Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Pipeline Obstruction - Equals - Oil Sands Moratorium

Moratorium on oilsands development NOW, why? Regardless of what scientists say, regardless of the risk to humanity, regardless of whether Canada produces oil or not; fossil fuels will be used for a long time to come. If Canada stopped oilsands production tomorrow, other producers will fill the gap in supply, producers of ill repute – Nigeria, Venezuela – and then there are the geopolitical realities with transferring production to producers who challenge us in the world, Iran, for example.  It is naïve in the extreme and grossly irresponsible to suggest Canada should forgo the economic benefit of the Oilsands in the first place and to forfeit the means by which to finance transition in the second.

We all realize that there is a need to begin the transition away from fossil fuels, we need to draw on our natural strength in fossil fuels, to in effect, turn the situation inside out. We can set the transition time frame, we can build industry realities to suite. That is to say, if the industry is given a clear set of parameters to work with it can invest accordingly. When government, industry and interested parties understand time frames and costs, then there can be set in place the funding of transition by the wealth generated by the industry itself – industry informed can shape the transition.  Reducing Canadian production, reducing Oilsands, the largest potential contributor to Canadian oil production only serves to both damage economic prospects and weaken the transition process.

The realities of the world economy dictate the realities of global warming, the challenge is the absence of fungibility of energy source, as opposed to very marginal variances in carbon load per barrel of oil produced; the brain trust concerned about fossil fuel use would do better to direct attention to substitutes and or long-term functional use of fossil fuels, than playing politics in a space that has no response to politics. The demand for energy, in large measure, is a fixed number of BTUs, Canadian Oilsand oil can provide them, China Coal can provide them, German Coal can provide them, producers of ill repute can provide them – they will be provided by fossil fuels until a viable substitute comes. The reality is, and this fact is substantiated by market realities – there is no viable substitute at present.

Any discussion around fossil fuels, climate change and Canada, needs to have as a backdrop consideration of some important points, Canada is a responsible producer, Canada is a socially conscious producer, Canada due to its forest landscape is a massive carbon sink, Canada’s export of Natural Gas has resulted in a net carbon benefit vis a vis the reduction in world consumption of coal. Canada is a “petro” economy, enormous wealth accrues to Canadians from the fossil fuel industry –  rather than trying to stop the industry, perhaps we ought to consider a more aggressive use of mitigation on the path to transition.

Document Calling for an Oilsands Moratorium - CLICK LINK BELOW

Response to 10 Reasons  

Reason 1. Continued expansion of oil sands and similar unconventional fuels in Canada and beyond is incompatible with limiting climate warming to a level that society can handle without widespread harm. The latest analyses agree that the warming predicted to occur this century will substantially raise the risk of severe ecological and economic damage, widespread social upheaval, and human suffering (IPCC 2013) and that oil sands expansion is inconsistent with avoiding this outcome (Chan et al. 2010, McCollum et al. 2014, McGlade and Ekins 2014). To address the risks of climate change, Canada has committed to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and 2030. Continued investment in oil sands production and infrastructure is not consistent with these targets and undermines broader efforts to reduce CO2 emissions and control climate warming (Office of the Auditor General of Canada 2012, Environment Canada 2014). ‡ We need a different energy path.

We need a different energy path, granted – we need to have a path, no one to date has offered a viable path. Punishing Canada, a responsible producer offers no solution and retards access to funding for transition, because in Canada we offer access to influence over the industry – other jurisdictions fail to. What seems to be missing in the dialogue on the issue, is that “the risks of climate change” are absent relevance in managing the problem, the societal inertia related to fossil fuel use is. The fossil fuel consumption system is at such a scale and complexity that it is beyond managing absent energy fungibility at fossil fuel price parity. The entire transportation complex is an infrastructure of such mass it is nearly impossible to transition away from.

Reason 2. Oil sands should be one of the first fuel sources we avoid using as society moves to non-polluting forms of energy, not the next carbon-intensive source we exploit. We need reliable energy sources while we develop a new economy around cleaner fuels. Extracting, refining, transporting, and burning oil-sands energy produces among the most greenhouse gases of any transport fuel per unit energy delivered (Brandt 2011, Gordon et al. 2015). Expansion of oil sands production will exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution and slow the transition to cleaner energy (Unruh 2000).

It is the case that oilsands oil is more carbon intensive than other sources but, only by a small margin and now with insitu technologies, the carbon load for Oilsands fuel is falling. What is certainly the case is that the overall environmental damage from oil production is greater by the producers of ill repute. Nigeria still flares natural gas off oil wells, like Canada did in the 1950s, Venezuela puts crude oil directly on roadways. Any oil production, coal production and to a lesser degree, gas production “exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution”, the focus needs to be on managing the use of fossil fuels until the solution to their safe use is found or until a substitute is found.

Natural Gas Carbon Emissions Nearly Half Coal

The actual mining operations are only taking less than 1% of the area of Alberta, this is a tiny footprint relative to the economic benefit the oilsands generates. When one contemplates the footprint of the overall transportation complex, for example, the oilsands is dwarfed.

To call for a moratorium on the oilsands is unfair to Canada when the preferential environmental performance of the Canadian oil industry relative all other producers is clear and the incremental increase in carbon for oilsands oil is small and shrinking.

Reason 3. Current oil sands environmental protections and baseline data are largely lacking, and protections that exist are too seldom enforced. In Canada, there are few controls and no uniform standards regarding pollution and other impacts from oil sands mining. Water quality monitoring by the Canadian government and industry was poor until recently, so there is little baseline knowledge to evaluate impacts on terrestrial and aquatic life (Environment Canada 2010, Royal Society of Canada 2010, Dillon et al. 2011, RAMP 2011, Jordaan 2012, Kirk et al. 2014). § In some cases, the enforcement of existing regulations (such as 2009 Bill 74 that would eliminate liquid tailings) is formally postponed (Energy Resources Conservation Board 2013). Actual rates of development on the ground exceed stated conservation targets (Komers and Stanojevic 2013, Government of Alberta 2012). ** Too often, the development of the oil sands is presented as inevitable, while protections for human health and the environment are treated as optional.

The primary jurisdiction in Canada for oilsands production is Alberta, so uniformity of regulation is less than relevant. You state Canadian water quality monitoring is poor, compared to where. The people living proximally to the oilsands development are in the main very healthy people. There are health challenges with the first nations peoples in the area, some attribute their health challenges to water; it is unclear to me whether health challenges are a product of the ambient environmental reality or industrial activity; the solution is clear enough – improve living standards and bring drinking water and food sources up to standard. The oilsands economic contribution effects a degree of prosperity in the area that exceeds the national average; there are many in the first nations that are benefitting.  To say that “protections for human health and the environment are treated as optional” in Canada simply is unsupported by the facts, in Canada generally and in the area immediate to the oilsands.

Reason 4. Contaminants from oil sands development permeate the land, water and air of the Canadian boreal landscape, and many of these impacts are difficult to mitigate. Independent studies have demonstrated that mining and processing Albertan oil sands releases carcinogenic and toxic pollutants (e.g., heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic compounds) to the atmosphere from smoke stacks and evaporation, and to groundwater from leaching of tailings ponds. This pollution harms terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and the species within them (Pollet and Bendell-Young 2000, Gurney et al. 2005, Nero et al. 2006, Gentes et al. 2007, Kelly et al. 2009, Kelly et al. 2010, Landis et al. 2012, Rooney et al. 2012, Kurek et al. 2013, Andrishak and Hicks 2011, Hebert et al. 2013, Galarneau et al. 2014, Parajulee and Wania 2014, Schindler 2014, Schwalb et al. 2015).

The Canadian boreal landscape is a sweeping description, assuming some carriage from the oilsands, perhaps 2% of the Alberta “landscape” would be exposed to air “contaminants”. The industry does come with downsides, we all realize, it is a question of degree in all cases. The area of operation is remote, industrial practices manage risk to workers effectively. The wildlife in the immediate area are sure to be affected, in managing biodiversity the question is “do we have a healthy representative population on which to secure the ongoing health of any given population” – clearly, the answer here is yes. The area is generally capable of managing the impacts that emanate from oilsands production. Is there some room for improvement, there is, and there has been an improvement.

Reason 5. Less than 0.2% of the area affected by Canadian oil sands mining has been reclaimed, and none restored to its original state (Government of Alberta 2014). The oil sands industry’s claim—widely seen in industry advertisements—that its mine sites can be restored to their former natural state is not true. Indeed, the claim is at odds with the industry’s own reclamation plans filed with the Alberta government (Rooney et al. 2012). Recently published studies find that intensive disturbances associated with oil sands mining change fundamental biological processes, making it impossible to fully restore the affected wetlands, peatlands, and boreal forest, now or in the future (Foote 2012, Johnson and Miyanishi 2008). Conversion of the boreal forest alongside other disturbances from oil sands development has led to the decline of federally threatened species such as bison and woodland caribou and important subsistence food species such as moose in addition to the ecosystem-wide effects addressed in Reason 4 (Gates et al. 1992, Dyer et al. 2001, McLoughlin et al. 2003, Sorensen et al. 2008, Morgan and Powell 2009, Boutin et al. 2012, Stewart and Komers 2012). The few attempts to reclaim mined lands have produced landscapes that bear little resemblance to what was there previously and contain only a fraction of the historical biological diversity (Rooney and Bayley 2011, Rooney et al. 2012, Kovalenko et al. 2013).

It is certainly true that the mine site can be reclaimed, it is also true that the site can be improved post-mining, improved from the point of view of another human use, or improved from a wildlife habitat perspective. It is often the case that people in the environmental movement are in possession of an absolutism with respect to the functionality of nature, it is rare that anything in nature is optimum for anything, it is almost always the case humans can accentuate biological functionality. By way of example, spawning reds (the area where fish spawn) are never optimum, we know the exact water flow, size of aggregate ect. to make an ideal red, we can make that happen every time – nature rarely if ever does. There are requirements for reclamation built into regulation, it is a matter of optimizing timing in the context of operations, it may be that timing is missing at present or it may be that government needs to push companies along.

Reason 6. Development and transport of oil sands is inconsistent with the title and rights of many Aboriginal Peoples of North America. Rapid expansion of the oil sands in Canada violates or puts at risk nation-to-nation agreements with Aboriginal peoples. In Alberta, oil sands mining is contributing to the degradation and erosion of treaty and constitutionally protected rights by disrupting ecological landscapes critical to the survival of Aboriginal culture, activities, livelihoods, and lifeways (Passelac-Ross and Potes 2007, Foote 2012, ACFN). In the US, proposed infrastructure projects threaten to undermine Treaty agreements between the federal government and Native American tribes (Mufson 2012, Hart 2014). In both countries, contamination of sacred lands and waters, disruption of cultural sites, lack of consultation, and long-term effects of climate change undermine sustainable social, ecological, and economic initiatives involving Aboriginal peoples across the continent and constitute violations of Native sovereignty (Passelac-Ross and Potes 2007, Foote 2012, Mufson 2012, Hart 2014, Irvine et al. 2014, McLachlan 2014, Wohlberg 2014, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Tsleil-Wautath Nation).

To state that “development and transport of oil sands is inconsistent with the title and rights of many aboriginal peoples “ is certainly a convenient argument, convenient as it is inaccurate (at least in Canadian Jurisdiction). It must be said, the manner in which legitimate first nations interests have been hijacked by the environment movement is appalling, appalling because the first nation people’s are paying for their allegiance to the environmental movement with ongoing reduced living standards.  The aboriginal peoples in the Fort McMurry area have openly stated their support for the project, they are benefiting from it. What is in conflict with first nation interests is the pain of low resources, the oil industry can and does help. In the area proximal to the oilsands there is no encroachment on First Nation treaty rights – to assert there is, is wrong. What is violating the rights of First Nations peoples is the absence of prosperity? From the perspective of prosperity, your document’s assertions are violating First Nations right to prosperous and healthy lives.

Reason 7. What happens in North America will set a precedent for efforts to reduce carbon pollution and address climate warming elsewhere.
The choices we make about the oil sands will reverberate globally, as other countries decide whether or how to develop their own large unconventional oil deposits (Balouga 2012). Strong North American leadership is needed now, because the impacts of current decisions will be felt for decades and centuries.

The reduction of Canadian oil into the overall world oil supply will only serve to hasten the development of other heavy oil reserves elsewhere, and once again, transferring production to jurisdictions absent the regulatory constraints placed on Canadian oil producers. It is far better to keep oil production in a country where there can be input into operations by environmental interests and where the government can be “managed” in a manner that directs a portion of oil royalties toward transition. This document generally and this point specifically, fails to recognize the presence of willing buyers and willing sellers – the demand is there, it will be supplied – other heavy oil reserve ownership could care a less whether we set a good example or not, they care whether the long-term price of oil will support extraction. While the expertise and technology are in some cases transferable, the Canadian industry has an edge due to the dynamics of capital allocation and length of time under operation.  Canada is a stable jurisdiction, industry forged a favorable arrangement with government here that supported a very long-term investment in plant and technology – the early stage support of the industry effectively “stranded capital” – those plants will produce at or near a loss position now because there is no means to transfer the value of the assets to another production modalities. Other jurisdictions in the present supply/demand picture are unlikely to attempt to enter the market with heavy oil reserves. If the authors of this document have their way, all of the North American production will be curtailed, a reality that will reduce supply and drive up the price – perhaps to a point where heavy oil reserves elsewhere become viable for development.   

It is naive to believe that anything we do in North America will affect the use of oil in other jurisdictions, China is burning coal in a manner that is far below North America Standards, for example, nothing we have said or done has had China change its use of coal. What will reduce China's use of Coal is inexpensive LNG, a substitute fossil fuel the represents considerable benefit; LNG can be viewed as a viable “step” in the transition process.

Everyone in the environmental movement realizes that any solution that disadvantages one jurisdiction will fail, disadvantaging North American is the premise of this document – Kyoto failed for this very reason. 

Reason 8. Controlling carbon pollution will not derail the economy.
Most leading economists now agree that limits on carbon pollution – using mechanisms such as carbon taxes, cap-and-trade systems, or regulations – can facilitate a transition over several decades to low-emission energy without a dramatic reduction in global economic growth (Global Energy Assessment 2012, IPCC 2014, Nordhaus 2014).

The transition holds the requirement of a substitution, it is certain that over the course of several decades we can move away from fossil fuels even with our current solutions; the key, of course, is to access more dramatic solutions. You state “controlling carbon pollution will not derail the economy” which economy, real people, in real places will be derailed if not redirected. Canada’s economy is very reliant on fossil fuel if Canada is not a petrostate, it is a raw resource state with a massive petro component – Canada would incur hardship if the transition was too aggressive. Curtailing pipeline expansion, curtailing oil production will hurt Canada’s economy, and to do it now is premature for reasons stated above. One only needs to look at history and map dramatic upswings in oil prices and the resulting recessions to know that constrained supply of oil slows the economy.

Carbon taxes have no real effect on fossil fuel consumption, they offer a means by which to extract funds from carbon consumption to facilitate the transition. Cap & Trade Systems introduce offsetting industrial activity – X number of tons of carbon emitted X number of trees planted – Cap & Trade is the most viable means to manage future emissions.

 Reason 9. Debates about individual pipeline proposals underestimate the full social costs of the oil sands, and existing policies ignore cumulative impacts.
These are not simply business decisions. Responsible policies should address the interwoven, system-wide impacts of oil sands development, from mines and refineries, to pipelines, rail and tanker traffic, to impacts on economies and the global climate system. Current laws, regulations, and policies are not designed to assess cumulative impacts (Johnson and Miyanishi 2008, Office of the Auditor General of Canada 2011).†† When oil sands development is viewed as an integrated whole, the costs and benefits of individual decisions can be evaluated responsibly (Chan et al. 2014).

The challenge with assessing climate change and any given human action in relation to it, is that causation is difficult to assess, it is a challenge that is outside the perception of most of us living our lives. This reality is exacerbated by the rhetoric that is present on both sides of the debate. It is clear that we need to understand the effects of a given industry in a holistic way, and that externalities be measured and monitored. We see a global increase in temperature, we see that this will effect environmental changes – the complex of causal agents is obscured by the number and the causal agents’ global nature. The earth has been warmer than it is now in the past – they farmed in Greenland in around 1000, temperatures were at about that same point in 2006. This fact in no way negates the fact that fossil fuels represent the biggest anthropological influence on the environment and that measures need to be taken to transition away, what is unclear, however, is the degree to which human activity is changing the climate. There is room for discussion, for interpretation of events, when you approach the “climate change community” on the subject, you’re labelled a “denier”. It is this degree of “religiosity” that confounds rational assessment at any level in the process of managing the challenge. The facts are rarely assessed rationally but rather used to support one side or the other. The fervour by which oilsands are attacked is unfounded – in the context of the overall world industry – singling out the Canadian oilsands is unfair at the least, and irresponsible at worst. Please do a dependent origination analysis on Canadian oilsands oil, but do it also on all other sources of oil AND factor in social costs of oil production in other jurisdictions. When I’ve done that process to the best of my capacity, I’ve drawn the conclusion, that when the entire complex of outcomes is considered - net environmental effect, net social benefit, geopolitical consequences – the Canadian oilsands are a good and responsible producer.

Reason 10. A majority of North Americans want their leaders to address climate change, and they are willing to pay more for energy to help make that happen.
Surveys of public opinion over the last two decades have found increasing public support for effective actions to prevent climate change. An overwhelming majority of North Americans now support government action to address climate change, even when these actions result in modest increases to energy costs (Bloomberg 2014; New York Times/Stanford University 2015).       

People will support things that have limited impact on their living standards. Most people are dependent on fossil fuels for their daily lives and they notice any fluctuation in fuel costs. This document, if it were adhered to, would have no effect on consumption patterns; so the majority of North Americans are unaffected, it is the people who have planned around the oilsands industry who are being attacked. Many of the people now living prosperous lives as a result of oilsands development came from depressed economic zones, and we have waning manufacturing in other parts of Canada with resulting unemployed who need occupation. If you can attack the oilsands and reduce production; the global picture on carbon emissions will remain unchanged.  
If the contents of this document were to be actuated and a moratorium on oilsands production and related infrastructure were to take place, it would guarantee Canada loses absent any assurance that anyone else is in the game. A good many people have built their lives around the future of the oilsands, and resulting infrastructure; curtailing it will derail their economic future – it is irresponsible to advocate the contrary. The fossil fuel “debate” or efforts to alter the way fuels are consumed has been heavily influenced by the countries who are net importers of fossil fuels, they derive economic benefit from alternate energy sources being brought into play, in Canada we incur economic hardship. A moratorium of the nature suggested hurts Canada and shifts production to producers of ill repute. If oilsands are curtailed and there is reduced production; the global picture on carbon emissions will remain unchanged. A moratorium is the wrong approach in the wrong place.  

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Ajax Mine - Kamloops Have Courage & Prosper

Written In Response to Dennis Walsh's OPED in Kamloops this Week.  

The Ajax project has promise and can be managed in a positive way if we take a proactive and positive approach – that’s my assertion. The “no side” has another view, the view that holds stagnation and the willingness to let good opportunities fall by the wayside as being okay, we've have seen this many times in the past.

Mr. Walsh suggests that the 43 individuals that stated publically they support  Ajax “took it upon themselves to speak on behalf of the community”, if this is true, then it’s true the 60 odd medical personnel who published jointly against Ajax “took upon themselves to speak on behalf of the community”. I welcome people speaking on behalf of their position, as I have done.

The question as to whether the Kamloops economy is good or not has little relevance to the debate save, that despite Kamloops’ generally good and balanced economic circumstance, we as a community are grossly under performing in generating accessible good paying jobs. Many of our young people have gone elsewhere for employment, Alberta mainly, and that opportunity is waning. It is incumbent on us to provide opportunities in our region for good paying employment. In large measure the NIMBYism is coming from people who are well established, there are many young families who would benefit greatly from the employment the mine would provide. I know Mr. Walsh is sensitive to this reality; however, many in his camp are just being a little selfish.
The arguments directed to economic gloom and doom due to Kamloops being perceived as an industrial town; resulting in all the decline and fall of tourism, and somehow the University ending up less viable, are all red herrings. Visual quality issues and other externalities are readily be mitigated, providing of course, that our City leadership are as aggressive in forging a long term operating agreement with Ajax, as some are being at chasing away opportunity. I share Mr. Walsh’s concerns regarding having a healthy city. The issue of dust is wildly over stated, Kamloops has a mass of base data regarding air quality as the Ministry of Environment has been tracking air quality here more or less over the life of the pulp mill. In negotiations with interested parties the City of Kamloops can stipulate operational expectations, the key is to be in the process early, and have our interests strongly represented. As environmental concerns are valid, they are manageable – the inflammatory rhetoric deployed by some self-professed “professionals” on the “no side” has been as negligent as it has been inflated.  

Mr. Walsh’s assertion with respect to the mine arresting the utilization of South West Sector of the City is pure speculation; there is no reason to believe this would be the case. The North Shore has been expanding already, we’ve built the Halston Bridge. The assertions related to infrastructure costs and magnitude are both overstated and mischaracterized, if it were the case we needed some new infrastructure, it would occur against the back drop of an expanding tax base – as opposed to a stagnant or declining tax base – the infrastructure would be considered “spin off” and an economic stimulating event, generally considered a good thing. Further, if we develop the proper Long Term Operating agreement with Ajax and the Province, we can garner a greater portion of the $950 million directly to the city – that is where our focus should be. There is no valid economic argument against the mine, tax revenues are only a small part of the overall economic benefit.  

I commend the 43 business owners for having the courage to speak out in support of the mine. Mr. Walsh reports there are 1000 other businesses unrepresented, there may be a silent majority of those muted by concern of negative impacts on their business by the “no side’s” distain for the project and fear their business would be negatively impacted. It is valid to point out here, that it is only a small portion of the city’s population lobbying against the mine. It is as valid for Ajax to lobby on behalf of their project to the city, the no side is certainly pulling out the stops. Of course they are meeting with people to support their project, they are invested in it. To characterize this as being “a concern” is just a ploy, rather than offering valid leadership, we need less politics and more objective assessment.

The stakes are high, high for the people who want to be as fortunate as Mr. Walsh and other’s on the “no side”, people who want to have prosperous lives. Mr. Walsh states ”It’s too big. It’s too close. It’s simply too risky.”, there are valid concerns certainly that need to be managed and they can be. Tell the Kamloops diaspora about Canada consisting of our young people who have gone elsewhere for opportunity, “It’s too big, It’s Too close, It’s simply too risky”, they want to come home to a viable community. I think Mr. Walsh and others need to exercise a little fortitude in action and think a little more positively about how to extract all the benefit we can from the mine itself and in engineering an asset at the close of operations. We need a little “can do spirit”, a little adventurism and the confidence that we can manage things, we need leadership – all I am hearing from the “no side” is defeatist chit chat and scare tactics. Like everyone else, I want to make Kamloops a good place, and attractive place and a prosperous place – I am confident we can do that if we are proactive and positive.  

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Monday, June 8, 2015

Senate Restructuring - Change Required

We need good governance in Canada, we do okay, we need to do better. I am a little tired of watching the senate “scandal”, the “nit picking” and then the “public debate”.  The senator spending issue is the most colossal of red herrings, we are screaming about senator spending – when the entire senate expenditure is going toward an nebulous  mandate, at best, individual senators have “their issue” that they advocate for , or the senate becomes an undignified second to the commons, or worse of all, the senate is just a rubber stamp. The senate, as it presently stands, needs reform .I shudder at the thought of constitutional reform, firstly, it is cumbersome in the extreme, secondly, it is expensive in the extreme and thirdly, it is unnecessary.  The senate is the only means by which to practically reform the senate.  The senate has the structural clout to insist on reform from the commons, there only needs to be leadership and a direction taken. Reform needs to define function and alter functionality from selection through to governance contribution.

There should be a multi-party selection process introduced and made up of a cross section of Canadians. The goal is to person the senate with people unaffected by the highly partisan world of politics.  We need to mitigate the reality that now exists, that has the senate more or less an extension of the political process.  What is particularity pernicious about the present circumstance is that, the senate often exercises its obstructive capacities in opposition to the elected government – for the Senate to 
 be democratic, the senate can be appointed it just should never be exercising itself in breach of the Canadian Electorates desires. 
While is at the leave of the Prime Minister presently to select Senators, it is normally done with considerable consultation. It is clear in the selection of the people that partisanship is at play and the rationales for selection range from patronage to recognition for one accomplishment or another.  There is the means for the Prime Minister to put in place a selection committee, and the means once this chosen course of action is in place, for the senate to enforce the continuance of the process.  No constitutional change is needed, only that, the selection process sees to the constitutional requirement for regional representation.

In defining functionality the senate must enter into an internal process, and define its function. Having defined its function, the senate would need to institutionalize its perpetual actuation in the context of the function. An ancillary codification of some sort would be required; what form this might take would fall out of internal senate process. One imagines that a directive generated through the body offering instruction as to actuation under the defined functionality, would suffice. Over time, tradition would take hold, as has been the case hitherto, whereby, it is tradition to be consistent with the elected commons – or as termed – a rubber stamp.

The senate has the power to do this, the Prime Minister and the Commons are likely to want to co-operate to facilitate change and, perhaps most importantly, the senate can compel future governments to be congruent with change by exercising their ability to approve or disapprove legislation. What is required is Senate leadership, for people there to break with the status quo and make the changes. The senate as it now stands is offering limited contribution relative potential. Recent events have made a mockery of the institution – there should never be a point where the most “senior” house in the country is be brought up on the carpet  for discourse on expense accounts – change is required. 

For More on the Senate - Click Below

Senate Reform Needed

Recent events in the Senate have provoked me to comment. The thing I find most disconcerting about the events of late, is that in the media blitz of “scandal” has yet to produce a clear statement of culpability, who did exactly what. What is really happening is that we have taken what should be a honourable institution and through oppositional pettiness, reduced it to ruble in the eyes of the citizenry, most disturbing isn’t that I’m peeved, our young people are watching – PG 13 please. 

There seems to be a mountain of legal interpretation that has gone uncommented on. Apparently there is a fairly broad degree of “abuse” with respect to senator defining what home means. Clearly, when someone harkens from a given region and then their career takes them far and wide, they can effectively attend to the interests of their home region; regardless of whether they are “immediately resided” there or not. There is the spirit of the law and the letter of the law, we need to exercise caution as to whether “rules” preclude action or contravene the spirit of the law. Living expenses are granted so that the realities of dual housing that fall out of senate duties are covered, the durations of inhabitance of a “home” residence really has no significance; what has significance is whether honourable people have honoured the spirit of the law and their overall mandate. Rules are for people who are unable to understand their responsibility in the context of society at large, if you need rules and guidelines to run your day, you belong in an elementary school as opposed to a senate.

There is a concept in the world of assessing human actions known as “fundamental attribution error” whereby, too much weight is given to character in human action rather than environment. The environment we create for people does affect their behavior, remuneration patterns, whether we are in a confrontational setting or not and a multitude of other factors, come to play on how people conduct themselves. We have been hard on people in our assessment of recent events in the senate; perhaps we should be examining their environment to see if they are being “bumped” “out of bounds” do to poor organizational structure. There has been plenty of criticism of the senate, very little however, has been constructive.

The role of senate as the “house of sober second thought” is clearly challenged when the senate effectively functions as a rubber stamp, when the inhabitants are partisans – often the most partisan of the partisans or when it is viewed as a patronage plum – offered as a reward rather than as activation of a functionary. The functionality of the senate, as is our whole political system at times, is marred by confrontation, often dragging it into the mire of discrediting political pettiness. It is very difficult to avoid tit for tat confrontations when partisanship is at play. If we want a house of sober second though, where policy is given honest assessment at its introduction and post implementation, then we need to find a means to de-politicize the senate, to have one actuary in governance that is unscathed by concerns of their own election or another’s.  The single biggest element missing in governance is accountability, a crisp dash board on government policy and action being watched diligently on behalf of the Canadian public, yet far enough from reach that unfettered assessment and frank dialog are possible, the senate could be such a chamber.  We need only to restructure the selection criteria and processes, effect some cultural imperatives and systematize & regularize the peer review processes. As for remuneration, just give the senators a flat rate, and now they are serving a real function rationalized to the interests of the Canadian public – make it a flat rate of a million per year. Senators have honourable in front of their name, when peer review processes determines a senator is less than honourable, there should be no quarter given – they should just be gone.

Senate Solution or Solution for Senate

This comment is offered in the spirit of improvement of an awful system called democracy, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, democracy is an awful system - it is just better than all the rest. Democracy, perceived to be the most accountable form of government, has embedded in it a paradoxical obstruction to accountability.  Democracy is confrontational and competitive, in this reality lives a circumstance that prevents accountability from occurring; clean, clear, consistent, long term and thorough analysis of policy is nearly non-existent in modern government, non-existent because the reporting of this type of analysis can cost leadership its job. There is as much, perhaps more, effort spent on obfuscation than on clear communication related to predicted outcome and actual outcome. This reality is an inherent flaw in our system, this phenomena’s presence is as old as humanity itself, the good news is we can minimize it.

In business we have a “dash board” to guide use, firstly, there is always the bottom line as a gross measure of performance – there is just no hiding from that. Secondly, in business we have key metrics and accompanying indicators that we use to measure performance. We also benchmark our performance relative to the norm or our peers, indicators like market share, gross margin, internal rate of return, return on assets – a nearly endless list ratios and measures are used to ensure our decision making is taking us on the right path. The quality of a decision can only be assessed if it is measured, if you can’t measure you can’t manage it. We need a dashboard for the Canadian public, so they have an objective measure of governance; presently we have no clear dashboard or clear communication of governmental performance.  

Every piece of legislation passed into law should be accompanied with a clear statement of intended outcome, a clear set of metrics it is to function by and a clear set of indicators for the public to watch. The challenge is that governance of a country like Canada is very complex, by way of example, the effects of marginal tax changes are very subtle – any two economists, even in an objective circumstance, may make a different assessment of the effect of a marginal change in a given tax. Due to this complexity, the average Canadian, busied by family, work and hopefully a little play; is absent the capacity to assess the full breadth of the governments’ activities. Given this reality, the task needs to delegated to an entity within government that is above the fray and apart from politics.  Another paradox exists here, in order to have an unfettered flow of information to Canadians that is accurate; the entity we charge with the task of delivering this information must be isolated from the political process and the ire of the public that often finds expression in political process.  The Bank of Canada is an entity that is at arm’s length from the political process, has a clear mandate, is personned by appointment – that offers benefit to the Canadian public is very clear.  We need objective assessment of government actions, we are absent objective assessment now, and most of the time, we are absent the knowledge of whether government has done what is says it has done.

We have an appointed body now, the senate, it is espoused by government to be the “house of sober second thought”. The challenge we face is that we have loaded it will partisanship and regional concern. Within the present constitutional configuration and just by changing appointment process from the PM to a peer driven process, narrowing the mandate by agreement of parties and overtly effecting a dominate NATIONAL imperative in the mission and culture of the senate, we can transition the senate form a rubber stamp, to the monitor of government action. This would give a meaningful role for the senate to play, one that is presently painfully wanting in government.  

The House of Commons can take care of regional concerns. The senate, through peer selection can select people that “fill the regional requirement” and that hold Canada as first concern. A person from PEI can effectively address and hold concern for British Columbian interests, particularly when the mission is narrowed to the assessment of policy relative to what it was promised to do.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Rural Revitalization - Policy Matters

The heartening thing about government is that good policy does good things. The disheartening thing about government is that good policy in nearly an anomalous event. The primary causal agent in corrupting policy is that the majority of policy is generated out of a conflicted space and directed at satisfying the largest special interests with the largest cohorts – this is the curse of democracy. (Democracy is the best of a bad bunch as Winston Churchill taught us).  I have blogged extensively on how to get a good policy and the governance modalities related to good policy, I offer this statement here to make the point that, what has been missing for Rural Revitalization has been good policy.
Due to the reality that governments in Canada are dependent on “the majority” there is a triad that seems to get all the air – big government, big business and big labour – they are after all where the key votes are. The fragmentation of real majority, small business, labour of small business and the artisans only serves to exacerbate this reality. I even quake a little when I say this because I know, no matter what one does, one is affected by one element of this triad. We need the “bigs”, I’m happy to support their presence, however, when governments allow them to get the policy air, “they” satisfy their interests, and oft times that is at the expense of good policy – good policy from the perspective of maximum prosperity and concern with ancillary policy directives, perhaps the most important of which is the environment.

When entering into the process of creating policy, it is critical to build policy on the foundation of maximum benefit – rather than on influence from labour interests or corporatist pressure; this is the hall mark of good leadership. Good leadership expends effort in assessing issues or resource allocation in the context of the maximum benefit for their respective jurisdiction. It maybe the corporatist/labour interests is the highest and best use of resources - if that is the case – that is the direction to take.

Let me contrast two policy platforms to illustrate the point – homestead acts in North America mid 18th Century and Soviet Agricultural Policy.  In the mid 18th Century the US and Canadian governments offered the people of the world an extraordinary thing, the opportunity to “own” their own land. People from all over Europe endured unimaginable hardship to be landowners or fee agents – a dream they would die for and many did. The result of homestead policies was the population of remote lands by people, people got their “dream” of “freedom” – an unsuppressed life and ownership. Today, I have read accounts that in excess of 25% of the US net worth is attributable to the homestead policies of the mid 18th Century. When you give people ownership, they prosper. Contrast that if you will, with Soviet Agricultural Policy, where state collectives let potatoes rot in the field. The Chinese government did one thing, they said to farmers, the land you’re on is yours’ to use and you get the benefit of your Labour, that choice alone had yields triple in three years. When you give people ownership, they give you a collection of strong and independent people, most importantly however, they give community.

Perhaps the best illustration of this point is BC’s Forest policy, I invite you to read my blog on the subject to gain insight into the value of good policy – policy that puts resources in the hands of people with extended interest.

Click the Link Below - BC Forest Tenure Reform.

Environmentalism Reconsidered - Fish Farms Promise & Peril

First Draft - June 6

Global News Video - Petition to Halt Expansion 

As I understand the challenge with the Salmon Farms, as defined by the environmental movement, the wild stocks are being impacted by the Salmon Farms location vis-à-vis the migration route of Salmon Smolt and the location of the farms, and the resulting transfer of parasites and disease. Additionally, there has been inadvertent release of “Atlantic Salmon” into the west coast fishery, with some concern of implanting an “invasive” species.

There is a paradox at play with fish farming, at once fish farming offers the solution to the over use of wild stocks and yet the operation of fish farms comes with some reported damaging externalities. The curtailment of fish farms on the coast of British Columbia seems to negate the promise of relief of harvest of wild stocks, fish consumption is growing and will grow at a greater rate. Perhaps there is a management solution, by way of example, the facilitation of the relocation or reconfiguration of fish farming operations.

One realizes there are economics at play, fish farm operators have found the most “efficient” means to raise fish; open nets, floats and present feeding modalities generate a circumstance that answers market realities.  The question becomes, to what extent has their license to function impacted other operations – eg. Wild fish stocks. Of course there is a greater question than a mere partial budget on pounds of fish raised, there is the general stewardship of the ecosystem at play.  

What has emerged out of the debate is polarization and confrontation,  it seems in British Columbia “polarization” is never far away – as issues like this invariably become politicized. If only one could look at the issue in a pristine state and let judgment rule, the challenge of course is that at some point science ends and then it is the eye of the master that fattens the cattle – in a polarized circumstance when the science ends – well it never ends – people always find ways of distorting the numbers.  

My instincts tell me there is a way to do fish farming, and maintain and enhance wild stocks, it is my instinct that the future of wild stocks is dependent on fish farming. There are a plethora of potential solutions, from closed farming systems to deep water farming solutions. Perhaps there could be put in place a transitional process to cox the “damaging” operations to “bluer” waters. Here is what I do know, it was government indecision and consternation that let the Cod fishery fall, we can do better here.

In responding to the challenge the key is to make policy around an honest assessment of facts and respond in accord with the facts - stating the obvious it seems - it rarely happens quite this way. There is strong data to support the environmentalists in this case - or at least the "non-fish farming" perspective, the challenge I have is, I've heard the environmental movement cry wolf so often - grossly overstating risk. We need to be prepared to use our natural environment, there is through out the province example after example of projects being obstructed. There is legitimate environmentalism and there is preservation / obstruction - one worries that valid points get muted by the chronic deployment of heated rhetoric.

More Thoughts on Environmentalism Reconsidered 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Law, Legislation and Liberty - Child killer goes to the coffee shop, while innocent people incarcerated.

The only thing worse than Schoenborn getting out is the wrong person getting put away.


There are complexities associated with the administration of the BC Mental Health Act. and the federal statutes related to criminality and mental illness that tend to get lost in the emotional debate that has erupted around the dangerous offender legislation.  I agree with Mr. Moore that the prospect of a man who killed three innocent children being released is appalling, I share his view that there is a complete absence of concern for justice, survivors and the optics around the pursuit of justice peculiar to this case.  Please note however, that to the extent the system has failed the victims in this case, the system has failed those accused of mental illness in a multitude of other cases.  

In James Moore’s discourse he says, the federal government writes the law, in fact the BC Mental Health Act is written by the provincial government. What has facilitated the absence of justice in this case is the willingness for provincial bodies to permit Review Boards to do what courts should. This is a two edged sword, it permits the lax management of dangerous people AND the lax conviction of the innocent people. The BC Mental Health Act. Review Panel process is retrograde justice as it flouts common law traditions and fundamental justice. In this case it has failed in any way to bring reasonable response to a heinous event and every day the BC Mental Health Act. fails to bring the appropriate degree of Judicial Review to the apprehension,  incarceration and forced treatment of those accused of mental illness.

The BC Mental Health Act. has removed legal process from the courts and transferred it into medical institutions. The case in question utilized federal legislation that provisions for a designation of innocence due to mental illness. Once the court has deemed someone to be mentally ill they are then administered under the respective provincial mental health act. If someone is ill, the illness generates “criminal” behavior and then they are cured, the state has done its job – as the logic goes. The challenge is that “severity” is unaccounted for – it is the severity of the action in the case in question that the public is responding to and that motivated the creation Dangerous Offender Legislation.

It is fundamental in law that Standards of Review (the rigor by which the court “questions” and “supports” data) be commensurate with both criminal action and state sanction. By way of example, the court processes associated with a speeding ticket are less rigorous than court processes related to murder. It is also fundamental that there is clarity in law, that the law is sufficiently well defined that it gives clear direction to those required to administer it.
The present act fails to define severity of disease and fails to account for variance of action subsequent to disease. Section 22 of the BC Mental Health Act. can incarcerate people for the murder of three children and for spending their own money radically – that is the breath of human action a single law addresses. The present act fails to account for severity of action, if someone is accused of Bi Polar disease absent any “wrong doing” they are subject to the same or perhaps more rigorous treatment than another with the same diagnosis; depending on the judgement of the treating physical and subsequent treatment (arbitrary). 

I have written extensively on the BC Mental Health Act and the imperative for change; it was refreshing to me to witness rapid action in defense of victims. One wishes the government were as eager to come to the aid of another set of victims, those accused of mental illness that are grossly discriminated against by retro grade judicial process, process detached from the judiciary and process, as clearly demonstrated in this case, detached from reality.  The BC Mental Health Act is bad law, it breaches the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in several ways, it flouts common law traditions, it is divorced from fundamental or natural law, it is discriminatory and worse, its processes effect a state of reverse onus at the outset of The Review Panel Process. Good law tacked on top of bad law – is still bad law, the federal government needs to be as rigorous in holding British Columbia to account for bad law, as it has been in generating this new law.   

For more on this issue click the links below