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Oil/gas incentives over $1B

British Columbia's auditor general says doing business with the oil-and-gas industry has cost the province's coffers about $1.25 billion in royalties even before most of the product has been pulled from the ground.

The incentives to be paid to the industry were just some of the items highlighted Thursday by auditor general Carol Bellringer in her 2013-2014 summary of B.C.'s financial statements.

Bellringer also noted how much money the government made from selling its assets, how much it paid in interest on debt accumulated through public-private partnerships, and she even took issue with government accounting methods.

"The bottom line is certainly an important element of looking at a set of financial statements, but there's a huge amount of rich information that can be taken out of the financial statements," she said in an interview.

"I hope that the report does show that, you know, there are lots of things that need to be very carefully looked at in a set of financial statements."

Among Bellringer's items that she said "tell an interesting story" are the incentives given in the form of credits to the oil-and-gas sector. The incentives are designed to encourage the production of oil and gas.

Bellringer said the industry has accumulated $1.25 billion in credits over about five years, and last year alone that figure hit $587 million.

"When these producers claim their incentive credits, that money will be deducted from the royalties that they owe, thereby reducing the amount of money government will generate," she wrote in her report.

A spokeswoman for Natural Gas Development Minister Rich Coleman said he was unavailable for comment.

When it came to the sale of provincial assets, land and buildings, the government made $601 million last year and expects another $200 million in revenue from similar sales in the current fiscal year.

The $601 million was only a small percentage of the government's total revenue for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, but Bellringer said it formed a "significant part" of the bottom line helping the government record a $353-million surplus.

Bellringer said the provincial government also paid higher interest rates, ranging from 4.42 per cent to 14.79 per cent, on the debt it accumulated through public-private partnerships.

She said the interest rate on taxpayer supported debt averaged at about four per cent.

The auditor said because of the "inappropriate deferral" last year of federal transfer payments and university endowments for such things as capital projects, the government's books should have shown an extra $232 million in revenue.

"The government is interpreting the accounting standards to say that they can bring that into revenue over the life of the asset, and we're saying, no, you have to bring it in as soon as the asset's ready to be used," she said.

B.C. comptroller general Stuart Newton disagreed with the auditor over the transfer payments, saying the government marked some of that revenue as a liability for an important reason.

"Those contributions have been recorded as a liability rather than revenue when received because it best represents the ongoing obligation of the recipient to deliver the service to taxpayers for the useful life of the asset," he said.

About 65 staff from Bellringer's office and 28 private-sector firms undertook what she said was the largest financial audit in B.C., looking at 165 government ministries and organizations.

Bellringer said members of the legislature will now discuss the findings in committee.

The Canadian Press


BC lawyers nix TWU law

Members of the Law Society of British Columbia have voted overwhelmingly against accrediting a Christian university's law school.

The referendum was called at the end of September by the society's governors, known as benchers, and was sparked by a community covenant at Trinity Western University in Langley, south of Vancouver.

That covenant prohibits students and staff from sex outside of a marriage between a man and a woman.

The law society said 8,039 of 13,530 eligible voters cast their ballots, with 5,951 voting against accrediting the university and 2,088 voting in favour.

The results are expected to be discussed at a Friday meeting of the governors.

barbara findlay, a self-described "lesbian lawyer," said in a news release that it was a "proud day to be a lawyer."

Former Trinity Western student Jill Bishop, who is now an articled law student, said she was proud that her colleagues stood up for equality.

"The experience of being educated at TWU was very oppressive to me as a lesbian who had to sign the restrictive covenant," she said.

But Trinity Western spokesman Guy Saffold said in a news release that he was disappointed by the vote.

"Trinity Western believes in diversity and the rights of all Canadians to their personal beliefs and values. A person’s ability to study and practise the law should not be restricted by their faith," he said.

He said the process is unprecedented, and the result has no effect without a resolution of the benchers.

"The benchers still have the opportunity to do the right thing, and we are encouraging them to think very carefully before passing any resolution against TWU," he said.

The referendum follows a months-long debate among law-society members on accreditation.

In April, the governors decided to accredit the law school, a decision that triggered a non-binding vote in June by B.C. lawyers.

The results were 3,210 to 968 in favour of a motion calling on the society's governing body to reject accreditation of the school slated to open in the fall of 2016.

The governors called a referendum on the issue in late September, saying it would be the most democratic and transparent way for lawyers to express their views because most of the society's 11,000 members were unable to vote in person in June.

Three other provincial legal governing bodies have weighed in on the subject, which is expected to eventually land in the Supreme Court of Canada.

Law societies in Ontario and Nova Scotia have voted against accrediting law students from Trinity, and the university has launched legal challenges of those decisions.

Members of the Law Society of New Brunswick passed a September resolution directing its council not to accredit the law school.

The Canadian Press

Mountie acquitted

4 p.m.update:

RCMP officer Micah Chan has been acquitted of charges of dangerous driving.

More details to follow.

2 p.m. original story

RCMP officer Micah Chan will find out this afternoon whether or not he has been acquitted of charges related to dangerous driving, after a pursuit of a vehicle lead to the death of Courtenay Brianne Eggen.

In a surprise move Wednesday, Chan’s defence lawyer did not call a single witness once the Crown wrapped their case. Instead Neville McDougal entered an application of no evidence, meaning the defense argued there was never any evidence to prove the case that Chan drove dangerously.

Judge Wallace dismissed that application Thursday morning, saying she believed there was some evidence to support the charge of dangerous driving.

The question now is whether there is enough evidence to convict him of the charge.

Chan’s defence lawyer does not believe there is enough evidence and has been entered for a second application, this time for lack of evidence to convict. Chan’s lawyer told the judge that he believes there is not enough evidence to convict Chan beyond a reasonable doubt. And without enough evidence his client must be acquitted of the charge.

Now Judge Wallace must decide. She asked for a three-hour recess Thursday to come to a decision and is expected back in the Salmon Arm courtroom at 3 p.m. to relay that decision. 

If she is agrees with defence council and approves the application, Chan will be acquitted of the charges. If she disagrees however, defence will no longer be able to argue their case and a conviction is likely.

We will have the judge’s decision when it comes down this afternoon (Oct. 30). 


3 sentenced in Phillips murder

A young man who set in motion and then watched as a Kelowna father was beaten to death in front of his sons has been sentenced to five years in prison for manslaughter.

Judge Mark McEwan says Daniel McRae, who was 19 at the time, showed no signs of remorse after Dain Phillips was fatally attacked with hammers and bats on June 12, 2011.

McRae's younger brother, Matthew, was sentenced to three-and-a-half years for his participation in a confrontation that the judge said the man knew would result in bodily harm to 51-year-old Phillips.

Their friend, Anson Schell, received a three-year sentence for his participation in the events.

The judge acknowledged that none of the men took part in the assault, but he said they played a role in the death, nonetheless.

Two members of the Hells Angels pleaded guilty earlier this year to manslaughter in Phillips' death, which was the culmination of an ongoing feud between the McRae brothers and the victim's sons.

The Canadian Press

Family still searching for daughter

The mystery of what happened to a 21-year-old BC woman continues to haunt her family more than a year after she disappeared.

Caitlin Murray was last seen on Sept. 30, 2013, on video surveillance, at about 12:45 a.m., as she parked her car near the Fraser Bridge Hotel in Quesnel.

Mounties searched the immediate area, including a foot bridge, the Fraser River and surrounding parks.

Search-and-rescue crews and an RCMP plane were also used, but there was no sign of Murray.

Her parents, Chris and Carmen Carr, are pleading for answers to their daughter's whereabouts.

Insomnia and anxiety plague Carmen Carr's life and her husband finds himself pulling U-turns at the sight of a young blonde girl who may resemble his daughter.

Their younger son is only now grasping the void in his family, thinking of his big sister every time it rains because the siblings liked walking in the rain together.

Carmen and Chris Murray have even called on psychics for answers and continue searching along the mighty Fraser.

Their daughter had recently graduated from a care-aide program, her dreams of becoming a nurse that much closer.

RCMP are treating the matter as a missing persons case, but say no foul play is suspected.

Murray is described as five feet tall, 120 pounds, with a slim build, blonde hair and blue eyes. She was last seen wearing black yoga pants, a blue T-shirt and a hoodie.

RCMP are asking anyone with information to call them.

The Canadian Press

Old email haunts mayoral hopeful

An angry, homophobic email has put a City of North Vancouver mayoral candidate on the defensive just weeks before the municipal election.

According to CTV Vancouver, Kerry Morris wrote the email to his lawyer as part of a civil proceeding in 2009, referring to another attorney in the case as a “gay little pud-knocker” and using a derogatory term for homosexuals.

“I would never tell that missirible (sic) little prick what a perm-headed f**** I truly believe him to be,” Morris wrote.

The man Morris was referring to was also cc’d on the message.

On Wednesday, the candidate apologized and said he regrets the outburst.

“It was a poor choice of words at a bad time under a great deal of pressure. There was no excuse. I apologized to the individual I sent it to,” he said.

Morris also said the lawyer he insulted is not actually gay.

His opponents aren’t keen to let him off with an apology, however. Incumbent North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussato condemned Morris’s language during a groundbreaking Wednesday.

“I was just shocked when I read it, I couldn’t believe what I was reading,” Mussato said.

Morris’s email was discovered in court documents by fringe candidate George Pringle, who also released it publicly. Pringle said the move could be construed as campaign mudslinging, but that it was still in the public’s interest.

“It’s mud that’s stuck. The people have a right to know,” he said

Special spirits release this weekend

Liquor connoisseurs and those who just like to have a good stiff drink should celebrate this weekend as select BC Liquor Stores will release a wide range of global spirits.

Thel Premium Spirit Release is on Nov. 1, customers and collectors will be able to choose from over 85 new, classic, and ultra-rare products to suit a variety of tastes and budgets.

There will be whiskies from around the world this year – from Kentucky bourbons, such as Pappy Van Winkle, to premium Irish, Canadian and Japanese whiskies and award-winning collectible scotches, such as the Lagavulin 37-year-old.

An exclusive single cask of BenRiach 1998 – hand-selected by BC Liquor Stores spirit experts – will be included in the release. The event also includes cognacs from Courvoisier and a small-batch tequila from Herradura.

"We've got something for everyone in this release - amazing products that will appeal to the novice, the collector, the adventurer and the avid spirit enthusiast,” says Adele Shaw, portfolio manager for spirits, BC Liquor Distribution Branch.

“As we head into the holiday season, this is also a great opportunity to purchase some incredibly unique gifts."

Many of the premium products will be in the $50 to $100 range, but the pièce de résistance this year is a Macallan 62-year-old scotch in a Lalique crystal decanter, retailing for $25,000 and one of only 400 bottles produced worldwide.

A full listing of tastings and events can be found here

A full brochure featuring all the products, tasting notes and bottle limits is available here.

Court challenge against Site C

A group of landowners in northeastern British Columbia is turning to the courts to quash provincial and federal environmental approvals for the multibillion-dollar Site C dam.

The Peace Valley Landowners Association filed an application for judicial review this week in B.C. Supreme Court seeking to overturn an environmental certificate issued by the province. The association plans to file another such application next week in Federal Court targeting the environmental certificate issued in Ottawa.

Ken Boon, a rancher in the valley and president of the association, said the environmental certificates should be declared invalid.

"Site C is a costly, archaic and destructive project that has been kicked around for almost 40 years and has been turned down twice in that time, and it's been a wise decision both times not to proceed," Boon said Wednesday in Vancouver.

"We are confident that if truly analyzed, this project should have never received an environmental certificate this time around."

The first application — which names the provincial minister of environment and the minister of forests, lands and natural resource operations — asks for an order quashing the environmental assessment certificate and a declaration that the ministers erred in issuing the certificate.

It also asks the court for a declaration that the ministers erred by disregarding a joint review panel's recommendations to refer the project to the B.C. Utilities Commission for detailed examination.

BC Hydro declined to comment on a court action which does not name the Crown corporation.

B.C. Energy Minister Bill Bennett said the issue is a highly emotional one for residents who will be affected. The Crown utility has said about 10 of the 30 landowners involved will be displaced from their land.

Those valley residents have the right to turn to the courts, he said.

"I'm not going to get into the legal issues and debate that," Bennett said. "But we know we're going to need some new electricity ... and we have to get it from somewhere. Our decision will be based on what is the best way to acquire that new electricity from a rate-payers perspective."

As for the B.C. Utilities Commission, "I guess the judge will have to decide whether the statements made in the joint review panel's report are legally binding on the province and the federal government or not," he added.

Ninety-two per cent of the land required for the project is already owned by the province or BC Hydro, Bennett said.

Boon said the association has been working in tandem with local Treaty 8 First Nations, who are expected to launch their own court actions in the near future.

The $7.9-billion dam would be the third on the Peace River, flooding 5,550 hectares of land over an 83-kilometre stretch of valley. It would generate an estimated 1,100 megawatts of capacity, or enough to power the equivalent of 450,000 homes a year.

A report by a joint federal-provincial environmental assessment panel in May made no clear recommendation for or against the project.

The panel did say the power would be needed one day, but not on the timeline laid out by BC Hydro. It also said it could not come to any conclusion on the accuracy of project cost estimates.

Two weeks ago, both the provincial and federal governments issued environmental certificates for the dam, saying the benefits outweigh the impacts.

But Maegen Giltrow, lawyer for the association, said there remain too many economic unknowns.

"If the project is not economically justified, then the adverse environmental effects are not justified ... and the certificate should fail," she said.

Lawyers for the provincial government have three weeks to file a response with the court.

Last week, the Crown utility announced that construction could begin in 90 days, should cabinet give final approval.

That final investment decision is expected by the end of the year and Bennett said court action will not cause a delay.

"We have to maintain a schedule to either decide to build the project or to move on with a different way of acquiring that electricity," he said.

The Canadian Press

Gang associates taken down

Multiple drug and gun charges have been laid against two BC men who police say are well known for their gang associations and previous criminal convictions.

The Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit says officers started tracking 32-year-old Isaac Drennan in Esquimalt in March after he allegedly began trafficking drugs and possessing guns despite a lifetime ban.

Sgt. Lindsay Houghton says police searched Drennan's home on Oct. 9 and found various amounts of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, as well as two handguns.

Two weeks later, Drennan's associate Dustin Wadsworth was arrested in Vancouver for breaching bail conditions, and police say a search of his backpack and home revealed drugs, paraphernalia, and $58,000 cash.

Drennan, who was previously convicted of the attempted murder of two Metro Vancouver police officers in 2003, faces three counts of possession for the purpose of trafficking as well as firearms charges.

Wadsworth has been charged with two counts of possession for the purpose of trafficking and one count of breach of an undertaking.

The Canadian Press

Gov sends out strike cheques

Parents in BC will hopefully be getting some good news in the mail, courtesy of the provincial government.

Approximately 165,000 cheques have already been processed for those families who registered for Temporary Education Support Payment (TESP), equating to more than half of those who signed up for the program.

The government estimates that 97 per cent of eligible families have already registered, accounting for the nearly 295,000 students affected.

According to the BC government, the majority of the TESP payments should be sent out by the end of the month, with families receiving their cheques within the next two weeks. Additional time may be needed to confirm students attending kindergarten and those who are new to BC public schools.

Parents of students 12 years and under were given $40 per day for the 13 days between Sept. 2-18, when the teachers ratified their collective agreement.

Those who did not register for the TESP payments have until Jan. 31, 2015.

10,000 doctors reach deal

A tentative five-year contract agreement has been reached between British Columbia's 10,000 doctors and the provincial government.

Few specifics of the proposed contract are being provided, but the government says the deal that is expected to be ratified in early December is in line with its bargaining mandate and addresses key health-care issues.

Health Minister Terry Lake says the province has worked hard over the past year with doctors to collaborate on strategies that improve services for patients and the current agreement continues that work.

Funding from the deal will target improving access to primary care, increased services in rural and remote communities and an ongoing plan to recruit and retain family doctors and specialists.

Doctors of BC president Dr. Bill Cavers says the deal provides funding to improve services for patients and to cover rising overhead costs for physicians.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong says the long-term agreement helps the government manage health-care costs while continuing to achieve better health outcomes for patients.

The Canadian Press

BC park a Nat. Geo finalist

A national park at the southern edge of British Columbia's Haida Gwaii archipelago is in the running for a National Geographic travel award.

Gwaii Haanas has been selected in partnership with a tourism trade show in Berlin as one of three finalists for a World Legacy Award in a category called Sense of Place.

The award recognizes protection of historical monuments, archaeological sites, cultural events, indigenous heritage and artistic traditions.

A news release says more than 150 entries from 56 countries were received and that finalists in five categories were selected by an international team of 18 judges who are experts in sustainable travel.

Gwaii Haanas superintendent Ernie Gladstone says temperate rainforests, abundant sea life and cultural treasures such as totem poles offer a glimpse of the Haida way of life and make the park unique.

The other finalists in the Sense of Place category are Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland and Cavallo Point Lodge in California, and the winner will be announced in Berlin next March.

The Canadian Press

Snake gives driver a scare

YouTube mikethereptileguy

Of all the surprises you can expect when buying a used car, a four-foot-long snake isn’t one of them.

But that’s exactly what Ray Khan of Langley discovered Monday morning after hopping into his recently-purchased Volvo S60 to head to work.

According to CTV Vancouver, before he even noticed the scaly reptile, Khan said he sat down, turned on the ignition and beckoned his wife to join him.

“My wife just about ended up having a heart attack when she opened the door and all of a sudden there was a snake sitting on the floor,” Khan said.

“I’m sitting there, like, ‘Get in!’”

The couple purchased the car earlier this month from Jim Pattison Volvo in North Vancouver, and said they can’t imagine how it got inside.

“The car’s all sealed,” Khan said. “I’ve been driving around the last 10 days with a snake in there.”

Khan tried to get the snake out of the car using a stick, but the reptile slithered back into the dashboard and out of sight.

His stunned wife refused to get inside, instead calling her niece to pick her up, but Khan eventually bit the bullet and got back behind the wheel.

“Gotta get to work,” he said.

The couple called the dealership, which then got in touch with Mike Hopcraft, owner of The Reptile Guy rescue in Abbotsford. He quickly confirmed the existence of a snake based on shedded skin inside the vehicle.

Hopcraft, who said he’s never seen a case like it before, decided to try to coax the animal out rather than pull the car apart.

“We can put the space heater in the car, leave it there for a few minutes, see if the heat entices the snake to come out,” he said.

Despite taking hours rather than minutes, a ball python eventually emerged in front of the passenger seat.

The nocturnal snake is non-lethal, but Hopcraft said it could still cause a dangerous distraction if discovered mid-trip.

“You don’t want it popping out when you’re driving down the road,” he said.

There’s no way to know how the snake ended up inside the car, but the dealership has still decided to offer the couple a full detailing for free.


2 killed in single-vehicle crash

Two people are dead after a single-vehicle crash northeast of Hudson's Hope.

RCMP say a minivan was travelling toward Fort St. John on Monday night when it failed to make a turn.

The van went into the ditch and rolled, ejecting both men inside.

Cpl. Dave Tyreman says RCMP, fire rescue and ambulance personnel attended the scene, but despite all lifesaving efforts the men were pronounced dead.

Police say the men were 27 and 47, but their names won't be released until their relatives have been notified.

The cause of the crash has not been determined, but RCMP haven't ruled out alcohol as a factor.

The Canadian Press

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