First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win

Have you seen the recent video of NDP leadership hopeful Jagmeet Singh responding to a racist heckler?

The video I’m referring to has gone viral. In it, Jagmeet is confronted by a very loud and clearly agitated woman demonstrator at a rally of his supporters in Brampton — one of the rallies he calls “JagMeet & Greet”. She walks right up to him and begins to yell at him about his support for sharia (Islamic) law and the Muslim Brotherhood. The irony is that Jagmeet Singh is a practising Sikh, not a Muslim.

Jagmeet could have responded with anger or defensiveness. Instead, he pulled a page from the playbook of Mahatma Gandhi (by the way, the title of this blog is a quote from Gandhi). Jagmeet calmly diffused the situation. Remarkably, he defended her rights to express her opinion, pointing out that “we don’t want hatred to ruin a positive event”, and urging the audience to show “love and courage”, which is his campaign theme.

It’s too early to tell but it is quite possible that this incident may become a galvanizing point in the NDP leadership campaign. It looks like Jagmeet has already signed up more new NDP members than any of his other three competitors, and he has received the most top NDP leadership endorsements.

Jagmeet Singh offers a level of enthusiasm and youthfulness not present in the other candidates. His response to the heckler is indicative of a different type of leader — one who has the courage to give voice to ideas we need more of, and the ability to squelch negativity with positivity. I might add this is totally the opposite of what we see south of the border.

I, for one, will be very excited if the NDP elect Jagmeet Singh as their new leader.

Posted in Canadian politics, NDP, racism | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Fair play would go a long way at ICBC

ICBC rates are set to jump again — this time by 6.4 percent. This follows the insurance corporation’s largest annual loss ever — a loss caused in large part when BC’s previous Liberal government withdrew massive amounts of money from the corporation and put the money into provincial coffers.

Will the rate increase fix the problem? I think not. Much more needs to be done.

As a lawyer practising in the field of personal injury, much of my bread and butter comes from ICBC cases. Too often, ICBC unnecessarily delays the settlement of files. Too often, ICBC is unwilling to offer my clients fair settlement for their injury. As a result, many years ago, I instituted a policy of starting a lawsuit on behalf of my clients on the day I am retained.

The sooner I can nail down a trial date, the better for my client. But this would not be necessary if ICBC had a practice of offering fair settlement without the prospect of being forced to go to trial.

Let’s hope that with a new government in office in Victoria, the winds of change will blow through the corporate head office at ICBC, and they will take a first step in cutting costs and increasing revenue by offering fair compensation without needing to be forced to go to trial.

UPDATE: I was interviewed on this topic recently on CTV — you can see the article and video here.


Posted in BC Liberals, British Columbia, economy, fiscal responsibility, justice system, law, NDP, transportation | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Enjoy summer in our spectacular city!

With August fast approaching I should let you all know that my partner Penny and I are taking our annual August staycation. This means I won’t be blogging until after Labour Day.

We already have a number of exciting items booked into our staycation schedule! What a great city to live in.

A visit to the Museum of Anthropology is always high on our list of to-dos. The feature exhibit, Amazonia: The Rights of Nature, explores the creative ideas that inspire indigenous resistance to threats facing the world’s largest rainforest.

Granville Island is also high on our list of places to go. It really is hard to believe it was only a few decades ago that this site was all industrial. A visionary who was also a longtime member of Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal cabinet — Ron Basford — saw the site’s great potential and now we have the most pedestrian-friendly venue in all of Vancouver. With Emily Carr University of Art and Design moving off the island to Great Northern Way, plans are underway to upgrade the island. Lets hope this doesn’t result in Granville Island losing any of the qualities that have made it so successful to date.

A trip to Southlands Nursery reminds us every year of this oasis within the City of Vancouver. Much like Granville Island the entire Southlands area — with its unique zoning regulations that allow for horse stables and a countryside atmosphere — demonstrates the power of what is possible in a city with the power of creative urban planning.

Have a great summer, and make sure you take time to really appreciate what a spectacular city we live in!

Posted in British Columbia, Liberal Party, Vancouver | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Omar Khadr, torture & holding governments to account

Omar Khadr has been in the news recently. The federal government has agreed to an out-of-court settlement estimated to be $10.5 million. This has angered many Canadians.

It has not angered me at all. In fact, it confirms my long-standing belief that governments engaging in torture must be held accountable. Let me explain.

At the age of 15 Omar, a Canadian citizen, was in Afghanistan fighting American forces. He was engaged in a firefight at the end of which an American soldier was dead. No one knows for sure whether of not Omar was responsible for the American’s death. What little evidence there is against him is entirely circumstantial.

Omar was taken into custody by the Americans and then subjected to brutal torture over a multi-year period. Eventually, as a direct result of the torture, he “confessed” to having thrown a grenade at the American soldier who had died.

We must do everything in out power to ensure that our government is never complicit in torture.[Photo: Justin Norman, ‘Witness Against Torture’ fast for justice and march from the White House to the US Supreme Court on behalf of Guantánamo Detainees.]

Former Crown Counsel Sandy Garossino has written an excellent article about this case in the National Observer. Detail by detail, she takes apart the case against Omar and leaves the reader with no doubt that absent the “confession”, he would never have been convicted.

We must do everything in out power to ensure that our government is never complicit in torture. Even more important, confessions obtained through the use of torture must never be used to convict.

Let us not forget that Omar was a child soldier.

I had the honour and the privilege of meeting Omar Khadr just over a year ago. He is a very beautiful human being. He radiates forgiveness. And he holds no grudge against any of the people who committed the terrible acts of torture against him over so many years.

Let us also not forget that the payment to Omar is to compensate him for a lost decade of life. Canada did absolutely nothing to help bring about his freedom from Guantanamo. Had it not been for a remarkable Edmonton-based lawyer, Dennis Edney, who acted for Omar pro bono for many years, he would still be languishing in that despicable military prison.

When governments acquiesce to torture and fail to stand up for their own citizens, they must be held accountable. This out-of-court settlement sends a strong signal. Future governments will, hopefully, do a much better job.

Posted in Canadian politics, equality, justice system, law, terrorism | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The shadow of Geoff Meggs

Big news on the political front: Geoff Meggs is leaving civic politics and moving to the provincial scene, where he will be working for premier-designate, John Horgan, as chief of staff. While I have been very pleased with all of John Horgan’s other announcements so far, this one leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Many will be unfamiliar with Geoff Meggs’ past, but it’s a past worth knowing.

Years ago he held a senior position within the fishermen’s union. There, Meggs used his position to polarize two factions within the union, leading to civil war within it. Instead of building bridges, he sought to divide.

Meggs then moved on to work for then-NDP premier, Glen Clark. Once again, he used his considerable skills not to unify or build bridges but, instead, to divide. He did everything in his power to pit the green, environmental wing of the party against the labour wing. This made it very difficult for the environmental current within the provincial NDP to advance many of its objectives.

After Glen Clark left provincial politics, Larry Campbell was elected mayor of Vancouver. As a sitting city councillor of the day, I witnessed Geoff Meggs’ destructive modus operandi in his role as Campbell’s executive assistant. Meggs did everything in his power to create two camps within the COPE caucus. Every effort by others, including myself, to find common cause between the two was thwarted by Geoff Meggs.

This led to the undermining of COPE with one of the party’s factions going on to form Vision Vancouver. I don’t need to tell readers familiar with civic politics that Vision Vancouver is very developer friendly. Geoff Meggs, of course, aligned himself with this faction.

It is no secret that Geoff Meggs and Vision Vancouver have a warm, mutually-beneficial relationship with developers. Pictured here are Meggs, the Trump family, Joo Kim Tiah (Holborn Group) and George Wong (Magnum Projects) at the Trump Tower site.

So it is that I see dark clouds on the horizon with regard to the newly formed NDP-Green alliance. I predict that Meggs will do everything in his power to undermine this potentially very positive arrangement.

I hope I am wrong, but a word of warning to Green leader Andrew Weaver: Keep your eye on Geoff Meggs, for he is a very destructive force.

Posted in affordable housing, British Columbia, COPE, Elections - British Columbia, influence peddling, NDP, Trumpism, US politics, Vancouver, Vision Vancouver | Tagged | 2 Comments

City Hall delays; The most vulnerable pay

In my May 26 blog, I forcefully advocated a cost-effective solution for when the City of Vancouver is faced with a slum landlord providing unsafe accommodations to its tenants. The solution: that the City perform all necessary repairs, then simply charge the owner for this cost by placing a lien on the property at the land title office.

Balmoral Hotel, Vancouver.

Within days of my blog, the Balmoral Hotel was in the news again. Owned by one of the province’s most notorious slum landlords, the Balmoral has suffered absolutely atrocious conditions for many years. One local reporter, Larry Pynn, was investigating and reporting on the deplorable “third world” conditions there — and city hall’s failure to act — as far back as 1992!

Vision Vancouver, holding a majority on City Council, has simply sat on the sidelines for more than a decade. They took no action. No action, that is, until the situation had become so dire that the building was literally at risk of collapse. Finally, they acted but it was too late to protect the tenants, many of whom had lived in the Balmoral for years. The City obtained an order evicting all of them due to concerns that the building is at risk of collapse.

If only the City had acted years earlier! Tenants have now been dispersed into many different places of accommodation. Neighbourhood networks built up over years have come to an end and, once again, we’re losing many SRO units.

When will Vision Vancouver learn that the time to act is before it is time to evict civil society’s most vulnerable tenants?

Posted in affordable housing, homelessness, influence peddling, National Housing Strategy, Vision Vancouver | Tagged | 2 Comments

NDP-Greens’ take on pro rep: the great transformer

With the results now finally in for the Courtney-Comox riding, it’s official — Christy Clark and the provincial Liberals failed in their attempt to obtain a majority. Better yet, BC’s NDP and Greens have entered into an agreement to bring down the Liberals. If all goes according to plan, we are about to witness some truly historic and very positive changes in the political landscape — changes that will be transformational.

The NDP and Greens have agreed to change the way in which we elect our provincial government. Our current first-past-the-post system is a divisive one that results in very little space for political currents outside the narrow range of “mid-point” politics. By “mid-point” politics I mean the lowest common denominator. With the system we have now, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, for political parties to advance leading edge ideas that are not already accepted as bread and butter issues.

With a move to proportional representation, I predict the birth of a number of new, smaller political parties. Some might reflexively respond that this is a bad thing, but I would suggest quite the contrary.

A buffet of many smaller parties increases the likelihood that we can finally vote for a party as opposed to voting against a party we don’t want. This happens when a variety of parties exist, creating a better chance that individuals will find one that best represents their belief system.

Many smaller parties working together in the legislative assembly will also change the way politics is done in Victoria. Parties will be forced to work with each other and not against each other, and consensus will become the name of the game.

Apart from promising the electorate a new and better way of electing our provincial government, the NDP-Green agreement also commits to many additional and important objectives — stopping the Kinder Morgan pipeline and beefing up environmental assessment processes; increasing transit funding; rethinking the Site C dam and Massey tunnel project; new childcare spaces; and more.

But from my point of view, the change promised for our electoral system is more important than all of the other commitments combined. This is because a move to pro rep will benefit all of us for generations to come.

Posted in BC Liberals, British Columbia, Elections - British Columbia, Liberal Party, NDP, People Power, proportional representation, Site C Dam, transportation, Vancouver | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on NDP-Greens’ take on pro rep: the great transformer

The nightmare of SRO conditions can be solved in an instant

With income assistance rates frozen for over 10 years now, welfare recipients have a very small amount available for rent. With the province of BC providing a single person on welfare with only $610 a month, SRO landlords are very limited in what they can charge for rent. So they use the low rental revenue as a pretext for not being able to provide proper maintenance and upkeep. (If you don’t know what it’s really like inside an SRO, check out the recent excellent article in the Vancouver Sun by Denise Ryan here. It’s a nightmare!)

Here’s one major reason for the problem. The purchase price paid for SRO buildings is far too high. Once purchased, typically with a small down payment, the mortgage payments consume most, if not all, of the limited rental revenue. This leaves little, if any, money for much-needed maintenance and repairs.

The City of Vancouver could remedy this problem in an instant. It has the legal authority to perform all necessary maintenance and upkeep and put the costs on the SRO title as a charge. If the City were to start doing this on a regular basis, it would send what economists call a signal to the marketplace. Purchasers of SRO buildings would factor in the future cost of all necessary maintenance and upkeep costs, which would mean they would only be willing to pay a lower price. Purchasers would simply not be prepared to pay a price that would result in inevitable yearly losses.

With a lower purchase price, the mortgage taken out would be smaller and therefore the mortgage payments would also be smaller, leaving more money for maintenance and upkeep.

Don’t let it be said again by SRO owners that with SRO rents so low they don’t have money left over to pay for much-needed maintenance and upkeep. By paying too much for the SRO building in the first place, they are the authors of their own problem.

Posted in affordable housing, BC Liberals, British Columbia, City Hall, economy, equality, homelessness, National Housing Strategy, Planning, social justice, Vancouver, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on The nightmare of SRO conditions can be solved in an instant

Don’t shoot the messengers

Edward Snowden is a household name — he’s a whistleblower who so profoundly upset the very powerful that he was forced to flee his home country.

What we tend to forget is that in almost all bureaucracies and governments, big and small, there’s the need for anyone who sees wrongdoing in her or his workplace to speak out about it.

88_whistleblower-2Bureaucracies, even the best, by their very nature tend to create a party line. Critical thinking is not encouraged. In the long run, this can have a devastating impact on the vitality of the organization. More importantly, a “party line mentality” makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for the proverbial whistleblower to speak out. This is unfortunately the case even when it is not only in the best interests of the bureaucracy or organization in question, it’s also in the best interests of those being served, including society as a whole.

CBC Radio’s Ideas recently did a program on this topic. Called “Don’t Shoot the Messenger”, you can find it here.

All of the above brings me to Vancouver City Councillor Adriane Carr’s recent whistleblower protection motion. Before we take a moment to look at its details, it’s important to acknowledge the fact that all of Vancouver’s citizens are better served when each and every person working for the City of Vancouver can speak out and speak up without any fear of retribution.

Ironically, an environment that protects whistleblowers actually reduces the likelihood and need for it as those tempted to abuse power will think twice before doing since they know that their colleagues will not be fearful of speaking out.

Councillor Carr’s motion asks for a review of whistleblower protection for city staff with an eye to provide things like independent investigations of any alleged wrongdoings; guaranteed anonymity if a whistleblower chooses to be anonymous; and protection for whistleblowers from reprisals.

Her motion arose after recent an investigative news report of a controversial land swap deal involving the city losing out on $65-million worth of land and the city waiving development cost levies.

I was hoping support for this motion would be a slam dunk, but unfortunately the Vision-majority Council voted to refer it back to staff, which could mean delaying it up to several years. Let’s keep out fingers crossed that it will ultimately receive the total support of Council that it deserves and is not dealt with in a partisan manner.

Posted in British Columbia, civil disobedience, Green Party, Vancouver | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Hanging by a thread


[Photo Alex Brogan CC Attribution 3.0 Unported]

Wow! What a night it was! And it ain’t over yet!

I’ve witnessed many election night roller coasters but nothing quite like last night.

I went to sleep last night dreaming of proportional representation, big money out of politics (union and business donations alike), no Kinder Morgan pipeline, no Site C dam, and no Massey bridge.

I woke up, and after hearing the latest news, I’m not quite so euphoric. When I went to bed the Liberals were at 42 seats — 2 seats shy of a majority and tied with the NDP, also at 42 seats, with the Greens holding 3. However, in the middle of the night Vancouver-False Creek flipped from NDP to Liberal, moving the Liberals from 42 seats up to 43 and the NDP down to 41.

All is not lost, however, as even with 41 seats the NDP could command a majority of the legislation assembly if John Horgan can work out an arrangement with Andrew Weaver and the Greens (41 + 3 = 44 seats, which is a majority). It gets slightly worse, however, as the riding of Courtenay-Comox is in the in NDP column but hanging by the thinnest thread — just 9 votes!

The absentee ballots in this riding have yet to be counted and will include all votes from the local military base, CFB Comox. The Liberal candidate, Jim Benninger, is a former base commander. If the absentee votes break ever so slightly in favour of Benninger, the Liberals will move up one more from 43 to 44 seats, and we will be facing another Liberal term.

Fingers crossed that last night’s dream comes true and today’s worries are exaggerated. Only time will tell.

Posted in BC Liberals, British Columbia, Elections - British Columbia, Green Party, Liberal Party, NDP, proportional representation | Comments Off on Hanging by a thread