Aug. 20, 2017


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