How Trudeau’s lies differ from Trump’s lies

Kinder Morgan and Trudeau

by Paul George

While Trump is a compulsive liar, Trudeau is a consummate actor. Trump sometimes knows he’s lying. At other times he doesn’t know the answer to a question, so makes one up, not really caring if the answer is true or not. Trudeau, however, always follows a script. “He’s given lines, memorizes them, spouts them faithfully, and never questions whether they’re grounded in truth or not,” explains a drama teacher. “He is not the bright original thinker like his father was, but he acts well and is super photogenic.”

His acting background explains why Trudeau championed stricter measures to limit global temperature rise to a maximum 1.5 degrees C in Paris in 2015. He gave such a passionate speech that gave hope to the island states and coastal communities that will be flooded by rising sea levels if global warming reaches 2 degrees C.

Newspaper headlines at the time declared “Canada is Back.”  After years of hardline obstruction and inaction by the Harper government, Canada said it was going to provide world leadership on solving the climate crisis and take bold action in reducing its own GHG emissions.  Our Prime Minister emerged as the hope of all those who understood the severity of the climate crisis

In Paris, Trudeau must have relied on Green Party MP Elizabeth May for his lines.

When Trudeau got back to Ottawa, he got a new set of scriptwriters: the same back-room oil sands promoters and lobbyists that had Harper in their pockets.  No problem for Trudeau. He parroted his new lines with no thought, no understanding, nor any worry that his new script contradicted his lines in Paris. “Of course we can build the Kinder Morgan pipeline and increase production of tar sands oil and still meet our Paris commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming to below 1.5 degrees C” says Trudeau with complete confidence.

Over the 2005–2016 period, total emissions decreased by 28 megatonnes (Mt) or 3.8%. Our 2030 goal is to reduce emissions by 30%. Recently emissions have increased and can be attributed to increases in mining and upstream oil and gas production (21 Mt).

Canada’s Crazy Climate Plan

Like having your cake while eating it too, a country that fails to reduce enough Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions to help slow global warming as promised in signing the Paris Climate Accord, has a “back doorway” way to accomplish the same thing.

How? Get someplace else to reduce an equivalent amount of emissions (above and beyond what that place already is doing under the Paris Accord), to make up for the shortfall.

Canada’s emissions have been going up, not coming down in recent years. In 2016 Canada said it would miss its target by 44 megatonnes of carbon. Now it’s 66 megatonnes!

In documents released through Freedom of Information (FOI), Canada, knowing full well that its tar sands expansion plans are incompatible with its 2030 (only 12 years away) reduction goals to reduce its emissions 30% below Canada’s 2005 level, determined it would be cheaper to have California do the job. Canada will pay Californians billions of dollars a year to generate more renewable wind and solar energy and transition faster to fully electric vehicles. California gets all the new jobs and the cheaper power benefits. Alberta gets rid of its bitumen.

Brilliant. Oil barons of the Alberta tar patch get richer while regular Canadians get poorer through greatly increased taxes. In the long run this short-term offset solution will make it all the harder and more expensive in the future for Canada to make the transition to the low carbon world economy.

One big problem! With Trump pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, California no longer qualifies as a surrogate reducer!

Standing Rock of the North

The biggest threat to the proposed x-KM pipeline route may be the fierce opposition of the Secwepemc people whose unceded territory, Secwepemcul’ecw, covers more than half of the proposed pipeline route.

Not only did the Canadian government approve the pipeline despite the lack of this Indigenous Nation’s consent. It utterly failed to adequately consult the Secwepemc.

Back in 1951, when the federal government unilaterally approved the original Trans Mountain pipeline through Secwepemcul’ecw, the Secwepemc people could not oppose it because the Indian Act prohibited Indigenous peoples in Canada from organizing on land issues and hiring lawyers. The original Trans Mountain pipeline went into operation in 1953 without the Secwepemc people’s consent. The Secwepemc are determined that history will not repeat itself.

Defense of their territory is not something new for the Secwepemc. A standoff between the Secwepemc and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1995 at Ts’Peten (Gustafsen Lake) involved the largest paramilitary operation in Canadian history.

Most recently, the Secwepemc Women Warrior Society disrupted the 2017 Annual General Meeting of Imperial Metals over their tailings pond spill at Mount Polley in Secwepemcul’ecw.

If the Canadian government makes good on its threat of using executive force and militarized action to force the pipeline through, the spectre of a “Standing Rock of the North” looms large.

Secwepemc land defenders are building “tiny houses.” The Tiny House Warriors have built the first of ten which they plan to place along the pipeline route.

This tactic was learned from a similar maneuver at Standing Rock. The tiny houses are lawful structures according to the jurisdiction of the Secwepemc. Any outfit that takes over the Kinder Morgan pipeline route faces the spectre of having to physically remove the houses or request deployment of security forces to do so. Not only will this delay pipeline construction, it could open the company up to civil and criminal charges.

Secwepemc land defenders vow they will stop the pipeline “by any means necessary.”

Excerpted from and based on: An updated Summary Risk Assessment of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Prepared by the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade (INET) https://tinyurl.com/ya23uptw

Big Bank Bails

HSBC is Europe’s biggest bank and one of the ten largest banks in the world. On April 21, 2018 it announced that it will no longer fund oil or gas projects in the Arctic, Alberta tar sands projects, and most coal projects.

This decision signals to Justin Trudeau that the era of fossil fuels is coming to a close.

Daniel Klier, global head of sustainable finance at HSBC, said that the bank recognizes “the need to reduce emissions rapidly to achieve the target set in the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global temperatures rises to well below 2°C and our responsibility to support the communities in which we operate.”

Formerly, HSBC was one of the heaviest investors in fossil fuels. A report, entitled “Banking on Climate Change”, endorsed by dozens of environmental groups, ranked HSBC the seventh worst in the world for the financing of “extreme fossil fuels.” It also found that from 2016 to 2017, “Even as the impacts of climate change become increasingly apparent”, it made a $2.6 billion increase in such financing.

Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist at Greenpeace Canada, advised Trudeau, who is about to invest taxpayers’ dollars to make sure the Kinder Morgan pipeline gets built, to take warning in HSBC’s shift.

“Before deciding to write a cheque to Kinder Morgan, Justin Trudeau should ask himself if he wants to rush in where HSBC fears to tread,” said Stewart.

Myth vs Truth

Myth – If we could get the Alberta bitumen to Asia, it would fetch a much higher price than it currently does in the U.S.

Truth – Alberta bitumen is already getting the best possible price through existing pipelines to the US, which access the largest heavy oil refineries in the world. Few refineries in Asia currently can refine it. No tankers of Alberta bitumen went to Asia from Westridge terminal in 2017.

Myth – There is widespread support of First Nations along the route for the KM pipeline project.

Truth – Fewer than 1/3 of the First Nations along the pipeline and tanker route have signed Mutual Benefit Agreements (MBAs) or a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOUs) which basically state that a First Nation, Community, college or university will receive money from the pipeline corporation … but only if the pipeline gets built. This has been bragged about as an endorsement by the pipeline promoters. Support seems to be waning. The company boasts of having 43 agreements. A year ago it was reported there were 51. More significantly, the Tsleil-Waututh, in whose territory Kinder Morgan’s Westridge terminal is located, and the Secwepemc whose territories encompass more than half the pipeline’s length, are adamantly opposed.

Myth – Bitumen sinks in fresh water but not in salt water.

Truth – Bitumen sinks (and stinks) when toxic diluents evaporate in both fresh and salt waters. Sinking happens fast when bitumen comes in contact with sediments. Sediments are abundant in the Fraser River’s brown coloured outflow around Vancouver and into the Salilsh Sea.

Myth – A world-class spill response team can clean up most of the oil in an oil spill.

Truth – A recovery of 10 – 20% of the oil is considered a good clean up job by industry and government. 80% or more cannot be recovered. It disperses and pollutes the beaches, intertidal zones and ocean bottom for decades. Other difficulties make land based spills, except the smallest, impossible to completely clean up.

Myth – The Alberta oil patch drives the Canadian economy.

Truth – The Alberta oil patch generates only 2% of Canada’s GDP.

A Twisted “Carbon Tax”

If diluted bitumen starts flowing down the x-KM new pipeline, gas prices at the pumps in B.C. will go up. No lie.

They figured out a clever way to fund their new pipeline. Make British Columbians pay for it.

Here’s how it was supposed to work. Kinder Morgan got the National Energy Board (NEB) to approve an increase in toll rates of $5 a barrel on all refined products pumped down the old KM pipeline after the new pipeline is completed and in operation.

This little reported NEB decision will more than double the charge KM now levies to deliver a barrel of gasoline or diesel to B.C.

One economist has calculated that it would have delivered enough extra revenue to KM over the 35 year life of the pipeline to pay for the whole expansion project and would cost B.C. motorists 10 to 15 cents more per litre of gas.

Another little-known fact. The new pipeline will be exclusively dedicated to transporting unrefined bitumen for export. B.C. gets no benefits, except for 50 more long-term jobs (an estimate provided by Kinder Morgan to the NEB during the hearings) after it is built.

When a prominent pipeline supporter discovered this, nearly speechless, he muttered “Well, I’ve been duped!” and instantly became a pipeline opponent.

First published in Action In Time and e-version at actionintime.ca

Blackmail and bailouts in the Kinder Morgan pipeline saga

Trudeau and Morneau

by Thomas Davies | photo by Jake Wright

You couldn’t blame someone for checking, but it was a week late for April Fool’s Day when Kinder Morgan put out an incredible press release announcing it was suspending all “non-essential spending” on its Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project. Blaming big delays due to opposition, they said they would be meeting with investors and stakeholders to decide by May 31 regarding the future of the project.

The Liberals immediately held an emergency cabinet meeting. They emerged promising to meet behind closed doors with Kinder Morgan to try and figure out the government’s next moves to push the project through.

What Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced one month later surpassed even the most cynical observers’ wildest predictions. The Federal government is buying the existing 67 year old Trans Mountain pipeline from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion, as well as taking over the entire expansion project. Taxpayers are now on the hook for the whole thing, and cautious estimates put the real costs of completing the project to an additional $15-20 billion!

Always in the Pocket

PM Trudeau’s first scandal was just before he was elected in 2015. His national campaign co-chair Dan Gagner was forced to resign when it was discovered that during the campaign he was also being paid to advise people behind the Energy East pipeline on how to lobby a new Liberal government.

As Andrew Nikifork wrote in the Tyee, “Canada has already granted Kinder Morgan several subsidies. In 2011 the National Energy Board (NEB) granted Kinder Morgan a special fee of approximately $1.45 a barrel to help fund the company’s participation in the regulatory review of the Trans Mountain pipeline. By 2014 Kinder Morgan confirmed that it had collected $132 million in fees.” So, the government gave the oil corporation our tax dollars as subsidies, in order to not spend any of its own money going through the necessary review process?

Who’s Driving This Thing?

Recent revelations have shown how far on board with Kinder Morgan the Trudeau government was before the approval. The National Observer revealed that on October 17, 2016, weeks before the Trudeau government approved the pipeline, assistant deputy minister Erin O’Gorman of the Department of Natural Resources instructed her staff to, “give cabinet the legally-sound basis for saying yes to Kinder Morgan’s pipeline.’” This was while the government met with representatives of impacted indigenous nations and promised that no decision had yet been made on the pipeline.

Meet the Kinder

“We wanted to drive home one culture here: Cheap. Cheap. Cheap,” – Richard Kinder, CEO of Kinder Morgan

Kinder Morgan is the biggest pipeline company in the US. Richard Kinder and Bill Morgan are ex-Enron Executives. Enron is the infamous energy trader whose collapse after being found guilty of account fraud and corruption cost shareholders $74 billion and killed 20,000 jobs. Kinder himself has a net worth of $8.2 billion.

That’s who PM Trudeau went to bat for, with billions of our taxpayer dollars.

There’s a dual game of dismissal of the opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline going on. The government and industry refuses to acknowledge the mass opposition movement which is currently focused on the company’s tank farm and marine terminal at the foot of Burnaby Mountain. Mass rallies of thousands, over 200 arrests for defying a court-imposed 5-meter “buffer zone” around Kinder Morgan’s property, and ongoing actions by an Indigenous-led movement is growing.

The opposition to Kinder Morgan or who ever adopts climate damaging Tar Sands bitumen pipeline expansion is much broader than before. Here is a partial list:

  • The Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish nations, whose territories the pipeline would terminate on, are leading organizing on Burnaby Mountain.
  • The 200 people arrested are from a diverse cross-section of people. There have even been specific actions organized by youth, elders, religious leaders and artists.
  • Two Members of Parliament, Elizabeth May and Kennedy Stewart, were both arrested for defying the injunction.
  • The Burnaby Deputy Fire Chief has released a damning report on the safety concerns of the Kinder Morgan tank farm expansion, “We don’t believe they have any firefighting capabilities. When I asked specifically for the details on the storage tanks and written protocols for how they plan the fire protection for the storage tanks, I was told by Kinder Morgan that they have none.”
  • The BC Teachers Federation passed a resolution to, “encourage all locals to stand in solidarity with Indigenous water and land protectors in opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion by lobbying their local politicians and by participating in any protests or actions.”

This is just a small cross-section of who has been involved. It is now impossible to ignore their resolve and commitment. 2000 people showed up at a spontaneous protest in Vancouver less than 12 hours after hearing Morneau’s announcement to buy KM’s 65 year old pipeline, and actions are happening daily to stop the project.

Who Are the Extremists?

Is it so extreme to demand that a government follow through on its promises to prioritize the environment and respect the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People? To demand that government represents the interests of Canadian people above billion-dollar foreign oil corporations? To point out the failures of the “market” where the corporations need billions of our tax dollars to stay afloat? How extreme is it to point out that human beings have developed technologically and socially to a point where we don’t need to destroy the environment, don’t need to accept poverty and don’t need to bow down to predatory capital development?

The real extremists are Kinder Morgan, Prime Minister Trudeau, Bill Morneau, Canadian Infrastructure Bank (CIB), Export Development Bank, and those in positions of power who are trying to force environmental, social and political degradation. The opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline and PM Trudeau’s Bailout is strong. The battle is on. The pipeline expansion will not be built, and we will unite to protect our cities, coast and climate. Soil, not oil, is the future of humanity. When the people lead, the politicians will follow.

This article was distilled from the original titled Kinder Morgan: Billionaires, Blackmail & Bailouts Versus the “Ninjas of Eco-Terrorism” that appeared in the Fire This Time Newspaper  Twitter: @thomasdavies59

Democracy versus party discipline

The 2014 Reform Act was an important first step toward restoring representative government

by Kennedy Stewart

The Crushing Power of Canadian Political Parties

Canadian political parties have more control over our politics than parties in any other democratic country. Many observers of Canadian politics agree, including Dr. Leslie Seidle of the Institute for Research on Public Policy, who states, “In the advanced parliamentary democracies, there is nowhere that has heavier, tighter party discipline than the Canadian House of Commons. Indeed, individual Canadian members of Parliament are almost completely constrained from taking action outside what is determined by the leadership team of their political party.

It is worth unpacking the idea of control to show what MPs are up against. There are two important aspects of control to consider: who controls the House of Commons’ agenda and who controls how MPs vote. Agenda control is most important, as it allows parties to determine which issues are and are not discussed in the House. Government and opposition parties wrestle to dominate what is discussed on any given day in the House of Commons, but at the same time MPs struggle within their own parties to determine what issues the party leadership will champion or bury in deep, dark holes. Parties also desperately try to control how MPs vote—to ensure all MPs vote with the party leader on all issues.

Party leadership teams use “party discipline” to exert control when setting agendas or votes. Disagree with the leadership team before an election and you will not be recruited or selected as a candidate. Take a contrary position during an election and you risk being dropped as a candidate. Speak out or vote against your party in the House of Commons and you’ll be demoted in, or expelled from, the cabinet or shadow cabinet. Or maybe the party leadership team will ban you from asking questions in the House for six months or remove you from your favourite committee. Go too far and you’ll get kicked out of the party caucus. MPs who find themselves even slightly offside with the party leadership team have very little opportunity to contribute to shaping the country, as almost all aspects of what happens in the Chamber are controlled by a small group surrounding the party leader, including the leader’s principal secretary, the House leader, the whip, the national caucus chair and the leader’s office’s senior staff.

This was not always the case. Our politics were much different in the past. In fact, I doubt whether people today would recognize the House of Commons in the years following Confederation. For the first half-century of our parliamentary history, MPs would often vote with the party leader who promised them the most for their riding, regardless of which party they ran with during elections. Party lines were loose. According to Frank Underhill, “both front-benchers and backbenchers passed with remarkable ease from one political camp to another. In terms of setting the agenda, House business was more or less evenly split between private members and government, giving ordinary MPs more control of which issues were debated and voted upon on the floor of the House of Commons. In addition, while party leaders did what they could to convince—some would say bribe—MPs to vote with their party, this was far from guaranteed. As a result, government bills would often fail to pass, and party leaders would have to listen to the opinions of a wide array of MPs when changing laws or spending public money.

The power of individual MPs started to diminish during the early twentieth century as party leadership teams began to impose their wills in Parliament. Godbout and Høyland’s exhaustive study of early voting in the House of Commons shows successive Liberal and Conservative governments decreased the amount of House time dedicated to private members’ business and increased the time spent on government business. The less time spent on private members’ business, the fewer opportunities for ordinary MPs to forward the concerns of their constituents.

Ordinary MPs started to resent their ebbing power to set the agenda, but their options to fight back were limited. As there were only two parties in the House of Commons—Liberals and Conservatives—even crossing the floor would not provide MPs with more time to talk about issues in their ridings, as the leadership teams of both parties worked to control the parliamentary agenda. As a result, frustrated MPs began to leave the two old parties to start new political parties such as the Progressive Party of Canada, formed in 1920, and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), formed in 1932. Ironically, as the number of parties represented in the House of Commons increased, so too did party discipline within all parties. As a result, while political candidates now have a larger array of political parties to join, they must now be ultra-loyal to whichever party team they end up standing with in order to keep their job.

The activities taking place during a typical day in the House of Commons illuminate this shift in priorities and opportunities. On most days, work officially starts with ministers tabling government bills or making statements. This is followed by a period in which ordinary MPs present private member’s bills or motions and petitions (including, now, e-petitions). After government bill debate, the agenda shifts to MP statements and Question Period before moving back to discussing government bills. The day finishes with private members’ business debates and starts all over again the next day, more or less following the same routine.

Activities Where Party Leadership Teams Exert Full Agenda Control

On a typical day, MPs spend eight-and-a-half hours (510 minutes) debating the nation’s business. Of this, over six hours (72%) of the agenda is directly controlled by the government leadership team, which oversees all aspects of government business including speech content. This holds for the opposition side of the House as well, where leadership teams decide who speaks and, for the most part, what is said in response to government initiatives.

Although the event attracts the most attention from the media and public hoping to see brilliance or MPs falling flat on their face, party leadership teams absolutely dominate what is said in the House of Commons during Question Period. The agenda of the forty-five minutes allotted to Question Period—9 percent of a typical day in the House—is mainly controlled by opposition party leadership teams that decide what questions will be asked, but also by the government leadership team, which decides what answers are given. Question Period really only reveals which ordinary MPs are better or worse at parroting the party line.

What Needs to Change?

One way to lessen party control would be to allocate more time for private members’ business, which has shrunk to a mere 4 percent of time spent in the House of Commons. This time should be increased so at the very least every backbench MP has the opportunity to have an idea voted upon—or even better, every backbench MP has the opportunity to trigger votes on two bills or motions. Although this change would cut into the time for debating government bills, the result would better empower ordinary MPs.

While increasing the time spent on private members’ business would give backbench MPs more airtime, it would do little to fix the smothering party discipline. Unleashing backbenchers requires weakening the grip of party leadership teams. Michael Chong’s Reform Act was an important first step in further empowering ordinary MPs. For one, its clauses can give MPs, not the party leader, final say over who sits in the party caucus and stops party leaders from unilaterally kicking MPs out of the party. Second, it gives MPs the power to trigger a leadership review vote to remove an overly controlling party leader. Finally, it removes the ability of party leaders to block candidates from running for their party. While Chong beat the odds and succeeded in getting his private member’s bill passed into law, the parties have not fully embraced these changes, and things remain much as they were. If this does not change in future Parliaments, revisiting the Reform Act would seem a very good idea.

The power of ordinary MPs has greatly diminished over the years as party leadership teams have reduced the time allocated to private members’ business in order to exert more central party control over the parliamentary agenda. It has become difficult for backbenchers to control even a small fraction of the agenda and contribute to making Canada a more democratic and better place to live.

Excerpted from book Turning Parliament Inside Out, Practical Ideas for Reforming Canada’s Democracy edited by Michael Chong, Scott Simms, and Kennedy Stewart with forewords by Ed Broadbent, Preston Manning and Bob Rae, published by Douglas& McIntyre 2017, www.douglas-mcintyre.com Above text is from Chapter 3, Empowering the Backbench written by Kennedy Stewart, MP. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Canada Infrastructure Bank a Trojan horse

by Joyce Nelson

World’s Biggest Investor

According to The Economist (Dec. 7, 2013), this company (that nobody has heard of) turns out to be the world’s biggest investor, with more than $4 trillion in assets under management, and another $15 trillion that it manages (under something called the Aladdin risk-management platform) for investors worldwide.

So influential is BlackRock that, according to The Economist, the company advised governments in the U.S., Greece and Britain on what to do with toxic assets from crashing banks, with co-founder, chair and CEO Larry Fink becoming a Washington insider.

These governments sought Fink’s advice, despite the fact that (as Fortune reported in 2008) BlackRock’s Larry Fink “was an early and vigorous promoter [of] the same mortgage-backed securities” responsible for the crisis. “Now his firm is making millions cleaning up these toxic assets,” Fortune noted.

Besides being Bank of America’s biggest shareholder, BlackRock owns part of Merrill Lynch and in 2009 BlackRock snapped up Barclays’ asset-management business, thereby boosting the assets under its control well into the trillions.

The current Board of Directors for BlackRock has some interesting people and corporate connections, including one Canadian – Gordon Nixon, the former President and CEO of the Royal Bank of Canada who retired in 2014 and was appointed to the BlackRock Board in July 2015.

In its extensive 2013 coverage of BlackRock, The Economist focused on the company’s risk-management platform called Aladdin – a massive data centre that “single-handedly manages almost as much money as all the world’s private equity and hedge funds,” while advising more than 100 major investors worldwide on where and how to invest. Calling Aladdin’s “prognostications” somewhat “discomfiting,” The Economist noted: “Buyers, sellers and regulators may all be relying on the same assumptions, simply because they are all consulting Aladdin. In a panic, this could increase the risk of all of them wanting to jump the same way, making things worse.”

With BlackRock advising on $15 trillion worth of investments globally, it wasn’t just The Economist that was worried. As the Wall Street Journal reported, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Research issued a 2013 report which “concluded that asset-management firms [like BlackRock] and the funds they run were ‘vulnerable to shocks’ and may engage in ‘herding’ behaviour that could amplify a shock to the financial system.”

But BlackRock lobbied hard against such a view, and in April 2016 avoided greater oversight from regulators in the U.S.

Struggling Local Governments

Provinces and municipalities across Canada are struggling financially, as neoliberal federal governments since the mid-1990s have cut transfer payments and further downloaded costs onto local governments (which have the least ability to raise revenues, basically through property taxes and user fees).

As Council of Canadians’ Maude Barlow and Paul Moist (national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees) wrote in 2012, “The federal strategy appears to be to starve municipalities of infrastructure cash until they are forced to privatize through a Public-Private Partnership (P3),” despite evidence “from auditors’ general reports across Canada that P3s are often more costly and less efficient than fully public models.”

In 2014, BC’s Auditor General revealed that the provincial government is paying nearly twice as much to borrow through P3 private financing than if it borrowed the money itself. As CUPE noted, “Over the average 35 year lifespan of P3 contracts, this means the [BC] government is paying more than $2 billion more just in private financing.”

In December 2014, Ontario’s Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk blasted the Liberals’ use of private money to finance new hospitals and transit, revealing that Infrastructure Ontario’s use of P3s had cost $8 billion more taxpayer dollars than traditional public financing would have.

The use of P3s in the United Kingdom led to what has been called “a full-blown fiscal crisis,” with governments indebted to banks and corporations for 222 billion pounds sterling in order to pay for P3 projects valued at 56.5 billion pounds – an astonishing rip-off of taxpayers. UK’s “Private Finance Initiative,” in place since the 1990s, was the forerunner to the Canadian P3 program, but no one bothered to explain to Canadians just what happened to the UK through its use of P3 private financing.

More recently, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk revealed Ontario’s mismanagement of the electricity system through vastly overpaying IPPs (independent power producers). The Auditor General determined that because of the terms for this partial privatization of electricity production, between 2008 and 2014 Ontarians overpaid for electricity by as much as $37 billion. The biggest IPP in Ontario is TransCanada Corp.; others include Bruce Power, TransAlta, NextEra, Brookfield, and Enbridge. The long-term contracts with these IPPs mean that Ontarians will be overpaying by billions of dollars for electricity for many years.

Similarly in BC, taxpayers have a $50 billion secondary debt burden under IPP contracts, according to retired economist Erik Andersen, and they are paying “exorbitant premiums” because of this partial privatization of BC Hydro.

So with P3s and partial privatizations now considered somewhat “toxic” by much of the taxpaying public, it appears that a new euphemism of “asset recycling” has been created, along with a new strategy of selling off assets in order to build new ones. Conveniently, all this is happening at the same time that rates for borrowing from private lenders are low.

The growing hype about “asset recycling” might well appeal to politicians, unless the public catches on and understands what’s happening. Pension managers team up with private investors to take stakes in big assets, such as Australia’s Port of Melbourne – the country’s largest container terminal and the so-called “jewel in the crown” – which the government is hoping will sell/lease for $6 billion in order to finance other infrastructure.

In late September 2016, the deal for the Port of Melbourne was signed for $7.3 billion, with the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS) taking one fifth ownership, along with China Investment Corp and several others.

Needlessly starved for capital, governments are doing everything but take back their own monetary powers.

Hidden History

For decades (1938 to 1974), the publicly-owned Bank of Canada funded a wide range of public infrastructure projects by providing near-zero interest loans to federal and provincial governments, without causing inflationary problems or debt to private and foreign lenders. That hidden history is now emerging, thanks to the efforts of many.

By contrast, the Canada Infrastructure Bank looks like a Trojan Horse that could usher in more indebtedness and more corporate control – as neofeudal landlords – over major infrastructure such as water and wastewater systems, electricity systems, airports, ports, etc.

The founding members of COMER have long questioned neoliberalism’s economic model based on exponential growth, with escalating private profits considered supreme. As COMER Vice-chair Herb Wiseman told me by email, “P3s are not really about government financing because of scarce money, but another con job by the corporations to expand their operations in order to enhance shareholder value. It is made to look like governments are asking for this form of help when in fact it serves the corporate interests for never-ending growth on a finite planet.”

Globe and Mail columnist Konrad Yakabuski has urged “sober second thought” about infrastructure spending, citing examples in Spain, Greece and Japan (seduced by low borrowing rates from private lenders) where massive spending has created “money pit” infrastructure that nobody uses. Yakabuski noted, “If government spending on superlatively smooth highways, sleek subways and far-stretching fast trains was the ticket to success, Japan, Spain, and Greece would lead the global economy. Instead, infrastructure spending has been a major source of their debt-induced woes.” Yakabuski refers to “our infrastructure envy,” suggesting that Canada is being herded down a path that other governments have already followed into further massive debt to private lenders.

Renowned economist Michael Hudson (author of Killing the Host) bluntly warns that this path is “the road to debt serfdom,” with a rising financial oligarchy “impoverishing the 99%.”

The Trudeau government’s appointment of a banker from Bank of America Merrill Lynch who advised on the creation of the new Canadian Infrastructure Bank (CIB) was the most politicized appointment possible, aside from appointing BlackRock’s Larry Fink himself.

Meanwhile, on May 18, 2016 the Financial Post reported that Mark Wiseman, the chief executive of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, is leaving that post in June to take “a senior leadership role” at BlackRock in September 2016.

Excerpted from Beyond Banksters: Resisting the New Feudalism by Joyce Nelson. Also just published, the sequel, Bypassing Dystopia: Hope-filled Challenges to Corporate Rule. Watershed Sentinel Books. www.watershedsentinel.ca/books250-339-6117. Box 1270, Comox BC V9M 7Z8

Tell me lies, lies, crude little lies

are you sure about this pipeline

by Eoin Finn

In the wake of the Federal Government’s phenomenal decision this week to purchase a 65-year-old leaky oil pipeline and the unbuilt TMX project, it is worth examining the truthfulness of the arguments made to justify it. The arguments, parroted endlessly by Liberal spin-doctors and mainstream media, include:

Lie: Expanding oil and gas pipelines is consistent with meeting climate targets: Of all the assertions, this is by far the most questionable. Many people find it deeply insulting to their intelligence. This Government, elected on a promise to curb carbon emissions, has approved 3 oil pipelines, a dozen LNG plants and a plethora of coal shipments, all of which runs counter to any discernible plan, other than an anemic carbon tax proposal, to curb emissions. Failure to take any action against the fossil-fuel industry – the source of at least half of our emissions – is more reminiscent of the Harper era than the “real change” and reduced oil subsidies we were promised.

Lie: Getting Kinder Morgan’s TMX built is “in the national interest”: Serving Canadians better is certainly “in the national interest”. To argue that bailing out a dodgy Texan oilco with $4.5 Billion of Canadian taxpayer dollars outranks getting affordable housing built, educating our workers for industries of the future, improving access to health care and getting clean water to First Nations reserves shows a profound misconception of the concept of “national interest”.

Lie: We are missing out on getting a higher price in Asia for our oil: This is not, nor has it ever been, a provable assertion. Instead, the evidence shows that heavy oils like Alberta’s tarry goop sell for a discount from U.S. prices in Asia. Small wonder then that none of the oil from the existing pipeline goes to Asia – the tankers all turn South to the U.S. That’s odd – surely some would go to Asia if there were a better price to be had there.he's all in

Lie: The project will generate 15,000 good, middle-class jobs: Wish that it were so! Unfortunately, Kinder Morgan’s own figures show only 52 long-term jobs in BC associated with the TMX project- running the expanded Burnaby tank farm, the terminal and maintaining the pipeline. There are more employees in an average tourist hotel. All others – digging and laying the pipeline, feeding and housing the workers – would be temporary workers during the 2-year construction period. And there are dozens of hungry pipe-laying crews in Texas and Oklahoma all geared to fill those construction jobs.

Lie: We have no more important relationship than that with First Nations: Mouthing frothy apologies for 151 years of cruel mistreatment and promising to ratify UNDRIP (the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples), doesn’t cut the mustard with First Nations. They know that old colonial attitudes remain deeply embedded in the loathsome Indian Act. Offering them a way out of grinding poverty if only they will agree to a dangerous pipeline serving a sunset industry – shameful!

Lie: The Ocean Protection Plan will protect against oil spills on the coast; The Feds say that “their” science says diluted bitumen floats (so no need to worry). It didn’t in the 2010 Michigan spill. Eight years later, bitumen is still being scraped off the bottom of the Kalamazoo River. And, even if it did float, at best 10-20% of the spill will be recovered. The rest of it will end up on the riverbed or ocean floor or wash up as tar-balls on our beaches. The bottom line is that all of the $1.5 Billion of vaguely defined Oceans Protection Plan won’t make dilbit float.

Lie: There are investors lined up to take this off the Government’s hands: Alas- no. Neither Enbridge (trying to reduce debt on its books) nor TransCanada (busy with Keystone XL) showed the slightest interest in taking on this deadbeat project. Some pension funds showed vague interest as investors, but their pipeline know-how ranks below even that of the Federal Government. It is likely that taxpayers will be stuck with this for a long time. That is odd – didn’t the West react unpleasantly the last time a Trudeau wanted to nationalize Alberta’s oil industry?

Lie: Kinder Morgan has spill insurance: Well – not really! As economist and former ICBC CEO Robyn Allan explained, Kinder Morgan (U.S.) baulked at the NEB’s insistence that it set aside a hefty insurance fund for spills. The Federal Government – yes, the same Feds/politicians that paid billions of public money to settle the Nathan E Stewart, Marathassa, Mount Polley and Lac Megantic disasters – have now stepped in to put taxpayers on the hook for spills from TMX’s pipelines and tankers.

Abraham Lincoln famously said “You can fool all the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but never all the people all of the time”.

Face it – TMX is an economic basket-case.

Eoin Finn B.Sc., Ph.D., MBA, is a resident of Vancouver and a retired Partner of Accounting/Consulting firm KPMG. After 35 years in the business world, he describes himself as an “accidental activist”.

Big Three’s “low cost” data plans are a bad joke

photo of Marie Aspiazu

INDEPENDENT MEDIA
by Marie Aspiazu

Back in March, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) closed the doors on Wi-Fi based Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), such as Sugar Mobile. It was a blow for consumers who have been long been burdened with prohibitive wireless bills.

Wi-Fi based MVNOs could have provided relief to mobile consumers by creating real competition for the Big Three: Bell, Telus and Rogers. But instead of taking the obvious action, the CRTC proposed yet another lengthy consultation period and requested that the incumbents roll out (poorly defined) low-cost data plans as a means of addressing wireless affordability.

The Big Three’s proposed sweet deal: half a gigabyte of data for $30 per month, which is higher than existing offerings per gigabyte and doesn’t even include talk or text. Insulting, right?

If you don’t know this already, people in Canada pay some of the highest cell phone bills in the world. When compared to other countries’ data allowances, Canada sits in an embarrassing position. See RewheelResearch

But why doesn’t Canada have unlimited data plans? Big telecom claims they already have plans with “generous” data amounts and that they need this usage-based approach in order to cover the costs of expanding their networks and keep up with a rising data usage.

Nevertheless, back in December, the Big Three surprised us with a genuine improvement – a deal of 10GB for $60. The catch: it was only available for a weekend. But it came to show that the Big Three are able to offer mobile consumers a much better offer. So why not make it permanent?

The CRTC’s recent decision is a setback for the Canadian wireless market, which is already suffering from the lack of competition and we simply can’t afford to wait through yet another review “within the 2020 timeframe.” And, of course, there is no guarantee.

People in Canada are increasingly struggling to pay their high cell phone bills, if they can even afford a cell phone at all. Faced with a rising appetite for data, we can’t afford to continue to fall behind and let the digital divide widen in an era where connectivity is essential to everyday activities.

This is why OpenMedia is now turning its attention to Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Navdeep Bains, who has the authority to bring more choice to our cell phone market and lower costs, by overruling the CRTC and mandating access for MVNOs. This avenue is almost guaranteed to drive our mobile prices down by bringing in new players to the market and forcing the Big Three out of complacency, as opposed to the CRTC’s current piecemeal approach.

Simply put, the Big Three’s proposed low data plans are a slap in the face. If the CRTC thinks this is the solution to wireless affordability that Canada is hungry for, it has clearly not been listening to the people that it is supposed to serve.

Canadians are demanding affordable data at affordabledatanow

Marie Aspiazu is a campaigner and social media specialist at OpenMedia, a community-based organization that works to keep the Internet open, affordable and surveillance-free. openmedia.org

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.”