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Opinion  

Culture of entitlement

By Dermod Travis

It would seem Animal House has closed at the B.C. legislature in favour of a new production – A Taste of Shakespeare – with scenes from Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Titus Andronicus and a special audience introduction to Puck from a Midsummer Night's Dream. 

The performances are replete with tales of betrayal, revenge and possible redemption. 

With the clerk of the legislature Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz placed on paid administrative leave last month, there's no telling how this one is going to end, but it will come back to bite someone on the backside.

Whether it's Speaker Darryl Plecas, James and Lenz, the B.C. prosecution service and the RCMP, the B.C. NDP or the B.C. Liberal party only time will tell.

It's one reason why the Liberals would have been far better advised in recent days to have simply asked “how can we help you get to the bottom of this, Mr. Speaker?” rather than try to hoist Plecas with his own petard. 

Amazingly, despite all the protestations to the contrary, there's still a culture of entitlement hard at work in the legislature.

In 2017/18, travel expenses for former premier Christy Clark and Premier John Horgan together totalled $49,820. 

For James? $51,349. Lenz racked up $23,079 in expenses.

The clerk's ports of call over the years have included: El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia, Bangladesh, Ghana, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bhutan, India, Nigeria, Malaysia, South Africa, Malta, Thailand, Kenya, Guyana and the United Kingdom. 

He's the highest-paid legislature clerk in the land, pulling in $347,090 in 2017/18. The clerk in Ontario earned $241,000 and the clerk of the House of Commons, somewhere between $207,000 and $243,000.

As the Times Colonist reported in 2016, salaries for statutory officers are “keyed to the salary of the chief justice of the provincial court, now at $273,000.”

In 2012/13 the gap between the salaries for James and the chief justice was $9, in favour of James. Last year, it had spread to $28,478, in favour of James.

The great unknown is whether B.C. taxpayers are paying full freight.

In addition to his duties at the legislature, James is also the executive director of the Canadian Council of Public Accounts Committees, a consultant to the World Bank and is on the teaching staff at McGill University's International Professional Development Program for parliamentary staff.

If taxpayers aren't paying full freight, the Legislative Assembly Management Committee should say so, otherwise James is paying a price to his reputation that he might not deserve.

Lenz earned $218,167 last year putting him ahead of Premier John Horgan and, theoretically, more than the clerk of the House of Commons.

When he first appeared on the $75,000 list in 2008/09, his salary – in the same job – was $87,001.

Lenz and James aren't short of company on that list. 

The number of staff earning more than $75,000 at the legislature has gone from 12 in 2004/05 to 82 last year, not including 15 caucus staff who are on the list. Since 2004/05, the line item for salaries has nearly doubled to $20.5 million.

One area where James has had some success at controlling costs is in the area of supplier payments. In the seven years he's been clerk, payments have fallen by $8.7 million to $222.8 million, compared to the seven years before, although suppliers payments for less than $25,000 have risen by $1.5 million to $21.7 million.

It's those smaller contracts, though, that are more easily handed out through direct awards, circumventing the public tender process.

There could very well be two courts at the end of the day in this affair, the more traditional with a judge and the court of public opinion.

Senator Mike Duffy won in the former and lost in the latter.

Justice Charles Vaillancourt set a high bar for conviction in his 2016 ruling regarding Senator Mike Duffy: “The law does not lightly brand a person as a criminal; If there is any reasonable doubt that the accused acted out of an honest (even if mistaken) belief that his conduct was a proper exercise of his jurisdiction, power or discretion, he is entitled to be acquitted...”

A ruling that hopefully was not lost on the RCMP or B.C. Prosecution Service in recent weeks. 

In the meantime, the Liberals should ruminate on how Shakespeare's Julius Caesar ended.

– Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC



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CleanBC our time to shine

By Michelle Mungall

I love British Columbia, and I want to protect what makes it so special - for now and for the future.

As a new mother and as B.C.'s energy minister, I'm committed to addressing climate change and building a better and more prosperous future.

Every day brings a new reminder that climate change is a massive global problem, with impacts right here at home. The good news is that British Columbia is perfectly positioned to rise to the challenge. This is our moment - our chance to make life better today and pave the way for those who come after us.

CleanBC - our plan that's aimed at reducing climate pollution - is about working together to build a cleaner, brighter future. As a resident of the Kootenays, which produces half of B.C.'s hydropower, I'm proud of the opportunities that come from our clean electricity. B.C.'s own hydro resources give us the ability to drive economic development and help to move us away from fossil fuels.

CleanBC sends a signal to other provinces and jurisdictions that we can power our growing economy with clean, renewable energy and make life better and more affordable for people.

With every challenge comes opportunity. The world must evolve to address climate change and British Columbia can be a leader in that transformation. CleanBC is designed to keep our economy strong and welcome new investment.

As the Business Council of British Columbia has pointed out, CleanBC positions us as a great choice for international markets looking for low-carbon energy and commodities.

CleanBC puts us on the path to meet our climate goals, while growing our economy. In B.C., we're mobilizing our skilled workers, natural resources and booming tech sector to reduce climate pollution and create good jobs and opportunities for people throughout the province. Together, we can build our economy and power our future with clean, renewable energy.

Michelle Mungall is B.C.'s Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources



Canada's zombie media

By Peter Menzies

A little over nine years ago, in the midst of the chaotic collapse of the Canwest media empire, CHCA-TV of Red Deer, Alta., died.

It was considered shocking at the time that a legacy TV station (it launched in 1957) could actually close.

Other stations - CHEK in Victoria and CHCH in Hamilton - were "rescued" when purchased for, literally, a couple of dollars. For a time, both proved to be interesting crucibles of innovative local news programming, although my understanding is that sustainability remains a concern.

But CHCA-TV died and - here's what people within the industry found most alarming - there was little evidence anyone in the community cared.

Red Deer may very well provide proof of why, when legacy media can no longer serve their communities, it makes a lot more sense to let nature follow its course and create room for rebirth than it does to offer bailouts such as the one in the federal government's most recent fiscal update.

I say this because local news appears to be doing just fine in Red Deer, where startup todayville.com is - along with other innovative products such as Pattison's RDNewsNow.com - vying to win readers' loyalty. Just as elsewhere, Golden West has been leveraging its local radio stations to create online products that are replacing fading legacy media products such as newspapers.

In Toronto, the online sports specialty publisher The Athletic is building a subscriber base and a reputation for reporting and writing excellence.

I don't know if these and similar 21st century ventures have yet found the model that will provide a future stable economic foundation for journalism. If I could make such forecasts I would long ago have retired to Barbados.
But what I do know is that it's through these efforts that a solution will eventually be found. I trust human ingenuity and its adaptive instincts enough to believe that and remain confident that propping up zombie products overwhelmed by change creates nothing other than ongoing demands for further zombie subsidy.

Those who argue strongly in favour of the bailout (Unifor, the union that represents most journalists who remain employed at legacy media, for instance) also make the error of describing journalism as foundational to a healthy democracy.

History shows that journalism is not in and of itself a foundation for public good. It exists and has existed in many societies that are not even remotely associated with democracy. From Pravda and Der Sturmer to today's Pyongyang Times and Tehran Times, journalism's history is as inelegant as that of the cultures within which it resides. 

What is, on the other hand, fundamental to democracy is freedom of conscience and thought, and freedom of speech and expression. In a society that ensures media and others the freedom to express the thoughts and speech of its citizens, journalism is the vessel through which those liberties flow.

Troy Media columnist Peter Menzies is a former newspaper publisher and vice-chair of the CRTC.

– Troy Media



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Time to turn off the pumps?

By Bill Whitelaw

Maybe the oil and gas sector should take a page from the postal workers' playbook and implement rotating strikes.

Look how fast Ottawa jumped to the pump on the postal file. Screw with timely arrival of Canadian gifts at Christmas? No sir.

But Canadians' gas tanks? A whole other matter entirely.

That's why the sector should consider rotating NNHDs - National No-Hydrocarbon Days. Let's set the first round for July 1, 2019. And target Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver to start.

To the degree the Christmas present is symbolic of life in Canada, so should be the fuel tank.

There would be pain for the industry and its retailers, for sure, but what's another bruise when you're already black and blue all over?

We need a day when parts of country grind to a halt. So be bold: even take out public transit where possible. And hopefully millions of Canadians smack themselves upside the head with a big old Homer Simpson "D'oh!"

We need something designed deliberately to hit both anti-energy and complacent Canadians where it hurts: their energy-entitled lives. These rotating empty-tank days would be designed to focus their attention on a critical drama playing out under their noses but to which they're paying scant attention: the rapid erosion of a sector that underpins so much of what makes Canada's economic engine tick.

While the current debate swirls around government-sanctioned production cuts to reset the pricing differential, it's a good bet most Canadians are paying little notice. It may help the industry short-term, but it's just a bandage on a wound that's rapidly going from festering to gangrenous.

Anyone who believes that only politicians are to blame is living in an alternative universe.

Politicians derive their power from one place only: the ballot box. They know this. It drives every calculation they make. Look how Alberta's NDPers are cozily aligning with the energy sector as the 2019 election looms. They know next year that Albertans will be at the polling stations with itchy fingers.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a more ticklish dilemma. He has mightily ticked off Albertans. But he has other constituencies to consider. Doing something significant to placate Calgary could spell problems elsewhere.

But in the petroleum industry, we just don't seem to have cottoned on to the fact that many Canadians deliberately don't care - or don't know enough to care.

It's from this that politicians derive their direction. Most left-leaning politicians believe they're simply carrying out the people's will. For the small sector of vocal opponents they are; for the greater group, they're misreading silence as sentiment.

The real irony is that Canadians own the hydrocarbons, which should represent wealth in their pockets. The industry needs to forcefully tell Canadians these resources belong them and that they work for their quality of life in myriad ways.

As resource owners, Canadians need to step up - or else we who toil in the sector can't make those hydrocarbons work economically for you.

Bill Whitelaw is president and CEO at JuneWarren-Nickle's Energy Group.

– Troy Media



Why self-checkouts suck

By Sylvain Charlebois

Grocers have always had a love-hate relationship with technology, which may explain why most of our self-checkout experiences are poor. But change is on the way.

Some Canadians detest going to the grocery store. It's repetitive, tiring and can be quite unpleasant, especially when the store is busy. Picking up groceries and lugging them home is work, something most would rather avoid.
On the other hand, many of us enjoy visiting food stores to discover new products or flavours.

But most Canadians would agree on one thing: waiting in line to pay for your items, no matter how patient you are, is the most frustrating part of grocery shopping.

For decades, the most mismanaged part of the grocery experience has been leaving the store. As you enter, many stores have greeters, sometimes even the owners, who go out of their way to make sure you feel welcome. There are usually staff available, somewhere, when you need help finding what you're looking for. But leaving the store, and specifically going through the checkout, is often a nightmare.

To avoid waiting to pay for their items, and being forced to take in the news of the latest Elvis sighting in the National Enquirer, Canadians will opt for the often-dysfunctional self-checkout machines.

Poorly designed self-checkout lanes have been a source of frustration since the technology first appeared in Canadian stores in 2000. Something always goes wrong, which then requires an employee to come to the rescue. The experience is often embarrassing and annoying.

But despite all the flaws, Canadians still use self-checkouts. According to a recent survey by Dalhousie University, a full 66 per cent of us have used self-checkout lanes and 11 per cent use them consistently.
Most grocers feel that technology gets in the way of connecting with customers in the store, and that the only way to build customer loyalty and increase foot traffic is to interact with visitors as much possible.

Many observers have wondered whether the poor quality of self-checkout machines was by design, to force customers to interact with staff.

Grocers also feared losing sales by going virtual. But the time pressures of the modern lifestyle and the constant quest for convenience have forced grocers to think differently about how they manage the grocery experience. And they've been compelled to seek different channels to reach more customers, such as online delivery and meal kits.

Encouraging impulse buying is an art that grocers have mastered in the brick-and-mortar environment. While you wait in line to pay for items, you're surrounded by candies, gum, magazines and other small temptations. These bring much-needed additional revenues to retailers who are desperate to increase their razor-thin profit margins. However, getting customers to buy on impulse in front of a screen is another story.

But grocers recognize what's coming.

According to the same Dalhousie University survey, nearly two per cent of Canadians buy food online regularly and more than 34 per cent are thinking about doing so. This is an astonishingly high number compared to just a few years ago. This means Canadians are being drawn to solutions that can save them time and help them avoid the hassle of grocery shopping. For example, more than 14 per cent of Canadians have ordered ready-to-cook products from meal kit providers, and that number is is likely to increase.

External disruptors like Amazon want to remind Canadians that technology can serve a purpose in the grocery business and make any visit more civilized. At Amazon Go, you don't need to interact with anyone. You essentially get your groceries and walk away without paying. Sensors detect what you picked up and the amount is automatically deducted from your bank account. No waiting, no browsing through tabloids, no buying checkout rack incidentals.

So non-traditional grocers are demonstrating that better technological solutions can enhance our shopping experience.

The industry is going through a significant transition in terms of enhanced technology, in-store and online. 
At the same time, Canadians - and not just the younger generations - want more convenience. That means anyone who doesn't want grocery shopping to be a slog.

Grocers know that consumers expect seamless solutions that will make shopping pleasant. But grocers also recognize that no one wants to pay more for better technology, or delivery for that matter.

So patience is a virtue - grocers will get there but it may take a while. If you opt for the self-checkout aisle, expect the dreaded "wait for an assistant" message to pop up on the screen for a while longer.

Sylvain Charlebois is scientific director of the Canadian Agrifood Foresight Institute and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University, and senior fellow with the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.

– Troy Media



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