British Columbia’s Confusing Political Make-Up

bcleg

When I tell my friends from outside British Columbia that an election took place this month featuring the NDP (New Democratic Party), the Liberals, and the Greens as the three main parties, I get bewildered stares. Even within the province, there’s some confusion.

The outside observer is left wondering how the three largest parties are left-wing when democracies don’t operate with a single wing.

I like to mystify my audience further by inserting the fact that the Conservatives was the most poplar political party in the province during the 2011 Federal Election. This statement leaves my audience perplexed, especially when I tell them that the BC Conservative Party won just 0.5% of the vote in the recent 2017 provincial election.

The obvious truth here is that the BC Liberals are not liberal as we generally understand it to mean in Canada today. That is to say, they are are not left of center.

But how did this happen?

Our journey begins back in 1952 when British Columbia experimented with electoral reform. The two main parties at the time, the Conservatives and the Liberals, joined forces by bringing in preferential balloting (similar to what Justin Trudeau was hoping for nationally, and likely for the same reason).

The object of this electoral reform was to keep the rising socialist Co-operative Commonwealth Federation  (CCF) out of power. The center-right conservatives assumed the Liberals would pick them as their second choice and the center-left Liberals were equally optimistic that they would get the center-right second choice votes.

It backfired big time as both parties were utterly decimated to 3rd and 4th party status. Meanwhile, the socially conservative British Columbia Social Credit League (afterwards referred to as Social Credit) was swept into power as they captured the lion’s share of the second place votes from among both the Liberals and Conservatives. The traditional parties didn’t count on voters playing games by chosing a 4th string party as the means of defeating the main rival across the political isle.

Social Credit only beat the CCF by a single seat, and thus formed a minority government since the Liberals and Conservatives also won seats. A new election occurred in 1953, at which point W.A.C. Bennett won a majority government for Social Credit.

Elections reverted back to the old system of winner take all in each riding/electoral district, and Social Credit ruled for most of the next four decades with the CCF — renamed the New Democratic Party (NDP) in the 1960s — as the only main alternative.

Because a First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system tends to produce two main moderate parties, the Liberals and Conservatives largely jumped ship over to the two main parties dominating the political landscape, but that all changed with the populist and conspiracy theorist extraordinaire, Bill Vander Zalm, unintentionally destroyed Social Credit within three years of becoming Premier.

Populists are a somewhat newer brand of politician who believe that right or wrong is irrelevant in the traditional sense. What is most important is to tell voters what they want to hear and try to give voters what it is they really want, or at least think they want. In theory this sounds great, but the problem is that people want the world without having to have to pay for anything.

Populists are not far left or far right or even centrist. Rather, they are political chameleons who look at the direction of the wind, and then jump out in front of the crowd to become the movement’s leader.

“I cut across party lines. When I have town-hall meetings I have New Democrats, Liberals, Conservatives, I have Green Party members, Refederation Party people. They are all there.” – Bill Vander Zalm in an interview with the South Delta Leader in May of 2010

This quote comes more than two decades after Vander Zalm left office in disgrace as he was in the middle of sucking the people of British Columbia into eliminating the HST (harmonized sales tax). He never mentioned that fact that the replacement taxes would be less efficient or that the tax payers were going to give him a tax break on his luxury yacht moorage and golf green fees while they themselves would pay more tax for supplies on home repairs.

Bill Vander Zalm was instrumental in eliminating the HST. Similarly, his time in office was every bit destructive for the province.

At the beginning of his political career, “the Zalm” was a supporter of both the Liberal Party of Canada and the BC Liberal Party. He jumped at Trudeau Mania in 1968 when he ran as a federal Liberal in Surrey. He lost by 5,000 votes. He was also a candidate at the 1972 provincial Liberal leadership convention, where he lost to David Anderson. After joining the BC Social Credit Party in 1974, Vander Zalm was elected into government the following year, and then Premier in 1986.

Much like how the Liberals and Conservative tried in vain to rig the election in their favour in the 1950s, everything Vander Zalm ever tried to manipulate backfired.

He tried to destroy the teacher’s unions by forcing them to chose between province-wide unionization as the BC Teacher’s Federation (BCTF) or forming an association. As much as many teachers didn’t like the idea of the BCTF, they voted for it anyway because the alternative was worse. The legacy of Vander Zalm’s manipulation has led to decades of political unrest with the teachers and the single most negative and destructive influence on public education in British Columbia’s history.

Vander Zalm also introduced the Property Purchasers Tax (without consultation) that has contributed to making housing in British Columbia the most expensive in Canada.

A third disaster he brought it was run-of-the-river projects that were touted as “low cost and green,” but were neither.

His final undoing arose when it was discovered that he used tax payer’s money to sell his multi-million dollar Fantasy Gardens.

The height of Social Credit was a political coalition of fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, and federal liberals who were united (in the words of W.A.C. Bennett) “to keep the socialist hordes behind the gates of Hell where they belong.” Bill Vander Zalm fractured the coalition with the above policies while pursuing the hot button issue of abortion (the one time he broke with populism), and  finally, to be caught in a conflict of interest.

During the 1991 election, most of Social Credit’s supporters were jumping ship as Bill Vander Zalm’s divisiveness in combination with the stellar debate performance from the Liberal Leader, Gordon Wilson, who — in a single phrase during the televised leader’s debate — took the party from obscurity to 2nd place behind the NDP.

“Here’s a classic example of why nothing ever gets done in the province of British Columbia,” he quipped as the NDP’s Mike Harcourt and Rita Johnson of Social Credit were exchanging barbs.

Suddenly, a left-of center party was supported by right-of-center voters as they piled over from Social Credit. Guess what happens.

A coup!

The opportune moment came just two years later in 1993 when Gordon Wilson was caught in an extramarital affair. Wilson lost the leadership of the party to the conservative Gordon Campbell. Wilson promptly left the Liberals to form a new party.

The NDP stayed in power for 10 years in British Columbia, and BC Liberals are still claiming the 1990s as the “lost decade.” The right has vowed to stay united, which is why you will often hear Christy Clark and other members of the Liberal Party today advertise themselves as the “free-enterprise coalition.”

So, BC Liberals = Social Credit = Federal Conservatives + right flank of the Federal Liberals.

That covers the history of the Liberals in BC, though it’s only scratching the surface of British Columbia politics. Outside observers are also wondering how the Greens are more than just a fringe party, but that’s a discussion for another day.

 

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What Women Want

Jordan Peterson explaining what women want.

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How to Fix the Housing Crisis in BC

run-down-house

It seems that every year there are fewer and fewer places to rent, and as everyone knows, decreased supply invariably means increased rents. This has an especially negative impact on those at the bottom 30% of the economic spectrum.

The latest stab at fixing the problem comes via the federal government as they promise to blow another 4 billion on housing over the next few years.

In addition to public money, governments have been trying to coerce homeowners into renting out their places, but to no avail. Renting out your place incurs risk that many homeowners don’t want to take. Bad renters are rampant, and the law is often against the landlord when things go sideways.

This stick approach will not solve the problem. All it does is kick the can down the road, saddling the next generation with even more government debt.

Solving the rental shortage in a real way needs more carrot and less stick. That is say, finding ways of providing benefits to the landlord without hurting renters. Here’s one idea: eliminate income tax on rental income, at least under a certain threshold.The last thing they need to do is increase the tax burden on Canadians looking at renting out their basements as the feds are keen to do now. This will only restrict supply even further. Make no mistake about it, any extra costs the government puts on landlords will be passed on to tenants in the long run.

At the very least, the government needs to bring back the incentives available 30 years ago that led to the apartment housing boom in the first place. Affordable housing is driven by apartment buildings, and most of those in use today were built in the 1970s and 1980s. Many of these buildings are nearing the end of life, so the crunch will only get worse without real incentives to invest in housing.

Back in the 1980s rental apartments were shooting up like mushrooms because the federal government provided incentive to developers to expand the rental market, which in turn, drove down prices for low income citizens. The old provisions of the Income Tax Act allowed investors (not real estate developers) to acquire (or build) qualifying rental units.

Under the program, investors could take generous capital cost allowance losses of 10% per year, and apply these loses to other income they had earned. From the government’s perspective, too many investors eventually became more interested in the tax breaks than actually maintaining housing for the most vulnerable in society.  As a result, the program was cut back over the years until being turfed entirely in 1988. But there’s no question the policy worked. Large swaths of housing projects were built, such that most relatively affordable apartment buildings use use today stem from this legacy.

This tax change was at the federal level, but provincially, policy has not been much better. British Columbia has some of the most expensive rents in Canada thanks to Bill Vander Zalm, the Premier responsible for creating the Property Purchasers Tax.

There are some smaller measures the governments could do to drive down rental costs. For one, the elimination of sales taxes on house related services — contractors, roofers, painters, etc. as is the case with food — would lower the costs associated with operating rental housing.

But most significantly, bring back the generous CCA similar to that of the 1980s as a means of reversing the housing crunch. History shows us that this would incentivize builders to favour rental apartments over the more expensive, lower occupancy housing we see going up today.

In addition to all that, there’s another important factor driving high housing costs — centralization. Starting in the 1980s, governments — and then later, private enterprises — started centralizing.

Rural forestry offices started closing, small town weather offices have all closed, tax assessment offices have closed, health care services have centralized to larger centres, etc. These changes have had an indirect impact on rural communities. Schools shrink in size, and young families move away before the school closes. Then the school closes because there are no longer school age children around.

This has led to the bigger getting bigger and the small smaller. That’s why Whitehorse accounts for more than 110% of the population growth in the Yukon (the smaller towns are shrinking while Whitehorse is busting at the seams).

The irony here is two fold. First, that experts predicted that the internet age would allow small and remote communities to thrive as people could work remotely when in reality, the reverse has happened. Second, land values continue to escalate in Vancouver and Toronto while smaller towns, even ones on Vancouver Island with nice climates, have extremely low housing costs with no people to fill vacant homes.

Perhaps the solution should not just focus on the large cities, but also on more evenly distributing the population growth across Canada. After all, it’s the rapid population growth in urban centres that’s driving up demand beyond what can be sustained. If the governments would spend time crafting policies that would encourage small town growth, this would alleviate some of the demand for housing in the big cities.

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The Coldest Months in Canadian History

dawson

Dawson, Yukon

As we close out the 70th winter since records began in the high arctic, I thought it would be interesting to count the number of very cold months, and further, determine the coldest of the lot. The map below shows all locations fortunate enough to achieve at least one month with an average mean temperature below-40 (Celsius or Fahrenheit, you choose).

minus40map2

The two areas of Canada most prone to extremely cold months are the central Yukon and the high arctic in Nunavut. Most of the locations in the above map are one-offs. But not Eureka, Nunavut. It’s the grand winner, having recorded 37 different months with a mean average temperature below -40. The coldest month of all time was February 1979, with an average temperature of -47.9°C (-54.2°F).

The second coldest month ever recorded in Canada was way back in December of 1917 when Dawson, Yukon, recorded an average temperature of -46.3°C (-51.3°F). Since Eureka is further north than Canada’s northernmost settlement, the Dawson record is the coldest month at an inhabited place. In some respects this month was more impressive. Starting on the last day of November, the temperature dropped below -40, and never rose above that mark — even during the day — for 31 consecutive days.

Interestingly enough, the two coldest places in the Yukon — Dawson and Mayo — also enjoy the hottest summers in Canada’s westernmost territory. The same sort of trend occurs in Alaska where the places with the warmest summers also have the coldest winters.

Prior to 1947, Dawson recorded one other month below -40 (as did Mayo). Both have recorded 4 additional winter months below -40 since then, with the last one being January of 1982.

The only other location in North America to record more than 2 months below -40 over the past 70 years is Shepherd Bay, Nunavut, at 5 occurrences (the last time being February of 1990).

Shepherd Bay is located on a sheltered peninsula devoid of the Arctic Ocean’s moderating effect, and outside of Eureka and Dawson, has the coldest month on record. Like most places in Nunavut, the record was set in February of 1979, only in this case the mean average temperature was -44.4°C (-47.9°F).

The coldest January ever recorded in Canada was set in Dawson in 1966 at -43.4°C (-46.1°F). This was the beginning of a two-decade period of inordinately cold winter months (as evident from the graph below). The only other months colder than this Dawson reading are February of 1987 and February of 1984, both set in Eureka.

minus40can

At least in Dawson the spring and summer months can be nice and warm. And even those extremely cold winters are relatively infrequent, especially since the 1980s. By contrast, winter hangs on so long in the high arctic that Eureka has averaged as low as -42.2°C (-44.0°F) in March (set in 1977). It’s the only place in Canada to average below -40 in March, and has done so 7 times!

Summing up, Dawson holds the record for the coldest December and the coldest January while Eureka holds the record for the coldest February and the coldest March.

The coldest months might be comparable between the two, but one need only compare the picture of Dawson at the top to one of Eureka below to fully grasp who has the nicer climate on average.

So there you have it, the Yukon is not as cold as you’ve been led to believe! Or at least, not as cold as some places.

eureka2

Eureka, Nunavut

Coldest Months Ever Recorded in the Respective Jurisdictions:

  • Eureka, Nunavut [February 1979] = -47.9°C (-54.2°F)
  • Dawson, Yukon [December 1917] = -46.3°C (-51.3°F)
  • Fort Yukon, Alaska [December 1917] = -44.6°C (-48.3°F)*
  • Fort Good Hope, NWT [January 1966] = -42.5C (-44.5°F)
*The thermometer recording daily maximum temperatures at Fort Yukon in 1917 used mercury instead of alcohol, and since 26 of the 31 days did not rise above -38°F, the month’s temperature had to be estimated based upon the the daily lows recorded with alcohol and the normal difference between the maximum and minimum readings. Up river from Fort Yukon, Eagle was able to record the daily highs because it was using an alcohol thermometer. The monthly average was -43.3°C (-45.9°F).
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Why the Chilcotin Will Eventually be the Coldest Place in BC

munchoIt’s an interesting fact that since 1938, when weather records began in earnest in northern British Columbia, the coldest January each year has bounced around between nine different places.

Ranked by the number of occurrences, the lucky spots are:

  1. Fort Nelson: 50 times with a total of 80 years worth of data (63% of the time)
  2. Smith River: 11 of 25 years (44% of the time)
  3. Lower Post: 7 of 9 years (78% of the time)
  4. Coal River: 3 of 3 years (100% of the time)
  5. Germansen Landing: 3 of 61 years (5% of the time)
  6. Lower Liard Bridge: 2 of 3 years (67% of the time)
  7. Sierra: 2 of 5 years (40% of the time)
  8. Yoho National Park: 2 of 41 years (5% of the time)
  9. McBride River: 1 of 3 years (33% of the time)

coldestinbc2

Coal River is the only location to be the coldest spot for all years within its record, but that’s less impressive when considering the fact that the station was in operation for just three years. Given the proximity to the Yukon border, Coal River would likely be rivaling Lower Post for the coldest winters in BC — though, Lower Post is probably the coldest place in the province, and holds the record for the coldest month ever recorded in BC (-37.5°C in 1969).

But these northern weather stations had all disappeared in the 1990s, which is why Fort Nelson had remained British Columbia’s coldest spot for 18 years in a row. Yoho National Park ended that streak in 2017.

Generally speaking, as you move north and east in British Columbia, the colder the winters, but there are microclimates that provide plenty of exceptions.  In much of the province, higher elevations have the warmest winters. That’s why the lowest point along the Alaska highway, Fort Nelson, has recorded BC’s coldest January 50 of the last 80 years while Tetsa River, 100km west and 300m higher than Fort Nelson, will never be the province’s cold spot.

Since the 1980s, the trend in Canada has been to centralize, and weather monitoring is no exception; most of the remote and northern weather stations have vanished. Of the nine stations capable of recording BC’s coldest January in the past, seven have disappeared, leaving Fort Nelson and Yoho National Park (located near Field) as the only cold spots left.

Moving into the future, the reduced number of weather stations in the north provides an opportunity for two new places to rise to the top: Dease Lake and the erroneously named Puntzi Mountain. Puntzi Mountain is exceptionally cold for its latitude during the winter months because it’s situated in a low spot on the Chilcotin Plateau, where the clear and windless nights allow cold air to sink and pool at the surface.

We need only look at 2017 to see the possibility in the years to come. Puntzi Mountain tied Fort Nelson for third place, and Yoho National Park edged out Dease Lake for top spot.

Additionally, Puntzi did not exist in 1950, but it’s almost certain to have been colder than both Fort Nelson and Dease Lake, but likely not as cold as the abandoned town of Smith River.

Comparing the coldest Chilcotin weather station each year to Fort Nelson reveals that January was equal in both 1950 and 2017. The Chilcotin point from 1950 represents the milder community of Kleena Kleene.

meanjantemperature

When you check back at this article in 100 years, you can call me out if I’m wrong, but just for fun, I will go out on a limb and predict that over the next century, the province’s coldest January will break down as follows:

  1. Fort Nelson = 90 times
  2. Yoho National Park = 4 times
  3. Dease Lake = 3 times
  4. Puntzi Mountain = 2 times
  5. Somewhere unexpected = 1 time
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What Does it Take to Trigger a Snowfall Warning in Canada?

train-going-through-huge-snow-wall-in-canada

It’s interesting to note that Environment Canada believes in and promotes discrimination. i.e. They have a different set of rules for different parts of the country (when it comes to issuing weather warnings).

In terms of snowfall amounts, a mere 5 cm forecast for Vancouver will trigger a warning while 20cm of forecast snow is required in the far northwest corner of the province.

Up in northern Quebec, they’re even tougher where Environment Canada does not issue snowfall warnings at all. The Quebec Inuit are apparently the toughest people in the country… or perhaps they know that the traditional methods of reading the weather are still more accurate than the highest powered computer in the nation crunching numbers down in Ottawa.

Here is the map for the entire nation. Note that areas in white do not receive forecasts and warnings of any kind because they are uninhabited.

ecwarningmap

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The Sunshine Tax

 

okrailSince moving to the Okanagan Valley area, I’ve been made aware of something called the “sunshine tax.”  It’s a sort of catchall explanation for getting screwed, and perhaps the most idiotic and pretentious excuse for not understanding basic economics ever invented.

  • Gas prices just went up today — sunshine tax!
  • House prices are rising — sunshine tax!
  • Income is stagnating — sunshine tax!
  • Someone in Tuktoyaktuk makes more money than you for doing the same work — sunshine tax!
  • Traffic is bad — sunshine tax!
  • Your wife left you — sunshine tax!

The “sunshine tax” stipulates that people in Kelowna and the Okanagan Valley  get paid less and/or “enjoy” a higher cost of living simply because of the desirable climate. The sunshine as it were.

The first hint of something serious wrong with this theory appears in the ironic name itself. It’s not a tax. Nor is the Okanagan all that sunny. Sure, it’s sunnier than Prince Rupert, but the 1923 hours of sunshine per year in the south Okanagan city of Penticton is a far cry from the 2544 hours in Medicine Hat, Alberta. It’s also less than almost all major cities in Canada including Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton, Yellowknife, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. If sunshine were a taxable commodity, Penticton and Kelowna would be overdue for a tax refund if anything!

The lack of sunshine aside, the climate is quite mild by Canadian standards, and that makes it one of the more desirable places to live. However, the sunshine tax explanation is not used in other cities with mild winters like Kamloops or Nanaimo or Vancouver or Halifax. They just know basic economics — a company looking for workers in northern and remote parts of Canada will need to offer higher wages to entice people to move there.

The most annoying part about someone invoking the “sunshine tax” to complain about their economic situation is that they are essentially demanding their cake and to eat it too. They think that they should get the same wages and cost of living as someone living in some remote outpost that they themselves would never live at without a significant wage increase.

So it’s not a tax, has nothing to do with sunshine, and represents nothing unique about the economic situation of the valley compared to other places that don’t have this supposed tax. Maybe it’s time to retire the self-righteous phrase, and join the realities of  planet earth.

Incidentally enough, this disconnect between reality and expectations is what has likely given rise to the “sunshine tax” phenomenon in the first place. Perhaps it’s not so much a misunderstanding of economics or a self-righteous attitude, but a failure to realize that we’ve been lied to.

Similar to the false marketing claim that the only desert in Canada resides the Okanagan Valley, marketers have also been able to project a climate with nicer weather than reality dictates. This reputation for great weather increases demand for housing and supply of workers. In turn, housing costs are driven higher while wages are simultaneously lowered.

If the Okanagan’s reputation matched reality, everyone would probably be more understanding of market conditions like they are in Kamloops and Halifax where newcomers aren’t duped into thinking they’re entering a paradise unequaled in the rest of the country.

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