This is a sample of Alyse Kotyk’s work with rabble.ca. Click here to see a complete list.

B.C.’s students serve notice to Kinder Morgan and Premier Clark for provincial election

Image: togetherfortomorrow.ca

Kinder Morgan’s controversial Trans Mountain pipeline is pitting First Nations and climate science against industry and the federal and B.C. governments. rabble’s Alyse Kotyk is investigating how TMX will impact British Columbians in the lead-up to the May election. Read her preceding pieces herehere and here.

University carbon divestment movements in B.C. are encouraging fellow students to keep recently approved massive fossil fuel projects like the Kinder Morgan pipeline top of mind when they go to the polls in May.

UBCC350, SFU 350 and the Capilano Students’ Union are part of a non-partisan coalition called Young Climate Voters BC. The group has launched a campaign, Together for Tomorrow, which aims to empower youth to vote and show political candidates that climate action is a priority for young people.

Tosh Turner is an international development and political science student at SFU. He is also a member of the campus fossil fuel divestment movement, SFU 350. Currently, the university has committed to reduce the carbon footprint of its investments by 30 per cent by 2030. However, Turner wants more action from both his school and from the provincial government to fight climate change.

“I would like to see the university divest 100 per cent because I don’t think students’ scholarships should be funded by businesses and corporations that are selling commodities that cause harm,” he said.

Young voters looking to parties’ stance on climate

With the fossil fuel divestment groups focusing their efforts on the upcoming election for the time being, Young Climate Voters BC is encouraging youth to evaluate candidates’ stances on climate in their riding. Turner hopes candidates will consider how climate-conscious initiatives can be a part of all infrastructure projects throughout the province over the long-term.

“I would personally like to see that the political parties are focused on the substantive changes that need to be made rather than greenwashing a lot of the conversation,” he said.

“Broadly speaking, I would hope that the climate conversations aren’t relegated to simply how much carbon we’re emitting, but what kind of projects we’re focused on.”

Grace Hermansen, a philosophy student at UBC, has been a part of UBCC350, the university’s fossil fuel divestment group since 2014. She said it’s not enough to simply get youth to come out and vote.

“We’ve tried to encourage students to think about electing leaders that would implement effective climate action,” she said. “So this [campaign is about] both values you agree with in terms of climate change, but also considering which candidates would be the most likely to win.”

To help identify these values and candidates, Young Climate Voters BC has compiled a climate report card for the three major parties, showing where they stand on clean democracy, secure economy, Indigenous sovereignty and on controversial projects like Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain proposal.

Hermansen said she hopes to “increase positive messaging around youth voting and create voting as more of a social norm for young people.”

Environment is a key issue for youth

According to a public opinion poll taken by The Forum Poll earlier this month, nearly a quarter of British Columbians said the environment will decide their vote in the provincial election. This figure was even higher for voters under the age of 34, as nearly 28 per cent said their vote would be motivated by climate issues.

Jolan Bailey, a campaigner at LeadNow, said it’s important that candidates don’t underestimate the youth vote.

“In the last federal election, we saw a huge turnout from the youth which, I think, played an instrumental role in defeating Harper,” he said. “I don’t think anyone really saw it coming.”

Bailey echoed that the environment is an important issue for young voters.

“I think climate is going to be a huge issue and related to that, the Kinder Morgan pipeline, fracking in northeastern B.C., all the kind of associated environmental impacts that come along with extractive industries,” he said. “Young people really get it on climate change.”

But Bailey said he hopes that all B.C. residents — young or old — realize they have an important role to play in the May election.

“In a climate where we literally have the RCMP investigating Kinder Morgan for illegal donations to the B.C. Liberal Party and the scandals in the media like every single week, I think there really is an appetite for change and the difference in whether Christy Clark wins again or not is really going to come down to whether people show up,” he said.

“If we all step up and get involved in this election, we can change the government.”

Kinder Morgan’s $771,000 donation to B.C. Liberals raises red flags while Premier shifts to damage control

Image: Flickr/bcgovphotos

Kinder Morgan’s controversial Trans Mountain pipeline is pitting First Nations and climate science against industry and the federal and B.C. governments. rabble’s Alyse Kotyk is investigating how TMX will impact British Columbians in the lead-up to the May election. Read her preceding pieces here and here.

The B.C. Liberals are under scrutiny for accepting significant donations from lobbyists, including those connected to the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, sparking an RCMP investigation.

According to Dogwood, a grassroots advocacy group, some of these sizeable donations have come from individuals connected to Kinder Morgan, only furthering their concern that the B.C. Liberals’ support of the energy company’s Trans Mountain pipeline was given with a conflict of interest.

“We’ve got a system that opens us up to influence peddling that puts a cash price on decisions that need to be made by the provincial government,” Kai Nagata, communications director for Dogwood told rabble over the phone.

“We have a situation like Kinder Morgan where the B.C. Liberals had one position, and $771,000 later, they managed to reverse their position.”

According to Nagata, this financial influence can have significant ramifications in B.C.

“Putting a price tag on policy is dangerous for democracy and for the province if the projects being approved don’t receive the proper scrutiny as a result,” he said.

Big Carbon’s favourite political party

These alleged ties between political contributions and support for energy companies have continued to be an issue for activist groups leading up to the May 9 election. A report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Corporate Mapping Project revealed that 48 fossil fuel companies and industry groups donated $5.2 million between 2008 and 2015. Of these donations, 92 per cent of the funds went to the B.C. Liberals.

“Clearly these corporations are profit-oriented,” Bill Carroll, co-director of the Corporate Mapping Project, told rabble by phone. “So when they make political contributions, these are investments.”

These investments, he said, are often in the hopes of seeing tangible results from the political party the corporations or lobbyists are donating to.

“It’s trying to put in power — or keep in power — a party that is generally sympathetic to its overall perspective,” he said. “The B.C. Liberals are pro-business, so it’s not surprising that they get 92 per cent of the total contributions from the carbon sector corporations.”

On a wider scale, Carroll also pointed to concerns for what these donations mean for the environment.

“Of course there are concerns about democracy in all of this but there are also concerns about, what we call, ‘the new denialism’ in climate change politics. It’s not an overt denialism,” he said.

“The new denialism, is foot-dragging, basically. But you can see the traces of this foot-dragging in some of these relationships in political party contributions and in the role of Big Carbon funding a party that makes some gestures towards policy in the area of climate change, but doesn’t seem to be very serious about it.”

About-face from the Liberals

Sustained public pressure from advocacy groups and public opinion has even forced Christy Clark to reverse her government’s earlier position that election financing in the province was in little need of reform. This week, the B.C. Liberals tabled legislation to increase reports of contributions to political parties.

Premier Christy Clark announced Monday that the provincial government was introducing “real time reporting of contributions” by requiring major political parties, candidates and constituency associations to release information on contributions they receive to Elections B.C. within 14 days. “We intend to strengthen transparency, which is a core principle of our system,” she said in a press release about the new legislation.

Democracy Watch, a national non-profit, non-partisan organization, says the new legislation doesn’t go nearly far enough. They want to see a limit to donations and a ban on corporate contributions —  something both the B.C. NDP and B.C. Green Party have called for.

“The B.C. Liberals’ donation disclosure bill is too little, too late and, even if it is enacted before the election, no one should believe Premier Clark’s likely false claim that future changes are possible,” said Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch in a press release.

“If the B.C. Liberals were serious about changing the province’s unethical, undemocratic political donation system, they wouldn’t have spent the past year dishonestly claiming that the current system is fine and rejecting changes proposed by the opposition parties and many others.”

Canada urgently needs national housing program, say advocates

JANUARY 18, 2016

The federal budget is set to be released this spring by the new Liberal government and on the minds of many is a glaring issue that has been missing for over two decades: a national housing program.

Over 200,000 Canadians experience homelessness annually, and 3.3 million Canadian households are considered “precarious,” meaning they are unaffordable, below standards or overcrowded. Nearly 20 per cent of households experience significant struggles with affordability and the United Nations has officially declared the lack of a housing strategy in Canada to be a “national emergency.”

That’s right: in one of the most affluent countries in the world, we have a homelessness emergency.

Leilani Farha, Executive Director of Canada Without Poverty and UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing advocates for a national housing program that sees housing as a basic human right, a declaration that would influence all decisions at the federal level as a result.

“Canada has been told by the UN on more than one occasion what the right to adequate housing means in the context of Canada and what has to happen to ensure that everyone is enjoying the right to housing,” she says.

So, if Canada were to implement a national housing program, where would it begin?

Earlier this month, the Liberal government announced that it will conduct a nation-wide homeless count. While acquiring data such as this appears to be a promising first step, housing advocates suggest that it misses several important elements.

“The homeless count gives you an indication at that particular time period on what’s going on, but it’s only one indication,” says Libby Davies, former NDP MP for B.C.’s Vancouver East riding. “What needs to be understood is that the housing crisis is much more complex.”

Both Davies and Farha point out that homelessness includes those who might be couch surfing, living in their car or staying with family members.

“Homelessness is very visible in some ways, but homelessness also includes people who live in very precarious housing situations,” says Davies. “They may not necessarily be on the street and they may not necessarily be in a shelter, but they can still be homeless because they don’t have any security of tenure, they don’t have any stable housing environment.”

As a result, Farha suggests the government should implement a tracking system that includes qualitative elements by interviewing both the visibly and invisibly homeless to understand the systemic cause for their lack of housing.

Even with these measurements, she cautions against remaining in the information-gathering phase.

“One of the things that worries me about measurement is that we might get sidetracked and stall,” she says.

Instead, Davies calls for a national housing program that commits to moving quickly.

“[The government has] to show that they are willing to move quickly to make an investment in housing but they also need to be clear that it’s going to be sustainable for the long term,” she says.

Ensuring this sustainability would require implementing goals, timelines and mechanisms for monitoring, both she and Farha suggest.

At the ground level, Jean Swanson, anti-poverty activist in Vancouver says the government needs to commit to building out-of-market, social housing that low-income people can afford. She also comments that many of the discussions surrounding lofty real estate price tags in cities, specifically Vancouver, tend to neglect the most vulnerable.

“Poor people who can’t afford housing are being lost in the discussion,” she says. “As a result homelessness is going up.”

Swanson also points to the problem of “social mix” housing that includes a requirement of social housing in one third of a building’s units. While these projects — most commonly seen in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside — might appear to be a viable, middle-ground solution, Swanson says that it means development of affordable units is extremely limited and the needs of low-income residents aren’t being met.

While these are the needs in Vancouver, communities across the country struggle with unique situations of housing affordability and availability. It’s this diversity that has led Cathy Crowe, street nurse and housing activist in Toronto, to suggest it’s not simply a collection of housing strategies that Canada needs, but a comprehensive, overarching housing program — in the same way that we have a national health-care program. This would help the country avoid, as she calls it, a “patchwork quilt” of solutions across the country.

Crowe also criticizes the government’s current strategy of “Housing First” which strives to place visibly homeless individuals who meet certain criteria into housing — then offering other supports if possible.

“Housing First is a detour. It’s smoke and mirrors,” she says. “It allows people to think that something is being done about homelessness in the absence of a housing program.”

With all these factors in mind there is no question that the task of creating an effective, nation-wide housing program is no small task. Yet Davies points out that there is an exceptional amount of expertise and knowledge on the issue across the country.

“The potential and the capacity is huge. It’s there; it’s waiting to be unleashed,” she says. “The problem has been a lack of a national program to tie it together and to provide the budgetary supports. We have this tremendous creativity and ideas on a local level…it just needs to be scaled up to a national level.”

 Pro-choice advocates file legal challenge to demand access to abortion in P.E.I.

After decades of struggle to bring abortion access back to Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.), Abortion Access Now (AAN) PEI has taken the matter into its own hands and advised the provincial government that it will file a legal challenge against the province’s discriminatory abortion policy.

AAN PEI is seeking full and unrestricted access to on-island, publicly funded abortion services for people in the province.

Currently, P.E.I. is the only province in Canada that does not provide safe, legal access to abortion. Residents seeking abortions must obtain a referral from a local doctor and travel off-island to complete the procedure in New Brunswick or Nova Scotia.

The province has been dubbed a “Life Sanctuary” by anti-abortion groups since 1982 when the P.E.I. government removed funding for abortions from hospitals and the Therapeutic Abortion Committee.

The current P.E.I. government says that it is “moving forward with its commitment to address barriers to abortion access,” however, this has yet to happen.

“We’ve been continually underwhelmed and disappointed at the way that our government leadership treats women’s health,” says AAN PEI representative and long-serving pro-choice advocate, Dr. Colleen MacQuarrie. “It’s a pattern where they only do the least amount they can do to quiet us.”

Currently, the “least amount” includes posting information on Health PEIs website for how women can access abortions in other provinces — a resource that has only been available since 2011.

The province also covers the cost of the procedure in New Brunswick or Nova Scotia, but they do not take into consideration the costs associated with time off of work, child care or travel, such as the $46 toll fee into New Brunswick.

“For young women, for marginalized women, those costs are prohibitive,” says Kim Stanton, Legal Director at Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF).

In fact, AAN PEI suggests that these restrictions turn this into a class issue. After all, if a woman lives in a position of privilege, then taking extended time off of work and paying the costs of travelling to another province might not be significant. For others, however, it can feel like an impossible hurdle to accessing the health care they need.

Chillingly, as a result of these cost and access barriers, MacQuarrie notes that some of her research has shown what lengths women will go to in moments of desperation including trying to induce their own abortions at home.

“Women would consider and do things they wouldn’t normally do when they had no other option,” she explains. “Our human rights should not be at the whim of our privilege.”

LEAF is supporting AAN PEI through the legal process by providing litigation support, research, medical advice and financial assistance. They have also helped AAN develop their legal challenge, identifying two key areas worth addressing.

Firstly, the challenge will contain a constitutional argument, suggesting that P.E.I.’s lack of abortion access violates the right of P.E.I. residents to equal access to health-care services as outlined in the Charter. Stanton notes that the province’s policy discriminates on the basis of sex and pregnancy while violating the right to exercise control over one’s own body.

AAN PEI’s challenge will also include an argument based on administrative law on the basis that the government of P.E.I.’s health-care system contradicts its own health plan’s principles of equity and efficiency.

As an example, Stanton points to an instance from 2014, when a doctor from Nova Scotia was willing to fly to Charlottetown multiple times per month to perform abortions. Health PEI developed a business case to determine whether this was a viable option, and found that it would be extremely cost-effective — even to the point of saving the province up to $37,000 annually.

In spite of this compelling research, the Liberal provincial government under former Premier Robert Ghiz stepped in and put a stop to the proposal.

Anti-choice group PEI Right to Life Association has also challenged the right to abortion in P.E.I. and AAN PEI’s legal challenge stating that “there is no constitutional right to abortion in Canada” and that P.E.I. is “in line with the Canada Health Act to determine which services are funded publicly and by what means.”

“The only reason we do not have access to safe, surgical abortion is a political one,” says MacQuarrie. “It has nothing to do with economics or health or legalities.”

After years of research on the effects of a lack of access to safe abortion, MacQuarrie comments that one of the most significant outcomes she has seen as a result of the province’s decision is the overall sentiment towards women’s health in the province.

“There’s a cultural pall, a cultural chill over women’s reproductive care here,” she says. “The silence and the stigma associated with this very basic, primary health care is phenomenal. That impacts all of us, really. It sends a message that abortion is illegal and it’s not — abortion is a legal procedure.”

In fact, abortion has been a legal procedure in Canada since 1988. Yet in spite of this, AAN PEI feels it needs to bring its government to court if it hopes to see this reality come to fruition.

As of Tuesday, January 5, AAN PEI has informed the provincial government of their intended challenge. Now, they must wait 90 days and if they don’t receive a response, turn to court proceedings.

How is the Trudeau government doing on women’s rights?

Photo: Government of Canada/Patricia Hajdu

As Justin Trudeau’s government settles in, women’s rights groups look to this new leadership for action on important women’s issues.

In the mandate letter he wrote to the Minister of the Status of Women, Trudeau outlined several ways he promises to promote gender equality and safety for women. Matters such as missing and murdered Indigenous women, sexual violence and harassment have all made the docket.

Sandeep Prasad, Executive Director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, says that the Canadian government can address sexual violence and harassment against women by strengthening sexual health curricula throughout the country.

“Issues of sexual violence and harassment really need to be addressed right from the get go, from adolescence,” he said. “We need to see a curriculum that has strong components related to issues of sexual consent as well as diverse sexuality.”

Beyond school curricula, Action Canada also says there needs to be government-supported awareness campaigns. This includes repealing Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, which passed last year and was criticized by many as failing to protect the safety of sex workers. Prasad points out that repealing this law was something that, prior to the election, the Liberal Party committed to doing.

Keeping the government accountable in the months ahead, Action Canada will write cabinet ministers with their recommendations and engage the public on these issues.

“We have such an opportunity for positive movement on a range of issues,” said Prasad. “It’s quite an exciting time.”

Another group that was active in the lead up to the election and also hopes to see points in Trudeau’s ministerial mandate letter addressed is the Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters and Transition Houses.

Executive Director, Lise Martin, says the network has formulated a blueprint that they hope the new government will use as a starting point when developing Canada’s National Action Plan on Violence Against Women and Girls. Put together in collaboration with 23 other organizations, the blueprint outlines the importance of developing a process that draws on the diversity, depth of knowledge and experience offered by organizations already working towards ending violence against women. Currently endorsed by 180 organizations, the blueprint acknowledges that women experiencing multiple oppressions face even greater obstacles, discrimination and marginalization which need to be addressed.

Martin says the network hopes funding will be restored to enhance current shelters and build new ones for women.

“There is a high rate of women that are turned away each day from shelters,” she said.

She added that funding would help address the point in Trudeau’s ministerial mandate stating the goal of seeing that “no one fleeing domestic violence is left without a place to turn.”

A third, and highly anticipated element in the mandate letter is developing a process for investigating murdered and missing Indigenous women. According to RCMP reports, between the years 1980 and 2012, there were over 1,100 police-reported cases of homicides and unresolved missing persons cases against Aboriginal women. Trudeau’s mandate clearly states that there is a need to investigate these cases.

Angela Marie MacDougall, Executive Director of the Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS), points out that while violence against Indigenous women has been documented for the past 30 years and is acknowledged by Trudeau today, it’s an issue that is as old as Canada itself.

“This is not a new issue,” she says. “What’s a big issue today is the fact that the history of the pervasive, gendered and racist violence against Indigenous women is increasingly more visible to mainstream Canadian society. But awareness isn’t enough…what change will come as a result of that awareness?”

Change that MacDougall hopes to see includes federal enforcement of local, behavioural adjustments within police responses towards Indigenous women. For example, she says that women have been struggling to make their voices and issues heard by police across the country — an issue that she wants addressed.

MacDougall also says that the national inquiry into missing women will help with this, but that the new Canadian federal government needs to pressure the RCMP, provinces and municipal governments to address ongoing discrimination of Indigenous women within law enforcement agencies.

While this list of issues is complex, these women’s groups remain hopeful that change will come under this new Canadian government.

“Behavior changes need to happen in Canada as a nation,” says MacDougall. “It’s been really important to have a federal government that’s prepared to examine these issues. It’s very encouraging after decades of this work.”





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