History may not be kind to B.C. deputy premier Rich Coleman

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      On the face of it, Rich Coleman is the top dog in B.C. politics.

      The B.C. Liberal deputy premier quarterbacked the party's fundraising machine leading up to Christy Clark's stunning upset in the 2013 election.

      The former Mountie who represents Fort Langley–Aldergrove routinely gets positive coverage from the Victoria press gallery.

      His housing initiatives in the Downtown Eastside have given him the aura of being a compassionate conservative. 

      And in question period, he's willing to mow down anyone on the Official Opposition benches who questions anything he does on the liquefied-natural-gas file.

      Is it any wonder that the NDP obediently lined up behind the government when it introduced its new taxation regime for this yet-to-be-created industry?

      I thought about this after reading a blog post by Vancouver lawyer Jim Quail, who questioned why the media are giving the B.C. Liberals a free pass on the LNG file.

      I concluded it's because in the eyes of the media, Coleman is Mr. Competence.

      Does the record match perceptions?

      But let's dig a little deeper, shall we?

      The man in charge of dealing with housing and homelessness, Coleman, has never once publicly called upon Prime Minister Stephen Harper to create a national housing strategy. Never once.

      This is despite 200,000 Canadians experiencing homelessness in Canada in any given year, according to a well-documented report called The State of Homelessness in Canada by the Canadian Homelessness Research Network.

      A 2013 Ipsos Reid poll reported that up to 1.3 million Canadians endured homelessness or "extremely insecure housing" at least once over the previous five years.

      The State of Homelessness in Canada also noted that on any given night, there are approximately 2,880 living outside in cars, parks, or on the streets. Another 14,400 were in emergency shelters, 7,350 were in shelters protecting women from violence, and there were 4,464 "provisionally accommodated", which is a euphemism for homeless people staying in prisons, hospitals, or interim housing.

      "One Canadian study in Vancouver (Eberle, et al., 2009) estimated 3.5 people were considered to be hidden homeless for everyone who was homeless," the report noted. "While the methodology for this study is sound, it was conducted in only one city, and the differences between cities, their infrastructure to support homeless, and their homeless population are quite profound."

      Based on the Eberle study, the report estimated there are 50,000 "hidden homeless" on any night across the country.

      In 2009, the UN's then special rapporteur on housing, Miloon Kothari, issued a report calling upon the federal government to commit to a "comprehensive national housing strategy with stable and long-term funding".

      "Canada is one of the few countries in the world without a national housing strategy," Kothari stated. "The federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments, along with civil society organizations (including the charitable sector) have introduced a series of one-time, short-term funding initiatives that have been described by housing experts in Canada as a 'fraying patchwork'."

      Yet still, Coleman has remained silent on a national housing strategy, even though the idea is backed by the Liberal Party of Canada and the federal New Democrats.

      Housing record is mixed

      In the meantime, Coleman oversees B.C. Housing, which eliminated 218 units of social housing at the Little Mountain Housing complex in 2009.

      Coleman promised that the tenants would not be displaced and that these units would be replaced. But it took five years before seniors began moving into first 53 new units that were built on the six-hectare site. (For more on this, see Thomas Thomson's UBC master's thesis.)

      Of course, Coleman's defenders will cite the 14 social-housing projects being built in Vancouver. To his credit, it was a vast improvement over the Campbell record in its first term between 2001 and 2005.

      When it looked like homelessness—resulting in part from draconian cuts to social assistance—threatened to derail the B.C. Liberals' reelection efforts in 2009, B.C. Housing signed a memorandum of understanding with the City of Vancouver to convert 12 sites into supportive housing. Two more were added later.

      Under this 2007 deal, B.C. Housing funded "pre-construction costs" and identified nonprofit societies to manage the projects.

      The same year, council and B.C. Housing reached agreement on redevelopment of Little Mountain Housing project, with "half the net proceeds" going to develop social housing in Vancouver.

      So it's not as if Coleman has been silent on the housing file. It just hasn't been nearly enough, primarily because the B.C. Liberals refuse to raise sufficient revenue through taxes to properly address the issue.

      Government spending as a percentage of gross domestic product has dramatically decreased during the B.C. Liberal reign, which was detailed in a 2009 B.C. Federation of Labour report on the public sector by Iglika Ivanova and Will McMartin.

      Tax cuts and reductions in government spending coincided with a rise in homelessness and B.C. having the highest child-poverty rates in the country in the period leading up to release of that report. Coleman, along with other B.C. Liberal cabinet ministers of that era, have to carry the can for this.

      In the meantime, Coleman has also provided rent supplements to low-income tenants, though critics say these payments are not particularly effective when there's a shortage of affordable housing stock.

      According to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the apartment vacancy rate in Greater Vancouver fell to 1.8 percent in April 2014, down from 2.9 percent a year earlier. When vacancy rates fall, it enables landlords to increase rents, resulting in supplements fattening their bottom line.

      So is Coleman really Mr. Wonderful? On the housing file, it's a mixed record, at best.

      LNG is where Coleman is most vulnerable

      But where the deputy premier really risks embarrassment is with LNG.

      As I reported earlier this year, the B.C. Liberal government woefully missed the mark on its forecasts for natural-gas revenues. That's because politicians like Coleman and senior bureaucrats misread the impact of America's fracking boom.

      Here's a figure that highlights the level of incompetence: in the 2010–11 budget forecast, provincial natural-gas revenues were expected to reach $1.25 billion by 2012–13. 

      The real figure turned out to be $144 million. That's a $1.1-billion forecasting error by the B.C. Liberal government!

      The B.C. Liberals' response has been to promote the LNG industry to try to sell more gas to Asia.

      But here again, there are some difficulties, not the least of which is Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe's eagerness to restart nuclear reactors in his country.

      Japan is the world's biggest importer of LNG. If some of its 54 nuclear facilities go back into operation, it will significantly curtail demand.

      Compounding the problem for Coleman are forecasted drops in LNG prices, which could shatter any chance of the B.C. industry getting off the ground. The recent collapse in oil prices certainly isn't helping matters for him.

      In the meantime, the B.C. Liberal government is investing public funds in postsecondary education and infrastructure to help an industry that may never even exist.

      Lawyer Jim Quail wondered in his blog post how the media would cover an NDP government promising that a "wonderful new industry" would "eliminate the provincial debt", only to see companies "dropping out of the game one at a time", with the biggest "shelving their plans, probably for up to 10 to 15 years".

      He then urged his readers to imagine if this NDP government were still claiming that this new industry "was a done deal and would be operating in full gear by 2020", and "if the press still covered this fiasco as though the NDP government knew what it was doing and might be telling voters the truth".

      "But that's what's happening in British Columbia in the Liberal government's LNG fantasy," Quail noted. "If they were the NDP, they would be laughed out of office."

      And this is why Coleman can expect much rougher treatment from historians than he'll ever receive from the B.C. media.

      Liquor reforms provide short-term panacea

      For now, the B.C. Liberals are trying to paper over some of the revenue problems with "liquor reforms".

      They seem designed to jack up government revenues by hosing consumers who want to enjoy a glass of wine or a bottle of craft beer.

      Coleman, the cabinet's former liquor czar, hired the CEO of the Liquor Distribution Branch, Blain Lawson, who's playing a key role in this initiative.

      It's inconceivable that Coleman isn't working behind the scenes helping a rookie minister, Suzanne Anton, formulate liquor policies and try to sell this tax increase to the public.

      The likely outcome, according to some observers, is the closure of some privately owned liquor and wine stores, throwing employees out of work as government stores gain a larger market share.

      Meanwhile, there will be some restrictions on allowing beer and wine within grocery stores starting next April, ensuring that the government's retail markups are protected.

      Corporations that dominate grocery retailing—the Jim Pattison Group, Walmart, Sobeys, and Loblaws—will be required to create a store within a store.

      This includes a separate cash register. No other liquor retailer can be located within a kilometre of this outlet.

      All of this should prove interesting when B.C. Liberal fundraisers ask for money from the grocery industry before the next election in 2017.

      It's easy to imagine the billionaires who own these chains wondering at that time if the government might be prepared to loosen the rules around selling beer and wine in grocery stores if the B.C. Liberals are reelected to a fifth consecutive term.

      If the answer from the party fundraiser is a resounding "yes", that should alleviate any concerns that Coleman, Premier Christy Clark, or any other MLAs might have about how the next campaign will be financed.

      But it doesn't hide the fact that the B.C. Liberal government's LNG strategy is in shambles, nor that Coleman is the minister overseeing this file.




      Dec 13, 2014 at 12:25pm

      what a bunch of unbelievable looser you are at this obviously socialist newspaper! The guy is trying to start a nascent industry that has real potential, what have your friends done in the past? "Nothing" why don't you report on something positive instead of constantly trashing the government who, by the way, is doing their best at creating an economy!!!!! think about before you publish your stupid articles!

      Grant G

      Dec 13, 2014 at 3:03pm

      Just one of 50 plus Straight Goods articles spelling out Canada`s dead n buried LNG fantasy.


      Thanks Charlie Smith..

      @Tony...Putting your head in the sand and pretending fairy godmothers and unicorns are playing in every back-yard doesn`t help...

      Facts.."just the facts maam"


      Ronnie Lonnie Ding Dong

      Dec 13, 2014 at 3:39pm

      The nice thing about the old days, prior to neo-conservatism and the corporate capture of government, is that politicians had the guts to just straight up borrow money to build a bunch of housing. We could do that right now: interest rates are at an all-time low and we have excellent credit as a province. But, of course, that might mean we have to raise taxes long-term, and while the middle class quakes at this, afraid as they are that that will mean their income taxes will rise, the real potential "victims" are banks and corporations, which, in Canada, pay the lowest taxes in the developed world. Of course, paying those low taxes hasn't stimulated them to invest in fuck all in Canada, other than in a government-insured housing bubble or government-subsidized energy and mining development, but whatever -- they would prefer that out government balanced its budget instead of pay for housing. We, on the other hand, can borrow all the money we want from the banks, on credit cards and for homes we won't pay off in a million years.

      And, yes, "tony," there are elements of socialism in this sentiment. It's not really a bad word.

      Rich is a strong supporter of this system.

      Common Sense

      Dec 13, 2014 at 4:30pm

      I have to admit, that shit eating grin in the photo might have been your strongest point.


      Dec 13, 2014 at 4:47pm

      No need to consider balance a part of a critique. Seriously, Charlie "whoever the hell he is" Smith complains that Coleman wont be viewed kindly because he doesn't support demanding a Conservative driven 'National Housing Strategy' like the NDP and other lefties? What are you babbling about? What drivel. Absolute drivel. Charlie, you need to wear underwear that aint so tight.


      Dec 13, 2014 at 5:26pm

      Unfortunately we are and will be paying for a long, long time for the incompetence and stupidity of Rich Coleman.
      His name will be scorned and like many other rotten politicians, he will be in the garbage pile of history.

      James Blatchford

      Dec 13, 2014 at 6:08pm

      Tony...er, Mr. Soprano, I mean. Let me have a chat with Charlie and see if we can work this out. I don't think he meant any offence. Oh, and I think you mean 'loser' not 'looser'....but fagedaboutit, you can spell it any way you want boss!

      Martin Dunphy

      Dec 13, 2014 at 6:38pm


      Thanks for the post. As far as your protestations of a lack of balance go, though, I repeat (for the millionth time): it is a commentary.


      Dec 13, 2014 at 7:36pm

      You are being far too generous in your assessment, Charlie. You could have described his meddling with BC Hydro rates, or his ill-fated liquor reforms.
      But I agree that LNG is his biggest mess.
      Odd how so many in the media like him.


      Dec 13, 2014 at 9:15pm

      What does history matter? Coleman will die rich, comfortable, and respected. Who cares if he screwed ordinary people?