When Tomorrow Comes Too Soon

I hadn’t talked to Gillian Trumper for several years when I heard that she had died on Friday, Oct. 11th, and I was shamed and without excuse.

On countless occasions, I had reminded myself to give her a call “tomorrow.” Always tomorrow. Always. Never today, and ultimately, too late.

It wasn’t that we were great old friends. Just friends bonded by politics and journalism. We crossed paths via Alberni Valley connections where she served on the school board, and as a city council member, as Mayor, and for one term, as MLA. In fact, there were not many locally known committees or commissions Gillian Trump didn’t sit on and serve well.

Whether as the local coroner in a relatively small community where local tragedies quickly became family affairs or exchanging ideas with members of the Federal Advisory Council to the Law Commission of Canada, or chairing an Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District meeting, she made her mark.

There were half-a-dozen other local boards to which she took her personal brand of common sense and goodwill. A gracious lady, tough when she needed to be but high in the possession of the qualities writer Rudyard Kipling once said were required by people who would always stand tall among their fellow citizens.

Actually, when Kipling wrote his famous “IF” poem, he had men only in mind. His last line in the epic poem is “and what is more (if you acquire the attributes I recommend), you’ll be a man my son.” Were he still alive today I’m sure he would have heard from Gillian and others in the growing army of women who could firmly claim membership on his list of people, not just men, who could “keep their head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you … Or being lied about don’t deal in lies … Or being hated don’t give way to hating, and yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise … If you can dream and not make dreams your master; if you can think – and not make thoughts your aim.”

An imposing list that could be intimidating for many, but not to Gillian Trumper. She was always able to walk with crowds and keep her virtue; to talk with Kings but not lose the common touch.

She acquired most of those qualifications from a strong family life in her youth and the added strength of family built with husband Michael and their four children – Owen, Michael, Carolyn and Trish. If the family had an objective rule for problem-solving, it involved heavy doses of common sense. Just common sense quietly spoken, always recommended, never commanded. And mostly with a genuine, face-filled smile.

Already honoured years ago – named Citizen of the Year and granted the rare distinction of being granted Freedom of the City of Port Alberni, there is talk of a more permanent memorial to this lady of quality. I’m sure the suggestion list will be long. Maybe it could include a quiet corner of a smaller, easy-to-reach park where future generations could sit and remember where on Friday, October 11, 2019, in her 83rd year, a remarkable daughter, wife, mother, counsellor, lady, Gillian Trumper, found what poet Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) simply entitled – REST.

The travelling, the talking of problems and their solutions, is over. The last enemy can no longer pain or threaten. She rests now as Rossetti wrote:

“…..with stillness that is almost Paradise.

Darkness more clear than noonday holdeth her,

Silence more musical than any song;

Even her very heart has ceased to stir:

Until the morning of Eternity

Her rest shall not begin nor end, but be;

And when she wakes she will not think it long.”

And if this small tribute to a friend has prompted you to remember a phone call you should be making or quick note you should be writing – you’d better get on with it. Tomorrow could be too late.

Debate? They Were Joking

A lot of people are asking me what I thought of the televised debate a few nights back. They seemed surprised when I replied I didn’t see or hear the debate although I had tuned to the channel it was supposed to be on. Couldn’t find a debate, though. Just a bunch of guys and a lady trying to talk over each other’s heads and five TV professionals who had obviously spent more time making sure they looked good on camera than they had on preparing to question would-be prime ministers on their political intent.

Anyone interested in Canada’s role in finding solutions to major national problems while assisting the rest of the world to live in peace and harmony internationally must have been profoundly disappointed with the chattering babble the cream of this year’s crop of nation savers had to offer.

Other questions asked by friends, even total strangers, are “who do you think is going to win the election?” and “who are you voting for?” Strange questions to ask in a society where the way an individual marks a ballot is a carefully guarded secret guaranteeing only I and God know the answer.

In a democracy, we are quite determined about the confidentiality of our vote. From the moment we step into the precinct of a voting station to the moment we leave, we are protected from interference from forces that would bend us to their will.

And yet, there are few among us who have not asked a friend, neighbour, or the person sitting next to us on the bus, how they perceive events on the campaign trail and which party they might favour to win the right to govern. In ambitious conversation mode, we might even venture a thought on how we will be voting thus negating all the efforts to keep our vote secret.

These pre-vote days are particularly hazardous for pundits who are expected to guide but should avoid too strong persuasion. Having discovered long ago the perils of trying to steer readers to sensible choices of candidates and parties, I now avoid the arrogant temptation.

I have told before the story of my disastrous attempt to tell voters how they should vote, but it bears repeating. It involved a fellow named Charles Oliver, son of former BC Premier “Honest” John Oliver, the premier who planted the magnificent Copper Beech tree at the rear of the Legislature.

Charles, or “Charlie” as he was fondly known, was Reeve of Penticton from 1931-35 and Mayor from 1957-61. He was a little eccentric and not above arbitrarily adjourning council meetings if decisions were not going his way. I think it was in the civic election of 1959 that Penticton Herald publisher Grev Rowland and yours truly, editor and wielder of the Herald’s mighty 6,000 daily reader editorial sword, decided the city couldn’t stand another two or three years of Charlie.

On voting day, we ran a thundering front-page editorial about vaudeville being dead and telling readers it was time to end “this sorry circus of civic administration.” Our readers’ response to the imperious command that Charlie be dumped was dramatic. When the final count was in on that lesson-learning night, Charlie Oliver had surpassed his closest rival by a three to one vote margin.

So much for the power of the press.

My scars still itch during election campaigns. The temptation is there not just to tell you to vote but suggest how you should. These days, I just scratch the itch and urge only that you vote in good conscience; thoughtfully, proudly, for a cause or candidate in which you can believe. And if your chosen cause or candidate should fail to grasp the brass ring, take comfort in the fact that when things go wrong in Ottawa – as they surely will on occasion – you will be able to say “now you know why I voted” for another candidate.

There are a few things we can be sure of when we select new governments. Whether we elect a minority government or a majority government, and whatever the political stripe, we shall send to Ottawa a majority of good men and women dedicated to public service.

Think about it. It’s a true and comforting fact. Be proud you’re able to participate. Don’t be too righteous, too angry, or too sure your way is the only way. And remember, you don’t have to tell anyone how you intend to vote – not even those nice, polite pollsters who make a decent living selling your answers.

Turn The Page, But It Won’t Go Away

BC Premier John Horgan dazzled the poli-watchers of the world Thursday with a crisp statement on the latest happening in British Columbia’s long-playing saga involving public servants and public cash.

The “latest” happening at the time of this writing was the decision of Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz to formally resign from his prestigious position because “I no longer believe that I can continue to work for the legislative assembly of British Columbia. After considerable reflection, I have concluded that the damage that has been done to my reputation will never be fully repaired and that if I continued as sergeant-at-arms, I would be doing disservice to my office.”

And as far as Premier Horgan is concerned that little announcement signals “a turning of the page”  – or pages outlining Lenz’s involvement in a messy story of questionable expense accounts.

Time for a deep breath here and a quick remembrance of the events of a few months ago that led to accusations of wrongdoing by highly-placed public servants, the dramatic removal from the Legislature of two – the powerful Clerk of the Assembly Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Lenz. Both were suspended from their duties “with pay.”

It would be fair to say in BC the spring months of 2019 were tumultuous.

Special crown prosecutors were appointed; the RCMP acknowledged it had been asked to take a look. Clerk James, still strongly protesting he had simply followed the rules, resigned as Clerk after former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Beverley McLachlin, reviewed allegations of improperly claimed expenses.

In her opinion, James had wrongfully claimed benefits, but Lenz was cleared of misconduct charges. Lenz continued his suspension with full pay until a few days ago when he said he would finally step aside “with sincere regret … I have carried out my duties for the people of British Columbia with the utmost integrity …”

And Premier Horgan, with what sounded like a sigh of relief, told Canadian Press that with the departure of Lenz, “I absolutely hope that we are turning a page.”

Yes, yes, indeed, and so do we all. But I think we need a little more clarification. Former Chief Justice McLachlin suggested Lenz did not engage in misconduct. Does that mean Premier Horgan would like to hurriedly “turn the page” on Lenz forced from office by unproven charges?

Or does it mean there are other shoes to drop from special prosecutors or the RCMP? Should there be, I think we need to see them quickly now, and to act on them. If there has been misconduct, then let those who engaged in it be now held accountable.

McLachlin’s first opinion that Lenz did not participate in inappropriate spending was based on a report of concerns made by Speaker Darryl Plecas last January.

Premier Horgan told Canadian Press the search for a new clerk of the house is continuing. “This past year has been a cloud over the heads of many, many people who did not deserve that. So, I am hopeful that we can turn the page.”

I’m not sure who the “many, many people” are over whom the black cloud of disgrace has hovered falsely, but if Gary Lenz is one of them and he can prove his lengthy suspension was tantamount to wrongful dismissal – we’ll need a new tax to raise the compensation funds to pay him.

One thing is for sure: Premier Horgan may wish the James-Lenz pages could be turned and lost but the taxpayers would like to see the play to the final curtain.

And I’m sure that with patience, we shall.

A Dream They Made Come True

In the final stages, it didn’t take long. Just a kindly request from a son to his dad, an easy response from the old man, and a meeting with a group of teenagers with an old dream of a new rugby team.

But it wasn’t as easy as it sounds.

The teenagers had played rugby together for a couple of years with two high school championships under their belts in the name of Mount Douglas High. When not playing for the mountain men, they were the heart of a James Bay Athletic junior squad; fit, well trained, but unhappy playing what they called “pack rugby.” They were looking for a more open game with good hands, speed, and intelligent running as its main features.

They frequently met to discuss their dreams. Then, early in 1969, they called a “final decision” meeting – this time with a potential coach attending. I was asked to attend and “maybe offer some advice.” No harm in that, I thought, as son Mark and I strolled down Gordon Head Road to the home of another young rebel “to hammer out a few details.”

Two or three hours later when we strolled home, I was the president of an as yet unrecognized rugby club. And, not at all sure as to how that had happened, or in full understanding of what it meant.

Half-a-dozen players, one innocent father, and a potential coach Gordie Hemmingway were present at that 1969 meeting in a house on Gordon Head Road close to the Cedar Hill X Road intersection. The agenda included asking Gordie to commit formally to coaching the new team. “No problem,” he said but quickly added, with expletives deleted, that a few things needed to be done before he could agree to what was being asked.

Like what?

Well, a team name would help, as would a field to play on. Team colours would need to be decided and provided, a few games balls would be required, a well-equipped medical chest was essential, “and,” he said, “you’ll need a president to make the official application to be recognized and accepted in the league.”

It was then that son Mark smiled at me and said with seductive confidence: “You could do that, couldn’t you, Dad?” The other players chorused “that would be great!” and the trap was sprung. I had been a round-baller – a soccer player all my life now, suddenly, I was the president of a rugby club without a name, a home field, team strip, game balls or an essential well-stocked medical kit. And and no money.

A team name came first. Several had been tossed around at earlier meetings and Velox – Latin for speed – emerged as a favourite. It appealed to Gordie, probably because it had a familiar ring to Vindex, the team of his youth. Gordie had played for Vindex in Vancouver in his teens and with them had won three consecutive championships between 1951 and 1954. It was during those glory years that he played against the vaunted New Zealand All Blacks and scored a never-to-be-forgotten try. Google translates Vindex as “avenger” or “champion.” It was later made evident that Gordie played and coached Vindex style.

Latin student Susan Mayse confirmed Velox translates to “speed,” but suggested it would sound stronger if incorporated in a motto. I remember Gordie asking what the motto might be and think it was Jackie Clarkson who answered: “Velox Omnia Vincit – Speed Conquers All.” It was obviously thought best that no mention be made to Gordie of the feminine input. There was what the best of clichés describes as a pregnant pause before Gordie barked: “Speed conquers all! Okay! But just remember, first you need the (expletive deleted) ball.”

As the meeting was breaking up, I asked Gordie if he had any advice for his rookie president. “Yeah, stay out of the (expletive repeated) coaching. That’s my job. You just get the club everything it needs. The medical kit is important – and don’t forget corner flags.”

Sounds silly, but it was typical Hemmingway. His English vocabulary was basic, his rugby knowledge voluminous – and when it came to the game, he commanded attention to detail.

And so, we began.

The first game balls (first practice balls were player owned) were donated by Victoria lawyer Ian Stuart. Cash for the first uniforms – they were fragile black T-shirts, good for maybe two or three games because we couldn’t afford real rugby shirts – came from the players or their parents and friends who looked with kind amusement on my pathetic fund-raising efforts but never failed to respond. The “medicine chest” was thing of envy among other clubs. Donated by the late Mike Griffin and stocked with everything thinkable. And, the first corner and other sideline flags were of sturdy timber – not the slender wand-like markers of today.

Our home field was at Lambrick Park – then an emerging Saanich park, with the old Lambrick Farm residence park headquarters and the original cow barn which became dressing rooms for both our team and visiting teams. There were no showers that first season of 1969-70. We were not a pleasant fixture for visiting teams and, to be honest, the most loyal Velox players didn’t enjoy the wet times when the east-west slope of the field left a two-inch deep pool of water in one corner and the muddy slop of a baseball base path in the other.

We almost lost Tommy Carson one Saturday afternoon when he was swarmed and buried, facedown, in “the swamp.” A true story and far from laughable at the time.

On practice nights, those of us who could afford the gas lined our cars on one side of the field with headlights on high beam. I can proudly claim to have attended every practice for the first and second season, but cheerfully admit that for most of both seasons, I was wearing winter clothes with a flask of hot scotch not far away. And I sat in the car a lot.

I can’t remember when we finally got real change rooms and showers at Lambrick, but I can remember the joyous celebration when they were finally available. We were proud to be able to send visiting teams home clean.

And that’s the way – as I recall – it all started. Just the first few bricks in a fragile foundation which others have more than strengthened and continue to build on. I am proud to have been the first, but salute and thank those who followed: presidents, captains, players, coaches and those who never took the field of play but worked, and still work, to keep strong and alive the dreams of new generations.

Last Saturday – September 21 to be precise –the old Velox, now the Westshore RFC Velox Valhallians played host to a dozen or so members of the first ever Velox XV. A 50th Birthday celebration-reunion.

The youngest in the group was in his 60s; the oldest pushing 75. Among them retired school teachers, retired principals, retired lawyers, land surveyors’, construction company owners and a senior vice president of McDonald’s who began his career with the Golden Arches on Shelbourne Street and ended it with the negotiating team that took McDonald’s into Russia.

As I listened to their lively conversations and laughter at remembrances of triumphs and disasters 50 years ago, I realized how fortunate I had been to know them back then and how I still treasure their friendship today.

I have written before and repeat with sincerity: They taught me more about loyalty and sharing praise and blame than I ever taught them. And it was great to feel accepted by a group of successful old men I first knew as a bunch of teenagers with a dream they made come true.

Don’t Panic -You Are Not Alone

There’s an old saying in politics that the best way to lead is to find out which way the people’s parade band is marching – then rush to the front to lead the parade.

So, my general advice as we stumble from the starter’s gate for a fast clip around the track to an October day of decision is to watch your local jockeys and ignore, as much as you possibly can, the glamour-seeking leaders who have not yet decided which way the people are marching.

It must be 30 or more years since I first offered readers the general election principle of my much-admired commentator on matters of importance, Dr. Laurence J. Peter. And, I don’t think I’ve missed many elections – municipal, provincial or the big-tent federal – without at least one reminder from Dr. Peter that: “You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time – and that’s good enough to win election.”

A sad comment, but a true one, and fostered to a large degree by “The Press” which includes everyone from die-hard supporters of Gutenberg and print to the never-ending talking heads of CNN. We all seem to get a little silly come election year, and we started early this time with our prime minister openly confessing he had played his favourite game of photo-op a few times without considering down-side complications. Said he didn’t think it untoward at the time to change natural facial colours to a darker hue for theatrical reasons, but could understand today’s critical comments and courteously apologized for bad behaviour. Damage control? Maybe a bit late for that. Who knows what his un-countable famous “selfy” shots might reveal.

Maybe, as we get a little deeper into the campaign, we shall see emerging some old Canadian stature, the kind of political thinking we were proud to advance in the early days of the United Nations when Canadian peacekeepers were sought by troubled nations. I’m not sure just where we lost our stature on the world stage, but lose it we did – abroad and at home – when Lester B. Pearson retired.

Our last BCprovincial election ran on high promise from incumbent Liberals; hungry for power New Democrats, and the Greens ready to scavenge for any crumbs that fell from richer tables.”

It ended in shambles with a Lieutenant Governor’s decision required to declare the NDP winners and made so by the surprise Greens winning three seats and swinging them behind the NDP on all crucial votes.

A few days ago, Israel voted itself into a similar position with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz’s Centrist Party lacking enough seats to govern. At the time of this writing, Netanyahu has suggested Gantz bury old enmities and join him to govern. Gantz has said he couldn’t serve with Netanyahu as P.M.

And then there’s Brexit and Britain. Great Britain was once regarded as the most powerful naval force in the world with a powerful army to enforce gunboat diplomacy wherever it was required in an empire on which the sun never set. Until a couple of years ago, the UK remained one of the most stable nations in the world, despite an undercurrent of concern about membership in the European Market. The younger generation loved the freedom of movement, place of residence and ease of marketing that membership brought.

Many seniors thought old England was being swallowed by dark forces in old Europe. The Conservative government in power asked the people which way they wanted to march and seniors answered “out” and disaster followed proving once again that wise humans are not always right, nor do the aged always understand the best course in life to follow.

In the next few weeks, all party leaders in Canada will – I hope – be climbing out of the gutter they have jumped in early and telling us clearly what their plans are to make life a little better, a little more secure. Listen to them via their local candidate but think hard before voting, while taking small comfort from the truth of another Doctor Peter law: “Today if you are not confused, you’re just not thinking clearly.”

In An Age Of Illusion

If the organizers calling for a general strike on Sept. 20 in Great Britain’s disunited kingdom succeed, it will be the first total shutdown since 1926.

The strike back then was an attempt to force the government of the day to halt a series of wage cuts in major industries, with particular emphasis on coal miners’ wages which had been chopped as much as 50 per cent.

The 1926 General Strike lasted nine days. The strike being called for next week appears to be targeting a one day only shutdown to emphasize the need for stronger government action in the battle for climate change. With a new government awaiting the October blessings of the voters, it could be sometime before even the strongest of “directives” from the people will bring immediate, favourable, reaction – or any reaction at all.

Governments function today in an uneasy world, vexed by bellicose vanity in the USA and the once United Kingdom. Both are troubled “empires” with the States slipping a little more each day from its once proud position as a world leader.

The UK, alas, gave away her right to world leadership in those fateful years after WW1 when she was too busy fighting wars she couldn’t afford and losing rich markets she needed to pay her bills.

In his incredible history of the 1920-30s, The Age of Illusion author Robert Blythe describes the UK a mere eight or nine years after the war to end wars terminated. Britain was getting ready to bring one “unknown warrior” home for ceremonial re-burial. He would be “classless, nameless, rankless and ageless … the silent ambassador of the legion dead to the courts of the living.”

Of the men who did make it home, some were unharmed, but many were changed mentally. They no longer believed that blind obedience to obviously bad policy was essential. Sometimes they rebelled with cause; and sometimes without.

England was not a happy place in the 1920’s: “In France, the battlefields were being tidied up … Scarcely any of the millions of victims had been brought home, and most of them lay shallow beneath the soil. The trenches were filled in, and the grim shell-pollarded trees were leveled. At home the national economy began to shrink … and wages shriveled up accordingly. Between 1919 and 1920 there were upwards of 2,000 strikes. As the second anniversary of the war drew near a moral and material shabbiness enveloped everything.”

Important happenings slide between the words as we remember that for every one of the millions lying in shallow soil, there was a mother, wife, lover, or special friend wondering how it happened and asking why?

It is difficult to believe today that in the 1920s, stately diplomatic Britain had at least one cabinet minister noisily displaying Trump-Johnson tendencies and surviving the most outrageous racist public outbursts.

His name was Sir William Joynson-Hicks (cct) with a nickname of Jix. He held several cabinet posts before being appointed Home Secretary, which he delightedly told the world gave him more power than the prime minister. Jews were a favourite public target, and he didn’t hesitate to voice his derision upfront and personal. Invited to address the distinguished Maccabee Society, he let fly with what Blythe describes as “incredible insensitivity and insolence.”

And, like our latter-day careless babblers, he ignored all criticism, says Blythe. “He never took notice. The bubble of complacency in which his ego floated protected his nerve centres from criticism.”

Referring to a recent election, Jix said: “I could say that Jews were delightful opponents, that I am very pleased to receive the opposition of the Jewish community, and that I am, in spite of it all, your humble and obedient servant. I could say that, but it wouldn’t be true in the slightest degree. I have beaten you thoroughly and soundly, and I am no longer your servant.”

Boris and Donnie, please, take note.

(I have had my edition of The Age of Illusion for years. Still find it a pleasure to pick up, open at any chapter heading from A Great Day at Westminster Abbey to The Destruction of Neville Chamberlain and never cease to marvel. Wish I could write like that. If you can’t track a copy down locally you can try The Folio Society Ltd, 44 Eagle Street, London, WC 1R 4FS or www.foliosociety.com)

The Way The Big War Started

It was quiet in the kitchen. A large wall clock ticked away minute-hand seconds.

At the table, a mother and father and two teenagers sipped fresh-brewed tea, the father between puffs from his penny-clay pipe; the mother between pauses in the incantations only “pull-over” knitting mothers understood.

On a small table closest to the mother, a Philips radio murmured solemn music interrupted every minute or so by a BBC-cultured voice assuring listeners our prime minister had a very important message for us. So important that only he could deliver it at 11:00 a.m.

Seconds before that hour, the radio presented a burst of scratchy static, and at precisely 11:00 a.m., a never before heard of magical happening – Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was talking to us in our home, joining us at the table for a cup of tea.

“He doesn’t sound like a prime minister,” said my sister Doris, all of 18.

“Shut up!” snapped father. I, always quick to pick up parental storm warnings, just looked at the clock to make sure the BBC was on schedule and listened – but without much understanding until the PM came to the last line of his opening paragraph.

“I am speaking to you from the cabinet room at 10 Downing Street. This morning, the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final note stating that unless we heard from them by 11 o’clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.” The extra emphasis is mine but not really needed.

It was September 3rd, 1939. He didn’t really say much after that. Just a few words on how hard he had tried for compromise; how he had reluctantly been forced to accept “that there is no chance of expecting that this man will ever give up his practice of using force to gain his will. He can only be stopped by force.”

The last line of his brief declaration of war was a plea to his countrymen to believe he had done everything possible to find a way to peace. “And now that we have resolved to finish it, I know that you will all play your part with calmness and courage.”

Chamberlain’s speech was followed by a long list of wartime – immediately imposed – conditions. All theatres, movie houses and concerts halls were closed; noisy rattles of the kind used at large sports events were banned unless they were used as warning that poison gas had been released. No bugles or sirens could be sounded on the streets. All BBC regular programs were cancelled with hours of organ and classical music filling the gaps between official proclamations.

The things we were about to lose, the restrictions we were about to face seemed of little consequence as the Chamberlain era ended. He died from stomach cancer in November 1940, a few weeks after resigning to make way for Winston Churchill.

Dunkirk and a military debacle in Norway had hastened his end.

My father, a survivor badly scarred from the WW1 disaster at Gallipoli, was not a Churchill fan but said he felt better with the old warrior at the helm. With the radio off, he gathered us around him in the kitchen for a comforting pep talk before he nipped down to the Wheatsheaf pub to sign up for the Home Guard.

As a 15-year-old with four months to go before hitting 16 on December 27 and becoming the regular “gofer” on a three-man stretcher crew – two medics and a messenger boy – my father assured my mother and me that I wouldn’t have much do. “You have to remember we live in the middle of England. That’s a long way for them to fly. They’ll never get this far.”

It was suddenly quiet again in the kitchen, although we couldn’t hear the clock ticking over the belly tingling ululating of an air raid siren – about 10 minutes after the PM quit speaking and the first time ever heard without prior notice of a test.

But, father said: “A false alarm for sure … They’ll know down at the ‘Sheaf.’ We walked outside to scan the sky. All was well. We were safe.

Some months later I stood in the same kitchen, ankle-deep in soot shaken loose by a heavy duty bomb exploding nearby and lifting tiles from the roof and soot from the chimney. As we talked it started to rain – and may you never stand in a previously immaculate kitchen instantly converted to wall to wall, ceiling to floor, thick black soot-sludge.

The “phony war” was over. The “blitz” was gearing for full throttle destruction. “False alarms” were no more, even in the always optimistic Wheatsheaf.

On the Edge of Darkness

I hadn’t thought much about forest fires in Brazil until the country was offered $20 million to fight them by the G-7 nations. I wondered why my home province of British Columbia hadn’t been made a similar offer. I mean, we do get forest fires annually with last year (2018) a record-breaker; 2,115 fires and 1.35 million hectares of forest destroyed. It surpassed 2017’s record high of 1.22 million hectares of forest destroyed.

Long summer days from late May can, by mid-June, render the province tinder dry and ready for rapid conflagration sparked by lightning strikes, carelessly tossed cigarette butts and campfires neglectfully left smouldering.

So, it’s taken me a while to start paying attention to the wildfires now roaring through Brazil’s Amazon rain forest, destroying – so the news reports tell me – “a football pitch size” of forest every few minutes or so and using “fake” photographs to ramp up the drama.

BC is not alone suffering from wildfires on the West Coast of North America. Between July and late September, wildfires also ravage Alaska, the Yukon, and the states of Washington, Oregon and California – especially California – with intense ferocity.

These fires, like those in the Amazon, are spread over vast areas. In BC last year, the “big fires” burned for days or weeks in the Stikine, Kitimat, Bulkley-Nechako and Cariboo, and “not quite so large” in the Peace River, Northern Rockies, Okanagan-Similkameen and Central Kootenay.

Accompanying all major fires are air quality concerns. In 2018, BC was troubled with increased risk from added smoke drifting north from U.S. fires.

In BC, all air quality stations registered higher than seven on the Air Quality Health Index on at least one day, and several remained there for many days with warnings issued that children, the elderly and anyone with heart or breathing problems should reduce strenuous outdoor activities. In some regions, “above seven” warnings remained in effect for between 18 days (south Okanagan) and 32 days (Prince George).

It all set me wondering why Brazil’s fires should be attracting such widespread attention – and merit a gift of $20 million from G-7, of which Canada is a member. It didn’t take much research to discover that Brazil’s rain forests contribute heavily to the world’s supply of oxygen – the stuff we need if we are to breathe long enough to slow down global warming – and that without the Amazon’s lungs, our world would be seriously endangered.

Then, in reports from The National Institute for Space Research, came a series of numbers quickly sharpening the focus of my BC-biased mind. The NIFSR informed me that between January 1st and August 1st of this year, Brazil’s Amazon rain forest had been hit by 75,300 fires, an 85 per cent increase over the previous year. In the land of my birth, such announcements are appropriately termed “gob smacking.” The NIFSR does note that some of those fires could be small, but all had been “reportable.”

(In the name of accurate reporting, the New York Times has reported Brazil’s reported fire numbers “this year at 39,194 … a 77 per cent increase …” My numbers are from a table reproduced by the BBC from the NIFSR covering January 1st to August 21st. The NYT could have been quoting January to July, but 39,000-plus is still a helluva whack compared with BC’s two thousand.)  

Brazil isn’t alone among South America’s big burners. Venezuela has fought or is fighting 26,500 wildfires – up 19 per cent; Bolivia 17,200 plus – up 114 per cent. But, Brazil does appear to stand alone with its new deforestation policy of clearing rain forest to create arable land for commercial agricultural projects.

In a recent opinion piece, The Guardian quoted a science community warning that President Jair Bolsonaro’s plan to convert rain forest to farms will eliminate 20 per cent of the world’s oxygen supply – “the most valuable asset humanity possesses in our increasingly difficult battle to avoid climate catastrophes.”

That is Universal catastrophe, not just Brazilian.

And therein lies a problem. President Bolsonaro was surprisingly elected last November. His Environment Minister is Ricardo Salles who, last year while serving as a state environment official in Sao Paulo, was found guilty of “administrative improprieties” for having changed a map to benefit mining companies. He was fined and deprived of his political rights – including his right to seek public office.

It was just three weeks after his conviction that Bolsonaro appointed him to cabinet. Like Bolsanaro, Salles does not believe in climate change.

That means other world leaders will need to figure out how to handle Bolsonaro – without the help and power of the United States whose President Donald Trump – also a climate change denier.

It will not be easy. Brazil, in a free world, has the right to do what it likes with its natural resources. But what should the rest of the world do if a Brazilian decision endangers not just other nations but the world, the universe and possibly all humanity?

The scientists tell us the latter is inevitable unless we get some serious checks and balances on climate change. And, that we cannot hope to get even a slow down without the natural assistance the Brazilian Amazon District rain forest has provided since time began.

So, what should our leaders do? Wait and pray for the miracle of an awakening United Nations with the courage to challenge rogue countries with end-of-the-world threats? Or just hold hands and hope it will all go away as we march to the edge of darkness?

Or maybe as nation known for past leadership in United Nation affairs we Canadians could drop Prime Minister Trudeau a line reminding him it was Liberal PM Lester B. Pearson who was a leader among leaders when the UN was founded. A repeat performance on the international stage between now and our federal election in October could be a real World Cup winner.

Remembering Peterloo,

The day started well. Clear skies, warm sun and a crowd later estimated at “around 60,000, with many dressed in their Sunday best” exchanging pleasantries while waiting to see and hear one of the great orators of the day, Henry “Orator” Hunt, speak on the urgent need for parliamentary reform and better working and living conditions.

The day, August 16, 1819, ended tragically with 18 dead, 650 injured, many seriously. And “Orator” Hunt got to speak but a few words before he and his entourage were arrested. Carrying out the arrest was a force described in early reports as “local yeomanry, younger members of the Tory (Conservative) Party in arms.” London’s Times reporter John Tyas and other scribes were hauled away with Hunt’s group, to the alarm of already nervous magistrates.

Earlier in the day, the meadows near St. Peter’s Church, known as St. Peter’s Fields, had been described as “full of people in good humour, shouting and laughing and making fun; it seemed to be a gala with the country people … boys and girls taking their father’s hand to walk in the procession.”

A peaceful protest but with the occasional banner proclaiming “LIBERTY and FRATERNITY,” a reminder to the government of the day that the people of France, tired of tyranny, had stormed the infamous Bastille prison and replaced their government.

A memorial piece in The Guardian (link below) describes how the scene changed from a day in the country to see and hear a legendary orator talk about future hopes, to a terrifying mob panic and death and wounds by the sword.

The huge crowd was too dense for most to notice what was later reported as Manchester Yeomanry “approaching the edge of the crowd at a fast pace. They were the first troops to be called.  They had been milling in the back streets, drinking in local taverns, and were fired up, ready to unleash themselves on the subversives.  They clattered down Cooper Street, knocking over a 23-year-old woman … and knocking her baby son, William, out of her arms, onto the cobbles and under their horses’ hooves. He was the first fatality of the day.”

Any signs of peaceful protest died with the baby, and the joyous crowd became a mob fleeing for its life. When 340 regular cavalrymen from the 15th Hussars joined the mass, it drove everything before it – including the crowd control yeomanry. One of the Hussar officers, Lt. William Joliffe, later explained why the death count was so low at 18 after a full battle cavalry charge into a panic stricken mob.

“The charge,” he reported, “swept this mingled mass of humans before it; people, yeomen and constables in their confused attempts to escape ran over one another … The Hussars drove the people forward with the flats of their swords, but sometimes, as is almost inevitably the case when men are placed in such situations, the edge is used … I must still consider that it redounds to the humane forbearance of the men of the 15th that more wounds were not received.”

He was saying his men were not too happy with their orders and were swinging their sabres to hit with the flat of the sword, not the sharp edge.

And why should all this be of interest to people in 2019 some 200 years after the event? Well, maybe because he was courageously telling the government of the day that their army was not in wholehearted support of its conduct. That it wouldn’t take much to persuade a switch of loyalty.

Or maybe because a journalist named James Wroe, a reporter who covered the event and coined the immortal title “The Peterloo Massacre,” published the clear, brutal story of what he saw and emphasized repeated calls for change in government’s understanding of democracy. The government certainly paid attention. In double-quick time, it closed down Wroe’s newspaper – the Manchester Observer – charged him with seditious libel and sentenced him to one year in jail with hard labour.

Or maybe, because following Peterloo and over too many years there came a steady progression of hard-fought reforms in parliament, incredible improvements in workplace conditions and, for most people, living standards far beyond the Peterloo generation’s dreams.

In Manchester this year they unveiled a new multi million dollar memorial. It features 11 concentric steps featuring the names of the 18 who died and the towns and villages they came from. It is hoped it will convey the idea of the 18 walking up the steps to a speakers podium to continue their still active fight for electoral equality and social justice.

The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/jan/04/peterloo-massacre-bloody-clash-that-changed-britain.

Sceptre and Crown Come Tumbling Down

When Governor James Douglas was appointed boss of what we call British Columbia, he had the authority to raise and train a small army and dispatch it to wherever it was needed on the new frontier. Fortunately, he lacked the bodies and the money to do anything meaningful with that power.

In a dispatch on August 24, 1858, with troubles brewing among gold miners on the Fraser River, he asked Royal Navy Capt. Montresor of HMS Calypso based in Esquimalt for help. There was a degree of urgency in the message, a detectable edge of panic:

“Intelligence has just been received here of an alarming collision between white miners and the native Indian Tribes of Fraser’s River. A sanguinary war of races, the inevitable consequence of a prolonged state of misrule, may plunge the Government into the most serious difficulties unless steps be taken to immediately avert the evil. I therefore propose to visit that country as soon as the necessary arrangements can be completed.

“A military force is essentially necessary on that occasion, to represent and sustain the dignity of the Queen’s Government; and I make the appeal to you, sir, in Her Majesty’s name, for a detachment of one officer and ten marines … to be placed at my disposal …”

Capt. Montresor replied immediately. He was sorry, but couldn’t help having been given orders just that day “to proceed to sea tomorrow morning.” He promised to relay the Douglas request to his replacement on station, one Capt. Prevost of HMS Satellite.

Two weeks later, Douglas was able to inform London of the actions he had taken. Again, there is a nervous edge to the note addressed to the Rt. Hon. Lord Stanley, MP dated August 27, 1858: “My Lord, since I last addressed you … an alarming report reached this place of the murder of 42 miners by the Indians of Fraser’s River …”

Douglas went on to say he had immediately gathered a force of Royal Navy Marines to suppress any thoughts of native rebellion and was now happy to report “the alarming report has since been contradicted” and that “two men only were killed by the Indians instead of the larger number previously reported.”

He added that he still intended to proceed with his military mission up the Fraser, although “the military force is absurdly small for such an occasion, but I shall use every exertion in my power to accomplish the great object in view, and to assert the rights of my country, in the hopes that early measures will be taken by Her Majesty’s Government to relieve the country from its present perilous state.”

The report, dispatched August 27, was not received in London until October 11, by which time Douglas was sorting the blame and writing London asking for help on the disposition of “white men engaged in mining pursuits” who had been found guilty of murder “and sentenced to transportation for life.” Unfortunately, he wrote, “there is no penal settlement within reach, and I have no means of forming a settlement for that purpose.” He asked London if it would “permit the removal of any convicted criminal to any penal settlement in Australia” and if so, how “the expense of their removal is to be defrayed.”

I haven’t yet been able to find a response to that request – or what the Aussies thought of the idea. I am just reciting a “blame game” trail which started with reports of insurrection on the Fraser with 42 miners “murdered”, morphed into two killed in a fight (not an unusual happening in gold mining camps) and finally into serious problems created by “white men…who have been found guilty of murder.”

In 1857, while Douglas was fielding nervous twitches on Canada’s west coast, there had been a cataclysmic revolt of natives in India against their British overlords. At Cawnpore (now Kanpur) the British garrison was overrun. After surrendering to the native forces, survivors were first promised passage to safety then massacred – soldiers and civilians, women and children. Last to be killed were three women and children; their bodies tossed down a well.

There were other outrages echoing to all corners of the British Empire in sufficient strength to provide righteous justification for the revenge to follow; the humiliation and slaughter of prisoners and civilians by British troops when Cawnpore was recaptured – and in other areas where the Sepoy Rebellion had early success. There has never been an accurate count of the thousands massacred by both sides, but at the time only the brutality of the rebels made the dreadful headlines.

It would take another hundred years or so to complete but the greatest empire the world had ever seen had begun its collapse. Watching its fall and considering its possible world power replacement is fascinating and frightening.

We don’t seem to have made much progress in humanitarian beliefs since those days when an eye for an eye was regarded as balanced justice. Revenge is too often what we seek even when, as polite Canadians, we dress it up as the nicer sounding “reconciliation.”