Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Merry Christmas Christy Clark & Stephen Harper: A Heartfelt Holiday Note from a Mellowed Columnist

Stephen Harper's family Christmas card 2014
The holidays got Bill Tieleman thinking that we shouldn't demonize political foes.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday December 23, 2014

By Bill Tieleman

"Why are we becoming less human? Why are we not maybe as nice as we used to be?"
- Musician Tom Petty on CBC TV, July 25, 2014
As Christmas approaches and the season of goodwill to all changes us from Scrooges and Grinches to more charitable, friendly people, it's a good time to reflect on how we demonize our politicians.
Political columnists like me are potentially among the worst offenders.
Regular readers know that I constantly criticize Premier Christy Clark, periodically pummel Prime Minister Stephen Harper, shoot salvos at Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, and even occasionally affront New Democrat leader Tom Mulcair.
But two things recently got me thinking that while criticism is good, demonizing is not.
First, I recently happened to go to Clark's government biography website page and to my great surprise discovered that she and I would recommend the exact same book to others: Team Of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Pulitizer-Prize winner Doris Kearns Goodwin is a stunning 2005 biography of one of the most amazing leaders any country has ever seen.
(Stephen Spielberg used it as the basis for his 2012 film Lincoln that won Daniel Day Lewis a best actor Academy Award for portraying the assassinated American president.)
That Clark and I would both read and relish the same book reminded me that whatever differences we have, there are some things we can agree on.
The second reminder came from my neighbour, a life-long New Democrat.
Flaherty at Vancouver Art Gallery
She happened to be visiting the Group of Seven, Tom Thomson and Emily Carr section of the Vancouver Art Gallery and was startled to see federal Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty there too -- just months before his unfortunate passing in April 2014.
"Mr. Flaherty -- nice to see you here -- are you a fan of the Group of Seven?" my friend asked and then struck up a non-political conversation with Flaherty, who told her how much he loved Carr's paintings and had taken a break after a government event in the Hotel Vancouver for a quick peak at some of Canada's greatest artists.
To her it was a poignant example of the fact that even our fiercest foes can share our humanity, our love of art, country and more.
Am I getting soft on politicians? Ha -- not likely!
But I think it's good to remember that they share at least some of our values and humanity.
Look at Harper's biography page and you will see his wife Laureen, son Benjamin and daughter Rachel or see Clark's son Hamish on her website. My political opponents have families, joys and sorrows like all of us.
So Merry Christmas Christy Clark, Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau, Tom Mulcair and everyone else criticized here -- really! And to all The Tyee's readers - see you in 2015!


While Federal New Democrats Fiddle with Electoral Reform, Ottawa Burns

Ballot from BC electoral system referendum
In pushing proportional representation over and over, NDP Opposition misses key chances to nail the government.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday December 16, 2014

By Bill Tieleman

"I used to be a fan of proportional representation, but I am not at all now I have seen it in action." -- Helen Suzman, South African anti-apartheid politician, 1917-2009
Imagine you are guiding Canada's Opposition New Democratic Party, working hard to topple Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper while elbowing Liberal leader Justin Trudeau out of your way.
And on Dec. 3 you have your final "Opposition day" of the year -- an enormous chance to denounce the government, hold Harper and his ministers to account on uncomfortable issues, capture media attention, and keep Trudeau sidelined.
Even better, hapless Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino is on the ropes for the mistreatment of Canada's veterans despite the Conservatives' professed love for the military, with wounded former Afghanistan soldiers suing the government in court over the slashing of their disability benefits.*
Meanwhile, oil prices are dropping dramatically, and consequently so is the government's predicted giant budget surplus it wants to spend on pre-election tax cuts, making its betting on bitumen a potential economic disaster.
So where do you aim your bullseye? Which topic do you lock and load on in such a target-rich environment?
Proportional representation. No, really.
Astonishingly, the NDP used the time to debate a proposed electoral system rejected four times by the provinces -- in referendums in Ontario, Prince Edward Island and in British Columbia twice, where I led those opposed to the Single Transferable Vote (STV) scheme in the 2005 and 2009 binding referenda.
Yet there was the NDP, earnestly demanding that federal elections be held under proportional representation rules. It was at least the fifth time in 12 years the NDP has debated pro-rep in Parliament, but that didn't stop NDP MP Craig Scott from trying again.
"Our voting system has knock-on effects, what I would call pathologies, that undermine the health of our entire democracy, from how Parliament works to citizen engagement," Scott said.
Uh-huh. What "knock-on effects" actually are I have no idea, despite fighting two referenda on election systems.
Is this the main issue?
Elections Canada did a comprehensive study about the reasons people did not vote in the 2011 federal election. Guess what: 60 per cent of those surveyed said "everyday life issues" from travelling to work or school schedules to illness caused them to not vote.
Only 30 per cent blamed "political issues" for not casting a ballot, and of those only five per cent cited "meaningless vote" as their reason. Yet that's the basis for why the NDP and pro-proportional representation fans always say we need to change electoral systems.
The NDP still like pro-rep, even more so because the Liberals don't agree -- they want an even goofier "preferential ballot" electoral system close to the failed STV system, but are smart enough not to talk much about it.
Some of the Liberals supported the NDP motion, which asked that the next federal election be the last to use first-past-the-post in a free vote on Dec. 3, but it was still easily defeated 166 to 110 by the Conservatives and remaining Liberals, who aren't upset with our current electoral system.
Nonetheless, leader Tom Mulcair, arguably the most effective Opposition leader Canada has seen for his prosecutorial prowess in cross-examining the prime minister, came to talk proportional representation in Victoria on Monday.
Would NDP benefit?
So would the NDP greatly benefit from a pro-rep electoral system? Errr, no.
It would actually be the Green Party that would boost its seats the most, from one now to maybe 25.
Then the Greens, with the fewest actual voters, could almost perpetually hold the balance of power, since proportional representation practically guarantees repeated minority governments, backroom deals, horse-trading on issues and legislative gridlock.
The federal NDP was given an unbelievable opportunity when the late Jack Layton led it to Opposition status for the first time in its 50-year history -- the chance to form a government and change the course of Canadian politics forever.
Mulcair and his caucus cannot, and must not, squander that possibility by focusing on side issues that will not win them anything but thanks from Greens and other small parties who can only prosper with pro-rep.
The NDP has to get serious with less than a year 'til the Oct. 2015 election. Does it want to form Canada's first social democratic government? Or does it want to be a debating society for issues that are irrelevant to most voters, who worry about jobs, the economy, public services and how we mistreat our disabled veterans?
Win an election and then talk all you want about proportional representation, if you have the time while running the country.

But until then, stick to bread and butter issues that matter to real people, or be prepared to keep talking electoral systems long after another party takes power.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas to all - and to all a good night!

Me with brother Jack on lap and brother Ralph busy reading his new book, Christmas 1965
A very Merry Christmas to all my readers here with my best wishes for the holidays - and to all a good night!   

A vintage shot of the Tieleman brothers from Christmas 1965!


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Emails Obtained in FOI Show BC Attorney General Warned by Independent Bar Owners “Happy Hour” Would Hike Booze Prices, Reduce Competition

Happy Hour in Paris - seems much better!
- Bill Tieleman photo
Liquor law changes force some bars to hike prices, emails to province reveal.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver/ The Tyee column

Tuesday December 9, 2014

By Bill Tieleman

"This is very dangerous -- $2 drinks? There is no way one can possibly staff for those prices in a responsible way. Seems crazy..."
- Joey Gibbons, The Gibbons Hospitality Group, Whistler, June 25, 2014
The B.C. government was strongly warned in advance by several bar owners that its proposed happy hour would actually increase prices, reduce competition and promote overconsumption, according to correspondence obtained by The Tyee through a Freedom Of Information request.
But BC Liberal attorney general Suzanne Anton ignored critics and last June introduced happy hour liquor law changes that she claimed would allow bar owners to serve drinks at reduced prices during less busy parts of the day to encourage patrons.
Instead, the rule change had the effect of increasing prices for a pint of beer by $2 or more and a pitcher of beer by $5. 
How is that possible?
Previously, there were no minimum prices on how much a bar owner could charge for a drink. A bar could charge $10 for a pitcher of beer, for example, to draw customers. But the new rules mean bar owners must now charge minimum prices for all categories of bar drinks. That $10 pitcher of beer is now $15 at least.

After happy hour was implemented last June, Anton received many complaints from consumers that drink prices had gone up, not down.
The 141-page FOI document clearly shows that despite an extensive liquor review process, the government disregarded B.C. bar owners' serious concerns first raised by The Tyee, namely that large bar chains would squeeze out smaller operations.
Their worry was that happy hour rule changes would force many independent bars to increase the cost of lower-priced drinks -- such as beer and wine -- which had helped them compete with larger chains.
Corina Aquino, owner of Mooses Down Under Bar and Grill in downtown Vancouver, responded to a ministry request for input on Feb. 24, 2014 and spelled out her fears.
"As owner of a small family-owned business I am not too happy about happy hour as I feel that with the competition I can be out-priced by the larger chains," Aquino said by email.
"How will I compete with the Donnelly Group or the Cactus [Club] or Joey's? My buying power is much less than theirs. I am barely making a living as it is and to reduce my profit margin with the hope of more clientele is not what I need at this moment," she wrote.
Aquino's worries were echoed by other owners.
"Happy hour, given that as a purchaser I am receiving no incentive whatsoever other than the mirage of 'a busy bar is a profitable one' will benefit only those who have the purchasing power to make up the loss in other ways," wrote the owner of one Vancouver restaurant. "In other words, the chains just scored a huge victory."
Vancouver 'can't handle its drink'
The restaurant owner, who criticized the liquor law changes in the email, asked that some of his comments be "off the record."
"I'm also concerned because, and I'll be quite frank as I have managed restaurants, bars and nightclubs here in Vancouver and in NYC, Vancouver simply can't handle its drink," the owner wrote, explaining that little has been done to promote responsible consumption.
"Vancouver has a black eye internationally that has reared its head across generations when it comes to public behaviour and alcohol."
"Happy Hour is as antiquated as the laws we've just amended," the owner concluded, with underlining for emphasis.
Other bar owners who responded were pleased with the idea of happy hour but some had concerns about patrons drinking too much.
"I wouldn't be comfortable serving doubles during happy hour at a reduced price in order to control consumption," wrote Maeghan Summers, general manager of The Noble Pig Brewhouse in Kamloops. "We see it being a tool to fill quiet times and to feature new food items that go with the beverage features."
If bar owners were worried about unfair competition, loss of profits and danger from over-consumption, many consumers wrote the government that they were furious that happy hour forced drink prices to go up, not down.
In one of many emails obtained through FOI one consumer wished to "voice my extreme dismay at the recent increase in liquor prices instituted under the guise of 'Happy Hour.'"
"In short, this is an obvious tax grab (higher prices = more liquor tax collected). This is also an obvious barrel of pork for the bigger licensees, such as those represented by ABLE [the Alliance of Beverage Licensees of BC], whereby you have given them the means to keep their prices high and to avoid competition, at the expense of all British Columbians and the possibility of a more modern and healthy social environment," the consumer - whose name was removed in the FOI - wrote.
And he or she warned that their political support for the BC Liberals was in jeopardy.
"By these actions, the BC Liberal Party, and the LCLB in particular, have lost 100 per cent of my faith and trust, as well as my vote. Not only will I be continuing to oppose these changes, but I feel betrayed enough that I am seriously considering working against the BC Liberal Party in general, and actively supporting a different party which puts the interests of ordinary British Columbians first," the consumer wrote, copying it to New Democrat MLA Shane Simpson.
Some of the correspondence sent to the government is humorous, as well as pointed.
"BC's minimum [alcohol] pricing is 40-50 per cent higher than the rest of Canada... I don't believe B.C. residents are 50 per cent wealthier than Ontario or 50 per cent more susceptible to intoxication than other provinces," another unnamed person from Vancouver wrote on June 23.
"As a consumer, I felt the impact immediately, when I went to one of my local restaurants (a Japanese tapas place on Smithe) for appetizers and beer with friends, and the price had been raised from $10 to $15 over-night on their draft beer," the person wrote.
"There was no notice or public consultation on this minimum pricing. It was announced on Friday, effective immediately and the news release stated business owners and industry associations were consulted; it seems consumers were left out," the writer concluded.
Another wrote to Anton on June 23: "While the whole city was looking forward to happy hour, now that it is finally in place, the set 'minimum' pricing is absolutely ridiculous. We are the most expensive in the country by a long shot, and in fact drink prices will INCREASE in certain situations."
"This is NOT happy hour. Every other city in the world has a happy hour. We finally get the law passed, and our government still screws up?"
There's still more information to come from my Freedom Of Information request. This was only a partial disclosure.
But one thing is already abundantly clear -- the B.C. government ignored all warnings from bar owners about unfair competition and overconsumption and imposed a happy hour that raised drink prices, then thumbed its nose at consumer complaints.
Happy hour made some very happy -- just not independent bars or consumers.