Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Person's "Discretionary" Spending

Government surveillance.
Snowden leaks.
It's all the news lately, coming on the heels of Julian Assange's Wikileaks.

As reported by the Globe & Mail (K.Yakabuski) December 19th, 2013:  "This week, Mr. Snowden said NSA snooping "threatens to become the greatest human-rights challenge of our time."  So what--you say--if it's the United States snooping to find terrorists.  Of course, then it's okay, with few disagreeing.

The CBC says Canada facilitates the National Security Agency's spying, most notably at the G20 Summit in Toronto in 2010.  That's probably okay too, if it helps find terrorists.

Mr. Yakabuski's article, decidedly tongue-in-cheek, was entitled "At least they don't collect data to sell us stuff."

Oh, but even our Canadian government knows far too much about regular Canadians--albeit not linked to a citizen's name.   Industry Canada's Office of Consumer Affairs is an insidious bureaucracy whose reports ostensibly "help" set federal government policy...whether it's taxation, interest rates, and so on.

So is CSEC (Communications Security Establishment Canada) spying on Canadians?
Sure they are.
But that's okay if their snooping finds terrorists.

The Globe & Mail article states "the exponentially increasing power of computers has facilitated data collection not even George Orwell could have imagined."  Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter were listed.

Snooping sounds less invasive than spying; both are subjective.
It's not until it hits home that one realizes just how invasive it really is.

My own experience yesterday is an example of the insidiousness of non-terrorist snooping.
I had Googled "Bob Gear Revolution SE Stroller" because our daughter is pregnant with her first child (yippeee!), then clicked on the Amazon link that appeared, listing the price and specifications for the child carrier.  Some time later, I concluded my computer time by clicking on Facebook to see what my acquaintances had posted of interest.

Imagine my surprise when Facebook's eternal (sigh) advertisements (at the right side of their pages) came up with, in their uppermost advertiser position, "Bob Gear Revolution SE Stroller" by Amazon.com!
  EDIT: 3 days later:  lookeeee here

Stunned, actually, more than surprised.
Was it the word "revolution"?
It's just any search at all...all tracked.

Personally, the thing that has bothered--no, actually angered--me for a long time is when government's media statements refer to a consumer's discretionary spending.  How on earth does government know what is considered discretionary?  How does government even know what we spend our money on?

The amount of an individual's income that is left for spending, investing or saving after taxes and personal necessities (such as food, shelter, and clothing) have been paid. Discretionary income includes money spent on luxury items, vacations and non-essential goods and services.
Discretionary income is derived from disposable income, which equals gross income minus taxes.

Hell, they've got lots of help determining that.
Reports...reports from point-of-sale merchants like Moneris and others.
They track what we buy.
And then some bureaucrat employs the program's logarithms to break it all down.

Because some bureaucrat actually sat down and decided--for me and you--what is and isn't essential.
So what, you say?

Government's reports include statements such as:  "For example, the increasing number of senior couples who report spending on recreation and entertainment services (from 68 percent in 1982 to 93 percent in 2002) demonstrates their better finances and health."
Can government really rely on such maybe-spurious information, considering that the Long Form Census is no longer used?  
There are lots of seniors who would argue the point that they have better finances and health.

Back to my outrage at snooping.
So how can an individual not let government know just what percentage we're spending on their definition of non necessary items?

Quit using plastic.

Except your debit card...go to the bank, use the debit card to withdraw cash.
And spend that cash anywhere you like.
All without government knowing just what percentage of your after-tax income you're spending on "luxuries".

"So did you buy the Bob Gear Revolution SE stroller?" asks Kia.

Yes, but unfortunately that was a luxury.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Amalgamation as Reward?

I liken the threat/promise of amalgamation to Punishment.
Punishing local governments and their bevy of bureaucrats for the governance mess of the North Okanagan.

But this fellow's letter to the editor on December 29th, 2013, takes a decidedly different view.

"...My feeling is that when the City of Vernon can show a significant track record of above-average decision-making and governance that doesn't appear to be patched together for political expediency but for the good of the community, then that is the time to talk about amalgamation."
Simo Korpisto


If--and that's a big IF--there were "above-average decision-making and governance", amalgamation wouldn't even enter residents' minds.

Because things would be running well, with surpluses versus deficits, with correctly-placed priorities versus big-city-wannabe wishlists, with true cooperation among communities versus circling their wagons, with long-term doable plans versus wishy-washy stabs at trying to please every half-baked request that arrives in council mailboxes.

There'd be no need to amalgamate.

"How many lanes do there have to be?  How many shoulders?  Does there have to be a bike path?"
 Consultant M. Trickey

Examples abound, but most recently yet another consultant's report to Vernon Council, quoted in the paper thusly:  "How many lanes do there have to be?  How many shoulders?  Does there have to be a bike path?" 

Oh for heaven's sake!
That comment AFTER construction of myriad bike paths (and plans for more) in both Vernon and Coldstream, all of which cost big taxpayer dollars.
For what?
For a few bicyclists in summer?
For no bicyclists at all during six months of winter?

I'm reminded of my childhood in Vancouver, a Zone 8 gardening city where one could ride a bicycle for 12 months each year.

My family resided a few blocks off one of the busiest thoroughfares in Vancouver--Kingsway--five miles west of Gladstone Secondary School.  I rode my bike to and from school during those years, no bike paths, no school buses to ferry students to and fro.  There wasn't even a law requiring helmets for bicyclists.  Not always the "good ole' days", but those were days when common sense was, well, more common than today.  When logic rose to the top like heavy cream.

Parents--not a provincial government--set strict rules in those days:  always ride facing traffic, motorized vehicles had the right-of-way.  Only a moron would have believed bicyclists should have the right of way.  And we were respectful of bigger, heavier, motorized cars and trucks and buses simply because we knew it took considerable time for a big, heavy, motorcar or truck or bus to stop if we did something stupid while riding a bike.
Enough about bikes.

Ask any of the Coldstream Acreage Owners' Association members...is it not as punishment that we wish to impose amalgamation on Coldstream?  Punishment for their plan to rezone East Coldstream acreages to RU10/RU30?
Amalgamation is the punishment Coldstream's Mayor and Council deserve for that plan.
And once amalgamation has occurred--as we fervently hope it does--we will not allow the new government to even whisper to impose that rezoning on our acreages.

So yes, amalgamation is punishment for government screw-ups.
Screw up and we will terminate your local government...how's that for your council's legacy?
Certainly not a reward.

While rare, politicians do have their lucid moments.
Vernon Mayor Sawatzky--when considering what to do to bolster Vernon's flagging economy--said he wasn't convinced Vernon is destined to become the centre of large manufacturers.
But he still employs an Economic Development officer.

Economically, Vernon simply can't compete with Kelowna, 40 kilometres to the south.
Kelowna offers--first of all, a larger valley--more space for residential and industrial operations seeking to locate or expand.  Less red tape and lower taxes, it's said.  And despite similar weather, why do people and manufacturers choose Kelowna?  In no particular order, an international airport, one hour less driving time to Vancouver, less bureaucratic red tape and fewer delays in getting that red tape sorted out.

Admit it.
The Vernon area is a bedroom community to Kelowna.
Vernon is terrible for business, but good for those residents seeking a lifestyle devoid of mile-long traffic.

But don't kid yourself...Vernon needs Kelowna to continue to be a thriving community.

"Vernon's got a lot," offers Kia, "most notably bureaucracy."

Punishment or Reward--whichever way you see it--amalgamation is necessary in a town that can't grow dollars.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

An Independent Mind is Fertile Ground for Objectivity

There's nothing "in it" for him.

Yet George Bayliss' letter to the editor, published December 20th in the Morning Star, is an outstanding example of a now-rare human quality -- objectivity.

His piece concerning a proposed gravel pit on Brentwood Road isn't reprinted here, but his examples of fairness and lack of bias are included.  Why?  Because it rang a bell with me as it relates to Highlands Golf...more on that later.  Also what our mainstream media generally lacks.  Later for that too.

"...you too can be in that position if you try changing bylaws to quiet NIMBYs". G.Bayliss 

Mr. Bayliss' standards are worthy of imitation.  He questions why there are 655 names on the anti-pit petition "...nowhere near 655 people anywhere near Brentwood Road."  Countering the alarmist catch-all of the safety of children walking to school, "...for the last 40 years...never heard of any child involved in an accident...my own children walked there when they were young; there were no sidewalks then either and no dust problem."  On historical operations of the applicant, Mr. Bayliss says "...two of the several operations in the area were operated and successfully concluded" by the applicant, giving examples.

He asks "How many petitioners knew that?"

George Bayliss solidifies his lack of bias:  "I do not personally know any of the applicants."

He further attempts to calm petitioners by stating that laws exist:  "Silt in the creek is an absolute breach of provincial law with stiff fines..."

Mr. Bayliss closes with a warning to area politicians who, time and again, evidence a penchant for going whichever way the wind blows.  "...may find themselves out of business...you too can be in that position if you try changing bylaws to quiet NIMBYS". 

So what happened with Highlands Golf?

To make a long story short, Highlands was opened in 2001 with a Food Primary Liquor Licence, the only liquor licence available at the time to a golf course that didn't have "at least one Par Four" hole (yup, liquor laws in BC since the NDP's two reigns of terror in the 1990's were so deeply mired in a dark hole...but I digress).  Paramount to my story is that current Coldstream councillor Doug Dirk was also a councillor at that time, so it's logical to expect he knew full well all the particulars regarding the liquor licence. 

Around 2006 or 2007 the liquor inspector happily advised me that Victoria's rules had changed and that Highlands was now eligible for the same liquor licence that all other golf courses possessed--a Liquor Primary licence.

So, imagine my surprise after I was quizzed on licencing changes (by Councillor Dirk during an open council meeting that would deal with my application for the liquor amendment).  The local media followed up the council meeting with a quote that Councillor Doug Dirk did not express during the open meeting:  "this liquor licence will affect all of Buchanan Road." 


He--of all Coldstream councillors (others were new to their duties)--knew that Highlands had a liquor licence since 2001.
So how would an amendment to the liquor licence NOW affect all of Buchanan Road?
Councillor Dirk was playing to the 70+ people who signed the anti-amendment petition.
Notable too was that not one of those 70+ people phoned me to learn my side of the story.
Provincial laws exist here too, with stiff fines.

I recall the liquor inspector shaking his head, adding "this sheeple thing resembles a disease...the majority of the public catch it because they don't think for themselves."

"Over 80% of the stories that appear as news stories, original news stories, not just repeats, come from press releases or some sort of public relations work, or, they're just uncritically printing something that someone in power said, without any actual reporting or journalism going on; just simply stenography. This is a dramatic increase from a generation ago." Dr.R.McChesney

How's that for lack of objectivity by residents and a councillor?
Councillor Dirk continues to be re-elected by his constituents, probably because he was easily swayed on the liquor licence amendment. 

Enough of that.
As to what our mainstream media lacks, several things immediately come to mind.

But it's told best by Dr. Robert McChesney:  "Over 80% of the stories that appear as news stories, original news stories, not just repeats, come from press releases or some sort of public relations work, or, they're just uncritically printing something that someone in power said, without any actual reporting or journalism going on; just simply stenography. This is a dramatic increase from a generation ago."

For the malaise in today's media, click on The Decline of Journalism, by Dr. McChesney, scroll down to the December 18th story on the superlative blog by Norm Farrell entitled Northern Insights.  

So, a sincere thank you to George Bayliss for reminding us what an independent mind can create.

"...and to Dr. McChesney," offers Kia.

The doctor's stethoscope seeks an independent mind.
George Bayliss has one.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Correctness Run Amok

It appears to continue unabated. 

"...an episode of sudden mass assault..."

"...now increasingly viewed as psychopathological behavior occurring worldwide in numerous countries and cultures"

That's how Wikipedia defines it anyway.

A recent internet example:

After being interviewed by the school administration, a prospective teacher said:

"Let me see if I've got this right.

You want me to go into that room with all those kids, correct their disruptive behaviour,
observe them for signs of abuse, monitor their dress habits, censor their T-shirt messages and instill in them a love for learning.

You want me to check their backpacks for weapons, wage war on drugs and sexually
transmitted diseases, and raise their sense of self esteem and personal pride.

You want me to teach them patriotism and good citizenship, sportsmanship and fair play,
and how to register to vote, balance a chequebook, and apply for a job.

You want me to check their heads for lice, recognize signs of antisocial behaviour, and
ensure that they all pass their final exams.

You also want me to provide them with an equal education regardless of their handicaps,
and communicate regularly with their parents in English, Arabic or any other language, by letter, telephone, newsletter, and report card.

You want me to do all this with a piece of chalk, a blackboard, a bulletin board, a few
books, a big smile, and a starting salary that qualifies me for "New Start."

You want me to do all this, and then
you tell me...... I CAN'T wear a little cross or say "Merry Christmas”  because someone might take offence? "

Read Between the Lines

Falling just shy of psychobabble, the Mayor's annual December message to Coldstream taxpayers more accurately portrays a raison d'etre for the bureaucracy in which this enclave's council is mired than a document that touches on the topics of paramount importance to residents.

"Psychobabble… a set of repetitive verbal formalities that kills off the very spontaneity, candor, and understanding it pretends to promote. It’s an idiom that reduces psychological insight to a collection of standardized observations that provides a frozen lexicon to deal with an infinite variety of problems."  (Rosen, 1975)


Not a word to justify why this mayor won't raise his hand and join Vernon Mayor Sawatzky in calling for a study on area amalgamation, not a word about community debt--or interest payments--of this community of ~10,000.   But it does placate residents who are decidedly stuck in the past.

So, what are the repetitive verbal formalities--smoke 'n mirrors--he relies on in his 996-word mealy-mouthed submission?  In no particular order:

"...new structure in...Sub-Regional; eastern and western halves; many of our industrial lands; replacement of separated; support facilities; result in many years of work; cooperation and support of local government partners; planned retirement; considerable experience; had to undertake another hiring process; attempt to explain only a few of the reasons; concerns and desire for change; undergone many changes; found ourselves involved in a function that lacked clarity; funded the service through taxation; contracted the operations; major partner in the service; contract was never signed nor agreed to; a point of concern; recent change; due to legislation; heightened these concerns; lost any significant voice; significant disparity; distribution of parks and facilities; ownership a mixed bag; but paid for; little say; were not even included; ownership or zoning; leased on yearly basis; could have been sold off; little or no input; become very complex; no clarity in ownership, responsibility, capacity or authority;  politicians had shied away from attempting to reorganize; immensity of the job; lack of cooperative relationships; initiated originally; resurrected; provided an opportunity; some of the problems; cooperation we now have; worked together; clean up many of the problems; evolved over the years; better alignment; realized that perfection is rarely achievable; set overall improvement as our goal; hoped that, moving forward; provide a more responsive, efficient service; service delivery."

Makes one wonder just who are the 25 people the Mayor is addressing.

Page three's listing of Parks and Recreation Services includes a comment of considerable note:  "With these major issues resolved, the District (of Coldstream) is moving full steam ahead with developing the service delivery model for the local parks the District will be taking over." 

"Maybe they bought a steam-driven mower," muses Kia.

Hot air continues to drive Coldstream.
Divisiveness reigns.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Wonderful WestJet!

This 5:26 video is really something!

WestJet is one of those very few companies for whom thinking outside the box creates magic.

Real magic.

Thank you, WestJet!

Here's their bloopers reel *grin*

Taxpayers Want Anti-Bloating Recipe

But whenever an ounce of government (the "system") is involved, the result is often unpalatable.
In this case the ounce of government is Victoria.

Victoria, those lard-laden halls, where everybody's an Executive-somebody, a Deputy-something, an Acting Manager-whatchamacallit, a General Manager-who'zit, with burgeoning committee and staff lists that'd make an old Rolodex crumble.  And expense accounts, lots of expense accounts with little or no accountability in their contents.

How can anyone expect unionized senior civil servants in Victoria to be objective (at all--or alternately--enough) and cut out the trans fats of three local North Okanagan bureaucracies?

The patient is dying from the sticky substance called bureaucracy that clogs his arteries.
A radical change of diet is called for.
Because the same ole' can of Spam isn't going to cut it anymore.

Even in (perhaps--especially in) Victoria since the 1990's, the growth of the bureaucracy occurred virtually unchecked. 
Victoria has their own Spam.
Hell, Ottawa has Spam.
Senator Spammers...

Back to Victoria.
These are the people--the only people--the "system" allows to study amalgamation in any areas of British Columbia.  "We have a whole department within government for that," it's been said.

Oh goody.

So...lemme get this straight.

The Society has gone to all this petition work re amalgamating Coldstream, Vernon and Areas "B" and "C", following KPMG's Core Services Review, knowing full well that the ONLY people who are permitted--by the system--to do a study on the pros and cons of amalgamation are the people the NDP trained in the 1990's, who still sit at their desks today, left-leaners sufficiently indoctrinated long ago...staunch government employee union workers for whom the word solidarity has a special connotation.

...and THEY are going to accede to Society and taxpayer wishes by eliminating the over-governance and abject waste of money in this area by slashing the duties and jobs of their brothers and sisters?
Comrades-in-arms, minus the armbands.
"You, and you, and you...and you, we don't need you anymore."
"You and you and you...off you go to new office in a lateral move to a job that may be temporary.

And that's IF--and only IF--Vernon Mayor Sawatzky isn't the only one agreeing to do a study, pointing out "...(the process needs) at least one other willing partner."

Do you really think so?

Let's try the recipe:

Take 58,000 people, all with their own family desires and wishes and limited wallet capacity.
Throw in politicians' wish-lists:  big-city-wannabe ideas like bike paths, libraries, pedestrian corridors, government-mandated "culture".
Quietly blend in $110 million Interior Health filtration.
Fold in $80 million infrastructure and "asset" replacement 'cos it was depreciated.
Increase water eight-fold, sewer by two.
With a wooden spoon, add fluffy newspaper stories.
Dangle a pound of unfunded Defined Benefit Pension plans, and Sick Days, and Six Weeks Vacation.
Beat the populace continually with increasing mil rates on property taxes.
Saute Coldstream taxpayers with RU10/RU30, ostensibly an acceptable "preservative".
Whisk until mixture froths.

Allow the mixture to rest.
Contents are beginning to stink.


Add the zest of a Core Services Review.
The stink is reduced, albeit only temporarily.

Then rely on bureaucrats in Victoria to make this dark soup digestible.

"You forgot one tablespoon of Faith," offers Kia.

Good luck with that.

Time for a road diet.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Senior's Poignant View

Every now and then, a compelling and noteworthy opinion rises to the top of the Internet's usual drivel.

Author unknown:

"I'm 83 and I'm Tired

I'm 83. Except for brief period in the 50's when I was doing my National Service, I've worked hard since I was 17. Except for some serious health challenges, I put in 50-hour weeks, and didn't call in sick in nearly 40 years. I made a reasonable salary, but I didn't inherit my job or my
income, and I worked to get where I am.

I'm tired of being told that I have to "spread the wealth" to people who don't have my work ethic. I'm tired of being told the government will take the money I earned, by force if necessary, and give it to people too lazy to earn it.

I'm tired of being told that Islam is a "Religion of Peace," when every day I can read dozens of stories of Muslim men killing their sisters, wives and daughters for their family "honor"; of Muslims rioting over some slight offense; of Muslims murdering Christian and Jews because they aren't "believers"; of Muslims burning schools for girls; of Muslims stoning teenage rape victims to death for "adultery"; of Muslims mutilating the genitals of little girls; all in the name of Allah, because the Qur'an and Shari'a law tells them to.

I'm tired of being told that out of "tolerance for other cultures" we must let Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries use our oil money to fund mosques and madrassa Islamic schools to preach hate in Australia , New Zealan""d , UK, America and Canada , while no one from these countries are allowed to fund a church, synagogue or religious school in Saudi Arabia or any other Arab country to teach love and tolerance..

I'm tired of being told I must lower my living standard to fight global warming, which no one is allowed to debate.

I'm tired of being told that drug addicts have a disease, and I must help support and treat them, and pay for the damage they do. Did a giant germ rush out of a dark alley, grab them, and stuff white powder up their noses or stick a needle in their arm while they tried to fight it off?

I'm tired of hearing wealthy athletes, entertainers and politicians of all parties talking about innocent mistakes, stupid mistakes or youthful mistakes, when we all know they think their only mistake was getting caught. I'm tired of people with a sense of entitlement, rich or poor.

I'm really tired of people who don't take responsibility for their lives and actions. I'm tired of hearing them blame the government, or discrimination or big-whatever for their problems.

I'm also tired and fed up with seeing young men and women in their teens and early 20's be-deck themselves in tattoos and face studs, thereby making themselves un-employable and claiming money from the Government

Yes, I'm tired. But I'm also glad to be 83.. Because, mostly, I'm not going to have to see the world these people are making. I'm just sorry for my granddaughter and their children. Thank God I'm on the way out and not on the way in."

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Privy Chamber

...good move.

The Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce directors have jettisoned from their regular meetings three board appointees: Will Pearce, bureaucrat from City of Vernon, Pat Cochrane, councillor from the municipality of Coldstream, and Junior Chamber International rep Sarah Moorhouse.

Chamber president, Adrian Johnson was quoted in the newspaper as saying "One thing we are looking at is our governance model." 

Cochrane and Pearce shouldn't feel slighted by the bylaw change that eliminates non-voting reps from attending meetings.

Consider it the same as in-camera meetings at their respective councils, and that's the way the change should be viewed.

"Or not," suggests Kia, adding "why would moles be at the table?"

Now somebody should tell the Chamber of Commerce that President Johnson's bio is displayed twice on their website.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Pellet Plant on the Drawing Board for Tolko Lavington

As in many things in our community, everything hinges on whether the Agricultural Land Commission will allow an additional ~2 acres at Tolko's Lavington facility as Non-Farm Use on their 7 acre parcel.  Five acres of Tolko's Lavington property already has permission for non-farm use.

IF--and it's always a BIG if--the ALC allows the application, a pellet plant is in the works.

Historically unswayed by the prospect of nearly 30 full-time new jobs at the plant and 15 full-time trucking jobs, the ALC will hear Tolko has sweetened the offer by proposing that 35.8 acres of vacant land they own in Spallumcheen go into the Agricultural Land Reserve. 

New Jobs--or new farming, for that matter--is never "a given" with the ALC.

Reminds me of when our 15.11 acre property was an apple orchard.
Without digging through files to reacquaint myself with the year, we wanted to build a second house here for my parents.
Since a sliver of land all along our road frontage on Buchanan Road was in the Agricultural Land Reserve (but the other 96 per cent) was not, we had to apply to the ALC for subdivision.
For various reasons, we chose not to apply for the only other acceptable route--Homesite Severance--to achieve that.

And we were advised to "sweeten the deal" by planting more apple trees than we were removing.
Made sense.

We would remove 40 or 50 apple trees to build my parent's house (they liked the idea of having orchard around them on three sides), and plant almost 100 new trees on then-bare land near the edge of the existing orchard.
To make a long story short, the ALC said "no" to us.
Parents ended up buying ~7 acres on Silver Star, so we relegated to the woodstove the 40 pages of paperwork accumulated in six months.

I hope the ALC says "yes" to Tolko's plan.
So does Coldstream mayor Jim Garlick, acting as Tolko's acting communications manager, nudging aside Tolko's actual acting communications manager Janice Lockyer.

The prospect of new permanent full-time jobs is the second good news in Coldstream in a while.
A long while.
The first was the prospect of amalgamating two mayors/councils and three administrations (including the regional district) with the City of Vernon, considering there are only about 58,000 people residing in the area.

It's said that good things come in threes.

"Two down, one to go," says Kia. 

Forgetting for a moment that large industry province-wide is seeking relief from onerous property tax rates, Coldstream's mayor sees sugar plums for the municipality's coffers. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Yap Succumbs to "Bigs" Lobby

Parliamentary Secretary, John Yap, has just completed his task of reviewing British Columbia's archaic--dark ages, to some--liquor laws.  The largest percentage of requested changes was that B.C. mirror liquor laws in the United States, and allow liquor to be sold in grocery stores.

"...should've been rephrased to state one-cash-register shopping"
                                                                                                        a consumer

Perennial cynics--following the announcement that the review is now complete with 70 recommendations--aren't surprised by the outcome.

The public demanded convenience, and almost got it.

"One-stop shopping for groceries and a six-pack," says a consumer, "should've been rephrased to state 'one-cash-register shopping'," obviously disappointed that there will need to be a separate cash register for liquor from the registers that serve grocery customers.

Cutting to the chase, what the blog title refers to is the ability of the Big Guys to run roughshod over their smaller competitors and win.  The Big Guys don't have to work harder, yet their retail competition is virtually eliminated as government accedes to the Big Guys' lobby.

It's as though government and the Big Guys are "one".
Maybe reports of the government and the Big Guys being "one" are true; maybe the government does "owe" them something for all their tax contributions and levels of employment.

So was there lobbying by the Big Guys during the liquor policy review.
Well sure there was.

Have a good look at this list of Stakeholder Meetings (halfway down the page, at far right).
Among many others, Loblaws and Costco are listed, and those two will suffice for this example.

John Yap's mandate was, among others, to:
The second item created fervent lobbying by the Bigs.

For the number of liquor licenses in B.C. to NOT increase, yet allow liquor sales in grocery stores, the only outcome is that grocery stores would purchase the liquor licenses of liquor retail stores.

And who but the Bigs can afford to purchase a liquor license?  The Wal Marts, Costco Wholesale, etc. can well afford what the smaller independent grocery stores cannot.

But here's the clincher.
To mitigate the length of paperwork required in any government process, look for the Bigs to simply--and immediately--buy the entire Liquor Retail Store, kit and kaboodle, near one of their locations.

That's where the first mandate point (above) comes in.  It actually increases government revenue far beyond what government had considered.  A real estate purchase triggers property transfer tax.  And the Bigs can afford that too because they now gain equity on the asset before it's resold as a commercial premises, albeit without its liquor license at the subsequent sale.

Left out of the equation are mid-to-small sized, independent grocery stores, whose cash reserves were diminished by the arrival in their communities of the Wal Marts and the Costcos.  They can't afford to purchase an established liquor retail store, let alone the liquor retail store's liquor license.  These smaller grocery stores will continue to see their retail sales erode to the point that many will close when consumers buy their groceries where they can also purchase liquor.

There's big money at stake, and only the Bigs will benefit.
"As usual," say some "and the Bigs get Bigger."

Liquor is a big industry in B.C.
In 2013, British Columbians bought more than $1-billion in beer and $1.9-billion in wine and spirits.

As reported by CBC, big-box retailers like Wal Mart and Costco sell liquor in the USA, and Costco operates 11 liquor outlets adjacent to its warehouses in Alberta -- separate, as per regulation.

Costco assistant veep, Jim Andruski gushes "We embrace the opportunity to bring liquor sales to our Costco locations in B.C."

Smaller independent stores will disappear.

Because of the extra revenue in property tax transfer payments, no-one could honestly say this is the Law of Unintended Consequences.  

"More likely Intended, by both the government and the Bigs," offers Kia.

For the record:  The liquor license at Highlands Golf is not for sale (this review does not affect Highlands).  Skeptical?  Well, neither did the planned RU10/RU30 rezoning of acreages in Coldstream, yet we still participated in forming the Coldstream Acreage Owners' Association to support those that it did.  It's all about principles!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Weiners and Farm Status

Sing along, to that famous tune   I Wish I Were an Oscar Meyer Weiner. 

I'm glad that I'm a rent-a-cow farmer
'Coz that's what I truly want to be
Now that I'm a rent-a-cow farmer
Other people pay my taxes for me.

I'm glad that I'm a rent-a-cow farmer
Grateful for spare time on my hands
Land's always bare, but farmable they care
All throughout the community's lands

I'm glad that I'm a rent-a-cow farmer
Cows get a block to lick and muddy dirt
Tho' it's all so draining to me
Creating farm receipts is such hard work

I'm glad that I'm a rent-a-cow farmer
No mowers and equipment in the yard to see
No barn or shop, or ladders needed
My buddy's here now, trading a farm receipt with me

I'm glad that I'm a rent-a-cow farmer
Condoned by politicians in the land
Friend's hay I've apparently bought
Tho' all his hay remains in his hand

I'm glad that I'm a rent-a-cow farmer
Jingling pockets heavy with my money
Readying the motorhome was tough
She said "let's go south for winter, honey"

And maybe more than 6 months we'll stay
Coz there's nothing to do around here anyway
Since I'm a rent-a-cow farmer


"...and I'm the shepherd," offers Kia.

MGM Hasn't Phoned?

Obviously still pining for lost tax dollars from the defunct Consumers Glass site in Lavington, Councillor Besso queried:  "I'd like to know what's been thought of, what's been done," reported in the Morning Star November 29th, 2013.

A blog story about two years ago, (October 11/11):  Remember when this Mayor and Council indicated that with the closure of the Owens-Illinois (Consumers Glass) plant in Lavington they were short the property tax dollars, and they'd have to raise taxes to make up the shortfall?  I remember it.  A business owner would've lowered their budget, as would a family if income dropped suddenly. 

Well, those of us who remain here saw our taxes go up, and they continue to.

The site hasn't been sold, or subdivided, or leased and, presumably Owens-Illinois still owns the property, a Google aerial shows it at bottom right corner here:

View Larger Map

That wasn't the only location closed.  Here's a story on the Hamilton Glass Plant closure which saw some use as a movie set after its demise.
That's likely where councillor Besso's colleague, Mayor Garlick got the idea that the Lavington location could be used for movies, as he was decidedly against subdividing the 91.74-acre property into smaller--albeit useful--industrial lots, despite some apparent interest in that.

Coldstream's new director of development services, Mike Reiley, was quoted in the paper ever so diplomatically that prospective industrial land purchasers "...may not necessarily want 91 acres."

Ya think?
Now, six years after the plant closed, our Mayor stated there'd be more interest in the site "once environmental cleanup is done."
Does he think Owens-Illinois is going to come back, six years later, and pursue an environmental study, let alone clean-up?

Details (from realtor listing by Don Kassa):

9622 Hill Drive, Lavington
Presented at $9,700,000
Status: Unlisted

Near Vernon, B.C., the former glass plant. 91.7 acres zoned light industial on three titles, subdivision potential. The building is approximately ten acres in size including all levels with ceiling heights of twenty three to twenty nine feet clear in many areas. The building is adaptable to numerous uses. The warehouse itself is 6.3 acres with six covered loading bays. There is huge power and natural gas service, a railway spur and lots of water.
Property features
Lavington Glass Plant

Site Data
91.74 acres or approximately 3,993,145 square feet zoned I.2 General Industrial (zoning attached)

Approximately 1.169 feet along Springfield Road, 1.901 feet along Park Land Road and 2,400 feet along Learmouth Road

Services are as follows: Two sources of water, natural gas, and telephone. Two 25K Volt hydro services. On-site septic system. The disposal field is at the southwest corner of the property at Park Lane Road and Learmouth Road while the septic tanks are located directly south of the factory. Water is supplied to the main building from a line 10" line to Park Lane Road. Storm drainage is surface drainage and holding lagoon.

The fly-on-the-wall at the Owens-Illinois boardroom knows what its directors said:  "It's cheaper to simply continue paying vacant taxes on it."

Apparently "the owner...hasn't been really engaged," adds the mayor.
Translation:  Coldstream taxpayers will pay for the study and site clean-up.

"Getting an international company to come back for the clean up?" says Kia, adding "good luck with that."

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Quesnel Supports Downtown Businesses in Meaningful Way

No hand-wringing and walking in circles for this Council.
No lip service to downtown merchants' complaints of extremely difficult competition from big box stores.

Quesnel Council put their money where their mouths were.

Parking meters were REMOVED in the downtown core.
Yes, removed.
Not refurbished, not cheaper rates...
Meters were removed.

Fairness and equity so downtown merchants can begin to compete with the free parking offered by big box stores.
That's what results from a council that is responsive to their residents (versus being responsive to their bureaucrats).

In addition, a facade renewal grant program was offered to merchants, and will "spruce up" the downtown core, expected to renew interest in the area.

A friend visiting Quesnel this summer overheard a long-time resident say:  "This is the way downtown used to be, busy with shoppers, every parking space taken, with more people arriving to browse downtown shops."

Cause and effect.

And why not?
The alternative would've been:   For Sale, For Rent, For Lease...

Big box store parking is free.
Imagine the small downtown business owner trying to compete with the "buying power" and "free parking" that national firms possess.

View Larger Map

View Larger Map 

Quesnel's taxpayers have made some important decisions lately.
The recent referendum on a "Multi-Centre" has been tabulated, with the referendum failing to gain the required votes.

Records show that the Multi-Centre would have required a $30 million investment for the 1,600 seat arena, a 450 seat performing arts theatre and accompanying event and assembly space.  A 2008 referendum had approved borrowing up to $15 million.  After a further $5.5 million in funding is raised (because the project costs increased since the design's inception) the balance would be paid by taxation.

The City has, through Translink, added later service to transit based on requests from residents.

The City of Quesnel, Caribooo Regional District and Library share this facility.

"Sounds as though their Council has a good mix of councillors from all walks of life," offers Kia. 

A responsive Council is alive for taxpayers.

Who Knew?

Eric Foster, MLA for Vernon Monashee could've mentioned it to the media.
Maybe he did, maybe he didn't.
Maybe he's mentioned it only to elected officials.

But local taxpayers--deeply worried about who could be objective enough to do a pros/cons study on restructuring/unification--have a right to know that the B.C. government actually has a department for local government restructuring!

"...that is [Victoria's] preferred path of service delivery - download, download, download."
Anonymous comment 

Who knew?
It's a sure bet the public doesn't know.
Apparently the poster to our blog story November 24th, 2013 entitled "Anti-unification Arguments Condone Unification" did, as their 3:55 pm anonymous comment included:  "The Province has an entire department dedicated to local government restructuring."

Well, flip my pancakes!
Guess most of us taxpayers are too busy running our lives to be aware of this stuff.
Guess the local newspaper folks are too.

Victoria's 24-page document "Managing Changes to Local Government Structure in British Columbia" is here.

From page 5: "Around the province, each community is unique, although there are often shared characteristics.  A key feature of the province's approach to local government restructuring is to ensure that the scope and process for a community to consider restructuring is the appropriate response to deal with the unique characteristics and issues in the community".

But Victoria is very heavily pro-regional districts; so it's no surprise our MLA toes that line.
As the anonymous poster also indicated:  "...that is their preferred path of service delivery - download, download, download."

From page 11, the report focuses on Municipal Amalgamation, apparently relatively rare in the province.
Must admit it's refreshing to read "the guts" of the topic, beginning with the following:

"There are strong arguments in favour of amalgamation.  Through amalgamation, municipalities may benefit from:
  • more effective government;
  • better ability to manage growth through integrated planning;
  • economies of scale or lower per capita service costs when providing some services to a larger population;
  • fairer cost sharing;
  • elimination of the "free rider" problem in which citizens bordering municipalities benefit from services they don't pay for;
  • better integration of infrastructure services like sewerage or solid waste management; and
  • more equitable access to resources; for example, an industrial tax base.
  Strong arguments can also be made against amalgamation.
  • small communities can achieve economies of scale through joint service provision agreements;
  • the regional district system can address many of the issues otherwise solved through amalgamation by creating service areas;
  • the regional district system allows for fairer distribution of service costs across an urban area;
  • the regional district system allows services, like sewerage and solid waste management, to be organized on a regional or sub-regional basis;
  • the regional district system can overcome the "free rider" problem if key services are provided on a regional or sub-regional basis;
  • economies of scale vary significantly by service and population level;
  • the growth management problems created by having many small communities can be reduced by using tools provided by the Growth Strategies Act;
  • local autonomy sometimes outweighs the efficiency values of amalgamation;
  • smaller community councils can be more accessible to their citizens and have stronger local identities; and,
  • smaller communities are better able to match the interests of local residents, their willingness to pay and the services provided."
Will have to read the entire report in depth to see if there's any mention of asset transfers and the like.

Will the regional district have the guts to recommend giving Cherryville to Lumby?
How about Spallumcheen to Armstrong or the City of Vernon?
Enderby to Armstrong or Salmon Arm?
Doubt it, but the larger community could sure use the tax dollars and, if the swallowed-up areas are designated to remain "rural", fears of streetlights and curbs (and the tax dollars that requires) would be virtually eliminated.

Kia sighs:   "...oh oh, there's that far-too-heavy focus on regional districts," adding "but I'll sleep better knowing that Ida Chong isn't in that department."

She's not, Kia.
She's now Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.

Doesn't bode well for the aboriginals.
But they're used to that system not working.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Councillors Should Have to State 'WHY'

Coldstream Councillor Richard Enns was the only hold-out Monday night when Council voted to allow construction of the next phase at Coldstream Meadows,  The Terraces.

Lucky seniors indeed who choose to age in these future Coldstream Meadows homes...

The Morning Star story on Coldstream Meadows stated that Enns declined to give a reason why he voted Nae on the development.

Why is it that councillors are not required to state a reason for their vote?

There's a 29-page publication by Staples, McDannold Stewart entitled "A Handbook for Municipal Councils under the Community Charter and the Local Government Act", November 2008.
Under "Voting Rules (123)", page 15, there is no requirement for a councillor to state a reason for their voting either YAE or NAE.  Even a non-vote by a councillor is deemed to have been a vote. 

So much for knowing whether a councillor shares a taxpayer's view on a topic.

A resident may have personally been against a topic, but without knowing WHY the councillor voted against it, how do you know if his reason would be considered by YOU to be valid?
i.e. logical in your opinion to warrant a check-mark beside his name on the ballot at the next municipal vote.

"But provincial legislation does declare local government a 'natural person', grins Kia.

...as though that's important...

So much for transparency...

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Circling the Wagons post-Petition and post-Core Services Review

Didn't find KPMG's core services review when it hit the streets...
But the 325-page report is indeed available to the public, here.

There is a whack of other links, including the administration report from the City of Vernon.  All links can be accessed from this page:  http://www.vernon.ca/core_review/

Conspicuous by its absence is an administration report from the District of Coldstream.
(Kia wagers 4 cups of kibbles such a [full] report will never be featured on Coldstream's website.)

Directors of Areas "B" and "C" have been relatively vocal against amalgamation via the local newspaper, and they've made some salient points that only the Province of British Columbia could really screw up (which they probably will, in an attempt to prevent a precedent being set in other areas of British Columbia regarding highway maintenance).

Oft-mentioned is how this governance configuration was created:  throwing an open box of push-pins into the air seems entirely plausible.  

Before Coldstream's chief administrative officer Michael Stamhuis retired, he likely did just such a report to Coldstream mayor and council, and it probably ended up not for public consumption.  Stamhuis' successor, Trevor Seibel, moved straight into his new duties but has remained mute on the topic.
Or hushed.

Wagon circling began at Coldstream Council's in-camera meeting on October 21, 2013

However, a rare visit to Coldstream's mayor and council was made by Vernon's mayor and council and chief administrative officer on October 21st, 2013.  
The "special meeting" convened at 3:30; two hours later it was over.

Again conspicuous by its absence was the local newspaper, despite the 3:30 p.m. start time.
Guessing that they were told 99% of the meeting would be held in-camera, i.e. "nothing to report here, folks, move along".

What could all these elected officials have been discussing?
Only a stray tourist would guess it wasn't amalgamation.

Discussions would have focused on the +2,900-name petition from the Greater Vernon Governance Society and whether elected officials will "take it to the province", as Eric Foster MLA indicated is "the process to be taken."

Even IF--and that's a mighty if--elected officials agree to do a study on the pros and cons of unification/amalgamation, the critical component is who will do the study...obviously employees of the City of Vernon, the Regional District and the District of Coldstream can't be expected to be objective on a topic that may affect their and their coworkers' job descriptions.
That'd be a recipe from hell.
But apparently there's no money for KPMG (the authors of the CS review) to do the in-depth plan.

No minutes are ever released from in-camera, but the special meeting's agenda did cover:
  • the security of the property of the municipality, and/or;
  • the acquisition, disposition, or expropriation of land or improvements, if the council considers that disclosure could reasonably be expected to harm the interests of the municipality, and/or
  • negotiations and related discussions respecting the proposed provision of a municipal service that are at their preliminary stages and that, in the view of the council, could reasonably be expected to harm the interests of the municipality if they were held in public.
Assisting Coldstream Mayor Garlick and council to circle his wagons were:  Vernon Mayor Sawatsky, Councillors Cunningham, Lord, Nicol, O'Keefe, and Spiers; Vernon's chief admin officer Will Pearce, Vernon's finance manager Kevin Bertles, Vernon's manager of public works James Rice, Vernon's recreation services manager Doug Ross, and regional directors:  "B", Bob Fleming, and "C" Mike McNabb.  Also present were RDNO's chief admin officer Trafford Hall and Ms. Mellott, electoral area admin manager, both of whom directed wagon traffic. 

"I'll put away the municipal hall's For Sale sign for now," offers Kia, "but I'm not going to dust it."

a note concerning a comment overheard today in Vernon:
A fellow said "the only reason people want into the city is to hook up to sewer."
His friend replied:  "why don't they simply have their septic system pumped every couple of years?"