Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Canada's Climate Confab: Expect Plenty of Hot Air and Hypocrisy

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau & Premier Christy Clark
Trudeau and premier meet this week. Let the greenwashing begin.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday March 1, 2016

By Bill Tieleman

Talking nice about sun and wind and green jobs is just greenwash."

- James Hansen, climatology scientist

There are two things guaranteed for Thursday's federal-provincial climate change conference in Vancouver: plenty of hot air and hypocrisy.

Oh, of course Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will wax eloquent about how much he's done about climate change already in his first 130 days in office.

And premiers from "boast to boast" will claim they are doing a fantastic job with carbon taxes, cap and trade, green programs and electric cars.

But in truth, Trudeau's likely biggest contribution so far to climate change has been negative -- jetting around the world and emitting untold amounts of greenhouse gas to visit six foreign countries stretching from Manila, Philippines to Davos, Switzerland.

The premiers, meanwhile, are far more concerned with the disastrous drop in world oil and gas prices than they are with climate change.

Natural resource exporting provinces British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland have all been pummelled, while manufacturing centres like Ontario and Quebec have also felt the consequences of a battered national economy still hugely dependent on fossil fuels.

But being politicians, much lip service will be paid to carbon pricing, renewable energy, green jobs and making polluters pay. Let the greenwashing begin.

Climate credibility?

My bet is the premiers are privately praying harder than Pope Francis for China to start booming again and buy our oil, gas, liquefied natural gas, coal, potash, copper and anything else that produces billions in tax revenue to pay for public services.

And none need prayers answered more than Trudeau. He has gone from promising to balance the budget last April to upwards of a $30-billion deficit this year alone.

Not only is Trudeau going deeply in debt, but his credibility in keeping budget promises could undermine his climate change commitments, too.
Trudeau started on deficits claiming determination to avoid them.

"It's a well-established fact. Liberals balance budgets. Conservatives have been running deficits," Trudeau said in April 2015. "Our platform will be fully costed, fiscally responsible and a balanced budget."


What he said a few months later was: "Our plan features three years of historic investment in the Canadian economy. That growth will eliminate the Harper deficit and we will balance the budget in 2019."

And whoops again -- what Trudeau finally resorted to last week in the House of Commons was: "We inherited a need to invest in our economy, to fix the wrongs of this previous [Conservative] government," without mentioning the massive deficit dollar figure.

Given that, can anyone take his environmental guarantees seriously?

Then there's Premier Green

But no one beats BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark on green hypocrisy.

While Clark claims, "We can be the world's clean energy superpower," the reality is that the Canadian Wind Energy Association just blew out of B.C. due to her government's lack of interest in renewable energy.

"Despite the hard work and efforts of CanWEA and other stakeholders over many years, we have not yet secured any significant new opportunities for wind energy in B.C. and both the government and BC
Hydro have indicated that they do not expect to proceed with a new call for power within the next decade," read a recent letter to Liberal MLAs.

"In response, the CanWEA board has determined that the association must shift resources and effort from BC to the emerging Alberta and Saskatchewan markets," it concluded.

Clark's style of hot air on alternative energy almost makes ex-prime minister Stephen Harper's begrudging agreement with a G7-countries plan to end the use of fossil fuel by 2100 look refreshingly candid and hopeful -- almost.

And of course if the long promised, never delivered liquefied natural gas industry ever builds export plants in B.C. -- and here's hoping -- our climate change targets will go out the window, without other measures.

Addressing hard realities

Meanwhile, not to be outdone by politicians posturing, some environmentalists and prophets of doom will demand our leaders implement the painful prescriptions outlined by Naomi Klein's biblical book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate -- before Noah's Ark is needed.

Klein, who is speaking in Vancouver March 11, believes that "Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war" -- so presumably capitalism must be recycled, consigned to the food scraps bin of history.

But "Workers of the world unite -- you have nothing to lose but your SUVs, flat screen TVs, computers, cell phones, microwaves and Xboxes!" may not resonate.

So prepare for announcements of imminent Armageddon from environmentalists on the one hand and grandiose platitudes from politicians on the other.

Neither truly addresses the harder reality, that climate change progress requires more than preaching to the converted or predictable promises without practical plans.power by attacking people with disabilities should not be tolerated.


BC Liberals Ruin First Disability Rate Increase In 9 Years With Insulting Transit Clawback

BC transit clawback an attack on people with disabilities

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday February 23, 2016

By Bill Tieleman

"Attacking people with disabilities is the lowest display of power I can think of."   

Last week's B.C. budget briefly raised the hopes of people with disabilities who had suffered nine years without an increase in benefits -- and then crushed them when the truth came out.

This is an ugly story of what first seemed like slightly good intentions turning into an attack on people who most need our help.

BC Liberal Finance Minister Mike de Jong announced last Tuesday a $77 increase in disability benefits -- the first since 2007 -- but the hike from $906.42 per month for a single person won't take effect until September 2016.

But there was also a catch. Then another. And another.

First, when I questioned de Jong and finance ministry officials at the budget media lockup on Feb. 16, they admitted that the $66 per month Special Transportation Subsidy about 20,000 disability benefits recipients now receive will be subtracted from their $77 increase, leaving them with just an $11 a month improvement.

That's only a 1.2 per cent benefits increase -- and when you average that over the nine years without any hike, the annual increase is infinitesimal, just 0.13 per cent.

When I asked de Jong if the tiny amount wasn't unfair, he responded: "For that group, the impact is very modest."

No kidding. But it gets worse.

Roughly another 35,000 British Columbians with disabilities get a transit pass, and they will now have to start paying $52 a month for that pass for the first time.

Subtracting $52 from the $77 a month increase leaves just $25 more a month -- a 2.75 per cent increase over nine years, not even close to inflation that has gone up over 10 per cent.

But then it gets worse again. The government has confirmed that in addition to being charged a new $52 a month bus pass fee, people with disabilities will also still pay a previous $45 annual "administration fee" for passes.

So the measly $25 disability benefits monthly increase is even further cut by $3.75 -- the cost of the $45 a year administration fee -- meaning their hike is just $21.25 a month.

So for those 35,000 people, that's a rate increase of only 2.3 per cent over nine long years. Thanks, Liberals!

Either way, the $11 or $21.25 a month increase for those affected might leave them enough to buy a few extra cauliflowers, but not much more.
Chris Halarewich, who has cerebral palsy and lives in Castlegar, contacted me to say that because he receives the Special Transportation Subsidy and is worried his $11 net increase might "balance out to nothing."

"I would say get rid of the $77 top up and put back the $66 Special Transportation Subsidy and free bus passes -- we'd be better off," Halarewich said.

Calls to reverse cruel changes

The BC Liberal government has overall played an astonishingly cruel trick on people with disabilities.

Everyone should be outraged about this, if only because all of us are just one accident or illness away from permanent disability.

The Disability Alliance of BC is calling on the government to reconsider the bus pass change.

"Since the announcement of the elimination of the $45 annual bus pass program for [disability assistance] recipients, there's been a groundswell of concern from across the disability community: organizations, representing families, poverty, and advocacy groups are speaking out about the negative impact they believe this change will have," Alliance executive director Jane Dyson said in an email interview.

Dyson said the controversy is unfortunate given that "over the last 18 months the province has implemented several positive changes as part of its Accessibility 2024 Initiative to make B.C. the most progressive province in Canada for people with disabilities."

The Alliance "respectfully urges the minister to get back on track with this positive direction and rescind the plan to eliminate the $45 annual bus pass," Dyson said.

There's also a fast-growing petition from advocacy group Inclusion BC demanding the government reverse its clawback of transit funding.

'Get out there and protest'

In introducing the disability benefits increase, de Jong downplayed its size without disclosing all the catches. "I don't think this makes life easier for people with disabilities -- hopefully it makes it a little less hard," he said.

"Seventy-seven dollars in today's world is a pretty modest amount of money, which is why I'm not trying to overestimate it," de Jong added, presumably referring to the amount of rate increase that the roughly 47,000 people with disabilities who don't have transit or transportation assistance will receive.

Halarewich said "modest" is an understatement: "They haven't even come close to the rate of inflation... The BC Liberals keep saying there's no money, there's no money, but they keep spending it elsewhere."

The only slight, dim ray of hope remaining for people with disabilities is that the BC Liberals might examine disability benefit rates "further in the fiscal year," de Jong told me.

But Halarewich has another suggestion rather than waiting.

"I would say everybody get out there and protest in Christy Clark's riding -- people in wheelchairs, everyone," he said.

Abusing power by attacking people with disabilities should not be tolerated.