Friday, February 9, 2018

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 na├»ve 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.  

Friday, December 8, 2017

Christmas Letter 2017

Another year has passed, and to quote one of Scotland’s sons, the late Keith McCoy, I’m still casting a shadow – albeit, perhaps, slightly wider. As a person matures or grows older, maturity is something I’ve never really wanted to lay claim to, one begins to wonder if they’ve contributed. I listen to CBC radio often, a man was being interviewed and he said when people have grandchildren it changes your DNA – as a grandparent, the focus seems to change from replicating DNA to making sure the DNA you’ve left behind has a safe world to live in. The task in 2018 is to attempt to ensure there is something other than blog ramblings and empty Scotch bottles in my wake; one must endeavour to add to these accomplishments a safe and rational world. The world, again this year, offers many ominous elements; it will take all our best efforts to gain an agreed course with the rest of humanity. Until a pan-world consensus is created, however, one must blog to move the needle, and medicate with Scotch to deal the incrementalism of progress.

In 1939, another of Scotland’s sons, Harry Thomson, lined up to join the Royal Canadian Navy – then he noticed the line for the Royal Canadian Airforce was shorter – so he became a pilot. I am grateful that he helped to quell the progress of fascism, I must say, however, I possess a degree of survivors gilt – my life efforts seem to pale in comparison to his. The threats to liberty now are as acute as they were when my father went to war against tyranny, the battleground, however, has changed – the war now is commercial, technological and takes place in cyberspace. There has been no Pearl Harbour or Poland; there has been an insidious progression of anti-freedom initiatives ushered in on the shirttails of one crisis after another. The price for freedom Tomas Jefferson once said, is constant vigilance; it follows then, the threat to liberty is apathy. When one peruses the political landscape, very little attention is given to the preservation and enhancement of choice, in fact, it is my observation there is a lot of effort being made to curtail choice. There is a propensity among some to excite the populous with the creation of an epic problem and then to offer the solution. One would never assert that all problems are created, nor would one ever assert that all solutions are there to manipulate the populous – but some are – the challenge is discerning which is and which is not.  The best way to discern which is and which is not, is in retrospect, once the dust settles who is better off and who is worse off.

Well, that’s politics out of the way, the next taboo – religion. My mother and her family were members of United Church, my father and his family were members of the Anglican Church. I’m a bit of a church nomad, or perhaps a hedonistic spiritualist or maybe one of those dreaded smorgasbord Christians. I have limited credentials as a theologian, perhaps more limited as a historian – be that as it may, one thing I am certain of is; the only thing worse than a world with religion is one without religion.  Neither of my parents were “religious” people or perhaps more accurately, neither were in anyway orthodox – a feature of my upbringing I am grateful for. Orthodoxy is the enemy of reason, to succumb to the directions of a monk who jotted some notes on a page thousands of years ago is like using a sextant to navigate a jumbo jet – it is just silly. It is silly because we have GPS now to get us where we are going. The desired outcome Christ had was to create a loving, joyful and beautiful place for humanity to exist; many of his followers have forsaken him.

Sixteen hundred years ago a bunch of “guys” sat around a table and picked stories about Christ that suited their purposes and called the outcome the “Bible”. Equally valid texts were omitted, texts, which in many cases were more representative of Christ’s intention. I think we should gather somewhere and write a bible 2.0, a revised edition that has greater contemporary significance. A document that can do what the Old Testament and the New Testament attempted to do with the best knowledge of the day, a book that attempts to offer direction, only the new book would be influenced by all the wonder of modernity and subject to constant revision. We are now on Windows 10; we got there via DOS, one iteration at a time. To stagnate around a book that was assembled with as much political motivation as it was spiritual motivation 1600 years past, is causing many very painful societal errors to play on repeat.

At Christmas time, I do reflect on Christ, I’ll say the name and admit an admiration for his teachings – the primary tenant of which is love and tolerance – a message so powerful not even politicking institutions can kill it. I love the Exodus story, the story of David and the story of Joshua, Jewish stories. I like Muhammad and the concept of Jihad, a noun meaning "to strive, to apply oneself, to struggle, to persevere.", a process I’m all too engaged in. Three religions, all children of the same god, all too often at war. Tribalism, hate, and intolerance are the enemy – there must be a way to find common cause. Until we do find common cause, until it is clear there is a peaceful path forward – we must strive to keep the upper hand so that we build a future from a position of strength.

On a personal note, if you want to get up-to-speed on my family you can go to Facebook; if you go to my page and scroll down really quickly you can watch my grandchildren grow – I’m a little prone to overshare.

Barks and Max are very healthy, Barks is 11 and Max 8 – since our association never has a day gone by that they’ve missed contributing joy to my day; there is no collection of words that can capture the beauty in a dog. We call Barks the matriarch of the canines and the mother earth channel, there is truly something magical about the dog, if you put your forehead hers all manner if ill is instantly removed from your being. Max we call, magnanimous Max, friendly to a fault, comical as a creature could be and the most observant dog I’ve ever seem – if he sees a spider on the wall he lets me know – incredible eyesight and he uses it.

Please hear this friends, THANK YOU, for your friendship and kindness – the world can be a harsh place, the only thing that helps to mitigate the trial and tribulations is kindness. May health and happiness be your companions in 2018 and however you choose to make peace for with the universe, I hope peace finds you.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Transportation & Housing Affordability – Odd bedfellows

There are a number of factors affecting housing affordability in the lower mainland. Certainly, speculation is playing a part, and foreign speculation is a large part of as well. There are other factors at play. The geophysical realities of the lower mainland, especially Vancouver proper constrain the supply of land. The unwillingness for government to bring more Crownland into play constrains the supply of land. The ALR has constrained the supply of land. Affordability for housing is affected by either a decrease in demand or an increase in supply. Seeking solutions related to increasing supply can be pursued absent any dramatic intrusion on market functionality, which it must be said, has served us quite well.

The solution lies in managing the development of the region in a manner that disperses the population in a healthy way and gives access to a larger land base.  So as I like to do, let us begin with the end in mind. I read a book when I was 17 years old called Small is Beautiful, my take away from that book is, that when it comes to community, small is beautiful. Small communities give people a place to live where everyone knows your name. As Schumacher said, in a community of 300 people, if you take someone’s shirt they’ll see you wearing it. Conversely, it is also true, that if you have something happening in your life, someone will know. The modern urban-scape tends to generate a multitude of ills that slices, dices and isolates members of the population in a number of ways. The built environment matters and everything I’ve learned about the built environment indicates it is healthiest to design human contact into the built environment.


The first solution is to take a larger area and make it closer in time and in a manner that makes economic and environmental sense. This would be accomplished by building a rapid transit line from Vancouver to Hope, a rapid transit facility in the nature of Japan’s bullet trains – speeds up to 220 mph – Hope in under an hour. Primary terminals placed along the route will feed and be fed existing infrastructure. Cost for the project would come in at about 6 or 7 Billion. The government would open up the use of low-cost Crownland for the development of a number of communities that fit the overall regional plan or that permit modern and adjunctive development to the existing communities.  Cost recovery would come from fairs, a regional tax levied on new development and the sale of Crownland.

This is more than a housing affordability proposal, this is region-wide development proposal that fixes a number of things, one of which is housing affordability. It would also put us on a track that, over time, would build healthier communities and have people living in a way that permits connectedness and security without having a “bobby on every corner”.  It would bring people out of a geophysically constrained area, to a place where land is abundant and provisions a quasi-rural living experience. I would be very happy to leave my car in Hope and ride the bullet train into downtown Vancouver as a visitor from the interior, as would many people who commute every day from outlying areas near Vancouver.


We have played long enough at attempting to make a patchwork of transportation solutions work, we have played long enough at finding a solution for the full gambit of housing options in the province’s busiest and most populated region.  While we have “cheap” money these sorts of infrastructure programs make sense, it is an investment in British Columbia’s future that will pay dividends in quality of life, air quality and an overall prosperous region.   


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Fiscal Policy - Three Critical Elements

Fiscal Policy


Whereas we are managing the province for today and tomorrow Balanced Budgets are necessary for the long-term health of the government.

Whereas we have resource wealth that represents a massive collective asset, and we are liquating said asset with every tree cut, every mineral extracted it behoves us to convert this asset to assets and avoid spending the proceeds from their sale on operations.


To satisfy this requirement we must trend toward clear delineation of resource revenue and ensure it is earmarked for capital acquisitions and new asset development – AND - effect a trend toward clear delineation of “operational revenue” and it being earmarked for “operational spending”.


Whereas, prosperity builds prosperity, in BC we should seek to move the provincial growth to the top performing region in the G20 by aggressive use of region-specific stimulative policies that seed entrepreneurialism, provide a regional advantage and build the economy from the ground up.

Whereas in British Columbia, like many western economies, we are ageing and with an ageing population comes economic stagnation and to counter this trend we must initiate a stimulative policy that is executed at minimum cost to the government.

Whereas, the move of many into retirement has people seeking a safe place for their retirement funds and this is causing a massive amount of latent capital to sit in RRSPs generating very little good for capital’s holders and failing to find its way to the people that really need capital, entrepreneurs. Given this reality, it is necessary to engage in a form of quantitative easing that benefits in a significant way the retirees, builds out business opportunity and represents a limited cost to the government.

Region Specific Stimulative Policy

I propose the development of three bonds, BC Forestry Bonds, BC Municipal Bonds and BC Venture Capital Bonds.

The BC Forestry Bonds will be based on returns to the government gained through more aggressive forest management. There is a basket of silviculture practices that effect a 5% to 7% annual return by hastening the forest cycle to viable fibre. The proposal is to augment this return to sufficient degree that the bond offering competes effectively from the perspective of return and security. Cost recoveries come from the volume gained AND spin-off from forest improvement activity.

BC Municipal Bonds will provide a platform whereby, municipalities can at their own initiative, issue bonds to attain capital for infrastructure improvement. The Provincial government’s role here will be to supply the platform and to secure and augment returns to sufficient degree to permit the bonds to be completive in the investment space. Cost recovery is garnered to a degree through an immediate spinoff from increased economic activity and medium and long-term improvements to vital infrastructure.

BC Venture Capital Bonds will be a means by which people can issue bonds to raise capital for business start-ups. The Provincial government’s role here will be to supply the platform and to secure and augment returns to sufficient degree to permit the bonds to be completive in the investment space. Cost recovery in the short term comes from increased economic activity and regional advantage (an in-migration of capital) and in the medium and long term an innovation-based economy with a larger tax base.


Please notify me if you have suggestions or direction - thank you.
I have had some challenges with computer security, please notify me if you see anything untoward - thank you.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Family Policy & Early Childhood Support

I will promote policy that generates family centred funding, gives priority to families having time together and supports them interfacing with society in a manner that is optimal for their specific needs. The British Columbian Family as an institution is quaking under the strain of post-war societal trends and contemporary economic realities.

There is an alarming trend in society whereby, every aspect of our existence is institutionalized. We are born in government institutions, we are educated by government institutions, every aspect of our life is affected by government institutions and we die in government institutions. In this heavily institutionalized environment, the individual and the family are withering, and they are being replaced by a monoculture. Proper support of families is one policy initiative that can protect against the industrialization of child rearing, the destruction of the family and the social ills that fall out of it – it is bad for the people affected and it is bad for British Columbia.

People ofttimes misinterpret my call for the maintenance of family as a call to take us back, oft times the term “family values” is interpreted by people in the feminist movement as a regressive assault on their cause. I am eager and think it is critical to support the advancement of women to full partners in all matters societally. So please understand that my interest in supporting families includes supporting women in their pursuit of careers outside the home or to bring the discussion into the gender-neutral space – support parents generally in their pursuit of life with family.

Why is it important for parents to retain influence over their children? There is a unique dynamic that occurs as parents come together and make a family, family cultures and genes merge and a phenotype emerges from the process. The children can only become steeped in the culture peculiar to their parent’s merger if their parents contribute to their rearing. From the merger of family cultures children are shaped in a unique way, that “phenotype” combines with the ambient culture to generate outcomes, this is the wellspring of diverse people and thought – we need to preserve it.

There is no substitute for love in the rearing of children. When I listen to people speak on the subject of early childhood development they use terms like “we need to get them early” – as if, the sooner children are in a government facility the better off they will be. I disagree with this premise entirely, however, there are instances where parents are unfit or uninformed – in those instances the family needs support. We should build policy that effects best outcomes for the mass of the population and generate measures to remediate deficiency – nowhere is this point more critical than with child development.

As we’ve institutionalized society we have effectively stratified society by age class. We do it in our school system and in various ways throughout society. This trend generally is troubling because as its intensity builds the family unit descends further toward full disintegration. This trend has become particularly acute at this juncture in our development, as postmodern realities come to bear on the “young families”.

Many young women encounter a high degree of distress in returning to work and leaving their young families in care – this is worsened in circumstances where the care is unreliable. This comment, to be clear, is a statement of empathy rather than an indication that women should remain with their children. I submit that a loved one should be with children and that any support offered by the government in the care of young children should support an option where family cares for family.

The situation is that women are in the workforce in record numbers and this will be our reality henceforth, there are challenges that have emerged out of this reality that has caused a call for government intervention. Governments are being pressured to provide young families with support. The most ardent advocates are women forwarding the issue is support of the overall liberalization of women. The bulk of the lobby is pushing toward a “universal government day-care system”. While I share the concern that is driving the lobby, the solution being posited is alarming to me. It is alarming because it by funding daycares we are funding children’s removal from the family unit and contributing further to an already damaging trend.

There is another option however, that is a child care subsidy. When parents receive a child care subsidy they can direct the funds as they see fit, to daycare, to a loved one doing child care or they can keep it and care for the children themselves.

For purposes of illustration, if the government expends approximately $9000 per year per child for daycare and the average home has two children, that is a total of $18,000 per year. The “marginal tax” assessment or the gross income required to net $18,000 is about $35,000 - $26,000 in income and $9,000 in employment-related expenses. For many households, one of the spouses would be better off with the subsidy than going to work. The subsidy may serve to augment a limited senior’s income should a grandparent care for the child. With the subsidy, the daycare option is open, family care is open. By building a government daycare system, people who want to pursue these other options are punished – they not only fail to get funding, they help pay for other people’s daycare.

($9,000 is the approximate amount for a childcare spot in Que. & an elementary school spot in BC - the initial amount would have to be less and find the right balance over time as other efficiencies facilitate the process) The subsidy could be started at a rate that is manageable and further federal support can be solicited. I am very mindful of the cost of government and this program would need to be addressed in the context of overall spending and other priorities.


Friday, September 22, 2017

Institutional Reform - better structures, better performance, happier people.

It is the case that many of our institutions have lost the ability to adjust to the realities of the modern world as they have evolved into existence, in some cases they have evolved over hundreds of years – we need organizations that are DESIGNED to deal with the reality that we exist in, an environment where technologies morph daily. Institutions need to be adroit and have the absorptive capacity to utilize the mass of new technologies available now and technologies that are on the horizon. The majority of our government institutions are just too big and the institutional inertia they are experiencing is preventing them from responding to demands; efforts will be directed toward their long-term financial sustainability, more adroit response to change, greater focus in their mandate, a drive to increase absorptive capacity, and better and more productive working environments for the people employed. Reforms will be effected by reducing the mass of large institutions, reconfiguring their organizational structures and introducing more opportunity for heuristics to come into play in the development of government organization. Stagnation is always a bad thing in an organization, there needs to be disruption to effect progress and improvement in the functionality of government organizations; this is especially true given the dynamics of the modern operational environment.

The key communication to make at the outset of institutional reform is to express clearly that reform is directed at better services and or more services at the same cost and or as starting the trend toward a smaller organization if warranted. For reform to find acceptance it is critical that the people who have dedicated their lives to serving the government are given full consideration, that is to say, they all need assurance that their situation will improve or be unharmed. The spirit here is to bring efficiency to the government to better serve the province and to manage costs, this is in no way an attempt at a callus reduction in the civil service. In fact, it may be necessary to consider as part of the cost of gaining greater efficiency over time to pay out people affected – at the point reform is implemented the costing would be done and pay-outs would be costed into the whole program – so rather than a cost they are an investment on an improved future circumstance.

For any given endeavour there is an optimum size of the organization. In the 1970s, the Midwest US  1400 acre family farm was considered the most efficient economic unit in the US. It was efficient because everyone involved was utilised completely and they had a complete vertical understanding of the organisation. In the early 1920s, Henry Ford built a completely integrated manufacturing plant, every aspect of the automobile was made in that plant. It was discovered over time that while it seemed a good idea, the complexity and variety of processes made the model very inefficient. This model was abandoned and the new models were developed which eventually lead to a highly integrated but segmented supply gain – so there are a series of plants doing specialized work that feed various assembly lines.


As an example, the general hospital is similar in structure to the obsolete model that Henry Ford abandoned – it attempts to perform the full gambit of medical care under one roof. It is worthy to contemplate if the general hospital makes sense or not. They seem to exist the world over, but very few services have evolved in this way elsewhere in the economy at large. This is the critique we can begin to level at the existing structures in government. What is better, however, is to design solutions from scratch drawing on past experience and taking advantage of new technologies and exercising the new quality human capital. We may find, as has been the case in nearly every other area of the economy, that fragmenting the general hospital into various service types would bring efficiency – perhaps a knee replacement clinic – or more dispersed emergency services – or emergency services integrated with frontline care. One thing that is clear, there are structures in government that use to exist in the private sector, that have been eliminated under the rigours of market forces.

The requirement for institutional reform is clear, the challenge is that people often incur fear at the prospect and understandably so, their livelihoods are at stake in many cases. That is why the most important aspect of change policy is to extend security to all affected actors; this generates an atmosphere that gains people's help in change rather than their resistance. There must be a commitment to compassion in change.       

Please notify me if you have suggestions or direction - thank you.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Government Accountability - It matters regardless of where you reside on the political spectrum.

It is inherent in the mechanics of our political process that all actors avoid accountability. You say, but they are elected and voted out, that is accountability enough. The challenge is that there is no clear reporting on outcomes and so no clear means for the public to assess the success or failure of a given piece of legislation. Due to this reality, we are constantly getting spin because politicians attempt to conceal errors from the electorate. The process that emerges out of our present governance distorts the public’s perception of what legislation has worked and what legislation has failed. Absent clear reporting by a truly objective party it is impossible for the public to reward good work or punish bad work with their vote. As a result, legislation keeps getting propagated or remains in place when it should be altered or replaced. Worse, however, it drives fundamentally dishonest discourse, disingenuous discourse and misleads the public, people see this and government loses moral authority and credibility. 

In business we have a “dashboard”, it consists of a collection of indicators that are generated by a set of metrics that are derived from a mission or intention for any give business initiative. The dashboard gives a clear indication if our decisions were correct or incorrect. The government needs such a mechanism for the public that is reliable.

Every piece of legislation comes into being with an intended outcome. That intended outcome should be clearly stated in a plainly worded mission statement at the top of every statute – stating the intent of the legislation and the “spirit” of the legislation. There then should be a clearly stated set of metrics for that specific legislation and the indicators should be developed and documented as well. In this way, at the point of actuating legislation, there is baseline data (where we are) and where we are intending going.


The next stage in the process is reporting, clear, concise and objective reporting. This task needs to occur at arm’s length from the government by an accountability officer. The accountability officer would be responsible for processing the metrics, updating the indicators and reporting the data to the public in an accessible way via a website. The outcome would have every element of government operation available to the public facilitating transparency. The accounting systems in government are electronic, so a member of the public should be able to access the “income and expense” sheet for any ministry or sub-department thereof. The accountability officer would be responsible for making this data available on the website.

We are working toward a more “democratic” electoral process that will eventually bring more “parties” into play in the political process. The outcome will be more minority governments and generally more responsive government – THIS IS A GOOD THING. Like many good things it comes with a side effect, in the majority of cases, it results in government growing relative to the economy, because, government attempts to please people by spending; a phenomenon that accelerates in politically competitive circumstances. This is just a reality to be managed as opposed to an argument to make government any particular size. There is an optimum size for government, the “right” size, the determination of the size of government is outside the scope of this communication, but accept if you will, that some limit on the size of government is warranted – I make this case with the average family giving up nearly half of their earnings to government now. 

The second task of the accountability officer would be to report on the size of government relative to the economy and to have the authority to constrain spending should government attempt to exceed optimum a given size as has been predetermined through input from various sources society-wide. There needs to be a degree of flexibility to allow for counter-cyclical spending and the like, this brings to life a similar function as the central bank – the central bank has a clearly defined mandate as it relates to inflation, it functions at arm’s length from the government. So to would the accountability officer have a clearly defined mandate which would permit opening and closing the fiscal tap depending on economic conditions as prescribed by their mandate.

The combination of these two functions at arm’s length from the government will usher in a new more effective and more responsive government. Myths will no longer govern, results will.

Please notify me if you have suggestions or direction - thank you.