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.
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.
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.
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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. email@example.com
I believe we are among the most blessed people on the planet to live in British Columbia. All we need is a government that’s working every day for the people who live here.
Common Ground: Counting down to a provincial election BC is awash in attack ads and you’ve got a bull’s eye on you. How do you respond?
John Horgan: You’ve hit the nail on the head. BC Liberals are spending $20m of taxpayers’ money and not talking about things that matter to people, about the services neglected for 16 years. For example, services for seniors. Nine out of 10 care homes don’t have resources for minimum staffing levels. That strikes me as a failure. Nine hundred people died from opioid-related overdoses last year, also a failure. Yet the government is taking our public wealth and promoting themselves.
On top of that, we’ve got the most well-funded corporate party ever in BC. The Liberals rake in enormous amounts of money from the corporate sector and we’ve been asking over the past 10 years to get big money out of politics. Case in point: the creators of feel-good advertisements, the Pace Group, got $23 million in government contracts as they were donating to the BC Liberals. To me, an obvious conflict, but not to the premier.
CG: With few opportunities for debate and the legislature, basically part-time, would you like a leadership debate?
JH: I believe it’s being negotiated now. The more important issue is our democracy and institutions; it was 200 days between sittings. Last fall, there were cobwebs in the legislature, rather than people representing BC communities. But the Liberals prefer to make decisions behind closed doors in a clandestine way and claim only they have answers to our problems. Whenever a government believes only they know best, that’s the time to throw them to the curb.
CG: Are fear-mongering attack ads really just the voice of the wealthiest 10%?
JH: My approach has been to let them throw the mud and hold the government accountable. If they think they’re getting a free ride, they’re sadly mistaken. I’m going to talk about yesterday and, more importantly, what are we going to do tomorrow?
CG: This is a very important election with a deeply divided electorate, along traditional right/left lines, rural vs. urban, between environmentalists and people who stress jobs, millennials and seniors. How will you bridge these?
JH: You’ve identified the challenge. I’m a born-and-raised British Columbian, had good fortune as an MLA for over a decade, to criss-cross BC, talking to people about the environment and economy. Everyone recognizes you can’t separate the two. If you don’t have an environment, you won’t have an economy. And you need to make sure that economy is working for everybody, not just the select few.
That means ensuring, for example, forestry, a foundational BC industry. I worked in the Ocean Falls pulp mill many years ago, helped pay for my education with a good-paying job. There’s 150 fewer mills today than in 2001; 30,000 fewer people working in the forests, and we’ve never exported more raw logs than we did last November.
In forest-dependent communities, or in downtown Vancouver, people ask why resources that belong to all of us, our natural heritage, are given away to large tenure-holders to do with as they will? Those types of things people want to discuss. The Liberals talk about Conference Board of Canada statistics, but people say, ‘You know, during that period of time I was struggling. I was worried that if I missed one pay cheque, I was going to be in financial distress. And as I was trying to make ends meet I saw the mill down the street, go down.’
And we’re not seeing re-planting and silviculture we expect from the tenure-holders. We should be demanding this, as the public stewards of our land and resources, for this and future generations.
CG: How have BC NDP governments handled the economy better than the Liberals?
JH: We left two balanced budgets to the Liberals and they immediately slashed taxes for the wealthy and corporations, increased medical services premiums (MSPs), claiming that was going to somehow trickle down to the rest of us. Of course, it didn’t work that way. They ran massive deficits for a number of years and declared victory.
My responsibility is to lead the NDP and discuss what people are talking to me about, like childcare. People tell me over and over that young families are looking for services to help them participate fully in the economy. So $10-a-day childcare is not a perk or a nicety. It’s a necessity for many families, especially women. They have anxiety about the patchwork they must set up: their parents, Monday and Tuesday, Aunt Harriet and Uncle Bill, Wednesdays, figuring out how to keep going. The BC Business Council and the Vancouver Board of Trade support accelerating childcare. It’s good for kids, parents and the economy. The Liberals say ‘you’re on your own,’ we’re going to take care of our friends, the rest of you, make do.
CG: What about a $15/hr minimum wage?
JH: There are people working two and three jobs to make ends meet and the premier is working one job and getting two salaries, as premier, and as a Liberal party fundraiser.
Most people are struggling and I believe the least we can do is give a pay raise to those who are paid the least in the most expensive jurisdiction in Canada. The premier wants us to think she’s benevolent. But we need a methodical way to get to $15/hr, lead the country in wages, as we used to, so all wages go up, not just those at the very bottom.
Wages have stagnated for a decade and BC is the worst place for young people to get ahead. The premier talks about statistics that fit her narrative, but the reality is when you’re flying around in a private jet, you’re not talking to people. I’m on the SkyTrain, on buses, in communities, meeting with people, answering questions and taking the heat. I’m hearing about the challenges people face. It’s time we had a government that was working for them, rather than wealthy donors.
When low income individuals have more money in their pockets, they usually spend it. When they do, they don’t go out of town or leave the country. They spend it in the community, which stimulates small business development. We need a systematic approach, to talk to small business owners. The notion of a serving wage, for example. Not only restauranteurs – many of whom have given a million plus dollars to the Liberal party – benefit from a wage that’s even more minimal. I was a waiter, worked for tips and was happy to get them. But I believe a minimum wage should be for everybody and it’s what we intend to do.
CG: We’ve benefited from extracting resources, but there’s a new consciousness that we should be caring for these, as well. Where are the new jobs and how will you stimulate them?
JH: NDP tax credits for the film industry in the 1990s led to a critical mass that’s second to none. That’s how the economy grows. It doesn’t happen with the wave of a wand. It happens over time. Whenever a government is taking credit for everything that’s going on, the chances are pretty good they’re doing that because they haven’t had any impact at all.
In rural BC, on our resource front, we have less revenue from forestry, mining and natural gas than from MSPs in the last budget. That tells me our traditional industries are in decline. Jobs are being created largely in the Lower Mainland, and south Island, skilled jobs in high tech, information technology, green jobs and building the new economy. That’s an area the Liberals ignore. That sector is growing despite the BC Liberals, not because of them.
We’re developing technologies to store energy for longer periods. Once you create electricity, you have to move it somewhere. The advantage we’ve had historically is our reservoir system, in the Columbia and the Peace, we’ve been able to use these as large batteries.
Living in a rainforest is advantageous. But as climate changes, we’re seeing different weather patterns, not as much snowfall (hard to believe after the winter we’ve had). With less snowpack, a thoughtful government would ask, ‘How can we supplement our water hydro-based system with technologies not dependent on water?’ The BC Liberals, in their haste to bring on private power, focused on run-of-river projects. They called them small, but some were 250/300 megawatts. Not small; that’s a dam.
I’m not averse to the technology, never have been, if appropriately located with minimal impact. No impact on fish, with an existing logging road in some cases, already a good fall, so you have the run to create energy. The better course of action, augmenting our hydro system, are alternatives like solar, wind and geothermal.
Interestingly, Dr. Harry Swain, chair of the federal-provincial joint review panel on environmental, economic, and First Nations impacts of largest public works, in his report on the Site C dam, said Hydro has a responsibility to look at geothermal. Yet there hasn’t been a penny invested. In the Chilcotin and other parts of BC, we have a tremendous untapped geothermal resource. And wind and solar power – other alternatives – to complement our existing sources. But the Liberals have been short-sighted in this regard.
CG: We’re in an affordability crisis with too many homeless. What can be done?
JH: Housing is a broad affordability challenge, the whole continuum of finding single occupancy opportunities for individuals in distress. Families are living in one bedroom apartments, with a second or third child on the way and no prospects. There’s nowhere for them to go because housing costs are absolutely out of control.
In 2014, when I became leader and appointed David Eby as housing spokesperson, he went like a terror and said, ‘Look at what’s happening around us. We see speculative investments and headlines: “Get Out of Gold and Get into Condominiums in Vancouver.”’ When housing stock becomes a commodity, you’ve got a problem. It’s a fundamental right, not a speculative investment, in my world anyway, and for the vast BC majority. Housing is a safe place to be, to keep out of the elements and grow your family and life. That’s not how the BC Liberals look at it.
When we raised these issues in the legislature, highlighting the extraordinary explosion in the cost of single family homes in Vancouver, the response from the BC Liberals was to laugh it off and say, ‘You don’t like people having equity.’ It has nothing to do with that. People are being priced out of the market and the development community, building condos to sell, rather than units to rent.
The federal government’s been out of the housing business for some 20 years now. Mr. Trudeau made a commitment to get back into it, a great opportunity for a new government led by me to reinvigorate the co-op movement in BC. People living in co-ops are absolutely delighted to be in a safe and affordable environment, with pride of ownership, without all the money to get in.
CG: People, worried about keeping their apartment, now open their Hydro and ICBC bills and can’t afford ferries, but hear about surpluses and balanced budgets.
JH: At what cost? The social deficit created by BC Liberals has to be put up against their so-called surpluses. They’ve been taking money out of our Crown corporations at an unsustainable pace, borrowing money when the companies are actually losing money, and then putting that into these deferral accounts – $6 billion by the end of this term in deferred debt, to be paid by ratepayers.
Before the last election, Christy Clark and Rich Coleman said they had wrestled Hydro to the ground, fired a few people and rates weren’t going up. They cancelled the rate hearing and BC utility process. When re-elected: in the first five years, 28% rate increases and much more to come. At the same time, they were taking an increased dividend from the Crown corporation, even though it was losing money. We have more energy than we need, demand is declining. We used to export to the US at a handsome profit, playing the markets. Now, the US is awash in electricity. So we’ve got nowhere to sell it and more than we need. The average price of electricity in 2006 was $35/megawatt hour. The average price today is the same. Yet we’ve been buying new supply at $100, $110, $120/mwh and building Site C at a conservatively estimated $90/mwh. You can’t buy high and sell low forever; it’s falling on us and on our families.
Liberals said they were gonna fix it, then shut the legislature. When your landlord just bumped up your rent and you look at your Hydro bill, that’s how homelessness happens. It’s critically important to look at the entire continuum of housing, not just those who are currently homeless, but also those on the edge of homelessness, what used to be called middle class. This inequality in our society is the biggest challenge that the new government will have, and, in fact, it’s the biggest challenge British Columbia has.
CG: What about the people who need treatment, but have fallen through the cracks?
JH: Mental health and addictions are rampant all over BC. The fentanyl crisis has highlighted to people in smaller communities that this is not just an urban problem. It’s a societal problem to be addressed. For example, I’m excited about revitalizing Riverview in the Tri-cities – Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody – not as a place to keep or warehouse people, but as a sanctuary for those who want and hope to break addictions. The best way is to have resources available for front-line workers.
I’m making an announcement: a new ministry of mental health and addictions. It’s critically important that there be champions inside government. As a public servant, I know the challenges that government faces and the silos that emerge within the system. But a champion for a cause, whether it’s childcare or mental health and addictions, is someone that’s working within government to make sure the pockets of cash that exist are consolidated towards delivering services for people. NDP candidate Selina Robinson from Coquitlam is a family therapist and front-line worker – an example from our team.
Riverview lands are an outstanding opportunity for a place of wellness to build support systems out into communities. When it closed, there was nothing to receive those who left. We need to reverse that, not as a warehouse, but as a place of wellness, healing and hope for vulnerable people, every day.
CG: Would a Premier Horgan submit Site C to the utilities process?
JH: Yes. It’s the only major project since the Utilities Commission was created that has not gone through the approval process.
CG: What about opening the books on BC Hydro, ICBC, BC Ferries? Are you going to review these with an eye to serving people?
JH: That’s a significant part of our platform and why I’m grinning like the Cheshire cat at those three Crowns particularly, fundamentally. Almost 800,000 people live in ferry-dependent coastal communities. I’ve forgotten more about this than the Liberals know. They don’t understand ferries, that’s why they do so poorly on Vancouver Island. The ferry system is an extension of our highway system. So, yes, we’re going to look at those three major Crowns – ICBC, BC Hydro and BC Ferries – with a magnifying glass and find a better way forward that has people at the centre.
CG: Christy Clark ignored recommendations of her expert panel on a climate change plan. How will you proceed?
JH: I met with panel members and was delighted with space for increasing the carbon price after 2018, a new government’s opportunity to look at existing programs, see how we can tweak them, whether that’s low emission vehicles or how to give people tools to reduce their footprint. That one-year hiatus gives me some space to have a real conversation, rather than a knee-jerk reaction, and time to hear all about their conclusions.
The task force wasn’t just passionate climate action people. Municipal leaders, advocates, industry leaders, the LNG Alliance, were also at the table, a bunch of people, horse-trading, to find a way forward. It disappointed me when a 2020 target was just thrown away. One assumes that, okay, let’s move to the 2030 target, but that was just thrown away, as well. The premier rested on reducing our emissions by 2050. That matters to my children and grandchildren. But I want to see action today.
Experts made it clear that carbon taxes are a valuable tool, but not the only one. The only measure of success is a reduction of emissions. If you have and meet targets, it doesn’t matter how high your carbon price goes; it just becomes a tax. We’ve reintroduced a 2030 target. The feds came up with their own strategy of a national carbon price, good news for Canada and for BC because we’re already ahead of the game. They’ve set a price of $50/ton by the year 2020. Our carbon pricing plan focuses on taxing the polluters, creating the largest emissions and giving tools to people who don’t have the wealth of large emitters to reduce their own footprint.
The first government in Canada to legislate climate action plan was Joan Sawicki’s BC NDP plan in 1999 – the only government to table a climate action plan following the Kyoto Accords. I’m passionate about climate action. In over 50 years on the planet, I’ve seen and felt the changes. I was cutting our lawn, taking advantage of a beautiful mid-November day. My oldest son reminded me we live in a rainforest, that climate is changing and that I got elected to do something about it.
I’m dedicated to do what I can, if fortunate to win the election, to make substantive changes and leave a planet that’s healthy. Instead of just giving tax breaks to people, I want to give money back to people so they can change their own behaviour and everything that’s surplus to that will be driven into new technologies, to transit investments, to programs that will reduce emissions. That’s the standard we should be measured by.
The creation of the Agricultural Land Reserve by the NDP Barrett government is the most forward-looking policy I can recollect as a history student and proud BC citizen. It’s endured multiple different governments over time and has stood as a symbol of what we can and should do with our arable land. I look at the First Nation in my community, the Sooke Nation. They’ve opened my eyes to alternative energy prospects with photovoltaic solar panels on all of their common buildings. They’re meeting their needs, selling back to BC Hydro, powering their greenhouses and growing wasabi for export.
They’re also doing shellfish aquaculture in the Sooke Basin with oysters on top of scallops, on top of sea cucumbers, a modest footprint. Food production is through the roof, protein being created by First Nations, with energy from the sun, in the middle of a rainforest. Imagine what we could do in Osoyoos or Penticton or Kamloops where we have arable land and abundant sun? As climate change continues, our imported food sources, Mexico and California, become less viable. It will be more important than ever to protect our arable land and put it to good use, not just growing hay.
I got into government with Mike Harcourt when the Treaty Commission had just begun. I have a masters degree in history and I’ve looked at Canadian history up and down and all ways to Sunday. Harcourt’s commitment to the treaty process really excited me at the start of the ‘90s. I worked with Mike on a range of files, but was passionate about the treaty process as the way forward. In 25 years, successive court rulings have made it abundantly clear: rights and title aren’t just theoretical. I’m excited about the certainty it gives us. To invest in BC, on a land base, talk to First Nations about how to do it.
CG: Electoral reform is needed for a healthy and fair democracy. Are you committed to proportional representation?
JH: I spent years in opposition, without any influence on policy even though the government of the day received less than 50% of votes while the opposition side had the majority of votes, but zero influence on outcome. So in 2009, I voted in favour of STV. It was defeated, but perfection is the enemy of progress. Let’s make progress. Whatever this is, it has got to be better.
I believe we are among the most blessed people on the planet, to live in British Columbia. All we need is a government that’s working every day for the people who live here, rather than the people that write the cheques. I think that day is just around the corner and a New Democrat government, led by me, will have people at the centre of it.
Imagine if environmental issues dominated BC’s election in May. Typically, the environment gets brought up as an afterthought or is relegated to a separate forum for discussion. Yet how we treat the environment affects every British Columbian, in much the same way that health care and education do. Without a healthy environment, economic opportunities, for example, will be heavily curtailed.
Here’s an idea: political parties could base all their policies on the principle of operating within the bounds of nature. This would lead to a different discussion about meaningful jobs and health care, education and housing priorities. That’s why, during the election, the David Suzuki Foundation will be watching what parties say about climate, transit, oceans, grizzlies and the right to a healthy environment.
On the climate front, parties should put forward detailed plans on how they would meet emissions targets. We’re looking for parties to offer policies that would raise the carbon tax each year beyond 2022 and apply it to more sectors. An effective and gradually increasing carbon tax provides incentives to switch to low-carbon energy solutions and fosters innovation and economic competitiveness. We believe it’s time to reinstate predictable, annual increases to the carbon tax to provide industry with a stable market signal to reduce emissions.
In terms of transit spending, the Foundation is encouraging the next BC government to commit to funding 40 percent of the cost for new public transit infrastructure. Metro Vancouver is gridlocked and transportation accounts for 25 percent of BC’s carbon emissions. Congestion costs in Metro Vancouver alone are estimated by the C.D. Howe Institute and Clean Energy Canada at between $500 million and $1.2 billion a year. Political leaders must prioritize and fund transit to address population growth, health, environment and the economy. Adequately funding transit improvements is one of our most effective ways to address climate change. Support for the Mayors’ Council Transit plan is a good place to start. This is an achievable, costed and regionally considered plan to get Metro Vancouver out of gridlock.
As one way to meet our province’s legislated emissions targets, we’d like to see parties introduce plans to accurately measure fugitive emissions from liquefied natural gas production and cut those emissions by 45 percent. The Climate Leadership Team crafted recommendations that put us on the right course for climate action. They would be a strong starting point for parties to support climate solutions.
One of the most powerful ways we can move to living within the bounds of nature is to support healthy and productive oceans. The Foundation urges parties in this provincial election to commit to working with the Federal Government and First Nations to implement and budget for marine planning and a network of marine protected areas. During a tour of coastal communities, we heard serious concerns about the impacts of climate change, fossil fuel shipping and pipelines, pollution and industrial fisheries. Residents told us that ocean management decisions must recognize healthy ecosystems as the basis for healthy communities. To meet these and other biodiversity goals, we are asking parties to commit to reforming regulations and laws to better protect coastal ecosystems and species at risk such as southern resident orcas.
We’re also calling on all parties to support an immediate ban of BC’s grizzly bear trophy hunt. We recommend that the ban avoid loopholes, such as the continuation of the ability to hunt grizzly bears for meat. The Foundation supports regulations that make it illegal to remove, sell, traffic or trade in any grizzly bear trophy items. British Columbians overwhelmingly support ending the grizzly trophy hunt.
The right to a healthy environment is the simple, yet powerful, idea that everyone in Canada has the human right to clean air and water, safe food, a stable climate and a say in decisions that affect their health and well-being. Ontario passed their environmental bill of rights in 1993 and Quebec included the right to a healthy environment in its Environmental Quality Act in 1978. We believe it’s time that BC joined them, and others agree. The Union of BC Municipalities, for example, passed a resolution in 2015 calling for provincial environmental rights legislation. Passing an environmental bill of rights would mean that projects such as the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion would receive greater scrutiny given their impact on the environment.
An environmental bill of rights would put more power in the hands of citizens by ensuring greater transparency and participation in environmental decision-making, which could help balance a system that is heavily influenced by corporate lobbying.
Regardless of the issues under discussion, our hope is that environmentally minded people in BC will get out and vote on May 9. See you at the polls.
Theresa Beer is senior communications specialist at the David Suzuki Foundation, www.davidsuzuki.org
BC Liberals linked to illegal donations from Woodfibre LNG for political favours
by Tracey Saxby
The BC Liberals are under investigation by Elections BC and the RCMP after the Globe and Mail revealed the party is accepting illegal donations from lobbyists, highlighting donations by Byng Giraud and Marian Ngo from Woodfibre LNG.
This latest scandal is simply “business as usual” for Woodfibre LNG, which is owned by the notorious Indonesian billionaire, Sukanto Tanoto, whose companies have a history of tax evasion, animal rights violations and human rights offences. And let’s not forget that Woodfibre LNG vice-president Byng Giraud, who has been linked to a robo-call scandal, formerly worked for Imperial Metals, the company responsible for the Mount Polley mining disaster. Nice guys.
But the scandal prompted us to dig a little deeper: when did Woodfibre LNG start donating to the BC Liberals? How much have they donated?
Since 2013, to date, Woodfibre LNG and their staff have donated at least $166,934 to the BC Liberal Party. The donations start to ramp up almost immediately after the substituted environmental assessment was approved, putting the Provincial Government in charge of conducting the environmental assessment on behalf of the Federal Government. Never mind that the BC Minister of Natural Gas Development, Rich Coleman, who was responsible for reviewing the environmental and social impacts of Woodfibre LNG, also has a mandate to develop an LNG export industry. Let’s ignore that conflict of interest.
There was a flurry of donations right about the time the BC Liberals unveiled Bill 6, the LNG Income Tax Act, which halved the tax on LNG export facilities to 3.5% on net income. This means BC now bears all the risk and no reward, as profits may never be realized.
The donations continued over the summer of 2015, leading up to the inevitable rubber stamp approval of Woodfibre LNG’s environmental assessment certificate by Ministers Coleman and Polak. No surprises there.
The donations kept on pouring into BC Liberal coffers, with some of the biggest donations in late 2016, right about the time Rich Coleman flew to Singapore to meet with Sukanto Tanoto. They signed an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) that the BC Liberals have refused to release to the public, and posed for a photo. A few weeks later, Premier Christy Clark helicoptered in to the Woodfibre LNG site, to put on a hard hat and announce to media fanfare, “Woodfibre LNG is a go” thanks to a new e-Drive subsidy worth $34-45 million every year. By the way, your hydro bill will go up so Woodfibre LNG can have cheap power.
And still the donations kept coming, as Woodfibre LNG now has to apply for an amendment to their environmental assessment certificate. Oh, and there’s another tax break as the BC Liberals eliminated PST on clean energy purchases (including LNG) in February 2017.
That’s a pretty good return on $166,934.
Has big money corrupted the environmental assessment process? Has Woodfibre LNG bought a rubber stamp approval for the project, along with other political favours including tax breaks, tax exemptions, and the e-Drive subsidy? It sure doesn’t look good.
Tracey Saxby is co-founder of My Sea to Sky, an organization started by a group of Squamish citizens in March 2014, in response to growing concerns about the proposed Woodfibre LNG project. Take action at www.myseatosky.org
Of the corporate donations to the BC Liberals, the largest group among the top donors are property developers.
by Elizabeth Murphy
The provincial government has jurisdiction over election rules for both the province and municipalities. Here in BC, the wild west of campaign fundraising, provincial and municipal campaign finance rules are currently among the least accountable in Canada. This has been a huge problem for decades and will not change until the province takes action. The British Columbia provincial election on May 9 brings an opportunity to raise the issue of big money in politics and campaign finance reform.
Large donations and cash for access to candidates (often from vested interests) are standard practice with multi-million dollar campaigns. We are becoming the equivalent of a banana republic as globalized capital increasingly influences our governance.
Having the regulators funded by those they regulate is a form of systemic corruption. Limits on individual donations and banning corporate, union and foreign contributions are standard practices in many provinces and at the federal level. But not in BC. Here, at both the provincial and municipal levels, few restrictions exist and existing rules are often ignored.
The Vancouver Sun reported that, from 2005 to the first few weeks of 2017, of the corporate donations to the BC Liberals, the largest group among the top donors are property developers, with 21 of the top 50. Condo marketer Bob Rennie was the BC Liberal’s head fundraiser up to January 2017, leaving the party well funded for the May 9th election. Rennie has also been a prominent supporter and fundraiser for Vancouver’s ruling party, Vision Vancouver and Mayor Gregor Robertson.
These developers include the Aquilini family at the #2 spot ($1.43 million); Adera Group ($1.1 million); Wesbild ($929,576); and Peter Wall and nephew Bruno Wall ($914,425), who own and manage Wall Financial Corp., including the Wall Centre in Vancouver where the BC Liberals held their 2013 election victory win. The top 50 list also includes Polygon, Concord Pacific, Beedie Development Group, Onni, the Redekops and Ilichs.
There are also 10 natural resource companies in the top 50. The coal and metals miner Teck is at the #1 spot ($2.82 million); energy company Encana ($1.18 million); miner Goldcorp ($1.08 million); forestry company West Fraser ($990,320); and also Imperial Metals of the Mt. Polley Quesnel Lake recent mining dam disaster.
The troubling part of all this is the perceived or real influence these donors may have on government policy. Cash for access to government officials or candidates are reported to be a common practice.
Provincial donations are also subsidized by the taxpayer through tax credits to a maximum of $500 tax credit on a donation of $1,150 or more. So a lot of these donation totals are indirectly publically funded, but directed to the big money’s candidates of choice rather than being fairly and equitably distributed.
Property developers seem to have significant influence on both civic and provincial policies. Land use policies favour dense transit-oriented large scale market development of investment luxury pre-sold condos that are often left empty. These tower developments are serviced by expensive, publically subsidized infrastructure. The real estate market has become disconnected from the local economy and this is causing the housing affordability crisis.
This affects housing and affordability in a number of ways. Increased development marketed to foreign capital increases demolition of the older more affordable stock, while inflating land values through rezoning. As these new units are generally smaller and more expensive, they do not work for families.
The BC Liberal’s privatizing and redevelopment of public assets through sales or long-term leases benefit big money, but are not in the public interest. Often, revenue from asset sales below market value is rushed through to balance the provincial budget. This is the equivalent to selling off one’s house below market to pay for living expenses.
Examples include crown land sold off below appraised value for developments like Burke Mountain in Coquitlam; the privatization of BC Rail and the resulting corruption scandal; public schools underfunded, closed and sold off for housing developments; and social housing sold with potential for redevelopment to luxury market condos with resulting tenant displacement like Little Mountain.
There have been land swaps for market housing through deals with BC Housing and the City of Vancouver such as the controversial Brenhill development in New Yaletown. The city-owned social housing land adjacent to Emery Barns Park was swapped at an under-market value of only $15 million, while assessment after rezoning was $130 million. Bob Rennie was on the BC Housing board when a request was brought forward for a $39 million construction loan at 1% for the related social housing project relocation; at the same time, he was also marketing the condo project through his firm and fundraising for the BC Liberals. MLA Rich Coleman, minister responsible for housing – he oversees BC Housing – approved the deal. The 35-storey luxury condo project was marketed in English and Chinese language newspapers as “8 X ON THE PARK.”
Mega-debt projects we don’t need and can’t afford have been approved by the BC Liberals. BC Hydro’s Site C dam bypassed the BC Utilities Commission to subsidize a non-viable LNG fracking industry. The BC Liberals accepted donations from foreign sources such as Pacific NorthWest LNG. The majority owner is Petronas, the state-owned energy company of Malaysia, which seeks to build an LNG plant in northern BC.
St. Paul’s Hospital is being moved from the West End to the False Creek Flats. This will benefit developers at both ends of the move and a private district energy scheme owned by developer Ian Gillespie at the new site that burns wood. The new location is a less seismically stable site and more vulnerable to a related tsunami since the flats are low elevation and mostly industrial fill.
Billionaire Jim Pattison recently announced his foundation’s donation of $75 million to St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation. Pattison was quoted in the Vancouver Sun, saying, “They approached us many years ago and you’re right, I told them I wasn’t going to put any money into renovating that old hospital.” So was this donation influential in the relocation of St. Paul’s to a new site that may now bear his name? Jim Pattison is also a major donor to the BC Liberals through his many companies.
In response to investigative articles in both the New York Times and Globe and Mail, the RCMP are investigating illicit donations where lobbyists and others used their personal credit cards to donate to political parties and were later reimbursed by organizations or employers, a practice that is prohibited under the Elections Act.
But whether this will result in any meaningful charges is yet to be seen, and if so, likely not until after the election. Special prosecutor David Butcher has been appointed to advise the RCMP. Butcher was also hired to manage the BC Liberals’ “Quick Wins” scandal prior to the last 2013 provincial election. A party staffer, while working for the province, conducted partisan business in a plan to win votes from ethnic groups that had been traditionally sympathetic to the NDP. Only one charge came after the election; a communications director resigned and paid a token fine of $5,000.
The Globe and Mail reported that specific instances identified so far have mostly involved the BC Liberals, with nearly $93,000 in illegal donations identified from 43 contributions, compared to $10,000 in donations identified for the NDP. Watchdog groups such as IntegrityBC and the Dogwood Initiative have both further identified lists of suspect donations and handed the information to the RCMP.
Recently, former Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum was sentenced to one year in jail on corruption-related charges. The Globe and Mail reported that, during the trial, former aide Hugo Tremblay testified he led developers and businessmen to believe their projects would be delayed or not approved unless they made a supplemental cash contribution that was then split with Applebaum.
With all the big money legally allowed to be poured into provincial and municipal election campaigns in BC, one could compare BC to Quebec before efforts to stem corruption were implemented.
The civic rules are even less accountable than the BC provincial rules. Civic parties and candidates can accept unlimited corporate, union, individual and foreign donations. They also only have to disclose donations in the year of the election. So three of the four years of donations in a municipal election cycle could go unreported unless done voluntarily. Property developers are prominent donors to Vision Vancouver and NPA, but Vancouver Greens do not accept funding from developers.
The BC NDP have brought several motions to parliament for campaign finance reform that have always been defeated by the BC Liberals. All parties in the City of Vancouver council have, on numerous occasions, unanimously asked for the province to change municipal campaign finance rules, but the province has so far refused to do so.
The BC NDP have said they would ban corporate and union donations with limits on individual donations. They also are willing to change the municipal rules to match. The BC Greens have said they will do the same.
The BC Liberals have refused to make these changes, but after a lot of pressure, they have announced they will initiate a go-nowhere, non-binding review of campaign finance.
In this election, it is critical to put pressure on all parties and candidates to seriously commit to campaign finance reform to stop the current practices that breed systemic corruption. Only the provincial government can change these rules for both BC and the municipal governments. For the sake of democracy, the people of BC deserve better. A change of government would be refreshing.
Elizabeth Murphy is a private sector project manager and a former Property Development Officer for the City of Vancouver’s Housing & Properties Department and for BC Housing. firstname.lastname@example.org