Pipeline approval shows Trudeau is no visionary

Pipeline approval shows Trudeau is no visionary

When Prime Minister Trudeau stepped in front of the media yesterday to announce the decision to approve the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline, he personally owned it. Trudeau didn’t send out some sacrificial cabinet minister. Give him credit for that.

But Trudeau also now owns the consequences of this decision, and that doesn’t bode well for his political future. He’s created derision among members of his own party, broken his promises on climate and environmental leadership, and undercut his pledge to respect the rights of Indigenous peoples.

By rejecting the Northern Gateway pipeline through the Great Bear Rainforest to Kitimat, and approving the Kinder Morgan proposal, Trudeau said he tried to balance economic benefits for Alberta — a province suffering from the collapse of world oil prices — with the potential for an environmental disaster in British Columbia.

In other words, in order to prop up the struggling Alberta oil industry, Trudeau is willing to throw out Canada’s commitment at the Paris Climate Agreement and risk a catastrophic oil spill that could devastate the B.C. and Washington state coastlines.

The Kinder Morgan pipeline triples the capacity to move dirty Alberta oil to the B.C. coast, and increases oil tanker traffic from five ships per month to 34. That increases the inevitability of an oil spill sevenfold.

But the disastrous effects of an oil tanker accident on the B.C. and Puget Sound is only the short-term negatives of Trudeau’s decision.

Climate scientists have concluded that most of the world’s fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. If we have any chance of limiting global warming, the study says 80 percent of the world’s coal reserves, 50 percent of gas and at least 33 percent of oil must not be touched through 2050.

The tar sands — let’s not sanitize the name — produce especially dirty oil. Extracting the tar-like bitumen from Alberta soil burns more energy than it produces. It’s an energy-intensive process that pollutes rivers and turns large swaths of the province into wasteland. The tar sands generate the largest portion of Canada’s carbon emissions.

Canada cannot fulfill its commitments to the Paris climate accord while fueling ramped up production in the tar sands.

One of the most critical insights of the Paris agreement was to nudge societies toward accepting the concept of a warming planet and adapting to that reality. Trudeau’s Liberal Party had an opportunity to embrace that idea, however painful it might be to Alberta, and find alternate means of supporting their economy.

Instead, the prime minister has revealed that he’s not the visionary leader that many Canadians expected.

Trump fact-less claims cause problems for journalists

Trump fact-less claims cause problems for journalists

In the era of modern journalism, reporters have operated on a few professional standards — like detachment and objectivity — and some ethical values — like fairness and balance.

But what’s a reporter to do when she’s assigned to cover a potentially dangerous narcissistic provocateur whose rhetoric goes beyond the pale of truth and decency? A person who might, when asked fact-based tough questions, ban the reporter from press conference or eliminate access to the entire staff of a major newspaper.

This is the dilemma confronting journalists covering Donald Drumpf. The most unusual U.S. presidential campaign in history has caused journalists to question their standards and ethical values, and to change the way they traditionally cover the news.

And that, in turn, has rankled Drumpf’s defenders. Right-wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh says, “The media is trying to take Donald Drumpf out.”

In a weekend column, Ottawa Citizen journalist Robert Sibley argues the media unfairly covered Donald Drumpf’s speech accepting the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. He compares the headlines after Drumpf’s speech to those after Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech and concludes there is a liberal bias in mainstream media.

Sibley stops short of suggesting a left-wing media conspiracy to defeat Drumpf, though he considers it. Instead, he says: “What we’re getting here is the complacent, monolithic mind of progressivist ideology.”

In other words, Sibley says there was no organized effort against Drumpf. It’s just that mainstream media are controlled by progressive minds. And only by “removing their blinkers” could they have reported Drumpf’s speech fairly.

Sibley draws his conclusions from the fact that Clinton’s speech got more favourable headline treatment. This is because, he says, liberal bias dictates that the only legitimate message is a positive message, and he specifically notes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “sunny ways.”

But despite the conservative blinders that shade the premise of Sibley’s column, he has exposed the heart of a problem facing journalists assigned to the Drumpf campaign.

How should journalists cover a presidential candidate who espouses racist and misogynist views, who praises dictators and urges anti-American countries to hack into his opponent’s computer? How does a reporter cover a nominee who ridicules a disabled reporter or the family of a U.S. soldier killed in action, disparages Mexicans as rapists and all Muslims as terrorists, and exhibits a fascination about the use of nuclear weapons?

When the source is irrational, does the coverage have to be balanced?

Sometimes there is only one side to a story. If a candidate says rape is bad, for example, there is no moral or professional obligation to find someone who believes rape is good.

Drumpf’s views on multiple issues have deviated so far beyond what is considered legitimate controversy, much less consensus, that journalists have changed their approach toward the concept of balance. The growing number of Republicans who have openly criticized or completely abandoned Drumpf gives this change legitimacy.

No reporter would seek out a balancing quote from someone who claims, as Drumpf did after the killing spree at an Orlando nightclub, that President Barack Obama was responsible. No reporter writing about veterans would quote someone who believes that POWs are losers because they were captured.

Since Drumpf’s nomination became official, his views have been taken seriously and analyzed in the context of the possibility that his finger could hover over the button that starts a nuclear war. That might seem unfair to Drumpf supporters, but responsible journalists must report how Drumpf is likely to behave in the Oval Office.

The Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) calls this journalistic dilemma “A Murrow Moment,” referring to the landmark report in 1954 by CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow that condemned the bullying tactics of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy used the fear of communism during the height of the Cold War to cast insinuations on people he didn’t like, and ruin their lives.

Murrow departed from traditional journalism when he concluded his McCarthy report this way: “He didn’t create this situation of fear, he merely exploited it, and rather successfully … This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.”

Murrow decided that McCarthy’s views had become dangerous, the CJR said, and that not speaking out against them made him complicit.

Critical and analytical reporting of the Drumpf campaign does not reveal a bias within the news media, or a conspiracy to treat him unfairly, or a means to promote his opponent. It represents the burden of journalists to tell readers the truth with facts that can withstand current and historical scrutiny.

Not as green as we think we are

Not as green as we think we are

Before Victorians and other west coast residents start congratulating ourselves for producing fewer greenhouse gases per household than most other Canadians, we should pause to acknowledge that this environmental fame may be fleeting. Because if Premier Christy Clark gets her way, British Columbia is headed in the opposite direction.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia studied the greenhouse gas emissions from households in 17 cities across Canada. The study examined data about consumption of gas, electricity and natural gas and other social and environmental factors that affect energy use, such as weather, population density and family size.

The study showed that households in Montreal generated the least amount of greenhouse gases per year, primarily due to the dominance of hydroelectric power. Vancouver ranked second. Victoria was studied but could not be ranked because of missing data on the use of natural gas, but was assumed to be slightly better than Vancouver.

Based on current provincial policies, our time at the top won’t last long.

The Clark government’s energy policy (designed in 2003 by former premier Gordon Campbell) has bankrupted B.C. Hydro, which has forced our electric rates to soar by double-digit increases. High electric rates encourage people to burn more natural gas. We should be doing the opposite.

Meanwhile, Clark promotes expansion of the liquid natural gas (LNG) industry to export to countries that don’t need any more gas, and a $10 billion Site C dam project to produce more hydroelectric energy that British Columbians don’t need.

It should be obvious by now that the Site C dam will power the fracked natural gas and LNG industry that wants to sell power to foreign markets. The B.C. Liberals are selling this sham even though the global economic drivers — China, U.S. Germany — are furiously abandoning fossil fuels for clean technologies.

The Site C dam amounts to an obscene taxpayer subsidy for the fossil fuel industry.

And it doesn’t get much better in Ottawa. Despite his campaign promises and his grandstand at the world Paris climate conference, Prime Justin Trudeau seems to have lost his courage to lead Canada away from fossil fuels.

Last week, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans approved permits for the Site C dam. Before that, the Environment and Climate Change ministry ignored widespread opposition — from the City of West Vancouver, among others — and approved the Woodfibre LNG project in Squamish.

So much for the concept behind Trudeau statement that “governments grant permits, communities grant permission.”

And where is the influence of Canada’s first aboriginal Justice Minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould? The Site C dam would destroy traditional hunting and fishing grounds of the Treaty 8 First Nations along with fertile farmland and adversely affect wildlife and wetlands. Wilson-Raybould has said the Site C dam would violate treaty rights.

The Clark government’s support of the fossil fuel industry are clear. The Trudeau federal government’s position is just confusing.

So, before Victorians, Vancouverites, west coasters and other Canadians break out the champagne to celebrate how green we are, we should open our eyes to where our ‘liberal’ leaders are taking us.

Shakesides: Comox erases lively murals

Shakesides: Comox erases lively murals

With the popular summer festivals coming up this weekend in Comox — Filberg Festival and Nautical Days — the town likes to get all gussied up. Plants watered and weeded. Streets swept and lines repainted. Lawns mowed, and so on.

But this annual beautification apparently doesn’t extend to a building the mayor and council want to tear down. Maybe they want it to look as bad as possible?

Since June 10th, a volunteer local artist spent more than 18 hours painting realistic murals on the plywood boards covering the doors and windows of noted ornithologist Hamilton Mack Laing’s former home, called Shakesides, which he left to the Town of Comox after his death in 1982. (See gallery below)

The local artist was asked to do the mural work by Gordon Olson, a friend of Laing and an advocate for saving the noted naturalist’s house. The town plans to demolish it.

The artist painted the window panels to look like real windows, with curtains and artifacts visible in the panes. It made the house look alive, like it might have looked when Laing lived there. The colorful murals made the abandoned building more interesting and attractive.

Many of the murals have been there for over a month.

But Wednesday morning, the town parks staff was ordered to remove the murals by turning the plywood panels around or painting over them. What were momentarily works of art are once again knotty pieces of plywood.

Apparently nobody at the town had noticed the murals until Tuesday. And only then because, ironically, Olson was touring a heritage building consultant from the respected Vancouver firm AMCE Building Services Co. through the house.

They ran a noisy gas generator to power floodlights. That attracted someone’s attention who emailed the town and other nearby residents like Terry Chester that someone was in the Laing house.

But Olson had permission from the town to conduct the heritage evaluation, which includes an analysis of Laing’s importance and other factors as well as a physical examination of the building. The consultant then writes a statement of significance (SOS).

Olson hopes the SOS will recommend that Heritage B.C. bestow heritage status on Shakesides. If it does, then there’s a possibility of obtaining money for the house’s restoration from the B.C. Heritage Legacy Fund.

According to Olson, the attention created by the heritage evaluation caused a “firestorm” of phone calls and emails from town officials, and led to the awareness of the murals. Chester said he and at least three other people complained to the town.

The complaints resulted in the directive to turn the panels around. Parks staff was also told to remove the Canadian flag that Olson had flown on the building.

Now, unwanted graffiti is a nuisance and the bane of every property owner. Painting anything without the owner’s permission is vandalism. So the town had every right and, arguably, good cause to erase the artwork.

Except that, in this case, the murals made the building look better. Doing something creative and in tune with the building’s history isn’t the same as tagging, spray painting profanity or drawing obscene pictures.

Curiously, the town has ignored actual graffiti spray painted on other parts of Mack Laing Nature Park; tags on bridges and trees have been there for months. Last February, someone painted a four-letter word on the panel covering the front window. Despite being notified, the town left the graffiti in place. A neighbor eventually painted over the obscenity.

Even if the town gets its way, the building won’t come down for a long time, maybe years, as the case winds it way through the courts. So, what’s the harm of injecting some life into the home of one of the town’s most famous, and generous residents?

Town councillors probably wouldn’t have given permission to paint murals on Shakesides, but once they were up, why take them down? From the town’s view, it’s an abandoned building slated for demolition. Let it go out with some dignity.

Olson believes the town doesn’t want the building to look good, or to be improved in any way. That might cause more people to visit the house and then take an interest in saving Shakesides.

I asked Comox Mayor Paul Ives about the murals yesterday. He said they were removed because “they were done without a permit, to my understanding.” And later, “Staff have acted in response to concerns raised about non-permitted use of this property by third parties.”

But when pressed on whether he personally ordered the removal, or had any communication with staff about the issue, Ives said, “I have no further comment in this matter.”

Town CAO Richard Kanigan did not respond to my email.

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The IRS won’t stop me from voting for Hillary

The IRS won’t stop me from voting for Hillary

After watching the Republican and Democratic party conventions this week, I’m glad that I haven’t given up my right to vote in U.S. federal elections. This election is too important for the whole world.

But, in the last six years, many American citizens living abroad gave up their right to vote in order to avoid filing U.S. tax returns. That’s unfortunate because every vote counts, especially in close races.

In 2010, President Obama signed into law the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FACTA). It’s a requirement for U.S. citizens living abroad to file yearly reports on their non-U.S. financial accounts. The intent was to impede tax cheats and money launderers, and apprehend them.

Law abiding, ordinary middle-income Americans living abroad were never the target of FACTA. It was aimed at wealthy people who hide untaxed earnings in offshore accounts. But it caused considerable inconvenience for every citizen living outside the country, and for some an extra expense.

For that reason, many Americans living in Canada gave up their U.S. citizenship. And with it, their right to vote.

I moved to Canada in 1973 and continue to maintain my dual citizenship. It’s not fun, or easy, to file a U.S. tax return every year. It’s easier to hire a professional accountant to do the work, but not everyone living abroad can afford to do that.

The alternative — revoking my U.S. citizenship and my right to vote — has never appealed to me. A democracy depends on citizen engagement. Of all the avenues open to individuals in a free society to influence the direction of their government, voting is the most important.

Congress has often rectified the unintended consequences of legislation to unburden innocent victims. I hope it will create such a safe harbor from FACTA reporting.

But I’m not holding my breath. Three years ago, the current U.S. Supreme Court ripped a key provision from the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which had banned voter suppression tactics used against the poor and mostly African-Americans in the South. That has recently encouraged conservative states to pass new laws that discourage people from voting.

Because most U.S. citizens living abroad lean Democratic, a Republican-controlled Congress may keep FACTA in place.

In the meantime, I’m not sitting out the 2016 U.S. federal elections. I’m registered to vote in Pierce County, Washington, and can’t wait to mark my ballot for Hillary Clinton and my friend U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer.

The stakes are too high this time. Not only is there a clear choice between Hillary and Drumpf on the issues, and on mental stability, but the next president will also shape the U.S. Supreme Court for future generations.

Either Hillary or Drumpf will nominate at least one and probably two new justices, and so determine the future of money and politics (whether Citizens United stands), the reach of the Voting Rights Act, civil rights (LGBTQ issues), women’s reproductive freedom, religious liberty (Hobby Lobby, etc.), defining the Second Amendment in relation to gun violence, and other important issues.

After listening to speeches at both conventions, I’m more convinced than ever that retaining my right to vote was the correct choice.

George Le Masurier, a Comox Valley resident, has lived in Canada since 1973. He is a citizen of both the U.S. and Canada and has faithfully filed his U.S. tax returns.

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