Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Were The Fires Forseeable?

My parents moved to the  Cariboo in the spring of 1973. Despite my initial misgivings, I soon came to be grateful that they did, not least because  it put me into direct contact with two things that despite their fundamental nature had been pushed to the margins of my consciousness in the suburbs of Vancouver:  First Nations people and the working Forest.  With the Forest naturally came an awareness every summer of forest fires.   Since my parents’ house was  in the Wildwood area , at the foot of the airport hill, I jumped at the chance along with my brother  to get an opportunity to work at the Tanker Base at the Williams Lake Airport the following summer, mostly washing the airplanes between missions and while they were being re-fuelled.  I could see what tough, hot important work it was.  It was also dangerous: we even lost two pilots that summer. 

Flash forward 30 years, and I stopped at my parents’ home  in August 2003 en route to a teaching position at the University of Northern British Columbia.  That was the worst fire summer we had had up to that point,  and the smoke-filled sky  and several charred patches of forest that were visible from the highway were seared in my memory.  Still, as our understanding of climate change grew and the number of dead and dried out trees multiplied due to the pine beetle epidemic, I expected that another, much more serious fire season than 2003 was bound to happen. Well, it finally did, and we are living through it now.  (Of course, professional foresters will tell you that my theory about pine beetles and climate change is a little simplistic --sometimes wetter areas with more living trees can become more flammable if they go through an unusually dry spell, because they deposit more fuel on the forest floor, and the fire spreads more quickly from crowns of trees, etc.  Whatever the precise combination of factors, it seems that we had just the right mix of factors this year.)

It is of course too early to point blame at anyone, but I wonder if it is pure coincidence that  so many of the worst fires occurred near population centres?  Is it possible that governments, failing to take heed of the terrible fire season of 2003, did not put enough money into controlled burning near Cache Creek, Ashcroft, 100 Mile and Williams Lake?  It would have required budgeting more money for that purpose, and it would have had the effect of inconveniencing a lot of people with a lot of smoke, so it is perfectly understandable that  such an error of omission could have happened.   I am not an expert, so I don’t pretend to know.  But I am asking the question, and I am expecting some answers. One other thing I want to say: Thanks to all the volunteers.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

The Incredible Christy Clark

{An earlier version of the following column was written for the July, 2017  issue of the Anahim-Nimpo Lake Messenger--MC}


“Incredible” is one of the most over-used and mis-used adjectives in the English language. I generally avoid using it altogether, except I find that it is the best word to describe  our recently-deposed B.C. premier, Christy Clark.  As I see it, the premier’s strategy of trying to embarrass the NDP by placing several of the NDP’s key policies in the Throne Speech is problematic in policy terms and likely to backfire politically.  In terms of policy, what she is saying is that, if the Liberals had gotten 189 more votes in the Courtney-Comox riding, thereby securing a majority of seats in the Legislature, it would somehow have been better to not spend a billion dollars on new child care spaces, or to raise welfare rates by $100 per month, or to have a moratorium on the Massey Bridge, or to have  a ban on corporate and union donations. But, since the Liberals failed to get a majority and were facing defeat on a confidence motion in the Legislature,  these things all of a sudden became the ‘best’ things to do. 

Call me old-fashioned, but either child care is a good thing or it isn’t.  Premiers owe it to their voters to stick to the principles they campaigned on, or they lose credibility with those voters.  For example, if Clark and the Liberals had fallen on the sword of their own platform, and we had  another election in six months’ time, I would expect Conservative voters to see the error of their vote-splitting ways and vote Liberal in enough numbers to win more ridings like Courtney-Comox.  But since the Liberals ignored their own platform and tried to enact the same  tax and spend agenda that they had campaigned against, Conservative voters may learn to trust the Liberals even less.  Then there are the urgent questions of Site C and Kinder-Morgan--you know, the reasons Clark said in May that it was urgent to re-convene the Legislature, until she realized that by dragging her feet before legislation could be changed, she could fill Liberal coffers with new corporate donations.  Incredible.

Most incredible of all are  the messes at ICBC and BC Hydro. At ICBC , it was revealed this year that insurance rates had been suppressed for political reasons and that the Corporation had been forced to raid its capital reserves to the tune of about $500 million. Meanwhile , over at BC Hydro, the Liberal cabinet--which had stripped the BC Utilities Commission of its rate-setting authority in 2012-- has been setting BC Hydro’s annual rate increases well below the actual cost of acquiring and distributing electricity. BC Hydro has been forced to take on debt in order to pay $1.3 billion in dividends to the BC government. These practices have increased BC Hydro’s debt to the point that Moody’s is warning that this trend may threaten the province’s credit rating. 

Of course, the Liberals could just let the NDP government and its allies in the Green Party take the heat for any such downgrade while they are in office, along with the unavoidable rate increases at ICBC and BC Hydro,  making it easier for the Liberals to return to power  in 6-18 months  with a grinning Christy Clark once again recapturing the premier’s chair.  Given who is truly responsible for these messes, that would be “incredible”. But don’t bet against it.