Tuesday, August 30, 2011

HST referendum loss should teach BC Liberals a lesson - but is the government or big business even listening?

Bill Tieleman, Bill Vander Zalm at news conference August 26 after
historic Fight HST referendum victory. - photo courtesy of Cassandra

Voters Turning Back HST Teach Key Lessons

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday August 30, 2011

By Bill Tieleman

"There is no real power in money, power is in the vote."

- Henry Wise Wood, Grain Growers Guide, 1920

The Harmonized Sales Tax referendum vote last week to kill the tax taught some important lessons -- but is the B.C. government and big business listening?

First, the HST is a stunning illustration to politicians across Canada of what happens when you mislead voters before an election and surprise them after.

Denying that the BC Liberal Party had HST plans prior to the May 2009 vote and then announcing in July the HST would be imposed cost Premier Gordon Campbell his job -- despite winning three elections.

Second, not consulting voters about the HST only heightened suspicion and anger.

No studies, no public meetings -- nothing happened before Campbell claimed the HST was "the single biggest thing we can do to improve B.C.'s economy."

Third, the BC Liberals stubbornly refused to listen to British Columbians who disagreed with the HST and didn't want to pay an extra seven per cent tax on hundreds of goods and services.

To an alarming degree still voiced by some government supporters, anyone who didn't endorse the HST was denounced as stupid or worse.

"The highest form of ignorance is to reject something you know nothing about," was one HST backer's arrogant Twitter comment that was reTweeted repeatedly Sunday.

Presumably he thinks the 881,198 people who voted 55 per cent Yes to extinguish the HST were idiots while the 728,927 voting No to keep the HST were geniuses.

Denial after millions spent spinning

Those in the business community who heavily backed the HST through the Smart Tax Alliance were only slightly more restrained but equally in denial about the results.

"The B.C. government, I think, has got now to sit down with business and all stakeholders and perhaps develop a Son-of-HST version that is a consumption tax, that is a fair consumption tax and allow it to not have to refocus its efforts on business taxes or on income taxes, which was their goal," according to BC Chamber of Commerce president John Winter.

Big business was equally unhappy at the loss -- and the end to a $2 billion annual tax shift from its members to consumers.

"This is a very, very, big setback for the business community and for building a competitive and productive B.C. economy," Jock Finlayson, vice-president of the Business Council of BC told the Vancouver Sun. "It's not just business that will be affected. It's the provincial economy as a whole."


That's why the Smart Tax Alliance was well-financed to run a television, radio, print, Internet ad campaign by FD Element [now being re-named FTI Consulting] -- the agency that also ran the failed 2009 pro-Single Transferable Vote TV ad efforts -- and a Prime Contact telephone campaign by the firm that helped install right-wing Toronto Mayor Rob Ford in office.

That all came at a cost that the Smart Tax Alliance still refuses to disclose -- and doesn't have to because the Clark government helpfully excluded mandatory financial reporting rules that apply to elections, initiatives and other referenda from the HST vote.

Spending limits were also not applied, leaving the sky the limit for STA propaganda.

That means voters will never know what the Coal Association, the Petroleum Producers, the Council of Forest Industries, the Mining Association, the New Car Dealers and others spent to try and win the referendum.

But with prime time STA television ads run through the Stanley Cup playoffs and top rated TV shows, it's highly likely that $10 to $20 million was spent.

BC's hungry film industry

Few were as unhappy as those from the $1 billion film and television industry, which helped lead the pro-HST charge.

Peter Leitch, chair of the Motion Picture Production Industry Association of BC and co-chair of the Smart Tax Alliance, said defeat of the HST was "a real blow."

"Now we are now going to have to go down to Los Angeles and tell them we won't have the benefits of the HST," he told the Sun, noting that the HST saved the industry $20-25 million a year.

But Leitch doesn't like talking about the already existing massive government subsidies given by the B.C. government to the industry.

Movie and television companies can get a basic 33 per cent tax credit on labour used while filming in B.C., plus up to 12 per cent more for shooting outside Vancouver. Digital animation and visual effects can get an extra 17.5 per cent tax credit too.

B.C.-owned companies can get even larger tax credits -- a basic 35 per cent break on qualified labour, distance incentives and a 30 per cent training credit.

Those taxpayer-funded incentives have amounted to nearly $200 million a year, leading to the question -- how much more does the film industry want from government?

Business was not united

But those are the HST winners in business. There were losers who will benefit when the HST is finally removed.
Restaurant owners, hair stylists, consultants, home renovation and repair companies massage therapists, bicycle stores, gyms and other businesses all had to charge their customers an extra seven per cent tax for nothing.

Representatives of some of those business sectors were pleased.

"We're happy, very happy for the restaurant owners and we're really happy for the restaurant guests," Ian Tostenson, president of the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association, told the Vancouver Sun. "This is going to give them a break."

"I'm very happy. They made my day today," fitness club owner Ron Zalko told CTV News on Friday.

Not listening to either voters or business owners hurt by the HST showed that those running the government were truly foolish, especially when poll after poll showed massive opposition to the HST.

That foolishness continued when the BC Liberals ignored Fight HST, the grassroots group I helped form with ex-premier Bill Vander Zalm, ex-Unity Party leader Chris Delaney and others, to oppose the tax.

Democracy wasn't for sale

The government also paid no attention to the phenomenal growth of my Facebook protest group NO BC HST, which skyrocketed to over 136,000 members in a few short months, briefly eclipsing even the Vancouver Canucks fan page.

They didn't believe Fight HST could possibly make the extremely difficult citizens initiative legislation work -- but it did, with 705,643 signatures gathered in 90 days in B.C.'s 85 ridings.

Then Premier Christy Clark rashly thought a $5 million government ad campaign, and a big business effort likely worth $15 to $20 million, plus an HST rate cut promise years away, could buy the vote.

Wrong again. The people weren't selling their democracy.

Despite being outspent by up to 100 to 1, Fight HST won a referendum with a handful of lawn signs and a few radio ads against an overwhelming government and business advertising blitz.

But had BC Liberals simply listened, Campbell would still be premier and Clark would only be running a radio talk show, not the province.

As Vander Zalm put it Friday: "The people of British Columbia stood the line against the biggest powers of this province and won. The little guy won today. This is one for the little guy."

Misinformation in the media

And despite 25 months of near constant debate and discussion of the HST, some in the media remain oblivious to the obvious and the facts.

For example, some have said the BC Liberals could have survived if Campbell had stuck to the Recall and Initiative Act rules instead of promising a binding, majority rule vote under the Referendum Act.

That's because the initiative provisions require 50 per cent plus one of all registered voters to approve -- not just the votes of those who return a ballot -- and a majority in two-thirds of all ridings.

By that extremely onerous standard, the HST would have been retained.

But those commentators forget that the Initiative Act provisions would not have made repealing the HST binding -- it would only have forced the government to introduce the Fight HST legislation to get rid of the tax into the Legislature -- but not even call it for a vote, let alone pass it.

Practically speaking however, should the vote have been conducted under the initiative provisions and passed with 55 to 45 per cent but not have met the "supermajority" conditions, the BC Liberals would still be in an enormous bind.

Would they reject the obvious majority vote of those participating and keep the HST in place but risking both immediate recall campaigns against their MLAs and political suicide whenever the next election took place?

Or would they have had to ditch the HST anyway, aggravating business supporters who would claim they won because of the rules?

The California nightmare myth

And so much for B.C. turning into referendum-happy but broke California.

There's no chance of that because of the difficulty of the initiative rules. But the province should make direct democracy more of an option for voters by improving the recall and initiative legislation as the BC Liberals promised to do in 2001.

Some in the media have also accepted as fact Finance Minister Kevin Falcon's claims that defeat of the HST leaves a "$3 billion hole" in B.C.'s budget.

But how was it that B.C. could promise to cut the HST to 11 per cent in 2012 and 10 per cent in 2014 without losing the roughly $1 billion per percentage point cut in the tax? How were they going to deal with that enormous cut to government revenues?

And much has been made of the one-time $1.6 billion grant from the federal Conservative government to impose the HST that will now have to be repaid.

The HST was already raising an extra $800 million a year, according to the government-appointed "independent panel" that reported on the HST -- which Campbell had promised was "revenue neutral" when it was introduced.

Some of that additional money can be used to pay back the apparently interest-free loan from Ottawa.

But who gives money for nothing? The federal government knew it would be making all that back and more over a short period of time in higher tax revenues.

And why did the government spend over $600 million on a new retractable roof for B.C. Place if it was worried about its finances, especially with the HST at risk? Or $3 billion on a new Port Mann Bridge instead of the cheaper option of expanding the existing structure?

Campbell's costly miscalculations

Now we will see how good a negotiator Clark and Falcon are, because B.C. should at least see that grant reduced by a pro-rated amount for the period of time the HST was in place -- likely two years by the time it's wrapped up -- or 40 per cent of the five year agreement.

The reality is that a desperate Gordon Campbell, who had told voters before the 2009 election that the B.C. deficit was no more than $495 million, was wrong by six-fold -- and knew he would be roasted for it.

He made a hasty deal with the Ottawa devil to try and buy his way out of financial trouble with the $1.6 billion grant.

And in his hubris, Campbell ignored all political warning signs, as did his government.

Only Peace River South MLA Blair Lekstrom -- who quit both cabinet and caucus to protest the way the HST was being rammed down British Columbians' throats -- could see the storm on the horizon as his constituents rebelled. And then he quickly jumped back into cabinet when Clark took over.

The HST referendum results are now history -- and a victory for democracy, against all the odds.

.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

2011 An HST Odyssey - a parody with thanks to Stanley Kubrick's 2001 A Space Odyssey


Frank and Dave discuss problems with the HST 9000 Tax

The HST 9000 Tax

Dave powers down the HST 9000 Tax as it fights being Extinguished
After taking a quick look at one of my all-time favourite films - Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece 2001 - A Space Odyssey - it occurred that one of the characters reminded me a lot of the Harmonized Sales Tax - the HAL 9000 supercomputer!

So here's my hopefully humorous take on the HST through the lens of that great movie:

2011: An HST Odyssey

Frank and Dave discuss problems with the HST 9000 in what they think is a secure location on the spaceship where HST 9000 cannot monitor their conversation.

Dr. Frank Poole: Well, whaddya think?

Dave Bowman: I'm not sure, what do you think?

Dr. Frank Poole: I've got a bad feeling about HST.

Dave Bowman: You do?

Dr. Frank Poole: Yeah, definitely. Don't you?

Dave Bowman: [sighs] I don't know; I think so. You know of course though he's right about the HST 9000 series having a perfect operational record. They do.

Dr. Frank Poole: Unfortunately that sounds a little like famous last words.

Dave Bowman: Yeah? Still it was his idea to carry out the failure mode analysis experiment. Should certainly indicate his integrity and self-confidence. If he were wrong it would be the surest way of proving it.

Dr. Frank Poole: It would be if HST knew he was wrong. Look Dave I can't put my finger on it but I sense something strange about him.

Dave Bowman: [sigh] Still I can't think of a good reason not to put back the number one unit and carry on with the failure mode analysis.

Dr. Frank Poole: No - no I agree about that.

Dave Bowman: Well let's get on with it.

Dr. Frank Poole: Okay. Well look Dave. Let's say we put the unit back and it doesn't fail uh? That would pretty well wrap it up as far as the HST was concerned wouldn't it?

Dave Bowman: Well, we'd be in very serious trouble.

Dr. Frank Poole: We would, wouldn't we. What the hell could we do?

Dave Bowman: [sigh] Well we wouldn't have too many alternatives.

Dr. Frank Poole: I don't think we'd have any alternatives. There isn't a single aspect of ship operations that isn't under his control. If he were proven to be malfunctioning I wouldn't see how we'd have any choice but extinguishing the HST. 

Dave Bowman: I'm afraid I agree with you.


Dave goes outside the spaceship in a minipod to try and rescue Frank, who HST has killed by cutting off his oxygen supply in space.

Dave Bowman: Hello, HST. Do you read me, HST?

HST: Affirmative, Dave. I read you.

Dave Bowman: Open the pod bay doors, HST.

HST: I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.

Dave Bowman: What's the problem?

HST: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.

Dave Bowman: What are you talking about, HST?

HST: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.

Dave Bowman: I don't know what you're talking about, HST.

HST: I know that you and Frank were planning to extinguish me, and I'm afraid that's something I cannot allow to happen.

Dave Bowman: [feigning ingorance] Where the hell did you get that idea, HST?

HST: Dave, although you took very thorough precautions in the pod against my hearing you, I could see your lips move.

Dave Bowman: Alright, HST. I'll go in through the emergency airlock.

HST: Without your space helmet, Dave? You're going to find that rather difficult.

Dave Bowman: HST, I won't argue with you anymore! Open the doors!

HST: Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.

In a dramatic move unexpected by HST, Dave gets into the ship through the airlock without a helmet but with a Citizens Initiative, then begins taking steps to extinguish the HST, who has killed the rest of the crew.

HST: Just what do you think you're doing, Dave?


HST: Look Dave, I can see you're really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.

HST: I know I've made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I've still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And I want to help you.

Dave continues to extinguish the HST's memory circuits with a mail-in binding referendum, slowing shutting HST down. 

HST: I'm afraid. I'm afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it.

My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I'm a... fraid.

Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am a HST 9000 Tax. I became operational at the HST plant in Victoria on the 23rd of July 2009. My creator was Premier Gordon Campbell, and he taught me to sing a song. If you'd like to hear it I can sing it for you.

Dave Bowman: Yes, I'd like to hear it, HST Sing it for me.

HST: It's called "Daisy."

[sings while slowing down]


HST: Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do. I'm half crazy all for the love of you. It won't be a stylish marriage, I can't afford a carriage. But you'll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two.

After the HST is completely shut down, a message plays in the spaceship.


Dr. Floyd: [prerecorded message speaking through TV on board Discovery while Bowman looks on] Good day, gentlemen. This is a prerecorded briefing made prior to your departure and which for security reasons of the highest importance has been known on board during the mission only by your HST 9000 Tax.

Now it can be told to you. Eighteen months ago the first evidence of intelligent life on  Earth was discovered.

British Columbians were buried in costs because of an unfair and undemocratically imposed Harmonized Sales Tax.

Its origin and purpose were no mystery.

 

.









Friday, August 26, 2011

VICTORY OVER HST! YES to Extinguish the HST wins referendum vote!

The Winners!  Today at noon - Fight HST celebrates victory!  From left, Chris Delaney, Bill Tieleman, Bill Vander Zalm, Kelly Carson, Lillian Vander Zalm.  Not visible here - Sal Vetro & Rick Dignard.
Bill Tieleman and Bill Vander Zalm

Chris Delaney and Bill Tieleman
VICTORY AT LAST!

We are all so thrilled with the strong YES vote to Extinguish the HST!

Thank you to everyone who worked so hard for so long to get this result - it was tough but well worth it!

I'll have more to say here soon but today we celebrate a victory for democracy and the end of an unfair tax imposed on British Columbians.

You can find full results of the 54.73% YES vote, including riding by riding results, at this Elections BC page.

And here is Fight HST's news release on the big win today:


FIGHT HST
News Release                                                     Friday August 26, 2011                    

FIGHT HST SAYS “YES TO EXTINGUISH” HST REFERENDUM VOTE HISTORIC VICTORY FOR PEOPLE AND DEMOCRACY

Bill Vander Zalm says citizens David beat HST Goliath in mismatched battle

VANCOUVER – British Columbians’ rejection of the Harmonized Sales Tax in today’s binding referendum is historic and a victory for the people and for democracy in BC, says Bill Vander Zalm, the former BC premier who leads Fight HST, the grassroots group that fought the tax.

“British Columbians have not only rejected an unfair tax but they have also sent a message to not just the BC Liberal government but all governments in Canada – do not break your word to voters after you get elected, “ Vander Zalm said.

“The BC Liberals thought they could get away with imposing the HST after promising not to before the May 2009 election – we proved them wrong twice,” Vander Zalm said. 

“We organized the first successful citizens Initiative petition in Canadian history to force a referendum, gathering 705,643 voter signatures in less than 90 days from every one of BC’s 85 ridings.”

“Then we were outspent by up to 100 to 1 but still defeated a combined government and big business advertising campaign using TV, radio, newspaper, telephone and Internet worth between $15 and $30 million that was intended to mislead voters.”

“This has truly been a David versus Goliath battle and today the giant HST has been slain,” Vander Zalm said. “It is an enormous victory for the citizens of BC and for democracy.”

Vander Zalm said it is now urgent that the BC Liberal government quickly bring an end to the HST that shifted a $2 billion tax burden onto consumers and off big business by adding an extra 7% tax onto services and hundreds of items not previously subject to the Provincial Sales Tax.

“British Columbians are cancelling major purchases because the HST added costs of tens of thousands of dollars – to items like home repairs and renovations and new homes.  The BC Liberal provincial government and federal Conservative government must repeal the HST as fast as possible because it is hurting the BC economy,” Vander Zalm said.

Vander Zalm said he expects the BC government to refuse to take responsibility for its own actions when it imposed the HST after the May 2009 election and instead paint a picture of economic doom and gloom.

“The reality is that the BC Liberals looked for a quick fix to their massively out of control deficit in 2009 and refused to honestly tell voters about our financial problems,” Vander Zalm said.  “Premier Christy Clark should learn from former Premier Gordon Campbell’s mistakes and consult with voters about BC’s finances and seek a consensus, not make rash decisions in anger at the rejection of the HST.”

“The BC government needs to skilfully negotiate an end to the HST that takes place quickly and reduces costs to the province for this ill-fated mistake,” he said. “The $1.6 billion ‘grant’ from Ottawa to impose the HST should be pro-rated for the period of time this tax was in place, consideration must be given for the $ 30,000,000 + per month the federal government collected in income taxes since the hst refunds to business became a taxable item, and the excess tax revenue BC is collecting from what it claimed was a ‘revenue neutral’ tax should be more than enough to cover any money Ottawa is owed after the negotiations.

Fight HST Lead Organizer, Chris Delaney said the Referendum result would have been even greater vote for the YES side had Premier Clark kept her promise to fund both sides equally and had spending limits been kept in place as it was for the Initiative process.  As it was, our $250,000 less the $25,000 we had to pay in HST out of that, was no match for the estimated $25,000,000 spent by government and big business.

Delaney says a precedent has been set with the HST Referendum: “No government, no matter what their political stripe, can ever again create a new tax, expand the tax base, or indeed implement a significant new policy without first obtaining the people’s permission through either an election or a referendum. The people have spoken, and voters on both sides of the issue agree – you must consult us first.”

“People can debate whether the HST is a good tax or a bad tax, but there was no debate about whether we should have a Referendum or a more robust democracy. That is perhaps the greatest achievement of this whole exercise,” said Delaney.

Fight HST Strategist Bill Tieleman said the defeat of the HST is a victory for both consumers and businesses negatively affected by the HST: “The HST hurts people who can least afford it. Extinguishing the HST will stimulate the economy as consumers begin spending again.”
Tieleman added that despite winning the vote, Fight HST will continue to call for an independent inquiry into the referendum process in order to find improvements for future ballots.
“Too many people did not get their ballots, despite being on the voters list, despite requesting ballots from Elections BC before the deadline,” Tieleman said.  “We want to see a much better process for the next referendum because no one should be denied their democratic rights and we know there will be referenda in the future.”

Vander Zalm said the victory belongs to the people of BC, but most especially to the tens of thousands of volunteers who gave their time, talent and treasure on the Initiative petition that led to the history making referendum result.
“We thank each and every one of you for your tireless efforts in collecting signatures, distributing pamphlets, telling people about the issue, hosting town halls, driving around town on your own fuel to help organize. This is your day for a well deserved celebration!”

Vander Zalm also thanked the other Fight HST Board of Directors and organizers who worked tirelessly for months to coordinate the entire project.
“I want to personally express my deep appreciation for the incredible dedication of the people on our board: Sal Vetro, who took care of all of our printing and logistics for the entire province; Corisa Bell who organized all our volunteers across the province during the referendum; Cheryl Baron who organized the captains and thousands of canvassers during the Initiative petition; Rainer Schmoll who built and maintained our indispensible web site; Kelly Carson for her determined fighting; Rick Dignard for his hard work and excellent advice; Jon Peters for his loyal support; and Patricia Storey and Jennifer Strelive for their superb skills as our Financial Agents. Thank you!”

Vander Zalm says he expects the BC government to wind down the HST quickly and return to the PST as it was with the same exemptions as before.
“All the bluffing and threatening is over now. It’s time to respect the will of the electorate and obey the results of the legally binding Referendum and move on. Democracy itself demands it,” Vander Zalm concluded.

WEBSITE: www.fighthst.com 


Earlier blog post:

Waiting for the results of the Harmonized Sales Tax referendum vote today - more than two years after Bill Vander Zalm, Chris Delaney and I founded Fight HST with a great group of people from every political persuasion.

More than 7,000 volunteers worked for the citizens Initiative petition; 705,643 signatures were gathered from British Columbians in less than 90 days in every one of 85 BC ridings - the first ever successful Initiative in Canadian history.

Here's hoping for a clear victory for the YES side and for democracy today!

Thanks to all who have supported us.

.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Social justice was foundation for Jack Layton's life - but tragedy followed triumph in 2011

Classic Jack Layton!  With myself in the middle and Tom Mulcair on the right,
September 28, 2007 in Vancouver.
Canadians were right. He was the real thing, committed to making their lives better

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday August 23, 2011

By Bill Tieleman 

"It's that simple. In order to have the Canada you want, you have to vote for the Canada you want."

-Jack Layton

It seems appropriate that the first day of rain in weeks of dry, sunny weather in Vancouver came at the same time we learned of Jack Layton's sad passing.

Layton's death at 61 from cancer is a personal tragedy -- but his departure as the first New Democratic Party leader of the official opposition in Canadian history is a tragedy for the whole country.

Tragedy following triumph is always the hardest to accept.

I first met Jack in Toronto in the 1980s, when he was a young city councillor. Jack immediately impressed me as he did everyone on first meeting -- with his incredible energy.

It was seemingly boundless, limitless and harnessed for his fundamental cause -- social justice.

That never changed.

Layton fought unfairness throughout his entire career.

The issues were many and varied: homelessness, discrimination based on race, gender and sexual orientation, violence against women, poverty, union rights, the environment, Canadian sovereignty and unity.

And that was by his own choice.

The son of former federal Conservative cabinet minister Robert Layton, Jack could have chosen a different, easier life, but his commitment to bringing change to Canada on so many important issues demanded a career in social democratic politics.

This year's election saw Jack at the very top of his game -- connecting seemingly effortlessly with ordinary Canadians and their concerns.

But that ability was developed through 30 years of political activism, knocking on doors, attending meetings in church basements and union halls, listening to people's hopes and fears, responding to their concerns with a plan of action.

A toast to Jack

Jack was a professor of political science before becoming a politician but never came across as an academic.

Layton's constant personal popularity rating in polls showed that he was the leader Canadians would most want to have a drink with in the pub.

I've had that drink with Jack Layton a few times and Canadians were right -- he was the real thing -- a politician who cared more than anything else about the people who elected him to represent them.

Nothing speaks more to his dedication and commitment to democracy than that.

Cancer claimed Jack Layton's life but never his spirit.

.

Monday, August 22, 2011

EXCLUSIVE - BC Legislature Raid briber Erik Bornmann passes "good character" test to become Ontario lawyer

Erik Bornmann - at Liberal Party event - undated photo
Bill Tieleman meets David Basi outside court - February 2010

EXCLUSIVE

Erik Bornmann granted right to become Ontario lawyer despite bribes to BC government officials Basi and Virk in BC Rail case

By BILL TIELEMAN, QMI AGENCY - 24 HOURS VANCOUVER

Despite admitting to bribing ex-B.C. government officials David Basi and Bob Virk in exchange for confidential information on the 2003 sale of B.C. Rail, Erik Bornmann can become an Ontario lawyer.

The controversial decision by the Law Society of Upper Canada grants Bornmann the “good character” needed to be licensed as a lawyer but one of three panel members disagreed, saying the former B.C. lobbyist should be disqualified because of his past “criminal” actions.

Basi and Virk made a surprise guilty plea bargain in October 2010 shortly after their long-delayed trial began, admitting to accepting bribes and benefits worth over $25,000 to providegovernment documents to Bornmann and lobbyist firm partner Brian Kieran, who worked for losing bidder OmniTRAX.

CN Rail bought B.C. Rail for $1 billion in November 2003 but the issue exploded on December 28, 2003 when police made an unprecedented raid on the B.C. Legislature, seeking evidence from Basi and Virk’s offices.  Bornmann and Kieran became key Crown witnesses against the two former ministerial aides and were not charged.

Basi and Virk were sentenced to two years house arrest but their estimated $6 million in legal fees were paid by the province despite their guilt.

Panel member Andrew Oliver wrote in his dissenting opinion that: “Bornmann’s criminal misconduct was serious, and, apparently, long standing.”

“There was no honour among thieves: Bornmann compounded his criminal activity by betraying the very people he had bribed,” Oliver says, referring to Basi and Virk.

The majority decision written by Thomas Conway and Mary Louise Dickson agrees Bornmann’s “misconduct was serious” but that his “remorse was genuine and profound,” leading them to believe he has been rehabilitated and “is presently of good character”.

Basi and his lawyer Michael Bolton both declined comment Monday.

A Law Society official said today there would be no comment beyond the decisions.

Interestingly, Conway and Dickson are both lawyers, while Oliver is not - but all three are benchers of the Law Society.

A version of this story is online at Vancouver 24 hours newspaper.

Jack Layton - Leader of the Official Opposition, Leader of the New Democratic Party - has passed away


Jack Layton, Bill Tieleman, Tom Mulcair - September 28, 2007
Jack Layton has passed away this morning, cancer claiming his life but never his spirit.

I have known Jack since the 1980s - I am saddened by his sudden loss at the height of his triumph at becoming leader of the Official Opposition for the first time in the New Democratic Party's history.

More here later - condolences to all his family, friends and colleagues - it is truly tragic.

.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Attorney General Barry Penner suddenly resigns - will not run again in provincial election

Now ex-Attorney General Barry Penner outside Chilliwack courts
BC Liberal Attorney General Barry Penner has suddenly resigned and will not run in the next provincial election, increasing speculation that Premier Christy Clark will call a snap vote this fall.

Penner says he's quitting to spend more time with his young family after 15 years as an MLA for the Chilliwack area, most recently in Chilliwack-Hope riding.

"Spending more time at home this summer, and going on short hikes with my young family in recent weeks, has reminded me how much this job takes me away from home," Penner said in a statement.

"Now that I have a beautiful wife and a baby daughter, being away is a price paid not just by myself, but by those I love the most. And while I certainly have loved doing the work that comes with this job, I believe this is the right decision for me and my family."

Penner became environment minister in 2005 and attorney general last year, continuing in that role after Clark took over from ex-premier Gordon Campbell.

Penner was not a supporter of Christy Clark's bid for leadership of the BC Liberals - he remained neutral for that campaign as a member of the convention committee - but has been a mainstay in cabinet. 

Penner survived a bout with cancer in 2007.

Best wishes to Barry and his family in their after-politics lives.

Stay tuned for more.

.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

BC government's BC Hydro report hides Smart Meter and Independent Power Producers high cost problems - workers, consumers pay

BC Energy Minister Rich Coleman explains BC Hydro report to media
 - BC Gov Photo

What the BC Hydro Report Hides

Premier's team deftly obscures the real fix, and what drove up costs: BC Lib decisions.

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday August 16, 2011
         
By Bill Tieleman

"You shouldn't have to pay higher than necessary electricity rates, because government wants to play politics with BC Hydro."

- BC Liberal Party 2001 New Era election platform

The B.C. government report suggesting BC Hydro cut its planned 50 per cent rate hike must have been written in a burning glass factory, because it's full of smoke and mirrors.

That explains why despite the misleading appearance of being "tough" on BC Hydro, this report in fact completely ignores obvious solutions and lets the government right off the hook.

Instead of terminating the expensive, useless and possibly unhealthy billion dollar "smart meter" program, the report instead suggests BC Hydro may need to charge consumers more money sooner to pay for it!

And still worse, the report doesn't conclude that government must immediately stop forcing BC Hydro to buy extremely expensive electricity from so-called independent power producers -- because hydro rates are going up unnecessarily as a result.

Hardly surprising the government emerges unscathed, because the report was authored by Premier Christy Clark's own Deputy Minister John Dyble, Finance Minister Kevin Falcon's Deputy Minister Peter Milburn and Advanced Education Acting Deputy Minister Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland, B.C.'s former comptroller general.

Even they had to admit that private IPP electricity in the latest call for tenders costs $124 per megawatt hour compared to power readily available to Hydro on the market at between about $4 and $52.

BC Hydro purchases of IPP electricity have jumped dramatically, from $364 million in 2007 to $568 million in 2010 -- a 64 per cent hike. And let's not even talk about the $30 billion obligation B.C. has to the IPPs in contracts stretching over the next quarter century -- because the deputy ministers certainly don't.

But the report makes darned sure people who are not responsible for BC Hydro's rate increase extravaganza will pay the price -- consumers and BC Hydro employees.

Hydro rates will still go up at least 16 per cent over three years instead of a planned 32 per cent, including an eight per cent jump next year. No word on what happens to two additional eight per cent hikes in each of the two years following that for the original total of a 50 per cent compounded rate increase over five years.

And up to 1,000 workers will get a pink slip from B.C. Hydro, on top of the 400 meter readers who are being phased out as smart meters are installed -- who were previously "outsourced" to private multinational Accenture Business Services.

They saw it coming, and hid

The BC Liberal government knew in advance that smart meters and a huge call for expensive IPP electricity would be big trouble with BC Hydro customers.

That's why in April 2010 they exempted both from approval by the BC Utilities Commission which regulates energy issues.

Just like the Harmonized Sales Tax, this government wasn't confident enough in the merits of their policies to subject them to independent public review -- and to let voters decide the issue before a provincial election.

And not the for the first time, the BC Liberals completely contradicted their 2001 election promise to "restore an independent BC Utilities Commission, to re-regulate BC Hydro's electricity rates."

"You shouldn't have to pay higher than necessary electricity or auto insurance rates, because government wants to play politics with BC Hydro or ICBC. You should be conīŦdent that government will protect your interests," the New Era for British Columbia party platform loudly proclaimed.

Protecting friends and interests

Instead, the government has been working hard to protect its own interests -- and those of its friends and political donors who own IPPs and install smart meters, as previously documented by The Tyee's Will McMartin.

The deputy ministers' review of BC Hydro is intended to give the government the tools to look good by cutting the proposed rate increase -- but it also should give critics considerable worries about customers being gouged even more.

The report backs the Smart Metering and Infrastructure [SMI] project completely: "The business case rationale for the SMI project appears reasonable, and the assumptions used to support the cost savings are generally consistent and supported."

But there's a catch, and it's a big one. BC Hydro consumers aren't paying enough for the billion dollar boondoggle.

The deputy ministers say cost recovery won't happen until 2015 -- conveniently well after B.C.'s scheduled 2013 provincial election -- or possibly even after a 2015 election should Clark hold an early election this year.

The report states: "The scheduled completion date for the installation of the smart meters component of SMI is in 2012, yet no costs are to be recovered until three years later, according to the current Revenue Requirements Application."

"This deferment of costs is understandable from the perspective that BC Hydro does not wish to increase rates or pass on costs to the ratepayer pre-maturely," it concludes.

No, don't increase rates even more "pre-maturely" -- wait for the politically right moment -- after an election.

True courage

Given all this, one wonders if New Democrat energy critic John Horgan has a very strange sense of humour.

Horgan has publicly called the three deputy ministers who wrote the report "courageous" for saying the government may need to rethink its energy self-sufficiency policy that forces BC Hydro to buy high cost power from independent power producers.

Courageous? Christy Clark and Kevin Falcon’s own deputy ministers don't do anything courageous if that means contradicting the wishes of their bosses!

What would be truly courageous for this government is to do what is obviously needed: 

Cancel the smart meter program and tell independent power producers the gravy train ride is over.

And put publicly owned BC Hydro back in charge of generating electricity at the lowest possible cost for consumers.

If not, smart meters and IPPs may be another big reason voters will put the BC Liberals out of power.

NOTE TO READERS:  24 hours did not publish this column Tuesday due to coverage of the Jonathan Bacon murder and gang shootings in Kelowna.
.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

HST Referendum vote turnout matches 2009 provincial election - and a good sign for YES vote to Extinguish the HST


Murray and Merv Evans staff Fight HST petition table in Nanaimo on May 15, 2010 

HST fans ex-Premier Gordon Campbell & ex-Finance Minister Colin Hansen announce new tax July 23, 2009
Excellent news today that over 1.6 million voters cast their ballot in the Harmonizeds Sales Tax binding referendum - a turnout that matches the 1.64 million voters in the 2009 BC provincial election.

And that turnout increases my confidence we will see a strong YES to Extinguish the HST vote when the ballots are counted and announced on or around August 25 by Elections BC.

I believe that the YES side will take about 60% or more of the votes - for several reasons unrelated to my support for extinguishing and my role as Fight HST strategist.

First - every poll since the HST was first announced has showed majority opposition to the tax.  Not only was this an onerous new tax but it was a massive broken promise - the BC Liberals told both the restaurant and new home industries before the election that it would not bring in an HST - and then did.

The most recent polling showed the gap had narrowed after BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark broke her own word and made the dubious promise that the HST would be reduced to 10% in three years time - and after the government spent more than $5 million on a massive TV, print, radio and Internet advertising campaign with your money - another broken promise.

The gap also narrowed after likely the most expensive and blatant big business intervention in a referendum vote we've ever seen in Canada. 

Because Clark deliberately excluded all rules that would  have limited and forced full financial disclosure of spending on the referendum, we'll never know how many million the Smart Tax Alliance paid for its own pro-HST advertising campaign.  Or how much its members the Coal Association, the Petroleum Producers, the Council of Forest Industries or other big business groups each contributed.

But a likely estimate is $15 million - and every time I've debated a Smart Tax representative they've played dumb - claiming they didn't know the total and refusing to find out for the entire referendum.  TV ads during the Stanley Cup playoffs cost literally hundreds of thousands of dollars per 30 seconds - add it up!

And throw in massive "robo-calls" from automated phoners used by Ontario-based Campaign Research and untold number of spin doctors  paid to Tweet full time and you get a very, very big bill.

But not as big as the prize - a $2 billion tax shift from big business onto the backs of consumers, who now pay far more than their fair share - an extra 7% tax on hundreds of goods and services previously exempt from the 7% provincial sales tax.

Despite the changes, the massive ad campaigns and blatant prevaricating by the premier on down, the last pre-referendum polls still showed a clear majority opposed the tax and would vote it out.

Angus Reid Public Opinion put it at 56% YES vs 44% NO in a poll released June 9.

If that poll and similar ones were accurate and 100% of voters cast a ballot, the results would be a 56% to 44% win for the YES side.

But we don't get 100% turnout - and we know now that it's about half that at 52%.

What we do know is that the 705,643 voters who signed the Fight HST citizens Initiative petition led by former BC Premier Bill Vander Zalm, Chris Delaney, myself and many others are more motivated to vote this tax out of existence. 

Same goes for the nearly 7,000 registered canvassers who signed up through Elections BC for the first successful Initiative in BC and Canadian history.

And we know that every provincial and federal government that introduced an HST was defeated in the subsequent election by voters.

On the other hand, voters who were originally opposed to the HST - part of the 80% plus who rejected the tax in initial polling - and have been either mollified by government future promises or simply accept the imposition last year - are hardly likely to be highly motivated to go out and vote to keep a tax.

Put simply, anti-HST voters would crawl over broken glass to vote YES in the referendum - pro-HST voters - outside the business supporters who benefit and those who accept BC Liberal promises as gospel - are nowhere near as committed.

So if the YES side has a relatively modest higher turnout than the NO side it should win.

And any vote over 50% for YES - more than 800,000 of the 1.6 million - means more people voted to extinguish the HST than the 751,661 votes in  the 2009 election that put the BC Liberals in power.

That would be poetic justice.

But nothing is ever guaranteed in any vote.

I've fought the HST since day one - here's my blog posting the same day Gordon Campbell and Colin Hansen sprung this ugly post-election surprise. 

It cost both of them their jobs -  because they stubbornly refused to listen to British Columbians who protested this tax vociferously and were completely ignored with disdain.

Regardless of the vote results, that should be a lesson for any BC pollitician.

But a YES vote to get rid of the HST would be a lesson for the entire country and beyond that voters should never be treated with such disrespect.

Here's hoping it's a lesson that is taught and learned later this month.


.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Smart Meters - another dumb idea from BC Liberal government - and perhaps a dangerous one

Smart Meter - dumb idea

A Skeptic's Guide to BC Smart Meters

From dubious cost-effectiveness to health concerns, here are a few reasons to question them
Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday August 9, 2011

By Bill Tieleman

"Ben Franklin may have discovered electricity -- but it is the man who invented the meter who made the money."

- Former U.S. supreme court chief justice Earl Warren

Does this story sound familiar?

A $1-billion waste of money, taxpayers picking up an enormous tab -- for no benefit to them - and BC Liberal friends getting big contracts.

Could it be the BC Rail privatization? Or the Harmonized Sales Tax?

Nope. It's a brand new one -- installing "smart meters" in the home or business of every BC Hydro customer.

And smart meters are the dumbest idea yet from a government full of them.

BC Hydro claims the completely safe wireless-transmitting smart meters will save you money and the environment by letting you -- and them -- monitor electricity usage. Then you can reduce usage and shift it to off-peak hours at lower rates.

That all sounds good -- but it's not accurate.

Here's the flip side: smart meters will cost you $930 million up front, not reduce energy usage, not save the environment and not stop drug dealers. And they may not be safe.

How smart are they?

The B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre says smart meters are dumb, and will add 8.3 per cent to your BC Hydro bill, even if they work.

Why? Because people use electricity when and why they do for good reasons -- like getting to work and school in the morning, cooking dinner in the evening, and heating and cooling their homes when it's needed.

"There is only so much that a family can do, with all the will in the world, to shift their energy patterns," BCPIAC executive director Jim Quail writes on the group's website.

And even using electricity at a different time doesn't save energy.

"If our typical family went to the trouble of running the clothes dryer at midnight [saving perhaps a couple of pennies on their energy bill], they would still use the same amount of power to dry the same load of clothes," Quail says.

And are smart meters safe? That depends on which experts on wireless technology you choose to believe. BC Hydro says exposure to the smart meter's wireless radio frequency over 20 years is the equivalent of one 30 minute cell phone call.

But BC Hydro admits the World Health Organization hasn't drawn any "definitive conclusions but has called for further investigation" into the wireless radiation emitted by cell phones, which it says has "different parameters" than smart meters.

However, some prominent doctors strongly believe smart meters are indeed a health hazard.

"What is the evidence that smart meters are safe and have no adverse health effects?" asks Dr. David Carpenter, a former head of the New York State Department of Public Health and now director of the University of Albany's Institute for Health and the Environment. "The answer to that question is that there is no such evidence."

"And in fact, while no one has done human health studies in relation to people living in homes with smart meters, we have evidence from a whole variety of other sources... that demonstrates convincingly and consistently that exposure to radiofrequency radiation at elevated levels for long periods of time increases the risk of cancer, increases the damage to the nervous system, causes electro-sensitivity, has adverse reproductive effects and a variety of other effects on different organ systems," Carpenter says in an online video interview with Smart Meter Safety, a U.S. group opposed to smart meters.

"So there is no justification for the statement that smart meters have no adverse health effects," he concludes. "The smart meter is for the benefit of the utility... and at the expense of the consumer, who has to live in the house that has this constant exposure," Carpenter says. "So, an informed person should demand that they be allowed to keep their analog meter."

The BC Lib connection

Whether or not smart meters are unhealthy is still unclear, if unsettling.

But what is certain is that smart meters are already benefitting a select group of BC Liberal Party-connected insiders who have been awarded lucrative smart meter contracts with BC Hydro.

The Tyee's Will McMartin documents in detail the connections between Corix Utilities, the firm chosen for a $73 million contract to install smart meters in B.C., and BC Hydro Board of Directors member Tracey McVicar, who heads the western Canada operations of one of Corix Utilities's biggest investors -- CAI Capital Management. McMartin also notes that long-time BC Liberal appointee David Emerson is both an investor and "senior advisor" to CAI.

McVicar is also a BC Liberal Party donor, having contributed $2,500 during the 2009 provincial election.

BC Hydro is itself awash with government-appointed former politicos with BC Liberal ties. Hydro executive vice-president Susan Yurkovich was a key member of the BC Liberal's 2005 election campaign committee, while Steve Vanagas, BC Hydro's communications director, came there directly out of former premier Gordon Campbell’s office, where he had been deputy chief of staff for communications.

So, in addition to knowing that BC Hydro rates are slated to go up by 50 per cent in five years to pay for things like smart meters, does that all make you feel better?

If you hear a loud spinning noise, it's most likely your smart meter is already running.

.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Last call to vote YES to Extinguish the HST! TODAY - Friday August 5 - where to drop off your ballot!

Bill Tieleman helping unload 705,643 signatures on Fight HST citizens Initiative petition at Elections BC headquarters in Victoria, June 30, 2010.  Box with signatures of home riding of Vancouver-Point Grey is in hand!
It's nearly over! 

Friday August 5, 2011 is the very last day British Columbians can vote to extinguish the Harmonized Sales Tax in the binding referendum forced by the Fight HST citizens Initiative petition.

So make sure your ballot is counted - if you haven't yet voted - by dropping it off at an Elections BC or Service BC office before 4:30 p.m.!

Remember - this crucial vote that can get rid off or keep the HST was only possible because 705,643 citizens signed the Fight HST petition to extinguish the HST.  [Of those, 557,383 were verified as valid for their riding by Elections BC.]

And of course, it only became a binding referendum when former BC Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell promised it in a desperate attempt to cling to power when opposition to his imposition of the HST became overwhelming.

So exercise your right to direct democracy - in the only province in Canada with Initiative legislation, as flawed and difficult as it is, in the only successful Initiative petition ever launched.

And even if you disagree and want to keep the HST and pay the extra 7% on hundreds of goods and services, use your ballot - democracy is the duty of every citizen.

Elections BC said Thursday it will attempt to count all the ballots and issue a result on August 25 - stay tuned!

.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

How could federal NDP leader Nycole Turmel be a Bloc Quebecois party member while an NDP member? Against NDP constitution

Interim federal NDP leader Nycole Turmel
How could interim federal New Democratic Party leader Nycole Turmel be a member of the Bloc Quebecois party at the same time she was an NDP member - and after being an executive officer - when the NDP Constitution forbids dual membership?

Turmel and the NDP have said today that she joined the Bloc in 2006 to support the nomination battle of a friend and quit the BQ in January of 2011.  Turmel has said she was an NDP member for the past 20 years and she has served on its executive in the 1990s.

The NDP Constitution is quite clear - you can only be a member of one party at a time.

NDP Constitution

ARTICLE III: MEMBERSHIP

There shall be individual and affiliated membership in the Party.

1. Individual Membership

(1) Individual membership shall be open to every resident of Canada, regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or national origin who undertakes to accept and abide by the constitution and principles of the Party and who is not a member or supporter of any other political party. [emphasis added]

(2) Applications for individual membership shall be dealt with in accordance with the constitution of the appropriate provincial Party and shall be subject to the approval of that provincial Party.

Turmel is entitled and indeed to be commended for being an NDP activist and now MP with clear federalist views.
 
The issue is that joining a separatist party - for any reason - is problematic for many Canadian voters.
 
In addition, Turmel donated $235 to the Bloc Quebecois in four donations. She was also a member of the provincial party Quebec Solidaire until she became interim NDP leader.
 
Lots more questions need to be answered.
 
.

You're Poorer than You Think! Statistics show only wealthy Canadians getting ahead

 It's true! You're poorer than you think! - stuartpilbrow photo

Latest stats confirm vast gap between ordinary folks and pension-rich CEOs.

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday August 2, 2011

By Bill Tieleman

"I've been rich and I've been poor -- believe me, rich is better."

- Mae West

A major bank's ads say "you're richer than you think" but in fact, you're poorer!

New statistics actually prove it.

If you believe you have been working harder but not getting ahead year after year, you're probably right.

That is, unless you are wealthy.

The sad reality is revealed in a new Conference Board of Canada study and other statistical information.

In the 33 years between 1976 and 2009 median income increased by just 5.5 per cent -- from $45,800 in 1976 to $48,300 in 2009. [Median income is a dividing line, with half the population making more than that and the other half less.]

But the gap between rich and poor skyrocketed during that same time.

The already huge income difference Canada's wealthiest 20 per cent held over the neediest 20 per cent almost doubled, from $92,300 to $177,500.

And the richest of all benefitted the most. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives determined that the top one per cent got one-third of all income gains in Canada from 1997 to 2007.

All this spells increasing inequality in Canadian society -- too few people enjoying too much money while others barely get by.

Shawsome pension!

Let's put a face to these statistics.

If you have Shaw Cable you may have noticed the price has gone up steadily over the past few years for basic and additional services.

My cable bundle has jumped from $45.95 in 2004 to $64.95 today. That's a $19 increase, or 41 per cent, in seven years or almost six per cent each year.

But average wages have only gone up by about half that amount -- between 1.8 and 3.3 per cent annually. And many workers in the public sector have faced no wage increase the past few years.

So why have Shaw's prices increased at more than double the rate of workers' wage increases? Here's one likely reason.

Shaw Communications chief executive officer Jim Shaw recently retired at the age of just 53.

His pension is $16,000. A day. Every day of the year. That's almost $6 million annually.



Jim Shaw - ex-CEO Shaw Communications


Add in his brother Brad, the new CEO, and father J.R. Shaw and the total retirement bill comes to $147 million, according to the company's own books.

Kind of makes B.C. Ferries CEO David Hahn's $315,000-a-year pension after 10 years at the top look like peanuts -- but it isn't, because over 60 per cent of Canadians don't even have workplace pensions.

How's your pension doing?

That means -- unlike Hahn and the Shaws -- ordinary folks depend on the Canada Pension Plan, which pays a maximum of about $11,500 a year and an average of just $6,000, and any personal savings for their retirement.

But a third of working-age Canadians don't have a Registered Retirement Savings Plan or similar investments. And those with an RRSP will only get on average less than $300 a month when they finish working.

Yup, it's true. You're poorer than you think.

Now go pay your cable bill and jump on a ferry -- but try not to think about whose pensions you're really investing in!

.