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Sep. 23, 2017

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Our health care planning is seriously ill

By Merv Unger

0925 - When you monitor the news as closely as I do you run into many stories often hidden within stories.

A case in point was the report on the weekend that 210 Canadians remain virtually trapped in the wake of Hurricane Maria, in Puerto Rico and surrounding islands. The Dominica airport is shut down, and port facilities can’t handle ships that could effect the rescue.

One thing stood out in the report – among 196 Canadians stranded on Dominica are 148 Canadian students at Ross University School of Medicine. Why would we have that many of our citizens in an offshore medical school?

Having had a family member graduate from Ross University a number of years ago I am totally familiar with this situation, and it doesn’t seem to have changed in the last decade. The question arises, how many of those 148 students at Ross University will even consider coming back to Canada?

We are living in a province, as are people in other provinces, who cannot find a family doctor, we just don’t have enough to go around. There’s no shortage of people anxious to get into medical school right here at home, the problem is they can’t get admission to our medical schools.

Some British Columbians are going to other provinces to get into their universities because of the long lineups in B.C. That doesn’t guarantee success though.

It was the same story for our family member who could not get into the University of British Columbia. He then pursued a spot at the University of Alberta, based on the fact that he was born in Alberta. Even after taking additional related studies at the U of A, he still could not break through. It was the same story in Manitoba, where he had been resident since early childhood. All that essentially did was cost him a number of years delay before finally heading to the offshore school.

You might say it’s great to have the option of going to the Caribbean or other offshore schools, but that does not guarantee a return to the homeland. Once trained, there are virtually unlimited opportunities elsewhere. In our case, that ended up in the United States where Dr. Unger is now an established anesthesiologist and assistant professor of anesthesiology at West Virginia University School of Medicine. His American wife, also a doctor, and their two young daughters will never become Canadians because he has cast his lot where he had the opportunity.

I know of other families in Nanaimo whose children had to go elsewhere for medical school. I don’t know the latest figures, but the last I saw was that British Columbia admits 240 medical students a year, and it must be noted that not all who enter actually graduate.

Our population of doctors is aging along with the rest of the population, and that raises the question whether 240 students a year is even filling the replacement needs of retiring doctors.

With governments struggling with providing health care, a much greater emphasis must be placed on creating a home-grown solution – training more doctors in our own province.

In the meantime, the brain drain continues and we will still have a doctor shortage.


What a starting lineup for the cannabis train

By Merv Unger
Sept 17, 2017

Canada’s justice ministers met in Vancouver last week, with marijuana legalization being at the top of the menu. With the July, 2018 target date, it is of note who is who in the production and marketing end. I found an interesting website http://www.potfacts.ca that claims federal Liberal elites have all the front row seats when it comes to getting LP status. (LP stands for Licensed Producer, not Liberal Party). The list is dotted with party notables as well as a former prime minister, a former premier, former cabinet ministers and upper echelon former RCMP brass.

It’s really easy to find information on the internet, too often falling into the fake news or gossip category, so I double checked the websites of some of the largest cannabis companies. There are the names and smiling faces of former politicians listed as heads of companies or senior directors. The headline is somewhat misleading, NDP and Conservatives politicians permeate in the list as well.

There is no suggestion of impropriety, but should we expect to see the names of former political brass and the RCMP in the driver’s seat of this new industry? Somehow there’s that strange feeling with the hair on the back of your neck standing up. The current crop of politicians are making the rules, and their past cohorts are the ones waiting in line to cash in.

The website lists the following.

Mike Harcourt, Chairman of True Leaf Medicine Inc – former B.C. Premier

Kash Heed, strategic consultant with National Green BioMed – Former B.C. Solicitor General and former West Vancouver police chief

Herb Dhaliwal, Chairman, National Green BioMed – former Vancouver MP and federal cabinet minister.

John Reynolds, advisor to Vodis Innovative Pharmaceuticals Inc – former MP with the Progressive Conservative, Reform and Canadian Alliance parties

Senator Larry Campbell, advisor to Vodis Innovative Pharmaceuticals Inc. – former Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer and Vancouver mayor. And sitting Senator.

Barry Daniel, Wildflower’s head of security – Former Abbotsford police chief.

John Turner, medicinal marijuana applicant in Ontario (With Kash Heed) – Former Prime Minister of Canada.

Foreign-funded groups seek to sway next civic election

By Coun. Terry O'Neill

Guest commentary

0905 – An organization called the Dogwood Initiative (also known as Dogwood BC|) has announced it intends to get involved in next year’s municipal election in Coquitlam. The environmental and government-reform group has every right to do so, of course, but the potential consequences of its involvement further bolster my ongoing argument that the provincial government should deliberate very carefully before enacting any municipal-level campaign-donation “reforms.”
Such reforms are top of mind this week because, with news that the NDP government’s first throne speech is to be delivered on Friday, Sept. 8, speculation has turned to what the contents of that speech may be. Many observers predict the Horgan government will have to address its longstanding commitment to introduce provincial campaign-donation reforms. 
This, in turn, leads me to wonder if the NDP will decide to act on municipal-level campaign-donation and -spending restrictions, as has been called for by some local politicians but which has been opposed repeatedly by me; moreover, such possible restrictions were the subject of a cautionary letter sent by Coquitlam Council to the three provincial party leaders last spring.
Faithful readers of this blog will recall that I have long argued that restrictions on corporate and/or union donations will severely handicap independent and unaffiliated candidates, unfairly helping candidates who are members of slates or parties, or who have the backing (and access to membership lists) of labour unions.
What is also evident is that, if severe donation restrictions are put in place, outside special-interest groups will likely end up playing a bigger role, not only in pre-campaign marketing, organizing and lobbying efforts, but also during campaigns themselves. It is easy to imagine a variety of issue-oriented groups moving into the vacuum created by hamstrung candidates who, because of donation and spending restrictions, will be unable to produce the flyers, pamphlets, and advertising they could produce in past election campaigns.
And here’s where Dogwood comes into the picture. The organization boasts on its websitethat it had a successful (but, in my eyes, largely unrecognized) impact on the last provincial election. “We had 71 election related events over the last two months across B.C.,” the group reported in early June. “We made 36,564 phone calls to get out the vote. We had 13,576 live conversations with our supporters. We texted 63,000 people. That is powerful.
“We made sure our supporters, those who want to stop Kinder Morgan, ban big money, and end thermal coal exports, showed up at their voting polls. We talked to people who weren’t sure who they were voting for or if they were voting. We helped British Columbians find their polling place and bring the right ID. And we know by how tight this election was that every vote counted — especially in those important ridings where anti-Kinder Morgan politicians were elected like Burnaby North, Coquitlam-Maillardville and Courtenay-Comox.“ 
Coquitlam residents should take special note of the fact that DI is, essentially, claiming credit for helping elect NDP MLA Selina Robinson and defeat BC Liberal candidate Steve Kim.
As suggested above, it is worth underlining that the DI is an enthusiastic supporter ofbanning “big money” from elections   and has even called a “corruption inquiry”into BC politics. Of course, the way I see it, a ban on so-called big money would undoubtedly strengthen the DI’s hand, giving it less competition in the marketplace of political ideas.
Moreover, the DI’s call to eliminate “big money” from politics can easily be seen as rather rich coming from an organization whose $2.2-million-dollar budget (for the year ended March 31, 2016) has its own share of “big money” revenue, to the tune of $922,447 in grants.
All this wouldn’t necessarily be of much interest to Coquitlam civic voters were it not for the fact that, on June 13, Alex McGowan, who identified himself as “the Dogwood BC Provincial Organizer in the area including Coquitlam,” told me in an email that his organization “recently made the decision to invest in building teams in the area from Burnaby to Maple Ridge in advanced [sic] of the 2018 municipal election.” He continued, “I know you are an incredible advocate in your community and I think we can find space to work together.”
I responded to his invitation to meet me by posing a series of questions, including these:
*From which organizations, and of what total, did you receive grants in 2016? 
*What were the services you provided, and to whom, that accounted for the reported $350,427 in "fee for service" revenue in 2016?
*Your organization's website celebrates the "behind the scenes" impact the DI had on the last provincial election. The site also states that the DI is a "registered sponsor" under the "Election Act." ... [W]hich candidates or parties did you sponsor, and how much did you spend in support of that sponsorship? (Please itemize).
*Is it the DI's intent to formally or informally support candidates, based on their support of your policies and or campaigns, in next year's municipal elections? If so, can those candidates expect to receive indirect or direct financial support from the DI? If so, how much?
Mr. McGowan’s responses were revealing for what he said and what he did not say. Most importantly, he revealed that the group receives an unspecified amount of funding from sources in the United States. Here is his complete answer on this subject: 
“On fundraising: - 60% of Dogwood's funding comes from non-grant sources: individuals and earned revenue; none comes from government or corporations; among the foundations that support Dogwood several are based in Seattle, a city that shares the Salish Sea with British Columbia. Dogwood’s campaign decisions are independent from any financial influence since no single source provides more than 5% of total revenue. We receive donations from over 10,000 individual Canadians.”

He did not provide the names of any of those foreign funders. But a little Internet sleuthing turned up the fact that the San Francisco-based Tides Foundation, which has been the subject of several exposes by National Post contributor Vivian Krause,  has been one of the DI’s major funders, pouring $187,425 into its coffers in2015 alone. 
One suspects that those BC voters, who are concerned about corporate and union donations to local politicians, would also be concerned about foreign advocacy groups’ support of a local special-interest group.
I am also wondering why Mr. McGowan did not answer my question about the nature of the “fee for service” revenue it received in 2016. He did say that, “We have registered as intervenors in the past three elections. We have never endorsed or financially supported any candidate or party as per our non-partisan status. We remain committed to that policy. Our election work continues to be about increasing turnout and engagement. In regards to election spending, all registered intervenors are required by law to submit detailed reports to all applicable election oversight bodies.”
That’s good information, but the non-partisanship implied by Mr. McGowan’s statement seems to be at odds with the declaration, quoted above, that, “We made sure our supporters, those who want to stop Kinder Morgan, ban big money, and end thermal coal exports, showed up at their voting polls.” 

I had a brief phone chat this week with Mr. McGowan about some of the gaps in the information he supplied. We hope to have a fuller talk in the near future; if we do – and if any more details are forthcoming – I will update this article.

SEPT. 8.  I have now had a good discussion with Mr. McGowan about some of the issues I raised, above.

*On the fee-for-service issue, he stated firmly that DI does not sell its services to any political organization. Rather, its does training and consulting-type work for other non-profits.
*On the question of foreign donations, he stated that the amount the DI receives is "relatively small" and the money has been primarily used to support the DI's campaign to stop coal-port expansion.
*On the apparent conflict in values -- the DI is opposed to corporate and union funding of parties and candidates, but in favour of its receipt of foreign grants -- Mr. McGowan says the distinction is that the DI is not responsible for making decisions.
*On the possibility that, if successful, DI's opposition to union and corporate funding would create a more open playing field for DI and other organizations to influence public policy, he say Dogwood does not have the funds to run ads in every municipality.
*And, finally, on the apparent, de-facto partisanship, he said that, yes, the DI "definitely" wants to influence elections, but it does so by identifying party and candidate stances on crucial issues, and then communicating (to people they have identified who support the DI's goals) those stances. The DI does not specifically endorse or support any party or candidate, though.

For my part, I told him that it was my opinion that I am concerned about the impact of foreign money on local politics, that I believe its work constitutes de facto endorsement of candidates, and that the DI's anti-corporate and -union donations stance would, if implemented, unfairly favour candidates aligned with organized parties or slates, particularly if those parties and slates are affiliated with unions, which have access to volunteers and membership lists.

We agreed to disagree.

Terry O'Neill is a councillor in Coquitlam – his BLOG

The reasoning behind four-year terms for municipalities

By Merv Unger

20170907 – The underlying reason for switching to four-year municipal election terms was to create an orderly election process so that we did not have federal, provincial and municipal election in the same year.

When fixed elections were instituted for the federal and provincial election, it was easy to plug in the municipal in non-election years for those jurisdictions.

I remember one election cycle in which we had both a federal and municipal election within weeks or months. People showed up at the municipal polls wanting to vote for an MP, and vice versa.

From an electoral process standpoint, this was a good idea. How it has worked out would be interesting to determine from other municipalities. Is it a concern elsewhere or is this simply a Nanaimo syndrome? It would be interesting to hear from other communities how they feel about the four-year terms.

ADDITIONAL COMMENT from Al Siebring, councillor District of North Cowichan.

 A lot of debate over this at UBCM... over about five consecutive conventions. Smaller communities were the most concerned with this - places like Tahsis, Port Hardy, and Tumbler Ridge. They have very transient populations, and the four year term was seen as a deterrent to getting good people to run for office because of the notion that nobody wanted to commit to that long a term.. especially if they might end up leaving the community.

But on the other side, the argument was for stability.. for the notion that 3 years isn't enough time for a Council to really establish and then achieve some specific strategic goals; that the process kept getting interrupted by election cycles. Added to that was the notion that particularly for newly-elected Councillors, it takes at least 2 budget cycles to really understand the process of budgeting/governance. (A point I wholeheartedly agreed with.)

Supporters also pointed to the fact that BC was pretty much the only jurisdiction in the country that DIDN'T have the four year municipal terms. In the end, those arguments won the day, and I suspect they will win the day again if this issue comes up for reconsideration.

Let's clean up our act so future generations won't have to

By Merv Unger

Aug. 18, 2017

History is cruel. It is wicked, and a lot of it stinks. It is irrevocable, it won’t go away no matter how ashamed we might be of what has gone on before.

Our past is littered with the inhumanity of mankind – wars, genocide, cruelty and more. There have been murders in the name of religions for centuries, since time began – remember Cain and Able? In the present the actions of Islam stand out, but in history not too long ago even Christians were martyred for refusing to adopt Catholicism.

History is a record of events, good and bad. South of the border, Americans are trying to rewrite that history – wipe away the bad, make the inconvenient disappear. Any part of history they don’t like, they try to sanitze. Thugs and levels of governments are vandalizing historic sites and statues in an attempt to create a new politically-correct history, pretending the real stuff did not happen.

No matter what your thoughts are on the U.S. Civil War, you are not going to change the past by destroying any visages of it. The best way to avoid a repeat is to put it on display, a stark reminder of what can happen again if we’re not vigilante.

We’re constantly reminded of the Second World War holocaust, not to revel in its evil but to keep us mindful that we can never allow something like that to happen again. Statues of the Civil War don’t glorify the acts of that war or the people but stand out as a stark reminder of that history. You can’t simply play ostrich and stick your head in the sand and pretend it didn’t happen.

Some citizens of the southern U.S., no matter what others may think of their political philosopy, are part of that history, some of those statues are of their ancestors. That history is of some of their ancestors, their great grandfathers. They are not going to simply fold over and let political correctness run roughshod over them. It’s in their blood, and some of them may have legitimate grievances, but they have been hijacked by thugs like the Ku Klux Klan and just plain crazies.

Much of this is the conscience, the collective guilt of the Democratic party which was the basis of all they now despise. That’s what makes this so explosive, they are trying to expunge their own past from the official record. Prominent Democrats were front and centre in the KKK, Democrats fought against civil rights legislation – names like Sen. Robert Byrd, Sen. Al Gore Sr. and many others. Slave owners in the U.S. were front and centre in the Democratic party. Democrats loudly and openly opposed emancipation of slaves. They are the ones who are trying to bury the history of slavery and the following racism.

North of the border, we can’t sit here smugly, the same thing is happening in Canada – some people are demanding the removal of the statue of the founder of Halifax. Was he a nice man? Apparently not, but removing the statue will never make history unhappen.

Sadly, in the U.S. different sides of the political spectrum are creating more offensive history by battling it out in hand-to-hand combat in the streets. No matter how the various factions try to paint the picture of the recent confrontation in Virginia, it was not good versus evil, it was goons and crazies against other goons and crazies. One side has no less blame than the other.

History stinks, but it is the record of mankind’s past. We can only change what we do today so we don’t stink up the history that people will live with in the future.

As my friend George Shire posted, “History ignored or denied is history repeated.” That is what’s happening in the U.S. in spades. What future generation will have to try to put a positive spin or whitewash on that?

Merv Unger is a retired journalist living in Canada. 

See also http://www.conradmblack.com/1321/who-was-really-at-fault-in-charlottesville


City Hall problems related to ambiguity of leadership

By Merv Unger

0809 - There’s a mess at city hall, no surprise there. Everyone knows it because it has been broadcast across the country in national news media. We’ve used the term “laughing stock” before but this has become a real belly slapper.

It has been really tough for me to stay on the sidelines because criticizing the people who followed my term on city council is not the thing to do – usually. We are in unusual circumstances, however.

It needs to be noted there’s a lot of blame to spread around – it’s not the fault of any one particular person, elected or hired. The eratic behavior and ill manners of some of the elected people at city hall are to blame for a lot of the problems, because in the end, it is they who are responsible for the actions of the hired people.

Harry Truman is quoted as saying, “the buck stops here,” referring to the office of president. In this case it is at the mayor’s desk. He’s the one who was elected to be the leader, not the supposed leader of an insurgent group of councillors. Whether it has been his own weakness or council members have undermined his leadership, is another question. He needed to seize that leadership, that’s what he was elected to do. The CAO, whoever it may happen to be now and in the future, is answerable to city council, through the Mayor. That process has been bypassed.

Lawsuits launched by your own council certainly don’t lead to a lot of brotherly love. It’s easy to point to a couple of councillors who have not been team players, who shoot in all directions and ignore the rules of the game. People who play by their own rules are the most dangerous to the over-all success of any organization, that’s very true in this case.

It hasn’t happened overnight; since the beginning of this term, council has been dysfunctional from the get-go, no matter how Coun. Gordon Fuller claims there is no dysfunction. It began with the process for hiring an Chief Administrative Officer. It’s been claimed many times that proper process was not followed. It started with one outside individual who has claimed he was the engineer who drove that train. Mark McDonald has said that it was his initiative to hire the CAO job. (Coincidentally, McDonald was later hired by the city to develop a media and image campaign, to a maximum of $10,000).

The public impression of the CAO has left a lot of questions, but with the foregoing as the basis, it is hard to point the finger when the direction from the top has set the compass spinning in all directions. Whom was she answerable to – the mayor or the presumed leader of the group that hired her?

Some council members could be caught between a rock and a hard place if they try to push out the CAO and it winds up in court. The question becomes whether the hiring process would form part of that case, and how much personal liability would attach to individual council members who were involved in that process. Is it easier to settle with city money rather than the possibility of being personally on the hook?

 (Merv Unger is a former Nanaimo City councillor and retired journalist).

Opportunity knocks for BC Liberals to undergo a total rebuild

By Merv Unger

0727 - In sports parlance, Christy Clark borrowed a page from the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday, paving the way for a rebuild of the B.C. Liberal Party.

Like the Canucks, they are strong on the left wing, but a noticeable weakness at centre and right wing.

How much and how soon is now in the hands of the party brass. They can set the process in motion to simply select a new leader and stay on the same course – or they can do some serious soul-searching to assess where they are and where they are headed.

In recent years the party has been Liberal in both name and practice. This is an opportunity to rebrand, including a name change to create a new image. Nothing like trotting out the team in new uniforms.

The rebuild has to include a new direction, moving to a more centrist philosophy to replace Clark’s ingrained Liberalism. Another serving of the same old, same old in the next election is not likely to hold any appeal for the voters who abandoned the party in the last election.

That may be a tall order for the limited time available, what with the tenuous hold on power of the NDP government, relying on the support of a three-member splinter group Green Party. On top of that, there’s nothing stopping Premier John Horgan from calling a snap election when he thinks is a good time to pounce, when the opposition is most vulnerable. The B.C. Liberals are the most vulnerable they have been for some time and will continue to be until they make some serious progress on their rebuild.

By stepping aside now Clark is giving the party a chance to come up with something different to appeal to the voters in the next election, whenever that may come.

'Fake politics' now in control in the U.S.

By Merv Unger

Nobody saw it coming, and nobody recognized it when it happened. The United States has undergone a coup ­– the elected government is no longer in control.

President Donald Trump has made an issue of what he terms “fake news” but seems to have missed that this is just one part of the bigger scheme – “fake politics.”

It has long been known that when you are in government and don’t have the will or the ability to make decisions on major issues, throw up a diversion. The current state of affairs in the U.S. is a text book example. The House of Representatives and the Senate have not had the courage to make decisions affecting the country – health care, tax reform and a myriad of other important issues.

A void never exists for long, something moves in to fill it sooner than politicians might even be ready for. They have thrown up fake diversions like Russian influence on the last U.S. election. Let’s get one thing clear – the U.S. and Russia have been playing Spy Vs Spy for a hundred years. That’s just what they do.

Democratic leader Chuck Schumer provides the clearest example yet of fake politics. You would have to search long and hard to find the last time Schumer said anything that was good governance for the country. His only mission appears to be playing politics in the run up to the next off-year elections next year – nothing else. This is nothing new, and besides, the so-called Russian officials involved were allowed into the U.S. while Obama was still president.

To fill the void, something else has stepped in – what some are calling a “deep state” where the powerful non-elected people who work in government have taken control. That is manifest in the devious machinations of the likes of former FBI director James Comey and the rest of the present and past intelligence community.

One of Trump’s biggest failures has been the inability to fill non-elected government positions with his choice of people. Now hundreds of loyalists to the previous administration are still the in the positions of power. That is the first section of the swamp which needs draining.

Did Comey interfere in the U.S. election process? There’s no doubt that his actions negatively impacted Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s election chances. She did a lot of that to herself, but Comey was pulling a lot of the levers.

Since then, Comey and his co-conspirators have been targeting Trump with the Russian narrative, including the leading of confidential information. They are controlling the agenda, detracting from elected governance of the country.

While the country, through the deep state and corporate media is drawing attention to the fake politics, the business of the nation is stumbling along without gaining ground.

An issue like a new health care plan for American citizens has fallen between the cracks because people like Schumer and his Democrats don’t really care about the issue, they are playing politics leading up to next year’s mid-term elections. Even Republicans are not united behind their own legislation and Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has been impotent in controlling his own party.

Trying to solve the health care system has been totally futile because politicians are trying to put a bandaid on a gaping open wound. A lot of the reason for the failure of the health care bill was that there are too many alligators in the swamp – the health care industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the legal industry and the insurance industry. Combined they are a strong force which can lobby very efficiently to keep feathering their own nests.

The insurance industry is the biggest culprit, feeding at the trough by taking government money through subsidies. They are good at taking in money but not good at insuring people, providing them with the protection they need. By fighting about people with pre-existing conditions they are dodging their responsibility to what insurance really has to be – the equal protection of all people who suffer, spreading the cost over a wide spectrum of people. By cherry picking only those who are unlikely to make claims, they are not providing the services that should be required of them.

Until they are cleaned up first there can never be an affordable and reasonable solution to the problem. Government has to confront the for-profit health care industry which rakes in unbelievable revenue. That includes the drug companies which are ripping off the system.

But even bringing costs in line, Americans will never have a viable health care plan until torte reform solves the problem of ridiculous lawsuits and damage awards whenever someone gets the flu or a hang nail. But as long as lawyers control the elected chambers, that will never happen.

Tax reform is next on the agenda, but this one is heavily impacted by political philosophy – the Republicans want to lower corporate taxes to boost the economy while the Democrats have never seen a tax they didn’t like, and they don’t buy the argument that lower corporate taxes improve conditions for every-day citizens.

The worst part of this picture is that there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

 Merv Unger is a retired journalist living in Nanaimo, B.C.




It's time for a new approach to housing affordability

By Merv Unger

0629 - When my wife and I got married a very long time ago I made her one promise – some day we would own a $20,000 home.

That seems funny now, but a lot has been made of affordable housing for the past few years as prices soared into the stratosphere. Many people, especially politicians, wax eloquent about how we can get home ownership, or even rental, in the financial range of most people.

Governments keep poking into the home building industry with countless plans that never seem to amount to much, if anything. All are related to someone else picking up the tab, the concept of “government can fix all problems by throwing money at them”. The sad reality is it has not worked.

While I served as a city councillor in Nanaimo, one of my portfolios was working on homelessness, especially for people requiring low-barrier housing. My first co-chair was Diane Brennan, and in the next term it was Fred Pattje. Together with those two dedicated councillors, in the face of a lot of neighbourhood opposition, we were able to get close to 150 housing units for those vulnerable people in our city.

The concept at the time was quite simple. The city provided serviced and zoned land at no cost. The province paid for the housing to go on that land, with the management of those properties contracted out. There will always be slight hitches, but the projects in Nanaimo have worked well.

At the time we tackled this, homeless counts were usually close to 50 people at any one time. After the city and the province provided that housing for about 150 people, the census on the street reveals in the vicinity of 100 or more homeless people. Is it possible to ever provide enough services, will we ever catch up?

Reflecting on that experience and the focus on affordable housing almost everywhere, how can society lower the cost of housing in a free market? It’s easy to assign blame, especially to foreign buyers, but that’s not bringing us any closer to a solution. Blaming someone is easy, solving the problem is more difficult. Is it totally up to government to continue to write the cheques to cover the costs, with no end in sight? The concern over affordability is not about homeless citizens but those who are employed but the cost of housing is simply out of reach. They can and are willing to pay, but it has to be within their budget.

A new approach could very well draw on the experiences of the approach toward homelessness. For years developers have been required to set aside certain portions of their projects for park and recreation sites, their contribution to the community in return for the right to build. Parks are nice, a roof over your head is more practical.

How about changing that philosophy and encouraging developers to contribute to an affordability fund or actually building facilities to provide more affordable housing? As in the example above, the municipality could provide zoned and serviced land. The builder could put up the lower-cost housing as a contribution toward more affordability.

Designating city-owned land for such projects is one of the main planks in this concept. For many home owners in Nanaimo, this year was the first time that their tax assessments showed the land portion was greater than the house. That then tells us a lot more about affordability than the actual cost of construction.

The city of Nanaimo is land poor, but over a period of time could develop a land assembly process where it could build up its inventory. Nothing happens overnight, we have to start somewhere.

Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit organization that builds homes, often with municipal help, and makes them available to lower income families through “sweat equity” where the families that qualify earn their down payment. The only downside of this concept is that it is a non-profit and cannot meet the demand that exists throughout the province and the country. It results in a couple of projects a year, far from meeting the demand.

There may be some holes in the idea of having builder-developers giving a return to the municipality for the opportunity to develop, and challenges for the municipalities, but nothing else appears to be working. Housing for the homeless has not been totally solved, but what was done has made a big dent in the problem. Why not give it a try as it relates to affordability, or at least devote serious investigation of the idea?

Does anyone have a better idea?

Half of province's voters have no place to go

By Merv Unger

The political uncertainty, especially talk about another election within a few months, creates a scary scenario for about half of B.C. voters.

With the way the three parties in the Legislature are now learning hard left, about half of the citizens in British Columbia will have no place to put their trust, no party to vote for. That does not bode well for voters who are philosophically conservative.

It is a statistical fact that over a period of time, about half the population is on either the left or right side of the political spectrum.

If the current left-leaning B.C. Liberal government falls, as expected, some time this week, there will be no organized Conservative option for voters.

For years the B.C. Liberal Party, previously known as Social Credit, was a coalition of Conservatives and Liberals, banded together by the common cause to keep the CCF-NDP out of office, and it worked for the most part.

But with the evolution that has transpired within the Liberal Party, no self-respecting Conservative can support them any longer. Many conservatives used to hold their noses and vote for the Liberals, because it was the only alternative. There is no longer an alternative.

The B.C. provincial Conservative Party is not even a blip on the map, they are nowhere and no matter how many right-thinking voters abandon the B.C. Liberals, they are in no condition to be considered seriously.

Building a political organization takes time, usually more than a usual electoral term. If conservatives are looking for a new home they will have to be prepared to spend some time in the political wilderness.

If the provincial government is defeated a couple of times, as is possible, both the Liberals and the NDP coalition, and we head into another election, half of voters will for all intents and purposes be disenfranchised, and that does no bode well for our province’s future. 

A case of disproportional representation in the Legislature

By Merv Unger

0524 - Since the election wound up in a virtual tie, there’s something the Liberals and NDP could do to solve the problem; get their heads out of their own butts and form a coalition between the two parties. They could come to an agreement to put politics aside for, say, two years and simply go about the task of running the government in the best interests of the people. What a novel concept!

Just think about the possibility. Christy Clark could put aside the arrogance she exudes at every turn and John Horgan could shelve his bully goon impersonation. Instead of constantly harping at each other, they could actually focus on doing what’s best for the people of the province. That alone makes this idea worth considering..

Proportional representation is on the front burner as the electoral machinery continues to sort out the hung verdict on the election.

Perhaps that is fortuitous, giving us an example of how such a system might work. The Green Party, which is the main push behind such a scheme, is in the situation where it can virtually control the legislature, even with only three seats. Depending on which party they side with on particular issues, the Greens have a disproportionate amount of clout. In round numbers, the Green Party wound up with less than 20 per cent of the popular vote, but due to the sawoff between the Liberals and the NDP, they will likely have the final say on just about anything.

If they want to turf the Liberals from power, they can do that by forming a coalition with the NDP, giving that new group one more seat than the Liberals. Or they can keep their powder dry and extract whatever they want, from either party, on specific issues.

The Greens are in a position now where they can oppose the Trans Mountain pipeline project all they want, it won’t make any difference – it’s a federal issue, not one where they can save or kill a government. They can genuflect all they want without toppling a government.

Party status is an important issue for the Greens since that would give them considerable support services and funding in the Legislature. That is something either the Liberals or NDP could give them.

Then there’s the Site C power project.

The Green Party’s influence under the present scenario demonstrates how proportional representation could influence decision-making in the Legislature, a small, appointed group could have a disproportionate level of influence.

There are various concepts of proportional representation, but the most-commonly thought-of idea is that we would elect a predetermined number of MLAs as we do now, but add more by appointment, based on a party’s popular vote. For instance, with 20 per cent of the popular vote, they would get to choose 20 per cent of the appointed members of the Legislature.

That raises the question of how that can be democratic, if people can be appointed rather than elected. It’s also an issue of who gets the power to appoint the non-elected representatives of each party, particularly the fringe parties.

We’ve had two referenda on the topic, defeated both times. We don’t need to go there again. In other words, if it ain’t broke don’t mess with it.

We’d be much better off with a Liberal-NDP coalition. But don't hold your breath, they don't care for the good of the province that much.


The LNG golden goose has lost its glitter

By Merv Unger

0517 - She who hesitates is lost.

 In the 2013 provincial election, four years ago, Premier Christy Clark touted  liquid natural gas development in the province as the magic solution that would lead to untold prosperity. It was the golden goose of economic prosperity. Even though virtually nothing happened in that department, she pumped the same scenario in the most recent election, vowing “it’s coming”.

This and other non-developing projects are topical because of recent moves on a much larger scale. The Trump Administration has reached an agreement with China to increase trade access for some U.S. companies to China, which is expected to include LNG exports.

Reuters news agency reported that Cheniere Energy Inc has had extensive negotiations with China about increasing U.S. liquefied natural gas exports, as the new trade deal paves the way for a second wave of LNG investment in the world’s fastest growing gas supplier.

That should benefit several companies building LNG export terminals in the United States, as the U.S. is forecast to become the third largest LNG exporter by the end of next year.

Cheniere is currently the only company able to export large cargoes of LNG from the continental United States, giving it a leg up now to ink long-term contracts with China, the world’s largest growth market for gas.

China was the third biggest importer of U.S. LNG in 2016, having imported 17.2 billion cubic feet (bcf) on six vessels, according to federal energy data. For the first two months of 2017, China imported 30.9 bcf of gas on 10 tankers.

One billion cubic feet is enough gas for about five million U.S. homes.

By 2030, Wood Mackenzie projects Chinese LNG demand will reach 75 million tonnes per. That would be worth $26 billion U.S. a year at current prices ($7 per million British thermal units). About $35 billion in Canadian dollars.

While all this has been going on, the B.C. government appears to have been sitting on its hands, treading softly around the environmental movement and political potholes. This is one area you cannot sit on your hands while waiting for the world to unfold in your favour. It is unfolding, but not in our favour.

We’ve still got the projects on the drawing boards while the Americans are preparing to cash in.

The same holds true for other mega projects like the Kinder Morgan pipeline which should have started a long time ago. Clark didn’t move forward forcefully when she had the legislative majority. Now it’s a different story, having to curry favour from the Green Party or the NDP in what appears to be a minority government position.

It’s always easy to look in the mirror, but more forceful action might have brought us past this dicey situation. If Clark had moved more decisively in the past, would we be int his pickle now? The greatest support now is coming from Alberta’s NDP premier Rachel Notley.

“It’s coming”, may no longer be a valid message, the golden goose may already be cooked.

Also, read this view on Trans Mountain pipeline

Fate of government hangs in the balance of recounts

By Merv Unger

0515 - Now that Elections BC has rejected four of the six requests for recounts in ridings where the outcome in the provincial election was determined by less than 100 votes the final Legislature standings are becoming a lot clearer.

Requests were submitted for Vancouver-False Creek, Coquitlam-Burke Mountain, Courtenay-Comox, Maple Ridge-Mission, and Richmond-Queensborough. Recounts will go ahead for Vancouver-False Creek and Courtenay-Comox and are to take place between May 22 and 24.

Recount requests are accepted if the difference between the top two candidates is 100 votes or less, or if there were errors with accepting votes, rejecting ballots or discrepancies between the ballot count and number of votes for a candidate.

Elections BC said not all requests met the 100 vote or less. Vancouver-False Creek, Liberal incumbent Sam Sullivan was elected by 560 votes ahead of New Democrat Morgane Oger. However, the was an advance voting conflicted in the ballot count.

The Courtenay-Comox recount was accepted because the difference between the top two candidates was a mere nine votes. After all is said and done, really the only one in doubt is the Courtenay-Comox count which could provide the Liberals with the magic 44 seats for a majority or if it fails, a 43 seat minority.

Playing the engagement game - who is dating to whom?

By Merv Unger

0513 - Here's a little light weekend reading. If nothing else, you'll be more confused than ever with the way everybody seems to be playing the new “Coalition Game". Most interesting is that it is reminiscent of sports pools where you pick players, trade them and whatever else you do with sport franchises.

The close finish in the provincial election and the emergence of the B.C. Green party as a political force creates a lot of opportunities to play empire builder from everyone who has ever wanted to be a mover and a shaker.

Even before the final tallies are in, they have the Greens forming a coalition government with both the B.C. Liberals and NDP, trying to create a majority government. It makes for good mental exercises, but very unlikely scenarios.

To repeat, the results are not available until the May 22-24 final count, with the number of seats still in some level of doubt, The B.C. Liberals could still form a majority government without the support of the Green Party. There’s the nine-vote margin by the NDP candidate in the Courtenay-Comox electoral district. With the margin and a large number of uncounted absentee ballots, that could swing. We don’t know who cast the uncounted ballots, but a lot of them are mail-ins. With the Liberal candidate being a former base commander at Comox air base, there could reasonably be a good number of votes for him in those ballots.

If that doesn’t confuse you, some people are suggesting the NDP could still win some of the seats they are already leading in. The Liberals lead in only one of the close seats, so that would realistically be the only seat they could still lose. With the NDP leadin in three of those close seats, the odds of them gaining. It’s a simple case of arithmetic.

Now to Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver and all the parties he’s supposedly going to form a coalition with. Fat chance. He didn’t get to where he achieved that stature in the Legislature by falling off the turnip truck. A coalition with either front party would wipe the Greens from the legislative map, destroying everything that has been built to date. He has to think long term.

Weaver has much more power independently than if he were to form a coalition with either party. He can be the most influential power broker in Victoria by wielding his influence on specific issues, through both the NDP and the Liberals. And that applies even if the Liberals should gain another seat in the final count – they still need to appoint a speaker. Any NDP MLAs interested in the speaker’s job? It pays extra.

Voters are either uninterested or simply disgusted

By Merv Unger
April 9, 2017

For the past decade or more we have lamented the declining turnout in elections that are the cornerstone of our democracy. Almost year by year, turnout at the polls in dropping in federal, provincial and municipal elections. Those who care wonder why, but the answer is proving elusive.

The recent referendum on a new arena drew a greater turnout than the last municipal election which resulted in the disastrous representation we wound up with on city council.

Part of that is special interests pay enough attention that they come out as candidates, and special interests turn out at the polls. Too many good people ignore the role they could play in the future of our community, and sit back, deferring to others to pick up the ball and run with it. As long as that attitude continues, we’re going to keep getting the representation we deserve.

This topic came up when looking at the B.C. provincial election on May 9. It’s almost as though “oh, there’s an election?” What we’ve seen to date doesn’t engender a lot of enthusiasm.

Polls are showing there is an actual race – although we learned from the last provincial election that polls don’t reflect reality any more. For what it’s worth, the NDP are said to be in the lead, but that begs the question about whether that is excitement at the prospect of them winning, or default due to lack of interest in the B.C. Liberals.

We’ve had a premier touting jobs, jobs, jobs while the man who wants to be premier touting things that would kill jobs, jobs, jobs. For Christy Clark that is the same message as four years ago. Will it work again?

Does John Horgan’s challenge come from the B.C. Liberals or is he trying to shore up support from the granola crowd in the Green Party. For years the Greens were that after thought that had no real impact. That has changed, the political left has fractured, and the only one to lose from that is Horgan and the NDP. On Vancouver Island, the polls at least, say it’s a legitimate three-way race.

The reality is that the Greens won’t deplete the B.C. Liberals’ support. The balance for the Grits has been an inept B.C. Conservative party that has been trying to sprout again and again but keeps withering on the vine. Right now they appear dead and gone.

The current advertising campaign won’t get voters turning out in droves. The only message they are getting is “Horgan bad” and “Christy bad.” Nothing about what either party will do to the benefit of British Columbians. Horgan’s pledge to make things tough for the resource industry has to be one of the worst campaigns ever – yet his party leads in the polls.

Those TV commercials have a depressing message for voters, likely keeping them at home on the couch, waiting to hear the results.

What we’ve seen so far will not inspire voters. It’s not too late, both parties can still switch gears and put a positive spin on the rest of the campaign. It’s doubtful though since they’ve bought into the idea that smear politics is good politics. A voter turnout of one third proves that all it does is keep people away from the polls. And we get government by default, two thirds not interested, or just disgusted.

We need a clearer picture of investigation into city council

By Merv Unger
April 1, 2017

An uninformed public and media are dangerous. When people do not get basic facts they reach for conclusions. There have been a lot of conclusions by both the public and the media regarding the appointment of a special prosecutor to assist the RCMP in their investigation of Nanaimo City Council.

The announcement from the Criminal Justice Branch was unclear about exactly what is being investigated. For those who live in Nanaimo and are somewhat aware, that leaves a very wide field.

To date the RCMP have not provided information, and that's understandable because this is an ongoing investigation. However, when the special prosecutor was announced there was no information about what was being investigated, other than "city council" and a passing reference that one councillor had been detained and released on certain conditions.

Through digging around I uncovered a number of the facts, but respecting what the police sitll have to do, I won't share them. Not knowing what is being investigated I don't want to hinder the investigation.

I had calls from out-of-town media seeking clarification. That was due in large part to the fact that all they were aware of was that there is an outstanding council complaint against Mayor Bill McKay that has not been resolved. Some of those assumptions and reports led to rumours that the mayor was the target of the investigation and had been arrested, which of course was false. It resulted in quick retractions and apologies from both the CBC and CTV.

Lack of information is like a vaccuum, it fills itself with whatever is available. With all due respect, it would be very helpful at this point for the RCMP or special prosecutor to provide the basic facts without compromising any possible evidentiary aspects that are being investigated.

Nanaimo is still small town, and that means rumours spread like viruses. The sooner they are stamped out, the better.

What's happening to that lawsuit trying to unseat the mayor?

By Merv Unger
March 26, 2017

Following up on old news, or just tying up loose ends is one of the things we do in the news business. Stories and events happen, but what is the outcome further down the road? 

For instance, whatever happened to that citizens petition to have Mayor Bill McKay removed from office over a perceived conflict of interest? The names on the petition are Timothy McGrath, Leslie Barclay, J.D. William McCallum, Brian Naylor, Robert Fuller, Beverly Jarvis, Louise Gilfoy, Mary Montague, Terry Lee Wager and Brian Main

That’s still a loose end. Ten citizens filed a petition in the Supreme Court of British Columbia on Dec. 22, 2016, after which they had seven days to serve the legal documents on the mayor. To the best of my knowledge, the mayor has never been served.

I dug out the original filing, spelling mistakes and all, seeking no less than 13 declarations, concluding with a demand to remove McKay from office. Since nothing has happened, will that petition be withdrawn? As far as I can determine, that’s a live legal issue still hanging over McKay as an  active claim until acted upon by the 10 citizens or McKay takes action to get it suspended.

The way the system seems to work is that you can accuse someone and then just let it sit – having the public assuming guilt until proven innocent. That’s backward. Remember, we’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty.

The ten got a lot of media attention at the time, impugning the mayor’s reputation. By not serving so it can go through the legal process, they are leaving that mark on the mayor’s record of having an unresolved legal action. That can have serious personal and professional implications.

At what point does McKay seek relief from the courts, maybe including indemnification for the stress and financial damages this caused him?

Port Authority plays major role in supporting the community

By Merv Unger
March 29 2017

The Nanaimo Port Authority has a proud and enviable record of supporting our community, in the past year (2015) alone investing in grants and services totaling more than $85,000. We look at it as our social license based on the return to the community. This has been an ongoing commitment with past boards of directors and current board members.

You don’t have to look very far to see the front and centre projects that have been created with the support of the Port over the years. Many are legacy projects . The Port Theatre and the Port of Nanaimo Centre conference centre in downtown Nanaimo are the icons. The list is impressive, with numerous projects that are more or less behind the scenes.

Just in the past year, the Port has taken a lead role in projects that benefit our citizens. Our board of directors has been innovative in many aspects of that support. One that stands out is our support of the Nanaimo Loaves and Fishes Food Bank when it needed to expand its operations and move into larger premises. Their appeal for support led our board to devise a longer-term solution for them. Directors approved a $50,000 commitment to fund the Food Bank’s mortgage over a five-year term.

It’s not only the big projects, sometimes organizations need smaller impetus to get them over a particular challenge. For instance, The Port is making a heavy commitment to education in the Central Vancouver Island area. I am proud to report that total contributions reached nearly $50,000 in the past year.

The Port contributes to the Vancouver Island University Foundation’s

Annual Scholarships with $5,000 to Fisheries and Aquaculture and the motorcycle and marine technician programs, with a focus on First Nations students.

The Port Authority also supports other student interests, including funding $2,000 toward the Judy Fraser music program at Vancouver Island University.

Community events are the main beneficiaries of Port grants, such as:

• United Way kickoff $2000,

• Nanaimo Museum Summer Bastion Program $3,000,

• Nanaimo Child Development Centre Silly Boat Regatta $2,500.

• Nanaimo Art Gallery Festival of Banners $2,000

• Vancouver Island Symphony Children’s Choirs $2,500

• Nanaimo Hospital Foundation Dragonboat Festival $2,500

• Nanaimo Ladysmith Schools Foundation Scholarship $1,000

• Snuneymuxw First Nations Native Sons Basketball Tournament $500

• Nanaimo Boathouse Society Paddlefun FEST $500

• Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre Celebration of Success $3,000

• Young Professionals of Nanaimo Sport Challenge to raise funds for SFN Library/Learning Centre via BC Write to Read Project $750

• Gabriola Arts Council Capital Campaign – Building Renovations and improving accessibility to the Centre $1,000

The Port also provides numerous in-kind services that benefit the community, to the tune of $37,200. That includes events like the Silly Boat Regatta, Dragonboat Festival, Marine Festival and bathtub races, Paddlefest, Yacht Club sailpast, Heritage Day and the Van Isle 360 yacht race.

Reprinted from the Nanaimo Port Authority Newsletter