Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A great weakness in the carbon tax sales job

I filled up the Neon on the way home Monday, saving about 70 cents by avoiding the carbon tax that kicked in Canada Day. The service station was doing a booming business.
Which suggests that the Liberals' carbon tax works. If people are topping up the tank on a sunny afternoon to avoid paying the 2.3-cents-a-litre tax, then maybe we'll make other changes. We'll bike to work or share a ride one day a week, or cut down on the number trips to the stores on a weekend.
The carbon tax is one of the most interesting public policy issues in a long time, exposing a lot of contradictions.
Premier Gordon Campbell has been cast as the green defender, the champion of social engineering and government's wisdom.
And NDP leader Carole James has aligned with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation in opposing the Liberals' carbon tax.
The NDP stance looks mostly like political opportunism. The NDP favours a carbon tax levied at the wholesale level, not retail. Instead of 2.3 cents at the pump, the tax would be hidden in the cost of gas. Not much of a difference.
The New Democrats are on stronger ground when they note that big industries that release greenhouse gases without burning fossil fuels are exempt from any taxes on their emissions. (Like energy companies that flare off gas from wells.)
That regulation is to come - sometime - under a new cap and trade system. It will set emission limits for industries and companies. If a company can't make its limit, it will have to buy credits on the market to offset its excess emissions.
Mostly though, it looks like the New Democrats have decided to ride the wave of public anger without worrying too much about policy distinctions.
It's a bigger wave than I expected. One of the arguments made by critics is that the tax is irrelevant. Gas prices have risen 45 cents a litre in seven months - what's an extra 2.3 cents?
But that's not the way a lot of people see it. They see the government piling on when they're already having a tough time.
You reap what you sow, St. Paul wrote. And the Liberals spent a lot of their first term sowing the idea that government was a bad thing. Campbell liked to tell audiences that one new deputy minister told him she could cut her staff by one-third - and do a better job.
The message was that government was self-serving or incompetent, certainly untrustworthy.
But the sales pitch for the carbon tax relies heavily on trust in government. And the Liberals are struggling in their efforts to win people over.
Ipsos-Reid surveyed British Columbians on the carbon tax in the week before it was introduced. A narrow majority - 53 per cent - agreed that putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions is a good idea.
It was an almost even split when people were asked if they would be willing to pay higher fuel taxes if they were offset by an income-tax cut.
And 61 per cent doubted the B.C. carbon tax would change peoples' behaviour.
The poll also found 82 per cent thought the government should be targeting major industrial emitters instead of bringing in the carbon tax.
And the poll found the public isn't buying the Liberals' claim that the tax is revenue neutral - that the $631 million to be collected next year in taxes on gas, heating oil and other fuels will be offset by other tax cuts.
Only 19 per cent of those surveyed said they believed that would happen. The sentiment that it's a straight tax increase was shared by 57 per cent of British Columbians.
That's a problem for Gordon Campbell. Right now, he needs people to trust in government.
Footnote: Support for the carbon tax is strongest on Vancouver Island, where 23 per cent of those surveyed agreed it was the best way to curb climate change. The north, where only 12 per cent agreed, and the Lower Mainland, at 15 per cent, were the least supportive.
The Liberals will be helped a lot if gas prices stabilize (and if heating fuel costs don't rise higher by fall). But if they keep rising, the public will likely be slow to let go of their resentment.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Campaigning for healthy, tasty hospital food

Is hospital food crappy? Does it have to be? Bernard von Schulmann, fresh from his son's recent birth, says it is and it shouldn't be. He's started a blog betterhospitalfood.com to press for better tasting, healthier food and more choice in B.C. hospitals.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Worries about shuffle's effects on disabled

Mostly, everyone involved seems confused by the shuffle of services for mentally disabled adults out of the children's ministry and a new ministry for poor people, the addicted and mentally ill, housing, gambling, alcohol sales and people with developmental disabilities.
The only sure thing is that there was no consultation. This was planned a by a few people who figured they didn't need to listen to anyone else (notably the people who needed the help, and their families, and those who worked with them).
Here's a positive reaction from one group, and concern from the BC Association of Social Workers, which consistently offers quite useful observations from those who work on the frontlines. (And which is, despite its mandate to represent the issues of members, not obviously self-serving in its analysis.)
Also, for general edification, a note from children and families deputy minister Lesley du Toit on the shuffle.

For the change.

Picking up the pieces: Positive changes for children with special needs

Port Moody, B.C. June 26, 2008

The B.C. Association for Child Development and Intervention (BCACDI), which represents and advocates for agencies providing services to children and youth with special needs and their families in B.C., is encouraged by the move of services for children with special needs back to the Ministry for Children and Family Development (MCFD) from Community Living B.C. (CLBC). “This is a change that will see children's services re-integrated into the Ministry that is responsible for all children”, says Bruce Sandy, Provincial Advocate. “A host of government and other reports have pointed out the damage that service fragmentation was causing families and children due to long delays in accessing supports, the absence of appropriate supports, and constant confusion regarding who should be providing services. Many of these barriers will now be eliminated”.

“The operative word in “special needs child” is “child”, says Alanna Hendren, Vice-President of the BCACDI Board. “We have worked for many years to have people in the community recognize children with special needs as children first, so they are not defined by their disability but by their potential. A move back to MCFD shows that the government now supports this view and intends to re-integrate services for children with special needs”.

The Ministry for Children and Family Development has been working with the community, including BCACDI to develop a strategic plan and framework for action for services for children and youth with special needs that works across the Ministries of Children and Family Development, Education and Health to ensure that all services are integrated, coordinated and focused on the best outcomes for each child. This plan has been endorsed by each of the Ministers involved in addition to the Minister of State for Child Care and the Premier.

BCACDI will continue to monitor and work on behalf of service agencies and stakeholders as the children's services are transferred back to MCFD over a transition period. This will be on the agenda for our upcoming meeting with Minister Christensen.


Confusion and Chaos: What else will the new "Super Ministry" of Housing and Social Development offer our most vulnerable citizens?  

The BC Association of Social Workers questions how the provincial government's continuing organizational change will contribute to better services to the public, and in particularly to its most vulnerable citizens. The newly created Ministry of Housing and Social Development will now assume gargantuan responsibilities for income assistance, mental health services, housing, services to adults with developmental disabilities, landlord-tenant disputes, transition houses and licensing and monitoring of gambling in BC.

Just what - and who - will be served by collapsing services and programs to vulnerable populations into a "super Ministry"?   The Hughes Report was clear that the child welfare and social service system cannot withstand any more organizational change. The Representative for Children and Youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, has been equally clear that organizational change and service gaps are creating huge and long-lasting real life and systemic impacts for vulnerable and at-risk populations of individuals, families and communities.
Child poverty and homelessness are on the rise. Individuals and families are already struggling to access income assistance, mental health services and community support services. Their difficulties in doing have been exacerbated by the staggering and chronic systemic changes and shuffling of responsibilities along with the instability of leadership and oversight of these public services. We are deeply concerned that in the creation of this "super Ministry"? it will be that much easier for individuals to fall through the gaping holes that already exist for marginalized citizens.  
We share in the BC government's five great goals with particular attention to number 3: Building the best system of support in Canada for persons with disabilities, those with special needs, children at risk and seniors.  
We believe this goal and these interests are best served by continuing to provide continuity of service for income and employment assistance through a stand alone Ministry, such as the current Ministry of Employment & Income Assistance (MEIA), maintaining strategic operational planning within one organization and utilizing the strength of senior leadership available within MEIA.
We further encourage the BC government to leave responsibility for Community Living Services to adults with developmental disabilities within the mandate of the Ministry of Children & Family Development to allow further time for Community Living BC to solidify and stabilize itself as the Crown agency responsible for provision of services to adults with developmental disabilities and their families. With the move of adult services from MCFD to MHSD there will be a further disconnect between the continuity of services and supports, which will have lasting impacts on generations to come.
We also renew our commitment to working collaboratively with the BC government, its leaders and other important stakeholders and leaders to strategically stabilize, innovate and renew the social service, mental health, housing and child welfare systems so that BC can truly offer all children, youth, and families the best future possible as BC prepares to enter the light at centre stage of the international and global media and community.

And the deputy minister's comments.

From: Erickson, Jennifer MCF:EX
Sent: Tue 6/24/2008 4:56 PM
To: MCF All Exchange mailboxes
Cc: Burns, Heather PAB:EX; Greschner, John RCY:EX Subject: Message from the Deputy Minister

Dear colleagues:

As you may be aware, the Premier shuffled his Cabinet yesterday. The shuffle did not impact either of our ministers; Minister Tom Christensen and Minister Linda Reid will continue in their current roles as Minister of Children and Family Development and Minister of State for Child Care respectively.

However, responsibility for Community Living British Columbia (CLBC) was moved to the newly created Ministry of Housing and Social Development. MCFD will assume responsibility for children's services currently delivered by CLBC. This change will not take effect immediately and we have already started working with CLBC to ensure that the best interests of children are protected through the transition phase.

Some of the communication that was released yesterday with details about the shuffle was unclear about the location of current ministry programs. I just wanted to be clear that Early Childhood Development, Youth Services and Child and Youth Mental Health all remain responsibilities of this ministry and will not be moving. Other than the move of CLBC, there were no other changes to the current ministry responsibilities.

Kind regards,
Lesley du Toit