Thursday, October 23, 2014

Desperate for Deals, Canadian, BC Political Leaders Quiet on Hong Kong Democracy Protests - Offer No Support

Democracy protest fills Hong Kong streets. Photo by Pasu Au Yeung, Creative Commons licensed.
Stephen Harper and Christy Clark choose trade over democracy to pump up resource exports to China

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday October 21, 2014

By Bill Tieleman

The fact that you are allowed to stay alive already shows the country's inclusiveness."
- Zhang Xiaoming, the head of China's Liaison Office in Hong Kong, to local legislators
How violently China responds to Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests will not only determine the fate of millions there; it will also have a major impact in Metro Vancouver and Canada.
Despite the massive trade Canada does with China, extensive travel between the two countries and the friendliness of federal, provincial and municipal governments towards China, it remains run by a repressive, military, allegedly "communist" dictatorship.
A Chinese crackdown in the former British colony would have serious political and economic consequences in British Columbia, as the province hopes to sell liquefied natural gas and increase exports of other natural resources to the Asian giant.
There are over 300,000 Canadian citizens living in Hong Kong, and those with relatives and friends there are concerned about their safety.
Rightly so, given Zhang Xiaoming's brutal response to local lawmakers after they asked if Beijing would allow a democrat to run for the position of Hong Kong Chief Executive, the region's highest office.
"No" was the answer. Choose from Beijing's approved candidates only, or else.
It could mark the end of a "one country, two systems" approach that has allowed limited democracy and freedom in Hong Kong while it remains part of China.
But despite the rising tensions, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has yet to say anything about Hong Kong, while B.C. Premier Christy Clark merely mouths vague hopes that violence will be avoided.
'Ottawa capitulated to China'
If actions speak louder than words, Harper's upcoming visit to Beijing in November for Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings -- after ratifying a controversial trade deal with China -- says it all.
Harper quietly approved the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) in September, a deal so bad that veteran right-wing commentator Diane Francis wrote: "Ottawa capitulated to China on everything."
She went on: "The Tories, backed by a naïve Canadian Chamber of Commerce and a handful of big, conflicted business interests, have demonstrated the worst negotiating skills since Neville Chamberlain."
Meanwhile, the only public expression of Canadian government support for democracy is this lonely tweet by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird: "Aspirations of people of #HongKong are clear. Canada supports continued freedom of speech and prosperity under the rule of law."
The ministry followed up in a statement: "Canada reiterates its support for the implementation of universal suffrage for the election of the Chief Executive in 2017 and all members of the Legislative Council in 2020, in accordance with the basic law and the democratic aspirations of the Hong Kong people."
Don't expect Clark's support
Also desperate for deals with China, Premier Clark certainly isn't offering pro-democracy forces any solid support. She visited the country last December.
"It's really positive that the protests have been peaceful and no one's life is in jeopardy. It is, though, a very tense time, I know that," she optimistically said on Oct. 2, while adding that she continues to support "one country, two systems."
But with B.C. exporting $7 billion to China last year, one-third of Canada's total, Clark chooses trade over democracy.
Just like the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, which in June publicly opposed Hong Kong's democracy protests, along with other international business groups.
But former Canadian ambassador to China David Mulroney, appointed by Harper in 2009, says we have an obligation to speak out in support of democracy, and should coordinate with other countries to do so.
"China would like to see a world where we're all tongue tied and afraid of raising these issues," Mulroney said.
The last British governor of the city, Chris Patten, compared the election Beijing wants held, with its own hand-picked candidates as the only choice, to "more or less what happens in Iran."
Silencing critics
Mulroney points out that China is very sensitive to criticism, as I personally discovered the hard way.
I received extremely graphic and obscene death threats in 2008 after I wrote a column suggesting a boycott of China, not just the Olympic Games, over its treatment of Tibetan protesters.
The emailed threats included specific information, with the individual saying they had a gun and was inside an office where I worked, and claiming they would also kill my family.
After reporting the threats to Vancouver police after the emailer promised even more violent attacks, two officers arrived at my home within an hour.
Police soon found that the emails came from inside China, and said the Chinese government does not cooperate with foreign internet investigations. Case closed.
Fortunately, no further threats were received, and there was no evidence they came from anyone but a sick individual. But China's unwillingness to investigate shows that trying to silence critics of the regime in foreign countries goes unpunished. 
Canada's pathetic response to supporting Hong Kong democracy contrasts with China's ferocious opposition, and encourages using overwhelming force against brave protestors who are simply demanding what we take for granted: a vote.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What connects Ebola, ISIS and drought to BC's shrinking food production?

Drought threatens California crops - and BC's food supply
In Dangerous Times, Why Lower Our Best Defence?  

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday October 14, 2014

By Bill Tieleman

"There are too many inequalities around the world -- there are millions of people dying of hunger and a few thousand dying of indigestion."
- Mahamadou Issoufou president of Niger, 2013
What connects the horrific disease Ebola in Africa, the terrorist group Islamic State in Syria, the possible mega-drought in California and British Columbia's shrinking food production?
The answer is simple: in an increasingly interconnected and threatening world, food security may be the most valuable defence of all.
Yet instead of increasing protection of our farmland and promoting food production, the BC Liberal government is actively eroding it.
Last week, a new report on B.C.'s food security warned that due to a prolonged drought in California, prices here for a variety of fruit and vegetables could jump by 34 per cent this year alone.
As I walked Sunday through the Kitsilano Farmers' Market packed with fresh fruit and vegetables, it seemed impossible that our foodie fixated province is producing less and less food.
But the "Wake Up Call" report commissioned by Vancity credit union points out that between 1991 and 2011, B.C. food crop production dropped by 20.4 per cent.
And in 2010, 67 per cent of all imported B.C. vegetables and 44 per cent of imported fruit came from the Unites States, with over half from California.
Deepening our dependence
We are overly dependent on California, where experts fear that three years of extremely low rainfall may be the start of a "megadrought" -- a dry period that lasts decades and has afflicted California in the past.
What are the odds of that? Cornell University researchers did the calculations and estimate the likelihood of a 10-year-long drought is at 50 to 80 per cent.
And the chances of a "megadrought," which they classify as a 35-year dry period, runs from 10 per cent to 50 per cent by the end of this century.
So as ISIS terrorism in the Middle East and fear that a deadly Ebola in West Africa can arrive in North America dominate our news, it's easy to see the value of reducing dependence on food imports in an uncertain world.
Some leaders like Niger President Issoufou get that world hunger stemming from inequality is a huge threat to peace.
So does U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack.
"Working to eliminate food insecurity across the globe will provide incredible economic benefits to developing and developed countries alike. It will increase political stability in conflict and poverty stricken regions, and put these countries on a path to future prosperity," Vilsack told the Global Food Symposium in Tokyo on April 7, 2010.
Gobbling up farmland
It's why Brent Mansfield, co-chair of BC Food Systems Network and author of the Vancity report argues: "More energy needs to be given to initiatives, both public and private, that work to increase local production, support new farmers accessing land, and transition under-utilized parcels of zoned agriculture lands into active production."
Unfortunately, British Columbia is moving in exactly the wrong direction.
The BC Liberal government pushed through changes in the legislature earlier this year to make it easier to remove protected Agricultural Land Reserve farmland for development in the Interior, North and Kootenays.
That came despite statistics from B.C's Agricultural Land Commission that overall farmland protected dropped 95,000 hectares between 1974 and 2012.
When Core Review Minister Bill Bennett introduced changes in March to the Agricultural Land Reserve, he claimed that: "These improvements achieve our goals of supporting the ALC in its role as independent decision maker, protecting our high quality farmland and still supporting farmers to get ahead."

But with imported food prices dramatically increasing while B.C. crop production plummets, Bennett may yet have to eat his words.

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Christy Clark's No Pro at Playing High Stakes Poker with LNG Giants

Premier Christy Clark and LNG billions at stake - what's to worry?  BC government photo 
Liquified Natural Gas multinationals gamble that marks from BC are ready to lose their money at the table - at taxpayer expense.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday October 7, 2014

By Bill Tieleman

In poker, good players win and poor players lose."
- Lou Krieger, poker player and author
Imagine being a lousy poker player facing some of the world’s sharpest aces and you see the odds that the B.C. Liberals will lose big money to get giant liquefied natural gas companies to invest here.
The only consolation for the government is that taxpayers will pay for the LNG players’ winnings.
This week the B.C. Legislature resumes sitting to table legislation setting the taxes on LNG exports and the environmental standards that will have to be met by the companies considering building extremely expensive plants to process exports to Asia.
And the B.C. Liberals are already losing at your expense, as expert LNG card players see a mark at the table with more money than skill.
Premier Christy Clark is desperate for a deal, having bet everything in last year's provincial election on her ability to create an LNG nirvana in B.C., with a $100 billion windfall and 100,000 new jobs promised to voters.  
Card sharks like the CEO of Malaysia's Petronas -- Shamsul Abbas -- played the province like a sucker last month, threatening publicly he was "ready to call off" its planned $11 billion Prince Rupert LNG plant because of the "lack of appropriate incentives."
"The project remains uncertain and I doubt we will be able to make a positive (final investment decision) by year-end," said the master player.
And Monday he was back at it, warning that unless B.C. lowered taxes, Petronas would delay the "marginal" LNG plant by 10 to 15 years!
"In our last portfolio review exercise, the current project economics appeared marginal," Shamsul said. "Missing this date will have the impact of having to defer our investments until the next LNG marketing window, anticipated in 10-15 years."
Stuck at the table
Can you feel the money leaving your wallet now?
That's because the B.C. Liberals quickly backtracked from earlier statements that there would be a seven per cent tax on LNG net income after capital costs are recovered to now saying it would only be "up to" seven per cent.
Finance Minister Mike de Jong says there "won't be any surprises" in the tax -- and that's likely true, since the only surprise would be if it remained at seven per cent.
Clark says she is "very confident that we are going to conclude that negotiation successfully."
So am I -- very confident that we are going to give up billions of dollars because Clark simply cannot afford to walk away from the table, especially after Apache announced it was giving up on B.C. and ending its equal partnership with Chevron for a $15 billion Kitimat LNG plant, leaving the project in doubt.
And LNG Minister Rich Coleman says B.C. hit "a sweet spot" with its taxation plans.
"We got back from the industry that the numbers we hit made sense," Coleman said last week.
Oh, I bet they made sense, since every tax point is worth billions to either B.C. or the LNG companies.
Who's laughing?
After Petronas first upped its ante by threatening to leave B.C., Coleman tried to keep a poker face.
"We'll probably laugh about this when it's all over," he said in response. 
Actually, the last laugh will go to Petronas and the other LNG companies when they get exactly what they want from the B.C. Liberals -- and then chuckle all the way to the bank.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Lock Up High-Risk Violent Sex Criminals Forever

Accused of murder - Raymond Lee Caissie - police photo
Surrey teen Serena Vermeersch's death should be a wake-up call for the justice system

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column
Tuesday September 30, 2014
By Bill Tieleman
"He who does not prevent a crime when he can, encourages it."
- Seneca, Roman philosopher, 1st century BC
The only possible positive development from the horrendous murder of Surrey teenager Serena Vermeersch is that public demand to keep violent sex criminals locked up forever may be irresistible.
And so it should, because most if not all of those involved in horrific crimes cannot be rehabilitated -- so our only choice is to protect society by permanently jailing them.
The accused, Raymond Lee Caissie, has not faced trial and must not be presumed guilty in advance. Vermeersch's body was found Sept. 16 and Caissie was arrested a week later.
But I believe Caissie should never have been freed after being sentenced for terrible sex crimes that put him behind bars for 22 years. He was released last year.
Nor should many of the other 31 criminals designated under the Criminal Code as "high risk offenders" who currently live in British Columbia communities be at large. According to provincial Justice Ministry statistics, 115 high risk offenders lived in B.C. between 2011 and 2013.
Caissie received his sentence in 1991 for imprisonment for sexual assault, forcible confinement and robbery. The details are too horrible to repeat.
Caissie said he was "comfortable in jail" and served his entire sentence, a rarity.
After his first hearing, the Parole Board of Canada said he was likely to kill or seriously harm someone.
When freed, a public warning went out saying Caissie was a high risk to reoffend, yet he was not electronically monitored or given a curfew.
Great plan. Rather than put out a warning that few likely heard or could act on, why wasn't Caissie kept in jail indefinitely?
Worse, Caissie breached his release conditions seven months after getting out and went back to jail, but only for three months.
Civil libertarians may object, arguing that if a criminal has completed their sentence they should be released.
But the greater good requires that those who have committed serious crimes and are likely to reoffend must remain in custody. Their crimes are not minor mistakes that won't be repeated.
High-risk for a reason
What more evidence is needed for the federal Conservative government to act, and for the New Democrat and Liberal opposition to guarantee speedy passage of new laws keeping high risk offenders out of our communities?
Even watching offenders 24 hours a day, seven days a week is no guarantee they won't evade detection and commit another crime.
After all, they are designated high risk to reoffend for a reason -- they are judged to possibly commit a sexual offence against a child, a sexual assault with a weapon or other similar crimes that carry sentences of 10 years or more imprisonment.
In other words, they are an extreme danger to any community.
The Ministry of Justice can get a court order designating an individual as high risk based on two Criminal Code Sections:
"A Section 810.1 is pursued in cases where a person fears another person will commit a sexual offence against a child under the age of 16.
"A Section 810.2 is pursued when a person fears another person may commit an indictable offence (other than treason or murder) for which the offender may be sent to imprisonment for 10 or more years, including sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon and aggravated sexual assault."
No more lame excuses
Justice Minister Suzanne Anton doesn't seem to understand public anger over this murder.
"The question really is, 'Are the appropriate tools in place?' And that is the question I'm raising. I'm raising it with the federal minister. We owe it to the Vermeersch family that our daughters are safe when they are waiting at bus stops," Anton told reporters last week.
"Should there be electronic monitoring? I do think that that is something that probably should be considered," Anton added.
Considered? Make it mandatory for violent sex criminals!
Conservative Justice Minister Peter MacKay said the federal government will "look" at changes.
"We are looking at ways in which we can toughen the parole provisions, but also we're looking at ways in which the very worst, those who are most violent, those who have committed offences, murder, in concert with other violent offences against the public and the individual, that they're never released," MacKay said last week.
Not good enough from a government in power since 2006.
Protecting the innocent from the predatory must be the highest priority -- not lame excuses after a horrific murder.


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Monday, September 29, 2014

BC Teachers' Federation Make Gains, Some Mistakes - So Should Teachers Be Satisfied With The Deal?

And that's what happened - eventually - in BCTF strike
Teachers might just find they got what they need.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column
Tuesday September 23, 2014
By Bill Tieleman
"You can't always get what you want / But if you try sometime / you just might find / You get what you need" 
- The Rolling Stones
British Columbia's teachers likely went back to school Monday with one of two Rolling Stones' hits in their heads – 86 per cent with "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and the other 14 per cent humming "[I Can't Get No] Satisfaction".
That was the "yes" versus "no" voting breakdown for the deal that ended the BC Teachers' Federation strike, inviting much criticism and spirited defence.
The agreement is complex, with different funds with hundreds of millions of dollars for improvements, a modest wage increase, protection of a BCTF court case continuing and much more.
But is it a good deal for teachers? And are there big improvements for students -- who the BCTF says they struck for?
It is definitely a welcome deal for teachers compared to what has happened in past bitter disputes with government -- legislatively imposed contracts.
A negotiated, membership ratified contract always beats your employer dictating the terms, period.
Would binding arbitration have offered more? That's a crapshoot with uncertain results that could have gone either way.
Could a continued strike have forced more money from government for teachers and students alike?
Maybe but this was a high-risk, low reward situation, where the consequences of being wrong are horrendous but the win in being right is minor.
Considering the context
Those who criticize the BCTF leadership -- former New Democrat MLA David Schreck and ex-Greater Victoria Teachers' Association president Tara Ehrcke -- make strong arguments on perceived inadequacies in the deal.
But neither give much credence to the threat of an imposed contract at the hands of a government that has twice been found guilty by the B.C. Supreme Court of ripping up contracts, as well as bargaining in bad faith and attempting to provoke a full-scale strike in the last round of negotiations for purely political advantage.
And a government led by BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark, the original education minister in 2002's contract stripping and a strong supporter of private schools, was eager to crush teachers.
Don't forget the government also fired the BC Public School Employers' Association's board of directors, getting rid of elected school trustees involvement and replacing them with a single hand-picked administrator; demanded a 10-year contract; imposed a 10 per cent pay cut for taking job action and was ready to lock out teachers.
This is not a government that plays well with others.
But political hardliners who called for a general strike by other workers to back teachers were dreaming in Technicolor.
Short of the BC Liberals imposing martial law on teachers, other union members were not prepared to give up their pay and risk their livelihoods by walking out to support teachers who were being offered similar terms that others in the public sector had already accepted.
Deconstructing the deal
On the plus side, the $105 million grievance settlement fund is effectively a "signing bonus" worth over $2,500 per teacher -- more than the $1,200 signing bonus the government offered in June though less than the $5,000 the BCTF demanded.
The Education Fund, building from $75 million a year up to $85 million, will mean hundreds of new teachers are hired -- a win for students.
Negotiating withdrawal of the government's intended E80 clause -- which would have let the BC Liberals cancel the contract if they lost in court -- was huge.
Improvements for Teacher Teaching On Call compensation are also important for younger teachers starting their careers, as is more preparation time for elementary teachers.
And should the B.C. Court of Appeal uphold the BCTF victory in B.C. Supreme Court -- or if the Supreme Court of Canada do so if it goes to that level -- then the issue of past contract stripping on class size and composition will be resolved at last, to the benefit of both students and teachers.
Second guessing strategies
But did the BCTF make mistakes? Certainly.
Going into a major dispute against a powerful adversary with no strike fund for members is simply astonishing.
This left BCTF members financially vulnerable and subject to far more pressure to settle.
And complaints by some that other unions who offered interest free loans should have given their members' own money as grants to the BCTF are hard to swallow.
The loans were a generous move but why didn't the BCTF secure them quietly before the dispute began and/or mortgage their headquarters?
And why did they need them? If nothing else, a significant strike fund needs to be built by the end of this contract.
Timing was also problematic. Going out in June near the end of the school year limited the amount of time to build pressure on the government and frustrated many parents and students.
Staying out for the summer only deprived students needing to take summer school and international students who provide significant funds to school boards – without forcing government to seriously bargain.
Had the BCTF moved to lower its wage and other demands for members it would have effectively put that issue to bed, denying Clark and Education Minister Peter Fassbender the opportunity to publicly bash teachers as in it for themselves.
And it would have focused on the fight for better class composition for special needs students and smaller classes for all exclusively, while a strike deadline sometime in September would have allowed public support to build as a possible walkout loomed.
And expectations created that the BCTF could break the public sector wage settlement pattern reached for over 150,000 other workers – and with a hostile government – were unrealistic, leading to a member letdown on the deal when more money was never in the cards.
The bottom line
But it is easier to second-guess from outside than make decisions in the pressure-cooker inside. The BCTF leadership found a path to collectively bargain an agreement accepted by the overwhelming majority of teachers in extremely difficult circumstances facing an obnoxious government -- and that is a rare achievement that evaded many previous executives.
The reality is that teachers and students didn't get what they wanted but they did get some money, more teachers, no imposed contract, their day in court and the ability to fight another day.
And sometimes you do indeed get what you need.  

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