Alberta election results deliver a sense of dread

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My partner Penny and I watched the Alberta election results live on Tuesday night with a sense of dread.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m no fan of Rachel Notley’s advocacy for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. However, Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party will be an order of magnitude worse for folks like us who are concerned about the grave threat greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels pose to humankind and the planet.

Besides his determination to get the Trans Mountain expansion and other pipelines built, Jason Kenney has promised to remove the cap on GHG emissions from Alberta’s tar sands. The cap, which was put in place by Rachel Notley’s NDP, certainly didn’t justify the continued extraction of oil from the tar sands. But it did make a bad situation somewhat less so.

Rachel Notley and her NDP government also implemented a very progressive policy of phasing out all coal-fired power plants by 2030. Jason Kenney and the UCP have vowed to reverse that decision. Worse, he plans to go after organisations working on climate solutions like the David Suzuki Foundation, accusing them of “defamation” of Alberta oil.

It was so ironic that Penny and I were watching this depressing election result the day after seeing an installment from David Attenborough’s spellbinding new documentary series, Our Planet. It shows what a catastrophe our planet is facing because of human-caused climate change. And Canada’s climate is changing twice as fast as the rest of the world!

We now have conservative provincial governments in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick all fighting against the very modest carbon tax brought in by the federal Liberal government. These conservatives oppose the carbon tax in spite of its demonstrated success in BC in reducing GHG emissions while having no negative impact on the economy. The carbon tax has been in place since Gordon Campbell’s Liberals implemented it in 2008, and economists are unanimous that it hasn’t slowed our province’s economic growth rate. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the energy sector doesn’t actually contribute much in the way of GDP (7%) or jobs when you compare it to other sectors.

All in all, Tuesday night was an upsetting one if you’re as concerned about global warming and greenhouse gas emissions as Penny and I are. Hopefully, the string of provincial conservative victories is not an omen of what’s in store with this fall’s federal election.

I predict it’s only a matter of time before the Alberta electorate regrets the decision it made this week. Even if they don’t, the rest of us will.

Further reading:

Posted in British Columbia, Canadian politics, climate change, economy, NDP, pipelines, sustainability, tar sands, Vancouver | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The community delivers the best solutions

The Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts will be no more in just a few short years. This has the potential to very positively reshape Northeast False Creek and Vancouver’s first neighbourhood — Strathcona.

One of the biggest issues city planners and Vancouver city council will have to wrestle with when the viaducts go down is what to do with all the displaced traffic. That includes traffic on Prior Street, once a quiet, local street that now sees 20,000+ vehicles a day.

When I was on city council, more often than not, the best ideas and solutions to thorny issues came not from city planners or other councillors, but from the community itself. The viaduct situation is a perfect example.

pixel-3699345_640A broad-based, community panel led by the Minnesota-based Jefferson Centre — a non-profit organization recognized for its leadership in civic engagement and designing democratic solutions — has come up with an interesting resolution to the displaced traffic dilemma. The final pick was by far the most preferred option, supported by an amazing “super majority” of nearly 68%! It was also an option that was barely on the table at the start of the process.

The NatCha route, as locals call it, uses National and Charles streets. What’s really interesting is that it was not one of the options the City of Vancouver initially proposed, but it was one proposed by the Strathcona Residents Association. It’s the most expensive option, but it’s also the one that best solves several problems.

NatCha returns Prior Street to the more local use and much better air quality it once enjoyed; keeps well-loved Strathcona Park and its community gardens intact; and nicely serves the businesses and warehouses in Produce Row along Malkin Avenue without removing any industrial land — something in very short supply in Vancouver.

The whole thing also proves that broad-based community panels could and should be used to address many of the city’s other pressing problems, like what form of transit should be used to move people from the Commercial and Broadway SkyTrain station, along Broadway, and up to UBC? How best can Vancouver address the crisis of homelessness? These are just two that pop to mind when I think of how best to come up with solutions to challenging urban issues.

We’ll have to wait and see what the final decision is after the community panel presents its conclusions to city council and the parks board later this month. But there’s no doubt the process was a winner — one I hope gets used again and again.

Posted in People Power, Planning, Transit, transportation, Vancouver, viaducts | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

ICBC changes are no laughing matter

crash icbc.pngOn April 1, it was no joke when the provincial NDP’s attorney general, David Eby, introduced sweeping new rules limiting compensation for victims of motor vehicle accidents in BC.

But before I get into the details, two important points. First, full disclosure: I’ve been practising law since 1984, representing the victims of motor vehicle accidents.

Second, it’s important to understand how the formerly profitable ICBC got into its current sorry state of running a $1billion+ loss that the NDP government now has to contend with. So check out this interesting analysis in the Georgia Straight by Martyn Brown, former chief of staff for Premier Gordon Campbell for many years. It outlines the lead-up to ICBC’s huge deficit, including the $1.3 billion in ICBC profits the BC Liberals under Christy Clark sucked out of the crown corporation to help create a rosier fiscal picture.

Now back to the new rules that are so unfair because of how they limit compensation for MVA victims.

One of these changes is the minor injury cap, which limits the compensation for pain and suffering at $5,500. The term “minor injury cap” leaves anyone with the impression that only minor injuries are capped. Nothing can be further from the truth.

As an example, under the new rules, a person with a permanent, severe back injury would be limited to a maximum $5,500 for pain and suffering. Imagine that you’re involved in a MVA. You are not at fault. You are left with permanent back pain. All you are entitled to is a meagre $5,500 to compensate you for a lifetime of pain and suffering.

Another example: brain injuries. Our attorney general met with the Trial Lawyers Association of BC before launching these new rules. He promised that the definition of minor injury would not include brain injuries. He broke his word, and “minor injuries” now includes a permanent brain injury. (BTW, the association is taking the provincial government to court and launching a constitutional challenge over the new regulations.)

As you can see, “minor injuries cap” is a misleading term. Not only has Mr. Eby misled the public regarding the definition itself, he has also misled the public on the amount ICBC will pay to injured victims’ caregivers, such as physiotherapists, chiropractors and massage therapists.

Under the former regime, caregivers would be paid a certain fixed rate by ICBC. If they charged more — which most of them do — a client would pay the extra amount and keep her or his receipts to be reimbursed by ICBC at the end of the claim.

Under the new regime, ICBC has increased the fixed rates paid to caregivers, which is good. But they’ve also eliminated the right for the injured victim to be reimbursed by ICBC for any extra amount paid, so now your caregivers won’t be paid what they normally charge.

As if all of the above is not bad enough, I should also tell you that the number of expert reports an injured party may submit in support of their claim is also now limited — to three.

Let me give you an example of a typical head injury case. The injured party will need to get a report from his or her family doctor. Also required will be a report from a psychiatrist. A third report would be needed from a neurologist. If the head injury is going to cause a loss of earning capacity, which it almost certainly will, a fourth report will be necessary from a vocational consultant. As well, a report from an economist who calculates the lump-sum worth of future lost income would also be needed.

Of these five reports, which two would you eliminate?

At trial, an injured person relying on only three reports under the new rules will most certainly get short-changed in terms of what the final judgement is for compensation.

I’ve only touched on a few of the long list of very negative changes the provincial government has brought in trying to put our crown insurer back in good financial order. It’s going to be a hard row doing so, but this isn’t the answer. These changes will have a very negative impact on the rights of injured victims to fair compensation.

If you agree with me, I would urge you to contact David Eby and let him know your thoughts. You can email him at AG.minister@gov.bc.ca. Please also consider sharing this post on social media to spread the word on how these changes will further harm people injured by motor vehicles in BC.

 

Posted in accessibility, British Columbia, disability justice, fiscal responsibility, justice system, law, NDP, Vancouver | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments