Month: May 2019

Fondness for Power and Calibrating Justice

They promised transparency in 2016 when the New Democrats gained a fragile mandate in British Columbia after the once-floundering Green Party won three seats and pledged to support the NDP in the Legislature. It turned another general election defeat for “the left” into a one-seat majority victory.

Premier John Horgan and his round table of newly appointed cabinet ministers pledged transparency and clear-cut decision making. No more flamboyant promises with hidden or deceptive meanings. No more double entendres. Just the facts. Precise, clearly spoken or written, easily understood. All the facts. Nothing buried accidentally or deliberately.

And then last Sunday (May 26) my local newspaper, The Times-Colonist, published a report on events leading to Dulcie McCallum’s final days (1992-99) as Ombudsman of BC.

I am leaving readers to find their own way to McCallum’s version of “transparency, 1999; the dark glass version” (Comments, Page A11, May 26, 2019) while I ferret from the same article her thoughts on the more recent report of former Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin on the recent eruptive events at the Legislature.

McCallum does not question McLachlin’s findings or recommendations. She just notes that “when the McLachlin review was announced, Government House Leader Mike Farnworth said the report would be made public … But when the report was completed, government reneged … parts of the report had been redacted.”

It’s what they call “transparency through a glass darkly.”

McCallum, who now resides in Nova Scotia, writes: “After the McLachlin report was completed, the government tabled a motion in the legislature (which was passed) to seal all of the evidence submitted during her review and released a redacted report. The motion to seal the evidence may be justifiable, but not the redactions … British Columbians are entitled to see the complete report.”

She then tosses in a phrase that intrigues and demands sharper focus. The italics in the quote are mine, and so is the guess at what she meant. “Government did the right thing in taking this matter seriously with the appointment of the former chief justice. But fondness for power sometimes has a funny way of calibrating justice. Government has to finish the job by doing what’s fair and just: Release the full report.”

“Fondness for power?” Was that what McLachlin was suggesting when, in her report, she was critical of Speaker Darryl Plecas? She wrote: “It is not entirely clear why the Speaker did not bring his concerns to the attention of the clerk and sergeant at arms forthwith, as one would expect of a supervising officer, or in any event before taking the dramatic action of having them publicly expelled from the Legislative Assembly building.”

Plecas,sounding as bellicose as Donald Trump, has responded that he would have done nothing differently and Premier Horgan has refused to consider a Liberal call to replace the Speaker.”We have a Speaker,” he said during the latest flare up over Plecas’s conduct. “Darryl Plecas is the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly and he will be until such time as he decides not to be.”

Could that be a case of a fondness for power being a funny way to calibrate justice? Just asking.

McLachlin was not as supportive in her report: “What emerges from the evidence is that the Speaker viewed the matters that concerned him through the lens of a police investigation and criminal prosecution rather than the lens of an administrator. He seems to have seen his task as having to build a credible criminal-type case … rather than promptly confronting and correcting the administrative practices that he questioned. He focused on an investigatory line of inquiry at the expense of his duty to ensure that the affairs of the Legislative Assembly were properly administered on a current basis.”

Will the Legislative Assembly, the only “boss” the Speaker has, understand the warning McLachlin appears to voice when she reminds Speaker Plecas that he is where he is to “promptly confront and correct questionable administrative practices” not act as investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury.

His/her Standing Order 9, first rule is clear:”The Speaker shall preserve order and decorum.” Without them even a Premier protected Speaker becomes as “sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.”‘

And, may all politicians, whichever flag they follow, one day come to understand that voters can be trusted with fully transparent reports and revelations. We’re not really dumb come election time. We can even remember your names and the promises you could and should have kept.

A CLOUD OF GOLDEN ????’s

Well, we had hardly finished British Columbia’s annual flower count when “thank you” notes from Ottawa started arriving.

We don’t get many of those out here in the golden west; not even when we send bunches of freshly picked daffodils to friends and families still locked in ice and snow. Sometimes, especially from old friends or loving family members, the thanks are strangely expressed in photos of a single finger threateningly extended.

This year, on the day the capital city Victoria celebrated the old Queen’s birthday, a chap from Ottawa, Marc Miller, flew into town and handed us a cheque for $15.3 million. Mr. Miller was introduced as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.

He said the money came from the Disaster Mitigation and Adaption Fund and would be used to update, replace and refurbish water, sanitary sewer and storm drain collection systems. With existing systems up to 100 years old and climate change and global warming in these parts accelerating at twice the speed of the global average, there is an urgency to the project.

Mr. Miller never did say how Crown-Indigenous Relations came to be supervising the hand-out. But, wait for a few more paragraphs before rushing to judgment because on the day Mr. Miller handed over the $15.3 million, Tourism Minister Melanie Joly was in Montreal announcing a cash transfer of $58.5 million to help Canada programs designed “to boost international visits to Canada during non-peak seasons.”

We haven’t seen this amount of “gold” flashed around in these parts since the great gold rush when Victoria was the main city of supply for the dreams of Klondike.

And, hey, pay attention. That crazy early spring flower count with millions of golden daffs crowding eastern flower shops is reasonably solid evidence that BC, from Whistler to the gardens of Vancouver Island – amateur and professional – will have claim to funding from the $58.5 million funds.

Then, there was another bonanza confirming the arrival of the handout season. This one from the man himself – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – announcing an $11.7 billion (yes, it’s a “B”) to build a brand-new Coast Guard fleet. That will see 18 ships built at Seaspan, Vancouver, and Irving Shipbuilding, Halifax.

Time now for full confession on Victoria’s flower count and its influence on monetary decisions in Ottawa, which is – none. So what else could spark the sudden generous, money launch?

Simple. There’s an election due in October, and they’ve just brought out the honey wagon a little earlier than usual. Expect more in the coming weeks as the government disperses all the sweets it can while the opposition cries foul and responds with promises it can’t keep.

Two things to remember as we dream on summer beaches of National Government philanthropy. (1): the only money government has is money donated with heavy complaint by the people. It now, to stay in power, offers back bundles of cash we once owned.

And (2) we politely say “thank you” as we recall one of the few President Ronald Reagan quotes that deserve replaying when politics are front and centre as they are now until October: “Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.”

Far, Fast and Tiring

Just a note to explain to faithful readers that I’m taking a bit of a weekend off after two days travel to spend one day visiting family on the south-east border of British Columbia.

A small town named Kaslo to be precise. You can have fun finding it on a map, not far from Nelson and nestled in the mountains surrounding Kootenay Lake. A tidy, well groomed, well cared for community. Clean, wide streets, bright store fronts as inviting and as friendly as their staff.

The Kootenay Hume’s occupy a chunk of land a walkable distance from town – a generational family with first names of Nathan,his wife Ashley and their two sons Joseph,5, and Micah,3. and a patriarchal elder,my second son Timothy, cooperatively tend a small flock of sheep,three or four horses, a multitude of chickens, four Yaks, and enough pigeons to provide pleasant background murmurings on a sunny day.

I’ll take you there as readers some day, but not this weekend as I just gently re-adjust my aging body (and mind) from sweeping views of highways wide and narrow, endless streams from small to large; streams that tumble down mountainsides sides and go roaring off through canyons till they reach calmer, wider rivers and feed into the multitude of lakes.

From where I live in Victoria it’s a one hour and forty minute ferry ride to the BC Mainland. And from there to Kaslo it’s an eight or nine hour drive, depending the number of stops required for fuel and food, and the requisite stops nature demands.

With two sons, Mark and Andrew sharing the driving we took a little over eight hours outward bound last Wednesday, a shade less coming home on Thursday after a day on the farm.

The only reason I’m checking in is because I haven’t missed a weekend chat since I stated blogging in March 2016. And I’m not yet ready to break that pattern.

On a precautionary departure note. My copy is usually fact-checked and improved by two seasoned editors who kindly protect me from self inflicted wounds. This weekend it arrives unedited. Scary..

A Win For Apathetic Voters

It might be a good idea if the Green Party of Canada muted their victory trumpets slightly until October when a parliamentary seat won will have real significance.

The Green seat won in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection on May 5 rates a feeling of optimism, but no more. It’s like being ahead by a couple of goals at half time; it’s a nice, confident feeling but there’s still 45 minutes to play.

I am not raining on the Green parade. Out-playing the always powerful New Democrats in one of its strongholds is great. But you only get to keep this by-election trophy seat for six months – and the goals scored in the first go-round don’t count in the general election finals scheduled for October as (dreadful thought) the leaves begin to turn.

While the Greens earned the right to sip victory toasts, a few among them took time for a more sobering look at the numbers which tell cautionary tales for winners and loser, for political activists and our “don’t give a damn” citizens.

In the 2015 general election, Paul Manly attracted 14,074 votes for the Greens but was defeated by New Democrat Sheila Malcolmson with 23,651. Malcolmson resigned her federal seat and won a January 2019 byelection to succeed Leonard Krog as MLA for Nanaimo. 

On May 5, Manly increased his vote to a shade over 15,000, and Bob Chamberlin carrying the NDP flag crashed to 9,392. Among the 2015 general election “also ran” Liberals and Conservatives were close, with 16,753 and 16,637 respectively. On May 5, John Hirst, Conservative, slipped to 10,093 while Liberal Michelle Corfield flamed out with 4,478.

The only columns with no surprises were those recording eligible and actual voters. In 2015 some 95,200 were registered to vote, but only 71,399 bothered. On May 5, the registered voters’ list had grown to 99,413; those who bothered dropped to 40,711 or just over 40 per cent.

Such staggering indifference to the right and privilege of participating in a free and secret vote should be more than enough to stifle any rejoicing by a person or party ignored by 60 per cent of the electorate. In fact, it could be argued that the main reason for the Green victory was voter apathy.

Maybe the “second half” to be played out in October will give the Greens a stronger claim that they are surfing a durable wave of popularity, rather than the strength they are now claiming from a byelection ripple. Maybe they will be able to persuade the thousands of New Democrats who failed to vote in Nanaimo a few days ago to vote Green in the fall and justify triumphant trumpeting.

But it’s far more likely that many Canadian voters will stay home on voting day this October and contribute nothing to the vital process of electing a government. In that event any trumpet playing should be as a mournful dirge for the democracy we don’t really care about. Sad, but honest.

(Comprehensive election statistics can be found on Elections Canada and Wikipedia.)

“Great Men Are Not Always Wise”

A few murmurs of sympathy, please, for my old mother country, England. I left her fond embrace back in 1948 when she was a badly beaten-up survivor of WW2 and young families like mine were looking for brighter horizons.

I – we, the family – chose Canada and have never regretted the choice although we still watch the fortunes of the homeland, taking pride in her all too rare triumphs and lamenting the old lady’s sorrows when she takes a beating in sports or, worse, in politics.

Recently, it has been in the realm of politics that I’ve been close to looking for my old black armband to wear in mourning for the mess Britannia’s got herself into. Adding to a general feeling of deep pessimism watching England’s chaotic Brexit departure from the European Union is the depressing sight of the man Prime Minister Theresa May appears to be turning to for the toss of a lifebelt.

Call me a pessimist, but I see nothing but evil looming on the horizon with President Donald Trump poised to perhaps take up an invitation from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to drop by Buckingham Palace for a royal welcome and a state dinner between June 3 and 5.

Defenders of all things royal will claim that such invitations from the Queen are usually in response to a request from her government to please pull out all the stops and blow all the whistles to welcome the head of a foreign country whose help England may need in the near future.

That would help with the immediate loss of European markets when England’s ugly Brexit divorce is finalized, and she turns to the USA to pick up the market slack. It should be remembered that President Trump is not an overly enthusiastic fan of the USA trade deal with Canada and Mexico, a deal he continually laments as detrimental to the USA.

Didn’t President Trump make a brief trip to the UK last July and get more or less booed out of London? Yes, indeed. He had a 100,000-strong protest crowd following wherever he went – even to his golf club in Scotland. It was not a measurable success – and it wasn’t even a state visit, more of a social call for tea with the Queen with an inspection of her Household Guard thrown in so the Americans could appreciate a military display at its best.

That earlier visit did have revised dates. Maybe this one will too, although it has enough promised glitter to entice a president who likes to think of himself as royalty and will love and envy the genuine trappings of historic royals. But June 3 is a long way off, and Trump’s reception prospects are darkening.

Nick Deardon, the man who organized the 100,000-strong protest last year, is already forecasting an even larger protest. Last year, they had a small Trump look-alike balloon floating over the protesters. This coming June, they promise to have two more, even larger balloons to match Deardon’s larger crowd.

“It is up to us to say Trump is not welcome,” says Deardon. “We want to make his visit as unpleasant as possible. We are going for maximum disruption.”

A year ago, in addition to the street protest, Deardon collected two million signatures on a protest petition. Parliament refused to accept it. This year, some of the parliament’s most influential members have made it painfully clear President Trump is not welcome.

John Bercow, Speaker to the House of Commons, has declined an invitation to the state dinner and says that, as speaker, he will deny Trump the traditional permission to address parliament. He has, in turn, been criticized for “being disrespectful” to the leader of a friendly ally.

Jeremy Corbin, leader of the Labour Party Opposition, has also declined the invitation to Trump’s state functions: “We should not honour a president who uses racist and misogynist rhetoric. (And), Theresa May should not be rolling out the red carpet for a state visit to honour a president who rips up vital international treaties (and) backs climate change denial …”

Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats, has also declined state visit invitations but has remained silent about his reasons.

Any forecast on how things might go if Trump (a) decides to rub shoulders with genuine royals and promise England a few hefty trade deals to ease the cost of Brexit; or (b) decides to skip London and go directly to France and the 75th anniversary of D-Day?

Not really. Regardless of the outcome of the Trump state visit invitation, Brexit’s a mess, and the road ahead for England appears extraordinarily rough and a grim reminder that “great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment …” (Job 32 v8), especially in matters political.