of June 1, the room was buzzing with excitement and worry about whether Donald Trump would use a speech scheduled for later in the day to announce the US was going to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, also known as COP 21. Trump did make that tragically misguided announcement a few hours later.

But the well known and often controversial energy sector expert Rubin had other things on his mind. In fact, he told the packed ballroom full of fans of responsible investment that the US under Donald Trump was more likely to hit emission reduction goals than Canada under Trudeau!

(carbonbrief.org/paris-2015-tracking-country-climate-pledges)

According to this graphic posted on the Climate Action Tracker website (climateactiontracker.org/), without cuts more serious than those committed to in the Paris Agreement, global temperatures will spiral up to an average of more than two degrees higher than current world averages. Most experts agree that increases that high in global temperatures will lead to catastrophic climate change, melting polar ice with ocean level increases likely to drown many coastal cities.

Rubin said, “I believe that the US, despite Trump pulling out of COP 21, is better positioned to hit their emission targets than Canada.”

Steve Kux, Climate Change and Clean Energy Policy Analyst for the David Suzuki Foundation, told Common Ground on June 5 that Rubin made good points in his Vancouver speech.

“Canada has made some positive moves on climate change,” Kux said, “but we need a cohesive and coherent national policy and our continued subsidies to fossil fuels and approval for pipeline expansion take us in the wrong direction. Given the positive steps being taken by American states and cities on this file, Rubin may well be right about Canada doing worse than the USA on getting emissions down unless we get our priorities straight.”

Meanwhile, Rubin says, BC has become a major conduit for highly polluting thermal coal from the US to Asia, and the recent federal approval of Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion is not only environmentally dangerous, it also makes no sense economically.

Rubin said the often-voiced argument from fans of the fossil fuel industries that Canada needs more pipelines in order to “get a stranded resource to tidewater” for export abroad makes no sense to him as an economist. “It is, frankly, BS,” he said in an interview before his speech.

Most of the petroleum Canada exports is bitumen from the tar sands, he said, and that product is priced well below other oils in both the Asian and European markets, a reality that would leave tar sands bitumen stranded by economics and Canada holding the bag for the environmental and economic costs associated with building more pipeline infrastructure. He said Canada should build no more pipelines.

Kux also agreed with Rubin’s rejection of the argument that Canada has to build more pipelines.

“Tar sands bitumen is not stranded by the lack of pipelines to the coast,” he said. “Every barrel of bitumen exported loses money and more pipelines won’t change that.” j

Tom Sandborn lives in Vancouver and is interested in energy issues. Contact tos65@telus.net

Photo: Wind turbines near Goldendale, Washington.

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