Thoughts On The Budget

February 21, 2018

This was a feel good budget, I guess, and many people seem happy enough. However, I still have concerns about the housing issues.

Most of the policies put in place so far (homeowners grant increase, speculation tax, foreign buyers’ tax etc) are aimed to help those locals already wealthy enough to buy into the upper end of Vancouver housing. Meanwhile, many items to help lower income citizens (MSP elimination, the promised renters’ rebate, student loan changes) are delayed, most without dates attached.

The housing plan sounds good with $6 billion over 10 years, and I am very glad to see commitments for seniors, indigenous folks, women under threat, and students.  But so far as I can see only $453m has been specifically set aside for “affordable” housing for the general public. I’ll need to see the details before I start to cheer.

Acceptance of a formal definition of “affordable” would certainly help, with policies designed to ensure that level of affordability.  And once again much can be done at the municipal level and I urge immediate changes to speed things up.

Advertisements

2017 in BC: Two Steps Forward, Two and More Steps Backwards

December 23, 2017

The big job got done this year, at least: Christy Clark and her evil regime were finally evicted from power — and if nothing else, that is enough to declare 2017 a success.  Unfortunately, as the year progressed, it became clear that John Horgan’s NDP still had plenty of its own powerful regressive demons to deal with on top of the mess the Liberals left them.

There have been some small improvements under the new government — rental loopholes closed, for example, grizzly bear hunting ended. But no movement on disability bus passes, rent freezes and limits, or MSP, and we are supposed to wait until next year for any serious changes in housing, which most people in the Lower Mainland might consider the number one priority, and perhaps even longer for electoral change to some form of proportional representation.

And what has been done often seems flawed.

Legislation to amend election financing (“getting big money out of the system”) was a decent start, but didn’t touch spending limits, deal adequately with limits on third-party expenditures, or make donations — including and especially donations in non-election years — fully transparent in real-time.

And then there’s Site C. Corrupted politicians might well say that nothing was actually promised in the election campaign. Decent progressive politicians would admit that, yes, we implied as strongly as we could that the decision to cancel was going to be policy. Financial and utility experts from all over the map have made it clear that the reasons given by Horgan for moving ahead are horribly flawed; party members from all over the Province have made it clear their support for the Party has been seriously dented.

There are questions about the NDP’s understanding of the underlying finances, especially as regards the so-called “sunk costs.” There are many questions about how the NDP decided to prioritize a few traditional Union jobs against the vicious destruction of the Peace Valley. And there are serious questions raised about the NDP’s loudly proclaimed relationship with the First Nations after this insult — “I’m not the first colonialist to lie to you”, I paraphrase Horgan.  This decision goes against the Treaties, it goes against reconciliation, and it goes against UNDIP.

This albatross will hang around the NDP’s neck for a long long time unless they come to their senses and reverse their decision as soon as possible. Liberals are never going to back the NDP anyway, so the government needs to do what needs to be done to recover their own supporters.

The threat is that these now dissatisfied former supporters will turn to the Green Party at the next election. But the Greens have issues too. Site C should have been enough to drive them away from their agreement with the NDP but, apparently, massive damage to BC’s environment, native peoples, and finances doesn’t compare with the glorious benefits the Party sees itself gaining from prop rep down the road some time.  There are no innocent political parties.

In 2018, I’ll be watching how the Provincial NDP works its housing policy to ensure another Vision Vancouver victory at the municipal level. With all the Visionistas holding significant levels of power now in Victoria, you can bet this will be a two-handed campaign; and they’ll probably find some way to include their buddies at the Federal level too.  That doesn’t auger well for Vancouver, I fear, with supply-side thinking still dominant no matter how exhaustively debunked by progressive urban academics.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.


Site C: A Personal Reflection

December 13, 2017

Yesterday was the worst of days for British Columbia. A government we had achingly hoped would inspire British Columbians has instead bowed to its Big Labour masters (often as reactionary as the most plutocratic tycoon), played fast and loose with its implied campaign promises (and overall economic analysis), and kicked the First Nations in the teeth once again. Reflecting on just how significant this betrayal is took me back a long time, back to the days when I realised I could never be a unionist, or a social democrat.

A Londoner, I grew up in a strongly union family: my grandfather, a railwayman, was involved in the General Strike, and both his sons — my uncle Alf who eventually became mayor of Brentford, and my Dad — though professionals, were active supporters of the Labour Party. As a very small boy I remember folding brochures for campaigns, and labour matters were always on the agenda when we visited my uncle.  By my mid-teens, I was a member and volunteer at both the local Labour Party and a Transport Workers Union office. It was the mid-1960s and Harold Wilson’s white hot technological revolution was leading us all to the labourite paradise.

By then I had started to read deeply in left wing theory and history, and I developed quite the revolutionary zeal against the evils of capital and the systems of oppressive inequality that were fostered by it. I shared these thoughts and ideas at the labour hall and the Labour Party offices. And I was laughed off, brushed off, told not to worry about “abstract theory.” At first I assumed I was being ignored because I was a young kid. But I swiftly realized that the party and union leaders were plainly uninterested in the failures of the capitalist and “democratic” systems.

They didn’t want to change the systems at all, they just wanted their share of what the systems could give them and their members; seats, sinecures, and power for the party members, washing machines and a small car for the workers even if it meant sweetheart deals exploiting labour in other ways. Those leaders with intellectual pretensions argued for the value of “incremental benefits” and for the postponement of radical change until some indefinite future.

Even after this realization, I continued to make my arguments at the halls until, quite quickly, I was shuffled out the door as a malcontent.

Today, I feel just as disappointed as I did fifty-plus years ago. I am disappointed in the NDP and the unions, of course; but I am equally disappointed in myself for hoping that social democrats and big labour could ever accept real change and the challenges it offers.

 


Stopping Kinder Morgan

August 10, 2017

I am glad to see that our new NDP government has brought in Justice Thomas Berger to advise on how to stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline. I have an idea of my own that I would like to play with.

BC should pass a pipeline building tax of enormous scale; say $10 million per mile, or whatever will be enough to stop Kinder in its tracks. Kinder, and probably the Feds, will no doubt launch a legal challenge to the tax, a challenge that will end up in the Supreme Court.

If BC wins, great. However, should the Supremes finally rule that the tax is somehow illegal, no problem: we then invoke the Notwithstanding Clause which, as I recall, is designed for exactly such a purpose.

That’s what I would urge the NDP and Greens to do.


An Historic Day For BC

July 18, 2017

Today in Victoria, the new NDP government, with Green Party support, will be sworn in and John Horgan will become Premier.  That’s a good thing in and of itself. But the truly historic event is that, finally, after years and years of scandal and misrepresentation, the BC Liberals (fundamentalist Socred Tories in ill-fitting disguise) will no longer be the government.

It is hard to believe, but there are young voters out there who were still in diapers the last time the BC Liberals were in opposition. That was damn close to being in the last century.

As the perfect illustration of why they needed to be booted out unceremoniously, Christy Clark and her vicious henchman waited until a group of First Nations were battling for their lives against forest fires this week to issue a mine license for a project on First Nations’ land that even the Harper Tories vetoed twice for serious environmental concerns.

Good luck to John Horgan, the NDP, and the Greens. Even if you turn out to be the second worst government we ever had (which I doubt) you still will be a dozen times better than Clark and her misbegotten crew of pirates.


Campaign Finance Reform in BC

July 4, 2017

Now that we have finally dumped the cash-soaked BC Liberals, and an NDP/Green alliance is preparing its parliamentary program, we need to engage in a serious discussion about electoral finance reform.  I am glad to see the debate beginning to heat up on Twitter and elsewhere and I thought I would add my few cents to the discussion.

First, I am sure most critics of the present system agree that (a) corporate and union donations must be banned; and (b) reform needs to encompass both provincial and municipal politics. Beyond that, differences emerge.

In the discussions I have seen to date there is much concentration on limiting individual contributions; mainly, it seems, as a way to stop the infamous $25,000 lunches that Christy Clark and Gregor Robertson seem to enjoy so much. I believe that to be the wrong focus, preferring instead to concentrate on transparency and equalising opportunity for independents and smaller parties.

Transparency is vital for keeping the system honest and open. But transparency cannot just be for campaigns, it must cover all aspects of party financing between elections too. Vision Vancouver (and no doubt other parties) have received millions of dollars in contributions in the “dark years” between elections when no reporting is required. This must stop  Political parties are public entities and their accounts must be public also. In addition, the reporting of contributions should be as close to real-time as technically feasible — no more waiting for the end of the quarter or the end of the year.  Monthly statements should be the least we should accept, and with modern accounting software there is no excuse for anything less.

Limits on campaign spending are key to allowing smaller parties and independents to compete. What those limits should be is open for debate (and will presumably be different for municipal and provincial constituencies) but they need to accomplish two goals: creating a more level playing field for all who want to run, and limiting the extraordinary waste of resources that, for example, we see so blatantly in Vancouver elections. I believe that whatever limits are set should cover at least a period of one year up to the election date.

These limits also need to encompass and control so-called third party expenditures. I haven’t thought through a solution to that issue yet, but I want to make sure it is not forgotten.

Finally, let me return to the question of individual donations. Limiting campaign spending and real-time contribution reporting will reduce the gross discrepancies that have occurred in the past. However, I am not at all sure we need to worry about it anyway.  Let us say that a campaign limit of $50,000 is set for a mayoral contest. If Joe Billionaire wants to fork out the entire $50,000 why should that bother us providing it becomes immediately known through the transparency rules?  I would argue, to the contrary, that the payment would quickly become a campaign issue with that candidate being branded Joe Billionaire’s lapdog and probably costing at least as many votes as her backer’s money may have gained.

Well, that’s a start. As always the devil is in the details and I look forward to a healthy and thorough discussion of this vital topic.


The BC Liberals’ Last Week In Power

June 18, 2017

On Thursday 22nd June, the newly elected and re-elected MLAs will gather in Victoria for the Queen’s Speech, formally opening the next session of the Legislature. So this is the week we will see the losers (oops, I mean the Socred/Harper Tory/BC Liberals) do whatever they can to frustrate the will of the British Columbia electorate by holding on to power for an extra day or an extra week or whatever they can finagle through their control of the rules and their crooked imagination.

In the end, it will all be for nought and they will find themselves in opposition sooner or later; but not before they have sucked even more money out of the benighted taxpayer and done whatever they can to hinder and obstruct the legitimate government of the Province. It will be excellent if the NDP/Green coalition can find some procedural way of shortening this expensive, anti-democratic, and almost criminal behaviour but, within a week at most, Clark will be out on her ear and the clean up of their gross mess will be able to begin.

Once the gravy train disappears, I suspect it will not be long before a number of Socreds (some very high profile) will decide they can do better in private life and quit parliament. Victories in these by-elections will rapidly fill out the slim majority of the coalition and secure their four-year term. In the meantime, a coalition Speaker will ensure that progressive legislation gets passed whenever votes are tied, and Socred votes against highly popular bills (on LNG, Kinder Morgan, MSP premiums, education budgets, campaign financing, Residential Tenancy Act reforms, and the like) will be duly noted and stored for use against them in the next general election.

This will be a week to remember, and I ‘m looking forward to it.