Month: April 2014

They’re not all bad

I wouldn’t want it to be thought that because I snap at politicians once in a while I think them a bad lot. I get angry with them when they start playing silly games, forget what their sworn duties are and concentrate more on damaging an opposite numbers reputation than they do on improving the lot of the people.

But that doesn’t mean I am unaware of the work they do when they are out of centre ring – the Legislature – and actually serving their constituents.

There is a belief, widely held by journalists who should know better, that elected politicians are only working when the parliament to which they were elected is sitting. The fact is that a parliament in session is show-time, with the main event called Question Period often just poor vaudeville.

Once in a while  there is serious debate on new legislation, but not often enough to prove that this is where MLAs earn their generous salaries. It isn’t. Their main work, and it is never ending, is far from the Big Top, unseen and unsung.

Their only break from that work is when they are called into session in Victoria and, as a British MP once said, “happiness becomes the constituency in the rearview morrow.”

It’s a thankless job. Watched every waking hour by media ready to pounce on every miscue in language or in life, they rarely get a deserved thank you. As Julian Critchley, a British Tory once said: “The only safe pleasure for a parliamentarian is a bag of boiled sweets.” And even that can touch off a scandal if discovered on expense account.

Edwina Currie (if you haven’t read her book “A Parliamentary Affair” and would like to know how politics work, it’s still in print.) wrote that life in politics can be dangerous: “The occupational hazards are the three A’s: arrogance, alcoholism and adultery. If you suffer from only one you’re doing quite well.”

Far be it from me, well removed from today’s circus tent, to suggest that any of the three hazards exist among our MLAs, although arrogance does flash its ugly had all too often.

But by and large our locals appear to be a hard working, boiled sweets lot. And for that we should be thankful – and say so.

A good opposition should be a good government in waiting.

Mike Harcourt was only partly right in his sweeping criticism as he ambled away from the once powerful now fragile New Democratic Party. He was justified in condemning the way the party caucus did a “You, too, Brutus” on former leader Carole James a few years ago, probably because his own caucus did a similar job on him back in the late 90’s.

He was right, too, in hammering current party leader Adrian Dix for permitting such a shoddily run election campaign last year, an election pollsters and pundits forecast the NDP would win handily. He was right,  when he endorsed what the party has already decided, that Dix has run his brief unremarkable course and should now exit stage left as gracefully as possible.

But I think the old warrior did himself and the NDP a disservice when he failed to mention that Carole James had not exactly portrayed Joan of Arc in her attempts to lead New Democrats out of the wilderness. And I think the old Premier was a little unfair to Dix to suggest his flip flop on the Kinder Morgan pipeline issue turned a favorable NDP tide to turn and help destroy their hope of returning to office.

What ruined the Dix-NDP campaign last year was the fact that the Party offered no program of hope for the future. No solid all round plans for progress. It’s the same reason the NDP has lost every election since 2001. It’s the same reason they will lose the next election and the one after that unless they can elect not just a solid leader, but enough people to form a caucus with ideas, with workable plans, plans designed to give people hope and confidence in the future.

For far too long the NDP has forgotten its real role in political life – that of a government in waiting. It has concentrated on whining and complaining  when it should have been concentrating on ideas and policies for the benefit of us all.

Maybe they will surprise me but I don’t see “steady at the helm” Mike Farnworth, or “to the barricades” John Horgan, offering practical hope or of being able to recruit the crew quality the old ship needs to get it sailing from pending sunset to a new sunrise.

Who Wasn’t listening when the year was young?

Oh dear! Oh dear! The Hounds of Media in full-pack frenzied chorus in print, on radio and full colour HD TV. As it runs the pack bays the story of Mike Harcourts’ departure from the ranks of the New Democratic Party as “a bombshell” with one of the slathering beasts barking it was “a hand grenade” tossed into the ND Party engine room.

I didn’t read or hear any of the pack telling us just when Mike pulled the pin? Was it on April 1, the day the Globe and Mail broke the story? Or, perish the thought, was it months ago that the former Premier of BC decided he wanted no more to do with the Party he had helped build and keep strong?.

A little judicious questioning of Mike or NDP headquarters might reveal that as far back as January he had made his decision  with the clearly stated reasons now being revealed as newly spoken. And, whisper this softly, could it be that some members of the Legislature Press Gallery were tipped off to Mike’s planned defection back then but, still deep in Christmas and New Year hibernation, chose not to believe their tipster?

It is a fact now made clear – Mike Harcourt had since 2009 been expressing disenchantment with the party he once led, and by January had decided he wanted out. But we in the ever vigilant media, busy as always on financial scandals flushed out by auditors, never noticed Mike or listened to reliable warning voices – until All Fools Day.

Which, come to think of it, was an interesting day to break such a revealing and important political story.

Are you sure you’re moving a truth along?

Just a brief flutter on an old theme – the freedom and the dangers of ”the social network”, so welcomed for its freedom of expression, so frightening with its uncontrolled power.

Came across a thoughtful piece in the Globe and Mail last Monday by TV critic John Doyle. On Page L3 of the Arts section while reviewing  a couple of TV programs he wrote that in this day of Twitter and Facebook and some shoddy TV interviews “the very idea of knowing the truth is now elastic. While we think that the digital age has moved us forward in terms of communication, it has in fact driven us back to something closer to medieval culture.”

He then turned to newspaper editor Peter Wiley writing on the same theme in The New Statesman Magazine: ”In the medieval world news was usually exchanged amid the babble of the market place or the tavern, where the truth competed with rumour, mishearing and misunderstanding. In some respects, it is to that world that we seem to be returning.”

As I wrote in an earlier Post I have been a recent recipient of strong support from the digital generation, support which both pleased and scared me. Like Doyle I become fearful that in their haste social networkers lose sight of truth and people and media are becoming increasingly “comfortable with the cacophony of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Blogging. The very principle of there existing a ‘true story’ or fixed narrative is gone. “

Doyle had much more to say on “the disappearance of truth”. He wrote in his concluding paragraph: People used to blame television for the dumbing down of news coverage. That was overstated. It’s the digital age that’s undermining everything. We are like medieval peasants in personal news gathering.”

To which I say “amen” and recommend you find a copy of April 1 Globe and Mail, read Doyle and make a vow to make sure you’ve got it right before you Twitter.

…Drinking in the Last Chance saloon?

A flood of e-mails, enough to send desk top and laptop computers into high speed frenzy as they collected and collated for orderly reading the thoughts of Times-Colonist regarding my banishment from its Sunday pages.

A sobering lesson for an old guy who considers social media one of the most dangerous Genies to get out of the 21st Century bottle and “twitterers”, whether prime ministers or pre-pubescent, aptly named. I never thought of myself as a key figure in Twitter or Facebook uprising. But there I was on Sunday, March 30, eating my poached eggs and crisp-fried potatoes and reading a seemingly endless stream –around 100 so far – of e-mails protesting my eviction from pages people pay to read.

Many were from longtime readers writing to a man they had never met but regarded as a “friend.” That happens when readers and writers make regular contact over the years. They may never meet but they get to know each other well.

Last weekend’s wave of correspondence, boosted I understand by a posting on Facebook – which I never use – was turned from high tide to Tsunami. The letters were kind to me, thanking me for the past, solicitous for my future – and angry at the TC for my abrupt dismissal by e-mail.

I  appreciate the thoughtfulness, the compliments, and thank every reader who took the time write, especially ex-MLA’S from both sides of the Legislature with whom I had locked horns over the years . As I wrote earlier, it’s been quite a ride and I’m delighted so many of you enjoyed and remember those times when we held opposing views – but always with respect.

My today’s thoughts on Facebook and the twittering class? Interesting, impressive, powerful, frightening… Before noon last Sunday thanks to the twitterers I was delighted to be receiving e-mails from former readers now living in England, Germany, Australia, and a dozen other countries in between. Incredible. A joy to experience, so why do I remain fearful? Because in evil hands that power, uncontrolled, could wreak great harm. Sometime I feel I may be sipping my single malt in The Last Chance saloon.