Why approving Site C could sink NDP

by Damien Gillis

cabin photo: Diane Perry

It’s getting down to the wire for the NDP-led government to announce its decision on Site C Dam. The corporate media and some big guns for labour have been making a sales push to throw the beleaguered project a lifeline and many fear they could succeed. That would be the biggest mistake the NDP could make. They didn’t create this monster, but they will own the consequences if they keep it alive.

There are three reasons given for carrying on with Site C: 1. We’d be throwing away four billion if we killed it; 2. We’ll eventually need the power; 3. The jobs!!! All of these are bogus and the cost of getting this wrong, for ratepayers and taxpayers (YOU), is astronomical.

A bottomless hole

Even if you buy the overstated remediation costs for the project, even if you accept the far-fetched premise of $4 billion lost (experts like the head of the Site C Joint Review Panel peg it closer to $3 billion), you’d have to consider the cost of not cancelling Site C. For once, let’s be frank. Even the BC Utilities Commission, when it found the project could easily exceed $10 billion, even go as high as $12.5 billion (up from Hydro’s estimate of $5 billion-6.6 billion in 2007), wasn’t fully appreciating how bad this could get.

money bucket
graphic by Damien Gillis

Just look at Newfoundland’s yet unfinished Muskrat Falls project, estimates for which have more than doubled from $6.2 billion to $12.7 billion. At $6.7 billion spent, many there say it’s past the point of no return (familiar), but Site C isn’t nearly that far along, so it should be viewed differently. The net result for Newfoundlanders will be an additional $150 a month in electrical costs per homeowner – forever! Newfoundland has a smaller population to absorb its cost overruns, but we’ve got our own share of problems to compound the damage from Site C. Think of the lawsuits from First Nations whose treaty rights are being undeniably violated (while both the provincial and federal governments tout UNDRIP – i.e. they know better).

But the biggest issue is the shaky ground on which the project is being built – literally. Way back in 2009, I interviewed a longtime farmer in the region, Dick Ardill. His family has been in the Peace going back as far as mine, the Beatties, who lost their ranch to the first big dam there, WAC Bennett. Dick must have been well into his eighties when I spoke to him, with a lifetime of practical knowledge of the soil and slope stability in the valley. He told me then the biggest reason not to build the project was the unstable land. He’d seen firsthand the Attachie slide of 1973 and many others over the years. The mixture of shale, clay and alluvial soils made for an awful place to put an earthen dam.

Slumping around the Williston Reservoir, circa 2008

The 80-kilometre section of the valley, from Hudson’s Hope to the foot of Fort St. John, where Site C was proposed was in some ways worse in this respect than where the Bennett Dam and Williston Reservoir were built (the Williston gobbled up far more land than originally contemplated, due to slumping, including my grandfather’s property above the planned reservoir). Granted, the Williston Reservoir behaves differently than would Site C, which is more a massive run-of-river project than a storage reservoir with large swings in water levels, but a 1991 report by geologist Norm Catto for the Ministry of Energy and Mines had this to say about the eastern Peace Valley, which includes the area where the dam itself is proposed:

“Thus, all of the major terrain units present in the eastern Peace River region are subject to slope failure. Extreme caution should therefore be observed in any effort to exploit or utilize river valley slopes.”

This report appears to have been ignored by Hydro in evaluating Site C.

Cracks in the dam

Flash forward to the tension cracks formed around the dam site and the hundreds of millions of dollars of cost overruns already attributable to these very stability issues and you see that old Dick knew what he was talking about. And here’s the thing: there’s no bottom to this problem. Like a highly leveraged 2008 stock deal, we have no idea how deep this hole gets. Ten billion? How about 15? Or 20?

tension cracks Site C geology
Site C Dam construction site with tension cracks highlighted (PVEA)

If everything went perfectly according to plan (the opposite of what has happened thus far), Hydro intended to have the dam paid off by 2094! That’s now blown, so what are we talking? 2120? 2150? How many generations of your descendants will be paying for this mistake? And what’s the interest on $20 billion amortized over a century, at much higher interest rates than we currently enjoy? (The BCUC rightly chastised BC Hydro for assuming low rates in perpetuity). In other words, what’s the real cost of this project? I could take a stab and say $60-80 billion, and you could say that’s just a wild-eyed guess. Then I would reply, “Exactly – I’m using BC Hydro’s methods.” (For the sake of argument, though, at a rate of 5%, $20 billion, paid off over 100 years, comes to roughly $100 billion in principal and interest. Just sayin.’)

Oh, and remember the NDP wants to do all this while freezing Hydro rates. LOL! If they’re serious, they’ll have to raise taxes or make massive cuts to social services. They can’t have their cake and eat it too.

According to Moody’s, the single biggest threat to our Triple-A credit rating is BC Hydro-related debt. In other words, Site C – piled atop all the sweetheart private power contracts and financial blunders the crown corp committed under the Liberals’ direction – will cost us our rating. Then up goes the province’s cost of borrowing – for all our debt – and the house of cards comes tumbling down. We’re worried about (at most) $4 billion in sunk costs, remediation and cancellation fees? Chump change!

But that’s not the worst of it. Dr. Vern Ruskin (PhD, MCom, BSc, Retired PEng [BC]) warned the BCUC of serious safety concerns, partly due to the above stability issues around the dam site. Dr. Ruskin is no less than the former director of BC Hydro’s planning division, responsible for planning, designing, budgeting and contracting more than 10 dams in BC, including WAC Bennett, Peace Canyon and Site C in its early stages. Among other things, Dr. Ruskin warned that changes made in 2011 to the original dam design pose increased risk of dam failure, as do these recent tension cracks and the instability they suggest.

The BCUC did not consider these concerns of Dr. Ruskin because dam safety was outside of the terms of reference for its review. But there is no reason the NDP-led government should ignore Dr. Ruskin. The enormous consequences of a dam failure – potential human injury and loss of life, widespread property damage – would make these financial concerns seem trivial by comparison.

“We’ll eventually need the power”

Here’s a thought: For the last decade, our population has been growing; we’ve been building bigger houses and acquiring more gadgets, but our power consumption has remained flat. Is it so wild a concept that 10 or 20 years from now same thing could be true? Our gadgets are getting more efficient, our building codes more stringent and we’ve seen an exodus of heavy industry, which once consumed a third of our total electricity. Wait, are we stopping raw log exports tomorrow? Did I miss the memo about a whole bunch of pulp mills reopening? Are there dozens of new mines breaking ground this year? Will BC defy global economics and magically produce an LNG industry after all the years of failure?

But let’s play this out, for the sake of argument. Say in 20 years we do need more electricity. We sure as heck wouldn’t be building Site C to supply it. At the rate renewables of all stripes are dropping in cost, we’d avail ourselves of the latest, best technology, which wouldn’t be a 70-year-old idea for a mega-dam. No less than the head of the Site C Joint Review Panel, Harry Swain, the BCUC itself, and other eminent energy experts not tied to Site C, Hydro or the government, have come to the same conclusion. We won’t need the power for a very long time and if and when we do, Site C will not be the best option, either environmentally or in terms of cost.

One final point that connects to the cost issue: since we don’t need this power, it will have to go into our grid and across our borders to customers in Washington State and Alberta. In real terms, it will cost over $110/megawatt hour (MWh) to produce, yet the going rate to sell this power has been hovering around $35/MWh for years. You do the math. Every megawatt produced carries a loss to the ratepayer.

But the jaaaawwwbs!!!

A few quick notes:

1. BC’s big unions aren’t getting these jobs; a different, quasi-union called the Christian Labour Association of Canada already has the lion’s share of this gig. It is also noteworthy that one of BC’s biggest unions, the BCGEU, has come out against the project so there is a divide within labour on the issue.

2. We keep hearing 2,000 jobs – balderdash. With a series of layoffs and a significant decline in vehicles and visible work on the property – much of that related to these tension crack issues – local sources suggest the real number of workers is far lower than Hydro and the government claim, pegging the number at 500 or less. These jobs are temporary and have come under criticism for allegedly unsafe conditions.

3. If we’re prepared to spend large quantities of tax dollars and hydro fees simply for a make-work project, there are far better ways to employ far more British Columbians for far less money, as a new analysis from UBC’s Program on Water Governance underscores.

This jobs argument is the weakest link of the pro-Site C camp and the NDP should treat it as such.

NDP deciding its own future

If Site C proceeds, this could be the one and only time John Horgan and his NDP cabinet are sworn in by the Lieutenant Governor (Photo: Province of BC / Flickr)

The costs to ratepayers and taxpayers, along with all the other impacts on farmland, First Nations and the environment, are impacts Site C would have on British Columbians, fauna and flora. But the NDP would be wise to consider the impacts the project would have on them, politically. Had the BCUC come out with rosy outlook for the project, that would perhaps have given them some cover to continue forward. It didn’t. Now, the ball is in the current government’s court and it is not only deciding the future of Site C, but its own future.

NDP in deep
Jonathan Ramos cartoon

Many in the environmental community appreciate the moves the NDP has made thus far: (partially) banning the grizzly hunt, (sort of) taking a stand against Kinder Morgan, reviewing professional reliance, reviewing Site C. Yet I have spoken with many colleagues and seen scores of comments on social media to the effect that if the NDP proceeds with Site C, they will abandon the party.

On the flip side, if the NDP kills Site C, will it lose labour votes? Will union lobbyists Bill Tieleman or Jim Quail turn their backs on the party? Hardly. It’s unclear what the Greens will do in the short term, but this delicate, temporary arrangement will be severely strained and, in the long run, Site C will further drive a wedge through the Left, causing the NDP to lose votes in the next election. This will all be compounded by the fiscal woes that will accompany this inevitable boondoggle. Just look to Ontario and Newfoundland to see the political fallout from poorly made decisions on large-scale energy projects.

Green MLA Sonia Furstenau said it best in the legislature [in late November]: “Up until now, this has been a BC Liberal boondoggle. The cost overruns, the ballooning debt, the questionable need for such a costly project: this is the Liberals’ mistake alone. But if the government decides to continue with Site C, they will become responsible for the impacts. It will be on the shoulders of this government.”

Indeed, if this government chooses to flood the Peace Valley (again), we may look back in years, drowning in unbearable power bills and debt, and realize that 2017 was the NDP’s high watermark. Then came the flood.

Posted November 29, 2017 by Damien Gillis in Economics. Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues, especially relating to water, energy and saving Canada’s wild salmon. He is co-founder of the online publication the Common Sense Canadian.

At mid-term: a Justin Trudeau report card

Justin Trudeau observing eclipse

It’s two years since he swept to power, high-fiving with one hand, promises for “Real Change” in the other. So right now, on the post-honeymoon anniversary of his election to majority government, halfway through his mandate, it’s time to take a full, accurate measure of our 23rd Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.

The TrudeauMeter offers a starting point and an ongoing gauge.

This non-partisan, collaborative citizen initiative is specifically designed to track performance on his platform. It lists 226 promises, spelled out in Liberal literature, speech-ified and selfie-fied during the federal campaign.

Check off 59 promises made good, but also note well: work hasn’t yet begun on precisely the same number: 59. There are 72 works in progress.

A useful word, going forward, is “porkies.” According to dictionaries, it’s cockney slang for shaded white “lies” as in, “Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been telling ‘porkies’ again.” According to the TrudeauMeter, he has flat-out broken, and downright abandoned, a whopping 36 promises to millions of Canadians, who took him at his word and got him in (and Stephen Harper out) by, in many cases, voting strategically.

The biggest fish he hooked, reeled in, used as bait or chucked overboard were electoral reformers, the environmentally inclined, the awakened millennials and First Nations.

Justin Trudeau, in the Canadian cliché, “campaigns on the left, governs on the right.” The run-up to power takes place in a less-bloodied kettle of fish. Also swimming, circling Parliament, are schools of lobbyists, assorted sharks, bottom feeders and bureaucrats, entrenched in the old power game of government.

Full marks for electoral showmanship, possibly gleaned from his part-time job teaching drama. Most unfortunately, Justin Trudeau, like far too many victorious politicians, in a post-campaign role, is now dancing with those ‘who brung him,’ the greedy elites who hold the real strings – the purse strings – and select and play the tunes.

The rest of us, the vast majority, are mere sidelined wallflowers, Still, a number of grateful Canadians would likely give the Libs a passing grade, another whirl, just for erasing “Harper” from the national dance-card. Perhaps enough, two years hence, for a nod to stay on as a minority prom-king. Some will continue to hold their noses while pointing south to the stench of a madman and his company of conspirators, fleecing and disassembling all remaining reason, resources and democracy below the border. To be fair, in context, the worsening dystopia of Donald J. Trump was beyond even our former prime minister, who trumpeted, “Nice hair, but Justin’s not ready.” Few, if any, were fully prepared.

Canada still looks good in comparison, while charting a best-course scenario through the unforeseen, current tsunamis of dangerously troubled waters, rippling and ripping northward. Endangered are trade, the economy, border security, immigration and foreign policy, etc., as well as life itself, through climate implosion or nuclear explosion.

Notable among Justin’s 59 check marks for jobs done: finally bringing 40,000 Syrian refugees to this privileged country, releasing unprecedented, public ministerial mandate letters, unmuzzling government scientists, restoring the mandatory long-form census, persuading provinces to impose low-hanging carbon tax, establishing protocols for decriminalizing medically assisted death, the Canada Child Benefit and an equal number of women and men in Cabinet. When asked “Why?” regarding the latter, Trudeau answered, “Because it’s 2015!” That went viral and global, along with the announcement in Paris during the woefully inadequate international climate accord, that “Canada is Back.”

Voters must also not forget his assurances on election night: “We are committed to ensuring this will be the last federal election using first-past-the-post” and “Meaningful ‘nation to nation’ engagement with Indigenous peoples to secure free, prior and informed consent.”

Surely “Real Change” is really just empty promise and stage-craft, unless it plays out in real-life. And we’re now nearing 2018.

There are more than enough disappointing failures to reverse many Harper initiatives and broken promises for us to take issue with: pay equity legislation; marijuana legislation; a plodding, infuriating national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women; the $15 billion Canada received to provide armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, while there are still no funds for the 100+ indigenous communities that lack potable water; forecasted $10 billion deficits, now $23b, projected to soon tally $28.5-billion; the outed, tax-evading Finance Minister and his suspect two budgets; increasing lack of free access to information (Canada now ranked 46th, between Peru and Bulgaria); big buck infrastructure work, being doled out from the Commons to private predators – ad infinitum.

In arguing for a mid-course correction, Elizabeth May has posted detailed, teacher-like, subject-to-subject second year Liberal letter grades on the Green Party website. From a purely west-coast perspective, let’s give the federal Liberals a generous, encouraging C-minus; their leader, a hard and fast D-plus, with lots of room to roll up his sleeves for needed improvement.

In two years, Canada’s cautious optimism has churned and morphed into brick-like cynicism. Justin Trudeau has squandered his, and our, potential. He’s out-of-touch and tone-deaf to the growing chorus of Canadians struggling for a living wage to pay rent, let alone save up for a down payment on a house, post-secondary training or decent childcare.

“Canadians do not expect us to be perfect; they expect us to be honest, open and sincere in our efforts to serve the public interest,” Trudeau opined.

To paraphrase time-honoured report cards, “Justin gets along well with others, but must apply himself to important subjects such as environment, electoral reform and Indigenous rights.”

Trudeau, the second, has two years until finals, to cut to the chase, pull up his designer socks and cut down on selfies and play-acting. And above all, cut out the porkies.

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

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

View of the Peace River Valley

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

by Reimar Kroecher

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unlimited growth increases the divide

Unlimited growth at the Delmar Hotel

by Bruce Mason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hyperbolic, indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

An interview with Michael Hudson

an expensive house

on greed, debt & the inevitable housing crisis

by Joseph Roberts

Michael Hudson is one of the world’s leading economists. He acts as an economic advisor to governments worldwide including Greece, Iceland, Latvia and China on finance and taxation. www.michael-hudson.com

Joseph Roberts: You wrote The Bubble and Beyond before the 2008 financial crash happened.

Michael Hudson: [There were] articles I’d written since about 2004, basically, and I hadn’t yet put it all together in a book. I’d submitted a book to a number of publishers, The Fictitious Economy, forecasting there was going to be a crash in 2008. One year before at Harper’s, I published all the charts based on this book, showing exactly why it was going to happen. Then it happened right on schedule.

JR: What causes bubbles like that?

Michael Hud
Michael Hudson

MH: Debt. The reason bubbles burst is that they’re financed by debt. People will lend more and more and more against real estate or companies and the cost of servicing this debt, the interest and amortization, exceeds the cash flow, the profit or income that’s being earned, and there’s a break in the chain of payments. The tendency of debt in every economy is to grow exponentially. Every interest rate is a doubling time. It can be thought of as that. And the debts grow independently of the economy.

When debts grow faster than the economy’s ability to pay, there’s a crash. That’s why the booms, the build-up and expansion of a business cycle are rather slow, but the crash comes very quickly. So it’s really not a cycle at all. It’s not like Schumpeter described in his book on business cycles: a very smooth sine curve. It’s a ratchet effect.

They’ll pay all of the increased rental value to the bank as interest because they’re hoping for a capital gain, because that’s where the action has been for the last 50 years in the US. Not income. Most people have got rich, not by saving their earnings, but they’ve got rich by the capital gain, which includes middle class families that got rich, not by saving their wages, but by their house appreciating.

JR: Why did Wall Street get bailed out in 2008 rather than Main Street? The US House and the Senate first initially rejected the bail-out. What happened after their first vote?

MH: A lot of pressure was put on the Republicans to say, “Wait a minute, most of your campaign contributions come from the financial sector, the FIRE sector: Finance, Insurance and Real Estate. Who are you going to be for, the voters or your campaign contributors?” And the politicians said, “Our campaign contributors. They’re our constituency.” Or, as Hillary Clinton’s people called them, “the donor class” – the large financial firms and monopoly real estate investors. So President Obama, essentially influenced by his mentor Wall Streeter Robert Rubin, decided to save the banks, not the economy.

Inner engineering

JR: Vancouver, Toronto and other Canadian cities have these huge, expensive bank towers housing the Royal, TD, Montreal and Scotia banks, other financial corporate palaces and now even Trump Towers. But for the majority of people, there is a housing crisis. Housing has drastically changed. In 1957, my parents bought a brand-new, two-story, three-bedroom home in Coquitlam for $13,000. It had a big back yard where we put in apple trees, a large front yard and a double car garage. Within three years, my parents had it paid off. They both worked; my dad was a machinist and my mother a schoolteacher. We were a working class family. Our children can’t do that today.

MH: That’s right. People think that if their grandparents and parents could somehow buy a house and it would go up in value, that would be their retirement fund. Since WWll, that’s how the middle class was essentially created. They often made more money on house appreciation in a year than they would make working for a whole year. And it’s gone up. In some cases, they made more on the house appreciation than all of their salaries for a lifetime.

That’s come to an end and people don’t want to acknowledge that era is over. Already, the economy is fully loaned-up. That’s the word that Wall Street uses. “Loaned-up” means there’s no more debt it can carry. All of the surplus income that families have, over and above basic subsistence needs, is paid to the banks and the real estate sector, the FIRE sector. There’s no more leeway in the economy to grow because it’s all been pledged for debt service. The growth is over. That’s why since 2008, the US economy has been shrinking, except for the wealthiest five percent. The bottom 95% have actually shrunk.

JR: Last year, the amount of capital gains in housing exceeded all of the labour combined in Vancouver. How did that occur?

MH: It happened because banks are willing to lend so much more money that the bank loans bid up the price of property. Property is worth as much as a bank lends against it, and it’s true that foreign investors have come – speculators Blackstone, I’m told, from America. The hedge fund was bought here. Chinese and European investors have all been bidding up the price of commercial property and luxury buildings.

But for the rest of Vancouver, [with regard to] the vast majority of buildings and houses, banks have lent more and more money because they don’t particularly care if the occupants go broke. If the occupants have to borrow so much to buy a home in Vancouver, over a million dollars for many single homes in Vancouver, well, in order to pay debt service on a million dollars, you have to earn about $100,000 a year. If they don’t earn that, if they go under, the banks will say, “Never mind, we’re not going to lose a penny on that because the land is more valuable.”

And if enough families can go broke and be foreclosed on, the banks will then say, “Okay, look, we have a big parcel of land. We’ve got the homeowners off. They’ve had to leave because of debt. Now, we can be building another great big office building.”

JR: How does foreign debt and foreign capital affect our housing and economy? Japan once held the most US capital debt, mostly in US treasury bonds, and now it’s China. These debt-rich countries go to the US to cash in that debt. They want to buy a super-port or Standard Oil of California and the US says, “No it is not in our national interest.” How do they unload their US treasury bonds? Does Canada accept US treasury bonds from China and other countries as currency?

MH: Well, yes. They’re certainly marketable and any country is willing to buy treasury bonds at pretty much the market price. Maybe a teeny margin below. The US, as Obama said, is the “exceptional country.” What does that mean? That means we don’t have to obey international law. International law is for other people. We’re the exception to international law. We’re the only country in the world that doesn’t have to obey international law.

We don’t obey any foreign court. We don’t obey the international courts. We don’t obey the Geneva Convention. Because we’re the “exceptional country.” We insist that other countries open their market to American investors to buy their commanding heights and then privatize them and treat their infrastructure as monopolies. But we won’t let China even buy gas stations in the US when it wanted to buy a set of oil distributors on the west coast. This is the double standard and it’s why China and Russia and Iran and other countries said it’s a guaranteed losing game. “They want to buy us but they won’t let us buy anything.”

JR: If a country doesn’t play along with the US empire, the empire strikes back.

MH: Yes. As it did in Chile.

JR: America has a list of countries that won’t comply to their unipolar world currency. Would it make sense to have more than one international currency system in the world?

MH: That is happening. That would be called a ‘multi-polar world’ and that’s exactly what countries out of the US are saying. That’s why China and Russia are moving closer together. They have a bank clearing system to replace the American/European bank clearing system to clear bank transfers in case the US says they will wreck their banking economy by unplugging them electronically from SWIFT system (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication). They’re having their own systems.

Other countries are having to protect themselves by withdrawing from the globalization order. That’s exactly why you have Brexit in England. The French election debated this. And north Italy parties are threatening to withdraw from the Euro Zone. The most active people supporting withdrawal from the Euro are the Portuguese because so many Portuguese are having to emigrate to Brazil where they speak the same language. Spain. And of course Greece.

So America, in being the “exceptional country,” with its double standard, says, “If you don’t do what we tell you, we’re going to treat you like we treated Gaddafi or Saddam or Assad.” Other people can say we want to decouple as quickly as we can. Globalization really means a US double standard of military, economic and financial control while other countries are trying to survive because, for them, this is really a new feudalism.

JR: So what’s different today from 30, 40 or 50 years ago in terms of the housing situation?

MH: Well, here’s the issue. Vancouver is part of a naturally rich British Columbia territory. It’s well situated geographically. Who is all this natural wealth going to benefit? Is it going to benefit the citizens who live in Vancouver or are they going to let one percent of the population – the political insiders, the real estate developers and bankers – siphon all of this rising property and rental value of real estate, just take it for themselves and shift the tax burden on to the wage earners and the businesses? That’s what’s happening now.

The fact is that if Vancouver acted in the way that Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and the classical economists urged, they would say, “Look, all this rising land value should be in the tax base.” Suppose this vast amount – really, I think a trillion dollars by now over the last decade of increased land value – suppose that instead of leaving it to landlords to be paid out as interest to the banks, this had been the tax base. Vancouver could’ve supplied public services freely. It could have free transportation, free schooling. There’s no need for Vancouver to have a sales tax. There’s no need for it to have an income tax because these taxes raise the cost of living and, therefore, raise the cost of doing business.

When Vancouver lets the real estate developers and the banks benefit from all this rise in the price of land that increases the cost of living to new buyers, that means you’re priced out of the market. In order to get a job in Vancouver and live here, you have to earn over $100,000 a year. In other parts of the world, people are able to do the same job for much less because they haven’t had a real estate boom. So it turns out the real estate boom that people think is a sign of prosperity and wealth is actually impoverishing Vancouver by driving it into debt. In order to buy into the real estate boom, new buyers have to take on an enormous new debt and the result will leave Vancouver debt strapped.

JR: People are pressured into playing the game.

MH: They really believe it’s still possible to get rich by going into debt, and for 50 years after WWll ended in 1945, that was the case. You could buy a house and as the economy got richer, the value of the house would go up and cities built more parks and schools and urban amenities. The value would go up, but all of that has now reached a limit.

When I first went to work on Wall Street, with the Citizens Savings Bank And Trust Company, basically banks would lend mortgages only if the cost of servicing a mortgage absorbed 25% of their income. If the mortgage costs were more than a quarter of your income, the bank would say, “Sorry, you can’t afford it.” Well, now in the US, almost all residential mortgages below super castles are government-guaranteed up to 43% of the wage earner’s income, of the borrower’s income.

Now, just imagine if you have to pay 43% of your income for a mortgage or for rent. In NYC, it’s common to pay 40% of your income for rent. You may also have to pay another 10% of your income for other debt – credit card, student loan, auto debts. There’s about a 15% automatic wage withholding for a very regressive social security tax and a healthcare tax. Then about 10-15% more regular income taxes and sales taxes. People don’t realize that only about 25-30% of the average family budget in America can be spent on goods and services. So how is the economy going to afford to buy what it produces? It can’t. Most people in NYC cannot afford to go out and eat in restaurants anymore so all over the city restaurants are closing down. In fact, all over the US. In March, it was announced that corporate and business bankruptcies are way, way up. The trend is for bankruptcies.

The Barnes and Noble where I live in New York has gone out of business. The bookstores I used to know are all out of business. Near NY University, on 8th Street, the main street, which used to be the street for bookstores and other big shopping, half of the storefronts are all boarded up, for rent, empty, going out of business.

And in Vancouver, the first day I was here, we walked down a big major street with wonderful art galleries going out of business. Other stores for rent, going out of business. Other buildings obviously had just been renovated, empty, nobody in them. So the effect is to empty out Vancouver.

JR: And who profits from that?

MH: Ultimately, the banks profit because most of the real estate is bought on credit. As I said, the motto of real estate investors is “rent is for paying interest.” They’ll pay all of the increased rental value to the bank as interest because they’re hoping for a capital gain because that’s where the action has been for the last 50 years in the US. Not income. Most people have got rich, not by saving their earnings, but by the capital gain, which includes middle class families that got rich by their house appreciating. That’s why groups that are left out of home ownership have missed this whole capital gain bit.

So you’re having a bifurcated economy: an economy between a generation that inherits trust funds and is able to sort of live on money that their wealthy parents have made in the financial real estate sector and people who don’t inherit trust funds and are literally the disinherited. This polarization is going to widen and widen and become increasingly a political crisis.

JR: The inequality gap that’s occurring is astounding.

MH: And that should be what economics is all about. But if you look at all of the economic models, they’re all about equilibrium. The pretense – and this is junk economics – is that if an economy gets out of balance, automatic stabilizers return it to equilibrium. The reality is just the opposite: once an economy gets out of balance, it tends to veer further and further out of balance. Mathematicians call that hysteresis. Until there’s a crash.

JR: And there will be continual crashes because…

MH: Because they’ll get bigger and bigger and these economic crashes will be turned into political crashes.

JR: Thank you so much for this insightful conversation.

MH: Well, it’s been really good to be in Vancouver because I’m impressed by how many people really do understand the problems with finance and real estate. Obviously, there’s a lot of frustration in it not getting through politically. So the problem is how do they translate this economic understanding that things are out of balance into a political policy and movement that will put it back in balance?

And it can be put back in balance by a combination of fiscal policy, tax policy and financial policy. But it requires an educated electorate.

house image by Selensergen

Join Sea to Seed and “Over Grow the System”

by Bruce Mason

It’s impossible to over-emphasize the importance of localizing food systems, homesteading, organic farming, community building and permaculture.

So much time and so many resources are being spent fighting against something. Pick a cause and there’ll be placards, shouted chants, shared posts, too many marches, far too many speeches, ever more hand-wringing and much angst-ridden argument.

As essential as all these activities may seem, we won’t find the urgent solutions we seek, and need, in what we’re fighting against. Solutions will only be found in what we celebrate. That’s only logical or perhaps “eco-logical” is a better word.

The route to real change (long overdue) is not in the extreme growth economy or wresting back the power – and greedy lifestyles – from the tiny, highly organized minority who have grabbed it, stole it and otherwise usurped it from the vast majority of us, for whom ‘the system’ no longer works. The real power is on the ground, in the soil, in the sun and water and in the hearts, minds and hands of the disenfranchised 90+%.

Since 2013, every May, a crew of musicians, farmers, filmmakers, writers and photographers have set off on a month-long Sea to Seed Tour, a sailing adventure through the Gulf Islands and Salish Sea, which includes, of course, Vancouver and Victoria. The goal is to promote a culture of resilient, localized food systems through music, feasts and story-telling, and to create lots of ripples. And to spread seeds too, widely and joyfully.

As Naomi Klein has advised, “We live in a time of overlapping crisis and need to connect the dots because we don’t have time to solve each crisis sequentially. We need a movement that addresses all of them.”

That describes the mission of “Over Grow the System’s” Sea to Seed Tour: to connect farming communities, sown, nurtured and growing along the coast. It’s impossible to over-emphasize the importance of localizing food systems, homesteading, organic farming, community building and permaculture, or engaging art and culture in supporting these wonderful initiatives. The music, farm-to-table feasts, educational forums and story-telling are creating positive change, rooted in the fertile soil of generative celebration, and cultivating a way of living with integrity.

Among the musicians is Atlanta-based Rising Appalachia, who are “beyond excited” to be part of Sea to Seed. For me, they were the hit of the 2015 Vancouver Folk Festival and because of high-demand, were brought back to town for concerts. Backstage they said, “We’re trying to take the glitz and glam out of the music industry and bring performance back to its roots… where musicians influence the cultural shift as troubadours, activists and catalysts of justice and aren’t just part of fast-paced entertainment.” (Common Ground, August, 2015, http://commonground.ca/slow-music-the-summer-of-transformation/)

Rising Appalachia has toured Europe, the Caribbean, Central America, the Indian subcontinent, US and Canada “to help the environment, change the ‘mal-distribution’ of wealth and to simply make the world better.” Their Slow Music movement, inspired by the Slow Food movement, utilizes ‘non-industry methods,’ such as linking communities, pursuing alternative venues, supporting local businesses and non-profits and exploring transportation alternatives, including trains, bikes, low-impact vehicles, boats, horses and now: sailboats.

In partnership with “Over Grow the System” are companies like Guayaki Yerba Mate and internationally-touring musicians. Joining the slow-travel, small-scale-living adventure are Dustin Thomas, Peia Bird and Tarran the Tailor.

Visit www.overgrowthesystem.org for more information about the Sea to Seed Tour, including a wealth of inspiring videos and a cornucopia of food for thought and activity.

Our greatest challenges are not global warming, resource depletion, politics, pollution or financial shocks, all symptoms of a system that is neither sustainable, nor fair. Our greatest challenge is our lack of connection with nature and with each other – a disconnection that has spawned an insatiable, ubiquitous greed.

“Over Grow the System” offers a life-affirming, alternative model. Be part of the evolution and support the Sea to Seed Tour.

The Sea to Seed Tour

As you read this, the tour is on track. It will touch down on Mayne (9th), Salt Spring (12th), Galiano (13th) Gabriola (14th) and Denman (18th) Islands. It will be in Lund on the 19th and on the Sunshine Coast the following day. It arrives in Victoria on May 22 and in Vancouver on May 23. Ticket info at www.overgrowthesystem.org

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