Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Could Premier Christy Clark Go from Safe to Sorry in Westside-Kelowna By-election?

It's a long shot, but recent events suggest Christy Clark could botch by-election 
The remains of defeat: Christy Clark signs outside garbage in Vancouver-Point Grey riding after May 14 provincial election
Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver/The Tyee column

Tuesday June 25, 2013
By Bill Tieleman
"History is not on the government's side when it comes to byelections. The only byelection that government has won in 30 years was the one that I won in Vancouver-Point Grey."
Could Christy Clark possibly lose the July 10 byelection in the very safe BC Liberal seat of Westside-Kelowna?
The odds are overwhelmingly in favour of the premier, but pushing incumbent MLA Ben Stewart out certainly didn't help.
Stewart hasn't publicly complained about his treatment, but his wife Ruth certainly did on Facebook, saying she was "angry and hurt" about the "unfair" decision affecting her husband, Black Press columnist Tom Fletcher reported.
She removed the post later, but said she didn't "need to apologize" and that there was "no use hanging onto the negative..."
Stewart himself admitted that Clark accepting his offer to resign for her was "disappointing at the start" but he is "excited about the next 28 days."
An examination of both local circumstances and B.C. byelection political history -- as Clark herself pointed out -- is enough to give the battered BC NDP at least a faint hope clause of a chance.
First the numbers: Stewart was re-elected May 14 with 58.4 per cent of the vote to NDP challenger Carole Gordon's 30.5 per cent and BC Conservative candidate Brian Guillou's 11 per cent.
Stewart's 12,987 votes almost doubled Gordon's 6,790 and even if all Guillou's 2,172 voters had gone NDP instead, the BC Liberals would still have easily won.
Game over already? Not quite.
Bygone byelections
Byelections aren't general elections. They almost always mean lower voter turnout, focus more on local issues and are often seen as a safe opportunity to send the government a negative message without tossing them out of power.
The turnout in Westside-Kelowna was 49.6 per cent of the 44,830 registered voters. That means if the turnout dropped to 30 per cent in the byelection -- or 13,449 total votes -- and the NDP held its 6,790 votes, it would win.
And what was the turnout in the upset NDP win in April 2012 the Chilliwack-Hope byelection? Thirty-two per cent.
There's also a scary precedent of a provincial representative quitting to let their leader have the seat and then seeing them lose.
Ontario Progressive Conservative leader John Tory did just that in 2009, albeit as opposition leader, but Member of the Provincial Parliament Laurie Scott's 10,000 vote majority in 2007 disappeared for Tory and turned into a 900 vote loss.
So is a stunning loss likely? No. Possible? Enough to worry Clark.
After all, voters in Vancouver-Point Grey obviously were not that impressed with Clark's local representation, turfing her out after two years as MLA in favour of the NDP's David Eby, who won by 1,063 votes.
Eby has outlined the major factors for his victory -- Clark's position on pipelines, a focus on riding issues and his strong on the ground campaign.
Clark refused to debate Eby during the election and apparently won't debate Gordon either, leaving her open to allegations of arrogance or indifference.
Then there's the fact that Clark never lived in Vancouver-Point Grey, something she will repeat in Westside-Kelowna, though she has promised to establish a "second residence" there.
Meanwhile Clark's main opponent Gordon is a 40-year Kelowna resident, local teacher and director of the United Way, and new BC Conservative candidate Sean Upshaw is a Kelowna realtor. There are five other contenders.
Are you the betting kind?
BC Liberal strategists are concerned enough about Clark's potential for electoral disaster that the premier painfully reversed course on her plan to give political staffers a big pay raise as the new government's first order of business.
Those salary hikes flew out the Westside-Kelowna window, but Clark's deputy chief of staff Michele Cadario will still keep her $20,000 increase.
BC Liberal advisors will be exceedingly anxious about all political issues -- like the $300-a-year wheelchair "maintenance" fee being imposed on seniors in residential care detailed previously in this column -- and the potential for backlash against Clark.
Gordon has already challenged Clark to cancel the fee, which is scheduled to come into effect Sept. 1.
There's also the popularity standard set by Stewart, whose 58.4 per cent win last month was an increased majority over his 2009 win, when he received 53 per cent.
Clark only needs to win by a single vote to return to the B.C. Legislature, but a significantly diminished margin of victory after losing Vancouver-Point Grey would be embarrassing at least.
And even a loss wouldn't force Clark out of the premiership, though it would cause a panic in BC Liberal ranks and force the resignation of another BC Liberal MLA in an even safer seat to give way.
Any betting person would put big money on Clark to win handily and the Westside-Kelowna byelection to be soon forgotten.
But anyone who's been to a horse-racing track know that sometimes a long shot wins against all odds. And B.C. politics has a history of surprising upsets.
On a different note, over 200 people have joined my new Facebook group Wheelchairs for BC Seniors, calling on the government to not impose $300 a year "maintenance" fees on seniors in residential care. Thanks!


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

BC Government Cash Grab From Seniors in Wheelchairs in Residential Care Gets Even Worse!

Disabled seniors must pay new $300 annual "maintenance" fee but future wheelchair use will be privatized, while BC Liberal political staff get rich pay raises 
BC seniors will have even more of their fixed income taken away to pay wheelchair "maintenance" fee
 - or rent or buy on wheelchair
Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver/The Tyee column

Tuesday June 18, 2013
By Bill Tieleman
"Action expresses priorities."
- Mahatma Gandhi
Disabled seniors in wheelchairs across British Columbia living in residential care are going to have even more money picked out of their pockets by the cash-hungry provincial government, according to an independent MLA.
Independent MLA Vicki Huntington said in an interview Saturday that not only will seniors be forced to pay a $300 a year wheelchair "maintenance" fee but all future wheelchair service will be fully privatized, costing them hundreds to thousands of dollars for necessary mobility equipment.
The Fraser Health Authority announced the new policy in a May 31 letter to seniors at South Delta's Mountain View Manor that was made public by their MLA.
That letter states that after Sept. 1, when the "maintenance" fee comes into effect for current residents, all new residents "will be required to purchase or rent equipment from an external supplier."
Manual wheelchair monthly rental fees range from $75 to $100 a month, while purchase prices range from several hundred to several thousand dollars. The only exceptions require "financial hardship" be demonstrated.
Fat raises for Clark gov't staff
The new policy came the same week Premier Christy Clark gave government's political staff a significant increase in their salary eligibility by up to $86,000 a year.
Clark's deputy Chief of Staff Michele Cadario's maximum pay went from $144,000 to $230,000, meaning she could potentially make more than U.S. President Barack Obama's Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, who earns a paltry $172,200 a year.
Cadario's potential $86,000 raise alone would pay the annual wheelchair maintenance fees for 286 seniors.
The new policy and raises for political staff, Huntington says, are both "out of whack".
"The government's priorities are completely out of line with the public's," Huntington said.
But the situation will only get worse. The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority will also charge a wheelchair maintenance fee and now the Interior Health Authority is "looking" at one too.
Is there any question that the sudden imposition of a $300 a year wheelchair "maintenance" fee -- never before charged on equipment mostly donated by families is anything but a desperate attempt to help balance B.C.'s budget?
'Money grab': MLA Huntington
Huntington says it's a "money grab" by the BC Liberals, who promised to balance their budget this year.
"I think it's a new way to obtain revenue," she said.
"Really what the system is trying to do is strip every penny away from people," Huntington said. "They already take 80 per cent of after-tax income away and now they're saying: 'If you've got it, we'll take it.'"
The fee will have to come from the $200 a month "comfort fund" seniors in residential care have for personal incidentals -- like podiatry, non-prescription pharmacy items, shampoo, cable TV, hairdresser, special outings and other costs.
That's often the only money they have left after paying 80 per cenbt of their after-tax income to cover residential care home fees for accommodation, food and basic services.
To summarize: disabled seniors will have to pay a new $300 a year fee for the same wheelchairs they now use, out of their small fixed incomes, while BC Liberal political staff get rich pay raises.
If you think that's dead wrong, join my new Facebook group Wheelchairs for BC Seniors and send the government a message to put disabled seniors first, not their already well-paid staff.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

BC Liberals' $25 a Month Wheelchair "Maintenance" Tax on Disabled Seniors in Residential Care: What's Next?

Seniors in care homes now pay the price for BC Liberal government's promise to balance the budget.   
BC seniors in residential care will face $300 annual "maintenance" fee
Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver/The Tyee column
Tuesday, June 11, 2013 
By Bill Tieleman 
"What is it about being old and infirm that you can be treated with indignity?"
- Independent MLA Vicki Huntington on $25 monthly wheelchair rental fee
The provincial election is over -- now it's time to make elderly disabled people to pay the price for the BC Liberals' promise to balance B.C.'s budget this year.
Starting Sept. 1, both the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal Health authorities will charge seniors a $25 a month "maintenance" fee for use of a wheelchair in public extended care facilities.
Delta South independent MLA Vicki Huntington uncovered the new fee outlined in a Fraser Health letter to South Delta's Mountain View Manor residents.
It's bad enough that seniors in residential care already pay 80 per cent of their after-tax income just for their accommodation and food.
Now the government wants an additional $300 a year for wheelchairs these seniors obviously need as the only alternative to spending day and night in bed.
It can only come from their comfort fund of $200 a month that now covers personal incidentals like shampoo, Huntington reportedly said.
"The most vulnerable people are being nickeled and dimed," Huntington told me Monday. "Basically everybody in Mountain View is in a wheelchair."
And what's worse about the "maintenance" fee is that nearly all the wheelchairs are manual, hardly needing $300 a year to keep rolling, she said.
"A lot of the wheelchairs were donated by family. People are absolutely infuriated that now they want to charge a maintenance fee," Huntington said. "When you are sent to a residential care facility, you generally lack mobility and need a wheelchair."
Fraser Health claims those unable to pay will have the fee waived.
Chop, chop, chop
It's a nasty surprise you can expect to see many more of in the weeks ahead, as Premier Christy Clark looks for the hundreds of millions needed to meet her campaign pledge of a balanced budget.
Draconian spending cuts will likely be required at the two biggest ministries: health and education.
Of a $44-billion B.C. budget, health takes up $18.4 billion, or 42 per cent, while education costs $12 billion, or 27 per cent.
You can't make significant expenditure reductions while leaving 69 per cent of your total budget untouched.
But why does Clark have to cut at all, given that she promised a balanced budget just a few weeks ago?
Unfortunately for voters, when the Dominion Bond Rating Service said B.C.'s budget is probably headed for a projected deficit of $1.7 billion rather than a small surplus, it became clear that something had to give -- just not before the election.
"In response to softening economic conditions, the province announced additional tax measures and continued spending restraint to deliver a small budgeted surplus of $197 million in 2013-14," the Service wrote. "This translates into a DBRS-adjusted deficit of $1.7 billion, or less than 1 per cent of GDP."
That means B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong has to chop, chop, chop.
So while the health authorities are being painted as the bad guys in the wheelchair story, the reality is they are only fall guys for Clark's election promises.
It's why those who depend on public services, like seniors in wheelchairs, and those staff who deliver health care and education, should be very afraid.
'We're going to see more of it': Huntington
And there's yet another reason to anticipate ugly cuts to the most vulnerable -- the appointment of Energy Minister Bill Bennett to undertake a campaign promise of a "core review" of all government ministries.
The last time that happened was in 2001-2002, after ex-premier Gordon Campbell instituted a massive 25 per cent income tax cut and then discovered it created a $3.2 billion deficit by 2002-2003.
Ministries were ordered to prepare three potential budgets -- with cuts of 20 per cent, 35 per cent or 50 per cent -- and how they would be implemented in order to pay for the tax cuts.
Many services were eliminated and thousands of government employees lost their jobs or had their pay dramatically cut.
Will that happen again? Huntington fears additional cuts like those at Mountain View Manor and less scrutiny of them.
"We are going to see more of it. And it's being done without public discussion," Huntington said.
Her advice to family members and those concerned?
"Bombard MLAs' offices with phone calls, letters and emails and contact the minister of health, [Terry Lake]," Huntington said.
And stay tuned for more bad news.


Thursday, June 06, 2013

Bill Tieleman, Martyn Brown and Keith Baldrey analyze BC NDP election loss and more - TONIGHT 7 p.m. on Voice Of BC!

Bill Tieleman, Martyn Brown and Keith Baldrey - Tonight on Voice Of BC
Martyn Brown & Bill Tieleman - head to head
Don't miss tonight's edition - Thursday June 6 - of Voice Of BC at 7 p.m. on Shaw Cable - because I am a guest along with Martyn Brown, former Chief of Staff to ex-BC Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell, and guest host Keith Baldrey of Global BC's Victoria bureau.

I even know what happens - because we pre-taped the show on Tuesday evening - and so without giving away any secrets I can say that there are some very frank views on the BC NDP election campaign, the future of NDP leader Adrian Dix, self-criticism from pundits and criticism of pollster and much more.

We also look ahead at the summer session of the BC Legislature to pass the budget, the future of the Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipeline proposals and LNG.

I really enjoyed doing the show - hope you can tune in!  On Channel 4 in Metro Vancouver if you get Shaw Cable.  The show also rebroadcasts on the weekend - will post that later.

And don't despair if you are not on Shaw - search online for VOBC on Vimeo or for the VOBC channel on YouTube - not sure how quickly the show is posted but within a day.


Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Defending Mike Duffy! The Senator who will bring real change to Ottawa – an elected Senate or none at all!

Who has put more pressure on Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservatives than their ex-friend?

Senator Mike Duffy speaking at Fraser Institute in Vancouver - Raj Taneja photo

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver/The Tyee column 

Tuesday June 4, 2013
By Bill Tieleman
"When they call the roll in the Senate, the Senators do not know whether to answer 'Present' or 'Not guilty.'"
- U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, 1858-1919
Canada owes Senator Mike Duffy an enormous debt of gratitude -- and I'm not kidding.
Who else but excommunicated-Conservative Duffy could single-handedly put the issue of reforming or abolishing the Senate at the top of the national agenda?
Who other than Duffy has created the worst crisis for the Conservative government since it was first elected in 2006?
The Duffster has caused more headaches for the Tories than even the Bloc Quebecois separatists, for goodness sake!
And he did so simply by filing outrageously inappropriate housing and travel expenses, and then getting Prime Minister Stephen Harper's top staff person to give him the cash to pay them back when caught.
When that came out, chief of staff Nigel Wright had to resign -- talk about Duffy genius!
But even more, it was ex-TV reporter Duffy alone who highlighted gross hypocrisy and an egregious broken promise, by reminding Canadians that when Harper and many Conservative MPs were Reform Party members they wanted a Triple E Senate -- elected, effective and equal.
But instead of pursuing a reformed Senate, Harper gave us one that is Triple U -- unelected, unethical and untenable.
Crony Cons
Harper once strongly supported an elected Senate. But then he appointed more Conservative cronies than Brian Mulroney or any other Tory PM.
In fact, Harper has now appointed 59 of the 105 members of the Senate -- and while he once denounced patronage appointments to Canada's Upper House, most of these worthy Senators have Conservative connections.
Fortunately, Senator Mike Duffy is going to change all that. One way or another, Canada is either going to get an elected Senate accountable to voters or no Senate at all.
With a little help from his friends, fellow ex-Conservative Senators Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau -- who also had to leave the Tory caucus over expense irregularity allegations -- the Duffster is blazing a path of glory.
So we owe Duffy even more than the $90,000 Wright gave the slippery senator to pay back his misbegotten Senate travel and housing expenses.
Amplify the voters' voices
But let's just not write him a cheque. His PEI gables are green enough already with a $135,200 annual salary.
However, if Duffy does force Harper to create an elected Senate, Canada truly should be grateful -- because that‘s what we need.
Having Senators directly elected by each province and accountable to all voters there would be a huge improvement over the pork-barrel appointees we now have.
And an elected Senate, with elections taking place two years apart from House of Commons elections for Members of Parliament would allow voters to send the government of the day a clear message on its performance.
Senators elected province-wide would also be better able to represent the broader interests of their constituents than MPs who understandably and rightly often deal with more local interests.
There are about 55 senates around the world, so obviously there are some good reasons to have what is sometimes called the chamber of "sober second thought."
The federal New Democrats have argued for Senate abolition for years -- and that position is worth considering.
But the NDP view may have been formed because unlike the federal Conservatives and Liberals, they have never been in power and able to appoint their own party sycophants to the Senate.
There are serious constitutional and other challenges to overcome to create an elected Senate to be sure.
For example, B.C. has just six Senate seats while Nova Scotia and New Brunswick each have 10 senators -- that can't continue.
But neither can the farcical Senate soap opera going on today.
It's time to fix the Senate or finish it off. And thanks to Mike Duffy, it will happen.
Postscript: I will be a guest on Shaw Cable's Voice of B.C. on Thursday June 6 at 7 p.m. along with former Gordon Campbell chief of staff Martyn Brown and host Keith Baldrey. Tune in!