Month: October 2017

One Brief Shining Moment

I never lived in Camelot where “rain may never fall till after sunset and by eight the morning fog must disappear,” but I have shared real “brief shining moments” of what life was like in that mythical land created by Lerner and Loewe.

My latest glimpse was a few days ago – on a Tuesday morning when the usual calm embrace of Berwick Royal Oak, my semi-rural retirement residence, was interrupted by a flow of children burbling like a pebbled creek.

They were students from Strawberry Vale K-5 elementary school located on Rosedale Avenue “surrounded by Garry Oak meadows” and sporting a stream and pond as an outdoor classroom. It is home school for 304 students with what looks like 25 or 30 of them in the subdued chattering group that was politely flowing through Berwick’s corridors.

They were bright of face, neat of dress as befits students from a school listing among its aims “caring, sharing, learning,” as they were shepherded past the in-house Interdenominational Chapel, seconded this day for flu shots. While seniors waited in line for their shot, the young flood swept on in search of a bloodline grandfather or grandmother – or lacking such, a designated volunteer granddad and grandmother.

The adults were waiting in what the natives call The Zoom Room, the well-equipped exercise room where oldies like I go once in a while to dream about the days when we didn’t need machines to help us run. Or walk.

Fully in charge were the four Berwick recreation program staffers – Debby Macmurchie, Wendy Thomas, Annalise Moller and Bonnie Kamsteeg. Within minutes, they had the youngsters sorted – two students to an adult and one pumpkin to prepare for the First Annual Berwick Royal Oak Great Pumpkin Parade scheduled for 6 p.m. that evening.The workers cut and carved until it was time for the young to return to school for an afternoon of study while senior carvers sought afternoon naps.

There were 50 pumpkins – pre-prepared by Strawberry Vale and returned hollowed out for the master-mistress carvers and their carefully supervised students. Not all the end-products were masterpieces, but a few came close – and a few looked fiercely hacked and hewed. But they all looked wonderful as dusk fell and 50 orange beacons guided mothers and fathers around a patio garden trail, over a sweeping bridge, a cascading waterfall and back to a pool patio where live music played and hot chocolate was served with mini-treats for young care giving “carvers.”

As stated earlier, I never lived in Camelot – but I’ve been there for short visits as I am sure everyone who has lived to adulthood has and “Each evening before you drift to sleep upon your cot/ Think back on all the tales that you remember … that once there was a fleeting wisp of glory/ Called Camelot.”

Wonderful memories but too often accompanied with regrets of “what might have been” had we worked harder to give shining moments longer life; to make Camelot more than a dream. There is always hope that our children will succeed where we, the departing generation have failed. That they will come to understand that the openness of their childhood love, their joy in giving and sharing with refreshing laughter, their faith and trust and the quality of innocence, make much sounder foundations to build on than the one we are leaving them.

A Bully’s Finger on the Trigger

Two major issues faced the world in 1951 when Winston Churchill was trying to win back the keys to No.10 Downing Street after his surprise ejection from the prime minister’s residence in 1945.

There was a war in Korea with North Korea attempting to conquer the South; and there was concern that the U.S., with General Douglas MacArthur in command of an American-dominated United Nations military force, might be tempted to use nuclear weapons to win a war it was patently losing. Britain had already assigned 100,000 soldiers, sailors and air force personnel to the United Nations force. (Canada sent 26,000.)

The Labour Party’s campaign raised the spectre of the Korean conflict escalating to a nuclear ending. Figuring the voters would still be anti-war and therefore anti-Churchill, one of Labour’s campaign slogan was: “Whose finger do you want on the trigger?” The voters apprehensively decided that if the nation was again going to war, they would rather have the old warhorse Churchill “on the trigger” than the Labour Party’s Clement Atlee – whom Churchill once described as “a sheep in sheep’s clothing.” Winston and the Conservatives were re-elected with a narrow majority.

Earlier in April 1951, U.S. President Harry Truman had removed General MacArthur from his command of the Korean War force on the grounds of “insubordination and unwillingness to conduct a limited war.” It was believed the move would silence those who thought MacArthur might dip into the U.S. nuclear arsenal if push came to shove with North Korea’s great ally China.

President Truman, having authorized the use of atomic bombs in WW2 to end a war with Japan, obviously wanted no part of a repeat performance that could start a war with China. But concern remained.

The Korean War continued until 1953 when North and South agreed to an uneasy cease fire, but not to a war-ending truce. South and North Korea are still officially at war. And, the United Nations and the United States still promised the South protection from North Korean invasion.

The current President of the U.S., Donald Trump, openly advances the nuclear threat if North Korea doesn’t stop threatening the South, Japan, U.S. territories and the rest of the world with its newly-acquired nuclear weaponry. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the President has said, “will be met with fire, fury and frankly power which this world has never seen before.”

So here we are decades after my troubled “traditionalist” generation (1946-64) produced the “baby boomers” who grew up fighting for civil rights. The boomers vigorously opposed the North/South Viet Nam war which had replaced the North/South Korean stalemate of 1953, and daily read of, or listened to, cold war threats and counter threats as the great nuclear arms race between Russia and the U.S. chilled the world.

It was a time when duck and cover was not an earthquake drill. Movies like Threads and The Day After – depicting life after a nuclear war – played to somber, silent audiences and Dr. Strangelove left the world laughing – albeit nervously.

When Generation X took over (1965-1980) things hadn’t changed much. The United States was deeply involved in the embarrassing Watergate scandal which led to the pitiful resignation of President Richard Nixon. GenXers had stepped up the pursuit of prosperity and affluence and so-called sexual freedom was replacing morality. Fathers and mothers joined the work force to increase their earning power and a new generation of latch-key children was born. It has been said of GenX that “their perceptions were shaped by growing up having to take care of themselves early and watching their politicians lie and their parents get laid off. (They) came of age when the U.S. was losing its status as the most powerful and prosperous nation in the world.” And wars and rumours of wars continued.

Then came the Millennials, or the Boomer Echoes, or whatever the fancy phrase is for this generation of movers and shakers. They must be shaking their heads if they have read any history at all, and they must be wondering how civilization could have come so far in the past 80 years to have made such little progress running what should be a wonderful world.

The year is 2017, edging quickly to 2018. The once most powerful and richest nation in the world is being pushed off centre stage by homegrown follies. It is again being challenged by small, nuclear-wielding North Korea. A vaudevillian clown, but dangerous president, plays the lead role with unvarnished, arrogant, boastful, shameful, attitudes towards women, people of different races, the sick and less fortunate.His back-up chorus is a duly-elected government lacking the courage, or the conscience, to truly make their country great again; a government that stands silently by ineffectually wondering how best to remove a bully’s finger from the nuclear trigger.

Maybe the rapidly-emerging, next generation, the “robotic generation” can provide the answers that continue to elude their inventors. Hopefully, before the man who now holds the trigger pulls it.

“Undue Influence” – Who Used It, Who Bowed To It?

I listened carefully. Took copious notes as part of my effort to stay awake during the tedious, repetitious, NDP attempts to justify billing already harried taxpayers for their next election campaign expenses. I was comfortably ensconced watching and listening to TV at “home.”

Speaker after NDP speaker emphasized their new government had only goodwill in its heart when it proposed taxpayers pay $30 million plus to listen to a brand new manifesto of yet-to-be-fulfilled election doctrine.

Well-rehearsed, as party discipline dictates, they stolidly repeated the main reason for the decision to ban or severely curb the use of “big money” to fund future election campaigns. The $30 million plus from taxpayers described by Premier John Horgan as “modest in the grand scheme of things,” would end “undue influence” by large donors on future government decisions.

I noted the repeated theme that banning big money donations, especially from large corporations, would “end” undue influence. I waited for names, times, places, proof of wronging doing by the companies so engaged. I waited for the names of government officials – elected or in the public service – on whom “undue influence” had been exerted and in what form. I listened carefully, but without reward.

There were assumptions: A corporation donating heavily to a governing political party before or after winning a multi-million dollar contract must, ergo, be guilty of exerting undue influence; and someone in the former Liberal government must have been equally guilty of being influenced. The assumption is easy to believe, but assumptions – based on what we like to think happened not what actually did happen – are examples of malice at its worst.

So, if the government that sat in opposition for a decade or more insists on peddling its “undue influence” theme to support its planned raid on taxpayer’s savings, could it please provide substantiating facts in “who, what, where, when and why” format. In fairness, it could at the same time provide us with similar answers as to which New Democrats responded to the “unfair influence” of heavy donors to the NDP. Then we’ll know where the weak spots are on both sides of aisle.

For an entertaining read of miscellaneous truths, half-truths and unlimited vanities from the Legislature, do a search of “political scandals in BC.” It’s a fairly long list compared with other provinces but that’s because we have provincial media that loves to hype the inconsequential. There are “conflict of interest” items ranging from heavy duty to, in retrospect, laughably clumsy efforts to make a quick dollar by ignoring rules – and two or three involving bad decisions. Some covered up cost overruns on major projects but only one was a major scandal with proven “undue influence.”

There was the fast ferry fiasco of the 1990s NDP era that saw a fleet of fast ferries built at enormous cost and sold at fire sale prices before they ever went into operation in BC; the Coquihalla Highway Social Credit cover-up of $200 million-plus in cost overruns – making the final cost more than double the original estimates and all racked up in the haste to get the highway opened in time for Expo 86 in Vancouver. Bitter criticism of the project didn’t fade until 2008 when Gordon Campbell’s Liberal government lifted the toll on the highway. It had generated $845 million in revenues.

And the big one, the only one, with a clear exposure of “undue influence,” abuse of privilege, bribes, accusations leading first to judicial inquiry, then a trial and the jailing for five years of W.A.C. Bennett’s Social Credit Minister of Forests Robert Sommers. He was the first ever cabinet minister in the British Commonwealth to be jailed for accepting a bribe.

It all started in February 1955 when “Bull of the Woods” Liberal MLA Gordon Gibson sent the Legislature into frenzied disarray with his booming accusation that “money talks” in the forest industry. In the chaos, Speaker Thomas Irwin ordered the House adjourned. The following day Gibson was ordered to withdraw his charges. He refused. Mr. Justice Arthur Lord was assigned to investigate and reported he found no basis for Gibson’s charges.

Sommers launched libel suits, but the unwavering Gibson continued his attacks in the House until, in 1956, after 300 days of stonewalling by Attorney General Robert Bonner, Sommers was finally dropped from cabinet. Gibson kept prodding. The RCMP investigated and in November 1957, reported it had discovered “definite indications of wrongdoing.” Sommers was arrested and after an 80-day trial found guilty of accepting bribes. He served 28 months of his five-year sentence, then spent his final years in Qualicum where he died aged 89 in 2000, still claiming he was innocent.

There are lessons here for Premier Horgan. He needs to remember while being premier can feed your vanity it can also starve your self-respect and the respect of others. And it’s the latter that will win the next election not assumptions without factual foundations and taxpayer funding without just cause.

(The “feed your vanity starve your self-respect” thought was originally expressed by Matthew Parris writing about politicians in general in The Times in 1994.)

How Was Your Year?

We never celebrated Thanksgiving when I was a child in England. We did celebrate Keats’ “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, close bosom friend of the maturing sun; Conspiring with him how to load and bless with fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run.” But we called it Harvest Festival, as native Brits – and most of Europe – had called the Harvest Moon (Google it) time of year since crops were first harvested and thanks given.

Not that we had any vines running around thatch eves in the town of Nuneaton where I grew up on a street of faceless row-houses whose front doors opened directly onto the sidewalk. No vines, no thatch, not even a postage stamp front “garden”. An industrial town – but less than a 15 minute brisk walk from grim streets to rural countryside and only a few minutes more to my grandfather’s small farm near Weddington village where “harvest” meant hard work and “thanksgiving” was sincere when it was over.

Less than a block from where I was born is The Abbey Church of St. Mary the Virgin, a place of worship since the mid-12th century. History books tell us The Priory of Nuneaton was a ”daughter house of the great Abbey of Fontevraud, near Samur in Western France” built between 1155-59 and thrived until Henry VIII dissolved all such establishments then carved up their land as gifts for friends. Any buildings, including churches and accommodations, were left empty to become a source of home-building material for others and eventually fall derelict.

And derelict St. Mary’s remained for more than 300 years until in the late 1800’s a benefactor named Thomas Botterill primed and launched a fund raising drive to build on the ancient site a new Abbey Church. They named the street on which I was born after him. I was born upstairs in Number 23. Alas, no name plate marks that historic occasion in my life and there is no record that my boy soprano voice once echoed with other choristers through the vaulted re-built ceilings of St. Mary’s.

But echo it did and never more so than during the full Harvest Moon Festival– each year. There was no set day, no holiday, (still isn’t in the UK) no huge turkey dinners, no funny hats, no commercial babble. Just a serious, thankful festival geared to a full moon to celebrate a harvest “safely gathered in”.

That used to be the first hymn we sang as the choir, led by angelic (looking) little boys filed from the vestry, bright faces, cassocks and surplices – all mother-laundered – immaculate. We turned right at the main aisle walking between sheaves of wheat and barley, baskets of apples, pears, potatoes, beets, cabbages, tomatoes, peas and beans and jars of honey and home-made jam, to take our assigned places. The congregation responded full voice to our plea: “Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home…..”

From where I sat in the choir I could look down the length of the church. In the 1930’s every seat was occupied by a congregation sitting patiently through an always (for boy sopranos) long and obtuse sermon, then joining triumphantly in the hymns. The new church had been built to incorporate sections of the ancient walls and columns. An Art Journal of 1888 described a late autumn service: “….as early twilight closed in, lighted candles were fixed here and there on projecting stones and flung such fantastic shadows….that one might have thought the monks and nuns whose coffins had more than once been dislodged during construction were flitting hither and thither…”

Wax candles were long gone, replaced by small electric bulbs but the shadows still seemed to quiver when the congregation lifted robust voice triumph: “We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land, but it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand…..”, The proclamation came from many who actually did work the land or, like me, had relatives who did. They understood a rich harvest depended on their work – with the sunshine and rain, vital to success.

At harvest they were truly thankful.

It’s 80-years now since I fully shared in a true festival a but I can still recite (and sing but not so well) the words and need for thanksgiving. I can still remember and believe in the main lesson – that we reap what we sow. I am made aware of my shortcomings, reminded that in the year past I have again harvested far more compassion and love from friends and sometimes strangers, than I have ever “planted”.

How was your year?

Generous Taxpayers Pay To Retrain Politicians

There’s an old saying that being elected to a democratic parliament is the kind of job all working class parents want for their children – it’s indoors, clean, no heavy lifting, well paid with generous expenses and a dream quality pension after six years of service.

In British Columbia that’s an average four-year term after a first MLA election win plus at least a two-year stint after a second. If they get turfed after their first session in the big house, they do not go home destitute. Taxpayers ease the humiliation of early public defeat with a “career retraining allowance” which is may be better understood as “severance pay” and amounts to 15 months’ pay, based on the MLA’s salary – which is a couple of hundred dollars short of $106,000 a year.

If MLAs make it past the six-year pensionable service requirement, they are also eligible for the 15-month “career retraining allowance” totaling $132,251 – if they remain unemployed for 15 months after they are defeated or resign. Should they find new jobs within the 15 months, the retraining allowance is adjusted down or up depending on what the new job pays.

Jordan Bateman, BC director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, has noted in press, TV and radio interviews that if a defeated or retiring politician gets a new job within the 15-month time frame but at a lower salary than the MLA stipend, taxpayers will top it up to the full retraining allowance for 15-months. For example, if a new job pays $90,000, that amount would be topped up to match the “career retraining allowance” of $132,241.

Members of the Legislature are usually quick to point out their gold-plated basic pension is not free; that they have regular payments deducted from their pay cheques.

It’s a true, but flimsy defence. In 1996, the then-NDP government introduced legislation guaranteeing that every dollar put into the pension plan by an MLA would be matched by a dollar from the government (read: taxpayers). In 2007, the first Liberal government in 56 years changed that formula to four taxpayer dollars for every dollar from an MLA. The guaranteed annual cost of living adjustment date was set – significantly or accidentally – April 1. All the MLAs defeated or simply retiring on May 9, the date of the last election, received a rich golden handshake as they left the buildings. And it wasn’t fool’s gold. Or maybe it was!

The new NDP government lost the May election in terms of popular vote and the number of seats won, but was boosted from second to first when three woe-begotten Greens joined up to make the NDP winners. No cash was involved in the transfer of votes; just “future considerations”, providing the Greens behaved appropriately and the NDP treated them with inclusive respect on matters of NDP importance.

The first partnership test is now before the Legislature in the form of legislation designed to banish corporate or big union election donations to political parties of their choice and sharply curtail maximum individual donations.

All three parties agreed something had to be done and they seemed to agree that a first step would be to implement a program of public and political party input organized by the chief electoral officer. The NDP, at the moment of truth, decided differently and introduced legislation which would confine debate to the Legislature leading to a decision made without participation from taxpayers who will pay the multi-million public funding of political party election campaigns when it becomes law.

While awaiting passage of the bill, Liberals and NDP will continue to solicit and accept ever larger donations from friends – because it isn’t yet illegal to do so. The two major players seem to be agreeing it is morally wrong to raise funds this way – but only if there is a law saying so. No law, no moral issues? That is not inspiring philosophy.

Andrew Weaver doesn’t belong to the big money group. Never has. He has expressed concern over the Liberal apparatus for raising funds and the NDP failure to call for the public input he had hoped for before presenting a new, extremely expensive mechanism for funding political parties from the public purse.

The question remains as to how strong his principles will be as the bill is debated and which way his vote will go if it gets to final reading without amendment. Will he vote for taxpayer funding which he “did not bring to” the discussion table? Will he demand public hearings and input before he grants the NDP passage? Will principle prevail?

Or will he punch the power button he so obviously enjoys holding and command the NDP to “fade to black?”

Stay tuned, we live in interesting times.

For all the details on taxpayers’ generosity check:
http://members.leg.bc.ca/mla-remuneration/employment-benefits.htm