Thursday, July 28, 2011

Wine Barbarian is back at last - and with a Wine Spectator Top 100 wine available in BC for under $30!

Vina Mayor
Reserva 2004
The Return of the Wine Barbarian!

Fellow wine lovers, winos and wine rookies, foodies, restaurant hounds, amateur cooks and more - I'm back!

Unfortunately my Wine Barbarian blog has been very neglected due to a series of reasons but.....I hope to make amends and more importantly, make this a useful blog for wine drinkers, restaurant goers and food fiends in BC and everywhere else.

You will find wine reviews and recommendations, restaurant reviews and travel reports - all of which happened here before but very infrequently.

I've turned over a new leaf - and it's a grape leaf!

Please check out my first new post in quite a while - about one of my absolute favourite wines available in BC and other locations - a Wine Spectator 93 point Top 100 Wine of 2010 - at $29.

Click here to find out more.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Jack Layton's New Cancer Changes National Politics Again

Jack Layton, Bill Tieleman and Thomas Mulcair in 2007
 With the future of NDP in balance, his pick for interim leader is puzzling

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday July 26, 2011

By Bill Tieleman

"Cancer is a word, not a sentence."

- John Diamond, British journalist

New Democrat leader Jack Layton's surprise disclosure Monday that he is suffering from a new form of cancer will shock not only his party, but federal politics itself.

As someone who has known Layton since his days as a Toronto city councillor in the 1980s, and who endorsed Layton's 2003 NDP leadership bid, I'm saddened to learn of his new illness but inspired by his fighting spirit.

Canadians' kindness will support Layton's efforts to overcome cancer once again, as he did successfully with prostate cancer. We can only hope that Layton's determination to beat the disease is successful.

But his plans to return to Parliament when it resumes September 19 seem overly optimistic, given his frail, gaunt appearance and hoarse, almost unrecognizable voice.

That could mean a significant shift in the dynamic of federal politics, because as leader of the official Opposition, Layton is also the alternative to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Surprising choice for interim leader

While with a federal election just behind us and a majority Conservative government firmly in power for four years means that political stability is guaranteed for now, the future of the NDP is very much in the balance.

Layton attempted to deal with the first question for the NDP -- who will be interim leader until he returns -- but his answer is somewhat puzzling: rookie Member of Parliament Nycole Turmel.

Turmel has only been an MP for Hull-Alymer riding in Quebec since the May 2 election.

While she was chosen unanimously as caucus chair and is an experienced former president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Layton's choice of Turmel could be debated and even overturned.

Putting an MP with under a month's parliamentary experience in charge of the official Opposition is almost unheard of.

But the party passing over both deputy NDP leaders -- Vancouver's Libby Davies and Montreal's Thomas Mulcair -- would be astonishing.

Either could easily handle the job for at least the time period Layton indicated.

But that choice isn't made by caucus. It will be a decision of the NDP's federal council -- its elected national executive -- on Thursday.

And despite the best wishes of all for Layton's recovery from cancer, thoughts will turn to the possibility of a full change of leadership in the near future.

Inevitable consideration

Turmel's selection may be most of all an indication that Layton does not wish to put in place anyone who may have longer term leadership aspirations.

No MPs will want to talk about that in light of today's stunning news about Layton.

But inevitably, due consideration will have to be given to ensure that the federal NDP is prepared for all eventualities.

Meanwhile, we can only wish Layton the best in what is an extremely unfair blow to a leader who has been so successful for the party.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Christy Clark by the Numbers - how does BC's new premier add up so far?

Premier Christy Clark lights Olympic cauldron to support Vancouver Canucks - but
Stanley Cup chances were numbered afterwards.  BC government photo

And will Clark's number be up in the next provincial election?

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday July 19, 2011

By Bill Tieleman

"Becoming number one is easier than remaining number one."

- former basketball star Bill Bradley

How does Christy Clark add up as British Columbia's new premier? Here are all the numbers you need to decide.

0: Number of debates Clark accepted with political opponents. She turned down a debate with New Democrat leader Adrian Dix on the Harmonized Sales Tax and at least two debates with Vancouver-Point Grey NDP candidate David Eby in the May byelection campaign.

1: B.C. Liberal MLAs who supported Clark's leadership bid. Backbencher Harry Bloy got his reward -- a cabinet job at last.

2: Positions Clark took on the Metro Vancouver mayors' proposed two cent a litre gas tax to pay for the Evergreen Line and transit improvements. First she said it wasn't a good idea -- but then it was.

"When British Columbians say that they're not really excited about paying more gas taxes, I get that. Because my focus as premier is how do we make life more affordable for people, rather than less affordable," Clark said on July 11.

But by July 13, Clark was back onboard the bus, and Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom was cleaning up her flip-flop.

"I can't speak for the premier. What I can speak to is the fact that I've spoken with the premier about this and I talked to her about the comments she made," Lekstrom said. "We're very clearly on the same page."

3: Positions Clark held on the HST. First, it was to take a free vote in the legislature on the HST to kill it, then to hold a binding referendum without changing the 12 per cent rate, then to change the rate.

"We aren't going to be talking about trying to reduce it by a point or two before the referendum. I mean, I think people will see that as buying them with their own money," Clark said in March.

Then Clark promised in May she would reduce the rate by one point to 11 per cent in 2012 and a further point to 10 per cent in 2014.

4: Months Clark has been premier.

4: Days Clark has spent in the B.C. legislature as premier.

22: Months until Clark faces voters under the province's fixed election date of May 14, 2013 -- unless she scraps the law and calls an early ballot.

3,000 to 12,000: Scalper market dollar value range for two free tickets Clark was given to attend the final game of Stanley Cup playoffs by Vancouver Canucks' owner Francesco Aquilini. Face value was in the hundreds of dollar per ticket and the gift was cleared by the province's conflict of interest commissioner.

20,000: Dollars given to Clark's leadership campaign by BC Liberal backroom operative and registered lobbyist Patrick Kinsella's Progressive Group. Kinsella's wife Brenda also donated $3,000.

25,000: Dollars donated to Clark's campaign by Aquilini's development and construction company.

50,000: Dollars given to Clark's campaign by developer Wall Financial Corporation and owners Peter and Bruno Wall.

324,000: Number of Google search hits linking "Christy Clark" with "Vancouver Canucks".

199,000: Google search hits linking "Christy Clark" with "Twitter".

38,000: Hits linking "Christy Clark" with "B.C. Rail".

6,140: Hits linking "Christy Clark" with "photo op".

4,880: Hits linking "Christy Clark" with "flip flop".

2,080: Hits linking "Christy Clark" with "education policy".

979: Hits linking "Christy Clark" with "economic strategy".

113,000: Number of extra jobs the HST would create in 10 years according to a B.C. government-commissioned report by economist Jack Mintz.

24,400: Extra jobs the government-appointed "Independent Panel" of experts said the Harmonized Sales Tax would create by 2020.

9,400: Number of jobs actually lost in B.C. in June 2011, one year after HST implemented, according to Statistics Canada.

7.3: Percentage of British Columbians unemployed in June, higher than all western provinces without the HST -- Saskatchewan 4.9 per cent, Manitoba 5.5 per cent and Alberta 5.6 per cent.

So there you have it, B.C.'s new premier by the numbers.

The question is, when the next election is called, will Christy Clark's number be up?


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Elections BC's rotten decision. It should have declared Kash Heed's Vancouver-Fraserview seat vacant after BC Liberal election overspending confirmed

Kash Heed & ex-Premier Gordon Campbell at 2009 cabinet swearing-in
Elections BC has made a rotten decision.

It has allowed Kash Heed to retain his Vancouver-Fraserview seat as a Member of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia despite the BC Liberal Party admitting it overspent the $70,000 limit by an extra $5,000 in the 2009 election campaign.

Elections BC's lawyer Donald Farquhar told the Vancouver Sun that the independent agency would not ask for Heed's seat to be declared vacation.

"We're not contending that he [Heed] acted in bad faith. So if he can establish for the satisfaction of the court he acted in good faith -and we're not contending otherwise -then he would not have his seat vacated," Farquhar said. "But we are asking that he pay the penalty, which is two times the amount of the excess spending."

Heed's campaign manager Barinder Sall is facing criminal charges and Election Act charges for allegedly creating a vicious and defamatory anti-New Democratic Party leaflet and distributing it in the riding in the final days of the campaign.  Alleged leaflet printer Dinesh Khanna also faces charges.

NDP candidate Gabriel Yiu was robbed in that election - cheated out of winning the seat.  Now he is being mugged by Elections BC.

Heed's lawyer David Gruber told media outside a BC Supreme Court hearing in Kelowna where Chief Justice Robert Bauman heard the case that his client had no knowledge of the overspending or of the sleazly leaflet, which accused the NDP of being in favour of everything from legalizing cocaine and prostitution to imposing a death tax.

Fair enough - we'll take the former BC Liberal Solicitor-General and former West Vancouver Police Chief at his word.  And wait for Sall and Khanna's trial to hear more.

But the BC Liberal Party overspent the legal limits in that riding by $5,000 - that's an undisputed fact.

Someone, somewhere knew that was cheating, that it was illegal and that the penalty could be voiding the election results.

Heed didn't do his job as a politician.  Heed didn't check the finances or look at the paperwork or ensure that the spending limit was not exceeded.

And not by a few cents.  By $5,000 - 7% more than allowed.  The money that was spent on an absolutely despicable flyer aimed at scaring members of the Chinese-Canadian community into voting against Yiu - the NDP's excellent candidate.

Heed won by less than 800 votes - $5,000 could have made the difference between winning and losing.

So regardless of Heed's ignorance of the law - rather ironic for BC's former top cop - the price for overspending should be a by-election.  Instead, Elections BC's lawyer

Heed should be free to run again and face Vancouver-Fraserview voters and Gabriel Yiu a second time - if he dares.

But if Elections BC allows any candidate from any party to flagrantly overspend the limit and retain the seat won through cheating - by claiming ignorance of campaign spending laws - it will happen again and again.

And that's rotten.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Black Dodge pickup truck with license plate CL 9159 linked to vandalism of Fight HST signs in Surrey - can you help find it?

2006 Dodge Dakota pickup truck
Can you help find a truck linked to vandalism of Fight HST referendum signs in Surrey?

We have been informed by a very reliable source that on Sunday July 10 at about 5:40 p.m. a black 2006 Dodge pickup truck with license plate number CL 9159 - similar to the one above - was connected to Fight HST sign vandalism in the Port Kells neighbourhood of Surrey.

A black pickup pulled over at 182 Street and 92 Avenue.  A blonde woman in her mid 30s to early 40s in a flowered dressed jumped out and grabbed a Fight HST sign that was put up there and threw it into a blackberry bush.

She jumped back in the truck, which then sped off - but our witnesses were able to follow it and write down the license plate number - CL 9159. 

Our witnesses believe the driver and passenger of this truck are aware they were followed and their license plate identified.

If you know the identity of the owner, driver or  passenger of this truck, please contact me.  You can email me or simply send an anonymous message that will NOT be posted.

Police have not been contacted at this point and we simply want to determine if the information we have about this incident can be further corroborated.

If you are the owner, driver or passenger involved in this vandalism - if you contact me and explain what happened, the police may not be contacted.

This behaviour is wrong, it is illegal and it has to stop.


BC Liberals' carbon tax doesn't work - gasoline sales up year after year, Statistics Canada figures show

Vancouver traffic jam - Mark Woodbury photo
Carbon tax a smoking wreck on the highway

As gas prices go up, pollution does too. Time to fix it.
Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday July 12, 2011

By Bill Tieleman

"The carbon tax alone could cause a reduction in B.C.'s emissions in 2020 by up to three million tonnes of CO2 equivalent annually."

- B.C. Ministry of Finance website.

If the intent of the B.C. Liberal government's three-year-old carbon tax was to reduce gasoline consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, it's been a smoking wreck on the highway.

The carbon tax puts an additional tax of 5.56 cents per litre onto the already high price of gasoline, which includes many other federal, provincial and municipal taxes.

The gas tax went up another 1.1 cents a litre on July 1 -- with the intent of persuading consumers to reduce gasoline consumption.

It also applies to home heating fuels, natural gas and other petroleum products.

But there are a few problems. First, the carbon tax isn't working.

Statistics Canada figures tell the gassy tale of woe.

In 2010, B.C. motor gasoline sales were 4,695.7 in thousands of cubic metres compared to 4,529.8 in 2008 -- the first year the carbon tax started, on July 1.

There are many other factors that affect gas sales but one thing is clear -- selling more gas each year means greenhouse gas emissions are going up, not down.

Doesn't fund green improvements

Why the carbon tax isn't reducing consumption is simple. Increasing the price without providing drivers with more options on how to reduce their use of fuel doesn't work.

The B.C. carbon tax introduced with great fanfare by former B.C. Liberal premier Gordon Campbell is supposed to be revenue neutral, offsetting the increased cost of gas and other fuels with personal and corporate income tax cuts.

That means the nearly $1 billion in extra gas taxes annually doesn't fund public transit at all, nor does it provide financial incentives to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles, make your home more energy efficient or fund other environmental projects.

The second big problem is that the carbon tax is unfair, because it's a regressive consumption tax, like the Harmonized Sales Tax.

Lower and middle income British Columbians end up paying proportionately more of their limited budget on gas and heating fuel than wealthy people.

While there is a carbon tax rebate for very low income earners, the maximum personal credit is $115.50 and the personal income threshold for the maximum grant is $31,000.

That means the carbon tax makes you pay more than your fair share of the cost while you don't at least get the benefits of better public transit so you can leave the car at home to go to work, or get a tax break on buying a gas-miser vehicle with lower emissions.

How popular really?

Environmentalists went ga-ga in delirious joy when the carbon tax was introduced as the first in North America, hoping it would start a trend.

Instead, every other jurisdiction has rejected the idea and the federal Liberal Party's vaunted Green Shift plan for some form of carbon tax espoused by then-leader Stephane Dion in 2008 turned into a flaming electoral disaster.

Environmental group the Pembina Institute issued a news release optimistically titled "British Columbians support the carbon tax" just before the July 1 carbon tax increase citing a poll it commissioned that purported to show support for the controversial measure.

In fact, 33 per cent said the carbon tax has been "positive" for B.C. while 41 per cent said it was neutral. Another 27 per cent said it was "very negative" or "somewhat negative."

But the poll also shows that a majority -- 51 per cent of respondents -- do not want any further increases in the carbon tax after 2012's final 1.1 cent hike to 6.67 cents a litre goes ahead, while just 29 per cent support further gas and fuel tax increases.

The poll also shows that 49 per cent of respondents support using new carbon tax revenues for public transit, topped only by the 56 per cent who say use it for health and education.

That indicates the carbon tax could be fixed in a way most British Columbians would support.

But so long as it penalizes lower and middle income earners, not to mention northern and rural residents who simply have no public transit options at all but nonetheless have to pay the carbon tax, the reality is clear.

The carbon tax pledge is still a lot of hot air.


Tuesday, July 05, 2011

How much will Smart Tax Alliance spend to promote HST - $15 million? Christy Clark made sure you will never know

Premier Christy Clark made sure you can't find out if the Smart Tax Alliance spent $15 million to run a pro-HST advertising and "robo" call campaign or who donated - by scrapping disclosure rules

Secrets of the HST Referendum

What the BC gov't won't tell you about the tax and who's behind the campaign pushing it.

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday July 5, 2011

"Where secrecy or mystery begins, vice or roguery is not far off."

- Samuel Johnson

There are many things powerful people want to make sure you never know about the Harmonized Sales Tax binding referendum now underway.

What is the total budget of the pro-HST Smart Tax Alliance? $15 million?

They won't tell you. But it could be more than the $12 million the BC Liberals spent in the 2009 election. And over double the $6 million B.C.'s New Democrats spent.

That big business group is buying expensive television, print, radio and Internet advertising, paying for automated "robo" calls to millions of voters and hiring spin doctors galore.

That's on top of the more than $5 million the B.C. government is spending to promote the HST.

But you will never know what the Smart Tax Alliance spent -- because Premier Christy Clark made sure of it.

Believe it or not, there are no third party financial spending disclosure rules for this referendum. None.

You can read who spent how much in both the 2005 and 2009 electoral system referenda -- but you won't be able to on this one.

How much did the Coal Association of Canada donate to the Smart Tax Alliance? The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers? The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association? The Insurance Bureau of Canada? Other business groups?

And why?

They are all Smart Tax Alliance members, but you won't ever know unless they voluntarily decide to tell us -- fat chance, especially before voting takes place.

Nor are there rules requiring referendum advertising to identify who authorized it or how to contact them. The BC Liberal government chose not to demand it.

These regulations are essential parts of any B.C. election or referendum, but have gone missing this time.

So the Smart Tax Alliance can completely avoid voter scrutiny before and after the ballot.

That stinks. Badly.

Did you know that the HST won't instantly become 10 per cent if you vote "No" to keep it?

It would only become 10 per cent if the BC Liberal government still exists in 2014 and keeps its promises, first to cut the HST to 11 per cent in July 2012, and then to 10 per cent in July 2014.

But government and Smart Tax Alliance ads don't mention that key fact.

"To lower the HST from 12 per cent to 10 per cent vote NO," a June 17 government print ad says -- with no reference to when or how.

A Smart Tax Alliance TV ad featuring cherry orchardist Christine Dendy boldly states: "And now the decrease in the HST from 12 per cent to 10 per cent saves us all money."

But there hasn't been a decrease. And no, it doesn't save us all money.

You still have to pay a full seven per cent more on hundreds of goods and services like restaurant food, basic telephone and cable, home repairs and maintenance, domestic air flights and much more that you never had to pay under the previous combined PST and GST.

Even if you believe the BC Liberal government, which broke its word over and over about the HST, will really reduce the rate to 11 per cent and then 10 per cent three years from now, you will still pay an extra five per cent on all those items that you never did before.

It won't "save us all money" -- unless business passes on 90 per cent of its savings to consumers -- which is what the government claims will happen.

And most big businesses in B.C. don't produce consumer goods you buy -- so their savings on exported aluminum, forest products, coal and copper will go to their pockets, not yours.

The HST also won't save you money, unless you don't have to ever repair your roof or do significant renovations. Or unless you don't spend much money going out for dinner and a show or travelling or on and on and on.

Did you also know that government ads saying the 10 per cent HST is "law" are completely misleading?

"We want people to know if they vote to keep the HST that the reduction will take place by law," Clark claimed last month.

But the "law" is simply a federal Order-In-Council approved by the federal Conservative cabinet, not a vote by Parliament.

And it could be just as easily rescinded with only a signature.

Besides, B.C. has a fixed election date law setting the next provincial election for May 14, 2013 -- but Christy Clark can easily change that law and has repeatedly talked about holding a vote long before then.

The BC Liberals also repealed their own "balanced budget" law when they went deeply into the red ink. This is a government with laws to be broken.

The HST Referendum Voters Guide mailed to British Columbians with the views of both Fight HST and the Smart Tax Alliance, as well as the so-called "Independent Panel" of experts on the tax was sent out before the Clark government announced additional HST rebates and proposed a future reduced rate.

That means the expensive mailing was both inaccurate and unfair -- since the registered proponent opposing the HST had no way to respond in the one flyer going to every British Columbian.

But the government has spent more than $5 million on misleading "stick man" and other advertising to promote its position.

You can choose to disregard my views -- as a Fight HST founder, I've opposed this tax from the beginning.

But I'm not paid to do so, and I don't have a multi-million dollar ad campaign trying to mislead you. The other side does.

Before you vote on the HST, ask why there is no disclosure of spending despite a massive pro-HST campaign, why standard election financing rules were dropped, why there is no requirement for government or corporate advertising to be truthful or even authorized by an official agent.

Ask the business members of the Smart Tax Alliance how much money they are spending and who is giving it to them.

But you won't get an answer. Just more ads supporting the HST.