Journal Of Commerce – Horizon North to build homeless units in B.C.

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But, there is no guarantee that all the B.C. government-promised 2,000 modular units for the homeless will be B.C. built and create jobs.

“The modular buildings will be built in B.C., as well as Alberta,” Rajvir Rao, communications manager for B.C. Housing, said in an email. B.C. Housing is the entity handling the homeless contracts for the provincial government while the Vancouver Affording Housing Association is acting for the City of Vancouver.

Rao said it was a open call to all interested parties to build the units. As such, there is no requirement that the units be built in B.C. or use B.C. labour or materials such as wood. “While it is not a requirement of the RFQ, B.C. Housing supports the B.C. Wood First Initiative,” he said.

BC Housing is currently seeking an expression of interest from companies who can design and manufacture 1,400 housing units for distribution throughout B.C. The other 600 units have been allocated to Vancouver, with Horizon North supplying the units.

Rao said: “As a crown corporation, BC Housing is required, through a competitive public bid process, to identify the highest and best use of public money.”

In the 2017 budget update, the B.C. government announced it would spend $291 million to support the construction of 2,000 modular housing units over two years and spend $170 million over three years providing staffing and support services. It would spend another $208 million over four years to support the construction of more than 1,700 new units of affordable rental housing in B.C. communities.

The first of those contracts — with Vancouver getting $66 million in funding over what it normally provided for winter homeless shelters — will see those dollars staying in B.C. as Horizon North lands the first 78 units of up to 600 the city has subscribed to.

“It will all be (done) in B.C. with B.C. sourced wood and everyone in the plant will be a B.C. employee,” Graham said, as the manufacturing will be done at the company’s Kamloops plant.

Horizon North Camp and Catering Partnership beat out Ladacor Ltd./Atira Women’s Resource Society Partnership and Triple M Modular Ltd. (dba Britco Commercial) for the city contract.

Graham’s news is good news as both construction industry associations and building trades want to see public funds accruing benefits to local businesses and construction industry trades.

“We don’t need another Site C where 20 per cent of the work force is from Alberta,” said Tom Sigurdson, executive director of the BC Building Trades. “Every public project should include young people as apprentices, should have First Nations inclusion and work to get more women into the trades,” he said. “There is the opportunity for dividends to be paid back to B.C.”

Sigurdson has been vocal on the need for employers to find more positions for apprentices. “I can’t underscore enough the need for provision for apprentices and when we have a fabrication style of work like this, it is an ideal situation.” The manufacturing environment is not an open site and there is more opportunity for apprentices to interact with journeymen to learn from.

Chris Gardner, president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association, said “It is an excellent opportunity for B.C.’s modular home construction industry.”

He estimates that there are approximately 10 companies of varying size in B.C. able to opt into the B.C. Housing call for another 1,400 units of the announced 2,000. “I think most of them will,” he said, but the timeline may be a factor. Gardner believes there is the skill and capacity in B.C. to fulfill the order. Gardner is hopeful that “most (of the units) will likely be procured in B.C.”

The BC Housing October post on BidCentral for 1,400 modular homes has attracted 22 plan holders to the project with 17 from B.C. and five from Alberta, according to the B.C. Construction Association (BCCA). “This indicates there is capacity and interest amongst modular builders in B.C.,” said Lisa Stevens, BCCA marketing and communications consultant, in an email.

Graham said his company is bidding on the posted 1,400 units and has invested in making the Kamloops plant into a “centre of excellence” with software programs, working with Thompson Rivers University to use apprentices, and a workforce that is 14 per cent Indigenous. “We want a piece of it and we think we are quite good at what we do. We can deliver on a time line,” he said.

Graham’s company already has a major chunk of the business. The City of Vancouver has signed a memorandum of understanding with Horizon North to provide up to 600 units with each unit should be 250-350 square feet and 300 self-contained apartments should have a unit cost of $75,000 while the other 300 would have a unit cost of $145,000. The first group of housing is slated to go to a site at 57th and Cambie.

Graham said Horizon North has a track record with the City of Vancouver after building a modular housing unit at Terminal. The 40-unit modular building at Terminal and Main “was really a test case”, he said. Once the design was approved by the city’s Vancouver Affordable Housing Association, the order was processed quickly. “It took only 45 days,” he said for the units to be manufactured, trucked to site and erected by Northern Horizon’s crew.

Graham said the same kind of expediency is being applied to the city’s first order of 78 modular units in two buildings, which should be on site at 57th Ave. and Cambie by Christmas. “That is our intention,” he said, adding it will be up to the city to decide when they are open to occupancy. The Cambie and 57th Ave. site is one of a dozen under consideration by the city for allocation of further housing.

Horizon North is a modular home builder that has traditionally served the oil and gas sector but since Graham’s appoint three years ago as chief executive officer, it has deepened its path into other forms of modular construction, ranging from senior centres and hotels to multi-family. Recently, it acquired modular premium home builder Karoleena in Okanagan Falls. It also has a manufacturing plant in Grande Prairie.

ICBA’s Gardner said that the homeless initiative is only part of the problem in providing housing for all individuals in Vancouver. “The affordability in B.C. in housing is based upon supply,” he said and currently developers spend 2.5 to 3.5 years moving through permitting and regulation processes to get a project out of the ground.

“We just need different rules,” he said as the challenge is reducing red tape.

But, there is no guarantee that all the B.C. government-promised 2,000 modular units for the homeless will be B.C. built and create jobs. “The modular buildings will be built in B.C., as well as Alberta,” Rajvir Rao, communications manager for B.C. Housing, said in an email. B.C. Housing is the entity handling the homeless contracts […]

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Public consultations begin on BC proposed $15 minimum wage

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The first of eight public consultations held by the Fair Wages Commission began Thursday.

During the election campaign, the NDP promised to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021.

“We launched the Fight for $15 campaign three years ago, and we are eager to see a $15/hour minimum wage implemented,” said Irene Lanzinger, president of the BC Federation of Labour.

In September, the government raised the minimum wage by 50 cents to $11.35.

Over the next three weeks of public meetings, the commission will be looking at the next steps deciding how and when the proposed $15 minimum wage should be implemented.

“We are encouraging people to take this opportunity to have their say on this critical issue. Low-wage earners are living below the poverty line at a time when we are facing an affordability crisis around the province,” said Lanzinger. “We must move swiftly to a $15/hour minimum wage and eliminate all exemptions, like the liquor server wage.

Advocates for workers say a higher minimum wage is needed now to make life more affordable for British Columbians but some in the business community argue that raising the wage too fast will hurt the economy and cost jobs.

The first of eight public consultations held by the Fair Wages Commission began Thursday. During the election campaign, the NDP promised to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021. “We launched the Fight for $15 campaign three years ago, and we are eager to see a $15/hour minimum wage implemented,” said Irene […]

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Site C: Greens’ Weaver convinced NDP to OK dam — ‘irritating …

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VICTORIA — The future of the Site C hydroelectric dam is the subject of pointed questions from labour unions, environmental groups, Indigenous Peoples and high-ranking civil servants with the B.C. government who want answers about the projected costs of scrapping the $8.3-billion project.

The New Democrats are poised to decide Site C’s fate by the end of the year after a review by the B.C. Utilities Commission, the province’s independent energy regulator, concluded the dam is over budget and behind schedule.

But one Site C opponent said Friday he already senses the government will complete the megaproject.

Green Leader Andrew Weaver said he does not have inside information, but he is convinced the NDP will decide to keep building the dam, already under construction for more than two years.

“I can’t see them giving pink slips to thousands of people on Christmas Eve,” he said.

B.C. Hydro, the province’s public utility, says more than 2,000 people are working on Site C, which is near Fort St. John.

Weaver said he began to feel the government moving towards supporting the project this week after a group of labour unions said the utilities commission report did not properly calculate the cost of stopping Site C. An estimated $4 billion has been spent on Site C so far.

The project also faced tough questions from senior officials in the Finance and Energy ministries who wrote to the utilities commission wanting more answers about the costs of killing Site C. The two deputy ministers also asked for clarification about the impact on future hydro rates if the project was stopped.

The Site C Dam location is seen along the Peace River in Fort St. John, B.C., in April 2017.


The Site C Dam location is seen along the Peace River in Fort St. John, B.C., in April 2017.

JONATHAN HAYWARD /

CANADIAN PRESS Files

“If the Site C project were terminated, the $4 billion sunk and remediation costs would need to be recovered, and the amortization period of that recovery would affect B.C. Hydro rates,” the letter states. “Could the commission clarify whether it assumed that these costs would be recovered over 10, 30 or 70 years?”

Energy experts representing residents in the Peace River area, where the dam is under construction, said the utilities commission report answered the questions about the $4 billion.

“The BCUC treatment of these costs is consistent with economic theory and practice and concludes that there is no cost advantage to proceeding with Site C,” U.S. energy expert Robert McCullough says in a letter on behalf of the Peace Valley Landowner Association.

Energy Minister Michelle Mungall said in a statement she travelled to the northeast this week with Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser to meet with local Indigenous communities and others, including business leaders, about Site C.

She gave no indication the government has already made up its mind on the project’s future.

“We attended meetings to listen, and to discuss issues as they relate to Site C,” said Mungall. “We will bring First Nations perspectives back to the provincial cabinet over the next few weeks.”

Weaver said the Greens, who have an agreement to back the minority government in the legislature, will remind the NDP at every opportunity about its change of position if it keeps the project going.

“We’ll add that to the collection of things we find really irritating that you’ve done,” he said.

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VICTORIA — The future of the Site C hydroelectric dam is the subject of pointed questions from labour unions, environmental groups, Indigenous Peoples and high-ranking civil servants with the B.C. government who want answers about the projected costs of scrapping the $8.3-billion project. The New Democrats are poised to decide Site C’s fate by the […]

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Brian Cochrane and Adam Van Steinburg: Community benefit agreements increase public return on construction …

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The B.C. government is considering the future of the Site C dam project — whether to complete it (our preference) or shut it down. Whichever side you take in the debate, it has giving B.C. a chance to think about how to get maximum value from public construction.

In our view, it’s time for B.C. to return to the collaborative model of construction management that prevailed before 2001. The provincial government spends billions of dollars every year on electric power projects, highways and other infrastructure. We need formal mechanisms to ensure that this investment flows back into B.C. regions to support families, local businesses and workforce development.

These are not abstract ideas. B.C. has a proven track record of creating project agreements that put real dollars into the pockets of real people.

Long-time premier W.A.C. Bennett, a hero of the conservative cause, made use of project agreements with labour and contractors when his government built the big hydro dams in the 1960s. He did it to achieve cost certainty and a guaranteed supply of construction workers. He knew that by working with unions in good faith, he would complete provincial projects safely and on time.

The NDP government updated the project labour agreement model on the Vancouver Island Highway Project in the 1990s. It provided fair wages and working conditions for all workers on the job, whether their employer was union or non-union. It delivered business and employment benefits for the Island’s First Nations and measures to hire and train women in construction. The project was completed at the end of the NDP term within the 1993 budget.

The Liberal government under Gordon Campbell scrapped the Vancouver Island agreement and closed the door on any new agreements. The Liberals preferred a strictly low-bid approach, where contractors would have no obligation to use certified tradespeople, train apprentices, hire locally or bring First Nations and women into the construction workforce.

By ignoring the interests of working people and communities, the Liberals were going to save the taxpayer big bucks. But guess what?

On B.C. Hydro’s Site C, a recent independent report from consultants at Deloitte found that the project has already overshot its budget. “Low bid” is turning into a nightmare. Deloitte put “performance issues of contractors” first on the list of project risks.

B.C.’s construction unions, such as the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115 and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 213, advocate for what we now call community benefit agreements. Yes, these structured project agreements will be great for our members. But we know from experience that contractors will benefit too, from the on-site safety services unions provide, the experienced labour that unions provide, and the resulting productivity.

Government and its agencies will benefit from cost certainty and quality assurance. And we’re urging the B.C. government to talk to communities and First Nations about local hiring, essential skills training and apprentice training. Unions are qualified to help provide that training because — in the view of Jessica McDonald, the deputy minister to former premier Christy Clark who wrote a report on training in 2014 — unions are the most effective skills trainers in the province, with the highest rate of apprentice program completion.

Under our proposal to the government, community benefits agreements will deliver:

• industry-standard wages, benefits and contributions for all workers, union and non-union;

• industry-standard safety rules and requirements;

• programs to advance women, First Nations and apprentices;

• a ban on the employment of workers from offshore under sub-standard employment and living conditions;

• a guarantee of wage predictability and no labour disruptions, to support project completion on time and on budget;

• a fair bidding process open to all contractors, union and non-union, with selection based on demonstrated excellence in project management.

Some critics suggest that our proposal is scary. In fact, it pulls together priorities that governments of all stripes have been working toward for the past decade. At its most controversial, the community benefit agreement model requires that public construction projects should serve the public first, rather than the interests of non-union contractors.

Brian Cochrane is business manager for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115; Adam Van Steinburg is business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 213 and vice-president of the B.C. and Yukon Building Trades Council.


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The B.C. government is considering the future of the Site C dam project — whether to complete it (our preference) or shut it down. Whichever side you take in the debate, it has giving B.C. a chance to think about how to get maximum value from public construction. In our view, it’s time for B.C. […]

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Green leader senses NDP support for Site C, minister says no decisions made yet

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The future of the Site C hydroelectric dam is the subject of pointed questions from labour unions, environmental groups, Indigenous Peoples and high-ranking civil servants with the British Columbia government who want answers about the projected costs of scrapping the $8.3-billion project.

The New Democrats are poised to decide Site C’s fate by the end of the year after a review by the B.C. Utilities Commission, the province’s independent energy regulator, concluded the dam is over budget and behind schedule.

But one Site C opponent said Friday he already senses the government will complete the megaproject.

Green Leader Andrew Weaver said he does not have inside information, but he is convinced the NDP will decide to keep building the dam, already under construction for more than two years.

“I can’t see them giving pink slips to thousands of people on Christmas Eve,” he said.

B.C. Hydro, the province’s public utility, says more than 2,000 people are working on Site C, which is near Fort St. John.

Weaver said he began to feel the government moving towards supporting the project this week after a group of labour unions said the utilities commission report did not properly calculate the cost of stopping Site C. An estimated $4 billion has been spent on Site C so far.

The project also faced tough questions from senior officials in the Finance and Energy ministries who wrote to the utilities commission wanting more answers about the costs of killing Site C. The two deputy ministers also asked for clarification about the impact on future hydro rates if the project was stopped.

“If the Site C project were terminated, the $4 billion sunk and remediation costs would need to be recovered, and the amortization period of that recovery would affect B.C. Hydro rates,” the letter states. “Could the commission clarify whether it assumed that these costs would be recovered over 10, 30 or 70 years?”

Energy experts representing residents in the Peace River area, where the dam is under construction, said the utilities commission report answered the questions about the $4 billion.

“The BCUC treatment of these costs is consistent with economic theory and practice and concludes that there is no cost advantage to proceeding with Site C,” U.S. energy expert Robert McCullough says in a letter on behalf of the Peace Valley Landowner Association.

Energy Minister Michelle Mungall said in a statement she travelled to the northeast this week with Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser to meet with local Indigenous communities and others, including business leaders, about Site C.

She gave no indication the government has already made up its mind on the project’s future.

“We attended meetings to listen, and to discuss issues as they relate to Site C,” said Mungall. “We will bring First Nations perspectives back to the provincial cabinet over the next few weeks.”

Weaver said the Greens, who have an agreement to back the minority government in the legislature, will remind the NDP at every opportunity about its change of position if it keeps the project going.

“We’ll add that to the collection of things we find really irritating that you’ve done,” he said.

The future of the Site C hydroelectric dam is the subject of pointed questions from labour unions, environmental groups, Indigenous Peoples and high-ranking civil servants with the British Columbia government who want answers about the projected costs of scrapping the $8.3-billion project. The New Democrats are poised to decide Site C’s fate by the end […]

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Greens’ Weaver convinced NDP will support Site C, an ‘irritating’ decision

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VICTORIA — The future of the Site C hydroelectric dam is the subject of pointed questions from labour unions, environmental groups, Indigenous Peoples and high-ranking civil servants with the B.C. government who want answers about the projected costs of scrapping the $8.3-billion project.

The New Democrats are poised to decide Site C’s fate by the end of the year after a review by the B.C. Utilities Commission, the province’s independent energy regulator, concluded the dam is over budget and behind schedule.

But one Site C opponent said Friday he already senses the government will complete the megaproject.

Green Leader Andrew Weaver said he does not have inside information, but he is convinced the NDP will decide to keep building the dam, already under construction for more than two years.

“I can’t see them giving pink slips to thousands of people on Christmas Eve,” he said.

B.C. Hydro, the province’s public utility, says more than 2,000 people are working on Site C, which is near Fort St. John.

Weaver said he began to feel the government moving towards supporting the project this week after a group of labour unions said the utilities commission report did not properly calculate the cost of stopping Site C. An estimated $4 billion has been spent on Site C so far.

The project also faced tough questions from senior officials in the Finance and Energy ministries who wrote to the utilities commission wanting more answers about the costs of killing Site C. The two deputy ministers also asked for clarification about the impact on future hydro rates if the project was stopped.

The Site C Dam location is seen along the Peace River in Fort St. John, B.C., in April 2017.


The Site C Dam location is seen along the Peace River in Fort St. John, B.C., in April 2017.

JONATHAN HAYWARD /

CANADIAN PRESS Files

“If the Site C project were terminated, the $4 billion sunk and remediation costs would need to be recovered, and the amortization period of that recovery would affect B.C. Hydro rates,” the letter states. “Could the commission clarify whether it assumed that these costs would be recovered over 10, 30 or 70 years?”

Energy experts representing residents in the Peace River area, where the dam is under construction, said the utilities commission report answered the questions about the $4 billion.

“The BCUC treatment of these costs is consistent with economic theory and practice and concludes that there is no cost advantage to proceeding with Site C,” U.S. energy expert Robert McCullough says in a letter on behalf of the Peace Valley Landowner Association.

Energy Minister Michelle Mungall said in a statement she travelled to the northeast this week with Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser to meet with local Indigenous communities and others, including business leaders, about Site C.

She gave no indication the government has already made up its mind on the project’s future.

“We attended meetings to listen, and to discuss issues as they relate to Site C,” said Mungall. “We will bring First Nations perspectives back to the provincial cabinet over the next few weeks.”

Weaver said the Greens, who have an agreement to back the minority government in the legislature, will remind the NDP at every opportunity about its change of position if it keeps the project going.

“We’ll add that to the collection of things we find really irritating that you’ve done,” he said.

Related

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Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email vantips@postmedia.com.

VICTORIA — The future of the Site C hydroelectric dam is the subject of pointed questions from labour unions, environmental groups, Indigenous Peoples and high-ranking civil servants with the B.C. government who want answers about the projected costs of scrapping the $8.3-billion project. The New Democrats are poised to decide Site C’s fate by the […]

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A kid who grew up in the projects is now in charge of reducing …

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The 350-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment is a cramped, no-frills space, but it provided a safe place for cabinet-minister-to-be Shane Simpson, his little sister and his mother when they desperately needed a home.

As Simpson walks through the tiny unit in the large East Vancouver housing project, he recalls a frugal time when his single mother raised two kids there on welfare wages after leaving her husband in the late 1960s.

“My dad beat my mom up. And one day, when my sister was about eight and I was about 11, we left. We walked out the back door and down the alley with what we could carry,” said Simpson, the NDP MLA for Vancouver-Hastings.

“I grew up poor. I grew up in a housing project in the Downtown Eastside. The thing about poverty is, it’s really hard when you get in that situation to get out.”

Fifty years later, it is now his job as the minister of social development and poverty reduction to make it easier for people to get out of poverty.

Despite its high cost of living, B.C. is the only province without an official poverty reduction plan. The NDP promised to change that when it formed the government in July, taking over from 16 years of Liberal rule.

Last week, members of an all-party legislative committee unanimously urged the government to finance a comprehensive poverty-reduction plan in its 2018 budget, saying in a report released Wednesday they heard submissions that “B.C. has the second-highest poverty rate in Canada.” Indeed, recent reports indicate that Metro Vancouver has an increasing number of people who are homeless and who rely on the food bank.

His childhood gives Simpson insight into the needs of the estimated 700,000 British Columbians who live below the poverty line. But with all the demands on this new government — an epidemic of overdose deaths, paying for last summer’s massive wildfire season, and increasing education funding — can he deliver on the NDP’s promises to reduce poverty?

“Addressing housing, addressing child care — these are long-term projects. We have got to get a good start on them, and we’re working on that,” Simpson said. “Then we can make a difference for people. We are not going to end poverty, but we can make it better, we can reduce the numbers, and we can make life better for people.” 

His government has taken some first steps — improving access to adult basic education, increasing welfare and disability rates by $100 a month, suggesting the minimum wage be increased to $15 an hour (pending recommendations from the new fair wages commission), and last month striking an advisory group of 27 experts to provide advice on how to develop a poverty reduction plan. The NDP’s mini-budget in September was silent on the party’s $10-a-day child care promise, though Simpson says the public will “hear more” about the plan in the 2018 budget.

But longtime anti-poverty activist Jean Swanson — who lives in Simpson’s riding and voted for him — said the NDP doesn’t need another committee to recommend how to reduce hardship, arguing the solutions are obvious and will take courage.

“What will the NDP really do? What will they have the guts to do in terms of ending poverty?” Swanson asked. “We know we need a massive increase in welfare, and social housing units that poor people can afford. And I haven’t seen any signs that is in the works.”

Simpson knows improving welfare and housing are tricky pieces of this puzzle.

“There’s nobody, including me as the minister, who is going to try to tell anybody that a $375 (welfare) shelter allowance pays the rent in Vancouver. It doesn’t,” he said.

“We need to figure out how to deal with the housing question for people who are struggling. And that’s going to be part of the work that we are going to do around poverty reduction. It will be complex, it won’t be easy.”

He hopes to work on affordable housing with the federal government, which has also put an emphasis on poverty reduction since the election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2015.

Fifty years ago, when Pearl Simpson left her husband, she was able to find housing in the new 250-unit Ray-Mur project, which opened in 1968 at Campbell Avenue and Hastings Street.

“(Ray-Mur) solved a huge issue for my mom. She didn’t have to worry about where we were going to live. And she could turn her attention to the other challenges of raising a couple of kids on welfare,” said Simpson, who recalls his childhood home as a place where families looked out for each other but also faced obstacles.

“There was lots of gang activity and lots of stuff going on in Ray-Mur that was pretty challenging. I think of the number of people who I grew up with who didn’t make it and died — some violently, some not. It was (my mother’s) stability that really was the driving force that kept us together.”

The family was able to scrape by financially: His mother furnished the tiny apartment with junk-store items she fixed up; she served slumgullion and other inexpensive meals; and after two years on welfare, she got a minimum-wage job sorting donations at the Salvation Army.

Children who lived in Ray-Mur attended nearby Seymour Elementary, but had to walk across busy train tracks to get there. When trains were parked on the track, Simpson recalled, students would roll underneath them to get to the other side for school.

Local mothers pleaded with city hall and the railway company, but no action was taken. So, in early 1971, a group dubbed the Militant Mothers of Ray-Mur defiantly stopped the trains from running by pitching tents and sitting on the tracks until officials agreed to build an overpass for the children to get to school.


Jean Amos (left) and Carolyn Jerome (right) raise their arms in defiance as members of the Militant Mothers of Ray-Mur, who blocked railway tracks in Strathcona in the early 1970s to protest dangerous conditions for poor children. An unidentified girl stands by a tent erected on the tracks. Shane Simpson, who also lived in the Ray-Mur housing project during the protests, says his politics was inspired by the Militant Mothers. Today, he is a B.C. cabinet minister in charge of reducing poverty.

Sun/Province archive photo

It was a massive victory for the underdog, and witnessing this protest sparked a love of politics in the then-teenaged Simpson. 

“It was the Militant Mothers of Ray-Mur that kind of found me my politics,” he said. “Single moms on welfare, they were the bottom of the barrel. This group of women here, they said, ‘Enough already.’ They realized when they came together, they could have power.”

Simpson went to Britannia Secondary but he wasn’t a good student. He finished high school by correspondence and did some menial labour jobs.

Then, at age 18, he worked with more single mothers who wanted to build a community centre that offered child care, programs for youth and seniors, and a communal living room for the poor neighbourhood. He helped lobby all levels of government for money that would eventually build the Ray-Cam community centre, which today remains a fixture for families in East Vancouver.

“(The women) thought they’d generate the dollars more quickly to build the centre using this young-kid-in-the-housing-projects-pulling-himself-up-by-the-bootstraps stuff, and we played that for all it was worth,” he recalled.

Simpson’s left-leaning politics led to jobs with former NDP MP Margaret Mitchell, with CUPE B.C., and ultimately as an MLA in 2005. During his 12 years in opposition in the legislature, he frequently raised the issue of reducing poverty.

Marvin Hunt, the Liberals’ social development critic, maintains the best way to reduce poverty in B.C. is to support education, create jobs and build a good economy, all things he argued his former government had been doing.

“The reality is: Where is the (NDP’s) economic plan that is going to create and sustain the jobs that people need to truly lift themselves out of poverty,” said Hunt.  

Increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, he believes, will just inflate the cost of labour and ultimately reduce jobs in B.C.

Hunt doubts that creating a poverty reduction plan will do anything more than produce another report to collect dust on government shelves. He also wonders how successful other provinces with these plans have been at reducing poverty.

Trish Garner of the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition, who was appointed to the government’s advisory forum, said B.C. can learn from the experiences of other provinces. Ontario, for example, had a too-narrow focus on child poverty that missed helping out many other poor people, she said.

She is cautiously optimistic about the new government, but noted there is much work to do. “We are waiting with bated breath for the promised increase to minimum wage to $15 an hour and the launch of the $10-a-day child care plan, and, of course, housing,” Garner said.

Today, Ray-Mur still houses poor people, although it is now run by a non-profit society under the name Stamps Place. But challenges with poverty are more extreme now than in Pearl Simpson’s day: welfare rates and the minimum wage have not kept up with inflation, the cost of living has skyrocketed, and 40 per cent of poor adults in B.C. have jobs but still can’t make ends meet.

While door-knocking during election campaigns, Simpson has met people from his childhood who are still living in tough circumstances — evidence that over the past five decades, many families have been unable to break the cycle of poverty.

“I see people I knew growing up, who I know are suffering issues around addictions or mental health challenges. And lots of people who didn’t get the education, and their kids didn’t seem to get the education. And once you get caught in that, it’s really hard,” he said.

“We need to support people with income supports and housing supports — all of that is important. But we also need to turn our attention to the cycle of poverty and about how we break that. And that’s about creating opportunities for people to move forward.”

There is mounting pressure in B.C. for the government to take action on poverty from organizations such as First Call, which releases its annual child poverty report card this Tuesday. Last year’s report showed that one in five B.C. children live in poverty, a rate that is unchanged from 20 years ago.

lculbert@postmedia.com


By the numbers

Poverty in B.C.

700,000 people in B.C. live below the poverty line.

25% are children.

40% of the adults have jobs, but still can’t make ends meet.

Food Bank

27,000 people get help from the Food Bank weekly in Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster and the North Shore. That is up from 26,500 in January.

20% are children.

19% are seniors.

Homelessness
3,605 people in Metro Vancouver did not have homes in September, up 30% since 2014.

23% are aged 55 or older, up from 18% in 2014.

33% are Indigenous, though they account for only 2.5% of the region’s population.

82% have a health challenge, with addictions and mental health commonly cited problems.

Sources: Statistics Canada, Greater Vancouver Food Bank, Metro Vancouver Homeless Count 2017, B.C. NDP

The 350-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment is a cramped, no-frills space, but it provided a safe place for cabinet-minister-to-be Shane Simpson, his little sister and his mother when they desperately needed a home. As Simpson walks through the tiny unit in the large East Vancouver housing project, he recalls a frugal time when his single mother raised two […]

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Monique Keiran: Summer fires threaten Okanagan wines

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This past summer was the smokiest on record in B.C. Environment Canada estimates that parts of the Interior, including the Okanagan wine country, experienced the worst visibility on record — as many as 400 hours of low visibility some areas, or close to 18 per cent of summer hours.

Degree of visibility indicates how much particulate matter is in the air. Low visibility occurs when it becomes difficult to see 10 kilometres into the distance.

But even months after rain and snow have washed smoke from the air, the smoke will linger. Eau de char will perfume the ground and trees in burnt areas when the snow melts. It might even show up this year’s vintage from the Okanagan’s vineyards.

When a vineyard is exposed to smoke, the grapes’ skins, leaves and vines absorb volatile phenols, a class of chemical compounds found in woodsmoke.

The grapes taste fine when eaten, but wine made from the grapes might taste awful. Wildfire-affected wine can taste of ashtray, smoke, leather, burnt, barbecue, smoked meat, bacon or salami.

Until recently, “smoke taint” wasn’t easily detected until after fermentation — too late for winemakers to adjust their processes to reduce the unpalatable outcome.

But B.C. researchers have devised a technique that allows growers and vintners to assess smoke damage to their grapes.

The test “detects the exact amount of volatile phenols present in the grape,” says Wesley Zandberg, one of the researchers and a professor at the University of British Columbia. “There’s no need to ferment them first, and we get results within a matter of hours.”

Wine producers currently use a subjective measure in which they take small batches of grapes, ferment them, then taste the resulting wine to determine whether it has the telltale burnt, smoky flavour. The sample ferment takes up to 10 days and is labour- and cost-intensive.

In addition, during the delay, grapes left on the vine to ripen while the tests run their course could be exposed to yet more smoke. In 2003 — a bad wildfire year in Kelowna — that delay meant one area vineyard had to pour out its entire vintage because of smoke taint.

The new tool offers a faster and more precise way to help vineyards and wineries manage the risk from smoke exposure.

By knowing precisely whether and by how much each crop has been impacted by smoke exposure, Zandberg says growers and winemakers alike can make informed decisions about whether the grapes should be used or abandoned.

Red wines are more at risk of being smoke-tainted. Red wine is made from juice left in longer contact with the grape skins than juice used to make white wines. That longer contact period means more of the smoke molecules seep into the juice.

Hints of smoke are often desirable in wine — they add complexity and depth to great vintages. Many wines are aged in smoked oak barrels to achieve those smoky, leathery, barnyard-y hints.

However, “smoke taint” itself isn’t subtle. Reports suggest that not even diluting or blending can hide its overpowering taste.

Zandberg says the new test can also be applied after the grapes have been fermented and aged to add precision and accuracy to the winemaking process.

“This could be hugely beneficial in helping winemakers determine whether wines have enough smoky compounds to match their desired flavour profile after aging in smoked barrels,” he says.

Every kilogram of wood burned releases up to 27 grams of volatile organic compounds in smoke. The volatile compounds include benzenes, formaldehyde, formic acid, methyl chlorides, naphthalene, chlorinated dioxins, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and many other chemicals. Some are highly aromatic phenols, providing the campfire, fried-bacon, cured-leather smell that we know so well from sitting around the campfire and roasting marshmallows.

Those aromatic smoke molecules are the ones that concern B.C. grape growers.

Amount of smoke, the time and duration of exposure of the vines to the smoke, the stage the grapes are during exposure, the ripening process, variety of grape, and how often the grapes are exposed in one season affect the amount of volatile phenols absorbed by the grapes.

keiran_monique@rocketmail.com

This past summer was the smokiest on record in B.C. Environment Canada estimates that parts of the Interior, including the Okanagan wine country, experienced the worst visibility on record — as many as 400 hours of low visibility some areas, or close to 18 per cent of summer hours. Degree of visibility indicates how much […]

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Lack of sick leave in Employment Standards Act a factor in B.C. …

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A dental receptionist who alleges she was fired because she was sick and couldn’t afford to take unpaid leave has had her case accepted at the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal.

In B.C., as in many provinces across the country, labour law does not entitle workers to any paid or unpaid sick days.

That means many employees take a financial hit if they call in sick with the flu or a burst appendix, and employers can dismiss their staff if they miss too much work because of an illness. 

Labour advocates say the case highlights the need to include sick leave in the province’s labour code, but small businesses argue doing so could put them at risk. 

Unpredictable symptoms

According to a recent decision filed at the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, Katelyn Hagel was working as a receptionist for Dr. Danial Deheshi in Burnaby last year when she became sick with an undisclosed illness.

The decision says Hagel’s symptoms were “varied and unpredictable,” causing her to miss 11 full and three partial days of work over about eight weeks. 

One day in mid-October, Hagel texted office manager Fereshta Deheshi to say she wasn’t feeling well.

Deheshi replied saying Hagel should stay home and rest until her surgery in two weeks, but Hagel texted back that she couldn’t afford to stop working until then. 

Application to dismiss denied

According to the decision, Hagel sensed her job was in jeopardy, and applied for a job on Craigslist later the same day. That job, unbeknownst to her, was at the Deheshis’ dental clinic. 

They fired her the next day.

The Deheshis allege they let her go because Hagel embellished her duties at the clinic on her resume.

Hagel filed a complaint with the tribunal on the basis of physical disability, arguing her employer pressured her to take unpaid sick time when she was able to work.

The Deheshis applied to dismiss the complaint, but their application was denied.

In her decision, tribunal member Barbara Korenkiewicz acknowledged that staffing issues in a small office can be a challenge when an employee is unpredictably sick.

However, Korenkiewicz said the Deheshis had not provided enough evidence that they had accommodated Hagel to the point of undue hardship. 

‘No hard and fast rules’

Labour and human rights lawyer Elizabeth Reid said cases like Hagel’s are common in her field. 

“This is bread and butter for employment lawyers,” Reid said. 

“One thing that is challenging for everyone involved is that there are no hard and fast rules,” she said. 

 According to Reid, factors the tribunal usually considers in this type of case include the size of the office, as well as the nature of the illness and its impact on other staff and the business. 

Reid points out that most provinces in Canada don’t currently include sick leave in their employment standards legislation. However, Ontario is currently examining the issue and is looking at including up to 10 sick days per year, two of them paid. 

Review in B.C. underway

Irene Lanzinger, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, said her organization has been advocating for sick leave for years. 

“No one should have to go to work when they’re sick,” Lanzinger said, pointing out that illness can spread to healthy workers when employees feel forced to show up for work. 

The B.C. Ministry of Labour declined a request for an interview, but said in a statement that it will be updating its employment standards next year.

“Part of this work includes looking at what other provinces have in place,” the ministry said.  

The B.C. Law Institute is currently conducting an independent review of the Employment Standards Act, the ministry said, and is scheduled to issue a report in early 2018. 

‘Definitely worrisome’

But the Canadian Federation of Independent Business argues legislation to provide paid and unpaid sick leave would come at a big cost for many entrepreneurs. 

“Small businesses often operate on very thin margins in very competitive markets,” said Richard Truscott, the federation’s vice president for B.C. and Alberta. 

“Any time governments make it more difficult for small businesses to succeed, that’s definitely worrisome.”

Truscott said many small businesses can’t accommodate sick employees in the same way as larger organizations. Still, he says many do as part of their benefits packages to attract employees.

“I think employers need to have a reasonable amount of flexibility in the workplace to deal with these issues,” he said.

A dental receptionist who alleges she was fired because she was sick and couldn’t afford to take unpaid leave has had her case accepted at the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal. In B.C., as in many provinces across the country, labour law does not entitle workers to any paid or unpaid sick days. That means […]

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Green leader senses NDP support for Site C, minister says no decisions made yet

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VICTORIA — The future of the Site C hydroelectric dam is the subject of pointed questions from labour unions, environmental groups, Indigenous Peoples and high-ranking civil servants with the British Columbia government who want answers about the projected costs of scrapping the $8.3-billion project.

The New Democrats are poised to decide Site C’s fate by the end of the year after a review by the B.C. Utilities Commission, the province’s independent energy regulator, concluded the dam is over budget and behind schedule.

But one Site C opponent said Friday he already senses the government will complete the megaproject.

Green Leader Andrew Weaver said he does not have inside information, but he is convinced the NDP will decide to keep building the dam, already under construction for more than two years.

“I can’t see them giving pink slips to thousands of people on Christmas Eve,” he said.

B.C. Hydro, the province’s public utility, says more than 2,000 people are working on Site C, which is near Fort St. John.

Weaver said he began to feel the government moving towards supporting the project this week after a group of labour unions said the utilities commission report did not properly calculate the cost of stopping Site C. An estimated $4 billion has been spent on Site C so far.

The project also faced tough questions from senior officials in the Finance and Energy ministries who wrote to the utilities commission wanting more answers about the costs of killing Site C. The two deputy ministers also asked for clarification about the impact on future hydro rates if the project was stopped.

“If the Site C project were terminated, the $4 billion sunk and remediation costs would need to be recovered, and the amortization period of that recovery would affect B.C. Hydro rates,” the letter states. “Could the commission clarify whether it assumed that these costs would be recovered over 10, 30 or 70 years?”

Energy experts representing residents in the Peace River area, where the dam is under construction, said the utilities commission report answered the questions about the $4 billion.

“The BCUC treatment of these costs is consistent with economic theory and practice and concludes that there is no cost advantage to proceeding with Site C,” U.S. energy expert Robert McCullough says in a letter on behalf of the Peace Valley Landowner Association.

Energy Minister Michelle Mungall said in a statement she travelled to the northeast this week with Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser to meet with local Indigenous communities and others, including business leaders, about Site C.

She gave no indication the government has already made up its mind on the project’s future.

“We attended meetings to listen, and to discuss issues as they relate to Site C,” said Mungall. “We will bring First Nations perspectives back to the provincial cabinet over the next few weeks.”

Weaver said the Greens, who have an agreement to back the minority government in the legislature, will remind the NDP at every opportunity about its change of position if it keeps the project going.

“We’ll add that to the collection of things we find really irritating that you’ve done,” he said.

VICTORIA — The future of the Site C hydroelectric dam is the subject of pointed questions from labour unions, environmental groups, Indigenous Peoples and high-ranking civil servants with the British Columbia government who want answers about the projected costs of scrapping the $8.3-billion project. The New Democrats are poised to decide Site C’s fate by […]

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