Vancouver: the day the media died

truth-in-journalism-rip-not

Will legacy media survive obvious false equivalency?

by Bruce Mason

Blip. Blip. Mainly comatose for ages, that’s the sound of mainstream media in the Lower Mainland. A weak, worrisome flat-line from a sad, deteriorating shadow of its former self.

But the epic failure to properly cover the first First Nation’s Kinder Morgan pipeline protest and Kwekwecnewtxw (watch house) construction was a widely exposed nail in the corporate media coffin. The latest injury, self inflicted, was complicated by a combination of severe circulation loss, ownership quackery and deceitful malpractice.

We’ve learned, by now, local media doesn’t work, especially on weekends and holidays when, supposedly, nothing happens, except sports or rock concerts. So on March 10, it was skeleton crews in newsrooms, in the city and on Burnaby Mountain that screwed up the biggest story in a generation. Even CBC-Radio lost its voice and loyal listeners, having to apologize in a re-vamped story and clarification. Good old Mother Corp. got earfulls from an angry, ongoing chorus.

Compare pictures. On one side: 10,000 protectors, swamping the Lake City Way Skytrain station and rallying at the Trudeau-Notley-Kinder Morgan clear-cut sacrifice zone. On the other side: 100+ out-of-towners, bussed from Alberta, casually shuffling around with other tourists, snapping selfies beneath the now-extinguished Winter Olympic flame.

One hundred to one, given equal time and coverage. The obscenely rich one percent own most of the world’s power and media. But there were more anti-pipeline protestors in Edmonton than imported pro-pipeliners in Vancouver. And many more volunteers at the gates of the Kinder Morgan tank farm than pipe-dreaming visitors downtown.

Facebook comments included, “What’s wrong with this picture?… False equivalence, like American-style Sean Spicer BS… CBC is no longer a voice of the people. So sad… Like giving flat-Earthers equal media time during the launch of a spaceship… a boycott of Global is in order… the pro-pipeline event was organized by Albertans. Figures.”

Meanwhile, coverage in Seattle and San Francisco was far superior, being fairer and more accurate. Then again, it took the New York Times to expose BC as the “Wild West of Canadian Politics.” So we leave it to them and the independents and social media to report on the ongoing international story of “Standing Rock, North.”

Blah… blah. Radio? CKNW has transmogrified from “Top Dog” into a Fox News sub-station. The lights are out and no one’s home, let alone being worthy of finding ice for Jack Webster’s scotch or stirring Rafe Mair’s coffee.

Anchors aweigh? There isn’t a TV personality in this town who wouldn’t be light weight on a set next to Tony Parsons. Fade to black. In the words of another former press legend, Allan Fotheringham, “It’s all fuzzifying of the muddification.” Chit-chat.

Current would-be reporters shrink in comparison to those who built the Vancouver Sun and Province, invented talk radio and earned our attention and ratings – the once-proud tradition of fearlessly engaged and competent journalism. From tall shoulders, our contemporary cub-pack of wannabees have tumbled, feeble and spineless.

Know that it wasn’t always this way, or this bad. Bob Hunter co-founded Greenpeace through his Sun column, with publicly raised funds, including a benefit concert featuring two virtual unknowns: Joni Mitchell and James Taylor. It stopped a US nuclear bomb test way up in Alaska!

Essential history: we on the west-coast shouted “No way!” much like today’s “You’ll never build your deadly pipeline or tanker traffic here!” Not in a hard-won Nuclear-Free Zone where 200,000+ people marched in Vancouver’s Walk for Peace and will link arms once again. Likely in larger numbers to shut down yet another greed-driven American assault on life. That’s our real legacy.

I was once a writer for the Vancouver Show, comprised of two hours of live television, five nights a week. How I long to see Grand Chief Stewart Phillip emerge from a green room for more than a few edited seconds. Even if we can’t have inspiration and advocacy, we deserve balanced information that informs and reflects our reality. Hello, that’s the job of journalism. Or it used to be.

Instead, we get shameful “false equivalence,” worthy of Donald J. Trump’s inauguration crowd-size claims, with alt-right-like speculation: protestors, supposedly paid by US agitators, or manipulated by Russian hackers.

Legacy media have all but ignored the corruption and criminal greed that flipped Vancouver into the unaffordability stratosphere. They knowingly and wilfully hid and shilled on BC Hydro, ICBC, Site C boondoggles and so much more. Now, they been caught out, clearly no longer required, or believed.

The last word goes to Hunter S. Thompson: “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity.”

Support independent media in the days ahead; inform and engage on social media and in-person. Text the word ‘READY’ to #52267 for when and how you can help stop Kinder Morgan and share in the story of our lifetime.

photo montage by Tom Voydh

John Horgan’s $6 billion LNG giveaway

LNG-gift-BC

A bad deal for BC

by Eoin Finn B.Sc., Ph.D., MBA

The announcement – on World Water Day – that the NDP Government is to enact regulations and legislation to “make BC LNG competitive” caught many by surprise. Though the fine-print details are not yet available, the Premier’s announced provisions for all of BC’s wannabe LNG industry include:

  • A 20-year postponement of PST payable on construction materials (PST on these will be a hefty 7% on the 70%-or-so materials portion of the $40 Billion capital expenditure on liquefaction, treatment, storage, port and pipeline components of the project):
  • As an EITE (emissions-intensive and trade–exposed) industry, exemption from future carbon tax increases above the current rate of $30/ tonne all others in BC will be paying. (This is totally the opposite of the Government’s announced policy of “polluter pay”);
  • Elimination of the 3.5% LNG income surtax (already reduced from the 7% royalty rate originally announced in 2015);
  • Application of the BC Hydro industrial rate ($54/ megawatt-hour) for grid electricity service to LNG facilities. (This rate is half the current $110/ MWh residential rate, well below BC Hydro’s $120/ MWh marginal cost of new electricity from Site C and below its breakeven average rate of around $90/ MWh. Giving power away for half-price will make residential customers foot the bill via future BC Hydro rate increases – lest BC Hydro slide further into debt).

These are extraordinary measures for any Government – let alone one recently critical of the previous Clark government’s largesse to well-heeled LNG proponents, many of them large contributors to BC Liberal election coffers. And to an industry which has so far dismally failed to deliver on its promised 100,000 jobs, a debt-free BC and a BC treasury overflowing with a $100 Billion taxation bounty.

All in all- these concessions represent a gift of $6 Billion of taxpayer money – primarily to LNG Canada’s Kitimat project and spread over the expected lifetime of that project. If enacted, it will make all British Columbians, willing or not, silent partners in LNG Canada, a company jointly owned jointly by Shell Canada (50%), Petro China (20%), Korea Gas and Mitsubishi (both 15%).

So what’s the problem?

Simply put, the “deal” is woefully one-sided. We BCers are neither shareholders nor guaranteed creditors of the LNG venture(s) we may so generously give to. We failed to secure any guaranteed dividends or tax payments (as Qatar and Norway both did), there are no minimum employment quotas for British Columbians (Australia got those), there are no guarantees that profits won’t be siphoned off to tax havens via imaginative accounting practices (as happened in Australia, where that Government is suing Chevron to recover over $300 Million in evaded taxes. Woodfibre LNG’s owner, Sukanto Tanoto, appears prominently in both the leaked Panama and Paradise papers that expose the murky world of off-shore finance – this subsequent to his company being convicted and fined $250 Million for evading taxes in Indonesia), nor any guarantees that most of the construction work won’t be offshored to Korea or China and temporary foreign workers brought in to staff the project (as LNG Canada and Woodfibre LNG both plan to do. These LNG proponents are currently lobbying Ottawa and filing in Federal court, appealing for exemption from a 45.8% anti-dumping tariff levied on the Chinese and Korean steel they plan to use to construct their LNG plants there and float them into the BC coast).

Neither do we have assurances that selling our gas to Asia won’t cause supply shortages and a tripling of prices here, as has happened in Australia’s sad LNG experience. Add to those the perils of fracking and polluting First Nations land in Northeast BC and the difficulty this plant – emitting 8-9 million tonnes of GHGs every year – will create for BC’s 2050 commitment of an 80% reduction in GHG emissions (to a total of 12.6 tonnes, which this one plant would commandeer 80% if), and the rottenness of this deal for BCers becomes woefully apparent.

A BC LNG industry would struggle to be profitable (the only operating LNG export plant in the U.S. – Cheniere Energy – lost about $600M in each of the last 5 years). It would be another boom-and-bust industry (the very last experience many BC towns want to repeat), and would, even at its inception, be an industry already in its sunset years as the world transitions away from fossil fuels to avoid the worst of runaway climate change.

We should all admonish our Premier to stop this ill-advised giveaway of taxpayer money. Well-heeled proponents begging for tax concessions to “make them competitive” isn’t how capitalism is supposed to work. Rotten deal, John. Stop it!

myseatosky.org
efinn@myseatosky.org

Money, power, control and democracy

money-door

How money controls democracy and blocks electoral reform

by Jeff and Diana Jewell

In Canada, we’re told we have democracy. But do we?

Lincoln defined democracy as “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Ours works more like ‘government of the people, by the political power-brokers, for their wealthy patrons and themselves.’

Here’s how the real world runs: money + power = control.

So how does this reality trump democracy? After all, we do have ‘free’ elections, don’t we? No! Our elections aren’t ‘free,’ they’re very costly. Money controls who runs and especially who wins. Money controls the winners and what they do with their temporary grip on political power.

Does money control politics through simple corruption? Rarely. It’s mostly money sponsoring those who’ve pledged allegiance to money and they always need more money for their next election.

How does money control politicians? Lobbyists are the ‘guns for hire’ who work on behalf of money, often via backroom deals in the leader’s office.

Canada still suffers under its British colonial electoral system called FPTP (first-past-the-post). Citizens have a single vote for a local representative. Because any vote for a losing candidate is ‘wasted,’ FPTP coerces many voters (about one-third) into voting for a ‘lesser of evils,’ trying to block a party they really don’t want.

The people do not elect ‘their’ government. The government is elected by the Assembly of Representatives, based on the number of seats won by each party, always disproportional to their vote-share. Under FPTP, the government is always a distortion of the ‘will of the people.’ FPTP also produces other distortions and gives the winning party an unfair advantage matched by an unfair disadvantage to losing parties.

The two most undemocratic consequences of FPTP are: (1) the ‘two-party’ system (any number of parties can run, but only two have any chance of winning, the others doomed to the role of ‘spoilers’; (2) FPTP distortions routinely produce ‘false-majority’ governments, more than half the seats and total control with much less than half the votes.

Supreme power still resides in the monarch, but the monarch delegates control to a prime minister or premier. That leader appoints a ‘cabinet,’ a committee of representatives chosen to sit as an executive body, each controlling a department of government. So the leader controls the cabinet and decisions of cabinet become the decisions of government, which are presented for the Legislature’s approval, effectively a ‘rubber stamp’ under majority government.

This is the true system of power and control that operates under the guise of democratic process.

Since FPTP always cheats a large majority of voters, candidates and parties, a call for electoral reform periodically arises, usually when a party that was victimized by FPTP wins. But as winners, they’ve become beneficiaries of FPTP distortions, so a promise of electoral reform becomes an inconvenient conflict of interest. Their usual recourse is a fake (made-to-fail) study and/or referendum process.

The political power-brokers know that most people have no interest in electoral systems and can easily be duped by a negative campaign, run by political pros/lobbyists to exploit public apathy and raise anxiety about changes.

It’s never asked: “Who benefits from preserving the status quo?” The political power-brokers under FPTP’s two-party system are obvious beneficiaries, as FPTP enables their shared stranglehold on power. But those players are only short-term employees of a permanent enterprise: the ‘money-power-control’’ conglomerate, owned and operated by the establishment.’

Who are ‘the establishment?’ Formerly called ‘the oligarchy,’ it began with kings and the aristocracy, later adding the landed gentry and the moneyed class. In our day, it’s dominated by leaders of the banking/financial institutions and great corporations. They, not the politicians, control the nations and their economies. They hire the lobbyists who do their backroom deals.

Their perpetual control is facilitated by FPTP with its false-majority governments, but would be impeded by PR under its minority governments.

As to a referendum on proportional representation (PR), the public is oblivious to these realities. But the money-power-control gang(sters) are vitally concerned and determined to protect their interests. So what are the chances that a referendum on PR would somehow be sabotaged?

What are the chances that a YES campaign might be infiltrated by a Trojan horse using an ancient strategy of duplicity? Without dirty tricks, the YES campaign might inconveniently serve up an alternative that the NO campaign could not defeat!

Considering what’s at stake for the money-power-control cabal, can you really expect a PR referendum campaign to be an honest exercise in democracy – or covertly manipulated in the interests of money and power to preserve their control?

Jeff and Diana Jewell are long-time activists, with a special commitment to electoral reform. Jeff is a retired computer systems manager who worked for the City of Burnaby and a former Councillor in the District of Mission. Please send any questions or comments to:

info@ElectoralJusticeNow.ca
www.ElectoralJusticeNow.ca

photo montage by Tom Voydh / door photo © Marilyn Barbone

First-past-the-post system vulnerable

thumbs-up-down

Cambridge Analytica targets voters to influence election outcomes

Revelations late last month about Cambridge Analytica’s use of psychographic targeting to influence elections should be of special concern to Canadians because of our first-past-the-post electoral system and the way it amplifies minor swings in electoral preferences. This makes us especially vulnerable to the sort of targeted manipulation of the electoral process that brought Donald Trump to power in the US.

In Canada, a few thousand votes in a handful of swing ridings can make the difference between one party or another forming government. Seats in swing ridings can swing on a dime and governments can rise or fall from grace based on the smallest of changes. Some stark examples:

In 2011, Stephen Harper’s majority government was won by a total of just 6,201 votes in 14 highly contested swing ridings.

In 2014, the Ontario Liberal Party went from minority status to a strong majority position after increasing its share of the vote from 37.7% to 38.7%.

In 2017, the BC NDP went from opposition status with 39.7% of the vote to forming government with 40.3% of the vote. Had they lost the Courtenay-Comox riding, which they won by only 189 votes, the Liberals would have formed a majority government instead!

This is standard fare under first-past-the-post in one way or another. And not just in Canada. The UK faces the same problem, as does the US.

It stands in contrast with proportional systems, where an increase from 1% increase in a party’s share of the vote leads to a 1% change in its share of seats and it takes hundreds of thousands or millions of votes to significantly influence the result.

The sensitivity of our first-past-the-post system to small shifts in voter preferences leads to the sort of hyper-partisan behaviour we have come to expect in Canada and increases the incentives to engage in dirty tricks and wedge politics. While we have come to expect this, modern social media technology is taking the dangers of our electoral system to new levels.

The stage is set for a perfect storm when politicians’ all-consuming passion to win under first-past-the-post is buttressed by companies like Cambridge Analytica, which is capable of manipulating key segments of the voting population with misinformation and scaremongering tactics targeted at vulnerable segments of the population.

Cambridge Analytica’s website boasts of involvement in more than 100 elections around the world. One should add to this their involvement in the continent-shaking Brexit referendum.

Could the same thing happen in Canada? According to Fair Vote Canada’s President Réal Lavergne, “Canadians have every reason to be worried because of the ease with which results can be manipulated under our our winner-take-all electoral system. It’s time for Canadians and politicians to wake up to the fact that our antiquated electoral system is not just excruciatingly unfair to voters. It is downright dangerous!”

Source: Fair Vote Canada, fairvote.ca

Editor’s note: From the Cambridge Analytica website – “Cambridge Analytica uses data to change audience behavior. Visit our Commercial or Political divisions to see how we can help you.”

BC Hydro – until debt do us part

dark cloud of debt

by Reimar Kroecher and Eoin Finn

For most of its existence, BC Hydro, a publicly owned utility company, operated on a non-profit basis. Enough revenue was collected to cover costs and its customers benefitted from low rates. If there were any profits, they were reinvested into BC Hydro.

Sometime shortly before Gordon Campell’s Liberals swept into power in 2001, the NDP government had a change of mind and decided to demand a $300-million dividend from BC Hydro. Although criticizing the NDP for this while in opposition, the Liberals collected $5.8 billion in dividends during their stay in power. The Campbell government also dictated that all new power was to be purchased from private producers (IPPs) at rates far above the rates at which BC Hydro could produce it! That squeezed BC Hydro’s finances from two sides: high dividend payments to government and expensive power to be purchased from IPPs.

The obvious way out was to increase electricity rates substantially, but the BC Utility Commission, on orders from the provincial government, approved only modest increases. The members of the commission are government appointees, puppets in the eyes of many researchers. A second way out was to go into debt by selling more BC Hydro bonds. That was also disallowed because as BC Hydro’s debt increases, the triple A rating for all provincial debt could be lost and interest rates might rise as much as one and one-half percent. To get out of this dilemma, BC Hydro decided to introduce “Deferred Expenses” – treating expenses as if they are assets – in its accounts. The easiest way to understand this accounting concept is to look at the example of a house:

Mr. B owns a house and sublets it to Mr. H who rents it out to a large number of Mr. B’s friends. Mr. B does not want any return, so the rents are kept low enough to cover costs and there is no profit for Mr. B. He is happy and his friends like him.

The house is worth $100,000. The mortgage (debt on the house) is $80,000 so Mr. B’s equity is $20,000 ($100,000 minus $80,000) The ratio of debt divided by equity is four to one. The yearly income from the house is $30,000, exactly equal to the yearly expenses.

Now Mr. B has a change of heart and wants a dividend of $4,000 while at the same time the expenses on the house go up to $34,000. “Well,” says Mr. H, “we will increase the rent to collect $38,000 per year and Mr. B will get his $4,000 dividend and I will get $4,000 to cover the extra expenses.” “No,” says Mr. B, “my friends would be unhappy and would not like me anymore.” “Well,” says Mr. H, “we will borrow the money by increasing the mortgage by $8,000.” “No says Mr. B, “the bank would think I am a bad credit risk. My debt to equity ratio is four to one now and it would go higher than four to one;” 88,000 divided by 20,000, which is 4.4.

However, Mr. H has a plan: “We will ditch the internationally accepted accounting standards (IFRS), which don’t allow “Deferred Expenses” and instead use the more permissive American Accounting standards (FASB) which do allow such deferrals.” So here is what they do: they take $10,000 of the expenses and treat them as an investment in the house. They might take the gardening expense and maybe some pressure washing and gutter cleaning and claim that these are really not an expense this year, but improve the value of the house by that much. They also borrow $8,000 from the bank, by increasing the mortgage.

Now the house is worth $110,000, the debt (mortgage) is $88,000, the equity is $22,000 and the debt to equity ratio is four to one; $88,000 divided by $22,000. Clearly, Mr. B’s friends are happy because the rent has not increased. Mr. B is happy because he gets his $4,000 dividend while his debt to equity ratio has not increased. He maintains his AAA credit rating. Mr. H is happy because he can cover the extra expense of $4,000.

Both Mr. B’s dividend of $4,000 and the extra expenses of $4,000 were paid for by increases in the debt, yet the debt to equity ratio did not increase.

In this example Mr. B is the BC government, Mr. H is BC Hydro and Mr. B’s friends are the ratepayers. The house is equivalent to the various assets of BC Hydro. So we see that the dividends the province collected were paid by increases in BC Hydro’s debt. The same applied to its rising expenses. In fact, during the last 10 years, BC Hydro debt went up by some $10 billion, even though no new generating facilities were built. At the same time, using “Deferred Expenses,” the ratio of debt to equity did not go up so the government could continue to claim its annual dividend.

FASB, the American accounting standard, has two conditions: a) Deferred Expenses must be approved by an independent regulator, and b) they may not be deferred longer than 10 years. On government orders, BC Hydro blissfully ignored both of these. Deferred Expenses is an accounting trick that can mask the financial difficulty a company faces. However, it is not the only accounting trick concocted by the previous Liberal government. When BC Hydro requested rate increases of 9% and was only allowed 3%, it was instructed to show in its books what it requested, not what it actually received. So the books show 6% fictitious revenue that was never received!

It should be obvious that, when a company pays both for dividends and rising expenses by increasing its debt, and on top of that creates fictitious revenue it never received, year after year, that company is on a fast track to financial ruin. In BC Hydro’s case, that ruin could be prevented by the following policies:

  • No more dividends to the province for quite a few years.
  • Realistic electricity rate increases that cover expense increases.
  • An end to “cooking” the books and a switch back to internationally-accepted accounting standards. The books of BC Hydro right now are worthy of consideration for the Governor General’s award for fiction.
  • Replacing the current BC Hydro Board of political appointees with a new board of experts, whose mission should be to nurture BC Hydro back to financial health and to manage it in the best interests of ratepayers, not government. This new board must stop political meddling.
  • Cancel Site C.

If it continues on this course, financial insolvency is a near-certainty for BC Hydro, whose financial health will not be improved by borrowing at least another $9 Billion to complete Site C. Spread over the expected 70-year life of the dam, it will have to pay over $20 billion in interest payments on that debt. It must also pay back the borrowed $11 billion and pay the operational and maintenance costs totalling over $9 billion more. All totalled, the revenue from 70 years of power sales must cover at least $41 billion of these costs, excluding dividends to governments. To break even on that investment, it must sell all of Site C’s 5 terawatt-hours of energy at around $120 per megawatt-hour, 50% higher than today’s average consumer rate. But all indications are that there will be no domestic demand at all for this massive amount of extra power and the only option will be to export it at bargain basement prices.

The trifecta of sticky problems with this are that BC’s consumer demand has been decreasing as power rates rise, Alberta’s rates are now far lower than BC’s and wholesale power prices in the US have dipped below $30. If 100% of Site C’s power is to be exported at those prices, losses on the project could well balloon to over $23 billion, or $11,500 out of the pocket of every BC ratepayer. And that’s assuming borrowing rates stay below 4% for the entire 70-year period. Site C is indeed a very large gamble.

As a result of rapidly rising debt with no corresponding increases in real assets, equity will go negative. As that point, BC Hydro will be near-worthless and big, private-sector corporations will pounce and buy it for a pittance. Like vultures in a tree, eying a sick animal, they have been licking their chops for years to get their hands on North America’s best hydro facilities. Once privatized, rates will be set by demand and supply. There will be no publicly-minded utility commission. And the people of the province will have lost one of their best assets and control of our electricity rates.

Eoin Finn is a 40-year Vancouverite, a retired KPMG Management Consulting partner and a contributor to BCUC’s recent Site C review. He holds a Ph.D in Physical Chemistry and an MBA in International Business. Reimar Kroecher, MA in Economics, taught Economics at Langara College for 30 years. He is currently retired and lives in North Vancouver. For more information: citizensforpublicpower.ca

photo montage by Tom Voydh

Dave Barrett: when true socialism shaped BC and made it more beautiful

Dave Barrett

by Bruce mason

Dave Barrett’s recent death has inevitably brought to mind the first-ever NDP Premier’s legacy of brilliant public policies, which helped make BC a better place for everyone, every day, including you and me.

However, today, at least two of his signature policies are threatened. Public auto insurance, ICBC, is wrecked and a write-off. And the Agricultural Land Reserve, designed to protect farmland, is being diminished with the largest-ever removal of farmland by flooding the Peace River Valley for Site C.

In three short years (1972-1975), the Barrett government passed 350+ bills, an average of one every three days.

Barrett and his caucus created the BC Day holiday, Pharmacare and citizens’ right to sue government. They forced politicians to reveal donors, launched a daily question period and were the first to record and publish legislative debate in Hansard (the traditional name for transcripts of parliamentary debates in the British Commonwealth).

They dramatically expanded parkland and halted mining in them, banned pay toilets, put a stop to spanking in schools and jailing 12-year-olds, lowered the drinking age to 19 and enabled neighbourhood pubs. In Vancouver alone, we have the Seabus program, the preserved Orpheum Theatre and Robson Square.

And Barrett accomplished so much more: North America’s strongest labour code, consumer protections, human rights legislation, increased pensions for the elderly, increased support for the disabled, assistance for tenants, higher welfare rates and implementing the highest minimum wage in Canada.

Ninety-seven legacies are listed in The Art of the Impossible: Dave Barrett and the NDP in Power, 1972-1975, by Rod Mickleburgh and Geoff Meggs, who is now NDP chief of staff in the current minority government. In many ways, Barrett was 40 years ahead of his time and, hopefully, we’re now catching up. “None of the things we did, not one, was radical. Not one. And in the light of history that’s even more evident,” Barrett explained.

Dave Barrett was the youngest child of Isadore, a communist, and Sam, a twice-wounded Great War veteran who was gassed at Passchendaele and limped behind a horse-drawn fruit wagon before opening a fruit market on Powell Street in Vancouver. He was also the first Jewish born – albeit educated at Jesuit universities in Seattle and St. Louis – and the first socialist to hold BC’s top elected position. A champion of the little guy, he was an MLA for a quarter-century, an MP for five years and later headed two inquiries into the leaky condo fiasco.

Referred to as “little fat guy” by the press gallery, he self-deprecatingly nicknamed himself “Fat Li’l Dave,” laughingly, saying, “They’ve called me a Marxist. I say, ‘Which one? Groucho, Chico or Harpo?’”

He took off his shoes to jump on the table at a first cabinet meeting, shouting, “Are you here for a good time or a long time?” Revolutionary, compared to the cautious, current NDP, which stresses “affordability “ and “’administration over activism.” In contrast, Barrett bristled at an economic system even he never imagined would cause today’s obscene inequity. Redistributing wealth more equally, rather than consantly growing economy on our finite planet, was his life’s work, which he acted on rather than endlessly study.

Worth recalling is his first trip to Ottawa when Barrett told then-prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, “I didn’t come here to B.S.” A far cry from today’s contrived, polite federal-provincial relationship. Also worth remembering: in 1983 when he was forcibly dragged out of the legislature at 4:30 am for refusing to withdraw a challenge to a Social Credit restraint and austerity program. A first in the 112-year history of the chamber, characterized even now by whipped back-benchers and spineless cabinet members on short leashes.

“In my political career I’ve always been blunt, very blunt. As a consequence, either people love me or they hate me. There’s not much middle ground. That’s really how I operate,” Barrett recalled.

I remember late August in 1972: Watergate, the Arab oil embargo, rampant inflation and reactionary right-wing politics. When TV took over, it was the toy department of journalism. Dave Barrett’s landslide victory was on the tube, everywhere, including a pub where I witnessed folks buying rounds, passing joints and hugging complete strangers, well past closing time.

A few months later, on the evening of the long-awaited day when live music was finally allowed in bars, my band was hired to play music. A few measures into the first song, the bar emptied as people lined up at pay-phones to call friends and family. It was a joyous time, much like the NDP functions I later played at and the live, paid gigs on BC Ferries.

Imagine that. I mention culture because it too matters. And Dave Barrett, deeply rooted in NDP principles, was music to our ears. His honesty, bold vision, unapologetic action and passion gave us the hope and justice we now urgently need to hear and see from BC’s legislature as we run out of time in 2018.

From revolving door to revolution in the patch: an interview with Kevin Taft

by Jeremy Appel

Why are ostensibly environmentally friendly governments, like the federal Liberals and Alberta NDP, still so attached to oil sands extraction, with its disproportionate impact on carbon emissions? Former Alberta Liberal leader Kevin Taft has an answer in his recent book, Oil’s Deep State (Lorimer, September 2017), and it’s one that many Canadians and Albertans will find unsettling.

Oil's Deep StateTaft argues that the oil and gas industry has developed a stranglehold over federal and provincial governments, as well as large swaths of academia and the media, corroding Canadians’ ability to meaningfully address the threat of climate change. I spoke with Taft about his analysis, how we got to this point and what the future holds for oil’s deep state.

Jeremy Appel: When we hear about the deep state it’s usually a reference to the power elite running the show in Washington, DC, despite Trump’s alleged goal to “drain the swamp” of corporate influence. What do you mean by the term in your book?

Kevin Taft: When I finished the manuscript, the term “deep state” hadn’t hit the popular agenda very much yet. In fact, it was a concern of mine and the publisher’s that the term wouldn’t really resonate with people.

It’s a term that goes back to the 1970s and has been used commonly in Europe, Turkey, the United States and Canada. What’s happened in the US since the Trump election is that the far-right has grabbed and torqued the term “deep state” for their own purposes and that’s what happens with political language, unfortunately.

I tried to bring some theory to the idea of a deep state by connecting it to the notion of capture. There’s a long history of literature studying how democratic institutions get captured by private interests. The question I had is what happens when a whole series of democratic institutions are captured and held by the same private interests?

What happens when the governing party, the opposition party, the regulators, the civil service, universities, for example, are all captured and held by the same private interest? I argue at that point you have a state within a state, which I call a deep state.

JA: How did the non-renewable energy industry get so powerful in Canada in general, and in Alberta in particular?

KT: It was a very slow process in Alberta. The oil industry here has been active for 100 years and gradually built strength. A key variable for Alberta is that we have a comparatively small population, so all of Alberta together has less people than metropolitan Phoenix or Seattle and we own the third largest oil reserves on the planet. This little population of Albertans owns more oil than all of Russia or all of the United States.

It’s an overwhelmingly large resource for such a small population. As that resource is being developed, especially the oil sands, the economic weight of that has bent our democratic society into a warped shape. It gives immense power to the private interests who have managed to gain control of that resource.

It’s very difficult for a government to manage a resource as large as the oil sands without losing control of the resource. I think that the only country who’s done that really effectively is Norway. We had a chance. In his first term or two, Peter Lougheed actually stood up and waged a struggle with the oil industry. He wrestled a lot of control away from the industry and into the hands of the people who actually own the resource, which is the government and people of Alberta.

Those successes of the early Lougheed years began to decline in the later 1980s and Ralph Klein’s election in 1992 led to a compete abdication of control of our oil resources, turning it over to the private sector. We’re going to pay a price for that.

JA: What happened in the intervening years, from Lougheed’s battle with the industry to Klein’s subservience to it?

KT: There was a broad shift in the social-democratic discourse through the 1980s. You had the rise, generally in the English-speaking world, of the right. You had Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the US, as well as the Chicago school of economics, who became champions of markets and the private sector.

That was combined with a slowing in Alberta’s economy in the later 1980s and then a very deliberate and successful attempt, starting in the very late ‘80s and through the 1990s, by people in the industry, to take command of the Alberta government. You had, for example, a whole series of energy and finance and other cabinet ministers coming from the oil industry, spending a couple of terms in cabinet and then going back to the industry. It’s no surprise that those people took the royalty and regulatory systems and turned them to the benefit of the industry.

JA: How did your personal experience in Alberta politics inform your analysis?

KT: My experience had a profound shaping of my view. When I left politics [in 2012], I really left it completely. It was a couple of years after I left that I was invited by a university in Australia to give some serious thought to the relationship between fossil fuels and democracy.

As I began reading, thinking and studying the theory, I realized that everywhere I looked, when I was in office, the oil industry was right there. Whether they were lobbying me or when I walked over to the legislature, they’d be lobbying the government, financing the political parties, funding the universities. Everywhere I turned, there would be the oil industry. When you’re in the middle of it, that just seems normal. But after a couple of years away and doing more serious thinking, I realized it was the oil industry that was running Alberta, not the people of Alberta.

We have to remember the interests of the oil industry are not the same as the interests of the people of Alberta. That’s something Peter Lougheed said over and over again. The people of Alberta have to think like owners and we stopped doing that in the early 1990s. We’ve given up one of the most valuable resources on the planet.

JA: More recently, Ed Stelmach attempted to raise royalty rates and the industry responded by shifting its financial support from his PC party to the upstart Wildrose. What does this tell us about the machinations of oil’s deep state?

KT: Behind the scenes, there’s a very well-orchestrated campaign by the oil industry to control the public agenda. The backstory to the rise of the Wildrose party is part of that.

I spend the first two chapters of the book talking about oil lobbyist and former Stephen Harper adviser Bruce Carson’s court case in Ottawa. All the documents, emails, bank statements and minutes tabled lay bare some of the behind-the-scenes efforts and millions of dollars spent by the oil industry to get a grip on the civil service, Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada, the political system, through cabinet ministers and prime ministers, top civil servants, the universities and provincial governments.

Of course, the public would never have a clue that that happened if a court case hadn’t allowed the police to actually seize these documents and computers and present the evidence in court. When I read through all those filings, it’s just stunning to see how systematically the oil industry works to orchestrate the public agenda, whether it’s pipelines, approval of oilsands expansion, undermining environmental initiatives.

This is not random chance. You can trace this back to a core, which is the command centre of the oil deep state in Canada: the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

JA: What’s the way out of this situation?

KT: Change in Alberta is going to be forced from outside. That change is going to come in a few forms. One is that a very rapid shift in energy technology is going to unfold in the next decade. It takes away a good part of the market for Alberta oil, which will unfortunately bring Alberta’s economy to its knees, creating a political crisis in this province.

Another way out is the kind of citizen actions that we’re seeing across the country and around the world: the actions of First Nations, court actions challenging the pipelines and escalating civil disobedience.

Frankly, a form of energy revolution is coming that will put the end to the oil industry, but that’s not going to be clean and tidy. It’s going to be a long and messy process.

Originally published in The Monitor, www.policyalternatives.ca (Jan 2, 2018). Reprinted with permission. Jeremy Appel is a multimedia journalist and currently a reporter/editor with the Medicine Hat News. Kevin Taft is a best-selling author, consultant, speaker and former provincial politician in Alberta, Canada. His latest book is Oil’s Deep State.

Science betrayed: the crime of denial

by Elizabeth Woodworth and Dr. Peter Carter

Climate change denial has been led by industry disinformation, which, according to Merriam-Webster, is “false information deliberately and often covertly spread in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth.”

A crime against humanity is, according to the Oxford Dictionary, “a deliberate act, typically as part of a systematic campaign that causes human suffering or death on a large scale.”

A brief look at the origins of denialism

unprecedented crime book coverIn 2010, a landmark book, Merchants of Doubt, showed how a small group of prominent scientists with connections to politics and industry led disinformation campaigns denying established scientific knowledge about smoking, acid rain, DDT, the ozone layer and global warming.

Written by Dr. Naomi Oreskes, Harvard science historian, and NASA historian Erik Conway, Merchants was reviewed by Bill Buchanan of The Christian Science Monitor as “the most important book of 2010” and by The Guardian’s Robin McKie as “the best science book of the year.” It was followed by the 2014 documentary of the same name, also widely seen and reviewed.

The research showed how the disinformation tactics of the tobacco companies in the 1960s to undermine the scientific link between smoking and lung cancer served as a model for subsequent oil company tactics suppressing climate change science.

Following the U.S. Surgeon General’s landmark report on smoking and lung cancer in 1964, the government legislated warning labels on cigarette packages. But a tobacco company executive from Brown & Williamson had a brainwave: people still wanted to smoke and doubt about the science would give them a ready excuse.

His infamous 1969 memo read: “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”

Tobacco industry executives never directly denied the mounting evidence that cigarettes were linked to lung cancer. Instead, they stated publicly that the science was controversial. In this way they managed to delay regulation and lawsuits until the 1990s.

When the global warming science began to emerge in the 1980s, the oil industry employed the same deceptions. The whole focus was now on creating doubt in the minds of the politicians, the media and the public about whether we really know for sure that climate change is a problem. Doubt, as the tobacco industry had learned so profitably, delays action.

When the IPCC was formed in 1988 and began documenting and publicizing the impacts of climate change, the climate disinformation campaign grew more intense. Big Oil employed the same tactics, arguments, vocabulary and PR firms that the tobacco companies had used to cast doubt on the dangers of smoking 25 years earlier.

The American Petroleum Institute convened a Global Climate Science Communications Team in 1998 to devise a plan targeting the media, schools, government officials, Congress and other influential groups.

The team’s mission, exposed in a leaked 1998 memo, was to initiate “a national media relations programme to inform the media about uncertainties in climate science; to generate national, regional and local media on the scientific uncertainties and thereby educate and inform the public, stimulating them to raise questions with policymakers.” They said victory would be achieved when:

  • Average citizens understand (recognize) uncertainties in climate science; recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the “conventional wisdom.”
  • Media “understands” (recognizes) uncertainties in climate science.
  • Media coverage reflects balance on climate science and recognition of the validity of viewpoints that challenge the current “conventional wisdom.”
  • Industry senior leadership understands uncertainties in climate science, making them stronger ambassadors to those who shape climate policy.
  • Those promoting the Kyoto treaty on the basis of extent science appears [sic] to be out of touch with reality.

A 2009-2014 study shows that climate change deniers promoting these uncertainties were prominently featured on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Fox Business, ABC, CBS, and PBS in a striking number of TV appearances – indeed three years after the publication of Merchants of Doubt. These deniers included the non-climate scientists:

  • Marc Morano (Bachelor PoliSci) from Climate Depot, 30 TV appearances.
  • Tim Phillips (Bachelor PoliSci) from Americans for Prosperity, 7 appearances.
  • Fred Singer (physicist) from the Science and Environmental Policy Project, 8 appearances.
  • James Taylor (lawyer), from the Heartland Institute, 8 appearances.

Although these men lack credentials in climate science and have been widely exposed as imposters, the major cable TV and networks still give them credibility on their free media platforms.

The corporate media has thus given a relatively small group of science deniers with financial connections to the fossil fuel industry immense influence in sowing doubt on the scientific consensus of human-made climate change.

Climate denial propaganda & influence continue to rise

In 2016, the Union of Concerned Scientists reported that “an in-depth analysis of eight leading fossil fuel companies finds that none of them has made a clean break from disinformation on climate science and policy.” The companies included were ArchCoal, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Consol Energy, ExxonMobil, Peabody and Shell. The industry has responded to the spotlight by intensifying propaganda through the agents below.

The Heartland Institute: In March 2017, the Heartland Institute began targeting the nation’s 200,000 science teachers by mailing each a copy of its new book and DVD, Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming. The slick package stated that, even if climate change were real, “it would probably not be harmful, because many areas of the world would benefit from or adjust to climate change.”

The Koch Brothers: The multibillionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch are two of the most powerful people in the global oil industry, owning Koch Industries, a $100-billion conglomerate employing 100,000 people in 60 countries. They control 1-2 million acres of Alberta’s tar sands. The Kochs, bigger than either of the Democratic or Republican parties, manipulate both. A major focus of Koch money has been to ensure that no legislation is passed to curb the burning of fossil fuels. The brothers have gained pledges from 170 members of Congress that they will never support a tax on carbon. While attacking legitimate climate scientists, the Kochs were funding prominent pseudo-climate-scientists.

ExxonMobil: In 2015, we learned from its own research that Exxon has known since 1980 that global warming is real. Kert Davies, former research Director of Greenpeace USA, revealed through ExxonSecrets.org that, meanwhile, ExxonMobil’s climate change denial funding totaled at least $33 million during the period 1997-2016. “At least $33 million” because much of the funding has been channeled through dark identity scrubbing groups such as Donors Trust and Donors Capital.

Secret funding by coal companies: In April 2017, Peabody Energy, the country’s largest investor-owned coal company, declared bankruptcy, following Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources. In all three cases, court-ordered disclosures revealed creditors well known as climate science deniers. These included Chris Horner, who regularly disparages climate science on Fox News and has called for investigations of IPCC and NASA scientists.

As Dr. James Hansen had observed in 2012, this is “not an accident. There is a very concerted effort by people who would prefer to see business continue as usual.”

Whitehouse was one of the first in Congress to propose a civil case, similar to the racketeering suit Bill Clinton brought against the tobacco industry, against fossil-fuel companies for deliberately misleading the public on climate science.

Dr. Michael Mann sums it up: “The gulf between scientific opinion and public opinion has been bought with hundreds of millions of dollars of special interest money… The number of lives that will be lost because of the damaging impacts of climate change is in the hundreds of millions; to me, it’s not just a crime against humanity; it’s a crime against the planet.”

Climate change denial as a crime against humanity

As cited earlier, a crime against humanity is “a deliberate act, typically as part of a systematic campaign that causes human suffering or death on a large scale.”

We have established that the decades-long blocking and lying about scientific evidence on the dangers of human-caused global warming has been deliberate. So the question arises, how many people have been, or will be, hurt or killed by climate change?

Many studies have been done over time. To cite a few:

“Climate change is increasing the global burden of disease and in the year 2000 was responsible for more than 150,000 deaths worldwide. Of this disease burden, 88% fell upon children.”

According to a March 2017 report from the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health, “a quarter of Americans can name one way in which climate change is affecting their health. This is seen by physicians across the country.”

A 15-author 2016 report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program warns that people suffering chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, mental illness and obesity are being threatened by climate change.

A global estimate was supplied by an independent report commissioned by 20 countries in 2012 to study the human and economic costs of climate change. The DARA study wrote that it linked 400,000 deaths worldwide to climate change each year, projecting deaths to increase to over 600,000 per year by 2030… Heat waves kill many, to be sure, but global warming also devastates food security, nutrition and water safety. Since mosquitoes and other pests thrive in hot, humid weather, scientists expect diseases like malaria and dengue fever to rise. Floods threaten to contaminate drinking water with bacteria and pollution.

When the report looked at the added health consequences from burning fossil fuels – aside from climate change – the number of deaths jumps from 400,000 to almost five million per year. Carbon-intensive economies see deaths linked to outdoor air pollution, indoor smoke from poor ventilation, occupational hazards and skin cancer.

When disinformation known to be false is systematically used to deny dangerous realities that harm public health and kill millions of people, the deception clearly crosses the line to become a crime against humanity.

Conclusion

The 2014 IPCC 5th assessment Summary for Policy Makers, along with previous IPCC assessments, is solid proof of the unprecedented crime represented by today’s level and rate of increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas pollution. It is definite because policy makers representing all world governments sit on the IPCC Panel and before the assessment can be published, they scrutinize the assessment line-by-line for government approval.

As governments from high-emitting countries continue – against the will of their own citizens and of the nations most vulnerable to climate change – to allow the global climate catastrophe to unfold, they simply cannot say that they did not know. Participation in formulating the IPCC summaries makes the large GHG-polluting national governments undeniably culpable for their continued lack of action to bring about a rapid decline in global emissions.

Not only have they betrayed the IPCC science. While doing so, they have pampered the lucrative fossil fuel industry with trillions of dollars in subsidies worldwide. But worst of all they have failed to protect their citizens – now and for future generations. This is the crime of all time.

Excerpted with permission from Unprecedented Crime: Climate Science Denial and Game Changers for Survival by Elizabeth Woodworth and Dr. Peter Carter (Clarity Press). Elizabeth Woodworth is a writer on climate change science and activism, co-author of Unprecedented Climate Mobilization and co-producer of the COP21 video A Climate Revolution for All. Dr. Peter Carter is founder of the Climate Emergency Institute. He served as an expert reviewer for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fifth climate change assessment in 2014. He is a former family and emergency medicine practitioner.

John Horgan on the record: is he walking his talk?

John Horgan

by Bruce Mason

Last March, when BC was awash in costly ads attacking John Horgan, describing him as “Say Anything,” “Flip Flop,” “Angry” and “Spineless,” Common Ground asked the then-opposition-leader to carefully lay out and explain his pre-election platform.

Sensing, correctly, that only the NDP could end 16 long years of neo-liberalism, we videotaped and posted the extensive interview as well as on our website. We also published and made available tens of thousands of free copies in print (April 2017), with the magazine’s headlines reading: Time For Change. Make BC Better. We were told by many NDP and Green insiders that it had made a difference; mercifully, Christy and Co. were shut down.

That was then, this is now, on the eve of the first full Horgan NDP budget. Post-election, Premier John Horgan grinned through the skin of his teeth, boasting, “The majority of British Columbians voted for change!” Fast forward six months and we now know, or should know, much more about the leader of the razor-thin minority government. To a growing number of voters, including former supporters, angry activists and sad and disenchanted citizens, his agenda is hidden, surprising and alarming.

Central to this undeniable and justifiable concern, and outrage, is the unfathomable, multi-billion dollar Site C “decision” to flood a 100km sacrifice zone in the irreplaceable Peace River Valley.

However, Horgan is also simply ruling out, or second-guessing, among other things: legislation to halt foreign housing ‘investment,’ returning BC Ferries to government and freezing Hydro rates, while, apparently, just tooling around Kinder Morgan, fudging on Reconciliation and a fair “last chance” transformation of our badly flawed and broken first-past-the-post voting system.

Meanwhile, NDP lobbyists like Bill Tieleman have joined forces with the Liberals, such as Susan Anton, to kill the urgent call for proportional representation. There are many questions, few answers and a discomforting, even infuriating silence, or mumbled rationalizations by cabinet ministers and back-benchers, who campaigned against what now appears to be new NDP policy.

“Wait,” we are told for the budget in February. In the meantime, the fundamental question: What did John Horgan say and mean? Really.

Below are highlights from the 2017 Common Ground video interview:

John Horgan on Site C:


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… 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… And wind and solar power – other alternatives – to complement our sources, but the Liberals have been short-sighted in that regard.
 But as climate changes, we’re seeing different weather patterns, not as much snowfall… a thoughtful government would ask, ‘How can we supplement our water hydro-based system with technologies not dependent on water?’… 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.

On housing affordability:

“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… People are being priced out of the market and the development community, building condos to sell, rather than units to rent.

On Reconciliation with First Nations:

‘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.

On BC Ferries:


“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.”

On agricultural land:


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.


On electoral reform:

… 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.

There you have it, on the record. Post-interview (on tape) Horgan noted, people were “devastated by Trudeau’s backing out on proportional representation,” for which he been “pretty categorical.” But the PM also deceived voters on climate action, transparency, corruption and pipelines, as well as electoral reform.

Horgan now seems only slightly better than Clark and a long way from what many in BC voted for. He is breaking fragile trust and authenticity. Lose that and it all goes – like some burst dam.

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

Free your vote 2.0

vote

by Paul George

“Your input will help shape the future of our democracy,” declares a November 17 BC government press release. The release announces the BC government has introduced legislation to hold a referendum in the fall of 2018 through a mail-in vote that will ask voters to decide whether BC should keep our current voting system (First-Past-the-Post) or move to a system of Proportional Representation. engage.gov.bc.ca/howwevote/

It also introduced a public engagement process with feedback via an online questionnaire to help shape the referendum. Public input ends on February 28, 2018 at 4PM, after which the input will be compiled into a report by the Ministry of Attorney General and made public.

But before the government’s process was even launched, the BC Liberals were vigorously fighting against any electoral reform. Why? Why not give the process and ultimate proposal a fair hearing?

The Liberals had a different tack after they won the 2001general election. That election blatantly illustrated the unfair results that a first-past-the-post voting system can deliver in multi-party democracies. The Liberals, with 57% of the popular vote, elected 77 MLAs, a whooping 97.5% of the seats in the legislature. The NDP, with 21.5% of the vote, won just two seats (Joy MacPhail and Jenny Kwan). The upstart Green Party, with 12.4% of the popular vote, got no seats, no representation and no chance to present its ideas in the legislature for debate.

Nearly everyone, including Campbell, realized election results like that aren’t good for democracy and so he created the Citizens’ Assembly On Electoral Reform to come up with a fairer voting system to put to the electorate for a vote.

Unfortunately, the Citizen’s Assembly did not deliver an alternative that voters supported. Under the tutelage of two political scientists who were experts in a system called Single Transferable Vote (STV), a system used only in Malta, Ireland and certain jurisdictions in Australia, the Assembly voted to adopt STV and worked to craft a tailor-made version suitable for BC.

STV systems are inherently complicated. They are characterized by multi-member ridings, with voters ranking their candidate preferences and a ballot tallying system that redistributes an elector’s votes when their more preferred choices meet defeat. Computers are used to determine who is elected in a timely way.

BC’s 2005 provincial election included the first “Yes” or “No” referendum question on STV: “Should British Columbia change to the BC-STV electoral system as recommended by the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform?” 57.7% of the voters said yes, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to overcome the 60% super majority passage imposed by the BC Liberal government at the onset of the Assembly.

The voters at the time truly did support the Citizens Assembly. It was an innovative and exciting process involving people just like them. But there was no way they could have understood the system they voted “yes” for. There were no details. The made-in-BC STV system had not yet been designed.

To their credit, the Liberal government gave BC voters another chance to adopt the STV system in the 2009 provincial election. Between the two elections, the made-in-BC STV system was developed and a map of the proposed new ridings was circulated.

In the 2009 STV referendum, voter support plummeted. Why? Most political pundits figure it was because the devil was in the details. It was a complicated system. Electoral districts had varied numbers of MLAs. Some had seven; others (in the north) only two. Voter choice and the chance for representation varied as to where a person lived, which some perceived as not entirely fair. Some BC voters did not like the idea of ranking a long list of candidates. Some didn’t understand how voters got “transferred” and didn’t like having to trust a computer to tell them the results. This time, voters soundly rejected the Citizens Assembly’s recommendation. Only 39% voted for BC STV.

But the rejection of STV did not necessarily mean voters didn’t support electoral reform and a fairer voting system for BC.

What the Citizens of the Assembly proposed and what BC voters wanted were at odds. This was even known by some Assembly members before they decided on STV.

Prior to choosing which electoral system to propose for BC, the Citizen’s Assembly had narrowed their options to STV and one other proportional representation system: Mixed Member Prepositional (MMP). Used in Germany and New Zealand, MMP systems give voters two votes: one for a local representative for their riding, just as we do today in BC and a second vote for their party of choice. After the votes are tallied, if a party does not get its fair share of seats through the vote for local representatives, the party’s seats are “topped up” so the percentage of the popular vote that a party gets equals its share of seats. The method to “top up” seats varies. It is most commonly from a ranked list of candidates provided by each party, but it could be based on the top “vote-getters” that didn’t get elected from each party.

Interestingly, one of the Assembly members independently went out on the street to test sample ballots representing the two different voting systems. He found that people overwhelmingly liked the MMP ballot better.

When the Citizen’s Assembly held meetings in 50 communities around the province seeking public input on a new voting system for BC, more than 80% of all those who showed up expressed their preference for a MMP system.

In the light of this, why did the Citizens Assembly choose STV?

One of the professors assured Assembly members they could decide independently of public input because they themselves were a random sample representation of the whole province. He also implied they could ignore much of the public input because it was “politically” initiated. Although Adriane Carr, then Leader of the BC Green Party, in the year prior to Campbell establishing the Citizen’s Assembly, had previously personally sponsored an Initiative under the BC Recall and Initiative Act to hold a referendum on whether or not to adopt an MMP system, it was apolitical. Her Initiative garnered almost 100,000 signatures, not enough to be a success, but enough to widely educate the public.

I believe that what BC voters want and will readily adopt is a simple, easy-to-understand, inexpensive-to-implement and familiar-way-to-count-vote electoral system where a party’s percentage of popular vote translates into the same percentage of seats in the legislature and the vast majority of electors’ votes end up actually electing MLAs to the BC legislature – a made-in-BC MMP system.

I’ve improved on the system originally proposed by Adriane Carr (now a Vancouver City Councilor) in her Citizen’s Initiative, making it simpler and removing some elements, like a party “top-up” list, that were controversial in her 2002 Initiative bid.

  1. Electoral Districts (ridings) stay the same – in number and geography – as they are today. No need for redistribution.
  2. Voting for MLAs to represent electoral districts is carried out exactly as it is done today through the familiar first-past-the-post system.
  3. A second vote for “Which BC political party do you support?” is made from a list of registered BC political parties printed on the ballot. This vote is counted province-wide to determine each political party’s popular support.
  4. To be eligible to have representation in the legislature, a party must exceed a threshold of 5% of the popular vote. This is the same as in New Zealand and Germany.
  5. Up to 15 extra MLAs are added to the legislature to achieve as close as possible a fair proportional representation for those parties that exceed the 5% threshold of support required, but elect less than their fair share of MLAs based on their party’s percentage of popular vote.
  6. The 15 “top up” MLAs (or less) as needed to most fairly adjust to achieve proportionality are selected from that party’s unsuccessful candidates in that provincial election ranked by the candidates’ vote, from highest vote to lowest. (Note: many candidates who don’t win achieve a very near-to-winning vote in an electoral district.)

While having only 15 extra MLAs – easier to accommodate in BC’s current legislature chambers – will not always result in a fully proportional Legislature, almost all the time it will. I can only think of one election that was so skewed, that 15 extra MLAs wouldn’t be enough to correct the imbalance and that was the 2001 election, which started the whole process of considering a Proportional Representation voting system for BC.

Paul George is a Canadian environmentalist living in Gibsons, BC. He is married to Adriane Carr, former leader of the Green Party of British Columbia. He cofounded the Western Canada Wilderness Committee and was the first recipient of the BC Spaces for Nature Wild Earth Award. He is the author of Big Trees, Not Big Stumps, a history of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee.