Month: February 2018

Twenty Seven Words Divide The USA

It’s hard to believe that 27 words penned in 1791 to give strength to the then-emerging United States of America would be ripping the country apart 200 years later.

But, as Walter Cronkite would say, were he still around to enlighten us, “that’s the way it is” south of the 49th parallel where the fight continues over the right to bear arms.

The ink was hardly dry when the new and much-admired USA Constitution was revealed to the world along with a block of 10 amendments to the original – amendments that remain as a solid foundation to democracy, troubled as it is today.

The first of the 10 amendments grouped as “The Bill of Rights” was approved by Congress on September 25, 1789 and ratified two years and three months later on December 15, 1791. It dealt with “freedoms, petitions and assembly.” In 2018, this Bill of Rights continues to provide protection for people who worship other than a Christian God, and for “the press” when it publishes stories a sitting president might find offensive.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Not many words and as easy to understand as they were when written centuries ago.

That lengthy preamble brings me to the now famous “second amendment,” that has created angry debate for decades and burns fiercely today at the heart of the firestorm following the most recent murders of 17 Florida school students and staff by a mentally damaged teenager in ownership possession of an automatic firing rifle.

Amendment Two, the right to bear arms, is a concise 27 words and was clearly understood and supported in 1791: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The National Rifle Association of America, the powerful USA “gun rights” lobby, argues that any attempt to curb gun ownership rights as guaranteed in the second amendment of the Constitution is an attempt to destroy a foundation stone of the USA and a betrayal of the founding fathers. They say even the most modest increase in screening of people seeking to own firearms would be an infringement of the second amendment and violation of a sacred trust.

They do not mention that after the United States had defeated the British army, the USA retained no huge standing army. Its soldiers had gone back to their farms or other jobs – taking their rifles with them and keeping them handy just in case they should again be called on to defend what they now called “our country.”

They were “the militia” the founding father preferred to the standing armies they had so recently defeated in their battle for Independence. As the State of Virginia summed it up in the original debate on the right to bear arms: “A well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained in arms, is the proper, safe and natural defense of a free state…..”

With a powerful “standing army” today plus an efficient and well trained National Guard replacing the old militia, it seems to me that some of our more sensible neighbours down south are simply asking their government to make sure that any  non-militia civilians owning guns, especially rifles, are “well regulated … people … trained in arms.”

As a Canadian I can’t be too smug about the USA’s failure to tighten their gun culture rules. In 1989, Mark Lepine executed 14 women students at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique engineering school, and wounded nine other women and four men before committing suicide.

It touched off a debate on the need for beefed up registration rules and gun ownership fitness. Surveys at the time claimed only 17 per cent of the people supported the government registration program – and the furor died in Canada as it has in the USA following past mass shootings.

Will the current wave of revolutionary  anger  also fade? I fear so. In the land of the free the cult of the gun remains strong.

It’s Now A Hundred Year War

It is just a small spat in a vast world of conflict, but it’s been a long one. It started shortly after Alberta joined Confederation in 1905 and continues today. One hundred years ago Alberta in 1918 met in Ottawa with members of the new Confederation to discuss mineral rights and to whom they belong – the province in which they are located or the wider Canada, the State.

Usually Alberta and British Columbia have been on the same side fighting Ottawa for better resource sharing deals.Who can forget the 1980’s when Alberta lead the fight against Ottawa’s newest oil tax policies with the late Premier Ralph Clyne shouting “let the Eastern Bastards freeze.” Alberta’s current Premier Rachel Notley and BC’s John Horgan, both leaders of provincial New Democrats, follow different drummers with Notley allied to Ottawa and Horgan the lone hold out against the plan to twin the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific Coast at Vancouver.

The project has survived many scientific, environmental and engineering studies and has been approved by the National Energy Board, the federal government, Alberta and, in January 2017, by the then Liberal government of BC under the leadership of Christy Clark.

Clark won the election with one seat more than the NDP only to lose the right to govern when NDP leader John Horgan stepped forward with the signed assurance that Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, with two other newly elected Green MLAs, would give him a slim majority. Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon accepted Horgan’s proposal and he became Premier John Horgan.

Until a few weeks ago, Horgan was in harness with Weaver and implacably opposed to two Liberal mega job creation projects – Kinder Morgan and the massive BC Hydro Site C project in northern BC. In late January of this year Horgan announced his call for one last final, final, definitely final review of Site C by the BC Utilities Commission and then,reluctantly, admitted construction had already progressed beyond a point of no return and could not now be justifiably abandoned. Site C would proceed.

Weaver, who was at one time in favour of Site C as a clean energy project, shifted to the opposition as environmental protests grew. He became an objector and remains an objector, unhappy with Horgan’s decision but not unhappy enough to withdraw the support that keeps the NDP in power.

Both leaders now face much tougher decisions on Kinder Morgan, encouraged by thousands of environmental voices chanting their opposition – some vowing to lie down in front of bulldozers if construction ever begins, others boasting they are ready to go to jail for their cause.

But the masses forming to protest and the leaders jockeying for position to lead them, have a major problem. The federal government through Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has approved the pipeline. Premier Notley has repeatedly reminded Horgan, and his Green echo finder, of this constitutional fact – on issues like this Canada’s national rights take precedence.

Readers with good memories may recall my August 19, 2017 blog in which I wrote on this same subject: “When Canada became a country 150 years ago, our First Prime Minister John A. Macdonald told new Dominion of Canada statesmen: ‘Let us be English or let us be French – and above all else – let us be Canadian’”.

Not too many years ago, the people of Quebec wooed by many of their leading politicians were asked to make a decision on whether they wanted to remain Canadians or leave Confederation. The Quebecers proved to be Canadians first; our Confederation rejoiced.

Premier Horgan has said his aim is to get the best pipeline deal he can for British Columbia. That is an objective to be praised and supported as long he remembers, as should we all, to ‘above all else’ be Canadians.

Prime Minister Trudeau has said the approval of the project was the best option for all Canadians. “This is a decision based on rigorous debate, on science and evidence. We have not been and will not be swayed by political argument, be they local, or regional or national,” he said. “We have made this decision because we are convinced it is safe for BC, and it is the right one for Canada.”

Last Saturday, February 17, Premier Horgan announced his government would seek leave to appeal a National Energy Board (NEB) made December 7,2017, to allow construction work to commence at the Burnaby pipeline terminal.

If the appeal is granted construction will be delayed. If it is denied Premier Horgan’s always shaky supportive alliance with the Greens will collapse and BC voters will be back to the polls for a first election with taxpayers picking up the tab.

What taxpayer happiness to be able to look on a forest of election signs and slogans and know we paid for them.

Our Thanks Are Not Enough

I never knew Dave Barrett well. Better than most by the nature of my work as a political columnist I suppose, but never in the trusted friends group where ideals and beliefs are shared.

Over the years our conversations were many, but often not on politics. Our relationship was friendly with the exception of one or two pyrotechnic spectaculars. As I mentioned, we were not friends in the deepest sense of the word, but we were friends enough for me to feel saddened at the news of his death and guilty that I had made no attempt to contact him in the past two years.

It is an old failing of mine, leaving it too late to make a phone call or write a note to let someone know they were well remembered. In the case of Dave Barrett, for whom I always had great respect, I genuinely missed our brief if sometimes brittle exchanges and said a hundred times “I’ll write tomorrow” but never did.

Many of our conversations began as questions asked a politician by a newspaper columnist, but quickly drifted sideways to more important things. That’s the way it was one April morning in 1973 when I visited his newly acquired Premier’s Office to ask him about his latest appointment of a stalwart member of the NDP to a well paid staff job.

He gave me the Barrett stare across his desk: “Who were you expecting me to appoint – a Social Credit guy or a Liberal?” With the question answered we moved on to family matters. He asked how my sons were doing and I reported that one of them – Andrew, 17, – was languishing in Jubilee Hospital recovering from a serious knee injury acquired during an out-of-bounds rugby tackle a few days earlier.

A rugby player himself, Dave wanted all the details and asked me to convey best wishes. When a few hours later I dropped by Royal Jubilee to do just that, Andrew greeted me with a face-wide grin and “Guess what? I’ve just received a get well note from Premier Barrett!” With a proud flourish he produced a hand-written note expressing regret for the injury and wishing Andrew a full and speedy recovery. It also included a few cheeky references only another rugby player would appreciate. The note which immediately banished all teenage depression, had been delivered by hand within minutes of my leaving the Premier’s Office.

I mention this because it was typical Dave Barrett. He recognized a need and instinctively knew he could do something about it, and he did. He acted on his good intentions.

At times over the next three years, he sometimes acted too precipitately on larger issues and it cost him and his party dearly at the polls. In a little less than three years, the Barrett administration approved 357 bills and in the wave of sympathy following his death on February 2, a stranger to our shores could be forgiven for thinking Dave deserved recognition for them all. He would have been the first to point out that although he led the NDP to victory in August 1972, he had some highly talented foot soldiers in the ranks.

There are several versions of what happened when he called his first cabinet meeting – including one which has him sliding down the long, polished, conference table to its head. It is not the story Dave told me when, years ago, I asked him how that first meeting went.

“Í got everybody sitting down and said ‘okay, what the hell do we do now?’…and Ernie Hall (MLA for Surrey and newly sworn Provincial Secretary) boomed out ‘we prepare an agenda.’ And we did.”

There was an impressive array of political talent around the table despite being devoid of “governing” experience … Eileen Dailly, Bob Strachan, Leo Nimsick, Dave Stupich, Dennis Cocke, Colin Gabelmann, Bill King, Harold Steves, Rosemary Brown, Norm Levi, Gary Lauk, Alex Macdonald, Bob Williams, Phyllis Young to name a few of the better known.

Of that group, seven were (my choices) super star cabinet ministers – Dailly, education; Cocke, health; Stupich, agriculture; King, labour; Levi, social services; MacDonald, attorney general; and Bob Williams, lands and forests. They were the first string, the core of the Barrett team who moved with the highest ideals, but sometimes too far and too fast. King, Cocke and Williams would have stood tall in any cabinet.

They achieved much and Dave Barrett led them with courage and high ideal – if not always wisely. We still owe him, as we owe his widow Shirley for the years she and their children encouraged and supported his service to “the people.” They walked with him through the darkness of Alzheimer’s to his final rest in what Christina Rossetti describes as “the silence more musical than any song.”

Our thanks are not enough.

Hurry-Up Learning Curve For New Liberal Leader

Some neat juggling pending down Belleville Street way as members of our Legislative Assembly challenge our street entertainers with well-rehearsed appeals for the public’s attention.

A key performance is scheduled for Tuesday, February 13, when all but one member of the Assembly will gather for the Speech from the Throne. In the principal speaking role there will be a Lieutenant Governor, if we have one available, or an approved Supreme Court Justice to stand in and read a script prepared by Premier John Horgan and his cabinet … hopefully whipped into understandable English by a team of obedient scribes.

Sometimes “the Speech” is short, but more often it’s long with a multitude of platitudes plastering together a string of hopes and aspirations that may be realized in the coming months. Then, on February 20, Finance Minister Carole James will introduce the 2018-19 provincial budget and many of the undertakings in the Throne Speech will re-emerge as firm plans with the money available to make dreams reality.

Did I write a few lines back “all but one member” should be on hand for the Throne Speech? That would be the “empty chair and desk” being held in readiness for the winner of the Kelowna West byelection scheduled for Feb. 14 – which just happens to be Valentine’s Day.

Coming one day after the Throne Speech, the byelection date is potentially a good choice for a government with such an extremely slender hold on life as our New Democrats. In Kelowna West on Feb. 13, NDP candidate Shelley Cook will be able unload a full government basket of hope and promise just hours before the polls open the 14th. That said, she’s going to need a rocket-blast finale if she is to break long-held Liberal ownership of the riding. Kelowna West, which includes downtown Kelowna, has gone through several name changes over the years, but has never wavered provincially from solid right-wing politics.

The Liberal candidate on Valentine’s Day will be Ben Stewart. He won the seat for the Liberals in 2009 defeating his closest NDP rival by 5,000 votes. Stewart won the seat again in 2013 with an even larger majority, but resigned to allow then Premier Christy Clark, who had been defeated in her own riding of Vancouver Point Grey, to take a second crack in “safe” Kelowna West and retain her premiership.

In the 2013 byelection Clark outstripped the NDP challenger by an even larger majority with 62.66 per cent of the vote. She won handily again in the general election in 2017, but lost the right to form a new government. The final seat count in 2017 was Liberal 43; NDP 41; Green Party 3; with the three Greens voting to align themselves with the NDP to form the present government. Following that decision, Clark resigned from politics.

There are five candidates vying for the Kelowna West seat: Mark Thompson, Conservative; Robert Stupka, Green; Kyle Geronazzo, Libertarian; Shelley Cook, NDP and Ben Stewart, Liberal.

With three wins under his belt and still highly popular, Stewart remains the favourite, but this could be his toughest contest. Liberal leadership candidates seeking to replace Clark resorted to harsh personal criticisms in the recently concluded campaign. In public debates, they demonstrated more dissension in the ranks than eve of byelection unity. They haven’t left Stewart much to boast about.

NDP stalwart Cook had it rough last year facing veteran campaigner Christy Clark. Again this time, she has a veteran campaign winner to beat, albeit a Liberal without a leader until mere days before the vote. Not much time to end the leadership campaign disarray in Liberal ranks and present a polished, united front to Kelowna West voters.

Snipping at Ben Stewart’s heels for the right of centre vote will be Conservative Mark Thompson. He isn’t expected to win or even be close to the winner’s circle, but any votes he does scavenge will come from the Liberals, not the NDP’s Cook with her basketful of Valentine’s Day chocolate coated pledges.

We shall have to wait and see if newly elected Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson can find time to forget last Saturday’s leadership victory cheers and hurtle up to the Okanagan to keep Kelowna West a Liberal stronghold. He has nine days to solidify Ben Stewart’s bid to hold the seat, get ready for his first session as leader of the Opposition and start to prepare himself and his party for a general election call which could come at any time.