Saturday, May 10, 2014

Doing whatever you want

Our Council has engaged in a major revision of the official community plan for Bowen Island. The problems is that with the exception of the Economic Development Committee they never asked anyone about it.

And this wouldn't be such a big deal except that prior to the last election there was legal action taken against the sitting Council for not following good process despite the fact that the previous OCP process had more than a year if consultation and co-creation.

In small communities and large sometimes people just do what they want for all kinds of reasons sometimes good and sometimes nefarious. But the thing that I get upset about is the hubris of demanding one set of rules for myself and another set for everyone else. It is not the mark of a good neighbour. And, where power is used to creat that uneven playing field, it is fundamentally undemocratic.

The island has been consumed this past year with fallout around a ferry consultation process that was a sham. We have been demanding better of the province.

So why, when it comes to our own OCP, do we not live up to the standards that we expect from others?

The substance of the changes is just as important as the process in a democracy. Good or bad, you have to do things right.




Thursday, April 24, 2014

Re-industrializing Howe Sound

Now that the dolphins and whales have returned, the herring are healthy and the Britannia Mine site is clean, it's time to think about what to do with Howe Sound.  Of course being a beautiful and partially pristine fjord near to one of Canada's largest cities makes it a natural to turn the whole thing into a park to super charge tourism and protect the gains, right?

Oh, except Bowen Islanders voted down that idea, and the federal and provincial levels of government figure that liquid natural gas, logs, gravel, real estate development and hydro electric power are all good uses for a clean and healthy inlet.  Here is a map of the proposals being considered:


Yay for industrial development!  We will have another 2 dozen jobs in the inlet without any environmental degradation at all!

/cynical filter off.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Why BC Ferries has reduced its schedule: bond ratings

BC Ferries released their schedule for Bowen and all the other islands today today and it features several new holes where regular service used to be.  The holes don't make much sense to me, and they certainly aren't equated in any way with the feedback folks gave during the consultations last fall.

There have been protests up and down the coast as communities - most of whom are much harder impacted than we are - make their concerns known.  But it will not sway the politicians in Victoria to alter the plans because taxpayers and citizens are not calling the shots.

We are told that service reductions are necessary to save BC Ferries money but ultimately, as my MLA Jordan Sturdy told me, it's all about protecting the BC government's bond rating.  All of our public finance capital for things like new facilitates, infrastructure, transportation and other stuff comes from private money, not taxpayers dollars.  When we need new things, or when we have an operating shortfall in our provincial government, we go and borrow money from private lenders.  We do this through bond issues.  Most bonds are owned by North Americans but last November, BC floated a $500 million bond in China too - a so-called "dim sum" bond.

Somewhere near 85% of our current budget is funded by taxpayer supported debt.  Not tax dollars.  Borrowed money.  We still have a good debt to GDP ratio, meaning that if we can grow the economy at a rate faster than the interest rate we pay out on the bonds, we remain solvant.  If our economy stops growing, the price of borrowing goes up and eventually we end up like Iceland, defaulting on our public debt.  At that point our bonds become worthless, no one will lend us money anymore and we have to contract all of our public services or cut them altogether.  See Detroit, Iceland, Greece, Argentina and any other number of recent examples.

This is why protests against ferry cuts that impact taxpayers and citizens don't carry much truck in Victoria.  If you want to see who really sets the policies read what the bond rating agencies say about how the government should run it's finances.  The BC Ministry of Finance puts these on its web page.

What this means is that citizens no longer call the shots in terms of what we get from the Province.  Instead, governments are quite beholden to the bond rating agencies who are out to protect the interests of the private lenders that buy BC Government bonds.  In an era when corporate profits are going up at unprecedented rates and wages are remaining stagnant, lowering public service costs for the good of the market seems totally out of whack.  But that is what is happening.

I think that the service reductions are only the beginning in the BC Ferries battlefront.  The ferry workers are due to renegotiate their collective bargaining agreement in 2015 and mark my words - the union is firmly in the sights of this government.  Bond rating agencies always advise lowering public sector salaries.  Part of the rationale for service reductions I think is to set up a situation where fewer workers are required to run the ferry system.  The only way this ends is if the province sells off BC Ferries and makes it a private corporation or if they buck against the advice of their advisors and take it back into the public highway system.  If they do that our bond ratings will take a huge hit because the Province will also take on all of BC Ferries capital debt obligations.  the Liberals don't like that idea.

Make no mistake: the Minister of Transport is not looking after the transportation and infrastructure of the province.  He is the face of a fiscal restraint program taking place in the transportation sector.  He will do anything you want him to do as long as it doesn't affect that precious bond rating.

 Lost in all of this is greater good.  I wrote an email to my MLA Jordan Sturdy today asking him to answer the question of what greater good is served by the service reductions.  No one wants them, they don't help and by all accounts are going to damage a huge part of the economy.  So why do them?

He hasn't got back to me yet.  My guess is that he won't have anything more to say than we need to protect BC's Triple A credit rating. Our province is owned lock stock and barrel by the private market.  The only way to get away from this is to levy resources royalties on our public held assets, starting with oil, gas and minerals.  Corporations want those and they aren't going anywhere, so if we want to be more self-sufficient and have a ferry system that is based on the needs of users, we have to rely more on extracting money from those that would otherwise seek to swell their corporate profits beyond the already obscene levels they are at.  If you are someone who thinks that this is an economic crame, and that the free market and corporations should be allowed unfettered access to BC resources, then get used to more cuts.  For the rest of us, maybe it helps to understand why this is happening.

It is not a vision of the common good that I signed on to. But neither am I surprised how the private market has played the common good for a sucker.  And we shouldn't be surprised when the folks running our government bend to the will of those who fund them rather than those who elect them.  Unfortunately for citizens, those are two different groups now.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Spring rains




Herring season has begun. The herring spawn this time of year when the rain is soft and the days are lighter.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Blustery morning.




Sun and cloud. Cool winds swirling. Winter dropping in for a visit.

Friday, February 28, 2014

The creatures in the Sound

Meribeth Deen is our new Undercurrent Editor and she has fallen in love with the ocean.  Today my morning coffee was accompanied by her excellent article on the cetaceans that surround us.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Cape




This afternoon at the Cape.