2016: Summer of the Weathervane

I spent most of the summer having a life and observing BC politics from a distance.. So here’s the end of summer editorial Postmedia should write, but won’t.

This summer, Christy Clark’s BCLiberal Government was forced by public outcry, hard journalism, and the failure of its policies to put on its flip-flops and reverse long standing positions on its penny pinching in public education and its laissez-faire approach to the real estate industry. Unfortunately, because the political reality of faltering public support ran hard against deeply ingrained ideology (“It’s all driven by polls” – Bob Rennie), the policy reversals were ham-fisted, utterly inadequate and late. Having effectively used the meme of the weather-vane against Adrian Dix and the BCNDP in the last weeks of the 2013 election, Clark and the Liberals have utterly ceded that ground to John Horgan this time around.

Since Clark’s term as Minister of Education in Campbell’s first government, BCLiberal policy has forced the closure of over well over 200 schools. School Boards have made those hard decisions based on funding provided by government. That funding has been declining relative to inflation, downloaded costs such as Hydro and carbon taxes. (Forget the $5.1 billion more nonsense.)School Boards have always been responsible for those decisions according to government. Until now.

After demanding over $50 million in “administrative savings” in the last two budget cycles and further demanding balanced budget plans from every School District, it suddenly occurred to government that forcing the closure of Osoyoos High School might put Linda Larson’s seat at risk. This is only one of the threatened schools in BCLib ridings but it became a lightning rod, and suddenly there was a $30 million “rural school fund”. Schools across the province could now apply for ad hoc temporary relief from a 15 year policy of squeezing school budgets dry.

After suggesting School Districts charge higher fees for school buses, or cut transportation altogether, news came in that Districts around the province were planning to do exactly that. Again, political reality forced the government’s hand as they realized rural voters and much of the BCLiberal base, didn’t agree that school buses were an extra… So more ad hoc money was thrown back into the system which Districts could apply for, competing against each other for the funding of necessities.

The worst part of this is that these announcements came after the “balanced budget requirement” had been met. This is reactive governing at its worst, and these new funds designed to put the brakes on downhill polls cannot be guaranteed year to year. Districts which necessarily plan years in advance, despite submitting annual budgets, will need to reapply each year, even if these ad hoc funds continue to be made available after 2017.

On real estate, hard journalism forced first the end of self regulation and second, a surprise summer session to impose a tax on foreign nationals buying real estate in Vancouver.   Unfortunately, while the tax has apparently had an effect on sales figures almost immediately, it smacks of misdirection and hypocrisy.

The problems exposed in successive in-depth articles on the Vancouver real estate industry by Ian Young, Sam Cooper and Kathy Tomlinson are problems of criminality, fraud and money laundering. The foreign buyer tax, despite its initial popularity, does precisely nothing to address those problems.

In addition, the race card has been played for years to deny a problem existed. Everyone from the public to federal tax officials it appears, has been browbeaten into silence for fear of being seen as anti-Chinese. Yet the foreign buyers tax, while it’s not directed solely at a single nationality or race, institutionalizes the error of making this a problem of nationality rather than criminality.

The reputation of every honest realtor was shaken to the bone by exposure of widespread contract flipping for hidden profit. Every seller over the past several years must wonder if his realtor represented his interests or the realtors own private profit motive. It’s long been a “safe” assumption that realtors engaged by sellers honestly advised in a way that would maximize the realized value of the seller’s home. No longer.

A real estate manager was allegedly taped advising his realtors to “low ball” the seller’s price, choosing comparables that would reflect poorly on the seller’s value. The protective loophole of contract assignment has been used on a massive scale for personal profit to people who had no connection to the seller, often in networks much like Ponzi schemes. Each player up a predetermined chain took a cut of inflated final selling prices completely unknown to the home owner.

Ordinary people think stories like this are criminal fraud. The investigations by the Real Estate Board have done nothing to address them. Fines are small, suspensions are few and temporary. And as Ian Young discovered (see his work in the South China Morning Post), the federal tax department has been aware of suspicious large money transactions flowing into the Vancouver market for decades. The provincial government, after failing to collect data and denying a problem for years, acted on five weeks of data after the search for a molehill discovered a mountain.

The problem with ideology is that it must be moderated with foresight to avoid it’s logical excesses.

The BC Liberals in their approach to public education have long since abandoned any pretense to a realistic appraisal of needs in the system, though their own finance committee has repeatedly recommended raising public education spending after a decade and more of cuts vs inflation.

Likewise, the philosophy of deregulation in real estate has reached a predictable and absurd end in which a culture of criminality has permeated a most important industry to government revenues, and the government has decided it’s time to take a bigger slice of the pie, while nibbling at the margins of the real problems driving housing unaffordability throughout the lower mainland and southern Vancouver Island.

Reactive “weathervane” governing at its worst. Who knew that so much of the public is fully supportive of both fiscal responsibility AND public education? Who knew that the public believes “the path out of poverty is not only a job, but more importantly, an education”?  Who knew that investigative journalism could shake the comfortable cooing of a smug and lazy government into action on the real estate bubble that’s making it harder for employers in Vancouver to attract workers, and has been for years? People outside the BCLiberals cozy self-congratulating bubble knew.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Justice Denied

Let’s not talk about Pat Pimm, the MLA from Peace River who was arrested for , well, something, last week.. From the little I know about him I don’t think he’s worth 500 words. Let’s not talk about him in a personal fashion.

Let’s instead talk about double standards from the police and from the media when it comes to members of the governing party. And then let’s talk about the public’s right to know and how it’s spat on.

Consider this from the Criminal Justice Branch as reported by the Canadian Press as they declined comment on his arrest… “This is done not only to protect the integrity of our investigations but also to protect all citizens that may be (investigated) where no charges are laid.”

Really? That may be a fine standard to have set before Pat Pimm was investigated for a domestic dispute in 2013. That may be a fine standard to set before network television was tipped off that Premier Glen Clark’s home was to be raided in the “sundeck” affair. Clark eventually had his day in court and was cleared, but it ended his political career. It may be a fine standard, but it’s something new. It’s not the way high profile cases have ever been treated in the past.

On the other side of the political spectrum is that the way Rob Ford was treated in Ontario? Rob Ford, who was never charged with a crime, though he was certainly investigated. The TO Police weren’t shy about Rob Ford, though to be fair it does appear they skipped charging him with intoxication behind the wheel on a number of occasions.

But now, when an arrest is made and a Special Prosecutor is appointed versus an elected official, the public is not owed the slightest hint of what has been alleged. Right.

Fear not! The media will not accept this nonsense surely… Vaughn Palmer preached patience on CKNW last week, noting fairly enough that after Pimm had resigned caucus..a Special Prosecutor would be appointed and then we would know what the allegations were….. And here’s where I get angry because it’s about a double standard in media. And that’s my thing.

A Special Prosecutor has been appointed and we are still in the dark. Christy Clark has been in front of network television cameras and as far as I know, nobody in the Press cabal had the balls to ask the following rational questions:

What is Pat Pimm accused of? Does it relate to his duties as a legislator? Is it a matter of personal behaviour? (“Personal behaviour unbefitting a human” is the most likely answer, but he’s been accused of that before and there was no veil of secrecy. The nature of the allegations in 2013 was made public, though the details were not as he was never charged).

Is there not a public interest when an elected official finds himself under arrest?

Do the citizens of Pat Pimm’s Peace River riding not have a right to know why their elected representative was in police custody, even in the broadest terms?

Premier Clark….how does it reflect on your leadership that you are keeping it all quiet? The people of Peace River elected your man to be a part of your government..now, perhaps for the next 9 months until he retires, he will not be a part of your government. Do they not have a right to know why? How do you feel about it Premier Clark?

Clark was asked none of these questions by our southern BC Press. The truth of the matter will come out eventually.. I believe that local press in the Peace country will find out what allegedly happened.

But “here’s the thing” as our leader Christy Clark is fond of saying: the public has an interest not only in elected representatives behaving legally, but also morally.

The prospect has been raised that Pat Pimm may have done something illegal that the crown doesn’t think it can prove. The prospect has also been raised he may have done something immoral, which isn’t strictly illegal it turns out. And the voters who elected him would have every right to know that. As it stands, the Special Prosecutor may decline to lay charges, as happened in 2013, and Pat Pimm’s honest, hard-working citizens would never find out why he was accused, arrested and cleared. I get the feeling BC’s large media outlets don’t care. And they don’t care because he is a BC Liberal.

Contrast that with the Vancouver Sun headline when a staffer from Rob Fleming’s office was accused (and yes, actually charged) with fraud and embezzlement.  It was “RCMP Investigates NDP MLA’s Office Expenses” or words to that effect. That left the impression that Rob Fleming actually did something wrong…The article clarified Fleming wasn’t accused of anything beyond being duped, and we’ll see if there is a political consequence to Fleming having not caught on sooner to someone stealing funds. The Vancouver Sun headline read like a drive by shooting.

Contrast it with media’s treatment of Jenny Kwan, when she stood accused of having taken a trip with money that came from a government funded NGO. Her ex-husband worked for the NGO, and took her on a trip he couldn’t afford, allegedly and apparently using funds that didn’t morally or perhaps legally belong to him.  Jenny Kwan’s story was she didn’t know, and she should have known. The media frenzy was such that she was paraded in tears on the 6 PM news to apologize and explain herself. That is as it should be…

I had some sympathy for her. It was an awful ordeal whether or not she was telling the truth and she had been basically tricked. My thoughts at the time were “in her position she probably ought to have known” and “if the NDP wants to win they have to be better than the BCLibs on all the ethical fronts. This is bad.”

BUT, I had no problem with the media coverage… Jenny Kwan had always been a promoter of downtown eastside and poverty issues. What happened looked bad on her whether or not a reasonable person could expect her to have known.

Jenny Kwan took the lumps inherent in being a public figure when something goes wrong.  Pat Pimm is being allowed to hide and collect his salary without meeting normal public expectations of an elected official. Because he won’t answer questions, Christy Clark should be pressured to enlighten us.

The press should pound on Christy Clark’s door until she answers the questions I italicized above.

It won’t happen folks, and that is justice denied to the electorate in Peace River.

 

 

 

 

Justice Delayed: 7 things you won’t know before you vote

For democracy to express its truth in granting government power over its citizens, an incumbent government must run on its known record. The following is a list of some important things we will (likely or certainly) not know before May of 2017.

I make this point because my opinion is that Canada has a problem with the speed of justice, and also with freedom of information which can be subject to unconscionable restrictions and delays.

  1. Madam Justice Griffin accepted the evidence of the BC governments own chief negotiator with the BCTF and ruled that the government had an agenda to provoke a strike for political reasons. This was part of a scathing ruling which after being overturned by the BC Supreme Court, will be judged at the Supreme Court of Canada.  At stake is the nature of labour negotiations and how much we can expect in the way of good faith bargaining from governments. The case will be heard in October of this year, but it’s unlikely a ruling will come down before the election.
  2. Brian Bonney has been charged with breach of trust in a case related to the Quickwins scandal which came to light in February of 2013. Whatever he was involved in… whatever he may have done.. was likely sanctioned by people in the Premier’s office, the BC Liberal party, or both. It’s inconceivable others from those offices were not involved. We know very little about the actual charge due to a publication ban which has not been challenged, as it should, by our corporate media. (This failure to challenge the publication ban, I suggest tongue in cheek, denies important work to government and party lawyers. That’s all I can say for it.)    Brian Bonney will go to trial in September 2017, so we will still know nothing much when we vote.
  3. Laura Miller, charged with breach of trust in the Gasplants scandal in Ontario, will also go to trial in late 2017. She has been hired back as the BCLiberals Executive Director in the meantime.
  4. The Petronas LNG project has delayed it’s final investment decision to the post election period. This will allow the government to keep dangling fairy tale nonsense about trillion dollar prosperity funds in front of the unwary. Nothing we can do about that except to keep pointing out the many credible reports from Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal and others about how very unlikely it is that ANY major LNG project will go ahead. And we can keep referring friends to In-Sights.ca , where Norm Farrell has been documenting how much unreported production credits are costing the provincial bottom line…(spoiler: it’s in the billions). Some industries are costing us money to keep afloat, not making money for the provincial treasury, and its no accident.
  5. Health firings…. Unless Ombudsman Jay Chalke surprises me by releasing a report prior to the 2017 election, we will still not know the answers to two shockingly simple and basic questions: Who made the decision to fire 8 researchers in 2012, causing Rod MacIsaac’s suicide? Why was the decision made?
  6. Where is part II of Bob Plecas report?? Plecas was charged with investigating a case in which a judge twice ruled against the Ministry of Children and Families in a custody and visitation battle. This was a case already within the purview of the Representative for Children and Youth. The judge ruled that the Ministry disobeyed a court order forbidding unsupervised visits from the father due to risk of sexual abuse. The judge further ruled that because of the Ministry’s intransigence, a child was in fact abused.     Plecas released Part 1 of his report on the Ministry structure, and the need for increased funding, but has not yet addressed why the Ministry would be disobeying orders from a judge.   The Ministry, it must be noted, is appealing the case. Everyone should be asking that Bob Plecas release his findings before May of 2017.
  7. Why did Premier Clark visit Haida Gwaii in November of 2015 dangling the promise of $150K for a school feasibility study in Federal, not Provincial, jurisdiction? Was it only to help Ken Rea, a band councillor seeking re-election that week? Was it to help her brother with his business interests, since Ken Rea favored Bruce Clark’s windfarm project?  I don’t know, but I do know no more credible explanation has come forward. I also know our large news sources are very reluctant to ask…… The end of the story is that the Feds and the Haida worked out a perfectly normal, above board, funding deal without the Province. Why was she there? In answer to the assertion from Ken Rea and others that provincial action “pressured the feds to the table”, there are two answers….First, the Trudeau government had only just taken over. Second, no correspondence has been released showing any Fed/provincial discussion of the issue.