Friday, September 29, 2017

Sadly, not the weirdest moment in my newspaper career (Spoiler alert: Charges were stayed)

Newspaper pleads not guilty
RED DEER, Alta. (CP) — The Red Deer Advocate has pleaded not guilty to incitement to commit a criminal offence, a charge that resulted from a controversy over abstract metal sculptures one resident described as “piles of rusted out snowplow blades.” The Advocate was charged last month under a rarely used section of the Criminal Code as a result of a column June 30. The trial begins Feb. 5 in provincial court. The column, by freelance writer Ian Coleman, suggested someone load a 12-gauge shotgun with double-0 buckshot and shoot one of the sculptures. They were built for $75,000 as part of Alberta’s 75th anniversary celebrations four years ago and have long been a source of controversy and derision in Red Deer. In his column, Coleman said the sculptures “are an affront to the eye, an insult to common aesthetic sense” and “have been an embarrassment to the citizens of Red Deer since they arrived.” He said the only way to deal with the worst of the sculptures, a rusty, boxy “monstrosity” visible from the city’s main north-south thoroughfare, “is to alter its form.” “A civic-minded individual with courage, a car and a gun, could drive down 50th Avenue just before dawn, when the streets are empty, and shoot the sculpture; the shot would dent it just enough so the city would have to haul it away,” Coleman wrote. An RCMP spokesman said no shots were ever fired at the piece. Crown prosecutor Burt Skinner said the charge was laid after several complaints. The maximum penalty is six months in jail and/or a $500 fine. Skinner said the charge is rare because the public does not like to see freedom of the press infringed. But, he said, newspapers have a responsibility to monitor the opinion they print. 
   Publisher Paul Willcocks said the Advocate column was tongue-in-cheek. “It was meant to be funny.”
   He said the column was part “of a long tradition of making a point in an exaggerated way” and the charge will not change The Advocate’s policy on running columns.
   The best known similar case in Canadian law is the 1971 British Columbia conviction of Georgia Straight Publishing Ltd., which once encouraged people to grow marijuana.
   The Poundmaker, a now-defunct paper in Edmonton, was charged with a similar offence in 1974 when it ran several advertisements urging people to shoplift.
   Jim Robb, the defence lawyer in the Edmonton case, said The Poundmaker argued that the ads were a spoof and the argument ‘‘was accepted without ever having to call a defence.”
  While the pieces have not been shot at they have been physically and verbally abused since they were put up three years ago.
   Bill Bodnaruk, an unsuccessful aldermanic candidate last October, said the works are “piles of rusted out snow-plow blades, a terrible waste of money” and should be sold for scrap.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Six Things to Know about the BC Liberal Leadership Race

Here are six things you need to know about the race to replace Christy Clark, based on the rules the BC Liberal Party released Tuesday.

First, you better have money or some rich supporters if you even want to try for the job. It will cost you $50,000, payable to the party, to become a candidate. (Plus $10,000 that you’ll get back if the party doesn’t levy any fines for bad behaviour during the campaign.)
Second, it’s going to cost a lot more to win. The spending limit for candidates — on top of the entry fees — is $600,000. That’s a 33-per-cent increase from 2011 when Christy Clark won the leadership, and 71 per cent higher than the spending limit in the 2014 NDP leadership race. Candidates who jump into the race and raise enough money will be able to spend about $120,000 a month on their leadership campaigns. (Money, of course, does not guarantee success, as the BC Liberals proved in the May election. They spent $13.6 million compared to the NDP’s $7.9 million, and got just 1,566 more votes.)
Third, and further confirming the Liberals’ blindness to the public concern about its support for Wild West political fundraising, there are no limits on donations. If a developer or union or even foreign government wants to write a $500,000 cheque to try and get a friendly candidate elected, that’s OK with the Liberal party. The donation will eventually be disclosed — but not until 90 days after party members have voted to elect their new leader.
This free-for-all comes, remember, six months after the Liberals’ deathbed repentance Throne Speech pledged to ban corporate and union political donations and limit individual donations.
You can read the rest of the column at The Tyee.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Where are those Public Accounts? Delay should worry Liberals

The Liberals should be getting nervous about the long delay in releasing the Public Accounts and the Auditor General's review of government finances.

As part of the Liberals' self-destructive bid to hang on to power, then finance minister Mike de Jong broke precedent by releasing unofficial results for the fiscal year ending March 31. He claimed a $2.8 billion surplus, $1.3 billion higher than budgeted. (Showing the Liberals mean-spirited election platform was a matter of ideology, not economics.)

De Jong defended the unorthodox media event days before the government was set to lose a confidence vote, saying the real, certified numbers would be available in a matter of days. "The auditor general's office is advising they'll be in a position to issue the certificate next week," he said.

More than five weeks later, the Public Accounts still haven't been released; most years, they're public by mid-July. (Last year it was July 21.)

The province's auditor general has issued "qualified" approvals for the Liberal government's financial statements repeatedly, finding that they was not following proper Canadian accounting practices.

The delay could indicate that the Auditor General has found a more sympathetic ear in the new government or that the NDP has its own questions about Liberal financial practices and the claimed surplus.

Which would not be good news for a Liberal party that lost its way with a throne speech that abandoned any claimed principles and now may face questions about its financial competence.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Postmedia hits the wall

Last week's quarterly report from Postmedia was predictably grim.

Canada's largest newspaper company reported revenues had fallen 13.4 per cent from a year earlier. Plunging revenues have been a hallmark of Postmedia's six-year existence.

The corporation has slashed costs, but not enough to keep up with revenue losses. Postmedia took in $181 million in the quarter, $28 million less than the previous year. It cut operating costs by $21 million.

Operating income - the actual performance of the business - fell from $13 million to $6 million.

There are two key lessons from these numbers.

First, expect deeper cuts. What's happened so far hasn't been enough to keep up with falling revenues. And, or course, the cuts will lead to further revenue losses.

And second, note that for the first time - even after last year's debt restructuring - Postmedia's operating income of $6 million was less than its interest payments of $8 million.

In the short term, Postmedia can free up some cash to pay the interest. But the fundamentals, as they say, are dismal.

And the end, according to one-time newspaper baron Conrad Black, is clear.

"The bond holders control the company and are content to bleed it dry with the complicity of management. Bankruptcy is next," he said on Twitter.






Friday, April 07, 2017

Which Christy Clark response on the health firings is to be believed?

“I did ask a lot of questions at the time. The assurances that we all received was that these were absolutely justified and the right thing to do.”
- Premier Christy Clark, responding Friday to reporters' questions on the health firings.

"Premier Clark did not recall ever being briefed about the decision to terminate the employees."
- Ombudsperson Jay Chalke on Clark's evidence, under oath, taken as part of his inquiry.

So when, exactly, did Clark ask all these questions on firings she can't recall ever being briefed on? Who did she ask, and who provided these assurances?

And what should voters make of the conflict between her public claims and testimony under oath?

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Is Vancouver the Jalisco Cartel's 'drug portal to the Pacific'?

Vancouver is making its mark as a major export centre in at least one area — international drug trafficking.

‘Drug Portal to the Pacific,’ an InSight Crime report on the rise of the Jalisco Cartel called the city. 
Cartel's 2015 ambush that killed 15 police officers

“The key to their rapid expansion has been the strategic presence of operations on the southeast border of the United States, next to Tijuana, and the northeast border, next to Vancouver, Canada,” the report said.

The role of Mexican Cartels in Canada isn’t new. In 2015 the Vancouver Sun’s Kim Bolan wrote  about the cartels’ increasing shift to having their own people on the ground in Canada, rather than dealing with Canadian intermediaries.

But the new report by Luis Alonso PĂ©rez (originally done for Animal Politico a Mexican online publication) sets out how important Vancouver has been allowing the once-small Jalisco Cartel become “one of the most prolific and violent drug trafficking organizations in the world.”

It’s not just that Vancouver is a good place to land drugs destined for the U.S. and Canada. It’s become the transshipment point for drugs bound for the Pacific Rim, the article says.

The Jalisco ‘New Generation’ Cartel is a formidable player — combining business smarts, bribery and intimidation - it shot down a military helicopter -  and over-the-top violence, including mass murders. Last month, police blamed the cartel for 12 murders in Manzanillo, including seven people found decapitated in a taxi.

I started following InSight Crime after we moved to Honduras. It was almost the equivalent of a newspaper’s business pages in shedding light on the economy and politics of that country and its neighbours. I’ve found it consistently credible and useful over the last five years.

It’s also a journalistic success story. In 2010, two journalists launched the project with foundation funding. The focus was on crime in Latin America, from drugs to urban gangs to corruption and impunity. It’s going strong, in English and Spanish, with a broad funding base — including the Canadian government.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Donald Trump's stupid wall and Central America

There is no wall tall enough.
Even if you can leave aside the racism and the attempt to exploit and worsen fears and prejudices, Donald Trump's plan to build a wall along the Mexican border is remarkably stupid.

Early in our stay in in Honduras, I started hearing about the huge number of people who went to the United States. It was an incredibly difficult, dangerous and expensive effort. People set out with almost no money to make a 3,100-kilometre journey through Guatemala and Mexico and across the already difficult U.S. border. They risked robbery, kidnapping, rape, extortion and a lonely death in the desert. Many travelled on La Bestia, a Mexican freight train that carried hundreds of migrants.

I wrote about the journey here and here. The idea that a wall would deter people willing to risk death and sacrifice everything they had for a chance to spend a few years in the U.S. is idiotic.

As is Trump's failure to recognize the risk to U.S. interests created by his $15-billion wall plan.

Hondurans, for the most part, didn't want to move to the U.S. They wanted to spend three or four years working at the jobs no one wanted and sending money home, to pay for a better education for their children, a plot of land to farm or to start a small business. (In countries where employment is scarce and precarious, even a tiny business offers some security.)

Remittances - money sent back by Hondurans working in other countries - equals about 18 per cent of the GDP of Honduras, according to the World Bank. It's about 17 per cent for El Salvador, 10 per cent for Guatemala and nine per cent for Nicaragua (although much of that country's remittances come from people working in Costa Rica).

For comparison, the natural resource and sectors combined contribute 16 per cent of British Columbia's GDP.

The U.S. has fretted about security risks in Central America since the 1890s. And now Trump proposes a wall that, to the extent that it works, will destabilize economies and governments in the northern triangle — an already troubled region.