"A Tyranny of Minorities"

It was described as the time in British Columbia when a “tyranny of the minorities” shook the foundations of traditional government in Canada’s golden west.

It was 1983. In charge was Premier Bill Bennett, the son of W.A.C. Bennett, who had held the premiership for 20 years before his defeat in the election of 1972 by the NDP’s Dave Barrett.

These were not happy times for Premier Bennett as the world began to shiver in the first months of the great recession of the 1980s. He had defeated Barrett in 1975, but only by a narrow five seat (31-26) margin. That victory, great though it had been for Bennett, the younger, was losing its roseate hue in the spring of ‘83 as world markets trembled, and provincial governments across Canada became targets for blame.

On April 7th, the premier had called a general election to be held May 5th and the only happy campers at the time were New Democrats who were delighted to fan flames fueled by ever-tightening government spending. To Premier Bennett’s credit, he didn’t waver from the central plank in his re-election platform: “Restraint.”

But, the people seemed to be resisting. A new movement took shape, borrowing its name from the famed Polish Solidarity movement that drove Moscow-dominated Communism from Poland and eventually picked dockyard worker Lech Walesa to lead the nation.

At its peak, BC’s Solidarity movement could organize protests numbering a dozen or so people in a village hall to a claimed record of 60,000 plus in Vancouver. There were mass protests all over the province. One with 45,000 protesters marching in a never-ending circle around the Hotel Vancouver where the ruling Social Credit Party was meeting in convention; another in Victoria with 6,000 rallying at Victoria’s old Memorial Arena plus a crowd of 20,000 to 40,000 – depending on who was counting – at the Legislature.

Talk on the hustings before voting day had convinced Dave Barrett there was a block of support to be garnered from voters who were convinced Bennett was being unduly harsh in his restraint measures and his promise for more of the same if he were re-elected.

With a couple of weeks to go before voting day, Barrett announced that, if elected, he would cancel Bennett’s restraint program and re-open the purse strings to restore rich spending. Much later, he would admit that his promise to end restraint was not his wisest political decision. For sure it was premature although Solidarity didn’t hit full stride until after Bennett’s new government took office and Finance Minister Hugh Curtis revealed the new, very lean, budget – and on the same day 26 major pieces of restraint legislation were introduced and given first reading.

I have been reminded of those tumultuous days recently, although recent protests at the Legislature and other government offices and outlets have been tame when compared with Solidarity and its coalition of trade unions. The objectives of both are similar: They object to the way government is handling various problems and want changes made to accommodate their agenda.

In September 1983, The Vancouver Sun – a voice commanding attention in those days – described the Solidarity movement as “Premier Bennett’s ‘tyranny of the minorities … a coalition of unions … an alliance of community groups … headed by an administrative committee … (also) a 30-man steering committee and 49 coalition associations across BC. The difficulty of keeping Solidarity’s parts together is exacerbated by its schizophrenic political personality …”

I have no idea how or who organized the more recent motley crew of protesters blocking doorways and preventing government workers from servicing taxpayers, and I doubt if they could tell me if I asked. But I think they qualify for inclusion in The Sun’s 1983 definition of “tyrants among minorities”.

All they demonstrate to me when I watch their vacant shouting on TV is that they are not yet ready to govern. And it could be some time before they are.

(Readers seeking fascinating details of the historical midnight meeting at the Bennett ranch will find 235 pages of them in the book: “Bill Bennett – A Mandarin’s View by Bob Plecas ” who, to save a question, is not related to Legislature Speaker Plecas.

Challenging The Protected Rights of Parliament

A short time ago, the United Nations published its long-awaited Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). It confirms some established beliefs, clarifies the language dealing with others and sharpens the focus on problems demanding resolution before a true armistice can be reached between Indigenous natives and the descendants of white immigrants who simply, by force of numbers, took over most of their land.

The new charter confirms Indigenous claims to land title.

UNDRIP Article 26 states:

“1. Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right to the lands, territories, and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.

“2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those they have otherwise acquired.

“3. States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands and territories. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the Indigenous people concerned.”

(Remember this is a United Nations declaration for the world, not just Canada.)

Premier John Horgan was quick to sign the agreement and pledge allegiance to the resolution on behalf of Canada’s West Coast province. It was, he felt, a progressive blueprint for ongoing and continuing negotiations; one Premier Horgan was confident held great co-operative promise.

It was progress, slower than many wished but a good basic road map for the future.

Yet, within weeks of that welcome news, Premier Horgan was in the buzz-saw path of a boisterous, raucous protest on the steps of the Legislature where rent-a-crowd young faces jammed doorways and denied access to MLAs, government employees, and the public.

Later in the day, there would be claims of bullying by local police as they tried to clear paths for MLAs seeking entrance to the Chamber in time for the Lieutenant Governor’s traditional Throne Speech address. TV cameras sweeping the crowd failed to pick up anything more fierce than angry faces and shouts of people being moved with a lift and shove from a doorway blocking position.

I wonder how many of the protesters were aware of how close they were to being arrested on serious charges of being in contempt of the Legislature? Section 5 (a) of the Legislative Assembly Privilege Act states the Assembly has the rights and privileges of a court of record “to summarily inquire into and punish … assaults, insults to or libels on members … during a session of the Legislature and 20 days before or after it.”

Further, 5 (b) says we can protest all we want, but never by “obstructing, threatening or attempting to force or intimidate members of the Assembly.” And, 5 (d) adds to that “assaults or interference with officers of the Assembly in the execution of their duty.”

Punishment for violations? Ah, yes. Section 6 states: “For the purpose of this act the Assembly has all the powers and jurisdictions necessary or expedient to enquire into, judge or pronounce on … and carry into execution the punishment provided in this act.”

Detailed punishment is at first vague, then, on reflection, tough enough to calm many a fevered brow.

Section 7 says a person found guilty under a Section 5 offence is liable to imprisonment for a period during the session being held at that time.

Section 8 tidies up the loose ends and makes clear the punishment for breaching this particular parliamentary privilege. If the Assembly “declares a person guilty of contempt for an act, matter or thing mentioned in Section 5 and directs the person to be taken into custody or imprisoned, the Speaker shall issue his warrant to the Sergeant at Arms … or to the warden or keeper of the common jail for the county of Victoria, to take the person into custody and to keep and detain him in accordance with the order of the Assembly.”

For how long? Maybe we’ll find out in the next few weeks if calmer voices fail to at least cool the Indigenous rights problem, and we continue to flirt with anarchy as we are flirting in Victoria this week. It’s certainly looking like a threatening political wildfire with two powerful Indigenous forces – hereditary chiefs versus elected chiefs – poles apart on pipelines and no sign of compromise.

The Legislative Assembly Privilege Act is administered by the office of the Speaker. Section 9 is one short sentence: “The determination of the Legislative Assembly on proceeding under this Act and within the legislative authority of the Province, is final and conclusive.”

Protesters should be careful. They could find storming the office of an MLA the easiest part of their day at the barricades. Getting out to go home could be getting a little tacky.

 

“This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day thou cans’t not then be false to any man”

The morning after being acquitted in a United States Senate impeachment trial, President Donald Trump attended a National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.

The breakfast is traditionally an affair at which Republicans and Democrats check their individual religious beliefs at the door and embrace non-partisan neutrality and tolerance for the beliefs of others.

At least that’s the theory and most of those attending the meeting achieve the highest standards of tolerance and understanding for each other. President Trump isn’t exactly an outstanding attendee, so it is quite possible that he hadn’t been adequately briefed on protocol or if he had been briefed, he had forgotten his instructions – or decided he knew better than his advisers.

Whatever. Peter Bain, covering the event for The New York Times, reported that just moments before the president “took the lectern” he “without naming them, singled out Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was sitting just a few feet away at the head table, and Senator Mitt Romney, the Republican from Utah who had voted to convict him, accusing them of hypocrisy for citing their faith while supporting his impeachment.”

Senator Romney had, in an emotional 10-minute speech on the final day of the Impeachment debate, condemned, as “personal and political,” President Trump’s request that a foreign government – Ukraine – investigate political rival, Joe Biden. Other Republican senators have agreed President Trump’s actions may not have been wise, but they insisted they were not criminal in intent.

Senator Romney insisted Trump’s actions were “a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security and our fundamental values. Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.”

Upsetting the president more than Republican Senator Romney’s support for the Democratic move to have him removed from office was the senator’s confession that his strong beliefs and faith in Christian doctrine were as important and binding as his oath of office.

“As a senator-juror, I swore an oath before God to exercise impartial justice. I am profoundly religious. My faith is at the heart of who I am. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the president, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced. I was not wrong,” Romney said.

If President Trump enjoyed even a whisper of understanding of the power of unshakable faith, he might have arrived at the National Prayer Breakfast the next day in a slightly chastened mood. But he doesn’t chasten easily, or at all.

He arrived for breakfast, waving two newspapers with screaming headlines proclaiming acquittal. Sitting at a table, a few feet from the head table, he rambled loudly enough to be heard and quoted by some reporters: “As everybody knows, my family, our great country and your president have been put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people.”

Speaker Pelosi spoke briefly, but the keynote speaker for the meeting was Harvard professor Arthur Brooks. Times reporter Baker describes his speech as a “passionate plea for Americans to put aside hatred in national life and love your enemies.”

At one point, writes Baker, he asked the audience, “how many of you love someone with whom you disagree?” In response hands around the room shot up and Brooks said I’m going to round that off to 100 percent.”

Baker reported that the professor didn’t seem to notice that “Mr. Trump was among those who didn’t raise their hand, and while the rest of the audience gave Brooks a standing ovation, President Trump clapped politely but remained seated.”

And thereby restated his personal and arrogantly held belief that Shakespeare got it wrong.

“Destroyed By The Insolence of Demagogues”

It would be a mistake to think Donald Trump is the only American politician to aspire to greatness by whatever means he felt legitimate. There have been quite a few over the years, but one that springs to mind more readily than most is Huey Pierce Long, who became Governor of Louisiana in 1928 and was assassinated in September 1935.

He was similar in political outlook and personality to President Trump, although the current president would consider Long well below the salt in the lordly pecking order. Trump is from a wealthy family, well-schooled if not well-educated, and remarkably rich for an eight-time bankrupt.

Springing from an impoverished family, young Huey had enough smarts and ambition to stay in school long enough and study hard enough to pass his bar exam at the age of 22. At the age of 25, he got his first taste of politics and won election to the State Railroad Commission. It also gave him his first exposure to power – and he liked it.

So, apparently, did the people of Louisiana when he used his position to attack big oil companies with demands that tighter regulation of utility companies was needed. Standard Oil was one of his favourite targets, and its rank-and-file employees loved seeing their boss kicked around. They quickly gave Huey the nickname “Kingfish,” a title he loved and encouraged.

Encouraged by this adulation, the rookie politician made a bid for the state governor’s job in 1924. The Kingfish won a lot of support but not the election. Four years later, he tried again, leaning heavily on what was termed “irreverent language” on the hustings; language understood by farm and oil field workers.

His speech delivery was often described as “fiery and picturesque oratory” and well-spiced with “unconventional buffoonery.” The Kingfish stepped up the rhetoric, and his base – to use today’s political vocabulary – responded with solid support at the polls.

He won the election as the state’s governor.

His State was rewarded with massive public works projects and greatly expanded social welfare programs. New schools and hospitals were built, and the entire road system, long neglected, was improved throughout the state.

Where did he get the money for his programs? The oil companies were hit hard with various production taxes; inheritance taxes were imposed; and, income tax boosted.

Encyclopedia Britannica (EB) describes the times: “Long’s folksy manner and sympathy for the underprivileged diverted attention from his ruthless autocratic methods. Surrounding himself with gangster-like bodyguards, he dictated outright to members of the legislature, using intimidation if necessary.”

Times were good, but democracy wasn’t.

EB tells a story from the year the Kingfish left the State governor’s mansion to take up residence in Washington DC and his duties as a newly elected senator:  “When he was about to leave office, he fired the legally State elected lieutenant governor and replaced him with two designated successors who reported to him” and obeyed his orders from Washington.

Huey’s brother Earl had replaced him as Governor.

It was while Long was visiting Baton Rouge in 1935 that Carl Austin Weiss, son of a man the Kingfish had often vilified, stepped in front of the senator and shot him twice before bodyguards could return the fire that killed him. The Kingfish died two days later.

I think we can all hope for a better ending to the Trump story. The USA has lived too long believing in the power of the gun to solve political differences.

Aristotle once wrote: “Democracies are most commonly destroyed by the insolence of demagogues.” It is sad to watch the ancient philosopher’s truth come echoing down through time.To watch as demagogues like the Kingfish, and the man who wants so badly to be a king of any kind, prove the old philosopher right.

 

 

 

A Neutral or Biased Public Service?

It was a damp day. Hard to tell whether you were walking through a soft rain or a heavy mist. So, when I walked soggily from the street into Ted Hughes’ office, and he said: “Better hang your raincoat in the hall – and you look as though you could handle a coffee,” I responded with speed.

With raincoat dripping contentedly on a coat stand, my eyeglasses cleared of steam, my notebook rescued slightly crumbled from jacket pocket, and a life-saving sip from a mug of coffee “black, no cream or sugar,” I was ready.

My first question was simple: “What can you tell me about the investigation you are conducting into the affairs of Premier Bill Vander Zalm regarding allegations of conflict of interest?”

“Nothing,” he said.

“Nothing?”

“Nothing to report to you. The Premier requested the investigation on behalf of the government. It would be most unethical for me to make it – or any part of it – it public.”

I should have known better than to ask the question because, having known Ted for a few years, I knew full well that ethics and open pride at being ethical were part and parcel of his daily make-up. When it was ready his report would go first to the government. He knew where his duty lay.

He wasn’t perfect, but in his life as a public servant, he never ceased preaching against what he called the growing tendency to weaken public service by permitting political party loyalty to become more important than the common good.

He didn’t have to like all the people he worked for, but he did owe them the best advice he could give. And, if they had broken any laws or had violated any ethical codes, he did not close a blind eye. At least one Premier and one Attorney General resigned after Ted Hughes investigated their ethical standards. And they were the first to know his findings.

In May 1996, in a Victoria speech to the Institute of Public Administration in Canada, Ted openly warned of the dangers to democracy when an opposition party wins an election after years in the political wilderness and then goes on a job replacement spree. He used as an example a Saskatchewan election in the 1980s and the “new” government’s decision to terminate the employment of many public servants on the grounds the incoming legislators had “lost confidence” in them.

While citing the Saskatchewan experience as “a stark example,” Ted warned of similar upheavals “across the provincial scene of our country … which leads me to the conclusion that the Canadian tradition of a neutral public service career is increasingly under challenge. It is not out of control but, the trend is there, and therefore, in my opinion, it is time for a forceful initiative to reverse it, to restate the virtue of the Canadian tradition, and to appeal to the reason and logic of our elected representatives so that they and the people they represent will appreciate that they all will be much better served by an adherence to the time tested procedures of the past rather than by moving step-by-step to gut one of the greatest safeguards of a vibrant parliamentary democracy.”

Although Ted’s speech made no direct reference to BC, it could have. The province underwent significant public service job changes when Dave Barrett and the NDP defeated W.A.C. Bennett after 20-years in power; and another, less than four years later, when Bill Bennett defeated the NDP and returned Social Credit to power for 15 years (11 with Bill Bennett and four with Bill Vander Zalm and Rita Johnston).

The NDP came back for a decade with four premiers: Mike Harcourt, Glen Clark, Dan Miller, and Ujjal Dosanjh. Dosanjh was defeated and replaced by Liberal Gordon Campbell, followed by Christy Clark, who gave way to the NDP – which will soon be getting ready for another switch or more of the same.

Each time there has been a change of government there has been a public service shake-up. A major when the NDP ended 20-years of Social Credit and thought too many senior public servants had become Socred loyalists. When Bill Bennett took over part of his first year in office was spent gently removing from key positions the NDP appointments.

Ted Hughes died on January 17 after a brief illness. Along with several of his old Saskatchewan friends, I had been scheduled to lunch with him in The Shield and Dragon pub in my retirement residence at Berwick Royal Oak on January 4. Helen, his wife of 65 years, phoned to say Ted would be in hospital undergoing tests that day but that he would reschedule the lunch when he got home.

We always talked about politics, and I wanted to ask him if he’d changed his mind about public service. Back in 1991, he had felt the old essential neutral career rule was under serious challenge. Did he still believe “public employees have a duty to carry out government decisions loyally, irrespective of the party or persons in power and irrespective of their personal opinions?”

With a provincial election looming on not too distant horizons I wanted to ask if BC  had moved any closer in recent years to the old standard of a politically neutral public service or had drifted deeper into the dangerous waters of decisions biased by political party doctrine.

In his 1996 speech, he urged the need for continually striving to reach the day when “a superbly qualified professional public service” would be in place in this province to serve the elected representatives of the people and the public who elected them.” It was, he said “incumbent to foster a neutral public service where purges will not be the order of the day when a government changes but, rather, where continuity will abound, where merit will be awarded and morale maintained at a high level.”

I would like to have asked for an update. But I know he faulted the politicians for the intrusion of partisan politics where none should be.  And I know he would have agreed with Cicero, who once wrote: “He removes the greatest ornament of friendship who takes away from it respect. The good of the people is the chief law.”

(Readers feeling a need for more detail on Ted’s remarkable life story should grab a copy of The Mighty Hughes by Craig McInnes published by heritagehouse.ca.)

 

Where Will Our Government Lead Us?

A few things to consider while nervously observing events in Australia, where that incredible Down Under country is painfully showing the rest of the world what global warming looks like when it lurches from disturbing to calamitous.

Australia, with its vast forests of gum trees and brush, burns a little easier and more rapidly than British Columbia’s tall tree wilderness. But not all that much as our forest firefighters will tell you when they remember 2018 and BC’s record wildfire season. It was a time when several small towns felt isolated and scared.

Australia and BC are blessed with abundant natural resources which, when sold on the international market, have brought them great wealth and afforded their citizens a way of life envied by millions – and even a few Royals seeking a pleasanter lifestyle.

But, benefits usually come with problems. Coal – the “black diamond” that made both Australia and BC rich in resources and their citizens comfortable – brought with it the evil of carbon emissions. And, the countries that bought their coal became the worlds’ leading contributors to excessive carbon emissions and brought on global warming now threatening the entire planet.

China is the leader in carbon emissions, as registered by the Global Carbon Atlas. The latest record I could find indicates 9,839 metric tons in 2017. The USA – which, on President Donald Trump’s orders, has abandoned the international effort to find world-wide solutions to uncontrolled carbon emissions – sits second on the Atlas spewing 5,269 tons of carbon emissions annually; India is third with 2,467 tons.

China and India are the great consumers of coal on the international market. They, along with Japan (1,200 tons a year in metric emissions), have been prime customers for BC and Australian coal for decades.

So why do the Aussies and BC still sell to these countries committing blatant massive violations of safe environmental practices in their primary industries? Both countries have all sorts of federal and provincial environmental rules and regulations governing the mining industry to protect their citizens at home. However, globally, it’s a free-for-all for those who don’t seem to mind contributing to what could be the end of Planet Earth.

So, why not just stop fueling foreign furnaces with our profitable coal … a fuel that could destroy Earth as we know it? Good puritanical thinking for sure, but – there’s always a BUT and this is a big one.

A recent Business in Vancouver (BIV) article tells us, “BC’s mining sector generated $12.3 billion in gross revenue in 2018 – a nearly $4 billion increase over 2016. Higher prices for metallurgical coal and copper helped boost net income for BC miners to $3.5 billion in 2018.” The full report can be found at biv.com/article/2019/05/mining-bc-generated-record-revenue-pwc.

The BIV story goes on to report that payments to government in 2018 through taxes was $900 million. I think it is safe to assume that the loss of $900 million in any government’s revenue would be disastrously reflected in cuts to social programs. And China wouldn’t take long to find another supplier.

There is some urgency for a solution. Nerilie Abram, an Australian climate scientist at the Australian National University, says: “The question we need to ask is, how much worse are we willing to let this get? This (the Australia scene) is what global warming of just over one degree Celsius looks like. Do we really want to see the impacts of three degrees or more?”

Three degrees or more is the trajectory generally forecast by climate scientists.

Footnote: Just before posting this blog, I learned that Germany had announced (Jan16) a plan to close its 84 coal-burning electricity-producing plants by 2038. Germany is sixth on the Global Carbon Atlas list with a 2017 record of 799 tons of pollution discharged annually. Canada is 10th with 473 tons. The legislation will also include closure of Germany’s nuclear plants. Some $45 billion (US) will be budgeted for compensation and the building of new infrastructure and training in new jobs. The new legislation is expected to be in place this summer.

Will Canada and the rest of the world be brave enough to follow?

 

 

 

 

 

Forward Tho’ I Canna see – I Guess And Fear

 

 

Scottish poetry lovers will be celebrating another Burns’ birthday on January 25 (1759) with wild repetitions of: “And we’ll take’ a cup of kindness yet for Auld Lang Syne.”

 

Usually, these are the only words most of them know from his beautiful short poetic appeal to remember past years and friendships. At some gatherings, serious fans will wrestle with dialects, and one or two will take a stab at a rare poem dedicated “To a Mouse” involving a one-sided conversation and advice “to a mouse on turning her up in her nest with the plough.”

 

It is not a children’s poem or a nursery rhyme.

 

Burns was apologizing to the mouse for leaving her only a “wee bit house in ruin from the plough,” its fragile bits and pieces blown away by the wind with little left to build a new house “with bleak December winds still blowing both snell (bitter cold) an’ keen.” All the mouse had left was “a heap of leaves … that cost thee many a weary nibble – and now thou’s turned out for all thy trouble to suffer the winter’s dribble and cranreuch (hoarfrost) cauld.”

 

And the lesson, according to Burns? Well, it’s more for his fellow humans than the mouse which is trembling in fear, a “wee, sleek it, cowrin, tim’rous beastie, O what a panic’s in thy breastie” just waiting for Burns to get out of the way so she can forage her way to another place of shelter. But Burn’s spoke to her anyway and 260 years later we get the message – or at least we should.

 

“But Mousie thou art no thy lane (not alone)

In proving foresight may be vain:

The best-laid schemes of mice and men

Gang aft agley, (oft go astray)

And leave us naught but grief an’ pain

For promised joy

 

“Still thou art blest, compared wi’ me!

The present only touches thee:

But Och! I backward cast my eye

On prospects drear!

And forward, tho’ I canna see

I guess and fear!”

 

I think of the last two lines often when U.S. President Donald Trump threatens and the men and women who could control him become “wee sleekit, cowering, timorous beasties” and leave their nation and the world to guess and fear.

Trusting In God But keeping Their Powder Dry

If you are reading this, it means that on December 27, I survived my 96th birthday and wandered into my 97th year on Planet Earth. Tradition suggests I now murmur, “and I don’t feel a day older than I did yesterday,” which would be true – but barely.

The fact is, the old machine is creaking and groaning in so many places that I need to maintain a coordinated pharmaceutical battle plan to make sure unwelcome bugs are held at bay.

So, while I may not feel any older this week than I did last week, I am. But, I can still wake up in the morning, happy to smell the coffee and share a cup while pontificating on how the fellow citizens we have elected to govern us are letting us down.

There is nothing new in that, of course. Centuries ago, emerging communities decided they would be better off with a small group of intelligent citizens developing and administering laws geared to make the community as a whole a better, healthier, safer place in which to live.

They called it “democracy,” and by and large, it has worked well – although never perfectly – in countries where the people have preferred to live under sometimes bumbling but always freely elected government rather than a dictator’s decree. In Canada, we like the bumbling way; we love the democratic right to complain, often utilize it with glee – and without too much thought.

Sometimes, in our haste to question decisions of governance, we insist on what I call a black or white answer to a sometimes very grey question. A few weeks ago, a short paragraph appeared in a long story on gun control – or the lack of gun control – in the USA. It noted that a recent “in house” notice to members of the Mormon faith had requested members not carry firearms when attending church services.

It shocked me that such a notice could ever be required of churchgoers. That worshippers anywhere would need to be asked to leave their guns of choice at home was unbelievable. That church governors would have to urge firearms be left at home, an unthinkable confession that a house of God could no longer offer what was once traditional protection from evil.

Then, just before 2019 closed its decade ending doors, there came a story out of Texas describing a shooting at a Jewish religious ceremony that involved members of the congregation “returning the fire” of a gunman bent on murders. It was later stated the returned shots were fired by an armed guard in the congregation.

It still bothers me to consider worshippers getting ready for church on a Saturday or Sunday morning being reminded to make sure their handgun is tucked away with their bible – or removed and left at home as an act of faith.

Think about it. It’s not a decision Canadians have to face – yet. But, with inexorable pressure on our living and moral standards, I fear the US of A may one day contaminate us with its steady determination to convince the world that God has been replaced with the gun.

They’ve been working on the conversion since Colonel Valentine Blacker (1778-1823) around 200-years ago urged his troops to  “Put your trust in God – and keep your powder dry.”

 

An Apology

Sorry to miss a week on regular blog output, but events like a new PC and holidays which deprived me of expert guidance through the labyrinth of new techniques have slowed down my already sluggish technical capabilities.

So I thought it wiser just to switch the new monster off until the festive seasons slows down a little and “Dan the man” from ABC Business Services can find time to gently guide me through the maze of new instructions.

Hopefully I’ll be back in this usual spot in a week or 10 days stumbling through the first days of my 97th year on planet earth after surviving my 96th birthday on the 27th. And I hope readers who have been with me for a good part of my journey so far will be waiting with their kind words and knuckle raps.

You are good companions to travel with.

 

“Trapper” John’s Christmas As Requested By Readers

The log cabin lay snugged down in foothills snow. Inside “Trapper” John Norton put another log on the fire, pulled up his chair and chatted with his dog Rover, his only companion and a good listener.

Trapper John is a fictional but believable character. He, Rover and the log cabin  were created by Rev. William Henry Harrison Murray back in the late 1800s. They remain believable today and nice to visit at Christmas time if you like stories about old men who sit by the fire and talk with their canine friends on how to best celebrate the festive season.

If you’ve never met Murray’s wilderness men then you should Google  “How Trapper John Kept His Christmas” and “John Norton’s Vagabond” for two Christmas stories, simply told with old fashioned charm and carrying messages as strong and relevant as Dickens’ Scrooge.

Vagabond is my favourite. It tells the story of Trapper John sitting by his fire and asking Rover what they should do about the vagabonds who wander the hills, steal from legitimate traplines, are an unsavory and untrustworthy lot, generally shunned and despised by “decent” folk. Trapper John explains to Rover that while he doesn‘t have much time for the vagabonds or their way of life, they are fellow human beings and that many of them may just be down on their luck.

He says that earlier in the evening he’d been reading “the Book” where it says “give to him that lacketh and, from him that hath not, withhold not thine hand …”

“There it is Rover,” Trapper says,  “we are to give to the man that lacks, vagabond or no vagabond. If he lacks food, we are to give him food; if he lacks garments we are to give him garments; if he lacks Christmas dinner, Rover, we are to give him Christmas dinner…”

So, Trapper John gouged invitations on birch-bark to a Christmas dinner at his cabin and nailed them to trees in the vicinity of remote wilderness trails inviting all who read, vagabonds and fellow trappers, to come dine with him.

And, come Christmas Day, his “table lacked not guests for nearly every chair was occupied.” Twenty men had breasted the storm that they might be at that dinner and some had traversed a 30-mile trail to be there; a motley company gathered for a remarkable event.

Trapper John thanked everyone for honouring him by sharing his table “because I hated on this day of feasting and gladness to eat my food alone. I knew that the day would be happier if we spent it together.”

And then it was time to say good night and goodbye and he asked his guests to take with them more than just the memory of a well-fed, pleasant evening: “This be the lesson I want you all to take away with you as you go – that Christmas is a day of feasting and giving and laughing, but above everything else it is the day for forgiving and forgetting. Some of you are young – and may your days be long on the earth – and some of your heads are as white as mine and your years (left) not many, but be that as it may, whether our Christmas days be many or few let us remember in good or ill fortune, alone or with many, that Christmas above all else is the day for forgiving and forgetting.”

Trapper John reflected that while it had taken a long time for him to learn the true spirit of Christmas – “I’ve  learned it at last.”

And, the old man extended to his now departing guests a blessing and a request I first brought to readers in a column some 30-years ago, and have repeated a few times over the years. I do so again without apology because it remains for ever timely – and needed.

“Ah, friends, dear friends, as years go on and heads get gray – how fast the guests do go! Touch hands, touch hands with those that stay. Strong hands to weak, old hands to young, around the Christmas board, touch hands. The false forget, the foe forgive, for every guest will go and every fire burn low and cabin empty stand. Forget, forgive, for who may say that Christmas day may ever come to host or guests again. Touch hands.”

Have a wonderful, loving, giving and forgiving, Christmas.