Seeing red: The roof on BC Place Stadium is just one of many cost overruns on the BC Liberals’ watch
Posted July 17, 2014 by Damien Gillis in Economics
Oh, for the days of the fast ferries…compared to what we have now.
Most British Columbians will recall Premier Glen Clark’s late 1990’s boondoggle, which saw the construction of three new coastal vessels balloon from a projected $210 million to nearly $460 million.
How could we forget? After the relentless salvos from pundits like Vaughan Palmer and Mike Smyth led to the NDP government’s collapse, in every election cycle since, the incumbent BC Liberals have dragged out these ghost ships to bolster their own economic credentials. To Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark, the fast ferries are the gift that keeps on giving.
The only problem is the Liberals’ own fiscal fiascos absolutely dwarf those of their NDP predecessors – though they’re consistently able to get away with it.
Sure, Mr. Palmer has poked holes in the government’s laughable election promise of a debt-free BC and raised red flags over the government’s routine cost overruns, but the pundits’ knives have been decidedly less sharp over the past 13 years. Unlike the NDP, Liberal governments face no real consequences for their misdeeds.
With the Liberals on track to double the $34 Billion provincial debt they inherited from what history would now suggest was a surprisingly restrained NDP, it’s high time for an update to their fiscal report card. (That debt doesn’t even include an additional $100 Billion in contractual taxpayer obligations, like private power contracts, which they’ve swept under rug).
This is especially important with projects like the $8 Billion proposed Site C Dam currently under review (and if you believe that sticker price, I’ve got some pond-front property in northern Alberta you may be interested in).
On that last point, Fort St. John businessman Bob Fedderly put the Liberals’ woeful record of project management in perspective when I interviewed him recently about Site C, which he and a growing number of businesspeople are opposed to.
“If you look back over the last 10 or 12 years to every project of any magnitude, it’s ballooned right out of proportion – two times, three times is not uncommon,” Fedderly noted. “This is a pattern that’s appearing on project cost management.”
Contrasting the government’s track record with his own companies’ construction projects, he acknowledged a 10% margin for error was acceptable – but no more than that.
How bad is the government’s legacy with major capital projects? Pretty darned awful. Here are a few lowlights:
According to The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, “Originally, the government said the cost of improvements to the Port Mann would be $600 million. That ballooned to $1.5 billion in 2006 when the government announced it would twin the bridge. Now, the total cost of the project is expected to be $3.3 billion” (that’s $2.46 Billion, rising to $3.3 Billion including operation and maintenance costs).
Extra demerits for a serious design flaw that led to falling ice bombs, putting passengers at risk and ringing up $400,000 in insurance claims for ICBC.
While the official line is that the upgrade to BC Place Stadium skyrocketed from $365 to $514 million, a January 2008 letter from operator PAVCO’s Chairman David Podmore to Vancouver City Manager Judy Rogers pegged the total cost at just $100 million. I’m no architect, but that seems like a reasonable price, whereas $514 million does not. After all, Seattle built a perfectly good stadium for its Seahawks in 2002 for just $360 million. All we got is a roof.
Extra demerits for design flaws which restricted the retractable roof’s ability to…well, retract.
Crown corporation BC Hydro’s construction of the Northwest Transmission Line – designed to power an assortment of proposed mines in the Sacred Headwaters region of the province – has nearly doubled from initial estimates of $404 million to the most recent tally of $736 million (expect the final number to be considerably higher).
Extra demerits for management error that could cost BC $130 million in federal “green infrastructure” support for the project. The Liberal government received the grant to electrify the village of Iskut, getting it off diesel power. All the province had to do was file a plan for the spur with the feds by June 30, 2012 – but it missed its deadline by nearly a year, meaning that, technically, the BC public is on the hook to repay the entire $130 million.
For all its LEED certifications and architectural attributes, the Vancouver Convention Centre also exploded from estimates of under $500 million to nearly $900 million by its 2009 completion.
What’s worse, all this could have been avoided if the Liberal government simply followed its own critique of the NDP’s fast ferries experience – namely, not having people without construction experience overseeing the project (i.e. Liberal powerbroker Ken Dobell) and being sure to have finalized plans for the contractor to execute. Lacking the latter, a fixed-price contract proved impossible to nail down.
Perhaps the only way for the Liberal government to assert it’s on time and on budget with a major project is to lie about it, as this unnecessary, convoluted truck highway through Delta and Surrey demonstrates. Laila Yuile, a blogger and one of the province’s shrewdest transportation project watchdogs, recalled last year that initial estimates for the project ranged from $700-800 million.
By the time it was completed in 2013, it was a year late and the cost had risen to $1.264 Billion – significantly more than a revised estimate of around a billion dollars. But that didn’t stop the government from boasting that its project was “on time and on budget”. As Vaughan Palmer quipped at the time, “Regular readers of this space will be familiar with the more flexible approach that the B.C. Liberals have taken toward the concept of being on time and on budget.”
Perhaps the biggest mystery in all of this is the NDP opposition’s failure to call the government out for its dismal fiscal record. How “Mr. Nice Guy” Adrian Dix saw fit to let the Liberals off the hook for this series of blunders that make the fast ferry overruns look like pocket change is baffling. It cost them the last election, as I noted in the aftermath of that sorry affair.
These numbers and examples of the Liberals’ fiscal ineptitude should be of real concern to BC taxpayers today as we ponder projects like Site C Dam – whose $8 Billion estimate (making it one of the highest-priced government infrastructure undertakings in Canadian history) is surely only the tip of the iceberg. Dams, as a rule, are highly prone to cost overruns – the World Bank estimates an average of 27% around the globe.
This is a project that will not serve the homes and businesses of BC, which are already self-sufficient in electricity far into the foreseeable future – rather, we’re told it’s to power liquefied natural gas production or to export to California (likely at a considerable loss for some time).
When you factor in the usual Liberal premium of doubling the cost, it’s not hard to see how this dam could sink us in more ways than one.
Posted April 26, 2016 by Common Sense Canadian in WATER
By Norman Farrell – republished from In-sights
Readers may tire of reports on BC Hydro but the more I examine this public utility, the more convinced I am that citizens of BC are victims of massive financial deception.
In 20 years leading up to 1996, BC Hydro’s average annual revenue from trading in North American electricity markets was $115 million. In three years ended March 2003, the utility realized gross trading revenue of $11.25 billion, although that sum was tempered by the $1 billion or so BC Hydro paid to end a subsequent lawsuit by California.
Although the American power market had been manipulated by Enron and other criminal fixers, Gordon Campbell and his colleagues believed that British Columbia could become a permanent power supplier to the western USA. Liberals wanted the electricity to be created by private operators, but it was soon clear that private entrepreneurs were not prepared to take significant financial risks.
The provincial government was determined to proceed so it decided that BC Hydro would sign long-term contracts to purchase power produced by independents at prices that made projects attractive to investors. This effectively transferred all business risks from private operators to the public. While dumb, it’s a fairly common occurrence today when governments are keen to be seen as business-friendly.
Compounding the situation was the Liberals’ misjudgment of future markets because they didn’t anticipate improved technologies and growing availability and affordability of alternative power. Consumption efficiencies, declining heavy industries and falling costs of solar and wind permanently changed the energy industries.
BC Hydro has contracted with independent power producers for increasing quantities at prices adjusted upwards each year for inflation. But, domestic demand has been flat for a decade and the export market in the last five years has returned only 2.8¢ per KWh, a fraction of the 22.8¢ gained in the heyday of 2001.
Because it is buying each KWh from IPPs at over 9¢ but has no need for the total it must buy, BC Hydro is left with two choices. One is to generate less power in its own facilities and the other is to dump power outside the province at prices less than 1/3 of the amount IPPs are paid. BC Hydro is doing both.
I’ve had utility defenders argue the company has never reduced its own output to accommodate private power so I reviewed sources of power reports for more than two decades. Here is a chart showing the last five years under Premier Clark’ leadership and the five years between 1996 and 2001.
The situation is not improving. In FY 2015, BC Hydro facilities generated 41,443 GWh of electricity. In FY 2001, those very same sites produced 49,940 GWh, which is 20% more.
However, here’s a vital point. In 2001, BC Hydro had assets of $12.6 billion. In 2015, assets had grown to $27.8 billion. The company has been spending heavily, allegedly to make the system more efficient. In fact, what is continuing is misappropriation of public wealth for the benefit of suppliers, contractors and other BC Liberal friends.
Some people believe the government intention is to privatize BC Hydro. However, I believe the present situation, with another $10 billion of public funds being thrown at Site C, is working just fine for Christy Clark, her cabinet colleagues and their sponsors.
Citizens should be asking for explanations, from politicians and the pro-media journalists who choose to ignore these facts.
A longtime blogger and publisher of In-sights, North Shore resident Norman Farrell has experience in a broad range of small business activities with a particular focus on accounting and financial management.
Ontario households and small businesses will be paying increased electricity prices starting May 1 and the reasoning given by the Ontario Energy Board has opposition politicians up in arms.
On April 14, the Ontario Energy Board announced time-of-use electricity prices will increase by approximately $3.13 per month on the “electricity” line, and about 2.5 per cent on the total bill, for a household that consumes 750 kWh per month.
The off-peak price will increase 0.4 cents to 8.7 cents per kilowatt hour between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. The mid-peak price also increases 0.4 cents to 13.2 cents per kilowatt hour between 7-11 a.m. and 5-7 p.m. The off-peak price will increase 0.5 cents to 18 cents per kilowatt hour between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.
The explanation given was “Ontarians consumed less electricity than expected over the recent milder winter. As a result of lower usage, Regulated Price Plan (RPP) prices did not recover the full cost of serving RPP customers. One of the main reasons prices are increasing in May is to recover this shortfall.”
“The blame is not on mild weather, or that we are or aren’t consuming. It rests squarely on the shoulders of government,” said Kenora-Rainy River MPP Sarah Campbell (NDP). “(The government) keeps signing lucrative contracts with generators. There is no need for the power and yet they are still signing these costly contracts. If we don’t need the power, not only are we paying the high prices (to the power generators) but selling it off for pennies on the dollar.”
Campbell said Ontarians are rightfully frustrated that the government introduced time-of-use smart meters on the basis of having to conserve electricity and now being told that is why electricity costs are going up.
The NDP claims the cost of electricity is increasing by more than nine per cent for the eighth year in a row.
“The government is out of touch with the priorities and struggles Ontarians are facing,” said Campbell, noting she’s been told by seniors in the riding they’ve had Hyrdo One bills larger than a pension cheque and for other constituents bills totalling more than their mortgage.
Last week during Question Period, Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown referenced a Hydro One bill which has been making traction on social media.
“I came across a photo of a Hydro One bill the other day – it was dated April 13, 2016. It read: On-peak: 0 kilowatts per hour used. Mid-peak: 0 kilowatts per hour used. Off-peak: 0 kilowatts per hour used. Total cost of electricity charges: $113,” Brown said.
“Why is it acceptable for Hydro One to charge this family $113 for not using any electricity?” Brown added.
Campbell said to put pressure on the Liberal majority government, it is stories like this that have to be brought forward.
“Send me, send the government messages that tell about your troubles,” said Campbell. She can be reached on facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Sid Ruhland, the “brew chief” at Oliver’s Firehall Brewery, needed money to expand the business, he didn’t go to a bank for a loan, or hunt down rich investors; he simply asked the Internet. And the Internet responded.
The brewery’s Kickstarter campaign wrapped up late last week, with the final tally coming in at $16,891. That money will allow Ruhland and his crew to open a brand new tasting room, installing a draught system, fridge and refurbishing with new furniture and decorations.
“The people have spoken,” Ruhland wrote on the Kickstarter web page after reaching the fundraising goal. “We cannot overemphasize our sincerest thanks of deep appreciation to every backer for joining the effort by taking action. We look forward to rewarding you for your belief in our dream.”
That kind of communication, the enthusiastic thanks and frequent public updates, are some of the hallmarks of crowdfunding. As Ruhland pointed out in an interview after the campaign reached its goal, crowdfunding is all about the community.
Crowdfunding works by harnessing the power of the Internet to bring a whole bunch of small donations together in one place. A Kickstarter campaign, for example, will ask backers to pledge a small sum in exchange for a “gift” of appreciation (the Firehall’s gifts ranged from free high-fives for small donations, to designing a beer with the brewmaster for the largest).
If hundreds of people all donate a small amount, it can quickly add up to a significant chunk of change. Typically, crowdfunding is used to collect money for charitable causes or to fund passion projects, but Ruhland also saw it as an opportunity for his for-profit business.
Collecting many small donations from individuals and community members on the Internet is a powerful way to raise money, but it also allows a business to bypass the monolithic organizations that for so long have controlled the flow of money.
“We could have gone to a bank as well, or look for investors, but crowdfunding allowed us to go straight to the people who will use this new beer room,” he said.
“That is part of what the Kickstarter was about, was instead of taking years accumulating the stuff we need and eventually get the doors open down the road … if everybody is willing to chip in 25 bucks, it’s getting a shop open now.”
Ruhland said he sees crowdfunding as part of the “share economy,” which he says “seems like it’s an answer to the capitalism that has been created by past generations.”
“Opening a business, there’s just an incredible amount of organizations that put their fingers in your pocket: every year some of our biggest expense items are licences and dues and fees and permits, and everything like that,” he said, adding that the share economy can be a great way to build a strong local economy with businesses that aren’t’ dependent on big banks.
But Ruhland admitted a Kickstarter campaign is not the same as a typical loan or investment; the money raised is all from donations, and the people who donated naturally feel like they have a stake in the business now.
Ruhland said that is actually a good thing for him, as it will help create more of a sense of ownership and belonging with the new tasting room, but it also means people will expect more.
“I’m sure that if people pledge for the project, and they’re also people in town who would become customers, if we create something they’re not happy with then they’re going to feel not only that it’s not a business they want to spend money at, but also that their investment, so to speak, is not a success,” he said.
To combat any potential ill will, Ruhland said he has spent a lot of time interacting with backers on social media, asking for input on T-shirt designs, the colour of the beer fridge and even some larger operational questions.
There is also a detailed financial plan on display on the campaign’s website outlining exactly what all the donated money will be used for.
Ruhland said they’ve already started ordering equipment, and the new tasting room could be open within a few weeks.
The lion’s share of the money collected will go towards the new draught system, with a little more going to the product fridge and the rest to spruce up the room with new furniture and signage.
Ruhland said the final product will be a retail space that has a pub feel to it, featuring an open space with standing tables and a bar. Customers will be able to come in during the day and evening and drink a pint, listen to a few tunes on the record player and hang out for a while.
There’s more plans for the future, but Ruhland said they will be starting with the most important things first.
“We’re going to start simple: beer.”
Ruhland says the new beer tasting room will feel a little like a cross between a traditional pub and a wine tasting room.
By Trevor Nichols
Who owns water? Nestlé’s ambitions in Southern Ontario raise big questions about an essential – and finite – resource
Formerly the site of a chicken-processing plant and, later, a small water-bottling facility, the five-acre plot at 7334 Middlebrook Road near Elora, Ont., attracted no more attention than neighbouring land when it quietly came up for sale last spring.
But that was before one of the world’s largest multinational companies offered to buy it. Nestlé Waters Canada, a subsidiary of Swiss-based food giant Nestlé S.A., didn’t come for the land: It sought what lies beneath. The title comes with a 110-metre-deep well and, more importantly, the right to pump 1,300 litres of water per minute.
“We’re looking at this as a supplementary well for future business growth and to allow for redundancy for our current operations,” explains Andreanne Simard, natural resources manager for Nestlé Waters Canada.
The backlash arrived swiftly. Wellington Water Watchers, a non-profit group that casts itself as the area’s groundwater watchdog, deems Nestlé’s consumption “a wasteful use of our community’s precious water resources.”
Save Our Water, another local organization, argues Elora will get a raw deal. “They’ll be putting it into large tankers and driving it over our roads and bridges and paying taxes on five acres of land,” says spokesperson Donna McCaw. She points out that industrial users across Ontario pay $3.71 per million litres of water. Elora residents pay $2.14 per thousand litres – a rate 576 times higher.
FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Nestlé Waters North America, an affiliate of the Canadian company, has found itself at the centre of many similar disputes across the continent. Concerns about water are spreading in step with the advance of global warming, drawing attention to businesses that depend on cheap sources. At the heart of the conflicts lie fundamental questions about ownership of an increasingly scarce resource.
As the battle lines are drawn in Elora, water activists say Nestlé is a lightning rod for a much bigger issue. Other industrial water users – in agriculture, paper manufacturing and metals extraction, to name but a few – use far greater volumes than bottlers do, yet seldom receive a commensurate level of scrutiny.
Fears of water scarcity remain fresh in the minds of many in neighbouring Waterloo region. The area suffered shortages in the late 1980s, prompting a flurry of groundwater monitoring and conservation measures. James Etienne, senior water resources engineer with the Grand River Conservation Authority in Cambridge, Ont., says the Elora area’s existing water supply is adequate. But the area “has been flagged as a longer-term drought concern,” depending on future municipal demand. “We’re in the middle of the largest lake system in the world, and we don’t draw any water from it,” he explains. “The main communities – Guelph, Waterloo Region – are all groundwater fed.”
Nestlé points out that the Middlebrook well has been permitted and operated for two decades, without incident. “This is not additional water that’s being pumped out of the watershed,” says Nestlé Waters Canada spokesman John Challinor. “It’s already in the province’s inventory.” And regular testing has never identified any contamination.
Nestlé’s Middlebrook Road purchase is conditional on a regimen of pumping tests and data analysis to ensure the well meets the company’s requirements, and also on a water permit renewal. The public consultation period for a pumping-test permit, which ended in mid-November, attracted about 1,200 comments. Should the province approve its 60-day pump-testing permit, Nestlé will confirm the water’s quality and quantity, and study how proposed bottling operations would impact nearby wells, fish, animals and plants. If Middlebrook passes, Nestlé will apply to Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment for a water permit. It seeks the same maximum pumping volumes enjoyed by the previous owner, whose permit expired Oct. 31, 2015. Nestlé then plans to buy the property at an undisclosed price.
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Bottled water is big business. During the last two decades, Nestlé’s bottled-water sales in North America exploded tenfold from $400-million (U.S.) to approximately $4-billion. “Over the last decade we’ve seen a shift away from carbonated soft drinks towards bottled water,” says Howard Telfer, a beverage analyst with Euromonitor International. “And Nestlé has been at the top of the pack, at least in North America.” It has become Canada’s largest bottled water manufacturer, and according to Euromonitor sells 9.5% of all soft drinks in Canada, making it the second-largest soft drink vendor behind Coca-Cola, and ahead of Pepsi.
Nestlé’s sprawling water production apparatus comprises a crucial component of its competitive advantage. It operates 29 bottling facilities across the continent; Canadian operations include plants in Puslinch, Ont., and Hope, B.C. Although many brands (including Nestlé’s Pure Life) are little more than filtered municipal water, many of Nestlé’s mid-priced brands require spring sources. Through direct ownership, leases, easements and other arrangements, Nestlé accesses 75 springs across North America in 40 locations. “They control most of the production capacity,” and the springs, Mr. Telfer notes, which has “allowed them to remain fairly dominant.”
In 2013, Nestlé Waters North America chief executive Tim Brown said his company had enough to meet its water needs for a decade. “But we will always be looking for springs, because water is finite,” he added. “We’ll always be on the lookout for it, all around the world. And we will never sell a spring.”
Nestlé’s market dominance made the company a natural target for environmental non-governmental organizations, some of which also decry the environmental impacts of the plastic bottles most beverage products ship in. They also point to the extraordinarily low fees the company pays for the water it bottles.
Tony Clarke, president of the Polaris Institute, founded his organization in 1997 as a response to what he regarded as transnational corporations seizing control of public policy. Nestlé soon entered his crosshairs. “Often, these water-takings on the part of Nestlé are in areas that are prone to drought,” he says.“There have been major cases in California and Florida, and more recently in Oregon and British Columbia.”
Those activists in Ontario better be ready for a long fight – the company doesn’t back down easily. Nestlé first suggested establishing a bottling plant in Cascade Locks, Ore., (population 1,200), for example, in 2008. Now, six of seven city councillors support the project; Gordon Zimmerman, the city’s administrator, welcomes Nestlé as a potential employer in a community wracked by an unemployment rate of nearly 19 per cent.
But to secure water from the nearby Oxbow Springs, the company and the municipality must negotiate with arms of the state. NGOs litigated throughout the regulatory approval process. “They were successful in getting this shoved into court,” Mr. Zimmerman says.
A dwindling snowpack last winter in Oregon led to droughts this year declared in most of the state’s counties, including Hood River County where Cascade Locks is situated. Julia DeGraw, an organizer with Food & Water Watch, one of Nestlé’s NGO opponents, says Nestlé’s proposed extractions from Oxbow Springs, albeit small, are part of a larger effort to access springs throughout the Columbia River Gorge. “They’re not going to open up shop and bottle 118-million gallons out of Oxbow Springs per year,” she says. “This is their foothold.”
In early November, Oregon Governor Kate Brown intervened to prevent a transfer of water rights. Seven years on, Nestlé has made little discernible progress. Following another protracted dispute, in 2009 the company abandoned entirely efforts to construct a plant in McCloud, Calif. Mr. Zimmerman says he’s worried the company’s patience might wear thin. “We’re hoping they’re sticking this out,” he says. “I mean, they’ve waited this long. They might as well wait a couple of years more.”
Nestlé has been thwarted in finding a backup well in Ontario, albeit primarily by hydrology. In 2008, Nestlé considered siting a backup well near its Puslinch plant. But the property straddled two water basins; despite considerable testing, Nestlé couldn’t figure out which it was pumping from. Because Nestlé was permitted to draw water from one basin and not the other, the obstacle proved insurmountable.
Middlebrook presents its own technical challenges. It’s artesian (meaning it’s under pressure), which makes testing more difficult. “If you take the cap off, it would naturally flow 15 metres above ground surface,” says Ms. Simard. The greater challenges, though, are human. Ms. McCaw’s organization, Save Our Water, wants a moratorium on new water permits while further studies are conducted. Pointing to new subdivisions sprouting up around Elora and nearby Fergus, she wonders whether the area’s groundwater can accommodate both Nestlé’s pumping and future expected growth. She cites projections suggesting the population of the Township of Centre Wellington (which includes Elora) will grow about 40% over the next 15 years, from today’s 27,000 to more than 41,000. “New residents and business coming in are going to need water,” she says.
Ian MacRae grew up in a farmhouse adjacent to the Middlebrook property; his father owned the land in the 1960s and operated a chicken-processing plant there. Back then, water was used to thaw and wash chickens, then spread on nearby fields. He recalls that his godfather went cross-country skiing along Elora’s gorge one winter. “He saw something odd in the cracks of the rocks,” Mr. MacRae says. “On closer examination, he noticed it was chicken fat.” The plant ceased spraying contaminated water on the fields afterward, he says.
Mr. MacRae now lives about a kilometre away in the nearby community of Salem, where he has a 20-metre well. He worries large-scale pumping on the Middlebrook property could draw contaminants into the aquifer, or might lower groundwater levels. “If I’m suddenly inconvenienced by not having any water in my well, then I’m going to have to drill a deeper well. And that’s obviously going to be at my cost.”
Nestlé and its defenders frequently point out that the entire bottling industry’s water consumption is small in relation to other industries. Nestlé’s Mr. Challinor, for instance, cites data showing Nestlé and other bottlers extract just 0.6 per cent of permitted water from the Grand River watershed, in which Elora is situated. (Agricultural irrigation accounts for more than 6 per cent, while aggregate washing and livestock both account for 4 per cent each.)
Jane Lazgin, a spokesperson for Nestlé Waters North America, believes the obvious link between her company’s products and water consumption helps explain the challenges it faces when winning communities over. “I don’t think people necessarily look at other beverages, or their blue jeans, or their iPhones or the tires on their car and say, ‘Oh my goodness, they use so much water,’” she says.
Water activists are hoping to train the spotlight on many other industries that are heavy water-consumers. “The focus does tend to be very much on Nestlé,” says Ian Stephen, an organizer for WaterWealth, a non-profit based in Chilliwack, B.C. He laments that other large industrial water users largely escape scrutiny. “Agriculture is the biggest user in B.C., and really gets overlooked,” he says. “Our agricultural practices will certainly have to be looked at, especially as things get drier and drier.”
Dispute duration: 2012-2013
When Nestlé applied to renew its water-taking permit in Erin, Ont., in 2012, the province sought to impose new mandatory pumping restrictions during droughts. Nestlé retorted that other municipal or commercial water users didn’t face such restrictions and proposed the requirements be relaxed. The Ministry backed down and reached an agreement with the company, but three NGOs — Wellington Water Watchers, Ecojustice and the Council of Canadians — intervened and persuaded the Environmental Review Tribunal that the matter should receive a full hearing. Nestlé bowed out a month later, and the NGOs declared victory.
Outcome: Opponents win
INTERACTIVE BY DANIELLE WEBB AND MATTHEW MCCLEARN
Health Canada set out to drive a Canadian-made stop-smoking aid from the market after a complaint from Pfizer Canada Inc., a pharmaceutical company that makes competing products, a judge has found.
In its first few months on the market, a lozenge called Resolve, billed as a natural way to stop or reduce smoking, sold more than 250,000 cartons across Canada, according to its manufacturer, The Winning Combination Inc. (TWC) of Winnipeg. Then Pfizer wrote Health Canada a letter saying the product posed health risks. (That same year – 2007 – Pfizer sought and obtained Health Canada approval for a quit-smoking prescription medication, Champix.)
What followed, according to a scathing ruling from Federal Court Justice James Russell, was a process in which a lone bureaucrat, Robin Marles, set up roadblocks to Resolve while other Health Canada officials stood by or supported his efforts. At every stage, as the company tried to make its case for a licence to sell Resolve, Dr. Marles, the director of Health Canada’s clinical trials bureau, denied it any fairness, Justice Russell said. (Under Health Canada rules at the time, a company could sell a natural health product while its application for a licence was under consideration.)
Checks and balances “were abandoned and those with the authority and responsibility to make the decision simply followed Dr. Marles’ directions, whose directing mind appears to have lost all sense of objectivity and procedural fairness as he attempted to shore up his own misperceived conclusions,” Justice Russell wrote in his 68-page ruling this month.
The result: Resolve was wrongly banned from the market for eight years, he said. Rather than send the matter back to Health Canada to rethink whether Resolve meets its standards – the normal course for this situation, he said – he ordered Health Canada to approve a natural-health-product licence within 30 days.
“To simply return the matter for reconsideration to a system that has shown itself to be so dysfunctional might simply plunge TWC back into the quagmire and trigger more litigation,” he said. The judge did not criticize Pfizer.
Shazad Bukhari, chief executive officer of The Winning Combination, said the company did not receive fair treatment from Health Canada. “The sense of fair play you would expect and you hope the government would provide isn’t always the case,” he said in an interview.
Dr. Marles would not comment when reached by phone.
A spokeswoman for Health Canada said the department is appealing the court’s decision. “The department remains committed to a fair and impartial review of all health product licence applications,” she said.
Pfizer said it had been beyond reproach. “Pfizer Canada always conducts itself appropriately,” a spokesman said by e-mail after receiving a copy of the ruling from The Globe and Mail. “There is absolutely no conclusion or statement in the court decision to indicate otherwise.”
Justice Russell said that after Pfizer complained to Health Canada in mid-2007, the government claimed Resolve contained a substance drawn from passionflower, and would be harmful. The company showed independent lab tests confirming the product contained no passionflower, and Health Canada ultimately accepted that it was not harmful.
Next, the judge said, Health Canada said Resolve was not a natural health product, defined as one whose key ingredient occurs in nature, or is a synthetic version of a natural product. Instead, it said, Resolve was a drug, and would need a more thorough process to prove its effectiveness.
“Dr. Marles has conceded that he had no evidence that the active ingredient in Resolve was not a [natural health product]. All he had was his own opinion,” Justice Russsell wrote. “And yet Dr. Marles actively sought to have the Active Ingredient delisted … without giving any notice to TWC that classification was a problem.”
Then came a “reconsideration,” at the company’s request, in which Health Canada retained an expert – Dr. Marles’s former postdoctoral supervisor. The reconsideration came to the same conclusion – that the key ingredient was not natural. But the ruling said the expert had done a faulty search of a database, and missed convincing evidence that it was natural.
Finally, accepting that Resolve was a natural product and not a drug, Health Canada said it would need conclusive evidence it was effective – a standard that it had not applied to any other natural health products, or even to drugs, Justice Russell found.
Even in its handling of the court case, Health Canada allowed Dr. Marles to serve as its front man, the source of all evidence about how it handled Resolve.
“He is an advocate for himself. Health Canada remains firmly in the hands of Dr. Marles and is apparently unwilling to provide the court with reliable factual evidence from others in the system who were involved,” Justice Russell wrote in the ruling. Health Canada never should have fought to uphold Dr. Marles’s conduct in court, the judge said.
So reprehensible was the government’s conduct, he said, that Health Canada must pay The Winning Combination’s legal costs, which Mr. Bukhari estimates at $1-million. The company laid off 15 employees, at a time when it had just 35, and its suppliers laid off more, Mr. Bukhari said, adding that the company now has 100 employees, and plans to launch Resolve in Europe, Australia, South Africa and elsewhere.
Pfizer’s quit-smoking prescription medication, Champix, was described in a Canadian Medical Association Journal article in 2011 as being linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular problems. Health Canada has published warnings, but has allowed it to be sold.
Summary of Research
Note : In 2010, the B.C. government starting making schools, hospitals and universities reduce their net carbon emissions to zero, and as a result the public institutions were forced to pay to have outside projects reduce carbon emissions in their stead. These reductions are often called carbon credits or offsets.
Note : British Columbia had paid out $53.4 million to buy these carbon offsets from major forest companies such as Canfor and Interfor, energy companies such as ARC Resources, and increasingly from a First Nation consortium whose traditional territory encompass the Great Bear Rainforest on B.C.’s central coast, according to data assembled by The Vancouver Sun.
Note : “In 2014 alone, the province purchased $10.2 million in carbon offsets from the Great Bear initiative.”
Note : Under the program, the province put a $25 a tonne price on the carbon emissions of the schools, hospitals and universities to provide an incentive for them to reduce emissions. (The carbon offsets from industry have been purchased at an average price of less than $12 a tonne).
Note : schools, hospital and universities have reduced emissions by 7.4 per cent or just under 63,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents, according to government data.
Note : And there are some public sector emissions under B.C.’s rules that have been deemed exempt from having to be offset — such as carbon emissions from school buses and the B.C. Transit fleet. Emissions from those exempt categories have increased about 20,000 tonnes between 2010 and 2014.
Note : The B.C. Liberal government has shown no intent to dismantle its carbon offset system, and B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak said there are no plans to make any changes.
Note : “I would hold this up as a really good example of how to take incentives and turn them into benefits that are pretty direct,” Polak said in an interview.
Note : She is referring to the $14.5 million a year the province provides to schools, hospitals and universities to help them reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Note : In essence, the B.C. government is giving back money they collected from the $25 a tonne of emissions, but it has to be directed to emission-reduction projects.
Note : NDP environment critic George Heyman says the province’s carbon trading scheme is a shell game.
Note : “The real question here is why are they taking additional money from schools and hospitals instead of letting them upgrade and retrofit their buildings for energy conservation directly,” he said.
Note : Asked why the province does not simply let the public institutions keep the money, which they could plow into projects to reduce carbon emissions, particularly given hospitals and colleges are already paying a $30 a tonne carbon tax as well, Polak said the $25 a tonne additional charge provides a needed incentive to change behaviour.
Note : Asked why this additional $25 charge was then not applied to the private sector as well, where there are much larger gains to be had in emission reductions, Polak said that question may be answered in the province’s updated climate change plan expected to be released this year.
Note : After shutting down the Pacific Carbon Trust in 2013, and moving its operations into the secretariat, the B.C. Liberal government said it would save $5.6 million a year and use only five government workers.
Note : The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has been highly critical of the Pacific Carbon Trust, and continues to have concerns of the program now being run within government.
Note : B.C. spokesman Jordan Bateman called the carbon system a farce, saying the program is not about reducing emissions but a public relations exercise so the government can call itself carbon neutral.
Note : He noted that replacing boilers sounded like routine maintenance.
Note : More fundamentally, he said most people would not consider schools and hospitals priorities for reducing carbon emissions, said Bateman. “The whole program seems really ridiculous.”
AN AUDIT OF CARBON NEUTRAL GOVERNMENT (Must Read)
Public Accounts (Ministry of Finance BC)
Things that still make you go “Hmmm” (Must Read)
Pacific Carbon Trust Finacials (Lots of information 2008/14)
Pacific Carbon Trust Folded Into B.C. Government In Cost-Cutting Move (Article)
BC Conservatives Promise Pacific Carbon Trust Shutdown (Article)
Auditor General Carbon Neutral Report Scalds BC Government (Article)
B.C. Taxpayers Pay Millions in Carbon Corporate Welfare–Again (Article)
Why Fear B.C.’s Clean Energy Policy? (Article)
Meaning of “Secretariat” (Related to the change to Pacific Carbon Trust)
Carbon Neutral Local Government (Review Material)
The following links are for Deloitte, this firm is presently working with the provincial government carbon tax dept! (Research Connection)
Deloitte works with the Sinularity University! (Research Connection)
Sinularity University (Research Connection)
WINNIPEG — A Winnipeg woman says she was reported to and investigated by Child and Family Services simply for letting her children play in her backyard.
Jacqui Kendrick, a stay-at-home mom, says a CFS worker showed up unexpectedly in early April, saying they had received a complaint about her children being unsupervised.
Kendrick has three children ages two, five and 10, and says they often played in her fenced-in backyard after school.
Kendrick says she’s either with them or watching them from her living room, though she says her oldest child also helps out by looking after her younger siblings.
But she says because a file has been created, she’s worried that any future complaints could end up with her children being taken from her.
She also says the grilling she underwent from the CFS worker left her in tears.
“(The worker was) asking me about if we’ve ever dealt with CFS before, what my childhood was like, how I punish my children,” Kendrick says. “She had to look to see where my kid slept. She had to see if we had enough food in the house.”
CFS officials did not respond to requests for an interview.
Winnipeg psychologist Dr. Toby Rutner says children should be as independent as their abilities allow.
He says with increased use of the Internet, “it has created a situation where everyone feels entitled to give an opinion, but this approach that says everyone’s opinion is equal in value.”
He calls the case common passive-aggressive behaviour; where in the past, concerned neighbours would have had to knock on someone’s door, now they can make an anonymous complaint.
Kendrick says her children have been well trained in how to be safe.
“We’ve taught both the (older) kids so far that you look after each other. That’s kind of the point. The older ones should be looking after the younger ones,” Kendrick says.
“My 10-year-old is very responsible. We’ve taught the older ones already the whole stranger danger, and they know what to do. When my five-year-old’s out there, she knows she’s not supposed to go up to the fence.”
Manitoba’s Child and Family Services Act states a child 12 or older can be left home alone unsupervised. It doesn’t say anything about children playing in a backyard.
Farm Groups Call on Ag Minister to Stop Genetically Modified Alfalfa Seed Release
Longueuil, Ottawa, Saskatoon. April 20, 2016 – Canadian farm organizations representing a diversity of farmers and production systems are asking the federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lawrence MacAulay, to take immediate action to stop any further release of genetically modified (GM or genetically engineered) alfalfa seed, following an announcement by the company Forage Genetics International (FGI) that it has sold a limited quantity for spring 2016 planting in Eastern Canada. This is the first time that any GM alfalfa has been sold in Canada.
A letter signed by 15 farm organizations calls upon the Minister to remove variety registration for all GM alfalfa until a full economic impact assessment is conducted, and to establish a protocol for testing all imports of alfalfa seed grown in the US. These measures would stop the sale of GM alfalfa seed in Canada and prevent the inadvertent importation of GM alfalfa via contaminated seed from the US where it has already been introduced.
“It’s imperative that the government take urgent action to stop the commercial introduction of GM alfalfa, to prevent irreversible contamination,” said Marcel Groleau, President of the Union des Producteurs Agricoles, which is the Union of Agricultural Producers in Quebec.
“So many farmer livelihoods will be threatened by proliferation of this one GM crop,” said Peter Eggers, an alfalfa producer in Alberta and National Farmers Union Board member. “Alfalfa is an amazing crop for so many farmers. Losing alfalfa to GM contamination would be devastating for many farmers and consumers. Contamination from GM alfalfa would have serious negative impacts on many different types of farmers and farming systems, both conventional and organic.”
Alfalfa is grown on almost 30% of Canada’s cropland. Alfalfa is used as high-protein feed for dairy and meat animals (hay and pasture). It’s also used in crop rotations to build up the nutrients in soil, making it important for growing grains and vegetables. Canada is the one of the world’s top five exporters of alfalfa pellets and cubes, and exports over $50 million of alfalfa seed every year. However many of Canada’s export markets have not yet approved GM alfalfa.
“The introduction of GM alfalfa could mean we lose some valuable export markets,” said Heather Kerschbaumer of Forage Seed Canada which represents all forage seed producers in Canada, “The risks and costs are just too high for our industry.”
The risk of GM alfalfa spreading to where it is not wanted is acknowledged as particularly high because alfalfa is a perennial crop that is pollinated by bees, it often grows wild in uncultivated areas, and it has tiny seeds.
“Canada’s growing and high-value organic sector could be seriously harmed by GM alfalfa,” said Lisa Mumm, board member of the Canada Organic Trade Association and a farmer-owner of Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds which grows and sells organic sprouting seeds for the consumer market, “Many farmers rely on alfalfa to produce a range of organic foods for Canadians.” GM alfalfa is a major concern for organic farmers because the Canadian Organic Standard prohibits the use of GM seeds.
FGI has approval to sell alfalfa with two genetically modified traits licensed from Monsanto, for glyphosate-tolerance and low-lignin.
Farm groups, farm businesses, community groups and non-profit organizations are invited to sign the letter at http://www.nfuontario.ca/wpr/gm-alfalfa/
For more information: Patrice Juneau, Union des Producteurs Agricoles, 450 679 0540 ext. 8591; Peter Eggers, National Farmers Union, 780 568 3805; Heather Kerschbaumer, Forage Seed Canada, 780 835 4508; Lisa Mumm, Canada Organic Trade Association, 306 747-3214.
The letter was signed by the following organizations:
Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network
Canada Organic Trade Association
Certified Organic Associations of British Columbia
Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario
Forage Seed Canada
Growers of Organic Food Yukon
Manitoba Organic Alliance
National Farmers Union
Organic Council of Ontario
Organic Federation of Canada
Peace Region Forage Seed Association
Les Producteurs de lait du Québec
L’Union des producteurs agricoles
To: The Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food,
CC: Jean-Claude Poissant, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food;vRuth Ellen Brosseau, NDP Agriculture Critic; Chris Warkentin, Conservative Party Agriculture Critic; Simon Marcil, Bloc Québécois Agriculture Critic; Elizabeth May, Green Party Leader.
RE: Request for urgent action to stop further release of GM alfalfa seeds
Dear Minister MacAulay,
We are writing to ask you to take immediate action to stop any further introduction of genetically modified (GM, genetically engineered) alfalfa in Canada and to establish testing of imports of alfalfa seed grown in the US, in order to protect the livelihoods of Canadian farmers and the future of many important sectors in our farm economy.
Any commercial release of GM alfalfa seeds will result in unavoidable contamination, with a range of devastating impacts on a wide range of farmers, commodity sectors and food production businesses in Canada, both conventional and organic. Farmers across Canada are already at risk from contaminated US alfalfa seed imports.
The economic importance of alfalfa to agricultural and food sectors across Canada demands your particular attention and immediate action. Alfalfa is the first perennial plant to be genetically modified and this fact, along with other biological realities (such as insect pollination, seed size and the existence of feral/uncultivated alfalfa populations), means that contamination of non-GM alfalfa is certain. Alfalfa is also unique because of its economic value to so many different farmers and commodity sectors across the country – both domestic and export, harvested as both hay and as seed – as well as its role in the production of a wide variety of foods for Canadians, and its role in sustainable agricultural practices.
Firstly, we ask you to take immediate action to stop the further commercial release of GM alfalfa seeds by removing variety registration for all GM alfalfa varieties, until a full economic impact assessment is conducted.
The company Forage Genetics International (FGI) announced in late March 2016 that it intended to sell GM alfalfa seeds for spring planting, for the first time in Canada, and an April 1st media story confirmed that the seeds had already been sold. FGI is marketing alfalfa with (Monsanto’s) stacked GM traits for low-lignin and glyphosate resistance. The company said it would release seeds in Eastern Canada (Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland) and that “expected seed quantities will be limited in 2016 but are estimated to be sufficient to plant a small, targeted launch of less than 5,000 acres of hay.” Even this limited release will lead to a measure of contamination and begin a spiral of uncertainty for Eastern and Western farmers and their customers.
The risk of contamination from GM alfalfa is widely acknowledged and is detailed in the attached report The Inevitability of Contamination from GM Alfalfa Release in Ontario by the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. In an attempt to address contamination concerns, the Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA) developed a coexistence plan in Eastern Canada (2013). However, we have no confidence in this plan. The plan is not workable and has been critiqued in the attached report The Canadian Seed Trade Association’s so-called “Coexistence Plan” is a gateway to GM alfalfa contamination by the National Farmers Union and the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. The plan is now also out of date and rendered invalid by the addition of GM low-lignin as a stacked trait: this trait is designed to allow – and promote – the harvesting of alfalfa hay at a flower bloom stage far later than the maximum 10% recommended in the plan’s current (and inadequate) “Best Management Practices.”
A release of GM alfalfa in the East also places Western alfalfa seed production for export at significant risk of contamination, a risk recognized by FGI: “The [coexistence] plan for Western Canada is in response to requests for additional stewardship actions that address the possibility of product moving from Ontario/Quebec to Western Canada.” However, this plan is not yet finalized.
Importantly, no authority is actually responsible for the implementation of the coexistence plans and no one stands behind them. The CSTA itself explicitly denies any liability for loss or harm that may result from relying on the coexistence plans. The plans rely on farmers, including those who want to avoid contamination, to voluntarily implement unrealistic and/or ineffective “Best Management Practices” at their own cost.
Secondly, we ask you to urgently establish a protocol for testing all imports of alfalfa seed grown in the US.
A December 2015 US Department of Agriculture study found that 27% of areas with feral alfalfa surveyed in three states were contaminated with GM alfalfa. The study did not identify causes – both seed spillage and cross-pollination are possible – but confirms that genetically modified alfalfa has dispersed into the environment. GM alfalfa was planted in the US 2005- 2007 and 2011-present (the survey was conducted in 2011).
A February 29, 2016 article in Alberta Farm Express reported that a batch of foundation seed contaminated with the GM Roundup Ready trait was sent to a forage seed grower in southern Alberta four years ago.
The consequences from the release of GM alfalfa seeds are extremely serious. We ask you to take immediate action to support and protect the future of family farming, organic food production, sustainable agriculture and alfalfa-related exports in Canada.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We look forward to your prompt response.
Signed on April 20, 2016 by the following organizations:
Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (ACORN)
Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA)
Certified Organic Associations of British Columbia (COABC)
Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario
Forage Seed Canada
Growers of Organic Food Yukon
Manitoba Organic Alliance
National Farmers Union
Organic Council of Ontario
Organic Federation of Canada
Peace Region Forage Seed Association
Les Producteurs de lait du Québec (PLQ)
L’Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA)
(NaturalNews) The Health Ranger’s laboratory, now known as the Consumer Wellness Center Labs (CWClabs.com) has just been awarded a “Certificate of Excellence” by ERA, a Waters Company proficiency testing firm that tests laboratory analytical accuracy.
The test name is “WS-236” with a close date of 4/15/2016. It tests the ability of laboratories to detect trace levels of heavy metals in water, using EPA methodology 200.8 (the method used by the EPA to test for lead in municipal water supplies, after which the EPA lies about the results and tells the public there’s no problem, no matter what the data reveal).
The Health Ranger’s CWC Labs scored a 100% acceptable data result for testing water for trace heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium and lead. CWC Labs results were so precise that the certificate reads, “This achievement is a demonstration of the superior quality of the laboratory” in evaluating heavy metals. It is signed by ERA quality manager Patrick Larson.
For two of the elements tested, our laboratory analysis was off by just 0.3 parts per billion. (In other words, 0.0003 ppm). In other words, even when we are handed a substance with no information about its composition, our laboratory methodologies and instrumentation are able to determine its actual elemental composition to within extremely tight windows of accuracy and reproducibility.
I ran these tests myself on the ICP-MS, by the way, using the exact same external standards and quality control procedures we use in all our heavy metals tests. All the products we sell in the Natural News Store are also tested in this way to ensure they are clean and safe for our customers. We reject raw materials and products that are high in metals like lead, cadmium, mercury, arsenic and even copper.
Here’s the Certificate of Excellence we were awarded:
CWC Labs is very close to final ISO 17025 accreditation, after which we will open up the lab to commercial clients for testing of heavy metals, pesticides, label compliance and more. We’re also scheduled to test a huge array of off-the-shelf products to look for poisons in the public food supply.
Once we have achieved ISO 17025 — a process we started almost two years ago — our laboratory results will be irrefutable because we will have achieved an international accreditation standard that’s beyond the scope of most U.S. university labs. Our laboratory results can be cited as evidence by any court of law, anywhere in the developed world.
My upcoming book Food Forensics was created using this same laboratory instrumentation to test over 800 foods, spices, herbs and fast food items for heavy metals.
All the results are published in Food Forensics, launching July 26th. Click here for links to pre-order on Amazon or BN.