May 17, 2013
In My Opinion
I Wonder........ “Coal Kills Citizens & Community”
When I think about the proposal to dramatically increase the number of coal trains running through White Rock I wonder why the billionaire coal magnets get the cash and we get the carcinogens and the costs?
I wonder what the future of White Rock will look like if we continue down this crazy track of allowing coal profiteers to jam up to 18 dirty, uncovered coal trains a day, each as long as 1.5 miles to destroy all that we have in White Rock in order to get to the coal terminals? White Rock is a very special place. It deserves much better than to become just another filthy, dirty coal train town on the way to the coal loading facilities which are about to make Vancouver the largest coal export port in North America. And all of the dirtiest and deadliest coal from Montana and Wyoming is coming right through our town.
Interesting to note that in the USA three more proposed coal export terminals have been shut down in the Pacific Northwest by the citizens. The latest is the Kinder Morgan Coal Terminal in Oregon. Brett VandenHewuval the executive director for Colombia Riverkeepers says, “This is another huge victory for the people of Oregon and another blow to the coal companies. The evidence is in that dirty coal export plans are not viable in the Pacific Northwest. Now families across the Northwest can breathe easier knowing that the largest coal export terminal proposed in the State of Oregon is off the table. Another one bites the dust.” Unfortunately for us in White Rock every abandoned coal terminal plan for Oregon or Washington, every victory by the citizens in the states and every ruling by the EPA against coal terminals in the US just makes the exporting of the dirty coal from Wyoming and Montana through White Rock to China that much more profitable for those who control the Canadian Coal Terminal Monopoly.
I wonder why our current politicians are willing to stand by idly and do nothing other than cosmetically appearing to be concerned? Yes, I hear the politicians saying that they are “…here to support the community” but that just isn’t good enough. This single issue has the potential to dramatically alter and reshape the future of White Rock. Our current politicians, in their silence and inaction to this outrage, are facilitating the demise of our community.
What do we need to know? We need to know that this is cheap and dirty thermal coal from mines in Wyoming and Montana. We need to know that to this point all of the US ports have blocked the shipment of this coal for environmental reasons. We need to know that each coal train heading north through White Rock and Surrey has an approximate value of $1.3 Million to the owners. We need to know that all of this coal is simply feeding the unlimited appetite for coal in China where they are opening one new coal-fired power plant a week and contributing to the melting of the planet and the death of mankind. We need to know that by shipping this coal north from the Powder River Basin on the American plains to Canada to get around the blockades at the American ports the citizens of White Rock and South Surrey are taking on all of the liabilities and receiving little in return. In fact the government is even intending to fast track the construction of a multi-billion dollar bridge and the removal of the tunnel, financed through public funds, so that this private enterprise can navigate its large ocean going coal carriers up the Fraser River to the Fraser Surrey Docks. Interesting that Surrey Fraser Docks are owned by the BC Liberals Pet Profiteers, The Macquarie Group, the $350 Billion Australian company of Sea-to-Sky and Gateway Project fame. Great business plan if you can get away with it. Keep all of the profits and externalize all of the costs including infrastructure and health costs to the citizens. When you are talking about over a Million dollars per coal train who cares how many people have to die prematurely who or how many lives are ruined? We need to know that each coal car loses up to a ton of coal dust enroute and that the deadly impact of coal dust on human health is well-documented. In fact Dr. Erica Frank from the UBC School of Public Health is very concerned about increased coal train traffic through populated areas like White Rock and Crescent Beach. Dr. Frank is the Canada Research Chair in Preventative Medicine and Population Health at UBC. Dr. Frank reports that "...we know what coal dust does in terms of heart disease, in terms of lung disease and in terms of cancer.”
This coal dust is a carrier of many carcinogens including silica which the World Health Organization has declared a Group One (the deadliest!) carcinogen. Silica is a human lung carcinogen and breathing of the dust can be both disabling and fatal. The silica dust causes the formation of scar tissue and reduces the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen. And if that isn’t enough of a Public Health concern what about the fact that these 125 to 150 car coal trains require four to five diesel locomotives which results in four or five times the exposure to the deadly diesel exhaust which is also a Group One Carcinogen along with the likes of Arsenic, Asbestos and Plutonium 239.
We are facing a Public Health Crisis in White Rock and we need to derail these coal trains now before White Rock is reshaped and in fact destroyed to satisfy the greed of rich billionaire industrialists. Just to give you an idea of the kind of massive profits that the coal exporters are generating, Westshore Terminals alone generated $66 Million of earnings on $240 Million of revenue in 2012. A handful of people have been given the monopoly on exporting coal from Canada and are enjoying windfall profits.
In White Rock we have the offshore breezes blowing the coal dust up against the hillside. The hillside then traps the dust and creates a cancer corridor between the beach and the top of the hill with a very high percentage of the filthy, dirty and deadly dust falling on the hillside, the homes, the businesses and the people.
Have you ever seen what a coal train town looks like? It is not pretty. It is rundown, constantly coated in the deadly dust and it rapidly deteriorates as people start to flee the toxic carcinogens. The other day a friend told me about an experience that he recently had at one of the restaurants on Marine Drive. What the owner of the restaurant showed him was the filthy coal dust that the owner wiped off the tables. Imagine what that coal dust looks like in our lungs or our food."
I am wondering how our MLA who represents a party that has taken over $2 Million from the Coal Industry and has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from Jim Pattison the owner of Westshore Terminals, the largest coal shipping terminal on the west coast can even pretend to do the right thing for the community. How can we even expect an MLA who represents a party that has taken millions of dollars from the coal industry including one single cheque for $200,000.00 (Great Pacific Capital Corp/ Principal Officer - Jimmy Pattison) from a billionaire coal magnet to fight for the citizens and the community? How can we trust any politician whose party takes that kind of money to be able to do the right thing behind closed doors for us? As I see it we can no longer count on the politicians who are owned and operated by big coal money to do the right thing for the citizens. The people of White Rock need to stand up to this atrocity and declare White Rock a Coal Free Zone.
To my way of thinking we need to derail these coal trains before they kill our community. We need to stand up to the special interests of the big money, Billionaire Coal Magnets, and tell them that they cannot destroy a community and negatively impact the health of the citizens in order to feed their greed. White Rock is not for sale!
In my opinion what we need now more than any time in history are politicians who will do what is right for the citizens and the community not what is right for those that they take huge sums of money from. Two thingswe don't need are dirty money and dirty coal.
Just one more thing. Why is it that the coal shipped from BC, including the dirty thermal coal from Wyoming and Montana is exempt from the Carbon Tax? If everyone else has to pay the Carbon Tax why is coal, especially thermal coal exempt? If coal really is one of the greatest threats to civilization and if the Carbon Tax is the good public policy that we are told it is, I wonder why does this special billion dollar exemption to the owners of the coal exporting terminals even exist?
MLA Hogg was invited to comment. We have received no response to our inquiry.
In My Opinionn...Ross Buchanan
Ross Buchanan is an independent journalist who focuses on grassroots issues in the community. Ross is not a member of any political party nor does he have any financial conflicts of interest regarding this article. Ross's commitment is to purge the culture of concealment by revealing the truth so that people have the benefit of full disclosure of the facts on which to make their own personal judgments.
May 10, 2013
"Just Follow The Money - Deep Throat"
I think it has something to do with my naivety as a Canadian and I suspect I can learn a lot about the connection between money and politics from our neighbors to the south. One thing I have to realize is that money in provincial politics plays a pivotal role in shaping public policy in BC.
I am reminded of the epic dialogue between Bob Woodward, the Washington Post reporter and Deep Throat in the 1976 movie All Of The President’s Men. Here is how it goes.
Bob Woodward: The story is dry. All we've got are pieces. We can't seem to figure out what the puzzle is supposed to look like. John Mitchell resigns as the head of CREEP, and says that he wants to spend more time with his family. I mean, it sounds like bullshit, we don't exactly believe that...
Deep Throat: No, heh, but it's touching. Forget the myths the media's created about the White House. The truth is, these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand.
Bob Woodward: Hunt's come in from the cold. Supposedly he's got a lawyer with $25,000 in a brown paper bag.
Deep Throat: Follow the money.
Bob Woodward: What do you mean? Where?
Deep Throat: Oh, I can't tell you that.
Bob Woodward: But you could tell me that.
Deep Throat: No, I have to do this my way. You tell me what you know, and I'll confirm. I'll keep you in the right direction if I can, but that's all. Just... follow the money.
With the BC provincial election around the corner “follow the money” is exactly what I did.
What I found was very disturbing. In reviewing the Financial Disclosure Statement among other things I found that our current MLA and his spouse are invested in natural gas, thermal coal fired energy and casinos. Why does that concern me? Because three of the issues that are on the front burner right now are in each of these sectors.
Hogg has put his money in natural gas. How can I expect an MLA who has his money in high risk, natural gas plays to be able to make an objective independent decision about the billions of dollars the natural gas industry is asking for to build infrastructure and provide tax exemptions in order to develop this public resource. To my way of thinking this is an ethical conflict of interest. How can he be doing the right thing for us in the community and the province when he is personally invested in Natural Gas?
Hogg also has his money in thermal coal fired energy. How can I expect our MLA to stand up for us here in White Rock and stop this senseless expansion of Vancouver as the largest coal port in North America at the same time that he is invested in thermal coal fired energy? This is the same dirty coal from Wyoming and Montana that is about to change the shape of White Rock for the worse as it travels through White Rock to the port where it will be shipped to China. In fact up until 2007 the Centralia Big Hanaford power plant in south west Washington even used the adjacent open pit coal mine but shut it down in favor of using the even poorer grade but very cheap coal from the Power River Basin which has created some very serious Environmental and Public Health problems for the people of Washington state. Annually the Thermal Coal Plant that Hogg has his money in emits 350 pounds of mercury pollution, making it Washington’s sixth most dangerous source of mercury pollution. Mercury pollution is a neuro-toxin which cases brain dame and is especially harmful to children and pregnant or nursing mothers.
Our neighbors to the south in Washington State are very concerned with what is happening at this coal plant. The TransAlta thermal coal operation where Hogg has invested, needs to move into the 21st century by reducing toxic mercury pollution by 90 percent with already-available and in-use technologies,” said Mark Riskedahl, executive director of the Northwest Environmental Defense Center. “TransAlta also needs to lead the way on rapidly reducing Washington’s contribution to global warming by adopting strict limits for its climate-warming emissions.”
“In Washington state, TransAlta the number one source of global warming, mercury and haze pollution, has had a free ride for too long,” said Doug Howell, senior representative for the Sierra Club’s Coal-Free Northwest campaign. “This old, filthy coal-fired plant must be seen for what it is and now is the time to hold the coal plant accountable to fulfill its obligations to address known pollutants to protect our health, environment, and economy.”
In my opinion, I can’t see this as anything other than a serious ethical conflict of interest and probably explains why our MLA does not seriously and aggressively oppose the increase in coal trains along the White Rock Beach and the expansion of the coal port but rather choses to idly stand by in silence and claim to “support the community”. Not good enough!
As I see it, the third ethical conflict of interest is his investment in Casinos. Now in all fairness Clairvest is a spousal rrsp and is a group of four funds. Unfortunately the disclosure document does not specify which of the three Clairvest Funds, all affiliated with Wellington Financial, the Hoggs have invested in. The Clairvest Funds from Wellington Financial hold significant positions in the following casinos… The Grey Eagle Casino outside of Calgary, The Casino Marino Del Sol in Chile, Casino New Brunswick, Midwest Gaming in Des Plaines Illinois, New Centaur Gaming in Indiana and Meadowlands Racetrack and Casino in New Jersey. I always found it curious that when nearly 500 citizens showed up at the Pink Palace on King George to oppose the Casino in South Surrey that our MLA for Surrey-White Rock was not there. I wonder why the other politicians in the community including the Mayors of White Rock and Surrey as well as MP Hiebert weren’t there either.
Ethics and conflict of interests are interesting topics aren’t they? A commonly used definition of conflict of interest is “A conflict of interest is a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgment or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest.” When Hogg’s colleague, BC Liberal MLA and Cabinet Minister Ralph Sultan courageously admits, “I personally acknowledge some of the extraordinarily dumb things we’ve [BC Liberals] done that I’m not proud of”,I can’t help but wonder what some of those things might be and if perhaps they include conflicts of interest? I guess we don’t know what we don’t know, do we?
In response to a request for comment MLA Hogg states, “The Commissioner is required by legislation to review this statement and make determinations with respect to any conflicts. These statements are then made public. The Commissioner has determined that I am in compliance.” Well they may be good enough for the Commissioner however I wonder if they are good enough for the citizens of White Rock and the Court of Public Opinion? From my perspective, I can’t imagine how a sitting MLA can hold shares in toxic thermal coal generating plants, money-laundering casinos and natural gas, all issues that he is dealing with as an MLA, and not be in a position of potential breach of conflict of interest? If what Hogg claims is true, that the Commissioner has determined that Hogg is in compliance then we need a new Conflict of Interest Act. In fact in reviewing the act I realize how empty it is. You can drive a coal train through the loopholes. It is a joke to even say we have a Conflict of Interest Act. The legislation needs to be amended to protect the public from their MLAs engaging in potential acts of ethical Conflicts of Interest rather than what we have now which is an act that sets meaningless standards and enables the wrong behavior.
I know that voting in any election is a very personal experience. It is up to everyone to show up and vote their conscious. For me when I judge the actions of our politicians I have become much more focused on where people put their money than what they say. Often the two are very different…and each and every time, by following the money, people will reveal their true colors.
If there is one thing that I know for certain it is that money can lead to some bad decisions and greedily chasing even more money can lead to the worse kind of decisions of all. To my way of thinking, I believe that it is important that the decision being made in the legislature are about what is best for the citizens of BC and not what is best for wealth of individual MLAs. I love BC and I believe in BC! As I see it we cannot continue to allow the individual wealth creation of a few elite individuals in positions of power who say one thing and do another to dilute and distract BC from becoming all that it should be and could be.
IN MY OPINION
Ross Buchanan is an independent journalist who focuses on grassroots issues in the community. Ross is not a member of any political party nor does he have any financial conflicts of interest regarding this article. The facts are the facts. Ross’s commitment is to purge the culture of concealment by revealing the truth so that people have the benefit of full disclosure of the facts on which to make their own personal judgments.
Please note that for the purpose of this Citizens Review the information was obtained in Dec. 2012 and the Financial Disclosure Statement was dated August 23, 2012. This is the most recent information that is available. MLA Financial Disclosure Statements are public documents.
Unfit For Office?
QMI Agency photo
How ironic that today I am still asking myself the question that the Simon Fraser University newspaper, The Peak, asked in their headline of May 11, 1989. The front-page headline asked “Unfit For Office?”. Christy Clark had just won the election to become the President of Simon Fraser University’s student society. Fourteen years ago the Student Union voided the results and the Christygate Scandal led to the now Premier of BC leaving university.
So here we are 14 years later and I wonder if much has really changed. In the words of Mark Twain, “Actions speak louder than words” and I am very concerned about the actions that we have seen from Christy Clark. It was recently reported in the Vancouver Sun that with her child and a reporter in her car Clark knowingly and purposely drove through a Red Light in violation of the British Columbia Highway Traffic Act.
Perhaps it is because I live in South Surrey where we have just seen the devastating death of five members of a family as a result of another driver blowing through a Red Light. I am shocked and deeply disappointed by the behavior of Christy Clark. I am left to wonder about her ability to make good judgments.
ICBC, led by the Premier’s cabinet colleague Mary Polak, tells us that up to 60% of all crashes happen at intersections and that blowing red lights is one of the primary reasons. Clark’s cabinet colleague Shirley Bond, the Solicitor General for the province states that as a result of Red Light Runners that "In B.C. there are almost 230 crashes at intersections every day. Many of these leave families having to deal with injuries or the loss of a loved one. "
The recent revelation that the Premier is a habitual Red Light Runner leaves me shaking my head. The evidence of her habituality to this risky behavior that endangers others is found in the very revealing words of her child who said, “You always do that.”
Red Light Running is on the increase across North America and those that do it once, tend to have a high likelihood of becoming repeat and habitual offenders. Typically the offender does it until something awful happens. Something awful like the crash that recently killed five people from one family at the intersection of 176th street and 32nd avenue in Surrey. In the US, Red Light Running is the #1 Leading Cause of urban crashes according to the Institute for Highway Safety. Every year in the USA over 200,000 injuries and over 800 deaths occur from Red Light Running. More people are injured in crashes caused by Red Light Running than any other crash type. This behavior is so disrespectful of others and causes all kinds of horrors for the victims and their families.
Running Red Lights is breaking the law. So if the supposed “leader” does it what is the message? And it isn’t just about Red Lights. One of the keys to Leadership is to model the way. In the words of Gandhi, Leaders, true Leaders need to “be the change we expect of others.” By breaking the law what is the message that the “leader” is sending to others about the rule of law in BC? Is it any surprise that there is such a disregard for the law in BC? No matter what the “Red Light” is; selling drugs, breaking into homes, shooting people…well it must be okay because the Premier breaks the law and then jokes about it.
In my opinion, for Christy Clark to run a red light with a reporter in her car, in the middle of an election, wasn't the brightest move in the world and leaves me wondering about her Leadership Talent and her Judgement to do the right thing. I wonder what other red lights she has ignored in her life? Is this demonstrated disrespect for the lives of others and the laws of the land something that we want in our premier?
To me this is not just about running the red light. It is much more. If we judge her by her behavior I wonder to what degree this is symptomatic of other questionable, dysfunctional and self-limiting behavior.
In the Vancouver Sun article the reporter Johnathan Fowlie quotes the child as asking Clark, “Mom, why haven’t you done any political debates?” A few days earlier Clark had refused to attend the debate in her very own riding. Her answer? “Um, because there haven’t been any yet.” This clearly is not true. This is a false statement to her child. There had been a debate in her riding which she did not attend. The organizers were there. The other candidates were there. The citizens from the riding were there. Clark was a “no show”. The question in my mind is why would she lie to her son? And if she will lie to her son about something like this I wonder what else she is not telling the truth about?
Clark consistently puts her family and her child front and centre and often references her experience as a working single mom. Her child is put on display in what I believe is an effort by Clark to differentiate her from the childless Dix. Her child has been at the leadership convention, at election campaign rallies and seldom does she speak without playing the single mom card and tells a story about her child. Quite frankly, I wonder how healthy this can be for the child? I wonder how he feels about it?
So back to the red light. Here is how the Vancouver Sun reported the conversation between Clark and her child.
“Let’s see you go through this red light,” Hamish challenged as they pulled up that morning, at 5:15 a.m., to an abandoned Vancouver intersection.
“I might. Don’t test me,” Clark replies.
“Yeah. Go ahead.”
“There’s no one.”
“Would you go through? You shouldn’t because that would be breaking the law,” she says.
And with that the car has already sailed underneath the stale red stoplight and through the empty intersection.
“You always do that,” says Hamish.
To me the most telling part of this story may not be about lying to her child, it may not be about intentionally driving through the red light, it may not be her attempt to laugh it off when she was asked about it, it may not be the fact that it leaves me wondering about her Leadership Talent or her ability to make objective judgments on behalf of the people of this province. No, to me the most telling part of this story are the words of her child.
“You always do that,”
Fourteen years after being found “unfit for office” having cheated to win and being forced to step down as the President of the Simon Fraser Student Union I am wondering if anything has really changed. I am left with the same question. Is she fit for office? The good thing about Democracy is that on May 14th we all have the opportunity to make that judgment.
In My Opinion - Ross Buchanan
Ross Buchanan is an independent journalist who focuses on grassroots issues in the community. Ross is not a member of any political party nor does he have any financial conflicts of interest regarding this article
Editor's Note - Laila Yuile in her column today identifies a court case involving Premier Clark and her driving that was quietly settle out of court this week.