Archive for the ‘Other News Articles’ Category

Yes, anti-pipeline Vancouver really is North America?s largest exporter of coal

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

A city dead set against expanding petroleum exports is decidedly less irked about another type of fossil fuel

Tristin Hopper
The Vancouver Sun

Lately, it’s one of the few things that oil boosters and environmental activists can agree upon: Calling Vancouver a hypocrite for opposing carbon emissions while also being the continent’s largest coal port.

And both camps are correct. According to the data, Canada’s mecca of anti-pipeline sentiment does indeed rank as the largest single exporter of coal in North America.

Vancouver’s various coal facilities exported 36.8 million tonnes of coal in 2017, according to the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.

This places the B.C. city well above Norfolk, Virginia, the busiest coal port in the United States. Despite a massive spike in U.S. coal exports for 2017, only 31.5 million tonnes of coal moved out of Norfolk last year.

Vancouver’s coal exports also dwarf the total coal production for the entire country of Mexico. According to data gathered by the U.S. Congressional Research Service, Mexican mines have produced no more than 16 million tonnes of coal per year since 2006.

Much of Vancouver’s coal is handled by a single facility that ranks as the largest of its kind on the continent.

Westshore Terminals loaded 29 million tonnes of coal in 2017, nearly triple the combined coal exports of the entire U.S. West Coast.

It’s also right next to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal, making it a familiar sight to any passenger aboard a ferry arriving from Vancouver Island. Currently, Westshore Terminals is in the midst of a $275 million upgrade to “replace aging equipment and modernize our office and shop complex,” according to the company.

B.C. mines provide much of the coal flowing through Metro Vancouver. Even as coal production enters a prolonged decline around much of the world, it has been positively thriving west of the Rocky Mountains.

“Coal production is a mainstay of the province’s economy, generating billions of dollars in annual revenue and supporting thousands of well-paid jobs,” reads the website for B.C.’s Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources.

Coal is the province’s number one export commodity, with $3.32 billion of coal mined in 2016. Much of this is metallurgical coal, which is exported to Asia for the making of steel.

In recent years, however, Vancouver’s coal ports have also accommodated a massive increase in exports of thermal coal, which is used for the production of electricity.

In 2008, only 4.4 million tonnes of Vancouver’s coal exports could be called non-metallurgical. By 2017, this had more than doubled to 11.3 million tonnes.

Controversially, almost all of this thermal coal is coming from the United States. As lawmakers in Washington and Oregon have begun shutting down their own coal ports due to environmental concerns, thermal coal producers in Wyoming and Montana have simply diverted their product through Canada.

In August, then-premier Christy Clark called for a ban on Vancouver exports of U.S. thermal coal in retaliation for U.S. tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber. 

“They are no longer good trading partners with Canada. So that means we’re free to ban filthy thermal coal from B.C. ports, and I hope the federal government will support us in doing that,” she said at the time

In the main, however, Metro Vancouver has benefited handsomely from the presence of the coal industry, according to numbers compiled by the B.C.-based Coal Alliance. Between 2012 to 2017, coal-related companies spent $2.29 billion in Metro Vancouver, including $470 million in the City of Vancouver proper.

One the most visible contributions of the coal sector has been as a key sponsor of the Vancouver Aquarium. In 2012 Teck Resources donated $12.5 million to the attraction, the aquarium’s largest-ever single donation.

© 2018 National Post


Saturday, March 31st, 2018

Phone Safety Tips


Dear valued magicJack customer,

Now more than ever, criminals utilize phone calls in their ever-evolving strategies to take advantage of unsuspecting individuals. It’s important to arm yourself with the information needed to identify and protect yourself from phone scams.

To help keep you safe, magicJack will never request sensitive personal information like passwords, credit card numbers, or bank account information. We will not call or email you with requests to access your computer, and do not offer virus protection plans or 10-year calling plans. Visit our website at to review our current product and service offerings, as well as pricing. Suspicious activities by third parties representing themselves as magicJack can be reported to [email protected].

Continue reading for tips on how to avoid common phone scams, such as caller ID falsification, family or friend emergency scams, computer-related scams, and IRS impersonators.

Caller ID Falsification

Caller ID, while a helpful tool, should not be solely relied upon to identify incoming calls. Scammers can modify their caller ID to appear as any number they wish (real or non-existent), including phone numbers from individuals, companies, and even the government.

Family or Friend Emergency Scams

Scammers may call you pretending to be a family member or friend who is in a bad situation. They may present an urgent, distressing story involving things like an accident, travel issues, or even jail. They may request that you send money right away via a fast, untraceable method (like gift cards or wire transfer) – their goal is to get your money before you realize you have been scammed.

In these situations, it’s important to think calmly and with a level head. Ask the caller questions that only the person they report to be would know, and attempt to call them back on a known-good phone number. If you aren’t able to verify their identity, do not hesitate to reach out to others to validate their story.

Computer-Related Scams

You may receive phone calls claiming to be tech support from reputable companies (such as Microsoft or Apple) stating that you have a virus, or other computer-related issues. These callers often request information about or remote access to your computer under the guise of diagnosing or repairing the reported issue. Legitimate companies will typically never call you to report issues with your computer. Regardless of how convincing the caller sounds, if you receive this type of call, do not provide any information or access to your computer, and hang up.

Likewise, be wary of any emails or pop-up alerts with similar claims. Do not click on any links displayed, and before placing an outbound call to a phone number found in one of these notifications, perform a search on Google to verify its authenticity. Do not dial the number if the results are suspicious.

Never navigate to or enter information on websites these individuals direct you to visit. Doing so could result in loss of control of your computer, the installation of a virus, or your information being stolen.

IRS Impersonators

Callers identifying themselves as representatives from the IRS may claim that you need to make an urgent payment. Oftentimes these demands include threats of arrest and jailtime, or other severe penalties if you do not comply. These calls may appear to come from legitimate phone numbers, and the caller may appear to know some basic personal information about you (like your name and address).

It is important to be aware that even if you do owe money, the IRS will typically send you a bill prior to calling you. They won’t demand payment via any specific method (like gift cards or wire transfer), and they won’t ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone. They will always give you the opportunity to appeal the amount of money you owe, and they won’t threaten to involve law enforcement. You can contact the IRS regarding taxes owed by calling 800-829-1040.

No ‘blank cheque’ for World Cup bid

Wednesday, March 14th, 2018

Premier balks at cost of hosting 2026 FIFA World Cup games in Vancouver

Rob Shaw
The Province

B.C. Premier John Horgan says he’s not willing to write a “blank cheque” to have Vancouver host soccer matches for the FIFA World Cup in 2026, which may threaten the city’s involvement in a bid package that’s due this week.

“We have been grappling with the proponents who want us to sign a blank cheque, a conditional agreement that can be changed by FIFA but not by us,” Horgan said Tuesday. “I’d love to see soccer games in B.C. Place. I’ve said quite clearly to the proponents, ‘Bring it on. Let’s bring soccer to Vancouver in 2026.’ But let’s also ensure the costs to taxpayers are not out of control.”

A unified bid featuring Canada, the United States and Mexico is seeking to host the 2026 tournament. Vancouver, as one of the potential host cities, could see a maximum of five games. The economic benefit of those games could range from $90 million to $480 million, according to a recent report to the City of Vancouver council, which voted to endorse and support the bid proposal.

The province would be expected to play a role in helping with the provincially owned B.C. Place Stadium, including any modifications required to the playing surface, parking, security and the cost of using the facility. This would be similar to the other Canadian cities involved in the bid, since all the stadiums are publicly owned.

The bid deadline is Friday. Horgan said the province submitted an offer last week, but it wasn’t accepted by the bid committee. Meanwhile, the federal government threw its support, and $5 million in funding, behind the proposal on Tuesday.

“The federal government announced today they support the bid in principle, but they didn’t say anything about the cost of security, they didn’t say anything about the indemnities that the province has to put in place, unlike other cities in Canada because we own the stadium,” said Horgan.

“I have a higher obligation than

just being a soccer fan. I have a higher obligation than just wanting to see world-class soccer in Vancouver. I have to make sure taxpayers aren’t on the hook for unknown costs at the whim of FIFA.

“I’m just not prepared to sign off on that, nor is the minister of finance. We’re going to continue to work with the proponent throughout the week, but I think they have to be responsible as well and understand that as much as we’d love to see soccer coming to Vancouver, world-class, not at any cost.”

The provincial Liberals accused the government of bailing on the bid after years of work.

“In 2015, the economic benefit, to B.C. alone, of hosting the FIFA Women’s World Cup was estimated to be about $118 million, all from an initial investment of $2 million,” said Liberal critic Jas Johal during the legislature’s question period Tuesday. “However, the reports are that the provincial government has

pulled out of the bid for the men’s 2026 FIFA World Cup. In fact, we have learned that the bid deadline was last night. Again, I ask the minister: Can she confirm if the province supports the bid, yes or no?”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the tourism ministry said: “The government supports in principle the Men’s World Cup FIFA event in Vancouver.”

The city, provincial government, federal government and airport authority are part of a multi-party working group, with similar groups set up in Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto.

If the bid is successful, Vancouver would be notified of its host city status in 2021. Then, the federal and provincial governments would be expected to help collaborate on costs.

It is unclear if B.C.’s hesitation, or outright abandonment, of the deal will throw the Canadian bid into jeopardy.

Victor Montagliani, the Vancouver-based president of CONCACAF, the regional governing body for soccer, and who is helping to prepare Canada’s bid for the World Cup, declined to comment: “It’s inappropriate for me to comment as I’m a vice-president of FIFA.”

A spokesperson with the federal Ministry of Sport and Persons with Disabilities redirected questions about the impact on the bid back to the B.C. government.

In a statement, City of Vancouver spokesperson Ellie Lambert called the bid “a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to be part of the largest sporting event in the world, and research has shown that if Vancouver was an official host city, we could experience up to $490 million in cost benefits.”

“We continue to work with our bid partners, including the province, and look forward to the United Bid Committee’s announcement later this week regarding the host cities that they will be including in the bid.”

Vancouver Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi, who played on Canada’s only World Cup team in 1986, said Vancouver hosting games was a no-brainer.

“We hosted the Olympics in 2010, which was a huge success. We hosted the 2015 Women’s World Cup,” he said. “There’s no question we have the ability to be a part of the Canadian cities. We just want to get right behind the bid and do anything we can do to insure British Columbia is one of the host cities.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it’s probably beyond that. Who knows if there’s ever another opportunity to host a men’s World Cup.”

© 2018 Postmedia Network Inc.

Solution to parking shortage is easy

Monday, March 12th, 2018

Cutting clearance from five to 2.5 metres would create more spots and not affect fire safety

Susan Lazaruk
The Province

Metro Vancouver’s engineers and fire chiefs are offering a partial solution to the parking shortage that’s particularly affecting Surrey and Coquitlam, where increased densification in some neighbourhoods means not enough room for all the extra cars.

They say the answer to creating several hundred additional, on-street parking spots is hiding in plain sight : By cutting the no-parking clearance around hydrants in half, there would be room for more cars on streets.

The city engineers, through the Regional Engineers Advisory Committee, are proposing the province change the Motor Vehicle Act to reduce clearance around hydrants to a minimum of 2.5 metres on either side from the five metres required now.

The change would increase the number of parking spots in some neighbourhoods by 20 per cent, said Fraser Smith, the general manager of engineering for Surrey.

He said Surrey estimated it could create 18-20 additional, on-street parking spots by reducing no-parking zones around the 100 hydrants in the Clayton Heights neighbourhood alone.

That neighbourhood has an increasing number of secondary suites, in addition to coach houses, besides primary residences, meaning three households can live on one lot.

Ideally, residential areas would have improved transit and provide residents with more work-live

communities, but, in the meantime, more room for cars is welcome, said Smith.

“It’s a small impact, but overall it could free up a lot of parking spaces,” he said.

There are between 8,500 and 9,000 hydrants in Surrey. Halving the setback from one, mid-block hydrant would free up five metres. One on-street parking spot requires six metres of space.

The move is supported by B.C.’s fire chiefs, who last year passed a resolution supporting the change, said Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis.

“The resolution (at a fire-chiefs association convention) was passed unanimously,” said Garis. “I couldn’t find a reason for (setting the clearance at) five metres,” he said. “We did our own testing and we discovered we don’t need the five metres.”

The proposed change was born out of a simple question that Smith put to Garis: Why is the no-parking zone around hydrants set at five metres for a mid-block hydrant?

Garis found the limit recommended by the National Fire Protection Association — an international body that develops fire standards

— was 1.5 m on each side of a hydrant with water outlets measuring 6.5 centimetres or more.

He also discovered that across North America clearances range from three to five metres, and that B.C. was at the top end of the scale across Canada.

The Surrey fire department conducted its own tests to determine the minimum distance needed by fire trucks and crews to use hydrants during a fire without damaging parked cars.

The tests determined that a minimum of two metres would provide

firefighters with the room they needed to access the hydrant and the results were published in the Reduction of Parking Restrictions around Fire Hydrants: An Examination of Parking Distances and Setback Regulations.

The report, written by Garis, Surrey Assistant Fire Chief John Lehmann and Alex Tyakoff, the strategic planning analyst for the Surrey fire department, was published by the school of criminology and criminal justice at the University of the Fraser Valley, where Garis is an adjunct professor.

© 2018 Postmedia Network Inc.

Automation vs. jobs and human interaction

Sunday, March 11th, 2018

E-commerce revolution has both social and employment implications

Derrick Penner
The Province

In the future of retail, it is likely that bricks-and-mortar stores and online commerce will merge into a seamless entity, says Vancouver tech entrepreneur Igor Faletski.

As CEO of the Vancouver-based online-commerce platform Mobify, Faletski has had a front-row view of the trend toward using technology to create a “frictionless transaction” that maximizes convenience for consumers while minimizing the amount of time they spend waiting in line.

“The days of a retail store as a place where you have inventory, you sell it and take money are short, because that’s not enough value to attract (consumers) to come there,” said Faletski. “Therefore, there is more of a focus definitely on frictionless shopping.”

Whether it is simple click-and-collect online grocery shopping, managing investments on your smart phone or using an app to pay for something in store to avoid a checkout line, commerce has become all about “reducing friction.”

Most people are familiar with the concept through online shopping with services such as Amazon Prime.

Shoppers go to a store’s website, click the “place order” button to purchase items that are billed to a credit card linked to their account, and a package arrives on their doorstep, maybe even on the same day.

The trend is to extend that simplicity across all retail.

“Everyone is focused on automating the payment process,” said Faletski, whose business builds ecommerce platforms for retailers to use. But this means eliminating points of contact between people, which has the power not only to alter the experience of consumers but to shape the nature of work itself. Replacing those contacts with automation and artificial intelligence shifts where the jobs are in commerce, potentially eliminating whole classes of employment before it is entirely clear if workers will have comparable jobs to move to, experts worry.

It also threatens to increase the so-called digital divide between those who are adept with technology — and can afford the smart phones, computers and data plans that go along with it — and those who aren’t, especially seniors who also face increasing issues with social isolation.

Social implications of automation

“I think we’re still grappling with what the implications are of taking the human element out of some of these transactions,” said Kendra Strauss, director of the labour studies program at SFU’s Morgan Centre for Labour Research.

“And what we’re probably not thinking about is what does it mean for people who rely on those interactions for any human contact in their day.”

That is a prime concern for another SFU academic, gerontologist Andrew Wister, who is studying the prevalence and consequences of social isolation that seniors already face.

“It’s a double-edged sword, isn’t it?” Wister said of the technology that enables automation in commerce.

On one side, Wister said, technology that lets people shop from their homes is a benefit to seniors with limited mobility who can’t get outside as much as they used to.

On the other side, technology that removes human contact from the equation can magnify the sense of isolation people are already experiencing.

Wister characterizes those everyday contacts as “extremely important” in helping people maintain a sense of connectedness with the community around them.

Social isolation is becoming a big enough problem that the United Kingdom has appointed a minister for loneliness. In Canada, data shows that between one in four and one in five middle-aged and older citizens experience some form of loneliness, Wister said.

When it comes to counteracting social isolation, face-to-face interactions matter more than conversations via text or social media, he added.

As for technology in commerce, Wister said there has perhaps been too much focus on efficiency and not enough thought about the unintended consequences when it comes to decreased social interactions.

At the front end, removing friction is all about increasing convenience.

“When you remove friction from the consumption of a particular service, people love it,” said Andrew Harries, a professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business.

He points to examples such as the ride-hailing service Uber, which makes arranging transportation as simple as opening up an app, or mega tech-and-retail firm Amazon, which does the same for online shopping and has upped the ante for all of retail with its Amazon Go store in Seattle.

On its website, Amazon boasts that creating Amazon Go was a four-year journey to weave a network of cameras, sensors and “deep learning algorithms” together for an experience that allows shoppers to scan its app upon entry, pick up items and walk out without going through a checkout.

The cameras and sensors keep track of what shoppers pick up, or put back, then the app bills their credit cards for what they keep after leaving in what Amazon bills as “walkout technology.”

Traditional jobs versus artificial intelligence

“And people will enjoy this too,” Harries said. “But there are two schools of thought on the bigger question about what AI is going to do with the future of work.”

Optimists hold that innovations will create new jobs and new types of work, Harries said.

However, although Harries is inclined toward using technology to streamline services — he was a co-founder of Sierra Wireless and other startups — he is also “deeply concerned about the future of work with the advent of AI.”

Retail and wholesale trade has a big footprint in the Canadian economy, accounting for 389,000 jobs in B.C., 20 per cent of all service sector employment, according to Statistics Canada’s labour force survey.

Within that, Stats Can data classifies 77,000 0f those positions as “sales support” occupations — cashiers, gas-station attendants and employees who stock shelves.

Nationally, those numbers are 2.84 million wholesale and retail employees — just under 20 per cent of the service sector with 624,000 in sales-support occupations.

Previous cycles of the Industrial Revolution saw automation replace dirty and dangerous jobs and workers move on to more skilled occupations, but with AI and robots taking over repetitive tasks, “it’s not entirely clear that there will be better work for people in the future,” Harries said.

Faletski, however, is in the optimistic camp, arguing that even if cashiers are displaced, retailers will need to turn them into more skilled in-store experts to improve customer experience, which will carry more of a premium for retailers in the future.

There is a big drive toward more automated payment systems, Faletski said. The options might not be as sophisticated as Amazon Go, but will involve retailers using mobile-based payment systems, such as the system Apple gives to its in-store staff.

“There’s definitely a trend of putting people into solving more difficult problems (for customers) than just taking your credit card,” Faletski said.

While retailers are trying to reduce friction in transactions, it is still a relationship business, argues SaveOn-Foods spokeswoman Julie Dickson, which requires “the human contact piece of it” to work well, particularly in the grocery sector.

Save-On-Foods has embraced online shopping, offering either home delivery or click-and-collect orders in 77 communities via the grocer’s website, but Dickson maintains that the move hasn’t cost the grocer jobs but has created hundreds of jobs to provide new services to customers.

“We have quite a large new group of customer service experts on the phones working on the technical supports needed when customers are new to it,” Dickson said.

When customers aren’t coming into stores, that creates the need for a new group of “personal shoppers” who pick and put customer orders together, right down to selecting the correct ripeness of bananas customers have requested.

“It’s a personal business, it’s a people business,” Dickson said. “It’s about finding ways to use technology and the tools available to us that further enhance that relationship.”

Tech jobs being created

There won’t be any going back, either, according to Tea Nicola, CEO of the AI-enhanced investment adviser WealthBar, which has seen its own smart phone app become central to its services.

“I think that this technology is changing the way that consumers think and behave,” Nicola said, and Amazon, with its Prime delivery service and Amazon Go store has set high expectations for everyone else.

In financial services, it can still take days for transactions that WealthBar executes for clients to clear the layers of bureaucracy within the industry. However, Nicola said, an increasing number of its clients use and depend on the firm’s app.

“There has been pressure on us from customers to improve its functionality, add features and improve speed,” she added, so the company has invested in creating a next generation of its technology.

WealthBar, as a so-called robo-adviser that uses artificial intelligence to help make decisions within investment portfolios, is a disruption within the industry itself to start with.

However, Nicola doesn’t worry about any of the technology displacing people because she sees new jobs and entire new career fields being created to enable it.

Inside WealthBar, for instance, Nicola said they’ve re-organized their workforce to leave their human advisers free to work with clients and write investment plans while the firm’s marketing team concentrates on recruiting and signing up customers.

And both teams rely on new layers of technology that require their own personnel.

“The advisers of the past didn’t have a software development team and didn’t have a user-experience designer (to support their work),” Nicola said.

“User experience designer didn’t exist as a degree in school when I went to university, now it does.”

Nicola said automation will reduce some roles, so society as a whole will have to embrace the concept of continuing education and training of its workforce as it adapts to new technology.

“I don’t think that’s impossible,” she said. “It’s not, ‘Now we have technology and x amount of people are going to lose their jobs, too bad so sad’.”

Technological change, though, does invite questions about who will be the winners and losers when it comes to what kinds of jobs will be displaced and who will get the new jobs that are created, according to SFU associate professor and labour expert Strauss.

“To my mind, the question, in part, is not just what jobs are going to be created and what kind of jobs lost, but what kind of (new) jobs will they be,” she said.

At one end, Strauss said, the concern is that automation will replace stable, full-time jobs with what labour groups refer to as precarious employment — part-time jobs or contract positions — in the so-called “gig economy.”

Strauss said studies are showing that those in precarious employment tend to be minorities, new immigrants and the young.

Many of the new jobs being created through services such as Uber, Lyft or Airbnb are billed as “side hustle,” Strauss said, or opportunities for people to earn extra income.

“One of the things we’re hearing from younger people is that they’re increasingly cobbling together fulltime income from a variety of more precarious, gig-type work,” Strauss said.

Those kinds of contract jobs are hard to capture in Canada’s traditional workforce measurements, such as Statistics Canada’s labourforce survey, Strauss said, so “we’re already a little bit behind the curve in terms of figuring out the shifts we’re in the middle of.”

The kicker, however, is that the big, growing companies that successfully embrace change, such as Amazon, will always have room for more staff in stable jobs, according to Harries.

Those will be the creators, the companies that come up with new ideas for ways of doing things and the technologists capable of coding them into existence.

“I don’t see Amazon laying off all its workers and hiring them back on contract,” Harries said.

© 2018 Postmedia Network Inc.

Vancouver gas prices some of highest in North America

Thursday, March 8th, 2018

Tiffany Crawford
The Province

Vancouver gas prices hit 150.9 cents a litre at some stations Wednesday, and according to a prominent petroleum analyst, it’s likely to go up. analyst Dan McTeague says the price has jumped 20 cents over the last couple of weeks. And, while this isn’t the highest price Vancouverites have seen — it jumped to 156 cents a litre in July 2014 — it’s the highest in North America.

McTeague says there are several factors contributing to the skyrocketing costs, including the declining Canadian dollar, a shortage of supply to the Lower Mainland, and a reliance on U.S. refineries, which are charging a premium for gas.

He says the Parkland refinery in Burnaby, which produces about 30 per cent of Vancouver’s fuel, is shut down for maintenance.

“So all these things combine to increase prices,” he said, adding that Vancouverites pay 49.4 cents a litre in taxes, which are also the highest in North America.

He also said with spring maintenance coming up at most refineries, prices are likely going to remain high into April.

© 2018 Postmedia Network Inc.

NDP tax hard-working folks like they?re privileged elites

Thursday, March 8th, 2018

The Province

The new school tax (on homes assessed at more than $3 million) will take 10 per cent of my annual income or more each year.

Because I worked hard and sacrificed, even during my teenage years so that I could buy a house at the age of 21 and look after myself, I am deemed in the eyes of the government as lucky and privileged.

I’m in the drywall industry. I scrape and sweep floors, hang drywall in stairwells, sometimes 10 metres in the air, and literally risk life and limb, break my back and ruin my knees and elbows to earn a living. I’m not the CEO of a tech company driving a Ferrari, but being treated like one.

I hope The Province keeps the subject of these new taxes on homes front and centre. There are many people like me who don’t deserve to be treated like this by the NDP.

Dean Letroy, Vancouver

Speculation tax isn’t fair

The NDP’s new, so-called “speculation tax” hurts Canadians and discriminates based on one’s province of residence.

An individual from Vancouver could own a vacation home in Kelowna, while a Calgarian could have the home next door inherited from her family decades ago. Both use their homes the same way — a few months in the summer, a few weeks at Christmas and occasional weekends.

Assuming each property is worth $1 million, the Calgarian has to pay $20,000 a year due to the new “speculation tax,” while the Vancouverite pays nothing.

How is that fair?

If the tax on “empty” homes was intended to address housing availability, shouldn’t the tax be levied on both homes? Has the provincial government forgotten what it means to be a country? Finally, will the NDP do the right thing and narrow the tax so it doesn’t apply to other Canadians?

Jim Casey, Edmonton

Bad driving mostly to blame

The reporting of serious accidents often claims bad weather or poorly designed roads were the cause.

But there are generally three reasons for accidents: Driving with no consideration for either traffic and/or road conditions, which includes speeding; persons driving beyond their ability; or driving while distracted.

We can all improve the safety on our roads if we carefully think of these issues and drive with due consideration — not only for ourselves, but also in consideration of others.

Frank Wirrell, Abbotsford

Sand needed on highways

I’m a retired commercial driver with 27 years and five million kilometres under my belt. The majority of my days were travelling through the southern B.C. highways hauling hazardous liquids.

During this time, highway crews put sand and salt on the road. With the sand, we had traction. It helped tremendously, especially once it froze up. Nowadays, with fiscal and environmental restraints, they use liquid glycol and salt, which doesn’t work. It may melt some frozen roads for a time, but leaves life-threatening ice on the roads in the end.

The Coquihalla Highway rarely gets sanded, but you’ll notice that after a big crash the contractor puts down sand. It would save accidents and lives if sand was used regularly. James Ponath, Abbotsford

© 2018 Postmedia Network Inc.

Haven’t B.C.’s homeowners been through enough?

Friday, March 2nd, 2018

Gordon Clark
The Province

Last May, B.C. voters decided they wanted a kinder, gentler sort of provincial government and transferred their support to the NDP and the Greens.

Now that the dust has settled, with an NDP minority government nominally in charge (although with a Green tail wagging an NDP dog), voters should wake up to the fact that, yet again, they’ve elected a gang of bandits.

Consider the NDP’s first budget, delivered last week. It slams British Columbians with $5.5 billion in new and expanded taxes over three years while increasing spending by $5.2 billion.

What is it about that party that its members can’t get it through their heads that most people actually want fiscal responsibility from their governments and that the days of tax-and-spend should be history? As usual, the NDP thinks its sole purpose is to transfer wealth from anyone who is working hard and doing well. As has happened every time they’ve formed government, that attitude is their undoing. The sheep inevitably decide they’ve been sheared enough.

So, again, the NDP has leaped to pass a slew of unprincipled new taxes to pilfer any income or wealth they decide is excessive, regardless of the damage they inflict on individuals or the economy. This is always couched in the rhetoric of making the rich pay or, as Finance Minister Carole James self-righteously put it, to ask “people who have benefited from out-of-control housing prices to pay a little more to help ensure all British Columbians can afford a place to live.”

When did that become the job of homeowners? And “pay a little more”? Does she mean the $12,000 a year in extra school taxes she has imposed on retired economics professor David Tha, who lives on a pension and happens to own a Vancouver home he bought decades ago that through no fault of his own has increased in value? There are hundreds, if not thousands, of David Thas out there.

While the finance minister clearly doesn’t care, it must be said that the Mr. and Ms. Thas of B.C. already pay a lot more school and other property taxes because of higher property values. They are already contributing a little bit more, to use James’ unctuous words, and don’t deserve an even higher tax burden.

The same is true of the NDP’s new five per cent property transfer tax for homes that sell for more than $3 million. (It’s three per cent for lower-priced homes.) If the NDP cared about affordability, why didn’t they eliminate that idiotic tax, brought in as a temporary measure 31 years ago?

Then there’s the 20 per cent foreign buyers tax and the two-percent speculation tax on those who own property in B.C. but don’t pay income tax here — a few foreigners, but mostly other Canadians. Both pay income taxes somewhere, and Canada has tax treaties with other countries so people, Canadians included, aren’t forced to pay in two jurisdiction.

Here’s why all of this is unethical, including the NDP view that they have a right to force people through rapacious taxation to rent out their private properties, as if they were public assets.

Canadians support progressive taxation, where wealthier people pay higher taxes. But the NDP — being urged on by bogus university academics who are really taxpayer-funded, highly paid left-wing activists — are applying the same tax principles to assets.

Having taxed income, government should not take a second run at people’s wealth by annually taxing their property, which they have usually acquired through hard work and sacrifice. Unless they want to help people pay their mortgages, or cover their losses when there is a downturn in the housing market, the NDP should not stake a claim to homeowners’ equity.

What is even more stunning is James’s admission that the government didn’t study or model the impact of all these taxes on the housing market before imposing them. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything more incompetent or irresponsible from a finance minister. Real estate and construction are the two largest contributors to B.C.’s economy, and James just wants to throw the dice?

Finally, her actions will actually hurt many British Columbians by lowering the value of their homes, especially those who recently bought into the market and may find themselves owing more than their properties are worth. There are words to describe people who would do that to others, but they are unprintable.

© 2018 Postmedia Network Inc.

Popular repurposed shipping containers are ‘potential bombs’

Friday, February 23rd, 2018

New WorkSafeBC campaign warns of ‘significant’ risk when used for storage

The Province

A propane tank stored inside a shipping container on a Saanich construction site ?became a bomb,? according to a WorkSafeBC video about a 2013 incident in which the explosion sent one of the container?s heavy metal doors across the street into a public park. ADRIAN LAM/TIMES COLONIST FILES

Designed to transport goods across international waters, shipping containers have become darlings of the DIY world, linked with buzzwords like “pop up” and “upcycling.”

They’ve also attracted the attention of B.C.’s workplace safety authority. A new WorkSafeBC video campaign warns that reusing or repurposing shipping containers can “create unseen risks to workers and the public.”

“The potential for explosion is quite significant,” WorkSafeBC director Dan Strand said Friday.

Portable, strong and easy to secure, shipping containers have become a popular storage solution on construction sites across the province, he explained. Many large sites have one or two steel containers for various uses, including office space, electrical rooms or painting. They’re also popping up on farms and in residential neighbourhoods.

While the containers can be used safely, WorkSafe has found a lack of awareness about the risks. Because they are airtight and watertight, it is unsafe to store anything flammable inside without proper ventilation. Employees should be trained to prevent accidents while proper signage lets firefighters know the container is a “potential bomb,” Strand said.

In 2011, an Enderby firefighter was struck and killed by a door that blew off a shipping container while he was fighting a fire in the next building. Afterward, investigators found the container was being used to house a collection of gas-powered tools. When the fuel vapour was exposed to extreme heat, the container exploded.

In 2013, a propane tank stored in a shipping container on a Saanich construction site “became a bomb,” according to a WorkSafeBC video about the incident. The explosion sent one of the container’s heavy metal doors across the street into a public park. It also destroyed an adjacent shipping container that served as an office, injuring one worker, and blew out the windows of nearby buildings and cars.

A WorkSafeBC investigation attributed the explosion to a barbecue that had been used the previous day by construction workers on a break. The propane tank valve had been left open, while a burner valve may have inadvertently been turned on as the barbecue was being placed in the container for storage. The container filled with propane, and a spark from a soft drink dispenser — also stored in the container — ignited the gas.

The Fire Chiefs Association of B.C. has been working on the issue for several years, said member Don Delcourt.

“Shock went through the whole fire service when we lost a firefighter to a hazard we hadn’t really considered before,” he said.

Attempts to get the fire code changed to recognize that shipping containers are being used as buildings were unsuccessful, leading the association to draft a “model bylaw” that can be adopted by local governments. Bylaw officers can enforce standards around venting and labelling.

WorkSafe is also educating employers on the potential dangers associated with shipping containers, said Strand. If education is unsuccessful and a risky situation persists, the safety authority can order the employer to improve conditions. WorkSafe plans to be in contact with the companies that sell shipping containers, hoping they’ll provide safety material to purchasers.

© 2018 Postmedia Network Inc.

Vancouver-Seattle floatplane flights on the horizon

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

Direct Vancouver-Seattle floatplane flights expected next year

Dan Fumano
The Vancouver Sun

Direct floatplane flights connecting downtown Vancouver and Seattle are expected to be running regularly by next spring, but Vancouver’s mayor says the service can’t come soon enough.

And with hundreds of North American cities and regions currently vying to host a new second headquarters for tech giant Amazon, the folks behind Vancouver’s bid hope increased connectivity — including floatplanes as well as more futuristic modes of transport — along the so-called “Cascadia corridor” could boost Vancouver’s chances.

Last Thursday marked the deadline for proposals from North American cities trying to become the home of a second headquarters for Amazon, the Seattle-based online retailer. Metro Vancouver’s proposal, led by the Vancouver Economic Commission (VEC), was hand-delivered to Amazon last week, concluding a six-week collaboration between regional stakeholders at “a level unprecedented since the 2010 Winter Olympics,” according to a statement from the commission.

Vancouver is far from alone. A reported 238 cities and regions submitted proposals, Amazon said Monday. The company expects to invest more than $5 billion US in construction for the new facilities and create as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs.

The VEC proposal highlighted the location of the two Pacific Northwest cities, according to a statement from the commission, citing “millions of hours in reduced travel times and a minimized carbon footprint,” and stating the “region’s geographical proximity means unmatched accessibility.”

In an emailed statement Monday, VEC manager of research and analysis James Raymond said: “In our proposal to Amazon, we’ve really leaned into our proximity to Seattle, simply because there are so many options to take advantage of how short the distance is and how much of a logistical asset that is.”

The Vancouver-Seattle floatplane route — or “nerd bird,” as Raymond calls it — is just one of four inter-regional transport options the VEC has discussed over the past year, he said, along with high-speed rail, a hyperloop (a network of tubes zipping passengers around in pods at super-fast speeds), and a dedicated lane for autonomous or self-driving vehicles between Vancouver and Seattle.

This week, the VEC is bringing together local stakeholders for discussions with representatives from Washington and Oregon on a “high-speed Cascadia train line,” Raymond said.

Meanwhile, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson told Postmedia on Monday the floatplane route between the two downtown cores “is long overdue,” and “can’t happen soon enough.”

That lack of a downtown-to-downtown floatplane connection is “a limiting factor for all the companies doing business back and forth with Seattle, from Amazon and Microsoft to our local companies doing work in Seattle,” Robertson said. “It’s absurd that we don’t have regular-scheduled floatplanes between downtown Vancouver and Seattle. … We have a lousy connection by road and airport — it’s not efficient.”

Harbour Air has been working out details on the plan with the Canada Border Services Agency, as Postmedia reported last month. An inquiry sent Monday to CBSA was not returned by deadline.

Robertson said he believed the Vancouver-Seattle service would be approved and operational “imminently,” adding “it’s bizarre” that it isn’t running already.

“It doesn’t help our case when CBSA hasn’t followed through with a long-overdue service. That’s the bottom line,” he said.

Harbour Air president Randy Wright said Monday the partnership with Washington-based Kenmore Air is still “on track” to begin operation by next spring, pending CBSA approval.

Some warn that Amazon’s jobs and economic activity could come with a cost. Last week, Seattle-based New York Times columnist Timothy Egan wrote of the “mixed blessing of Amazon,” describing concerns about rising housing costs and increased traffic in his hometown, and warning: “To the next Amazon lottery winner I would say, ‘Enjoy the boom — but be careful what you wish for.’”

© 2018 Postmedia Network Inc.