Month: May 2015

So It Begins

So it begins in Alberta where the NDP’s orange wave has been flashed an early rip-tide warning to newly elected Premier Rachel Notley that there are no accurate charts to guarantee her years at the helm will be through calm waters.

Even as New Democrats nationally were drinking victory toasts and exulting the Notley wave would surge across Canada later this year, link up with the NDP successes in Quebec and see Thomas Mulcair anointed prime minister; and in British Columbia New Democrats were trumpeting anything Alberta New Democrats could do BC could do better, Premier Notley was navigating through hazardous waters.

In ‘the family” she was faced with the unpleasant case of newly elected Deborah Drever, a young woman in her late 20’s with a penchant for publishing on social networks what she thought were bawdy jokes and posted just for fun. Premier Notley thought otherwise. She considered them vulgar, openly homophobic and unacceptable as views to be held and made public by any member of her elected caucus.

Drever was suspended from caucus and will sit as an Independent. Premier Notley says she will review that case in a few months, maybe a year.

Calgary-Bow MLA Drever has already apologized on each of the social networks she used for her bit of fun, but a recent on-line ballot conducted by the Calgary Sun indicates they were not well received. The newspaper asked if readers felt Drever could recover from her bad judgment calls and become a useful, effective, representative of her constituents.

Four hundred and eighty five respondents said “yes”, but 2,236 voted “no”. The voters of Calgary were obviously having second thoughts on their voting day decision and were not as forgiving as Premier Notley who had moved swiftly, decisively, to punish a series of foolish acts and show compassionate wisdom in her decision.

The Drever incident will prove to be but a minor embarrassment, a sudden squall, unexpected but handled easily by the confident new skipper. On the horizon loom greater hazards which will demand superior navigational skills and government decisions which will be unpalatable to Albertans – especially New Democrats who tend to promise more than they can deliver.

The Conference Board of Canada is forecasting “Alberta’s economic performance will be underwhelming this year and next, especially compared with recent years”. In one word – recession – a word and term Albertans are not used to living with.

Premier Notley says she isn’t surprised by the Conference Board forecast. “We know that due to circumstances beyond our control that out economy is a volatile one and we may be struggling a bit but we’re going to look at all of the re-indicators and will act appropriately…”

Yes, well, I’m sure she will but I wonder if she understands that when the forecast recession arrives the voters of Alberta will blame her and the NDP for it. That’s a fact, not a forecast and if recession hits with any force between now and federal election day you can bet that every Conservative and Liberal supporter in the country will be nodding  sagely and saying “see what the NDP have done to Alberta—is that what you want for Canada?”

In BC the Liberals will be sympathetic to Alberta’s misfortune and echo the same theme and NDP leaders, Mulcair in Ottawa, John Horgan in BC will lament the injustice of it all as their premature predicted orange tidal wave fades to another falling tide.

Danger of Assumptions

A tip of the hat to breastfeeding mothers for openly proclaiming their right to feed their infant children wherever they may be when  meal time has arrived.

A rebuke to the group of young mothers who, babies at the ready, partially occupied a Victoria pizza restaurant last Friday in a public protest based on on-line postings by one claiming to have been asked to leave a restaurant as she attempted to breast feed her five month old son.

Sounds like a contradiction? It isn’t. In Canada we hold dear the right to protest when we feel injustice is being done. We also claim to hold dear the need for proof of wrongdoing before we rise en masse to demand justice. Responding to a social media “flash feed protest” was not wise or acceptable..

Knee jerk reaction to single person accusation rarely is, and when such charges are immediately countered by firm denial from the accused, the call for caution before shouting “guilty” is clear.

In last Friday’s incident a pizza restaurant spokesman claimed the complaining mother and the group she was with were asked to leave because they occupying table space but not ordering food or drink.

Just an excuse to cover up what would be an unlawful command to a nursing mother? Possibly, but assumed, not proven.

Many years ago acclaimed sociologist W.I.Thomas advanced the theory that “individuals make decisions in situations based on their interpretation of the situation, whether their interpretation is correct or not.” He cites examples of charges based on social assumptions or on the reactions of people “to the rhetoric of fear.”

Assumptions are always dangerous and never more so than when made on the fly by a store manager or over-reacting staff at the sight of a nursing mother – or made by a nursing mother loathe to admit she has precipitated a situation she could have easily avoided.

Law defending the rights of a nursing mother is quite clear. She has the right to breast feed her child in a public area and it is discriminatory to deny here that right, to demand that she “cover up” or go elsewhere to continue. Most nursing mothers know their rights but prefer to breast feed their babies in private. On occasions when public feeding can’t be avoided they prefer to be as unobtrusive as possible. A few, more militant about their rights, can be aggressive in their demands and display.

Wise mothers carry a card with their legal right to breastfeed in public places printed on one side, on the other the phone numbers of the BC Human Rights Commission and the BC Civil Liberties Association. It is usually enough to bring calm to a situation.

I write as a father of six sons all of them finding their first food where nature intended they should – and all of them at one time or another breastfed in public places before it was legal and without incident. Clearly established breastfeeding rights are great – but a little courtesy toward and from the nursing mother, and the rejection of assumption as just cause for militancy will always be better way than “the law.

A Great Fire From a Little Spark

So,  are we over the hysterical hissy-fit sparked by the incredible discovery by righteous mass media that Elizabeth May can’t walk on water and can cuss with best of us in moments when the tongue races ahead of courtesy – and reason?

I hope so because her few minutes tumble from her grace and favour pedestal was hardly the stuff of great moment despite the reaction of so many professional commentators and writer’s of letters to editors to make it sound cataclysmic.

Was she out of line when she became critically serious at what was supposed to be a fun event at which politicians and media people can drink too much and fire off clever put-downs at political rivals? Of course she was. She used the opportunity to launch a clumsily delivered critique of Prime Minister Harper and, as she was hooked from the microphone, carelessly tossed in the vulgar reference to his “fucking cabinet.”

Media outlets never use that word or at least never spell it. As defenders of free speech and staunch advocates of Voltaire’s – “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” –  they primly print  f..k, f…..g or the sanctimonious “F-bomb”, presumably believing it is good manners to leave reader or listeners to fill in the dots.

Media reaction to May’s outburst was inexcusable. By swearing in public she had become a front page story, the text of her rambling unimportant speech published verbatim with editorials panting to lead the electronic gossip-mongering pack baying for punishment. That May had apologized for her bad behavior was not enough. The outraged wanted more starting with her resignation as leader of the Green Party because by their standards she couldn’t be trusted to behave as they think a political party leader should.

A few hundred years ago those who went “ viral” with such little cause would have been locking her in the stocks on the lawns of the Legislature or giving her a few hours in the (no-need-for-dots) Cucking Stool, a device, Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fable  informs me, used to punish disorderly women by plunging them in and out of the village pond.

Among the amazing displays of media virtue was the pious warning on the CBC website posting May’s speech verbatim with the advisory: “Warning; graphic language.” It’s the same warning we get when networks show us pictures and reports from earthquake zones, train derailments – and other disasters; the same warning they flash on screen anytime they are about to display the latest graphics of murder, mayhem, and plain old punching and kicking violence, all well laced with explicit sexual activities – and swearing. If we watch and become seduced by the abandonment of what were once common courtesies, and normal moral standards the fault, apparently, is entirely our own. Profit making producers and distributors are excused from all responsibility for any damage the constant flood of violence might create.

Forgetting old standards of conduct is not new. We are just lowering the bar of courtesy and good behavior more rapidly and carelessly in this age where speed appears to be of the essence in everything – including conversations and condemnations based on flimsy reasoning.

It’s a few thousand years now since one of the leaders of a then struggling bunch of men and women trying to establish a new religion with high moral standards, warned the greatest threats to their future would be words spoken in haste or anger; thoughts expressed without care and little or no regard for the damage they could cause. The tongue, he said, may appear to be an insignificant part of the human body “but it is immensely boastful. Remember how a mere spark may set a vast forest in flames.” It was, he said, “an ever busy mischief. And full of deadly poison.”

Elizabeth May should have known that before she, whether tired or having thought a glass of wine would be friend, plunged recklessly into her unwarranted tirade. But so should those who rose so quickly to condemn her bad decision with even worse, undeserved, judgments. They had the sounds of hounds baying on the hunt to bring down a  pack leader.

As the wise man noted, when saying things in public or in private “we often stumble and fall, all of us.” And, he added, anyone who doesn’t would be perfect. Elizabeth May isn’t. I certainly don’t rate. And you?

(Best piece written so far on the May incident by Elizabeth Renzetti, Page A2, Globe and Mail, Saturday, May 16, 2015. Brilliant. Wish I could write like that)

The Beginning Becomes Most Important

A few catch-up notes related to my recent comment on the Rachel Notley and the NDP election triumph in Alberta.

Forgot to mention that I knew her dad Grant Notley in the days when he was one of the active young people preparing the political soil of western Canada for the replanting of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) as the New Democratic Party (NDP) in Alberta. He was a teenager at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, when in 1957-58 he joined what became known as “Notley’s Motley Crew”, a re-activated  campus squad of  CCF supporters. Among his young political rivals on campus were Joe Clark (PC) and Jim Coutts (Lib).

By 1961 he had moved from campus to join the province-wide organizing push to change CCF to NDP. That goal was achieved in January 1962 with the election of Neil Reimer as president of the fledging organization and Grant the provincial secretary. It was in the late fall of 1962 when I joined the Edmonton Journal as acting city editor and first met the intense but unfailingly polite NDP activist who eventually became party leader in 1968. Those were the days when NDP members walked through audiences listening to a Notley speech “passing the hat” for funds to meet expenses.

In 1971, after repeated defeats at the polls, he was elected NDP-MLA for Spirit River, a lone voice in opposition but respected by other politicians and by media for his rational, constant, arguments for expansion and improvement of social services. His daughter Rachel Anne was eight years old at the time, the first of three children born to Grant and Sandra (Sandy) Mary Wilkinson following their marriage in 1963.

American born “Sandy” may not have generated headlines the way her husband did, but in the family she was a character builder, the one who wove Christian principles into NDP beliefs. It was she who explained to Rachel and her brothers Paul and Stephen the social conscience of their father’s politics.

And it was her mother Rachel mentioned first in her gracious victory speech: “I know my mother would be completely over the moon about this”, she told her cheering supporters. I think my dad would be too. I’m sorry he couldn’t see this, this really was his life’s work.”

Grant Notley died in a poor weather plane crash in 1984 – two years before the NDP sent its first shock waves through Alberta by electing 16 MLAs in the 1986 general election. New Democrats held those 16 seats through the 1989 election – but lost them all and their leader Ray Martin who had replaced Notley in 1984.

The NDP was back to square one, the Conservatives settled back into their comfortable pew. And Rachel Anne Notley, 20 when she lost her father, 34 when she lost her mother in 1998, but well schooled and firm in her belief in the values they had taught began the long march back from two seats in the early 90’s to a 53 seat victory and the right to govern in 2015.

In the process she sent Jim Prentice, the former premier and leader of the long ruling Conservatives, running for the hills. Within hours of the polls closing Prentice had resigned as leader – a traditional move for a defeated premier – and shamelessly abandoned the individual seat his constituents had just won for him.

The campaign isn’t over for now mother of two, Premier Rachel Anne Notley, 51. She has a public service, becalmed these many years in Conservative complacency, to win over, and a politically naive crew of MLAs to make sure the ship of state doesn’t stray widely off course.

And all those clear-cut black and white decisions most new democrats declare easy of solution are about to become murky, grey areas, hard to define, difficult to answer with a yes or no.

The lady is about to venture into most difficult waters. I wish her well and hope she never forgets her Plato: “The beginning is the most important part of the work.’

The Power of Positive Thinking

The toughest immediate task ahead for Alberta’s new NDP Premier Rachel Notley will involve self discipline strong enough to resist the desire to fulfill her dreams in a hurry.

I think she has the integrity and commonsense to do that. I hope so, anyway. She demonstrated during her march to victory that she was a competitor with decency. When her opponents sank to use TV attack commercials, a fixed feature of USA elections and becoming ever more so in Canada, she rose well above the gutter, flashed a brilliant smile, refused to engage and stayed pleasantly on track with her optimistic promise to work for a better life in already pleasant Alberta.

It’s the kind of political leadership we all hope for.

She convinced voters she had a plan, that she was sincere. She didn’t boast of immediate solutions to problems, just that she and her newly elected team thought there were better ways to do things and would work hard to achieve their goals. She convinced voters she could be trusted, and that assured her victory. She appealed to pride and the positive.

In Ottawa and Victoria New Democrats rejoiced when the landslide occurred with federal leader Thomas Mulcair almost beside himself as he wandered around chortling and chanting about pundits who said the Conservatives could never be defeated, while BC leader John Horgan proudly showed one orange sock in support for the orange wave. Both men forecast similar results the next time voters are asked to make a choice. Federally that’s next October – or maybe sooner. Provincially we have a couple years to go.

That’s enough time for Mulcair and Horgan to understand why Rachel Notley made it look easy. She exuded goodwill; she spoke of her province with pride and made Albertans feel proud. She was confident, she was positive, she was believable. She offered leadership with positive warmth, a quality sadly lacking in the never ending litany of complaints from of Mulcair and Horgan.

They could learn to be positive and proud, but they’ve been negative too long. And it will cost them in the future as it has in the past.

When Law Gets Confusing

Quoting Mr. Bumble of Oliver Twist fame on matters of law is not one of the wiser things to do. He was a bit of a nasty piece of work really when he ran Charles Dickens’s orphanage but he did make a valid point one day when confronted with his past record of bad behavior with relevant law quoted to back the charges. He didn’t challenge the law but confidently retorted: “If the law supposes that – the law is a ass, a idiot.”

And, alas, sometimes it is when law makers strive to find clear cut legal solutions for complex problems.

A few weeks ago the popular press reported a court case involving major thefts from residential and commercial properties. A search of the accuseds’ residence had uncovered piles of loot from burglaries. Computers, laptop computers, smart phones, IPads, electronic gadgets of all kinds – a regular Aladdin’s cave.

A guilty finding seemed sure until it was revealed that the search and discovery had been mishandled and conducted in violation of clearly stated law designed to provide protection to all citizens from such unauthorized actions.

The judge ruled the search illegal and stated the “discoveries” could not be used in evidence. Case closed, the accused walked.

It’s a good law. It means that before the men in uniform can come barging into homes they need at very least a piece of paper called a search warrant obtained from a judge – after they have provided enough evidence to convince him or her the search is justified.

But I believe it flawed law when, because of an error or carelessness on the part of investigating officers, a person with a room full of known to be stolen goods can walk free of punishment. Seems to me that the law officers should be publicly chastised and their police force heavily fined for failing to follow established, sensible, protective procedures – and the guy caught with a truckload of stolen goods should get no less than a heavy fine or jail..

As things stand Mr. Bumble makes a case, as he does when his philosophy is applied to less colourful but more confusing and possibly more important issues of laws governing human rights and in particular rights of privacy.

We had a recent kerfuffle in Saanich regarding the municipal deployment of surveillance gadgets attached to office computers to check on employees. Council regarded the checks as “security measures.” Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham took a look at the situation and issued a strong opinion that Council’s position was untenable; that it should immediately disable the most intrusive surveillance tools and set about understanding more clearly what The Freedom of Information and Privacy Act is all about.

She further suggested Council implement a comprehensive privacy management program “and provide training to all employees in relation to all requirements of the Act.” But she doesn’t offer much guidance on how to control the use by employees of government or company owned computers. She simply states that public bodies now commonly allow employees to use workplace systems “for some personal use” and that when they do “employees are afforded certain privacy rights related to that personal use.” Those rights are protected by law.

In October 2012 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of those privacy rights in the workplace when it comes to state (government) involvement. But writing on the judgment for Gowlings Knowledge Centre Bettina Burgess wrote: ”Regrettably the SCC declined the invitation to make any finding with respect to the private employers  right to monitor employee computer use……Although Canadians have a reasonable right to privacy on their personal computers, the question has remained open whether that right extends to personal information on their employers computer.”

In other words it’s a bit of mess down there in the swamp created by the wonderful world in which employees can dabble on their workplace computers, safe in the knowledge that the boss isn’t allowed to monitor their computer use unless serious misconduct is suspected – and the employee is warned a check is being made.

Sounds a little counter-productive to me and motherhood defence of “the right to privacy”.  The law is not always an ass or an idiot but sometime in its anxiety to protect us it  does try to smother us as we sleep.

https://gowlings.com is worth a visit, or Google – Privacy Rights on Company Computers.