Questions and Answers III

This is the third of several posts with questions I posed at the beginning of the current legislative session, and answers if any are available. Today education, disability buspasses, and a short one at the end about SiteC. Mostly, it’s about policy toward the disabled and those on income assistance..

What the BC Liberal government has become known for is having grand showy consultations when they think that will play to their advantage, (booze..) and no consultation when they think what they are going to do anyway may be unpopular. That theme runs through all of these questions..

6) Is it still Education Minister Mike Bernier’s position that “coding” can be taught universally in K-12 schools without an investment in computers?

Answer: Yes, apparently. Mike Bernier has not retracted the statement.

Remember last year when the Province announced it was going to direct schools to apportion greater resources to trades training? This applied to K-12 and also to Universities and Colleges, which were instructed that they risked funding being cut off unless they dedicated a percentage of public funding to the Premier’s Grand LNG Plan.

Now the flavor of the month since LNG has gone belly up, is coding, and tech.

And just like trades, the Province thinks School Boards can fund the whims of the Premier’s Communications Department without any more help from the government. No consultation. No funding. Just re-engineer the education system we told you to re-engineer last year, only in a different direction. Nice.

7) Income Assistance and Disability Rates have been frozen for nearly ten years. Is this the Premier’s idea of a hand up?

Well, when it comes to those on income assistance, they better acquire either a job or a disability and fast… The $630 or so they are required to starve on won’t go up. I understand the right wing wants to dis-incentivize desperate situations, and they are doing very well doing that. Income Assistance is truly a “last resort”.

The disabled do a little better. We know what the firestorm has been about. Without consultation (according to the Disability Alliance and other advocacy groups) , the Province decided to boost disability income by $77 per month. But of course, if you happened to be in a large cohort where transportation is a necessity , most of that is clawed back. No need to detail it further. It’s been all over the press.

What hasn’t been adequately explored is that the 100K people who collect disability income in BC are a widely disparate group. One size doesn’t fit all. For some, access to a transportation subsidy is an optional thing. Those folks are mobile…they can walk, ride a bike, navigate without assistance etc. For others, mental and physical capacity may make subsidized transportation as much a need as an electric wheelchair.

So focusing on the word need… If those who need transport are getting a $25 net increase, or $11 in a smaller number of cases, while those who don’t are having the full $77 added… that is discriminatory to those who most need our help.

It isn’t “more fair” as Martyn Brown on the CBC Political Panel Feb 26th tried to say. It isn’t “more fair” as Les Leyne in a T-C Op/Ed tried to say.

It’s less fair.  The full $77 subsidy still falls far, far, behind inflation of costs over the last nine years. It’s been pointed out that the disabled in Alberta do better by their (formerly right wing) government to the tune of about $600 a month.

Think about it… Alberta gives those who can’t work $500-$600 every month more than we do. The $983 those who don’t need transport will now be required to live on is still cruelly low. Okay, some can work some of the time.  Many can’t. As pointed out already, this isn’t a homogeneous group of people. Some have trust assets and family who can afford to help. Some do not.

In short, we can’t fix every inequity, and I’m not saying we can. But we can do better than to short change those with the greatest need. Better policy, (which advocates might have been able to make clear if they had been asked), might have been to make the bus passes a needs based program.

That would have required a reversal of the mystifying falsehood that this policy is about choice.

Question 8: Site C… Why are we doing this?

Please, please go visit Laila Yuile’s blog , “No Strings Attached”. The work she has been doing is amazing. Site C is the most expensive infrastructure project ever. It’s going to flood masses of  arable land. It’s arguably a massive infringement on Treaty 8 First Nations rights.

http://lailayuile.com/2016/01/08/cutting-through-the-spin-of-energy-minister-bill-bennetts-statements-on-global-bc-news/

 

Or check out Norm’s latest here

http://northerninsights.blogspot.ca/2016/02/delusion-and-deception-are-complementary.html

Your government is proceeding with Site C without an evaluation by the BC Utilities Commission , the organization the recently deceased Premier WR Bennett set up to make sure big projects by Hydro were in the public interest. Did you catch the painful howler from the Premier at Bennett’s funeral “We’re going to finish what WR Bennett started”? … Nonsense. Bennett would have sent it to BCUC to prevent a bad decision by legacy hungry (or party donation hungry) politicians. This was pointed out strongly by Rafe Mair and others and I agree.

Les Leyne today made fun in the T-C of the NDP message box: “Should go to BCUC for review” and I get why he did. He was doing a piece about message boxes and political parties, and he made the NDP the target, as he often does. But in this case, the message box message is simply the truth.

Site C, it’s been argued, is to power half a million homes, or the next week it’s to fuel the LNG boom that will put a trillion $ in provincial coffers and eliminate the PST. And it’s now being dangled to power Alberta’s shift from coal power….Except Alberta is building a massive natural gas generation facility that will make Site C pretty much redundant. The energy may not be that much cleaner, but it will be cheaper for the Albertans.. Or they may do even better and go massively solar , as we should as soon as we possibly can.

The point is we have no idea why we are building Site C, adding billions to public debt in the process, knowing we will sell the power at a loss for at least the first ten years of its operation.

If you made it this far…stay tuned for the next post “Questions about Scandals ” , which I hope to have up tomorrow.

 

 

Questions and Answers II

These are questions I posed in the first week of the legislature session, grouped into roughly six posts, of which this is number two and answers if any have become available. Again, I welcome readers to help me out if I have missed anything.

4) The Ministry of Children and Families is getting a funding lift ($170 million or so over 3 years) and new staff. Will those staff be directed to follow court orders? Answer unclear.

The question relates to an appeal currently in progress over a custody case and sexual abuse of a minor. In 2012 a judge ordered the ministry to disallow unsupervised visits from an abusive father. The ministry , apparently with the approval of someone at Director level, allowed those visits to continue, allowing alleged abuse to continue. I refer readers again to Norm Farrell’s account of the second judgement just below. It’s  a shocking read, and it bears a strange similarity to the BCTF case, in which the government appeals not the main ruling, but the subsequent ruling stating government failed to meet its obligations under the first.

http://northerninsights.blogspot.ca/2015/07/ministerial-responsibility-dictates.html

Two things bother me about MCFD.. Why are Ministry staff ever permitted to disobey orders of the court? The correct course surely, for social workers, is to obey the court during an appeal of the first ruling. If a judge makes a mistake, fine. Social workers should not be permitted, nor should they wish, and they decidedly shouldn’t be ordered, to risk liability incurred by over-riding the view of the court.

Secondly, however the appeal plays out, this case is one of a number which has contributed to Children’s Rep Turpel-Lafonde arguing successfully or an increase to the funding available to a chaotic ministry caring for the most helpless. Yet media mavens such as Vaughn Palmer credit Bob Plecas and his as yet incomplete review for a boost in funding. Plecas was brought in to shield, protect, and ultimately contributed to the government listening to the statutory representative after government had ignored her for years. But for pity’s sake Vaughn… Surely your friend was not the one spending years digging, advocating, reviewing dozens, perhaps hundreds , of similar cases in which underfunding pushed childcare workers beyond the limits of being able to properly function.

That was Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafonde. She won’t mention it, but I will. Plecas is just the political fixer, not the advocate.

5) The BC Government’s Finance Committee, having consulted with the public, recommends a funding increase to public education. Will Budget 2016 instead direct more funds to the private system (as it has for several years).

Answer: Yes

Government is requesting a further $24 million in “administrative savings” from school districts, on top of the cuts last year, while providing a $42 million increase to the funding of private schools. It’s true the overall education budget rises a little, as it funds negotiated small salary increases to teachers.

But there is no accounting or explanation for the steady rise in private school funding. And the funding increases in the public realm for non-salary items do not match inflation of non-salary costs.

I’ll leave it to readers to comment further…

Questions and Answers (cough) #1

On the first day of the BC Legislature session I posted some questions on social media regarding activities of the BC Government. Now it’s the last day of week two of that session, so I thought I would post them here along with any answers or clues to answers I’ve been able to find. I’m going to post them 3 or 4 at a time , possibly over a couple of weeks, so as not to exhaust the reader.

Needless to say it’s not a comprehensive list, or a list everyone would agree with. Also, perhaps there are some answers which have surfaced that I haven’t found. If so, I hope commenters can help me out.

  1. The Real Estate Council of BC ignored complaints re property flipping, money laundering and tax evasion. Why would it be the organization to investigate these issues now?

No answer has been forthcoming. The Premier is on record expressing “impatience” with illegal or unethical practices, but the Real Estate Council will appoint a panel to look into it. This is a conflict in my view. The interest of the Real Estate Council is to protect the reputation of the industry. We’ll see if that means exposing and sanctioning poor behaviour, or minimizing the fallout.

If the premise of the question is disputed, we can refer to the Council’s response to David Eby, MLA, when he wrote to the Council in January. There’s wide acknowledgement that an ethical situation exists re property flipping, but the so-called “assignment clauses” are legal, so “shrug”. And as for the money laundering angle playing out before the BC Securities Commission, the Council merely said criminal matters weren’t their purview so they took no interest. They didn’t wish to investigate, nor were they motivated to contact the police.

Finally, on the tax loophole that allows contract flippers (or groups of them) to avoid Property Transfer Tax on quick profits in the hundreds of thousands, the Minister of Being Deeply Troubled was asked yesterday in QP if he would consider closing the loophole. For the immediate future, the answer is “No”. He isn’t troubled deeply enough.

2) With the Shawnigan toxic dump dispute airing on W5 March 5th (note the new date) , why has Mary Polak, Minister of the Environment , taken no action?

Well, action has been taken. An adjacent lot, Lot 21, owned by the same people as the waste dump, has defaulted to the ownership of the Crown for unpaid taxes. Mary Polak was seen attending an “in camera” meeting with the Cowichan Valley Regional District, but not facing the public. Andrew Weaver has called for the materials in Lot 21 to be “core sampled”, because the lot is now Crown Land and there’s no issue with doing so. In my opinion, test results taken by Weaver gave enough cause for concern that core sampling at both Lot 21 an Lot 23 should have been an obvious step in any case. Those results, it must be noted, pose no “immediate” threat to human health.

So while the judicial review studies the approval for the waste dump above the watershed and the alleged fraud and perjury which allegedly contributed to the approval, Mary Polak is content to assure everyone nothing is wrong.

See ya on March 5th Minister.

3) The government is supporting “struggling” mines with a plan to allow deferral of Hydro bills for 2-3 years. This will potentially cost the treasury more than double the 3 year lift in MCFD funding that Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafonde (not Bob Plecas) has spent years advocating.  When asked what the government will do in case of default (it’s notoriously difficult to collect from limited liability corporations) Bill Bennett said “In such a case, the government and Hydro would talk about what to do”. I asked if this is what’s meant by planning in BC?

There is no answer, but there is an excellent article by Dermod Travis of Integrity BC, outlining the financial difficulties of some of the mines.. the billionaire status of at least one of the owners, and the hefty donations to the BCLiberal Party which may be the explanation for the policy, and have certainly achieved a relaxed attitude to environmental enforcement and regulation

https://t.co/Mt0dHb9Z7V

Please read it.

 

 

We Will Not Get Better Government Part II

 

Update Feb 16: The W5 investigation into the Shawnigan Lake water contamination issue has been delayed to March 5th 2016, according to the Shawnigan Residents Association

 

In my last post I argued that we will not get better government until we get better media. Because this is exceptionally good media, I’m linking Stephen Hume’s latest here.. There are two tainted water stories going on today. The best known is the Shawnigan Lake intrigue, currently in court, which will be on W5 February 20th. Don’t miss that.  The second is occurring in Spallumcheen, near Armstrong BC. The difference in Spallumcheen is the denial of access to water testing reports done by Mary Polak’s Ministry of the Environment.

Read:

https://t.co/CdWyRDjqfQ

So what am I on about with the terrible media if this Hume piece is so good and the reporting of the dirt in Vancouver real estate has been so stellar recently?

Well, we are treated by the popular pundits to complete nonsense.. A column from Vaughn Palmer re-told the anti NDP jokes Christy Clark told at a dinner party/fundraiser. A column from Keith Baldrey told how the credible science of the National Energy Board outweighed all the not credible science of everyone else and pipelines better proceed… this despite the rejection of the NEB made clear to the Harper Conservatives in BC last October.  A column from Mike Smyth was better, asking Christy Clark if it might not be wiser to refrain from trashing Alberta if we want to sell them Site C energy..  Of course there is zero evidence that Alberta wants our Hydro power in any case..

In the meantime, Mary Polak has not been in front of a camera fielding hard questions on the Spallumcheen water contamination and withholding of water test results.

Christy Clark has not been forced to answer for a public $ lift in an area of federal responsibility that may have been designed to help her brother in a wind farm project in Haida Gwaii.  Clark has never been asked about the precedent set by her donating public ($1M) to her church in Vancouver. How can she not be asked about these things? It’s absurd.

Mike de Jong, it’s revealed…sat on the early stages of the Health Firings fiasco for weeks, before it happened that Margaret MacDiarmid took the file from him. It was MacDiarmid at the press conference first misleading the public about the RCMP investigation that never was. Mike de Jong has never been asked a hard question about this. It’s absurd.

Lastly, when they are not abusive of process or corrupt, the Clark Liberals are incompetent. Witness this word salad from Christy Clark on MSP premiums, quoted, to their credit, by CKNW..

“Here is the thing about the MSP system is it is antiquated, it is old, and the way people pay for it generally doesn’t make a whole tonne of sense so therefore it is really hard to try and make the sensible changes that we need to do.” – Christy Clark, Feb 11, 2016

I’d do better explaining a position on the MSP tax thousands of people are not paying because it’s no longer affordable if I took a set of “Boggle” cubes, dropped them from an airplane, and searched for them with a drone.

We must be able to do better than this BC.

 

Updated: We Will Not Get Better Government Until We Get Better Media

Update posted Feb 25: Feb 23rd, this past Tuesday, I checked in after a long hiatus and watched the Global 6 PM news, just to see if it had improved. I have been busy this week, and behind on intended posts, but I had to put this update out there:

Sadly, it was even worse than the usual fluff I remember. The legislature is in session. Many hard issues are being discussed, but there was nothing…

No story about lead exposure in schools in the Northwest. No discussion of the disability buspass clawback. Nothing about the water contamination issue in Spallumcheen. Nothing about the panel chosen by the Real Estate Council to “investigate” shadow flipping, fraud, or money laundering in Vancouver.

In other words, the GlobalBC 6 PM broadcast studiously refused to tell the public what has been going on in the legislature.

What there was in spades, were government press releases on tourism numbers, aboriginal tourism, and how the Port Mann Bridge management company “Treo” is going to cut down on their $80 + Million dollar loss for the year by encouraging paperless billing… The report didn’t even go into the $100M loss expected next year and the year after that, nor did it discuss the implications for the similar business model being applied to the new “Massey Bridge” project.

Paperless billing.. That’s the best they can do to deflect a multiple hundreds of millions of dollars problem. And Global offered that without comment, straight from the BCGov press office, I imagine.

A media that fails to criticize, by which I mean giving context and uncomfortable counter-facts  to balance the spin-masters in government is no media at all.

Worse than useless. That is Global BC. At least it was so this Tuesday.

—————————————————————————————

February 7th

I was involved in a twitter discussion with a few people last night on the role big media plays in the public perception of competence and honesty when it comes to governments. This led into a general agreement that the bigger the media, the less news is reported in BC. Television news is particularly bad, prone to sound-bite journalism, and lazy journalism. The 4 or 5 people involved also agreed that it’s up to us as the public to advocate change, to demand a more aggressive press.

Before going further in this argument, it is essential to note, as I always try to do, that there’s great work being done. Sam Cooper of the Province, Ian Young, and lately Kathy Tomlinson in the Globe and Mail, have been doing some amazing in depth reporting on shady practices in the Vancouver Real Estate Industry. Here’s Tomlinson’s latest piece. It’s a hell of a read….

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/investigations/the-real-estate-technique-fuelling-vancouvers-housing-market/article28634868

But when you turn on the 6 PM news, what you get is brief, unexciting, uninformative stories, and tips a commentator has been given by government sources. (We knew about the plan to bail out mines with Hydro deferrals and the MSP break for single parents some time before official announcements. This is because the captured media, the media that doesn’t dig, but relies on snippets of gossip from friends in government picked up at lunch or on the golf course… this kind of media is favored by government and industry in this province.)

Once in a while you get a quick interview with a government spokesman and a sound-bite from opposition as well. What you don’t get, unless and until an election campaign is on, is evaluation of the truth of contradictory statements. You have to troll the internet, the blogs, and independent smaller sources for that. This is true for CBC television in BC. It’s true for Global. It’s true for CTV Vancouver (currently the best of a bad lot).

From the established columnists, you get either the poor-bashing and conspiracy theories about Environmental NGO’s of Tom Fletcher, or you get the more knowledgeable, somewhat snide and always tired musings of a Vaughn Palmer.

Palmer’s latest is  below in the last link. But first, reflect on the massively delusional statements in the Eastern media peddled by Christy Clark this week about an “oilsands level” economic impact on Canada from BC’s coming LNG industry.. This after Shell has delayed the Kitimat project, and PETRONAS is hampered by a massive rationalization in its projects, and the Malaysian government is rocked by corruption investigation launched in half a dozen countries including the US, Switzerland and France… If the eastern road trip is any indication, Christy Clark is about to double down on the delusional LNG massive windfall that will never happen. We’ll see in the upcoming legislature session. It’s really bizarre.

Read Norm Farrell’s piece (provided by a reader of his blog) about the corruption in Malaysia….and yearn for a day when the mainstream media makes a big deal out of this stuff….(hat tip to Grant at the Straight Goods who has been sounding this bell for a while too).

http://northerninsights.blogspot.ca/2016/02/what-me-worry.html

Palmer’s column is about something relatively benign.

Mike de Jong is going to clean up the “culture of delete and deceit in the BC government”. It must be true. Vaughn spoke to him personally you see.

http://www.vancouversun.com/opinion/columnists/vaughn+palmer+could+open+transparent+government/11701232/story.html

It’s only my opinion, and I’m just a recently minted blogger.. but I don’t think Mike de Jong has any intention of really cleaning up the culture in the Clark government…De Jong has been a central figure and power broker within the Clark regime since the beginning.  He has sailed through the Basi Virk plea deal (he was in charge) and the Health Researcher firings scandal (he was in charge at its genesis). $6 million were paid to a couple of small time crooks to have them plead guilty rather than expose a deeper rot around the sale of a railway to one of Gordon Campbell’s friends. The public and the RCMP were misled about evidence of high wrongdoing on the part of researchers who have all but been completely exonerated (after one of them committed suicide ).

Mike de Jong was in charge of those files…and  (in my humble opinion as someone who doesn’t know his way around the Press Gallery, who doesn’t know which bars to frequent to get insider nuggets, who can only navigate the golf course by following the arrows)….. Mike de Jong will always make sure the bodies in the Clark government are fully and completely buried.

It’s also my opinion that government exists for many reasons, to smooth the inequities in society, to regulate business and mitigate corrupt temptations among them. It’s my opinion that the proper role of political media is to unspin the various prevarications and lies governments like to foist on us.

And it’s my opinion that the only way we in BC will get a more honest, more competent government than we currently have, is for the public to hammer the big media, and especially the television media, with demand for more aggressive reporting. If I could make it happen because a few bloggers and independent internet news sites do very well at countering government spin, there would be no need for public appeal. But it’s not enough. I don’t much care, quite honestly , if the government of the day is a bit right wing, or a bit left wing. I am left of centre on most policy issues, it’s true. But what really burns me is a dishonest and corrupt government.

We must all demand better. We won’t have good government until we have better media. If you’re reading this, the next time you see a story glossed over, under-reported, or not reported at all…. Do us all a favor and raise your voice. Raise it directly with news providers. We can tolerate policy differences. We shouldn’t tolerate a media that doesn’t care when the government is incompetent or corrupt.