The Week: Island Health takeover for public safety, and Horner’s negative campaign

The Week: Island Health takeover for public safety, and Horner’s negative campaign

Is a storm brewing, or is this the light at the end of the tunnell?  /  George Le Masurier photo
By George Le Masurier

This week, Island Health took the rare step to assume operational control of the Comox Valley Seniors Village, a privately-owned long-term care facility. Island Health has only taken this dramatic action twice in the past 15 years.

Then, later this week, there was more new. The Hospital Employees’ Union went public with its demands that Island Health take over another seniors care home in Nanaimo. And Island Health revealed that it has ongoing multiple investigations at both the Nanaimo Seniors Village and the Selkirk Seniors Village in Victoria.

There is a common thread here: All three of these facilities are owned by the same private company through a complex arrangement.

The Comox Valley Seniors Village was opened in 2009 by the Canadian company, Retirement Concepts, which was later sold to Anbang, a Chinese insurance company in 2017. Anbang purchased 31 Canadian long-term care facilities through a Canadian holding company, called Cedar Tree. The purchase included seven care homes on Vancouver Island and 24 others in BC, Alberta and Quebec.

But Cedar Tree doesn’t run the facilities. It contracts out the management of all its Anbang holdings to a company called Pacific Reach.

And, as if this wasn’t confusing enough, Pacific Reach is owned by the former owner of Retirement Concepts. Full circle.

According to a report in the Victoria Times-Colonist this week, a spokesperson for Pacific Reach blames the problems at all three Seniors Village facilities under investigation on industry-wide labour shortages. Jennie Deneka told the newspaper that the company can’t find enough workers.

It’s true. Adequate staffing has been a consistent problem at the CV Seniors Village, and it is one of the main complaints that family members have been relentlessly sending to Island Health for more than six months.

But what Deneka doesn’t say publicly is why the labour shortage affects her company’s facilities more seriously than other care home operators. One probable reason: Comox Valley Seniors Village reportedly pays about $2 to $4 per hour less than other local care homes, such as Glacier View Lodge and The Views at St. Joseph.

But there are other problems at CVSV that have caused workers to quit. In the last year, the facility introduced unpopular shift changes. It essentially fired all its employees and made them reapply for their shifts, although workers were allowed to keep their seniority. For these and other assorted reasons, CVSV staff went on strike last fall to press for better working conditions and more equitable compensation.

It’s just natural that when trained or experienced staff are in short supply, those who pay the least will suffer the most.

I was checking the city’s online building permits recently — something only a retired newspaper person would do — and noticed that Golden Life hadn’t yet received a building permit for the 120 new long-term care beds and six new hospice units awarded them by Island Health. Golden Life, the Canadian company building new beds on Cliffe Avenue in Courtenay, operates 10 seniors facilities in BC and three in Alberta.

That caught my attention because Island Health promised the beds would open in 2020.

The City of Courtenay told me that Golden Life had just applied for a permit the previous day, eventhough on Sept.16, City Council approved a development permit with variances for the project, which goes by the name Courtenay Oceanfront Developments Ltd.

In general, the development permit deals with form and character elements of the project such as building location, materials, landscaping and access locations.

The building permit, which comes later, ensures the technical elements of the building meet the building code. It also approves site servicing including sanitary sewer, water, and stormwater management. This is also the stage where off-site works such as the intersection upgrade get reviewed and approved.

It’s likely that this building permit approval process could take a month or two because this is a large building requiring multiple complex servicing approvals.

So, if Golden Life doesn’t get started until January, will they still make the 2020 deadline? Stay tuned.

If you live in the Courtenay-Alberni federal riding and spend any time on Facebook, you might have noticed that Conservative Byron Horner is running an extremely negative campaign against incumbent NDP MP Gord Johns.

In one recent ad, Horner says “Johns could not deliver $1 of discretionary spending for our region,” and “The reality is Mr. Johns has no decision-making authority on any federal spending.”

The first part is simply untrue. Johns’ work on behalf of Canadian veterans, for one example, will certainly benefit the Comox Valley area, which is home to many active and retired military people.

And if the second part of Horner’s attack is true, then it will be doubly true for him. The reality is that Canada might elect a minority Liberal government, and the NDP is most likely to hold the balance of power.

And speaking of negatives, what exactly did Byron Horner do when he worked for Merrill Lynch in New York as his online bio states? Did he work there in the 2000s when companies like Merrill sold toxic mortgage instruments that took down the global economy? He doesn’t say. But this is something that Horner should clarify for voters.



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The Week: CVRD pledges $750,000 to watershed; trouble in the town

The Week: CVRD pledges $750,000 to watershed; trouble in the town

George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

This was a busy week around the world and at home. A teenager crossed the Atlantic to admonish world leaders for not recognizing they have led us into a climate catastrophe, which set off a week of climate activism. The US House plans to impeach President Trump. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh came out the winner in Trudeau’s blackface head-shaker.

And back at home, our cadre of reporters and informats have, perhaps, inched us closer to understanding why Comox Council bounced their long-time CAO. It gets real interesting.

But first, how about we start off with some good news.

At its most recent meeting, the Comox Valley Water Committee unanimously agreed to contribute $750,000 toward the purchase of 226 acres of wetlands and riparian areas in the Comox Lake Watershed.

That’s a major positive step toward protecting the drinking water supply for more than 45,000 residents — and growing — of the Comox Valley.

The Comox Lake Watershed has been used for industrial resource extraction since the 1870’s when these unceded lands within the K’omoks First Nation Territory were transferred to Robert Dunsmuir as part of the E and N land Grant. Logging and Mining have shaped the landscape and climate change is now rearing its head as a real threat to water quality and quantity in the watershed.

The protection of sub watersheds and intact forested riparian areas has been identified in the Comox Lake Watershed Protection Plan as a way to abate risk and treat the cause not the symptoms of water quality issues in the Valley’s drinking water supply. Issues that have led to the need for a $110 million for a water treatment plant.

The water committee committed funds for this effort in response to a request from the Cumberland Forest Society, which has already, on its own, purchased and protected with conservation covenants 270 acres of forest lands. It is currently in negotiations with Hancock Timber Resource Group for another 226 acres that surround Perseverance Creek, all the way from Allen Lake to Comox Lake Road.

The Cumberland Forest Society had already secured approximately 50 percent of the funds it expects to need for the purchase. The recent financial commitment positions the society to enter final negotiations.

This purchase will contribute to a total of 1,200 connected acres under protection, or soon to be under protection, within the south end of the Comox Lake Watershed. That’s a great start to protecting this important watershed.
There is widespread community support for this effort and now our elected officials have demonstrated the political will to get it done. Congratulations to them.

Since our last report about the how and why Comox Council fired Chief Administrative Officer Richard Kanigan, several people close to the situation have phoned and written Decafnation with unsolicited new information. And two of these sources might provide some insight into what’s going on inside town hall.

Their information raises the question whether the mayor and council have had a good grasp of what’s going on beneath the surface.

First, a person has told Decafnation that before Kanigan got the boot, a woman employed by the town had made a complaint. We don’t know the substance of the complaint or who made it, nor do we know that it has any direct connection to Kanigan’s departure. We don’t know the status of this complaint or whether it has been dealt with.

All that we do know is that former Executive Coordinator Twyla Slonski suddenly left her job this summer and resurfaced as the deputy city clerk in Port Alberni.

Second, it seems our reporting last week about low morale among some town employees hit a nerve in the public works department. According to a town employee, 10 other employees have quit the department due to what they felt was management by intimidation.

Our source says all the top brass at the town had been told about the situation and that it was considered serious enough that at one point the town brought in a grief counsellor.

When a new public works manager recently came on board, he listened to employees and suspended the foreman at the center of the allegations. But due to a lack of documentation, the union requested his reinstatement, and he was brought back for a couple of days. But, according to our source, the foreman then left the job again quickly. Employees were told that he’s “on leave.”

We report this incident only to point out that another legal case could be brewing against the town, and that situations involving employees may not have been dealt with swiftly and decisively. And, apparently this isn’t the fault of administrators alone.

In fact, our source says, a public works employee had a conversation with a town councillor about the matter and later a letter was sent to the mayor and council. The source says neither the mayor or any council members have replied.

Add these incidents to the big lawsuit over stormwater pollution and erosion and the implications of the town’s mishandling of the Mack Laing trust agreement and a picture starts to develop.

As a commentor on last week’s report observed, if the mayor and council are at odds with their CAO, and incidents within the town start to make them look bad, it won’t be the elected officials who take the fall.



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Why did Comox boot its CAO? No shortage of speculation around town

Why did Comox boot its CAO? No shortage of speculation around town

Some things are just not acceptable anymore  /  George Le Masurier photo
By George Le Masurier

This article has been updated to correct when Cumberland parted ways with its CAO.

In a special Town of Comox Council meeting this week, councillors voted to dump their long-time chief administrative officer, Richard Kanigan. But rumours are that the vote wasn’t unanimous.

Council members aren’t answering questions about the firing, but there has been plenty of speculation around town and no shortage of issues behind that gossip.

Some believe town staff morale has been at an all-time low ever since the town tried to break up union employees with a two-tiered wage proposal in 2017. The town brought in an out-of-town hired-gun to force the issue and employees responded with a unanimous strike vote and multiple flash mobs waving signs of discontent.

More recently, there are whispers about an alleged suspension and demotion of a public works manager who reportedly hasn’t returned to work. There may be formal grievances to settle in that case.

It’s also interesting that Kanigan’s Executive Coordinator Twyla Slonski quit her job abruptly this summer and resurfaced on July 31 as the new deputy city clerk in Port Alberni.

And then there’s the multiple legal actions that have run up some whopping legal bills for taxpayers.

The town faces a $250,000 lawsuit in BC Supreme Court over erosion and pollution of Golf Creek that could have been avoided a few years ago for about $25,000. And the town’s legal costs for the protracted saga over how the town has mishandled the Mack Laing trust agreement may be north of $100,000.

Or, there could be completely different reasons for Kanigan’s departure.

One thing is for sure: Municipal CAO positions in the Comox Valley have been a revolving door recently. Cumberland parted ways with its CAO in July. Comox Valley Regional District hired new CAO Russell Dyson in 2017 after Debra Oakman retired. Courtenay CAO Dave Allen now has the longest tenure of all his local peers. He was hired in 2013.

Judging by the diversity of reactions to the revelation that Justin Trudeau wore black and brown faces while dressing up in costumes, his indiscretion may not affect the outcome of the current federal election. In the heat of a political battle, people in all political parties can find the justification they need to overlook their favoured candidates’ flaws.

But nobody feels sorry for Trudeau. Dressing up in costumes wasn’t uncommon in the 1990s, and is still popular among some. But adding the blackface is a genuine disappointment for a prime minister who has carefully built his brand around diversity, reconciliation and tolerance.

Of note, in the late 1980s a prominent group of Comox Valley professionals performed a Supremes lip sync song wearing blackface at a private party. Wanna bet they’re hoping no photos of that will ever surface?

The bus accident on a logging road near Bamfield that killed two University of Victoria students led most newscasts this week. And Premier John Horgan promised to fix the road.

CBC Radio did a whole program on the topic of whether we need to pave or otherwise improve well-used logging roads around the province. But to the surprise of the show’s producers, not many of the call-in listeners were sympathetic.

Acknowledging the tragedy of the Bamfield accident, listeners pointed out that other fatal accidents had also occurred recently, most of them on paved and well-maintained roads. For example, within days of the Bamfield accident a crash on Highway 19 north of Campbell River killed two Washington state people.

Many of the show’s  listeners called in to say drivers must take responsibility when traveling on roads of any description, and that each stretch of road requires unique precautions.

Driving a large highway coach bus loaded with passengers on a twisting, narrow gravel road on a dark and rainy night was not a responsible act, some callers said. Nor was it okay to put university students on that bus at that time.

The unintentional question the program left in many listener’s minds was this: Should taxpayers fund the paving of these roads because people wanting to reach remote locations are ill-informed and poorly equipped? And would paving, which allows people to drive faster, just create tragic accidents of a different sort?

Many US colleges and universities now offer free tuition. The state of New Mexico announced this week that it would waive tuition at all of its public colleges and universities for residents, regardless of family income. Cornell University’s medical school also said this week that students who qualify for financial aid would receive free tuition. They aren’t the first to do so.

It’s a trend to relieve students from the burden of crushing debt. Something many European nations did a long time ago. Will Canadian colleges and universities follow suit?



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Conservative Horner snubs climate all-candidates forum

Recent youth-led climate strikes in the Comox Valley indicate that climate change has become an issue in the federal election, but Conservative Byron Horner has declined an invitation to participate in an Oct. 4 candidates forum on the topic

The Week: Courtenay Liberals without candidate days into the Oct. 21 federal election

The Week: Courtenay Liberals without candidate days into the Oct. 21 federal election

It’s nearly the end of the season for this grove of banana trees on the Comox peninsula  /  George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

UPDATE: The Liberal Party just announced their candidate at 2.48 pm today. See the story here.

Three days into the federal election campaign and the Liberal Party in the Courtenay-Alberni riding still has not chosen a candidate.

Last week, riding President Ken Richardson told Decafnation that he expected to announce their candidate early this week. But this week has come and gone. And the federal Liberals did not have a candidate as of this morning.

It’s not like they didn’t know a federal election writ would drop this fall. Everybody knew that and the other three main parties — Conservatives, NDP and the Greens — had candidates ready and already campaigning.

So, what’s going on with the federal Liberal Party?

Maybe nobody is stepping up in the riding that most people think will be a battle between incumbent Gord Johns of the NDP and Byron Horner of the Conservatives.

Or, maybe there’s a backroom deal in the works.

There’s enough ideological overlap between the provincial Liberals and the Federal Conservatives to engender suspicions of a deal. The Liberals promise not to run a federal candidate so as not to take votes from the Conservatives, giving Horner a better chance against Johns and the NDP. In turn, the Conservatives promise not to run a candidate in the next provincial election, giving the eventual BC Liberal candidate a better chance against Ronna Rae-Leonard — who only squeaked into office by a handful of votes.

But that’s delving a little too deep into conspiracy theories. Or is it? What is the alternative reason for the federal Liberals to lag so far behind?

The CBC won’t host a federal election debate focused on climate change, but a group of Comox Valley organizations have planned one for the Courtenay-Alberni riding.

The candidates forum to talk about the climate crisis and what our role is to fix it is being sponsored by the Comox Valley Conservation Partnership, Comox Valley Youth Environmental Action, Cumberland Community Forest Society, Dogwood, K’omoks First Nation, Project Watershed, Unitarian Fellowship and World Community.

(Full disclosure, I will be moderating the event)

The debate is scheduled for 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm on Friday, Oct. 4 at the Florence Filberg Centre – Upper Conference Hall located at 411 Anderton Ave Courtenay.

Comox resident Ken McDonald warns people not to let their dogs drink water from Brooklyn Creek. He sent Decafnation a photo of the creek this week. Here’s what McDonald says:

“You will notice that the water is “sudsy.” It gets that way during a first-flush (rainfalls after a dry period). I didn’t take a water quality sample of Brooklyn Creek (just Golf creek to gather evidence), but I know that when the creek looks like that, it is very contaminated, usually with large concentrations of fecal contamination and heavy metals.

“I warned some folks walking their dogs along Brooklyn Creek to not let the dogs drink the water when it is sudsy. Most were shocked, upset and disgusted. And people wonder why the salmon population is declining. If human beings had to continually swim in the filth that they generate, our population would be declining as well.”

Speaking of water quality … who monitors the water quality at the Comox Valley’s public swimming beaches? Not Island Health. They decided to stop monitoring — if they ever did — our Valey’s beaches and shift that responsibility onto local Comox Valley governments.

Except Island Health forgot to tell the municipalities.

When Decafnation contacted them, neither Cumberland, Comox, Courtenay or the regional district knew anything about the change. But other municipalities did. Saanich, for example, is already monitoring beaches in their jurisdiction.

Maybe Island Health doesn’t think swimmers here have any cause for concern. Looking at their website, it doesn’t appear that water quality at places like Kye Bay, Goose Spit and Comox Lake have ever been monitoring. At least we couldn’t find any data.

But when most of our creeks and streams carry contaminants into the estuary, Comox Harbour and Baynes Sound, maybe we should be monitor ocean water quality. Most of the whole area has been permanently closed to shellfish harvesting, so the water quality can’t be that good.



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Blood-sucking insects, will they spoil our west coast paradise?

Blood-sucking insects, will they spoil our west coast paradise?

Is the horse about to leave barn?  /  Beauty, who used to live on Torrene Road  /  George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

There are more than 100 trillion mosquitoes cruising around the planet, including swarm annoying folks who live around the Black Creek salt marsh, and all of them are looking to suck your blood.

This week, some residents around Miracle Beach and the salt marsh, told CBC News they were “prisoners in their own homes” and that it was “like an apocalypse.”

One woman said, “We also have cancer-causing [mosquito repellant] that we’re spraying on our children in mass quantities,” she said.

Decafnation isn’t convinced of the wisdom of that, but after reading author Timothy C. Winegard’s description in a New York Times article of what a mosquito actually does, extreme measures don’t seem out of line.

“She gently lands on your ankle and inserts two serrated mandible cutting blades and saws into your skin, while two other retractors open a passage for the proboscis. With this straw she sucks your blood, while a sixth needle pumps in saliva that contains an anticoagulant that prevents blood from clotting. This shortens her feeding time, lessening the likelihood that you splat her across your ankle.”


If you’re lucky, all the mosquito leaves behind is an itchy bump. If you’re not, the little bugger could have infected you with malaria, West Nile, Zika, dengue or Yellow Fever, and you could be dead. Winegard says mosquitoes kill 700,000 people every year and may have killed half of the 108 billion humans who have ever lived.

The Miracle Beach folks are getting a taste of mosquito nastiness that refugees from eastern Canada have endured for centuries.

One of the great things about living on the west coast has always been the absence of insects, especially the blood-sucking kind. But changing climate conditions have encouraged mosquitoes — and probably other species as well — to seek out the O blood types (their favorite) of Canadians chillin’ on the coast.

Welcome to our new reality.

When Comox Valley kids return to classrooms in September, schools are supposed to know who has been immunized and who hasn’t. The province’s new Vaccination Status Reporting Regulation went into effect July 1.

Under the new immunization registry requirements, all parents and guardians must submit their children’s vaccination records before they can enter public schools.

Recent outbreaks of measles in BC should remind us that deadly viruses never completely disappear.

Measles was declared eradicated in 2000. But there has been increasing numbers of confirmed cases recently. The resurgence of a disease that not long ago was killing nearly half a million people annually around the world, stresses the importance to remain vigilant about vaccinations.

In particular, parents must continue to immunize their children.

Health experts estimate that immunizations have prevented more than 103 million cases of contagious diseases in the last 100 years. Vaccines eliminated smallpox, which killed more than 500 million people. Before the whooping cough vaccine was created in 1940, more than 10,000 people were dying every year from the disease in North America.
Parents who don’t immunize their children are gambling on more than their own child’s risk of contracting highly communicable diseases. They are putting others at risk, too, including children medically ineligible for immunization and cancer patients on chemotherapy.

Mike Fournier, a former Fifth Street sports shop owner and one of the driving forces behind the original Comox Valley Search and Rescue team, has contacted Decafnation with an update on the mysterious disappearance of a hiker in Strathcona Park back in 1977. Two weeks ago, we posted a story about that strange occurrence of events and said that the hiker, Duane Bressler, was never found.

But it turns out we didn’t look deep enough into the old Comox District Free Press archives. Fournier contacted us to say the Bressler’s body was eventually found, more than a year after he disappeared. Some hikers in the area of Mt. Septimus and Green Lake provided a tip that led the SAR team to the steep cliffs between Price Creek and Green Lake.

You can read the story here.




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Conservative Horner snubs climate all-candidates forum

Recent youth-led climate strikes in the Comox Valley indicate that climate change has become an issue in the federal election, but Conservative Byron Horner has declined an invitation to participate in an Oct. 4 candidates forum on the topic

Woodstock icon living in Comox, 3L developers defeated, and public wants bold action

Woodstock icon living in Comox, 3L developers defeated, and public wants bold action

It wasn’t Woodstock, but the Comox Valley Renaissance Faires in the 1970s came close  /  George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

This week we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the “Aquarian Exposition” informally known as the Woodstock festival. Over three days, more than 400,00 people came together for peace and created a definitive moment in popular music and an apex of the counterculture and anti-Vietnam War movement.

But did you know the iconic image of the biggest rock festival of all time features a Comox Valley resident?

Jessie Kerr, of Comox, says she is the young woman in rose-colored glasses and a flowered dress that she had made herself and wrapped up in a blanket with a man on the morning after rain turned the festival site into a mudslide.

The photo, by Burk Uzzle, appears on the cover of the album Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack and More and has illustrated numerous article and documentaries of the event.

CBC radio interviewed Kerr Thursday morning — Aug. 15, 1969 was the first day of the festival — because a New York couple, Nick and Bobbi Ercoline, have claimed for years that they are the people in the photograph, not Kerr. The New York Times, Time magazine and other media outlets have written about the Ercolines, who have basked in their mini-celebrity status.

Kerr said she never wanted the fame that might have come from being recognized as the person in the famous photograph, but she wants the record set straight. It’s just a little annoying, she said, that another person is claiming to be her.

The Cumberland Wild music festival might not attract as many people, but the spirit of music-infused community will live on in the village starting today and running through to midnight on Sunday.

The BC Supreme Court has called out 3L Developments for their unfounded allegations and their several attempts to bend a community-supported document (the Regional Growth Strategy) through lawsuits. The court said none of 3L’s allegations were proven, including the claim of a racist comment they said was made by Area C Director Edwin Grieve.

This should put an end to 3L’s attempts to build a 1,000 house subdivision in the triangle between the Puntledge and Browns rivers. But it probably won’t be the last we hear from the development company or its principal, David Dutcyvich.

Dutcyvich may still try to develop the property in large, multi-acre lots that could be allowed under current zoning. But that might not be profitable, and 3L could try to sell the land or just hold it as an investment and try again down the road.

But he will undoubtedly continue to deny access to Stotan Falls, the popular summer swimming site, through his property, which he has every right to do. But doing so won’t win him any support from the court of public opinion.

Dutcyvich’s company created a contentious and litigious relationship with the Comox Valley Regional District, and made itself an easy target in the process.

BC Ferries hasn’t made many Comox Valley friends either, despite their good intentions.

The diesel-pwered ferry from Buckley Bay to Denman Island has run afoul.The plastic sheathing on the underwater cables is breaking off and polluting Baynes Sound. Some of the plastic is washing up on nearby beaches, but a lot more is probably staying in the water where it will break down into micro beads and poison marine life.

Climate Change Quiz: Who said this?

“Failure to adequately transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy — by either political or business leaders — will further erode public trust in the institutions that underpin our society.”

A) The Sierra Club
B) David Suzuki
C) Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada

If you guessed “C,” you’re probably an accountant because who else would figure this staid group to join the climate emergency movement?

But our nation’s CPAs have submitted recommendations to the House of Commons this week for overhauling the federal tax system to address the business issues of climate change. They say the current system “isn’t up to the job.”

“If Canada’s economy is to become cleaner and low-carbon, digital and data-driven, and more globally integrated and competitive, Canada’s tax system is not up to the job,” CPA Canada said this week.

According to a national survey conducted by Abacus Data in July, the Canadian public supports bold actions to combat climate change that go far beyond what all levels of government are willing to undertake.

“My main takeaway from this national opinion survey … is that the public is ahead of our politics. A large share of Canadians is already deeply worried about the climate crisis, and they are increasingly ready for bold and ambitious actions,” said Seth Klein, a former director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives — BC Office, who commissioned the survey.

The survey results show that 75 percent of Canadians are worried about climate change, and 42 percent think it’s an emergency. Almost half were ready for an immediate shift to 100 percent clean energy sources and another 37 percent agreed with the shift but didn’t think getting to 100 percent clean energy was possible in the short term.

Most importantly, the survey showed that up to 84 percent of Canadians would support bolder legislative or other government actions to reduce carbon emissions.

Klein said the survey counters the typical reasons given by elected officials for not moving more quickly from fossil fuels to clean energy sources. Politicians typically justify non-actions because it would be “political suicide,” a notion the survey results appear to debunk.




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