The Ram & Stag Show

The Ram & Stag Show broadcasts from BC's Northern Capital and is co-hosted by Aaron Ekman and Nathan Giede

BC Budget 2021

By Aaron Ekman

Composed April 2021

You'd be forgiven for having missed the annual speech from the throne earlier this week, there were few real highlights, and contrary to what the BCNDP government had dearly hoped, every possible good news story is buried under the new daily records being set for Covid-19 cases, and the demoralising lag in vaccinations comparative to virtually every other surrounding jurisdiction.

For those who've never bothered to watch a throne speech, it's a bizarre annual tradition in which an unelected representative of the Queen is compelled to read an overly long press release she didn't write, which espouses all the virtues and good deeds the government of the day would like us to know about. And in theory, the speech should aim to be forward looking, communicating to voters as much about what a government plans to do as what it HAS done.

Of course governments of all sorts are generally good at listing off a litany of aspirational assertions, catch phrases, if you will, like:

"record investments" and
"making life more affordable for British Columbians" and
"build back better"

and when it comes to such empty platitudes, this throne speech is no exception, however what generally insulates a government from charges of insubstantial rhetoric is that the it is generally backed up by a budget which aims to spell out precisely how the government plans to allocate taxpayer funds in order to accomplish their aspirational targets. In this way, the opposition, political observers, and the public at large can tune out the vacuous words of politicians and cut directly to the chase. Governments can say whatever the hell they like, but if the budget doesn't allocate money towards their targets, there's no better way to call bullshit on their whole communications exercise.

British Columbians have no such opportunity this year of course, since as we've previously reported on this show, the BCNDP Finance Minister simply failed to produce a provincial budget prior to the throne speech. This is highly irregular despite the vast effort spent by many a backbencher to describe it as nothing out of the ordinary. On the contrary, and as we've said here before, asking the legislature to approve your massive multi-billion dollar expenditures with absolutely no plan on how that money will be spent is either the height of incompetence, or an unprecedented effort to roll back government accountability.

The other consequence, of course, is that without a budget to provide the foundation of your plan, the Throne Speech becomes a complete waste of time. Now some would argue that the Modern Throne speech has long been a bit of antiquated theatre... a forced communications exercise required by the Lt. Gov. as small payment for the perk of being allowed to live in that old government house mansion in Victoria.

At the time of this recording, I haven't bothered to read any of what the regular political punditry have said about this year's throne speech, but despite all the predictable noise... one little throwaway phrase three quarters of the way through the speech should cause a nit of a furvour, and yet I doubt anyone has picked up on it:

" support coastal communities," read Lt. Gov. Janet Austin, "your government will also launch a made-in B.C. shipbuilding strategy and fight to bring construction of Canada’s next polar icebreaker back to B.C. shipyards."

It's hard to describe exactly how significant this statement is, at least if we're to take it at face value. For the BCNDP government, or any government for that matter, to genuinely attempt to reinvigorate and develop BC's ship-building industry could prove an absolute game-changer for our province. We've certainly been critical on this show of the degree to which BC governments of all stripes have allowed the manufacturing capacity of our province to bleed away to other jurisdictions, mainly China, the consequence of which has been massive job loss and the near decimation of numerous northern and interior communities. Small beans to a Victoria/Vancouver-centric political class almost universally beholden to the type of Neoliberal trade policy that has landed us in the muck we currently find ourselves.

The spinoff employment benefits of a reinvigorated ship-building industry in BC are undeniable. Despite the higher overall cost of domestic production, the money spent, rather than leaving the country, stays here at home, funding hundreds, perhaps thousands of family supporting jobs, and is circulated back through the local economy, supporting small businesses, and feeding important public programs like healthcare upon which we all rely.

The opposition may indeed jump on this statement invoking the spectre of fast ferry cost overruns, and perhaps that's why this statement received such poor billing in overall government agenda, but it's high time in my estimation, that British Columbians take some responsibility for allowing our ship industry to wane. Canada is home to the longest combined coast-line on the planet, a reality to which our federal government appears oblivious. Despite this, our Naval and coast guard capacity is a disgrace. We struggle to keep foreign fishing boats out of our water, and we still have to go running to that tiny island nation across the Atlantic to build our warships for us... pushing to the UK, all the economic benefits contained therein.

In particular, Canada is in dire need of new polar icebreakers. The Arctic is increasingly and hotly contested space internationally, with China having recently produced the largest and most advanced icebreakers on the planet in order to press its claims on the resource-rich area. Canada is lagging far behind already, and it's the kind of complacency which will hold significant impact over the future world order, and our place within it. If you're an environmentalist, it's not a matter of simply leaving resources in the ground anymore. Others are making agressive plays on what's up there, and whether you agree with fossil fuel extraction or not, it's impossible to take the position that Canada should sit back and watch other nations plant flags all over our back-yard.

The unfortunate reality, of course, is that if you're to parse government's words on this closely, there's no tangible commitment here other than to "fight for domestic production of icebreakers in BC" which is to say, Horgan's only plan here is to plead with Trudeau not to ship the contract overseas, so that he can blame him when he hires some Ukranian firm to do the job.

Can we have any more confidence than that in Horgan's ability or willingness to develop BC's ship-building industry without federal support? Well, perhaps we need look nor farther than his December 2018 promise to initiate a universal dental program. A bold plan and a great idea with absolutely nothing done to date to move us in that direction.

So Horgan's playing a rather dangerous game here. A reinvigorated ship-building industry, a universal dental plan for British Columbians, a new deal for forest communities, once again tying the value of wood to the communities surrounding it... bold promises. This time on this term will expire for the NDP much sooner than they realise given the magnitude of challenges we currently face. It's not at all clear that Horgan will seek a third term, and if I were a betting man, I'd look for his departure announcement sometime in 2023, triggering a new leadership race after the BC Liberals have undergone theirs. This of course will trigger all sorts of discussion regarding Horgan's legacy as premier. Surely he'll be remembered as the Covid-premier, whether or not you agree with the direction he's taken on that file. But when it comes to delivering on the many sizeable promises he's made to British Columbians, he'll either be regarded as the most effective premier since WAC Bennett, or the guy who sparked the largest government fall since Glen Clark / Ujjal Dosanhj.

International Border Rights of Provinces

By Aaron Ekman

Composed January 27th, 2021

Manitoba announced this week that as of January 29th, anyone coming in to the province will be required to quarantine for two weeks.

Though this falls short of a ban on inter-provincial travel, it raises the question how British Columbia is responding to the high number of cases, and corresponding deaths related to the Covid-19 Corona-virus.

So far, British Columbia under John Horgan's BCNDP government has employed a comparatively liberal approach to "covid-lockdown" when held up against Maritime provinces, the Territories, certainly Ontario, and now even Manitoba. I'm not aware of any cross-BC polls with a sample size statistically significant enough to claim a majority of British Columbians favour further reductions in their freedom of mobility or otherwise, but not unpredictably, the loud but unscientific majority consensus of the twitter-verse would suggest most of us would invite more restrictions on our freedom. How often do you hear calls for "mandatory masks" or a "shutdown of the provincial border?" and what does it mean that such demands seem to be coming from the citizens of BC, rather than from the authority charged with limiting such freedom?

First, I don't buy that the majority of British Columbians welcome a shut down of our border with Alberta, at least not among those who live in our north-eastern quadrant. It's clear there's a vocal group of people, (most of whom live in the Lower-Mainland, and rarely, if ever, travel to other areas of BC, let alone Alberta.) most of whom are fortunate enough to work from home with no loss in pay who's major daily concern has been how to get a refund on their yoga membership, and making enough room in their living room to observe their replacement classes on YouTube.

For the majority of essential workers around the province for whom working from home is not an option; workers in grocery, construction, city services and major utilities, energy and healthcare, the prospect of a few Albertans making their way across the provincial border to visit their cabin in the woods is a non-risk compared to the volume of people they're forced to come into contact with on a daily basis.

It's also understandable that more Albertans would stream into BC than the other way around because... honestly... unless you live in Peace Country... who wants to go to Alberta?

but despite my thoughts on the matter, the question remains, should we close our Inter-provincial border?

Premier Horgan has responded by answering a slightly different question, not "should we close the border," but "can we?" He's answered this in the negative, determining a closure to be, in his words, "unenforceable."

And despite my reticence to agree that we should, I'm troubled by our Premier's opinion on whether we "can."

No one from Old Crow in the Yukon stopped to wonder whether they had the constitutional right to tell that young couple from Quebec who arrived one day without mittens in March 2020, that there was no room in town, and that they'd have to leave. Those young travellers were put up in a hotel one night, and back on a plane to Whitehorse the next, where health officials met them at the airport, and no one seems to know what happened to them afterwards. Do those travelling Quebecois have a constitutional right to challenge the manner in which they removed from town? Perhaps, and even if they had resources to initiate that challenge, Covid will likely be 3 pandemics behind us by the time the case is heard.

But shouldn't we be concerned that the BC Premier is so willing to abdicate all authority over inter-provincial travel? It seems a tad out of step with the Premier's past efforts to restrict the passage of Albertans, and in particular the pipeline parts and bitumen they'd like to carry through to the Pacific.

And is it true that a restriction on inter-provincial travel is unenforceable? Politicians in the Maritimes don't seem to think so, and regard their "Maritime Bubble" as having been quite effective in stopping the spread of the disease. Numerous First Nations communities in BC's interior have taken to enforcing their own "international travel restrictions," to considerable effect, and to point, just try getting out to Haida Gwaii right now.

You may say "it's easier to enforce restrictions on small communities and islands," and of course you'd be correct, but is an inter-provincial travel ban really "unenforceable?"

Sure, our border with Alberta is long, but it also generally follows the rocky mountains through which there are only a very limited number of passes. To the West, we have the pacific, through which we'd be quite capable of restricting entry if Canada ever bothered to maintain its commitment to our beleaguered and overstretched Coast Guard. To the south, of course, we have a restricted international border, and to the North... well, no one's really worried about those sturdy folk.

So what is it that makes all this so "unenforceable?" Are the RCMP unwilling to set up roadblocks? Sounds like another strong argument for the re-establishment of our provincial police force... though I doubt the RCMP would fail to act on any such restrictions announced by our Chief Provincial Health Officer, as, in theory, it's not for them to determine whether a health order is or is not constitutional.

None of this answers the question of whether BC SHOULD close the border. For my part, I don't think it would be worth the cost of enforcement, and potential legal challenges down the road. I don't see a glut of evidence demonstrating significant numbers of cases have been sourced to an influx of our eastern siblings. The hot spots are where in high density clusters where you'd expect them to be, care homes, prisons, meat processing plants, occasionally a school, etc. So it strikes me that the Premier's reluctance to is a combination of political and practical. BC could indeed shut the border to Alberta, and though likely not without some leaks pried open by the most determined, could indeed enforce a travel ban. It's just a matter of political will. And though the travel ban so many are calling for would realistically do more damage than good, we should all be just a little wary about a Premier who's appears unwilling to assert Provincial authority on behalf of British Columbian interests should we ultimately deem one necessary.

The Revolution Won't Die of Covid

By Nathan Giede

Aired April 8th, 2021:

What do a nun, a vegan yoga instructor, and the chamber of commerce president all have in common? The answer: an enemy. As Easter slowly recedes behind us, the resurrection of anti-lockdown fervour only grows stronger. Rallies are being held even in those places where fear of the virus is more prevalent, and who’s showing up at those rallies is even more shocking: blue suits, black habits, and tight yoga pants, or far less, clad the growing corpus of resistance.

They say the revolution will not be televised - I suppose they meant it would be streamed live instead. As the seasons change and the looming possibility of another lockdown summer is becoming apparent, the people are finally losing their patience. The first echoes came over our Easter weekend as from Poland to Calgary, pastors and parishioners pushed cops back out of their houses of worship: they simply turned the tables and shamed these new karma police.

At restaurants, after a debilitating year from an illness that caused more indirect deaths than primary fatalities as well as far too many tiktok dance videos by healthcare staff, both the clients and the staff are beginning to shutdown covid inspectors, demanding they leave their premises and let them eat in peace. Contempt for the lockdowns is spreading like wildfire as it takes on the distinct markers of all other failed government policy: bloated obtuse intransigence.

In the spirit of Eastertide, let me drop into biblical language for a moment: verily, verily I say to ye, it taketh not many mistakes by Caesar to ensure the whole world suffers inordinately. My Grandmother went through the last world war on the losing side; in the years that followed, in order to facilitate peace, the belligerents created pen pal programs; when she went to visit the “victors” just five years after the war, they were still rationing, while her home was prospering.

Failed government policy turned Detroit into a dystopia, and Venezuela into a banana republic. There are real life consequences to forcibly ending people’s means of earning a living or picking winners and losers through policy decisions. By some estimates, more than half of the business that closed at the end of March in 2020 are not coming back. Meanwhile, deaths by suicide and overdose have skyrocketed, which is directly linked to the economic downturn.

Everything that isn’t a big box store or the government is suffering. The wealth transfer from the least of these to the oligarchs has been in the billions. You can’t go to church. You can’t go for coffee or dinner. And for the business you are allowed to enter, the protocols are strict and the inhuman element of mask wearing while standing but not sitting, or while behind plexiglass, or even after being vaccinated is becoming too much to bear. The dam is about to finally break.

My advice to governments everywhere is to be at the front of the parade, not left behind. People’s freedoms are not optional, and the truth is that countries with a far longer history of big government and direct interference in the lives of citizens are returning to normal while Canada and BC get tighter restrictions. There is a path out of this malaise and the leaders who prove that will be rewarded in their political future. Those who don’t will be tossed into the dustbin of history.

Why Neo-Progs Oppose Universal Basic Income

By Aaron Ekman

Aired March 25th, 2021:

For better or worse, the economy we seem to prefer requires each of us to hold down a job. If we don't, we risk either starving, or in the case of the north, freezing to death. The contradiction inherent in this system is that there simply aren't enough jobs to go around, and increasingly, the majority of jobs available simply won't pay the bills. If left unchecked, this contradiction can spark significant political movements, and they're often not progressive at all. It's a historical fact that the common denominator preceding the rise of most fascist regimes is mass unemployment and economic instability.

And so we've devised all sorts of schemes aimed at reconciling this contradiction: Welfare, Unemployment Insurance, old age security, disability benefits, etc... all of which are meant to transfer funds to people we've deemed to need the money most. The result has been the erection of entire government ministries in BC, employing thousands of people whose sole job it is to determine who is eligible for payment, and who is not. This process is called "means testing," and it's the opposite of "universal programs" such as our health cares systems, because it employs condition or wealth-based discrimination to target money to some groups while excluding others. Universal programs provide a benefit to everyone based on their citizenship in a nation, or province, whereas means-testing represents all the factors a government would use to disqualify you from a benefit, like, you didn't injure yourself at work or, you don't have disability, or you make too much money, or conceivably in the not-too distant future, the colour of your skin is wrong. That's what's meant by "means-testing" and progressives are just as addicted to it as many conservatives traditionally have been, but for different reasons.

For some conservatives, the idea that anyone might receive any sum of money without having worked in the traditional sense to earn it, is abhorrent. They hate it. They consider it a reward for laziness. For these types, means testing is often employed to frustrate the highest possible number of benefit applicants in hopes that they might in future define the program as underutilised, thus providing them the rationale to shut it down. These such conservatives, often traditionally representing the interests of employers small and large, complain that providing a universal minimum income creates a disincentive to work, which they see as economically counter-intuitive.

Progressives like means-testing because it requires a lot of staff to go over all the benefit applications, which, in the case of the public sector means more union members, and more union dues. I don't say this as a criticism, it's simply a fact. This is very rarely ever mentioned, however, because it's hardly a popular position. More often, progressives will claim that "means testing ensures the benefit won't be wasted on the rich. But when it comes to the discussion of a "universal basic income," a rather pesky contradiction emerges here from progressives who say they're concerned about growing income inequality between the rich and the poor. These are the people who often complain about the so-called 1% controlling the vast majority of wealth in society... (and make no mistake, I'm one of them) But do you see the contradiction here? Your point is that the wealthiest comprise such a tiny fractional segment of our population. They're so small that when we talk about a universal minimum income program, remitting to you say... a $1000-$2000 dollar cheque every month simply because you're a citizen, as far as inefficiencies go... 1% barely even registers. In fact, providing $2000 per month to British Columbian millionaires and billionaires is far cheaper for the BC taxpayer than paying for all the bureaucratic infrastructure required to disqualify that same 1%.

When presented with this reality, progressives often retreat to the argument that the threat of a universal basic income is that it replaces other necessary benefits like welfare, disability insurance, old age security, etc. Here progressives are not entirely wrong. Indeed, UBI adherents on the right like the Fraser Institute, and Milton Friedman in his discussion of the similarly minded "negative income tax" do intend for a UBI to replace these things, but despite this motivation, it's a mistake for progressives to associate UBI with the same disdain they have for the right's efforts to cut social programs. A Universal Basic Income is only a Trojan horse for cuts to social programs if progressives allow conservatives to use it that way, and keep in mind, conservatives have never before needed such an excuse to cut taxpayer services. They'll do it with or without a UBI to point to.

The reality is, a UBI can exist alongside any existing government service or benefit just as private pensions co-exist with the Canada Pension Plan and old age security. Welfare co-exists with disability insurance, all of which used to co-exist with the old BC Family Allowance benefit. What distinguishes all these programs from a UBI is that just like Universal Health Care in Canada, qualification to receive a Universal Basic Income requires nothing more than your citizenship. It's entirely possible that a UBI might reduce the amount one receives from one government agency, but the total amount one receives per month doesn't have to change, and if a recipient now receives the same amount of money via UBI rather than some means-tested program, it eliminates the possibility that some day they'll fail the means-test and no longer qualify for the money. So if a new government initiative can be devised to make the distribution of needed funds to people who need it the most more efficient and reliable, then surely we SHOULD shut down some of the old less efficient means-tested programs, yes?

Well, when presented with this reality... progressives who remain opposed to a UBI are forced to retreat to their underlying, and vastly unpopular argument, which is that shutting down old inefficient programs might eliminate some public sector jobs, and unless you're talking about the environment vs private sector jobs, for which progressive concern is registered at a distant second, very few progressives today will entertain any policy which threatens any number of public sector jobs, and this absolutely includes a Universal Basic Income, which is rather ironically, the one program which most efficiently mitigates the risk of job loss.

I'm not going to try today to convince you that a Universal Basic Income is our province's best immediate step towards weathering the coming economic storms... we will have that conversation soon... but today I just want to highlight this one glaring contradiction on the Left today which views itself as a progressive force for change in society. The moment you argue to protect some tradition or program based solely on the financial welfare of that program's bureaucracy, you cease to be a progressive. It doesn't matter which political party you hold a membership in, if you oppose changing or improving a government program because you're primarily concerned about the employment impact it will have on the bureaucracy, even if that change would literally put more money in the pockets of those who need it most, you are BY DEFINITION, a conservative. All bureaucracies, given enough time, however well-intentioned will eventually grow self-awareness and work to preserve their own existence. It's the nature of human group self-preservation. It's the exact same drive which prompts workers to organise unions, to fight for contracts, and conserve, or protect the gains they win.

The challenge for progressives, however, is to remember that unions were created to defend the rights of workers, not the indefinite proliferation of outdated bureaucracies. Progressives fought hard in previous generations for the social programs we have today - the hardest fight was for universal healthcare, but every single one of these programs was an attempt to put a band-aid on the gaping wound that capitalism is destined to re-open in our society. If it were up to me, we'd forget about the band-aids and focus our attention on the source of the wound, but that's for another day. For as long as we insist on organising our economy along capitalistic lines, the bandages will need to be changed regularly, and if progressives insist on directing their efforts towards defending the old "band-aid" brand over any other possible innovative alternative, particularly one like a universal basic income which actually achieves their stated end-goal more faster and more efficiently... then a political re-alignment is indeed occurring in which self-identified progressives come to embody the most conservative elements of society. It's part of the reason union density continues to decline even though working conditions for workers are becoming worse. And it's part of the reason an increasing number of Union voters have been trending towards more conservative parties.

Why Conservatives Will Lose the Next Election

By Nathan Giede

Aired March 21st, 2021:

Are the federal Conservatives going to lose to Justin Trudeau for a third time? After the mishandling of the pandemic as well as vaccines, with Canadian debt at an all time high, the sluggish economy, let alone the laundry list of offences by Trudeau and co from LavScam, the We Scandal, silencing Jody Wilson-Raybould, the cost of ships, Admiral Norman’s show trial, and so much more, the Liberals should be in third place in the polls. But instead they’re surging.

Some of this is situational. Mediocre as vaccine distribution has been, some vulnerable members of society and healthcare workers are finally getting vaccinated. All that money that went out the door last year, particularly the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, made a few people richer than they’d ever been before (though tax season is going to be a rude awakening), and so, with jingle in their pocket, or a pock mark on their arm, cautious optimism is growing.

But elections aren’t just about bribing voters - plenty of citizens are happy to take money from one party and reward the next with a majority, and I affirm this trait, as treating all political vehicles with utmost contempt is the only way for citizens to keep their officials accountable. No, elections are about alternatives, and the alternative that is being presented by the Tories is both alienating their strongest supporters, while simultaneously failing to win over new voters.

To be clear, I’ve never believed in “getting out the base” or “splitting the vote.” Call me an idealist, but I really do believe that you can craft a political message that will win you an outright 51% of the vote or even more, in more than 51% of the ridings in this country. But staying within conventional wisdom, the winning strategy of the Tories has been a strong NDP sucking away Liberal support, winning over moderate, swing voters around Toronto, and motivating the base.

Erin O’Toole started losing the social conservative wing of the party days after he was elected leader, saying to the media “I won the a pro-choice Conservative.” He did nothing to prevent the cancellation of Derek Sloan, the SoCon candidate in the last race for leaders, who joins Brad Trost, who placed fourth back in 2017, as yet another pro-life Tory taken out by the party. Evidence of denying the nominations of SoCons at the riding level is also clear.

These tactics are nothing new, but under former leader Andrew Sheer and now O’Toole, they are becoming rote actions by apparatchiks within the party. Add to this that any policy that appears pro-Gun or pro-God gets nixed from the final party convention vote through committee vetos or splitting up votes to ensure not enough SoCons are in the room, and one can begin to understand why the faith, family, farms, and firearms crowd is growing increasingly frustrated.

How’s O’Toole’s pivot to the progressive wing of the party and moderate swing-voters going? Is marching in Pride parades, wearing red heels, or tweeting in solidarity with the woke going to result in more votes from central Canada? If that was the case, the polls would read differently, but there’s a deeper practical reality at the bottom of it that O’Toole’s strategists are missing: if you campaign as Liberal Lite, why shouldn’t people just vote for the real Liberals?

Conservatives win when they campaign as conservatives, without apology, acting on the best get out the vote methods, and articulating a vision for the country as a whole. There is no better time than now, while a pandemic is changing the course of all human history, to exhibit real leadership, a path out of our current chaos back into an orderly, unpanicked world. Tories have the people, policies, and party apparatus to get that message out. So what’s missing?

Ultimately, it comes down to Erin O’Toole’s leadership and his failure thus far to unite the various tribes of tories we have in Canada. Unless he’s able to correct course soon, there’s no path from Stornoway to Sussex for Mr. O’Toole - and another failure might just break the party.

The BCNDP Phantom Budget

By Aaron Ekman

Aired March 18th, 2021:

Well if the BC Liberal opposition has been struggling since losing power in 2017 to find an effective vein of attack on the Horgan government, those days are clearly over, and the fault rests squarely on the shoulders of rookie finance minister Selina Robinson, who at her first opportunity since replacing the retired Carol James, has just simply failed to submit a budget to the house of commons for approval. In it's place, Robinson's ministry is instead asking for a nearly $13 billion dollar blank check with which to carry on the business of government. That's nearly the cost of the entire Site C project combined.

Predictably, the opposition parties are appalled... but far more appalling is the number of BCNDP MLAs who lined up this week like good little caucus pets to advance flimsy justifications for why they shouldn't be expected to let British Columbians taxpayers know how they plan to spend our money.

Their main excuse is in no way surprising. "COVID" they all say, makes it impossible for us to tell the future.


So you expect taxpayers to believe that in all other cases, when we're NOT plagued by a pandemic, that somehow YOUR bean counters ARE able to predict the future? I've heard some weak sauce from politicians in my day, but this is paramount.

I don't have to explain to you why it's important for a government, (or any private company for that matter) to run itself through an annual budget process. Without some plan in place to guide and restrain spending, large organisational leviathans can put themselves irreparably in the red before knowing anything has gone amiss. Without a budget against which you can track your day-to-day spending, how are you or anyone else for that matter, supposed to identify problem areas before running the whole goddamned ship off a cliff?

And I'm sorry, an uncertain economic future doesn't lessen the need to plan out your spending in advance, on the contrary, you hardly need to be a conservative to know that uncertain economic times are when you need to plan your spending out the most. It's times like this when budgets are MOST important, because the risk of overspending and poor financial decisions are the likeliest to occur.

So what's the motivation here? Is it as the BC Liberal opposition says, just another repeat of the old 1990's Glen Clark gang repeating the history of their famed "fudget budget?" Well, perhaps, and it certainly doesn't help perceptions much that arguably the three most influential figures of this government, (Horgan. Meggs, and Dix,) come straight outta that yearbook.

But the context in 2021 is different. An election is not looming. There are conceivably three more budgets yet to come before the BCNDP is required to seek a new mandate, and frankly, voters would be undoubtedly prove quite forgiving in the context of this pandemic were the BCNDP to post a projected deficit for the year. Indeed, how exactly would the opposition criticise a deficit budget out of one side of their mouths while screaming for more subsidies to small businesses out of the other? Premier Horgan just last week, announced large additional cost overruns for the Site C dam, proving that he's not completely adverse to delivering bad news to British Columbians during difficult times.

So if it's possible that the BCNDP government isn't really hiding anything here, then let's take them at their word for just a moment. Is it impossible to produce a budget during COVID? Well none of the government agencies required to submit their budgets to the ministry of finance seem to have been let off the hook, however one wonders exactly how they can now be expected to effectly plan their own economic futures not knowing exactly how much the provincial government plans to fund them.

Are other governments across Canada finding it impossible to draw up a plan for expenditures and projected revenue in 2021... nope. To a province, across the board, governments are projecting deficits, yes... but at least their taxpayers know what the damage will look like, because unlike ours, their governments have put a budget in front of them to examine.

But how? you might ask... are all these governments able to project the future when the future is so uncertain? Exactly the same way they do every year... they conceive of all possible scenarios, (preferably even the worst scenarios) and they communicate to themselves and everyone around them, how they plan to spend the money they expect to take in. It's really not that difficult.

Of course it's always entirely possible that the projections in your budget will be way off... that revenue will be lower than expected, or that you'll end up spending more than you planned... and indeed, I've often cautioned people against spending too much time analysing budgets, and too little time looking at the expense statements near the end of the year, which show whether government adhered to its own budget or not... The latter is more important, but it can't exist without the former.

But it doesn't matter if you're a Conservative, a Libertarian, a Green, a Socialist, or a Rhinoceros... we should all be able to agree that providing a budget at a bare minimum... provides simultaneously the most effective transparency for taxpayers regarding a government plans, but more importantly, an internal framework with which to keep your spending in line... a particular benefit for a BCNDP government historically saddled with the perception of being prone to occasional fits of drunken-sailorism, (accurate or otherwise.)

Now I'm not suggesting that the Finance Minister has only one job here... that being to produce a budget. The portfolio is undoubtedly one of the most complex in cabinet... but producing a budget is in-arguably the most important function of the minister. It's the reason budget day carries so much pomp, circumstance and theatre every year. There's no way around it... failing to produce a budget is a major failing of the BCNDP's new Finance Minister. And British Columbians are entirely justified in wondering, if the minister is incapable of producing a budget precisely when the province needs one the most, at a time of considerably economic uncertainty... then why exactly is she occupying the position? That's a legitimate question, and one the opposition will undoubtedly lead with in the days and weeks to come.

But more reprehensible... is the degree to which the Horgan government has thrown rook MLA backbenchers out like cannon fodder during the second reading of Bill 10 to try to justify this absurdity - floating arguments that "nothing new is happening here... that governments approve supply bills all the time."
Well yeah... of course they do... except that virtually every year for the last half century, the government supply bill has been accompanied by a budget explaining how exactly they plan to spend the taxpayer dollars they're asking for approval. There's absolutely nothing normal about asking British Columbians to write a $13 billion dollar blank cheque to a government with a disputable track record on prudent spending.

And Make no mistake, Nathan... though I think it's fair to say the BC Liberals have really struggled to find an effective line of attack over the last four years... the new Finance Minister seems to have single-handedly blown the wind back into their sales here.

The Progressive Case for Site C

By Aaron Ekman

Aired March 15th, 2021:

It's difficult to talk about British Columbia without touching on hydro electric power generation and the uniquely western Social Credit government that significantly (and controversially) changed the course of history for our province. An entire show could be produced focussing on the history of the electrification of the Columbia River, the resulting treaty between the US and Canada in 1961, and the multiple communities, both settler and indigenous that were relocated, or literally deep-sixed in sacrifice to this new future.

Prior to construction, BC Electric, the privately owned predecessor to BC Hydro servicing the south-western lower-mainland almost exclusively, largely ignoring the interests of the interior, had no intention whatsoever of constructing dams in the hinterland. The socialistic predecessor party of the NDP, the CCF recognized the disparity and argued for the provincial nationalization of the corporation. To everyone's surprise, including his own cabinet - the Social Credit Premier from Kelowna, W.A.C. Bennett agreed, and acted abruptly to expropriate the company, turning it over to taxpayers in the form of BC Hydro. By 1961, and against the general wishes of the federal Conservative government of Canada, Bennett hosted the three-party signing of the Columbia River Power Treaty between Canada, the US, and British Columbia, which provided the resources and security to begin dam construction along the Columbia.

Far to the north of this construction, in Peace River Country, Site C was identified early on as another location for a future generator, but was not initiated until many decades later under the conservative-aligned BC Liberal Goverment of Christy Clark.

Now there has always been opposition to the construction of hydro-electric dams, and this opposition has criss-crossed political divides. Conservatives were initially opposed. As was the Communist party in BC at the time... far more influential then than now. Woody Gutherie, however, the much diefied socialist folk singer of the era, who travelled the pacific northwest extensively, dedicated no fewer than 26 songs to the promotion of the project. The CD can still be purchased online for a humble fee.

But inarguably, W.A.C. Bennett arranged the public ownership of BC Hydro in such a way as to ensure economic security and clean-energy independance for generations of British Columbians, but subsequent governments, (some even led by W.A.C.'s son Bill,) were never content to allow the crown corporation to continue generating non-tax based revenue with which to fund healthcare, education, and other public services, without finding some way to weasel back in the greedy hands of private sector profit seeking. The BC Liberals in particular, opened the flood gates to private interests by rapidly expanding construction of so-called "independent" or "run-of-the-river" power projects, introducing accompanying legilsation forcing BC Hydro to buy power from these private producers at rates higher than it could sell on open market, effectively legislating the eventual bankruptcy of the crown corporation. This slow-motion, attempted infanticide of W.A.C.'s legacy was always a part of the BC Liberal gameplan, and mirrored their efforts to slowly drive public auto-insurance back into the hands of private corporations where they believed ideologically, it had always belonged. The great irony of the 2013 election wherein Christy Clark campaigned so hard on "getting-to-yes" on Site C, opting even to carry W.A.C.'s grandson Brad with her on her campaign bus, was that her government's efforts over the previous decade had been to dismantle everything the old man had accomplished.

Today, the forces of power-privatization have a new ally in the small but vocal minority of British Columbians who describe themselves as progressive environmentalists. For them, the Site C project has come to represent the pinnacle example of "white settler colonialism" running rough-shod over the rights and territory of indigenous peoples. Indeed, nations within the 120-year old Treaty 8 territory spanning BC and Alberta, most notably the West Moberly nations remain opposed to the project though all legal efforts to stall the construction have been rejected in court.

Despite the BCNDP having expended great effort in the lead-up to the 2017 election to take no position on the continuation of the project, opting instead to refer the thing to the utilities commission, this group of anti-Site C crusaders somehow convinced themselves that the BCNDP shared their desire to shut it down, and were hopeful that the resulting "GreeNDP" coalition parties would eliminate 5000 jobs, remediate the land, eat the loss, and forget about the whole damned thing forever. But following Horgan's 2017 announcement to continue the project, like any child who throws a tantrum whenever their unrealistic expectations are left unmet, the church of No-Site C took to twitter and swore swift and lasting retribution against the BCNDP for having let them down. Well, Their opportunity for revenge came earlier than expected in 2020 when Premier Horgan called a mid-pandemic election. To the great dismay of the anti-Site C forces, however, the BCNDP, having demonstrated their support for public power development in action at least, if not in rhetoric, were returned to power by British Columbians with their largest ever mandate in history, even reducing the number of Green-Party seats.

Rather than seizing on the momentum, the BCNDP predictably, having never got over their flawed 2001 analysis that the Green Party posed their greatest threat - opted for the worst of all possible worlds approach - apologising for the Site C project rather than evangelising its multi-generational benefits... and even worse, taking no action to date, to undo the restrictive BC Liberal-era legislation which diverts huge sums of revenue away from BC Hydro, towards private power producers. All of this is to say... not a single New Democrat in British Columbia, at any point along the way has ever advanced a single progressive argument supporting Site C, leading opponents to understandably question on what foundation then, exactly, the BCNDP government has based its decision. If one were to rely on the explanation of Horgan back in 2017, the decision was a confusing one, and that confusion was understandably compounded last week when the Premier announced for a second time, his decision to continue the project despite the addition of another $6 billion dollars to the price tag.

Undoubtedly, New Democrat strategists have concluded that in order to stem the tide of votes to Greens, they must appear as if their hands are tied... that despite their opposition, they must continue... but although voters may be, at least in my opinion, pathological liars, we aren't stupid. We were generally taught by our parents not to listen to what politicians say, but rather watch what they do, and to judge the trustworthiness of politicians based on the degree to which their promises are followed up by their accomplishments. And despite having every opportunity to follow through on what many believe the BCNDP "promised to do" they have on more than one occasion, despite mounting odds, resolved to continue the project. And so, every time the premier or one of his cabinet ministers apologises for having been forced to carry out a project they never would have started in the first place, British Columbians regard them as disingenuous.

It's entirely legitimate for project opponents to ask, if this project is as terrible and ill-conceived as the BCNDP regard it to be... then why continue it, especially at such monumental cost?

The reality, of course, is that the BCNDP, and the Premier in particular are entirely responsible for the corner they've backed themselves into. There is a progressive case for Site C, despite their inability to articulate it... indeed no such public mega-project, the likes of the Site C Dam can possibly emerge without enormous cost to the generation that builds it. It was an enormous sacrifice for our grandparents' generation to have constructed dams along the Columbia river, far greater than anything posed by Site C, and one that reverberates through our culture even today. But no one can deny that the generational sacrifice of our grandparents and great-grandparents created for future generations of British Columbians, the framework for non-fossil-fuel based energy independence.

The creation of BC Hydro and resulting construction of Hydro-Electric Dams in British Columbia constituted the singular most socialistic action of any premier in the history of our province, before or since - so unpopular even internally within conservative Socred circles at the time, that WAC Bennett was forced to hide the announcement from his own cabinet prior to making it. Historically, right wing-forces in BC following W.A.C. have never stopped trying to undo his socialistic legacy. The opponents of the initial Hydro projects were many and monied, and they comprised most of the private business interests of the day who were terrified by the prospect of a provincial government creating such a resilient taxpayer asset, blocking their own private efforts to capture energy revenue for their own offshore bank accounts.

I'm not claiming the 2020 election, or any election prior was fought solely over the issue of Site C, but what's clear is that despite obnoxious claims by so-called progressives last week that the project continuation will be an "albatross" around the neck of future BCNDP electability, British Columbians have demonstrated repeatedly that we are overwhelmingly in favour of the project. This is the real hard truth for anti-site C advocates. Just like how when British Columbians have been taught our whole lives to conserve energy, to "turn off light-bulbs when not in use, and to be "power Smart" you can't turn around and tell us we "don't need the power" and expect anyone to believe you. Or just like the argument we hear that following the 2023 flooding of the Peace River Valley, we'll "no longer be able to produce a quarter of the province's food supply," British Columbians who've for years seen Washington State stickers even on their apples understand inherently that the Peace region never produced that level food, and was never going to.

Thus, aside from the treaty-based arguments which will work their way through the courts for decades, the only arguments left to project opponents are those fiscally conservative, austerity-based ones from the right, and by employing them, we see this situation in BC where self-identified progressives in BC are attempting to peddle traditionally right-wing nonsense that each dollar spent on the project somehow vanishes into the ether, wasted... never to be seen again. They ignore of course, the 5000+ strong family supporting jobs, priority of which are awarded to local workers, with special priority paid to women and indigenous workers. They ignore how those dollars stay in BC, circulating through local businesses, representing exactly the kind of progressive economic foundation we allowed the BC Liberal government to export out of province.

They ignore the reality that in addition to projects like Site C providing perhaps the only hope following mounting challenges and business closures related to this bloody pandemic... that if our economy does recover, it will only do so in large part, owing to massive socialistic public mega-projects like the Site C dam.

But perhaps more importantly... in a future world where our grandchildren are increasingly dependent on electric heat, electric cars and trains, and increasingly exposed to radical commodity price shifts in fossil fuels... our generation, despite our own legitimate debate concerning the enormous sacrifice we're asked to make, though not having left quite as much as our ancestors left us... I hope, that we will have left at least one enduring example that we cared enough about the fortunes of our children and theirs, Nathan... to have made this sacrifice during our time.

Ellis Ross Contests BC Liberal Leadership

By Aaron Ekman

Aired March 13th, 2021:

With positioning around the BC Liberal Leadership question well underway and many names circulating as possibilities, the MLA from Skeena: former Haisla chief councillor, Ellis Ross emerged yesterday as the first to formally declare his intention to seek the office.

Ross is a unique character to say the least. Contrary to what one might assume, he's pro-development, pro-pipeline, and in particular - Pro LNG. Ross views the federal Indian Act as more "irrelevant" than oppressive, he disputes interpretations of the 1997 Delgamuukw decision which elevate the territorial authority of hereditary chiefs over that of elected band councils, restricting jursidiction of the latter to Reserve-land only, and he regards UNDRIP as not only unnecessary, but inferior to previous agreements reached locally between many Nations in Northern British Columbia and the Crown. Perhaps most controversially, Ross has described "Reconcilliation" as mostly theatrical, regarding it to have been largely accomplished through previous land and title negotiations.

Ross is additionally unique in that he managed his first 2017 win in what had been considered a BCNDP stronghold, in the same year his government lost government. Despite his BCNDP opponent pulling more votes than his party had traditionally needed to win, Ross held the riding convincingly again in the 2020 election, while his own party went on to suffer a significant reduction of seats in the legislature.

So he's demonstrated he can win in enemy territory, and he's established it wasn't just a fluke by reconfirming that win under even more difficult provincial circumstances, but does Ellis Ross have a chance at winning the Party Leadership, or is he simply playing to old game of raising his own profile in hopes of a senior cabinet post down the road? Well, while no one can ever truly rule out the latter motivation entirely, it's my firm belief that "writing" Ross out would indeed be a mistake. Kevin Falcon, who hasn't officially confirmed his candidacy, but whom many consider the presumptive front-runner is likely the preferred candidate of the governing BCNDP, given the amount of baggage they appear to think they can assign to him. For now at least, Todd Stone has ruled out his own entry, possibly owing to some acknowledgement of his own baggage, the likes of which appears lost on Falcon. This leaves only relative unknown, Tom Shypitka from the East Kootenays, Kelowna newcomer Renee Merrifield, and another former leadership contender, Michael Lee.

Should Shypitka throw his hat in the ring, it's difficult to view his effort as anything other than an attempt to raise his own profile. The sheer amount of mud the BCNDP have thrown Merrifield's direction recently, however, betrays a fear that not only is she a possibility, but potentially a threat, though it remains to be seen whether the rookie MLA is even interested.

I always thought, and indeed said, that Michael Lee was the best bet the Liberals had going in to the 2017 Election. He's smart, articulate, Chinese (for those who cast their vote based on the shade of another's epidermis) and experienced, but having held no senior cabinet post... carries virtually no political baggage.

But all of these potential candidates lack two vital features displayed brilliantly by Ellis Ross, first, an ability to bridge the growing divide within the BC Liberal Party, and second, a genuine populist bent.

On the first point, the BC Liberal Party has always been a tenuous coalition of Socreds and Liberals, held loosely together by the same mutual hatred of the "Socialists-hoardes" that drove the provincial Conservative and Liberal parties into formal coalition back in 1952. The expulsion of Laurie Thronness from the BC Liberal fold in the middle of the 2020 election, a man widely-regarded as an articulate, (if not controversial) voice of the party's sizable social-conservative wing demonstrated the degree to which, (not unlike most other mainstream parties today) liberal-identitarianism has infiltrated and established influence over the leadership. Surely some have already their membership lapse over the schism, but undoubtedly, the prospect of a new leader has cause most social conservatives to wait and see how this thing plays out. Whereas BC has no shortage of smaller Conservative parties to which disaffected social-conservatives may flee, liberal identitarians under the BC Liberal tent really have only the equally unpalatable options of the BCNDP and the Green party to entertain. With this in mind, and considering that objectively speaking, no candidate aside from Ross can be seen to have the minerals or the cultural fortitude to stand up to the kind of liberal-identitarianism that social conservatives loathe.

On the second point, despite the age-old case against populism from liberal politicians and media alike, British Columbians decidedly favour populist leaders, and always have. As we're fond of pointing out on this show, just because British Columbians lack a coherent and unified cultural identity, doesn't mean we don't respond favourably to leaders who most passionately articulate a course for the future. The story of Ellis Ross is one that British Columbians across the spectrum should find interesting. A man who describes himself having "light skin and green eyes" being treated as "non-native" on reserve growing up, then suddenly regarded as a representative of first nations people off reserve, ultimately getting elected as Chief councillor of the Haisla nation, and participating in what he describes today as fruitful and meaningful negotiations with the crown that will benefit generations of Haisla people. Today he articulates a clear and confident, pro-development vision for British Columbia. By chance of birth, he should check enough boxes to satisfy liberal identitarians who would otherwise disqualify Falcon and Shyptika, and yet quite ironically, If at the first leadership debate, the question is asked: "as leader, would you have expelled Laurie Throness?" it's conceivable that Ross would be the only candidate to answer in the negative. And that... right there, is why I think despite Ross's difficulty's in surmounting the electoral machine of Falcon and other better resourced candidates, Ellis Ross is the BC Liberal's best hope of holding their coalition together.

Church, Covid and the Constitution.

by Nathan Giede

Aired March 6th, 2021:

Does our Constitution mean anything anymore? From our earliest civics class in school or from the time we begin our path to citizenship, we are taught that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a sacred document, ensuring justice and equality for all regardless of race, class, creed, or background. The constitution sets its own measures in the opening lines, “Whereas Canada was founded on principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the Rule of Law...”

But since the pandemic began, these solemn declarations have not been the guiding principles of our public policy response to the virus. Instead, the section that immediately follows has been interpreted as broadly as possible by our authorities: “The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

Let me repeat and reemphasize: our rights and freedoms are subject “only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” You can read that one of two ways - most of us would read that to mean it is difficult to restrict civil liberties and fundamental rights in Canada. But as the virus has demonstrated, our authorities believe Section 1 permits them to suspend any activities they deem to be “unsafe.”

Here in British Columbia, one of those “high risk activities” has been gathering for public worship, or, in layman’s terms, going to church is extremely dangerous. Mosques, temples, synagogues, parishes, and gurwars, were shuttered last year during the initial shutdown, and are now at over 100 days of being closed since the second lockdown began. This has resulted in many holy days of all religions going unobserved by the faithful who are becoming frustrated.

What makes this situation even worse is that while houses of the holy are closed, all of the houses of sin, vice, or worldly needs are open. You can’t go into an establishment that was built for prayer, but you can go into one that is built for booze, gambling, or marijuana; the places of worship and the churches are closed, but Walmart and Costco are open, continuing to serve thousands of people daily, while the largest shrine doesn’t get a 10th of these just once a week.

Dr. Bonnie Henry has been adamant. “Faith is not a building,” she said, "It's not about Sunday mornings, but it's about every day, and how we connect with each other and how we support each other. It's not about rights." Many of us might cite the Charter to prove her wrong as our first fundamental freedom is “of conscience and religion,” then expression, assembly, association. But Section 1 precedes our fundamental freedoms, and can be used to limit them.

Churches in the lower mainland are finally demanding clarification regarding these orders and thus they are before the BC Supreme Court alongside the government. Unfortunately for our dear leaders, Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson is not interested in twisting the law into pretzels to accommodate the government’s closures of churches. Indeed, Dr. Henry filed no affidavit for the case, so Judge Hinkson asked the obvious, “how do I know what [she] is thinking and why?”

He went on, “when you deprive the complainants of the ability to understand how [she] got from A to B, the court can’t look at it, it really isn’t much of a gives Dr. Henry absolute authority and if she chooses not to share her thought process with the court, there’s no oversight.” Absolute authority. No oversight. Nothing to review. It’s a miracle to hear these words from Judge Hinkson; we the faithful have been called obscenities and slurs for saying the same.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms cannot be ignored even in the midst of a pandemic. Thanks to a few brave church going souls, Dr. Henry’s orders are being weighed and measured after a year. Let us pray that they are found wanting, so we can finally get our civil liberties back.

What Does It Mean to Be a British Columbian?

by Nathan Giede

February 18, 2021

2021 is a big year for British Columbians: this summer marks 150 years since we joined Canada. We celebrate this on BC Day, with camping trips, family BBQs, and locally crafted beverages. But due to the pandemic, it is unlikely our 150th birthday will be properly saluted. Perhaps that’s just as well because even 150 years later, answers to the questions “what does it mean to be a British Columbian” and “is confederation still good for us,” have zero consistency.

Imagine for a moment that we went back to normal just in time to plan for our 150th birthday and suppose that you have been appointed the chairman of the provincial planning committee: you are in charge of picking from the nominees put forward across the province for your team, and after the team has assembled, you will be in charge of helping them plan all BC wide events as well as develop the pageantry, branding, mascot, official coins and medals, etc.

Who’s on your team? Our provincial government declares there are 8 distinct regions in BC, but within those there are over 150 municipalities, and 200 Indian Bands. More than half of our population lives in a 100 mile radius, yet within that population are distinct peoples that each have a unique story, not to mention that the rest of the province often feels overpowered by said cosmopolitans. How many seats does each stakeholder have a right to on your committee?

Even if perfect representation is achieved, now the committee must begin the huge job of picking what aspects of BC ought to be highlighted. There are models for this already - the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and Canada’s sesquicentennial offer homegrown examples. But this isn’t an outward display to the world for the most part - our 150th would be an all but private party, the vast majority of viewers and partakers being residents of “The Most Beautiful Place on Earth.”

Well, save for that slogan, which is only ever denied ironically, where would there be any consensus on British Columbia’s story and therefore the values as well as ideas that ought to be represented in the decorations, symbols, and pageantry for our 150th? Whichever way you turn, there is a disagreement regarding our past, present, and future, our heritage as well as culture, our place in Canadian confederation, even our current name throughout all of British Columbia.

First contact, explorers of BC’s interior, gold in the cariboo, the union of the colonies, the building of the CPR, John A., Amor de Cosmos, the Childcotin Boys and Judge Begbie are just a few historical events and persons that earn drastically different reactions and readings from us based on our background and beliefs. Attempts to focus only on material achievements will also raise objections about the legacy of oligarchs versus labour that runs throughout our history.

Even our present triumphs over logistical challenges presented by our difficult terrain via roads, dams, or pipelines inspire awe as well as disgust. And what if your team attempts to look to the future for symbols to celebrate today? Social progress means different things in West Van and Vanderhoof; at least three generations are deeply divided on how rising costs of living will be mitigated; and development versus preservation is an endless discussion amongst our citizens.

You might be wondering what’s the point of this thought experiment? Simply to show that because of regional, cultural, historical, and political divides, let alone many others, a monolithic, single clear narrative about what it means to be a British Columbian is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. Thus, the fundamental question of our identity, and therefore, where we ought to go as a province with regards to confederation, cannot be properly answered at the present time.

I’m guessing you wouldn’t wish the chairmanship, committee, and task I’ve described on your worst enemy. But the truth is we’re all on this team in some capacity. And in the 150th year since we became a province of Canada, we owe ourselves a sense of identity and direction.

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