Friday, June 27, 2014

How Did BC Screw up Happy Hour? Higher Prices, Not Lower? Join Campaign To Fix 'Happy Hour'

Pitchers of beer going up as much as $5, pints up $2 under "Happy Hour"!
The province didn't 'modernize' liquor laws; they 'Liberalized' them.

NOTE: Join my Facebook protest page Fix BC Happy Hour

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday June 24, 2014

By Bill Tieleman

"Two-fifty for a hi-ball / And a buck and a half for a beer / Happy hour, happy hour / Happy hour is here."
- The Tragically Hip, "Little Bones"
How on Earth could anyone screw up something as simple as happy hour?
Welcome to British Columbia, where the BC Liberal government isn't on the planet when it comes to being clear on the concept of "happy hour," where bars, pubs and restaurants can offer thirsty patrons a short break from overpriced beer, wine and cocktails.
B.C. Attorney-General Suzanne Anton announced the "modernizing" of liquor laws Friday, and when it comes to happy hour, in many cases prices will actually be higher, not lower, than before -- up to $5 more for a 60-ounce pitcher of beer and $2 more for a pint!
If the BC Liberals can't even figure out how to introduce happy hour without making us pay more, not less, for a simple drink, it's scary to think how they will negotiate a critical taxation regime for liquefied natural gas that's worth billions of dollars.
Getting LNG right is a little tougher than happy hour!
Cry into your pricier beer
The province set minimum drink charges for happy hour above current prices, causing drinkers to immediately cry into their more expensive beers.
"I'm fundamentally disappointed in the government for this," Adam Chatburn, the president of Vancouver's Campaign for Real Ale Society chapter, told media.
"We were really hoping they would take a much more adult and sensible approach to minimum pricing for happy hour," said Chatburn. "Unfortunately, they've decided to jack the price right up."
Yes, that's right: the "BC Liberalized" happy hour means more expense booze. You can't make this stuff up.
As Steve Bauer of Vancouver's Pumpjack Pub explained it: "The 60 ounce jugs are going up to a minimum of $15, tax out, which takes you to over $17 dollars for a jug. A lot of people on this street aside from ourselves and restaurants, you'll [have seen] them for $11, $12. So that's all gone!"
Bauer said the pub's 14-year tradition of selling a 17-ounce pint of beer on Sunday afternoons for $2.90 will have to change, with the price jumping to $4.90 due to the new rules.
That means the minimum price for an ounce of liquor is $2 and $3 for a 12-ounce beer or five-ounce wine.
Give us a break
Sadly, liquor is one area where the BC Liberals have made some positive changes, drawing rare praise from this column for allowing wine corkage in restaurants.
Saturday's announcement that B.C.-produced wine, beer, cider and spirits can now be sold in farmers' markets, for example, is very welcome and overdue, as is letting children into pubs with parents till 10 p.m. for "family friendly dining."
No one wants dirt-cheap drinks or more drunk drivers on our roads, but most of the civilized world, including Seattle, seems able to do happy hour appropriately.
So can we just get a little break on an after-work drink? Or is that too much to ask?
Join my new Facebook page Fix BC Happy Hour -- so we can truly get happy!


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Only Federal Election Votes Can Stop Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline - Not Citizens Initiative

Bill Tieleman speaks to 5,000 at first Fight HST rally in Vancouver - September 2009
Dogwood petitioners miss fundamental flaws of BC's 'citizens' Initiative' process.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday June 17, 2014

By Bill Tieleman

"Lemme tell you the first rule of politics; Always know if the juice is worth the squeeze."
Despite British Columbia environmentalists, First Nations and others gearing up to launch a citizens' initiative petition to fight the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, it's only electoral votes, not signatures that can stop it.
And with the federal Conservative government due to announce its decision today and expected to approve the pipeline with conditions, these groups have to ask themselves -- is the juice worth the squeeze?
B.C's initiative legislation, which is unique in Canada, allows voters to petition the provincial government to take action on almost any issue. But the law is completely toothless.
Even if successful against enormous odds, the initiative can be effectively ignored without government being forced to hold a province-wide vote -- despite misconceptions otherwise.
I know, because I was the strategist for Fight HST's successful initiative process in 2010, led by former premier Bill Vander Zalm.
That effort eventually ended with the 2013 repeal of the Harmonized Sales Tax imposed by Gordon Campbell's Liberal government. The initiative was a critical part of the campaign.
But our victory depended on Campbell's multiple miscalculations, including his decision to hold a binding referendum in 2011 -- not simply because voters flocked to sign the first and only Initiative to pass since the process began in 1994.
That's where the Dogwood Initiative -- the group's name, not campaign -- runs into trouble.
Incredibly difficult threshold
Provincial legislation gives the government the choice of what to do if an initiative reaches the incredibly difficult threshold of gaining the signatures of 10 per cent of registered voters in every one of B.C.'s 85 ridings in only 90 days.
The government can indeed chose to hold an initiative referendum, but the results are not binding.
Or it can simply introduce the bill proposed by the petition into the B.C. Legislature, but not even debate it, let alone pass it.
Environmentalists could spend months and many dollars organizing signatures only to either fail to get enough of them in every riding, or even if they do, be ignored by the legislature.
That's one heck of a lot of squeeze for no juice.
The more optimistic view is that a huge campaign will generate significant attention and shape public opinion, forcing reconsideration and rejection of Enbridge's pipeline before it breaks ground.
But those planning the initiative seem to be overlooking the fundamental flaws in the process -- that a referendum is not required by passage and is non-binding.
"We are currently drafting legislation which, if introduced via a citizens' initiative, would ensure B.C. uses its legislative authority to keep our rivers and streams free from Enbridge oil," said Jessica Clogg, executive director and senior counsel of the West Coast Environmental Law Association, in a June 16 news release.
They also appear to forget that the initiative process doesn't in any way affect the federal government, which has the jurisdiction to approve the pipeline.
While Premier Christy Clark might be encouraged to stand up against Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Enbridge if the petition is successful, she can't block it indefinitely.
Designed to fail
More worrisome for Enbridge opponents is the dangerous risk that their petition fails, like last year's Sensible BC campaign for marijuana decriminalization did, despite garnering 202,037 signatures.
An Enbridge initiative failure could embolden both the B.C. and federal government to see it as a big win for Big Oil and ignore further opposition.
Even a very respectable campaign result that gains hundreds of thousands of signatures but can't match the 713,883 delivered by Fight HST to Elections BC on June 30, 2010 will be seen as a setback.
Remember that signatures have to be verified by Elections BC. In 2010, the final Fight HST number was 557,383. In the Abbotsford South riding, the margin of error was only 599 signatures, and missing one riding causes the whole effort to crash.
The reality is that the citizens' initiative is a challenging tactic designed by a previous NDP government to fail, and was never fixed by a subsequent BC Liberal government that promised to do so, but still hasn't in 13 years. Nor will it.
The initiative's flaws mean that only federal election votes in 2015, which defeat the Conservatives, can stop the pipeline.
And in an election versus a citizens' initiative, the squeeze is definitely worth the juice.


Friday, June 13, 2014

UPDATED Strategic voting fails again - this time in Ontario provincial election. Original headline: Strategic voting often helps those you want to hurt

Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne, NDP leader Andrea Horwath, Conservative leader Tim Hudak - Sun News montage
Ontario election could be preview for BC municipal, federal contests.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column
Tuesday June 10, 2014
By Bill Tieleman
"A vote 'against' someone or something is a vote in favour of nothing."
- Alice Funke,
UPDATE:   Strategic voting fails again, in Ontario

As predicted here, strategic voting failed once more, this time in the Ontario provincial election on Thursday June 12.

The surprising Liberal majority - hello depressed pollsters yet again - did not come from strategic voting but from a precipitous drop in Conservative support and some very lucky breaks for Premier Kathleen Wynne.

In fact, the Ontario Liberal Party vote rose only 1% in this election over the last that produced a Liberal minority government - but the Conservative vote dropped by 4.2%, which meant a loss of 8 seats down to 28, while the Liberals picked up 5 seats to 58.

The NDP vote - which one would expect to shrink if strategic voting stampeded previous party supporters to "strategically" cast a ballot for the Liberals to block Conservative leader Tim Hudak - actually went up 1%, not down, and the NDP under leader Andrea Horwath maintained their previous total of 21 seats. 

And the Green Party - which actually and totally wrongly blamed strategic voting for it not winning a seat, astonishingly saw it's vote percentage rise the most of any party - by 1.8% - a complete reversal of what would happen if strategic voting were happening in a real way.

So what really happened is that Conservative voters split three ways - their 4.2% vote drop went to the Liberals, the NDP and mostly to the Greens - at least on the numbers.  

Of course, if we could read minds we might find multiple other explanations but one thing is overwhelmingly clear - this was no "strategic vote" by Liberal, NDP or Green supporters to "Stop Hudak" - it was Conservative voters voicing their strong displeasure with Hudak's crazy idea of cutting 100,000 public sector workers' jobs and threatening a serious attack on unions and their members.

And that's something to be pleased about!


Ontario goes to the polls on Thursday after a bitter, nasty campaign dominated increasingly by one topic -- strategic voting designed to defeat the party you hate the most rather than the one you actually support.
Strategic voting is a misnomer, however, because the results are consistently a big failure. But we can expect to see strategic voting promoted here in B.C.'s fall municipal elections and especially in next year's federal election.
In the 2011 federal contest, strategic voting was used to try and block Stephen Harper's Conservatives, and yet they won a majority government after the New Democrats and Liberals foolishly defeated them in Parliament, forcing an election.
Despite multiple websites like Catch 22 and Project Democracy which combined dire warnings about Harper's agenda of mayhem with directions on whether to vote Liberal or NDP in dozens of ridings, the effort was obviously a spectacular bust.
Nonetheless, the same flawed approach is being applied in an attempt to stop Ontario Conservative leader Tim Hudak from becoming premier by steering voters to either the governing Liberals under Kathleen Wynne or the NDP's Andrea Horwath, depending on which party appears to have the best chance in each riding.
Note this: The "Stop Hudak" campaign will become May 2015's "Stop Harper" effort, no matter how ineffectual.
Ironically, in this race it's some of Ontario's most left-wing activists publicly attacking the NDP and worrying that the Liberals will lose.
Feminist Judy Rebick, columnists Michelle Landsberg and Gerald Caplan and others denounced Horwath for defeating Wynne's budget while saying the Ontario NDP is too right-wing -- in the middle of the campaign when the only result of such criticism can be to damage the NDP vote.
Strategic voting helped the Tories
The problems with strategic voting are many and significant.
First and foremost, it requires the people who tell voters which party has the best chance of defeating the one being strategically voted against to have sophisticated, riding-level polling and research in dozens of ridings.
As Pundits' Guide's Alice Funke pointed out in 2011 about federal strategic voting websites:
"Their electoral analysis was incompetent and utterly wrong in most of the ridings where it could be said to have mattered -- leading to incorrect recommendations in many cases where it would have made a difference, and no recommendations in others that were overlooked.
Funke convincingly points out that strategic voting substantially helped, not hurt, the federal Conservatives, who must have been pinching themselves at their good luck to have such unintentional assistance.
"Project Democracy proved unable to rally sufficient voters to prevent 19 Conservative gains, completely missed the opportunity to even recommend strategic votes in 10 other cases where the Conservatives gained a seat, and got the recommendation right in just eight cases where Conservatives were actually defeated, leaving 33 targeted Conservative MPs in place," Funke wrote in her evisceration of the plan after the May 2011 election.
"The Conservatives were re-elected with a majority government. No wonder they loved Project Democracy."
Painfully true.
Taking away choice
Second, strategic voting demands that a huge number of voters not support their traditional party based on its values and policies and instead cast a ballot for a party they don't like, in order to stop one they despise.
Vancouver polling analyst Bryan Breguet suggested that in the 2011 federal election it would have taken as much as 60 per cent of Liberal and NDP voters to switch their choice in their riding to make strategic voting effective, something he called "completely unrealistic."
It should go without saying that strategic voting strongly promotes the development of a two-party system with few options for different ideological perspectives.
Political history shows that the New Democratic, Social Credit, Parti Quebecois, Reform, Green and many other parties came into existence and sometimes power because the traditional choice of Liberal or Conservative was unpalatable.
Trying to use strategic voting to influence election results is like playing blackjack at a poker table – the level of complexity is far beyond the ability of the player – and they’re in the wrong game.
Lastly, voting is your democratic opportunity to make a decision based on your values by picking the candidate and party that can best represent you in elected office.
No one should squander their principles by voting for a party they don't like to defeat a party they hate while abandoning the party they truly support.


Friday, June 06, 2014

BC Teachers and Christy Clark BC Liberal Government Need Relationship Enhancement Counselling

How to save teachers? 
For the kids' sake, here's one option the quarrelling partners should consider - entering the Labour Relations Board program for unions and employers "experiencing difficulties in their ongoing relationship" 

Bill Tieleman's 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee online column

Tuesday June 3, 2014

By Bill Tieleman

"Whenever you're in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude." 
- William James, American psychologist, 1842-1910
Any observer can tell that when it comes to the BC Liberal government and the B.C. Teachers' Federation, there is almost no relationship but plenty of attitude. And both sides have lots of reasons why they don't get along.
But unlike a constantly quarrelling couple that should just split up and go their separate ways, the provincial government and the teachers' union can't get a divorce -- not now, not ever.
The sour marriage desperately needs counselling, especially if we don't want the relationship to affect the kids, in this case B.C. students.
Fortunately, there is a solution, one that has been around all along.
Towards a 'mature' relationship
The B.C. Labour Relations Board has an innovative and effective program for dysfunctional collective bargaining partners.
"The Relationship Enhancement Program is intended for employers and unions who are experiencing difficulties in their ongoing relationship and who are interested in establishing and maintaining a more productive and positive relationship," reads the board's website.
As a former employee representative at the board, as well as a senior staff person at the B.C. Federation of Labour, I've seen some very ugly, antagonistic union-management situations transform through this program into "mature bargaining relationships," where conflict is appropriately managed.
That doesn't mean there will never be a strike or lockout, but it does mean that most often the union and employer will reach a new contract without a work stoppage, and that happens in about 97 per cent of all negotiations in Canada.
One thing is clear: you can't enhance the relationship in the middle of a dispute. It has to happen with the heat off.
Give peace a chance
So here's one of many possible ways to end this strike/lockout and try to fix the relationship for next time.
The government can start by agreeing to negotiate, not legislate. Teachers can't accept an imposed contract that ignores all their concerns, and neither party wants an arbitrated agreement: government for fear of the costs, the union for fear of possible outcomes. So they have to negotiate.
Both sides agree to a short-term contract, not a six or 10-year deal, during which time they participate willingly in the Relationship Enhancement Program.
They accept that there will be wage increases for teachers, and that for this short contract they will be within the broader public sector wage settlement parameters.
They embrace the universal acceptance that kids with special needs deserve more help in the classroom, and funding this must be part of the immediate contract.
Could this actually work? Yes.
But as the Labour Relations Board clearly states: "The program will only succeed if both the employer and the union acknowledge that their relationship needs improvement. In addition, they both must be prepared to commit the time and resources required. It must be strongly emphasized that support for the program by the key personnel from both the employer and the union is essential."

Given that each side has spent millions of dollars, teachers and support staff have lost countless hours of pay, students have missed class time, the government's reputation is further damaged, and we appear no closer to an agreement, I would say it's time to give peace -- and counselling -- a chance.


Sunday, June 01, 2014

Don't Forget Who's in Charge of BC's Teacher Troubles – Premier Christy Clark

Premier Christy Clark - in the classroom - not exactly as illustrated.
There's no way you can call her inexperienced. 

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee online column
Tuesday May 27, 2014
By Bill Tieleman
"We have to ensure that the [education] system is operating at its best today. We need to ensure that it's operating at its best five, 10, 15 years from now."
- Then-education minister Christy Clark, Jan. 26, 2002
When students across British Columbia are out of class this week and possibly beyond due to rotating strikes by teachers, ask this question: Who's been in charge for the past 13 years?
When the provincial negotiator says teachers will soon be locked out, their pay cut by 10 per cent, bonus offers rescinded, and told not to work more than 45 minutes before and after classes, ask who called the shots?
When graduation ceremonies, extracurricular activities, exams and summer school are all put at risk, when parents scramble to find care for their children, ask who let the important relationship with teachers get so out of hand for so long?
After multiple courts have ruled the B.C. government broke the law, bargained in bad faith and deliberately attempted to provoke a strike in 2011 for political gain, ask who is accountable for that?
The answer is obvious: Premier Christy Clark and the BC Liberal government.
Years of broken promises
This isn't a simple case of incompetence or negligence on the job. No, the BC Liberals have deliberately sabotaged teachers since then-premier Gordon Campbell appointed Clark as education minister from 2001 to 2004.
In 2002, Clark introduced legislation she wrongly said would fix education for years to come.
"I have said many times, and I've said it today, that I know teachers care about children. I know that's why they choose to do their jobs, because they care about imparting knowledge to children," Clark told the Legislature on Jan. 26, 2002 in debating Bill 28, the Orwellian-named Public Education Flexibility and Choice Act -- legislation with several sections later struck down as unconstitutional in 2011 by the B.C. Supreme Court.
"That's why I, as well as students and their parents, am concerned about the threat of walkouts and continued withdrawal of extracurricular activities," Clark concluded.
Sound familiar, 12 years later? Clark has been premier since 2011, yet here we are today with a still-broken system, walkouts and lockouts.
Unfortunately, the current dispute is no aberration on the BC Liberal government's part -- it is the logical conclusion of 13 years of damaging, instead of building, a working relationship with people who play the second most important role in raising our kids after parents: their teachers.
Union also at fault
Does the BC Teachers' Federation also bear some blame? Yes, it surely does.
The union does not appear to have significantly addressed its dysfunctional relationship with the province outside of the bargaining period, when the pressure is off.
But it isn't teachers and their union that write the laws, then break them over and over. They don't underfund education and cut special needs teachers or school librarians. They don't increase class sizes and they don't determine class composition.

No, that's what Christy Clark's government does, repeatedly, and it should be held accountable for a failing performance.