Month: October 2019

On Being Better Than We Were

Let us be thankful for small mercies as we contemplate our post-election shambles and try to find a way to run our country without a clear mandate from the electorate.

In a way, simple decisions should guide us through the first murky weeks.

Before the final count was in, the incumbent Liberal Party was forecast the winner in the race for seats – but only just. It would be by too small a margin to guarantee the Liberals’ ability to govern without help from other MPs.

Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is well aware he must find ways to survive the trench warfare western parliaments face in a minority situation; so was another young politician, a federal election rookie new to his leadership role of the New Democratic Party.

His name is Jagmeet Singh. After a slow start, he soon commanded attention with meticulously argued policies delivered without rhetorical “to the barricades” bravado.

And, he was on target once a Liberal victory was assured recognizing the need for his party’s life-sustaining assistance any time a serious vote is called in the House of Commons.

Jagmeet Singh and the NDP have a few ideas. They know the Liberals favour a national Pharmacare program, a national affordable housing program, and half a dozen other “people programs” as part of their undertakings on the hustings.

Singh didn’t attack the Liberal promises or suggest they were stolen. He said he felt there was much support for such programs, and that he and the PM could talk about NDP support to enable a minority government to bring overdue programs to the people.

Whether the Liberals accept the NDP support and live long and prosper remains to be seen, but it would not be precedent setting. CCF/NDP leader Tommy Douglas and Liberal PM Lester B. Pearson worked hard to make health care a national priority.

There is no reason why the new kids on the block can’t match that success with Pharmacare and affordable housing.  It’s the way a democracy should work, but rarely does because blind loyalty to party or personal aggrandizement conquers reason.

Shakespeare once defined a politician as “one that would circumvent God,” and in our time of watching the political wheel turn, the great wordsmith has proved himself right.

It will not be as easy to bring “reason” to the debate with Alberta and Saskatchewan, two provinces with legitimate claims that they have been poorly treated by Ottawa. But, solution is possible if both sides can shelve whatever “leverage” they might have in favour of mutual advantage.

Hope springs eternal. I’m hoping the arrival of Jagmeet Singh – ready to listen and articulate support for what he and his party believe – is good for the nation and will lead us into better parliamentary times.

I’ll give way again to Shakespeare with a final line from Hamlet: “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.” But we should never stop hoping that what we may be will be better than what we are.

When Tomorrow Comes Too Soon

I hadn’t talked to Gillian Trumper for several years when I heard that she had died on Friday, Oct. 11th, and I was shamed and without excuse.

On countless occasions, I had reminded myself to give her a call “tomorrow.” Always tomorrow. Always. Never today, and ultimately, too late.

It wasn’t that we were great old friends. Just friends bonded by politics and journalism. We crossed paths via Alberni Valley connections where she served on the school board, and as a city council member, as Mayor, and for one term, as MLA. In fact, there were not many locally known committees or commissions Gillian Trump didn’t sit on and serve well.

Whether as the local coroner in a relatively small community where local tragedies quickly became family affairs or exchanging ideas with members of the Federal Advisory Council to the Law Commission of Canada, or chairing an Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District meeting, she made her mark.

There were half-a-dozen other local boards to which she took her personal brand of common sense and goodwill. A gracious lady, tough when she needed to be but high in the possession of the qualities writer Rudyard Kipling once said were required by people who would always stand tall among their fellow citizens.

Actually, when Kipling wrote his famous “IF” poem, he had men only in mind. His last line in the epic poem is “and what is more (if you acquire the attributes I recommend), you’ll be a man my son.” Were he still alive today I’m sure he would have heard from Gillian and others in the growing army of women who could firmly claim membership on his list of people, not just men, who could “keep their head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you … Or being lied about don’t deal in lies … Or being hated don’t give way to hating, and yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise … If you can dream and not make dreams your master; if you can think – and not make thoughts your aim.”

An imposing list that could be intimidating for many, but not to Gillian Trumper. She was always able to walk with crowds and keep her virtue; to talk with Kings but not lose the common touch.

She acquired most of those qualifications from a strong family life in her youth and the added strength of family built with husband Michael and their four children – Owen, Michael, Carolyn and Trish. If the family had an objective rule for problem-solving, it involved heavy doses of common sense. Just common sense quietly spoken, always recommended, never commanded. And mostly with a genuine, face-filled smile.

Already honoured years ago – named Citizen of the Year and granted the rare distinction of being granted Freedom of the City of Port Alberni, there is talk of a more permanent memorial to this lady of quality. I’m sure the suggestion list will be long. Maybe it could include a quiet corner of a smaller, easy-to-reach park where future generations could sit and remember where on Friday, October 11, 2019, in her 83rd year, a remarkable daughter, wife, mother, counsellor, lady, Gillian Trumper, found what poet Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) simply entitled – REST.

The travelling, the talking of problems and their solutions, is over. The last enemy can no longer pain or threaten. She rests now as Rossetti wrote:

“…..with stillness that is almost Paradise.

Darkness more clear than noonday holdeth her,

Silence more musical than any song;

Even her very heart has ceased to stir:

Until the morning of Eternity

Her rest shall not begin nor end, but be;

And when she wakes she will not think it long.”

And if this small tribute to a friend has prompted you to remember a phone call you should be making or quick note you should be writing – you’d better get on with it. Tomorrow could be too late.

Debate? They Were Joking

A lot of people are asking me what I thought of the televised debate a few nights back. They seemed surprised when I replied I didn’t see or hear the debate although I had tuned to the channel it was supposed to be on. Couldn’t find a debate, though. Just a bunch of guys and a lady trying to talk over each other’s heads and five TV professionals who had obviously spent more time making sure they looked good on camera than they had on preparing to question would-be prime ministers on their political intent.

Anyone interested in Canada’s role in finding solutions to major national problems while assisting the rest of the world to live in peace and harmony internationally must have been profoundly disappointed with the chattering babble the cream of this year’s crop of nation savers had to offer.

Other questions asked by friends, even total strangers, are “who do you think is going to win the election?” and “who are you voting for?” Strange questions to ask in a society where the way an individual marks a ballot is a carefully guarded secret guaranteeing only I and God know the answer.

In a democracy, we are quite determined about the confidentiality of our vote. From the moment we step into the precinct of a voting station to the moment we leave, we are protected from interference from forces that would bend us to their will.

And yet, there are few among us who have not asked a friend, neighbour, or the person sitting next to us on the bus, how they perceive events on the campaign trail and which party they might favour to win the right to govern. In ambitious conversation mode, we might even venture a thought on how we will be voting thus negating all the efforts to keep our vote secret.

These pre-vote days are particularly hazardous for pundits who are expected to guide but should avoid too strong persuasion. Having discovered long ago the perils of trying to steer readers to sensible choices of candidates and parties, I now avoid the arrogant temptation.

I have told before the story of my disastrous attempt to tell voters how they should vote, but it bears repeating. It involved a fellow named Charles Oliver, son of former BC Premier “Honest” John Oliver, the premier who planted the magnificent Copper Beech tree at the rear of the Legislature.

Charles, or “Charlie” as he was fondly known, was Reeve of Penticton from 1931-35 and Mayor from 1957-61. He was a little eccentric and not above arbitrarily adjourning council meetings if decisions were not going his way. I think it was in the civic election of 1959 that Penticton Herald publisher Grev Rowland and yours truly, editor and wielder of the Herald’s mighty 6,000 daily reader editorial sword, decided the city couldn’t stand another two or three years of Charlie.

On voting day, we ran a thundering front-page editorial about vaudeville being dead and telling readers it was time to end “this sorry circus of civic administration.” Our readers’ response to the imperious command that Charlie be dumped was dramatic. When the final count was in on that lesson-learning night, Charlie Oliver had surpassed his closest rival by a three to one vote margin.

So much for the power of the press.

My scars still itch during election campaigns. The temptation is there not just to tell you to vote but suggest how you should. These days, I just scratch the itch and urge only that you vote in good conscience; thoughtfully, proudly, for a cause or candidate in which you can believe. And if your chosen cause or candidate should fail to grasp the brass ring, take comfort in the fact that when things go wrong in Ottawa – as they surely will on occasion – you will be able to say “now you know why I voted” for another candidate.

There are a few things we can be sure of when we select new governments. Whether we elect a minority government or a majority government, and whatever the political stripe, we shall send to Ottawa a majority of good men and women dedicated to public service.

Think about it. It’s a true and comforting fact. Be proud you’re able to participate. Don’t be too righteous, too angry, or too sure your way is the only way. And remember, you don’t have to tell anyone how you intend to vote – not even those nice, polite pollsters who make a decent living selling your answers.

Turn The Page, But It Won’t Go Away

BC Premier John Horgan dazzled the poli-watchers of the world Thursday with a crisp statement on the latest happening in British Columbia’s long-playing saga involving public servants and public cash.

The “latest” happening at the time of this writing was the decision of Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz to formally resign from his prestigious position because “I no longer believe that I can continue to work for the legislative assembly of British Columbia. After considerable reflection, I have concluded that the damage that has been done to my reputation will never be fully repaired and that if I continued as sergeant-at-arms, I would be doing disservice to my office.”

And as far as Premier Horgan is concerned that little announcement signals “a turning of the page”  – or pages outlining Lenz’s involvement in a messy story of questionable expense accounts.

Time for a deep breath here and a quick remembrance of the events of a few months ago that led to accusations of wrongdoing by highly-placed public servants, the dramatic removal from the Legislature of two – the powerful Clerk of the Assembly Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Lenz. Both were suspended from their duties “with pay.”

It would be fair to say in BC the spring months of 2019 were tumultuous.

Special crown prosecutors were appointed; the RCMP acknowledged it had been asked to take a look. Clerk James, still strongly protesting he had simply followed the rules, resigned as Clerk after former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Beverley McLachlin, reviewed allegations of improperly claimed expenses.

In her opinion, James had wrongfully claimed benefits, but Lenz was cleared of misconduct charges. Lenz continued his suspension with full pay until a few days ago when he said he would finally step aside “with sincere regret … I have carried out my duties for the people of British Columbia with the utmost integrity …”

And Premier Horgan, with what sounded like a sigh of relief, told Canadian Press that with the departure of Lenz, “I absolutely hope that we are turning a page.”

Yes, yes, indeed, and so do we all. But I think we need a little more clarification. Former Chief Justice McLachlin suggested Lenz did not engage in misconduct. Does that mean Premier Horgan would like to hurriedly “turn the page” on Lenz forced from office by unproven charges?

Or does it mean there are other shoes to drop from special prosecutors or the RCMP? Should there be, I think we need to see them quickly now, and to act on them. If there has been misconduct, then let those who engaged in it be now held accountable.

McLachlin’s first opinion that Lenz did not participate in inappropriate spending was based on a report of concerns made by Speaker Darryl Plecas last January.

Premier Horgan told Canadian Press the search for a new clerk of the house is continuing. “This past year has been a cloud over the heads of many, many people who did not deserve that. So, I am hopeful that we can turn the page.”

I’m not sure who the “many, many people” are over whom the black cloud of disgrace has hovered falsely, but if Gary Lenz is one of them and he can prove his lengthy suspension was tantamount to wrongful dismissal – we’ll need a new tax to raise the compensation funds to pay him.

One thing is for sure: Premier Horgan may wish the James-Lenz pages could be turned and lost but the taxpayers would like to see the play to the final curtain.

And I’m sure that with patience, we shall.