Month: February 2020

“40 Years On When Far And Asunder Parted Are Those…”

There’s an old school song that still echoes throughout the ivy-clad halls of England’s grammar schools on graduation day as it has since 1872 when Edward Ernest Bowen and John Farmer launched their tribute to treasured memories – and their challenge to conscience.

“Forty years on, when afar and asunder /Parted are those who are singing today, /When you look back and forgetfully wonder, /What you were like in your work and your play, /Then it may be there will often come ‘o’er you, /Glimpses of notes like the catch of a song, /Visions from boyhood shall float them before you /Echoes of dreamland shall bear them along.”

It shouldn’t be necessary to note that in 1872 grammar schools were for males only and to guess that today, when students lift their graduating and blended male-female voices, “boyhood” gently morphs to “childhood.” But, it is incumbent these days for ancient males to note, accept, and approve the change. 

The message doesn’t change. We all look back, or should, to remember how we thought in our high school or first year college or university years. So sure of ourselves. So clear in our thinking. So certain of our cause. So amazed that our parents could have survived so long with such limited understanding of real life. And, adults in general? Hah! Best not talked about.

The old song suggests that as we grew older, our remembrances of youth would be replayed as “glimpses of notes … visions … echoes” of triumphs, with victories in sport best recalled. And, in today’s world, often best rewarded. An Irish school teacher – Edward Ernest Bowen – wrote the lyrics for “Forty Years On,” and it was quickly adopted as the school song of Harrow where he taught.

He wrote about victory and losses, “rushes and rallies” of intense struggles of “strife without anger”; of “loving an ally (team-mate) with the heart of a brother” while hating “the foe with playing at hate.” And rugby was obviously his game.

Still today, when the final game whistle blows, the opposing teams shake hands, head for a shower and regroup for a beer, a bite to eat and to replay a few highlights from the intense rivalry of the game just left on the field. And 40 years later if the same players met at a reunion the conversation would continue unbroken by the years.

Lyric writer Bowen, true to his Irish spirit, wrote a final verse to sum up Harrow School thinking of what lay ahead for its graduates:

“Forty years on, growing older and older. /Shorter in wind, as in memory long, /Feeble of foot and rheumatic of shoulder, /What will it help that once you were strong? /God give us bases to guard or beleaguer, /Games to play out whether earnest or fun; /Fights for the fearless, and goals for the eager,/ Twenty and thirty and forty years on.”

It is a verse that gets me wondering how much my beliefs in so many things have changed over the decades. And, I wonder about the many young people I see marching and waving picket signs and protesting and demanding solution to a Wet’suwet’en tribal problem even the Wet’suwet’en elders seem to have difficulty solving.

In the crowd are some bright white faces, and some not so bright, but all apparently convinced that it is okay for them to dictate to a duly elected provincial government what immediate action it should be taking. As I quoted a week ago: “A tyranny of a minority.”

Thinking students shouldn’t need 40 years to figure it out, or 30 or even 10 days – but they will I hope change in thinking and in attitude as time rolls by. Maybe not as brilliantly as one of Harrow school’s most famous but mediocre students, Sir Winston Churchill, who survived his early years much to the consternation of some early teachers.

On November 28, 1964, Harrow marked the 90th birthday of Sir Winston by adding a tribute to the original. Not as glorious in language as the old man when his war time oratory held the free world together – but good enough to bring a smile and straitening of shoulders to those who remembered.

“Blazoned in Honour ! For each generation/You kindled courage to stand and to stay,/You led our fathers to fight for the nation,/ Called ‘Follow up’ and yourself showed the way./We who were born in the calm after thunder/Cherish our freedom to think and to do;/ If in our turn we forgetfully wonder,/Yet we’ll remember we owe it to you.”

“A Tyranny of Minorities”

It was described as the time in British Columbia when a “tyranny of the minorities” shook the foundations of traditional government in Canada’s golden west.

It was 1983. In charge was Premier Bill Bennett, the son of W.A.C. Bennett, who had held the premiership for 20 years before his defeat in the election of 1972 by the NDP’s Dave Barrett.

These were not happy times for Premier Bennett as the world began to shiver in the first months of the great recession of the 1980s. He had defeated Barrett in 1975, but only by a narrow five seat (31-26) margin. That victory, great though it had been for Bennett, the younger, was losing its roseate hue in the spring of ‘83 as world markets trembled, and provincial governments across Canada became targets for blame.

On April 7th, the premier had called a general election to be held May 5th and the only happy campers at the time were New Democrats who were delighted to fan flames fueled by ever-tightening government spending. To Premier Bennett’s credit, he didn’t waver from the central plank in his re-election platform: “Restraint.”

But, the people seemed to be resisting. A new movement took shape, borrowing its name from the famed Polish Solidarity movement that drove Moscow-dominated Communism from Poland and eventually picked dockyard worker Lech Walesa to lead the nation.

At its peak, BC’s Solidarity movement could organize protests numbering a dozen or so people in a village hall to a claimed record of 60,000 plus in Vancouver. There were mass protests all over the province. One with 45,000 protesters marching in a never-ending circle around the Hotel Vancouver where the ruling Social Credit Party was meeting in convention; another in Victoria with 6,000 rallying at Victoria’s old Memorial Arena plus a crowd of 20,000 to 40,000 – depending on who was counting – at the Legislature.

Talk on the hustings before voting day had convinced Dave Barrett there was a block of support to be garnered from voters who were convinced Bennett was being unduly harsh in his restraint measures and his promise for more of the same if he were re-elected.

With a couple of weeks to go before voting day, Barrett announced that, if elected, he would cancel Bennett’s restraint program and re-open the purse strings to restore rich spending. Much later, he would admit that his promise to end restraint was not his wisest political decision. For sure it was premature although Solidarity didn’t hit full stride until after Bennett’s new government took office and Finance Minister Hugh Curtis revealed the new, very lean, budget – and on the same day 26 major pieces of restraint legislation were introduced and given first reading.

I have been reminded of those tumultuous days recently, although recent protests at the Legislature and other government offices and outlets have been tame when compared with Solidarity and its coalition of trade unions. The objectives of both are similar: They object to the way government is handling various problems and want changes made to accommodate their agenda.

In September 1983, The Vancouver Sun – a voice commanding attention in those days – described the Solidarity movement as “Premier Bennett’s ‘tyranny of the minorities … a coalition of unions … an alliance of community groups … headed by an administrative committee … (also) a 30-man steering committee and 49 coalition associations across BC. The difficulty of keeping Solidarity’s parts together is exacerbated by its schizophrenic political personality …”

I have no idea how or who organized the more recent motley crew of protesters blocking doorways and preventing government workers from servicing taxpayers, and I doubt if they could tell me if I asked. But I think they qualify for inclusion in The Sun’s 1983 definition of “tyrants among minorities”.

All they demonstrate to me when I watch their vacant shouting on TV is that they are not yet ready to govern. And it could be some time before they are.

(Readers seeking fascinating details of the historical midnight meeting at the Bennett ranch will find 235 pages of them in the book: “Bill Bennett – A Mandarin’s View by Bob Plecas ” who, to save a question, is not related to Legislature Speaker Plecas.

Challenging The Protected Rights of Parliament

A short time ago, the United Nations published its long-awaited Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). It confirms some established beliefs, clarifies the language dealing with others and sharpens the focus on problems demanding resolution before a true armistice can be reached between Indigenous natives and the descendants of white immigrants who simply, by force of numbers, took over most of their land.

The new charter confirms Indigenous claims to land title.

UNDRIP Article 26 states:

“1. Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right to the lands, territories, and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.

“2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those they have otherwise acquired.

“3. States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands and territories. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the Indigenous people concerned.”

(Remember this is a United Nations declaration for the world, not just Canada.)

Premier John Horgan was quick to sign the agreement and pledge allegiance to the resolution on behalf of Canada’s West Coast province. It was, he felt, a progressive blueprint for ongoing and continuing negotiations; one Premier Horgan was confident held great co-operative promise.

It was progress, slower than many wished but a good basic road map for the future.

Yet, within weeks of that welcome news, Premier Horgan was in the buzz-saw path of a boisterous, raucous protest on the steps of the Legislature where rent-a-crowd young faces jammed doorways and denied access to MLAs, government employees, and the public.

Later in the day, there would be claims of bullying by local police as they tried to clear paths for MLAs seeking entrance to the Chamber in time for the Lieutenant Governor’s traditional Throne Speech address. TV cameras sweeping the crowd failed to pick up anything more fierce than angry faces and shouts of people being moved with a lift and shove from a doorway blocking position.

I wonder how many of the protesters were aware of how close they were to being arrested on serious charges of being in contempt of the Legislature? Section 5 (a) of the Legislative Assembly Privilege Act states the Assembly has the rights and privileges of a court of record “to summarily inquire into and punish … assaults, insults to or libels on members … during a session of the Legislature and 20 days before or after it.”

Further, 5 (b) says we can protest all we want, but never by “obstructing, threatening or attempting to force or intimidate members of the Assembly.” And, 5 (d) adds to that “assaults or interference with officers of the Assembly in the execution of their duty.”

Punishment for violations? Ah, yes. Section 6 states: “For the purpose of this act the Assembly has all the powers and jurisdictions necessary or expedient to enquire into, judge or pronounce on … and carry into execution the punishment provided in this act.”

Detailed punishment is at first vague, then, on reflection, tough enough to calm many a fevered brow.

Section 7 says a person found guilty under a Section 5 offence is liable to imprisonment for a period during the session being held at that time.

Section 8 tidies up the loose ends and makes clear the punishment for breaching this particular parliamentary privilege. If the Assembly “declares a person guilty of contempt for an act, matter or thing mentioned in Section 5 and directs the person to be taken into custody or imprisoned, the Speaker shall issue his warrant to the Sergeant at Arms … or to the warden or keeper of the common jail for the county of Victoria, to take the person into custody and to keep and detain him in accordance with the order of the Assembly.”

For how long? Maybe we’ll find out in the next few weeks if calmer voices fail to at least cool the Indigenous rights problem, and we continue to flirt with anarchy as we are flirting in Victoria this week. It’s certainly looking like a threatening political wildfire with two powerful Indigenous forces – hereditary chiefs versus elected chiefs – poles apart on pipelines and no sign of compromise.

The Legislative Assembly Privilege Act is administered by the office of the Speaker. Section 9 is one short sentence: “The determination of the Legislative Assembly on proceeding under this Act and within the legislative authority of the Province, is final and conclusive.”

Protesters should be careful. They could find storming the office of an MLA the easiest part of their day at the barricades. Getting out to go home could be getting a little tacky.

 

“This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day thou cans’t not then be false to any man”

The morning after being acquitted in a United States Senate impeachment trial, President Donald Trump attended a National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.

The breakfast is traditionally an affair at which Republicans and Democrats check their individual religious beliefs at the door and embrace non-partisan neutrality and tolerance for the beliefs of others.

At least that’s the theory and most of those attending the meeting achieve the highest standards of tolerance and understanding for each other. President Trump isn’t exactly an outstanding attendee, so it is quite possible that he hadn’t been adequately briefed on protocol or if he had been briefed, he had forgotten his instructions – or decided he knew better than his advisers.

Whatever. Peter Bain, covering the event for The New York Times, reported that just moments before the president “took the lectern” he “without naming them, singled out Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was sitting just a few feet away at the head table, and Senator Mitt Romney, the Republican from Utah who had voted to convict him, accusing them of hypocrisy for citing their faith while supporting his impeachment.”

Senator Romney had, in an emotional 10-minute speech on the final day of the Impeachment debate, condemned, as “personal and political,” President Trump’s request that a foreign government – Ukraine – investigate political rival, Joe Biden. Other Republican senators have agreed President Trump’s actions may not have been wise, but they insisted they were not criminal in intent.

Senator Romney insisted Trump’s actions were “a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security and our fundamental values. Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.”

Upsetting the president more than Republican Senator Romney’s support for the Democratic move to have him removed from office was the senator’s confession that his strong beliefs and faith in Christian doctrine were as important and binding as his oath of office.

“As a senator-juror, I swore an oath before God to exercise impartial justice. I am profoundly religious. My faith is at the heart of who I am. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the president, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced. I was not wrong,” Romney said.

If President Trump enjoyed even a whisper of understanding of the power of unshakable faith, he might have arrived at the National Prayer Breakfast the next day in a slightly chastened mood. But he doesn’t chasten easily, or at all.

He arrived for breakfast, waving two newspapers with screaming headlines proclaiming acquittal. Sitting at a table, a few feet from the head table, he rambled loudly enough to be heard and quoted by some reporters: “As everybody knows, my family, our great country and your president have been put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people.”

Speaker Pelosi spoke briefly, but the keynote speaker for the meeting was Harvard professor Arthur Brooks. Times reporter Baker describes his speech as a “passionate plea for Americans to put aside hatred in national life and love your enemies.”

At one point, writes Baker, he asked the audience, “how many of you love someone with whom you disagree?” In response hands around the room shot up and Brooks said I’m going to round that off to 100 percent.”

Baker reported that the professor didn’t seem to notice that “Mr. Trump was among those who didn’t raise their hand, and while the rest of the audience gave Brooks a standing ovation, President Trump clapped politely but remained seated.”

And thereby restated his personal and arrogantly held belief that Shakespeare got it wrong.