The annals of contemporary political history make one thing clear: Elections are invariably won and lost on a single issue - and that issue is most often the economy. To borrow a slogan coined by Bill Clinton's enigmatic campaign strategist, James Carville, "It's the economy, stupid." You can win issues two through ten, but if you screw up the first one, you're toast.
The NDP lost this election for three reasons - all of which relate back to that one central point: 1. Despite compelling evidence in their favour, the NDP failed to destroy the Liberals' economic credibility; 2. Mr. Dix failed to understand the difference between being fair and being nice; 3. Unlike their opponents, the NDP have no sense of storytelling, no simple narrative arc to which they can attach their myriad policy points.
Plainly put, the NDP and leader Adrian Dix lost this election by running a terrible campaign. The out-to-lunch polls and the mainstream media that allowed Clark a free pass on the Liberals' true economic record didn't help matters, but this was Dix's to lose, and lose he did.
There is one invaluable lesson I gleaned years ago from Karl Rove, the mastermind strategist behind George W. Bush's victories. His candidate bears some striking resemblances to Christy Clark, in fact - both highly unpopular at times, neither one the most cerebral of leaders, yet eminently personable, and both able to win elections they probably shouldn't have.
Rove's most important insight was this: You don't attack your opponent's weakness; you attack their greatest strength, because if you take that leg out from under them, they have nothing left to stand on.
For Bush in 2004, that wasn't the economy but rather national security. As his campaign quickly understood, you can't win on national security as a draft dodger running against a decorated war hero. Enter the "Swift Boat Veterans".
Rove also understood - as does Team Obama - the importance of crafting a simple, clear, overarching narrative, to which every press release, photo-op, position paper, soundbite, and campaign ad links back. Christy Clark's campaign did this very well - everything came back to how voters could trust her to run the economy while they couldn't trust "Risky Dix" and the NDP.
This is where Dix fell down. Not only did he choose the wrong issues on which to attack his opponents - he didn't attack, period. The HST, BC Rail, rip-off private power contracts, boondoggle projects like the convention centre, stadium roof and "world's tallest wood building", and, most significantly, the Liberals' abysmal fiscal record. Any and all of these issues - which encompass other things like corruption and incompetence - can be linked back to a master narrative that demonstrates the NDP are really the best choice to lead BC's economy into the future.
But Dix seized on none of these opportunities, preferring instead to run a nice, safe, "no mistakes" campaign. If Ms. Clark and the mainstream media that fawned over her proved anything, it's that it's better to look nice and act tough than look tough and act nice. Why Mr. Dix - not known as a "nice guy" politically prior to this campaign - mistakenly equated being tough on the Liberals' truly appalling record with being a jackass is a mystery to me. Christy Clark, like Danny Williams, Bill Clinton, Pierre Trudeau and many other successful, charismatic leaders before her, demonstrated you can wield a sledge hammer with a smile on your face.
I joined others in pressuring the NDP to take a stronger stand against Kinder Morgan. There are those within the party who will blame this decision for their loss, cursing what they see as succumbing to the unreliable environmental vote. Bollocks. A Justason poll revealed that Dix's Earth Day announcement was positively received by voters. But even if you want to discard that finding based on the wholesale discrediting of the polling profession last night, the decision itself is not the problem. The problem is, again, failing to frame it properly.
Kinder Morgan would bring a few dozen permanent jobs to its updated tanker terminal in Burnaby, and truly paltry revenues to the province. Compare that with our "Super, Natural BC" brand and the $13.4 Billion a year tourism economy and 127,000 jobs it supports - all of which would be put at grave risk by an oil tanker spill. With a proposed 400 tankers a year through Vancouver Harbour, compared with just 20 before Texas energy giant Kinder Morgan bought the existing Trans Mountain line in 2005, we're talking an exponential increase in risk. A simple cost-benefit analysis shows this is a terrible proposition for BC.
Other leaders like Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, and former ICBC CEO Robyn Allan get this and are able to articulate the Kinder Morgan issue effectively in an economic context. Not so with the provincial NDP.
Dix's failure to attack the Liberals' claims of overall economic superiority is even more puzzling. As we've stated in these pages, time and time again - based on information from the Auditor General and the research of independent economist Erik Andersen - the Liberals have raised our real provincial debtfrom $34 Billion to $171 Billion since they came to power. The NDP, by contrast, raised it by $17 Billion over a similar period.
About $100 Billion of that new Liberal debt is hidden in another category called "contractual taxpayer obligations". This is where they hide the estimated (because they're secret, even though you pay for them) $55 Billion in sweetheart, rip-off private power contracts that are causing your power bills to soar; this is where they stash the real costs of public-private partnership contracts for multi-billion dollar bridges, highways and Olympic infrastructure.
This story contains everything the NDP needed to beat the Liberals: corruption, deception, secrecy, gross fiscal mismanagement, controversial IPPs, boondoggle bridges that don't work properly and pile on costs to drivers through tolls...In short, everything they needed to take that one leg out from under their Liberal rivals.
By contrast, they could have offered a bold vision of a stronger, greener economic future for BC - one built on innovation, clean technology, public transit, rebuilding local, value-added manufacturing, supporting our vital film industry and creative sectors, harnessing the true potential of "Super, Natural BC"...Alas, they did some of these things, but in piecemeal fashion - detatched from any central narrative. And they failed to distinguish clearly their own record and vision from those of their opponents.
It's a frustrating feeling sitting on the sidelines, uncomfortable with the NDP but viewing them as the only viable alternative - in our broken, first-past-the-post, parliamentary system - to the worst government in BC history. It's awful feeling so powerless, watching the NDP fuck it up yet again. This isn't their loss alone. This is a travesty for the people and environment of BC. Their incompetence impacts us all.
We need electoral reform. We also need better than the second worst voter turnout in the country - even more pathetic by the standards of most of our fellow western nations. It is a great societal failing that we can't manage to get out more than half our eligible citizenry for half an hour to vote, once every four years. Something needs to change on this front.
While we're at it, we could use an honest mainstream media that digs up the facts and looks out for the public interest - though we can expect to wait about as long for that as the characters in Samuel Beckett's famous play. That's why people like Rafe Mair and I are trying so hard to build an alternate media.
For now, I'd settle for someone taking a fire hose to the backrooms of the NDP and flushing them clean. There are many quality people within the NDP - Adrian Dix included (though not as a candidate for Premier). They've staked out some strong positions that are in line, I would still argue, with the public will on many key environmental and social issues. There are some exceptions, granted - salmon farms, Site C Dam, and a need for more clarity on their position regarding fracking and LNG. My complaints here are less about their policies than about the way they sell them.
There are also some small but heartening positives which progressives can draw from last night. For the NDP, George Heyman and David Eby's victories in Vancouver come to mind - two of the NDP's brightest new prospects, both very strong on environmental and social issues, both worked their asses off running good, tough campaigns and were rewarded for their efforts.
I was also happy to see Independent Vicki Huntington win re-election in Delta South, though sorry to see sitting Independent MLA Bob Simpson from Cariboo North narrowly miss out on another term. Both did a great service to British Columbians as hard-working, competent Independents in the Legislature.
Meanwhile, the Green Party ran a solid campaign and it's encouraging to see them break through with their first provincial MLA in Andrew Weaver. Any NDP'er who dares blame the Green Party for their loss needs to examine both the facts and their own head. The Greens did a smart and noble thing choosing to target their efforts on a few select ridings, rather than feeling the need to run a full slate.
At the end of the day, if the NDP can't look inward and recognize the deep flaws in its brand, its personnel, and the way it campaigns; if there isn't some serious bloodletting following this inexcusable failure, then maybe British Columbians are ready for a new progressive party.
Independent biologist Alexandra Morton has been busy during the BC election, traveling the province to raise the issue of protecting wild salmon from fish farms and viruses. Through dozens of community screenings of a new film profiling her work, Salmon Confidential, and amassing over to 70,000 signatures on a petition to remove open net pen farms from the migratory pathways of wild fish, Morton has effectively planted this issue on the election radar. She's been tough at times on the BCNDP, pushing them to take a stronger stand on the salmon farming industry - with some notable success. Here, as voters prepare to go to the polls, she offers her frank assessment of what is in the best political interests of her beloved wild salmon.
For what it is worth here is my take on this election.
Regarding the Liberals, I don't think they know that our survival depends on a living planet. I have no idea how they have missed the connection, but they have.
Regarding the Greens, look at where they have put their energy, which ridings do they think they can win. Faithfully voting Green, where the Greens did not put effort, is a wasted vote.
Regarding the Independents, if you are lucky enough to be in a riding with a strong independent candidate/MLA, please go with your instincts. No one can "whip" these vital independent voices and in my experience they have been strong, smart supporters of wild salmon.
Regarding the NDP, clearly they felt threatened by supporting wild salmon. This is our fault. We, as British Columbians did not make it clear that wild salmon are critical. We allowed the Norwegians to shout us down. We were so quiet, the NDP did not take us seriously.
Individually, most NDP I spoke to know salmon feedlots have to be removed from wild salmon migration routes. As environment critic Rob Fleming stated this on CBC on March 23, he knows this. Therefore, I think wild salmon have the greatest chance for survival with an NDP government, with Greens in seats. And wild salmon need you, the public, to contact your MLA every single month, year in and year out, to tell them every salmon feedlot needs INDEPENDENT screening for the piscine reovirus and any that test positive have their provincial Licence of Occupation terminated, fish removed, site closed in the public interest.
If the salmon feedlot industry wants to prove the virus only kills salmon in the Atlantic - they are welcome to do that - but they need to get out while they do their experiments.
Former Socred Cabinet Minster Rafe Mair tells it like it is in this powerhouse speech on April 24 in Merritt, at the outset of the BC election campaign. Mair minces no words, zeroing in on the BC Liberals' real economic record, which stands in stark contrast to the one being presented by Christy Clark throughout her campaign.
"Christy Clark has on the side of her bus, 'Debt Free BC'. We owe $171 Billion dollars! Since the Liberals came to power, our per capita share of debt has gone from a little over $5,000 to $40,000 - every man, woman and child...Ask the folks in Greece or in Cyrpus or in Italy what happens when the day of reckoning comes. And the day of reckoning is going to come with this."
Throughout the emotional 10 min address, Mair speaks of his concern for today's youth and future generations. "We have now a situation in British Columbia that keeps me from shutting my mouth. I can't do it - not as an old man. I see the country literally at a watershed. I see the province at a point where if proper decisions are not made promptly, we're condemning our children and grandchildren to eternal debt."
Required viewing for all British Columbians on the eve of the May 14 election.
Conventional wisdom would suggest there's little an Independent MLA can do make an impact on government. Throughout the past term, BC's three sitting Independents - Bob Simpson from Cariboo North, Vicki Huntington from Delta South, and Abbotsford South's John van Dongen - have proven the pundits wrong, injecting new energy and ideas into a Legislature ordinarily dominated by caucus discipline.
All three are running again in Tuesday's provincial election. Joined by a few other Independents with "long - not impossible - odds," as Martyn Brown put it recently in The Vancouver Sun - this unprecedented batch of serious candidates without a political party promises a more interesting contest and intriguing possibilities should their campaigns lead them into office.
With polls tightening in the final days of the campaign, it's not unthinkable that a handful of Independents could hold the balance of power in a minority government.
Among the 38 candidates running as Independents around the province, Arthur Hadland, from Peace River North, is of particular note, posing a serious challenge to incumbent Liberal MLA Pat Pimm. Hadland ran in 2009, losing by just nine points - the next best showing by an Independent to Delta's Huntington. A lifelong resident of the Peace Valley, Hadland is a respected multi-term director of the Peace River Regional District and has been a strong voice against the proposed Site C Dam.
The three sitting Independents have shaken up the Legislature in surprising ways in recent years. From confronting important energy issues in ways neither party would, to torpedoing a recent forestry bill - making effective use of social media - and raising electoral reform in the lead-up to the provincial election, they are showing the power Independents can wield.
Being an Independent poses its challenges, without the benefit of caucus resources for researching and interpreting the avalanche of legislation that comes their way. "You have to look at every bill yourself," Simpson explained a recent all-candidates debate on environmental issues in Vancouver, noting that he doesn't have the luxury of voting along party lines.
Huntington became just the second MLA elected as an Independent in the history of BC's legislature (and first woman to do so) when she narrowly defeated former Attorney-General Wally Opal in Delta South in 2009. Simpson, after being booted from the NDP caucus over mild public criticism of then-leader Carole James, decided to strike out on his own, rather than apologize. The incident would prove the straw that broke the camel's back for James' leadership, paving the way for the party's resurrection under Adrian Dix.
Van Dongen is easily the most controversial of the bunch. The longest-serving BC Liberal MLA in the Legislature until his resignation from the party in March of 2012, he made more turbulent an already rough patch for the Liberals. His path to independence included a pit stop with John Cummins' BC Conservative Party, becoming its only sitting MLA, until a very public falling out six months later that saw him go Independent. His departure and the manner in which it occurred seriously hampered Cummins' efforts to breathe new life into the party - the effects of which linger to this day.
Van Dongen has been a wild card, bringing plenty of palace intrigue to the Legislature. It wasn't just his two defections and the embarrassment of a suspended driver's licence while Solicitor General that produced tabloid headlines. In hiring a private lawyer to investigate the Campbell Government's paying off the lawyers of convicted bribers Dave Basi and Bobby Virk, Van Dongen proved he could still kick up a fuss.
The three sitting Independents would also join forces to push for electoral reform. The six-point platform they announced in February includes some laudable suggestions like campaign finance reform, giving bi-partisan legislative committees real power, moving the fixed election date to the Fall so as to not interfere with the Budget, and free votes in the Legislature, to minimize the stifling effects of caucus discipline.
The fact that high-profile, effective politicians like these folks are choosing the independent path reflects growing discontent with the current party system.
Though few of the province's 38 Independent candidates stand a real chance, any one of these four serious contenders - Huntington, Simpson, Van Dongen, Hadland - could well pull off a surprise victory on May 14. And with what is shaping up to be a tighter-than-expected race between the Liberals and NDP, even a few Independents could wind up holding the balance of power in Victoria.
In any event, their presence enriches this election campaign and an otherwise predictable, often undemocratic Legislature.
For BC Premier Christy Clark, today's series of gaffes perfectly confirm that theory.
Just when her campaign was gaining ground - with new polls showing a much-narrowed 4-7 point gap between the Liberals and front-running BCNDP - Clark's "Debt Free BC" campaign bus has hit a few nasty speed bumps.
First, there was the leak by her opponents of documents allegedly revealing more evidence of tax dollars being spent on campaign activities, as early as 2011. According to the CBC, who broke the story early this morning, "The NDP says the emails it has leaked show a team of B.C. Liberal insiders — Dave Ritchie, Kim Haakstad, Trevor Halford and others — were having meetings about the by-election in Port Moody and preparations to strengthen the current Liberal campaign during regular business hours at the office of team leader Dave Richie: Room 247 in the main legislature."
If true, these actions would be in violation of the B.C. Public Service Act, which forbids conducting partisan activities with public resources. The story comes on the heels of the "ethnic-gate" scandal, which involved similar dynamics and hamstrung the Liberals heading into the election campaign.
Next, there came news of Christy Clark's bewildering ballot-box mix-up, which saw her allegedly spoil her own vote at a photo-op. The National Post described the situation as follows:
Casting an advance ballot in her hometown of Burnaby in front of a throng of media and campaign staff on Wednesday, a confused Ms. Clark writes her own name on her ballot paper. But Ms. Clark doesn’t live in her own riding, a detail which would have rendered her vote invalid.
Quickly realizing the error, Ms. Clark asks for her ballot back. CBC footage shows Ms. Clark then writing down the name of Vancouver–Fairview Liberal candidate Margaret MacDiarmid, but failing to cross out her own name before submitting her ballot paper, leading to further confusion over the legitimacy of her vote.
Harmless gaffe or not, the move hardly inspires confidence in a leader whose job demands being cool under pressure.
To cap it all off is the most serious and damaging of revelations for Clark on what has become a day from campaign hell. Global TV is reporting that a movement is underway within Clark's own party to overthrow her as soon as the ballot boxes close on Tuesday. "It’s called the 801 movement, symbolizing 8:01 p.m., one minute after the election and precisely when the movement plans to begin the process of putting pressure on Clark to step aside," Global reports.
"The movement — made up of party members and business leaders — has already created their own buttons."
It's no secret that Clark has never achieved widespread popularity within her own caucus, but surely this news breaking 5 days before the election can't benefit anyone in the Liberal Party. How will British Columbians feel about casting their ballot for a leader whose own party may be scheming to dump her?
Maybe bad things do happen in threes...then again, as I write this early in the afternoon, there's plenty of time yet to make it four.
Justin Trudeau just may be Canada's most dangerous man.
He of the throngs of adoring supporters, the pretty new face that promises to resurrect "Canada's party".
The key positions he's taken thus far - supporting the sellout of our strategic energy resources to the Chinese Government, giving away our sovereignty through the Canada-China Trade deal, new pipelines to expand the Tar Sands - hardly vary from those of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. They just look and sound far more attractive coming from Canada's prodigal son.
And that's what scares me.
Trudeau's latest decision to out-Harper Mr. Harper on boosting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to Texas gives us a sobering sense of where the young Liberal leader is headed. Perhaps more troubling is the question of what he actuallybelieves - or whether these positions derive from polling data, focus groups, and a cynical drive to get elected at all costs (more on that in a moment).
In his first swing out west following a successful leadership bid, Trudeau took the time to praise Alberta Premier Alison Redford's efforts to secure access for Keystone by talking up improved "environmental sustainability" in the Tar Sands (exactly how, we're left to wonder, beyond a carbon tax proposed by Redford).
"I'm very hopeful despite the political games being played by the NDP...that we will see the Keystone pipeline approved soon," Trudeau proclaimed.
If Bay Street and the energy sector see that Trudeau is prepared to fulfill the same key objectives as Harper, they will not think twice about swinging their support back to the Liberals. This latest statement on Keystone signals that Mr. Trudeau is truly open for business. For this reason, while backing Keystone may be unpopular with certain segments of the Canadian public, it could prove a shrewd political move in the long-run.
Harper is uncharacteristically weak at the moment. There is the infighting within his usually locked-down caucus, the cratering polling figures (a recent Nanos poll has the Liberals leading the Conservatives for the first time in years, at 34 to 31% support), and an authoritarian image that is becoming increasingly problematic. He and his embattled foot soldiers, the likes of Joe Oliver and Jason Kenney, have had a very bad month.
Oliver overplayed his hand a couple of weeks ago when he attacked the world's most respected climate scientist, the recently retired James Hansen of NASA, while on a "diplomatic" mission to Washington to build support for Keystone.
The tone-deaf Oliver ranted that Hansen should be "ashamed" of "exaggerating" the effects of climate change and impacts of the Tar Sands, apparently missing the irony of attacking his hosts while trying win them over. The comments, which backfired severely, were picked up by everyone from the New York Times to the UK's Guardian. Hansen shot back, aptly branding Oliver a "Neanderthal".
On this score, Trudeau seems to understand something his Conservative opponents don't - i.e. cultivating buy-in for Keystone requires more sophisticated framing and at least a modicum of tact with our southern neighbours.
He's right to do so. The problem for Harper with issues like this one, the buyout of Canadian energy company Nexen by Chinese state-owned CNOOC, and the botched fighter jet program, is the way they rile his base. Unpopular with small "c" conservatives, they drive division within Harper's tenuous right-wing alliance.
With these troubles brewing on the home front and attack ads aimed at Trudeau falling short of the effect they had on his predecessors - Michael Ignatieff and Stéphane Dion - things are shaping up nicely for Harper's young challenger.
The question is, what does this mean for Canada?
If all Mr. Trudeau represents is a better-packaged version of Harper's economic vision, then how will the Canadian public and environment - not to mention the planet - be any better off?
The thing that has always bothered me about Justin - ever since his entry onto the public scene at his famous father's funeral - is that he's never appeared to stand for anything real. Years later, even following a lengthy leadership race and literally thousands of media clips and public appearances, I still don't know what core principles motivate his drive to lead the country. He speaks in platitudes, clever but meaningless tweets - which is partly what makes him so effective with social media and our soundbite-obsessed mainstream press.
He is our version of Robert Redford's character in The Candidate.
Evidently, if Justin stands for anything, it's selling out Canada's strategic resources and exploiting the climate-destroying Tar Sands. Where his father tried and failed to build a made-in-Canada energy policy, the younger Trudeau is going in the opposite direction.
Even that, though, I suspect, is more a reflection of his willingness to shape-shift his policies into whatever form advisers tell him will track best politically.
With Harper, by contrast, we have a sense that his zeal for expanding Canada's fossil fuel industries through foreign ownership is something in which he believes on a deep, ideological level. I'm not sure which is better - the guy who believes in something I and many other Canadians patently don't, or the guy who probably doesn't but is willing to say he does, just to get elected. If these are our two choices, then I'm ready for a third.
Real leadership means fighting for real principles, even when they're unpopular. Great politicians find a way to sell good ideas to the public and media.
Justin Trudeau does none of these things. But, boy, does he look good not doing them.
I'm pleased to announce that award-winning political journalist Sean Holman is premiering his new 40-min documentary Whipped in Vancouver and Victoria this week. I worked with Sean as the cinematographer for the project, so I'm not in a position to review the film. But I will say, humbly, that he's done a bang-up job securing unprecedented access to key political figures and coaxing out some truly astonishing confessions about the way our political system really works.
Whipped poses some important questions, like why BC has the lowest record of independent votes in the Legislature of pretty much any jurisdiction in the Western world; like how we got to this place where MLAs elected to represent their constituents are invariably far more concerned about sticking to the party line; and what solutions could help bring real democracy back to Victoria.
According to Holman, "For the first time ever, British Columbians will hear what really happens behind the closed doors of the provincial politics – and why some MLAs think it’s wrong."
The impressive calibre of interviewees demonstrates the respect Sean's years as a reporter (he's now a journalism professor at Mount Royal University) garnered him over the years - both through the mainstream media and his own blog, The Public Eye Online. The film draws out some fascinating, candid revelations from a long list of influential, retired politicians - from onetime Liberal Attorney General Geoff Plant and Finance Minister Carole Taylor to the NDP's David Chudnovsky and Premier Mike Harcourt.
It also includes a number of lesser known but highly qualified leaders whose independent-mindedness kept them from Cabinet posts they likely merited. People like the Liberals' Dennis MacKay and Socred Nick Loenen - not to mention Independent MLA Bob Simpson, whose mild public criticism of then NDP Leader Carole James triggered a chain of events that brought about her downfall and compelled him to quit the party.
I went into the project with what I thought was a fairly good grasp of the lock-down world of party politics. And yet, shooting this film for Sean proved a real eye-opener for me. It was clear that even these intelligent, successful people - leaders in their respective fields of law, education, medicine, media, business - were genuinely shocked, upon their initiation as MLAs, to learn how the system really works.
Now, thanks to Whipped, the public has the opportunity to share in those insights and begin a much-needed conversation about how to fix our ailing democracy.
See Whipped this week at one of the following screenings and stay tuned for updates on other opportunities to see the film in public and online:
Thursday, April 25 (7 p.m.), UBC Buchanan Building (Room A103)
Friday, April 26 (7 p.m.), Victoria The Vic Theatre, 808 Douglas Street
Sunday, April 28 (7 p.m.), Vancouver Library Square Conference Centre (Alice MacKay Room), 350 West Georgia Street
As the BC election approaches, the Norwegian-dominated aquaculture industry suddenly finds itself swimming upstream.
Despite mounting evidence of its impacts on the marine environment - and over significant public and First Nations' protest - the farmed salmon lobby has managed to maintain its controversial open net pen operations for decades, relatively unopposed at the political level.
Until now, it appears.
A series of significant events over the past few months have left the industry increasingly vulnerable to a regulatory crackdown.
The first major blow to the industry came in October of last year, when Justice Bruce Cohen got tough on salmon farms in the final recommendations of his 2-year judicial inquiry into collapsing Fraser River sockeye stocks. While he acknowledged that no "smoking gun" emerged from the exhaustive $25 million investigation, aquaculture was singled out as a key suspect.
Cohen's recommendations to protect wild salmon from open net pen salmon farms included:
Prioritizing the health of wild salmon over suitability for aquaculture when siting farms
Conducting more research into diseases that may be impacting wild salmon
Properly implementing the Precautionary Principle and removing farms in the Discovery Islands region (noted as particularly dangerous to migrating salmon runs) should more definitive evidence come to bear that they cannot safely coexist with wild fish.
It would take some six months for Cohen's non-binding recommendations to register politically - but boy are they starting to now.
First, in late March, Liberal Premier Christy Clark came out with an unexpected commitment to implement a number of Cohen's recommendations. Clark vowed to cap future open-net salmon farms in the Discovery Islands, a critical wild salmon migratory route. Liberal Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick stated, "[Cohen] basically says we should use the Precautionary Principle and what we're doing today as a government is agreeing with him."
If the salmon farmers weren't sweating before, this will surely have caught their attention. This is, after all, a government which has proven overwhelmingly sympathetic toward the industry throughout the past decade - even going as far as reimbursing it for environmental fines collected by the NDP.
Though a court case won a few years ago by independent biologist Alexandra Morton and her lawyer Greg McDade forced the federal government to take back the regulation of fish farms, the province retained power over the licensing and location of farms. Thus a change in policy at the provincial level could still spell trouble for the industry.
No sooner had Clark issued her tough talk on salmon farms, than NDP environment critic and likely future minister Rob Flemming moved to one-up her. Flemming told CBC radio, "They've been missing in action on this file for so long that to say on a friday afternoon six months after Justice Cohen delivered his report that they deign to agree with his recommendations just shows that they have not paid considerable attention to this." According to the CBC story, "Flemming says the NDP would initiate a review of the issue including looking at banning open net fish farms along key salmon migration routes."
Not just capping new farms, but removing and banning existing ones. That's about as close to Justice Cohen's prescriptions as any party - federal or provincial - has come to date.
Days later, NDP Agriculture Critic Lana Popham - also a leading candidate to take up the same portfolio in Cabinet - posted a statement on her facebook page, relaying the NDP's developing policy on the issue. As environment and agriculture ministers respectively, Flemming and Popham would be the new government's point people on the file - their comments here are deliberate and significant.
Popham's preface to the policy statement suggested the public campaign for aquaculture reform is not going unnoticed. "Thank you to all the salmon warriors out there," Popham wrote. "You've directed a lot of barbs our way recently, but your efforts to push political parties to do whatever is necessary to protect wild salmon is a great contribution to BC. Keep it up!"
The statement itself denotes the party's likely framing of the issue going forward - i.e. addressing the economic risk-reward proposition: "[Wild salmon] is important for our coastal ecology, for the wild and sports fishing economies and particularly for First Nations. We also recognize that BC has an aquaculture industry that creates direct and indirect employment in our coastal communities and that it is incumbent on all to make sure the industry has minimal impact."
The statement continues:
New Democrats have clearly stated that if we form government in May, we will work with the DFO to act on the recommendations from Justice Cohen including:
regularly revising salmon farm siting criteria to reflect new scientific information about farms on or near Fraser River sockeye salmon migration routes as well as the cumulative effects of these farms;
explicitly considering proximity to Fraser River sockeye when siting farms;∙
limiting salmon farm production and licence duration;∙
using the precautionary principle to re-evaluate risk and mitigation measures for salmon farms in the Discovery Islands, including closing those farms that are determined to pose more than a minimal risk of serious harm to the health of migrating Fraser River sockeye.
In addition, we will maintain the existing moratorium, introduced in 2008, on new fish farm licenses on the North Coast.
The NDP's repositioning on the file comes following a new wave of public interest in the subject. Salmon Confidential, a 70-minute documentary which tracks Alexandra Morton's research into viruses impacting both farmed and wild fish, has reached over 100,000 people online since its release last month. It is currently filling halls around the province during a series of pre-election screenings. These events are drawing in high-profile speakers such as David Suzuki and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.
Meanwhile, at the federal level, the Harper Government did an about-face recently, agreeing to take part in and help fund a new large-scale program to test for viruses likely connected with fish farms. The work is being led by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans geneticist, Dr. Kristi Miller, whose leading-edge research was a key focus of the Cohen Commission.
Miller made global headlines when, prior to her subpoena by Justice Cohen, she was muzzled from speaking to media about her work. From recent interviews she's given on this new research program - co-sponsored by Genome BC and the Pacific Salmon Foundation - it appears, at least for the time being, that muzzle has been removed.
The aquaculture industry should be concerned about these developments, not just because of what this new research may uncover, but because it demonstrates that even the Harper Government has been forced to change its approach to public concerns surrounding salmon farms. That includes a recent federal report suggesting it's time to get serious about moving to closed-containment technology, which separates farmed fish from wild.
Finally, the industry should be concerned that the jig is up for the defense upon which it traditionally falls back - namely, the "jobs" argument. Recent data confirm that local economic benefits from aquaculture simply pale in comparison to the industries it puts at risk.
For instance, in 2011, according to DFO and Stats BC, sport fishing produced revenues of $925 million, contributing $325 million to BC's GDP and 8,400 direct jobs. Compare that with the Norwegian-dominated aquaculture industry, which produced $469 million in revenues (that's for all aquaculture, of which salmon farms are only one component). Salmon farms specifically contributed just $8.5 million to our GDP.
That's because they invest very little locally in plant and equipment and produce only a fraction of the 1,700 relatively low-wage jobs across the entire aquaculture sector - which includes shellfish and other finfish. Moreover, the profits flow out of BC to foreign shareholders.
That paltry $8.5 million figure was down 8% from the previous year, and based on reports of numerous farms in the Campbell River area having been fallowed over the past year - for problems left unexplained by the industry - we can expect the 2012 numbers to slide even further.
By contrast, the province's $13.4 Billion tourism industry (up 44% since 2000) is built largely on BC's "Best Place on Earth" / "Supernatural BC" brand, which depends greatly on wild salmon and produces vastly more jobs than do salmon farms. The provincial NDP is already showing signs of grasping these facts and understanding how they can be used to frame industry reforms.
In other words, the final fig leaf protecting the industry is about to be swept away in the coastal breeze.
It remains to be seen, post-election, where a new NDP government goes with its aquaculture policy, what these new tests yield, and how the Harper Government reacts to them. The industry has proven as prone to escape as the creatures it rears. Yet, for the first time in a long time, the tide is clearly turning against the Norwegian farmed salmon lobby.
Check out this new song and music video from Vancouver artist CR Avery, produced by the Sierra Club of BC. According to the organization, which released the video on its youtube page this past weekend, "With riveting spoken word and striking images, CR Avery connects the dots between pipelines, oil tankers and climate change. He is unsparing in speaking truth to power about the companies leading us down the path toward climate catastrophe and the movement building against them."
The video and song, titled "Thief Behind the Mask", offer a poetic, uncompromising perspective on Texas-based pipeline giant Kinder Morgan's plans to turn Vancouver into a major shipping port for the Alberta Tar Sands, among other controversial, interconnected fossil fuel projects. The Sierra Club notes, "These pipelines would drive expansion of the tar sands and spike the impacts of global warming everywhere"
An open letter issued to Canadians by Royal Bank of Canada President and CEO Gord Nixon (read here) apologizing for his company's decision to shift 45 Canadian jobs to imported temporary foreign workers from India reflects a growing concern over the issue.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenny reacted to the scandal, stating, “The rules are very clear. You cannot displace Canadians to hire people from abroad.” And yet, RBC maintains it was acting in accordance with the rules. "The question for many people is not about doing only what the rules require - it’s about doing what employees, clients, shareholders and Canadians expect of RBC," Nixon argued in his letter.
RBC's predicament is just the latest incident calling into question the Harper Government's foreign temporary worker program, which permits Canadian companies to pay imported employees from other countries 15% less than equivalent Canadian workers.
The issue was brought into focus earlier this year with the controversy over a Chinese-owned mine in northeast BC planning to import 200 foreign labourers. The move prompted the Construction and Specialized Workers Union to launch a federal lawsuit, alleging that the company made no real effort to offer the jobs to Canadians first. Even BC Liberal Jobs Minister Pat Bell chimed in on a Vancouver radio program, calling the Harper Government's foreign temporary worker policy a failed program.
We have been reporting on this issue over the past year, raising questions about the Government and corporate resource sector's claims of labour and skill shortages to justify a now estimated 380,000 foreign temporary workers in Canada - despite mounting evidence that it's more about savings on labour and exerting downward pressure on Canadian wages across the board.
Herewith Gord Nixon's open letter to Canadians:
RBC has been in the news this week in a way no company ever wants to be.
The recent debate about an outsourcing arrangement for some technology services has raised important questions.
While we are compliant with the regulations, the debate has been about something else. The question for many people is not about doing only what the rules require - it’s about doing what employees, clients, shareholders and Canadians expect of RBC. And that’s something we take very much to heart.
Despite our best efforts, we don’t always meet everyone’s expectations, and when we get it wrong you are quick to tell us. You have my assurance that I’m listening and we are making the following commitments.
First, I want to apologize to the employees affected by this outsourcing arrangement as we should have been more sensitive and helpful to them. All will be offered comparable job opportunities within the bank.
Second, we are reviewing our supplier arrangements and policies with a continued focus on Canadian jobs and prosperity, balancing our desire to be both a successful business and a leading corporate citizen.
Third, our Canadian client call centres are located in Canada and support our domestic and our U.S. business, and they will remain in Canada.
Fourth, we are preparing a new initiative aimed at helping young people gain an important first work experience in our company, which we will announce in the weeks ahead.
RBC proudly employs over 57,000 people in Canada. Over the last four years, despite a challenging global economy, we added almost 3,000 full-time jobs in Canada. We also hire over 2,000 youth in Canada each year and we support thousands more jobs through the purchases we make from Canadian suppliers. As we continue to grow, so will the number of jobs for Canadians.
RBC opened for business in 1864 and we have worked hard since then to earn the confidence and support of the community. Today, we remain every bit as committed to earning the right to be our clients’ first choice, providing rewarding careers for our employees, delivering returns to shareholders who invest with us, and supporting the communities in which we are privileged to operate.
I’d like to close by thanking our employees, clients, shareholders and community partners for your input and continued support.
Gord Nixon President and Chief Executive Officer, Royal Bank of Canada