Posts Tagged "BC"


Elections B.C. confident referendum safe from fraud

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Not all of the voter packages mailed out for this fall’s elections referendum are making it into the hands of the voter on the address label, but Elections B.C. says the odds are against voters committing fraud.

Some of the three million brown envelopes containing a chance to vote on future provincial voting systems — maintain the “first past the post” or adopt a new proportional representation — mailed out between Oct. 22 and this Friday, have been seen piling up in the lobbies of multi-family residences.

They are addressed to residents listed on B.C.’s election rolls, but some may have moved and others may have discarded them, not knowing, or knowing, what they are for.

Ex-MLA Judi Tyabji has said she feared a lot of these envelopes would end up in recycling and picked up by anyone, leaving the system open to abuse.

Handfuls of Elections B.C. voter packages, with specific address labels for voters, for the fall 2018 referendum on voting systems were discarded as junk mail in a downtown Vancouver condo building.

Scott Brown /


The Election Data and Science Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has collected and analyzed data from U.S. elections about absentee voting, or voting by mail (VBM), to determine “whether it increases voter fraud.”

It said VBM increased “opportunities for coercion and voter impersonation” and raised concerns about “ballots being intercepted and ballots being requested without the voter’s permission.”

“As with all forms of voter fraud, documented instances of fraud related to VBM are rare,” the lab found. “However, even many scholars who argue that fraud is generally rare agree that fraud with VBM voting seems to be more frequent than with in-person voting.”

“We have a number of safeguards to protect the integrity of the system,” said Elections B.C. spokesman Andrew Watson.

He said he couldn’t reveal all safeguards because it could jeopardize their effectiveness, but did say Elections B.C. would confirm the voter’s date of birth by matching it against the electors’ roll.

The ballot would also have to be signed, but the signature isn’t verified.

Watson said anyone who is delivered a package for someone who is no longer living at the address, should mark it “return to sender” and mail it back to Elections B.C.

He noted that during the 2011 harmonized sales tax provincewide mail-in referendum, two per cent of returned ballots, or 38,000, were “set aside” because they weren’t completed properly. The reasons were varied but could have included evidence of an unconfirmed identity.

During the 2015 mail-in plebiscite on transit and transportation in parts of B.C., the percentage of returned ballots “set aside,” was almost five per cent, or around 38,000 ballots, according to the chief electoral officer’s report.

Watson said its post-2011 referendum survey of more than 6,000 voters indicated that 99.7 per cent of respondents confirmed they participated.

He said there were “significant penalties” for those convicted of voter fraud, including fines of up to $20,000 and up to two years in jail. There have never been any such charges in B.C., said Watson.

He also said it’s an offence if a voter’s envelope is opened without the voter’s permission. Also, a ballot must by law be filled out only by the registered voter, but there are exceptions, including those needing assistance because of a disability or language barrier.

Each voter should receive a voter’s package by Friday, said Watson. He said because of rotating postal strikes affecting mail delivery in some cities, the mail-out deadline may be extended.

During the 2011 HST referendum, mail delivery was halted for several days because of a management lockout of employees and the chief electoral officer extended the mail-out and mail-in deadlines to “ensure the integrity of the referendum,” his report said.

Voters not receiving a package by Friday can request a ballot up until Nov. 23. All ballots must be mailed back by Nov. 30.

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Natural anthrax kills 13 livestock in B.C.: Agriculture Ministry

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A microscopic view of stained anthrax bacteria in an undated photo

Getty Images / Getty Images

FORT ST. JOHN — Thirteen bison on a farm in northeastern British Columbia died of naturally acquired anthrax, a bacteria that the Agriculture Ministry says can remain dormant in certain soil conditions for many years.

The animals are thought to have contracted the disease from exposure to dormant anthrax spores in the soil of a feeding site on a farm near Fort St. John, the ministry said in a statement.

“This is the first documented case of anthrax in livestock in B.C.,” said Jane Pritchard, the province’s chief veterinary officer.

“It was quite shocking when we actually got the first test that suggested that it was anthrax. We repeated that twice more because it’s that unusual. We basically did every test we possibly could do to try and rule it out until we had access to the molecular test.”

The animals began dying last week, samples were sent to the lab on Friday and the diagnosis was made Monday, she said.

The disease has been reported in the Peace River region of Alberta, and that same soil goes right across the border into B.C., Pritchard added.

“The spore of the bacteria of this disease has a preference for certain soil conditions and those are the conditions that were present in British Columbia in this area.”

A disturbance in the soil or unusual weather conditions could have brought the spores up to the surface, causing the animals to be exposed to them, she said.

She said the bison corpses were placed on a brush pile and burned.

The ministry statement said the site is no longer being used and the farm has reported no other losses in its remaining herd of 150 animals.

A vaccine for anthrax for livestock is available and the ministry said exposed animals can be successfully treated if diagnosed early.

It said anthrax can affect humans, although it’s very rare and there is no indication that anyone in contact with these animals has been infected.

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Anonymous donation to B.C. Cancer one of the largest gifts in Canada from an individual

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FILE PHOTO – Dr. Francois Benard, Vice President of Research at the B.C. Cancer Agency .

handout / PNG

A donor who’s given the B.C. Cancer Foundation $18.35 million insists on remaining anonymous.

The foundation will not even say whether the generous philanthropist is alive or dead. But the individual has given the foundation a total of $29 million over their lifetime, including the latest amount. That makes it a record in individual lifetime giving to the foundation.

The largest single gift came from an estate — the Jambor McCarthy gift of $21.4 million.

Sarah Roth, president and CEO of the foundation – the fundraising arm of B.C. Cancer – said the donor had requested to remain “strictly anonymous.”

“The donation is the second-largest individual investment in cancer for our organization or for our province that we are aware of, and one of the top donations to cancer in Canada.”

Sarah Roth is president and CEO of the B.C. Cancer Foundation.


The gift will be used to establish a molecular imaging and therapeutics program utilizing “smart” drugs called radiopharmaceuticals (radioactive particles that deliver a highly concentrated treatment to cancerous cells.) The radioactive isotope treatment has been used in medical imaging and to treat thyroid cancer for many years, but only more recently has the radioligand therapy expanded to several other types of cancer, particularly incurable prostate cancer.

The treatment is said to work by breaking bonds in cancer cell DNA. In studies, researchers have shown they can pair isotopes with a protein or antibody that specifically targets cancer cells. The molecule searches for cancer cells and then binds to them, allowing the radioactive therapy to attack.

Some B.C. patients have, in the past year, gone to Germany for such treatment since it wasn’t available here. Experts caution the treatment is not a miracle, but offers patients with untreatable cancers more hope. At an event Wednesday to announce the “transformational” gift, Joanna Clark spoke about her husband Daryl, 59, who died last year after a three and a half year battle with advanced prostate cancer. The well known Vancouver corporate lawyer went to Munich, Germany, last spring for radioligand therapy but died a month later.

Clark said while it would seem her husband got the treatment too late for any benefit, “I find comfort in knowing that his vision is becoming a reality for others.”

The treatment did appear to offer significant benefit for 77-year old Vancouver Island resident Ray Band, who went to Hamburg, Germany, earlier this year after his Vancouver oncologist informed him he had only about six months to live.

Band said he got to the Hamburg hospital on a Monday, had some imaging tests done the next day and by Wednesday, he was getting the treatment. He flew home by the end of the week and learned that the cancer he was first diagnosed with more than 20 years ago was largely under control, with substantial shrinkage in the tumours throughout his body.

The now-retired mining geologist said he hopes the treatment becomes the “standard of care” in B.C., as it is in Germany.

The drugs used in such treatment are not unlike the radiotracer isotopes used in cancer imaging – energy-emitting atoms that make tumours light up during imaging tests like PET or CT scans. Isotopes used in imaging tests, however, don’t have therapeutic drugs attached to them while radiopharmaceuticals do.

Dr. Francois Benard, B.C. Leadership Chair in Functional Cancer Imaging, said the funds would be used over the next five years to scale up the imaging and therapeutics program so that clinical trials can be conducted using isotopes loaded with drugs that bind specifically to cancerous sites in the body of patients with cancer that has spread.

The radioactive drugs – some of which will be made in Vancouver at Triumf and at B.C. Cancer – are injected into patient’s veins; the treatment is then distributed throughout the body, zeroing in on detectable cancerous cells.

Benard said there are about 90 people working in the molecular imaging department now but he expects the donation will enable B.C. Cancer to acquire new technological equipment, plus hire another 20 to 30 scientists, physicists, and research assistants. He said he only learned about the donation a few months ago.

The first research trial to be led by B.C. Cancer will be a multicentre study across Canada using such therapy. About 200 prostate cancer patients who have failed conventional treatment will be recruited for the trial beginning sometime in 2019.

B.C. Cancer said the new molecular imaging and therapeutics program would: test the effectiveness of a Lutetium-177-based treatment in men with advanced metastatic prostate cancer; conduct clinical research studies into the effects of combining radioligand therapy (RLT) with chemotherapy and/or immunotherapy; introduce new or better radio-tracers and radio-pharmaceuticals for prostate cancer and develop and validate the use of RLT for melanoma, breast, liver, neuroendocrine, ovarian, neuroblastomas, pancreatic adenocarcinomas, and multiple myeloma or other cancers.

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After surgery, 15 per cent of B.C. patients rush back to hospital, mainly due to pain, bleeding or infections

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Royal Columbian Hospital Emergency Room entrance.
While Dr. McDonald said the study was done on patients who went to the Chilliwack hospital, she believes the results can be applied more generally.

Ward Perrin / PROVINCE

Post-operative visits to the emergency department are fairly common with just over 15 per cent of patients going to a hospital emergency department within six weeks after any type of surgery, a B.C. study shows.

The most frequent complaints and diagnoses were surgery-related pain, infections, and bleeding, according to the cover-featured study published in the B.C. Medical Journal.

Study co-author Dr. Susan McDonald said that since more and more patients are released the same day as their operations, patients are losing close attention and education from nurses. That loss in post-operative oversight has increased the likelihood that patients will experience concerns or complications after they’ve been discharged.

McDonald, a general surgeon at Chilliwack General Hospital, said some surgeons tell patients to come back for follow-ups two to three weeks after their operation, while others stipulate six weeks; often it has to do with the complexity of the procedure. But patients often feel they can’t wait that long when problems arise.

The finding that 15.1 per cent of surgery patients are rushing to the emergency department within weeks following surgery suggests there are quality improvement measures required, McDonald said. She’s urged the Fraser Health Authority, for example, to immediately notify surgeons when one of their patients has returned to the hospital. But she said the health authority has to find a workaround to alter the way computerized hospital records are formatted so that surgeons can receive such notifications whenever one of their patients has a post-operative problem.

“As a surgeon, I want to be alerted about patients who have complications. I can’t fix anything I don’t know about,” McDonald said. “Surgeons need this information as well for their own personal learning. It’s disheartening when patients develop infections. They lose faith in their doctors and in the system.”

She said patients also need to ask more questions, be given more information as part of their informed consent process, and be urged to read and retain the handout brochures they are given so they know what to expect after surgery.

The study was based on the charts — marked for the study purposes with a red dot — of about 250 post-operative patients who went to the Chilliwack hospital in the summer of 2015.

Of the total, just over half had their surgery at that hospital while the rest had their operations in other hospitals. Only two patients who went to the ER required admission to hospital while the rest were prescribed antibiotics, other medications, or some form of treatment and then released.

McDonald said while the study was done on patients who went to the Chilliwack hospital, she believes the results can be applied more generally.

“There are not a lot of studies that have been published that look at things from this approach. Most studies look at either specific diseases or procedures and then look back retrospectively to determine the rate of emergency room visits. But I believe we were very close to the numbers quoted in those other few studies.”

The takeaway message for patients and doctors is that communication is critically important, she said. Anticipated or even unexpected issues should be covered during consultations with surgeons. Patients should know what to expect, including how much pain and discomfort may be expected since all surgery does involve some pain. Patients should also have discussions with doctors about who to see or where to go if they have problems so that emergency departments aren’t necessarily the default destination for visits that aren’t true emergencies.

But McDonald admits it’s also likely that the growing number of patients without primary care physicians is contributing to a high number of patients using ERs.

“Up to 30 per cent of patients in Chilliwack don’t have a family doctor. This is definitely something on my radar now and may be a strong factor in why people are going to the ER.”

McDonald said while an ideal scenario would involve emergency doctors calling surgeons when their patients attend the ER, she knows they are usually far too busy to do that, not to mention reluctant to call surgeons late at night or on weekends.

“Emergency doctors are awesome, they’re doing their best, but they are overworked. Still, this is an issue about the need for better communication so no one should be afraid to pick up the phone or notify surgeons who may want to know what the problem is and how to rectify it.”

McDonald said further research is taking a deeper dive into the data.

A few months ago, another B.C. study showed that this province has the second highest hospital readmission rate in the country. Hospital readmission rates are a marker of health system performance and add substantial costs to hospitals.

The national average for urgent, unplanned readmissions for medical problems like mental health issues, cancer, heart failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is 9.1 per cent. But the B.C. rate is 9.6 per cent while Saskatchewan has the highest rate — at 9.9 per cent.

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Salmonella outbreak: 37 cases in B.C. may be linked to cucumbers

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The Public Health Agency of Canada says an investigation is underway into an outbreak of salmonella infections involving five provinces, with 37 confirmed cases in British Columbia.

sommail / Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Public Health Agency of Canada says an investigation is underway into an outbreak of salmonella infections involving five provinces, mostly in Western Canada.

The agency says on its website that the source of the outbreak has not been identified yet, although many of the people who became sick reported eating cucumbers.

It says that as of Friday, there have been 37 confirmed cases in B.C., five in Alberta, and one case each in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec.

The person from Quebec reported travelling to British Columbia before becoming ill, the agency says.

The cases occurred between mid-June and late-September, and nine people have been hospitalized.

The agency says it’s collaborating with provincial public health agencies, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada as part of the investigation.

“The outbreak appears to be ongoing, as illnesses continue to be reported,” the statement on the Public Health Agency of Canada website says.

No deaths have been reported.

The agency says there is no evidence at this time to suggest that residents in central and Eastern Canada are affected by this outbreak.

Salmonella infection usually results from eating raw or undercooked meat, poultry, eggs or egg products.

Healthy people may experience short-term symptoms such as fever, headache, vomiting, nausea, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Long-term complications may include severe arthritis.


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Canada Post workers may strike next week — Here’s how you can still access B.C. government services

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Postal workers at Canada Post will begin rotating strikes on Monday, which may cause complications for people who receive cheques and other critical documents from the provincial government in the mail.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers gave strike notice to Canada Post on Wednesday, saying workers will start rotating strikes on Monday if agreements aren’t reached with various bargaining units. Jon Hamilton, a spokesperson for Canada Post, told CBC News that no agreements had been reached as of Friday evening, but negotiations between the union and the company would continue through the weekend.

In the event of a strike, the postal service will remain open but customers should expect delays.

The B.C. Ministry of Citizens’ Services said in a statement that British Columbians who have questions about how they will be impacted by the labour disruption should directly contact the ministry or agency responsible.

People who may be impacted include those who receive B.C. government-issued assistance cheques, those who need to make payments to the government, people receiving government-issued identification documents, licenses and certificates, and those applying for or receiving student loans in B.C.

Those who receive government funds through direct deposit will not be affected and will continue to receive payments.

Here is a list of contact information you may need to ride out the strike:

For income assistance and disability payments

For B.C. student loans

To make payments to the province, including ambulance and court fees

To make Medical Services Plan (MSP) payments

For provincial services, including B.C. government-issued identification, licences and certificates

For taxes and tax credits

For driver’s licensing, ICBC insurance claims or payments

For renters and landlords

For victim impact statement forms

For birth, marriage and death certificates

  • Vital Statistics Agency
  • 1-800-663-7867

Read more from CBC British Columbia

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Town Talk: Michael Bublé helped B.C. Women’s Hospital raise $2.4 M

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Christie Garofalo and Bruce Munro Wright chaired the 37th-annual Splash gala and auction that reportedly netted $560,000 for the Arts Umbrella fine-and-performing-arts organization for young folk.

Christie Garofalo and Bruce Munro Wright chaired the 36th annual Splash gala and auction that reportedly netted $560,000 for the Arts Umbrella fine-and-performing-arts organization for young folk.

Malcolm Parry / PNG

GRACE RELATIONS: Michael Bublé came from his new Burnaby home to perform at the B.C. Women’s Hospital Foundation’s Glow gala. Chaired by Sonia Sayani, Heidi Seidman and Shanaz Lalji, the event reportedly raised $2.4 million. That should more than fund 10 new birthing suites (the hospital has 17 now) at $175,000 each. The foundation’s two year president-CEO, Genesa Greening, welcomed Bublé, and could have joined his act if asked.

B.C. Women's Hospital Foundation president-CEO Genesa Greening greeted Michael Bublé, who sang when the Glow gala reportedly raised $2.4 million.

B.C. Women’s Hospital Foundation president-CEO Genesa Greening greeted Michael Bublé, who sang when the Glow gala reportedly raised $2.4 million.

Malcolm Parry /


As the daughter of Salvation Army ministers, she sang gospel songs and belted out blues in her native Newfoundland. She certainly doesn’t sing the blues today as the foundation prepares to launch a $20-million capital campaign toward a specialized health centre for gynecological surgery and outpatient service. Greening shares a background with B.C. Women’s; it operated for 67 years as the Salvation Army’s Grace Hospital before adopting its present title in 1994.

Heidi Seidman and Sofia Sayani, along with Shanaz Lalji, co-chaired the Glow gala that will fund 10 birthing suites at B.C. Women's Hospital.

Heidi Seidman and Sofia Sayani, along with Shanaz Lalji, co-chaired the Glow gala that will fund 10 birthing suites at B.C. Women’s Hospital.

Malcolm Parry /


Geoff and Bridgette Ady and daughters Isabella and Olivia, the latter an osteosarcoma patient, attended Ronald McDonald House's A Night To Dream gala.

Geoff and Bridgette Ady and daughters Isabella and Olivia, the latter an osteosarcoma patient, attended Ronald McDonald House’s A Night To Dream gala.

Malcolm Parry /


IN TERRY’S STEPS: Cancer’s indiscriminate ways were evident when the 16th annual A Night To Dream gala reportedly raised $480,000 for Ronald McDonald House. Waiting for the start, 12-year-old Olivia Ady’s hairless head and hip-to-calf scar were evidence of chemotherapy and surgery for osteosarcoma. Close by, twin sister Isabella practised light-as-air jive moves with father Geoff while mother Bridgette smiled approvingly. Treatment for the ailment has greatly advanced since it felled Terry Fox in 1981. Four out of five patients now survive, and, though further treatment is scheduled, the Trail-resident Adys believe that Olivia’s cancer is 98 per cent behind her. They’re also thankful for Bridgette and Olivia’s eight-month occupancy of a Ronald McDonald House suite, one of 73 that serve 2,000 families annually. Good news for gala chair Lindsey Turner and CEO Richard Pass who said the house’s role on the B.C. Children’s Hospital campus is “to keep families close when it matters.”

Lindsey Turner chaired and Ronald McDonald House CEO Richard Pass attended an event that reportedly raised $480,000 for the 73-suite facility.

Lindsey Turner chaired and Ronald McDonald House CEO Richard Pass attended an event that reportedly raised $480,000 for the 73-suite facility.

Malcolm Parry /


Yolanda Mason's bicycle sculpted entirely from bones was an entry in the Bombay Sapphire gin concern's art works tournament at Gallery Jones.

Yolanda Mason’s bicycle sculpted entirely from bones was an entry in the Bombay Sapphire gin concern’s art works tournament at Gallery Jones.

Malcolm Parry /


BONE-YARD BIKE: Echoing the pioneering 1850s bicycles called boneshakers, Yolanda Mason made a modern version composed entirely of bones, even its spokes and chain. Too short for even circus clowns at 25 cm, it was Dawson Creek-born Mason’s entry in Bombay Sapphire gin’s recent international art contest at Gallery Jones. Paul Morstad’s watercolour titled Drag Race promoted him to the tourney’s next heat. Still, Mason’s bone bike was as refreshing as the Bombay-based Van Gold cocktail she quaffed.

OUT OF THE RAIN: The Arts Umbrella fine-and-performing-arts organization for young folk was four years old in 1983 when its first Splash fundraiser ran. The ripples spread, and repeat chairs Christie Garofalo and Bruce Munro Wright saw the recent event reportedly net $560,000 from close to 700 attendees. Auctioneer Hank Bull briskly moved 37 donated artworks. Days earlier, he raised $55,000 from 25 works to help build an arts centre on Hornby Island. Former Splash galas merited their name when wind and rain penetrated a tented Granville Island locale. No such contretemps affected the recent one in the Hotel Vancouver’s Pacific Ballroom. However, wine that was splashed out liberally during the auction may have augmented the bidding. For the edification of buyers, the following artists fetched prices half or more higher than their catalogue estimates. Henri Dauman, 192 per cent. Christos Dikeakos, 189 per cent. Federico Mendez-Castro, 165 per cent. Brian Howell, 164 per cent. Judson Beaumont, 160 per cent. Valerie Raynard, 153 per cent. Douglas Coupland, 150 per cent. Happy collecting.

Angus Reid Institute chief Shachi Kurl and TV's Mike Killeen dressed appropriately when the Pants Off gala benefitted Prostate Cancer Canada.

Angus Reid Institute chief Shachi Kurl and TV’s Mike Killeen dressed appropriately when the Pants Off gala benefitted Prostate Cancer Canada.

Malcolm Parry /


DROP ’EM: It can be difficult when two women arrive at an event wearing the same dress. Less so when a woman and man visibly sport identical underwear. That happened when Angus Reid Institute executive director Shachi Kurl and TV chappie Mike Killeen turned up in smiley-face boxers at the second-annual Pants Off gala. The event had participants doff their trousers and suchlike to benefit Prostate Cancer Canada. That pleased Canadian Cancer Society board member Kurl. Ditto eminent surgeon-researcher Martin Gleave who, though attired in visible underpants like other attendees, is accustomed to seeing men without them.

Diane Forsythe Abbott was happy when Jane McLellan promised $25,000 for the YWCA's Crabtree corner and delighted when it became $1 million.

Diane Forsythe Abbott was happy when Jane McLennan promised $25,000 for the YWCA’s Crabtree corner and delighted when it became $1 million.

Malcolm Parry /


RAISE ’EM: Somewhat like city council, Diane Forsythe Abbott’s vision isn’t what it was. There’s nothing wrong with her hearing, though, especially when Jane McLennan offered to donate $25,000 to a luncheon that Abbott founded in 1996. The annual event has always raised funds for the YWCA’s Crabtree Corner,  a Downtown Eastside facility for marginalized families. McLennan later raised her gift to $1 million, which should cheer those at the Dec. 5 lunch in the Encore restaurant’s upstairs room. Happier still may be Crabtree  Corner’s ever-needy clients.

Seen at his 2014 wedding to Michelle Tam, Saltagen Ventures partner Joseph Fung will judge a Hong Kong competition for international entrepreneurs.

Seen at his 2014 wedding to Michelle Tam, Saltagen Ventures partner Joseph Fung will judge a Hong Kong competition for international entrepreneurs.

Malcolm Parry /


GROOMING OTHERS: Joseph Fung, who pitched himself to Michelle Tam before their spectacular 2014 wedding here, is now judging 100 other determined hopefuls. Not for marriage, though. According to the South China Morning Post, Fung, the Saltagen Ventures managing partner, will rule on contestants in the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation’s US$120,000 Elevator Pitch Competition. It will “connect entrepreneurial minds from not only Hong Kong but increasingly from across the world with investors.”

DOWN PARRYSCOPE: A city’s decade: Happy Planet to unhappy streets.

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B.C. NDP sets anti-poverty target, but won’t say how it will be done

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The B.C. government has announced anti-poverty targets.

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Roughly 50,000 fewer B.C. children will be living in poverty by 2024 if the provincial government meets its new targets to cut child poverty in half and overall poverty by a quarter.

The NDP campaigned in the spring of 2017 on a promise to establish a poverty reduction plan for B.C., the only province without one. But residents will have to wait until March 2019 — two years later — for the unveiling of the plan, and to find out how the targeted reductions will be achieved and how much they will cost.

“I accept and I respect the criticism (about delays), but I would rather take a few more months and get this right. And the reality is we didn’t create this problem overnight, so we’re not going to fix it overnight,” Shane Simpson, minister of social development and poverty reduction, said.

“We have at this point the second-highest rate of poverty overall and the highest rate of poverty for children (in Canada).” About one in five B.C. children live in poverty.

If achieved, the new targets will improve B.C.’s ranking, he said.

Legislation proposed on Tuesday offers few details beyond targets to reduce B.C.’s population of people in poverty — estimated at 557,000 residents — by one quarter by 2024. That would require lifting 140,000 people above the poverty line, including half of the 100,000 children who are impoverished.

Trish Garner, of the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition, said it is a “good first step” to have targets and timelines after years of no action by the previous government.

“We would have liked to have seen a stronger overall poverty reduction target, and faster,” said Garner, a member of an advisory forum that provides advice to the minister. “Although, the target around child poverty is bold.”

First Call’s Adrienne Montani agreed, as her organization has advocated cutting child poverty in half since 2009.

Both women provided a wish list of what measures they thought should be financed in February’s budget and included in March’s plan in order to achieve the government’s targets.

Those include more-accessible child care, better wages, reduction of fees, improved access to jobs and more affordable housing through such things as rent controls.

Garner believes there are several things missing from the new legislation, such as any mention of the “depths” of poverty, which refers to how far someone is below the poverty line. She would have liked to see a commitment to increase the incomes of all poor people to within 75 per cent of the poverty line in the next two years, which she said could mainly be achieved by boosting welfare and disability rates.

Montani also hopes the province will consider enhancing the three-year-old early childhood tax benefit, so the payments are larger and continue longer — as is the case in other provinces. She noted the federal child benefit, which provides money monthly to needy families, has successfully reduced poverty nationally.

Asked when the other 50 per cent of B.C. children could be lifted out of poverty, if the first half is helped by 2024, Montani said she is cautiously optimistic that most of the solutions being discussed will help all kids in poor households.

“I am somewhat hopeful that maybe we can exceed that target,” she said.

Adrienne Montani is the First Call B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition provincial coordinator.

Arlen Redekop /


Simpson said improvement to the early childhood benefit tax is one of things being investigated, although he made no specific commitment.

Funding this poverty reduction plan will require “significant” spending in the next five provincial budgets, but Simpson would not estimate the overall cost. He said it will include portions of NDP programs, totalling well over $1 billion, that have already been announced, such as the affordable child care plan; new housing and rent subsidy programs; increasing the minimum wage; raising social assistance and disability benefits; and ending tuition for adult basic education and English-language learning.

New measures will also be required, among them how to reduce costs of housing, food and transportation for needy people. Another necessity is jobs, said Simpson, who has met with business groups about trying to get people with mild disabilities into the workforce.

Of the 557,000 people living in poverty, about 200,000 receive welfare, disability or other services from Simpson’s ministry. The rest include seniors, the working poor, and young people aging out of foster care. That means other ministries must be involved in the poverty reduction plan, he said.

The new legislation requires government to report annually on its progress, and it will be monitored by an advisory panel.

“We’re confident that while those targets are bold, we have the capacity to meet those targets as well as to build the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty moving forward,” Simpson said.

[email protected]

Twitter: @loriculbert

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Gambling addict says B.C. government lacks will to set limits on billion-dollar industry

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Lora Bertuccio is calling out the B.C. government for falling down on a promise to help prevent severely addicted gamblers like her from spending money they can’t afford to lose.

“They’re cashing in on mental illness,” said the 47-year-old from Victoria, who also suffers from bipolar disorder and severe anxiety.

Bertuccio said she has lost thousands of dollars gambling in B.C. casinos. Sometimes, even while crying, she can’t help but keep putting money in the slot machines, she said.

“It’s like a volcano that’s building in your gut. It compels me to go to the machines.”

It’s estimated that Canadians spent about $17.3 billion last year on government-run gambling, but provincial governments only funnel a small portion of those revenues back into programs to help people with gambling addictions.  

Bertuccio said casino loyalty cards need to allow players using slot machines to set time and spending limits to help prevent gambling problems from spiralling out of control.

The B.C. Lottery Corporation said it would introduce such a “pre-commitment card” program by 2015. Limited testing has only recently begun.

“They talk and talk, and never do anything,” Bertuccio said. “Without this, I’m doomed.”

Gambles in ‘trance’

A “gambling disorder” is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as a behavioural disorder that causes people to suffer significant problems or distress because of repeated gambling.  

Bertuccio says her bipolar disorder sometimes causes her to go into a manic state and lose track of her actions — a particularly dangerous situation sitting at a slot machine.

“I go into a trance,” she said. “I lose track of time and space.”

Lora Bertuccio made a video to demonstrate how quickly she can lose money. She sometimes plays two or three slot machines at the same time while in what she describes as a ‘manic state.’ (Submitted by Lora Bertuccio)

She said a medication adjustment this past spring caused her to become manic and gamble away almost $20,000 — money she had won in a settlement after injuring her back at work.

She is now on disability welfare, due to her back injury and bipolar disorder.

‘It’s unacceptable’

In an interview with Go Public, B.C. Attorney General David Eby, who is responsible for the B.C. Lottery Corporation, said he agrees with Bertuccio that the government should be doing more to protect people like her.

“It’s unacceptable that this was recommended in 2015 and it’s still not been implemented,” he said of pre-commitment cards.

He acknowledged there have been “horrific examples” of tragedies in B.C. where people with gambling addictions have stolen from employers, stolen from sports leagues, and even killed themselves.

His NDP government came to power in May 2017 but has yet to act on its Liberal predecessor’s promise to introduce a voluntary system to help control how much gamblers lose at the slots.

“We’re behind,” he said.

Gambling addicts boost bottom line

Governments across the country are reluctant to implement programs that curb problem gambling, said Robert Williams, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Lethbridge, as well as a researcher at the Alberta Gambling Research Institute

“Too much money is at stake for them,” said Williams, a leading expert in the field of gambling and addiction.

Across Canada, research has found that people with mental illness and gambling addictions are small in number but contribute disproportionately to gambling revenues.

According to the Problem Gambling Institute of Ontario, about three per cent of Canadians are severely addicted to gambling, but they are responsible for approximately one-third of all gambling revenues.

“This would be problematic if it was a commercial provider, where a third of all your revenues came from vulnerable people,” Williams said. “But when it’s government, it’s actually kind of scandalous.”

Gambling researcher Robert Williams says most prevention programs for gamblers are ‘window dressing’ — ineffective and designed to make governments look as though they’re helping addicts. (CBC)

Williams said research shows that pre-commitment card programs would help some gambling addicts and would also be useful for people considered “at risk” of developing a gambling addiction.

But it is just one of many changes needed to effectively curb problem gambling, he said.

“Gambling should not be allowed to happen 24 hours a day,” he said, referring to the rules in B.C. “It’s clear that people gambling at two or three in the morning are not your recreational gamblers.”

Alcohol on the gaming floor should also be limited, he said.

Placing bank machines in inconvenient locations would help as well, he said, as would having an effective — the key word — self-exclusion program that would allow addicts to sign up to be turned away at the casino door. 

“The problem we have in Canada is that we have a whole raft of so-called responsible gambling initiatives, but none of them work particularly well,” he said. “So it all looks very good on paper, but the money keeps coming in.”

‘There are people who’ve suffered’

In a report released five years ago, B.C.’s recently retired provincial officer of health, Perry Kendall, urged the government to spend more money on a range of measures to try to protect people with gambling addictions.

He recently told Go Public he was disappointed that many of the measures have still not been implemented — including a pre-commitment system like the one Lora Bertuccio says is overdue.

Former B.C. provincial health officer Perry Kendall, seen here with his report ‘Lower the Stakes: A public health approach to problem gambling,’ says governments have to increase supports for gamblers, instead of relying on revenues from an industry that ‘knowingly harms people.’ (Michael McArthur/CBC)

“I think it’s a shame,” Kendall said. “It’s a missed opportunity, and probably there are people who’ve suffered because of the absence of such a program.”

His report pointed out the B.C. government spent less of its gambling revenue on supports for gambling addicts than any other province, and recommended allocating at least 1.5 per cent of gaming revenue to responsible gambling initiatives.

Last year, the B.C. government allocated $5.6 million for those initiatives, representing .4 per cent of its $1.4 billion gambling take — far below Kendall’s suggested figure.

“I think there’s a moral and ethical question here,” Kendall said. “In your search for greater revenues, do you continue to knowingly harm people? Or do you decide there’s going to be a cut point?”

By the numbers:

  • B.C. Lottery Corporation generated total revenues of  $3.27B
  • Slot machines generated $1.37B
  • The province received a net income from BCLC of $1.4B
  • Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch contributed $5.6 million to problem gambling services

(Fiscal year 2017/2018, Province of British Columbia)

System tried elsewhere

Pre-commitment cards are already available in a handful of jurisdictions around the world, including in Ontario, where two casinos offer the cards and there are plans to roll out the system across the province.

Nova Scotia put a voluntary system in place in 2010 that allowed players to set spending and time limits on video lottery terminals, and then made the program mandatory for all players two years later.

But the program was scrapped in 2014. The government at the time said the program was a failure because people were using multiple cards, which defeated the purpose. Opposition critics and gambling researchers such as Williams said it was cancelled because the government lost too much money. VLT revenues dropped by $31.3 million from 2012 to 2014.

B.C. Attorney General David Eby, responsible for the B.C. Lottery Corporation, says the government is behind on increasing supports for people with gambling addictions. (Frederic Gagnon/CBC)

B.C.’s attorney general says he’s “willing to take a haircut” on gaming revenues to help those most vulnerable.

Eby also pointed out that his government moved responsibility for the gaming industry from the Finance Ministry to the Ministry of the Attorney General when it took power in 2017. 

“The B.C. Lottery Corporation should not be responsible for both revenue generation and regulation.”

More testing?

Meanwhile, a three-month pilot of a card system similar to the one Bertuccio is calling for wrapped up at two casinos in Kamloops in July.

The B.C. Lottery Corporation said a labour dispute with unionized casino workers interfered with the pilot and delayed the assessment of the data. It now says it’s considering doing more testing, and is reviewing findings from other North American jurisdictions with similar tools.

Slot machines generated a total revenue of $1.37 billion in British Columbia last year. (CBC)

Lora Bertuccio says the odds of seeing the system actually implemented in B.C. are slim.

“Every year they can delay is hundreds of millions of dollars more that they can take in… I need and want protection.”

— With files from Enza Uda

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Mounties shut down provincial park day after tent city campers move in

by admin

CTV Vancouver Island

Published Thursday, September 20, 2018 11:19AM PDT

Last Updated Thursday, September 20, 2018 12:38PM PDT

Just a day after homeless occupants from a former tent city moved into Goldstream Provincial Park, they and other campers have been told to leave.

West Shore RCMP arrived at the park Wednesday night briefly blocking access and telling campers it would be closed indefinitely after 11 a.m. Thursday.

Reports then surfaced that campers would be granted an additional 24 hours to pack up and move out of the camp whlie the government collected further information.

The park shutdown applies to all campers, not just the 25 or so tent city residents who moved in Wednesday night.

Those homeless campers said they were under the impression they’d be able to stay at the park for two weeks after they were evicted from two Saanich parks in a week.

“I went and talked to park ranger and he said ‘Oh we’re trying to nip it in the bud, we don’t want to see what’ll happen in two weeks from now,'” said camper Morgan Van Humbeck.

Tent city organizer Chrissy Brett called on B.C.’s premier to discuss options with the group instead of evicting them.

“John Horgan if you’re watching this I would ask you to ask your ministers to come down and have a conversation and sit around the one table we have left, and tell people to their face that they have no right to exist here in British Columbia if you’re homeless,” said Brett.

But Langford Mayor Stew Young said problems like open drug use and theft moved in along with the campers, prompting the shutdown.

“This is not a place to have needle sharps and other activity around that neighbourhood especially,” Stew Young told CFAX 1070. “We’ve already, from yesterday, had two individual instances of males in the washroom shooting up in front of other families that are in there and camping, so those people have left.”

Mounties referred questions to BC Parks, saying they were assisting the organization by enforcing regulations of the Parks Act.

On Thursday, B.C.’s housing minister Selina Robinson issued a statement saying that the campground was closed to ensure public safety after concerns were expressed by RCMP.

“The park is not an appropriate place for the establishment of a tent city. We urge those at Goldstream to work with staff to identify better housing solutions,” Robinson said.

She said the province’s goal is to get people into shelters and longer-term housing, but a CTV News report Wednesday found that all shelters in the Capital Region were full. Robinson pointed to 25 new shelter beds opening at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre Oct. 1.

She also noted that in the Capital Region, only the City of Victoria had identified a site for modular units of supportive housing that the government has committed to build.

That changed Thursday, when the District of Saanich announced it had identified a site near Saanich city hall for modular units to be built.

The section of land is north of the Saanich Fire Hall on Vernon Avenue.

“We’re hopeful that by providing this land, we’re moving in the right direction to secure housing and satisfy some of the need for housing in the region,” said Chief Administrative Officer Paul Thorkelsson.

The district said it will make another announcement soon once further details of the project are confirmed.

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