Wednesday, July 29, 2015

British Columbians to BC Liberal Government: Stop the Senseless Water Giveaway

Surrey residents pay $1,630 per million litres; why not Nestle or frackers?

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday July 14, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"The province is not seeking to make a profit from water.” 

- B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak

No kidding -- not at $2.25 per million litres of cold, clean B.C. water!

But seriously minister, do you think that waiting till 2016 just to start charging multinational giant Nestle, other water bottlers, oil and gas frackers, amusement parks, garbage dumps and everyone else who wants millions of litres of water is appropriate?

Because tens of thousands of British Columbians are outraged their province will be giving away water for pennies. And until then it's free.

Forget about making a profit. When Nestle can buy their 265 million litres for $596.25, you aren't even covering the cost of government writing up and mailing the invoice!

And Polak is actually proud of it.

"We don't sell water. We charge administration fees for the management of that resource," she told the legislature in February without any hint of irony.

But Surrey residents pay $1.63 per 1,000 litres at home; at those rates Nestle would instead be paying $1,630 per million litres and over $431,950 for what it bottled last year.

And Vancouver's flat water rate for non-metered houses is $568 this year.

Drought, outrage set in

So the Nestle giveaway is why last week's column went viral.  To date it has been shared or recommended on Facebook over 25,000 times via either 24 Hours Vancouver or The Tyee!

And it's also why a petition from consumer activists SumOfUs.org has over 200,000 signatures demanding that B.C. charge higher water rates.

But there's a faint hope clause -- the B.C. legislature just returned for an emergency sitting to pass laws allowing Petronas to develop its liquefied natural gas project.

If the BC Liberal government cared as much about B.C. water as they obviously do about LNG, we could get the water rates increased in less than a week with opposition party cooperation.

Water is in exceedingly short supply as the heat wave and drought continue to force more H2O restrictions.

But when it comes to drought, Nestle is here to help!

In a submission to Polak in November 2013, Nestle's John Challinor wrote that: "bottled water production should be considered an essential human need function in times of drought."

Wow. 

In other words, don't shut down our bottling operations if water is scarce -- crank them up because there's windfall profit to be made.

Fair rate or 'commodification'?

Meanwhile, former BC Liberal MLA Judi Tyabji has weighed in on Facebook opposing the SumOfUs.org petition because she claims charging higher fees for B.C. water would lead to international treaties like NAFTA kicking in. Then, she argues, we'll be forced to keep exporting water as a commodity.

Ian Stephen, campaign director of the WaterWealth Project, which is supporting the petition, fired back. In a Facebook rebuttal, he called out the "irresponsible or deliberately misleading" post for suggesting a review of water administration fees is itself commodification.

"The petition asks the Minister to review that administration fee and show British Columbians how it will cover the costs of implementing the Water Sustainability Act," he wrote, "something that every British Columbian with an interest in transparent and accountable government should support.

"Your post is a sad attack on the hard work of many concerned British Columbians who have taken an interest in modernization of B.C. water law, who have informed themselves and taken part in the public consultations, and who continue to be engaged in seeing the Act properly implemented to protect water in B.C. for the future."

Ouch. 

And I'll take a water advocate over Tyabji on this topic any day.

And don't forget, Nestle is not alone in major water users in B.C. -- oil and gas fracking and dozens of other industrial sectors that get water at the same low, low rate.

But the one group of British Columbians who can change the water rates and start charging a fair fee for this incredibly valuable resource are all in Victoria right now -- the BC Liberal government MLAs led by Premier Christy Clark who hold a majority in the legislature.

And they should be held to account. It's time to admit B.C.'s water pricing and policies are all wet.

[Tyee Editor's note: Looks like the SumofUs.org petition reached its target -- Premier Christy Clark said yesterday that the province would review its water-pricing structure. Stay tuned…] 


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Drought-Parched BC All but Gives away Water for $2.25 a Million Liters

Nestle owns a lot of different water products.
The $250 fine you pay for watering your lawn could buy 111 million litres for Nestle or frackers.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday July 7, 2015

By Bill Tieleman 

“That means that as a human being you should have a right to water. That's an extreme solution." 

- Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Chairman, Nestle, 2005

As British Columbians face increasing water use restrictions due to a heat wave, forest fires and drought, the province must answer why it is charging bottled water companies only $2.25 per million litres taken from B.C. sources.

Or why companies using huge amounts of water for hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" to extract oil and natural gas also pay just $2.25 a million litres.

And with Nestle bottling 265 million litres of B.C water a year for the princely sum of just $596.25 while customers pay $2.25 for each bottle in some places, Brabeck-Letmathe's controversial comments that water is a "foodstuff" that should have a "market value" deserve more attention.

"Personally I believe it's better to give a foodstuff a value so that we're all aware that it has its price, and then that one should take specific measures for the part of the population that has no access to this water, and there are many different possibilities there," Brabeck-Letmathe said in 2005, when he was CEO of Nestle.


Later Brabeck-Letmathe backtracked on his "right to water" views after an international firestorm erupted, arguing that:

"I do not deny that clean and safe water to drink or for basic hygiene is a human right. Of course it is. However, I do not think it is right that some people in the world do not have access to a clean, safe supply when others can use excess amounts for non-essential purposes without bearing a fairer cost for the infrastructure needed to supply it," Brabeck-Letmathe wrote in April 2013.

"When we give water a value, we use it more carefully, and this does not mean privatization…Governments, of course, have a pivotal role to play in managing water resources but today the resources available to governments for public spending are shrinking. Business can and should get involved to help address the issue," Brabeck-Letmathe said.

Nestle's altruism is questionable at best, but even if water should have a "market value" surely it is far more than B.C.'s pathetically low price of $2.25 per million litres. 

Nova Scotia charges $140 per million litres for many purposes and Quebec bills $70 for bottling water.

Frackers and other water suckers

And B.C.'s cut-rate fee is charged not only to Nestle and other water bottlers but also a host of industrial users, including road maintenance, sewage disposal, garbage dumps, amusement parks and that massive water consumer, fracking.

But lord have mercy on the poor Vancouver homeowner who waters their lawn on the wrong day or time!

The fine for breaking the current Stage 2 water restriction rules is a whopping $250!

For that kind of money you could buy 111 million litres of water -- but only if you were Nestle or a fracking oil company.

Don't get me wrong. We need to conserve water during droughts; bottled water is a legitimate product; and industry needs water to run businesses that create jobs and investment.

But when big businesses can access good, clean B.C. water for $2.25 a million litres while the little guy can't use a few dozen litres when they want without risking a fine over 100 times more than that, the government's logic is clear as mud.


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Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Stephen Harper Conservatives' Rule Breaking Rush to Crush Unions with Bill C-377

Prime Minister Stephen Harper - his Senators broke their own rules
'Suicidal excess': A lifelong- Conservative says his party will pay for ramming anti-labour Act through Senate.  Law professor: "Bill C-377 is government red tape on steroids."

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday June 30, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"There's nothing democratic about what's going on here. It's like watching the Roman Empire collapse."

- BC Liberal Senator Larry Campbell on Conservative  senators imposing Bill C-377

Is there anything more undemocratic than Canada's most tainted organization -- the Conservative-controlled Senate -- breaking its rules and then overturning its own Conservative Speaker's ruling, all to hurriedly impose anti-union legislation before the federal election?

That's what happened last week with Bill C-377, an odious private members' bill shepherded from beginning to end by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's own office, passed by Parliament's Conservative majority and sent to the Senate for approval.

When Liberal, independent and even Conservative senators tried to delay passage of the legislation through extended debate, the Conservative Senate majority moved a motion to end debate.

And after Senate Speaker Leo Housakos -- a Conservative appointed by Harper only last month -- said their motion was "inconsistent with the basic principles of our rules and practices," they simply challenged Housakos' ruling and voted it down.

The rules of the Senate don't apply if inconvenient to Harper's political goals.

'Suicidal' strategy: Segal

But the move may badly backfire, says the former Conservative senator who led a successful revolt against it in 2013 when it first went to the Senate.

"Why somebody would decide that kind of suicidal, ideologically narrow excess is in the national or the party's interests or the prime minister's interests is completely beyond me," Hugh Segal said last week.

And Segal, a lifelong Conservative who also served as former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's chief of staff, said overruling the Senate speaker further undermines its already battered credibility -- disgraced as it has been with Mike Duffy charged and Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau and other Conservative senators under investigation.

"So, whatever the defences were for the continuing existence of the institution and its relevance...those who voted against the Speaker have just cut a huge hole in that flag," says Segal. A final vote on Bill C-377 should come this week.  UPDATE:  Bill C-377 was passed by the Senate on June 30

C-377 will cost millions to administer

So why are the Harper Conservatives so fixated on C-377?

And why do seven provinces, every union and labour organization in Canada, the National Hockey League Players' Association, the Canadian Bar Association, police associations and many others all strongly object to the legislation?

Bill C-377 is clearly intended to tie unions up with costly bureaucratic administrative costs, though Conservatives say it is about "transparency."

Every union expenditure over $5,000 must be publicly reported and posted online -- something no other group faces -- not organizations for lawyers, doctors, architects, engineers or indeed any professional association.

That means not only salaries of staff but also fees for lawyers, accountants, contractors and consultants (including firms like mine). Plus the cost of collective bargaining, pension funds, education and political action, administration and much more.

And taxpayers can expect the legislation will cost the federal government itself $20 million to administer in its first two years.

As York University law professor David Doorey says: "Bill C-377 is government red tape on steroids."

Yet it's the work of a Conservative government that says it opposes bureaucracy -- unless it applies to its political opponents.

Breaking their own rules and voting down their own representative to crush their opponents with red tape they profess to hate -- the Conservatives are running all the red lights on their own morality.


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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Were BC Liberals protecting Big Pharma with Health Researcher Firings? Many Theories, No Answers


Unproven court document allegations another reason why calls for a public inquiry will only grow louder.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday June 23, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

I don't want the truth. I want something I can tell the Parliament!"

- Cabinet Minister James Hacker in Yes Minister

Premier Christy Clark's refusal to call a public inquiry into the B.C. government's admittedly wrongful firing of eight health ministry researchers and contractors -- and what the BC NDP alleges was a cover up -- is already a bad decision.

What makes it worse is that now many questions are being asked about why the government would refuse to forward information to the RCMP for an investigation for so long the police closed the file -- something the BC Liberals never admitted to until a freedom of information request disclosed it.

Why were those people fired and publicly tarred and feathered by government -- only to later see most of them rehired or compensated for wrongful dismissal?

One researcher -- Roderick MacIsaac -- was so distressed with his reputation being destroyed that he sadly took his life.

So what was so important for the government to take this extreme action and then risk covering their tracks -- claiming there was an "ongoing police investigation" when actually they wouldn't give the RCMP files to examine?

The most damaging allegation -- contained in a defamation lawsuit claim by fired contractor William Warburton -- is explosive.

Warburton charged in 2013 that the firings were motivated by the government's need to protect the interest of big pharmaceutical companies who were also major donors to the BC Liberal Party.

"The province's acts against Dr. Warburton are part of a bad-faith program by the defendants to end the investigation of harmful effects of drugs which risk leading to diminishing payments to their political contributors, and constitute misfeasance in public office as the defendants were aware that their deliberate acts against Dr. Warburton were illegal and would likely harm him," court documents say.

The government hotly denied those allegations in response to Warburton's statement of claim -- and nothing has been examined or proven in court to date. Warburton's defamation case continues.

But the lack of a public inquiry means theories like Warburton's can make as much as sense as any -- until testimony under oath is heard.

Warburton's court filing lists several major pharmaceutical companies as making "very profitable drugs" that he was investigating as to their effectiveness, including possible side effects.

His studies, Warburton claimed, "had the potential of disrupting financially significant payments to large pharmaceutical companies, many of who were major contributors to the Liberal Party..."

Warburton's court document then lists several firms, including: Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada; Janssen Inc.; AstraZeneca Canada Inc.; and Eli Lilly Canada Inc.

The donation record

A search of Elections BC financial donation records shows the following total contributions to the BC Liberal Party and its candidates were made between 2005 and 2015:

Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada: $25,894

Pfizer Canada Inc.: $41,277

Janssen Inc. & Janssen-Ortho Inc.: $31,734

AstraZeneca Canada Inc.: $12,698

Eli Lilly Canada Inc.: $6,323

In addition, Canada's Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies -- an umbrella group -- is recorded by Elections BC as contributing $27,908 to the BC Liberals in the same period.

And the BC NDP -- which is calling for a public inquiry -- has previously hammered the BC Liberal government for attempting to eliminate the independent research Therapeutics Initiative program, which evaluates the effectiveness of pharmaceuticals and has saved the province millions of taxpayer dollars and hundreds of lives.

In 2008 a task force the government created -- with at least five of its nine members having close pharmaceutical industry connections -- recommended the Therapeutics Initiative be shut down. 

The president of Canada's Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies was among those appointed. The Therapeutics Initiative survived the report.

But it should be noted that the BC NDP received $1,475 from the Canada's Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies and also contributing to the BC NDP from 2005 to 2015 were: Novartis Pharmaceutical Canada Inc. - $6,075; Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc - $5,550; Pfizer Canada Inc. - $645; and Eli Lilly Canada - $425.

And the amount of total donations from "big pharma" to the BC Liberal Party at $145,834 is far from the largest compared to the $1,088,104 donated by the New Car Dealers Association of BC or the $607,638 they got from Bosa Development and related firms or the $353,945 from developer Peter Wall or the $241,350 they received from real estate mogul Bob Rennie, for example. But neither is it insignificant.

BCers want the truth

Again -- none of Warburton's allegations have been tested or proven in court and have been rejected expressly by the B.C. government.

But if nothing else, the fact that pharmaceutical companies are named in a legal filing by one of the fired health researchers would in itself be good reason for a public inquiry to clear the air and find out what really happened.

And that the B.C. government wrongly fired and tarnished its own researchers, frustrated any possible police investigation and then covered it all up can only fuel speculation about what else they might be hiding.

That's why calls for a public inquiry will only grow louder.


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