Month: February 2016

Demands and Consequences

Interesting, but not surprising, to read in my local newspaper that my home city of Victoria, BC, Canada, is not alone as it wrestles with the problem of people who are homeless – and want to remain that way until their demands are met.

Demands? Yes, I think that’s the right word when interpreting the statements attributed to one Ivan Drury who was in attendance Thursday (Feb.25) for “a celebration” at self-proclaimed “tent city” on what was once the lawn of Victoria court house. Any semblance of a lawn disappeared in winter rains weeks ago as ramshackle shacks and tents from modern to reclaimed sheets of tattered canvas covered every square foot of a once demure, peaceful patch of green.

On one side across the street stands Christchurch Cathedral solid and solemn in its affirmation that those who provide shelter, clothing, food and drink for the needy are following original, admirable doctrine advocated by Jesus Christ: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren ye have done it unto me.”

On another side stand the Law Courts where the rule of law, the most important foundation stone in any society claiming to be governed by the ideals of democracy, is upheld. The courts have decreed that where a government fails to provide adequate “shelter” for its citizens the “homeless” can pitch a tent or build a shelter on public land until more adequate accommodation becomes available.

While church and the law sit in their respective, comfortable, cloisters collectively washing their hands of the core issue while voicing religious or legal opinions, Victoria’s “tent city” festers in the muck.

Ivan Drury sees it as a place “created by poverty” where “brave leaders in the fight against poverty and homelessness….” have come together “to show the way out of this crisis.”

He adds that the only way out, the only solution, is permanent affordable housing for low income people. An admiral objective strongly supported by church and law – neither being burdened with the awkward business of finding the money to achieve what is obviously a desired aim.

Donna Ambers, indentified in the newspaper story as “the camp grandmother” told all who would listen: “This is our struggle and we’re winning. We are not leaving. We want land. We don’t want temporary nothing. We don’t want shelters. We don’t want anything like that and we want to be able to stay as a community not dispersed around the city.”

I don’t expect Ms.Amber or anyone else in “tent city” to believe me, but there was a time when I, and thousands like me, wanted what she wants today. Eventually we got what we wanted, not as gift from government dispensing money collected from better established taxpayers, but during a long and sometimes painful journey when money was always scarce and our roofs not always weatherproof.

We had morale help from friends, learned to live without vacations, search for second-hand clothes, didn’t dine out and confined our drinking to plain tea or coffee. In 1948 I paid $1,500 for my first bit of land in Saanich – every penny “saved” from my $37 a week pay for a “first home” shack that would have been right at home in “tent city.”

What about the demand that government (the people we give billions of dollars a year to spend on our behalf) launch massive housing projects with low mortgage or low rental availability? No problem – other than where to place it on the taxpayer demand list and what to build. New towns in what is now wilderness? Condo towers to boost down-town populations? And cost?

We can afford it? Indeed we can – but we can’t afford everything we need. Something – other than taxpayers already weighted down with costs for health care, education, police and fire protection, potable water, public transportations, domestic water supply, recreational facilities, street lighting, exorbitant hydro rates and of course parks, presumably for the beneficial use of all citizens – has to give.

All suggestions welcomed.

 

 

 

 

 

The Planning Should Start Now

We can expect a “big one”, guaranteed, in February, 2017. Not the tectonic plate shifting kind we west coast citizens have been expecting and (hopefully) have prepared for for years, but the final budget from Christy Clark’s Liberal government before we go to the polls in May next year.

I was reminded of the event a few days ago when provincial Finance Minister Mike de Jong unveiled government plans for spending – or lack of it – in the year between now and the general election shake rattle and lift-off next. His 2016 effort was modest, with a few gentle benefits, a bit of a tax hit for folks who can afford to pay a little more for health care services (with a long needed reminder that health care in British Columbia is not “free” and never has been), a promise to try and put the lid on residential property prices in Vancouver and a few other bits and piece leading to a bottom line showing a surplus come fiscal year end.

Taken all round a decent job considering the challenging economy problems facing the world. For the next week or two we can expect   noisy challenges from the NDP, but, barring an unforeseen scandal of cataclysmic proportions (always a possibility in wild west politics) the government should be able to amble into summer and year end in comfortable position: and next February be ready to present a traditional “take it or leave it” budget for the people to vote on about three months later.

As things stand the Legislature should terminate its 2016 activities on November 24 to end a year of sporadic debate sessions interspersed with lengthy breaks during which MLAs can attend to constituency business or take a family holiday.

In 2017 the MLAs will re-convene, probably in early February, to prorogue, listen to another Throne Speech and a few days later get a look at a budget jammed with people benefits and promises of even great things to come IF on May 9 the people renew the Liberal mandate for another four years.

I’m making note of it now because the whispers are already stirring that the NDP really did learn a lesson back in 2013 when most pollsters and easily led media outlets had the party elected before the first vote was cast. NDP campaigners have admitted strategy mistakes were made in 2013. They must be careful not to repeat the biggest cause for failure and be disciplined to firmly resist the temptation to believe their own propaganda.

It will not be easy for them. The government holds the inside planning tools, controls the money and a majority vote strong enough to bring to fruition any or all of a basketful of benefits – ready for delivery if it is re-elected.

Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition tends to concentrates on “opposition” as the operative word in its title. It would fare better if it regarded itself as the government in waiting – a political party ready and able to govern. Positive rather than petulant.

That means more positive thinking and less “opposition” to everything government proposes and displayed desire to improve programs and policies not wreck them. It means the NDP should be developing a priority plan designed to build – or should that be re-build? – public confidence in government and convince the electorate New Democrats have the ability to run a fiscally responsible and stable administration.

Its record has not been impressive. In 1991 Mike Harcourt’s NDP offered stability as the once all powerful Social Credit Party fell apart during the Premiership of Bill Vander Zalm. But four years and 109 days later Harcourt resigned in the wake of scandal and party dissent to be replaced by Glen Clark — who retained power for the party in 1996 but resigned three years and 184 days later – again in the wake of scandal and internal dissent.

Dan Miller took over as premier and held office for 183 days of relative stability and calm until Ujjal Dosanjh was elected party leader and Premier. One year and 101 days later in May, 2006, Dosanjh and his party were defeated by the Liberals.

Come May 9, 2017, a predominant feature of the NDP campaign will undoubtedly be “after 11 –years with Liberals in charge, it’s time for a change” – and maybe it will be IF the 2017 Liberal budget basket is empty of goodwill and people benefits. But if it is loaded, as eve of election budgets traditionally are in BC, New Democrats will need more than brittle complaints to win the right to govern.

In addition to their own carefully packaged basket of electoral comforts New Democrats will need to offer a Linus blanket – one that promises the warmth and comfort of understanding and stability in troubled times and shuns rhetoric for reason.

Unafraid to be Different

 

It was 9.30 pm on Wednesday, December 2, 2015. In the winter dark the River Thames swirled its ancient way past the Palace of Westminster as Big Ben signaled the passage of time from high in the Elizabeth Tower as it has since 1859.

In the great chamber of the House of Commons on the banks of the Thames some 90 meters below the clock tower a long, often raucous, sometimes bitter, debate was grumbling to its close. Before the day ended 620 Members of Parliament would vote on the issue of continuing air strikes against ISIS – the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Hansard records 9.30 as the precise minute when Hilary Benn, son of late Labour Party stalwart and sparkling orator Tony Benn, stood to speak. The House fell silent as he stepped to the Despatch Box, the final speaker winding up the debate. Having been Labour’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and being an accomplished orator in his own right, his closing speech was expected to command attention.

The half hour chimes of Big Ben had barely faded when Hilary signaled where his support would be when the vote was taken. His leader, Jeremy Corbyn, newly elected head of the Labour Party, was already firmly on record as an opponent of any military action in the Iraq-Syria conflict zone. Benn thanked the Speaker for granting him the floor but said before he got to the core of the debate he had a message for Prime Minister David Cameron.

The Chamber waited as the PM responded with a faint flicker of a smile and a quick word to a colleague. And Hilary Benn in clear, stern voice said: “Although my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition and I will walk into different division lobbies tonight, I am proud to speak from the same Despatch Box as him. My right honourable friend is not a terrorist sympathizer, he is an honest, a principled, a decent and a good man and I think the Prime Minister must now regret what he said yesterday and his failure to do what he should have done today – which is simply to say ‘I am sorry.’” Cameron, who had indeed earlier used abusive and condemning language, did not apologize, but he did lose his potential happy-face. He now knew he had Benn’s vote to continue, even expand, military action, but he also knew he was being taught a lesson on how to disagree with someone on grave and important matters without having to resort to insults and derogatory language.

It is a lesson all elected politicians would do well to learn.

I’m not going to waste any more of your time with my selected quotes from Hilary Benn’s speech which, according to the UK’s current (Conservative Party) Secretary of State for Foreign affairs “will go down as one of the truly great speeches made in the House of Commons.” I just urge to take a look and listen at:

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/video/2015/dec/03/hilary-benn-airstrikes-vote-speech-full-must-confront-isis-evil-video and draw your own conclusions.

One, of many, things to consider if you do take a look and listen – as you should: You will never have seen or heard actions like it in any of our Canadian parliaments, provincial or federal, where MLAs and MPs are taught party loyalty is more important that sincerity and truth; and where any party member with the courage or temerity to challenge and reject a tame “follow the leader” role would be immediately termed a maverick – or worse- – and banished from caucus.

Some years ago chatting with the late Garde Gardom about Canada’s tame backbenchers and “I’m the boss” party leaders, and how we lacked the democratic ability of the mother of parliaments to not just accept internal criticism but actually encourage it and Garde said: “Yes, but you have to understand we’ve only been at it for a couple of hundred years or so. They have a few thousand under their belt so we have a little way to go.” True, but there’s no harm in dreaming – and how wonderful to see that spirit still exists across the pond.

If you’re hesitant about screening a political debate because you just don’t have time – relax. Hilary Benn’s start as noted by Hansard at the top of this piece was 9.30 pm. He finished at 9.44 – to a standing ovation and cheers from both sides of the House.

Go ahead, click on the link, whether you agree or not, you’ll find his 14 minute oration challenging and see in inaction a parliamentarian not afraid to be different.If you like it, send the link to your MLA or MP with a note suggesting the example wouldn’t be a bad one to follow; and if you lean towards pacificism – you will find, as I did, a strong challenge to long held beliefs.

Use Your Vote Or Lose Your Vote

A ripple of excitement a few days ago in Lotus Land when the New Democratic Party won two seats in provincial bye-elections in British Columbia. One headline suggested it was the start of a “come back” for the NDP, the party media and pollsters had favoured to win the 2013 general election – and were disastrously wrong.

Radio and television stations burbled the same theme seemingly determined to repeat their inaccurate readings of political indicators – or maybe believing the old saying that if you forecast the same election victors often enough, one year you’ll get it right.

Whatever their reasoning they should know better. Bye-elections are not always lost by the political party in power, but they usually are. Bye-elections give the people, including party faithful, the opportunity to send a signal to government that performance is being watched; that it holds power courtesy the electorate and can be removed from office should it wander from the paths of truth and justice.

A bye-election vote may be a warning shot across the bows, but it is not the same as a general election broadside designed to banish the government in power and replace it with one with more promise of better management. The bye-elections in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain and Vancouver Mount Pleasant were far from damaging broadsides aimed at the Liberal government and equally far from a ringing endorsement of NDP candidates – even in Vancouver-Mount Pleasant which is surely one of the safest, if not the safest, NDP seat in the province.

There are 40,000 registered voters in the riding where the NDP’s Melanie Mark sought to replace Jennie Kwan in the February 2 vote. In the 2013 general election Kwan had been returned to office – again – with 12,154 of the 21,031 registered votes cast. The Liberal candidate was close to nine thousand votes behind with 3,505.

When the bye-election vote was taken only 8,801 valid votes out of the possible 40,000 were cast. Ms. Mark, NDP, attracted 5,353; Liberal Gavin Dew was a distant third in the five candidate race with 994. Well ahead of Dew was Peter Fry of the Green Party with 2,325 of the total valid votes cast – about 200 more than they had received in the 2013 general election.

There were no surprises in the runaway NDP victory or in the desultory Liberal loss of 2,000 votes in a riding they could never win. There was some surprise in the Green Party vote. To attract more votes in a bye-election than you did in a general election has to be a boost for the Cinderella Party as the province heads for May 2017 and the next general election.

In Coquitlam-Burke Mountain the race was always regarded as tighter than Vancouver-Mount Pleasant – and so it proved with the NDP taking the seat with 3,607 votes to dislodge the Liberals with 2,954. The Green Party trailed in third with 1,051 – only 90 or so votes less than the 2013 general election vote.

No real surprises in either result or in the shameful turnout in both ridings. Quite amazing really that with all the effort Elections BC has gone to make voting easy, only 8,801 of 40,000 registered voters could stir themselves to vote in Vancouver-Mount Pleasant and only 7,757 of close to 39,000 in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain could find 10-minutes of time to cast a ballot.

Maybe Elections Canada and Elections BC have made it too easy for us to vote in any election – general or bye. I wonder what would happen if federal and provincial voting laws were changed with a “use it or lose it” slogan in mind. No more “please vote” pleas, no more suggestion of fines for not voting – just a removal of the right to vote. Failure to vote in a municipal, provincial or federal elections bye-election would cost a citizen the right to vote in the next election – a right which could only be restored by a subsequent recorded vote registered by a returning officer.

Just a thought: Use it or lose it – and I confess to a fear that many thousands across Canada wouldn’t care.