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.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

BC Health Ministry Researcher Firings Deserve a Public Inquiry

Dark clouds over the BC Legislature - Bill Tieleman photo
Far too many unanswered questions in 2012 dismissals and cover up.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday June 16, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"The road to power is paved with hypocrisy, and casualties."

- Frank Underwood, U.S. President in House of Cards, Netflix

Powerful government forces suddenly fire eight health ministry researchers and contractors, alleging they breached the privacy of sensitive patient files regarding pharmaceuticals and that the police are investigating.

One researcher sadly commits suicide; the others are pariahs, unable to work while government suspends their $4-million research project.

The ruling party, one of those fired alleged in a lawsuit, accepted significant political donations from big pharmaceutical companies selling products to government health plans. The fired researcher continues with a defamation lawsuit against a former minister. 

Then -- shocker -- it's disclosed there was no police investigation, because the government never turned over information on the alleged offences.

Most of the researchers, who had filed wrongful dismissal and defamation lawsuits or grievances through their union, are reinstated or paid compensation.

No senior official is publicly disciplined for firings -- and government refuses to say who was responsible or why it happened.

A veteran lawyer hired to review the firings complains about the lack of government records, and says that -- and the unwillingness of officials to cooperate -- means questions about who ordered the dismissals and why "remain unanswered."

But it's not a deadly and manipulatively cynical segment from the hit Netflix show House of Cards -- it's reality under the BC Liberal government.

'Difficult' questions unanswered

Despite an uproar when it was disclosed the RCMP never received government information to launch an investigation into the firings, Premier Christy Clark rejects a public inquiry to find the truth.

Further, Clark declined offers from then-deputy minister of health Graham Whitmarsh to cooperate with an "independent and full review" of the firings or his suggestion that B.C.'s auditor general investigate the matter.

Clark's own deputy minister, John Dyble, and Lynda Tarras, deputy minister and head of the Public Service Agency, are alleged by Whitmarsh to have been involved in briefings regarding the original firings -- and were therefore, he claims, in a conflict of interest in the government review.

Deputy attorney general Richard Fyfe rejected that claim.

Whitmarsh declined to participate in the review, saying it was not sufficiently independent of government while noting that was not the fault of experienced labour lawyer Marcia McNeil, who conducted it.

McNeil, who did not interview the fired researchers for her review, nevertheless was damning in her conclusions.

"I have found that the investigation was flawed from the outset, as it was embarked upon with a pre-conceived theory of employee misconduct," McNeil wrote. "Two of the most difficult questions I considered during my review were who effectively made the dismissal decisions and what factors were considered. Those questions remain unanswered."

Nor has the government apologized to many of the researchers, only saying sorry to the family of Roderick MacIsaac, who took his own life after the firings.

Employees humiliated, angry

NDP critic Adrian Dix has doggedly pursued this case for three years, and said in an email interview Sunday: "This was an abuse of power by the powerful, all reporting to Premier Clark, that ruined lives and damaged health care. They can't be allowed to get away with it."

Leave the last words to Ron Mattson, one of the fired researchers who won a settlement for wrongful dismissal. Mattson is a respected project manager and also city councillor in View Royal near Victoria who was re-elected last fall to his seventh term.

Mattson said the B.C. government's repeated claims that the RCMP was investigating -- when the police never got any information -- were intentionally vengeful.

"Even though there was a settlement, telling the public there was a police investigation... you are still tainted. It was done to support the firings, and basically we all felt it was done to humiliate us and beat us down, otherwise why would you make up a story like that? We are angry," Mattson told CBC Radio last week.

And the only way to get to the truth?

"We want to find out who is responsible and we want those responsible to have to pay some sort of consequence, and probably the only way to do that is if there is a formal public inquiry," Mattson said.

Exactly. A public inquiry is needed.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

BC Libs Order Another Round of Craft Beer Price Hikes - Make That 87% of ALL Beer Goes Up

Thirsty Beaver Amber Ale tall can - an excellent beer - but now 17% higher priced 

Latest tax grab has beer fans hopping mad

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday June 9, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"This latest move just adds insult to injury to craft beer consumers who are fuelling one of the fastest-growing segments of homegrown, B.C. industry." 

- Paddy Treavor, Campaign for Real Ale advocate

How did the BC Liberals celebrate Vancouver Craft Beer Week that ended Sunday?

They increased prices by over 10 per cent on 74 beer products, by five to 10 per cent on another 123 and by one to five per cent on 219 more.

The government may well have said "cheers, suckers" when they boosted your brew bill.

Because it was the crafty BC Liberals, who promised booze wouldn't cost more when they changed the liquor pricing system on April 1, that have now actually hiked prices on 
a stunning 87 per cent of all beers sold in BC Liquor Stores.

And that has beer fans hopping mad.

'It's a tax grab': Horgan

"Craft beer prices are going up between five and 10 per cent in many cases, yet the breweries are receiving the same amount of money from the government for their products," Paddy Treavor, Campaign for Real Ale's (CAMRA) branch president in Powell River, told me Sunday by email.

"So where is that extra revenue going? Well, we all know where, into government coffers," Treavor says.

"This is yet just another example of the cynical and entitled nature of this government and their short-sightedness in putting more financial pressure on the craft beer industry who are thriving and flourishing despite the BC Liberals, not because of them," Treavor said.

BC Liberal attorney general Suzanne Anton, who is responsible for liquor, avoided media last week but put out a statement claiming the government is focused on "creating a competitive marketplace that will benefit consumers."

"Let's put things in perspective: every month, some prices go up and some prices go down -- just as any other retail cost of good -- but we're talking about cents here," Anton said.

Actually, only eight per cent of beer prices went down, and most of those were foreign beers, according to a survey by the BC NDP. Leader John Horgan says: "It's a tax grab, plain and simple."

And god forbid you're a fan of Kelowna's Tree Brewery Thirsty Beaver, because a tall can went up 17 per cent, from $1.96 on March 31 to $2.29 on June 1 -- or Penticton's Cannery Blackberry Porter, which saw a bottle go up 20 per cent, from $4.57 to $5.49.

Brewers beware

The problems began after the B.C. government imposed a new single wholesale liquor price that shocked the industry and angered independent wine stores, cold beer and wine stores, liquor importers and others by dramatically changing the way product is priced.

The result has been higher prices on many products -- hidden by a crafty change to remove the tax from the shelf price for the first time and then add it at the till -- and shrinking profit margins for both private and public liquor stores.

That's one reason why BC Liquor Stores increased craft beer prices with no consultation with brewers -- because they weren't making enough profit on it.

"The government looked at the numbers and thought 'a lot of this craft beer is not very profitable the way we've done things, so we need to increase the margins here,'" said Gary Lindsay, director of marketing and sales for Driftwood Brewery, which saw all its beers go up seven per cent or more.

"The increase comes at the cost of the customers. We didn't increase our price and we didn't increase what we get paid by the LDB," Lindsay said last week.

Treavor, whose advocacy group CAMRA "is dedicated to the promotion and responsible consumption of natural, craft beers" echoes those concerns.

"Many small, local breweries, who operate on a slim profit margin due to huge competition and over-regulation from the government, already had to reduce their bottom line profit for some of their products just to maintain pricing, after the April 1 shift to the new wholesale pricing scheme, so as not to alienate their customers," Treavor told me. "And now the prices get increased without warning to the breweries."
"The whole B.C. liquor policy reform has been a failure on almost every front. I do not know who is advising them, but they certainly did not listen to the industry or British Columbian craft beer consumers during their 'consultation' phase of the liquor reform."

"For many British Columbians this is the second major price hike in a row for craft beer," Treavor said. "Remember the happy hour minimum pricing cock-up, which caused the prices of drink specials and in some cases regular beer prices to rise?"

Anton has previously wrongly blamed suppliers for price increases but now there is nowhere for the government to hide.

And raising beer prices will certainly make sure political trouble is brewing.


Monday, June 15, 2015

What's Behind BC Liberals’ Tax Gift to Private Schools?

Aerial view of Brentwood College private school outside Victoria - boarding school fees are $44,500 a year.
New exemption appears lifted from a U.S. Republican playbook.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday June 2, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"Competition is what's really going to change our public schools. It's the only thing that's going to force them to become better schools because they're going to lose students if they don't." 

- Republican Nevada Assemblywoman Jill Dickman

The BC Liberals launched a surprise attack on public schools on the very last day of the B.C. Legislature's spring session, tabling Bill 29 to prevent municipalities from charging private schools property tax.

The legislation's first reading on May 28 "delighted" private school reps. Once again it shows the provincial government's equal delight in bashing public education at every opportunity.

And while the BC Liberals have not yet taken the draconian steps Nevada's Republican government has to undermine public schools by giving their existing funding to private institutions, questions must be raised about their intentions.

BC Liberal Finance Minister Mike de Jong apparently worried that cash-strapped cities and towns might apply property taxes on private schools' non-classroom facilities -- since classroom space is already tax-exempt.

"These amendments will ensure that independent school properties, such as playgrounds, playing fields and athletic facilities, will not be subject to property tax in the future," de Jong told the Legislature last Thursday.

An unbelievable priority, given B.C.'s terrible child poverty rate, the appalling record of kids dying while in the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development or the significant challenges public school students, teachers and staff face from government underfunding.

The absurdity of Premier Christy Clark's government acting quickly on something that hasn't happened while ignoring real disasters occurring all around them would be black humour -- were it not for what lies behind it.

'Choice' for the wealthy

Right-wing governments like Nevada's are intent on devastating public education by taking away state funding and giving it to private schools.

Under the rubric of "choice" Nevada's public education system is being defunded, potentially leaving only those students whose parents cannot afford additional tuition fees still attending public schools.

"This bill actually siphons money away from our public school system and gives it to private schools," says Nevada Democrat Assemblywoman Amber Joiner, who voted against the legislation there last week. "That's at a time when our schools can least afford it, and what we're trying to do is support them more than we ever had before."

Here in B.C., private schools have received increasingly more public funding: $311 million in 2014-15 -- a whopping 61.1 per cent increase since 2005-06 -- and more than triple the 19.7 per cent rise in public education funding during the same period, according to a B.C. teachers union budget analysis.

Currently 13 per cent of B.C. kindergarten to Grade 12 students are enrolled in independent schools, which include private and religious institutions, an increase of 5,000 this year.

Given that boost in tuition fees and ongoing government funding increases, one might presume private schools are doing just fine -- so why worry about hypothetical municipal property taxes? What is the reason for hurriedly giving first reading to the Property Taxation (Exemptions) Statutes Amendment Act?

After all, even if the almost 300 private schools in B.C. had their non-classroom properties taxed, the total bill would be $5 million, according to Peter Froese, Federation of Independent School Associations executive director.

Not welcome, but hardly an urgent matter, even for Clark -- whose son attends the private St. George's School in Vancouver, where annual fees are over $22,000 for Grades 8 to 12.

But the motivation for the BC Liberal legislation may be part of an ongoing crisis for private schools worldwide.

Elite feel the pinch

New research in the United Kingdom shows that private school tuition fees are the least affordable since the 1960s.

"The numbers show that for all but the wealthiest 10 per cent of the workforce, fees for the average day school are now more than a quarter of a year's pre-tax pay -- compared with less than one-seventh back in 1968," The Telegraph newspaper reported May 29.

In the U.K. the average fees in 2015 are $29,500 per student, with prestigious private schools charging over double that.

And costs to educate the elite are going up.

"These days, parents want far more for their children than their own bed and the voice of a distant master in a huge schoolroom. They want the latest in modern accommodation and state-of-the-art sports equipment, and -- the most costly requirement of all -- tiny pupil-teacher ratios," says David Turner, author of The Old Boys, a history of English private schools.

"Private schools are generally pretty efficient, but this all costs money," says Turner, whose book studied the affordability of school fees throughout history.

There's also another problem facing private schools -- they aren't worth the cost for the results, according to some experts.

"The fact that private schools confer no material or educational benefit in comparison to good public schools is becoming widely known and must be sending a shiver of panic down the spines of private school boards," says Mem Fox, a noted Australian education professor and author of the country's most popular children's book, Possum Magic.

"Any minute now, surely, they'll be sprung for false advertising," Fox told a teachers' union gathering last week. "As Waleed Aly said [recently], sending your kids to a private school is like buying a new BMW each year and driving it into a wall."

Ouch. Not exactly the kind of comments that will get wealthy parents parting with big bucks that could instead be spent on luxury cars.

Clearly private schools need a helping hand -- and have found one in the BC Liberals.

And while British Columbia isn't Nevada, this B.C. government is looking far more Republican than liberal on public education.