Learning a New Language

It isn’t going to be easy for the British Columbia’s New Democratic Party to change attitudinal gears in their first weeks behind the steering wheel of the vehicle called governance.

For years they have been back seat drivers – calling, often shouting, critical advice to the driver they have now replaced. Their back-seat advice was always sharply critical; often harshly and seemingly hastily spoken without careful consideration about accuracy.

When driving from the back seat, wordy advice comes easy and can be offered carelessly, but that all changes when the back seat critics take advantage of a stalled election campaign and, aided by three wavering Green hitchhikers, haul the driver from behind the wheel and take over. Words that could once be flung about without care must now be examined, vetted and polished before being declared in public. Denunciation, once proclaimed without hesitation, must now be checked and checked again before being proclaimed and released to media as fact.

Confirmation that old habits die hard was demonstrated a few days ago when newly minted Minister of Jobs Bruce Ralston announced with undisguised pleasure, that Gordon Wilson, hired by the former Liberal government to promote its Liquefied Natural Gas program, had been fired. He gave reasons: Wilson, with payment set at $150,000 a year, had yet to file a single report on his work.

Premier John Horgan was quick to support the dismissal and Ralston’s claim there had been “no reports in months.”

Alas, alack, Mike Smyth – enterprising columnist for The Province newspaper, checked the records. Wilson had filed regular reports with at least one extensive study and most of them were posted on the NDP website and had been since they were requested by the party months ago.

Embarrassing.

Premier Horgan was quick to apologize, so was Ralston. Horgan’s apology as reported by CBC contained some interesting words: “I’ve known Bruce Ralston for many, many years. He is a man of the highest integrity. If he believes he misspoke, I support that. I offer a similar apology to Mr. Wilson. I hope we can all move on.”

Okay, apology delivered although I’m not sure what “support” for “misspoke” (“to speak inaccurately, inappropriately, or too hastily”) entails. Whatever the inference, the premier suggests we move on. I’m all for that if he’s now asking his cabinet to shake this one off and remember they are now in the driver’s seat and no longer need to be always in ‘Liberal search and destroy’ mode.And let it be noted that an apology delivered is not necessarily an apology accepted.

In September, we shall be presented with a Throne Speech and shortly after that a budget. I can, and do, wish Premier Horgan success in moving beyond the NDP’s tedious negative rhetoric – and earnestly hope the Liberals don’t try to fill the vacuum with an echoing chorus equal to the worst of NDP’s perpetual crocodile tears.

And, I hope above all else that the Throne Speech and Budget bring some immediate benefits. I favour wise long-range planning, but The Book of James (Chapter 4) suggests we shouldn’t make moderate language and carefully stated facts a long term project: “Why, you don’t even know what will happen tomorrow: What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes … Do not boast about arrogant schemes … such boasting is evil … (And) if anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it … it is a sin.”

That’s a few thousand years old advice, but hope, as always, springs eternal, especially as we wait for new direction and a budget from a less than robust government trying to shake off back seat driver habits.

Pick-a-Park Weather – and Thank the CRD

It’s pick-a-park weather on Vancouver Island with a long list of getaways to choose from. It is a list grown longer every year since the 1960s when the Capital Regional District was new – and much maligned.

The CRD has been harshly criticized over the years as it has tried to meet its mandate and bring neighbouring municipalities together in common cause. Regardless, it has never seriously wavered in its ambition to create one of the greatest local park systems in Canada.

At last count the CRD had 33 parks on its roster comprising some 13,000 hectares ranging from East Sooke, with 50 km of trails and choices of tough or easy hiking, to Coles Bay on the west side of Saanich Peninsula with 3.63 hectares of easy walking and warm swimming.

It all started in the late 1960s when Hugh Curtis was chairman of the board, Bill Long was the executive director and Tony Roberts was the planner. They had a never-ending list of lands to be acquired for parks. All three are now lost to the communities they served so well and I doubt if the thousands enjoying their six-decades-old efforts are aware to whom they owe their pleasure.

Tony was the idea man; Long was the guy who stickhandled a proposal through technical and budget channels; and Curtis was the politician responsible for getting majority approval from the directors of the board. They were a good team, not always agreeing at a first proposal, but all firmly on side once Tony won his sales pitch.

The CRD maintains a comprehensive list (Google: CRD Regional parks and trails) with thumbnail descriptions, hiking advice that trails are “easy, moderate, or challenging,” and approximate hiking times. Local readers thinking of tackling a wilderness hike within a 30-minute drive of Victoria should be sure to check online for trail conditions and wild life activity. There is a daily update if cougars or bears are wandering about.

Don’t be silly and go wandering off on your own. If it’s marked wilderness, that’s what it is. Travel with a companion and let a friend or neighbour know your plans.East Sooke and the Sea to Sea Regional Parks are for serious hikers although East Sooke at the Aylard Farm end is all-ages oriented.

If your family is on the young side you can enjoy a multitude of smaller parks scattered between Greater Victoria,Port Renfrew,North Saanich and the start of the Malahat. And, if you would like to include a brief ferry trip, the Gulf Islands have many offerings. Check the list for Duck Creek on Salt Spring –“a cool shaded creek and open meadow provide a lovely field and stream hiking loop –approximately a 45 minute walk….”

Sounds about my pace, although one of my favorites for a not too stressful walk on the tame side is the Devonian Regional Park, “tucked in between Metchosin farmlands, this small nature sanctuary offers a quiet refuge … a gentle walking trail through mixed woodland and along a winding creek…easy to moderate.”

I leave the rest of the long list for readers to cherry pick while the sun shines. Wander around the CRD website and be sure to check “What To Bring.” It’s just a common-sense safety list that need not include money; our CRD parks are free.

If you do visit a park, large or small, pastoral refuge or strenuous wilderness, remember who set this land aside for you over the years. Politicians don’t do a lot to make us happy, but every few decades or so they produce a winner.

And, for those brief, but pleasing moments in CRD parks in perpetuity, we should be thankful.

When We Lived In Really Troubled Times

It was quiet in the kitchen but with the normal whispering tick of the wall clock increased in volume to seemingly loud metronomic authority. I can’t remember the day but it was sometime in late May or early June 1940. I can remember my mother sitting in her usual armchair at one end of the kitchen table; my father at the other puffing on his clay pipe, as nearby neighbour Walter “Wally” Emery apologized for his shabby clothes. And my mother reaching out to comfort-pat his arm as he tightened the string holding up his oversized army issue khaki pants and tried to tuck in what was left of his shirt.

Twenty-four hours earlier Wally had been on the beach at Dunkirk trapped between the sea and an advancing German army along with close to 400,000 Allied army soldiers being swept across Europe by a then unstoppable “blitzkrieg.” Wally had been part of that great retreat – still listed as one of the most crushing defeats ever suffered by British forces. .

He was telling us how he and his army buddy would never have made it to the beach had they not stolen a horse to carry them the last desperate kilometers; and how frightening the beach was as he and his friend waited to be numbered among the 338,226 soldiers eventually rescued between May 27 and June 4,1940.

As a 16-year-old on that far off day, I was learning that an army in retreat can produce as many heroes as one capturing enemy strongholds. Wally was 20, maybe 21; hesitantly, modestly telling old friends of bombs and shells falling among the massed troops waiting for a boat ride to home and safety. How the first boat he boarded was small and overturned by a bomb explosion as they reached deep water.

My father sat silent. I think he was back 25 years on a beach where, in April 1915, he lay wounded from dawn to dusk. It was called Gallipoli.

He understood when Wally, with the clock ticking louder than his voice, said: “That’s when I lost my pants and boots. I was having trouble swimming weighted down so got rid of them and was able to swim to another boat and get home.”

When he landed in England he was handed an old pair of pants, a pair of running shoes, a few days leave pass and orders to then report to re-outfit and be reassigned.

What was Wally doing in my home when his own was just around the corner? The men rescued from Dunkirk didn’t have cell phones; there wasn’t time for survival telegrams; poor people didn’t have telephones. Like hundreds, maybe thousands of others shipped by train or bus, Wally got home unannounced to find his dad at work and his mother out shopping.

His second home throughout childhood to young adulthood had been the home of his best friend Tom, my older brother. Wally, Tom and another neighbour Albert Panter were inseparable until 1937 when peritonitis claimed my brother and broke the link.

A year later Albert joined the RAF, Wally the army – and the three families remained as close they had always been. The day Wally came from Dunkirk looking for a cup of tea, a bite to eat and a place to wait until mum and dad came home was just “family” routine.

I made a minor pilgrimage for Wally a few days ago when my sons Nic, Andrew and Jonathan took me to see the movie Dunkirk at Silver City Imax. I think Wally (and my dad) would have given it a stamp of approval for authenticity. It was much as Wally had described and brutally honest.

Sentimentally, I looked for Wally on the beach and found him in a hundred different faces. And I shared with them old fears experienced by any person who has survived a heavy air attack.

As I watched in Imax comfort looking over the heads of massed soldiers waiting on the Dunkirk beach, a toy-sized twin-engine aircraft banked over the ocean to head in a direct line for the largest mass of troops. It stayed steadily on course growing larger on the screen by the second.

My “hostile air craft recognition” skill – essential during the war – is not as reliable as it used to be, but I think it was a Heinkel 111 bomber filling the screen as it released its bomb load of six – or was it eight? – high explosive bombs to stride through the crowded soldiers with each step a killing ground, each gap between explosions a place of salvation.

I was never on the beach at Dunkirk but was present on occasions later in the war trembling as an airborne giant’s bombs marched down a street or across roof tops killing or sparing without discrimination. I have lain prostrate, ears and head covered by outstretched arms, fingers vainly grasping at sidewalk concrete, tense with fear waiting, waiting, waiting and rejoicing to hear a final explosion and know I was still alive.

In the Imax theatre, sitting directly in the path of the now giant Heinkel angel of death, my heart beat picked up. I held tight to my seat until I was absolutely sure I was beyond the reach of the last bomb in the stick. An old memory box had re-opened; the relief was genuine.

If you have ever wondered what it would be like to be under fire, the movie Dunkirk is as close as you can get without being hurt. If you go, rejoice in the evacuation that saved more than 300 thousand Wally Emery’s. But remember, too, the 68,111 killed or wounded who never made it home or who carried the scars of the miracle at Dunkirk to their graves.

Seventy-seven years ago, my father finished his pipe; mother dispatched me to “go find Wally’s mum on Abbey Street; she’ll be at the Co-op store.” I did. She was. The reunion was tears all round, much more tea and the “gopher” boy ordered to a nearby factory to “just tell his dad Wally’s home, safe and well.”

For us,Dunkirk was over,but the Battle of Britain was just warming up for a greater late summer-early fall death struggle. We lived in troubled times.

Platinum Goodbyes – and Replacements

Had hoped to start this week’s message with the thought that our new government masters deserve time to advance friendlier and more transparent governance as promised. Alas, a flood of less than inspiring press releases penned by disciplined party scribes has changed all that.

I was prepared to write: What’s done is done, so let’s give Premier John Horgan and his Green Party saviours a chance to prove their claim that a minority government can deliver good long-term governance. All it needs is a courteous, respectful approach with “transparency” in all decisions.

A wonderful ambition. One all citizens, regardless of party affiliation, would welcome after decades of ill-tempered bickering from whichever party was in opposition.

I did not break out the champagne when Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon gave the nod to Mr. Horgan and his Green Party trio to coalesce and try governing. I accepted the Royal decree and waited for the next step, the inevitable thinning of public service ranks to meet new ruling party dictates.

Some of the cuts can be understood others must be questioned.Some are insults to all public servants who have sworn and kept oaths to serve their duly elected government and the people regardless of the ideology of the policy makers.

As important as the requirement for sound judgment and transparency in these sadly routine staff juggles is the need for carefully chosen wording in the press releases accompanying the announcements. I have at hand the July 20 release from Premier Horgan’s office regarding four key appointments: Kenneth G. Peterson to the chair of BC Hydro; Cassie J. Doyle to head BC Housing Management Commission; Joy MacPhail to the chair of the Insurance Corporation of BC and Cathy McLay to the board of directors ICBC.

Their areas of expertise are dealt with briefly and can be reviewed in detail at readers’ leisure. I am more interested in some of the general wording in the press release – and the absence of transparency.

Nowhere in the press release is there a mention of the salaries offered the new appointees. Even more telling is the complete lack of information on the amounts to be paid out in compensation to the dislodged appointees being asked to turn in the keys to executive bathrooms. A few days after the press release enterprising journalists put together some numbers and the government confirmed a total payout of close to $14 million. It was transparency by confirmation,not by voluntary disclosure.

Readers interested enough to do a search of “salaries of Crown corporation executives” for details omitted in Premier Horgan’s press release should be sitting down and making sure their coffee cups are well clear of the keyboard. I’ll just tempt them with advance notice that low paid bosses are paid in excess of half a million a year with all benefits included while the top job at Hydro pays double that. Their pensions are the stuff of dreams.

The last time we saw such a major clearing of the decks in BC was around 16 years ago when the Liberals took over after 10 years of NDP rule. The compensation payout at the time was in excess of $9 million.Confirmation that this year exercise will cost $5 million more was accompanied with a pious claim that with inflation factored in the $9 million paid out 16-years ago was actually more than the $14 million floating out the door this year.

If you haven’t yet spilled your coffee, consider Premier Horgan’s explanation why these costly changes are urgently needed: “For 16 years under the Liberal government ordinary people struggled to get ahead – nowhere have they seen that more than in out-of-control housing and Hydro costs. We’re tackling affordability and getting government working for people again starting with Crown corporations and government organizations …These new executives are ready to get to work for British Columbians. They were all chosen for their strong track records … Each of them will face significant challenges because of the choices made by the previous government …”

Is he saying the guard now being dismissed didn’t work hard, didn’t have strong track records,didn’t face significant challenges with the best interests of the people at hearts – but deserved the richest of send offs?

In the spirit of transparency and new friendly behavious Premier Horgan’s press release could have mentioned how one financial Liberal choice has left him with a cash flow that is the envy of the rest of Canada … a Liberal budgeting legacy that helps him meet a multi-million dollar fired and hired payout to Crown corporation heads – plus breadcrumb extra $100 a month to support the living costs of the poor and handicapped.

I promise to write in thankful praise the day our coalescing NDP/Green government introduces substantial cuts to ICBC, Hydro rates, ferry fares, and launches massive low cost housing projects. You may need to reheat your coffee while waiting

One final note: Our new government doesn’t like to be called a coalition, which is why I have used “coalescing” for the NDP/Greens cohabitation period. An interesting word “coalesce” … when things “come together to form one mass or whole.” Or, as the Oxford dictionary explains in definition: “The puddles had coalesced into shallow streams.”

Hey, don’t blame me, I didn’t write the Oxford dictionary.

Transparent or Translucent?

An auspicious day coming up next Tuesday, July 18. It marks the anniversary of the day Brennus of Gaul sacked and burned Rome in 390 BC. It was Nero who watched Rome burn a second time 454 years later on July 18, AD 64 and it’s the day John Horgan is scheduled to delete “designated” from his title and become Premier John Horgan, British Columbia’s 36th.
On the natural side of things, he faces real time forest fires that reduce the ancient Rome burning to camp fire size equivalence; on the political side he faces problems every other premier has faced plus a few he can be guaranteed will be unanticipated.
At his inauguration Tuesday, he will be trotting onto the field of political endeavour as captain of his hand-picked cabinet team of New Democrats, every one of them fulfilling a 16-year-old – or longer – dream of playing big time.
Selecting a cabinet is not easy, never has been. The social and physical geography of a province as vast as BC is so varied in life styles and economics that it is often difficult to find suitable personality matches. Finding men or women who meet high decision-making standards can be even more difficult, but can be eased somewhat if experienced deputy ministers and assistant deputies are already in place and dedicated to traditional public service ideals of serving the government and the people – whatever the government’s political name. Good deputies and their management teams have saved many a rookie minister from disaster.
Then there is – always – caucus, possibly the hardest group to please, yet the easiest to feel and harbour individual hurt if, after years of service, they are over-looked for promotion. Keeping caucus happy can be a premier’s toughest task. And, with no vote losses to spare in this most frail of new administrations, an unhappy caucus could prove the NDP’s undoing.
Adding to the expectation of serving faithfully, NDP caucus members overlooked for cabinet posts will also be coping with, and dependant for survival on, a yet-to-be-tested Confidence and Supply Agreement.
Premier Horgan has recognized that problem early with the appointment of Donna Sanford as executive director of a new secretariat in the premier’s office tasked with “overseeing” the NDP-Green agreement. No salary given yet, no staff recruited, no word on what the secretariat will cost or how those costs will be shared other than the constant truth in all such costs sharing ventures – taxpayers will pick up the tab.
I do not doubt that Ms. Sanford will do a good job but I don’t envy her the task of soothing caucus rebels (every caucus has them) the day they hear that the Greens were briefed earlier on pending policy changes than the NDP foot soldiers.
Green leader Andrew Weaver doesn’t hesitate to remind us he and his back-seat riding trio have been assured they will be kept informed every step of the way. The collective agreement does promise details of deputy minister and ministry staff briefings, adequate background documents – in fact everything “necessary to enable informed participation.”
Premier Horgan has been quoted by local news reporter Amy Smart as saying the new secretariat will boost transparency. It is designed “to be open and transparent so the public understands that we want to make this minority situation work.”
Fair enough, even though he and Mr. Weaver laboured mightily a short time back to make sure an opposing minority failed. I am left wondering if translucent would more accurately describe their tenuous agreement. Dictionaries tell us: “Transparent materials let light pass through them in straight lines so that you can see clearly through them. Translucent materials let some light through, but they scatter the light in all directions so that you cannot see clearly. Tissue paper is an example of translucent….”
I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Diminishing Trust in Public Service

The revolving door designed to provide compensated exits for senior public servants and easy entrances for hand-picked, politically-correct replacements, is now activated.

It will take some weeks, and hefty payouts, to process selected Liberal administration personnel departures and NDP arrivals, which is mildly surprising considering transitional firing and hiring has been around for some time.

And, each time it has been used, trust in the public service – pledged to faithfully serve governments regardless of political stripe – is eroded.

Back in 1996, I was privileged to hear Ted Hughes OC, QC review the weakening condition of once-proudly neutral public servants at both federal and provincial levels in Canada. The title of his speech to the Victoria Branch of the Institute of Public Administration (IPAC) was Political Neutrality and Political Rights – Rebalancing the Scales.

He opened with a brief review of what had happened in his former stomping ground of Saskatchewan when in the early 1980s Allan Blakeney’s NDP government was defeated and Grant Devine’s Progressive Conservatives assumed power. It was, Ted reported with modest understatement but scalpel-like accuracy, “a time of some disruption in the province.”

Premier Devine, ignoring 40 years of politically neutral public service in Saskatchewan – and most of the rest of Canada – was determined to re-shape his neutral public service with a Conservative tilt.

Ted read from a report by professors Michelmann and Steeves, University of Saskatchewan: “Rather than seeing the public sector as a vibrant, progressive servant of the people they (Devine and his MLAs), while in opposition, were inclined to characterize it as an overblown leviathan, staffed with numerous political hacks, unaccountable to the people and given the proclivities of the (governing party) undermining the liberties of Saskatchewan people.”

It is worth remembering his warning of 21 years ago: “The Canadian tradition of a neutral, career, public service in Canada may be increasingly under challenge … It is not out of control but the trend is there … In my opinion, it is time for a forceful initiative to reverse it, to restate the virtues of Canadian tradition and to appeal to the reason and the logic of our elected representatives so that they, and the people they represent, will appreciate that they will all be better served by an adherence to the time-tested procedures of the past rather than moving step-by-step to gut one of the greatest safeguards of vibrant parliamentary democracy.”

This past week I called Ted to ask him if he thought we had made any progress in the past 21 years in re-establishing faith in a public service designed to offer politically neutral advice to any duly-elected government. “I don’t think so,” was his softly spoken answer.

In my opinion, (not to be confused with Ted’s) in British Columbia the loyalty of the public service to the elected government and the people has been in question since 1972 when the NDP brought an end to 20 years of Social Credit rule by W.A.C. Bennett. After a nervous takeover, the new government launched a weeding out of high-placed civil servants they feared would remain loyal to Social Credit and W.A.C.

When son Bill Bennett defeated the NDP in 1975, the civil service purge went into reverse as his administration sifted out NDP appointees for replacement by more “trustworthy” candidates. The revolving door spun, inexorably, and the public service could no longer claim genuine political neutrality.

The NDP followed Social Credit in 1991. The revolving doors spun … senior bureaucrats out, shiny new party faithful in. There were 10 years of relative bureaucratic stability as New Democrats went through four successive premiers – Mike Harcourt, Glen Clark, Dan Miller and Ujjal Dosanjh. In 2001, the doors spun again as Gordon Campbell’s Liberals began what would be 16 years of continuous power culminating with the defeat in May of Premier Christy Clark.

With the NDP now replacing the Liberals the door is swinging yet again to confirm that in BC loyalty to party will continue to replace merit as the standard for success and promotion in public service.

Back to Ted Hughes who ended his 1996 speech with an appeal to IPAC and an acknowledgment of the personal sacrifices made by dedicated public servants. “They have a duty to carry out government decisions loyally irrespective of the party or person in power and irrespective of their personal opinion.” Tough choices, especially if a newly-elected boss is appointing a party supporter to be in charge of your policy team with party loyalty as a job requisite.

The old loyalty rules governing middle and senior management have been replaced by partisan politics. “The balance,” Ted told his IPAC audience, has been tipped and “the scales are now somewhat out of balance … the Canadian tradition of a neutral, career, public service is becoming increasingly under challenge.”

His final advice was to governments new and old that push public service to ever lower standards of political neutrality: “You and I know,” he told IPAC, “that politics in British Columbia is a deadly serious business – it is no game. If I am correct in that, then if a superbly qualified professional public service is to be in place in this province to serve the elected representatives of the people and the public who elected them, is it not incumbent – if not imperative – to foster a neutral public service where purges will not be the order of the day when a government changes, but rather where continuity will abound, where merit will be awarded and morale maintained at a high level? I hope so.”

I would hope so, too, but pessimistically.

(It is hard to believe that some readers may not be familiar with Ted Hughes,Order of Canada, Queen’s Counsel. But,just in case, a Google of his name will demonstrate why he is worth listening to.)

“Hindsight” – An Exact Science

It was Dr. Laurence J. Peter who, back in the 1980s, wrote: “Hindsight is an exact science.” It is a truth and one which we all learn in life as we look back on things we should have done but didn’t and mumble “if only.”
Premier Christy Clark gave us a classic example a few days ago when she presented the list of promises she intended to fulfill if her minority government was allowed the opportunity. Among the substantial list of citizen benefits was a sprinkle of proposals from political rivals – the opposition in the Legislature.
She said, and I believed her, that she had seen the error of her ways in failing to embrace these ideas earlier, but included them now to demonstrate she was ready to embark on a voyage of cooperation never before seen in a legislature traditionally fractured by dissent rooted in political party dogma.
New Democratic Party members, numbering 41, the main opposition in the 87-seat Legislature, mocked her late conversion to “good ideas” and remained determined to bring her down. They did not trust her to deliver on her promises and, solemnly, moved a vote of non-confidence. With Andrew Weaver’s three Green Party members riding in tag-along tumbril the non-confidence guillotine fell.
The vote to pull the pin was 44-42 – the Speaker, a Liberal Party MLA, did not vote.
In the new legislature, scheduled to sit as soon as Premier John Horgan’s cabinet gets up to speed, the gap between government and opposition will be one vote – 44-43. A precarious position, but one Premier Horgan assured Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon he could make work and provide stable government.
IF – and the capital is intentional – Christy Clark still leads the Liberals and follows through on her stated preference for reasoned, courteous debate in the Legislature then Horgan’s NDP can survive for months or even four years. However, only an addicted gambler would bet on it.
What will Ms. Clark be reviewing in hindsight as she and her colleagues sharpen their minds and tongues for the in-house re-match to open soon in the Bellville Street theatre? I would think she would be reviewing her last two years as premier when she forgot the time-honoured routine of all governments seeking continuation in office.
In a four-year mandate, the first two are spent doing all the nasty stuff that needs to be done. In the third year, the government loosens the screws and hands out a few modest good news projects. In the fourth year, they open the vault, take care of social programs, modestly increase minimum wages, pump a few more millions into health care and education, take a couple of worthy opposition projects and make sure they work. And then, after thanking the people for making all this possible, they call an election with the promise of even better times ahead.
It was the formula used by W.A.C. Bennett for 20 years of unbroken, reasonably happy and prosperous years.
Ms. Christy forgot the playbook, neglected her people in that fourth year, tried catch-up on the hustings, won a squeaker, delivered a Throne Speech full of promises and relief for those in need and discovered she was at least a year late in the actual delivery of good things. Politically it was a fatal mistake.
Any thoughts on a Premier Horgan government? Not really. He has been given the chance and should now be judged on his performance. I hope he softens his belligerent approach to issues and uses his strength to build rather than destroy. His task will not be easy. The BC electorate is not easily pleased – especially the hard NDP members who demand high, party-pleasing standards from their leaders. They seem to get a little confused in their “us versus them” philosophy when their leader becomes one of “them.” The last time the NDP started a power run was in 1991. In 2001, they were defeated by the Liberals. In 10 years in office the party went through four leader-premiers and never-ending, internal wrangling over who should be in charge.
Premier Horgan should be wary of in-house backslapping. It may not be as brotherly as it seems.
And, Andrew Weaver’s role as the key player keeping Horgan and the NDP in power? Another wait and see scenario. They both condemned Premier Clark’s attempt to cling to power while shamelessly uniting to grasp it for themselves. Their moral ground in politics is not exactly high; both appear to have a “lean and hungry look” for power and “think too much” which, as Shakespeare wrote, “makes such men dangerous.”
We’ll watch to the end of the play – which could be short.

“May Selfish Pride Not Divide Us…”

I have never been sure if the Gods hear our prayers or even listen to them. I am sure that I, and my fellow humans, often hear prayers spoken, but all too rarely do we really listen to the words.
I felt that way Thursday afternoon when Rabbi Harry Brechner from the Congregation Emanu-El synagogue in Victoria opened the First Session of British Columbia’s 41st Parliament with the traditional prayer for guidance in forthcoming deliberations.
Some of his words echoed a prayer said every Saturday in his Victoria synagogue; others were from a prayer written by his predecessor Rabbi Victor Reinstein.
They are worth repeating, even reciting, but only if we hear what they are saying.
“Divine source, we call to you using many names that reflect our divine understanding of you and our individual and collective relationships with you. We ask on behalf of our great province of British Columbia – a shining place of beauty, goodness and abundance – to guide our provincial government in compassion.
“May selfish pride not divide us. May pride in one another unite us. Banish hatred, despair and cynicism that together we may work towards peace and harmony creating prosperity so that all who call British Columbia home may flourish.
“May we honour with humility those who first dwelled in this land and learn from them the sacredness of earth, sky and water. May we come to know the blessing of unity through diversity.
“Sacred source of life, in our rapidly changing and evolving world, we ask that you provide our leaders with clarity, compassion, strength, wisdom and resolve to ensure that British Columbia is an influence for good, a voice of conscience and a leader in seeking peace and justice.
Chazak ve’ematz – Strength and courage. Amen.”
A long list of attributes for legislators old and new to seek. Banishment of hatred, cynicism, and the conversion of selfish pride to pride in one another. Not impossible goals with or without divine guidance – but a tough learning curve for a legislature steeped more in the desire to harm those with different beliefs than in the desire to embrace compassion, peace and harmony.
Premier Christy Clark’s Throne Speech – read by Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon following the Rabbi’s prayer – was, as forecast over the past two weeks, loaded with promises of benefits, including two or three NDP-Green favourites. The new alliance has indicated it will have no difficulty in voting against those inclusions as outlined by Clark’s Liberals when it moves its anticipated non-confidence vote to end her life as premier.
Last week I forecast that the House – having missed a mandatory deadline for framing an agenda for a Private Members’ day Monday June 26 – would adjourn until Tuesday the 27th then miss a second Monday Member’s day July 3 courtesy of the Canada Day long weekend.
However, at the conclusion of Thursday’s sitting the government tabled a motion that adjusted the mandatory agenda deadline to all allow for Private Member’s Day on the 26th. The government motion was unanimously approved thus inadvertently maintaining my reputation as a less than reliable political events forecaster. Such a minor setback will not deter me from future prognostications carefully disguised as questions as our ping-pong “who’s in charge” contest continues.
Like, will Christy Clark – tied to the railway track as the NDP express with its Green baggage car threatens dismemberment – rejoice in last minute salvation? If she survives pending disaster, will she proceed with her spending program challenging the Opposition to deny the people the benefits they have earned?
Or, if she is retired from the premiership, will Ms. Christy regret she didn’t shovel money off the back of the truck sooner?
Then, will the new Premier John Horgan launch his brand new government with a throne speech equal or even better in spending promises than his predecessor’s? In addition, if he does, will he remember to say his big spending was made possible by the Liberal’s often parsimonious spending that balanced budgets for years and stashed the fortune the NDP could spend at will?
What will Andrew Weaver’s role be if Clark retains premiership? A reliable, articulate critic? And if Horgan takes over? Future unknown, but as even the most amicable coalitions can have only one leader, and Mr. Weaver doesn’t have a reputation for enjoying the game of tag-along, it would be unwise to make large bets.
Talking of bets, it would be wonderful to wager that our newly assembled legislators heard and listened to Rabbi Brechner’s prayer and will surrender to divine or human guidance. I fear the distrust, and the lust for power, among politicians worldwide is too entrenched to be eliminated in one precariously balanced BC parliament.
And, I would love nothing better than to be proved wrong – again.

The Brass Ring Proves Hard To Grasp

As we have stumbled toward the June 22 witching hour to watch the final dramatic act in our May 9 Political Passion Play there has been a faint hope that election rhetoric might be replaced by confidence-building debate and modest courtesies.

Alas, the three parties emerging from the fray have done so in full battle mode with the Liberals waving the Orders Of The Day (the BC Parliamentary Procedure rule book); the New Democrats, who came in second at the polls, crying foul before the curtain rises for the grand finale; and the tepid Greens meekly pledging their troth and offering three Legislature seats as a dowry to the NDP.

Premier Christy Clark has insisted that although Andrew Weaver’s hasty NDP marriage announcement could cost her the right to govern, she would “not go gentle into that goodnight.” She would depart, but only when a majority of MLAs told her they no longer had confidence in her ability to govern and she had reported that decision to the Lieutenant Governor.

John Horgan has protested she is unfairly delaying her departure just to keep him sitting in the waiting room when he should sitting in the premier’s chair. Although Christy’s Liberals defeated Horgan’s NDP 43-41 in the big contest, Weaver’s grinning addition of three Greens has given Horgan his now oft-repeated claim of overwhelming victory. Actually, he doesn’t really claim victory; just that Premier Clark was overwhelmingly defeated.

His latest whine about his political opposition is the claim that attempts are already being made to sow seeds of division between the Green and New Democrat leaders. They are united, Horgan says, and will stay united – a pledge well known and profitably enjoyed by millions of divorce lawyers. We shall watch with interest the history of the Green-NDP marriage of ideals with the first test coming up in the days following the Throne Speech.

The Legislature sits on Thursday, June 22, with the first order of business being the election of a Speaker who will preside over the Throne Speech debate and the anticipated demise of the Liberal government. It’s a moment Horgan and Weaver are looking forward to – albeit perhaps prematurely – with unrestrained and sometimes unseemly delight.

They would welcome a Liberal Speaker and the modest – but not overwhelming – vote-cushion his/her appointment would bring. But, they would want that in-House election to continue when the NDP formally became government. Liberal House Leader and Minister of Finance Mike de Jong has dismissed Horgan’s suggestion saying it is “bizarre” to suggest the newly-defeated government should voluntarily gift the NDP-Greens the non-voting Speaker’s seat and reduce Liberal MLAs by one.

Once again, we shall have to wait while they get that sorted and the time-limited Throne Debate “which shall not exceed six sitting days comprising not less than eight sittings” can commence.

The mover and seconder of the Throne Speech debate are allowed 40 minutes each to make their presentation; the Premier “or a designated member” follows with a two-hour speech time limit. The same two-hour speech limit is extended to “leaders of recognized opposition parties” which would appear to exclude Weaver whose Green’s are expecting, but do not yet hold, designated party status. It could produce a little bump in the road when Weaver takes his turn after the big guys speak and floor is open to anyone recognized by The Speaker – with a 30-minute time limit.

Amendments and sub-amendments can be made and voted on but defeat of a government amendment is not regarded as a non-confidence vote. That opportunity doesn’t arise until “the main motion is disposed of on the sixth day.” So, does all that jabberwocky add up to a final decision on who runs the province for the next four years on June 28 – six days after kick-off.

Could be, but a few legitimate house rule technicalities including the hassle to get a Speaker in place, plus cancellation of two Members’ Days sittings could disrupt the timetable. In the rule book Monday is the designated day when private member’s bills can be introduced and  possibly provide a first opportunity for a non-confidence motion to be called. But the rule book states a detailed content agenda for Member’s Day must be prepared and printed for distribution on the Wednesday before the Monday sitting. As the Legislature is reconvening on a Thursday that means no agenda for the following Monday, June 26. No agenda, no meeting. The next Monday would be July 3 — but that’s a national Canada Day holiday. Nothing to despair about. Just the need for a little more patience while listening to yet more complaints from the newly united NDP-Greens leaders reaching for the brass ring of power but finding it a little slippery to grasp.

And before you ask “who writes these rules?” — the members of the legislature write them, amend them from time to time, but insist they be strictly oberved once they’re in the book.

It could take until July to clear the air – or even longer if the electorate is asked to take another attempt provide a clear cut decision at the ballot box on whom we best trust to be in charge as we travel through troubled times.

 

“When Two Men Ride a Horse – One Must Ride Behind”

(with changes to orignal final paragraphs)

There’s an old proverb: “When two men ride a horse, one must ride behind.”  Green Party leader Andrew Weaver should have it framed and prominently displayed in his office as a constant reminder of where he sits on NDP Leader John Horgan’s political mount.

It’s right behind Horgan who controls the animal and has a tendency to pull hard on the bit when his temper’s on edge. Weaver may feel comfortable, but he shouldn’t. He’s just along for the ride and has no idea where it’s heading or whether it will be at cautious trot or reckless gallop when dismount could be hazardous.

He should be having some concern already, although the tandem riders have barely started on their single common-cause mission to bring down the Liberal government as soon as possible after the Legislature convenes on June 22.

Rider Horgan was in full skimble-skamble style a few days ago when my local newspaper quoted him chanting his favourite riding song since the May 9 vote when, as the Horgan song goes, the electorate “voted overwhelmingly to replace” Christy Clark and the Liberal government.

If a 43-seat victory was “overwhelming rejection” for Clark, what would you call 41 for Horgan’s NDP and three for Weaver’s Greens?

Both riders on the Horgan-Weaver hybrid would better spend their time figuring out what they’re going to do if Premier Clark hobbles their horse in the Throne Speech on the 22nd. That’s the speech and following debate Horgan and Weaver can’t wait to end to enable them to dramatically move their non-confidence motion and topple the Liberals.

I wonder if they’re rehearsing that dramatic moment with Horgan making the motion and Weaver obediently seconding it from the rump? And, I wonder if they’re considering what could go wrong to spoil the day when three MLAs fire one government and replace it with another?

Let me offer one scenario. Christy Clark, love her or hate her, is tough. She’s one of those women described by Shakespeare: “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” She is also astutely clever politically.

A Throne Speech is traditionally a government’s shopping list for the next year and beyond. While read by the Lieutenant Governor, it is a government promissory note. Consider the position of jockey Horgan and easy rider Weaver if the June 22 Throne Speech is jammed with good things – including more than a few long coveted by NDP and Greens.

That they would scream foul is a given – but would they vote against programs and policies long demanded and now within reach? Could they be faced with a Throne Speech and following Budget it would be political suicide to reject? Could the mount they are both riding collapse under the weight of their expansive sometimes arrogant egos as the back-seat rider becomes aware how uncomfortable his position has become even before they cross the finish line?

We shall find out on June 22 or a few debate days later. While waiting, it might be wise for Weaver to consider returning to his well trusted, balanced and dependable Green riding colours horse to ride into the future – and for Horgan to seek another windmill at which to tilt if things go south.