Lots of Questions; Few Answers

A recent letter to the editor of a local newspaper was sharply critical of the conduct of our Members of Parliament when they participate in a daily vaudeville show from Ottawa called “Question Period.” The writer was upset because the questions were being asked as if spontaneously with the cabinet ministers’ answers delivered from notes – a sure indication that the ministers had been given notice of what the questions would be.

It’s not a new complaint from people interested in the goings on in our national and provincial parliaments. In fact, despair over Question Period in BC is the most consistent complaint I hear about whoever is in government federal or provincial “because they never answer the questions.” I usually suggest a visit to a library with a good reference section and a quick look at BC Standing Order 47A  in Orders of the Day, the rule book for all the games played under the Belleville Street dome – where the distressed will find a description of how Question Period should proceed. Readers will note the qualifier “should.”

The standing order states: There shall be a 30-minute (originally it was just 15) oral question period at the opening of each afternoon sitting on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday which shall be subject to the following rules:

(a) Only questions that are urgent and important shall be permitted;

(b) Questions and answers shall be brief and precise, and stated without argument or opinion;

(c) Supplementary questions may be permitted at the discretion of the Speaker. There shall be no supplementary question to a question taken as notice;

(d) Debate shall not be permitted.

(The supplementary question rule means if when the question is first asked, the minister responds with a promise to “take it as notice,” that assurance ends the issue for the day. The minister is, in effect, saying the answer needs a little research before it can be given.)

In addition to the precise rules, former Clerk of the Legislature George MacMinn’s (LLB, QC) Third Edition of Parliamentary Practice in British Columbia presents a long list of other rules “which members have received from time to time.” They are quite precise as to the language a questioner and responder can use. A few: “In putting a question a member must confine himself to the narrowest limits”; a question oral or written must not be “ironical, rhetorical, offensive, or contain epithet, innuendo, satire or ridicule.”

And, maybe the toughest task for those asking questions or answering when their tongue is racing ahead of their reason or they haven’t paid due care and attention to question or answer, they should never: “Be trivial, vague or meaningless.”

You would think that with all these carefully spelled out rules intelligent men and women – watched over by an equally intelligent Speaker who should be able to recite the rules as well as enforce them – would be able to get through 30 minutes of questions without a hitch or voices raised in satirical rhetoric or meaningless trivia. It is true question period has been around for only about 50 years, but that should be long enough to at least learn the basic decencies of asking a serious question and getting a clear and equally serious answer.

Many times during his 20-year and 45-day reign, Premier W.A.C. Bennett was bombarded with demands from opposition politicians and members of the public that BC establish a question period. When he refused he was taunted with the charge that he was afraid to face the heat of tough questions. He was unmoved – and he never changed his simple reason for not liking the formal question period used in England and all Commonwealth countries.

It was his belief that official question periods were well-rehearsed affairs where the questions are partisan, and asked not to gain knowledge or advance and improve good programs, but to win a political point. Questions were delivered with political “spin” and governments responded with a counter political spin to win a few one-upmanship battles.

It became a standing joke that BC had a question period and would one day introduce an answer period.

It was Bennett’s contention that opposition members in the BC Legislature had ample time to hold a government’s feet to the fire during the time allowed for full debate when ministry budgets were tabled and spending estimates questioned clause by clause. It was his way of providing all the time legislators needed for questions, even if it meant sitting all night. The opposition called it legislation by exhaustion, but he boasted that as premier he was just responding to the Opposition demand for more time to challenge. He claimed he didn’t force the lengthy session, he was just patiently providing all the time required.

In his fine biography, W.A.C. Bennett and the Rise of British Columbia, writer-historian David Mitchell suggests tea-total Bennett undoubtedly would have concurred with hard-drinking Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald when he said: “In a young country like Canada, I am of the opinion that it is of more consequence to endeavour to develop its resources and improve its physical advantages, than to waste the time of the legislature and the money of the people in fruitless discussions on abstract and theoretical questions of government.”

I spent a long afternoon with W.A.C. back in 1975. It was on Sept. 5th, the day before his 75th birthday. He confirmed his related thinking with Macdonald but with simple words more suited to a small town hardware store owner: “You build a home to protect your family. That’s what I tried to do when I was in office. I tried to build a home for BC strong enough to withstand the storm we all knew was coming. I even had a few ‘nuts’ in the basement you know. Even squirrels do that. But inside of three years, they’ve made it a shambles.” 

Born in Hastings, New Brunswick in 1900, W.A.C. died in Kelowna on Feb. 3rd, 1979. He was 78.


When Second Choices Top The Polls

March 16, 1950, dawned cold and West Coast damp the day South Okanagan MLA W.A.C. Bennett resigned his membership in the Progressive Conservative Party, informed the Speaker he would henceforth sit as an Independent, and then, went to the movies. It was 5° Fahrenheit in the days before Celsius and raining off and on.

There is no record of what movie he took in, but he had five theatres to choose from: The Atlas offered John Wayne in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon; The Capitol, Spencer Tracy and James Stewart in Malaya; The Dominion, Gregory Peck in 12 O’clock High; the Royal, Lady Takes a Sailor with Jane Wyman; and the Fox, “Raging Island” and “raging passion of the place Stromboli with Ingrid Bergman under the inspired direction of Rossellini.”

Those who knew the old man guess he went to see 12 O’clock High with its heavy action and tough decision making. After all, he had been going through some heavy action in the legislature fighting endlessly with his own party to demonstrate inspiring leadership. Failing to arouse them, he had finally quit to sit as an independent like old Tom Uphill, who sat proudly as Labour’s lone representative to the dismay of the CCF – now the NDP.

Unlike Uphill, who never changed his independent status, Bennett survived only a matter of weeks as a loner. Stirring in the wings of BC politics at the time was a strange new party under the banner of the Social Credit League. Already active federally and strong provincially in Alberta, it attracted the maverick from Kelowna and the SCL welcomed him when he eventually became a member, even to the extent of wondering if he would like to be their leader. It was an offer Bennett declined. He liked some of the SCL’s new ideas but not others. He wanted to see if they were real before committing.

In April 1952, Premier Byron Johnson’s Coalition government of Liberals and Conservatives decided to go for broke. They called for an election on June 12. In the back rooms, they prepared a well-organized and completely legal trap to virtually guarantee return to their comfortable coalition pew.

The vote would be conducted on what they called a “preferential ballot.” It would be a first for BC and the pious organizers insisted it would be a much fairer way of electing a government than the “first past the post” system used around the world. And it would be simple: Candidates were listed alphabetically on the ballot; the voter would mark a first choice, then second and successively until every candidate got a vote in descending order of preference. When the votes were counted, the candidate with the least votes would be removed from contention with his/her votes then divided among survivors according to the preferences marked on the loser’s ballot.

The process would continue until one candidate emerged with more than 50 percent of the vote.

It was a month before a final decision could be announced and the Liberal/ Progressive Conservative Coalition had been truly hoisted on its own petard. The Coalition had convinced itself that Liberal voters would cast their first vote for Liberals with a second choice for a Conservative – or vice versa – and that the CCF voters would cast all their second votes to either Liberal or Conservatives and thus inadvertently re-elect the Coalition. It was inconceivable to those who had ruled so long that CCF socialists would ever make their second choice a candidate from the amateurs in a party which had no official leader and only one or two members with political experience. (Rev. George Hansell, unelected and not a candidate, was temporary Social Credit League leader during the election but had declared he didn’t want to make it permanent.)

Then the CCF did the unthinkable and, when the day was over, the Coalition was shattered. Social Credit had won 19 seats, the CCF 18, and the Coalition had dropped from 39 seats to 10 – six Liberals and four Tories. CCF supporters had solidly placed their second votes for the rooky SCL candidates presumably thinking it was a safe dump because the new party was not capable of generating much of its own support.

In short order, after the election, the SC League held a leadership convention to make W.A.C. their new leader and premier – a job he would hold for the next 20 years. His first year as premier was short and some suggest made so deliberately by the premier himself.

Convinced he could win a clear majority in an election re-run, he introduced school building legislation that he knew would end in a vote of non-confidence and a loss of government. His anticipation was accurate, the Social Credit government fell and CCF leader Harold Winch approached Lieutenant-Governor Clarence Wallace to suggest that, as he had only one seat less than Bennett, he should now be given a chance to govern. Lieutenant Governor Wallace didn’t agree and supported Bennett’s request to call another election to let the voters settle the issue.

It was held June 9, 1953, with the preferential ballot still in play. If he was gambling that second and third vote ballots would flow his way this time from disenchanted Tories and Liberals and that CCF supporters with a deep distrust of the coalition would also provide second vote strength, he was right. The Social Credit Party led on the first count and never looked back. When it was all over, the preferential ballot gave the Socreds 28 seats, the CCF 14, the Liberals four, Labour one, and the never-to-recover Conservatives one. In some ridings, it had taken six counts before a winner could be declared, and it was second and third votes that swung the SC to a final popular count of 300,372 which was still only 45.54 percent of the total vote.

Bennett never again used the system where second and third choices could overtake and surpass the first. Sitting governments, planning changes for the sake of change rather than legitimate need, should remember Robbie Burns: “The best laid schemes of mice and men oft go astray”


It’s More Convenient to Forget Than Remember

On June 6, 2018, the day unfolded like so many others; bright sunshine, scattered cloud, a light breeze. A perfect day to enjoy and to forget, as most people seemed to forget what happened on this same date 74 years earlier.

Back then, the weather was not quite as perfect. It was D-Day, June 6, 1944, the first – and longest – day, the start of a series of battles destined to end less than two years later with the collapse of Adolf Hitler’s Germany.

Before that day was over, 425 thousand young men would be dead – 209 thousand from Allied forces, 216 thousand German. Among the thousands were many U.S. soldiers, sailors and airmen fighting and dying in only the second major great war in which the U.S. fought on the winning side. The first was when they beat the British in the Revolutionary War.

There have been quite a few smaller, but still vicious, conflicts since D-Day began and V-E Day ended the re-conquest of Europe, and V-J Day celebrated the collapse of the final WW2 Axis power, Japan. The hangovers from WW2 victory celebrations had hardly faded when most of the nations “allied” against Hitler’s Germany/Italy/Japan axis joined forces again, this time under United Nations colours, to save South Korea from a North Korean communist invasion.

The Korean War has never officially ended. An agreement to cease fire still holds precariously but there has never been an armistice. The shooting stopped and the United States forces quietly faded south across the north-south border where the U.S. still maintains a strong military presence. North Korea has spent its time since agreeing to the cease-fire while developing nuclear intercontinental weaponry capable of carrying nuclear warheads to U.S. targets.

President Donald Trump – who has often stated it was time his country “started winning wars again” – is (at this writing) planning to meet with North Korea on June 12 to talk about that nation giving up its nuclear capabilities to make the world a safer place. President Trump, having never tested his own courage on a battlefield, has already warned North Korea that the U.S. collection of weaponry holds more nuclear power than NK can dream of and that “my button is bigger than yours.”

His bellicose threat would indicate that nuclear weapon reduction and/or control would not apply to the U.S. and, should war break out, North Korea could be easily obliterated from the face of the earth.

After Korea, the States took a brief breather from big wars, but only briefly. It was soon at it again in South Viet Nam, defending it against invasion from fellow Vietnamese living in North Viet Nam.

If WW2 was “the just war,” Viet Nam must go down as the most “unjust war” ever fought by the U.S. with only minor aid from other nations. It did awaken the nation’s conscience. It did, when anti-war protests reached rebellious heights on the streets of America’s great cities and on many university campuses, generate hope that maybe this once truly great nation was ready to flex its muscle for peace; that its governments would strive to eliminate military action as a problem solver in the future.

The anti-war cries didn’t last; terrorist action made sure of that when hi-jacked aircraft rammed New York’s twin towers killing thousands of civilians going about their daily business. Under attack, the U.S. was soon at war again in the deserts of the Middle East and the wild hills of Afghanistan searching for the organizer of the twin tower bombing and waging war against Isis or al-Qaeda or the Taliban.

As unnoticed as the passing of D-Day on June 6 was news that in Afghanistan, the commanding U.S. General John Nicholson will be replaced sometime this summer by Lieutenant General Austin “Scott” Miller. Miller will be the ninth officer to command the U.S. forces in Afghanistan in the 16 years America has been fighting there. That’s a new commanding officer every two years – with victory always “close” but never won – in the country that has fought Russian invaders to a standstill before sending them home defeated, and decades before that destroyed an entire British Army in the field. The only time in Britain’s vaunted history that it lost an entire army.

Writing recently for Tomgram, Andrew Bacevich posed this question – among many: So the relevant question for our present American moment is this: Once it becomes apparent that a war is a mistake, why would those in power insist on its perpetuation, regardless of costs and consequences? In short, when getting in turns out to have been a bad idea, why is getting out so difficult, even (or especially) for powerful nations that presumably should be capable of exercising choice on such matters?”

Let me confess that my Bacevich quote is just a fragment from his wide-ranging article on what we have learned or failed to learn from great wars and not so great wars; and how soon we forget if we ever did once learn. For full text check (http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176433/tomgram%3A_andrew_bacevich)

He reminds us of another writer and lover of American history, Gore Vidal, who once wrote of The United States of Amnesia. Comments Bacevich to include us all: “We remember what we find it convenient to remember and forget everything else. That forgetfulness applies to the history of others. How could their past, way back when have any meaning for us today? Well, it just might.”

We all know those who forget or ignore the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. Unfortunately, we seem to elect to high office many leaders unaware of the past or with limited memories. And, the U.S. appears to have elected a president more limited than most when it comes to history, precedent and power.

Maybe someone should whisper in his ear one of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s favourite proverbs first voiced by U.S. trade unionist Jesse Carr in 1976, appropriated and repeated by the Iron Lady: “Being powerful is like being a lady – if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”


Roads Waiting To Be (RE)-Opened

It was in 1874 that British Columbia’s surveyor-general Stanhope Farwell came staggering back to Victoria after a two-day expedition in what author-historian Maureen Duffy describes as “very rough weather” with “snow, hail, and rain” and reported to the BC Commissioner of Lands and Works that it would be a waste of taxpayer’s money to build a road alongside Saanich Inlet from Goldstream to Mill Bay.

“There would never be a pound of freight over it,” he wrote. “A few people might ride over it, and farmers might drive stock over it occasionally.”

He suggested that if they wanted a better return on road building costs, they should improve the main road between the farms in the Duncan-Cowichan-Mill Bay area and Nanaimo, a community growing at a tremendous rate courtesy of coal mining and destined to become the main market for farmers and their produce.

The Daily Colonist sniffed in a comment that Farwell may be getting a little long in the tooth for in-the-field surveying and “was not as physically agile as his guide (W.C. Duncan after whom the city is named), so found the really steep climbs beyond his limited ability.”

Farwell did make a second recommendation if the thought of making Nanaimo the go-to centre for trade and commerce was too much for Victoria; road improvement money could be spent on “the present trail (which) if improved and bridged would in my opinion answer every purpose for years to come.”

“The present trail” was just that, a roughly hewn slash through the forests called a wagon road. However, in reality, it was a three-day, high-risk traverse for anything on wheels testing the run from Shawnigan Lake through Leechtown, then following the Sooke River to a road link to Victoria. The road exists today, although blocked by a tall fence a few kilometers north of where Leechtown once flourished. The fence is to protect Greater Victoria’s watershed, but the rest of the trail is as it was when it was the only land route from the north to the provincial capital. Today it’s called The Galloping Goose Trail, nicknamed for gasoline-powered freight trains operating between Victoria and Shawnigan.

Two years after the Farwell report in 1876, another surveyor, A. R. Howse, took a look at the road being demanded along the coast on the east side of the Malahat. His report was unequivocal: “I am of the opinion this line is quite impractical for a wagon road and moreover I am convinced that no suitable line can be found east of Goldstream and Mallahat [sic] Range of Mountains.”

Howse had also checked out “the western side of the hills” dividing east and west Vancouver Island. His recommendation was clear – abandon thought of a Malahat highway – “the only practicable line for a (north-south) road (is) from Victoria to Cowichan.”

Ten years later in 1886, the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway – coal baron Robert Dunsmuir’s pride and joy, was completed. It came close to following the Farwell-Howse “west of the hills” route recommendations.

The E & N lies silent these days, its tracks getting rustier by the day. Talk of a second highway running north and south stirs once in a while but basically sleeps, forgotten for the most part like the once “vital” railway.

A few days ago, there was a flurry of second highway chatter when an oil tanker was involved in a two-automobile collision and the Malahat was closed to all traffic for about 19 hours. The event prompted loud lamentations from stranded travelers and a knee-jerk response from government that it would study what happened and work to make sure it won’t happen again. It’s the same response echoing over the decades since Major James Francis Lenox MacFarlane led the fight to persuade the government to hack, blast and build down the side of the Saanich Inlet to give him and his fellow farmers easier and shorter access to Victoria markets.

Major MacFarlane’s fight is the stuff of legend. Readers can command Google to find volumes at the mention of his name. For a good look at his character, I recommend a Jack Knox Times-Colonist column of 2017. A taster quote: “…it was MacFarlane – mule-headed, hard drinking, charming, considered barmy by friend and foe alike – who almost single-handed cajoled and browbeat the government into building a road over the Malahat just over a century ago.”

A search of “Mill Bay/Malahat Historical Society/Major MacFarlane” will captivate – especially the documentary One Man’s Dream – The History of the Malahat Highway.

And http://nauticapedia.ca/articles/MacFarlane provides good reading. One article includes a brief quote from a letter he wrote to the Victoria Times in 1938 to correct errors in an article referring to the opening of the Malahat Drive “built by the provincial government in 1914 to replace the Old Summit Road.”

Writing from his retirement address at 1353 Pandora Avenue, the Major gently chided “there are two mistakes in this: First there never was an “Old Summit Road”; second, the present road was finished and opened for traffic a week before Christmas, 1911. I had the honour be the first to drive over and ‘hanseled’ it with a bottle of Burke’s whiskey to the road gang.”

With “hanseled” being a new word for me, I checked. Readers can do the same with no extra charge for a new neat word learned. The Major was correct of course – there never was an old road, just a rugged trail. There still is – and not so rugged anymore. It remains a well-marked, well-used track which could be brought up to emergency road standard with far fewer millions than the Malahat demands to keep it safe and open 24/7/365.

There is a third north-south link in existence but waiting for a place in a modern transportation system. It’s a little remote for everyday use but could be of immense value a few years hence as the tourist industry continues to grow and thrive. Round-the-world travelers are seeking new horizons, and stay-at-home islanders are setting out to discover roads they never knew existed. Like the road from Port Renfrew to Port Alberni via Bamfield, Sarita River and east alongside the Alberni Canal to Port Alberni and then, if you can afford another tank of gas a long run down the valley to Courtenay-Comox.

Try another Google search, this time for a map: Port Renfrew to Bamfield and Port Alberni. It may surprise you, but it’s been an Alberni Valley dream for decades. However, it takes giants in provincial governments to make dreams come true – and we have been a little short of political giants for quite a while now.

And Major MacFarlanes have always been far too rare.



No Fuel For Energy for Five Days

You wake up one morning, turn on your smartphone – or your slow PC – to see if the world is unfolding as it should. You are informed that all gasoline and fuel oil sales have been suspended for at least the next five days.

Although you had been warned such a thing could happen if Alberta’s Premier Rachel Notley didn’t see some positive movement on new pipeline construction, you didn’t believe that our friendly neighbour would ever do such a thing.

Citizens of the eastern United States must have had similar feelings the day their morning newspapers informed them that, “effective tomorrow,” coal could not be used on specific days, even to generate modest heat.

The 1918 edict banning coal as an energy source was issued by a presidential decree supported by Congress and the Senate and it applied to “all manufacturing plants with but few exceptions in all states east of the Mississippi River.”

In my hometown of Victoria on the distant Pacific Coast of Canada, the local Daily Colonist ran the story front page on January 17 – a Thursday. The five-day total ban for major manufacturing plants kicked in the next day to be followed by partial closures of “all activities that require heated buildings.” They will “observe a holiday every Monday for the next 10 weeks.”

The Colonist noted the Monday “holiday” would do more than shut down factories and create spells of mass unemployment; it would also close down all “theatres, saloons and stores – excepting drug stores and food stores – and hotels and rooming houses heated by coal furnaces.

There were protests, with one of the loudest coming from the New York theatre district, claiming the Monday closing of all theatres could result in serious psychological problems. “On a public with nowhere to go but home on a Monday evening, that could be demoralizing for the people of New York,” the Colonist reported. No explanation was given as to why Monday without theatre would be more demoralizing than Monday without pubs.

It all happened “entirely without warning” when oil, gasoline, and electricity were in their infant years. Coal and coke were the fuels that drove huge manufacturing plants and kept America rich and warm and able to fight in a world war. Stocks were running dangerously low when the five-day shutdown was ordered. There are those who say the shock of the 1918 coal shortages as the first World War came to a close hastened the end of the black stuff as a prime energy source. At the time oil and gas were edging in as cleaner and more efficient replacements – as solar, wind and electric power are today, sounding the death knell for their old unclean ways.

But, the world is not quite ready for the next big shift to wiser, more efficient, energy.

Maybe a shutdown of supply is what we need to convince the “ban pipelines and oil tankers” naysayers that until we have a cleaner energy source to turn on, we need fossil fuels to keep us moving, eating, and staying warm in winter.

Five days to 10 weeks without the lifeline of oil – which one day The Big One might bring coastal BC  “entirely without warning” – would be a hard way to learn and admit that evil fossil fuels have brought us many comforts on their way from welcome to disgrace.

Retire them we must, and the sooner the better. But not until we have found, and have in place, a better way.





Electric Trains From Victoria to Air and Ferry Terminals

If you have ever been fortunate enough to roll from central London, England, to the heart of Heathrow Airport for a flight to wherever in the world you want to go, you will know how easy it is. At the busy but orderly Paddington railway station, you step aboard the quietly purring Heathrow Express, stash your luggage on a low-level shelf, and settle yourself on a comfortable clean seat for a 15-minute glide to the airport.

There’s a train every 15 minutes; the journey itself takes the same amount of time – 15 minutes from the centre of one of the busiest cities in the world to the middle of an airport with tentacles reaching every major city on Planet Earth. Just enough time to check your latest electronic gadget for e-mails courtesy of free wi-fi throughout the train.

Some 100 years ago, a traveler living in Victoria, British Columbia, could have enjoyed the similar ease of connected travel. The journey itself may have lacked the clean comforts we demand on our modern public transports, conversations would be limited to fellow travelers, speed would be slower, the ride itself perhaps a little less smooth. But, in the early years of the 20th Century, a traveler could climb on board an electric train in downtown Victoria and get off at a place called Tatlow where, in 1914, the BC Electric Railway Company built The Chalet to feed day trippers or more leisurely vacationers. It’s just a little north and west of Sidney and close enough to the airport to call it neighbour

A few days ago, I was reminded of another once vital transportation connection between Victoria and its suburban neighbours when Premier John Horgan downgraded old proposals to restore what was once a vital railway link between BC’s capital city and the western communities, now called the West Shore. The premier said he would prefer to see the historic Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway right-of-way used as a fast bus and possibly multi-passenger car lane, rather than see it reborn as a light rail rapid transit system.

The dream of a modern transportation system to service the growing West Shore population would have to wait, and while waiting, the old right of way, owned by the Island Corridor Foundation, could be used to get some heavy traffic off the main highway into special bus lanes where it could continue to speed up global warming and increases pollution at will.

That’s an interesting proposition promulgated by those who have never heard – or never want to be reminded – about the Victoria and Sidney Railway (1892) or the BC Electric Railway Company’s once famous Interurban Railway Line (1913). Wikipedia tells us the early negotiations between Victoria City Council and V&S Railway involved “certain tax concessions and various loans” before construction of the line connecting Victoria and Sidney started in 1894.

In the early years, the V&S prospered but aging equipment and the challenge in 1913 of BC Electric’s Interurban Line offering ultra-modern equipment plus faster and more frequent service proved too much. In 1919, V&S ceased operations and its line was abandoned – although a few spots like “Veyaness Road” remain on street maps, inadvertent historic markers that “a railroad once ran here.”

The Interurban Line didn’t survive much longer, although it was often praised for the beauty of its route out along Burnside Road, Interurban Road, Interurban Road Rail Trail, West Saanich Road, Wallace Drive, Aldous Terrace and Mainwaring Road. One section of the old track is now an airport runway; another section is part of the old Experimental Farm now known as the Sidney Centre for Plant Health.

In 1923, the Interurban Line was officially shut down. “Tatlow Station” no longer exists but Tatlow Road does and still leads to The Chalet with its continuing five-star claim to fine dining.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful for we southern Vancouver Islanders if the Interurban Line right of way had survived intact and been developed as a clean energy 21st Century light rapid transit system with transfer stops at the airport, the ferry terminal, downtown Sidney – and of course, before the return run home – The Chalet for lunch or dinner?

Maybe Premier Horgan should consider the lessons of the past and the times and costs of missed opportunities.



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Hold The Applause ’til The Final Curtain

It’s a year now since British Columbia, true to its maverick reputation in politics, re-elected the ruling Liberal party to continue to run the province. The reigning Liberals won more seats than any other party but not enough to control the Legislature. When three Green Party MLA’s officially pledged their support to the New Democratic Party then Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon felt that with guaranteed support from the Greens John Horgan’s New Democrats offered a better chance at stability.

John Horgan became Premier Horgan, threw himself into the job with great energy and sometimes surprising “presence” and a never-ending supply of self-praising announcements when new schools, hospitals, parks or playgrounds were opened with each event a reminder that good things were happening since he was elected Premier of BC. Once in a while, a background voice would murmur he had been appointed rather than elected premier and the Green Puppy Party would yelp what they hoped sounded like a threatening bark as a reminder the Green trio holding him in place was very fragile.

By and large, as 2017 rolled into ’18 the NDP world was unfolding comfortably, although not as perfectly as a first glance might indicate.

When two new hospitals opened a matter of weeks after the election it did not escape public attention that hospitals are not planned and built overnight or even a short 12-month span. It was remembered by many that location of the new facilities to serve the Comox Valley and Campbell River had generated fierce debate locally and that the massive financing came from the taxpayers of British Columbia courtesy of the then Liberal government, not from the ribbon – cutters on hand for the Grande finale with speeches seeking praise for  a new government after only a few weeks in office.

Last Thursday, May 10, the BC Ministry of Finance issued a press release announcing Moody’s credit rating agency had reaffirmed British Columbia’s status as a Triple-A credit rating holder. It holds similar status with the Standard and Poor’s and Fitch agencies and remains the only Triple-A rated province in Canada so rated by all three international accredit rating agencies. The release carries a statement from newly minted Finance Minister Carole James: “Moody’s affirmation of our Aaa rating is further validation that our plan to make life more affordable, improve services and create good jobs for people is prudent and fiscally sustainable….It signals confidence in our province and in the future of our strong economy.”

It is true that a Triple-A rating is a prized confirmation of British Columbia’s economic stability, a feather in our cap. It is also true that the recognition was not earned last year but decades ago. Premier Horgan, held in office by three Green fellow travelers, inherited a prosperous province with a sound economic base and programs. Neither he or his finance minister played a positive role in building that solid economic base.

It would be foolish to expect a newly seated government to praise too loudly – or even softly – a predecessor’s accomplishments, but it should not be beyond reason to expect the new team to boast only of its own laurels. In that way Premier Horgan and his team can claim some credit for the announcement a few days ago of a $90 million affordable housing plan to ease if not eliminate what is now a lack of housing crisis. It’s an ambitious plan with three levels of government jostling for credit with Ottawa tossing in $30 million; the province matching the federal donation with another $30 million,  and the Capital Regional District (CRD)  topping it up to $90 million to, claimed Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Jean-Yves Duclos, federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development “effectively end chronic homelessness in the capital region.”

It is a project long overdue, too long ignored but we, especially “the government”  must never forget that every one of the $90 million dollars comes from taxpayers, not a magic money tree money planted and nurtured by the NDP.

Sadly it must be remembered the “choir” gathered to praise the “end to chronic homelessness in the capital region” has less than sterling reviews when staging mega construction projects. Its most recent performances – a multi-million wastewater-sewage treatment disposal system now under construction but years behind schedule and wildly over original budget, and the expensive comic opera involved in replacing an old cross-harbour bridge with a new one were disasters in budgeted cost control and construction timetables. So, while I welcome the new hymn of praise for affordable housing I shall wait a while before joining the adulation chorus – and hope I can live long enough to join it. And we should all hold the full “hallelujahs” until the last unit is built and occupied.




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Who Creates Oil Spill Threat, Consumers or Companies?

Spent one of our rare recent sunny mornings counting cars. Make that – watching vehicular traffic – on the Pat Bay Highway which links Southern Vancouver Island to mainland BC and the rest of the world via Swartz Bay ferry terminal and an international airport. It’s a busy highway, with drivers seemingly desperate to get where they’re going in excess of the 80 km limit and with a minimal separation gap between one car’s rear bumper and the next car’s front. Ambulance and police sirens are among Pat Bay’s regular sounds.

But, on this sunny day, I’m not concentrating on traffic accidents, careless drivers or the endless procession of cars, trucks, semi-trailers, and buses loaded with tourists or commuting citizens. I’m wondering where all these vehicles will be getting the power to move their wheels 15 or 20 years from now if the “no oil tankers – no extended pipelines – no Site C Hydro expansion” puppet-trained chorus get its way. And, on this sunny day, I’m just looking at a small section of highway that would be rated moderately busy if compared with the downtown rush hour gridlock or the everlasting crawl when Greater Victoria’s western communities citizens head for their city-based job in the morning and repeat the crawl home in late afternoon.

If all their vehicles could, by the wave of a magic wand, be converted overnight to hybrid gas-electric status or – miracle of miracles – full electric use with powerful long-distance batteries, where would they re-charge the batteries when the need arose? The experts say the day will come when such questions will be answered – but it may be 20 years before the full automobile electrical power demand is felt. As I understand, Site C – if it proceeds to power generation capacity without further delays – will not be ready to offer its boost to electric power for at least 10 to a dozen years. And, it could be a while after that before homeowners will be able to plug-in and re-charge their car at home – after taking out a second mortgage to pay their hydro bill.

Back in 2016, Mayor Lori Ackerman of Fort St. John bought a full-page ad in the Vancouver Sun to try and explain to protesting British Columbians what it was like to live in a small city smack in the middle of natural gas and oil reserves and surrounded by pipelines – or living on top of them. “So, let’s talk about pipelines,” she wrote. “Canada has 830,000 kilometers of pipelines. Three million barrels of crude oil is transported safely every single day. BC has over 43,000 kilometers of pipelines … Between 2002 and 2015, 99.995 percent of liquid was transported through our pipelines safely. You probably spill more when you fill up at the gas station …”

Vancouver Island readers should pay special attention to her specific note that for the last 20 years the USA has been shipping thousands of barrels of crude daily from Alaska to the Puget Sound through the Salish Sea, and to her reminder that the Island has one pipeline only which carries natural gas. “Vancouver Islanders receive all of their petroleum by barge every day.” Transport Canada records show 197,000 vessels arrived or departed west coast ports in 2015, 1,487 of which were tankers carrying an “average” 400,000 barrels a day.

A final note from Mayor Ackerman to those who display “No Tankers” and “No Pipelines” posters, but know not what they’re protesting: “If you want to do something about our reliance on fossil fuels, address the demand for them; not the transportation of them. Change starts with the consumers; not industry.”

Her Worship may have a good slogan but, oh dear, if fossil fuels disappeared before we have enough power to go fully electric, how would objectors get to their protests? Don’t be rude if you decide to answer.

(For the full online text of Mayor Ackerman’s old but still relevant letter, Google “Mayor Lori Ackerman, Ft. St. John, BC.”)





No Saint George to Slay This Dragon

It all started in 1439 when, after two years of experimenting, Johannes Gutenberg unveiled his moveable type and a printing press capable of reproducing identical copies of books and/or news reports on paper.

It is true the Chinese had invented paper and printing centuries earlier, but it was Gutenberg’s inventions that launched an explosion of knowledge which remained unmatched until 1989 when the World Wide Web via the Internet released a great tsunami of information that now threatens to overwhelm us.

There had been moveable type before Gutenberg. Both China and Korea had used clay or porcelain type to print on paper and China claims to have published the world’s first book – Diamond Sutra – in 868. In a similar but heavily contracted time frame, the Internet had been around for close to half a century before “www.com” became household slang and now threatens to make extinct words on paper which have been a vital part of our lives for centuries.

It was Gutenberg’s press that brought us print journalism with, so some historians claim, the discovery of America by Columbus; the first great international story printed and read unchanged from one city to the next. It was a “news” story written to take anyone who could read to a once a mysterious place beyond the edge of the world. But, it wasn’t long before simple facts were not enough for news writers or their readers.

The advent of the printed page was as sensational and dramatic in its day as the Internet explosion is proving in ours – and to the general populace, just as bewildering. The world in which news had been transmitted by word of mouth or official decree was suddenly awash with single sheet pamphlets spouting every opinion known to man, with truth and fiction often intertwined and proclaimed as fact.

The pamphleteers, who occasionally made sense but often were gloriously inaccurate and irresponsible, survive as 21st Century tweeters, Facebook friends or “bloggers” like me.

From that first confusion of voices sprang the first organized newspapers, which leaned heavily on horror stories to attract readers to more mundane items on politics and politicians. In his The History of News, Mitchell Stephens provides documented early “news” stories presented sombrely and seriously as fact. My favourite is from 1614 under the byline of “AR.” He prefaced his story on “a strange and monstrous serpent (or dragon) living in a forest “only thirtie (cct) miles from London” with a promise to his readers to send “better news if I had it.”

His dragon was “nine feet or rather more in length” with “two great bunches so big as a large foote-ball (cct)” on its sides which “as some think, will grow to wings.” AR said he hoped God would destroy the dragon “before he grows so fledge.”

“AR” would be right at home on the Internet today where “dragon” stories can be paraded, unhindered by balanced theories and void of facts. “The Net” itself has become a 21st Century dragon – coming ever closer to silencing what has been the reasonably steady voice of serious newspapers for centuries. Like AR, I  hope for intervention, divine or mortal, to knock this dragon on the head before “he grows so fledge” But fear I hope in vain.

Not that modern newspapers don’t deserve a shake. They have failed to meet the electronic challenge by trying to match its speed when they should have held their ground as bastions of sober insight. The Internet is geared to a world in such a hurry that it’s happy to be fed crumbs of twittering information and fragments of illiterate thumb-texted messages. Newspapers have the singular ability to freeze-frame time, stop the clock, slow down the thought processes and give their readers time to read, mark, and inwardly digest.

Unfortunately, most newspapers, swept up in the electronic speed contest, are trying to run with the hares when they should just be rumbling along with the strengths of endurance and dependability and just the facts and calmly stated opinions.

Mitchell Stephens puts it this way: “The new media have assumed the franchise, but they have not picked up all the services … It is now possible to know what they served for dinner last night at the White House, but it is becoming more difficult to know why an ambulance pulled up at the house down the road … (we can) learn exactly why the space shuttle exploded, but (it is) more difficult to find out what’s being built on the lot around the corner … we are losing news of our neighbourhoods … (and) risk losing those neighbourhoods and our identity as participants in them.”

It’s happening at ever increasing speed and there isn’t a Saint George in sight to slay the dragon.



USA Remains Deaf To Reason

My youngest son, now in his mid-30s, just a few days ago said it was a sense of wonderment to him that when I was a child, the milkman house-delivered his product in bottles via horse or pony pulled carts; the bottles placed as ordered on the front door steps and the empties picked up, starting about the same time a bike riding “lamplighter” rode his crack-of-dawn route to click off the gas street lamps.

I don’t think he believed me when I suggested his sense of wonderment was nothing compared to mine as I still try to grasp the enormity of change in my living world since the day I came caterwauling into a still relatively new 20th Century.

It was a standing joke on my earliest birthdays that it was the clinking of the empty bottles on the milkman’s cart that woke me up and welcomed me like a peal of church bells to the starting line for a romp to the end of one century and a hesitating stumble into the 21st.

And it’s all happened in the blink of an eye, wonderment after wonderment, sometimes at such bewildering speed that aging minds are overwhelmed – and mine quite easily when it comes to the mention of anything “cyber.” I am told that if what I write is “published in digital format on a website, blog or other online space” I have become a “cyberjournalist” engaged in “cyberpublishing” and if what I have written should be published by an online magazine, I have become a “cyberzine.”

Not sure how I feel about that, but I’m sure my mother would have been offended on the day I rattled the milk bottles if told she had given birth to a cyberzine – and dad would have been threatening to sue.

But, here I am laughing about my latest designation as a cyberzine, still amazed at the incredible speed, ease of communication and rapid exchange of ideas digital cyber or whatever affords me.

In my blog a week ago, I lamented the apparent willingness of the United States of America to permit its president to topple his once great nation from its world leadership role. For a year now President Donald Trump, displaying a lamentable penchant for bombast and bad English plus a shoddy grasp of what democracy means, has changed world admiration for his nation’s leadership to the laughter usually reserved for prat-falling clowns.

Vancouver Island reader Glenn McKnight thought the blog would interest a relative in Quebec. It did and the relative replied with recommendations for “further reading” – two books by Barbara Tuchman: The Guns of August” and “The March of Folly” and one by Ronald Wright, “What Is America?” Glen forwarded them to me. Tuchman I knew. Wright’s work had escaped me but four days after the exchange between Glenn and his Quebec relative Andre, I had tracked down a paperback. I can endorse Andre’s recommendation as a good read – even though it was written and published BT – before Trump.

The time lapse and changes since Trump’s ascendance do not change Wright’s view that we are watching the collapse of yet another once great empire. In my lifespan – short in the long measure of history – the sun set long ago on the once mighty British Empire and more recently, as noted a week ago, the great Soviet Union disintegrated. The paths they both took to power and beyond to loss are not dissimilar to the paths walked in the past 100-plus years by the USA and now being raced at breakneck speed by President Trump.

It was in 2009, when President Barak Obama had been in office for only 100 days, that Wright added a prophetic “Afterword” as a final chapter to “What is America?” He was encouraged at the time by a poll indicating two in every three Americans were happy with their new president, but cautiously added:

“But that was during the honeymoon. If history is any guide, the political right will harden and regroup, especially when problems at home and abroad prove expensive or tractable. Many will be as keen to thwart the policies of Barack Obama as they were to undo the work FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt).” Wright recalled Obama’s appeal to his nation to “set aside childish things. The time has come to choose our better history….Greatness is never given, it must be earned.”

He added that acknowledgment of past failings and the “new skepticism toward the national myth (and) a return to hard facts … a return to enlightenment” indicated a change for the better for the USA on the world stage.

Unfortunately, his thinking was wishful, America wasn’t listening then and remains deaf today.


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