Month: January 2018

Relax – It’s Only $5 million A Year

A few desultory small-minded shots were fired when would-be BC Liberal Party leaders gathered recently to entertain the masses. It sounded like a bunch of teenagers with nothing else to do but strafe empty cans off the garden fence.

The shots did not sound threatening or enlightening, but their target was interesting and indicative of a possible uniting of old forces against new to preserve the continuity of true Liberal blood.

Six candidates graced the stage:
• Andrew Wilkinson QC, lawyer, former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Minister of Advanced Education, and Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services. He also served as deputy minister for Intergovernmental Relations in the Premier’s Office for two years from 2001-2003.
• Sam Sullivan, currently serving as the MLA for Vancouver-False Creek. Previously, he served as the Minister of Communities, Sport and Cultural Development, Minister Responsible for TransLink, and also as the 38th mayor of Vancouver. Sullivan has been invested with the Order of Canada for his work to improve the lives of people with severe disabilities. He has been quadriplegic since breaking his neck in a skiing accident at the age of 19.
• Mike de Jong, lawyer, who served for varying periods as Attorney General and Minister of Finance, as well as minister in the portfolios of Health, Labour and Citizen Services, Forests, Public Safety and Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation. He has also been House Leader.
• Michael “Mike” Lee, lawyer, and a relative newcomer on the provincial political scene, but a political activist for many years.
• Todd Stone, former Minister of Transport, who regards himself as a “new look” Liberal.
• Dianne Watts, former mayor of Surrey and a Conservative MP who, for years, resisted requests to take a run for the Liberal leadership and now feels ready to reach for the brass ring.

Watt’s opponents during the sparse leadership debates have focused on her attempts to capitalize on her “Liberal newcomer” status. The very fact that old guard heavy hitters like de Jong, Stone and Wilkinson appear to be concentrating on Watts is a sure indicator that she is the one they fear most as the finish line of Feb. 3 looms. She was first choice of many to replace Gordon Campbell years ago, but she didn’t feel ready for the task.

Back in 2010, Watts was described in a Globe & Mail article as “unscripted, unguarded – and unlike any other politician in BC … (she) has transformed the City of Surrey from a butt of jokes to a thriving and increasingly sophisticated metropolitan centre …”

The final debate in the less than inspiring series is scheduled for Jan. 30 in Vancouver – the city where the Liberals took heavy losses last May.

To date, only one candidate – Andrew Wilkinson – has made meaningful reference to the latest gift handed the Liberals by the NDP government in early January as promised in last summer’s Election Amendment Act. He has suggested a taxpayers’ gift-wrapped million-dollar cheque to the Liberal Party be earmarked to finance the coming fight against proportional representation. Wilkinson is not being touted as a leadership winner.

Ms. Watts is and should pick up the challenge to the new system of public financing of political parties. The NDP, of course, also cashed a cheque for a million. Well, maybe not quite a million according to Les Leyne writing recently in the local newspaper.

The Liberals (remember they did get more popular votes than the NDP) got a cheque for $995,965, the NDP picked up $994,882.50 and the starveling Green Party trio a piddling $418,383.75.

Leyne reminded us that’s just half the annual cash transfer from your pockets to the bank accounts of three political parties. The second half is due July 1 – about a month after the day in June when, economists tell us, we should have cleared away our annual income tax indebtedness to governments and get to spend our paycheques on ourselves.

Think how the political landscape will look if we listen to election system reform proponents and vote for a proportional representation system that could spawn more three or four-seat-parties all with their Oliver Twist hands out asking for more than the $5 million in public subsidies already guaranteed.

A vote on change to the voting system is still months away, but it will come with a success threshold of 50 per cent plus one which is easier to achieve than the 60 per cent thresholds when system change was rejected in 2005 and 2009.

We can only hope the electorate keeps its head and, with or without the help of a new Liberal leader, again deep-sixes the threat of minority governments spawned by proportional representation – and demands a return to strictly controlled political party funding.

If we can’t afford massive financially achievable housing projects and other urgently-needed social programs, we certainly can’t afford $5 millions a year to provide political parties with public funds to play their often vain-glory games.

In Praise of Premier Bill Smithe

In its wisdom or folly the electorate in British Columbia has on three occasions selected newspaper reporters to the high office of Premier. Two were named William; both were named Smith and were distinguished in their early years by the letter “e”. One was William Smith, the other William Smithe –with an “e”. Both were immigrants to BC. The third newsman was Premier John Robson August 1889-June 1892 but that’s a story for another day.

As soon as he was old enough Bill Smith without the “e” changed his name to Amor de Cosmos – “Lover of the Universe”. In the 1800’s he owned, published and wrote for what is today known as The Times-Colonist. He served as Premier for two years from December 1872 to February 1874. Born in Windsor, Nova Scotia in August 1825 he died July 4,1887, in Victoria the only Premier in BC to ever be officially declared insane.

The second Smithe stayed with William or Bill to his friends, from the day he was born in the picture perfect village of Matfen, Northumberland, in 1842. He was first elected to the Legislature in 1871, served as Premier from January 29, 1883 until he died on March 27, 1987.

Overshadowed in the history books by the flamboyant headline creator de Cosmos, Premier Smithe had arrived on Vancouver Island in 1862 with farming his chosen career path – IF a gold claim he held in the Cariboo didn’t work out. He appears to have worked the claim intermittently for two years before giving up and returning to farming full time with a stint as road commissioner in the Cowichan District in 1865 to supplement his income.

In his book Portraits of the Premier’s S.W Jackman described Smithe as “extremely personable and lively, handsome and well mannered, in sum, a most agreeable and charming young man as well as being a hard working one.” Although he doesn’t name his sources Jackman suggests Smithe “liked society – dances, picnicking and other forms of junketing….He also had a penchant for writing…” With those traditional requirements for a good reporter he began contributing to local newspapers.

His early childhood and education may well have provided the adaptable side of Smiths’s character. In the 2001 census in the UK Matfen, his village of birth, listed a population or 495. Nearby Great Whittington where he went to school boasted 401. Both are located a few kilometers north of Hadrian’s Wall, the great barrier the Romans built to keep illegal Scots out of England.

That means the sparsely populated Cowichan-Duncan area in the 1800’s would not be unfamiliar to young Smithe although he did at one point take a look at big city life in San Francisco. He stayed 18 months, worked as reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle then returned to the Duncan area and in 1871 tossed his hat in that year’s provincial election race. He topped the Cowichan poll with what today seems a laughable 58 votes – which was 29.59 percent of the votes cast in the riding.

In six following elections Smithe continued to top polls – and was twice – in 1876 and in 1883 – re-elected by acclamation.

Although a four year term as Premier doesn’t sound like tenure it was unusual in the 1800’s. One year terms were fairly standard; two years, occasional – and four remarkable especially for a young man who was not part of “the establishment” and whose first and only campaign promise made in half-a-dozen elections was that he would not pledge his support to any man. It should be remembered that it wasn’t until the 1900’s that party politics played any role in provincial politics.

Bill Smithes 16-years in office, the last four as Premier, have been acknowledged as stable and prosperous. He is credited with persuading the federal government to take over the graving dock in Esquimalt although he died before the first ship HMS Cormorant used the facility.

He did live to welcome the first passenger train from Montreal to the west coast as it pulled in to Port Moody on July 4, 1886. A month earlier the designated terminal Vancouver – for which Premier Smithe had fought for years – had been destroyed by a disastrous fire on June 13. The city was just over two months old when the Daily News reported: “Probably never since the days of Pompei and Herculaneum was a town wiped out of existence so completely and suddenly as was Vancouver…The flames spread…with amazing rapidity. The whole city was in flames less than 40 minutes after the first house was afire.”

It wasn’t until May, 1887, that a rebuilding Vancouver was able to welcome a trans-continental train. Premier Smithe was dead before it arrived.

He was in his usual seat when the Legislature convened in January of ‘87 but was too ill to continue attending regularly. He died on March 28, and was honoured with “an official funeral” which included two days lying in state before “a great hearse with four horses, velvet and crepe” carried him away, first to church for the funeral service then “the coffin was put on a train and taken to Somenos where he was interred in the Methodist burial ground.”

Bill Smith – Amor de Cosmos, 17-years older than William Smithe, died four months later in July 1887 and was buried in Ross Bay Cemetery. Jackman notes “his funeral was pitifully attended – sic transit amor de mundi”. He was probably aiming for the better known “sic transit gloria mundi” which translates “thus passeth the glory of the world.”

Jackson also wrote: “The four years the Smithe government ruled in British Columbia were prosperous and happy ones. Later in the19th century they were often referred to as the best years the province had experienced up to that time.”

Which leave me wondering why it is we remember Bill Smith, the flamboyant, eccentric, mentally unstable “Lover of the Universe” far more fondly than well spoken, calm and confident Bill Smithe with an “e”. He gave the people of BC stability in government, steadily improving economic times and remains best remembered as Bill Who?

What’s To Fear,Trump Or His “Base?”

It’s some years now since I read modern versions of what hell must be like. They replaced burning coals and fiery furnaces with compulsory viewing of day time television. After only seven days confined to sick bay, I can now confirm that terrifying picture of being locked forever in room and forced to watch the daytime tube.

In fairness to other countries, I should add my judgment is based on American television in general and CNN “the most trusted name in news” in particular. I hastily note “most trusted” is their judgment, not mine.

There was a time when I could have believed the claim; a time when I looked to CNN to take me to the far corners of the world to tell me in a balanced voice what was going on. But then came Trump, bellicose Donald the clown, whom CNN believed might prove some light entertainment during a presidential election campaign and then vanish in flash of redneck rhetoric on voting day.

The loudmouthed Trump crisscrossed the United States shouting a never-ending litany of corruption charges against everyone not wearing a Trump button. His early rivals were long-time Republicans and the Party struggled to decide which member it would bless as its presidential standard bearer. They laughed at Trump’s wildness, shuddered over his coarse language and hints of racism – until they were overwhelmed by the rookie slogan slinger.

When the votes were counted in the presidential election Trump trailed in the popular vote by close to three million, but won the all-important Electoral College vote and the presidency. And the Republican establishment, which had tried to keep at arm’s length during the campaign, suddenly became Trump lovers and defenders.

The rest of the USA went into shock and CNN girded its loins to do battle to save democracy, with Wolf Blitzer’s Situation Room front and centre. It was staffed with well-groomed male and female reporters or commentators whose sole duty appeared to be to praise the work of other journalists, especially those revealing another Trump unreality outburst.

It has not gone unnoticed that CNN rarely breaks hard news stories. Instead it brings viewers the latest revelations of miscues, false boasts or just plain blather as reported in The Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal or any other news outlet living up to old standards of journalism.

CNN assembled teams and then set out to prove what Trump had reportedly said was “offensive” or “insulting” to all Americans; would be “rejected” by all Americans; and would leave the collective nation bowing its head in shame. And, it would cause the Republican Party untold grief as its established Congressmen and Senators tried to explain away the latest Trump diatribe against third world nations.

As I watched “the most trusted name in news” try to assemble a “sky is falling” scenario, one calm voice drew attention. Jeffrey Toobin – writer for The New Yorker, lawyer, political analyst – was part of Blitzer’s panel but was being interviewed via remote connections. He quietly reminded Wolf that not all Americans will be appalled by Trumps latest scurrilous remarks on poorer world countries. He suggested they remember Trump’s base voters listened to similar or worse comments throughout the presidential campaign, supported him then and still support him now.

Blitzer seemed a little startled by Toobin’s reminder that there are millions of Americans who love Trump’s wild promises, his riches, his life style, his racist comments, his half-assed praise for the KKK, his thinly veiled contempt for non-whites. Toobin said he doesn’t think Trump’s latest derogatory remarks about less than rich nations “will cause him a lot of grief.”

Blitzer wondered out loud “are we blowing this out of proportion?” but only briefly. Being too fascinated to change channels, I continue to watch as Blitzer departs and Erin Burnett enters. Burnett is a beautiful virago with a great voice often ruined by staccato delivery, known to have a sharp mind and tongue and to not take challenge lightly.

She promises to bring me up to date on reaction to the Donald’s latest trumpeting. She doesn’t. Different panel of talking heads, different voices. Same theme, same phrases. Same ever wider publicity for the man who thrives on it and his 35-40 per cent “base” of voters who think the latest critical twist of their slogan from “Make America Great Again” to “make America white again” is a good idea.

And that is more scary than President Trump at his careless, unthinking worst.

Birthday Bust But Friendship Triumph

Well, I didn’t exactly finish the run for my 94th birthday finish line with a blazing burst of speed.I broke the tape stumbling forward with a headache from hell, a nose gushing to shame Niagara, rapid fire sneezing and a cough to rattle the walls of the Berwick Royal Oak Retirement Community.

Well trained by a paramedic son in what to do when contagious head colds strike overnight, I retired from the track, locked the stable door and settled in isolation to battle the unwelcome birthday burden with old world remedies – plus a few recommended by modern non-medics. It took six days and a diet of prescription drugs, endless bowls of chicken soup, cups of Bovril and a steady supply of hot meals to my door to bring the unwelcome bugs under control.

It was not a battle fought alone – although in typical male self-pity, on day one I was whimpering this would be the first personal sickness scrap I had ever fought alone. Over the past 9.4 decades there had always been a mother, wife, lover or close friend to supply the edible and mental nourishment required by the stricken.

My fears, for that is what they were – fears this was going to be a lonely fight – were quickly dispelled. On December 27 my mailbox was filled to overflowing with greetings from old friends and colleagues, many now scattered around the world and busy with their own lives but not too busy to remember me. It was quite a lift to the spirit.

Even greater were the phone calls from other residents in this “retirement community” who had noticed me missing from meals or my regular table in the Café where coffee and a read of morning newspapers has become a familiar routine. They wanted to know if I had everything required, and one most gracious lady politely listed half a dozen items missing from my modest medical kit. “I’ll leave them in bag on your room door,” she said, “with copies of the morning newspapers.” I asked for a bill. “No bill,” she said, “it’s just something we do for each other.”

Male “neighbours” were equally kind and focused on my needs. First words over the phone were “Hear you’re under the weather; how’s your supply of single malt?” Practical like-mind friends with ancient remedies to kill or cure.

And then, the never to be forgotten phone calls from treasured friends fighting their own health battles, but caring enough to make a daily call “just to see if you are okay.” Family and friends touching base to reassure me as I stumble into 2018 and my 95th year that:

“When you walk through a storm,
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark.

“At the end of a storm
There’s a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark
“Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown

“Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone, you’ll never walk alone.”

Saying THANK YOU MY FRIENDS is quite inadequate even in shouted capitals.