Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Liquid Gold

Liquid Gold: Energy Privatization in British Columbia
by John Calvert

In case you think the Premier’s climate action commitment is anything more than a hoax let me tell you a bit about the incredibly dirty privatization of BC Hydro.

Just before Christmas I took a day long economics course sponsored by the BCGEU and taught by John Calvert. One part of the course was devoted to the changes made to BC Hydro by the BC Liberals and the costs we will all be facing as a result. John has just published an excellent book on the topic called Liquid Gold: Energy Privatization in British Columbia, and I urge everyone to take the time to read it. It will teach you just how our government goes about taking apart our public institutions and using them to make billions for their buddies.

The BC Liberal government has decided to destroy BC Hydro, W.A.C. Bennett’s public power corporation, for the benefit of their friends and corporate backers. No other privatization in Canada comes close to the cost, size and underhanded trickery involved in this one.

Bennett built this corporation because there was no other way to ensure the development of our natural resources, the costs involved were too prohibitive for private businesses to take on. What resulted was a crown corporation that provided clean, extremely cheap electricity to business (far too cheap), and inexpensive electricty for taxpayers. We have had the second lowest rates in North America for the last 20 years and this common asset is the reason.

Gordon Campbell, always attuned to the wails of the corporations who said that BC Hydro had an unfair advantage, decided to open up the goldmine. IPP's (Independent Power Producers), were given insider information in the form of a comprehensive study paid for by taxpayers as to where to place their ‘run of the river’ power plants which were touted as a wonderful environmental innovation. These profiteers have taken out 535 licenses most of which are on First Nations land claims and for which no compensation is planned.

The projects are unquestionably an environmental nightmare. The Parks Act has been changed to allow these smooth operators to clearcut transmission lines through the pristine wilderness of our parks just by asking for the park boundaries to be changed. The projects are small often only in comparison with huge hydro dams. They are not small in any environmental sense. They require large holding reservoirs, access roads -- all the usual disturbances -- and our salmon runs and other wildlife habitat will vanish all the faster as a result.

BC Hydro has been forced to give up it’s transmission lines to a separate corporation called BC Transmissions. Hydro is no longer allowed to create new power. It must now leave this task to private businesses: the run of the river projects. Even worse, BC Hydro is now forced to buy uneconomic power (power that is inconsistently available) from the projects:

“Private developers can thus obtain prices through BC Hydro contracts that are much higher than either the price BC Hydro would pay if it generated the energy itself or the price it would pay to out-of-province suppliers if permitted to rely on this market for some of its future energy requirements [BC Hydro buys low from outside BC in low use hours and sells high during peak hours because the market price of energy fluctuates hourly according to use]. In short the government’s policy framework has resulted in a very sweet deal for private power interests in B.C.”

Citizens can stop this. Unlike columnist Bill Tieleman of The Tyee internet news, I do not believe what the Liberals are doing cannot be stopped and cannot be undone. We will have huge court battles, but if we stick to the principle of 'no taxation without representation' I believe we can fight these multinationals. We must point out that our governments signed trade agreements behind closed doors, with no public input, no due diligence, no public debate and against the public will (polling has proved this time and time again). Therefore our public assets are being sold illegally under the guise of fair market or free trade.

I believe the courts will ultimately uphold this as the basic principle of democracy. Citizens are not less than their governments: governments only serve at the pleasure of the citizens. When we elect them, they do not become our parent and we are not unschooled children. Government is a tool meant to carry out our vision. Did any of us envision massive raw log exports, salmon killed by sea-lice and oil tankers slopping their poison down our coasts? Of course not. Nor did we authorize the sale of our rivers and the destruction of our BC Hydro assets.
The whole idea that BC is facing a power crisis has been manufactured for profit. Read the book and find out the real reasons your BC Hydro rates are about to make a huge jump!

Climate Solutions Institute?

Gordon Campbell Announces $94.5 Million Cutting Edge Climate Solutions Institute: Believable Conversion or PR Exercise?

Encourage this new BC government initiative, support it, promote it if you wish, but be aware that while Gordon Campbell is making this announcement he is speeding up the processes which allow this province and its resources to be ransacked and pillaged by his corporate friends. While Gordo fiddles a pretty tune, the province continues to burn. It's unfortunate but true that the good people he is hiring are rapidly becoming ‘Nero's guests.’ If citizens want this institute to work they are going to have to watchdog its every step. Otherwise the bulk of this money will likely be spent on buildings, staff, flashy media announcements, meaningless conferences and letterhead.

If this is a true cutting edge institution it will require none of these things, only video conferencing and emailing as needed and some major solutions within the year.

If Campbell really meant to do anything about environmental issues he would have convened a special session of the legislature months ago and introduced bills to enforce climate change and compliance on his corporate friends. He would have already completely revamped government so that floatplane and helijet use is banned, to give just one example of the government addiction to fossil fuels that must be overcome. Do you hear any corporations or government nabobs squealing yet? Until they are you can bet nothing is happening. Campbell isn’t passing the ‘squeal test.’

If he cared at all he would have created a financial cushioning commission at arm’s length from the government for those people and businesses who will suffer due to change. All drive-throughs would have been closed immediately. Fast food outlets would have to prove that their food came from BC and that their packaging was minimal and fully recycled. He would have set up recycling depots in every city and town that would take everything, no ifs, ands, or buts. All environmental initiatives would be fast-tracked and full environmental assessments would be made for every project, public or private. David Suzuki or a lawyer chosen by him would have been hired as an environmental watchdog reporting every breach to the Legislature immediately and with the power to punish infractions severely.

And Campbell would most definitely not be supporting TILMA or any of the other trade agreements that have been made without citizen input. These agreements are his ‘out’--he can promise the moon because he doesn’t have to deliver.

He has changed the Parks Act so that any 'run of the river' company can ask to have the park boundaries changed to clearcut for transmission lines. There will be no public hearings. Liquid Gold by John Calvert should be mandatory reading for every voter in this province. He has allowed his Minister of Forests to take land from TFLs and sell it to developers. It's true we may have saved Jordan River, but none of the other sales have been stopped yet. Ask West Coast Environmental Law and the Sierra Club about the rest of the Island. He is building a hugely dangerous liquid natural gas terminal for Texada against the wishes of the residents. Prince Rupert is being built into a major oil and gas shipping port with tankers spilling oil all down our coast. Ask the Dogwood Initiative.

You can list these things all day long: raw log exports are higher than they have ever been while mills close and stumpage rates drop. Sea lice kill off wild salmon while the government denies the studies are real. Proposals are being made for uranium mining in the interior and the flooding of the Similkameen to provide more power to sell to the US (ask the thriving winery industry how they feel about this). The sacred headwaters of the Stikine are going to be covered with gas and oil rigs if people can't stop it. More and more roads are being pushed through the Lower Mainland destroying farmland.

So look closely at this announcement, with giant understated government surpluses of $4 billion per year only a miniscule fraction, not even $100 million, is to be spent incrementally ($4 million per year) to do research: Not to start changing what we already know we have to change, but to do research. That’s fine in itself, but it is not the most urgent move that government needs to make. Much of the research we need is already done. Northern Europe is far ahead in implementing changes. They have roads that act as solar panels and also keep themselves clear of snow, passive heating so your body and your toaster warm your house. Paris has 10s of thousands of bicycles in place and London has fees for driving in the centre of town rather than coming in by bus or rail.

I am concerned about the number of times this announcement and it’s background paper talks about private partners.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Budget Season

It's the time of year when a governing body's thoughts turn to budgets. That also means it's the time of year when citizens need to be watching the budget process and participating where they can.

Central Saanich, School District 63 and the provincial government are all about to wow us with numbers. Having spent the last week here at the Canadian Labour Congress Winter School studying budgets I am going to be more than ordinarily interested in this year's offerings.

How big will the provincial allocation be to our Board of Education? Does our Board hold any funds in Board Companies (bodies which Boards have set up to profit from international students)? Will we hear of shortfalls: projected losses which often never materialize, bogeymen meant to rush us into accepting all kinds of unnecessary cuts? On the other hand school boards aren't allowed to run deficits without the permission of the provincial government (deficits are real and refer to expenditures that have already taken place).

Will our municipal budget finally tell all about the Brentwood Revitalization's costs and how much we will have to pay to rebuild our drained reserves? Did you know that last year three of our councillors (Bryson, King and Graham) voted against the budget because of concerns related to the Revitalization? Bravo!

And will our provincial budget demonstrate real action on climate change by setting up an arm's length compensation commission to help businesses when they have to convert or shut down because they are unsustainable? Drive-throughs must go, we must have legislation banning catalogues and junk mail once and for all, most environmental action will have to come through legislation: we can't wait any longer.

It's going to be quite a ride so sharpen your pencil and whip out your note pad.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Our Farms Need Help Not Development

The policy choices of our government are to blame for the battle between those who would keep our farmlands and our wildlands intact for future generations and those who will build massive structures over every square inch for nothing but profit if we let them.

Our governments routinely collect huge but understated surpluses. If we had a provincial GDP of -1% this next year our surplus would still be two billion dollars. Instead of using this bonus creatively to fund the things people need our government uses it to pay down the debt. This is wasteful. Do you pay off your whole mortgage every year? No! You pay a certain amount regularly on the mortgage and you use the remainder of your available funds for things your family needs like efficient appliances, a new hybrid car etc.

Our government could be using that huge surplus to buy up all the farmland at something near the going rate and hand it over to municipalities who could then lease it back to farmers to grow our food supply.

This would give the municipalities both income and incentive to protect farmlands. It would give farmers who wish to retire fair recompense for their land and it would make farming more economical for those who continue to till the fields.

This is only one idea and it came from a wise Central Saanich farmer I know. I bet there are more great ideas out there for using our surplus to sustain us. We need a return to the practical creativity that gave us the Agricultural Land Reserve in the first place.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Those Who Show Up Win

It's always amazing to see who shows up for the really hard votes.

Tonight saw the Vantreight proposal come to Central Saanich Council. The whole world of Central Saanich was watching to see whether our Councillors would stick to the votes they cast last week at the Committee meeting. (Remember that was a UNANIMOUS vote of all of Council except the Mayor who recused himself for a perceived conflict of interest).

Tonight the long awaited motion came to the table and two Councillors were not there for the vote.

Councillors Mason and Thompson were no shows tonight. So the honours for doing the right thing for the community go to Councillors Bryson, Garrison, Graham and King. Good work folks and thanks for showing up for Central Saanich!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Accountable Voting

In the recent vote on the Vantreight Proposal a great deal of confusion was caused by the fact that our elected officials don't have to publicly state how they are voting. Many people thought Councillor Mason voted against the motion, thus supporting the Vantreight Proposal when in fact she voted with the rest of the Council making the result unanimous.

The trouble lies in the voting procedure. If you are voting for a motion you do not have to raise your hand or signify your intentions in any way. By doing nothing you are assumed to have voted for the motion.

To vote against the motion you need to raise your hand, but your hand can easily be missed.

To abstain you need to make a statement to that effect.

In any case the vote itself is not recorded only the result (passed/failed/referred etc). Unless a Councillor specifically asks for their vote to be recorded no notation is made.

As a result our Councillors can easily hide contentious votes and we the citizens are deprived of a very basic democratic right.

Our MPs and MLAs votes are available to all, but our Councillors are not held accountable. It's time for a change. Democracy only works if the process is transparent. Councillors should have to raise their hands for each stage of a vote (yea, nay or abstain) and raise them high enough for everyone to see.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Vantreight Proposal Vote

Monday, January 21, 2008

Municipal Council Meeting - Vantreight Proposal

The final vote on this incarnation of the Vantreight Proposal takes place tonight. Councillors were UNANIMOUS at last week's committee meeting and there is no way their votes should change tonight. They voted that the Official Community Plan and Regional Growth Strategy should stand.

Nothing in the ensuing week should change this principled position.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Friday Night is Coffee Night at JJ's
in Brentwood Bay
7 pm to 9 pm
Come sit and talk about local and global issues
with Sue Stroud & friends
We have lots of laughs, come up with some good ideas
and it's a chance for you to meet some good neighbours.
Come and join us!

Free Rice!

Have you ever heard of Free Rice?

It's a vocabulary gamesite belonging to the United Nations.

For every word you get right, 10 grains of rice are donated to feed the world (the rice is paid for by site sponsors).

Once upon a time we had a Prime Minister named Lester B. Pearson who won the Nobel Peace Prize. He is the man who recommended that nations give .07% of their national income to help feed the rest of the world. I think he would have enjoyed the Free Rice site.

One thing Lester Pearson would not have liked is the fact that his own beloved Canada has not yet met that .07% goal. Please help us get there by sending this letter to Prime Minister Harper.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Municipal Meetings:
Please note the following important dates:

Regular Council meetings will take place on the 7th and 21st of January.
Committee night is the 14th and that is where the Vantreight proposal appears next.

On January 28th there will be a Special Admin and Finance Meeting which is labelled budget/financial sustainability.

This year’s Strategic Planning Workshop will take place January 30th from 7 to 9 pm and January 31st from 9 am to 4 pm. This is open to the public. It used to be held on the weekend so the public could attend, but as with so many other Central Saanich items it has been moved to a time more inconvenient for public scrutiny…all part of a pattern as you can see if you look under “Three Unfair Motions and Their Implications” below.

A copy of the agenda package for Council and Committee meetings is available at the library on the Friday before each meeting.
To Mayor and Council

There are letters circulating on the internet to the effect that Mr. Vantreight is preparing to offer affordable housing as part of his proposal to build housing on farmland. He has made this offer before.

I have been actively seeking affordable housing for Central Saanich by encouraging the Council to ask developers to make 10% of the units they are proposing low-income subsidised housing.

I have spoken to this issue at Council many times over the years. Each of you knows that I care deeply about the provision of true affordable housing for Central Saanich. But I am opposed to building new houses on farmland.

This farmland is outside of our carefully chosen urban areas. We need this land to stay farmland. We need to preserve the garry oak and arbutus groves that our own staff have identified as important aspects of the hillside. It's value will increase as the climate changes we are facing become more apparent.

Furthermore it is too far outside our urban areas to be useful to the families who need affordable housing in our community. These are families without cars; families who must rely on bus transportation to get to stores, our hospital and their work. Affordable housing needs to be in our urban centres to make it convenient for the people it is meant to serve. We need a more wholistic approach to planning housing.

More importantly I would like it noted that when Mr. Vantreight suggested to me that he would give $100,000 per year for five years to build affordable housing he quickly added "but not in my development." He was clear and honest about his intentions.

We know that we cannot control what happens once we sign over farmland for development, land can be flipped and all the promises can vanish in an instant. Farmland needs to be used for farming. If Mr. Vantreight wanted to convert existing buildings to house farm labour maybe I'd be willing to look at that. That could be of some benefit to a farm and to our farming community. But this proposal benefits neither the farm nor the community.

Peter Parsons was right when he said we were witnessing a masterful shell game. The shells are still moving around, but we must keep our eye on the nugget underneath. Our farmland must be farmed.