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Solving Vancouver’s Forest Fire-related Air Quality Problem

by John Brian Shannon

City of Vancouver skyline transformed by the 2018 forest fire season.

The City of Vancouver skyline is transformed every forest fire season. File photo courtesy of CTV News-Vancouver.

Vancouver is suffering the worst bout of poor air quality in its 132-year history

Since the 2018 forest fire season began, smoke has been accumulating in the atmosphere and finding its way to lower elevations in the province of British Columbia.

The greatest concentration of BC residents live in the province’s Lower Mainland (also called the MVRD or Metro Vancouver Regional District) home to 2.8 million people and the average elevation of the region isn’t that much higher than sea level.

The mountains that surround the area keep the smoke from moving out of the region, which is why all that smoke is concentrating in the MVRD, instead of dispersing.

Visit the MVRD website to read the Continued Air Quality Advisory

Vancouver was ranked as the fifth-worst major city for air quality in the world on Wednesday. Global News.

Vancouver was ranked as the fifth-worst major city for air quality in the world on Wednesday. An air quality advisory from Environment Canada is still in effect for much of the province. Image courtesy of Global News.


How to Solve Air Quality Issues in Vancouver (and in every other city)

Every year, Vancouver is inundated with smoke from distant forest fires. It’s no surprise that Vancouverites are visited by a virtual wall of smoke every summer and it seems to be completely uncontrollable even with today’s modern fire-fighting methods. Therefore, the only variable that can work to improve air quality in the Vancouver region is to drastically limit the use of motor vehicles within the MVRD during the worst air quality days.

Several cities in the world have already adopted ‘Car-Free’ days in an attempt to mitigate their urban air pollution and it can work wonders for local air quality. Seoul, Paris, Copenhagen and other modern-thinking cities simply issue a ‘Car-Free’ notice and cars and trucks are banned from the cities roads until further notice.

In Paris, emergency vehicles still operate and people with medical emergencies may use their car to drive someone to the Hospital or to an Ambulance station — but they are speed-limited to 20 miles per hour — though with zero traffic in Paris on ‘Car-Free’ days it means you get to the Hospital much sooner than compared to normal traffic days. Also, the city’s transit system boost the number of buses to accommodate the extra ridership.


Parisians instructed to leave cars home during the city’s third official ‘Car-Free’ day


“Vehicles were forbidden from all of the city’s historic centre for the day on Sunday, making way for environmentally friendly modes of transport such as cycling.

The first journee sans voiture (day without cars) was held in September 2015 and was found to reduce exhaust emissions by 40 per cent. The idea has since been repeated twice.

But this time the zone has been expanded, covering 40 square miles over the historical centre of the French capital, and was in force between 11am and 6pm.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo was first elected in 2014 on a promise to tackle pollution in the city, which is estimated to kill 6,000 every year. She has begun building new bus and cycling lanes to reclaim the roads from cars.” — The Independent


‘Car-Free’ Days for Vancouver?

It’s long past the time for the Metro Vancouver Regional District to embrace the idea of ‘Car-Free’ days during peak air pollution events such as forest fires, weather inversions or other events that wreak havoc with air quality — and by doing so — lower ambient emission levels by 40% or more.

Screenshot of the most recent Air Quality Advisory in Effect for Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley of British Columbia

Air Quality Advisory for Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, August 23, 2018

Air Quality Advisory for Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, August 23, 2018. For more information click the image.

If you care about air quality in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, call or write your elected officials to suggest they implement ‘Car-Free’ days during periods of poor air quality.

Such ‘Car-Free’ days have been found to lower air pollution by 40% or more in other cities, which can dramatically improve air quality and improve the personal health of everyone who lives in the region.

Solving Four Problems at Once with a Guaranteed Basic Income for Canada

by John Brian Shannon

How could a Guaranteed Basic Income solve four problems in Canada, and what four problems might they be?

It’s a good question which can only be answered in the context of how these four things are being handled/not handled now.

So let’s see how a Guaranteed Basic Income could help Canada to care for people (including seniors, economic migrants to Canada, and refugees living in Canada) more efficiently than the present multilayered system.

Before we go any further, every group or individual who supports a Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) may have a different idea of what constitutes a Guaranteed Basic Income. So to keep things simple for the purposes of this discussion, let’s agree for the rest of this post that a Canadian GBI would offer the following benefits to recipients:

  1.  $1088. per month (a standard anti-poverty metric)
  2.  Free provincial healthcare with no deductible
  3.  Free provincial dental care with no deductible
  4.  Free prescriptions with a $50 annual deductible
  5.  Low entry bar to access: Must be a Canadian citizen or legally landed immigrant
  6.  Over the age of majority in the province in which they reside
  7.  A person earning less than the official poverty line amount in the province in which they reside
  8.  Not a person serving time in prison
  9.  Not a person serving in Canada’s military
  10.  Not a person under 24/7/365 medical care (like a person in a long-term coma)

With that said, let’s see what a GBI can do for all Canadians — and not just the actual recipients of those benefits.


GBI Benefit Number One for Canada and its Provinces:

Saving Provinces and Taxpayers Money

Kick every welfare recipient in Canada off of provincial welfare and provincial disability programmes the moment the GBI comes into effect.

Yes, end provincial welfare and provincial disability programmes completely!

It sounds traumatic, but every province in Canada spends multi-millions (and depending on the size/population of the province) billions on the administrative support (administration buildings, office staff, other personnel, IT costs, security costs, land costs, property management costs, management training/seminars, etc) to pay provincial welfare and provincial disability recipients. This is known as the ‘overhead’ cost of running these programmes, and the gross annual totality of those administrative costs can be more than all of the welfare cheques combined.

For each welfare recipient who gets a $700 monthly welfare cheque, there is obviously a per capita cost for every person receiving a monthly welfare cheque; There is a person being paid $50,000/yr (or more) to administer a certain number of recipients, there is a building (or buildings) dedicated to that city, town, or region of the province, and there are other costs associated with running provincial social assistance programmes.

Every province has its own welfare and disability administration. That’s overlapping and duplication of services tenfold (10 provinces) and three territories, plus the federal government.

By paying poverty-stricken people via the federal CPP payments system only, the provinces would no longer be obligated to pay provincial welfare or provincial disability payments. At all. Ever.

After the transition period to a pan-Canadian GBI each province could lower the taxes it charges to its residents by a corresponding amount. Some provinces might be able to drop their provincial sales tax in half or better! Other provinces might be able to abolish provincial income tax altogether.

This is especially true if provinces decide to sell-off all the infrastructure associated with welfare and disability payments. Which (land and buildings especially) could net them many billions of dollars.

‘Yi-Haw!’ — said every Canadian premier.

In short, instead of 13 multilayered, overlapping and duplicated provincial and federal income assistance programmes (now that’s approaching communist-era levels of duplication my friend!) there would be one payer of income assistance only — Canada’s federal government — which would be 100% responsible for administrating the GBI programme.

To finance the GBI, the federal government might need to raise the GST rate by 1% (don’t forget that your provincial taxes would be dramatically lowered) or the feds might decide to raise the federal income tax rate by 1% on the richest Canadians instead.

Either way, provincial taxes would fall dramatically, while federal taxes would see a fractional increase.


GBI Benefit Number Two for Canada and its Provinces:

A GBI Would End Homelessness in Canada

Welfare rates in Canada are based on each province’s ability to pay, not on how much it actually costs to feed, clothe, and shelter a human being in that province. Which is why there is homelessness in a rich country like Canada.

The reason there is homelessness in Canada are threefold:

  • A person lives in a city where rents are high and therefore can’t afford to pay rent, nor do they have enough money to be able to afford to move to a rural area where rental rates are a fraction of the lowest rents in Canada’s biggest cities.
  • A person becomes depressed or violent on account of not being able to afford rent, and ends up committing offenses (like sleeping in someone’s backyard, pickup truck box, or dumpster) or commits property crimes (and gets caught and jailed) and subsequently, no one will rent him or her a place.
  • A person is disabled and is unable to afford rent, nor can they move to a cheaper rental market because they need to be close to a hospital, a clinic, or other medical facility. In some cases, it’s that they have enough money for their rent, or their meds, but not both.

A federally funded GBI would pay enough to allow low-income people to pay rent, eat, receive their prescription medications, buy clothing — and yes, unlike provincial welfare schemes — allow them a little extra money so they can purchase work-related clothing, get a haircut and take the bus to work if they land a job.

Not only all that, but many welfare recipients have serious dental problems. If you’re an employer and you have 50 people apply for 1 job opening, are you likely to hire that one guy who is missing his front teeth? Not likely. With a GBI, those people can get their dental work done and appear as presentable as the rest of the job-seekers and have as good a chance to land the job as the other 49 people.

Provincial welfare systems just can’t afford to provide all that, which means that once people get on welfare, they’re often on it for life.

And they can face reductions in their monthly benefit amount if they do earn money. That just doesn’t happen with a GBI.

Indeed, provincial welfare systems can reduce monthly benefits for many reasons, such as more than one person living in a dwelling. In British Columbia for example, the rent portion of the welfare cheque is regulated to $375. per month (not too many places available for rent in BC for $375/month!) but if two people on welfare live together at the same BC address, both will have their monthly welfare cheque reduced. Now you have ‘two upset homeless people’ instead of ‘one homed couple’.

Which directly impacts crime stats. See how that doesn’t work for taxpayers?

Paying people a standardized $1088 per month (no matter how many people live in the same house or apartment as long as all zoning bylaws are met) will allow people to share accommodations — leaving them enough money every month to eat, buy work-related clothing, haircuts, bus passes, etc. and eventually get them back into the workforce.

Hey! Even if they can work part-time that is a benefit to them and to society because it means that eventually they’ll find permanent employment and they won’t need GBI.

That is the ultimate goal of GBI: Temporary assistance to get back to work — instead of welfare for life.


GBI Benefit Number Three for Canada and its Provinces:

Streamlining the Payments System for Canadian Citizens, Refugees and Economic Migrants

Some poverty-stricken refugees and economic migrants to Canada receive higher amounts of assistance from the federal government than poverty-stricken Canadians.

For instance, some Syrian refugees are receiving $2600 per month from the federal government — that’s per family member!

So, a Syrian refugee family of five receives $13,000 per month no matter where they live in Canada, while a poverty-stricken Canadian-born family of five might receive $1600 per month (or less!) depending on the province in which they reside.

Is that right? Is that how generous Canada is to refugees, but not to its own citizens?

It’s an honourable thing for Canada to accept refugees from war-torn countries and help them to establish a new life here. But isn’t that a little extravagant?

Shouldn’t refugees and economic migrants to Canada as well as Canadian-born adult citizens who earn less than the poverty line amount and Canada’s senior citizens all receive the same level of benefit?

The GBI would pay the same amount to everyone without any reductions in the monthly benefit amount for those who share accommodations, for those who earn money up to the poverty line amount, nor reductions for any other reason, except to pay fines as adjudicated by the courts like vehicle fines or alimony payments, etc.

In this way, every adult who earns less than the official poverty line amount would receive the same monthly benefit amount instead of wildly different amounts. Doesn’t that seem more fair?

Isn’t that a better way to treat citizens and immigrants than the various overlapping and duplicated payments systems? Of course it is.


GBI Benefit Number Four for Canada and its Provinces:

Treating Canada’s Senior Citizens Better

Under the existing CPP and OAS system, some of Canada’s senior citizens receive small amounts of money to live on.

Let’s look at a comparison of a Canadian-born senior citizen couple vs. a Syrian-born refugee couple, both couples reside in Canada.

a) The Canadian-born senior citizen couple may receive as little as $920 per month, and are allowed to work.
b) The Syrian-born senior citizen refugee couple will receive $2176 per month, and aren’t allowed to work.

It seems unfair in the extreme that the people who built this great country should receive far less reward than recent immigrants, doesn’t it?

Of course, it goes without saying that accepting refugees from war-torn countries is a truly noble thing to do. No true Canadian begrudges law abiding persons a better life here in Canada. The country is practically empty and our cities are just tiny dots in a 9.985 million square kilometre landscape so we’re glad to have them.

And paying them $1088 per month (each adult) along with the other GBI benefits seems reasonable, just like it seems reasonable to pay the same amount to Canadian-born seniors who live under the poverty line.

It’s wrong to pay the people who built this great country into what it is today such pitiful amounts of money (which they paid into the CPP fund their entire working lives) while we pay refugees many times more.

It’s like a scene from The Twilight Zone.

By topping-up the pension amount of Canadian citizens to the $1088/mo GBI amount + the GBI benefits, we can do away with the OAS programme completely, do away with pharmacare for senior citizens, and eliminate other overlapping federal and provincial programmes in place to support seniors.

Getting rid of all these layers of duplication will save various levels of government billions of dollars per year, and put the administration of all citizens who live under the poverty line under one roof, one payments system, and one jurisdiction. And we know that ending government waste, overlapping programmes between the federal and provincial governments, and duplication of services between the provinces will save taxpayers billions of dollars every year!

It’s time to streamline Canada’s income assistance systems, it’s time to top-up the incomes of senior citizens to $1088 per month + benefits, it’s time to pay refugees the same amount as Canadian citizens living under the poverty line would receive, and it’s time to put a stop to the costly multilayered benefit systems in Canada.

A GBI would be less costly for taxpayers, it would reduce homelessness and property crimes, it would streamline the benefits payment system and it would help poverty-stricken senior citizens live healthier lives and reward them in a small way for their contributions to our great land.

The Right Carbon Tax for Canada

by John Brian Shannon

“Canadian business needs a fair, transparent, and proportional carbon tax to spur action towards a cleaner environment.”

Which is not the same statement asCanada must punish Canadian industry so the country can meet it’s COP21 emissions targets.”

See the difference?

Unfortunately, in the rush to meet Canada’s global air quality commitments (admirable) the federal government may have leaned more towards ‘action’ on the carbon file rather than ‘smooth implementation’ of the carbon file (forgivable) and now has at least two provincial premiers questioning the mechanics of the federal carbon tax plan.

In the end, both methods would result in Canada’s emissions targets being met, but one way is complimentary while the other is confrontational.

Which of the two ways exampled above would cause you to want to work with the federal government to reach Canada’s international emissions obligations?


No Need to Reinvent the Wheel – Just Fix the Broken Parts and Carry On

Federal Carbon Taxes: Small business always suffer in these scenarios, while large corporations already have multi-million dollar environmental + energy budgets — which means all that’s required for them to meet upgraded emissions targets is a shift in their budget allocations to meet Canada’s new emissions regulations.

Therefore, for polluters emitting less than one megatonne of CO2 annually, such companies shouldn’t pay any carbon tax until they surpass that limit and thenceforth begin to pay a $40. per tonne carbon tax (for example) on any emissions beyond the one megatonne threshold.

Likewise, large companies shouldn’t be required to pay carbon tax until the point in the year is reached where they surpass the one megatonne limit and only then begin to pay $40. per tonne of CO2 (or CO2 equivalent, because not all airborne emissions are of the CO2 variety) on each additional megatonne for the rest of the calendar year.

In this way, Canada’s carbon tax model would be a breeze to implement, a carbon tax that would be small business-friendly, and one that provides an incentive to bigger companies to work toward reducing their emissions over the longer term.


Carbon Taxes Administered by Provinces and Cities

Provincial carbon taxes: Provincial and city carbon taxes should be ‘flow-through’ carbon taxes where 100% of each dollar collected at the transactional level (a point-of-sale tax like a provincial sales tax) is spent on poverty alleviation, or on energy conservation + investment in green energy projects + green energy bonds. As is already done in some Canadian provinces.

Provinces and cities that face serious air quality problems would be thereby empowered by federal legislation to address their unique air pollution issues and be better positioned to help Canada meet its international emissions targets while lowering their healthcare and environmental spending associated with air pollution.


Annual Step-up Carbon Tax

Start with a low carbon tax: If the ‘year one’ federal carbon tax is set at $40. per tonne, the next year could be set at $50. per tonne, and ‘year three’ $60. per tonne, etc., it would allow Canada to continue to meet its emissions goals and to lower environmental and healthcare spending in Canada where a significant proportion of healthcare budgets are devoted to treat respiratory ailments brought-on or worsened by the poor air quality in Canadian cities (and some high land use agricultural areas) and could actually save provincial budgets millions of dollars per year.

If there’s one thing that markets and big business like, it’s a long lead time for new regulations and a ‘carbon-tax-free-zone’ that they can shoot for which will help them lower costs by increasing efficiency (which is closely tied to productivity, ask any economist) and a step-up carbon tax gives them the opportunity to adjust their operations several years ahead of the time when it could begin to get very costly for them.

Hitting Canadian companies with a $220. per tonne carbon tax (which is what Stanford University says is the true environmental and healthcare cost of each tonne of carbon) would prevent companies from attracting the funding required to lower their emissions.

In a perfect world, legislators would slap a $220. per tonne carbon tax on every level of government, each corporation and on citizens and all of them could afford to pay it. Sadly, that isn’t possible. But starting out at $40. per tonne allows companies to begin the process of lowering their emissions without stressing corporate finances.

If you doubt how costly pollution is to the economy, see the landmark study from Harvard Medicine which estimates coal-burning alone costs the U.S. economy between $330 billion and $500 billion per year.


The Need to Address Carbon Pollution

It’s indisputable to any educated person that Canada and every other country needs to address carbon pollution — but ultimately, carbon taxes must be designed to mesh with the overall economy — not entangle it.



Visit The Solutions Project to see how renewable energy can work in your jurisdiction to help citizens live healthier lives, care for the environment, boost the economy and help Canada meet its international air pollution targets.

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Our 100% Clean Energy Vision for Canada - The Solutions Project. Image 1.

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Visit The Solutions Project main webpage here for more information.



Bonus Graphic courtesy of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

 

While the federal government of Canada seeks to meet its international emissions targets, Canadian premiers press for a more business-friendly carbon tax regime.

While the federal government of Canada seeks to meet its international emissions targets, Canadian premiers press for a more business-friendly carbon tax regime. Image courtesy of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Click on image to expand it in your browser.

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