Pipeline approval won’t help the Liberals

If the federal Liberals were as popular as the Trans Mountain pipeline, they would win the upcoming election in a landslide.

image: City News, Edmonton

The problem for the Liberals is that the pipeline is most popular where voters are least likely to vote Liberal and least popular where voters traditionally vote Liberal.

According to an Angus Reid poll, the strongest support for the pipeline is in Alberta and Saskatchewan, 85 and 71 percent respectively (ArmchairMayor.ca, June 21, 2019). That’s where Liberal support is weak. Only a total of five seats were won by the Liberals in the combined provinces. Meanwhile in Quebec, 40 percent disapprove. That’s where the Liberals won 40 seats.

While support for the pipeline in B.C. is 54 per cent, that average doesn’t reflect the difference of opinion between the Lower Mainland and the Interior. People in the Interior generally support the pipeline because of jobs and financial incentives offered by Trans Mountain. An informal poll by Kamloops This Week showed 80 per cent approval. The Lower Mainland opposes the pipeline because of potential spills.

Conservatives are placed in the awkward position of approving of the pipeline while disapproving the Liberals. Cathy McLeod, Conservative MP for Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo, doubted the government’s ability to finish the job:

“I’m not all that optimistic that this government can get it done,” McLeod told Kamloops This Week. Her statement aligns with the Angus Reid poll where 40 percent of respondents didn’t think the pipeline would be built.

Another perceived hurdle is Bill C-69, passed by the Senate last week, which critics say will ensure that the pipeline will never be built.

Bill C-69 imposes more requirements for consulting affected Indigenous communities, widens public participation in the review process and requires climate change to be considered in the building of any development.

The Alberta-based Pembina Institute is cautiously positive of Bill C-69:

“This bill was never about individual projects, but rather a reform of the entire decision-making and assessment process. It is about creating tools and processes to ensure natural resource development decisions, whether about a mine or a dam or a pipeline, are made in a fair way (press release, June 14, 2019) “

If pipelines don’t determine how people vote, what does? Pollster Michael Adams has noticed something new in the way people view immigrants. Twenty years ago, anti-immigrant sentiment was evenly distributed among all three major parties. That’s changed, say Michael Adams, Ron Inglehart, and David Jamison in their article:

“Conservative supporters are more likely to agree with statements strongly hostile to immigration. For example, 50 per cent of Conservatives strongly or somewhat agree that “Overall, there is too much immigration. It threatens the purity of the country.” Fewer than a third of New Democrats (31 per cent) and Liberal supporters (24 per cent) share this belief. This relative concentration of xenophobic sentiment in one party is a new phenomenon in Canada (Globe and Mail, June 14, 2019).”

The researchers are careful to point out that the Conservative Party is not anti-immigrant: they just attract people who are.

Researchers call this the “authoritarian reflex,” a reaction caused by uncertainty and characterized by increased hostility toward “the other,” regardless of whether they are “deviants” in society or foreigners.

The contagion of populism that has been animated by the authoritarian reflex in the U.S. has spilled over into Canada. It will determine the way people vote in way not seen in recent history.

 

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U.S challenges Canada’s Northwest Passage

President Trump plans to send ships into our Northwest Passage without Canada’s permission. Why he would want to provoke Canada -America’s closest ally and trading partner- is a mystery. If he succeeds, not only will he strain relations with Canada further but invite unintended consequences: If the Northwest Passage is international water as he claims, the same waterway is open to his perceived enemies as well.

image: Foreign Policy News

Despite our differing opinions regarding the Northwest Passage, the U.S. and Canada came to an amicable solution in the past. The Americans maintain that the Northwest Passage is an international strait and while Canada argues it is internal waters. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney agreed to disagree: the U.S. would ask Canada’s permission to send ships through the Northwest Passage and Canada would automatically agree. In this simple agreement between friends, neither concedes their position.

That friendship has been strained lately on a number of fronts by an egotistic U.S. president. He is preparing for a “freedom of navigation operation” through the Northwest Passage without asking us.

Belligerence is a defining characteristic of Trump. Professor Robert Huebert of the University of Calgary has a blunt assessment:

“However, due to Mr. Trump’s pathological need to win, the Americans are set to disregard this [1988] solution and win the dispute (Globe and Mail, May 20, 2019).”

What Trump fails to realize is that if the U.S. gets its way and declares the Northwest Passage to be international waters, it also invites Russia and China into the Arctic. What’s good for one is good for all.

“Given that Russia is actively militarizing and China may soon be taking similar action, the United States’ move to attack Canada, its most important ally, while meeting this threat makes no sense. If the Americans are really concerned about the rise of Russian military strength in the Arctic, they need Canada to help meet the threat,” says Professor Huebert.

President Trump seems unaware of how much the U.S. relies on cooperation with Canada in the defense of North America. Bilateral defense agreements go back to 1940. Established in 1958, NORAD provides warning of threats by air or sea. Traditionally, the Deputy Commander of NORAD has been a senior Canadian Armed Forces officer. In 2008, a joint agreement provided for the military from one nation to aid the other during an emergency such as a natural disaster.

If the U.S. wants to counter the Russian threat to the Arctic, they will need Canada’s cooperation.

Meanwhile, it’s in Canada’s best interests to cooperate with China in the Arctic; even when cooperation is not mutual. Despite China’s single-minded determination to punish Canada for arresting a Huawei executive in Vancouver, Canada is siding with China over the U.S. in China’s goal to expand its influence in the Arctic.

Former parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, Andrew Leslie, said in China:

“Let’s focus on the positive that comes through international co-operation, and not so much on the sabre-rattling.”

At least China isn’t planning an invasion of Canada.

If Trump sends ships to our Northwest Passage and they fail to navigate the ice-clogged and uncharted waters, it will support Canada’s position that these waters are unique and are not a functioning international strait.

 

Alberta’s faulty pipeline gambit

The Alberta government says that if only B.C. would allow a second pipeline to be built, our gasoline prices would go down.

If only it were true.

The new pipeline will not supply more gasoline to B.C. and it will not reduce our gasoline prices. The reason is hardly a surprise -the new pipeline will carry crude oil, not gasoline.  A report uncovered by reporter Justine Hunter confirms that.

The report was commissioned by Trans Mountain with the hope that it would demonstrate the need for a new pipeline. To no one’s surprise, that’s what they found.  The consulting firm Muse, Stancil & Co. says:

“The startup of [the Trans Mountain expansion] project will act to increase the price of crude oil at Edmonton because roughly 79,500 [cubic metres a day] of crude oil is diverted from the existing North American markets to Northeast Asia (Globe and Mail, May 6, 2019).”

In other words, what B.C. needs is not what the pipeline will deliver. It will send crude oil to overseas markets. It will not send crude oil to be refined into gasoline in B.C.

Even if the second pipeline delivered crude to be refined into gasoline, that wouldn’t happen because our refineries are running full-tilt. They couldn’t produce any more gas even if they wanted to.

For sure, B.C. would be hurt if Alberta were to cut off the existing pipeline. Alberta supplies 80 percent of fuel burned in B.C.

Dan McTeague, senior petroleum analyst for gasbuddy.com, says the only way gas prices could go down if the existing pipeline carried more fuel:

“The new pipeline would be entirely devoted to heavy oil, but the existing pipeline would be expanded by 50,000 barrels per day.”

More supply would reduce prices in a marketplace that was properly functioning.  However, there is some doubt about the marketplace according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. They claim that price-gouging is driving up prices. Their report reveals that of the 55 cent per litre increase since 2016, only 6.3 cents is a result of increased taxes while profit margins have increased by 18 cents.

Another group confirms that finding. Navius Research reports that since 2008, refinery margins in Metro Vancouver increased to 35 per cent while the increase was less than 18 per cent in the rest of the country. They say that margins “have decoupled from supply costs, resulting in prices that cannot be attributed to competitive market forces or scarcity of supply.”

While there is no hard evidence of price-fixing by the four companies that supply the Lower Mainland, Premier Horgan has asked the B.C. Utilities Commission to investigate the record-breaking gas prices. It will be interesting to hear what they find.

The BC Liberals see political hay to be made. They have erected huge billboards with a picture of Premier Horgan and the words, “Blame John Horgan.” BC Liberal leader Wilkinson says that Horgan has failed to cap gas taxes.

I have to smile at Wilkinson’s claim, not just because taxes aren’t the problem but because it was the BC Liberals who introduced the carbon tax in the first place.

 

 

BC Liberals suppressed Hydro rate hikes

For decades, B.C. governments have hidden the true cost of Hydro rates -especially the BC Liberals.

image: Common Ground

Under the direction of the BC Liberals, the Crown utility used “inappropriate” accounting to pile $5.5-billion in what are known as deferral accounts says B.C.’s auditor-general.

“That debt amounts to $1,300 for every residential customer, more than $10,000 for each commercial and light industrial ratepayer, and almost $5-million for each large industrial consumer,” according to the Globe and Mail, February 7, 2019.

Deferral accounts are not improper when correctly accounted for. They can be used as a temporary measure to avoid the shock of sudden rate hikes. After rates are gradually increased, the deferral account can be paid off.

But that’s not what happened. To keep voters happy and to make governments popular, BC Hydro rates were kept artificially low leaving future governments to deal with the problem of billions hidden in deferral accounts.

“BC Hydro was not allowed to charge its customers enough to cover its operating costs each year,” Auditor-General Carol Bellringer wrote.

The current minister responsible for BC Hydro, Bruce Ralston, said his government is committed to fixing the problem but it will take time given the size of the debt. “We are going to keep rates affordable. No one’s rates are going up by $1,300 in a year.” His government has already reduced the deferral accounts by $950-million by bringing that debt onto government books.

The NDP government also intends to prevent misuse of deferral accounts by future governments by restoring the role of the independent regulator, the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) and ensuring that BC Hydro adopts ordinary accounting practices.

Industries who are used to cheap hydro are not happy with the prospect of paying the real cost of producing electricity. Industry representative Richard Stout says industrial customers shouldn’t absorb the shock of getting Hydro back on sound financial footing. Since the government is responsible for the mess, they should pay:

“I think most would agree the appropriate source of paying down the debt should be from government, rather than the ratepayer.”

Huh? He wants taxpayers (the government) to pay for the meddling of former governments rather than ratepayers? Last time I looked Hydro users and taxpayers were one and the same.

Critics of BC Hydro will point to the debt incurred in building the massive hydro dam at Site C as an additional source of the problem. The project was started by the BC Liberals and given green light by the NDP who said the project had gone too far to abandon.

The government is faced with a hard choice, says Bellringer: “You can either have a rate increase or you can end up with a deficit that ends up getting covered by the government at some point.”

Hiding Hydro debt, which in reality is our debt, is not an option.

Transferring BC Hydro’s debt to the government’s books is the right thing to do but government debt is not popular with voters because it’s visible. Turning control of BC Hydro over to an independent regulator is the right thing do but hydro rates will go up.

We’ll see if doing the right thing pays off for the NDP in the next election.

Immigration is shaping up to be an election issue

Immigration could be a toxic issue in the upcoming October federal election.

image: realtimetrump.com

Just the talk of anti-immigration by politicians is enough to trigger attacks on some of society’s most vulnerable members.

When presidential candidate Donald Trump campaigned against immigration, the effect was immediate. Thugs took to the streets. Hate crimes went up 20 per cent in Chicago, 50 per cent in Philadelphia, and 62 per cent in Washington DC. After Trump’s election, the hate crimes continued (hate crimes include attacks against all identifiable groups, not just immigrants.) According to a study from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism from California State University, the effect persisted after the election with a 13 per cent increase in hate crimes across America’s ten largest cities.

The Conservatives are gearing up the anti-immigration issue. After the Parliamentary Budget Officer warned that asylum-seekers walking across the Canadian-U.S. border at “unauthorized points” could cost the federal government more than $1-billion over three years, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer immediately tweeted: “Parliamentary Budget Officer: Illegal border crossings cost Canadian taxpayers up to $34,000 per person.”

Scheer ramped up the talk further by saying he strongly opposed Mr. Trudeau’s intention to sign a UN agreement on a multinational approach to migration, saying – ominously but incorrectly – “it gives influence over Canada’s immigration to foreign entities.”

Frank Graves of EKOS and Michael Valpy from the University of Toronto wonder who’s buying this talk: “So why is this happening? For whom is Mr. Scheer beating the drum? (Globe and Mail, December 18, 2018).”

There has been a shift in public opinion on immigration, perhaps fuelled by anti-immigration anger in Europe and the U.S. and rage-about-everything on social media.

Frank and Valpy are puzzled: “On the suddenly inflammatory topic of immigration, Canada has become a paradox.”

In ordinary times, Canadians support immigration. But peel away the anti-immigration rhetoric and you find racism at its core. EKOS research indicates that on the surface, rationales are sensible. Canadians favour immigrants that arrive in an orderly fashion, as opposed to those who arrive unannounced at borders or walk across the border, by ten percent. Not a great difference when you consider the attention that border-crossers get. However, when researchers asked whether they’d prefer to live beside a white newcomer from Europe or brown or black newcomers from somewhere else, “the differences balloon to 200 to 300 percentage points.”

Conservatives tapped into this irrational fear of the other when they ran an ad depicting a black man walking toward the border with his suitcase on little wheels from the U.S. They withdrew the ad but the message lingers: dark-skinned immigrants are scary.

Will racism disguised as anti-immigration bring the Conservatives to power? They will have to tap into fear in supporters from other parties. As it now stands, 40 per cent of Canadians think there are too many visible minorities being admitted to Canada. Of those, 65 per cent identify as Conservative supporters, 20 per cent as New Democrats, and 13 per cent as Liberals.

Perhaps the Conservatives can recruit the fear-mongers organized on Facebook under the banner of “Yellow Vests Canada” which has 107,000 members.

 

China “understands” the developing world

China is taking a page out of the American playbook in their massive global investment called the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Image: Wikipedia

“Belt,” is short for the Silk Road Economic Belt and refers to the overland routes for road and rail transportation; “road,” is the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road referring to sea routes.

In America’s version, the Marshall Plan, they invested $100 billion in the war-torn regions of Europe after the Second World War. The stated goals were to remove trade barriers, modernize industry, and improve European prosperity.

The unstated goals of the Marshall Plan were to establish an economic presence in Europe. The Soviets understood this. Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, in opposition to the plan in 1946, said: “If American capital was given a free hand in the small states ruined and enfeebled by the war [it] would buy up the local industries, appropriate the more attractive Rumanian, Yugoslav … enterprises and would become the master in these small states.”

According to China’s official newspaper, the People’s Daily, the goals of the Belt and Road Initiative are: “To construct a unified large market and make full use of both international and domestic markets, through cultural exchange and integration, to enhance mutual understanding and trust of member nations, ending up in an innovative pattern with capital inflows, talent pool, and technology database.”

It’s the largest infrastructure project ever with $1 trillion designated for South-east Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa. The plan is expansive. It includes 71 countries that account for half the world’s population and a quarter of global GDP.

Western countries worry about ulterior motives. Jonathan Hillman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington says: “It’s a reminder BRI is about more than roads, railways, and other hard infrastructure. It’s also a vehicle for China to write new rules, establish institutions that reflect Chinese interests, and reshape ‘soft’ infrastructure.”

Martin Jacques, former editor of Marxism Today is less suspicious. He thinks China is developing sources of commodities in Africa so developing nations can improve their economies and be less dependent on Western demand.

“Secondly,” says Jacques, “and this is why I deeply resent the argument that China is the new colonial power in Africa, China understands the problem of developing countries. One of the big problems is developing infrastructure that delivers transportation, energy and the necessary building blocks of a more developed economy (New Internationalist, July/August, 2018).”

Maybe China can do global supremacy better than the Western world. Resource extraction by Canadian mining giants in Africa has been less than stellar. At a tantalum mine in central Mozambique owned by Pacific Wildcat Resources based in Vancouver a man was shot and killed, inciting community members to set some equipment ablaze. At the Montréal-based Kiniero mine in Guinea, the military killed three in a bid to drive away small-scale miners away. Soldiers also shot a woman and burned her baby

While American foreign policy amounts to bluster and bravado, China is climbing to superpower status by integrating itself into local economies. China will inevitably make mistakes but the Belt and Road Initiative is more systematic than the Western World’s haphazard corporate colonialism.

The U.S. talks tough about China but they can no more stop China’s ascendancy than they can stop the sun from rising.

 

 

Redefining pro-life

The hardening of abortion into the pillars of political parties is showing fractures.

image: Heidi Will

Whether abortion is a human right belonging to a woman or a human right that belongs to the foetus used to be a philosophical and religious debate. Now it’s about politics. Republicans in the U.S. and a majority of conservatives in Canada are against abortion. Democrats and progressives in Canada support justifiable abortions.

The abortion issue moved into political camps decades ago. The landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade in 1973 declared that women had the right to choose an abortion. In response, anti-abortion groups began to rapidly mobilize and the “Human Life Amendment” was proposed.

Because it’s better to be seen as for something rather than against it, anti-abortion groups decided to call themselves “pro-life.”

Abortion supporters argue that the when life is at stake, it’s the life of the mother which matters. In a reaction to the pro-life branding, abortion supporters had to come up with a strong brand of their own. “Pro-abortion” doesn’t quite do it because women don’t necessarily want to have an abortion –they just want to shed the yoke of paternalism that dictates what’s best for them.

In response to the pro-life movement, supporters of abortion-as-an-option branded themselves as “pro-choice.” It’s a clever label in an age of commercialism because what consumer doesn’t want a choice? It also fits nicely into to the evolving image of women, and citizens in general, as individual agents rather than servants of the church and state.

Women as free-thinking-citizens is a relatively new phenomena. Only a hundred years ago, women and children were considered the property of men and property doesn’t have an opinion worth considering.

Thanks to U.S. President Trump, the tribalism of pro-life is beginning to fracture. Pro-life Republicans are conflicted by support of this misogynist president.

Tess Clark grew up in Texas and always considered support for the Republican party her “Christian duty (Globe and Mail, December 7, 2018).” All of her life the issues of abortion and immigration made voting Republican her “Christian duty.” Clark recently told The New York Times that the pro-life movement should oppose hard-line treatment of border crossers.

Clark was so sickened by Trump and his crackdown on Honduran families trying to enter the U.S. that she has redefined what it means to be pro-life. She now equates the separation of Honduran families with “a baby in its mother’s womb.” “I feel that being pro-life is being pro all life,” she said.

Chelsey Yeaton, a student at a Christian college in Illinois and a member of Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, has also redefined what pro-life means to her in environmental terms.

“If we say we’re pro-life, we have to care for people who are experiencing incredible environmental degradation …,” Yeaton said in a recent interview. “If we’re pro-life, that’s a bigger issue to me than abortion.”

Whether to have an abortion or not is obviously not a trivial matter but the decision shouldn’t be based on politics. The expansion of the pro-life movement into other aspects of a healthy life is a welcome approach.