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Gambling on Real Estate

Gambling Institutions need the same oversight as Financial Institutions - or more. As BC continues to look into the extent of the impact of money laundering into our province - now focusing on the real estate market - the obvious systemic issue is being overlooked.

The province is assigning Peter German once again to head the investigation. You'll remember him for looking into the casinos and concluding "only" $100 million was laundered over 10 years, and refusing to back down after it was brought to light he might be at least a little conflicted. In case you don't want to follow that link; it was uncovered he sits on a Board with a Casino executive at one of the primary targets of the investigation. And his 247 page report seems impressive until you realize a document of that size is purposefully designed to be unreadable.

How can British Columbians be confident anything helpful will come of this additional, expensive review? If the investigation into the casinos revealed anything, it's that even if the issue becomes the focus of a media news cycle or two no one will ultimately be held accountable. BC Lottery - the group tasked with monitoring casinos - vaguely committed to incorporating Peter German's report findings into future oversight.

What were they doing before?

The answer is patently obvious: profiting from the proceeds of crime.

There are some pretty strict laws against allowing yourself to contribute to criminal activity, and negligence is not grounds for pardon. The Big Banks of Canada are watched vigilantly by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI), while BC Credit Unions are overseen by the Financial Institutions Commission (FICOM). Despite their shortcomings (which I will surely write about at some point), both of these regulators are part of banking systems considered to be among the best in the world at protecting consumers.

So perhaps it's finally time we treat gambling establishments as financial institutions and start holding them to AT LEAST the standards we expect everywhere else large sums of money are changing hands. Or we can continue to allow criminal enterprises to decimate our economic well-being.

- Denis Flinn

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In what world does 40% represent over 50%, and 18% actually mean 5%? The answer: BC elections.

Starting October 22, 2018, British Columbians will have the opportunity to vote in a referendum that presents two primary options: 1) continue to undermine democracy and stoke voter apathy with a manipulated system, or 2) allow every vote to count equally with Proportional Representation.

Is BC's electoral system really that broken? Let's review some recent elections:

In 2017, Christy Clark's Liberals very narrowly missed creating a fourth consecutive majority government with under 50% of the popular vote.

Before that? In 2001, the Liberals won 97.5% of seats with 57.6% of the popular vote. Totally democratic, right?

The choice is clear. The current system is broken, and this is a rare chance to fix it.  This is not a matter of party politics, this is a crucial moment for a more democratic voting process to be implemented. Anyone who tells you differently is not representing the interests of a democratic process.

But because we have lived under a First Past the Post regime for so long, voter turnout is expected to be low and apathy is expected to be high. Every vote counts a great deal. And since votes will be tallied on a proportional basis (which should hint strongly at which system is inherently better), your participation is of the utmost importance.

There are three options for proportional representation to be ranked - each with benefits and shortcomings - all of which an improvement on the current system. Educate yourself on the option for you, and make sure you vote!

- Denis Flinn

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A Thin Green Line

As pot hurtles toward legalization, we are setting up a scenario that carries echoes of the last time we put into law a long overdue advance, and did so in a wholly haphazard and inadequate fashion.

While the discrimination and human rights violations against the LGBTQ+ community are far more egregious than pot laws and still persist in some fairly overt forms to this day; the potential for a disturbing parallel in miscarriage of justice exists between the legalization of same-sex union and legal cannabis in Canada. What parallel? While same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada July 20, 2005, it took until June 2018 for criminal charges related to consensual same-sex acts to be expunged. 13 years.

Why are we not looking to the past to inform ourselves in the present? Why is outright expunging cannabis convictions not considered a bare minimum first step in our legalization legislation given our very recent history of embarrassing responses to basic human rights protection?

This time the delays and conversations in Ottawa have been marketed in a lens of "getting things right". But these conversations have revolved around distribution and supply channels, pricing the black market out, and spending millions on more enforcement. But if justice is not considered, they are missing the mark.

This is - more than any other time - the time to address the legalization question in all of its facets before the bureaucratic dogma of law makes amendments nearly impossible, and historic discrimination fully entrenched.

Criminal records are nearly unshakable shadows. In today's economy they can render a person "unemployable" long after finishing serving their debt to society. While steps continue to be made to understand the landscape for members of our society re-integrating after a prison sentence, the data is currently not clear. As of December 2016, we really have no idea if our system is working - which strongly suggests that it isn't. One thing is clear: coming out of jail only to find yourself unemployable is a sentence in and of itself, and one that puts people on a path to re-offend.

The fact that cannabis activists and users are being denied dispensary licenses for low-level possession charges is a Kafkaesque twist of dark, tragic humour. This is all too real and it's not funny.

To compound the issue, possession  may also permanently affect your ability to move across the border with our 'friends' to the South. The border has become a minefield for anyone caught up in cannabis - legal or not. Why would we put so many people at risk of a lifetime ban by placing someone's possession charge on the screens of a border patrol agent? As a nation, are we not tasked with looking out for each other and combating injustice? Are we not moving forward on the understanding cannabis is legal?

Sure, you can apply to be pardoned, but the process is currently slow, inconsistent, and expensive. In short; it favours the people least likely to get caught on a pot charge. So on October 17, 2018, some will celebrate a significant moment and victory in the fight for freedom, while some will have court dates.

Many others will continue to sit in a prison cell awaiting their release date. These people will be disproportionately visible minorities, and the under-educated. What their fate will be is being left to chance at this point, as Mr. Goodale continues to put off giving people currently caught in the system any answers. For the foreseeable future, systemic oppression will be masked by a corporatized veneer as the illusion of progress is trotted out for the eager consumer.

Cannabis legalization is a step in the right direction on many levels. But make no mistake, it is not true progress if a large - disproportionately visible minority and underprivileged - group of people continue to suffer consequences under a law that no longer exists.

Until low level cannabis "criminals" are released from prison and possession charges are expunged from the record, cannabis legalization will only represent a coup for those in our society least in need of a break. Unconditional pardons and reparations, like the ones being enacted in Oakland are a must.

- Denis Flinn
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Today the CCPA published a great blog post on the land wealth inequality. Using publicly available data from Stats Canada and the Canadian Revenue Authority, Alex Hemingway documents how the rich get richer. This is a BC based analysis of how the boom times have enriched the top 20%, or the top 5% even more.

The concentration of wealth in relatively few hands is difficult to swallow in an allegedly 'democratic', egalitarian country.  The top 20% by net worth own 62% by value of all the real estate designated principal residences; and 80% of all the other real estate (presumably rental, commercial, and industrial). 

On the flip side, the 60% with lowest incomes own only own only 13% of the value in principle residences.

When property values escalate it is clear who gains.  In 2016, Hemingway notes, Vancouver single family properties jumped $47B in market value, roughly equal to the entire provincial budget in that year.  We can estimate that 62% of that or $29B went to the wealthiest 20% of households - and most of it 'tax free'. (@$6B went to the bottom 60% of households!)

The post notes that this inequality is the result of tax treatment, and Hemingway endorses the new speculation tax and new school tax that will require higher value landowners to pay more.  He suggests implementation of a progressive property tax.  Yes, these are good measures, but we should also place a cap on the capital gains tax exemption for principal residences.

The existing tax regime benefits the wealthy because they pay attention and lobby.  Ordinary people have to push for a fairer system.  It is possible to get this tax question on the table for the next Federal election.  It did come up last year

This item from policynote.ca is a call to action for those of us who want to challenge the status quo.  The Provincial government has done the right things so far, but there is more to do. 

 

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