Feb 22, 2019

Politicians so often are too full of themselves, trying to play out of their league.

It was refreshing to see Parksville Mayor Ed Mayne with some wise words for municipal politicians as his city council voted against banning single-use plastic bags. Advice well worth emulating by others at council tables. 

His Worship said he has a real problem with council getting involved in issues not pertaining to the city. “As soon as you do this you’re opening a can of worms, where does it stop? My view on this is if it was a major issue then the feds and the provincial governments need to take action, not municipalities,” the mayor said.   

Amen to that!

How journalism has been led astray

Feb 15, 2019

Journalism that sets the agenda
"From subtle policy points to fighting words, our opinions are a click away."

This promotional message for subscriptions sales, posted by the Chicago Tribune, clearly spells out what has happened to journalism. News media can not be allowed to "set the agenda" but rather just report on the issues.

Advocacy is not journalism.

February 10, 2019

Opportunity knocks as never before. The "Green New Deal" proposed by some of our American neighbors is a gold mine for Canada. Let your imagination wander at this good news for opponents of pipelines on Canadian soil. We won't need to worry about them any more. All Albertans can rejoice, happy days are here again.

Never asleep at the switch when it comes to new opportunities, Canadians are always looking for opportunities. Secret talks are doubtlessly under way between U.S. Defence officials and Canada, to access all Alberta fossil fuel production and have it used up right in Alberta, with no need for pipelines to the West Coast, or oil tanker traffic in our waters.

Newly-elected representatives in the U.S. Congress are pushing what they call a Green New Deal for the complete elimination of all fossil fuels within 10 years – no oil-motorized equipment, including aircraft, would be able to fuel up in the U.S. Their defence officials should be examining a move of all Air Force operations to Central Alberta for direct access to fuel to power the military machinery.

That could also include ground forces which rely heavily on fossil fuels. Since oceans are international waters, the U.S. Navy would still be able to ply those waters, but would have to find gas stations to fuel up. Ouch, that would mean a pipeline from Alberta after all, to fuel those ships, and they would be transiting through our waters, including tankers to fuel the ships. 

Look at all the extra carbon-tax revenue that would generate for our country. We might even be able to pay off our governments' collective debt.

In the immediate future, the solar and wind energy switch over will create endless opportunities for Canadian business to build solar panels and windmills. Remember, it takes fossil fuels to build that infrastructure and maintain it. Same with electric cars – GM may be able to keep it’s Canadian plant open, producing millions and millions of electric vehicles.

Air Canada and Westjet are also looking at the opportunities when flights originating in the U.S. are grounded due to a fuel ban. Unboubtedly, Canadian politicians are looking at expanding bike lanes to the U.S. to bring Americans to Canadian airports. The opportunities are endless. Or think of convoys of electric golf carts by the millions transporting Americans to our airports.

The New Green Deal also includes a guaranteed wage for those who cannot work and those who don’t want to work. This is only a partial list, think of all the possibilities. We could even revive the pogo stick industry.

The biggest challenge is who would pay for the inevitable wall that would have to be constructed on the Canada-U.S. border. We'll just get the Americans to pay for it.

And we can say please and thank you more often than we already do.

Merv Unger is a retired Canadian journalist with too much time on his hands.

COMMENT HERE – Editor@nanaimonet.com

 

February 1, 2019

The dust has settled after the Nanaimo byelection, but the picture going forward is far from clear.

New MLA Sheila Malcolmson has received a lot accolades since her convincing victory on Wednesday night, but now the intrigue begins. How will this impact the workings of government in Victoria? Many suggest it will be more status quo with the NDP and Green agreement continuing on without a ripple. but don’t count on it.

Commentators and pundits are digesting whether a member of Parliament would step down to take a provincial role without some bigger expectations. Malcolmson was asked numerous times during the campaign whether she had been promised a cabinet post, and she walked the fine line of not saying so, but making it known what her interests are. She repeated her commitment to affordable housing, but tipped her hand when she talked about control of oil tanker traffic in B.C. waters.

The environment has always been one of her passions, even when she served on the Islands Trust Council.

Cabinet shuffles are common after a year and a half in government, so we should not be surprised to see that happen shortly. Nanaimo has been waiting for a seat at the cabinet table for some time, so expect to see Malcolmson at that table.

•   •   •

One sure thing about elections is that there are always winners and losers. The Nanaimo byelection had some big losers.

First was the public opinion polling company. Election polls have proven unreliable at best since virtually everyone has cell phones. But this one was in a field by itself, predicting at 12-plus per cent certainty in favour of BC Liberal Tony Harris. The result was, in fact, an almost nine per cent swing in the opposite direction, a 21-per-cent error. Was this the one-time anomaly in the “correct 19 times out of 20”?

There were numerous reports of residents of the two other Nanaimo ridings being polled, as far away as Ladysmith. If that’s the case, they might as well have polled in Vegreville.

This isn’t a one-off error. Remember how Hillary Clinton was measuring for new drapes in the White House because she was such a sure bet to win the U.S. presidency? How did that one turn out? Remember how Adrian Dix had the 2013 election in the bag? 

John Diefenbaker used to delight in telling his audiences “you know what dogs do to polls”. 

The second big loser was the Green Party which could now be relegated as the fringe group it once was. Getting a mere seven per cent support – down from 20 per cent in the last general election – they were left high and dry by two thirds of their past supporters.

When voters face the decision on what immediate and attainable action they want in running our government, the reliance is on the two main parties – the NDP and the BC Liberal/Conservatives. Voters are not necessarily gamblers, and in this case, voting Green was a gamble with poor odds.

Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver is certainly not bargaining from a position of strength after these results. He can't rock the boat, it’s better to go with the flow to protect his party’s three seats from a general election. That’s self-preservation.

The winners – BC Liberals and the NDP both gained in their share of the popular vote. Where did that come from? The Liberals improved their share by more than eight per cent while the NDP improved by about two per cent.

The Liberals narrowed the gap between themselves and the NDP to eight per cent from 14 per cent in 2017. The unanswered question is where did that 13 per cent of former Green votes park themselves and will they ever return? 

Eligible voters 45,359
Votes cast 21,410 
47.2 per cent turn out

Some leftovers to digest during the weekend

Jan 26, 2019

I am about as disillusioned as you can get with politics, both on our side of the border and south of the 49th parallel. The vitriole has nothing to do with governing, it’s all based on partisanship – destroying each other for power. That is also evident during the present byelection campaign in Nanaimo.

* * *

We seem to put a lot of stock in all-candidate forums, seldom examining the impact of such events on the eventual outcomes of elections. We expect to have about 30,000 voters going to the polls on election day. So what impact does an event with 400 people really have on the final outcome? That’s a small per cent of the vote total.

* * *

The campaigns for the three major parties are totally engineered from party headquarters on the Lower Mainland. The prepared party talking points are obvious. Some of the answers by the candidates sound more like prepackaged taped playbacks of talking points than about the questions being asked.

 * * *

Many of us cower in disbelief as our prime minister runs around the globe handing out our money to his favourite causes. I asked a member of Parliament how the prime minister gets all this money to throw around.

Abbotsford MP Ed Fast told me the money authorized in the budget and enabling legislation, gives the PM and his finance minister the ability to allocate resources relatively freely. 

“The normal limitations would be the debates and votes in the House, which in a majority government means that the PM really has virtually unlimited ability to spend taxpayers’ money as he wishes.” 

Since this is an election year, we can expect that program spending will exceed even the massive amounts he has spent in the last three years. At best, we can hope that money is spent in Canada. 

 * * *

Sometimes you have to shake your head to make sure you heard something correctly. A discussion about health insurance in the United States last week focused on private insurance companies.

Some health insurance companies offer to cover all costs of medical assisted suicide, the argument being that it’s cheaper than having to pay coverage for patients with extended health problems. Somewhat like a buyout plan, die now and we’ll pay your way – so we don’t have to pay to keep you alive. 

Jan 25, 2019

During his campaign for mayor of Nanaimo Leonard Krog vowed unequivocally that he would not engage in partisan politics as mayor; not be active in provincial politics other than as it applied to civic issues and being mayor.

Some prominent supporters who believed him when he made that promise feel betrayed. He has heard from a number of them. 

The partisan photo in the newspaper advertisement was from an event before the byelection campaign had begun so we can only wonder whether Krog was aware it was coming out as it did.

It is not a question of whom he appeared to endorse, but that he would endorse any candidate. He should also not have endorsed Tony Harris either, who by the way endorsed him for mayor, or the other four candidates. Promising to be non-partisan covers all of them.

I asked the Mayor for his response, which he provided.

" I sincerely hope that the citizens of Nanaimo will judge me on my performance as Mayor and not my politics. I accept the criticism of some who supported me and can only commit to do better. 

“Clearly for some, as Mayor, I am never off duty, so to speak, and will be expected to be above reproach so as this byelection draws to a close I hope we can all move forward together. Lessons learned.”

 Leonard Krog

Fancy taxation schemes highlight election issues

January 22, 2019

Two taxation schemes are among the top issues in the provincial byelection – the housing speculation tax and employers health tax.

They would be easy to dismiss if the government had not taken the long way around to get to a simple solution.

The speculation tax will not do anything to increase housing, if anything, people will invest less in housing. When there is less investment there will in fact be fewer rental units available. 

If the government was serious about clamping down on speculation in the housing market it already has a simple tool at its disposal which would not involve the same amount of paperwork and get so many people hot under the collar. That is the capital gains tax, which already exists. You buy an investment house, vacant or not, the value goes up, and you sell it, you get taxed in the increased value. Voila, you speculate you pay.

But that’s not how government likes to work. With the capital gains approach you pay only once, when you cash in on the profit from your real estate investment. This is where the curveball comes in – under the speculation tax plan you are taxable each year rather than a one-time tax you’re assessed for your financial gain.

Nothing better than an ongoing tax where government is concerned. We do remember that income tax was only temporary to pay for the costs of a war our country was involved in a hundred years ago.

*   *   *

Elimination of medical services plan premiums is really a shell game – now you see it, now you don’t. You're still paying for it and will continue to do so. Health care is a government expense that has to be paid for, it's not free. It's just a question of how to go about paying for it.

First, we still pay the premiums this year, no saving there, only hope for the future.

The replacement for premiums is the employers health tax (EHT), which is already in effect. It’s nothing more than double billing, at least for this year. 

When businesses have to pay another tax they don’t get a lot of sympathy from the public. However, the EHT is also levied against non-commercial entities – the city, the school district, regional district, hospital and others which we pay for. Those costs come right back to the public in increased property taxes. You can either take it out of your right pocket or your left pocket, there's still only one taxpayer – that is you. How much of your tax bill is as a result of this tax when you consider how many of those public services you pay taxes toward?

Because of the EHT, the total cost of health care in the province is also going to increase. Then they’ll claim they are spending “millions more on health care”– a cost they created with no end benefit.

The province is building up a nice nest egg by charging the EHT this year at the same time as we’re still paying premiums. Nothing like getting hit twice and then telling us how much we’re saving.

Jan. 21, 2019

Remember that referendum on electoral reform? Yeah, that one, the one the NDP and Green party were supporting so staunchly? They insisted the process was unfair, that many voters’ views were not represented, every vote should count, it should be proportional.

The referendum is history now, and amazingly so is the philosophy. The shoe is on the other foot, pointing in the opposite direction. NDP supporters are now campaigning against voting for the Green Party because that would lead to “vote splitting.” In other words, don’t vote what you really believe in, “let’s not spread the vote around proportionally, we’re now sold on first-past-the-post”.

So, will the Greens vote their their first choice or prop up their second choice – the NDP?

It does matter in this byelection because Green  Patry support is significant. In the 2013 provincial election they got 2,532 votes for about 10 per cent of the total. By the 2017 election they doubled their vote to 5,454 for about 20 per cent of the total. That's huge.

Though the BC Liberals are quietly parroting this message, they have far less “splitting” to worry about from the BC Conservatives.

We’ll see on Jan. 30 how committed to proportional representation anyone really was. 

More government paper work goes with speculation tax

January 17, 2019

Guilty until you prove your innocence – that’s the way the provincial government is pursuing its newest intrusion into our lives. 

If you own a home in the designated taxable region (Nanaimo and Lantzville included) you must complete an annual declaration for the speculation and vacancy tax. That means any home, not just a rental or vacation home. Where you and your wife jointly own a home, you much each make separate declarations. You must complete the declaration to claim an exemption. The deadline to complete your declaration is March 31.

Remember the outcry after cable TV introduced negative-option billing in the past? Either you opt out or you're in. Essentially this is the same thing.

If you don’t complete your declaration, you’ll be charged the tax at the maximum tax rate. You can still complete your declaration to claim an exemption after you've received a tax notice.

The government’s website says if you own residential property in a designated taxable regionon December 31, the Province will send you a speculation and vacancy tax declaration letter in the mail by mid-February. Your declaration letter will list all the residential properties you own in the designated taxable regions and will tell you how to declare and claim any relevant exemptions. The letter will be sent to you at your mailing address on file with BC Assessment.

Your letter will include two unique identification numbers: a declaration code and a letter ID. These numbers match you to your property. You'll need these numbers to complete your declaration. You'll also need your social insurance number to verify your identity.

As soon as you receive your declaration letter, you can complete it. You will be guided through the exemption options for each property.

If you prefer, you can declare over the phone with the help of an agent by calling after you receive your declaration letter, and likely after dialing countless numbers. Language translation services are available over the phone. A test revealed that there are long waiting lists on the phone – at least 30 minutes when I called, before I gave up.

Complete your declaration right away to claim any relevant exemptions and avoid receiving a tax notice.

After all the recent demands from the province and feds, why does this remind me of old war movies – “Show me your papers?”

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All eyes are on Nanaimo for the next four weeks

January 3, 2019

Never before, and probably never again, will Nanaimo voters have an opportunity to decide the fate of an entire government. Their vote can either strengthen the governing NDP/Green alliance, or defeat it and send the whole province to the polls in a general election.

That’s what’s really at stake in the Jan. 30 Nanaimo byelection. Nanaimo is the centre of attention for the next four weeks.

There are other factors which can come into play of course, not the least of which is the resolution of the fiasco over the Speaker of the Legislature.

Nanaimo citizens appear to recognize the importance of the vote if we are to believe the chatter on social media – people who live in the city, but not in the provincial Nanaimo riding, are disappointed they do not get to vote. Large portions of greater Nanaimo are either in Nanaimo-Ladysmith riding, held by the NDP, or Parksville Qaulicum, held by the B.C. Liberals.

History shows the NDP with Leonard Krog gained 46.54 per cent of the total vote in the 2017 general election, the same percentage as the 2013 election. Liberal Paris Gaudet picked up 32.54 per cent, a drop of two per cent from 2013.

But here’s the curveball – The B.C., Green Party candidate got 19.91 per cent in 2017, almost doubling the party's total from 2013 when they had 10.82 per cent. The Conservatives had 5.22 per cent in 2013 but did not field a candidate in 2017.

What’s different about this election is that the B.C. Liberals have selected a high profile candidate in Tony Harris while the NDP have lured former federal MP Sheila Malcolmson to the provincial scene.

The recognized importance of this byelection is the amount of effort the parties are putting into the campaign. Neither the NDP nor the Liberals are taking anything for granted. 

Both parties are campaigning very hard. In an ordinary sense one could assume that the party that puts on the best campaign should win, but there’s the unknown factor in the Greens. They have nominated a well-known name in Nanaimo in Michele Ney, daughter of former Mayor Frank Ney. The amount of support they attract can help or hurt either of the two parties. By picking up support, the Greens could cut into the NDP’s support, thus help the Liberals. 

Nobody will know that until election night, but we’ll get a good indication of the Greens’ intentions by the level of campaign they mount. In other words, will they sort of “stand aside” to bolster the NDP’s chances? A party’s performance in an election can extend far into the future. Each election is a building block for the future, and the Greens have been moving upward in the province in recent years. They have to decide whether to go for broke to protect their future, or to play safe to defend the status they now have in the Legislature. Tough choice.

While the NDP and Greens are tilling essentially the same soil, hoping for a major harvest, the Liberals are in an open field of voters, anyone and everyone looking for a place to park their vote.

With voter turnout in the past at around 60 per cent, that leaves nearly 20,000 potenial voters who did not vote in the last election, and whose support is there to be earned. Who will do the best job of attracting those votes?