The Vancouver Scrum

On the move!

Agh! You’re still here? My new site and weblog, is now up and running; new posts are building up over there, never to be mirrored here. Go! What are you waiting for? All the stuff worth keeping has been migrated over to the new server, and I don’t anticipate making any more posts here.

Bloggers and webmasters: Update your links! Simply replace with in your blogrolls or bookmarks to point to the new site. Old posts will remain on this server for as long as the people at Blogger/Google allow them to remain; unfortunately, I’m not going to bother to come up with any way of converting permalinks on this blog to their corresponding posts on the new site. Yes, I plead laziness. I also realize the irony of switching away from Blogger just it starts to add features that the demanding blog nerds insist upon.

Thanks for reading and linking, and see you over at!

—Ian King, December 13, 2004

Friday, February 07, 2003

Hidden Tax Alert!

B.C.'s government has raised a bevy of user fees and introduced a host of fees where there had previosly been none in advance of this month's provincial budget. Competition, Science, and Enterprise Minister Rick Thorpe admitted that the new fees will raise an additional $23.3-million annually, but Thorpe insists that these new fees are not a tax grab.

Most British Columbians will be affected by the fee hikes. Driver's licence fees will increse from $40 to $75, while the cost of hunting and fishing licences will also go up in addition to previously announced fee hikes at provincial parks. The government, which had pledged to reduce the burden of government on business in BC, has not exempted businesses from increased fees. Criminal record checks of prospective employees used to be free to employers; they will now cost $20 per search. The price of business registrations has gone up, and industries such as forestry face even more new levies.

Thorpe, however, is sticking to his line that this is not a tax grab.

"Fees are not taxes and should not be levied uniformly across the taxpaying population," Thorpe said in a press release. In a scrum after this moning's Cabinet meeting, a reporter challenged the minister on his assertion. "You're increasing taxes," said the reporter. "No, we're asking users to pay more for the services," said the minister.

'Taxes, fees, it's all the same. Government taking more money out of the economy.'

That was the line spouted by groups such as the Fraser Institute and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) during the tenure of the previous NDP government. Every increase in fees on businesses or on individuals was decried as a secret tax grab by those special interest groups. Now, the criticism is muted at best. Today's press release from those "fearless tax foes" was not terribly critical; in fact, it praised the government! The headline screamed 'CTF Applauds Reduction of Regulatory Burden' and praised the government for relying on more fees to generate revenue.

Your scribe has been left puzzled by all this. He guesses that consolidating fees from many to few categories and then raising those fees is now a reduction in regulatory burden in CTF newspeak (as opposed to being a hidden tax). I suppose that this might have something to do with the CTF's double standard when it comes to left-leaning versus right-leaning governments, something that has been obvious since the CTF praised the Liberals for boosting the salaries of senior bureaucrats in 2001.

The CTF's B.C. talking head, one Victor Vrsnik, is calling on the government to reduce income taxes in the upcoming budget by $23-million to offset those fee increases. Don't hold your breath, Vic. This government is in a serious deficit situation and is going to get its money any way it can, and in any way that doesn't involve reversing the income tax cuts that they brought in in 2001.

So, here's a question for Finance Minister Gary Collins: Will you finally admit that David Bond was right?

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Rotten. From the Head Down.

The B.C. government's relationship with salmon farmers

Former BC fisheries minister John van Dongen's fight to clear his name got a lot tougher after yesterday's CBC News: Disclosure broadcast. Van Dongen resigned his post as minister responsible for agriculture and fisheries last week after the RCMP began an investigation into his handling of a fish-farming file. Now, more details are coming about just what it was that van Dongen did to warrant a probe into the job he was doing as Cabinet minister.

When the B.C. Liberals came to power in May 2001, they did so on a platform of being friendlier to business than the previous NDP regime. Part of that platform included a review of a 1995 moratorium on the approval of new salmon farming licences. The NDP had imposed the moratorium following pressure from environmentalists and from commercial fishermen* who make their living from catching wild Pacific salmon. Last year's decision to lift the moratorium brought praise from the aquaculture industry -- and scorn from those who fought for the ban on new farms.

The suspicion was that the Liberals, who received several large donations from aquaculture firms¹ in the lead-up to the 2001 election, would instruct the environment ministry to be less than strident in its monitoring of fish farms' impact on the environment. Those fears were well-founded, as it turns out. CBC News: Disclosure picks up the story.
Two and a half years ago, on a farm near Vancouver Island, more than 30,000 Atlantic salmon escaped through a tear in their net pen.
These foreign fish are seen as a threat to the fragile Pacific salmon stocks. Releasing them into the wild would see companies slapped with a fine.
To be precise, the escape occurred in August of 2000, when the NDP were still in government. As such, the investigation began under the NDP's watch. The conservation officers that were investigating the escape of the Atlantic salmon were not political appointees, and continued to work at the environment ministry, renamed "Water, Land, and Air Protection," following the change in government. It was the fisheries ministry, headed by John van Dongen, that wanted to end the investigation and essentially let the company responsible for the escape off scot-free.
The salmon escaped from a farm owned by Stolt-Neilsen, a Norwegian conglomerate- and with 30 farms - the biggest player on the Pacific Coast.
Stolt-Neilsen's subsidiary that operates fish farms in BC, Stolt Sea Farm, gave $10,942.11 to the B.C. Liberal Party in four separate contributions between December 21, 2000 and April 6, 2001. Interesting timing, to say the least: after the escape of the 30,000 Atlantics, but before an election that the B.C. Liberals were sure to win.

Stolt's pressure on the ministries that were responsible for overseeing its operations were successful -- sort of. The environment ministry dropped the case after pressure from the ministers lead to the case against Stolt being "significantly compromised." The fact that the CBC had filed the freedom of information requests to get the documents related to the government's handling of the Stolt file tipped off government lawyers to engage a special investigation into just what van Dongen was doing to influence the case against Stolt. Thus, the investigation, and van Dongen's resignation. It just gets worse from there: sources tell the CBC that van Dongen tipped off Stolt about how forcefully enforcement officers in the environment ministry wanted to pursue the case.

Stan Hagen, who was appointed van Dongen's replacement as fisheries minister, accepted $5,000 in campaign contributions from companies that were suppliers to the aquaculture industry. Hagen has said that he will distance himself from any files relating to those companies, but the suspicion of Hagen's ability to act impartially remains. Even Province columnist Mike Smyth, who is more generous to the Liberals than most commentators in this province, wrote that premier Gordon Campbell should appoint a minister with no financial ties to the aquaculture trade.

UPDATE: Stan Hagen has said that he knew nothing of the events that led to John van Dongen's resignation, although Stolt lobbied Hagen about the investigation into its operations. .

No wonder that aquaculture expert Lynn Hunter, who was a federal Member of Parliament from 1988-93, called the provincial government a public relations arm of the fish-farming industry.

Any way you slice it, this is not the picture of good, impartial governance. It's one thing for a business-friendly government to enact rules that promote the growth of industry and that remove barriers to doing business. That's what people who vote for pro-business parties want.

Trying to squash the enforcement of laws that are on the books crosses the line. If a government thinks that there should be little or no regulation of fish farming, then repeal the rules that seem to get in the way of the industry. The ones who will complain the loudest are those who are least likely to vote for a business-friendly party. Putting up the smokescreen of having tough laws and then ensuring that those laws are not enforced by interfering with the work of inspectors is unethical and dishonest.

Learn more:

The story that may have set off the investigation:
CBC News: Disclosure: Fish Farm Flap web feature
'Fish Farm Flap': Segment 1 Segment 2

For those who are interested, the Disclosure broadcast will be repeated on CBC Newsworld on Friday, February 7th at 7:00 PM and 10:00 PM PST, and once more on Sunday, February 9th at 11:00 AM PST.

Vancouver Province: Dispute over pressing fish-farm charge behind probe of Van Dongen
Globe and Mail: B.C. too close to fish-farming industry, critics say
CBC British Columbia: New allegation in fish farm affair
CBC British Columbia: Fish farm critics take aim at Hagen
Rafe Mair's Fish File
Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council
David Suzuki Foundation: Fish Farming
B.C. Salmon Farmers' Association

*Yes, I use the term "fishermen." So do those who make their living from fishing. A "fisher" is a crack of some kind. So sue me.

¹You can find financial reports from Elections BC at The reports are scans of the paper documents filed by parties, candidates, recall proponents, riding associations, etc. As such they are not searchable, although the list of contributors is alphabetical. You will need Adobe Acrobat to view the files, which are as long as 700 pages and up to 13 MB in size. These reports are not for casual viewing!
Just a note: Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell will be testing one of the City of Vancouver's newly acquired, fuel-efficient, Toyota Prius hybrid cars. Campbell, no relation to B.C. premier Gordon Campbell, normally takes an express bus from his home in Point Grey to City Hall, but does use city vehicles to get around on his busier days.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Required reading for Alliance hacks

If you thought that there was something incomplete and foreign about the usual package of institutional reforms that the Canadian political Right keeps talking about, you're not mistaken. So says Montreal professor Joseph Heath, who points out that the usual prescriptions of fixed terms, a EEE senate, term limits and such are offered up not for their suitability for use in a parliamentary democracy, but because they conform to the basic fall-back position of Canadian conservatives, "if it's American, it must be good." In other words, intellectual laziness. Ouch.

Monday, February 03, 2003

B.C. Education Minister Christy Clark has put out the word before this month's provincial budget: Don't expect any new funds for school districts. This might not be too much of a surprise, given that the BC government is rolling in a sea of red ink. What is sleazy, however, is that this same government legislated a salary increase for BC teachers, effectively forcing and additional $100 million in costs on the province's 75 school boards, without kicking in an extra penny to fund the last two years of increased costs.

Can you say "passing the buck?"

Can you say "Mike Harris tactics?"

Something's got to give, and it's going to mean larger class sizes and school closures. The school board in my former home of Prince George, which covers schools from PG as far north as Mackenzie and as far east as Valemount, is considering closing 8 schools this year after closing 7 last year. Vancouver faces a shortfall of $21 million in the upcoming year. If the school boards don't come in on budget, they will be fired by the provincial government, something that the combative Christy Clark is probably looking forward to doing.

If Ms. Clark wanted to hold the line on education costs, she should have ensured that the government froze teachers' wages. Why not? She already removed their option of striking, so what were they to do in protest? Move to Ontario? Instead, she has forced the school boards into an untenable situation in order to cover her ass. (You may insert snide comments about the behaviour and tactics of Paul Martin supporters here.)
Liberal arachnid Warren Kinsella has, for reasons not completely clear, posted the PowerPoint slides from some little speech that he made to a weekend meeting of young Ontario Tories. Apparently, it wasn't the usual harrowing expedition into the enemy's camp, or at least not what you'd expect when a rather well-known, outspoken Liberal comes to crash a Tory Party.

I'll have to take Warren's word on the demeanour of young Progressive Conservatives. After all, there are likely less than 100 young Tories in the entire Province of British Columbia, so how would your hunble correspondent know of such things?
No curses, no threats, no projectiles sent my way. Seldom have I clapped eyes on a nicer, more wholesome, more clean-cut group of youngsters. It was like being trapped in a room with a bunch of Donny and Marie clones.
That's actually scarier than a room full of vicious, snapping neo-cons. Combative SOBs I can handle. Polite young people with entrenched conservative ideals? Yoinks!

However, the slides prompt some new questions... Did Mike Harris really say, “I am not uncomfortable with homicide where Warren is concerned. But don’t get caught, okay?” Okay, I wouldn't put it past Harris, given the thuggish way that he ran the government of Ontario. Also, there was this standard note on the slide presentation:
These slides are part of a Navigator presentation and are
Incomplete without the accompanying oral commentary.
I wouldn't mind hearing that accompanying oral commentary. It might just be entertaining.

Of course, you should read Warren's blog -- it may be the key to your personal success as a human being.

Sunday, February 02, 2003

Maddox's take on the 43rd President of the United States

Bush: making political satirists obsolete since 2000

Need I say more?
For various reasons, I've been spilling quite a bit of electronic ink writing about the Sun newspapers lately. I suppose that it's always a good idea to investigate what the most scurrilous newspapers in Canada are saying, if only to take informed shots at them -- in contrast to most of the chain's columnists, who prefer to take uninformed shots at all things to the left of Attila the Hun.

Today, though, I have found that rarest of things (and no, not a Liberal membership form, either) : A Sun column that actually praises the Chrétien government. No kidding! Veteran Toronto Sun hack Hartley Steward is actually giving the new Elections Financing Act the thumbs-up, and giving Jean Chrétien his due for it. Be warned, however. The column will be replaced on Tuesday, so check it out now!

Next thing you know, pigs will grow wings, it'll get a bit chilly in Hell, and Barbara Yaffe will write a fair, balanced column.

Okay, that last one was asking too much.

Saturday, February 01, 2003

More van Dongen revelations

It's been reported that former B.C. agriculture and fisheries minister John van Dongen tipped off a major fish farming company -- and B.C. Liberal Party donor -- about an environment industry investigation into the company's aquaculture practices.
The company – Stolt Sea Farm Inc. – made a $5,200 political donation to the B.C. Liberals for their successful 2001 election campaign. Government sources say that later that year, van Dongen helped the fish farm company, sharing the contents of a government report about an investigation into Stolt – an investigation that wasn't over.
Nasty stuff, to be sure. The government has the reputation as being cozy to the industry, and this case shows the conflict between the government's desire to boost industry while protect the environment.

Van Dongen can be thankful about one thing: Former Social Credit cabinet minister Rafe Mair, who is arguably B.C.'s most influential political pundit, is on vacation and will not be back in Vancouver until February 10th. Mair has been a vociferous critic of fish-farming practices, and of van Dongen's laissez-faire attitude towards the industry. If Mair were doing his CKNW radio program this week, I do believe that the vitriol in his editorials would be hazardous to human health and political careers.
This was a terrible tragedy. Plain and simple.

Photos of shuttle fragments streaking over Texas

When I first saw the tape of a bright, burning object streaking through the sky and breaking apart at about 6:20 this morning, and put it together with the reports that Houston lost control with Columbia at about 6:00, it was pretty obvious what was going on. Ugh.

Is it inappropriate to mention this? One of the all-night dance parties that I organized back in tha day was called "Soup Stock from the Bones of Gus Grissom", a sort of twisted tribute to the commander of the ill-fated Apollo 1 (Apollo-Saturn 204) mission who was incinerated in a launchpad fire in 1967.

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