Defamation drama at Nanaimo Council

At Monday’s Council meeting, the Financial Officer presented a report detailing Nanaimo City Council’s spending for the first six months of 2016.  (The elephant in the room – defamation – got exposed.)

This year, not only did Council vote themselves a raise but they voted to increase their expense budget from $75,000 to $118,000.

According to the CFO, the Acting Mayor approves Mayor and Council expenditures, and in in turn the Mayor approves the Acting Mayor’s expenses. They were told that they can reallocate their expenses between accounts, except legal fees.

Council talks legal expenses:

Bestwick: …why are other agencies not filling out this expense form?…Who checks their expenses? If we fill these forms out in seven days why don’t they?

Brennan: …each councillor received a budget of $13,500 for their expenses but my budget was only $8,500. I didn’t understand that so I contacted staff…I was told that there was $5,000 allocated to each councillor and I was told that I was not entitled to that. The reason I was given was that there was a council motion that attributed $5,000 to each councillor but that motion did not include ME!

So (big frown) …I have not challenged that… I was fighting a losing battle on it…the other council members were awarded an extra $5,000 for legal fees…

Mayor: …careful what you say…

Brennan: …That’s why I didn’t get the extra $5,000 as it was for legal fees…

Yoachim: …when you get boxed in you have to defend yourself…before hiring the current CAO there was no process of hiring…we can get the real story…so it’s not that we five councillors tried to gang up on Councillor Brennan…I hope the story can come out…when legally possible…to say people got extra money…and why I had to get a lawyer to defend myself…

Mayor: …stick to it [expense questions]…

Fuller: …for any other legal challenges against the City do we pay the person making the challenge? Do we do that with any other legal challenge? Is it a practice to pay ahead?…

CAO:…the general practice is for the CAO to provide corporate advice and to retain a legal firm…we have 5 to 8 legal firms on contract at any time…we have a whole list of lawyers available…when council needs legal advice the CAO makes lawyers available…The practice should be to go through the CAO and they [council] will get legal advice for those that need it…an allegation of leaked information from a meeting was made…the minutes for these in-camera meetings have been released now…the legal advice was that there was a breach of confidentiality…

Councillor Brennan requested advice for legal help because she was asked to make an apology…and she requested legal help to do so…and she did…but she requested more informaton from the lawyer…she has been informed that she can apply for the legal money if she wants to…Councillor Brenan has been given that advice verbally and in writing….and it is up to Brennan…also Brennan has made several requests to have this reversed but that is not up to myself or the CFO to make…that’s up to council to reimburse Brennan or not…Brennan would have to make that request to council…the lawyers represent the corporation…some councillors would be better served by having [their own lawyer]….Councillors had to [get legal help]…Mayor McKay retained his own lawyer as well…we are going into 8 months of this [legal mess]…the retention of lawyers is a process that we will have look at…Brennan and Mckay have had their own lawyers…and councillors had to get their legal advice…it is up to council when they want to depart from using corporate lawyers and use their own…

Mayor: …this is the first time we have been told about the ability to [shift the money between accounts]…I appreciate that…we had an all day meeting and were charged $22.66 each [for May 27, 2016 lunch]…we get free food here tonight at the council meeting so why the charge for the once a year lunch meeting?…

Bestwick: …we get inquiries about transparency, about spending money…here we are..airing our laundry…$22.66 for lunch? …it’s not a big deal…if we want to change the policy we put a notice of motion and give everyone two weeks’ notice…get some work careful what you ask for!…it shouldn’t warrant this time…we are wasting your time and our time…

(Clapping from the gallery)

Pratt: …what we are doing is really important…there is real controversy… I have taken advantage of the learning opportunities…I don’t need to be ashamed of anything…I have an issue with the telephone bill. Everyone is at $800 or $900 and we are halfway through the year and we are allocated $1,000 each? That needs some adjustment…

Hong: …this is great…we have a budget…there wasn’t one before…we got paid already for the whole year for the internet so that’s not going to change…that’s how it ususally works…

Should the City pay legal fees for defamation by Councillors?

Councillors opted to increase their legal budget from $15,000 to $60,000 this year. Between January and March 2016, the City of Nanaimo spent approximately $130,000 on legal costs. Did that amount include an out of court settlement for Mayor McKay?

According to the Nanaimo News Bulletin, a letter was sent to the City naming five councillors. Councillor Fuller explained, “If it went to judicial review then those monies were there for us to possibly deal with defamation.”

Should taxpayers be paying for a councillor’s loose lips? In the case of the Mayor of Calgary’s defamation case (he called a builder a ‘mob boss’) he is paying for his legal costs. Calgary Councillor Chu also was sued for defamation and he is paying his own legal fees.

 Legal Fees (Jan - June 30, 2016)Law Firm
Cook Roberts, LLP
Cook Roberts, LLP
3,593.33Cook Roberts, LLP
3,593.33Cook Roberts, LLP
Cook Roberts, LLP

4 Questions on expense reporting

  1. Why is the Mayor and council approving their own expenses?
  2. Why are expenses allowed to be shuffled between accounts?
  3. Why are the internet and call display costs so high?
  4. Why are the expenses for many items the same amount for each member of council?

The chart below shows that for 6 council members most of the expenses were for legal fees or internet/call display.

Comparing 2015 and 2016 expenses

Councillor2015 2016 (Jan - Jun 30, 2016)Biggest Expense of 2016
54% on call display/internet
Thorpe2,038.221,729.7942% on call display/internet
Fuller1,008.684,706.9676% on legal costs
4,831.6674% on legal costs
Bestwick3,039.474,844.8174% on legal costs
Brennan7,116.685,072.5980% on conferences
McKay28,302.376,025.7873% on conferences
Hong7,759.076,088.6959% on legal costs
Pratt7,366.916,582.8782% on conferences

Nanaimo Councillors spend on conferences, call display

The City of Nanaimo released the expense report for Mayor and Council for the first six months of 2016. So far, Nanaimo Council expenses total $41,243.07 with half of that spent on attending conferences:

 Annual BudgetTotal Expenses (Jan - June)ConferencesConferences Attended
TOTAL$118,000$41,243.07 $ 21,024.50
Yoachim13,500 4,831.66200.911
Fuller13,500 4,706.96253.411
Thorpe13,500 2,038.221,093.702
McKay15,0006,025.784,428.52 3
Hong13,5006,088.695,092.87 3
Pratt13,5006,582.875,414.67 7

Councillors who attend conferences are not required to present to Council a report on what they learned. Why is Brennan’s budget $5,000 less than the other councillors?

In April, Mayor and Councillors voted themselves a raise.

Internet Usage

Why doesn’t the City give a fixed reimbursement for internet usage per month?  If the City needs to send councillors documents, either provide a DropBox account which can be set up for free or get them to download the information to their computers.  Therefore, there is no need for a councillor to be connected to the internet to read a report.

Call Display

It looks like a lot of councillors want to know who’s calling before they pick up the phone. A regular council-watcher? Let it ring. Is someone pestering Councillor Bestwick? His reimbursement for call display was twice the amount as everyone else. Council has been reimbursed almost $7,600 for six months of call display and internet charges.

Why is the City even compensating for call display in the first place? Most phone companies provide call display free as part of a phone package. For mobile phones there are several caller ID apps that are free including Hiya, Truecaller, Holla and Extreme Call Blocker.

Councillor Fuller gets five stars for not claiming this expense!

 InternetCall Display
Kipp 448.71
McKay 667.68
Bestwick 680.52

Pratt 860.28
Yoachim 860.28

City Management and Consultants

When can we look forward to seeing a similar expense report for the management at the City?  Also, the BIG question is how much has been spent to date on consultants during this Council’s term?

Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project and Gabriola Island

What does the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project (TMX) have to do with Gabriola?

If approved, Kinder Morgan will expand the Trans Canada pipeline system from Alberta to Burnaby, with a slightly different route than the original system which was built in the early 1950s.

Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion route
Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion route

A brief timeline

1953:  The original pipeline (shown in black) had a capacity of 150,000 bpd (barrels per day). Some people claim that the system has run flawlessly ever since but there was an incident in January 1985 when there was an oil spill near Edmonton. Back then, they were shipping flowing oil through those pipes, not the thick sludge that has to be diluted.

2005: Kinder Morgan, the largest pipeline company in the world, founded by two ex-Enron executives, bought Trans Mountain pipeline in 2005.

2006-7: Kinder Morgan reactivated another 160km section of unused pipeline that went through Jasper National Park and Mount Robson Provincial Park between Hinton, Alberta and Hargreaves, BC. This brought the pipeline’s capacity to 300,000 bpd.

2010: Kinder Morgan started to plan for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMX). They wanted to raise money to build the TMX. So they began charging the oil companies a fee per barrel which passes through the existing pipeline. This surcharge isn’t considered revenue for Kinder Morgan. Also, those same fees are expensed by the oil companies using the pipeline.  That reduces the oil companies’ taxes payable.

So who is subsidising the TMX? The Canadian taxpayer. So far we have funded this project by almost $150 million.

Kinder Morgan Canada President, Ian Anderson, told investors: “there’s $29 million a year coming in for Firm 50 fees [the surcharge] that is being used to offset all of the development costs for us in the [TMX] project…there’s no risk to us.”

Kinder Morgan has a debt load of $49 billion. They’ve rolled over $10 billion of debt every year, and they’ve done that for the last five years. Is this convenient accounting in case there is an oil spill? Then who will pay for the clean-up?

2013: Kinder Morgan applied to the NEB for approval of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project.

How did the Trans Mountain Expansion Project get approved?

2015: In a conference call to investors in December 2015, Kinder Morgan CEO Steve Kean told investors that even with the changeover in the federal government he fully expected the National Energy Board to give them “our permit” in May 2016, with approval from the federal cabinet later in the summer. Is he a psychic? Or did he get reassurances from the new Liberal government that his project would get the go ahead?

2016: The NEB (National Energy Board) approved the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project (TMX) in May 2016 with 157 conditions. About half of the conditions such as engineering and safety apply throughout the lifecycle of the project and may have no specific filing requirement. Only 40 of these involve the environment.

Even though the expanded pipeline system has a capacity of over 1.1 million bpd, the NEB restricted its review to the applied-for capacity of 540,000 bpd. The NEB did not allow interveners to cross examine Kinder Morgan officials, instead opting for a written format to test evidence.

Here are just a few things that the NEB said were irrelevant:

  • Kinder Morgan pays almost no Canadian corporate taxes
  • no Emergency Management Plan (EMP) in case of an oil spill
  • no environmental impacts of tanker traffic

Oil tankers parked off of Gabriola

Not only are Gabriolans faced with the possibility of LNG supertankers scraping up the rare glass reefs off the shores of Gabriola Island, but there is a very real possibility that some of the TMX oil tankers will park there too.

The Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby would also be expanded. Oil would be loaded onto tankers in Burnaby and shipped through the Salish Sea to Washington State, California and Asia. They estimate this expansion will bring 35-40 tankers a month to Burnaby.

Another panel to ‘hear’ the public

In January 2016, the Federal government announced the Ministry of Natural Resources would create a new panel to conduct additional consultation on the TMX.

On May 17, 2016, just two days before the NEB announced its recommendation to approve TMX, the Minister of Natural Resources announced that Kim Baird, Tony Penikett and Dr. Annette Trimbee would comprise the TMX Ministerial Panel.

  • Kim Baird is the former Chief of the Tsawassen First Nation and has been called out for her conflict of interest with Kinder Morgan.
  • Tony Penikett is a former Premier of the Yukon Territory.
  • Dr. Annette Trimbee was a deputy minister in the Alberta government. Currently she is the president of the University of Winnipeg.

The panel was scheduled to hold rountables in seven communities across BC. Victoria is the only community on the oil tanker route being consulted. Some say that this is worse than the NEB hearings. The majority of people in attendance so far have been personally invited by the government. There is no official recording of the meetings.

There will be one Public Town Hall meeting in Victoria on Tuesday, August 23, 2016 from 4pm to 8:30pm at the Marriott Inner Harbour Hotel, Pacific Ballroom.

If you can’t attend, you can send an email with your comments to the panel

Panel members submit their report to Minister Carr in November 2016. The Panel’s final report will be made public.

Trans Mountain Expansion Project Status

Trans Mountain Expansion Project Approval
Trans Mountain Expansion Project Approval

There are currently seven applications to be heard by the Federal Court of Appeal contesting the NEB’s approval of the TMX. Will all seven be heard by December 2016 when the Federal government makes its final decision?

85 Orcas need your help!

There are only 85 Southern Resident Orcas left in the Salish Sea. They only eat Chinook Salmon which currently under duress because of the warm sea temperatures. The whales’ acoustic bubbles will be further diminished because of the increase in underwater noise from tanker traffic.

What will happen when there is an oil spill? Will there be any fish to swim up the Fraser River?

$2.3 Million dollar roundabout, Core Review, Trees

At Monday’s meeting Nanaimo Council was presented with two options for the intersection at Rutherford Road and Nelson Road for the new development in Linley Valley West:

  1. traffic lights $1.68 million
  2. multi-lane roundabout $2.3 million*

Council voted to proceed with a multi-lane roundabout to be phased in with a connector road linking Rutherford Road and Linley Valley Drive. For now the roundabout will be one lane.

How much will it cost? Who is paying?

The $2.3 million cost for a phased in multi-lane roundabout does not include the $850,000* the City had to pay the developer for the road allowance. The multi-lane roundabout option is more expensive and has greater impacts on adjacent properties requiring the purchase of two parcels of land and one land exchange.

From a capital cost perspective, this multi-lane roundabout is about $470,000 more than traffic lights. That is because of the extra construction and earth work required.

The developer is contributing a total of $230,000 with a time limit on $20,000 for design costs and $50,000 for land.

Council discussion

Pratt: …so we would save $60,000 with traffic lights…I was just in Edmonton and they are getting rid of their multi-lane roundabouts because they had too many accidents and found they didn’t work…why we are not looking at the cheaper option?..

Hong: Did we buy the land? How much was it?

Staff: $850,000

Hong: …so that’s…($3.45 million)

Bestwick: …let’s get it done…I prefer to do it all at once…

Thorpe: …I like the phased in roundabout…
Fuller: … I like the phased in roundabout, that way we have an option to work it out later…
Brennan: …I support the phased in roundabout…
Yoachim: …I’m a fan of roundabouts…

Kipp was absent.

Roundabouts vs. Lights

splitter island before roundabout
splitter island before roundabout

Roundabouts were developed in England in the 1960s to increase road capacity and the concept spread to Canada in the 1990s where they gained a new name, traffic circles. Roundabouts can handle as much as 50% more traffic than an intersection that uses traffic signals but it is dependant on the skill level of the drivers.

How will pedestrians and those with disabilities fare in crossing this new intersection at Rutherford Road and Nelson Road? Are they planning for a splitter island, and if so, how much would this cost?

Last stand of trees gone

Look past the old vacant gas station lot at the corner of Island Hwy and Norwell Drive and you will see a significant stand of trees. They will soon be gone.

The City has approved plans for a 36 unit apartment building at 3690 Country Club Drive.  Council approved variances Monday night which include 21 less parking spaces and a reduced front setback.

3960 Country Club Drive, Nanaimo- last treed lot in the area - gone soon
3960 Country Club Drive, Nanaimo- last treed lot in the area – gone soon

Nanaimo Core Review

Core review will be a line item on every council meeting agenda going forward so people can speak to the topic. This suggestion was brought forward by Councillor Hong.

The City is hiring a Senior Strategic Planning and Policy Advisor, a full-time permanent position that reports directly to the CAO.

Artificial Intelligence and the threat to humans

There is a race on right now to make super intelligent beings, sometimes called neural networks, or artificial agents. What are they?

They’re more advanced than robots or bots. Bots are machines that have built in combinations of algorithms and intentions and are usually for a single task or need. Bots are already in use far and wide. There are chatbots like Siri or ALICE, therapy bots that work in hospital settings, and the list goes on.

Take for example ‘journobots’. Many large news organizations  use journobots for articles such as sports and business. The Associated Press, for example, uses a journobot program called Wordsmith to write over 1,000 articles a month.

There are more bots on the internet than humans. Almost 60 percent of 2014’s internet traffic consisted of automated code. The figure is much higher today. Ever notice all the porn bots on #Nanaimo?

Instant composer

Google has another AI project called Magenta to create music and art. Given just three notes, Magenta came up with this 90 second song:

Full AI (artificial intelligence) and the threat to humans

Now scientists are developing super intelligent beings with self-will; machines that will think smarter than humans and eventually strike out on their own. Full AI — a conscious machine with self-will — could be more dangerous than anything that we have known to exist so far.

AI machines, or ‘artificial agents’ might go rogue. What’s going to stop them? A big red button? That’s what Google says it can do. But what if these artificial agents get aligned with some zealot that wants to unleash harm on the world? It’s not a stretch to think what might happen.

Future of Humanity Institute led by Nick Bostrom, believes that machines will outsmart humans within the next 100 years and thinks they have the potential to turn against us.

In a recent interview, Elon Musk said that he is so concerned he set up an open source AI organization so in case something does happen, not all AI intelligence will be held by a few players. He said he was worried about “one company in particular” – and many believe he was referring to Google.

It’s important that AI not be concentrated in the hands of a few and potentially lead to a world that we don’t want.

meet AlphaGo – artificial agent

In 2011, the founders of DeepMind designed an artificial agent called AlphaGo.

Alpha Go played games. It learned on its own with little human intervention, except by either getting rewarded or punished. This is what set it apart from anything else so far.

It got really good at playing Go, a Chinese board game exponentially more complex than Chess. To prove its abilities, in October 2015, AlphaGo played against Europe’s reigning Go champion, Fan Hui. It beat Hui in five games.

In March of this year, 60 million viewers in China (100 million worldwide) watched the match between South Korean Go Master Lee Se-dol and AlphaGo.  AlphaGo won game 3 and the match. It was an historic moment. In Korea, five books have already been published about the famous match.

AlphaGo is now the world’s number one Go player, the first non-human to win the honour.

Google’s DeepMind

When Google bought DeepMind in January 2014 in a deal  worth £300-400 million, the founders of DeepMind had one condition: create an AI ethics board. Google did but they won’t reveal who sits on it. Why not?

In May of this year it was revealed that Google’s DeepMind had been given access to the healthcare data of up to 1.6 million patients from three hospitals in England run by London’s Royal Free Trust in order to develop an app, called Streams.

Google recently announced that “by applying DeepMind’s machine learning to our own Google data centres, we’ve managed to reduce the amount of energy we use for cooling by up to 40%.” They plan to tell the world about possible applications of this technology including improving power plant conversion efficiency and water usage.

Have humans become zurkers?

Google invested in Niantic Inc., the makers of the game, Pokémon Go, built using Google Maps.

In order to play, you have to sign up with a Google account. As people walk around looking for Pokémon, the app uses their phones’ camera and GPS sensors.

Is this a fun pastime, or has it turned everyone into ‘zurkers’ – people who do human intelligence tasks for free?

In the past, Google has employed people to get street views. But what if they wanted to see more such as inside a building? Or a close up of an area that is normally off limits? What better idea than to create an app and let people think they are having fun whilst unaware that they are collectively uploading huge amounts of data.

Remember this video from 2008 when Google Street view first came out?

Is Alphabet evil?

Google’s  slogan is “Don’t be evil.” It was in the company’s corporate code of conduct, and in its 2004 Founder’s IPO Letter. It’s interesting to note the slogan was not adopted by its holding company, Alphabet Inc. which they set up last year.

Some say Alphabet was just set up to avoid paying foreign taxes such as the 1.6 billion euros ($1.8 billion) it owes France.

Google has funneled billions in profits to offshore tax havens through a series of foreign subsidiaries with a strategy that has been dubbed the “Double Irish With a Dutch Sandwich.” As of the end of 2015, Google had $58.3 billion in offshore “permanently reinvested” profits on which it pays no U.S. taxes, up from $47.4 billion in 2014.

Alter – the neural network robot

This robot called ‘Alter’, runs entirely off a neural network. That means all its movements are 100 percent free of any human control. Alter was created by two robotics laboratories in Tokyo and Osaka and is currently on display at Tokyo’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation.

Why is AI a threat to humans? Because we will no longer be at the top of the food chain. In the future, humans might just be the pets of these AI beings.

A river runs through it: Beban Plaza sewer upgrade

There used to be a creek that ran through what is now Beban Plaza at the corner of Bowen Road and Northfield Road. The creek was buried and routed through a sanitary/storm sewer pipe in the 1970s.

Now the sanitary/storm sewer needs to be replaced. The problem is that the pipe is located underneath Beban Plaza which causes a maintenance and liability risk for the City.

The work involves replacing 370 meters of 900mm pipe and replacing it with 270 meters of 250mm sewer pipe.

The work is expected to start in September 2016 and be completed by November 2016. Total cost of the project for the City is approximately $840,000.

Eleven mature Douglas Fir trees and a group of mature cottonwood trees are to be removed.

The green line on the picture below is the proposed new sanitary/storm sewer pipe which will bypass Beban Plaza. Purple dots indicate the areas where trees will be removed. Green dots show trees that are to remain standing.

Mapping of Nanaimo creeks and waterways and providing proper protections need to be a priority. Unfortunately, the City of Nanaimo has axed the Environmental Committee. In addition, at most council meetings, Nanaimo grants variances which impact waterways and wetlands.

In 1930, Frank Beban and his family purchased an existing farm of 160 acres. He died in 1952 and the house and property were bequeathed to the City of Nanaimo as a park the following year. What if all the land had been kept as a park? Would the creek still be there?

Beban Plaza Sewer upgrade
Beban Plaza Sewer upgrade to begin in September 2016