An Interview with John Horgan

Meet the leader who would be BC’s Premier

interview by Bruce Mason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Horgan
John Horgan speaking at Question Period

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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John Horgan for real change

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

by Bruce Mason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vote as if the environment mattered

by Theresa Beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Policy payola? Illegal donations being investigated

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

by Tracey Saxby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How big money corrupts politics

BC’s Wild West of campaign funding needs reform

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

by Elizabeth Murphy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liberals hell-bent on Site C Dam

hell-bent-on-SiteC-dam

by Ray Eagle

When the Peace River hydro-electric dam system was first conceptualized in the ‘60s, Site C was seen as just another river section that could provide additional power to augment the Bennett and Peace Canyon dams. There was no recognition of the attributes most now acknowledge: highly productive farmland, First Nations sacred sites, important animal habitat and a scenic rural landscape. There was only a determination by then premier W.A.C. Bennett’s Social Credit government to construct the dam; in 1971, BC Hydro began engineering studies.

Interestingly, energy Minister Bill Bennett made a recent admission, saying, “If I looked at it [the Peace] strictly as someone who loves the outdoors, it’s a beautiful place… But as somebody charged with the responsibility to help make sure we are meeting our future electricity needs, I also have to look at the valley as a very natural place for another dam.”

It was not until November 1983 that BC Hydro went before the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC), then newly created by premier Bill Bennett (W.A.C.’s son). A 315-page summary, while denying the dam’s immediate need because of BC Hydro’s abysmal forecasting ability, clearly had no concerns about eventual inundation of the valley: “While the Commission recognizes that major impacts will result from Site C, it concludes that they are not so large as to make them unacceptable… the impacts can be successfully and acceptably managed.”

BC Hydro was determined not to give up and on September 18, 1989, the Vancouver Sun reported, “BC Hydro has stepped up plans to build Site C hydroelectric dam… quietly reviving the multi-billion-dollar project shelved by the Provincial cabinet in 1983… Hydro’s move has projected needs, which may or may not be realized.”

In fact, it was merely a ramping-up of a state of readiness for when the go-ahead came from the BCUC, but controversy continued to follow the dam. On May 10, 1990, the Vancouver Sun reported remarks made by then Energy Minister Jack Davis at an Electric Energy Forum: “Power projects initiated by BC Hydro will be increasingly guided by environmental concerns because of mounting public pressure. We have the scope to be different without building Site C.” However, during a 1991 Social Credit party leadership campaign, the winner, Rita Johnston, declared in her policy statement that she wanted to accelerate construction of the ‘$3 billion’ dam. Johnston’s leadership was brief because the Socreds were defeated in October of 1991.

Despite these twists and turns, BC Hydro persisted and in the 20 years from 1990 to 2010, its staff worked diligently to keep the dam alive, continuing with advanced engineering studies. Questionnaires were distributed to assess impacts to the socio-economic life of the affected communities, studies were updated on forestry, wildlife, archeological sites and a whole range of issues, especially First Nations’ concerns. Public meetings were held and newsletters distributed to inform the citizens of BC Hydro’s intentions, as well as to offer reassurances. It was even stated, “It must be recognized that public involvement requires the provision of information, however incomplete…”

From 1990 to 2010, the public was mostly unaware of BC Hydro’s determination as its staff worked diligently to keep the dam alive, including its Northern point-man David Conway.

Through 2007 to 2009, Conway held a series of ‘stakeholders’ meetings that, again, engaged local people. At an October 20, 2008 meeting he bold-facedly told the assembly, “. . . no decision has been made yet to build the Site C project. We are in a multi-stage approach, regarding Site C as a resource option and are focused on project definition, which includes geotechnical, socio-economic, wildlife, fish studies and consultation.”

One of the concerns expressed was shoreline erosion, which, ironically, has recently become a major issue. Also while emphasizing the growing need for power, alternatives were quoted such as Independent Power Producers (IPPs) and wind projects. Conway also mentioned upgrades to both the WAC Bennett and Peace Canyon dams. Surprisingly, he admitted a good potential for geothermal, a concept dismissed by Energy Minister Bennett.

Whether the purpose was to placate the participants or to hide Hydro’s intensions, it is obvious that, back in Vancouver, company management and Premier Campbell had a different schedule.

Fast forward to April 19, 2010, when Campbell made his announcement from the W.A.C. Bennett Dam that Site C was on again, now claimed as a ‘clean energy project’ and “an important part of BC’s economic and ecological future.” Campbell’s ecological reference ignored any mention of the factors that now form today’s growing opposition.

Campbell claimed the dam would power 460,000 new homes and repeated the mantra of an increasing power demand of 20 to 40% in the following 20 years.

In 2011, Campbell faced a revolt over the introduction of the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). It was rescinded, but with a 9% approval rating, on March 19, 2011, he resigned. However, for the wily Campbell, a sinecure awaited from Stephen Harper: that of Canada’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.

When the ‘gung-ho happy face’ Christy Clark won the leadership in the May 2013 provincial election, she pushed LNG as the solution to BC’s economic woes and claimed Site C was now vital to power LNG plants, Campbell’s domestic needs forgotten. Were the voters influenced by the LNG bait? The forecast NDP win disappeared, though Clark lost West Point Grey to NDP’s David Eby and had to run in a West Kelowna by-election.

No LNG plants have emerged, though two are planned, perhaps: Prince Rupert’s Petronas and Woodfibre. In a recent desperate switch, Clark is now trying to sell Site C power to Alberta.

With her brash style, it is difficult to gauge Clark’s popularity, but she faces negative issues such as class-size, twice lost in the courts, the highest child poverty rates in Canada and the evidence of massive funding from the business sector, much of it out-of-province. And her approval of Kinder Morgan, aided by a company financial handout, will certainly raise questions.

With regards to Site C, Oxford University professor Bent Flyvbjerg has written about politicians’ fascination with mega projects, describing the rapture they feel in building monuments: “Mega projects garner attention, which adds to the visibility they gain from them.”

This describes Christy Clark and her determination to build Site C while the call to stop it grows stronger, as proven by Peace farmer Ken Boon’s daily media bulletins. Approaching the May 9 election, opposition grows stronger (with the recent appearance of a very large white elephant!) in the determination to protect the many vital attributes along this historic river.

Ray Eagle first became aware of Site C in the mid ‘70s. He has helped fight it through the Wilderness Committee and many published letters in provincial papers. Wilderness Committee: wildernesscommittee.org, 604-683-8220. Contact Ray Eagle by email at r.eagle@telus.net or call 604-922-8507.

Your natural health products under illegal attack

Health Canada moves to put natural remedies in checkmate

by Shawn Buckley

We all have defining moments when it becomes clear that what we believe is simply not true. In the area of the regulation of natural health products (NHPs), I have had two defining moments that made it clear my beliefs were false. Prior to these two defining moments, I actually believed Health Canada wanted to protect us. I also believed the wishes of the people meant something to the government.

My first defining moment happened during a trial where I was defending an NHP company from Health Canada charges, such as selling their product without a licence. At the time, only the chemical drug regulations existed and such a product could not be licensed. A Health Canada inspector was in the witness box. I suggested to her that the purpose of Health Canada was to protect the health of Canadians. I thought this was a no-brainer suggestion. I fully expected her to say yes. She did not. Rather, she explained that the purpose of Health Canada was to enforce the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations. People in the courtroom were stunned. We all believed that the purpose of Health Canada was to protect us. This was a false belief.

The purpose of Health Canada is to enforce the law as it is currently written, not to protect our health. Fortunately, in that case, the court acquitted the company of all charges finding it was legally necessary for the company to protect people rather than be in strict compliance with the law. This was a case in which I asked the Court to rule that Health Canada caused deaths by restricting access to a natural remedy.

My second defining moment happened when I was lobbying in Washington DC concerning proposed changes to how their dietary supplements were regulated. We had just finished meeting with a Senator. While we were packing up, the Senator’s aid asked if he could speak to us. This aid was around 50 years old and had been an aid to senators and congressmen his entire working life. In short, he was a Washington insider. He explained to us that, at that time, there were one and a half full-time pharmaceutical lobbyists for every senator and congressman. He went on to explain that the influence of the pharmaceutical lobby is so great that most senators and congressmen are aware of the share prices of the pharmaceutical companies. He was, in effect, trying to make it clear to us that we would in no way have any influence on government policy, as we could not compete with the pharmaceutical lobby. I knew that there was a strong pharmaceutical lobby in both the US and Canada. I simply did not appreciate how pervasive it was. In my defence, this was before the release of Dr. Shiv Chopra’s book Corrupt to the Core, which gave an inside view of corruption within Health Canada. Dr. Chopra’s book should be required reading for anyone who thinks Health Canada can currently be trusted to protect us.

These two defining experiences made it clear to me that:

  • Health Canada is not there to protect my health. They are there to enforce the law (regardless of the flaws in the law) and
  • I could not count on the law being drafted to protect my health where my interest in health conflicted with the interests of the pharmaceutical lobby.

My dealings with Health Canada over the years have strengthened my belief that Health Canada is not there to protect us. In every instance where I have been involved as a lawyer and Health Canada is seeking to take an NHP away, Health Canada has never taken into account the risk of removing the NHP from Canadians who may depend on it. In the court case I referred to earlier, I led evidence of deaths caused by Health Canada restricting access to a NHP. Despite warnings that restricting access to the NHP could lead to deaths, Health Canada never took into account the danger of removing the product. Health Canada was only concerned with enforcing the law, regardless of the law causing harm and death. I have never seen Health Canada do a balanced risk analysis (i.e. one that balances a risk posed by a product against the risk of removing the product) to ensure that the safest course of action is taken. Health Canada is only concerned with strict compliance with the law, even if strict compliance will lead to harm.

Because Health Canada always demands strict compliance with the law, you should be very concerned about any moves to strengthen Health Canada’s ability to take natural remedies away.

Currently, Health Canada is signalling they want to change how natural remedies are regulated. These changes may signal the endgame for any practitioner or company that is more concerned with good health outcomes than the over-regulation of natural remedies.

Currently, NHPs are regulated as a special type of drug. Much of our knowledge of natural remedies comes from experience. For example, the British Navy learned that the vitamin C in limes prevented scurvy. Limes or lime extract could be licensed as an NHP based on this learned experience. It would not be necessary to run expensive clinical trials to prove limes treat scurvy. Indeed, if it were necessary to run expensive clinical trials for a lime scurvy remedy, we would never have access to limes to treat scurvy. This is because of our intellectual property right laws.

If a chemical drug company invented a new drug they wanted to use to treat scurvy, they would have a patent on the new drug. Their patent would prevent any other company from selling a copy of the drug until the patent expired. The patent, in effect, creates a monopoly. Because there is a monopoly on the drug, the company can afford to go through the expensive clinical trial process. If they are successful, they can recover the costs of the clinical trials by charging a high price for the drug. They have a monopoly so the high price has to be paid. This is why new drugs are so expensive until after the patent expires.

An NHP company wanting to sell a lime extract for scurvy would not have a monopoly on their product. They did not invent limes and will have no intellectual property rights to limes or lime extract. In short, they cannot patent limes or lime extract. They would not be able to raise funds to go through the clinical trial process, as they would not be able to recover the cost by charging high prices. This is because they would not have a monopoly on the remedy. Any other company could copy the product and sell it at a lower price because there is no patent.

If you want to maintain your access to natural remedies, it is essential that NHPs are not subjected to the same types of evidence as is required for chemical drugs. Unfortunately, Health Canada is currently proposing subjecting NHPs to the same evidence standards imposed on chemical drugs. Not only does this ignore the differences in intellectual property rights, but it also ignores the risks of further restricting our access to natural remedies.

It is important to understand that there has never been a death caused by a NHP in Canada. Years ago, I made an Access to Information Act request of Health Canada asking for evidence of any deaths caused by NHPs going back to confederation in 1867. Health Canada could not point to a single death caused by a NHP. When our current NHP Regulations were introduced, the Regulatory Impact Statement made it clear it was inappropriate to regulate NHPs the same as chemical drugs because the NHPs had such a low risk profile.

Unfortunately chemical drugs do not share the low risk profile of natural remedies. Indeed, chemical drugs are one of the leading causes of death in Canada. Even over-the-counter chemical drugs like common painkillers and cold remedies cause a number of deaths each year. It is because chemical drugs are so dangerous that restricting our access to natural remedies will lead to death and harm.

Let me use nattokinase as an example. Nattokinase is a naturally occurring enzyme that can thin the blood. It is freely sold in the US. It used to be freely sold in Canada. Then Health Canada decided to restrict our access to nattokinase saying it was risky. I searched Health Canada’s Adverse Reaction Database and could not find a single harm event, let alone a death, caused by nattokinase in Canada. When I searched the same database for harm and death caused by the chemical drug blood thinners, there were many reports.

When Health Canada is demanding a natural product be removed and it is unsafe to follow Health Canada’s direction, the current penalties under the Food and Drugs Act are fines of up to $5,000 and/or three years of jail. Most persons or companies who have put a natural remedy on the market can survive such penalties. This enables them to act responsibly when following Health Canada’s direction would put Canadians at risk. If Health Canada’s directions are not followed, Health Canada can apply to a Superior Court for an injunction or other orders to ensure the law is followed. However, a Court will also have the opportunity to hear about the risk of removing a product, and will try to steer the safest course.

Health Canada is wanting to change the status quo. They want to be able to order recalls for NHPs without involving a Court. They also want to increase the penalties to fines of $5,000,000 a day for any violation, including for not following Health Canada recall orders. In addition, any management or employees involved in the violation could also be personally subjected to the $5,000,000 a day fines. I cannot think of a single NHP company that could withstand such fines. In effect, resisting Health Canada directions when it would be unsafe to follow them will be at an end.

Anyone who is concerned about giving a regulatory body the absolute say about what remedies are available should be concerned about the proposed changes. When new regulations and/or amendments to the Food and Drugs Act are introduced, we are all going to have to be ready for action. This is the most threatening proposal since the infamous Bill C-51. I am inviting all readers to do three things to prepare: 1) For a more thorough understanding of the proposed changes, visit www.nhppa.org and read my Discussion Paper on them; 2) Visit www.charterofhealthfreedom.org to familiarize yourself with the Charter of Health Freedom, which is a solution to the over-regulation of natural products, and 3) Financially support groups that will be resisting these changes. Advocacy for your health rights does not happen in a financial vacuum. You will either support groups such as the NHPPA or they will not have the resources to work on your behalf.

We are entering a time where unless we stand up and be counted, we will forever lose the right to decide for ourselves how we will treat ourselves or our loved ones when we/they are sick. Will you be counted?

Shawn BuckleyOriginally published in Vitality magazine, December 2016 (www.vitalitymagazine.com) Excerpted from the article “Freedom of choice threatened – again.” Shawn Buckley is president of the National Health Products Protection Association (www.nhppa.org).

Mayday! Abandon the Christy Clark ship of fools

There is no money to help the most vulnerable citizens, but Clark’s Liberals spend billions to help their friends and financial supporters. It is a greedy, hateful style of government.
– Norman Farrell

by Bruce Mason

Let’s cut the crap and cut to the chase. Let’s quit cutting fake bait and wasting more precious time chucking good money after bad. We’ve tossed more than enough of our precious legacy and life-blood overboard, feeding the insatiably greedy sharks and their minions that float at the top of the financial food chain. Truly fed-up, it’s past time for a reset; it’s time to change course, right here, right now.

Make no mistake about it; we’re at the epicentre, caught in a perfect tsunami storm of hot air and tidal waves – the greenhouse gas regression or green revolution – on a collision course. The eyes and hopes of much of this planet are pinned on us in BC where Greenpeace first set sail. We are not only up to the task, but we also don’t have any real choice.

After 16 years hosting The Daily Show, Jon Stewart observed, “Bullshit is everywhere. The good news is bullshitters have gotten pretty lazy and their work is easily detected. So I say to you tonight, friends, the best defence against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something.” And may we add, be somebody, do something?

One of my most trusted and vigilant sources is Norman Farrell, a long-time accountant with a well-developed, keen sense of smell. Dubbed “master researcher” by one of my mentors, Rafe Mair, Farrell’s outstanding blog, https://in-sights.ca/, has several thousand posts on everything from “Accountability” to “Wilderness Committee.” He told me, “People have questioned my opinion, but never my facts.” It’s well worth bookmarking and supporting.

Just before this issue of Common Ground went to press, Farrell posted “Pull down the veil of lies” (February 26), utilizing Ministry of Finance numbers to show how the record and promises of Christy Clark (Neo)Liberals are “egregious dishonesty,” in conflict with basic truth and common sense.

In the recently released 2017 Budget and Fiscal Plan, the government that got elected by promising a “Debt-Free BC” forecasted the provincial debt will grow $11 billion to a total of $78 billion over the next three years. But that last number doesn’t include $100 billion-worth of contractual obligations, as if non-existent and without impact.

BC Debt including Contractual Obligatons“Contractual obligations became a major financial commitment in the mid-2000s when BC Liberals privatized public services and moved major capital projects off balance sheets,” Farrell reports. “Schools, healthcare facilities, bridges, highways and power installations – although commissioned by and for the public and paid for by the public – were financed by private organizations and therefore excluded from direct provincial debt.

“People in need of social assistance have had benefits frozen for a decade,” he adds. “There is no money to help the most vulnerable citizens, but Clark’s Liberals spend billions to help their friends and financial supporters. It is a greedy, hateful style of government.”

To wit, Rich Coleman, the second most powerful politician in BC – he’s deputy premier, minister of natural gas and minister responsible for housing – boasted on behalf of his government’s record on poverty: “We have to remember that a person on social assistance, a single person on social assistance in British Columbia, gets double the annual income of a person in the Third World,” he huffed, adding a Trump-like insult-to-injury: “I know you don’t like it when I tell you how good this country is, but that’s fine. All I ever hear is negative, negative, negative, destructive, pessimistic attitude.”

No doubt, Big Rich would include Farrell’s honest, meticulous facts. Here’s something else to mull: if I gave you $1 every second, in one minute you would pocket 60 dollars. After 12 days, you’d be a millionaire, beyond the wildest dreams of most of us. At that rate – to hand over a billion – for you to bank the kind of numbers our politicians toss around would take almost 32 years.

Let’s get serious. Rather than investing in public retrofits, renewables, transit and care giving sectors of health and education to stimulate a rush of well-paying jobs, and instead of improving the lives of hard-working British Columbians – especially First Nations and others receiving a raw deal in an unequal economy (the highest in Canada and growing exponentially) – the BC (Neo)Liberals are attempting to bribe voters with tax money taken during Christy Clark’s term and dating back an unrelenting 16 years in office.

Interesting times. Frustrating as hell, as well, as we fall further behind, as summed up in a recent email from another former high-level politician and talk show host, Rafe Mair: ‘’Thank God for a business oriented govt. BC Hydro bankrupt – debt doubles under Christy – LNG a huge and very bad joke – Budget surplus from kids dying, ignored mentally ill, abandoned homeless – Phoney, ‘balanced budget’ – LNG at Squamish into the atmosphere, shit in Howe Sound to kill restored fish runs, whales, porpoise and dolphins, tankers to keep us all rich and dead – Kinder Morgan to pollute Burrard Inlet, Salish Sea, Gulf Islands and Straits of Juan de Fuca with bitumen leaks and spills.

Now, ICBC’s massive losses from their monopoly insurance company. And to top it all off, a self-styled beauty queen for a premier, who keeps airlines and photographers prosperous with our money, never answers questions and is incapable of telling the truth. BC is in the very best of hands, don’t you think?”

A last word from Norm Farrell: “Because corporate media does not report the above figures, it is up to citizens to correct the record. Do so at every opportunity during the election campaign. Blow up the myth that Liberals, while pandering to special interests, are competent financial managers.”

Do more than just vote, which is every citizen’s right and enviable responsibility. Google the platforms and join the campaigns of the optional parties: the opposition and our best chance, NDP, the Green Party and even the Conservatives. Ask questions, become informed, talk it up. Be able to honestly look anyone in the eye, including future generations, and say, “This is what I did, up to, and including, May 9th, 2017.”

Bookmark Norman Farrell’s site, in-sights.ca, sign-up for his emails and support IN-SIGHTS through donations, a wise investment in your/BC future.

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola-Island based five-string banjo player, gardener, freelance writer and author of Our Clinic. brucemason@shaw.ca

Internet surveillance

Is your data ending up in NSA’s hands?

photo of David Christopher

INDEPENDENT MEDIA
by David Christopher

How many websites have you visited today? How many emails have you sent? How many times have you logged onto Facebook? How often have you used services like Slack or Skype?

If you’re anything like me, you probably won’t be able to answer these questions. Even as I write this piece, I have 16 tabs open in my browser, I’m logged into Facebook and my office’s instant messaging service is chirping away.

The Internet has become such an interwoven part of my daily routine that it’s impossible to keep track of how many websites I visit or emails I send. One of the best things about the Internet is that ‘it just works.’ Few of us give any thought to what’s actually happening to our data when we hit ‘send,’ click on a link or tap ‘reply’ to an instant message.

Unfortunately, what’s actually happening to our data on its journey around the Internet has deeply concerning privacy implications. Over the years, spy agencies such as the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) have built incredibly powerful surveillance systems capable of collecting vast quantities of our private communications data, including emails, video and voice chats, photos, videos, stored data and social networking details, and analyzing it for anything supposedly ‘suspicious.’

Although we like to think of the Internet as a ‘cloud,’ most of it relies on Internet Exchanges – buildings that connect the most important Internet cables together. Although these Internet Exchanges ensure our data reliably makes it from point A to point B, their physical nature makes us far more vulnerable to surveillance.

The NSA has taken advantage of this by installing listening posts, or ‘splitter rooms,’ in key US cities where Internet Exchanges are located. When your data travels through one of these Internet Exchanges, it is almost certainly subject to being intercepted by the NSA and stored at the main NSA Data Center in Utah. Once outside Canada, your data is treated by the NSA as foreign and loses Canadian legal and constitutional protections, representing a major loss of privacy.

Even more worrying is this surveillance is not restricted to when you visit a US website or send an email to someone south of the border. A team of experts at the University of Toronto and York University, led by Professor Andrew Clement, have been researching this extensively as part of the IXmaps project. They’ve concluded that at least 25 percent of domestic Canada-to-Canada data travels via the US where it is subject to NSA surveillance.

This phenomenon is known as “boomerang routing.” For example, an email sent from Vancouver to Toronto may ‘boomerang’ via Chicago. Even an email sent from one part of Vancouver to another may travel via the US, largely as a result of years of monopolistic practices by major Canadian telecoms, poor regulatory oversight and underinvestment in Canada’s Internet infrastructure.

At OpenMedia, we’ve worked with IXmaps researchers on a new educational platform to raise awareness of these issues in a project made possible by the financial support of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (www.priv.gc.ca/en/)

Our platform includes an informational video, a series of infographics, a detailed FAQ and some pointers to tools to better safeguard your privacy online. See openmedia.org/en/IXmaps

David Christopher is communications manager for OpenMedia, which works to keep the Internet open, affordable and surveillance-free. openmedia.org