Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Bill Vander Zalm's new book on Fight HST campaign gives valuable lessons to marijuana citizens' Initiative campaign and others

For Marijuana Campaigners, Lessons from Fight HST's Playbook - in Bill Vander Zalm's book HST & The People for Democracy
Lillian and Bill Vander Zalm, Bill Tieleman at Fight HST campaign launch, September 19, 2009

Vander Zalm's chronicle of BC's anti-tax initiative is a citizen changemaker's must-read

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column
Tuesday July 30, 2013
By Bill Tieleman
"Some government will have to improve the initiative process to make it more democratic." 

- former B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm 
If organizers for the upcoming Sensible BC campaign to decriminalize simple marijuana possession want to succeed, they should turn to the man who wrote the book on winning a Citizen's Initiative -- literally.
Bill Vander Zalm has just published HST & The People for Democracy -- a 180-page book outlining how Fight HST launched the only successful Citizen's Initiative process since the legislation was passed in 1995, eventually killing the Harmonized Sales Tax in British Columbia.
And as Sensible BC canvassers hit the streets starting Sept. 9, the lessons learned from Fight HST offer some hope of victory.
The challenge is daunting, as I well know -- because I helped create Fight HST with Vander Zalm and others back in 2009 to oppose the tax brought in by ex-BC Liberal premier Gordon Campbell.
How hard is it? You have to get the signatures of 10 per cent of registered voters in every one of B.C.'s 85 ridings in just 90 days, about 312,000 in total.
That means signing up 3,500 voters every single day -- and if you miss just one riding, you lose.
But Vander Zalm proved it could be done against all odds, and his book outlines the extraordinary difficulties an Initiative faces, and how they were met.
"The reason I wrote the book is because I feared that five years from now people might have forgotten the fight for democracy," Vander Zalm told me Saturday. "It's also a how-to book for other Citizen's Initiatives."
You can purchase HST & The People for Democracy for $20 -- including GST, and delivery -- through this website or by mail to Box 1, Delta, BC, V4K 3N5.
Mention this Tyee column and Vander Zalm will sign it.
— Bill Tieleman

Campbell's mistake
The biggest problem facing Sensible BC or any future campaign is that even if you succeed, the legislation you propose does not go to a binding referendum. That only happened in the HST case because Campbell desperately hoped to cling to power by making the vote binding.
The actual Initiative rules state that if successful, the legislation proposed goes to a special committee of MLAs, which can send it to the B.C. Legislature to introduce it -- with no obligation to vote on it or even debate it -- or decide to send it to a province-wide non-binding referendum.
If that referendum passes, it still only means that the Initiative proposal goes to the B.C. Legislature with the same conditions -- no requirement to proceed.
But there is moral suasion and legitimacy behind a successful Initiative campaign, which Campbell and his successor Premier Christy Clark both recognized.
Vander Zalm's book argues compellingly that Campbell could have stayed in office had he simply acted on the massive opposition to the HST he suddenly introduced after the May 2009 provincial election -- something his party had promised not to do.
Campbell refused to acknowledge the public uproar caused by his extra seven per cent tax, which applied to hundreds of goods and services from basic cable and telephone to airline tickets to home renovations and more, until a record low approval rating of just nine per cent forced him to resign in Nov. 2010.
"He could have avoided his demise had he listened to the people," Vander Zalm writes in HST & The People for Democracy. "Instead he listened and catered to a few special interest groups, especially those that would fund the BC Liberals in the next election campaign."
Significant obstacles ahead
Sensible BC doesn't have a hated tax imposed by an arrogant premier to eliminate.
But it does have similar popular support, with a recent poll commissioned by the group showing 73 per cent in favour of the Initiative and only 17 per cent opposed.
And Sensible BC has over 55,000 backers on Facebook, as well as four former B.C. attorneys general telling the public that marijuana should be legalized.
Even Vander Zalm, surprisingly to some given his conservative politics, isn't against Sensible BC's campaign.
"I'm somewhat sympathetic towards this Initiative," he said. "Marijuana is now so commonplace that you might as well legalize it and collect taxes on it."
The former Social Credit premier's book describes the multiple problems organizers face in an Initiative, from bureaucratic hassles with Elections BC rules to finding enough canvassers in every riding -- Fight HST had 6,500 -- to media skepticism, logistical nightmares and high-priced opposition from big business, which benefitted from the $2-billion transfer of tax burden from its companies onto consumers.
Vander Zalm points out that his government proposed B.C. become the first province to allow both Initiatives and the recall of elected MLAs and put it to a referendum vote in the 1991 provincial election, which passed overwhelmingly.
The New Democrat government that followed implemented the legislation, but with such tough rules that it was "designed to fail", Vander Zalm writes.
And Campbell's BC Liberal government that followed in 2001 promised to make Initiatives and Recall "workable," but never honoured that pledge, one Clark hasn't repeated.
What politicians fear
Not surprisingly, politicians in government are afraid of direct democracy and giving voters the power to decide policy -- or MLA's futures -- outside of an election every four years.
Vander Zalm believes the Initiative legislation should be changed to make it easier for citizens to have a voice that is binding, not powerless, but thinks it should still require substantial support.
"We don't want to make it as easy as in California, where there are Initiatives on everything -- but not as hard as it is now in B.C.," he said.
Until a future B.C. government changes the Initiative rules, the Sensible BC campaign to decriminalize marijuana or any other effort to use direct democracy to change policies or laws will remain very tough indeed.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

New report claiming BC's Carbon Tax is working is actually full of hot air!

Sustainable Prosperity report runs out of gas when you check with Statistics Canada

Gasoline consumption in BC has NOT dropped 19% as claimed
When it comes to the alleged success of BC's unique Carbon Tax, the old adage that there are lies, damn lies and statistics comes to mind.

I have said it before and I will repeat it now - the Carbon Tax introduced by the BC Liberal government in 2008 is not having the predicted and desired effect that its fervent environmental supporters keep claiming.

The latest study comes from a group called Sustainable Prosperity, a network of economics and environment professors.

These good doctors certainly deserve points for putting the best possible spin on the BC Carbon Tax and getting their message out in the media.

"BC just had the guts to try it. And it's working," Elgie claimed to the CBC, which along with most other media duly repeated the study's conclusions without verifying them.

To be fair, here's what they say in their study:

"It finds that in the four years since the tax was introduced, BC’s per capita consumption of fuels subject to the tax has declined by 19% compared to the rest of Canada."  

"Based on a review of the available evidence, this paper concludes that BC’s carbon tax shift has been a highly effective policy to date. It has contributed to a significant reduction in fossil fuel use per capita, with no evidence of overall adverse economic impacts, and has enabled BC to have Canada’s lowest income tax rates. 

But I argue otherwise.

First, let me be clear that I strongly opposed the unfair and regressive Carbon Tax when introduced by the BC Liberal government under former Premier Gordon Campbell, including starting a Facebook protest group called "Axe the BC Gas Tax" that at one point had about 10,000 members.

Remember that not a penny of the Carbon Tax goes to environmental projects, public transit improvements or anything "green" - the only green is the colour of money that came from personal and corporate tax cuts to balance the cost of the Carbon Tax.

What is clear is that Sustainable Prosperity has cherry-picked numbers that appear to justify its arguments in favour of the Carbon Tax.  Note that it is using "per capita" consumption not actual consumption.

Here's the biggest single factor - and major target - for the Carbon Tax - the gas you use in your car, truck or motorcycle.

As you can see below from easily available Statistics Canada data, BC's gas consumption has dropped by a minuscule 26.2 thousand cubic metres since 2008. 

You can also see that gasoline consumption was higher in 2011 than in 2008 by a small margin - despite the Carbon Tax being at almost full strength by that point!

Most importantly, you cannot see an 18% drop in gas consumption, or it would have fallen by a massive 860.66 thousand cubic metres!

Here's the data:

Motor Gasoline consumption - British Columbia in thousands of cubic metres, from Statistics Canada:

2012 - 4,503.6 

2011 - 4,536.8

2010 - 4,695.7

2009 - 4,636.0

2008 - 4,529.8

2007 - 4,629.9

2006 - 4,581.5

2005 - 4,638.1

2004 - 4,892.4

There's another major factor at play - the international oil market and it's effect on gasoline prices in BC.

The folks at have very useful charts on historical gas prices in this province.

If you look at their 5-year chart you will find that gas prices have skyrocketed from a low of 77 cents a litre in November 2008 to current rates in July 2013 of 140 cents a litre - a whopping 63 cent a litre difference - or almost 10 times the total of BC's current 7 cent a litre Carbon Tax.

BC gasoline price per litre:

November 2008 - $.77 

July 2013 - $1.40

So if consumption did go down - even if slightly - it's far more attributable to huge price increases than to the Carbon Tax.

That's without considering the effects of other factors - particularly the changing economy that reduces consumption when times are tougher.

Those who believe in the BC Carbon Tax will, of course, disagree with me and keep pumping up a tax that hurts lower income earners and northerners the most while doing nothing to keep people from driving.

But the numbers are clear - gasoline consumption fluctuates a little year to year but keeps at a very high level indeed, with the Carbon Tax having effectively no impact on use.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Calgary columnist's Insite 'Insights' on Tragic Cory Monteith Overdose Death Show Willful Ignorance

Once again, for the benefit of the fact-averse: Vancouver's safe injection site saves lives
Cory Monteith of Glee - 1982-2013
Bill Tieleman's 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday July 23, 2013

By Bill Tieleman 

"So the question is, if [Cory] Monteith were visiting virtually any other city in Canada, would he have been able to find heroin? Would he have died? I think the likelihood is much lower." 
Meet Licia Corbella, the Calgary columnist who prefers fiction to facts and has no hesitation using the tragic death of Canadian-born Glee star Cory Monteith to attack harm reduction programs in Vancouver that dramatically reduce heroin overdose fatalities.
Corbella apparently lives in a surreal dream world where heroin is only found in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and even if you want to score smack, you can't -- unless you hang around outside the Insite safe injection site and ask drug users to find you a dealer.
Never mind the fact that Insite and harm reduction strategies like needle exchanges have dramatically cut heroin overdose deaths in Vancouver.
Forget about the fact that every major Canadian and American city have far too many heroin overdose deaths annually, including Calgary -- where a record 16 kilograms of heroin was seized this April -- that's enough for 800,000 doses.
Or that Monteith, who openly and bravely struggled with his addiction issues while trying to help others, died from a fatal combination of alcohol and heroin.
Corbella has rightly been taken to task by many in the media for her lack of research and reliance on hearsay information, leading some to call her opinions on Vancouver ignorant.
Column 'very naïve': chief medical officer
But I'll go further -- it is willful ignorance on Corbella's part to promote her anti-harm reduction position.
You can tell that from her statement Friday to Simi Sara of CKNW radio on what the point of her column was.
"The point was for Vancouver to maybe rethink the whole harm reduction philosophy on the Downtown Eastside. And I don't just mean Insite, I meant the idea of police looking the other way as people openly sell drugs and inject drugs on the street. It's disgusting and it's ruining many lives," Corbella said.
Corbella admitted she had never tried buying heroin in any city and doesn't quote a single research source, but still argued that the drug was easier to procure in Vancouver than anywhere else.
There's no question hard drug use is terribly damaging and potentially fatal. But Corbella deliberately refuses to face the facts, which are easily obtained.
Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical officer of Vancouver Coastal Health, says Corbella is "very naïve" about heroin availability and harm reduction.
"There wasn't much that was factually correct in her column or in her comments, so it's unfortunate," Daly told Steve Darling on CKNW radio Sunday.
"All the data on the effectiveness of Insite contradicts what was said by this particular columnist," Daly said. "We know that it actually helps people get into addiction treatment.
"Over the last 15 years, we've increased the number of people in drug treatment five times... overdose deaths have gone down, particularly in the vicinity around Insite, we know that there are far fewer people injecting drugs in Vancouver than there were when Insite started," Daly said.
"We're also seeing far lower rates of HIV in injection drug users and far lower rates of hepatitis C," Daly said. "Harm reduction is there to prevent people from dying of drug overdoses and prevent them from getting potentially fatal infections while we try and engage them in treatment.
"And it's been unusually successful in doing that. There are many more people in treatment since before we opened Insite," she said.
Insite's a leader
Daly notes that the Fraser Valley -- with no safe injection site and limited harm reduction -- had about 80 overdose deaths versus about 60 in Metro Vancouver, despite the huge different in population, in 2009, the last year with full statistics.
And cities south of our border can be far worse. Baltimore, Maryland reported 126 heroin overdose deaths in 2012 and 378 across the state while Wisconsin reported 199.
Toronto has a serious overdose deaths problem too, which is why its chief medical officer is calling for a safe injection site pilot project there.
"The reality is that injection drug use is already happening in neighbourhoods across Toronto, in apartments, in alleyways, in washrooms," Dr. David McKeown said in July.
"Society has made significant advances in the past decade in addressing the denial that surrounds mental health. We need the same honesty and openness regarding injection drug use."
Daly says that some of the world's most respected health publications like the New England Journal of Medicine, the British Medical Journal, the Canadian Medical Association Journal and The Lancet have all done the research and found very positive results.
But peer-reviewed medical journals weren't consulted by Corbella, who instead relied on overhearing a single conversation in a restaurant "several years ago" where some young people in Calgary claimed they were planning on going to Insite in Vancouver to try heroin.
When it comes to whose opinion is worth listening to, I'll take Vancouver's medical health officer and esteemed research journals over a nosy Calgary columnist using unsubstantiated overheard gossip to draw sweeping conclusions about Vancouver and harm reduction.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Tough Questions for RCMP on BC Legislature Terror Bomb Plot

BC Legislature - site of alleged bomb plot July 1 - Bill Tieleman photo

Was the accused would-be bomber couple - who were troubled and poor - really capable of such terrorism? And more uncertainties. 

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver/TheTyee column

Tuesday July 16, 2013

By Bill Tieleman

"While the RCMP believes this threat was real, at no time was the security of the public at risk... These individuals were inspired by Al Qaeda ideology... It is very important that Canadians remain vigilant." -- RCMP assistant commissioner James Malizia on July 1 terror plot
How did John Nuttall and Amanda Korody, two troubled individuals living in poverty in a Surrey basement suite and recent converts to Islam, become Canada's biggest terrorist threat?
Two weeks after their shocking arrest on charges they planted bombs at the B.C. Legislature on July 1, there are far more troubling questions about them than answers from the RCMP.
But the case seems to have eerie echoes of terrorism arrests in the United States, where clueless and troubled people have been convicted of deadly plots after undercover agents and informers "facilitated" their crimes to incredible degrees.
Take James Cromitie, a low-level ex-drug dealer working at Walmart who converted to Islam. A well-paid FBI informant befriended Cromitie and promised him $250,000 and a new BMW car to fire Stinger surface-to-air missiles at U.S. military planes and plant bombs at Jewish targets in New York.
"Only the government could have made a 'terrorist' out of Mr. Cromitie, whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in its scope," said Judge Colleen McMahon.

"I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that there would have been no crime here except the government instigated it, planned it and brought it to fruition," McMahon said, but nonetheless sentenced Cromitie to 25 years in jail.
U.S. author David K. Shipler has detailed many more U.S. examples of the successful capture of domestic terrorists that show often those arrested could only create their plots with police aid.
"Of the 22 most frightening plans for attacks since 9/11 on American soil, 14 were developed in sting operations," Shipler wrote recently in the New York Times.
Questions worth asking
It's important to state that Nuttall and Korody are presumed innocent until proven guilty. And questioning RCMP actions is not to condone illegal activity -- it is necessary in a democratic society to ensure citizens have confidence in police.
Nuttall's defence lawyer Tom Morino has raised fears that his client could have been "entrapped" by police -- and Morino has not yet received police disclosure of the case against his client that might explain how the operation proceeded.
So where did Nuttall and Korody get the knowledge, ability and money to allegedly build and plant potentially deadly pressure cooker bombs at the B.C. Legislature in Victoria on July 1 to cause a Canada Day massacre?
How were two people taking methadone, a drug used for heroin and other narcotic addicts to reduce withdrawal symptoms, able to function at such a level that necessitated a major five-month police operation by Canada's top cops?
One of Korody's former co-workers believes someone must have "coerced" the pair into the plot based on her knowledge of the pair.
Were there undercover agents or paid informants from either the Canadian Security Intelligence Service or the RCMP's Integrated National Security Enforcement Team "assisting" Nuttall and Korody in their alleged plot? If so, how?
RCMP assistant commissioner Wayne Rideout gave some hints in his statement July 2.
"In order to ensure public safety, we employed a variety of complex investigative and covert techniques to control any opportunity the suspects had to commit harm," Rideout said. "These devices were completely under our control, they were inert, and at no time represented a threat to public safety," he said without explaining how.
Why did Nuttall and Korody's landlords Ramesh and Shanti Thaman allow media to enter their home, shoot videos and examine their belongings after the RCMP raid had ended? Did the RCMP condone or encourage that?
"It's up to the media to decide whether they have the legal authority to enter that suite," RCMP Sgt. Peter Thiessen told Canadian Press.
The BC Civil Liberties Association has criticized the landlords, noting that just because someone has been arrested their residential tenancy rights are not terminated.
The media tour has also prompted debate among journalists about the ethics involved.
Why were the landlords present for Nuttall and Korody's appearance in B.C. Provincial Court, but only willing to say it was not to provide support for the pair? Were they there out of mere curiosity?
There are many more questions that may or may not be answered at Nuttall and Korody's bail hearing on August 7 in BC Supreme Court or at their trial.
Recall this bygone Legislature case
Almost 10 years ago the B.C. Legislature was raided by police in what became known as the Basi-Virk case, when BC Liberal ministerial aides David Basi and Bob Virk were charged with breach of trust.
At the time, the RCMP's official statement made the situation sound far different than it turned out.
"I can say that in general, the spread of organized crime just in the past two years has been like a cancer on the social and economic well being of all British Columbians," RCMP Sgt. John Ward told media.
"Today, the value of the illegal marijuana trade alone is estimated to be worth in excess of $6 billion. We are seeing major increases in organized-crime related murders, beatings, extortion, money laundering, and other activity which touches many innocent lives."
In the end, despite Basi and Virk vociferously defending themselves against the charges for six years, they agreed to a plea bargain deal and admitted guilt. A third man had his charges stayed.
But there was no organized crime connection, no murders, beatings, extortion or drug dealing involved -- just two top level government officials confessing to payoffs from BC Liberal-connected lobbyists for inside information on the $1 billion privatization of BC Rail in 2003.
That's another reason why the RCMP have an obligation to lay out their case and explain their investigative tactics before Canadians should draw conclusions about how serious a terror threat this truly was.