Thursday, October 30, 2014

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan responds to Bill Tieleman's October 28 column on homelessness

NOTE from Bill Tieleman: Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan objected strongly to my October 28, 2014 columns in 24 Hours Vancouver and The Tyee on the lack of homeless shelters in his city, as well as problems in Surrey.  I appreciate his taking the time to respond and to put his position in writing - it is presented below unedited.
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan - Burnaby Citizens Association photo
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan responds to Bill Tieleman's October 28 column on homelessness

By Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan

In a recent article, Bill Tieleman expressed his outrage over Surrey and Burnaby not taking up the cause of homeless shelters. Vision Vancouver has stepped into the wide gap left by provincial and federal governments and re-directed property tax dollars to social services, so why can't all the other cities? (Although he doesn't mention cities like Richmond or West Van)

Unfortunately, local government gets a meagre 8 cents out of every tax dollar paid by citizens and business. Ninety-two cents goes to federal and provincial coffers. 

So while Ottawa spends $35 billion dollars for new fighter planes and Victoria crows about the lowest corporate taxes on the continent, Tieleman insists that cities should either raise property taxes, or shift funds away from their own duties, to fix a problem that has been created by years of inaction by "senior" governments. 

Why is Tieleman letting them off the hook? After all, health and housing are clearly their job.

Even more simplistically, he thinks that overnight shelters solve the problem. Without permanent social housing, along with mental health and substance abuse treatment, shelters are a pathetic stop-gap that now perpetuates homelessness. It is the cheapest, but least effective solution.

It makes armchair liberals feel good, while people are shoved back out on the streets to be victimized at every turn. With nothing to transition to, it is an endless cycle requiring more and more shelters.

By the way, if Tieleman had taken the time to speak to me, he would have learned that Burnaby hosts the 100 bed Mental Health and Addictions centre at Willingdon, absorbing the myriad of police attendances that accompany such a facility. Unfortunately, even with a massive waiting list, it is about to close, because the province sold the land to balance its budget. We also host the youth treatment centre for BC.

Burnaby dedicates 20% of our density bonus funds from new development (millions of dollars) to non-profit housing and contributes city-owned space for non-profit organizations in our town centres. In our last attempt to support a transition shelter for women, advanced by Elizabeth Fry, the province killed the deal after public hearing and reimbursed the agency to the tune of $100,000 for their losses, claiming they did not have enough money to complete the project. 

Despite our outcries, nobody was interested. 

I am not going to criticize Vancouver for how it chooses to spend its taxes, but promising to end homelessness, when other orders of government have abandoned their responsibilities, is not a course our Council wants to follow. 

That does not mean we are insensitive to the needs of people who are hard to house because of mental illness or addictions. In fact, we will continue to demand meaningful assistance, the re-opening of permanent treatment facilities (like Riverview) and long term social housing. 

People struggling with mental health and addictions issues need an opportunity to live with dignity and integrate into our community. 

Tieleman should re-direct his outrage to the real villains in this tragic story.


Burnaby, Surrey Shirk Responsibility to Help the Homeless

Homeless need shelters
Meanwhile, Vancouver made it a priority to create shelter for those in need. What gives?

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday October 29, 2014

By Bill Tieleman

"And homeless near a thousand homes I stood / And near a thousand tables pined and wanted food." 

          - William Wordsworth, poet, 1770-1850

Pity the homeless in Burnaby or Surrey, because both municipalities are avoiding their social responsibility by refusing to open shelters for those in need.

Voters in those municipalities should be asking why. Why are Vancouver, New Westminster and other cities in the region doing more than their fair share while Burnaby and Surrey shirk their duties?

Sadly, it's unlikely that homelessness will be a major issue in the Nov. 15 municipal elections in either city, but pressure should be put on all candidates to do the right thing.

It is ironic that two of the most popular politicians in Metro Vancouver -- Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan and Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts -- are the ones declining to act on an obvious and pressing need.

Burnaby, astonishingly, has no homeless shelters at all, and adamantly refuses to construct any, blaming the province for any problems.

And for the second year running, Surrey will not have a winter shelter because city officials claim they can't find a location where neighbours don't fear its presence.

Homeless just aren't mayor's concern

Burnaby Mayor Corrigan has been clear: the homeless are just not his concern.

"Where some people worry about the indigent, the homeless, I worry about the working poor. We need these people in our cities, and we need to find a way to keep these people in our cities," Corrigan told a local paper last year.

While no one should disagree with supporting the working poor, Corrigan's comments seem particularly harsh. And he didn't stop there, adding that: "The people [in shelters] are the impossible to house... so addicted that all they worry about is the opportunity to feed their addiction, whether it's alcohol, drugs or anything else."

Last week, Councillor Paul McDonnell of Corrigan's Burnaby Citizens Association argued the same position: "How are you going to cure homelessness if you can't cure the person?" he said.

Others might ask, how do you cure a person when they have no home? Those who help the homeless say a safe shelter is the first step.

'Homeless people are just people': Graves

Meanwhile, Surrey won't open a 40-bed winter shelter that in 2012 provided shelter to 157 people over six months and helped nearly half find long-term housing.

Why? "People are scared to have programs of that magnitude in their community," Shayne Williams of Lookout Emergency Aid Society told 24 Hours Vancouver last week.

My Vancouver business office is next door to a new supportive housing unit that opened in 2012 thanks to the city, province and the non-profit MPA Society, and unfortunately some businesses and residents did oppose its construction.

But luckily they were unsuccessful, and since its opening residents of the Katherine Sandford Apartments have been no problem -- and lots of people in need are getting help.

Former City of Vancouver advocate for the homeless Judy Graves explained succinctly why some of my neighbours shouldn't have been worried.

"It sounds alarming to move homeless people in, as if homeless people were another kind of people," Graves said in 2012.

"But homeless people are just people who don't have a home. And as soon as they have a home, they cease to be homeless people and they start to look better... and will just become very indistinguishable from the rest of the community. That always happens, and it will happen here," she continued.

Vancouver made it a priority

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who I support, has been criticized for setting his government a challenging goal of ending street homelessness by 2015.

But Robertson made it his priority, and worked with the province to open new shelters, buy single room occupancy hotels run by slum landlords and turn them into decent, low-rent accommodation, create 600 new social housing units opening this year, and pledged to keep trying.

Not in Burnaby. Not in Surrey.

High-sounding words blaming other levels of government don't cut it for those in freezing cold, rainy weather who desperately need a warm, dry place to stay, and a hot meal.

Obviously there must be safeguards and sensitivity to community concerns when locating shelters.

But for big cities like Burnaby and Surrey to refuse to accept their responsibilities to the neediest in our communities is heartless and shameful.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The "Empty Questions" That Puzzle Non-Partisan Association Vancouver's Kirk LaPointe in his Campaign for Mayor

NPA candidate Kirk LaPointe after Frances Bula's "empty question"
Kirk LaPointe, the Vancouver Non-Partisan Association candidate for Mayor, is puzzled by several questions.

Most prominently, he accused veteran civic reporter Frances Bula of asking an "empty question" when she attended his news conference last week - then walked away without answering.

You can see the video of that through the link below:  

Kind of strange behaviour from someone who: a) is running for Mayor of Vancouver; b) is a former journalist and editor; and c) was Bula's own editor for many years at The Vancouver Sun.

But there are other questions that LaPointe seems puzzled by - or at least doesn't seem to want to answer.

And readers here know I support Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and his council school and park board team - so feel free to disregard my opinion as biased - but I think they are good questions that LaPointe needs to answer if he want to be Mayor.

Why is he running for Vancouver Mayor when he can't vote for himself and doesn't pay Vancouver city taxes?

The short answer is because he doesn't live or work in Vancouver - he is a resident of the University Endowment Lands and works in North Vancouver.  

Where is the full NPA platform?  What does it say?   How much will it cost?  Where will the money come from?

LaPointe has promised to release it regularly over the past few months - but it took until today, with just over 2 weeks left till the November 15 election - for the NPA to release "25 proposals to date" with a promise of more to come.  There is no costing, no budget.

And one more question: 

Who did LaPointe meet with from the NPA before he was appointed the mayoralty candidate with no vote, no public process and no disclosure of why he was picked?

Questions that need answers.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Desperate for Deals, Canadian, BC Political Leaders Quiet on Hong Kong Democracy Protests - Offer No Support

Democracy protest fills Hong Kong streets. Photo by Pasu Au Yeung, Creative Commons licensed.
Stephen Harper and Christy Clark choose trade over democracy to pump up resource exports to China

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday October 21, 2014

By Bill Tieleman

The fact that you are allowed to stay alive already shows the country's inclusiveness."
- Zhang Xiaoming, the head of China's Liaison Office in Hong Kong, to local legislators
How violently China responds to Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests will not only determine the fate of millions there; it will also have a major impact in Metro Vancouver and Canada.
Despite the massive trade Canada does with China, extensive travel between the two countries and the friendliness of federal, provincial and municipal governments towards China, it remains run by a repressive, military, allegedly "communist" dictatorship.
A Chinese crackdown in the former British colony would have serious political and economic consequences in British Columbia, as the province hopes to sell liquefied natural gas and increase exports of other natural resources to the Asian giant.
There are over 300,000 Canadian citizens living in Hong Kong, and those with relatives and friends there are concerned about their safety.
Rightly so, given Zhang Xiaoming's brutal response to local lawmakers after they asked if Beijing would allow a democrat to run for the position of Hong Kong Chief Executive, the region's highest office.
"No" was the answer. Choose from Beijing's approved candidates only, or else.
It could mark the end of a "one country, two systems" approach that has allowed limited democracy and freedom in Hong Kong while it remains part of China.
But despite the rising tensions, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has yet to say anything about Hong Kong, while B.C. Premier Christy Clark merely mouths vague hopes that violence will be avoided.
'Ottawa capitulated to China'
If actions speak louder than words, Harper's upcoming visit to Beijing in November for Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings -- after ratifying a controversial trade deal with China -- says it all.
Harper quietly approved the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) in September, a deal so bad that veteran right-wing commentator Diane Francis wrote: "Ottawa capitulated to China on everything."
She went on: "The Tories, backed by a naïve Canadian Chamber of Commerce and a handful of big, conflicted business interests, have demonstrated the worst negotiating skills since Neville Chamberlain."
Meanwhile, the only public expression of Canadian government support for democracy is this lonely tweet by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird: "Aspirations of people of #HongKong are clear. Canada supports continued freedom of speech and prosperity under the rule of law."
The ministry followed up in a statement: "Canada reiterates its support for the implementation of universal suffrage for the election of the Chief Executive in 2017 and all members of the Legislative Council in 2020, in accordance with the basic law and the democratic aspirations of the Hong Kong people."
Don't expect Clark's support
Also desperate for deals with China, Premier Clark certainly isn't offering pro-democracy forces any solid support. She visited the country last December.
"It's really positive that the protests have been peaceful and no one's life is in jeopardy. It is, though, a very tense time, I know that," she optimistically said on Oct. 2, while adding that she continues to support "one country, two systems."
But with B.C. exporting $7 billion to China last year, one-third of Canada's total, Clark chooses trade over democracy.
Just like the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, which in June publicly opposed Hong Kong's democracy protests, along with other international business groups.
But former Canadian ambassador to China David Mulroney, appointed by Harper in 2009, says we have an obligation to speak out in support of democracy, and should coordinate with other countries to do so.
"China would like to see a world where we're all tongue tied and afraid of raising these issues," Mulroney said.
The last British governor of the city, Chris Patten, compared the election Beijing wants held, with its own hand-picked candidates as the only choice, to "more or less what happens in Iran."
Silencing critics
Mulroney points out that China is very sensitive to criticism, as I personally discovered the hard way.
I received extremely graphic and obscene death threats in 2008 after I wrote a column suggesting a boycott of China, not just the Olympic Games, over its treatment of Tibetan protesters.
The emailed threats included specific information, with the individual saying they had a gun and was inside an office where I worked, and claiming they would also kill my family.
After reporting the threats to Vancouver police after the emailer promised even more violent attacks, two officers arrived at my home within an hour.
Police soon found that the emails came from inside China, and said the Chinese government does not cooperate with foreign internet investigations. Case closed.
Fortunately, no further threats were received, and there was no evidence they came from anyone but a sick individual. But China's unwillingness to investigate shows that trying to silence critics of the regime in foreign countries goes unpunished. 
Canada's pathetic response to supporting Hong Kong democracy contrasts with China's ferocious opposition, and encourages using overwhelming force against brave protestors who are simply demanding what we take for granted: a vote.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What connects Ebola, ISIS and drought to BC's shrinking food production?

Drought threatens California crops - and BC's food supply
In Dangerous Times, Why Lower Our Best Defence?  

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday October 14, 2014

By Bill Tieleman

"There are too many inequalities around the world -- there are millions of people dying of hunger and a few thousand dying of indigestion."
- Mahamadou Issoufou president of Niger, 2013
What connects the horrific disease Ebola in Africa, the terrorist group Islamic State in Syria, the possible mega-drought in California and British Columbia's shrinking food production?
The answer is simple: in an increasingly interconnected and threatening world, food security may be the most valuable defence of all.
Yet instead of increasing protection of our farmland and promoting food production, the BC Liberal government is actively eroding it.
Last week, a new report on B.C.'s food security warned that due to a prolonged drought in California, prices here for a variety of fruit and vegetables could jump by 34 per cent this year alone.
As I walked Sunday through the Kitsilano Farmers' Market packed with fresh fruit and vegetables, it seemed impossible that our foodie fixated province is producing less and less food.
But the "Wake Up Call" report commissioned by Vancity credit union points out that between 1991 and 2011, B.C. food crop production dropped by 20.4 per cent.
And in 2010, 67 per cent of all imported B.C. vegetables and 44 per cent of imported fruit came from the Unites States, with over half from California.
Deepening our dependence
We are overly dependent on California, where experts fear that three years of extremely low rainfall may be the start of a "megadrought" -- a dry period that lasts decades and has afflicted California in the past.
What are the odds of that? Cornell University researchers did the calculations and estimate the likelihood of a 10-year-long drought is at 50 to 80 per cent.
And the chances of a "megadrought," which they classify as a 35-year dry period, runs from 10 per cent to 50 per cent by the end of this century.
So as ISIS terrorism in the Middle East and fear that a deadly Ebola in West Africa can arrive in North America dominate our news, it's easy to see the value of reducing dependence on food imports in an uncertain world.
Some leaders like Niger President Issoufou get that world hunger stemming from inequality is a huge threat to peace.
So does U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack.
"Working to eliminate food insecurity across the globe will provide incredible economic benefits to developing and developed countries alike. It will increase political stability in conflict and poverty stricken regions, and put these countries on a path to future prosperity," Vilsack told the Global Food Symposium in Tokyo on April 7, 2010.
Gobbling up farmland
It's why Brent Mansfield, co-chair of BC Food Systems Network and author of the Vancity report argues: "More energy needs to be given to initiatives, both public and private, that work to increase local production, support new farmers accessing land, and transition under-utilized parcels of zoned agriculture lands into active production."
Unfortunately, British Columbia is moving in exactly the wrong direction.
The BC Liberal government pushed through changes in the legislature earlier this year to make it easier to remove protected Agricultural Land Reserve farmland for development in the Interior, North and Kootenays.
That came despite statistics from B.C's Agricultural Land Commission that overall farmland protected dropped 95,000 hectares between 1974 and 2012.
When Core Review Minister Bill Bennett introduced changes in March to the Agricultural Land Reserve, he claimed that: "These improvements achieve our goals of supporting the ALC in its role as independent decision maker, protecting our high quality farmland and still supporting farmers to get ahead."

But with imported food prices dramatically increasing while B.C. crop production plummets, Bennett may yet have to eat his words.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Christy Clark's No Pro at Playing High Stakes Poker with LNG Giants

Premier Christy Clark and LNG billions at stake - what's to worry?  BC government photo 
Liquified Natural Gas multinationals gamble that marks from BC are ready to lose their money at the table - at taxpayer expense.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday October 7, 2014

By Bill Tieleman

In poker, good players win and poor players lose."
- Lou Krieger, poker player and author
Imagine being a lousy poker player facing some of the world’s sharpest aces and you see the odds that the B.C. Liberals will lose big money to get giant liquefied natural gas companies to invest here.
The only consolation for the government is that taxpayers will pay for the LNG players’ winnings.
This week the B.C. Legislature resumes sitting to table legislation setting the taxes on LNG exports and the environmental standards that will have to be met by the companies considering building extremely expensive plants to process exports to Asia.
And the B.C. Liberals are already losing at your expense, as expert LNG card players see a mark at the table with more money than skill.
Premier Christy Clark is desperate for a deal, having bet everything in last year's provincial election on her ability to create an LNG nirvana in B.C., with a $100 billion windfall and 100,000 new jobs promised to voters.  
Card sharks like the CEO of Malaysia's Petronas -- Shamsul Abbas -- played the province like a sucker last month, threatening publicly he was "ready to call off" its planned $11 billion Prince Rupert LNG plant because of the "lack of appropriate incentives."
"The project remains uncertain and I doubt we will be able to make a positive (final investment decision) by year-end," said the master player.
And Monday he was back at it, warning that unless B.C. lowered taxes, Petronas would delay the "marginal" LNG plant by 10 to 15 years!
"In our last portfolio review exercise, the current project economics appeared marginal," Shamsul said. "Missing this date will have the impact of having to defer our investments until the next LNG marketing window, anticipated in 10-15 years."
Stuck at the table
Can you feel the money leaving your wallet now?
That's because the B.C. Liberals quickly backtracked from earlier statements that there would be a seven per cent tax on LNG net income after capital costs are recovered to now saying it would only be "up to" seven per cent.
Finance Minister Mike de Jong says there "won't be any surprises" in the tax -- and that's likely true, since the only surprise would be if it remained at seven per cent.
Clark says she is "very confident that we are going to conclude that negotiation successfully."
So am I -- very confident that we are going to give up billions of dollars because Clark simply cannot afford to walk away from the table, especially after Apache announced it was giving up on B.C. and ending its equal partnership with Chevron for a $15 billion Kitimat LNG plant, leaving the project in doubt.
And LNG Minister Rich Coleman says B.C. hit "a sweet spot" with its taxation plans.
"We got back from the industry that the numbers we hit made sense," Coleman said last week.
Oh, I bet they made sense, since every tax point is worth billions to either B.C. or the LNG companies.
Who's laughing?
After Petronas first upped its ante by threatening to leave B.C., Coleman tried to keep a poker face.
"We'll probably laugh about this when it's all over," he said in response. 
Actually, the last laugh will go to Petronas and the other LNG companies when they get exactly what they want from the B.C. Liberals -- and then chuckle all the way to the bank.