The News Rundown
- For this BC story, we're going to go local. Saanich is a district municipality, and the most populous of the 13 that make up the wider urban area known as Greater Victoria. Saanich is located just north of Victoria proper, and for the most part it's been a prosperous and growing bedroom community for those who work in either Victoria or Langford to the west. However, with a growing population comes population challenges. Despite Saanich not having a proper "downtown" like Victoria does, it still has the problems that an inner city would, namely a numerous homeless population that has decided to create a tent city located in Regina Park, not far from the Uptown shopping centre.
- The tent city has become a problem that has Saanich council scrambling for countermeasures as well as threatening the safety of local residents.
- A Saanich resident says tent city campers are increasingly putting the safety of the neighbourhood at risk, after he found a needle that appeared deliberately stuck into his vehicle tire. The hypodermic needle was discovered Saturday afternoon, said the neighbour, who only wanted to be identified as Wesley because he fears reprisals for speaking out.
- Since the camp’s inception in May, Wesley estimates he’s called Saanich police about 20 times to raise concerns about potential illegal activity or nuisance. He said he’s trying to protect the neighbourhood, but his complaints have resulted in threats by the Regina Park tent city residents.
- On Canada Day, he was walking into his home when one man said, “If you’re going to keep complaining, the complaint department is hanging from a tree.” The man gestured to rope tied as a noose hanging from the tree. The noose has since been removed.
- Two weeks ago, Wesley called police to report that a U-Haul filled with chairs, couches and tables was being unloaded into Regina Park. As he was writing down the licence plate of the U-Haul, a camper threatened to kill him. Wesley has also called police several times to report suspected drug dealing after he has seen a vehicle pull up, exchange packages with a camper and then drive away.
- Saanich police say calls for service in the area have skyrocketed. From May 1 to July 5, calls to police were at 507, versus 294 during the same time in 2017. Property crime rose to 90 incidents from 35 in 2017.
- Wesley worries about the cleanup bill, which will be borne by Saanich taxpayers. Saanich council has approved using a $700,000 contingency fund for policing costs for an encampment at Regina Park. The contingency fund is typically used to cover costs of unforeseen weather events such as heavy snowfalls, but the tent city is clearly a bigger issue than a possible snowfall in the winter.
- The vote was 8-1, with Mayor Richard Atwell opposed. There was also a vote asking staff for a report on how to fund ongoing costs related to Regina Park. Staff said the report could be done by the end of August but council voted to delay until the end of September.
- Extra costs of policing the collection of tents and shelters just off the Trans-Canada Highway, across from the Uptown shopping centre, are projected to range from $600,000 to $700,000, says a finance department report for councillors.
- On July 6, Saanich police arrested one of the encampment's organizers, Chrissy Brett for allegedly interfering with the Saanich Fire Department during a safety inspection. Police say during that visit she was arrested for obstructing firefighters and assault. "At one point the woman produced an air horn, pointed it at the ear of a fireman and blasted a loud audible signal in his direction," said a release from Saanich police.
- Despite the dangerous and drug infested nature of the tent city, local and national media has been sympathetic to them. The CBC rushed to interview the woman who was arrested, to get her viewpoint on the matter.
- Listeners might recall a similar tent city set up behind the Victoria courthouse in 2016. The final cost of the cleanup and policing from that mess was $3M.
- B.C. Premier John Horgan says the province is paying close attention to tent cities in Saanich as well as a similar one in Nanaimo, but says there's a reason it hasn't stepped in like it did with a similar encampment in Victoria in 2016. Horgan told a crowd at an event in Nanaimo on Monday: "You'll recall that the crisis of the courthouse tent city was made easier because it was on provincial land. The park in question in Saanich is on municipal land, and I believe the land here [In Nanaimo] is also municipal."
- Despite the provincial government having control over what municipal governments are able to do, they are clearly not willing to help shoulder the costs, meaning the entire bill will be thrust on Saanich taxpayers. With rising home values, the new employee payroll tax, and now this, taxpayers in Saanich could face double the rates of just a few years ago.
- Italy has said that it won’t ratify the EU-Canada free trade deal known as CETA.
- In the European Union it takes only one country to prevent the ratification of a treaty, this is what we are potentially facing with CETA.
- Italian deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said, “Soon CETA will arrive in parliament and this majority will reject it and it will not ratify it.” This was said to a farmers’ association gathering in Rome.
- Di Maio went further to suggest that if any Italian government official defends CETA or anything like it they will be removed from government.
- CETA largely went into effect provisionally last September but the key word is provisional.
- Canada is not concerned since 98% of the tariff and trade barrier reductions have taken effect.
- CETA is widely credited with providing greater access to European beef markets for Canadian meats.
- Italy has also put a hold on a trade deal with South Korea that would see Korean cars come into Italy.
- In all likelihood this could be posturing by Italy as no ratification vote has been scheduled until at least after the Italian parliaments August recess.
- You would be forgiven if you had not heard about this story and as most European coverage has been focused on the NATO summit that took place earlier this week.
- President Trump outwardly asked all NATO countries to meet or exceed the 2% of national GDP spending on defence this week as called for by 2002 Prague summit which set NATO defence targets.
- Trudeau outright said that Canada will not be doing this as NATO isn’t all about defence spending.
- “We are training together, learning together and developing a level of interoperability that goes beyond military tactics and abilities. It goes to how we understand each other, how we learn from each other and how we grow together. That as a demonstration of our shared values and convictions as an alliance is as strong as any other indication we can show with the amount of tanks or the amount of firepower.”
- As we talked about not so long ago the Canadian military had issues with the allocation of rucksacks and sleeping bags.
- Rather than going through the process and expense Canada elected to purchase used F–18’s (a generation old fighter) from Australia rather than committing to the F–35 as being developed by the United States.
- Canada could do with a modest increase in defence spending, currently we spend 1.23% of GDP on the military.
- The relationship between CETA and NATO spending:
- CETA was seen as a foothold in Canada to gain access into the American market by the EU.
- If we deliberately go against the US on defence spending because of the current tariff war happening the EU will see that as no longer one of the benefits of CETA.
- This could prevent the European Commission from taking the matter to court if Italy does indeed reject the deal.
- In an era of uncertainty with the US, lack of access to the Asian energy market, and potential auto tariffs inbound, we need all the access to open markets we can get.
- Our government (and media) should be taking this threat from Italy seriously and working to ensure all our goods (even energy) can make it into Europe freely.
- The headline reads "New report confirms former BC government sold off surplus real estate too cheap". It's meant to be another hit to the former BC Liberal government, in which the auditor general Carol Bellringer claims that several Crown-owned properties located on Burke Mountain north of Coquitlam were sold off for only two-thirds what they were worth to help balance the budget between 2013 and 2015.
- The Liberals ended up selling the roughly 150 hectares of land to a single buyer, Wesbild Holdings Ltd for $85 million, short of the $128 million established by an independent appraisal.
- The report claims that the government made a fundamental mistake by allowing would-be buyers to submit a grab bag of bids, some for individual parcels, some for the group. The rationale was a hope for greater competition. Bellringer wrote that “Had government required bidders to provide a breakdown for each parcel of the bidding process, it would have been better able to identify low bids for individual parcels and compare parcel bids.”
- Vaughn Palmer of the Vancouver Sun, who normally digs deep into the story to find the truth of the matter, simply seems to have accepted the report's findings as being correct. He issued scathing language in his article, saying that "the Liberals were left groping in the dark" and that the selling was not malicious but "Instead the main failing appeared to be incompetence".
- However what many news reports are taking away from this story is that the appraisal was correct, which it certainly might not be. While land in BC is certainly expensive, land on a mountain slope can have its value lowered by the simple fact that the slope is prohibitive to development. In 2015 John Horgan raised the matter in question period, saying that one parcel evaluated at $5.6M was instead sold for just $100,000. However, the NDP at the time failed to see that the parcel in question was located completely on a slanting hill, which makes development difficult. The appraisal value was made assuming that all parcels were development ready, when it's quite clear that they weren't, indeed most of the parcels have huge inclines, which must be surprising to the opposition given that they're located on a mountain. If appraisals are so good, why doesn't every property just sell for appraised value?
- When the story broke on Reddit, one user claimed to have been involved in the sale. He claims that "When we got our hands on the appraisal we found out that they had very incomplete information. Like servicing costs, and slope of the lands, which obviously affects their opinion of value. They literally thought way more homes could be built on those lands than could be due to the restrictive nature of slope and servicing. One of the parcels - the one Eby mentioned in the comment I linked to above - was completely unbuildable and worth at most a couple hundred grand, not $5.6m as appraised. I think it was determined at the end of the day it would be used only for a pump station and a park. Harsh sloping and higher than expected servicing costs all contributed to way lower than appraised value for the rest of the land."
- The explanation continues: "At the end of the day there was one serious buyer for the portfolio and we got what was the maximum price they were willing to pay at the time. To suggest that lots should have been sold individually simply ignores the logistics how how these areas are developed. Imagine buying Lot 1 without buying lots 2, 3, 4 and 6. You wouldn't do it, otherwise you'd just be sitting there unable to service your land."
- Lot 1 was the furthest lot to the west, and located 4 lots away from the service road, with an incline of several hundred metres. The user appears correct that it would be a nightmare to be able to build and service the area without purchasing the entire area, which would lower the value of each location.
- With this, it's fair to say that there's a lot of journalists out there who are paid to make a news article about a particular issue, but they can be writing without knowing all the details or if the details themselves are correct. With this, as with any news topic, we need to make sure that we look at all sides of the issue and try to determine which ones are correct.
The Firing Line
- Back in February we talked about the government’s lavish spending on alcohol for the government aircraft.
- In particular: 401 bottles of wine, 584 cans of beer, and 5 250ml vodka bottles for a total of $8,179. This was for the period of Dec 2016 - Dec 2017.
- It gets better!
- Global Affairs Canada (Foreign Affairs) spent $24,638 on 86 leather cushions for padding chairs at the embassy in Mexico City. That’s $286 per cushion.
- This was revealed through access to information requests by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
- The inevitable comparison was made to Bev Oda’s $16 glass of orange juice that saw her removal from cabinet.
- The Canadian Taxpayers Federation did its own research finding cushions for around $50 apiece but as low as $17.
- The company was Regina based Circa Office Interiors Ltd, this company was also used in 2014 by the former Conservative government.
- In 2014 there were 4 separate contracts worth between $21,716 and $24,675.
- This story is amazing on its own but there’s more this week!
- The federal government spent $30,480 to come up with a better name for its “Future Skills Lab” job training agency. The result… “Future Skills Centre” instead.
- For those wondering, this price covered a public opinion poll where respondents preferred centre to lab. The poll said it, “conjured images of a ‘science lab, lab rats, and white coats.’ Some participants were ‘even a little upset’ that there were so many ‘lab’ names being tested on them, the report noted.”
- We’re not done though, there’s one more!
- Since 2016 Global Affairs has spent $127,000 on crystal glassware.
- Global Affairs bought 1,032 glasses at an average cost of $117 apiece.
- For comparison sake, high end Tiffany’s sells a wine glass for $55.
- The cushions: reported
- The name change: reported online
- The crystal: not reported online widely enough
Word of the Week
Appraisal - an expert estimate of the value of something or someone.
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Crystal Clear Appraisals
Teaser: Policing a Saanich tent city is costing residents over $700k, Italy is blocking the EU’s ratification of CETA, the media misreports the value of sold Crown land in BC, and the federal government’s spending follies on glasses, name changes and cushions.
Recorded Date: July 14, 2018
Release Date: July 15, 2018
Edit Notes: None
Podcast Summary Notes