Will The Greens Accept The Cash They Didn’t Ask For?

I’m a little unsure about the “ban big money from election campaigns” legislation introduced by the governing New Democrats. It comes with a nervous back-ground whisper from Andrew Weaver’s Greens. At first shout it seems clear enough, but it echoes down the corridors of power without clarity.

It seems the government, with the nervous “we didn’t ask for it” support of the Greens, is not really intending to ban big money from election campaigns. Rather, it has designated one super donor to replace the many. That donor will be “the people,” although Premier John Horgan and his Green acolytes didn’t actually say “the people” at the great unveiling of the plan to eliminate big money campaign donations. They prefer the word “government” in the hope that “the people” fail to appreciate that their tax dollars are funding parties they may not support.

When the election donation guidelines become law, businesses, trade unions and individuals will lose their name-dropping rights at $50 a plate dinners with their local MLA or $525 a plate nibbles with Premier Horgan.

Recently departed Liberal Premier Christy Clark’s camp followers were happy to provide similar “audience opportunities” starting at $1,000 a plate. When she vacated the premier’s office she left the provincial treasury with unprecedented budget surpluses and the Liberal Party, her party, with enough in the bank to finance a future election campaign.

But, no more dinners with political stars; no more hefty campaign cheques from big business; no more “undue influence” from corporations or trade unions, Canadian or foreign. The government, said Premier Horgan, will pick up the slack. What he meant was “the people,” rich and poor, will pick up the slack to make sure those in power, and those seeking a place in the political sun, are adequately financed to hit the hustings with promises they may never keep.

The estimated cost over the first four years is $11 million, plus another $20 million in what is being called “a second subsidy” of an annual grant based on the number of votes received by a political party in the most recent election. The subsidy is scheduled to start in 2018 at $2.50 a vote decreasing to $1.57 per vote in 2022 when the subsidy “will be reviewed.” Premier Horgan described the costs as “modest in the grand scheme of things.”

Where does Mr. Weaver stand on “no more big money in elections unless it comes from taxpayers” legislation? To be kind, he appears to be balancing uncomfortably on a razor’s edge. He is in favour of election financing reform. However, he did not expect it to be introduced until after a review by a panel chaired by chief electoral office Keith Archer as promised by the NDP leader during the last election campaign.

Weaver was undoubtedly pleased when Premier Horgan took sole responsibility for putting the cart before the horse by breaking his promise of full review before introducing legislation. Media reported Premier Horgan as saying he simply had a change of mind on timing, “in no way suggesting Mr. Weaver and his colleagues had any undue influence.”

Interesting language, as was a Vaughn Palmer (Vancouver Sun) quote from Weaver. When asked earlier in the day for his thoughts on taxpayers picking up electioneering costs, Weaver said: “We did not push for the subsidy … we did not bring that to the table.” Palmer suggested listeners could only assume the sudden injection of taxpayer dollars was entirely the work of Horgan and the NDP.”

Could not pushing for the subsidy and not bringing it to the table mean Weaver’s Greens are against taxpayer funding and will vote against the bill unless it is amended to remove the subsidy sections? I wouldn’t bet on it. The Green’s share of subsidy money, based on last May’s vote totals, would be $831,000. For a financially poor, albeit politically ambitious party, that’s a tough gift horse to walk away from.

I don’t think he will. Like the experienced politician he’s rapidly becoming, he’ll take the money, forgetting that the people who provide it have long memories. They will remember that when it came to priorities, the NDP – Alliance placed its own financial needs ahead of their pledge of a $10-a-day child care plan.

Je me souviens – I Remember!

“Je me souviens” – I Remember – is a powerful Quebec message among the many bland and ultra-bland mottos adorning other territorial and provincial coats of arms in Canada – although opinions can be sharply divided on what it is Quebeckers should “remember.”

Many claim the motto, solidly carved into the walls of Quebec’s National Assembly building, is an eternal reminder of the day England defeated the French on the Plain of Abraham. That was on September 13, 1759, the day England’s General James Wolfe died during the 15-minute battle and France’s Lieutenant-General Louis-Joseph Marquis of Montcalm succumbed on September 14 to the wounds received the day before.

It is significant that in the National Assembly chamber displaying bronze statues of historic giants from Quebec’s past, Montcalm and Wolfe stand side by side, honoured and remembered.

Others insist the never-to-be-forgotten memory reaches back to England’s ill-conceived and brutally executed Acadian clearances.

The Acadians were established settlers of French origin. In rough geographic terms, Acadia was a section of the French colonial empire stretching from Maine through Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and parts of eastern Quebec. Their language and culture were French; they refused to swear allegiance to an English king; and, they fought with the French and native-born tribal warriors in what history calls the French and Indian War.

It was savage. The French paid their Indians a bonus for English scalps. The English “cleared” Acadians by killing many; burning their homes, farms, villages; and, transporting survivors as far south as Louisiana where today’s Cajuns keep Acadian culture alive.

The English won the French-Indian War, only to be themselves “evicted” from North America when they lost the colonial war of rebellion (1755-83).

Could that be what Je me souviens commemorates? Or could it be that those historic troubles had been long forgotten until 1978 when Premier Rene Levesque removed La Belle Province from Quebec motor vehicle license plates and replaced it with Je me souviens to annually reiterate his belief that he and his province had been betrayed by then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and other provincial premiers in the decision to repatriate Canada’s constitution?

A vengeful memory, still held by some, but not by the granddaughter of architect Eugene-Etienne Tache who designed Quebec’s National Assembly building and personally selected the motto. Helene Paquet, writing in 1978 when the first “Je me souviens” license plates were stirring controversy, claimed grandfather Tache had taken a line from a poem and its meaning only became clear by reading the second line: “I remember that born under the lily, I grow under the rose.” The lily and the rose represented France and England.

Unfortunately for Helene, her grandfather had left no specific hints as to what he had in mind for future Quebeckers to remember, but friends and knowledgeable historians were sure they knew. One, Thomas Chapais, a cabinet minister and historian, said in 1895 while participating in the unveiling of a new National Assembly bronze: “The province of Quebec has a motto that it is proud of and that it likes to engrave on the pediment (front) of its monuments and palaces. This motto has but three words: Je me souviens, but these three words, in their laconism (simplicity), are worth the most eloquent speech. Yes, we remember. We remember the past and its lessons, the past and its misfortunes, the past and its victories.”

Historian Gaston Deschenes insists the message of the motto has always been “remarkably simple … it simply invited Quebeckers of all origins to remember their history. Those who wanted to give it a revengeful meaning … did not know it had been inscribed on the façade of the Parliament Building under the feet of Montcalm and Wolfe.” Or, like Premier Levesque, chose to ignore the advice.

It all makes British Columbia’s “Splendor sine occasu” (splendour without diminishment) or as some prefer “beauty without end” – a motto lacking in inspiration. “Without diminishment” could be challenged, but we’re happy enough with the scenery.

(For voluminous detail in Encyclopedie Amerique Francaise, Google “Gaston Deschenes” and the Quebec motto “Je me souviens” or go to Wikipedia. I am indebted to both.)

British Columbia – The Newcomers

I’m not sure whether the first white immigrants to arrive in what we now call Canada were having fun when they designed a proud coat of arms or coined neat mottos to confirm their arbitrary new ownership of already occupied land, or whether overcome with royal recognition vanity, they didn’t pay attention to details.

It was all a little confusing from the get-go when Italian-Venetian navigator-explorer Giovanni Cabot (Zuan Chabotto – Venetian) was quickly anglicized to John Cabot by English King Henry VII, and in 1497 sailed from Bristol in search of beyond-horizon lands to add to those discovered by Columbus – another Italian – who had “discovered America” five years earlier.

Cabot’s ship Matthew was small. Little was known about its actual size until 1950 when a letter written in 1497 by a Bristol merchant was discovered stating that when Matthew sailed, she was “one ship of 50 ‘toneles’” (tonnes), with enough food for seven or eight months for 20 men.

Maritime historians confirm there were “about” 20 on board, including a Genoese barber who, traditionally, was also the ship’s surgeon, plus two Bristol merchants and a crew of already well-known Bristol-based sailors.

Henry VII, delighted with Cabot’s discoveries, pronounced it “New Found Launde” and 140 years later in 1637, King Charles I granted Newfoundland a coat of arms. Among its adornments stand “two aboriginal men in war-like clothing representing original inhabitants” supporting the shield. It would be nice to believe the two first citizens were included as early recognition of their ancestral rights, but I fear that was not the original intent – or today’s.

Along with the coat of arms came the inevitable motto designed as a clarion call for a colony, province, country or community to chant when in need of strength in adversity. (In today’s Canada, only Yukon and Northwest Territories have declined Latin mottos to go with their coat of arms.)

Newfoundland, didn’t officially hitch itself to Canada’s rising star until 1949 when a narrowly won referendum a year earlier voted to seek membership in the nation it had been watching grow for more than 300 years.

It brought its 1637 charter with it when it joined Canada along with its evangelical motto Quaerite primum regnum dei – “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God” – which to this day must remain a mystery advisory to investors seeking investment opportunities.

As a final note on Newfoundland-Labrador’s ancient coat of arms, it is noted an Elk is high stepping atop a four-paneled shield. Every comment I’ve been able to find refers to the Elk with polite notations that there are no Elk in Newfoundland – but lots of Caribou.

Designers in England in 1637 can be forgiven for not knowing the difference and Newfoundland–Labrador residents can be praised for leaving their Elk where it’s always been and naming the Newfoundland pony its “heritage animal,” with Caribou a second choice.

They were not the first easterners to get royal recognition via coats and arms and a motto. That prize goes to neighbouring Nova Scotia with a name leaving no doubt as to its New Scotland foundations. It was granted its coat of arms in 1625 by King Charles I. Nova Scotians welcomed the honour, considering the magnanimous gesture a Royal favour. But history tells us Nova Scotia’s joy for the once royal blessing faded over the years, possibly because its benefactor, King Charles I, was beheaded in January 1649 after being charged with treason by Parliament.

With Oliver Cromwell in charge in England, it was not a good time for colonies to boast of friendship with an executed King.

In 1867 the colony of Nova Scotia joined with New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec to create a new country called Canada and Nova Scotia was given what one critic described as a new but “undistinguished new arms.” There were protests. On its 300th anniversary, the original royal charter was restored with its motto Munit haec et altera vincit – “One defends and the other conquers” intact. Debate on the meaning continues, but there is a favourite interpretation.

Across the top of the shield bearing the cross of St. Andrew two hands are clasped. One hand is bare, the other wears a mailed glove. Supporters say this means one hand is at the ready to fight for individual and provincial rights, the other is ready to do manual work to keep the province prosperous.

As a proud British Columbian, the ancestry of my older Canadian brothers back east leaves me humbled.

It is true that Drake was around our part of the world in the late 1500s and once labelled all Pacific Coast land north of Mexico New Albion – Albion being a second name for England. But Drake was a sailor, explorer and Crown-authorized pirate, not a settler.

It would be another 200 years before Captain Cook took another British look around. A decade or so later one of his former officers, Captain George Vancouver,followed Cook into Vancouver Island waters to negotiate and sign with Spain’s Bodega y Quadra the Nootka Treaty of 1790 to end Spanish dominance in the Pacific Northwest and open the gates for English settlers.

Three years later on a west coast rock, another great explorer painted: “Alexander Mackenzie from Canada, by land, the 22nd of July, one thousand, seven hundred and ninety three.” He and his intrepid band had crossed the country on foot and by canoe.

Hard on his heels came Hudson Bay traders in what is now northern BC and then, in 1843, the first white settlers arrived in Fort Victoria, close to 250 years after Nova Scotia got its royal coat of arms.

And as they’ll tell you in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland-Labrador, we dwellers in Lotus Land are still trying to catch up. They could be right

The Day War Broke Out

For some reason, we were all huddled as close we could to my mother’s new radio, a magical thing purchased a few weeks earlier with money she earned by cleaning wealthier people’s homes. Across an expanse of backyard gardens the single bell of St Mary’s Church rang clear through morning sunshine, a solemn call to Sunday worship.

It was 11 A.M., September 3, 1939

The radio dial glowed,as a cultured BBC announcer intoned with precise diction rarely heard on radio or television today, that Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had a message for his people.

A thin, almost querulous, voice said: “I am speaking to you from the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street. This morning, the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German government a final note, stating that unless we heard from them by 11 o’clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany. The situation in which no word given by Germany’s ruler could be trusted and no people or country could feel itself safe has become intolerable. And now we have resolved to finish it, I know that you will all play your part. May God bless you all. And may He defend the right, for it is evil things that we shall be fighting against – brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution; and against them I am certain that right will prevail.”

As I have reported on previous occasions, my father – a soldier seriously wounded, but a survivor of the WW1 bloodbath – comforted his wife, son and daughter with his oft-repeated affirmation that “they (German aircraft) will never get this far, they don’t have the range.”

We were assured that deep in the heart of England’s “Midlands” we would be safe. And, as he spoke, the frightening wail of air raid alert sirens invaded the house. We had heard it before at testing times, but this time – with “at war” added – was different, ominous, frightening.

We stepped outside to scan the midday sky, and as my father was repeating “it’s just an alert, I’ve told you they won’t get this far.” The most joyous sound we would hear over the next five years, the “All Clear,” sounded, clear and safe. “See,” father said, as he pulled on his jacket and headed for Abbey Street and the Wheatsheaf for a pint to plan war strategy with other WW1 warriors, “our guns stopped them at the coast.”

He was home for Sunday dinner – the midday meal – of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding at two o’clock during which he delivered a dissertation on how the war would be quickly won if Wheatsheaf strategy was followed, then went to bed for his regulation Sunday afternoon nap.

Obviously, the ruling powers in London didn’t listen, although we began to think maybe they had during the first few months after the declaration of war. It was a few months after the uneasy “phony war” started that warning sirens wailed most nights and surviving to help clean up houses shattered, but not destroyed, became routine. And, “ration cards” had relegated roast beef dinners to memory.

It was during a “just routine’ raid that we, along with our neighbours, lost all the tiles on the roof of our house as they were lifted violently from their decades old nestling places and sent slithering into the street. Cascading roof tiles and shattering glass remain air raid sounds as familiar and frightening as the scream and rattle of a falling bomb.

From September 3, 1939 to May 1945, Victory in Europe Day, it was unwise to ask my father about the flying range of the German Luftwaffe. Even after August 1945 – VJ Day – it remained a hazardous topic. But, he did admit in his post war years that after Hiroshima and Nagasaki there was no longer any place to hide.

Which is why, with an estimated 60 million killed between Chamberlain’s declaration of war and VJ Day, we need to be reminded what Samuel von Pufendorf wrote in 1673: “More inhumanity to man has been done by man himself than any of nature’s causes.” Or as Robbie Burns wrote so succinctly a hundred years later – “Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.”

With sadness, on September 3, 2017, Burn’s “thousands” must be updated to countless millions while hoping – nervously in recent months – to never again hear a declaration of war and assume we will be safe.

Saved From The Twilight Zone

Items found. While looking for something old, I stumbled across something new. Make that “new for me.” I was searching for background on events 150 years ago leading to the eventual creation of a new country – Canada. It was during a pre-Confederation meeting in London, England, that delegates from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and, what we now know as Ontario and Quebec, decided to name the new country Canada – but it wasn’t the only name under consideration.

Wikipedia (https://wiki.org) doesn’t tell us the names of the delegates who advanced Canada and seems a little uncertain as to whether it was a Nova Scotia or New Brunswick delegate who would claim the honour. It does note “Canada” was unanimously accepted after little discussion, though other names were suggested. “Kanata” was a local First Nations word for a settlement or village and had been easily adopted as Canada by explorers and early British and French settlers in Upper and Lower Canada, and what became the British Province of Canada in 1841.

What intrigued me was the note “other names were suggested” before Canada was chosen unanimously. Wikipedia provides the list for edification, few chuckles, brief consideration, and thankfulness that the authors of Confederation listened to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

So – the names our forefathers rejected: “Anglia” was discarded quickly for sure. “Albionoria,” or “Albion of the North,” sounds silly today but “New Albion” was the name British explorers wrote on their maps when they discovered new lands but didn’t have the time or means to explore them. If Albionoria was a little too fancy, New Albion was a recommended alternative. Both were discarded quickly

“Cabotia,” in honour of John Cabot, the early explorer, disappeared speedily, as did “Colonia” – whatever its root. Then there was the delightful “Efisga” – which sounds like a rude expletive until Wikipedia points out it’s the all-embracing acronym of English, French, Irish, Scottish, German, and Aboriginal. Also on the list were “Ursalia” – “place of bears”; “Vespatia,” “land of the evening star” and “Victorialand.” I wonder if Amor de Cosmos, one of British Columbia’s contributions to the weird political leaders’ club, proposed that one?

I’m skipping “Laurentia,” “Norland,” “Superior” and “Transatlantica” to give a little space to three specials:

“Mesopelagia” – “The land between the seas” was derived from mesopelagic and by dictionary definition “the middle pelagic or twilight zone” that extends from an ocean depth of 200 to 1,000 metres. Think of presenting a “twilight zone” passport at a Homeland Security checkpoint.

“Tupona” – To honour the United Provinces of North America and affirm staunch rivalry with the United States and resistance to sporadic attempts by the USA to absorb the fledgling country.

And last on today’s list: “Hochelaga” – Listed by Wikipedia as an old name for Montreal. When Hochelaga and Tupona drifted back to Ottawa, poet, statesman and fearless debater MP Thomas D’Arcy McGee rose in the House of Commons to “… ask any honourable member of the House how he would feel if he woke some fine morning and found himself, instead of Canadian, a Tuponian or a Hochelegander?” They never again appeared in debate.

We have much to be thankful for. “Oh, Hochelgander, our home and native land” just doesn’t inspire; “Oh, Tupona” is as bad; and “O ,Mesopelagia” can remain where our founding fathers hopefully placed it … forever sealed in a heavy lead box in the twilight zone, at maximum depth.

And, we can thank those old bearded guys who trekked back and forth across mountains, prairies and oceans in maximum discomfort and with great family sacrifice, to give us a strong foundation and the name to go with it.

(A footnote for history fans: D’Arcy McGee was assassinated on April 17,1868 by an Irish Fenian fanatic with opposing ideas on “the Irish question.” He was the first of three prominent political figures to be murdered in Canada. The other two were George Brown, March 2, 1889, and Pierre Laporte, kidnapped October 10, his body found October 17, 1970.)

Are We Canadians or……..?

So, what are we first – Canadians or British Columbians? Not a question to be answered in a hurry – and not easy to answer honestly, even after due and ponderous consideration.

It was Dave Barrett back in the early 1970s who first posed the question to me while sitting in the lobby of some obscure motel in the Interior chatting about nothing in particular and everything in general. “How do you think of yourself? As Canadian first and British Columbian second, or the other way ‘round?”

When I opted for Canadian first he said he did too, but that it was sometimes difficult when talking to Ottawa about things that could be of benefit to Canada, but not so good for British Columbia. His predecessor, W.A.C. Bennett, had run into the same problem once lamenting that BC was a goblet being drained by a ruthless federal government. But, complaining loudly, he never wavered in his loyalty to the greater good.

I’ve been thinking about that old conundrum since new BC Premier John Horgan announced his government would use every tool available to deny Kinder Morgan and Alberta oil access across BC to a Pacific port outlet. The federal government – Canada – has already approved the project, and next door neighbour Alberta and its NDP government are begging for the project’s economic boost in the toughest of times.

But, political brother and sisterhoods notwithstanding, British Columbia’s New Democrats are saying that while they understand the benefits that could accrue elsewhere, the project presents a serious threat to British Columbia’s rugged, but beautiful coast line. They argue that First Nations’ rights have not been fully addressed and increased oil tanker traffic in the relatively confined waters from Vancouver to the open ocean would be a clear and present danger to BC.

Andrew Weaver, leader of the three Green hitchhikers who promised Premier Horgan a road map to power if he would guarantee them a say in key environmental matters, has categorically forecast the result with the boast: “The pipeline will never be built.”

With Weaver’s sword of Damocles (the Green Party’s controlling votes in the Legislature) hanging over his head, Premier Horgan is seemingly being instructed that Green desires will take precedence over national government policy – or else!

When Canada became a country 150 years ago, our First Prime Minister John A. Macdonald told new Dominion of Canada statesmen: “Let us be English or let us be French – and above all else let us be Canadian.” It was advice we all heeded a few years ago when a few Quebec politicians decided they wanted out of Confederation, but the people of Quebec – with rest of Canada pleading with them not to break our country apart – rejected the separatists’ plea. They were Canadians first, Quebecers second.
Premier Horgan has said his aim is to get the best deal for British Columbia. That is an objective to be praised and supported as long he remembers, as should we all, “above all else” to be loyal to the province we call home, but remain Canadians first.

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.