The News Rundown
- A new report from BC's crown energy and electricity utility operator, BC Hydro, has people scratching their heads, others saying 'I told you so', and a few others wondering how this will affect their power bill.
- The forecast from BC Hydro released this week says that the province is going to need enough new power to run 270,000 homes starting as early as 2028. According to Premier David Eby, that's 3 years earlier than previously estimated, meaning that BC Hydro has to get going on sourcing new power generation.
- Electricity demand is expected to increase in B.C. by 15 per cent between now and 2040, as more homes, vehicles and businesses go green, the province said.
- A previous independent power producers program in B.C. was “indefinitely suspended” in 2019. Eby said the former standing-offer program forced B.C. Hydro to often buy power from producers at a price that was much higher than the market rate, whether the utility needed it or not. Eby called the new plan a 'competitive process' that is more cost effective.
- B.C. Hydro is promising to acquire only 100-per-cent renewable electricity, including wind and solar. What exactly the types of renewable energy they will acquire are still to be determined.
- Energy Minister Josie Osborne said the province is also promising $140 million for the B.C. Indigenous Clean Energy Initiative, which will support smaller Indigenous-led power projects that may otherwise not be competitive due to their size. Osborne said the funding will open up new opportunities for First Nations communities to contribute the renewable electricity needed to power B.C.’s growing economy, and meet the province’s climate targets while keeping rates affordable.
- Osborne said: “These projects will generate jobs and economic opportunities that support Indigenous self-determination and advance reconciliation. All over British Columbia there are visionary people who are taking up the electrification challenge with new ideas, innovation and investment. We’re acting today in partnership with First Nations so that we’re prepared to fully seize our advantage and power a clean, prosperous low carbon future for all.”
- What wasn't in the announcement, and what someone needed to do a lot of searching to find, is how this relates to the hydro rates that people in BC will be paying on their bill. At the same time as the announcement, was a request to the BC Utilities Commission that was not publicized, where BC Hydro was asking to raise annual rates by as much as $244 per household. Rates for BC Hydro customers are going up, but not by as much as the utility had hoped for.
- The BC Utilities Commission this week approved increases, but at lower rates out of consideration for low-income customers, many who are in the “high usage” bracket. Instead of BC Hydro's $244 raise, they will be facing increases of up to $140 per year. Customers in the lowest-use brackets will have to pay a little more than Hydro was asking; instead of annual increases of up to $22 their bills will increase by up to $26 annually.
- The commission says it made its decision because of the impacts on low income customers, and also because BC Hydro did not do enough to encourage customers to use electricity efficiently.
- Also not publicized this week was BC Hydro cancelling the electric vehicle charger rebate program, as the funding has now run out for that program. EV owners in British Columbia hoping to take advantage of the EV charger rebate program through BC Hydro and CleanBC are out of luck as of June 15th 2023. The program provided up to $350 off the purchase and installation of a Level 2 EV charger.
- One wonders, with BC Hydro needing to source for more electricity, what type of renewable electricity it will be. Fans of nuclear power will be disappointed that the word nuclear was nowhere near any of the BC Hydro announcements. The BC government has banned nuclear power plants and uranium mining due to safety concerns and cost overruns, but it remains one of the only proven ways to generate carbon-free electricity on a massive scale.
- British Columbia has never had a nuclear power plant or an uranium mine. Until now, there has not been an outstanding need for this source of energy in the province. BC currently generates 86% of its electricity from hydroelectric power, and the potential exists to generate triple that. Massive long-term investments in electric power are a niche that has already been filled by dams, such as the gigantic W.A.C. Bennett Dam.
- In light of this, the B.C. Government reiterated its desire to avoid nuclear power in the 2010 Clean Energy Act, which aims to "achieve British Columbia's energy objectives without the use of nuclear power." This is something that the BC NDP government, elected in 2017, has not changed.
- The history of nuclear power in BC is definitely specifically anti-nuclear. Most of Canada's uranium deposits are found in Saskatchewan and the northern territories. In the past BC's reserves were not concentrated enough to make mining economically worthwhile. This has changed as recent rises in uranium prices, combined with the international impetus for a "nuclear renaissance", is beginning to make B.C.'s marginal uranium deposits look more attractive.
- After a geological study in 2008 the Boss Power Corp. applied for the rights to begin an environmental survey for a uranium mine approximately 50 km south-east of Kelowna at a site they called the Blizzard deposit. Three days later on April 21, the government, belatedly realizing uranium mining could actually happen in the province, seized the land, and issued a ban not only on uranium mining, but on exploration for it as well. The ban on uranium mining continues to remain in place.
- Boss Power has since argued that the government unlawfully expropriated the land at the Blizzard site, without providing a legal and scientific basis for the moratorium. The company sued the province for compensation and in April 2012, Boss Power received a $30 million settlement from the government out of court, a move that was controversial since it greatly exceeded the provincial government's own estimates of how much money Boss Power could reasonably claim to have lost on the investment.
- However, the politics surrounding hydroelectric power have become almost as toxic as nuclear power. The construction of the Site C dam on the Peace River near Fort St John has been a fractious affair, with the former BC Liberals and the NDP arguing for years over the viability, cost and environmental impact of the dam project. The dam is on track to open by 2024 and be fully completed by 2025, a full 10 years after ground first broke on the project.
- No other dams have been put into plans, leading people to wonder where exactly the new sources of electricity that BC Hydro is going to look for are going to come from. The official announcement specifically calls out wind and solar power, but surely not all the power that BC will need in the future will be able to come from those two sources.
- With BC's population rising by about 100,000 per year, thanks to looser federal immigration policies, the province will need a lot of power to supply itself, and have enough left over for export to pay for the projects. With all this in mind, perhaps it is time for BC to look at all options on the table, including nuclear and further dams, so that the public can see objectively what is the best option going forward. In the meantime, residents can look forward to cost increases, divisive politics and petty squabbling going forward, all the while our energy competitiveness gets passed by neighbouring jurisdictions.
- Earlier this week Supreme Court Justice Russell Brown announced that he was stepping down from the top court.
- This is interesting timing because Brown was nowhere near the mandatory retirement age.
- For those watching, they will be aware that this decision is related to the ongoing misconduct claim into Russell Brown.
- By stepping down, a probe into a claim of misconduct directed against Brown related to an incident in the US stops.
- The idea is that Brown may have gotten into a confrontation with some patrons at a Scottsdale Arizona resort at the end of January.
- There have been some accounts of a fight between Brown and another man at the resort, Jon Crump, who is a US Marine veteran who was staying at the resort.
- Crump alleges a drunken Brown was belligerent and harassed his drinking companions. He said Brown followed him and some in his group back to their hotel rooms. After a brief skirmish, Crump said he punched Brown after he wouldn't leave.
- There are conflicting reports of what happened and the probe would delve deeper into the allegations.
- Brown said he had hoped that the review carried out by the Canadian Judicial Council would be quick and not impact the court’s business. As that has not happened, he has stepped down.
- Judge Russell Brown was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
- Up to this point the institutions have been working as intended but the question of what happens next is up in the air.
- Wagner said he understands the frustrations that now that Brown has stepped down there won’t be an investigation.
- Wagner said, "I share the concerns of the public for transparency. There is closure. He resigned. That is the end of the process."
- On Tuesday, Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Wagner said that the Liberal government’s slow appointment process for judges across Canada, not the Supreme Court, is causing problems.
- Problems to the point where some criminals could walk away.
- Wagner specifically mentioned the Montreal district of the Superior Court of Quebec that has been without a Chief Justice for 16 months.
- And to be clear there is a problem similar to this across the country.
- Wagner said, "There are candidates in every province. There's no reason why those cannot be filled. This could be resolved easily. So now we wait and we'll see."
- Wagner was surprisingly candid in his assessment in that he laid it out clearly, the shortage of judges across the country means that difficult decisions will have to be made about what cases should be heard and which ones first.
- In total there is a vacancy of 10-15% in some jurisdictions.
- To recap before we get on to a warning of the situation, Russelll Brown has stepped down and we don’t know when a replacement will be named.
- This situation has also put Richard Wagner in the spotlight not only for the Russell Brown case but also for a pattern of alarming vacancy in our judicial system spread through the entire country.
- Asked by reporters when he'd start to fill some of the dozens of vacant positions, Lametti said, "We're working on that. We are working on that diligently and we'll continue to fill those."
- This also puts us into the territory that spawned protests in the US during President Trump’s administration: after Brown’s seat is filled, 6 of 9 Supreme Court Justices will have been appointed by Justin Trudeau.
- For the vast majority of our history we’ve been lucky that the court appointments have not been overly political even from Prime Minister’s Stephen Harper and Jean Chretien.
- Trudeau’s appointments have been slightly different.
- Malcolm Rowe is the first judge from Newfoundland-Labrador; Sheilah Martin is a strong advocate of reproductive choice; Mahmud Jamal the first Supreme Court justice of South Asian descent; Michelle O’Bonsawin is the first indigenous justice. Through the appointments process, Trudeau has both diversified the court and engaged voter bases and values that Liberals hold dear.
- In 2022 Sean Fine of the Globe and Mail found divisions on the court had “hardened” since its decision in the matter of Quebec v. Québec Inc in 2020. That case saw the “large and liberal” interpretation given to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, by which rights can be “read in” as analogous to those already enumerated, rebuked by justices who adhered to a more literal “text-based” approach.
- This ruling is obtuse but in the words of the majority, “The Constitution is not ‘an empty vessel to be filled with whatever meaning we might wish from time to time.”
- The charter was enacted to protect civil liberties, to safeguard the individual from the power of the state. But the charter also gave justices great power to make law, as well as interpret it.
- What this means is that we’re more likely than not to see an activist court.
- This has already been seen when it comes to Quebec language laws, medical assistance in dying, mineral rights for indigenous communities, and the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act just to name a few.
- Justin Trudeau’s replacement for Russell Brown will speak volumes and it raises a question of if these same sorts of appointments are being made throughout the judicial system.
- For a long time the lack of political appointments to our justice system made it different from the American system but we have already crossed a bridge where political appointments have begun and are unlikely to be reversed and that has ramifications for the entire country.
- British Columbians in the past week have seen yet another reminder that our transportation infrastructure on Vancouver Island is far more fragile than we’d like to believe. We usually take it for granted that we will be able to get from here to there. We don’t think of island communities serviced by major highways like Duncan, Courtenay, Port Alberni, or even Victoria as being isolated, but they can quickly become so with just a little bad luck.
- Sadly, environmental disasters of many different kinds have struck the island, and our transportation corridors have left much to be desired. The Malahat drive, the main connection on the Trans Canada highway between Victoria and the rest of the Island is still being repaired after flooding washed out a key section in November of 2021. Fortunately, the damage wasn’t so bad as to completely close the road until repairs could be done, or even necessitate going down to a single lane for an extended period of months, but it was a close thing, and the danger of it happening is very real.
- The Pacific Marine Circle Route, which would be the detour if the Malahat ever closed, while fun as a tourist drive, is not a commuter and heavy-freight friendly route, as it a long circuitous route that includes 60kms of unpaved gravel logging roads.
- A couple of years before that the Trans-Canada Highway between Nanaimo and Cowichan was closed when flood waters rose near Chemainus. In that instance, the usual detour along Chemainus Road was also taken out by the flooding, leaving a complete severance until waters receded.
- And last week Highway 4 between Parksville and Port Alberni was closed, and remains so indefinitely at the time of writing, due to a wildfire on the mountain just above the highway near Cameron Lake. Highway 4 is the only normal connection between the east and west portions of Vancouver Island, connecting the east side of the island with the west side, including the communities of Port Alberni, Ucluelet, and Tofino. An hours long detour has been set up on narrow gravel logging roads from Lake Cowichan to Port Alberni in the meantime, but it is far from ideal, and not meant for normal traffic.
- Not every vehicle is equipped for the treacherous gravel roads, in an area with no cell service or amenities. Some smaller vehicles broke down on the tough terrain, causing the detour to close for several hours last Friday.
- West Coast communities remain cut off with no end in sight. The highway will be closed at least until June 24, B.C. Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said Tuesday. The ministry hopes to have Highway 4 reopened to single-lane alternating traffic. A full re-opening of the highway is tentatively planned for mid-July.
- Janelle Staite, deputy director for the ministry, said that a 1.5-kilometre section of highway has been impacted by the fire. Although the pavement condition remains “intact,” Staite says some pieces of roadside barrier have been dislodged and require repairs.
- Before highway crews can start work on repairing the roadway, BC Wildfire Service will undertake an assessment of the slope. The fire caused “significant” impact to the stability of trees above the highway, so there will be controlled cuts of trees to eliminate these hazards. Some rock containment netting will be installed along the highway to catch any material coming down the slope.
- As of Thursday afternoon, the Cameron Bluffs wildfire was being held at 229-hectares, according to BC Wildfire Service, down from 254-hectares earlier this week. It is no longer considered out of control, which means it is “not likely to spread beyond predetermined boundaries under current conditions.” As of recording, the status of the wildfire has improved from being held to under control on Saturday.
- Susan Randle, an engineer with the Ministry of Transportation said “We still have a fair bit of hot rockfall coming down. That rock has all been burned up so it’s fracturing and spalling off as time goes by.” The wildfire service noted that “everything that was holding anything together [on the cliff sides] is gone … it’s burnt away.”
- Assessment of slope stability and dangerous trees continues and crews are clearing debris and removing unsafe trees, said Randle. A temporary wall will be built along the eastbound lane above the fire zone and protective mesh suspended by cranes will act as a barrier to catch falling rock and trees.
- As Port Alberni, Tofino and Ucluelet head into the busy summer tourist season the news could not be worse. Convoys have been set up for transport trucks so that the communities will have necessities, but tourists will be far less likely to venture to these communities without the main highway.
- Tourists trying to get to the west coast were already being redirected by map apps down roads that don't exist, or are closed. Several signs on Horne Lake Road near Highway 19 tell people it’s not open all the way to Port Alberni, but tourists, either unaware or just hoping for the best, are still trying to head west until they hit a blocked gate farther up.
- There could be several reasons, but travellers have blamed Google Maps or other map apps on their phones. That’s because when you enter Port Alberni, Tofino or Ucluelet as your destination, it knows Highway 4 is closed but still tells you you can drive there via Horne Lake Road. But you actually can’t because it’s closed by Mosaic, the logging company that operates in the area, and not approved as a detour by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, as it is a narrow road that has not been maintained.
- Food banks in Tofino and Ucluelet on the west coast of Vancouver Island are already feeling the squeeze, while some grocery stores have implemented purchase limits on certain essential items. Meanwhile, Good Samaritans are stepping up to offer shelter and help to those who are stranded.
- As a driver for logistics company Comox Pacific Express, Gord Massick usually comes to Port Alberni from Nanaimo once or twice a day, but he is only able to make one trip a day on the detour. He said he could do 5 trips on a tank of gas, but only one on the detour.
- People who live on one side of the closure and work on the other side have also had troubles, especially health care workers at the West Coast General Hospital in Port Alberni. About 65 doctors, nurses and support staff have been driving logging roads and flying into Port Alberni to staff hospitals and clinics and deliver pharmaceuticals for the past week.
- Island Health’s Max Jajszczok, executive director of the emergency operations centre for the Port Alberni and Tofino region, said the health authority launched its command centre June 6, as soon as it learned of the Cameron Bluffs wildfire. The first priority was to maintain acute and emergency care at West Coast General Hospital in Port Alberni and Tofino General Hospital.
- Island Health says about 65 individuals have been back and forth since last Tuesday, taking chartered flights between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni, with others opting to drive the windy gravel detour.
- The area was already understaffed because of a national shortage of health-care workers, but the highway created another challenge — health-care workers who live outside Port Alberni on the other side of the highway barrier were unable to get to work because of the road closure.
- Still, the west coast communities are trying to employ creative ways to keep business and essential services afloat. Car enthusiasts unable to go east to the car show in Qualicum Beach, have created their own “Road Closed” car show in Port Alberni. So, there's been a spirit of innovation and ingenuity in trying to keep positive during a trying time.
- So all because of one human caused wildfire, Vancouver Island's west coast has been almost completely cut off. It's time the province got serious about transportation infrastructure in this province, and especially on the Island where hundreds of kilometres of unpaved logging roads have been left to languish.
- This story has been festering for a while but more details were revealed this week necessitating that we cover it.
- Serial killer and rapist Paul Bernardo was transferred from a maximum-security prison to a medium-security prison and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendocino says he only found out after the transfer took place.
- But it was later revealed this week that Mendicino’s office knew about 3 months before the transfer happened.
- This is odd because the Minister originally said the decision to transfer the high-profile offender was 'shocking and incomprehensible’.
- The families of Bernardo's victims expressed alarm at the lack of communication and called it an "egregious abdication of responsibility."
- Mendicino’s office claims they examined options to change the decision but were informed they had no authority over transfer decisions.
- It lays the groundwork for a discussion that paints a picture of Mendicino not knowing what’s going on in his office, he said, "It is very clear that I should have been briefed at the time, and that is something that I made abundantly clear to my staff. I've taken the corrective steps to ensure that that does not happen again. What's important is that these issues are identified and they're corrected and so that is what I have done with my team. It is important that I get those briefings in a timely manner."
- There has been a consistent level of waffling from Mendicino on this, first claiming he learned from the media, then to the point where we found out he knew for months, and now his office will be issuing a "ministerial directive" requiring Canada's corrections agency to reform how it handles high profile prison transfers.
- Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre said, "When Paul Bernardo was moved from a maximum-security penitentiary to a medium-security penitentiary, Minister Mendicino said he was shocked, totally shocked, and now we know that he was informed three months earlier, and did absolutely nothing.”
- This case has even spurred Ontario Premier Doug Ford to weigh into this debacle.
- Ford called the Commissioner of Corrections Canada, Anne Kelly, to “step aside, step down or be fired and for Bernardo to spend part of his days in jail in the general population.”
- He also called Bernado a “scumbag”.
- The idea behind putting Bernado in the general prison population is that he would be at risk of being disposed of by the prison population.
- This is interesting because it shows that someone is bringing forward the gut reaction that most Canadians would have when they hear of this move for Paul Bernado from max-security to medium-security.
- For those unaware, Bernardo was convicted in 1995 for kidnapping, raping, torturing and murdering two teenagers, 15-year-old Kristen French and 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy, in the early 1990s near St. Catharines, Ont. He was also convicted of manslaughter in the death of Tammy Homolka.
- He was sentenced to life in prison, is serving that sentence, is designated as a dangerous offender, and the prison term has no end date.
- Ford was also chastised by academics like University of British Columbia law professor Ben Perrin and University of Ottawa criminology professor Justin Piché.
- On one hand we have the movements and inner workings of the Ministry of Public Safety with Mendicino.
- Close to that we have the House of Commons debate where the Conservatives and Liberals were going back and forth making the question about who knew what and when.
- Then there’s the questions not being asked, what does it say that a serial killer, serial rapist, can be moved to medium security when in other countries the sentence would be death or a true life sentence.
- Now, granted, Canadians are probably somewhere in the middle but it raises a question of what justice has become in this country and what Canadians are willing to accept in terms of allowing our most vicious criminals to work their way back into society.
- This is something that does need to be talked about but when there are parties talking about it (like the Conservatives), it is drowned out and the media engages in their typical pearl clutching when it is suggested that criminals do the time.
Quote of the Week
"It is very clear that I should have been briefed at the time, and that is something that I made abundantly clear to my staff. I've taken the corrective steps to ensure that that does not happen again. What's important is that these issues are identified and they're corrected and so that is what I have done with my team. It is important that I get those briefings in a timely manner."
Word of the Week
Hardened - utterly fixed in a habit or way of life seen as bad.
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Alternative Methods
Teaser: BC Hydro is looking for more energy sources, Supreme Court judge Russell Brown retires amid controversy, and a wildfire cuts off Vancouver Island’s west coast. Also, serial killer Paul Bernardo is moved from max to medium security.
Recorded Date: June 17, 2023
Release Date: June 18, 2023
Edit Notes: None
Podcast Summary Notes