Big life changes and a wish for the new year

I�ve been urging the same New Year�s resolution in columns for 10 years now. Which means it�s great, or I�m unimaginative.
I�m living the resolution right now, and lean toward the former explanation.
We�re heading to Honduras for a year or two in the coming weeks, and who knows where after that, which means quitting my job, getting rid of almost all our stuff and taking a leap into a new and somewhat scary world.
All of which forces me to pay attention, the resolution I�ve been suggesting every year in columns since 2001.
We worry, we dream, we plan, and life flies by without really paying attention to what matters, the people we love, even ourselves. We miss a lot while we�re worrying about past mistakes or future opportunities.
But leaving behind a life, like a snake shedding its skin, forces you to pay attention to so many things.
In the summer, my partner and I applied for Cuso International postings. She was offered a place in Honduras, I was offered one in Ghana. For a variety of reasons, we picked Honduras.
It�s been interesting, and unexpected. We�ve been through an assessment day to judge if we were good candidates. We�ve spent a week in Ottawa, with an interesting group of people bound for postings in Africa and Latin and South America, in a great orientation course.
And we�ve been getting ready. We rent, so that�s one less complication. But we�ve been sorting and dumping stuff, a painful process, at least for me. Those old maps could be the start of an art project. The TransCanada Airline plates might be valuable. The Celestion 33 speakers are classics. I spent a fortune on art supplies. What if I need a good suit someday?
Mostly though, after a painful process, I�ve let go of things. Someone else can use the art supplies, and I can buy a new suit if I want one.
It helps that a lot of the stuff is junk. Junk I love, sometimes, but not worth anything. The desk/art table I�m writing on was declared surplus in a newspaper some 50 years ago. It�s oak, heavy, austere. Perfect for writing morning pages in south Oak Bay, or making prints in Gordon Head. I won�t find another like it.
But I�ll find some other table I like when I need one. A card table, a door on sawhorses. Who knows?
All the things that matter have associations with people I�ve cared about. That�s adds stress when it comes to shedding them, but it has been good to think about all those who have touched my life in a way that is important many years later. And it�s a reminder that whatever comes next will be linked to people I love.
My partner in life, and this adventure, Jody Paterson, has had an easier time. She�s better at paying attention now, and not worrying about what was or might be.
Despite all the stress, and the occasional crisis, it�s been good. I�ve paid attention. Change does that.
But you can choose to pay attention even if you aren�t making big life changes.
Ten years ago, here�s what I wrote.
�Today, pay attention. Pay attention to the way your lover or friend or reflection looks this evening, to the way your child holds her head as she listens to the story that will ultimately stop too soon. Pay attention to the small yellow light from a candle warming your living room and the cold, bright light from a handful of stars in the clear night sky. Pay attention to what you have, and what you long for.
�So today, and the next day and the day after that, open your eyes.
�Making this world a little better is within our individual grasps. We are fundamentally decent, I believe that. When we finally see the problems of those around us, we will act.
�This year, simply pay attention.�
It�s good advice, I think, and not a hard resolution to adopt. Give it a try in the new year.
Footnote: For more on our plans, check out the link �Heading to Honduras� on the upper right.

Progress Board gives Liberal decade a middling grade

The Progress Board, set up by Gordon Campbell in 2002 to report on how the government is doing and killed by Christy Clark last year, went out with a bang.
The board�s final report this month compared B.C.�s performance on key indicators with its standing in 2000.
It wasn�t a flattering report card for the Liberal government. The province actually slid backward in its economic ranking over the decade, and remained mired in ninth place for social conditions.
The Progress Board was a noble effort. Campbell set up the independent panel to devise measurable standards that could be used to monitor the province�s progress each year. They looked at ways of assessing B.C.�s performance on the economy, health outcomes, environment and social conditions and prepared special reports on key issues.
And the board set goals. It concluded that B.C. should aim to stay in first place for environmental quality and health outcomes � where it was in 2000 � and to rise to first or second place in the other categories by 2010.
It was an ambitious target, but the Liberals embraced it.
The performance has fallen well short of the lofty goals.
B.C. remains in first place among provinces for health outcomes and environmental measurements. (Which, considering all the criticism of the Liberals� environmental policies, should hearten them.)
But it was ranked fourth for the strength of its economy in 2000; now it has slid a place to rank fifth.
British Columbians had the third?highest personal income in 2000; the province had slipped to fourth place by 2010.
The province ranked fifth for employment in 2000; it had fallen two places to seventh by 2010.
And it remained the second worst jurisdiction in Canada for social conditions. B.C. has the highest proportion of its citizens living in poverty, or at least below StatsCan�s low-income cutoff level. When the Liberals took over, the province was in sixth place.
That doesn�t mean that the economy or employment hadn�t grown, or that there had been no improvement in social conditions. Other provinces have just improved at the same rate, or faster, so B.C. lost ground.
Still, the goal was to rise to first or second place in these categories by 2010. Instead, the economic rankings worsened.
The point of using rankings, rather than absolute measures, was to get some idea how the government and B.C. were doing relative to other provinces.
The goal wasn�t to be an average government, but to manage in a way that produced better results here than in other provinces. That hasn�t happened. In fact, B.C. went backward in some key measures.
It�s unfortunate Clark has killed the Progress Board, replacing it with something called the Jobs and Investment Board. It�s unclear if the new body will continue monitoring performance using the same broad range of publicly available measures. Its focus is narrower, with no obvious interest in health, the environment or social conditions.
The results in its final report certainly don�t paint a glowing picture of a province being managed more competently than any other. There�s nothing wrong with being average, but it�s not much to boast about.
That�s a problem for the Liberals, who have been trying to contrast their record with the �decade of decline� under the NDP in the 1990s.
The New Democrat government of the late 1990s was remarkably inept, with a series of largely empty announcements substituting for any coherent, consistent policy direction.
The Progress Board report, though, confirms that the Liberals haven�t been any great shakes at managing the province either, based on the actual results during their tenure. (Partly, that may confirm that government actions are much less significant than they like to claim.)
Political parties often like to run on their opponents� records. It�s a lower standard to meet � we might not be good, they say, but the other guys are worse. We�ll be hearing a lot of such talk over the next 16 months.
But the reality is that neither of the main parties can claim any great success. Perhaps that will encourage them to quit living in the past, and talk about what they would do if elected.

Time for a real debate on fracking risks, benefits

The fracking debate � or more accurately the absence of one � is another example of B.C.�s great divide.
If fracking was going on in the Lower Mainland, or the Okanagan, it would be front-page news. (Just look at how quick the government was to pay a company $30 million to make the prospect of uranium mining � more benign � vanish from the Okanagan.)
But fracking is booming in the northeast, as energy companies rush into a shale-gas boom. So it�s largely been taking place under the radar. Many people probably have no real idea what it is.
That should change. A full debate about the practice and the government�s approach to regulation is urgently needed.
Fracking has been around for at least three decades. As a newcomer in Alberta long ago, I was intrigued by the Fracmaster trucks rolling around the highways. They pumped water and additives, under pressure, into wells to fracture the rock � thus the name � allowing oil and gas to flow more freely from conventional wells.
Today�s fracking has little in common with that relatively low-tech approach.
Energy companies have tapped a new resource in gas trapped in shale deposits. Horizontal drilling � drilling down and then parallel to the surface � has allowed long wells through the rock formations. New equipment allows the injection of water, sand and chemicals under extremely high pressure to crack the rock, allowing the gas to flow.
The chemicals, some toxic, help the process. The sand flows into the fractures and prevents them from closing. Unlike the old days, when wells were usually fracked once, the industry will repeatedly frack the same well to increase producton.
The advances have allowed the energy companies to exploit vast new reserves around the world that were trapped in the rock formations. Northeastern B.C. has been a particularly hot spot; half the gas in the province is now produced by fracking. The government says production could double by the end of the decade.
That�s got some big benefits. The government has cashed in on auctions for drilling rights and leases and on royalties. (Though the lease revenue plummeted this year to $223 million, compared with $844 million last year.)
The boom has brought jobs to the northeast, and the rush of shale gas onto the market has depressed natural gas prices � good news for consumers.
But there are huge environmental issues and governments have lagged badly in understanding them and regulating the fracking operations.
Start with water. It takes vast amounts of water to generate the pressure needed to frack a single well. Energy companies in B.C. already have the right to withdraw water from lakes and rivers that�s equal to the consumption of a city of more than 700,000 people. They also draw from wells and have applied for large amounts of water from the Williston Reservoir on the Peace River, used by B.C. Hydro to generate power. There is concern other users will be left dry.
Once the chemicals are added, the water is toxic. That creates risk to aquifers, both in the fracking operation and when the companies try to dispose of the water by injecting it into deep wells. The seriousness of the threat has been debated, but this month the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported a preliminary link between fracking and well contamination in Wyoming. Encana, the company involved, disputes the finding.
On top of those risks, fracking has caused earthquakes in the U.S. and England.
Some jurisdictions, like Quebec, and France and some U.S. states, have banned fracking.
But B.C. hasn�t even had a real debate about it, or the regulations and oversight needed.
Independent MLAs Bob Simpson and Vicki Huntington have called for the creation of an all-party legislative committee to hold hearings and report on fracking. It would be a useful start.
Footnote: The province has made some regulatory changes. Companies were required to report water use this year (though about one-third didn�t comply and received fines of under $1,000). And a new online registry will have information about fracking locations, though companies can still keep the chemicals being used secret.

Heading to Honduras

Those paying close attention might have noticed a new link in the upper right here, called Heading to Honduras.
That�s where I�m going in mid-January.
My partner and I both applied to Cuso International for volunteer work. I was offered a post in Ghana, she was offered one in Honduras. For assorted reasons, we picked Honduras, where she�ll be working with an NGO on communications, knowledge development and whatever else they need.
I�ll expect to find some way to volunteer down there, do some work for clients up here (if you need fast, sharp editing or writing, keep me in mind), write, paint and get really good at Spanish.
It�s the right time for us to make this change, and I�m looking forward to living in a new culture in Copan Ruinas.
I�ll write more about all this, and all the years of blogging/columning on events here.
Check out the link. And if you�re around Victoria, come on out to our farewell party Jan. 11 at the Garry Oak room at the Fairfield Community Centre, from 6 to 10 p.m. Music and fun. It�s also a fundraiser for Cuso and PEERS.

Time to kill Campbell's gimmicky education fund

I have good news for Premier Christy Clark � a way to deal with Community Living B.C. underfunding that won�t require spending cuts elsewhere or tax increases.
All she has to do is kill a goofy policy initiative of Gordon Campbell that never really made any sense.
Community Living B.C. says it needs about $65 million more a year to meet the immediate needs of adults with developmental disabilities, what we once called mental handicaps.
Clark says the government doesn�t have the money.
But this year the government is committing $47 million to the Children�s Education Fund, a shoddy piece of public policy that came out of nowhere in 2006 when Campbell needed something cool to announce at the Liberal convention in Penticton.
Campbell said the government would commit $1,000 for every baby born after that year to the education fund. Beginning in 2025, every teen graduating from high school would get the $1,000, plus interest � perhaps about $2,200.
It�s one of those silly ideas that makes sense as a short-term political gimmick when people are tossing around ideas in the premier�s office, but serves no real long-term purpose.
There�s no logical basis for the government to decide that a tuition subsidy for students starting school in 2025 is a priority today � more important than caring for the disabled, improving health care or offering a tax cut to encourage employment growth.
In fact, the notion that the government can predict the needs of students two decades in the future is dubious. Imagine the outgoing Socreds trying to come up with a tuition plan that would work for students in 2011.
The amount, for example, could be a pittance compared to the cost of education more than a decade from now.
Or alternately, a future government, given the need for skilled British Columbians, could have decided post-secondary education should be free to some qualifying students, or even all students. That�s not an outlandish notion, given the shift to a knowledge-based economy in the province.
It�s also odd the government decided the needs of students in 2025 would be greater than students today. About 60 per cent of Canadian students graduate with some debt. For those people, the average debt load is $27,000. It would take $90 a week for nine years to pay off the balance.
That�s a big burden, particularly in a soft employment market. Why not take the $47 million and address today�s needs, through scholarships or education credits or tax breaks, or target First Nations� high school graduation rates, or address other educational needs?
It�s also bizarre that the fund makes no distinctions based on the needs of either the province, or the students.
A multimillionaire�s child will get $2,000; so will a youth coming out of care, living on income assistance and trying to get an education.
A smart program would target bright students who couldn�t afford an education, and be based on merit and need. Or it could support education for students entering fields that were critical to the province�s future.
We�re talking about serious money. The program started in 2007; by the end of this year the available money in the fund is expected to have reached $230 million.
By 2025, the government will have stashed more than $1 billion in the fund.
The money isn�t counted as an expense in the current budget year. It�s counted as an investment, with the interest showing up on the books as revenue each year. The actual expense will show up on the government books when the payouts begin in 2025. (A development that might not thrill the government, or the taxpayers, of the day, saddled with an expense by a long-gone predecessor.)
It�s interesting that the Liberals don�t talk about the fund anymore. It�s like they realize it makes little sense, but haven�t quite figured out what to do about it. So they just keep committing more than $40 million a year to poor policy.
So there�s some free advice for Clark. Announce the fund is no longer a priority in the wake of the economic slowdown. Allocate the money to CLBC, or some other useful measure.
And take care in future to avoid such poor policy gimmicks.

Federal leadership on health care missing

The biggest issue in the federal government�s move to curb health-care spending increases isn't the new limits, although that should be a concern.
It�s the Harper government�s decision to abandon any leadership role on health care and leave the provinces to sort things out.
The country�s finance ministers were in Victoria this week. The provincial ministers thought they would have a few meals and meetings, talk about big issues and do a little preliminary work on a new health funding plan to replace the current one, which ends in 2014.
Instead, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty arrived at a lunch in a dining room on a downtown hotel�s top floor - very nice harbour views - and the premiers were handed the new deal. No discussion, he said. Here�s the new funding formula.
The current arrangement provides provinces with six per cent a year increases in federal health care funding. Flaherty said that will continue until 2017, then the increases will be capped at the rate of growth in the economy. There will be minimum increases of three per cent, so health care doesn�t face deep cuts if there�s a recession.
Based on current growth and inflation, the provinces could expect increases of about 4.5 per cent a year.
The federal government provides about 20 per cent of health care costs, with the provinces paying the rest. The change means about $55 million less for B.C. in the first year, increasing by a similar amount each subsequent year. It�s not a huge amount, though after five years the shortfall will be nearing $300 million.
The reaction of the provincial ministers was mixed. Six were critical, either of the lower increases or the federal government�s failure to consult and discuss the change.
But B.C. Finance Minister Kevin Falcon said he was satisfied with the change. He welcomed the long-term certainty, so the province could plan, and supported the desire to reduce federal spending. (That�s a little odd, since during the Liberal leadership campaign he condemned a similar proposal from Christy Clark. Clark did not, it should be noted, include the promise of a minimum increase even if the economy went into reverse.)
A little more skepticism might have been in order. The proposed funding formula doesn�t include any provision for population growth, which means there will be a reduction in real per-capita funding. Nor does it reflect the impact of an aging population, or costly technological advances.
And it isn�t based on any assessment of actual health care needs (note that the meeting involved finance ministers, not health ministers). What if a continued six per cent increases would allow dramatic reductions in wait times, or much better seniors� care?
Instead, the Harper government picked an arbitrary ceiling that could be sold politically and went ahead.
Canada has room to increase health care spending, if it�s in the public interest. Other countries � Germany and the U.S., for example � spend a higher proportion of their GDP on health care. And the Canadian public, so far, has indicated quality health care is a priority.
The federal government initiative also abdicates any leadership role. Health care is a provincial responsibility, but provinces and territories operate under the terms of the Canada Health Act.
Federal funding is important. But federal leadership in tackling the challenges of delivering cost-effective high-quality care would also be valuable.
As a significant funder, the Harper government could have lead a national discussion of what Canadians expect from care, how technology can be used, how prevention could reduce costs and more effective ways of using health-care staff.
Instead, the provinces will be largely left to their own devices, or to figure out ways to work together on their own.
It�s probably an astute move politically � health care issues tend to earn governments more blame than praise.
But it won�t help Canada move to the best, most cost-effective care.
Footnote: Provincial and territorial premiers will meet in Victoria next week to discuss health care. They will likely call for a federal-provincial conference on the funding formula and the future of care, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper will likely reject the idea.

Justin Trudeau could have been describing Parliament�s session

There�s no real theme to the column, beyond a general sense of wonder.
First, burkas and citizenship. Foreign Affairs Minister Jason Kenney said this week that women would no longer be allowed to take the citizenship oath with their faces covered as part of their religious beliefs.
You can have a good debate about the burka and niqab and their place in society. There are concerns some women are forced into wearing them, making them instruments of oppression. Other women say it is a core part of their religious faith, mandated in the Koran. There are questions about how society changes when some people hide their faces in public.
But Kenney�s reason is goofy. He fears women might not actually be saying the citizenship oath.
Come on. New citizens have all studied and passed a test. We don�t now know whether they are taking the oath, or moving their lips. (Perhaps Kenney will mandate monitors to stand next to every person at the ceremonies in future.) It would be easy to have women wearing head coverings sign a written oath.
Even more offensive was Kenney�s response to questions about legal challenges to the edict. �I�m sure they�ll trump up some stupid Charter of Rights challenge,� he said.
There is nothing �stupid� about asserting the rights guaranteed all Canadians by law. Kenney�s contempt for the law, and those freedoms, is alarming.
Meanwhile, Liberal MP Justin Trudeau got in trouble this week by calling Environment Minister Peter Kent �a piece of s***.�
That, of course, reminded people of his father, then prime minister Pierre Trudeau, being accused of mouthing �f*** off� to opposition MPs 40 years ago.
Trudeau claimed then he was mouthing �fuddle duddle.� Justin Trudeau was more honest, jumping to his feet to apologize and retract his remarks.
So what riled him? NDP environment critic Megan Leslie had asked Kent a question about Canada�s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol.
Kent responded by noting that �if she had been in Durban� Leslie would be better informed.
But the Conservative government had, for the first time in the history of Kyoto talks, refused to accredit opposition MPs as observers at the talks, denying them a role. Trudeau thought it a bit much that Kent would bar MPs, then criticize them for not going. (Green leader and Saanich-Gulf Islands MP Elizabeth May cleverly got herself approved as a delegate for Papua-New Guinea; Liberals and New Democrats could have shown similar initiative.)
Sadly, Trudeau�s rudeness was far from the low point of the just concluded parliamentary session. The Conservative majority has not brought civility or even a basic commitment to let MPs actually do the job of representing their constituents. Legislation has been forced through with minimal debate. There is an appalling lack of respect, civility or even basic decency in the Commons, in large part because the Conservatives seem to see evil enemies across the House rather than men and women elected by Canadians to represent them. (It does, of course, take two to bicker.)
As the session ended, the Conservatives confirmed they planned to increase secrecy by barring the press and public from more meetings of parliamentary committees. Conservative MP Tim Wallace said going behind closed doors �gives members of Parliament an opportunity to speak frankly.�
Wallace is acknowledging duplicity, perhaps dishonesty � saying one thing in public, and another when citizens don�t have a chance to know what�s going on.
Then there�s the stonewalling of the G8 spending scandal that saw border security funds diverted to often frivolous projects in Treasury Board president Tony Clement�s riding, Defence Minister Peter MacKay�s misleading explanations for his use of a search and rescue helicopter as a taxi to get him from a fishing camp in Newfoundland and other lapses.
It�s odd. The Liberals were booted out because the Conservatives promised something better. Now they�re turning into what they once condemned.
Footnote: The session ended with Speaker Andrew Scheer, a Conservative MP ruling that a party dirty tricks campaign aimed at Liberal MP Irwon Cotler was �reprehensible,� but not against the rules. The Conservatives were caught calling voters and falsely claiming Cotler had resigned and a byelection would be held. It was later revealed thatthe company hired to make the calls had also worked on Scheer�s election campaign.

Governments need will to fix growing inequality

The Occupiers have packed their tents, but the issue of increasing inequality within Canada shouldn't go away with them.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reported this week that income inequality continues to increase in Canada and around the world.

And it warns trouble lies ahead. "The economic crisis has added urgency to the debate," its report said. "The social contract is starting to unravel in many countries."

Disenfranchised youth "have now been joined by protesters who believe they are bearing the brunt of a crisis for which they have no responsibility while people on higher incomes appear to have been spared."

The OECD analysis debunks the myth that growing inequality is the result of market forces or some inevitable new order. Government policies have ensured that those with high incomes claim a larger share of the country's wealth, while the poor receive a smaller proportion.

The average income of the bottom 10 per cent of Canadians in 2008 was $10,260; the average income of the top 10 per cent of was $103,500. The top 10 per cent had an average income 10 times greater than those at the bottom; in the early 1990s their incomes were only eight times greater.

The richest one per cent of Canadians shared 13.3 per cent of total income in 2007, up from 8.1 per cent in 1980. And the richest one-tenth of one per cent of Canadians - about 13,000 households - claimed 5.3 per cent of all income in Canada. That's more than twice as much as the share they received in 1980.

The growing gap starts with greater wage inequality. Partly, that does reflect market forces. Technological change has seen high-skilled workers benefit more than those with fewer skills.

But provincial and federal government policies have also increased inequality. Canadian governments have promoted part-time work or flexible hours and eased employment standards. The changes improved productivity and brought more people into work, but "the rise in part-time and low-paid work also extended the wage gap," the OECD found.

Canadian governments have played a more direct role in widening the income gap. Tax and benefit policies can narrow, or widen, the gap.

In Canada, they now reduce inequality less than in most of the OECD's 34 member countries.

That reflects choices by government. "Prior to the mid-1990s, the Canadian tax-benefit system was as effective as those in the Nordic countries in stabilizing inequality, offsetting more than 70 per cent of the rise in market income equality," the report found. "The effect of redistribution has declined since then: Taxes and benefits have only offset less than 40 per cent of the rise in inequality."

Tax cuts, for example, have delivered the greatest benefits to the rich - in B.C., income tax cuts have delivered an average benefit of $9,000 a year to the richest 10 per cent of households, while saving the poorest 10 per cent an average $200.

The theory was that everyone would benefit.

It hasn't worked, says OECD secretary-general Angel Gurr�a. "This study dispels the assumptions that the benefits of economic growth will automatically trickle down to the disadvantaged and that greater inequality fosters greater social mobility," he said. "Without a comprehensive strategy for inclusive growth, inequality will continue to rise."

The OECD offers potential solutions. A greater investment in education, starting in early childhood and continuing into the adult years, would help people improve their job prospects and incomes.

Benefit polices need to be improved. "Large and persistent losses in low-income groups following recessions underline the importance of government transfers and well-conceived income support policies," the report says.

The growing share of income going to top earners means they can afford to pay more in taxes; governments should review tax policies "to ensure that wealthier individuals contribute their fair share."

And "the provision of freely accessible and high-quality public services, such as education, health and family care is important," the OECD says.

But before anything happens, we have to decide that the increasing gap is undesirable. And we have to recognize that government policies have played a significant role in increasing inequality, and can do just as much to reduce it.

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Court right to toss drinking-driving law

The B.C. Supreme Court struck a good balance in tossing part of the province�s new drinking-driving laws.
Justice Jon Sigurdson upheld the provisions that penalize people who blow between .05 and .08.
But he ruled that the use of the same approach to levy much tougher penalties for those who blow over .08 � the Criminal Code definition of impairment � is unconstitutional because it violates the Charter of Rights protection against �unreasonable search and seizure.�
The difference is the severity of the penalties. Sigurdson found that the Charter violation was tolerable in the case of the lesser penalties, given the importance of reducing impaired driving.
But the sanctions for blowing over .08 on a roadside screening device are much harsher. People have a right to a reasonable, independent appeal process when they face severe penalties, Sigurdson ruled, and the government has failed to provide one.
The fear that police officers effectively become judge and jury, without an adequate appeal process is well-founded.
It�s not a surprising ruling. The government�s aim � besides reducing impaired driving � was to save money by shifting impaired driving cases out of the courts.
Instead of laying a criminal charge, opening the door to a not guilty plea and trial, the government wanted to come up with similar penalties that could be imposed cheaply. Impaired cases make up about one-third of the caseload in provincial courts, in part because tougher penalties have given drivers a greater incentive to fight the charges.
The changes worked. The deaths linked to impaired driving fell 40 per cent in the year since the change was introduced, and the number of impaired driving charges fell by almost 75 per cent.
But the change, Sigurdson ruled, also violated British Columbians� rights.
The courts have ruled that when a police officer has a �reasonable suspicion� a driver is impaired he could require a roadside breath test. But the test was simply an indicator that the driver should submit to a proper breathalyzer exam.
If he failed that, criminal charges could be laid. The driver would then have a chance to challenge the charge in court, cross-examine the officer and introduce evidence in his defence.
The provincial regulations skip all those steps. There is an appeal process, but it involves a strictly limited written appeal or hearing before a motor vehicle branch employee. Police don�t have to disclose evidence and there are no questions allowed.
Sigurdson found the province�s penalties for blowing over .08 were significant enough to require better safeguards to prevent innocent people from being wongly punished.
Drivers lose their licences for 90 days and face a $500 fine and the $880 cost of a remedial course. They are required to install ignition interlock devices once their licences are returned, which requires them to provide a clean breath sample before the car will start. Those cost more than $1,500. All in the total cost is more than $4,000, and some people, of course, lose their jobs. (Those who blow between .05 and .08 face a three-day suspension for a first offence, rising to seven days for a second infraction and 30 days for subsequent offences. They face fines of $200 to $400 and a $250 fee to have the licence reinstated. Repeat offenders also must take a course on drinking and driving, which costs $880, and have their cars impounded.)
The government has already been warned about problems with the regime. Earlier this year, a Supreme Court decision noted the appeal process was �fundamentally at odds with basic concepts of fairness and impartiality.�
There are easy fixes, at least going forward. The government can bring in a proper appeal process that respects Charter rights, or it can reduce the penalties.
It�s important to deter impaired driving. But it�s also important to respect basic principles � like innocence until proven guilty, and the right to a fair hearing before serious punishments are imposed.
Footnote: In the first 12 months, police imposed about 25,000 roadside suspensions. About 15,000 involved the more serious penalties for failing the roadside test or refusing to blow. It�s unclear whether drivers will challenge those penalties as a result of the ruling.

The facts on the Attawapiskat housing and community crisis

I have been meaning to try and sort through the claims about funding for the Attawapiskat First Nations community. The northern community is a disgrace. The Conservative government have attempted to blame poor band management, pointing to $90 million in funding over the past five years.
Fortunately, I don't have to, because �pihtawikosis�n lays out the facts here, with useful links to the source documents, including band financial reports.
Well worth a read.

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