Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Basi-Virk 8th Anniversary - a different view of BC Legislature Raid - how to hide the obvious in making BC Rail disappear

The obvious part - David Basi & Bob Virk after surprise guilty plea - October 18, 2010 - Bill Tieleman photo

How BC Rail Was Made to Disappear

Eight years later, looking back at the BC legislature raid, and where we've arrived.

Bill Tieleman's The Tyee column
Tuesday December 27, 2011
NOTE: 24 hours Vancouver newspaper is not publishing daily this week - back January 3, 2012
"No question is so difficult to answer as that to which the answer is obvious."

George Bernard Shaw

What happened when an unprecedented police raid on British Columbia's legislature took place eight years ago Wednesday?

How did the BC Liberal government's $1 billion privatization of BC Rail spark the province's biggest political scandal in decades?

Why did the ministerial aides to then finance minister Gary Collins and then transportation minister Judith Reid -- David Basi and Bob Virk -- defend themselves against charges of breach of trust and fraud for six years only to make a surprise guilty plea bargain when their trial had heard just two of a likely 40 witnesses?

Who knew what and when?

And when, if ever, will we find the answers to these questions?

Through a public inquiry repeatedly rejected by Premier Christy Clark but promised by New Democrat leader Adrian Dix, should he form the next government?

Perhaps some of those answers are already obvious.

One clue requires us to travel back in time and space to Princeton University in September 1969.

An ancient American Revolutionary War cannon, partially buried in the Princeton grounds and anchored with cement, disappeared overnight.

The only trace of the extremely heavy cannon's former hallowed location was a giant mound of earth left when the suspected perpetrators -- Rutgers University students who had left graffiti insulting Princeton behind -- had somehow silently removed the artillery piece in the dead of night.

It was a total mystery how this stunning feat of theft done with astonishing speed and impressive logistics could have been accomplished.

But the secret was eventually solved when Princeton's student newspaper got a tip that led to the dirt on the crime -- look underneath the pile of earth!

The cannon had never moved an inch, nor been disinterred from its resting place.

Instead the brilliant plotters correctly predicted that no one would think the cannon was exactly where it always sat -- and that the mountain of dirt it was buried in would convince all observers that an amazing criminal act had taken place.

What's more -- it wasn't Rutgers students who did the dirty deed -- it was a group of Princeton seniors who covered their tracks by leaving behind slurs on their own school, knowing that the 100 years of university rivalry would enrage Princeton.

So a missing cannon is exactly where it always was and perpetrators of the perfect crime turn out not to be whom everyone presumed.

That analogy may help explain the mystery of BC Rail's disappearance and how it happened right in front of our eyes.

Campbell's vow to sell

Let's go back to basics.

Then-premier Gordon Campbell narrowly lost the 1996 election to NDP Premier Glen Clark in part because the BC Liberals promised to sell BC Rail.

That means a clear intent was formed to privatize a Crown Corporation that had net income in 18 of the 21 years before it was put on the block.

During the 2001 election campaign, Campbell learned his lesson -- promising the reverse of his 1996 pledge -- this time he would not sell BC Rail.

But after eviscerating the hapless NDP under then-premier Ujjal Dosanjh and commanding a 77-2 seat margin in the B.C. legislature, Campbell secretly went back to his original plan -- get rid of BC Rail.

Campbell put the railway company on the auction block and invited bidders to make their best offer in a competitive process -- may the highest price win.

Unfortunately, some bidders were more equal than others.

During the process it was discovered and reported that CN Rail had been wrongly given confidential BC Rail operating information.

Due apologies were made and the bidding continued.

But major rail companies were increasingly uneasy about the whole situation.
CP Rail dropped out of the bidding a week before the announcement that CN had won, saying in a letter to Campbell's senior deputy minister Ken Dobell that the process was "unfair".

The Nov. 17, 2003 letter from the CPR vice-president of strategy and law, Marcella Szel, to Dobell says that its "market intelligence" showed "that CN was speaking directly to BC Rail shippers about their bid, with what we must consider the approval of the [BC Rail] Evaluation Committee, since the confidentiality agreement clearly stated no such discussions were to be held without consent."

"This feedback included the marketplace being aware of the actual value of the bids," Szel wrote to Dobell, just eight days before the B.C. government announced the sale of BC Rail to CN.

Anger by bidders at process

That letter was part of 8,000 pages of documents ordered released in early 2009 by then-B.C. Supreme Court justice Elizabeth Bennett in response to a court application filed on behalf of New Democratic Party MLA Leonard Krog.

Another major rail company -- Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway -- also dropped out before the bidding ended, writing in a letter also disclosed in 2009 that it was "extremely dismayed with the handling of the BC Rail Transaction.... because of the lack of fairness in which the process has been conducted."

The letter went to CIBC World Markets, which handled the BC Rail sale for the province.
BSNF had been a business partner supporting the bid of OmniTRAX, which ended up being the only other bidder left competing with CN.

In an earlier letter to Wallace dated Nov. 18, 2003, Rickershauser blasted CIBC World Markets with both barrels:

"I and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway are extremely dismayed with the handling of the BC Rail Transaction, especially in recent weeks as managed by CIBC World Markets. Our dismay arises because of the lack of fairness in which the process has been conducted so far, the apparent favoritism of certain bidders, and the lack of timely information provided to all participants involved in the process," Rickershauser wrote.

"Reports and rumours of CN talking directly with BC Rail shippers and communities have been circulating for several weeks in shipper, government and media circles.... In fact, reports from shippers indicate that CN has been discussing what it will or will not do when it is awarded the BC Rail concession," Rickershauser ended.

We cannot determine the accuracy of either CP or BNSF's allegations of a tainted process that unfairly favoured CN Rail.

It is also worth noting that none of the huge railway companies that bailed out ever went to court to recover their costs in participating in the bidding, let alone filed legal action to have the process overturned because of that alleged unfairness.

Why not? CP Rail's Szel pretty much answers that question in her own bitter letter.

Szel wrote that she would like to: "discuss with you how the British Columbia government can re-establish this kind of confidence with the CPR."

In other words, there's still far too much business to be done in B.C. to pursue a scorched earth approach. No doubt BNSF felt the same way, despite its anger.

David McLean and CN's win

There was also a "fairness" advisor interim report by Charles River Associates into the bidding stating that: "the Province and its advisors designed and managed the BC Rail restructuring process in a manner consistent in all material respects with current best practices usually followed in similar transactions.

But still -- two reputable international railway companies dropped out of a bidding process because both felt it was designed to favour CN Rail.

Who was and remains the chair of CN Rail?

David McLean, one of Gordon Campbell's biggest and most long-standing supporters.

And CN Rail was one of the BC Liberal Party's most significant donors, contributing $113,000 between 1994 and 2004, and another $155,000 between 2005 and 2009.

Campbell's then-chief of staff Martyn Brown testified as the first witness in the Basi-Virk trial that he was unaware of CN donations to the party and that neither that nor McLean's role as Campbell's chief fundraiser in 1996 affected the sale.

"It was not at all a factor in the consideration," Brown swore in May 2010.

And with only complaints by competing companies but not any action, and with only allegations by lawyers for Basi and Virk under the protection of a court pre-trial hearing, that's the end of the matter.

Basi and Virk avoid jail

The defence for Basi and Virk made many bombshell claims in B.C. Supreme Court, allegations that if ever proven would have rocked the province and likely brought down the BC Liberal government.

But they weren't.

Basi and Virk's lawyers were negotiating hard in secret with Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino to make a guilty plea bargain deal for their clients.

In October 2010, that deal was done. Basi and Virk would spend two years on probation and not have to pay back any of the roughly $6 million in legal fees collected over the years by their lawyers Michael Bolton and Kevin McCullough. Nor would they spend any time in jail, as prosecutors originally demanded.

The deal meant no more testimony as planned from BC Liberal government insiders -- from ex-cabinet ministers like Christy Clark and Gary Collins -- or from a series of party operatives like Patrick Kinsella, the lobbyist who collected $297,000 as an advisor to BC Rail over four years, doing work that was unknown even to some of its senior executives.

Basi and Virk admit passing confidential government BC Rail bidding information on to Erik Bornmann and Brian Kieran --lobbyists representing OmniTRAX -- and justice is done.

What's that shape under the dirt?

So, let's go back to our missing cannon at Princeton University in 1969.

Just like the artillery piece hiding under a mountain of dirt, the B.C. Legislature Raid case is actually right where it always was.

Premier Gordon Campbell's government broke an election promise and sold BC Rail to one of his political party's biggest backers -- CN Rail -- in a competition where all but one other bidder dropped out, citing an unfair process they believed favoured CN.

The last remaining bidder, OmniTRAX, lost despite whatever advantages its lobbyists managed to procure from Basi and Virk in exchange for about $30,000 and a trip to Denver, Colorado for a football game.

And despite much of the BC Rail case being known to those voters who cared to look, the BC Liberals were twice re-elected to government after the 2003 raid, in 2005 and again in 2009.

It's that simple, unless you actually want to know everything that really happened.

That will still take a public inquiry -- you can support that position at a Facebook page I set up calledBasi-Virk Public Inquiry


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas to all and a Happy New Year too!

Christmas 2010 - West Broadway, Kitsilano - Bill Tieleman photo
Best wishes to all my readers for a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! 

Like the poster says, let's remember to live more and buy less - and help those in need at this special time of year. 




Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Kevin Falcon the Fall Guy for Jim Flaherty - BC loses billions in health care funding, HST repayment - but Falcon fails to get it

Ex-Premier Gordon Campbell & Finance Minister Kevin Falcon - asleep at the switch
BC Liberal Finance Minister Kevin Falcon must have had that falling feeling Monday when he praised federal Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's new plan to reduce health care funding increases - then watched as most of his provincial counterparts denounced Flaherty.

Why?  Because the federal Conservatives just pulled the rug out from under BC and other provinces' funding, six ways from Sunday.

Flaherty surprised provincial finance ministers by unilaterally announcing that Ottawa will end current health care funding increases of 6% a year by 2017, despite rising costs, leaving the provinces to make up the difference.

The new plan will also reduce BC's per capita health care funding because Ottawa's funding formula doesn't deal with our aging population's hire costs, meaning up to an additional $250 million a year will be lost.

But too late - Falcon was already on the record:  "From B.C.'s perspective, we think certainty is good thing," he said. "We cannot ignore what is taking place around the world."

Huh?  What's going on is that BC is getting shafted and Falcon was sticking up for his federal Conservative friends, not British Columbia.

Quebec's Finance Minister Raymond Bachand wasn't as thick as Falcon.

Bachand called the unilateral federal decision to dramatically reduce funding "totally unacceptable."

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter called it "profoundly disappointing".

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said it was "frustrating".

Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said the provinces will lose $21 billion.

"It means less access to quality health care," Duncan said.

By Tuesday even Falcon had figured out that BC was being shafted.

And his hardline response?  He'll ask the federal government to "adjust" the per capita formula - but if BC got that "we'd be very happy with the rest of the package."

Falcon and BC Premier Christy Clark have also thrown in the towel on getting repayment of the federal Harmonized Sales Tax grant of $1.6 billion reduced to reflect the period of time the HST will have been in effect.  

Now they are hoping to claim "victory" by getting an extended lay-away plan to repay the entire amount.

Just one question - wouldn't you love to play poker with these jokers?

Jim Flaherty must be laughing all the way back to Ottawa.



Political Christmas Carols: Christy the Premier - Away in the U.K.; Wreck The Libs with Trasolini; O Cummins All Ye Faithful

Deck the Halls of Power

With BC's own political Christmas carols this season.

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday December 20, 2011

By Bill Tieleman

"Let's be naughty and save Santa the trip."

-Singer Gary Allan

When Christmas carols meet B.C. politics 'tis the season to be a jolly old Grinch.

Here are a few songs you could hear around the Legislature this holiday season.

Christy the Premier
[To the tune of "Frosty the Snowman"]

Christy the Premier/Was a radio talk show soul,
With a giant smile that stretched a mile/And a very ambitious goal.
Christy the Premier is a fairy tale, they say,
She was made of fluff but she sure could bluff, so she came to power one day.

There must have been some magic/In that photo op they planned.
For when they turned the cameras on/She really did glad hand!

O, Christy the Premier/Said she'd beat the NDP
And the Liberals say/She'd campaign away
To keep power for them in B.C.

Thumpetty thump thump/Thumpetty thump thump,
Look at Christy spin!
Thumpetty thump thump/Thumpetty thump thump,
She really wants to win!

Christy the Premier/Knew
the polls were bad that day,
So she said, "A spring election we'll run/It'll be such fun
Now before I melt away."
Down to the Caucus/With an election writ in hand!
Running here and there all/Around the Ledge saying:
"Elect me while you can!"
She led them down the streets of town/
Right to the Cabinet room. 
And she had to call it off when/She heard them holler "Stop!"

Then Christy the Premier/Had to hurry on her way, 
But she waved goodbye saying/"Don't you cry, I'll be back at 'NW some day."

Thumpetty thump thump/Thumpetty thump thump,
They made Christy go.
Thumpetty thump thump/Thumpetty thump thump,
Back to radio you know!

Away in the U.K.
[To the tune of "Away In A Manger"]

Away in the U.K./High Commissioner his role,
Premier Gordon Campbell/Rewarded for his toil.
The stars in London, England/ Shone ever so bright,
But Gordon was troubled/All through the night.

"It's really not fair," he said to himself,
The Order of B.C. is not on my shelf.
I wanted it, I craved it -- my friends made it so,
But to get it in hand, to Victoria I must go."

"It pains me to think of the reception I'd get,
When Dave Barrett hasn't even got an OBC yet!
Nor Vander Zalm, nor Harcourt -- still longer they wait,
But it's better to get it too early than late!"

Wreck the Libs
[To the tune of "Deck The Halls"]

Wreck the Libs with Trasolini/
Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, ha-ha-ha-ha

Christy thinks that Joe's a meany/Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, ha-ha-ha-ha

Joe once was a friend of Clark/Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, ha-ha-ha-ha

But now with Dix he'll make his mark/Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, ha-ha-ha-ha

That by-election in Port Moody/Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, ha-ha-ha-ha

Has made the premier very broody/Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, ha-ha-ha-ha

With one more in Chilliwack/Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, ha-ha-ha-ha

Liberals fear a heart attack/Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, ha-ha-ha-ha

O Cummins, All Ye Faithful
[To the tune of "O Come, All Ye Faithful"]

O Cummins all ye faithful/Rightwing and triumphant,
O Cummins, O come ye to Victoria/Cummins, Christy scolds him:
"He'll split our Liberal vote!/Cummins, let's ignore him,
Cummins, we abhor him!O Cummins, don't vote for him
For Christy's sake!"

Right of centre/Conservative and Reform,
Lo! He relishes Liberal scorn!
Oh my god/A third party at last!

Best wishes to all readers for a happy and safe holiday season!

No 24 hours newspaper column next week but see you back here on December 27 for a very special Basi-Virk 8th year column for The Tyee and this blog.

Back in 24 hours on Tuesday January 3, 2012.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Adrian Dix promises BC NDP convention he will do "bold things" but in moderation

Dix Dials It Down

Adrian Dix after speech to BC NDP convention - Bill Tieleman photo

NDP leader prepares for government by moderating plans and expectations.

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday December 13, 2011

By Bill Tieleman

"Only actions give life strength; only moderation gives it charm."

-Jean Paul Richter, 1763-1825

The B.C. New Democratic Party convention last weekend was a public display intended to show voters it's ready to govern moderately and wisely, but another earlier event was actually the more important signal.

That took place Nov. 9, when 650 people attend a $395 per person dinner at the Hotel Vancouver -- making it the party's most successful fundraiser ever.

But who was there to hear NDP leader Adrian Dix speak was more important than the fact that the event grossed over a quarter-million dollars.

It was informally billed as a business outreach event -- and it was, with company executives, lobbyists and advisors connected with the B.C. Liberals in strong attendance. [There were no media invited to the event -- but I was there.]

Among those spotted: Mark Jiles, business partner of B.C. Liberal top operative Patrick Kinsella at the Progressive Group; Mark Reder, a senior vice president at Fleishman-Hillard Canada and a former B.C. Liberal constituency president; and Byng Giraud, Imperial Metals vice president and part of B.C. Liberal Education Minister George Abbott's past leadership campaign.

Surprising twist

Dix gave the crowd a surprising message -- the party had gone too far in the 1990s under premiers Mike Harcourt and Glen Clark when it introduced hundreds of new acts -- "too much legislation" he said.

His administration, Dix said, would tell voters what it planned to do before the election and how it would pay for it.

Dix added one additional qualification: "I don't deliver different messages to business and labour."

Dix, whose NDP leadership bid I supported, further contradicted some of his early critics -- who saw him as too dogmatically left wing -- by stating: "Government cannot solve all the problems in B.C."

NDP delegates would hear a similar message last Saturday: don't expect an overly activist government.

Economy first

Nonetheless, Dix brought the crowd to its feet by promising "we'll do bold things" but would also be strategic.

Then he said he'd fix the party’s major failing when it lost the 2009 election.

"Making the economy the primary issue in the next election is what we're going to do," Dix said.

But lest anyone think Dix, who was Clark's chief of staff in the mid 1990s, was solely appealing for big business votes, he added this.

"We're going to roll back the corporate income tax rate connected to the carbon tax to 2008 levels so we will have money to invest in issues of public transit, retrofitting of public buildings, in supporting rural communities and in fighting inequality," Dix said.

And while most were impressed that Dix delivered his more than hour-long speech entirely without notes, it seemed to go unnoticed that he never once mentioned Premier Christy Clark by name. Nor did he do so at the high-priced fundraising dinner.

Depth, and a dig

Whether by accident or more likely by design, Dix is contrasting his encyclopedic grasp of a wide range of issues with former talk show host Clark's decidedly skimpy depth on public policy.

Dix only came close to referring to Clark's name once, when he jokingly told the 600 delegates that: "Our movement is not about the leader, we're not renaming this the B.C. Adrian Party any time soon." That jibe, of course, aimed at the B.C. Liberal Party's new logo, which features "Christy" in bigger type than "Liberal".

Dix is betting that substance will beat style, especially in what is now a long campaign until the May 2013 fixed-date election.

Balanced populism

What else Dix is doing is clear: building a carefully crafted message that balances the public's desire for populist change after 10 years of corporate government with an understanding that alienating business is not an easy road to victory.

Dix also knows that the more polling indicates an NDP election victory in 2013, the more he needs to both dampen high party expectations and reassure business that an NDP government won't damage an increasingly frail B.C. economy.

It's a difficult tightrope for any social democratic party leader to walk at the best of times. Now, with the United States still in economic trouble and several European states tottering towards potential financial disaster, it's an even more perilous balancing act.

And Dix knows better than anyone that when it comes to an NDP government in British Columbia, you are always working at great heights without a net.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hasta luego - Bill Tieleman in Mexico!

Bill Tieleman caught on holiday in Mexico!
Amigos y amigas - I will be in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico with my family from December 12 to 19 on holiday - and your posts may be delayed during that time, as will any new items from me.

I will still have columns in 24 hours newspaper and The Tyee online on Tuesday December 13 and Tuesday December 20 - your continued readership is appreciated - muchas gracias!

See you soon - hasta luego!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

BC Ferries outrageous decision to "only" pay new CEO Mike Corrigan $563,000 compared to David Hahn! Plus $200,000 one-time bonus!

BC Ferries management - sailing away with your money.
Absolutely outrageous!

There's no other way to describe BC Ferries' decision to pay new CEO Mike Corrigan $563,000 a year to run a monopoly service.

And to put the proverbial lipstick on a pig, BC Ferries thinks it's great news for long-suffering customers that they limited Corrigan's salary package to just 60% of what $1 million a year current CEO David Hahn has been making!

Even BC Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom - who is ultimately responsible for this travesty - can't stomach that amount of money.

"In these difficult fiscal times, do I think it's a concern?" Lekstrom told CTV News. "Yes, I do."

But that's not all - BC Ferries will "phase out" it's long-term bonus program for senior executives like Corrigan - not by cancelling it but by dividing a huge $778,000 fund between Corrigan and three other executives!

Tell that to people lining up for a $100 ride on BC Ferries!

Lekstrom is queasy on this part too.

"I'm not sure it is appropriate," Lekstrom said.

Not sure?  Let me spell it out - this is completely unacceptable.  And doing nothing about it - which so far is Lekstrom's plan - is more evidence the government is completely adrift.

Let's compare Corrigan's $563,000 to the salary of the top paid health care CEO in 2010 - Provincial Health Services Authority CEO Lynda Cranston -  who made $390,110.

That's for a job with people's lives on the line - not passengers in a line for burgers and fries.

I think Cranston is also overpaid - but she still made $173,000 less than Corrigan.

The PHSA has a budget of over $1 billion annually and employs over 10,000 people, including doctors, specialists, medical technicians and other staff.

BC Ferries annual budget is about $757 million and has less than 5,000 employees.

I have nothing against Corrigan, who I've never met, nor do I blame him for making as much money as he can from BC Ferries.

But the owner of BC Ferries has a lot of nerve paying him this much - that would be the BC government, Premier Christy Clark - proprietor.


Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Canadian Government Plays Deadly Politics of Salt

Health panel wants life saving, sodium lowering policies. Conservatives say "no".

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday December 6, 2011
By Bill Tieleman
"But Lot's wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt." 
- The Holy Bible, Genesis 19:26

Why would the federal government deliberately ignore the deadly results of a dangerous substance killing thousands each year and negatively affecting the health of one-quarter of Canadians?

Why would Ottawa do absolutely nothing to stop needless deaths and enormous medical costs when prevention is practically free and its own expert panel recommended quick action?

The answer is because that deadly product is salt -- and the Conservative government doesn't want to upset the culprits who deal it -- food manufacturers and restaurants.

Canadians consume way too much salt -- on average 3,400 milligrams -- when Health Canada says the recommended, safe amount is less than half that -- just 1,500 milligrams. High blood pressure results, causing heart disease and strokes.

Reducing sodium intake to 1,800 milligrams a day would prevent an estimated 23,500 cardiovascular disease events per year -- a 13 per cent reduction -- and save $3 billion a year in health costs, according to the government's own report.

The result is high blood pressure -- the leading preventable risk factor for deaths worldwide -- causing heart disease and strokes, as well as kidney disease, stomach cancer, osteoporosis and asthma.

But last month federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq rejected the urgent recommendations of the Sodium Working Group -- an expert panel appointed by the government.

Information denied

The panel's minimal steps would merely have set a voluntary target of reducing sodium intake by one third by 2016 -- to a still too much 2,300 milligrams -- or about one teaspoon a day.

The plan would only have published the results of food companies' voluntary efforts to reduce salt levels in processed food.

And the Sodium Working Group wanted food companies to use uniform serving sizes in nutrition fact tables on packaging to make it easier for consumers to compare salt content, using the reduced recommended sodium levels.

That would have had the effect of increasing the daily percentage of salt amount in the same sized portion of food -- unless manufacturers reduced the actual sodium content.

But Aglukkaq dumped even those modest ideas, saying that: "We agree we need to move forward to meet the 2016 targets, but we don't always agree about how we get to the end result."

'Blood pressure and diabetes rates don't stand still'

Instead, Health Canada will "consult" still more with the salt sellers, who apparently have no interest in even allowing consumers to decide for themselves what amount of sodium in their processed food and prepared restaurant meals is too much.

And Aglukkaq has already disbanded the Sodium Working Group, which was set up in 2007 and made extensive recommendations in July 2010.

The federal government's refusal to act on clearly established salt health risks angers the experts.

"Blood pressure and diabetes rates don't stand still while Health Canada indulges food companies' desire to conceal sodium reduction track records and perpetuate misleading food labelling," says Bill Jeffery, a member of the Sodium Working Group and Canadian national coordinator of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest.

"Menus and labels should show reliable sodium and calorie levels so customers can make informed choices and restaurants feel real pressure to remake menu items with healthier ingredients," he saidlast month.

His American counterpart is even more blunt.

"Salt, in the amounts presently used in processed foods, is the single deadliest ingredient in the food supply, contributing to the premature deaths of tens of thousands of Americans each year," says U.S. CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson.

"This has been widely acknowledged in the medical community for many years, but has been mostly ignored by food manufacturers and regulators," Jacobson said last month.

When one serving doubles your daily need

To get some idea just how badly restaurant food is being over salted, go to your local shopping mall and check out Edo Japan's menu.

A single serving of their Chicken Udon Soup will give you 3,440 milligrams of salt -- not only more than the average daily consumption but over double the recommended limit for 24 hours!

But Edo Japan is no exception -- in fast food and other restaurants way too much salt is actually the rule.

Have Denny's Restaurant’s Meat Lover's Scramble for breakfast and you've ingested 3,180 milligrams of salt to start your day.

Trying to eat healthy? Forget eating an Olive Garden Garden fresh salad. At 1,930 milligrams of saltthat's more than your daily limit.

And avoid Subway's 6" Turkey Sub with American cheese and light mayo -- unless you don't mind 1,220 milligrams of salt.

Unfortunately processed foods sold in supermarkets are just as bad. Swanson's Hungry Man Roasted Carved Turkey will inject 1,620 milligrams of salt into your body, while just one tablespoon of La Choy Soy Sauce packs a whopping 1,160 milligrams of salt!

The salty facts are sometimes available -- if you look hard for them -- but not usually anywhere near a restaurant menu or clearly explained on a packaged food label, exactly at the time of purchase when you need them.

And those facts won't be posted where they could do some good unless government demands it. All Health Canada has done to date is set up a task force to "explore the possibility" of nutrition facts signage at fast food restaurants.

Processed and dangerous

There's no question the over salting of Canadians isn't being done at the dinner table with a shaker.

Commercially processed foods make up a whopping 77 per cent of sodium intake, while 12 per cent occurs naturally, six per cent gets added at the table and five per cent is added during cooking.

The Centre for Science in the Public Interest has put together loads of information in a lengthy reporton sodium levels in our food and regularly issues news releases and reports on the salt crisis -- but the Canadian government’s latest response shows it has no interest in getting the salt out.

And B.C. Health Minister Mike de Jong doesn't seem to regard salt intake as a crisis either.

To its credit, at least the health ministry has information available on its "Healthy Living" website about sodium and is sponsoring a "sodium awareness" contest with a grand prize of $5,000.

"By increasing awareness of the risks associated with high sodium levels, we are helping British Columbian families prevent health problems, as well as lowering the number of physician visits related to hypertension," de Jong correctly says.

But these are baby steps when doctors, nutritionists and dieticians are all saying urgent action is needed on a national basis.

A 2010 American study cited by the Sodium Working Group report showed just how effective a modest salt reduction strategy could be:

"A three gram (1,200 mg sodium) reduction in daily salt intake would have approximately the same effect on rates of coronary heart disease as a 50 per cent reduction in tobacco use, a five per cent reduction in the BMI (body mass index) of obese adults, or the use of statins to treat people at low or intermediate risk of coronary heart disease events.

"A salt reduction strategy would be more cost-effective than using medication to lower blood pressure in all people with hypertension," the report concluded.

Too much salt is killing too many Canadians -- and the federal government's refusal to act is inexcusable.