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Category "British Columbia Politics"

20Jun

Campaign wants B.C. to keep $300 supplement after COVID-19 crisis ends

by admin

Article content continued

Brent Frain and Sonjia Grandahl, roommates in Langley who both receive the disability benefit, have been independently advocating for the “300 to Live” campaign on social media.

Grandahl said the $300 is changing people’s lives.

“We’re living in a real state of poverty right now and with this COVID, everything has gone up in price,” Grandahl said. “(The supplement has) just helped out tremendously and we would like to keep it that way.”

Frain and Grandahl both said they’ve been able to buy healthier groceries, afford medications and worry less about their rent, which alone accounts for 59 per cent of their incomes.

The $300 supplement has meant people can live with dignity and finally afford accessibility equipment, too, Frain said.

“We want to make it permanent because the rates have been suppressed for so long,” he said.

— With files from The Canadian Press

neagland@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/nickeagland

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18Feb

B.C. Budget 2020: B.C. finance presents stay-the-course budget

by admin

VICTORIA – B.C.’s finance minister has unveiled a hold-the-course budget, with modest new money for electric vehicle rebates and post-secondary grants, funded by new taxes on high-income earners and sugary drinks.

People with taxable income of more than $220,000 will see a tax hike from 16.8 per cent to 20.5 per cent, in a move the government estimates will generate $216 million in new revenue next year, and $713 million over three years.

“We’re asking those at the top, who benefit the most from our economy, to contribute a little bit more,” said Finance Minister Carole James.

“Nearly half the revenue of this tax increase will come in from individuals with income above $1 million, and even with this tax rate B.C.’s personal income taxes remain very competitive.”

While the new income tax affects a relatively small number of people, a second new tax on sugary drinks will impact far more consumers.

The government will end a Provincial Sales Tax exemption on sugary drinks, like pop, starting July 1, said James. Adding the seven per cent PST to such beverages will generate more than $30 million annually.

“This is a health initiative to look at how we grow healthy young people,” said James.

“I think it’s interesting if you take a look at the largest consumption of pop, sweetened drinks, it is 14-18 year olds. We want to make sure we’re doing our part to set them on the stage of having a healthy life ahead.”

The revenue from the new taxes will help fund a new $24-million grant program to offer up to $4,000 a year for low-income college and university students in September. That grant program will be overhauled to include students taking diploma and certificate courses in trades, education and health-care programs, which were previously ineligible.

“Access to education creates opportunities that span generations,” said James. “It has the power to change a family forever.”

It will also help pay for another extension to existing electric vehicle rebates of up to $3,000, at a cost of $28 million next year.

Overall, the 2020/21 budget, which starts April 1, estimates a $227 million surplus on $60 billion in spending.

Spending is rising faster than revenue, at a 3.1 per cent expenditure increase compared to last year, on 2.6 per cent in new revenue.

The budget, which comes with $900 million in contingency and forecast allowances, is a far cry from the large-scale spending plans delivered by the NDP government since it formed power in 2017.

James continued to warn Tuesday of a softening economy, international economic risks and the need for prudence in spending. The province’s economic growth remains estimated at 1.8 per cent Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

“If you took a look at past governments, what would often happen at this time during a moderating economy is you’d see programs and services cut,” said James. “We’re not doing that.”

Business groups gave lukewarm reviews to the budget.

B.C. Business Council president Greg D’Avignon said he was “disappointed” in the budget.

“The budget is virtually silent on the agenda let alone the implementation of a sustainable economic plan,” he said.

Greater Vancouver Board of Trade gave the budget a “B-“ grade.

She said roughly $300 million in internal government cuts to discretionary spending have proven successful. However, government officials could not provide a breakdown of costs saved by ministry and James said no such list exists because the money is reinvested into programs and services.

While some revenue sources are up in the budget, such as the carbon tax and property transfer tax, other revenues are lagging, including personal and corporate income tax.

B.C.’s share of cannabis taxes from Ottawa sat at $6 million in 2019/20 due to the slow rollout of stores and what critics have said are more attractive prices and products in the black market. However, the budget projects a spike in cannabis revenue to $50 million next year, and $70 million annually after that.

James said $18 million is also being set aside on public health and enforcement for cannabis.

The budget largely holds the line for housing affordability and child care, two key election promises from the NDP government in the 2017 election.

Child care funding in particular is largely frozen for the next three years, and it was unclear Tuesday from budget documents how that impacts the 10-year plan to bring in $10-a-day child care.

The federal government recently renewed its child-care funding payments, which allow B.C. to continue to operate several $10-a-day pilot sites across the province.

Sharon Gregson, from the Coalition of Child Care Advocates, said government honoured its funding commitment for next year, but is concerned it is $200 million short for future years. She said she’s confident the government will revise the funding next year to help keep the $10-a-day plan on track.

On housing, James said government will continue it’s $7-billion 10-year plan to build more housing. Although home sales dropped 1.5 per cent last year, and average home prices fell 1.6 per cent, James said the housing market is nowhere near affordable and prices need to drop further.

“I don’t think there’s anyone who would say we’ve reached affordable housing in British Columbia,” she said.

The NDP government’s speculation tax continues to bring in roughly $185 million annually.

Tuesday’s budget also re-announced the Child Opportunity Benefit payment first made public in last year’s budget. The program, which starts this fall, will pay up to $1,600 per child based on a family’s income up to $114,000 annually.

The largest funding increase in the budget was 9.5 per cent to health authorities and hospitals. Total health care spending now accounts for $24.3 billion, or 40 per cent of the entire provincial budget.

The funding was mostly welcome by health groups, but both the B.C. Nurses Union and the Care Providers Association of B.C. said the missing ingredient was an expansion of the new post-secondary grant program to nursing and seniors care workers.

The second-largest increase was a 7.4 per cent jump to post-secondary education, expanding training spaces for in-demand jobs.

Education for K-12 schools received only a 2.2 per cent lift on almost $6.7 billion in spending, with no additional money set aside for a new contract with teachers above the previously-stated two per cent mandate held by James.

More than half the government ministries – 13 of 20 – will see their budgets frozen or reduced next year.

The government has set aside $11 million to fund a public inquiry into money-laundering over the next two years.

The province will also raise monthly earning exemptions for people on disability by $100, at a cost of $20 million over three years.

Other programs received funding just enough to cover caseload pressures, such as $131 million over three years for income assistance, disability and other social supports and $121 million for Community Living B.C.

The budget forecasts other small increases for children and youth, indigenous youth, community safety, wildfire management and legal aid.

Social groups said it was not nearly enough money, and government has failed to address the systemic challenges and wait lists for services such as sexual assault support, youth homelessness and legal aid.

“This budget is overly cautious,” said Iglika Ivanova, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Government should be stepping up with increases to welfare rates and a coordinated plan for youth homelessness, she said.

Independent children’s representative Jennifer Charlesworth echoed the criticism, saying she’s concerned the government has yet to address major caps in youth who age out of government care but can’t get into post-secondary education.

The forestry sector continues to decline as it faces a softwood lumber dispute with the United States, slumping lumber prices, an eight-month coastal strike with Western Forest Products and a shortage of timber in the interior.

Forestry revenue is estimated to drop 12.5 per cent next year and the projected harvest of Crown timber lands is 20 per cent below last year’s expectations over the next four years.

James announced a new $13-million fund, spread over three years, to retrain forest workers, and revitalize the industry, on top of $69 million in aid previously-announced for the interior sector and $5 million in aid to contractors on the coast.

Forestry workers rallied on the lawn of the legislature Tuesday in protest at government inaction on the sector.

Wilderness Committee of B.C. spokeman Torrance Coste said the budget appears to make cutbacks to the forestry ministry that will make it harder to have the expertise and staff required to complete a review of old growth forests that his group hopes will boost protection for forests.

Capital spending was set to rise, at almost $1 billion next year and $3.1 billion over three years, for added hospitals, schools and health care facilities.

Total taxpayer-supported debt will jump $4.6 billion to $49.2 billion. Taxpayer supported debt-to-GDP will jump from 14.6 per cent to 15.5 per cent. Interest on the debt will eat up 3.9 cents of every dollar of revenue.

“We have an election in a year and a half now and I think we’re in good shape fiscally,” said James.

The budget also provided a third-quarter update to the current 2019/20 fiscal year, which ends March 31. The projected budget surplus has risen to $203 million, from $148 million last quarter.

James said that modest increase is mainly due to an increase in income tax revenue and lower spending on refundable tax credits for the film and TV sector.

rshaw@postmedia.com

twitter.com/robshaw_vansun

16Dec

Daphne Bramham: Self-governing pharmacists or government? Who should keep bad health professionals in line?

by admin


Last year, an estimated 15,400 British Columbians were using methadone as a treatment for opioid addiction.


Jason Payne / PNG

The disciplinary action taken against Diamondali Tejani paints a stark picture of the challenges that the College of Pharmacists of B.C. has had reining in bad operators.

Tejani finally had his registration suspended beginning Sept. 1 and has been forbidden from being a pharmacy manager, director, owner or shareholder in a pharmacy for two years and fined him $15,000 for what he did and didn’t do in 2016.

It was the third time he’d been disciplined. In 2012, his methadone dispensing privileges were suspended for 30 days, but there were no other details included in the college’s posting on its website.

In 2000, he was suspended for three weeks following his conviction in provincial court for tax evasion.

The cause for the most recent suspension dates back to between July 8 and Nov. 25, 2016. Tejani paid cash incentives to drug users to fill their daily dispensing orders.

As owner, manager and a pharmacist at Surrey’s Boston Pharmacy, the College also said he would have, or should have, known that a patient consultation was required every day.

That wasn’t the end of it. His staff didn’t enter or reverse daily dispense prescriptions on PharmaNet when the patient didn’t show up. Instead, they’d provide patients with missed doses and also dispensed several prescriptions without prescription labels.

Daily dispenses of methadone can be a lucrative business. British Columbia allows pharmacists to charge up to $10 for each prescription for up to three prescriptions each day. That’s in addition to the fees they collect for witnessing the ingestion of methadone.

The most recent figures show the total pharmacy costs for methadone maintenance for 13,894 patients was nearly $46 million in 2011/2012 — $40 million of which was paid by Pharmacare. Last year, an estimated 15,400 British Columbians were using methadone as a treatment for opioid addiction.

Providing methadone daily is lucrative enough that pharmacists like Tejani have actively courted business. Some still do.

Physicians, recovery house operators and recovering addicts have all told me about pharmacies offering incentives as well as threats.

The kickbacks include money to recovery house operators who insist on residents going to a particular pharmacy for their three daily dispenses and money or gifts to customers themselves.

I’ve been told about some recovery house operators threatening to evict residents unless they go to those pharmacies with their three daily scripts. I’ve heard physicians folding under pressure from patients who will be evicted unless they get daily scripts for methadone and usually a sleeping pill or an over-the-counter pain medication like naproxen (a.k.a. Aleve). Their justification? It’s better for recovering addicts to have a roof over their heads than be homeless.

The College gets those complaints. But many of the complaints are never filed because as several recovery home residents have told me, ‘Who’s going to believe an addict?’

The College’s members also haven’t always supported its actions. When the College passed a bylaw in 2013 to outlaw incentives, it resulted in a three year court battle with Safeway and Thrifty Foods who wanted prescriptions to be part of their loyalty rewards programs.

But the appellate court sided with the College and, finally, it was able to enforce the bylaws similar to what Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador have had in place since 2008.

Still it’s fair to say that professionals’ ability to regulate themselves has been a long-standing issue here, dating back at least to a 2003 ombudsman’s report that found public trust lacking.

This April, British expert Harry Cayton filed a report to the government that recommended a new regulatory framework for health professionals that will significantly reduce their autonomy.

Instead of members electing half or two-thirds of college’s boards, the health minister would appoint them along with all the public members. All college boards would also be required to have equal numbers of professionals and members of the public.

The College of Pharmacists would be one of only five professional regulatory bodies because of its unique jurisdiction over drug schedules regulation and operation of pharmacies.

The others would be the two largest — the College of Physicians and Surgeons and the nurses. The other 15 would be lumped into two new colleges — one for oral and one for everything else from chiropractors to lab technicians to speech and hearing professionals.

Colleges would be overseen by a separate body that reports to the minister. Colleges would continue to investigate complaints, but another separate, independent panel appointed by the minister would make the disciplinary decisions.

Cayton also recommended firm time limits for each stage of investigations and the elimination of professionals’ ability to negotiate agreements/settlements late in the process.

The government is accepting online feedback until Jan. 10 Presumably after that, it will move ahead with changes.

Clearly, there are problems with the current system. But it’s an open question whether a complete overhaul will to lead to better quality services care or whether it will mean more government control and more bureaucracy.

dbramham@postmedia.com

Twitter: @bramham_daphne

 

13Dec

Daphne Bramham:

by admin


The UGM has a long, respected record of providing supportive recovery housing for people with addictions, including this one, The Sanctuary, for women. Yet it is on a government list of “unlicensed” operators. Blame the government’s confusing and opaque rules.


Jason Payne / PNG

For 80 years, the Union Gospel Mission has provided services in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, feeding people, providing shelter and helping them deal with addictions.

It has annual revenue of just over $22 million and assets of nearly $7 million. A couple of weeks ago, it served 2,500 people at its annual Christmas dinner.

It is one of the largest providers of supportive recovery housing for people with addictions.

For women, whose needs are greatly underserved, UGM has the eight-bed Lydia Home in Mission and 13 beds at The Sanctuary on Heatley Avenue in Vancouver.

For men, it has a purpose-built facility with 62 beds for addictions recovery, 72 shelter beds and 37 affordable housing units that opened in 2011.

The provincial government put up $12.1 million for the $29 million facility and the city waived $420,000 in development fees, which explains why former housing minister Rich Coleman and then-mayor Gregor Robertson were among the dignitaries attending.

Clearly, UGM is no fly-by-night organization.

But it’s a testament to the complexity and opacity of the B.C. government’s assisted living registry that UGM has found itself on a list on of 26 unregistered (a.k.a. illegal) facilities, which includes both supportive addictions recovery houses and seniors’ assisted living.

“We feel terrible and embarrassed about our mistake as we take regulatory compliance seriously,” programs director Dan Russell said in an email. “We believed our recovery programs did not require registration or licensing because we did not provide any prescribed services.”

When UGM learned that its recovery program “could be interpreted as a therapy program” under the Community Care and Assisted Living Act, Russell said it immediately contacted the Health Ministry, which sent inspectors on Oct. 10.

In their report posted on the ministry’s website, the inspectors listed two prescribed services that were being offered at all three houses as “psychosocial supports and medication administration.”

UGM was ordered to reduce the number of people receiving services to no more than two at each location, cease providing the services or immediately apply for registration.

UGM sprang into action, gathering documentation to meet all 30 requirements on the registration checklist. It was ready to submit the application on Nov. 20. But by then, the online application form had disappeared because of new regulations that came into effect Dec. 1.

It meant UGM (along with any others attempting to get off the bad list) had to gather more documentation to prove that it meets the new guidelines. UGM is still working on completing it, but it had hoped that its good intentions would have meant it would be taken off the list.

Among the many reasons that UGM is so eager to get off a list is that the list includes several very bad operators.

Those bad actors are the reason that after years of inaction, the province has finally taken some steps to strengthen regulations and enforcement to protect vulnerable addicts searching for help.

Vancouver Recovery Centre is one of those. Operated by Kyle Walker, four of its houses are on the unregistered list with complaints against them.

The Abbotsford News reported that neighbours of the one on Eagle Street in Abbotsford described it as a flophouse when they went to city council meeting in May to finally get it closed.It also reported that police had been called to the house 32 times between January 2017 and January 2019 for a sexual assault, a domestic dispute and threats and that residents were being charged $800 to live there.

The house was still operating despite orders from the city in April 2017 and the province in September 2018 to close.

For decades, the provincial government and municipalities have been playing whack-a-mole with scammers who promise addictions recovery services and provide only shelter.

Yet, even some government-registered recovery houses have critical failings — failings that have cost five people their lives in the past year.

Union Gospel Mission is not one of those and there are many registered and licensed houses operating to the highest standards.

Protecting them from guilt by association is why registration, licensing, regulation and enforcement are all crucial.

More importantly, a robust system and a credible registry are only ways that anyone — let alone desperate addicts and families — can determine whether a recovery house is safe or whether the best thing about it is a slick website.

Soon British Columbia will mark the fourth anniversary of a public health emergency caused by overdose deaths from a fentanyl-laced supply of illicit drugs.

The number of deaths dropped 30 per cent in the first half of 2019. But the number of times paramedics were called to deal with overdoses remains near its all-time high.

Addiction isn’t going away nor is the need for high-quality treatment and recovery services.

dbramham@postmedia.com

Twitter: @bramham_daphne

2Dec

Thousands of ride-hailing drivers ready to hit the roads in B.C.

by admin


Austin Zhang is CEO of Gokabu, which runs the Chinese language ride-hailing platform Kabu.


Francis Georgian / PNG

Thousands of ride-hailing drivers are set to hit the streets of Metro Vancouver when companies are permitted to begin operating in the next few weeks.

No fewer than 19 ride-hailing platforms are being vetted by the Passenger Transportation Board, some with hundreds of drivers already qualified to work.

The Chinese-language Kabu Ride app was disabled in September to avoid operating illegally after legislation passed enabling legal ride-hailing.

But Richmond-based Gokabu Group had been operating Kabu Ride in the “grey space” for more than three years with hundreds of drivers pulling in more than $10 million a year combined, said company spokesman Martin van den Hemel.

They began encouraging drivers to get their Class 4 drivers licence months ago and secured affordable training with local driving schools to ensure they would have a small army of drivers ready to work under new provincial rules.

Kabu Ride has “hundreds of qualified drivers” who have been through Kabu training, obtained a commercial driver’s licence and secured all the documentation required by the transportation board, said CEO Auston Zhang. “We’ve got many more taking their knowledge test to obtain a Class 4 learner’s licence.”

The vast majority of Kabu Ride drivers are men, but the company is encouraging female applicants.

“We have stay-at-home moms who work for two or three hours a day while their kids are in school,” said Hemel. “We also have drivers who work 50 hours a week and make north of $65,000 a year.”

Lyft is operating two driver hubs in Metro Vancouver — with a third on the way — to recruit and educate potential drivers about the documentation needed before they can participate in ride-hailing.

To drive for a ride-hailing service, you must possess a Class 1, 2 or 4 drivers licence, produce a commercial driving record, obtain a criminal record check and your vehicle must pass a commercial vehicle inspection.

More than 600 people have attended Lyft information sessions in Vancouver, Surrey and Langley, the company said.

Lyft driver Met Yi Su likes the flexibility that gig driving offers, to work around his main job.

“I’m a project manager for a mining organization, which has me working in the field around six months of the year,” he said. “What attracts me to driving with Lyft is the option to do it anytime I want. My wife stays home with the kids, and I can do ridesharing as needed.”

Uber is encouraging potential drivers to use its online guide to get through the qualification process and “be ready to drive in the next few weeks.”

The ride-hailing giant has started distributing Uber decals to its qualified “driver partners” to display once the transportation board approves its transportation network service licence.

Edmonton’s TappCar also has plans to serve Metro Vancouver along with smaller cities in B.C.

It is difficult to know exactly how many drivers will be in the field because some are likely to be active on more than one platform, but other Canadian cities are recording tens of thousands of trips a day.

Based on data from Calgary, the City of Vancouver conservatively estimates 500 to 1,000 ride-hailing vehicles will operate in the “metro core,” compared with about 800 licensed taxis, according to a response to a freedom of information request.

On average, drivers in Calgary worked 10 hours a week and made 2.5 trips an hour. But that’s only part of the picture.

Ride-hailing firms reported more than four million trips in Calgary last year, according to a presentation to the International Association of Transportation regulators.

That’s almost 11,000 trips a day serving a population about half of Metro Vancouver’s 2.5 million residents. Mississauga ride-hailing drivers logged 10 million trips in 2018 — 27,300 trips a day — with a population of less than one million.

Most of that is new business. Ride-hailing trips appeared to have a relatively modest effect on the volume of taxi trips in those markets.

Kabu Ride is a platform with uniquely local roots and an impressive growth record.

Zhang and Gokabu president Billy Xiong had originally conceived their platform as a social media app for foreign students, but quickly changed their business model when they noticed that users were organizing rides around the city.

The company has 60 full time employees and about 25 part time staff. The company also offers subsidized health and disability benefits, through The Cooperators, to “driver partners” who work enough to qualify.

While their ride-hailing service is suspended, some drivers are still active on the food delivery platform, Kabu Eats.

rshore@postmedia.com

9Aug

Committee recommends money for HandyDART, affordable transit fares in 2020 B.C. budget

by admin


The HandyDART service made 1.3 million trips last year.


RICHARD LAM / PNG

Public transit could receive a boost in the next B.C. budget, if the provincial government heeds the advice of an all-party finance committee.

The select standing committee on finance and government, which conducted public consultations across B.C., released a report this week with more than 100 recommendations for the 2020 budget, including six for transit and transportation.

In the interest of making transit more accessible for people with disabilities, the committee said the province should increase funding to expand HandyDART, a door-to-door shared ride service.

“(The committee) acknowledged the importance of HandyDART for increasing accessibility and supporting inclusion,” the report said.

Beth McKellar, co-chair of the HandyDART Riders’ Alliance, said the recommendation is important because the service is in high demand and desperately needs more funding, despite Metro Vancouver’s regional transit authority having added more service.

HandyDART’s ridership has been on the rise for the past five years, and delivered 1.3 million trips in 2018.

“We’re just a wee tiny blip on the radar, but I’m pleased this all came out and I’m hoping that they do the right thing. I always have that little bit of hope,” McKellar said.

The committee made a similar recommendation for the 2019 budget, calling for “increased and sustained” funding for HandyDART services.

Although funding was allocated in the last budget to B.C. Transit to expand bus and HandyDART services in four communities over three years, Metro Vancouver was left out, to the dismay of advocates and the region’s mayors.

“It was good that the Island got it, that B.C. Transit got it, but we need it a lot more over here,” said McKellar.

In recent years, TransLink’s Mayors’ Council has argued that the province should help pay for HandyDART because the majority of trips are related to health services, such as dialysis, and said there should be a long-term, sustainable funding model for the service.

The committee also recommended that the province work with local governments and transit authorities “to explore new pricing mechanisms to help make public transit more accessible for youth and low-income families.”

“We think this is an excellent recommendation and we urge the government to follow through on it,” said Viveca Ellis, a community organizer for #AllOnBoard.

#AllOnBoard has advocated for free transit for all children and youth up to and including 18 years old, and a sliding-scale monthly pass system based on income for all transit systems in B.C.

“We know that affordability is an important part of our current government’s mandate, and as communities and many, many community members have brought forward to us transit is not affordable for many British Columbians,”

The Mayors’ Council has also discussed free transit for youths, but believes the province needs to be involved on the funding side to offset fare revenue losses. Victoria will offer free transit to all youths who live in the city in a pilot project starting in September.

On the transit side the committee also recommended working with public and private operators to address gaps in regional transportation services — particularly in rural and remote areas — and prioritizing faster deployment of electric buses in cities, including expensive charging infrastructure.

In the area of active transportation, the committee said the province should invest in walking and biking infrastructure, education and promotion, as well as eliminate provincial sales tax on electric bicycles.

In a statement the Ministry of Finance said it is “in the process of reviewing the report in detail and considers all proposals, including recommendations brought forward by this committee, during the yearly budget process.”

jensaltman@postmedia.com

twitter.com/jensaltman

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6Jun

Vaughn Palmer: ‘Illogical’ suicide pact allegation lies behind B.C. legislature resignations

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VICTORIA — On the final day of the spring legislature session, Premier John Horgan paid tribute to Randy Ennis, who was retiring early from the upper echelons of the security staff.

It’s standard procedure for the premier to thank a departing public servant. Ennis had long served as deputy sergeant-at-arms and lately as acting sergeant-at-arms, with Gary Lenz placed on suspension.

But for Horgan, this one was personal because Ennis was a friend.

“Randy and I first met at the hockey rink over a cup of Tim Horton’s,” the premier told the house. “Our boys played hockey together, so we spent a lot of time complaining about the Canucks. We spent a lot of time talking about how we could make the world a better place.

“Randy is an outstanding individual,” Horgan continued. “I’m going to miss him terribly.”

There followed a display of applause from all sides of the house, albeit tinged with regret among those in the know.

Horgan claimed not to know why Ennis, who just turned 59, was leaving early.  But around the legislature, it was an open secret that Ennis was fed up with the regime of Speaker Darryl Plecas and his chief of staff, Alan Mullen.

Ennis had good reason to be incensed. Plecas had accused him of being party to a suicide pact involving an ailing member of the security staff.

The alleged suicide pact was one of 11 Plecas-authored allegations of misconduct that were examined and rejected by retired chief justice Beverley McLachlin. (She upheld four accusations against clerk of the legislature Craig James, leading to his forced retirement.)

Plecas claimed to have uncovered a plan by sergeant-at-arms Lenz and deputy Ennis to create a sheltered posting for an unnamed constable on the security staff who had a degenerative health condition.

“The Speaker also alleges that they created a plan whereby (the staffer) would commit suicide while he was still on staff so that his beneficiaries would receive insurance proceeds,” wrote McLachlin.

The former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada examined the documentation associated with the alleged plan and further evidence from the accusers, Plecas and Mullen, and the accused, Lenz and Ennis.

She concluded that “clearly Mr. Lenz and Mr. Ennis were deeply concerned over the future of the constable and wanted to find a way to help him.”

But she did not fault them for considering ways to allow the constable to work at home were his condition to deteriorate to the point where he could not carry a firearm as required by his position.

“Discussion of creating a new position so an employee can work from home does not appear on its face to be unreasonable, provided the proposed work would contribute to the business of the legislative assembly,” wrote McLachlin. “The discussions, according to Mr. Lenz and Mr. Ennis, related to whether (the staffer) could continue to do useful work without being able to carry a firearm. I accept this evidence.”

Nor did she accept the Plecas-Mullen version of events regarding the supposed suicide pact.

“The ‘plan’ that the Speaker says was being hatched proposed that (the staffer) would commit suicide while he was still employed and before his condition had deteriorated too far, in order to preserve his life insurance,” wrote McLachlin.

Plecas thereby insinuated that the new job was “false” — concocted for the purpose of preserving the staffer’s employment status long enough for him to kill himself.

“No one was able to explain the logic of this to me. The evidence I received was that if he was forced to go on disability status, his life insurance would have remained in place as long as he qualified for that status,” wrote McLachlin.

She instead preferred “the straightforward explanation of the incident” from Lenz and Ennis.

“They denied any talk of suicide and explained that the discussions were aimed at finding reasonable accommodation for (the staffer) by finding alternate duties when he reached the point that he could no longer use a firearm.”

She speculated, and not in a flattering way, why Plecas had gone as far as he did.

“The Speaker was deeply distrustful of Mr. Lenz, which may explain how he transformed fragments of an exploratory proposal from Mr. Lenz and Mr. Ennis into a bizarre go-forward plan involving (the staffer) committing suicide.”

She then cleared Lenz of the allegation of misconduct. She also cleared him of all the other Plecas accusations against him.

Lenz remains on suspension, pending the outcome of a police investigation.

So, Ennis was collateral damage to one of the more reckless and unproven allegations from Plecas.

Rough treatment for someone who deserved much better. Before coming to work at the legislature, Ennis served as a member of the Canadian Airborne Regiment, seeing duty as a peacekeeper in Bosnia, Cyprus and Haiti, and earning the military Order of Merit.

The supposed target of the non-existent suicide pact was collateral damage as well. He retired from his post on the security staff at the same time as Ennis.

Not that Plecas could be bothered to express regret over the damage done to reputations. Instead he’s been citing the shortcomings in the McLachlin report in public and bad mouthing it privately.

As for the premier, he could deliver a more sincere tribute to his departed friend by recognizing where Plecas has gone too far and by attempting to curb his excesses.

vpalmer@postmedia.com


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1May

Daphne Bramham: Alcohol, not opioids, is Canada’s biggest drug problem

by admin

Alcohol is so much a part of our culture that 80 per cent of Canadians drink. But each year, nearly 15,000 people die from alcohol related harms.


Canadian governments are addicted to the revenue from alcohol


DALE DE LA REY / AFP/Getty Images

With so much focus on illicit drugs and overdose deaths, it might seem that opioids are the biggest addictions problem. Far from it.

Alcohol kills many more people each year (14,800 in 2014), results in more hospitalizations annually than heart attacks and is one of the most expensive and intractable health problems.

While cannabis was legalized a year ago and B.C.’s chief medical health officer is pushing hard for decriminalization and ultimately legalization of all illicit drugs, two Canadian addictions research centres want tougher regulations to mitigate the costs and harms of alcohol use and addiction.

The Victoria-based Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research and the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health want a minimum price of $3.50 for a standard drink in a bar or restaurant and $1.75 for off-premise sales. They also want a national minimum drinking age of 19, which is a year higher than national minimum for cannabis. Those are just two of the recommendations in reports they released last month that look at federal, provincial and territorial alcohol policies.

The reports also calling for stricter guidelines for advertising, restrictions on manufacturers’ and retailers’ promotions on digital and social media platforms, and a federal excise tax based on alcohol content that would replace the GST.

Over the past decades, the researchers found an erosion of effective policies and regulations.

“Overall, alcohol policy in Canada has been largely neglected relative to emerging initiatives addressing tobacco control, responses to the opioid overdose crisis, and restrictions imposed on the new legal cannabis market,” their report on the provinces and territories says. In several jurisdictions — Ontario is the worst example — “customer convenience and choice are being given priority over health and safety concerns … the responsibility of governments to warn citizens of potential risks is largely absent.”

British Columbia got a bare pass at 50 per cent based on its potential to reduce alcohol-related harm, which is not good. But it’s still better than the national average of 43 per cent.

Alcohol-related harm was estimated at $14.6 billion in 2014, according the Canadian Centre on Substance Use. Productivity loss due to illness and premature death accounts for $7.1 billion. Direct health care costs add another $3.3 billion and $3.1 billion is spent on enforcement costs for this legal drug.

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Tobacco was second at $12 billion followed by opioids at $3.5 billion and cannabis at $2.8 billion. But the data predate the opioid overdose crisis and cannabis legalization.

Alcohol’s costs and harms reflect the fact that 80 per cent of Canadians drink. It’s not surprising. Culturally, we associate drinking with celebrations and good times. It’s We’re bombarded with images in movies, TV and ads of beautiful people drinking and having fun.

Scarcely a week goes by that there isn’t a “good news” story about research showing that a glass of red wine might be good for your heart or that yet another populist politician is campaigning on a promise to slash the price of beer.

Yet less was made of University of Washington’s Global Burden of Diseases Study last summer that found alcohol was the leading factor in 2.8 million premature deaths in 2016 and is so harmful that governments ought to be advising people to abstain completely.

One problem is that Canadian governments are addicted to the revenue from alcohol. Liquor sales and taxes provided $12.15 billion to federal and provincial governments in 2017/18 — $1.6 billion more than five years earlier, according to Statistics Canada.

Last year, liquor consumption rose in British Columbia, which already had the highest drinking rates in Canada. There were also record sales, which meant that in addition to tax revenue, the Liquor Distribution Branch provided $1.12 billion in earned revenue, up from $1.03 billion two years earlier.

Good for taxpayers? Not really. The reports by the substance-abuse centres recommends B.C. “reconsider the treatment of alcohol as an ordinary commodity: Alcohol should not be sold alongside food and other grocery items as this leads to greater harm.”

It’s based on research done last year by Tim Stockwell of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research. He and his researchers found that when access to alcohol is easier, more people die.

Between 2003 and 2008, “a conservative estimate is that the rates of alcohol-related deaths increased by 3.25 per cent for each 20 per cent increase in stores density.”

Estimates have to be conservative because alcoholics’ fatalities are mistakenly counted as death from one of more than 200 other kinds of alcohol-related fatalities including car accidents, suicide, liver diseases, cancers, tuberculosis and heart disease.

What’s surprising is that more than a century after legalization, there are no federal or provincial policies aimed specifically at mitigating alcohol’s harms and costs.

The opioid crisis has been the catalyst for governments to finally think about addictions and drug-use policies and, it’s now impossible to ignore the slower moving crisis caused by alcohol abuse and addiction.

In the coming months, the B.C. health officer also plans to release an alcohol addictions report. The B.C. Centre on Substance Use recently developed guidelines for best practices in treating alcohol addiction, but the provincial government has yet to approve or release those.

Prohibition proved a failure. Yet, legalization and regulation are not panaceas either. Because even with more than 100 years of experience, there is still no jurisdiction in Canada or anywhere else that seems to have got it right.

dbramham@postmedia.com

Twitter: @bramham_daphne


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2Apr

Eby’s bumpy, make-it-up-as-you-go-along ride on challenging ICBC file

by admin

VICTORIA — Portrait of a cabinet minister making things up as he goes along:

Feb. 7: David Eby, wearing his cabinet minister for ICBC hat, reacts to news the government-owned auto insurance company missed its financial target for the first full year under the NDP.

ICBC forecast a loss of $684 million. Instead it will lose $1.18 billion, not much less than the $1.296 billon it lost in the financial year shared with the departed B.C. Liberal government.

Not to worry says Eby, still wedded to the belief that ICBC can be put on a break-even footing by 2020.

He’s already consulting with “stakeholders” on a new way to rein in legal and court costs: “The big one we’re concerned about are the cost of expert reports.”

Feb. 11: Eby, now wearing his attorney-general’s hat, signs a cabinet order rewriting the rules for court cases involving motor vehicle accident claims.

“We’re reforming the Supreme Court civil rules to limit the number of experts and expert reports allowed in certain cases,” he tells reporters.

The new limits are expected to deliver “in excess of $400 million” in savings for ICBC, starting that very day, which is when the new rules take effect.

Supreme Court rules are supposed to be vetted by a committee of lawyers and judges, jointly appointed by Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson and the attorney-general.

How involved was the committee in these changes?

Eby cites “discussions” with “a multi-stakeholder group” and “ministry staff.” But he never says whether these changes were approved in advance by the rules committee or to what extent the committee was even consulted.

Later that day the Trial Lawyers Association comes out and says what Eby won’t say, namely that the attorney-general pushed through the rule changes unilaterally.

“He is doing so despite a protest from the independent rules committee,” reports Ian Mulgrew in The Vancouver Sun.

Feb. 27: It has taken more than two weeks, but the attorney-general finally admits the trial lawyers were correct about the rule changes.

“I would like to clarify the process that was followed in relation to these changes,” reads the statement put out by his office.

He goes on to say the rules committee was “engaged” before the changes were announced. And it did offer “feedback,” which Eby claims to “very much appreciated.”

However: “The rules committee did not recommend these changes and was not asked to approve these changes. These changes were a decision made by government.”

Meaning government in the person of David Eby, an attorney-general who gets to preside over a unilateral rewrite of the court rules to suit the minister for ICBC, who is, of course, one and the same.

And lest there be any doubt on the part of the committee or anyone else, “government will continue its work on additional changes to the rules of court,” says Eby.

March 25: Eby announces via press release that he is pulling back on two provisions in the edict on the use of experts.

The new limits won’t apply to cases scheduled to go to court before the end of this calendar year. Litigants who incurred costs for experts before the Feb. 11 change of rules will be permitted to recover those costs.

All in the name of fairness and avoiding “unintended consequences” according to a followup statement from the ministry of the Attorney-General.

As for the financial consequences for ICBC, the ministry estimates the pullback will knock some $20 million off the projected savings of $400 million.

March 29: Another day, another amendment to the regulations regarding ICBC claims. There’s now more leeway for claimants to recover medical, rehabilitation, disability and other costs, including funeral expenses and death benefits.

“The new (60-day) limit gives people a reasonable amount of time to submit their receipts while ensuring ICBC receives the information it needs to accurately assess the severity of claims, provide additional supports to injured people as needed and better forecast future costs,” says the statement from Eby’s ministry.

This just two days before the new claims and litigation regime takes effect.

April 1: “The key for me is we’ve got to make it to April 1,” said Eby back in February, referring to the date he set last year for the big changeover on ICBC claims.

Those changes, limiting payouts for injuries, steering claims to arbitration and capping costs for ones that go to court, were expected to save $1 billion, even without the added limits on use of experts.

Now the big day is here and the trial lawyers mark the occasion by confirming they will challenge the new regime on constitutional grounds.

All of which recalls something else Eby said back when he was announcing the new limits on the use of experts and predicting savings of $400 million or more.

“The reality is that it will depend very much on the reception of the courts and the approach of lawyers to this,” he said.

“Our hope is that the bench and the bar support the intent of these rules, understand why we’re doing this, and that we do realize these savings.”

Against those hopes, there is Eby’s record, including a lack of consultations, arbitrary rule-making, and changes at the last minute.

Not the approach that most cabinet ministers would choose if they needed co-operation from the bar and bench to make the numbers work.

Vpalmer@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/VaughnPalmer

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26Mar

Legislative committee gives advice on ride-hailing regulations

by admin

Ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft should not be limited by geographic boundaries or caps on fleet sizes, and drivers should be allowed to work with Class-5 licences, according to a provincial legislative committee.

In November, the provincial government introduced legislation that will allow ride-hailing companies to operate in B.C., likely by late this year.

The nine-member, all-party select standing committee on Crown corporations was asked to look at four specific areas of regulation: boundaries, vehicle supply, fare and price regimes, and driver’s licence requirements.

On Tuesday, it released 11 recommendations after hearing from 15 witnesses and receiving 47 written submissions from municipalities, regional districts, First Nations, taxi associations, disability advocacy organizations and ride-hailing companies.

“I do hope that now government will see fit to keep the recommendations and get real ride-hailing in place and on the road in British Columbia,” said Surrey South Liberal MLA Stephanie Cadieux, who was the committee’s deputy chair.

Currently, taxi companies are limited by operating boundaries, which are set when a taxi licence is granted. They dictate where a taxi can pick up passengers, which can lead to deadheading — return trips without passengers — and ride refusals.

The committee said boundaries should not be imposed for ride-hailing companies. Instead, they considered other options to manage the distribution of vehicles, such as geofencing to redistribute supply and per-trip or per-kilometre fees to deal with congestion, if necessary.

Fleet sizes for ride-hailing companies should not be capped, the committee said, however it did not agree on other mechanisms to deal with supply and demand.

In the interest of safety and reducing emissions, the committee recommended that vehicles used for ride-hailing be no more than 10 years old.

On pricing, the committee said there should be a minimum per-trip price that is not less than the cost of public transit. A regular adult fare for someone who does not have a Compass card is $2.95 for one zone, and $5.70 for three zones.

They also agreed that the cost of a trip should be the same for an handicap-accessible vehicle and non-accessible vehicle.

Companies should be required to disclose the price for a trip on their apps before the customer orders a ride, and data should be monitored to see if a base rate or cap on surge pricing should be implemented. These recommendations were in a 2018 committee report.

The committee was not unanimous in its views on driver licensing, but a majority of members voted for a Class-5 licence requirement, rather than a Class-4. A Class-5 licence is what most drivers in B.C. hold.

“Members expressed uncertainty over whether the Class-4 licensing process actually produces safer drivers,” the report states.

They emphasized that driver rating systems could help identify safe drivers, and said driving record checks and medical exams could be required.

The committee also recommended that ride-hailing companies be required to provide data to the province for monitoring purposes, and that the province make that information available “to the broadest extent possible while maintaining privacy.”

It was recommended that the province review the regulations in 2023.

Committee member and B.C. Green spokesperson for transportation, MLA Adam Olsen, said the government now has the tools to make ride-hailing a reality.

“Ride-hailing will make transportation services more accessible for British Columbians, and the recommendations brought forward by our committee ensure that there would be a regulatory environment that promotes overall safety and a fair playing field,” said Olsen. “I hope government will implement these recommendations, which are informed by other jurisdictions.”

Ridesharing Now for B.C., a coalition advocating in favour of ride-hailing, urged the province to adopt the recommendations and move forward.

“Today’s report marks a major milestone in bringing ride-sharing to the province by the fall of 2019, as promised by the government,” said spokesperson Ian Tostenson. “It is time to get ride-sharing on the road by implementing the key recommendations and finalizing ride-sharing auto-insurance.”

To bridge the gap until ride-hailing is allowed in the province, a local company has started Kater, a ride-hailing app that will begin beta testing on Saturday.

People who have registered on the company’s website and been chosen to take part in the trial will be able to download the company’s app and order rides from Vancouver to anywhere in B.C. Kater will begin with a small number of vehicles and scale up to 140 within a few weeks.

The company will use Vancouver Taxi Association licences to operate and will be expected to abide by the existing rules — which include requiring a Class-4 licence, TaxiHost Pro certificate, and chauffeur-for-hire permit, and charging taxi rates — but use a typical ride-hailing app that takes payment and allows users to track their rides and rate drivers.

jensaltman@postmedia.com

twitter.com/jensaltman

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