Christy Clark shakes up B.C. real estate industry with no more self governance

B.C.’s real-estate industry has lost its status as a self-regulating entity following a massive governance overhaul announced Wednesday by Premier Christy Clark.

The move comes a day after the release of a damning report by an independent advisory group, which had been tasked with looking into governance issues and shady conduct within Metro Vancouver’s real estate industry.

The group, which was chaired by Carolyn Rogers, B.C.’s superintendent of real estate, offered 28 recommendations, including stiffer penalties for licensee misconduct, greater transparency and governance issues.

Ending self-regulation, however, was not one of those recommendations, suggesting the Clark government is preparing to take determined steps to address Metro Vancouver’s housing affordability crisis.

As part of the new measures announced Wednesday, all decision making and rule setting will be taken over by a strengthened superintendent of real estate, who will report directly to B.C.’s minister of finance.

At present, the superintendent of real estate is also responsible for overseeing all credit unions and pension and mortgage brokering industries. Rogers announced last month that she was going to leave the position at the end of the month.

Clark said the search for a new superintendent is underway.

Additional changes announced Wednesday will see the real estate council reorganized to include a majority of public interest, non-industry members.

Clark also said that government will implement all of the recommendations found within the advisory group’s report, including bringing in stiffer penalties and fines for realtors and brokerages that break the rules.

College to have more tools to protect pharmacy patients

VICTORIA – British Columbia has introduced amendments to the Pharmacy

Operations and Drug Scheduling Act, which will give the College of

Pharmacists of B.C. greater ability to protect patients from unscrupulous

pharmacy owners.

Health Minister Terry Lake moved first reading of the Pharmacy Operations

and Drug Scheduling Amendment Act today.

In 2015, the college approached the Ministry of Health and asked the

ministry to give it better legislative tools for regulating people

involved in the community pharmacy industry.

The college is responsible for regulating and registering pharmacists in

B.C., as well as licensing pharmacies to operate. However, it does not

currently have the ability to regulate to the appropriate degree pharmacy

owners, directors or other non-pharmacists involved in running the

pharmacy.

While the vast majority of people involved in community pharmacies are

honest and ethical, the college reports an increase in recent years of

unscrupulous pharmacy practices – for example, kickbacks to methadone

maintenance clients, running dirty, unsafe pharmacies and breaking

PharmaCare billing rules.

The proposed amendments allow the college to require information from the

pharmacy about all owners and other people involved in running a

pharmacy. They also will allow the college to refuse to issue, renew or

reinstate a pharmacy license if pharmacy owners, directors or officers:

* have limits imposed by the college’s discipline committee that prevent

them from owning or managing a pharmacy;

* have been convicted of a recent, relevant crime;

* have committed a billing contravention against PharmaCare;

* have recently had a judgment entered against them in court regarding

pharmacy practice, drugs or devices;

* have recently had their registration as a pharmacist suspended or

cancelled by the college or any other body that regulates pharmacists; or

* have recently had limits or conditions imposed on their registration as

a pharmacists by their professional regulatory body.

 

The college can also choose to impose conditions on a pharmacy licence.

 

These amendments will help the college prevent unsuitable people from

owning or managing, directly or indirectly, community pharmacies in

British Columbia.

 

The amendments also dovetail with the work the Ministry of Health has

done in the past year, under the Provider Regulation of the

Pharmaceutical Services Act. That regulation allows the ministry to

better enforce the rules around pharmacies billing PharmaCare, and to

stop doing business with pharmacies that do not meet those standards. To

date, 28 pharmacies are no longer able to be enrolled in PharmaCare as a

result of the 2015 regulation changes.

 

Proposed changes cut red tape by eliminating unnecessary sworn statements

VICTORIA – Attorney General Suzanne Anton introduced Bill No. 5 today, the Miscellaneous Statutes (Signed Statements) Amendment Act. The proposed changes cut red tape by replacing the need for sworn statementswith a simple, signed statement where appropriate.

“These amendments are a welcome measure for British Columbians. Signed statements, instead of sworn statements, will ensure legal standards are met, while reducing red tape and keeping more money in the pockets of British Columbian families and businesses – something we can all
appreciate,” says Suzanne Anton, Attorney General and Minister of Justice .

If passed, the amendmentswould reduce cost, delay and inconvenience for British Columbians bysimplifying the law and making it easier to comply with legal requirements. This reduction in red tape would allow individuals to attest to the factsand details they provide in an application or similar document – by way of asigned rather than a sworn statement – reducing the requirement for theservices of a legal professional or commissioner of oaths, in some cases.

For many British Columbians, efficiencies would be gained in dealing withnon-court-related matters. For example, an application to enroll a child ina francophone school, to receive certain forms of income assistance, or tofinalize financial reporting in various applications, could be attested to by the applicant simply using their signature. It would be an offence tomake a false statement.

“British Columbians deserve easy access to justice services. These amendments make it simpler for people to complete their legal business, saving them time and frustration. Moving from sworn statements to signed statements is just one more way the B.C. government is reducing red tape for British Columbians,” says Coralee Oakes, Minister of Small Business, Red Tape Reduction and Minister Responsible for Liquor Distribution Branch

 

The changes would amend 23 statutes from across government. Among the actsimpacted by the amendment are the School Act, the Credit Union Incorporation Act, the Weed Control Act, the Elections Act and the Hospital Insurance Act

A direct flight to improvements for B.C.’s airports

Ready for takeoff! New funding will help small and regional airports make critical upgrades and improvements to their infrastructure. Public airport operators, local governments & operating authorities can apply for infrastructure funding by April 8th. http://ow.ly/YbdGo
The Province is providing $8 million in funding this year to support infrastructure improvements at B.C. airports, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone announced today.
The funding comes from the B.C. Air Access Program, announced last year as part of the Province’s 10-year transportation plan, B.C. on the Move. The ministry committed $24 million over three years and last year announced $6 million, which funded a dozen projects at ten regional and municipal airports throughout the province.
“Applications are now being accepted for this exciting program,” said Stone. “Airports play a pivotal role in a community’s economic development by providing safe and reliable transportation for residents, tourists, for medical transport, and for keeping cargo flowing. This new funding will help small and regional airports make critical upgrades and improvements to their infrastructure.”
Through the program, the ministry shares costs with public airports on projects such as lighting and navigational systems, terminal building expansion or upgrades, and runway improvements. These types of projects allow airports to improve safety, accommodate larger aircraft, support more frequent flights and enable the continued growth of local and provincial economies. The program also encourages funding partnerships with the federal government, local and regional governments and agencies, and the private sector.
The deadline for applications for this year’s funding is April 8, 2016. Applications will be accepted from public airport operators, including local governments and other operating authorities.

When Corporations Sue Governments

In 2004, the Pacific Rim mining company applied to dig for gold in El Salvador. Pacific Rim (since acquired by the Canadian-Australian company OceanaGold) assured the government of then-President Antonio Saca that its work would be eco-friendly and would generate jobs. But with 90 percent of the country’s surface water contaminated, and fearing damage to the Lempa River — an essential source of water for El Salvador’s 6 million people — the administration failed to approve the proposal.

In 2008, Mr. Saca instituted a moratorium on new mining permits; to date, this has been maintained and is widely popular.  Pacific Rim fought back in 2009, filing a $77 million lawsuit with the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (Icsid), a World Bank-affiliated institution in Washington that facilitates arbitration between governments and investors. The case was brought under a 1999 Salvadoran investment law, according to which foreign companies could take the Salvadoran government to international arbitral tribunals.  Pacific Rim raised its suit to $301 million and the final Icsid hearing opened in September; a verdict is expected in 2015.  International arbitration is considered by its proponents to be relatively objective.

Indeed, over 150 nations have consented to arbitration at Icsid. But corporations are increasingly using investment and trade agreements — specifically, the investor-state dispute settlement provisions in them — to bring opportunistic cases in arbitral courts, circumventing decisions states deem in their best interest. And now investor-state dispute settlement provisions may be enshrined in two new treaties: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and Trans-Pacific Partnership, currently under negotiation between, respectively, the United States and the European Union, and the United States and 11 Asia-Pacific nations. If the final agreements contain these mechanisms, we can expect a flood of cases like Pacific Rim v. El Salvador.

Investor-state dispute settlement provisions feature in many significant pacts, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, and nine U.S.-E.U. bilateral investment treaties. Foreign investors can sue over alleged violations of myriad “investor protections,” including public-interest regulations that would reduce their profits. But it doesn’t cut both ways: Governments or communities affected by foreign investors cannot bring claims. Equally troublesome, tribunal operations are often opaque.

Today, countries from Indonesia to Peru are facing investor-state suits. Mexico and Canada have lost or settled five each under Nafta, paying hundreds of millions of dollars to foreign companies. In the largest award to date, Icsid in 2012 ordered Ecuador to pay $1.77 billion to Occidental Petroleum for canceling its contract with the corporation. And this October, it ordered Venezuela to pay $1.6 billion to Exxon to compensate for nationalizing oil projects. Nearly 200 disputes are pending at Icsid alone. Continue reading the main story Continue reading the main story Continue reading the main story  American and European claimants have brought 75 percent of recent investor-state cases, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Unsurprisingly, Washington seeks to include investor-state-dispute provisions in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

But opposition is growing. The European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, refuses to accept that European courts “be limited by special regimes for investor-to-state disputes.” Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s vice chancellor and economy minister, has warned of states seeing “policy objectives circumvented by the threat of damages.” Last month, the French trade minister, Matthias Fekl, too, came out strongly against investor-state settlement provisions: “We must preserve states’ rights” to “set and apply their own standards,” he told the French Senate. British politicians have made similar statements amid fears that such cases could solidify the increasing privatization of Britain’s national health service.  Such thinking is not unfounded, particularly concerning environmental policy. In 2012, the Swedish energy company Vattenfall sued at Icsid following Germany’s decision to phase out nuclear energy; though figures have not been made public, it allegedly claims billions from Berlin in compensation for shuttered power plants. And modification of a single set of regulations can trigger a flurry of litigation: In the Czech Republic, one change in energy policy yielded seven claims in 2013; in Spain, six.  Investor-state dispute provisions need not be extended in new treaties. The European Union should continue to demand the removal of these provisions from the T.T.I.P. They must also be expunged from the T.P.P.  For El Salvador, a $301 million loss — just under 2 percent of its G.D.P. — would significantly reduce funds available for health care and education. And even if Pacific Rim’s claim fails, as many expect, the suit has cost El Salvador almost $13 million to date — which amounts to nearly its entire environment and natural resources spending in 2013. Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia have officially denounced the Icsid convention. Though El Salvador likely fears a retraction of Washington’s substantial financial assistance if it withdraws, it should consider doing so as well.  The investor-state dispute settlement mechanism is like playing soccer on half the field. Corporations are free to sue, and nations must defend themselves at enormous cost — and the best a government can hope for is a scoreless game. As the T.T.I.P. and T.P.P. negotiations continue, Pacific Rim vs. El Salvador should remind us not to privilege foreign investors to the detriment of the national — or global — good.

Manuel Pérez-Rocha is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington.

New York Times