Monday, May 25, 2015

Bad Optics for BC NDP $2,000 Candidate Entry Fee in Vancouver Mount Pleasant

Vancouver Mount Pleasant MLA Jenny Kwan launching her federal NDP nomination campaign - Bill Tieleman photo
Party brass unanimously approved charge to run in one of province's poorest ridings.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday May 5, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

“The New Democratic Party holds firm to the belief that the dignity, freedom and equality of the individual is a basic right that must be maintained and extended."

Here's the big money question: is the B.C. New Democratic Party deliberately trying to create internal dissent with a new $2,000 non-refundable "entry fee" in the upcoming Vancouver-Mount Pleasant by-election?

Or is it simply oblivious to the optics of a party that wants to be seen as sticking up for the little guy demanding candidate fees that are higher than any other party is charging?

Even worse, the BC NDP executive unanimously approved the new $2,000 fee for one of B.C.'s poorest ridings.

The party says it's all about fundraising and being competitive with its better-financed BC Liberal Party opponents.

BC NDP president Craig Keating defends the move, saying on Monday that candidate fees were in place in the 2013 election, though he was unable to say how much they were.

"Fees help us recover the costs of the nomination," Keating said, adding that the new entry charge only applies to by-elections so far.

However, as The Tyee's Andrew MacLeod has reported, the move has rankled many rank and file members as a major financial impediment to candidates who don't have quick access to $2,000.

It's just plain wrong. A social democratic party fighting economic inequality and helping the under-privileged has no business demanding a $2,000 entry fee from a candidate just for the right to put their name forward for members to democratically decide on their candidacy.

Why should a worthy candidate of limited means be dependent on the charity of others to raise the money?
It smacks of elitism and entitlement, at a time when voters in Alberta appear ready to dismiss their Conservative government in today's election for exactly those reasons.

The BC NDP opened nominations on April 22 and closed them May 1, giving any candidate only a week to come up with the $2,000.

Great candidate, overshadowed by controversy

The controversy is too bad, because the BC NDP has attracted an excellent candidate to vie for the seat of veteran MLA Jenny Kwan, who will step down from her position to run in the federal election.

Melanie Mark is a former deputy to the Representative for Children and Youth, Mary-Ellen Turpel Lafond, whose office is respected for fighting to protect children in care and demanding accountability from government.

If she won the by-election, Mark would become the only First Nations MLA in the B.C. Legislature. Her accomplishments and abilities are considerable.

Unfortunately, the fee controversy -- if not quickly fixed -- may be an unwelcome distraction for the BC NDP from attacking the BC Liberals' atrocious record on child poverty and other issues.

Mark herself has raised concerns about the fee.

"I'm sure it's a barrier. We need to reduce barriers for people, and I want this to be a fair, equitable, transparent process," she said last week.

Ironically, the federal NDP has no entry fee for candidates; the federal Conservatives have a refundable $1,000 "Good Conduct Bond" that is returned if candidates respect the rules; and the federal Liberal Party charges a $1,000 fee.

The BC Liberal Party did not respond to email and phone inquiries by deadline, but a veteran party activist said they were unaware of any candidate nomination fee.

Fundraising the fee

For perspective, here's what it takes for some less-than-well-off British Columbians to raise personally come up with the BC NDP's $2,000 entry fee.

At an average B.C. wage of $25.73, it would take over 77 hours of work to raise the fee.

For a person on disability benefits of about $906 a month, it would take over two months.

And it would mean over 195 hours working at B.C.'s current minimum wage of $10.25 an hour.

The $2,000 fee may not seem like much to some, but it is a substantial barrier to many.
The BC NDP has made an unnecessary problem for itself. The smart move is to end this policy and the controversy it's creating immediately.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Memo to Conservative Health Minister Rona Ambrose: Vancouver Pot Shops Need Sensible Regulation, Not Reefer Madness

Don Briere, owner of Weeds Glass and Gifts stores in Vancouver - Stefania Seccia photo - 24 Hours Vancouver 
Federal government lacks common sense on medical marijuana.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday April 28, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"Once you legalize something, you normalize it. When you normalize it, the message is that it's safe and marijuana is not safe for young people."

- Conservative Health Minister Rona Ambrose

It's time to use common sense on the medicinal marijuana business that is growing wild in Vancouver -- not a dose of reefer madness.

Unfortunately, the federal Conservative government demands an ideological approach that ignores reality while trying to score political points with its right-wing base in an election year.

But even some Conservative voters can't be happy with this ham-handed approach to marijuana -- or Ambrose's obvious attempt to paint the opposition as drug fiends pushing dope to kids.

Fortunately, Vancouver council is taking a more sensible course by proposing regulations for the 80 medicinal marijuana dispensaries that have sprung up since the federal government in 2014 banned the cultivation of pot by patients with a prescription.

The proposed city regulations -- including a steep $30,000 annual licensing fee and staying at least 300 metres away from schools, community centres and other dispensaries -- ensure some reasonable level of responsibility instead of chaos.

The marijuana majority

The issue of decriminalization or legalization of marijuana is anathema to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives but an Angus Reid poll last year found 59 per cent of Canadians and 70 per cent of British Columbians backed legalization.

Even 43 per cent of Conservative voters agreed.

However, Ambrose doesn't care about the majority who favour ending the criminal prohibition on marijuana that has clearly failed to curb appetite for the drug -- whether for medicinal or recreational purposes.

"I would not support a Justin Trudeau Canada, where what's happening in downtown Vancouver [is repeated elsewhere] where pot dispensaries are opening up on corners. They are not regulated. Pot is illegal right now, unless you are through the medical marijuana program of Health Canada," Ambrose told CBC Radio host Stephen Quinn on Friday.

Tagging Liberal leader Trudeau (who supports legalization) or New Democrat leader Tom Mulcair (who backs decriminalization) as the problem insults voters' intelligence -- and their desire for a sensible solution.

And with both Washington State and Colorado recently voting to legalize marijuana, even a Conservative cabinet minister should be able to tell which way the weed wind is blowing.

In fact, federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay publicly suggested last August that the government might turn personal pot possession into a ticketed offence instead of a crime where even possession of less than 30 grams can lead to a six-month prison sentence.

And ironically given the easy access to medical marijuana in Vancouver, eight B.C. men have been ordered extradited to the United States to face serious marijuana smuggling charges for allegedly shipping hundreds of kilos to California.

So let's be blunt about blunts -- marijuana will be consumed by a significant portion of the Canadian population regardless of the laws.

And while it has demonstrable health benefits for some patients -- those suffering from cancer, glaucoma, nausea and other illnesses -- it can also be unhealthy, particularly when smoked or used in excess.

The obvious answer is to look at the facts, not fuel the fiction.

Dispensing evidence

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon and CNN's chief medical correspondent, is one of those who has taken a second look at his opposition to medical marijuana and changed his mind.

"I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a schedule one substance because of sound scientific proof. Surely, they must have quality reasoning as to why marijuana is in the category of the most dangerous drugs that have 'no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse,'" Sanjay wrote in 2013.

"They didn't have the science to support that claim, and I now know that when it comes to marijuana neither of those things are true. It doesn't have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications."

Sanjay remains opposed to young people having access to marijuana, citing studies that suggest early use can harm the brain.

But unlike Ambrose, Sanjay doesn't use that as a scare tactic for a total ban.

"We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that," Sanjay concluded.

In Washington State, Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation Friday that will regulate medical marijuana there, where recreational sales are already legal.

"Until today, our system has been completely unregulated," Inslee said. "Today, after tremendous hard work and compromise by legislators on both sides of the aisle, I signed a bill that will create a medical marijuana system that works for Washington."

So Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson's regulation solution -- in the absence of leadership from the Conservative government -- is both welcome and necessary.

Pretending the marijuana mess will vanish into thin air by either ignoring it or putting pot users in prison is far more delusional than you can get even by toking up.


Closing Vancouver's St. Paul's Hospital a Shortsighted Betrayal by BC Liberal Government

St. Paul's Hospital - The Tyee photo
BC Liberals backtrack on Premier Christy Clark promise to renovate historic downtown hospital.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday April 21, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

“We are going to be putting people's lives in harms' way."

- Aaron Jasper, former Save St. Paul's Hospital Coalition chair

Forget the spin that closing St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver's West End and opening a giant new facility in East Vancouver's False Creek flats is "world-leading."

It's actually an enormous error; an outright betrayal of BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark's 2012 promise to renovate St. Paul's; an expensive option costing taxpayers an extra $500 million more than a completely feasible retrofit; and a move that may compromise the health care of over 100,000 people living near the existing hospital.

B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake already admits the new St. Paul's Hospital will "likely" be a controversial public-private-partnership development, which often wind up costing taxpayers more just to keep debt off government books.

And Providence Health Care, the non-profit that runs the site, will surely sell the property for an enormous and profitable multi-billion dollar condominium play.

Demolished for condos?

The St. Paul's land is assessed at $370 million already -- imagine how much it's worth full of the kind of high-rises that already
dominate the West End skyline.

Jasper, a former Vancouver Park Board chair, says it will likely lead to the closing of another Vancouver hospital, Mount St. Joseph's at Kingsway near East 12th Ave.

"I think Mount St. Joseph's will go," Jasper said in a Sunday interview with 24 Hours Vancouver.

Demolishing St. Paul's for condos will mean that the millions spent by taxpayers to extensively renovate the emergency room and new buildings, which opened in the 1980s and are all functioning, will have been wasted.

And the new hospital would be built on an earthquake-prone flood plain, not good when the big shaker finally hits Vancouver.

Amazingly, this is all being hyped as putting "the patient at the centre of care," according to Dianne Doyle, Providence Health Care president, in a news release.

Somehow I don't think patients -- or residents -- were consulted on this plan, because the consequences could be dire for those who depend on St. Paul's Hospital now.

The new site is three kilometres to the east of the current hospital: adding 35 minutes to a car trip from the West End; about 30 minutes to a transit ride and an extra 49 minutes if walking.

And for many Vancouver residents, their hospital of choice will switch from St. Paul's to an already overcrowded Vancouver General Hospital because it will be closer and easier to get to.

The BC Liberals promised to renovate St. Paul's prior to the 2013 provincial election, removing it as possible issue.

A February 2012 Providence Health Care Concept Plan concluded definitively: "The new-site option was ultimately rejected as too expensive."

Premier promises renovation

And in a June 13, 2012 government news release headlined: "Premier Clark Commits to Redeveloping St. Paul's Hospital," Clark laid it out clearly:

"I want patients and I want our health care professionals to know that they can have confidence in the great priority my government has put on redeveloping this hospital, modernizing it and bringing it into this new century. So that's why I'm so excited today to announce with a firm commitment that we are moving ahead on developing a concept plan for redevelopment of St. Paul's Hospital as part of our Budget 2012," Clark said in an online government video:

Then-health minister Mike de Jong chimed in on video: "An exciting day here at St. Paul's when Premier Clark arrives to really formalize the commitment to get on with the redevelopment of the hospital here."

Those promises led to the Save St. Paul's Hospital Coalition disbanding, says Jasper, because they thought: "Hey, we won!"

And then-B.C. health minister Margaret MacDiarmid gave more reassurances in February 2013 on the election eve: "St. Paul's Hospital is world-renowned for its research, teaching and care. We're making sure it remains a hub of innovation, excellence and compassionate patient care, serving British Columbian families far into the future," MacDiarmid said.

But that was then and this is now, and Clark has yet to comment on her broken promise, instead letting others praise the plan.

That hasn't yet included the city of Vancouver, which the B.C. government surprised with the announcement. It's telling because Vancouver will have to deal with the consequences but wasn't consulted on the decision.

Former BC Liberal attorney general Geoff Plant, now chair of Providence's board of directors was effusive.

"Health care has to trump nostalgia," he claimed, as if this was merely a case of a heritage building standing in the way of progress.

In fact, Clark's brazen broken pledge is about privatization and profits coming before patients and promises.

To be clear, a new, larger hospital has benefits and many good people support the plan, despite the distance and higher costs.

But Jasper, now a realtor, says it's all about location, location, location.

"We're encouraging people to live downtown -- so shouldn't we have at least some significant level of emergency and acute care services?"

Saving St. Paul's Hospital in its existing location may never be more important.