Thursday, August 20, 2009

Liberals shed principles in online betting binge

The news that the government will expand online gambling so people can lose $10,000 a week will hardly help the Liberals fight charges of duplicity.
Their handling of the gambling file has been inept, unprincipled and frequently dishonest.
Gordon Campbell and the party fiercely opposed expanded gambling in opposition. They pledged to halt gambling expansion in the 2001 campaign, citing damage to families and communities.
Then they did the opposite, launching a push to get slot machines into large and small communities - all while pretending they weren't expanding gambling.
The latest move to encourage people to bet and lose more online is sleazy and dangerous.
When the Liberals introduced online gambling in 2004, they started small. Then solicitor general John Les said the B.C. Lotteries' offering would be limited to sports betting and playing the lotteries.
And, Les pledged, people would be protected because they would be limited to losing $70 in any one-week period. "I think we're taking measures to ensure that people can't go overboard," he said. "I think we're being entirely responsible."
When the gambling was expanded to include "interactive games" - kind of an online VLT - the weekly limit was raised to $120.
Now B.C. Lotteries is chasing the big bucks. Gamblers can transfer $10,000 per week into their accounts - half-a-million dollars a year in potential losses
I understand that the province is desperate for money. And certainly, policies can change over time.
But the Liberals' opposition to gambling was, supposedly, based on principle. Those are supposed to endure.
Kevin Krueger said gambling expansion was immoral and would lead directly to family break-ups, domestic violence and even murder. Campbell took a similar position. "I want to build an economy based on winners, not losers, and gambling is always based on losers," he said. "The only way government makes money on gambling is because you lose it."
But since the Liberals were elected, they have been working to create more gamblers in B.C. and to lift even more money from each one of them.
Campbell's promise to halt gambling expansion turned out to a joke. There were 10 casinos with 2,400 slot machines when the Liberals were elected. Today, there are more than 10,000 VLTs in 31 gambling halls.
The Liberals have introduced Internet gambling, alcohol and ATMs in casinos and bigger bets and longer hours.
And created a lot more losers. The province's gambling take has more than doubled to a forecast $1.2 billion - more than the revenue from forestry or natural gas royalties.
The gambling binge meant more people were damaged. The B.C. Medical Association reported on addictions in the province earlier this year. It found research indicates 33,000 British Columbians have a severe gambling problem. That number more than doubled between 2002 and 2005, as the government rapidly expanded gambling. Another 128,000 people have a moderate gambling problem. (By comparison, 33,000 people have problems with illicit drugs.)
B.C. Lotteries' plans each year include targets for recruiting new gamblers, increasing the proportion of the population who bet and increasing the amount the average amount each person loses. The corporation's goal for this year is more than $560 in losses per adult British Columbian.
Many people don't gamble at all. To make that target, the government needs some serious losers.
Which leads back to online gambling and the new opportunity to lose $10,000 a week.
Online gambling creates a greater risk of addiction and destructive behaviour. The opportunity is always there. The "games" are designed to keep the gambler going, creating the illusion that he has some control over the outcome.
"Internet gambling is as addictive, if not more addictive, than other forms of gambling," Liberal MLA Ida Chong said in opposition.
Now, she, like her peers, is silent on the wild growth of government online gambling in B.C. You can argue that people should be free to gamble as they like and suffer whatever disasters result.
But Campbell, Krueger, Chong and the Liberals promised something better.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

No, Gordon Campbell has not lost his mind

The government's binge of self-destructive, autocratic acts - health care cuts, the HST, killing Tourism B.C., axing gaming grants - might seem an indication that Gordon Campbell is losing touch.
But the always interesting Gazetteer suggested that Campbell "actually sees the current fiscal situation as a game-changing opportunity to shrink the 'ordinary business of government.'"
I'd agree. (Although how do you assess a premier who defines climate change as an enormous threat to mankind, then loses interest within 24 months?)
Creating a crisis - this time through a wildly inaccurate budget - justifies all sorts of radical change.
And there are, as I noted in the Vancouver Sun column below from just after the 2001 election, tactical advantages to sweeping, fast, radical changes.

Taking their cue from a Kiwi, the Liberals have embarked on a tidal wave of change so mighty that opponents won't be able to keep their heads above water
Wed Jun 20 2001
VICTORIA - Anyone who thinks the Liberals' legislated end to the health labour disruptions is dramatic has no idea what's ahead from this government. The Liberals plan to go very far, very fast, at a pace that overwhelms opponents and keeps reform moving at a crisis-drive pace.
Premier Gordon Campbell hasn't developed some new strategy. The Liberals are borrowing heavily from the approach of Ralph Klein. Like the Alberta Conservatives, they are turning to lessons from Sir Roger Douglas, the hard-line finance minister who drove the transformation of New Zealand in the mid-1980s.
If you want a preview of the few years, turn to Mr. Douglas' book Unfinished Business, popular in Liberal circles.
The real insight into the Liberals' tactics comes in Chapter 10, which offers a battle plan for small-government reformers. Douglas outlines 10 principles for successfully pushing through radical change in a way that overwhelms opponents.
Campbell and company have proved to be quick learners. Mr. Douglas's first principle is that for quality policies, you need quality people
It's the second and third principles that reveal just how wild the ride will be over the next year.
``Implement reform in quantum leaps, using large packages,'' advises Douglas in his second commandment. His third is just as dramatic: ``Speed is essential,'' he writes. ``It is almost impossible to go too fast.''
The month since the election shows the Liberals have embraced both pieces of advice. The tax cuts came earlier and went much farther than expected, especially after a campaign in which Campbell emphasized both the poor state of the province's finances and a commitment only to middle and low-income tax cuts. .
Campbell took the same approach in remaking government, moving to an immediate, radical restructuring that left few ministries untouched.
Douglas argues massive changes are needed. Incremental reforms, especially unpopular ones, leave groups within society feeling unfairly treated. If everyone is being affected at once, at least they can't complain of being singled out.
Rapid changes also allow governments to link both the positive and negative aspects of reform. Dramatic tax cuts depend on dramatic action to control costs, the government can argue, like ordering health care staff back to work.
Pragmatically, rapid change overwhelms opponents. Protesters can rally against individual government actions or policies, building a broad base of support and pooling their opposition. But confront them with a tidal wave of change and they can't respond, each group fixed on defending its own area of interest.
``Do not try to advance a step at a time,'' Mr. Douglas writes. ``Define your objectives clearly and move towards them in quantum leaps. Otherwise the interest groups will have time to mobilize and drag you down.''
The restructuring of government proved how well the approach can work. Specific changes -- the loss of a women's ministry, little status for arts and culture, a reduced role for environment -- might have sparked protests. As part of a massive restructuring, each individual change received less attention.
And it relies on a continuous rapid movement toward the government's goals. ``One you build the momentum, don't let it stop rolling,'' Douglas counsels. Governments should pile on the change, so opponents are still struggling to mobilize against the last reform while the newest one rolls out.
It's a prescription for government surgery conducted with a chainsaw or axe, not a scalpel.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Fish farms, First Nations and the bungling DFO

This release from the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, is significant for salmon farms, I think. Some First Nations support the industry and accompanying economic opportunity, but opposition from the union would be significant. Note also that Alexandra Morton's name is on the release. Her work on aquaculture and wild salmon has been both brave and important and this alliance will help.

Conservation of Wild Salmon is Paramount
For Immediate Release
August 18, 2009

Chief Bob Chamberlin of Kwicksutaineuk/Ak-Kwa-Mish Tribes and Secretary-Treasurer of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) stated “The UBCIC is appalled that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is not seeking to fully understand all of the potential contributors, specifically fish farms, to the unprecedented collapse of not only Fraser River Sockeye but the many runs of wild salmon in southern British Columbia. What is immediately required is a coordinated and educated management of the fisheries from the spawning beds to international waters to the return of the salmon. We need to make the conservation of wild salmon the top priority of DFO. Instead of providing leadership during this crisis, DFO Minister Gail Shea is currently promoting Canadian fish farms in Norway."

Within two days of reporting that 11 million Fraser sockeye had vanished without a trace, the DFO Area Director for Fraser Region, Bary Rosenburger and the Pacific Region Director, Paul Sprout stated publicly that fish farms are not a factor. Fish farms are associated with wild salmon collapse worldwide (Ford and Myers 2008) and in BC (Krkosek et al 2007). When the Broughton pink salmon collapsed in 2002 their migration route was cleared of farm fish for one season ( and their survival was the highest ever recorded (Beamish et al 2006). Scientists report DFO politics interfered with the science that might have prevented Canada’s Atlantic cod collapse. (Hutchings et al 1997).

This collapse precisely hit salmon smolts that migrated north from the Fraser River and Alexandra Morton examined them as they passed the Campbell River fish farms. “I cannot tell you that fish farms killed all 11 million missing Fraser sockeye, but the ones I examined were infected with sea lice, in poor condition and unlikely to survive. We will continue to lose salmon run after salmon run unless we exhaustively explore all potential contributors for answers,” states Morton.

The Pacific Salmon Commission has revised and lowered their projections for sockeye salmon returns of the Fraser River. The Commission had originally forecasted a return of 10.6 million sockeye but is now reporting that many of the runs are far less than anticipated.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the UBCIC, concluded “The UBCIC has consistently opposed fish farms and will continue to do so until such time as the destructive and deadly impacts to wild salmon are fully addressed. We continue to call on DFO to act decisively to protect wild salmon. If not, it is time for a new Minister who genuinely cares and is completely committed to the future of wild salmon."

For further comment contact:

Chief Bob Chamberlin

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip

Alexandra Morton

Campbell's broken recall promise saves him a headache

Gordon Campbell should be celebrating one broken promise. If he had delivered on his New Era pledge to bring effective recall legislation to B.C., his government would be on the ropes today.
And it might have been gone by next spring.
The Liberals’ integrity and mandate are both being questioned —not surprisingly, given an election campaign that failed to mention plans for the HST, health care cuts, slashed grants and was based on a bogus budget. (And that’s just so far.)
The new sales tax, which will shift some $1.9 billion in taxes from businesses to individuals, has sparked a special outrage. Campbell’s claim that he just woke up one day a couple of weeks after the election and discovered the new tax was urgently
needed is, literally, incredible.
Some angry voters are looking for any way to throw out a government - including recall campaigns against Liberal MLAs. The theory is that eight successful recall campaigns, followed by eight NDP byelection victories, would bring a New Democrat majority government.
If Campbell had fulfilled his campaign promise to introduce workable recall legislation to make it “easier for citizens to hold their MLAs accountable,” it might have worked.
But he didn’t. That means recall campaigns have to meet the requirements set by the NDP government when it introduced the process in 1995.
So campaigns can’t start until 18 months after the election. Organizers have just 60 days to get the signatures of 40 per cent of the registered voters in the last election — not of actual voters, but of all those on the list.
Take a capital riding, Saanich North, as an example. Anyone who wants to oust Liberal Murray Coell, who eked out a 245-vote win over his New Democrat opponent, would have to get 17,460 signatures from people who were registered to vote.
Coell won with just 13,120 votes. Thousands of people will have moved or died. The challenge is enormous.
Unfair, said Campbell in opposition. He introduced amendments to allow recall efforts within six months of an election and gave proponents six months to get the signatures.
And his law would have seen an MLA ousted if opponents could collect petition signatures from the same number of people who voted for the candidate, plus one.
So instead of 17,460 signatures, proponents would need 13,121. Tough, but much more doable.
The changes, Campbell said in opposition, were desperately needed.
“One of the most critical issues that faces all of us in public institutions today is the re-establishment of trust and public accountability between elected officials and those who elect them,” he said in the legislature. “The current recall and referenda legislation fails on both counts.”
His version, Campbell said, would “bring true accountability to the legislature and give us an opportunity to give our constituents the real sense of control that they deserve to have over their elected representatives.”
That was all forgotten once the Liberals were elected.
There have been 20 recall efforts since then: 19 have failed and one was halted when the MLA - Paul Reitsma - resigned.
Even with little chance of success, recall campaigns have some political appeal. They keep the targeted MLAs on the defensive and provide a focus for protests. Kevin Falcon got big publicity for the Liberals and created headaches for New Democrats in 1999 simply by threatening a “Total Recall” campaign against the NDP. He couldn’t raise enough money to go ahead.
And, positively, perhaps recall efforts would encourage MLAs to make more of an effort to earn the continued support of their constituents. It’s embarrassing to think of all those Liberal MLAs who were as surprised as everyone else when the new HST was imposed without discussion or consultation.
It’s too bad Campbell didn’t improve recall legislation. It could offer a needed safety valve when people feel they have been cheated in the election process and, as he said,
Footnote: An Angus Reid Strategies poll confirmed the public anger. The Liberals, with 34 per cent support, trailed the NDP at 42 per cent. The Greens were at 12 per cent and the B.C. Conservative Party - which barely exists - was at seven per cent.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A sleazy attack on some of B.C.'s best kids

This is truly cruddy behaviour on the part of the government.
As Jeff Nagel reports here (and in Black Press papers across the province), the government has cancelled the Premier's Excellence Awards. The scholarship program has run since 1986, providing financial aid to some of B.C.'s top high school grads. The awards - bumped to $15,000 from $5,000 by the Liberals in 2005 - recognize academic excellence and community service. The application process is time-consuming - essays and the like - and the students really work at it. Finalists had been selected, and the 15 winners were to be announced mid-July.
But the government stalled and gave evasive answers and then - without notifying the students - cancelled the whole program.
Leaving aside the fact that education is supposed to be a priority with the government, this is simply sleazy. Students participated in good faith based on a government commitment, only to be betrayed weeks before their first year of post-secondary education.
The move is part of a $16-million cut in support for post-secondary students in B.C.
It will save $240,000 - less than the premier's last salary increase over the current four-year term.