Friday, December 1, 2023

Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad


As 2023 comes to an end and we take a breather on all the horrific events of the year it's nice to reflect on some of the things that went well in our own backyard. With the voters having kicked out the grossly incompetent and ideologically deranged park board commissioners at the end of 2022, the new ABC commissioners got busy cleaning up the mess that had been left behind. By summer the Parks Board and City engineering crews had removed the mix of concrete barriers and cones that had created a separate bike lane and a traffic nightmare for all other forms of transportation, not to mention nearly bankrupting all the restaurants in the Park. It was an incredible waste of money to set up the barriers and almost as much to remove them, but common sense finally prevailed and the Park is once again open to everyone.

The beloved Stanley Park train had also been out of commission for the past two years thanks to Parks Board neglect. Qualified mechanics are hard to find, as are the parts yet, in spite of the train being a revenue generator and year round public favourite, with specially decorated trains at Easter, Halloween, and Christmas. But the Parks Board just let the whole operation grind to a halt. Thankfully once again the new Parks Board took stock of things and managed to get the train back up and running in time for the Christmas season.

The other major item of neglect of course is the heavily used Vancouver Aquatic Centre, which has been decaying right before the eyes of the Parks Board for a number of years. The budget for a replacement facility was also approved in the last election but unfortunately it takes a lot of time to design and build a facility of this magnitude. The obvious solution would be to keep the existing Aquatic Centre operating while the new one is built alongside it in the vacant Sunset Beach parking lot, but the Parks Board haven't been very forthcoming on the timeline or location of the new facility. At least the Parks Board has selected an architect to start the process but there's clearly a lot more to be done.

In the meantime Stanley Park has been completely taken over by an epidemic of the nasty Looper Moth which has consumed 25% of the Park's trees (hemlock in particular) and a massive logging operation is now underway to remove the hazard of 160,000 dead trees. It's a natural occurence, like bark beetles, but that's small comfort to a Parks Board trying to do their best in dealing with something that for once isn't of their own making. At the end of 2023 fixing two out of three problems isn't bad and I wish them good luck with cleaning up the mess in the forest.

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Orange Shirt Day/Orange Is The New Black


National Truth & Reconciliation Day or, Orange Shirt Day, as it is more commonly referred to, is slowly starting to become a part of the national consciousness and that has to be a good thing on many levels. Sadly, it took the discovery of children's graves on the grounds of residential schools to finally give us a collective wake-up call but it worked. Through the story of a little 6 year old girl, who had her new orange shirt stripped off and taken away on her first day at the Mission school, we now have a recognizable symbol for the movement that is now engaged in a wide range of initiatives seeking redress for past wrongs.

And it's about time, because ignoring the abusive and discriminatory treatment of First Nations people is turning out to be a very expensive head-in-the-sand approach. The horrific, well documented, and ongoing saga of the residential school abuses has at long last wound its way through the legal system and survivors have been collectively awarded $3 billion in compensation. A further $23 billion was later awarded to First Nations for the discriminatory underfunding of Child and Family Services programs and to implement the Jordon's Principle, a child-first, needs-based policy to provide access to all government funded services to all First Nations children whether they live on or off a reserve.

Even before First Nations groups were tricked into surrendering title to their lands on the prairies, so that railways could be built and farming homesteads could be established, they signed away title in 1850 to land around Lake Superior and Lake Huron in a pair of agreements called the Robinson Treaties. Negotiated by William Robinson, the treaties provided the Province of Canada access to the north shores of Lakes Huron and Superior for settlement and mineral extraction. In exchange, the Indigenous people of the region got hunting and fishing rights that lasted until the lands were settled, a one time payment, and an annual annuity $1.60 per person with an "escalator clause" that would increase as the revenues from the lands increased. In 1874 the annuity was increased to $4.00 per person but never increased afterwards, in spite of the hundreds of billions of profits generated by industry since. In 2019 this led to a retroactive court claim that was settled in 2023 for $10 billion for the Robinson-Huron treaty. The Robinson-Superior treaty case is still ongoing but First Nations are asking for $100 billion.

In the 1870's, when the so-called numbered treaties 1-7 were being signed to provide land for settlers on the prairies, reserves were also set up for the First Nations people, along with the provision for seeds, some tools, and supplies in the event of crop failure. The reserves were to enable them to make the transfer to an agricultural way of life now that the bison had been wiped out and, in the beginning, many of the First Nation farmers were quite successful. However, their success soon led to settler animosity and, in 1889, the government introduced the Peasant Farm Policy which restricted the types of tools First Nations could use, how much they could grow, and what they were allowed to sell. Farms were reduced to 40 acres, machinery was forbidden, and all planting and harvesting had to be done by hand. These policies soon put most of the First Nations farmers out of business and their reserve farmlands were then sold by the government to new settlers because the government claimed they weren't using the land properly. 

As much as 20% of First Nations reserves were illegally sold off by the government between 1896-1911 and this continued up until the 1930's. To make matters worse the money collected by the government on the land sales wasn't always turned over to the band it belonged to. However, in recent years lawsuits were filed against the government to contest the illegal surrender of reserve land and, more than $3.5 billion has since been awarded to 56 claimants. This past August the Muscowpetung Saulteaux Nation alone was awarded $150 million, the maximum allowable. 

British Columbia has the distinction of being the only Canadian Province to not have signed any treaties with the First Nations to get them to surrender their lands. B.C. First Nations, having learned from the mistakes of others, will never surrender title to their land now but this omission has led to countless court battles over their rights to control what happens to their territories. (Delgamuukw, Tsilhqot'in, Nisga'a etc.) This past week the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that First Nations must be consulted before any mineral claims are made in their territories. This ruling promises to have a profound impact on the current system for awarding mineral claims and other resource development.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples provides a framework for reconciliation, healing and peace, as well as harmonious and cooperative relations based on the principles of justice, democracy, respect for human rights, non-discrimination and good faith, and this has been affirmed by both the Federal and Provincial governments. After all the court cases and residential school discoveries, surely it's time for all of us to realize the injustice needs to stop and we need to work harder and faster on reconciliation. Orange shirt day has been with us for three years now and every year more and more orange shirts can be spotted on the streets. The more orange the better because orange is the new black in this country and it's about time.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Flying The Unfriendly Skies Of Air Canada

The latest complaint to surface about Air Canada has really taken first prize for customer abuse and it almost seems like the airline is running an internal contest to shock and awe its passengers. To try and force people to sit on a seat covered in vomit, throw them off the plane when they refused, and then make them pay for another ticket to fly home after threatening to put them on a no-fly list is like hitting a grand slam. Sadly this complaint is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to customer service with Air Canada, already at the bottom of the pile for North American airlines when it comes to reliability.

The tales of lost luggage, missed connections, lousy food, unsympathetic staff, and other horror stories plague all the airlines but the arrogance of Air Canada is in a league of its own and everyone has a favourite one they like to share. The fact that it's basically a monopoly is part of the problem but it's also the toothless/non-existent Passenger Rights in this country that allow Air Canada to flout its arrogance with such impunity. But it wasn't always this way.

In the good old days flying was an exciting pleasure, not something you fretted over and dreaded. Friends and family could join you for a farewell drink at the airport bar before you boarded your flight and there were often standby passengers at the boarding gate hoping to get a cut-rate seat on the airplane if the flight wasn't sold out. If you had a change of plans you could sell your ticket to anyone and the airline didn't care as it was yours to do with what you wanted. 

Nobody had to show any ID and you certainly didn't have to have your luggage torn open, your belt and shoes removed, and all your liquid toiletries stuffed into a separate plastic bag. Your baggage would always arrive at its proper destination and there wasn't a charge for bringing it with you. Overhead bins were for small carry on bags and briefcases, and there was even a closet to hang suits and coats. 

Once everyone was comfortably seated, with a decent amount of leg room, a pleasant looking stewardess with a friendly disposition would come around after take-off and ask if you would like a cocktail. On overseas flights drinks of course were free and, after a couple of hours, a tasty dinner would be served, complete with real cutlery, cloth napkins and your choice of wine. Then, when the dishes had all been cleared away, coffee and liqueurs would be served.

People used to get dressed up when they went on a flight, just like they used to when they went to work, most people were reasonably slim and trim so they fit into their seats, and flying was considered a step up from riding a bus. Not anymore. The cabin of a typical airplane now resembles a third world bus full of overweight passengers wearing beach wear and gym clothes and carrying bundles, baskets, and cages of half-dead chickens.

The trouble with airline travel is that, on top of the ridiculous security precautions everyone has to endure, it has become a race to the bottom. Everyone is looking for the cheapest ticket rather than the best service and, as a result, the whole experience has deteriorated into a glorified bus ride (unless of course you can afford to travel first class) with airlines doing everything they can to cut costs. Add to that a lack of competition and you have a perfect storm for guaranteeing a miserable experience.

There's an old saying that it's the journey not the destination that counts and with airline travel such a frustration it's no wonder train travel is making a comeback and cruising is more popular than ever. Yes airline travel is quicker but it's certainly not as pleasant and, with airline travel contributing to 10% of global emissions, it's not very environmentally friendly either. Sadly there's no going back to the glory days of air travel but the skies can be a lot more friendly if we simply avoid having anything to do with Air Canada. 

Friday, June 2, 2023

Time To Abolish The RCMP


150 years ago in 1873, the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) were established to maintain peace and order in the Canadian North-West territories following the handover of Ruperts Land to Canada from the Hudson's Bay Company. Spurred on by the recent Cypress Hills massacre where a group of American bison hunters/whiskey traders had slaughtered 30 Assiniboine warriors, women and children and, fearful of U.S. Army intervention if the Assiniboine retaliated, the NWMP combined military, police, and judiciary functions in a highly mobile, group of mounted riflemen. Although they got off to a rough start establishing their base of operations the NWMP quickly stopped the whiskey trade and earned the support of various First Nations in the process. However with the passage of the Indian Act in 1876, relations with First Nations quickly deteriorated.

The first issue was the illegal "pass system" brought in by the federal government that forced First Nations people to obtain a travel document from an Indian agent that would authorize them to leave and return to their reserves. It was another way of controlling the movement of Indigenous people and to prevent them from having large gatherings which the white settlers viewed as a threat. In conjunction with the "permit system" which regulated what types of produce Indigenous people could sell and where, and other discriminatory policies, the economic opportunities for First Nations farmers were severely limited. Both the pass and permit systems were enforced by the NWMP in spite of not being legal and this fact was kept from Indigenous people until the 1930s-40s when it was finally abolished.

But all of this pales in comparison to the RCMP's complicity or role as truant officers for the Canadian Indian residential School system from 1920 - 1996 (in 1920 the NWMP became the RCMP). Using force to assist Indian agents in taking children away from their parents and placing them in the various now notorious schools, the RCMP were direct participants in the cultural genocide of four or more generations of Indigenous people. Enforcing the pass system also prevented parents from visiting their children and stopped the children from returning home.

In modern times there have been no shortage of heavy handed RCMP tactics when confronted with Indigenous protests with the Wet'suwet'en blockade being the latest in a series that included the 1995 Gustafsen Lake stand-off in 1995, the Oka Crisis in 1990, and the 1993 Clayquot Sound & 2020 Fairy Creek old growth logging protests. Despite the unarmed and mostly peaceful nature of the occupations the RCMP continue to send in heavily armed tactical teams, police dogs, and helicopters at great expense to uphold court injunctions for corporations operating in unceded territory and ends up enflaming both sides.

But by far the greatest modern stain on the RCMP track record is the inaction and cavalier approach to dealing with the shocking number of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Although Indigenous women make up only 4% of Canada's female population, they make up 24% of all the murdered women. While activists claim there are thousands of improperly investigated cases of missing and murdered women owing to police bias and racism, the RCMP themselves have acknowledged over 1,000 murdered Indigenous women over the past 30 years while the National Women's Association claims over 4,000. The RCMP claim they have solved 80% - 90% of all cases which still leaves over 100 unsolved including the 20+ along the infamous Highway of Tears in northern B.C.

Brenda Lucki

Then of course there is the violence and sexual assaults against female RCMP officers by their male counterparts that has now resulted in a class-action lawsuit against the RCMP by the over 500 women who came forward to represent over 3,500 claimants. All this while the RCMP is headed by a woman, Commissioner Brenda Lucki, who is helpless in dealing with the systemic racism, homophobia, and sexism that make up the force's culture. And while women make up over 21% of the RCMP, only 7% of the force are Indigenous people.

And to cap things off there is now the ongoing investigations into multiple members of the Prince George RCMP for the killing of an Indigenous man while in police custody and, even more disturbing, the sexual abuse and harassment of at least 10 Indigenous girls that involved a now deceased judge and a number of police officers. The worse thing about the case is the cover ups, obstruction of justice, and destruction of evidence that has been going on for 20 years since it was first reported and the lack of any charges being filed against the officers involved in spite of repeated promises to look into the matter. It took a retired RCMP officer to file a complaint with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission to finally get a 33 page report produced that eviscerates the RCMP and then sat on Commissioner Brenda Lucki's desk for three years before the sordid story went public and was then handed over the BC First Nations Justice Council to decide next steps. But the Prince George debacle with Indigenous people is only the tip of the iceberg, with similar cover-ups and obfustications being played out at detachments across the country, most notably in Saskatoon, Winnipeg, and Thunder Bay to name a few.

Clearly after 150 years the RCMP have outlived their usefulness as a force to deal with Indigenous people and it's time to look for an alternative model. Whether or not we even need a federal police force or one that more closely resembles the FBI is another question. With First Nations people overrepresented in the criminal justice system as both victims and offenders something needs to change. Despite making up less than 5% of Canada's total population, they make up 32% of the country's prison population. Perhaps a local police force made up of Indigenous people would be more in touch with the people it seeks to protect and could help bring down the crime and incarceration rate. If nothing else it would address the systemic racism that has permeated the RCMP since its inception. The RCMP are never going to change their culture so instead of waiting for that to happen the time has come to simply abolish the institution.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Bitter Green


In our rush to save Earth from overheating it seems we have collectively embraced the concept of trying to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions (the principal cause) by switching everything over to electric. First, of course, on the list is the automobile, of which there are approximately 1.5 billion scattered over the planet. With each one emitting of 4.5 tons of carbon dioxide every year that's a lot of potential greenhouse gas pollution (approximately 10% of global CO2 dioxide with airplanes contributing another 3%) that we could clear from the skies. But replacing gas powered vehicles with electric ones isn't the answer, more rapid transit is what we really need.

Instead of a combustion engine, the main component of an electric vehicle (EV) is its battery which contains a number of expensive components, particularly lithium and cobalt. 70% of the world's cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo where the miners (often children) are working long hours in slave-like conditions digging by hand, without protective clothing or face masks in dusty tunnels and unsafe, crowded conditions for less than $2.00 per day. Lithium on the other hand is mined in the triangle area of Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile that produces 58% of the world's lithium. Bolivia alone has more than half of the world's reserves. The main method of producing lithium is through brine extraction mining which requires vast evaporation ponds to separate lithium from the salt and using enormous amounts of water in the process (2 million litres of water per ton of lithium). This in turn has created all sorts of water crisis issues in the surrounding area as a result of water contamination and unsustainable use of a critically diminishing resource.

Cobalt mining the Congo

Lithium brine extraction mine in the Atacama, Chile salt flats

How could anyone think that mining these components is any less devastating for the planet and its inhabitants? While we ride around in fancy EVs the people who work these mines are lucky to have a bicycle. And this doesn't even begin to address the environmental costs of producing the copper, nickel, aluminium, and other required metals or the one kg of rare earth elements that go into every EV for the magnets and other motor parts. For examble each EV requires 75 kg of copper which is triple the amount of a conventional vehicle, and rare earth elements (which by definition are not easy to find or mine) generate 2,000 tons of toxic and radioactive waste for every ton produced. Why is it okay to have all this radioactive waste lying around but not okay to run a nuclear power plant?

Even if we ignore the damaging effects of the mining on the environment to make these EVs, we have to figure out how to re-charge their batteries on a daily basis because the charge doesn't last that long. If everyone had an EV it would easily more than double the amount of electricity required for powering the electrical grid in our cities. With coal, oil, and natural gas being the primary fuel sources (> 75%) for most of the power plants in the world, which are already producing 25% of the greenhouse gas emissions just for heat & electricity, this is only going to make the problem worse. We need power plants that produce clean sources of energy but how?

Renewables like wind, solar, or geothermal provide 2% of the energy in the world and no matter how fast they grow they will never be able to provide enough power to make much of a difference, and they are unreliable. Solar panels and windmills only last 20 years and, in addition to desecrating the landscape, they require enormous amounts of refined minerals to construct. For example, it takes 1.5 tons of coal to make one ton of steel and, according to the American Wind Energy Association, each windmill uses over 200 tons of steel. According to the Nickel Institute, each wind turbine also uses 2 tons of nickel which requires another 50 tons of coal to produce and, according to the Copper Development Association, each wind turbine contains up to 5 tons of copper which once again requires lots of coal to refine. So making the components for renewable energy is hardly a green proposition nor one that is scaleable.

Site C dam under construction

Then there is hydro power which, because it is renewable, is considered clean and green, but it's not. Dams destroy fish spawning runs, flood valuable farmland, and disrupt the ecology of hundreds of species. The destruction caused by a hydro-electric project like the Site C dam in northeastern B.C. is massive, with over 9,000 hectares of prime farmland and other habitat destroyed by the dam's construction and a 5,000 hectare reservoir. On top of that it's being built on unstable soil conditions which is now adding to the overrun costs and turning the entire project into a $16 billion dollar boondoggle that's twice the originally budgeted cost. 

Nuclear power plant in France

There's only one realistic alternative to replacing the more than 40,000 fossil fuel burning power plants in the world and/or adding more capacity to the power grid and that's by using nuclear power. The eco fanatics may dream of wind and solar but it isn't green nor is it reliable, and it will never supply enough energy to power the conversion to an electric world. Nuclear power on the other hand produces no CO2, the power plants are always producing energy regardless of the weather or time of day, and the fuel cores themselves last for 3-6 years before they need replacement. There have only been three nuclear power plant accidents in the history of its use; Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima and, other than Chernobyl where 29 people died from radiation exposure, nobody else has died directly. Every year air pollution and accidents have killed far more people working at hydroelectric and fossil fuel plants. Even the disposal of nuclear waste is no longer a technological problem as storage solutions have been developed, some of the waste can be re-used in the newer designs, and the latest designs have no waste at all. 

We need to stop thinking of nuclear energy as some sort of scary monster. It's a myth perpetuated by oil companies and the like who hate competition and the ill informed half of the green movement who can't face facts. If we really want to reduce CO2 emissions we need to ensure every new power plant we build is a nuclear one and we need to start replacing old fossil fuel plants with new nuclear ones. Electrifying everything is only one part of the equation and if we don't embrace nuclear energy the world will turn out to be a very bitter green.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

No More DeadHeads


Now that the Queen has passed away, and before Charles gets too comfortable on his throne, perhaps this would be a good opportunity to re-visit the idea of having a monarch's portrait on our currency. Why we still want to have a monarchy in this day and age is another discussion. But even worse than having a current king or queen adorning our money is having a deadhead, like one of our deceased Prime Ministers (most of whom seem to have lost the sterling reputation we embued them with in our history books) staring at us whenever we reach for our wallets.

Yes it was nice that we took a break from old Prime Ministers to acknowledge someone like Viola Desmond, a black businesswoman, who was an inspiration for the pursuit of racial equality in Canada but what about some of our First Nations personalities like Big Bear or Poundmaker who led the fight for Indigenous rights? Or better still, how about Mary Simon, our current Governor General who is an Inuit woman?

Big Bear

Mary Simon, Governor General of Canada

Maybe we should stay away from people all together and avoid any controversy over skin colour, ancestry, political beliefs, religion, or gender, and look instead to the animal kingdom to grace our bank notes. What could be more Canadian than the beaver for example, or the polar bear, or the Canada goose? For regional representation it could be the salmon or the killer whale for the west coast, the bison is surely the most iconic symbol for the prairies, and for the east coast what could be more appropriate 
than the moose.

Wouldn't pictures of these magnificent creatures be more colourful, and meaningful than the current deadheads adorning our currency? It might also remind us that we need to be looking after these animals and protecting the habitat that sustains them. The diversity of our wildlife reflects the diversity of our Canadian culture and, rather than looking to the deadheads of the past, why not instead let these iconic animals of the present serve as an inspiration to us as we confront the challenges of the future.