How Alberta’s oil industry co-opted Canada

How Alberta’s oil industry co-opted Canada

Former Alberta Liberal Party leader Kevin Taft will discuss his new book in Courtenay on Sept. 13, telling the story of how the collision between climate change and the oil industry subverted the democratic process in Canada

 

Former Alberta Liberal Party leaders and author Kevin Taft will talk about his latest book, “Oil’s Deep State,” at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13 at the Lower Native Sons Hall in Courtenay. The event will be moderated by Campbell River filmmaker and journalist Damien Gillis.

Most Canadians believe — or want to believe — in a direct connection between casting their ballot in provincial and federal elections and the democratic process. We like to think that checking a box every four years or so determines our nation’s policies and our future.

But as Kevin Taft’s new book, “Oil’s Deep State’” reveals this isn’t necessarily so.

There are darker and deeper forces at work that, left unchecked, can have a greater influence over our political, civil service and regulatory institutions at all levels of government.

Taft writes from the perspective of an insider. He was the Alberta Liberal Party leader from 2001 to 2012, and formed the official opposition from 2004 to 2008.

His book tells the story of the collision between global warming and Canada’s oil industry and how democracy got squeezed in the middle.

And more specifically, Taft details how the Alberta NDP party, which was elected in 2015 on promises of challenging the oil industry’s dominance in the province, became the oil sands biggest promoter.

The flip-flop by Alberta’s NDP occured, Taft says, because of the “deep state” created by the powerful oil and gas industry.

Damien Gillis, a Campbell River documentary filmmaker, who will introduce Taft during his book tour stop in Courtenay on Sept. 13, says that a “deep state” occurs when political parties, government agencies, arm’s length regulators and university researchers lose their independence.

Gillis, who also co-founded the Common Sense Canadian with former Social Credit party cabinet minister Rafe Mair, says that Taft’s book charts Alberta politics from premiers Peter Lougheed through Ralph Klein, and exposes how the oil industry has co-opted Alberta’s public institutions into believing its economy is dependent on oil field royalties.

According to Taft, here’s what happened: The world became aware in the 1980s of the impact of fossil fuels on global warming and other climate changes. The oil industry feared its collapse and began a fierce lobbying campaign to save themselves.

Their efforts convinced the Stephen Harper government to pull out of the Kyoto Accord on climate change, and federal scientists were silenced, not unlike how US President Trump is now reshaping that country’s Environmental Protection Agency.

Federal Liberals and the Alberta NDP joined the oil sands bandwagon. The Alberta energy regulator was an ex oil executive and millions of tax dollars flowed to universities to rebut fossil fuels impact on climate change and create the notion that the province’s economy depended on a healthy oil industry.

In the end, the Canadian oil industry gained virtual oversight of the political mindset in Alberta and in the federal government.

And yet, Taft says, Alberta gets more revenue from gaming and liquor than oil sands revenue.

“Alberta’s oil industry is not indispensable to its or Canada’s economy,” Gillis says. “Just as BC is not dependent on forestry stumpage fees or fishing tonnage fees.”

But the public does have tools to combat a deep state when it forms, according to Gillis.

“Even when when big oil had everything lined up — a Harper majority, BC Liberals, Alberta conservatives — the public has power through the constitution, the courts, grassroots movements and First Nations support,” Gillis said.

Following Taft’s presentation in Courtenay, Gillis will moderate a question and answer period with the author.

 

24 new care and respite beds opened at St. Joe’s

24 new care and respite beds opened at St. Joe’s

St. Joseph’s has transformed the third floor of its former acute care hospital into a temporary but attractive long-term care facility, until Island Health can build a promised 150 new beds in the Comox Valley. The announcement of contracts on the new beds has been delayed

 

An almost brand new long-term care facility will open in the Comox Valley this week. Island Health is moving 21 patients who are currently in acute care beds at the Comox Valley Hospital to Mountain View, the renamed and completely renovated third floor of the former St. Joseph’s General Hospital.

The move, which begins on Wednesday, Sept. 5, is necessary because patients needing an alternate level of care have contributed to chronic over-capacity at the one-year-old Comox Valley Hospital (CVH).

A facility planned and budgeted for 129 admitted patients has been overcapacity since it opened last October, reaching as high as 178 patients, roughly 40 of those are patients who no longer need acute care but have nowhere to go given the Comox Valley’s critical shortage of long-term care beds.

Island Health has promised up to 150 new long-term care beds for the Valley, but has yet to award contracts for them.

The Request For Proposal said contracts would be awarded on Aug. 31, but an Island Health spokesperson has told Decafnation that the health authority hasn’t finished evaluating all the proposals. It’s now expected the contracts will be awarded later this fall.

In the meantime, Michael Aikins, Administrative Officer of The Views at St. Joseph’s, said reopening and renovating space in the former hospital for the 21 patients and three respite beds has created a flurry of activity.

St. Joseph’s has had just a few weeks to transform the medical/surgical third floor into a secure and comfortable long-term care facility.

“We’re doing everything we can to create a home-like environment for our new residents,” he said. “This will be their new home, and we want to make it a good one.”

St. Joseph’s has purchased new furniture and 32-inch televisions for each room, taken out walls, repainted everything, brought in a piano and a pool table and built custom cabinetry.

The former Intensive Care Unit was gutted and turned into a bright dining area. Other room have been opened up and combined into an activity area, a bistro and a lounge that features a wall of windows facing south overlooking Baynes Sound and the Beaufort Mountains.

The contract to reopen St. Joseph’s for long-term care is only for three years, until facilities to house the promised 150 new beds can be constructed. But Aikins said St. Joseph’s is doing “everything we can” to make it a first-class facility.

“We recognize that this will be their new home,” he said. “For some, it will be their last home, so we’re trying to make it special.”

The three-year contract will create approximately 35 new jobs in nursing, housekeeping and other services.

The St. Joseph’s kitchen, located in the basement of the 100-year-old hospital building currently serves more than 100 residents of The Views and the four hospice beds. It will also provide meals for the new Mountain View residents.

 

 

 

Brennan Day takes on public spending, housing and open government

Brennan Day takes on public spending, housing and open government

Courtenay City Council candidate Brennan Day believes that with good planning, the Comox Valley can grow without without losing its charm or small town feel. He would improve infrastructure, housing affordability and promote greater City Council transparency and better communication

 

Brennan Day believes the silent majority is under-represented on the Courtenay City Council, but that’s not the only reason he’s running for office this year.

He wants to make housing more affordable, properly plan for population growth, ensure the city spends its money wisely, improve infrastructure and create more transparency in local government.

As a 25-year resident who was raised in the Comox Valley, Day understands the desire to maintain the small town characteristics that people love. He just doesn’t see that as mutually exclusive with what he regards as inevitable growth.

“We can’t pretend the Valley won’t continue to grow,” he said. “If we do, and bury our heads in the sand, we’ll get sprawl. But if we plan for growth, we can improve infrastructure so that the community still feels small.”

Day and his wife, a former Denman Island resident, and their one-year-old child moved back to the Valley in 2016, after spending the previous 10 years living and working in Kazakhstan. He worked as a manager for Arctic Group International, which specializes in services for Kazakhstan’s oil and gas industry.

Day currently works for Hyland Precast in Cumberland.

FURTHER READING: Who is running for municipal office this year, go to our Elections 2018 page.

The Valley’s infrastructure lags behind neighboring communities like Campbell River, according to Day, because we’re not recognized as an urban center and split into smaller municipal populations.

“This should concern everyone, because we’re missing out on federal and provincial funding as a result,” he said. “We don’t get a proportional return on our taxes.”

Day isn’t promoting amalgamation, but he sees considerable savings in consolidating services such as fire departments and parks.

“I believe City Council has to be responsible with tax dollars,” he said. “We’re currently overspending for the services we get. Consolidating services could be a transitional step to lowering the tax burden.”

Describing himself as a moderate fiscal conservative, which he believes mirrors the majority of Courtenay residents, Day disagreed with the City Council’s recent decision to hire more employees, because the process was flawed.

“Their methodology was okay, acceptable,” he said. “But there was no attempt to look at spending accounts first.”

With a windfall surplus, he said City Council “seemed desperate to spend it rather than cut taxes.” Had council looked harder at expense accounts, Day says he might have approved the hirings.

The candidate points to the aging Fifth Street bridge as an example of the city’s failure to plan for infrastructure improvement.

“That bridge is about 30 years past its life cycle, and we’re going to have to replace it,” he said. “What are we going to do when it no longer passes safety inspections?”

Day believes a third crossing of the Courtenay River will eventually be needed, but says the city should work with the province to make improvements to the 17th Street bridge first.

While City Council has to consider all available options, he thinks a new bridge at 21st St. that would close the Courtenay Airpark should be the lowest priority.

And the city could avoid miscommunications with citizens like the Courtenay Airpark Association if the council was more transparent. He calls the council’s communication efforts “terrible.”

Day would advocate for more robust minutes that show how each council member voted in all decisions, not just those motions that fail.

“If elected, I would publicize a position piece on every vote I cast,” he said. “People should know why council members voted the way they did.”

And he would restrict in-camera sessions because they “don’t give the public confidence.”

Day would also support efforts to make housing more affordable in the city, including allowing carriage houses and suites without going through an amendment process, and other easy steps to densify the urban core.

“These things can get us to the goal quicker,” he said. “And they have a smaller impact than putting up high rise buildings.”

Day would also promote creating more industrial development land, which he says is in short supply.

“Industrial land is scattered around and about half of it is covered by mini-storage operations,” he said. “If it doesn’t exist, where are the new jobs going to go?”

 

Wendy Morin would bring a social consciousness to city

Wendy Morin would bring a social consciousness to city

Wendy Morin, a substance abuse counsellor with the John Howard Society and a co-founder of the Comox Valley Girls Group, is running for Courtenay City Council. She would focus on housing, social issues and the environment

 

A founding resident of Courtenay’s Tin Town live-work neighborhood hopes to bring her social consciousness and long-time connection with Comox Valley youth to the City Council.

Wendy Morin, a lifelong resident of the Valley, will launch her campaign at 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 9 outside of the Tin Town Cafe.

The youth and family substance use counsellor at the John Howard Society believes voters will find her 20-year experience in advocacy, collaboration, creative problem-solving and relationship-building an asset to the council.

Morin, who thought about running in 2010 and again in 2014, thinks the current City Council has made good progress in her primary areas of interest: social issues, the environment and affordable housing.

“But we’re losing some of them now,” she said.

Bob Wells, David Frisch and Erik Eriksson are running for mayor and at least two will lose their council seats. Rebecca Lennox, the lone woman on council, is retiring, a fact that Morin laments.

“When we have more women on council, we’re better represented,” she said.

Morin is the co-creator of the Comox Valley Girls Group, which has provided training for young women, from age 12 through 21, about how to deal with societal pressures and learn skills for healthy living.

The program operates under the umbrella of the Comox Valley Transition Society. During its 20 years, Morin estimates that more than 400 young women have been helped to navigate their way through the challenge of adolescence.

She hopes to engage more young people in municipal affairs through council outreach initiatives, as well as those who are marginalized through social inequality and feel disempowered.

“I want to help create a city that’s livable for everybody,” she said. “A city where nobody is left out of decision-making.”

But she also has views on a variety of specific issues.

Housing

Morin worries that the Valley has become unaffordable for young families. She supports diverse housing options that include promoting secondary suites, carriage houses, tiny homes and urban infill with incentives for developers.

She supports transitional and supportive housing.

She would like to use her council platform to promote neighborhood hubs “whether that’s a community school or center, cafes or coffee shops, parks or farmers markets.”

Morin opposes the 3L Developments proposal to build a new 740-house community near Stotan Falls because it’s a contravention of a core tenet of the Regional Growth Strategy to have sustainable long-term growth and infrastructure.

“And it (3L’s Riverwood proposal) would just abandon a plan (the RGS) that’s not that old,” she said. “Water, sewer and road infrastructure is just going to come back to the city eventually, and cost us more.”

Environment

Morin is the first and, so far, only candidate that supports the elimination of plastic bags. She would recommend more opportunities for community food gardens, green building and protections for forests, riparian areas and estuaries.

Economy

Attracting innovative businesses and clean industries tops Morin’s list of economic development objectives.

She supports adopting a social procurement policy similar to Cumberland’s to “offset taxation and improve the social wellbeing of the community.”

Transportation

Morin supports alternative modes of transportation to slow down growing traffic congestion and make it easier for those who cannot drive vehicles.

She opposes a bridge at 21st Street that “made no sense.”

Morin says the Courtenay Airpark “seems to be valuable,” because it supports economic development, tourism and health care. She knows of nurses who travel to remote places.

“I respect the Official Community Plan process,” she said. “I would support continuing to implement it, no abandon it.”

The city’s OCP states council’s support for the airpark, its commitment to protect it and encourage it to expand.

Social planning

Morin would advocate for a social planning position at the city. The position would coordinate the activities of an existing volunteer committee to improve the social health of the city, and offset hidden costs to taxpayers.

“If we improve food security, housing and access to health services, we benefit from economic spin-off and cost savings,” she said.

 

City abandons 21st Street bridge, airpark leases still contentious

City abandons 21st Street bridge, airpark leases still contentious

PHOTO: Andreas Ruttkiewicz and student pilot land an ultralight at the Courtenay Airpark. Ruttkiewicz runs the Air Speed High Ultralight flight school at the airpark.

Courtenay abandons 21st Street river crossing thanks to Mayor Jangula, but city staff and council temporarily ground his proposal to give long-term certainly to airpark business owners at Monday’s meeting 

 

This article was expanded Tuesday (Aug. 21) morning to add a response from the Airpark Association suggesting that Councillor Lennox made an erroneous statement regarding the airpark’s tax status.

Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula took a conciliatory approach Monday night to concerns raised by members of the Airpark Association and successfully landed a unanimous agreement from council to abandon all discussions of a third river crossing at 21st Street.

But his attempt to address the larger issue of the airpark’s long-term viability crashed on takeoff.

A city proposal for a road through the airpark leading to a bridge through Hollyhock Marsh, and staff comments that all airpark leases would be converted to a month-to-month basis, has angered Courtenay Airpark Association members and aviation business owners.

FURTHER READING: Courtenay mayor fails to assuage airpark  closure fearsCourtenay airpark touts its economic, lifestyle benefits; Battle brewing over city’s transportation master plan; City bridge proposal would harm airpark, Kus-kus-sum

They see the two issues as an attempt by the city to shut down the airpark.

Jangula tried to calm the airpark association’s fears last week, but his comments fell short.

This week, Jangula stepped down from the mayor’s chair to clarify his position with a motion that City Council officially abandon all consideration of a bridge at 21st Street. It passed unanimously.

Then Jangula tackled the bigger issue and proposed that the city offer the Airpark Association and aviation businesses 25-40 year leases on the city-owned property.

That got applause from the standing-room only audience, but less support from city staff and several council members.

Chief Administrative Officer David Allen derailed Jangula’s intentions to give the airpark immediate long-term assurances by suggesting council wait for city staff to do a report on the viability of offering long-term leases.

Councillor Doug Hillian made a motion to direct staff to do such a report, preferably by the Sept. 4 meeting, which passed, but not without some hesitation by councillors David Frisch, Rebecca Lennox and Hillian.

Hillian said council has “a responsibility to consider the implications of long-term use of city-owned properties.”

Frisch and Lennox seemed more reluctant in their comments. At one point, Lennox even referenced the Airpark Associations “tax-free status,” which is an erroneous statement, according to association president Morris Perrey.

“She is totally wrong,” Perrey said. “The businesses pay land taxes and lease fees and all the fees that every business pays, all the city insurance costs, everything and the city still gets their fees.”

Perrey said because the Airpark Association is a society and not supposed to pay taxes, the city charges the association fees in lieu, which have increased about 15 percent in the last five years.

Earlier in the meeting, Frisch appeared opposed to taking a 21st Street bridge off the table, although he ultimately voted in favor.

“We still have to move people around,” he said, referring to growing traffic congestion around the 17th St. and Fifth St. bridges.

CAO Allen said one of city staff’s strategic priorities for 2016-2018 is to assess city-owned land, and they have already identified several properties to start the review. He said it would be a “long and rigorous” process, and that discussions have already taken place in-camera.

Besides Jangula, two other council members, Bob Wells and Hillian, apologized to Airpark Association members.

Hillian called the public document showing a bridge through the airpark a ”mistake.”

Wells apologized for “the angst, stress and uncertainty we’ve put people through.”

He said the city acted without full consideration of how the 21st Street crossing proposal impacted the aviation community.

CAO Allen said the bridge proposal was never expected to be a fait accompli, and a staff member said the idea arose from the public consultation process about the city’s transportation plan.

That staff member termed the consultation process a “success” because it got the strong reaction from the Airpark Association. That comment caused eye-rolling murmurs among the audience.

Finally, Jangula made a motion to break from the agenda and let Airpark Association spokesman Dave Mellin speak and respond to the council discussion so far. That required a two-thirds vote, which it received, with Lennox and Frisch opposing it.

Referring to the uncertainty of short-term leases, Mellin said jobs and job security were on the line. Up to 90 people are employed at the airpark, depending on the season.

He said several business expansion plans have been stalled by council’s lack of clarity, and that five-year leases are of no value to the aviation businesses seeking long-term security.

“People are hanging out on a limb here,” he said.