Sea to Sky highway retaining walls safety inspection reports released, raise more questions on quality of build and maintenance.

One of the advantages to blogging is the ability to follow up on stories as many times as one needs to get to the bottom of it. And as is becoming more common with stories involving the BC provincial government, it’s a matter of digging deeper,looking beyond the ministry media handler statements and sometimes going back and comparing them to new ones.

Such is the story of everything to do with the Sea to Sky highway, that lovely scenic drive and engineering marvel that takes one out to Squamish and Whistler. Not only scenic, its construction,cost and maintenance has been a source of many stories that give British Columbians a glimpse into how major projects are built and paid for.

Stories like the reason there why will never be a toll on that highway – at least until the current contractual obligations are paid out. The hidden shadow toll is based on vehicle usage counts and distance, and is included as a part of the total payment to the concessionaire ( the private partners the government must pay back every month for footing the bill of the construction) If you are a newer reader, you can find all those stories on my Best Of page, just over half way down :

Another story that has been just as compelling for me because of the potential implications of the research, revolves around the more than 200 retaining walls built along the Sea to Sky highway.

On April 30th, 2014 I broke the story that the Ministry of Transportation was investigating the condition of a series of retaining walls after photos were taken that showed gaps between blocks, seepage outside of drains, blocked drains, and walls that were wavy and in some cases bulging.

The ministry responded on  May 1st,2014, that they had done their own investigation and that the issues were all merely cosmetic in nature.

In November of 2014, it was discovered that Kiewit had inspected their own work as per a Ministry of Transportation Operation managers emails, who advised the ministry was reviewing what Kiewit had discovered.

It was then revealed – not by government but by a resident in the area of the repair – in April,2015 that two other retaining walls on the Sea to Sky highway that showed little to no visible defects, were undergoing extensive repair work.

Transportation minister Todd Stone was on the hot seat in the legislature looking nervous that week, but instead of answering any meaningful questions he tried to deny,deflect and discredit the opposition who were finally doing their job well.

Just days later it was revealed by yet another Ministry of Transportation manager that Kiewit, the builder of the highway, had used substandard materials.

Repairs have been ongoing this summer at the Pasco Road rebuild and at the CN rail overpass near Brandywine falls past Squamish, and in both cases the repairs are extensive in scope.  But why such extensive rebuilds?

An FOI  requested and released to someone in the media in August of this year, gives some insight into what went wrong on these two walls in particular. And the results are damning.

A letter dated June 17th,2014 from Hatch Mott McDonald to Sea to Sky highway builder Kiewit,  states that Kiewit flagged those two walls for internal review and testing, after an internal Kiewit audit showed the possibility that deformed wire was used in the walls instead of the contract standard wire. ( pg 98-106 below)

The safety inspection reports also show that despite the Ministries earlier claim in May 2014 that a full investigation had already been undertaken of the walls, the safety inspections were not conducted until October 2014, a full 5 months after I first broke the story.

The FOI package includes  just 12 inspection reports from 2013. In all, most walls were rated well, with several in the fair to poor range for particular components. All the issues identified by the photos posted here previously are noted, including erosion, drainage issues, water seeping between blocks, misaligned blocks, walls built of out line resulting in a wavy formation, bulges of compacted fill walls, a result of over compaction during construction.

Motion sensors also tracked movement on the walls reported here earlier for a period of time and no significant motion was detected.

However, questions remain as to how and why substandard material was used in the construction of the CN wall and the Pasco Road wall, and why it took until this point in time to address it.

Questions also remain as to why walls clearly built out of line and with defects were approved as acceptable for completion, considering the cost of building this highway. This is something I have never been able to get an answer on from the ministry of Transportation but is concerning to me for a couple of reasons.

  1. The highway is only  6 years old in some areas. To have so many issues that need maintenance and repair -some that are extensive- at such a young age indicates issues during construction that someone still signed off on. If things are popping up so quickly, and in at least a couple of cases are still not being addressed, what can we expect for the longevity of this highway?
  2. Kiewit is on half of the partnership with Flatiron that built the Port Mann Bridge, which also had very tight contractual deadlines, and also experienced significant issues during construction. The continual decline and eventual replacement of a brand new retaining wall on Lougheed Highway and the gantry collapse are just two. Kiewit has had a long history of issues in the US and elsewhere in Canada, which are detailed here.

With industry sources indicating there have already been incidents of spalling under the  new Port Mann ( falling concrete bits and pieces) and geotechnical issues with settlement.soft earth at both the north and south ends, one wonders if  BC’s great transportion projects will suffer the same crumbling fate as those in Montreal. 

Calls to the Ministry of Transportation made this morning, were not returned as of the time of this posting. I’m not surprised – I would have hard time explaining how an $800 million plus highway ended up like this too. ( and that doesn’t include the 25 years of PS payments either…)

Pasco Road retaining wall rebuild.
Pasco Road retaining wall rebuild.

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BC Hydro says halting Site C would cost taxpayers $500 million? Not building it at all will save us over $8 billion dollars.

Sometimes, one woman can only take so much. And when I saw yet another headline last night blaring: 

“BC Hydro says halting Site C would cost $500 million”

I really and truly, had enough.

“A stop-work order for the Site C dam will cause “extreme prejudice” to BC Hydro at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars and a one-year delay in the construction schedule, the utility’s lawyer says.

Mark Andrews told a B.C. Supreme Court judge that critical milestones will not be met if an injunction is granted to a pair of First Nations.

“This injunction is going to drive a truck into the schedule of the project at this stage in particular,” Andrews said Wednesday.

The West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations are challenging the nearly $9-billion project by arguing they were not properly consulted before permits were granted for Site C, the third dam on the Peace River.

The Treaty 8 Tribal Alliance members say they will suffer “irreparable harm” if BC Hydro is allowed to start clearing thousands of hectares of old-growth forest.

They’ve asked a judge to block work authorized by specific permits.”


“The project is in the public interest because the dam’s power will flow to British Columbians, he said.

BC Hydro has said the dam is expected increase its energy supply by eight per cent, enough to generate electricity for about 450,000 homes annually.”

This kind of stuff makes my blood boil. Let me tell you why.

Site C is a project that has been on the books for longer than many British Columbians will remember. Over the years ,the reasons for it have changed a few times in order to try and justify the project. Then Premier Clark picked it up and said  LNG plants will need the energy, so we must build Site C.

However when it was revealed that LNG plants could burn their own gas to generate power – Clark admitted to Bloomberg Site C was not needed to power up those LNG plants we still don’t have – the reason for building it changed again. Now, Clark said, British Columbians will need that clean energy! We must build Site C!

It’s also been said we could sell the energy elsewhere… but read on.

What it comes down to, is that we still don’t need the electricity from that project,and there are still very serious questions  about the rationale and the costs associated with it.

Site C was already turned down once by the BC Utilities Commission in the eighties because it simply wasn’t needed.

Not surprisingly, last year the  federal-provincial joint review panel recommended  that the B.C.  government send the project to the B.C. Utilities Commission for review on the economics and cost of the project. That is what the BC Utilities Commission exists for. It reviews all the evidence provided and determines if it is accurate and if the benefits outweigh the negatives.

But no, the province  did not, and will not send the project to the BC Utilities Commission and actually exempted it when they passed the Clean Energy Act in 2010. The province knows full well that there stands a very strong likelihood the BC Utilities Commission would say the project still isn’t needed at this point in time, or that the costs associated with it outweigh any rationale for building it.

The BC Utilities Commission might also ask the province why  it still hasn’t investigated alternatives to the dam as was recommended the last time this project went before them.

The provincial government has ignored not only the federal-provincial review panel, but politicians,industry experts and the people whose homes and land will be flooded if the project proceeds.

Each of you should be asking yourselves why this project is being pushed through without this review being done.

This is why the BC Utilities Commission exists!!  There is so much concern over this project that now the BC Auditor General will be conducting a review “to investigate “whether BC Hydro’s recommendation and government’s decision to build Site C was supported by sufficient information and analysis to demonstrate that it would meet government’s economic, social and environmental goals.”

In an exclusive interview earlier this year, the chair of the review panel had this to say:

“In his first interview on the Site C dam, the chair of the federal-provincial panel appointed to review Canada’s largest current infrastructure project said the B.C.government was unwise to green-light the project without a review by the B.C.Utilities Commission and would have been better off to delay the decision by a few years.

There’s a whole bunch of unanswered questions, some of which would be markedly advanced by waiting three or four years,” Harry Swain told DeSmog Canada. “And you’d still be within the period of time, even by Hydro’s bullish forecasts, when you’re going to need the juice.”


You shouldn’t take decisions before you need to,” Swain said. “That means you’ll have much more information when you finally have to take a decision. Building electricity facilities in advance of need only costs money.”

The panel’s report predicted that in the first four years of production, the Site C dam would lose at least $800 million because BC Hydro would generate more power than the province needs at a cost of $100 per megawatt hour — when the market price for that power is currently $30 per megawatt hour.

Wisdom would have been waiting for two, three, four years to see whether the projections they were making had any basis in fact,” Swain said. “And they would have been able to make a better-informed decision and not necessarily a more expensive one.”

In its report, the panel wrote that it couldn’t conclude that the power from Site C was needed on the schedule presented, adding: “Justification must rest on an unambiguous need for the power and analyses showing its financial costs being sufficiently attractive as to make tolerable the bearing of substantial environmental, social and other costs.”

Some of the questions that still need to be answered, according to Swain, include the real cost and availability of alternatives, how B.C. should use its Columbia River rights, how British Columbians will react to increased electricity prices (which could decrease demand) and how the province’s liquefied natural gas industry will develop.”

That interview is a must read and you can read part 1 here:

And part 2 here:

This matters.

Homes are going to be flooded,some that have been farmed and owned by three generations of the same family.They are harvesting  musk melons right now – this is fertile land, ready for crops and in this day and age the government should be promoting it, not trying to flood it.

The valley and river is also used by many including First Nations, for hunting and fishing. It has archaeological significance. Even the BC government Parks has designated the Peace River as one of its Heritage Rivers,extensively sharing how unique and diverse the river below the other two dams really is:

site C heritage river

It really matters that when the province or a crown corporation undertakes any big project, they ensure every check and balance is done and that has not been the case with Site C. And while this time it is Site C being rammed through, next time it might be a project that impacts your life more directly.

So, when I see news reports with BC Hydro warning that costs will increase by $500 million if work is halted, I see a scare tactic designed to sway the public into pressing for this project to move ahead.

What should be said is that not building it will save taxpayers far more than $8.5 billion dollar cost of construction… but also the  potential yearly loss of $800 million because the cost to produce the energy is more than current rates. Our hydro bills would likely go up.

It’s just wrong on so many levels. I urge everyone to write the premier and every Liberal MLA and demand this project be put before the BC Utilities Commission for the full review it should have had in the first place.

Forest fire prevention and mitigation in BC: At what point does inaction become negligence?

“There were at least 21 fires that started in British Columbia on Sunday. There were 36 Saturday. There were 32 Friday. There are 178 burning right now.

A haze blankets the majority of people in B.C., as winds bring smoke from fires in Pemberton to people in Vancouver and Victoria. The Metro Vancouver Air Quality Health Index went to 10+, or “Very High Risk” on Sunday night.

READ MORE: Air quality advisory issued for Metro Vancouver and Sunshine Coast

And undoubtedly, there will be more fires to come in the days and weeks ahead…”


Our forests, our lives

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The vast and varied forests of British Columbia, are without question one of our greatest resources. In its heyday, the forest industry in our province provided a revenue source that sustained entire communities through logging, sawmills and pulpmills. In fact most of my family and friends up north have worked in the forestry industry via one or another of these sectors.


The impact of the massive pine beetle kill was sizable,but once most of the salvaged ( and marketable) wood was harvested, sawmills began to close in many areas. It was also discovered back in 2012 that our forests had been badly mismanaged – the Forest Practices Board concurred with forester Anthony Britneff’s assessment that cut forests had not been satisfactorily restocked via tree-planting. What do these two things have in connection?

It takes a long time to re-grow a logged area to a size that can be harvested again -and this didn’t take into account the often unchecked logging that takes place on privately owned land. Between the vast amounts of beetle kill in BC and the failure to replant trees to a level and standard we needed to, every single remaining forest in our province becomes that much more valuable/

The need for protection of our forests for either wood harvest or simply as a wild habitat for our animals, becomes clear.

The amazing stands of douglas fir  and majestic ceders or redwoods are magnets for those who call nature their church,who find solace and reverence in forests thick and tall. Those trees provide much needed stability along lakes and streams, preventing run-off that makes clear water silty, clogging gills of fish and aquatic wildlife.The need for conservation, is clear.

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Wildfire prevention and mitigation

Every time a forest fire is ignited, at best we lose valuable forest, at worst, we lose homes, and at times, lives. The costs to both communities and the province, is often staggering. So it makes sense that in a province with vast tracts of forest that in many areas merge with homes and communities, prevention efforts and mitigation is absolutely essential.

For more than a decade, the location and methods used to build forest communities was a massive concern- ” How BC was built to burn” ran in the Tyee in 2004, identifying major issues and safety concerns of many BC communities like Barriere and Whistler.

Of great interest in this article, is the Filmon Firestorm Report of 2003. I’ve linked to it separately here, because the link in the Tyee article is no longer working.“>

Pages 69 through 76 contain 41 recommendations based on his findings -some the province was advised to implement immediately, some would take time, but all were to be treated with urgency. While I can determine fire departments acted on the recommendations under their jurisdictions, I cannot determine if the province has completed their response.

His final thoughts included the following:

We believe that governments have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to implement risk reduction policies and legislation while the devastation of Firestorm 2003 is fresh in the public’s mind and the costs and consequences of various choices are well understood.

Another area of clear consensus was that concentration of resources and effort on issues that anticipate, prevent and prepare for disasters is a better investment than on expenditures made in coping with disasters. Consequently, we have made many recommendations to invest in preparedness, education and training.

There was also a firm recognition that many subdivisions in the interface were not designed to mitigate wildfire risks, nor were the dwellings constructed to reduce wildfire hazards.

We believe that local governments and individual homeowners have recognized the risks and are now prepared to follow the best information available to correct for past inaction. We believe they will accept strong direction and leadership on this issue.

The topic of fuel load reduction through prescribed burns is perhaps the best example of a strong consensus on what formerly had been a very controversial and divisive debate. Simply put, almost everyone who gave advice to the Review Team agreed that it was better to accept short-term inconvenience and irritation in favour of long-term reduction in hazard and cost.

Filmon was correct. We have had a trend of hotter,longer dryer fire seasons.  And with some predicting the current drought like conditions will continue through the next winter and into 2016, it’s reason for immediate review to see how many of these recommendations were implemented with urgency as Filmon dictated.

What’s happened since the report was issued? 

Despite this report, concerns were raised yet again in 2011 on what it would take to keep BC forest communities safe.

And sadly, just last week Robert Gray revealed a startling fact in this Times Columnist column:

Knowing that wildfires have an even greater economic impact on annual provincial and local government budgets than originally estimated should compel the province to invest more in proactive wildfire-hazard mitigation. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.

In 2014, the province didn’t invest any money in wildfire-hazard mitigation through investment in the Union of B.C. Municipalities Strategic Wildfire Prevention Program Initiative. It did, however, invest over $70 million in flood mitigation.

Since 2002, the province has invested over $2 billion in earthquake mitigation. In the 11 years since the 2003 fire season and the release of the Filmon Report, the province has invested only $100 million in wildfire-hazard mitigation, yet the cost of suppression alone over that same period has been $2.2 billion. Investments in hazard mitigation are only a fraction of the total amount being spent on fighting fires plus the damage caused by those fires — a pattern that runs counter to sensible cost-benefit risk-management practices.

It’s true no one can point a finger at any politician for this weather, or the drought we are experiencing. Nor can you lay blame for the rampant stupidity that leads to so many fire starts across the province.

But when reports commissioned by the government, make recommendation to the government to prevent similar situations in the future-a dire warning by any standard of commensense- are not fully implemented or funded, who takes the responsibility?


Who is in charge of legislating forest policy, forest management, removing fuel loads that feed fires?  The province of BC is.

In April of 2014, a full decade after the Filmon report was commissioned, Glen Sanders- a former firefighter and fire chief, took a look at the lessons learned- or not- by government and found the results lacking.

“I am dubious about the lessons learned by government, however, and many of the missteps identified in the Filmon Report will be repeated when the next firestorm strikes.

A wise person once said, “The worst mistake a person can make is to think that those in charge actually know what they are doing.” 

In a recent post, I reflected on how hindsight is only 20/20 if one applies the lessons learned to future actions and decisions. 

And if fire and forestry experts are concerned, I’m also concerned the government did not learn an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Did the government ensure every single one of the recommendations they were responsible for completing in Filmons report were undertaken? I don’t have that answer yet.

I hope we don’t have to wait for yet another firestorm report, to find out.

* For up-to date positions and details of reported wild fires in British Columbia, see this link:

* Air quality reports/advisories can be found here:

In an update to this post that received thousands of views in the last few days, Coulson has reportedly signed a new contract with the province of BC.

The Mars Bombers will be back in service as early as Thursday.

And further to this, the contract will be under and existing helicopter contract with Coulson.

( Some media outlets reporting the ministry is still in talks- check your local news to see what develops)

Om the Bridge cancelled, Premier is going to Namastay home, but don’t fret – official UN International Day of Yoga events were already planned elsewhere.


It’s over, done, kaput. The disaster that started as #Omthebridge has been cancelled after all three sponsors pulled out this morning. If you ask me, it was the tweet above that she issued yesterday that signaled the point of no return on this debacle, because this was never about yoga.

It was a  silly tweet and really angered people who were upset over the closure of the bridge /that this event was on National Aboriginal day and she has said nothing/ that it was corporate driven event that even the premier billed as a photo-op.

Now it’s time to move on to more important things – this event provided more than enough cover for a variety of government related news items.

There have been a few tweets about how now a great city like Vancouver will be the only one not celebrating a UN International Day event, which just isn’t true.

In fact, there are several events around Metro Vancouver hosted by the IDY Canada, and in Vancouver, the committee has been working hard on a great event at Plaza of Nations. I’m still not sure why the premier simply didn’t offer to partner with these organizers, who are endorsed by the Consulate of India.

So, head on over to one of these events if  you want to truly celebrate the spirit and tradition of yoga, and check out a number of events for National Aboriginal Day-There is a big event at Trout Lake, and another at Canada Place on the 20th( Saturday)

idy events











And if you want to find out what you missed while Yoga-gate unfolded, simply click on any of the links below:

BC Govt diverts funds meant for Legal Aid :

Om the bridge covers for Health Firings Scandal:

Govt removes penalties for mishandling of information and documents :

Whistleblower says Govt deletes emails regualrly, fails to document:

Legal Aid funds diverted by BC Government in excess of $100 million dollars. Legal? Yes. Moral or right? No.

Without a doubt, there has been ample attention this week to Yoga on the bridge and today, the flippant, somewhat childish attempt by the premier to poke fun at the thousands of people who are upset and outraged.

A welcome distraction from the ongoing health care scandal that revealed the BC government did not actually give the RCMP information they claimed they had, to the press and the public. One man took his life-let us not forget.

I’ve written of many of the BC Liberals most compelling failures over the years – and there are many. Failures of policy, failures of action, you can find it all here.

But among the list of more than 100 reasons the BC Liberals need to go are the many sweeping cuts made to the services that assist the provinces most vulnerable population.

When Campbell came in, he made massive cuts to personal income taxes, and to corporate tax.  While British Columbians cheered at having more money in their pockets, the resulting hole in provincial revenue those tax cuts made, had to be accounted for. And to be honest, it never really was.  We began seeing MSP increases and user fees, which are a form of regressive taxation.

And the most vulnerable among us, the ones least likely to complain as they struggle to make it through what life’s handed them,began to see cuts.

Cuts to legal aid, cuts to women’s centres, cuts to funding social service agencies and non-profits. The list is long and extensive. And very sad.

Legal aid took a huge hit.

85% of legal aid offices in BC were closed, including 5 regional officers. 75% staff reduction.Family law cut by half. Closure of the law line.

A complete timeline of the cuts can be found here.

But there is no money, the government has said time and time again with only minimal increases to funding.

So imagine the surprise many are going to feel when they hear that according to this lawyer, the BC government has been diverting in excess of $100 million dollars of the funds meant to go to Legal Aid, into other things?

And while it is perfectly legal, it is indeed morally wrong and it takes help out of the hands of those who need it most.

The special tax  paid on legal services is meant to fund legal aid. But apparently… it’s been used elsewhere.

CFAX radio had the exclusive today. I urge you to all read this, and to listen to the interview.

” Victoria lawyer Michael Mulligan on CFAX 1070 with Pamela McCall discussing new freedom of information data the reveals the amount of money being diverted from the legal aid system by the provincial government. The FOI information reveals that $171.7 million was collected in 2014 by a special tax on legal services while only $74.9 million was used for the intended purpose.

The special tax on legal services was introduced by the NDP in 1992 for the express purpose of funding legal aid. After several years the tax was collecting more money than the government was providing to legal aid. When in opposition, the BC Liberals were critical of the NDP for the diversion of $15 million from this special tax.

When in opposition the then Liberal critic asked the following in the legislature, “I’m sure we can quibble about the numbers but the larger public policy question remains. Isn’t there something wrong with the government taking all this money from legal accounts as a result of a tax which was imposed, the justification of which was for legal aid, yet it doesn’t actually really direct all of that revenue into the legal aid system.”

As a result of substantial cuts to legal aid funding including for the provision of poverty law and family law services, the amount of tax revenue being diverted is now in excess of $100 million per year as the federal government provides the provincial government with more then $13.5 million per year to assist with the cost of criminal legal aid.”

“The more that government becomes secret, the less it becomes free.” ~ James Russell Wiggins

It’s a stunning Friday morning here on the coast; the sun is shining bright and hot, high enough in the sky at this time of year to chase shadows away completely before 10 am.

Taking a look at the chatter online, people are still talking about the Pattullo bridge repairs conveniently announced by Translink yesterday at the height of the reaction to the Liberal government whistle-blower story.  Well played, that one – suddenly warning the public of repairs that won’t take place until halfway through 2016 successfully eclipsed the story our current government would rather you just forget you ever heard about.

By all means, freak out now about bridge repairs that aren’t happening until next year (that’s a story in itself) or FIFA corruption. But whatever you do, don’t pay any attention to a story that goes right to the heart of not only transparency and accountability in our provincial government, but to the core of everything that is democratic and just.

Yesterday a former political staffer in the Ministry of Transportation alleged that emails were intentionally deleted following a freedom of information request made late last year,relating to the Highway of Tears.

” The NDP has made public a letter written by former executive assistant Tim Duncan to Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham. In the letter, Duncan says that when he protested an instruction to delete the emails, a ministerial assistant took hold of his keyboard and did it himself.

“When I hesitated, he took away my keyboard, deleted the emails and returned the keyboard, stating, ‘It’s done. Now you don’t have to worry about it anymore,'” Duncan wrote in the letter.

When his concerns continued to be dismissed, Duncan writes, he was told, “It’s like The West Wing. You do whatever it takes to win.”

Duncan writes that he does not believe the incident was unusual.

“I want to stress that this is not an isolated incident. It is my belief that the abuse of the freedom of information process is widespread and most likely systemic within the [Premier Christy] Clark government. I would ask that you please look into this further.”

I strongly suggest you listen to this interview between CKNW reporter Shane Woodford and Duncan. It’s 12 minutes, and in my opinion Duncan appears very sincere:

Duncan states clearly that he believes deleting emails is a routine matter, as is using personal emails to do government business. He also suggests that because all emails are backed up, why not just go straight to the server when an FOI comes in to stop this practice? He claims it was a big joke among staff that because they consider everything transitory, they can delete it. Even if by the law,it shouldn’t be.

The government in this case has now reverted to the same strategy most often employed in whistle-blower situations: Deny, Deflect and Discredit.  He was fired, he’s a disgruntled employee. Negate the claims. Nothing to see here.

All of this comes really comes into focus though, when you consider an interesting bit of legislation the government just recently brought forth:

The BC government’s new Government Information Act takes some useful steps to preserving information, but it has a big hole and also takes a major step backward.

The biggest problem is that it contains no duty to document.

Recently several freedom of information requests come back with not a single piece of information attached. Perhaps the most incredible is the government’s claim that it has no records whatsoever of any of the dozens of meetings with more than 80 people that took place about the Highway of Tears in northern BC.

This bill will do nothing to stop the spread of this cancer on government transparency…

…Bill 5 specifically removes the application of the Offences Act, so there will be no chance of anybody in government facing legal consequences for improper actions dealing with government documents.

No chance of anybody in government facing legal consequences for improper actions dealing with government documents. Like deleting ‘transitory’ emails, perhaps? Why would a government want to protect it’s staffers from penalty for breaking the law?

There are so many reasons this entire debacle cannot and must not be allowed to slip by in favour of sexier stories that people find more interesting and relevant to their lives. Why, you ask?

The public has a right to know what government is doing. Or not doing. In a perfect world you would be able to call up your local government office and say “I’d like to see any or all emails relating to the Highway of Tears from this date to that date, please.” Or whatever other information you wanted to see.

And in that perfect world government would say  “Sure, of course we’ll have that for you shortly” Because after all, the government is elected by the people,and paid with public funds so we should have access to that information, right? Wrong.

What actually happens is that government rarely wants to give you information freely. You have to file a request under the Freedom of Information Act -we refer to this as an FOI. You provide details of what you want, as specific as possible and government has a set period to respond to acknowledge and respond to your request.

If your request is going to take a long time or a lot of work, then you might have to pay to have those documents retrieved. Those fee’s at times can be ridiculously high, meaning the Free in Freedom of information is really just for show. The costs of some FOI’s make it prohibitive unless you ask for a fee waiver based on poverty. But we do it anyways because we have a right to know, and you deserve it. Reporters and writers like myself file these kind of requests often, either by ourselves or through an intermediary.

In this case, clearly the government had  meetings about what to do with respect to the Highway of Tears. That’s a given. Yet miraculously  no documents were found when that FOI was submitted. None. You tell me how that happens.

So now here we are back to Tim Duncans allegations of deleted emails and how this is a routine thing in the Christy Clark government where emulating The West Wing is apparently a good thing.Except that this isn’t a TV show and the Highway of Tears is nothing to joke about.

The allegations are bad enough on their own, but the murdered and missing women on the Highway of Tears deserve more than this. This really matters.

When information like this is withheld,deleted, destroyed, it makes not only a mockery of the law,but of our democratic process. It’s slap in the face of every journalist, every voter and in this case, every victim and their families.

Secrecy protects those making mistakes. It saves the government from embarrassment, from examination and keeps them from being accountable. And removing a key component of legislation that would make this kind of thing an offence, is highly suspect.

Considering Clark promised one of the most open governments in Canada, someone has some explaining to do.

“The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears.”  ~Barack Obama

“A government by secrecy benefits no one. It injures the people it seeks to serve; it damages its own integrity and operation. It breeds distrust, dampens the fervor of its citizens and mocks their loyalty.” Russell Long.

Tim Duncan’s letter

When wrong just doesn’t begin to describe it.


I’m about to give the old fingers a rest from the keyboard for the May long weekend –  they’re getting a bit claw like – but there are three more stories I wanted to bring to your attention for posterity.

Readers who have been with me long enough know that while I feel strongly enough about the  current government that there’s a list of reasons they should go on my blog, I continue to hold the opposition to account as well. Political hypocrisy doesn’t impress me nor does an opposition that sometimes doesn’t oppose. And if the NDP do manage to win an election provincially, I will continue to hold them to the same standard as I have the Liberals and they know it.

But I digress.

Three stories came out this week that really highlight wrong actions, wrong policy and terribly wrong results.


When it comes to the awarding of contracts in government, it is as important to avoid the perception of conflict as it is, conflict itself. It doesn’t matter that this story didn’t come from a reporter, it’s still wrong.

” Well-connected Liberal insider Larry Blain won $219,000 worth of public contract work from Partnerships B.C. while he was also serving as the chair of Partnerships B.C., according to documents obtained by the New Democrats.”

I have a hard time believing that there was no other company who could have fulfilled the requirements of the work for a reasonable price. Seriously. Here are the FOI documents the NDP received.

Might be just me, but that is just wrong.


In a time when foreign companies are being allowed to buy farmland and plant it over with trees to get carbon credits – wrap your head around that one,will you? –  it would make sense to have someone who will fiercely defend the ALR, in charge of the Agricultural Land Commission.

But no, the government thinks it makes perfect sense to suddenly fire the chair Richard Bullock and replace him with a former mayor who has no agricultural experience.

Smart move? Wrong. See ya farmland. It was nice knowing you…


If there are angels on earth, one is surely Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the representative for children and youth. Along with a damning level of child poverty in this province, the handling of children in government care is one of our provinces greatest shames. In particular, aboriginal children.

Turpel-Lafond has taken this government to task so many times and yet every little change is hard-fought for.

This latest story is a horrific indicator of the systematic failures of agencies overburdened and underfunded, that hold the responsibility to care for our provinces most vulnerable. No child should suffer through a life like Paige’s, no children should be living in the DTES, and that there are right now, 100-150 files just as urgent that need immediate action,is unthinkable.

And please let us not forget that these ‘files’… is a child.

Wrong just doesn’t begin to describe it. And all of these stories are just a small part of why it’s no longer enough to shake our heads and make concerned grimaces at the news.  You’ve got to be engaged in what matters to you.
Have a good, relaxing and safe long weekend,  kick back and be well!

Submissions raise eyebrows at Electoral Boundaries Commission public hearing in Surrey with ‘Gracie’s Finger’ references, opposition to changes in key Liberal ridings.

On a rather mundane Thursday afternoon in April, without any press or fanfare, representatives from the Electoral Boundaries Commission conducted a public hearing in Surrey at the Guildford Sheraton Hotel.

The purpose of the public hearing was to allow voters in Surrey the opportunity to give input on the proposed electoral boundary changes to ridings in the city, which are significant –  in fact Surrey will receive one new riding for the 2017 election if the changes are eventually accepted.

However, there were very few members of the general voting public in attendance at this public hearing – not terribly surprising because it was not largely publicized and the voting public tends to be nonchalant about most political matters,even ones that impact them directly.

What was surprising- or not depending on how you look at it- was the interesting mix of movers,shakers and well known BC/federal Liberal names that did show up among the other community members with vested interests. And what they had to say in opposition to some of the proposed changes was even more interesting.  Some of the presenters who gave verbal submission did not even live in the area or riding they gave an opinion on!

Here’s a list of who gave submissions:

Surrey public hearing

If you’ve followed local, provincial and federal politics for any amount of time south of the Fraser, you’ll spot a few noteworthy names immediately and of course,that would raise  your eyebrows.

Of the 23 people at the Surrey hearing who said the proposed map needs significant changes ( 27 attended in total) 14 were Liberals or Liberal supporters/donors. The remaining 3 NDP donors/supporters identified said they thought the EBC had done a decent job, though one did propose a small change to Fleetwood,one of the riding changes that seems to be contested the most.

Here’s a few notes, taken directly from the audio of the hearing posted at the link above:

Brenda Locke, former BC Liberal MLA & Federal Liberal candidate

– Donations to Libs:

– Wants to Keep Fleetwood as is, makes a comment  that Fassbender is a strong MLA in his riding, mentions Harry Bains, Gordon Hogg in comparison, boundaries have changed many times, said population growth has slowed based on 2014 when it increased 33%, would like to see boundaries shrink from west rather than the east.

John Les, former BC Liberal MLA

–  Asks indulgence of commission and audience to re-visit other decisions?? ( This is a Surrey hearing, but whatever – l.y)

-Leave Sumas in Abbotsford- When a Commissioner asked which he would prefer if the numbers allowed them to only do one, he said keep Hope in Chilliwack.

– was a MLA for 3 terms

– Don’t move Hope, leave in current Chilliwack/Hope, made mention of Aboriginal voters.

Ian MacPherson

– Donations to Libs:

– Says everything west of 148th St in the proposed Guildford riding should be in Whalley or Green Timbers, as the case may be.

– Concerned about length of riding, 114th past extend to 140th, west of 144th, particularly 148th s/b with Green Timbers

– Name change: would cause confusion for voters, go with new name with riding 104th /108th kinda the boundaries he would like

Ron Knight

– Donations to Libs:

– Keep Cloverdale as is and keep its population smaller than average to allow for future growth. (Commissioner pointed out these are conflicting desires.)

– Keep Fleetwood as is.

Carolyn Glazier

– No personal donations to Libs, but her employer is Bay Realty and they have donated:

– Keep Cloverdale as is-Keep Fleetwood as is. Lives in Morgan Creek ?

(Says the Whalley/Guildford boundary is no good, but when pressed, says she doesn’t have the map in front of her, and perhaps best to stick to her own area… ? )

– South and Cloverdale are going to grow faster than the rest and should be left below average population size.

Bill Brooks, former Federal Liberal candidate

***Makes a comment that is very questionable at the 1:03:38 of the recording when he suggests that the “Gracies Finger” in Surrey South be corrected!!

Says he uses this term “Gracies finger” in reference to something else….yet Gracies’ finger is one of the biggest gerrymandering scandals in BC history. What exactly is he inferring with this statement to the commission, using a reference that clearly indicates a benefit of  one partisan interest over another? ***

– Donations to Libs:

– Lives in Crescent Beach,wants to have Crescent Beach put in South.

– Keep Cloverdale as is and fix the Gracie’s Finger.

– Keep Fleetwood as is.

Adam Stowe

– Keep Cloverdale as is.

– agrees need new riding – Clayton North – do not divide, remain in Cloverdale, he is willing to submit on line submission to flesh his concerns/ideas out

Pocholo Insua

– Donations to Libs:

– Keep Fleetwood as is- Keep Cloverdale as is.

Stephen Gammer, Real Estate Agent and former candidate for Surrey council with Brenda Locke

– Donations to Libs:

– Keep Fleetwood as is.

– Leave Fleetwood community center inside Fleetwood, Clayton Heights in Cloverdale, Cr. Beach to S. White Rock, there are geographic & emotional boundaries, use Serpentine as a boundary

Al Payne, former BC Liberal, Federal Liberal, and Doug McCallum campaign manager

– Donations to Libs:

– Move the Whalley/Guildford boundary to 144th St. – Likes 9th seat.( of course he does…)

– Retain traditional boundaries of Fleetwood, 144th to Green Timbers, using Hawthorne Park who have fewer residents, use natural boundaries.

Judy Higginbotham, former Federal Liberal candidate and longtime former Surrey councillor

– Donations to Libs (Judy):

– Donations to Libs (Judith):

– Keep Fleetwood as is.- Keep Cloverdale as is.

– Morgan Heights will explode in population growth, leave Fleetwood where it is, groups deal with that MLA closely, (Fassbender) give Gracie’s finger back to Cloverdale, numbers don’t matter in family but heart of community matters (this refers to Cloverdale being 25% above acceptable range with 74,000 voters)

Sylvia Posypanka

– Keep Fleetwood as is – Keep Cloverdale as is.

– Happy with 9th seat

– Doesn’t want Fleetwood Park removed from Fleetwood, don’t split Clayton Heights, growth in Grandview Heights is amazing

Jorda Maisey, President, Fraser Valley Real Estate Board

– No personal donations to Libs, however donations made to Libs by FVREB with Maisey listed as an officer.

– Keep Fleetwood as is – Keep Cloverdale as is.

– Don’t put Fort Langley with Abbotsford.

– 63% realtors are in Surrey/White Rock, want you to consider the community, want to vote for who will make my community viable/sustainable, S. Surrey/Cloverdale projected 4% with 3% in 10 years, lots of talk about voters, happy voters, don’t split the community

Sarbjeet Sarai, active Federal Liberal

– Keep Fleetwood as is.

Rich Gorman, Board Chair, Semiahmoo House Society

– Keep Fleetwood as is.

– Generally reiterated comments of previous speakers who disliked the new Fleetwood. Reinforced Michelle Wieboltt’s peculiar comments re challenges to businesses if boundaries change re name change.

– Doesn’t want Fleetwood to go to Cloverdale. Want to keep Fleetwood Park & High School. Fleetwood is not growing like other communities

Catherine Ferguson, Executive Director, former Mayor of White Rock

– Keep Fleetwood as is – Keep Sumas in Abbotsford – Keep Hope in Chilliwack.

– former Mayor of White Rock – went on at length about not wanting to change boundaries

Rick Hart, President, Fleetwood Community Association

– Donations to Libs:

– Keep Fleetwood as is or move boundaries east

Kirk Fisher, VP, Lark Group 

– Donations to Libs:

– Donations to Libs (Lark Group):

– Make Cloverdale smaller to allow for future growth – Make Panorama smaller to allow for future growth.

John Russell

– Donations to NDP:

– EBC has done a good job with recommendations- Likes recommendations of EBC

– Likes name change

Louella Vincent

– Donations to NDP:

– EBC has done a good job with recommendations – Spoke about how happy to have a 9th seat, congratulated them on a job well done, said she would submit on line response.

Balwinder Chahal, former candidate for NDP federal nomination

– Donations to NDP:

– Put Fleetwood Park and Fleetwood Park Secondary back in Fleetwood, otherwise EBC has done a good job with recommendations.

This is a map of the changes to the Fleetwood riding that some Liberal members/ supporters are objecting to -even the ones that do not live anywhere near Fleetwood. The current riding boundaries are in blue, the proposed changes are in red.

fleetwood map

So why are so many Liberal supporters finding fault with this riding proposal, which makes sense to many residents I’ve since spoken to who actually live in Fleetwood? ( None of which had any clue this was going on,or that they could still give input )

Generally speaking, BC Liberal support is strongest in the south and the east of Surrey (towards Langley).

In the case of Surrey-Fleetwood, the Commission is tightening it up and proposing moving it west-which makes sense because the core of the community is within the new boundaries.

The Liberals are presumably not pleased that the map drawn by the Commission would make the Surrey-Fleetwood seat, held by Peter Fassbender, Minister of Education, an uphill battle for Fassbender in the next provincial election.

The resulting loss of voters from the more pro-Liberal voters east of the seat and the addition of voters from the less Liberal supportive west could pose a real problem for the Liberals in Surrey.

Because Fassbender won this seat by fewer than 200 votes in the 2013 election, these proposed boundaries could make Fleetwood very difficult for him to hold on in 2017, in particular with parents and teachers growing outrage over the ongoing cuts to education as a result of districts being forced to find millions in budget savings.

Based on previous results, the new Surrey South seat would be solidly Liberal, so Fassbender could presumably run there if he doesn’t like his chances in Fleetwood.

However, the Liberals could avoid having to move Fassbender, while at the same time limiting the NDP’s chances of picking up any additional Surrey seats, if they can convince the Commission they’ve got Fleetwood all wrong and need to go back to the drawing board.

Which makes the multiple references to ‘Gracie’s finger’ by Liberal supporters all that more ironic when you think about it!

While every single voter has a right and perhaps some might say, a duty to provide input on political matters than impact them directly- including everyone of these presenters -one has to question the partisan nature of some of these submissions when the people giving them don’t even live in the riding impacted.  And in once case, when questioned as to why they didn’t like a boundary, couldn’t even answer…

Any new seat in Surrey will be highly sought over by every political party as the city continues its stance as a political powerhouse at both the provincial and federal levels.

And while everyone agrees Surrey does need and deserve a new seat to reflect the growing population, the motivation behind many of the changes provincially have already come under fire. 

My advice to Surrey residents is to not let the politicians and their supporters shape the province for you – shape it for yourself.

There is still time to give input to the commission on what you think is best for your riding, and your community. Changes are happening not only in Surrey, but Richmond and all over the province.

You can access the maps of proposed changes to any of the ridings in your area here:

You can give your input via the form at this link  and make sure you let them know where you heard about this from.

You might not be thinking ahead to the 2017 provincial election in British Columbia right now, but let me assure you, the political parties vying for power certainly are.

When it comes to the changes in Surrey, it’s worth a stroll down memory lane to understand why the mention of Gracie’s Finger in this public hearing are so darn compelling.

This weeks column for 24Hrs Vancouver: Alberta NDP will hurt the premier

I’ve missed post a few of my Monday columns for the last bit thanks to an extra-busy schedule, but found some time to post this while the coffee is brewing  :)

This week’s topic: Could the NDP’s win in Alberta be good for the BC Liberals?

After 44 years of Progressive Conservative rule in Alberta, the NDP swept to victory to form a majority government.

The resulting shock wave reverberated across the country, taking everyone by surprise. Suddenly forced to confront the reality of an NDP government, everyone wondered what it would mean for the future of Alberta.

However, what wasn’t a surprise were the over-the-top reactions coming from supporters of the outgoing PCs across Canada about what would happen to Alberta.

Cries that “those socialist NDP’ers” were going to run Alberta into the ground were matched by doomsday-like predictions from some industry analysts that businesses would inevitably have to leave the province in order to continue operating. And this was all within the first few hours after the election.

While many British Columbians didn’t pay more than a passing interest in the Alberta election, it’s a fact that what happens in Alberta doesn’t always stay in Alberta. The policies and actions of Alberta governments impact B.C., and more can make life for Premier Christy Clark easier or harder.

Read Brent Stafford’s columnhere.

Many analysts and pundits have been predicting that the NDP win in Alberta can only mean good things for Clark as they envision businesses leaving in droves to escape the socialist hordes in the Alberta legislature. I say it’s time to step on the brakes and be realistic…

Read the rest of this weeks column, comment and vote here:


And if you’ve missed a past column, you can find the majority of them at this link:


“…the contractor who built the wall — Peter Kiewit and Sons — used parts in the retaining wall that do not meet ministry standards….”

A wise man once told me that the best thing for any organization to do when facing a potentially explosive public relations issue was to “tell the truth, tell it all, and tell it damn quick.”

First the issues were cosmetic in nature only.

Then, a ministry employee said ” no significant structural issues were identified.”

And when it was discovered major structural repairs were about to start on a 4th wall, repairs that include building a new reinforced wall and inserting soil anchors, the minister said they were routine maintenance and attacked the NDP for not building anything when they were in government…

Today we get a little closer to the truth with a story from Jane Seyd of the North Shore News:

Ashok Bhatti, district manager for the Ministry of Transportation and Highways south coast region, said repairs are needed because a review of the project showed the contractor who built the wall — Peter Kiewit and Sons — used parts in the retaining wall that do not meet ministry standards. Bhatti said the wall has been tested by engineers, and there are no safety concerns. But over the lifespan of the highway, problems could develop….”

– See more at:

This just brings another level of questions for the young minister of transportation, Todd Stone, because this manager just opened a huge can of worms.

What parts are faulty?

Does the MOT manager mean parts below engineered level or parts of faulty material?

What about faulty installation?

Over compacted, drainage under engineered or wrongly changed?  And on, and on…. you get the picture.Is it is a matter of Kiewit cutting costs by using materials that were less than what was called for? Were they aware of the faulty parts?

 Where is the due diligence of the government?  What about the INDEPENDENT Quality Control guy who was on Kiewit’s payroll? Who signed off on all these materials?

 And since it’s often the case that many of the same materials and components used on a major infrastructure project are sourced from the same supplier, the ministry now needs to come clean on every single detail. It doesn’t matter if Kiewit is paying for this. It matters that this even happened in the first place.

Somebody has some explaining to do, and this time the people deserve to hear an actual answer, not more denial,deflection and discrediting.

 ** If you have any information or tips relating to this story, please contact me confidentially via the contact page above.