Wednesday, July 23, 2014

BC Liberals Give Secret Payouts to Senior Staff Under the Table, But No One Pays for Breaking the Rules

A "troubled and disappointed" BC Finance Minister Mike de Jong
Don't expect much more than a 'tut tut' for these taxpayer abuses.
Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column
Tuesday July 22, 2014
By Bill Tieleman
"Honesty pays, but it don't seem to pay enough to suit some people."
- Kin Hubbard, American humorist, 1868-1930
When the rules on how much senior government-funded staff can make are broken once, it's regrettable; when it happens time after time, it's a clear pattern of intentional deception.
That's occurred repeatedly as already highly-paid B.C. bureaucrats are found to be getting extra payments that are banned by government policies, but those doing the hiring deliberately violated them.
And it's not just payments for new hires -- you can flagrantly break conflict of interest rules on the way out of your cushy government job worth $465,000 a year and still get a $114,000 severance package.
Senior heads should roll for these outrageous abuses of taxpayer dollars, but BC Liberal Finance Minister Mike de Jong just says "tut-tut" and does little more than ask for some money to be returned or request a partial roll back of the pay for those caught out.
Stinky supplements
The latest in a long string of stinky salary supplements was last week, when we learned the chief executive officer of the BC Cancer Agency was hired in 2012 for $500,000 a year when the maximum allowed was $400,000.
The minister wants that salary rolled back $50,000, so it would then only be $50,000 over the limit. That's how de Jong gets tough.
Then it was the Royal B.C. Museum's turn, where its CEO also wrongly got a "secondary contract" worth over $50,000, including three business class flights to London, England a year.
But wait, there's more. Michael Graydon, the ex-head of the BC Lotteries Corporation, got a severance package even though he quit to take a job with Paragon Gaming, a private company doing major business with BCLC.
BCLC asked Graydon to pay back $55,000, but if he doesn't, well, nothing will likely happen.
'Troubling,' indeed
Before that, New Democrat MLA David Eby triggered a government investigation into the secret $50,000 payment to Kwantlen Polytechnic University president Alan Davis to take his current job.
Who was vice-chair of Kwantlen's board of directors that put through the undisclosed "pre-employment contracts"? Amrik Virk, now minister of advanced education and responsible for making sure such things don't happen!
Virk first denied anything was wrong and accused Eby of "fishing," but a government report confirmed it all -- yet he still has the cabinet job. And then-Kwantlen board chair Gord Schoberg, who was also involved in the contract, was not terminated.
"Troubling" and "disappointing" is what de Jong calls these cases.
But what's "troubling" and "disappointing" is that Premier Christy Clark has not fired either Virk for misconduct or de Jong for incompetence.
In fact, Clark said of Virk: "I have spoken to him and have absolute confidence in him and his ability to serve as minister of advanced education."
After all, who better to enforce the rules than someone caught breaking them?
Paying for incompetence
Ironically, the B.C. government wouldn't be in its current mess with Michael Graydon if it had taken my advice back in 2010 and fired him with cause and without severance after the BC Lottery Corporation was fined $670,000 for more than 1,000 violations of the federal Proceeds of Crime and Terrorist Financing Act.
The Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada fined the BC Lottery Corporation because it misfiled 1,020 reports for casino transactions over $10,000.
Graydon reportedly said that the reports were filed late because of technical glitches and human error. But the mismanagement still stands.

But hey, why worry about any of this? Taxpayers will pick up the BC Liberal tab for incompetence once again.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Why BC Liberals Are Using Teachers' Dispute to Push to Privatize Public Education

The political equation driving Premier Christy Clark, solved.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 HoursVancouver / The Tyee column
Tuesday July 15, 2014
By Bill Tieleman
Privatization does not mean you take a public institution and give it to some nice person. It means you take a public institution and give it to an unaccountable tyranny." -- Noam Chomsky, American philosopher
The BC Liberal government can t fail when it comes to further privatizing public education.
That conclusion is clear as B.C. teachers face their summer of discontent on picket lines without strike pay, mediation, negotiations or any movement on class size and composition.
But for the government, it's the summer of privatization love. Look at the evidence:
Premier Christy Clark is thrilled that long-time foe the B.C. Teachers' Federation is staggering on the ropes in a 10-round boxing slugfest it can't win.
The government has already saved $100 to $200 million from the teachers' strike.
That money can be spent on anything from promoting liquefied natural gas internationally to self-promoting advertising.
Anything, that is but education -- unless you mean private schools.
They will actually be in line for even more government financial support -- because come September, thousands of parents frustrated by frequent job action by BCTF members will likely register their children in expensive but non-unionized alternatives.
And those "independent" schools already receive substantial government funding of nearly $300 million a year and teach 12 per cent of B.C. students.
And the BCTF calculates funding has jumped 45.6 per cent for private schools since 2005 while public school funding rose only 16.9 per cent.
Group One private schools -- which include most religion-based institutions -- get 50 per cent of their operating funds from government, while Group Two is composed of private schools charging higher tuition and tougher admission requirement -- they get 35 per cent funding.
What's the big selling point for those private schools besides no labour disputes?
Ironically, it's smaller class sizes and simpler class composition -- the two big issues BCTF members are on picket lines to improve, beyond their wages.
Public schools have to take all students, deal with multiple challenges from special needs kids to English as a second language students to dwindling resources all while managing large classes.
Private schools avoid those problems by picking and choosing who can attend, then charging tuition.
And with yearly fees at exclusive schools like St. George's -- where Clark's son is a student -- running at $18,995 for Grades 1 to 7 and $21,355 for Grades 8 to 12, they can easily outspend public schools per student.
'Choice' for those with money
St. George's Latin motto is simple: sine timore aut favore -- without fear or favour -- but the same can't be said of the BC Liberal government.
Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Marc Dalton is parliamentary secretary for independent schools -- a new position first created by Christy Clark in 2012 -- and his views on private school are rather blunt.
"I think this position of parliamentary secretary is a reflection of the emphasis the government places on family choice -- choice of education," Dalton said when first appointed.
How many other BC Liberal MLAs are sending or have sent their children to private schools while governing the public education system? The Tyee tried to find out with very limited success.
While some B.C. Liberal MLAs did forthrightly respond to a survey along with some NDP MLAs, a whopping 71 out of 85 MLAs did not -- including 43 who mention their children in online biographies.
This premier wins if public education loses
But ultimately the BC Liberal record on privatizing public education is about the policies adopted, not personal MLA choices, which may be more complicated.
That record is clear.
Make public education less attractive, hurt your union opponent, promote and fund private schools like your son's and save money the whole time -- that's a perfect score for the premier.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Dumb or Devious? BC Liberals' Happy Hour Raises Prices and Suspicions of Downing the Competition

Donnelly Group bus shelter and print ads went up quickly!
New rules mean less real price competition for big chains by small independents. Hmmmm.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column 

Tuesday July 8, 2014

By Bill Tieleman
"He was a wise man who invented beer."
- Plato, ancient Greek philosopher
Is the B.C. Liberal government really incredibly dumb, bringing in "happy hour" rules that actually increase -- not lower -- the price of beer, wine and cocktails by imposing new minimum prices?
Or have the BC Liberals actually rewarded some of their biggest financial supporters by reducing competition based on price, to the benefit of some of the province's largest bar and restaurant chains and at the expense of independent pubs?
A consumer group thinks the evidence points to a Machiavellian move hurting both consumers and smaller liquor outlets alike, by increasing prices for a pint of beer by $2 or more and a pitcher of beer up $5.
The entire liquor industry should be in an uproar over the June 20 introduction of minimum pricing making B.C. beer prices per ounce the highest in Canada at 25 cents, more than double the roughly 11 cent price previously, which was simply the cost of the beer itself.
That means a 20-ounce pint of beer now costs a minimum $5 plus tax.
But instead the brewing revolt is being led by a consumer group -- the Campaign for Real Ale Society -- and some small pubs and bars, while the big chains are either surprisingly silent or remarkably happy, with one taking out full page newspaper and bus shelter ads proclaiming "Prohibition is over."
CAMRA spokesperson Paddy Treavor says drinkers should be suspicious.
"I believe that the B.C. government either willingly -- or were duped by special interest groups -- into making prices higher," Treavor said from Powell River Sunday. "The big chains put their thumb on independent and smaller outlets."
"They don't want to have to compete with places that were offering $3.50 drinks -- now they can put the blame on the government for higher prices," he added.
Safely expensive
John Yap, the Richmond-Steveston MLA and parliamentary secretary for liquor reform to Attorney General Suzanne Anton who guided the changes, defends the higher priced happy hour on "safety" grounds despite no evidence previously lower prices were a problem.
"This is one of the most important public safety and health aspects of the recommendations that we brought in with the modernizing of our liquor laws," Yap told Global TV on July 4.
"We have not had rules on minimum pricing and now we introduced them based on our balanced approach on modernizing our liquor laws," Yap said.
I have my doubts about "balance" and "modernizing" being the reasons for higher priced happy hour, so I have filed a Freedom of Information request seeking all correspondence between Yap, Anton, their ministry and liquor interests to see if any communications took place prior to "unhappy hour" being introduced. 
Meantime, you can protest by joining my new Facebook page Fix BC Happy Hour, where over 1,100 people have already signed on for affordable drinks.


Friday, June 27, 2014

How Did BC Screw up Happy Hour? Higher Prices, Not Lower? Join Campaign To Fix 'Happy Hour'

Pitchers of beer going up as much as $5, pints up $2 under "Happy Hour"!
The province didn't 'modernize' liquor laws; they 'Liberalized' them.

NOTE: Join my Facebook protest page Fix BC Happy Hour

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday June 24, 2014

By Bill Tieleman

"Two-fifty for a hi-ball / And a buck and a half for a beer / Happy hour, happy hour / Happy hour is here."
- The Tragically Hip, "Little Bones"
How on Earth could anyone screw up something as simple as happy hour?
Welcome to British Columbia, where the BC Liberal government isn't on the planet when it comes to being clear on the concept of "happy hour," where bars, pubs and restaurants can offer thirsty patrons a short break from overpriced beer, wine and cocktails.
B.C. Attorney-General Suzanne Anton announced the "modernizing" of liquor laws Friday, and when it comes to happy hour, in many cases prices will actually be higher, not lower, than before -- up to $5 more for a 60-ounce pitcher of beer and $2 more for a pint!
If the BC Liberals can't even figure out how to introduce happy hour without making us pay more, not less, for a simple drink, it's scary to think how they will negotiate a critical taxation regime for liquefied natural gas that's worth billions of dollars.
Getting LNG right is a little tougher than happy hour!
Cry into your pricier beer
The province set minimum drink charges for happy hour above current prices, causing drinkers to immediately cry into their more expensive beers.
"I'm fundamentally disappointed in the government for this," Adam Chatburn, the president of Vancouver's Campaign for Real Ale Society chapter, told media.
"We were really hoping they would take a much more adult and sensible approach to minimum pricing for happy hour," said Chatburn. "Unfortunately, they've decided to jack the price right up."
Yes, that's right: the "BC Liberalized" happy hour means more expense booze. You can't make this stuff up.
As Steve Bauer of Vancouver's Pumpjack Pub explained it: "The 60 ounce jugs are going up to a minimum of $15, tax out, which takes you to over $17 dollars for a jug. A lot of people on this street aside from ourselves and restaurants, you'll [have seen] them for $11, $12. So that's all gone!"
Bauer said the pub's 14-year tradition of selling a 17-ounce pint of beer on Sunday afternoons for $2.90 will have to change, with the price jumping to $4.90 due to the new rules.
That means the minimum price for an ounce of liquor is $2 and $3 for a 12-ounce beer or five-ounce wine.
Give us a break
Sadly, liquor is one area where the BC Liberals have made some positive changes, drawing rare praise from this column for allowing wine corkage in restaurants.
Saturday's announcement that B.C.-produced wine, beer, cider and spirits can now be sold in farmers' markets, for example, is very welcome and overdue, as is letting children into pubs with parents till 10 p.m. for "family friendly dining."
No one wants dirt-cheap drinks or more drunk drivers on our roads, but most of the civilized world, including Seattle, seems able to do happy hour appropriately.
So can we just get a little break on an after-work drink? Or is that too much to ask?
Join my new Facebook page Fix BC Happy Hour -- so we can truly get happy!


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Only Federal Election Votes Can Stop Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline - Not Citizens Initiative

Bill Tieleman speaks to 5,000 at first Fight HST rally in Vancouver - September 2009
Dogwood petitioners miss fundamental flaws of BC's 'citizens' Initiative' process.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday June 17, 2014

By Bill Tieleman

"Lemme tell you the first rule of politics; Always know if the juice is worth the squeeze."
Despite British Columbia environmentalists, First Nations and others gearing up to launch a citizens' initiative petition to fight the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, it's only electoral votes, not signatures that can stop it.
And with the federal Conservative government due to announce its decision today and expected to approve the pipeline with conditions, these groups have to ask themselves -- is the juice worth the squeeze?
B.C's initiative legislation, which is unique in Canada, allows voters to petition the provincial government to take action on almost any issue. But the law is completely toothless.
Even if successful against enormous odds, the initiative can be effectively ignored without government being forced to hold a province-wide vote -- despite misconceptions otherwise.
I know, because I was the strategist for Fight HST's successful initiative process in 2010, led by former premier Bill Vander Zalm.
That effort eventually ended with the 2013 repeal of the Harmonized Sales Tax imposed by Gordon Campbell's Liberal government. The initiative was a critical part of the campaign.
But our victory depended on Campbell's multiple miscalculations, including his decision to hold a binding referendum in 2011 -- not simply because voters flocked to sign the first and only Initiative to pass since the process began in 1994.
That's where the Dogwood Initiative -- the group's name, not campaign -- runs into trouble.
Incredibly difficult threshold
Provincial legislation gives the government the choice of what to do if an initiative reaches the incredibly difficult threshold of gaining the signatures of 10 per cent of registered voters in every one of B.C.'s 85 ridings in only 90 days.
The government can indeed chose to hold an initiative referendum, but the results are not binding.
Or it can simply introduce the bill proposed by the petition into the B.C. Legislature, but not even debate it, let alone pass it.
Environmentalists could spend months and many dollars organizing signatures only to either fail to get enough of them in every riding, or even if they do, be ignored by the legislature.
That's one heck of a lot of squeeze for no juice.
The more optimistic view is that a huge campaign will generate significant attention and shape public opinion, forcing reconsideration and rejection of Enbridge's pipeline before it breaks ground.
But those planning the initiative seem to be overlooking the fundamental flaws in the process -- that a referendum is not required by passage and is non-binding.
"We are currently drafting legislation which, if introduced via a citizens' initiative, would ensure B.C. uses its legislative authority to keep our rivers and streams free from Enbridge oil," said Jessica Clogg, executive director and senior counsel of the West Coast Environmental Law Association, in a June 16 news release.
They also appear to forget that the initiative process doesn't in any way affect the federal government, which has the jurisdiction to approve the pipeline.
While Premier Christy Clark might be encouraged to stand up against Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Enbridge if the petition is successful, she can't block it indefinitely.
Designed to fail
More worrisome for Enbridge opponents is the dangerous risk that their petition fails, like last year's Sensible BC campaign for marijuana decriminalization did, despite garnering 202,037 signatures.
An Enbridge initiative failure could embolden both the B.C. and federal government to see it as a big win for Big Oil and ignore further opposition.
Even a very respectable campaign result that gains hundreds of thousands of signatures but can't match the 713,883 delivered by Fight HST to Elections BC on June 30, 2010 will be seen as a setback.
Remember that signatures have to be verified by Elections BC. In 2010, the final Fight HST number was 557,383. In the Abbotsford South riding, the margin of error was only 599 signatures, and missing one riding causes the whole effort to crash.
The reality is that the citizens' initiative is a challenging tactic designed by a previous NDP government to fail, and was never fixed by a subsequent BC Liberal government that promised to do so, but still hasn't in 13 years. Nor will it.
The initiative's flaws mean that only federal election votes in 2015, which defeat the Conservatives, can stop the pipeline.
And in an election versus a citizens' initiative, the squeeze is definitely worth the juice.


Friday, June 13, 2014

UPDATED Strategic voting fails again - this time in Ontario provincial election. Original headline: Strategic voting often helps those you want to hurt

Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne, NDP leader Andrea Horwath, Conservative leader Tim Hudak - Sun News montage
Ontario election could be preview for BC municipal, federal contests.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column
Tuesday June 10, 2014
By Bill Tieleman
"A vote 'against' someone or something is a vote in favour of nothing."
- Alice Funke,
UPDATE:   Strategic voting fails again, in Ontario

As predicted here, strategic voting failed once more, this time in the Ontario provincial election on Thursday June 12.

The surprising Liberal majority - hello depressed pollsters yet again - did not come from strategic voting but from a precipitous drop in Conservative support and some very lucky breaks for Premier Kathleen Wynne.

In fact, the Ontario Liberal Party vote rose only 1% in this election over the last that produced a Liberal minority government - but the Conservative vote dropped by 4.2%, which meant a loss of 8 seats down to 28, while the Liberals picked up 5 seats to 58.

The NDP vote - which one would expect to shrink if strategic voting stampeded previous party supporters to "strategically" cast a ballot for the Liberals to block Conservative leader Tim Hudak - actually went up 1%, not down, and the NDP under leader Andrea Horwath maintained their previous total of 21 seats. 

And the Green Party - which actually and totally wrongly blamed strategic voting for it not winning a seat, astonishingly saw it's vote percentage rise the most of any party - by 1.8% - a complete reversal of what would happen if strategic voting were happening in a real way.

So what really happened is that Conservative voters split three ways - their 4.2% vote drop went to the Liberals, the NDP and mostly to the Greens - at least on the numbers.  

Of course, if we could read minds we might find multiple other explanations but one thing is overwhelmingly clear - this was no "strategic vote" by Liberal, NDP or Green supporters to "Stop Hudak" - it was Conservative voters voicing their strong displeasure with Hudak's crazy idea of cutting 100,000 public sector workers' jobs and threatening a serious attack on unions and their members.

And that's something to be pleased about!


Ontario goes to the polls on Thursday after a bitter, nasty campaign dominated increasingly by one topic -- strategic voting designed to defeat the party you hate the most rather than the one you actually support.
Strategic voting is a misnomer, however, because the results are consistently a big failure. But we can expect to see strategic voting promoted here in B.C.'s fall municipal elections and especially in next year's federal election.
In the 2011 federal contest, strategic voting was used to try and block Stephen Harper's Conservatives, and yet they won a majority government after the New Democrats and Liberals foolishly defeated them in Parliament, forcing an election.
Despite multiple websites like Catch 22 and Project Democracy which combined dire warnings about Harper's agenda of mayhem with directions on whether to vote Liberal or NDP in dozens of ridings, the effort was obviously a spectacular bust.
Nonetheless, the same flawed approach is being applied in an attempt to stop Ontario Conservative leader Tim Hudak from becoming premier by steering voters to either the governing Liberals under Kathleen Wynne or the NDP's Andrea Horwath, depending on which party appears to have the best chance in each riding.
Note this: The "Stop Hudak" campaign will become May 2015's "Stop Harper" effort, no matter how ineffectual.
Ironically, in this race it's some of Ontario's most left-wing activists publicly attacking the NDP and worrying that the Liberals will lose.
Feminist Judy Rebick, columnists Michelle Landsberg and Gerald Caplan and others denounced Horwath for defeating Wynne's budget while saying the Ontario NDP is too right-wing -- in the middle of the campaign when the only result of such criticism can be to damage the NDP vote.
Strategic voting helped the Tories
The problems with strategic voting are many and significant.
First and foremost, it requires the people who tell voters which party has the best chance of defeating the one being strategically voted against to have sophisticated, riding-level polling and research in dozens of ridings.
As Pundits' Guide's Alice Funke pointed out in 2011 about federal strategic voting websites:
"Their electoral analysis was incompetent and utterly wrong in most of the ridings where it could be said to have mattered -- leading to incorrect recommendations in many cases where it would have made a difference, and no recommendations in others that were overlooked.
Funke convincingly points out that strategic voting substantially helped, not hurt, the federal Conservatives, who must have been pinching themselves at their good luck to have such unintentional assistance.
"Project Democracy proved unable to rally sufficient voters to prevent 19 Conservative gains, completely missed the opportunity to even recommend strategic votes in 10 other cases where the Conservatives gained a seat, and got the recommendation right in just eight cases where Conservatives were actually defeated, leaving 33 targeted Conservative MPs in place," Funke wrote in her evisceration of the plan after the May 2011 election.
"The Conservatives were re-elected with a majority government. No wonder they loved Project Democracy."
Painfully true.
Taking away choice
Second, strategic voting demands that a huge number of voters not support their traditional party based on its values and policies and instead cast a ballot for a party they don't like, in order to stop one they despise.
Vancouver polling analyst Bryan Breguet suggested that in the 2011 federal election it would have taken as much as 60 per cent of Liberal and NDP voters to switch their choice in their riding to make strategic voting effective, something he called "completely unrealistic."
It should go without saying that strategic voting strongly promotes the development of a two-party system with few options for different ideological perspectives.
Political history shows that the New Democratic, Social Credit, Parti Quebecois, Reform, Green and many other parties came into existence and sometimes power because the traditional choice of Liberal or Conservative was unpalatable.
Trying to use strategic voting to influence election results is like playing blackjack at a poker table – the level of complexity is far beyond the ability of the player – and they’re in the wrong game.
Lastly, voting is your democratic opportunity to make a decision based on your values by picking the candidate and party that can best represent you in elected office.
No one should squander their principles by voting for a party they don't like to defeat a party they hate while abandoning the party they truly support.