Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Departing BC Finance Minister Kevin Falcon's dreary record "highlighted" by HST

UPDATED: 4 BC Liberal MLAs gone in 24 hours: George Abbott, Mary McNeill, John less join Kevin Falcon in bailing out.

BC Finance Minister Kevin Falcon reaches the end of the line with little to show for term in Christy Clark government except extending period with hated Harmonized Sales Tax

Getting off at next station: first Gordon Campbell and now Kevin Falcon.
UPDATE #3: At 1:15 p.m. I join host Mike Smyth on CKNW AM 980 to talk about the Kevin Falcon, George Abbott, Mary McNeill & John Les resignations and announcements they won't run in the next election. Tune in!

UPDATE#2: I will be talking to CBC TV News Network host Reshmi Nair NOW at 12:40 pm BC time on Kevin Falcon, George Abbott resignations.

UPDATE #1: BC Liberal Education Minister George Abbott, Children and Family Development Minister Mary McNeill and MLA John Les, Parliamentary Secretary to Premier Christy Clark, are all expected to announce Thursday morning they will not run again in the next provincial election.

Abbott will be the second BC Liberal leadership candidate in 24 hours to quit Clark's government, following Finance Minister Kevin Falcon's resignation Wednesday.  More to come......


After losing the BC Liberal leadership to Christy Clark, Kevin Falcon could say: "I used to be the next Premier of British Columbia!" to rephrase Al Gore's funniest line.

But now Falcon is gone even as finance minister and whether he will ever get another chance to be premier is very dubious at best.

After all, BC Liberals declined to give him the job last year because he was seen as less electable than Clark and carrying too much baggage from his former boss Gordon Campbell.

Some think Falcon is using the same strategy successfully employed by Jean Chretien, John Turner, Bill Vander Zalm and many other politicians who left the electoral arena for a few years only to come back as leaders of their parties.

Maybe so - and I do give Falcon's stated reason for leaving - to support his wife as she gives birth to their second child - considerable weight.

On the other hand, Falcon repeatedly goaded Clark during the leadership over her refusal to run for the BC Liberals in the next election if she lost that contest - saying he'd be running either way. 

Now he's not.  Falcon is allowed to change his mind and particularly when circumstances change significantly.  But I have to think that just like Christy Clark when she lost the NPA nomination for Vancouver mayor in 2005, Kevin Falcon's ambition has not altered either - he still wants to be premier.

Unfortunately for the now simply MLA for Surrey-Cloverdale, his record in office under Clark is rather bereft of good news.

Falcon will best be known for continuing the lengthy period that British Columbians were charged the Harmonized Sales Tax despite soundly rejecting it in the 2011 binding referendum.

Falcon's steadfast defence of the indefensible tax and chippy comments after the referendum that he would be reintroducing a "stupid tax" - the PST - to replace it, isn't a legacy to bring up with voters in a few years and expect glowing memories.

Nor is BC's huge $1.84 billion deficit something to be proud of as finance minister.  Yes, repayment of the HST federal grant is part of that amount but it was the BC Liberals that panicked in 2009 when they saw a deficit 6 times bigger than they promised and then introduced the HST to get that money in the first place.

The other rumour is that Falcon will run for the federal Conservatives in the 2015 federal election somewhere in Surrey.  A credible theory at least.

But in the meantime, regardless of his record or my politics, I do wish Kevin and his family well in the future.  Agree or disagree with his policies but everyone who gives time to public service deserves our thanks.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Elections BC imposes absurd $3.2 million fine on BCGEU in bizarre censorship move

Elections BC's Dangerous Censorship

Outrageous $3.2 million fine levied on BCGEU shows big problems in election advertising laws.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday August 28, 2012

"As to the evil which results from a censorship, it is impossible to measure it, for it is impossible to tell where it ends."
- Philosopher Jeremy Bentham 1748-1832
Does freedom of speech end when an election starts?
Is it permissible to impose censorship on public debate for the entire province when by-elections are held in just two of 85 ridings?
And is a penalty of $3.2 million and a ban on running any advertising in the 2013 provincial election a fair way to punish even an inadvertent, momentary transgression of highly debatable rules that are inconsistently applied?
Those are the questions a B.C. Supreme Court justice will have to answer after Elections BC imposed a shocking $3.2 million fine on the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union for allegedly violating rules severely limiting advertising, during two recent by-elections.
The case is far more important than for just its potentially devastating financial impact on the BCGEU, which is appealing the decision in court, because it could seriously censor all organizations' ability to communicate with the public during the next election.
The facts behind Elections BC's decision to levy a massive fine make no sense at all.
The BCGEU was running television ads this spring to support its bargaining for a new contract with its employer, the provincial government. Watch one at the top of this article.
When B.C. Liberal Premier Christy Clark called two by-elections on March 22, the BCGEU contacted Elections BC to ask if the independent body would regard ads already being broadcast as "election ads" under legislation that severely restricts advertising during a vote.
Yes indeed they would, came the word back via email from Elections BC just before 5 p.m. on Friday, March 23. It was overlooked until Tuesday, at which point BCGEU pulled all advertising across B.C.
The ads are straightforward and do not mention any political party. In them, BCGEU members telling viewers that: "a decade of falling behind from government cuts and wage freezes has hurt us and the services you rely on."
But under B.C.'s ridiculously punitive Election Act, elections ads are those that "...promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, a registered political party or the election of a candidate, including an advertising message that takes a position on an issue with which a registered political party or candidate is associated."
That pretty much means anything worth talking about!
Weird math
And the limits on spending are extraordinary: a maximum of $3,000 in one riding and $150,000 across the province in total.
A limit of $3,000 during the election campaign period would mean a business, union, non-profit or group of citizens could maybe buy a small ad in a newspaper at the most -- leaving all other advertising to political parties.
The penalties are extraordinary as well: a fine of 10 times the amount overspent by any advertiser.
Elections BC also bizarrely ruled that even though there were by-elections in just two ridings, with the entire BCGEU ad budget at $280,000 for the whole campaign, the union overspent the $3,000 limit by over $159,000 in each riding. The $318,000 total is more than the actual campaign cost.
So take $159,000 times two, then multiply it by ten and presto -- you owe us $3.2 million!
Calling it absurd doesn't even begin to describe this case.
BCGEU spokesperson Chris Bradshaw said in a Sunday interview that the union will argue in court that Elections BC erred in calling the campaign "elections ads," was wrong in calculating the fine and imposing it despite BCGEU consulting them and withdrawing the ads promptly.
"It means essentially that our ability to communicate with our members, the public and taxpayers is severely limited," if the legislation and fine are upheld, Bradshaw said.
One doesn't have to be a union supporter to see that businesses, non-profits or citizens who want to speak their mind during the next election would also be silenced if this draconian law and ruling aren't tossed out.
Could Mothers Against Drunk Driving ads be subject to these rules?
Why not? Elections BC could easily argue that since the B.C. Liberals introduced tougher laws on drinking drivers, the ads promote "a position on an issue with which a registered political party or candidate is associated."
Highly selective prosecution
But don't expect any changes from the B.C. Liberal government to return some sanity to election advertising.
When the B.C. Liberals desperately wanted the Harmonized Sales Tax to pass a binding referendum last year, they exempted that vote from not only any spending limits but even basic financial disclosure rules.
The government spent at least $6 million and big business supporters in the Smart Tax Alliance an untold amount of millions more, knowing that Fight HST -- the group I helped create -- had a budget of less than $300,000 by comparison.
And on the BCGEU case, Chilliwack backbench B.C. Liberal MLA John Les not only pilloried the union but couldn't resist a little prevarication too.
"The BCGEU had a choice to pull their ads in support of the NDP. Instead, they decided the rules didn't apply to them," Les said, ignoring the fact that the ads were about their contract negotiations, that the union consulted Elections BC about those rules and did pull the ads shortly thereafter.
The BCGEU points out that its ads were already on air when the by-elections were called.
"We don't know when they're calling a by-election -- we pulled the ads as soon as we read the Elections BC email," Bradshaw says. "But you can't just flip a switch and them off air -- it takes awhile."
And even former Elections BC chief electoral officer Harry Neufeld admitted when the advertising rules were introduced that "in some cases it can be difficult to determine if an activity is election advertising."
No kidding!
The next question is who else will be investigated and fined by Elections BC, because the BCGEU wasn't the only organization running advocacy advertising during the same period, just the only one being punished.


People like me work across B.C. taking care of your children, looking after your elderly parents and everyone in between
We love the work we do and have done our share through tough times
But a decade of falling behind from government cuts and wage freezes
Has hurt us and the services you rely on
B.C. families can't afford to keep going backwards. It's time funding for services and wages kept up.
Time to start moving forward again
A message from BCGEU
Subtitles in text on screen:
She looks after your kids
He fights forest fires
She works to keep B.C. safe
He helps youth at risk
A message from BCGEU
Working together for all British Columbians

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Russia's repressive Putin regime jails Pussy Riot, bans Pride parades for 100 years

Stand up to Russia: Canada fiddles while Putin bans Pride parades, imprisons Pussy Riot protestors.
Pussy Riot member - and Canadian permanent resident - 
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova in Moscow court
Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday August 21, 2012

By Bill Tieleman

"Russian authorities will stop at no end to suppress dissent and stifle civil society."
- Amnesty International
What kind of backwater repressive dictatorship would ban gay pride parades for the next 100 years, throw peaceful protestors in jail for two years hard labour and call a prominent music star a "whore" for daring to speak out against it?
Welcome to President Vladimir Putin's Russia, which has democratic pretensions but is clearly an intolerant, homophobic regime for many of its citizens.
The pre-trial jailing of three members of punk band "Pussy Riot" for protesting against Putin in Moscow's main Orthodox cathedral was outrageous enough.
But now the three women -- two of them mothers of young children -- are sentenced to two years hard labour in a penal colony!
Pussy Riot's terrible crime? They jumped on a church stage wearing colourful balaclavas to deliver a punk prayer chanting "Holy Mother, Drive Putin Away" during February's presidential election. You can watch it here.
Not to be outdone, another Moscow court this month upheld that city's ban on any Pride parades by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered citizens for a century.
Moscow's former mayor Yuri Luzhkov said he introduced the ban to prevent violent reactions against Pride and calls homosexuals "satanic." Luzhkov was fired in 2010 by former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev but the law remains.
And given that deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin called music star Madonna a "whore" on Twitter after she had Pussy Riot's name stenciled on her back during her Moscow concert this month and called for their freedom, don't expect much to change anytime soon.
In fact, Madonna is being sued for $10 million by Russian anti-gay activists for denouncing a city law in St. Petersburg that bans spreading "homosexual propaganda," whatever that is.
"Maybe someone does not see the link but after Madonna's concert maybe some boy becomes gay, some girl becomes lesbian, fewer children are born as a result and this big country cannot defend its borders -- for me it causes moral suffering," claimed Alexei Kolotkov, one of those suing Madonna in an action that stretches credulity well beyond the breaking point.
No word yet on how many concert converts to homosexuality resulted from the Material Girl's St. Petersburg gig.
Pussy Riot member's Canadian link
One of the jailed Pussy Riot band members is Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, who holds a permanent Canadian residency card and an Ontario health card.
But that hasn't made a difference in Canada's pathetic response to the show trial, which to date consists of stating that: "The promotion of Canadian values including freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, features prominently in our ongoing dialogue with the Russian authorities."
More important, of course, is about $3 billion in trade between Canada and Russia.
So as Pussy Riot members sat in jail, Conservative International Trade Minister Ed Fast, MP for Abbotsford, led a trade mission to Russia in June, calling it "a priority market."
Fast should read the verdict pronounced by Moscow judge Marina Syrova, in which she describes Tolokonnikiova, and fellow Pussy Riot prisoners Maria Alekhina and Ekaterina Samutsevich as posing a danger to society for committing "grave crimes" including "the insult and humiliation of the Christian faith and inciting religious hatred."
Syrova claimed there was evidence the women had "psychological disorders" and denounced them for espousing feminism, though she noted that: "belonging to feminism in the Russian Federation is not a legal violation or a crime."
Not yet and how fortunate for Pussy Riot and others -- but stay tuned, it could be illegal soon!
Take action
Of course, such repressive moves should be no surprise.
Russia has also joined with the dictators of China to stop any meaningful international intervention to end the massacre of the Syrian people by President Bashar al-Assad, an infinitely more serious situation.
So what can we do here? Support online campaigns to free Pussy Riot and overturn homophobic laws in Russia.
Groups like Amnesty International and All Out are campaigning for human rights in Russia.
Think hard about spending your tourist dollars travelling to Russia.
And consider buying vodka from other countries, where basic human rights aren't so hard to swallow.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Columnist has Political Compass spinning with contradictions

Guns, Dolce & Gabbana, David Suzuki's scream and champagne socialist - what does Political Compass say about our ideology?

Bill Tieleman and Thompson submachine gun - in legal Las Vegas gun range - never question a columnist holding an automatic weapon
Online Political Compass tests your beliefs - but don't expect clarity!

Bill Tieleman’s 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday August 14, 2012

By Bill Tieleman

"If any ideology is so serious that you can't have fun while you're doing it, it's probably too serious."
- Author Larry Wall
Are you right-wing or left-wing? Are you a social liberal or conservative?
What exactly is your ideology? And how can you tell?
Tough questions anytime and more difficult still at a time when religion is fading as a moral compass and millions of different issues bombard us through electronic media.
Fortunately, help is at hand. At the Political Compass website you can take a short test and find out not only where you stand, but who's there beside you.
And for politically confused Canadians, or those like me who confound description, it couldn't come soon enough.
Navigate your politics
The Political Compass isn't a simple left versus right indicator, because that's not only too simple but simply inaccurate. It adds another dimension -- authoritarian or libertarian -- to paint a more telling picture by dividing ideology into four quadrants.
For example, on the extreme end both Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin were authoritarian but the ex-Russian communist was on the left side, while the former German fascist was surprisingly only a bit right of centre.
Down in the left and libertarian/anarchist quadrant is Indian independence leader and pacifist Mahatma Gandhi.
Modern political leaders from Canada's Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper to U.S. President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent Mitt Romney to Australian Labour Party Prime Minister Julia Gillard, South African President Jacob Zuma and British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband are all grouped relatively close together in the middle of the right-authoritarian quadrant.
Only French Socialist President Francois Hollande and Greek opposition leader Alexis Tsipras can be found in the left-libertarian quadrant.
But if you take the test you may not agree with the results -- and directing voters to their political home can be very controversial.
The CBC ran into major criticism during the 2011 federal election when it promoted its own "Vote Compass" that Conservatives claimed was a biased tool that drove voters to its opponents by slanting the questions.
CBC is currently running another Vote Compass for the Quebec provincial election, as it no doubt will for B.C. in 2013's election.
In all directions
But does it work? Consider my own contradictory political personality, which regular bemuses friends and foes.
I am a longtime supporter of the left-wing New Democratic Party and was once communications director to Premier Glen Clark and B.C. Federation of Labour president Ken Georgetti in the 1990s, but I have also run my own small business for 14 years serving businesses, unions, non-profits and government.
I enjoy shooting handguns -- I'm decent with a .45 Colt or 9 mm Glock -- and have also fired Thompson and Uzi submachine guns, all legally of course, but I oppose ending the long gun registry.
My beliefs include supporting choice on abortion and the right to euthanasia, but I detest capital punishment.
I voted in favour of the 2010 Winter Olympics being held in Vancouver to help our economy, then escaped to Mexico to avoid most events.
I'm on the left but won't visit Cuba because of its dictatorial government, and I received death threats from inside China after suggesting readers boycott products from that brutally repressive communist regime.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals gets my financial support but I enjoy the occasional taste of "banned in California" foie gras and vegan-reviled veal.
My opponents describe me as a champagne-sipping socialist in Armani clothes and they're correct -- unless I'm being an XO cognac connoisseur in Dolce & Gabbana gear -- but I usually write about social justice issues.
I have friends in all political parties but prefer the company of honest conservatives over whiny bleeding heart liberals.
I fought the unfair B.C. Liberals' carbon tax, drive a 5.0 liter V-8 Mustang GT and and was screamed at in public by David Suzuki, yet oppose the Enbridge pipeline plan and want more tax money to improve public transit.
I helped organize Fight HST to defeat the Harmonized Sales Tax but think taxes on the wealthy and corporations are too low.
The politician whose home I've visited the most isn't that of any NDP leader but instead of former right-wing Social Credit premier Bill Vander Zalm.
Bill Tieleman with Bill Vander Zalm during Fight HST campaign
So where do I fit in ideologically on the Political Compass?
Actually, somewhere to the left and more libertarian side of retired South African President Nelson Mandela and Tibetan Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama.
Extremely good company to keep -- but despite the compass direction, I'm still confusing people.


Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Alberta's atrocious record of thousands of pipeline leaks a strong warning to BC

Piping Crude? 'There Is No Leak Proof System'

"Apocalyptic Oil" - Edmonton oil refinery - POD photo/graphic
Alberta's atrocious record of pipeline leaks a strong warning to British Columbia.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday August 7, 2012

"The bottom line for British Columbians is that pipelines are risky -- you can't produce a safe system, you can only produce a less risky system. There is no leak proof system."
- Professor Sean Kheraj
Alberta Premier Alison Redford says oil pipelines are environmentally safe, with any spills an easily dealt with unusual occurrence.
That's what Redford claimed after a Plains Midstream Canada pipeline ruptured, spilling up to 475,000 litres of crude oil into the Red Deer River near Sundre on June 7.
"It's actually an exception, if you think that we have hundreds of thousands of kilometres of pipelines across this province. There has been a leak and it has been contained," Redford said.
"We have pipelines that criss-cross this province that are intact and work," she added. Redford's comments may give false comfort as B.C. considers the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and twinning Kinder Morgan's existing pipeline -- false because Alberta's actual pipeline spills record is atrocious.
It's something a so far undecided B.C. Premier Christy Clark better consider.
Between 1990 and 2010 there were 6,416 Alberta pipeline failures that released liquid hydrocarbons, according to Sean Kheraj's research using publicly available documents.
Kheraj is an assistant professor of history at Toronto's York University who is doing something surprisingly unusual -- determining the frequency and severity of pipeline oil spills in Alberta and Canada.
In an interview Sunday, Kheraj said we should be concerned about "an inevitable pipeline rupture" based on Alberta's own record and "few if any benefits for B.C."
A crude spill every 18 days
Between 1990 and 2005, there were 4,769 pipeline releases of liquid hydrocarbons on the province's 370,000 kilometers of pipelines, Kheraj says and between 2006 and 2010, there were 1,647 pipeline failures.
In 2010 alone there were 20 crude oil pipeline failures and 241 "multi-phase" pipeline failures -- meaning those carrying both crude oil and gas.
That means a crude oil spill every 18 days and a multi-phase spill every 1.4 days, says Kheraj, who specializes in environmental history.
And these pipeline failures are not drop in the bucket spills.
Kheraj roughly calculates that from 2006 to 2010, Alberta's pipeline network spilled a "staggering" 174,213 barrels of oil or 27,700 cubic metres (1 cubic metre = 1,000 litres).
Despite Alberta's constant flow of leaked oil and other hydrocarbons, the provincial government continues to maintain everything is just peachy.
After Alberta's biggest crude oil spill in over 35 years, a massive 28,000 barrels spewed out near Little Buffalo in April 2011, then-environment minister Rob Renner dismissed worries.
"Sure there are incidents from time to time, but I would put our record up against any other," Renner said at the time.

That despite the Little Buffalo spill being even bigger than the more publicized Enbridge oil spill into the 2010 Kalamazoo River in Michigan where Enbridge, where the company was compared by U.S. government regulators to the incompetent slapstick silent movie characters the Keystone Kops.
Albertans demanding change
But now even some Albertans are rejecting constant government assurances.
Last month 54 different groups -- from environmentalists to landowners to First Nations to unions -- signed an open letter to Redford calling for an independent review of pipeline safety
"If we don't have tough regulations in place making sure that our pipelines are very safe, then people are not going to accept pipelines coming through their territories," said Bill Moore-Kilgannon of Public Interest Alberta.
By comparison to Alberta's extensive pipeline system, inter-provincial pipelines across Canada are much shorter in total length -- bout 15,000 kilometres.
But they leak with regularity too.
Kheraj says National Energy Board statistics show there were 427 liquid hydrocarbon spills between 2000 and 2009 that dumped 63,930 barrels or 10,164 cubic metres into the environment, with pipeline corrosion being the primary cause.
With all that oily mess polluting rivers, streams, lakes and fields, you might think that Alberta is a world expert on the effects of oil spills -- Kheraj says you would be wrong.
The exception is the rule
"What has been the long term impact of pipeline spills on the environment in Alberta? That research hasn’t been done," Kheraj said. "Even on some of the most recent spills, we don't have a lot of data on the long term environmental impact."
So Alberta's record shows frequent pipeline failures that spew copious amounts of oil into the environment with no significant analysis of the damage -- and they want British Columbia to accept massive new pipelines across pristine wilderness?
And then ship that oil for export to China in tankers down B.C.'s dangerous and ecologically sensitive coast?
No thanks Premier Redford. Alberta's experience shows that what you call an "exception" of pipeline ruptures looks more like the rule.