Month: September 2017

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.