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Unique newspaper coverage of local, regional and global topics - serious and light-hearted.

Dec 1 Online Edition

Islands Trust to intervene in KM hearing?

At this week’s Islands Trust Council meeting in Victoria, trustees will consider whether to reinforce their declared opposition to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion with a full-scale Intervention when the public hearings are held. Islanders supporting this action should contact their local trustees today, or go to Trust Council.

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Transportation Minister announces ferries cuts and senior fare increases

Ferries service cuts, scheduled for April 1, 2014, were announced by Todd Stone, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure. No announcements or comments were made by management of the ‘independent, private corporation’ BC Ferry Services Inc, or by its Board of Directors, or by the Board of Directors of the BC Ferry Authority, or by the BC Ferry Commission.

BC Ferries Services executives will have their bonuses rolled into their salaries in future, with provision for ‘clawback’ if objectives (not stated yet) are not met. The new scheme might even make these bonuses pensionable!

Fare increases, including increases for seniors’ weekday travel, also take effect next April. How about a means test for concession fares to include families?

Guy D Johnson has resigned from the BC Ferries Board of Directors. He has been a Board member since August 26, 2012. No reason was given for his resignation.

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BC government policies = rate increases; the BCHydro travesty

It’s a clear case of chickens coming home to roost. The savage rate increases announced by BC’s Energy Minister Bill Bennett, 28% over 5 years, are the result of incompetent government direction of BC Hydro over the past ten years, with the added feature of creative accounting. The government deliberately removed the legislated oversight of the independent regulator, the BC Utilities Commission, all the time funneling hundreds of millions of dollars from Hydro to help balance the provincial books.

In its most destructive move, the government compelled BCHydro to supply sufficient power to meet any conceivable provincial needs under the worst possible circumstances, while at the same time requiring that all new power generation be provided through long-term contracts with the private sector.

This put BCHydro into the position of financing run-of-river projects throughout the province, leading to future commitments of some fifty billion dollars for power purchased at prices that exceed what it can be sold for.

The billion-dollar ‘smart meter’ project was financed through a special ‘deferred’ long-term debt account, along with other deferred accounts (to avoid the necessity for rate increases).

$750 million was lost in the settlement of trading disputes with the State of California. Transmission infrastructure is still being constructed to subsidize oil, gas, and mining projects in northern BC.

The announced increases are ‘front-end loaded’: higher percentages now, lower percentages at the time of future elections. Total 28% by April 1, 2018; and increases will continue. Given the record, can we trust these forecasts?

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MP Chong’s private member’s bill would upset balance of power

Thursday December 5, MP Michael Chong (Conservative, Wellington-Halton Hills) will introduce a Private Member’s Bill in the House of Commons to:

• require that a party leader could be removed by the vote of over 50% of caucus (as was Julia Gillard in Australia);

• a similar vote could be held to expel an MP from a party caucus; and

• remove the provision in the Elections Act that requires that a candidate for election must have his nomination papers signed by the party leader. Instead, the candidate must be nominated by the riding association.

If the Bill is adopted (which would require a majority of MPs, probably drawn from all parties) it would become effective after the next election. It would weaken the power the party leader has over individual MPs, particularly in the case of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). This would, of course, apply to government and opposition parties alike. (Party leaders, by convention, are elected by the party membership at large.)

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Economic Diplomacy—the new mantra

Canada’s foreign service has been given new marching orders by Trade Minister Ed Fast. It’s called ‘economic diplomacy’; Fast says,’making sure our diplomatic assets are deployed in a way that drives our economic interests’.

In other words, new priorities: peace, human rights, poverty reduction, etc are no longer paramount; support of Canadian business interests will be the primary function of diplomats overseas.

Fast says that if this strategy is successful, it would create over 40,000 export-oriented jobs. He didn’t explain how.

What is clear is that Canada, with a long history of altruistic, multilateral foreign affairs initiatives, will now become known for selfish, single-minded policies.

Said Fast to the Economic Club of Canada on November 27, ‘A robust trade environment is the legacy we leave our children. It is as much a part of the Canadian essence as is our national game of hockey.’

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No respect for harm reduction? Safe injection sites threatened

On November 28th, in the House of Commons, Saanich-Gulf Islands MP Elizabeth May forcefully expressed her opposition to the so-called ‘Respect for Communities Act’, Bill C-2, introduced by the government. She described this proposed legislation as the result of a 2011 Supreme Court of Canada decision that confirmed that InSite, Vancouver’s safe injection facility, did reduce health risks and save lives, and that the Minister of Health must, in the future, exercise his discretion to permit such ‘harm reduction’ facilities in accordance with ‘the principles of fundamental justice’.

However, Bill C-2, said May, is ‘an attempt by the current ideologically driven administration to do indirectly what the Supreme Court will not let it do directly’—a ‘disguised attempt to shut down safe injection drug sites’. The Bill sets out such elaborate procedures and conditions for approval of future sites by the Minister so as to provide every possible excuse to deny permission to operate one.

‘In other words, it is an attempt, through the legislative process of this place, to let people die when we know how to save people's lives. That I find unconscionable,’ said May.

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National Energy Board spying for ‘safety’

The National Energy Board has been accused of actively gathering intelligence on civil organizations opposing the construction of the Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan pipelines in BC, hydraulic fracturing, and proposed LNG facilities, and sharing that information with the private companies involved.

The NEB’s partners in this activity have been identified as the RCMP and CSIS.

Organizations such as Leadnow, the Dogwood Initiative, the Council of Canadians, and ForestEthics have been identified as pursuing ‘the ultimate goal of forcing the shutdown of the Canadian petroleum industry’.

The NEB, in a recent statement, insisted that its concern is only ‘safety’ at its public hearings, and that its ‘security assessments' are only to enable suitable security plans to be put in place. 

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Harcourt becomes Officer of the Order of Canada

Pender Island’s Mike Harcourt has been appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada. He has been Mayor of Vancouver and Premier of British Columbia, and currently based at the UBC, is sought after as a speaker and advisor on sustainability.

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Elizabeth May once again hardest working MP of the year

Saanich-Gulf Islands MP and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has once again been recognized by the colleagues in the House of Commons, as Canada’s Hardest Working MP. She was also named ‘Parliamentarian of the Year’ last year.

Speaking from Warsaw, where she was the only Canadian opposition MP attending the UN COP 19 Climate Conference, May said, ‘I am very honoured by this recognition coming from colleagues from all parties within the House of Commons'

(The government no longer finances attendance at this meeting by opposition MPs; May’s trip was paid for by the Green Party). 

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ALR move fits with 'core' of BC government's Core Review

What's at the centre of the provincial government’s core review has been exposed. It is the single-minded determination to use the entire structure of the government to pursue resource-based economic development.

This has become apparent in a leaked cabinet document prepared for signature by Pat Pimm, the Minister of Agriculture. The ‘Cabinet Decision Summary Sheet’ states ‘The Agricultural Land Commission legislative mandate is too narrow to allow decisions that align with the priority for economic development.’

Bill Bennett, Minister in charge of the core review, earlier described the ALR as ‘sacrosanct’ but indicated that this would not prevent it from coming under the review. But there will clearly be discussion in cabinet. Asked about the Agriculture Ministry document, Bennett avoided specific comment; but he did say, ‘There is nothing that we would contemplate that would reduce or undermine the central principle of the Agricultural Land Reserve, which is the protection of farmland and the sustainability of farming.’

The Commission was created forty years ago to protect the province’s agricultural lands from non-agricultural economic development. It is an independent agency, and has authority over some four million hectares of land suitable for agriculture.

About half the land is on Vancouver Island and the Fraser and Okanagan Valleys. The other half is in the Kootenays, the Central Interior, and in Northeast BC.

In the lower Fraser Valley, applications for removal of land from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) are frequently made for suburban subdivision growth, and for industrial expansion. Farmlands close to Deltaport are under particular pressure.

On the Gulf Islands, farmland is a valued land use, and development pressures are relatively light. Applications for land removal from the ALR are infrequent, and generally limited to smaller sites, often where non-conforming land uses have already been developed.

In the northeast, land removals from the ALR are constantly requested for oil and gas drilling and processing sites. The ALC has delegated some of its authority to the Oil and Gas Commission in order to facilitate the processing of applications in the area, but has complained that when a well is no longer operational, it is often difficult to find out who is responsible for cleaning up the site. The ALC had also expressed its concern about high volumes of water use for fracking, and about pipelines, which are under federal jurisdiction.

But in discussion of the Auditor-General’s 2010 report on the ALC, MLA Ralph Sultan didn’t see a problem, saying, ‘In southern Alberta, the wheat crops pretty well go up to the wellhead.’

The Ministry of Agriculture’s cabinet paper was designed to serve all the sectors of the economy that found themselves impeded by the ALC’s preservation of agricultural land.

First, it would ‘Modernize the ALC to ensure that government’s priorities for economic development are reflected in ALC decisions, and to improve service levels for applicants.’ This would be accomplished by making ALC decisions a Ministry function, and requiring it to consider economic development as well as farmland preservation, particularly in the northern areas of BC.

There would be two main regions of the province. Decisions in the southern area would follow existing procedures. In the northern areas (everything north of the Okanagan), however, the Oil and Gas Commission would be the major land use authority. It is suggested that there could be an appeal process from ALC decisions, and that, near urban areas, municipalities would have more say.

But Minister Bennett indicated that the proposal was made earlier in the core review process and was not currently under consideration. However, it would appear to indicate that the ‘core review’ was not limited to increases in efficiency, but provided an opportunity to argue for significant policy changes.

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