Month: October 2020

When Sharks Circle

“There are no true friends in politics. We are all sharks circling and waiting for traces of blood to appear in the water.”

The quote is from maverick British MP Alan Clark, whose death in 1999 at the age of 71 resulted in an obituary mix of high praise in many newspapers for his penetrating wit and outrageous condemnation in others for his less than savoury lifestyle.

I make note of the contrasts as I confess to cherry-picking my opening words from Clark’s “political scold” list of words to remember him by (New York Times, obit). 

For months, we have watched, heard, and read about great white sharks circling in the U.S. political pools. Sometimes we have been amused, at other times, shocked and dismayed at vicious exchanges designed to destroy a life – and/or family – rather than challenge a point of view.

Once in a while, present company included, we lapse into our friendly, warm and comfortable Canadian way of thinking that it couldn’t happen here; great white sharks are not acceptable in our gentler, more benign, political splashing pools.

By and large, we don’t have any really vicious political predators in our country. But, we do have a few smaller ones prowling the provincial pools – ever vigilant for the first trace of a wounded rival politician and a trace of blood in the water.

It is why we are trooping to the polls on October 24th for an election a year earlier than the one unanimously legislated by the current government to take place in October 2021. Premier John Horgan has insisted that the problems created by the COVID-19 pandemic and what he perceived as wavering Green Party support – that has propped up his minority government – made it essential for him to seek a majority mandate.

To be able to adequately fight the pandemic and the financial crisis it was creating, he needed the guaranteed support of a clear majority in the Legislature on every vote involving expenditures.

The premier had some cause for concern. His old buddy – and government sustaining partner – Andrew Weaver had up and quit his Green Party leadership, with “health factors” mentioned as the cause, but never detailed.

Weaver, sitting as an independent until the Legislature prorogued, discomfited old friends with words of support for Horgan and wisps of criticism for the party he once led so enthusiastically.

The BC Greens quickly elected Sonia Furstenau as their new leader in the hope she would have a year to prove herself before being tested in a general election.

Then Premier Horgan struck, falling back on the political instinct that seems to be part of every ambitious politician’s DNA.

Now we wait to see if he enhanced his reputation with his “it was essential” reasoning – or if the electorate prefers more truthful assessments and informs him we don’t approve of sharks in our electoral pool. 

Did Ronald Get It Right?

It was back in the 1970s that then president of the USA Ronald Reagan said: “Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.”

A few days ago, I was reminded of the quote as I watched three politicians engage in open debate ostensibly designed to help voters in BC select a new premier and government on October 24th. The politicians vying for the job were BC Liberal Party leader Andrew Wilkinson, BC Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau, and BC NDP leader John Horgan who retains his title of premier while waiting for the electorate to make a decision on the 24th.

Horgan has been an MLA since 2005, Wilkinson since 2013 and Furstenau a 2017 rookie and new party leader this past month. The NDP and the Greens have been convenient bedfellows since Furstenau’s predecessor Andrew Weaver signed a post-2017 election non-aggression pact with Horgan and the NDP.

In that agreement, the Greens promised to keep the NDP alive on close legislative votes if the Lieutenant Governor accepted the argument that, with the guaranteed support of the Greens, the NDP had a better chance of providing stable government than the Liberals who emerged from the election with a tissue-thin one-seat majority and no expectation it could survive even routine votes.

The Lieutenant Governor agreed; the new government would be NDP with Horgan as premier. The usually tumultuous legislature became an oasis of goodwill – or so it appeared.

The province was not without scandal, but the elected “residents” under the Belleville Street dome were exceptionally well behaved – to the extent of unanimously agreeing to lock general elections into a firm four-year cycle. No more elections would be called at the whim of party or leader for political one-upmanship.

It was unanimously agreed that the next general election would be on a fixed day in October 2021. It wasn’t written in stone, but it was firmly recorded as provincial law, which is as good as stone. Or should be.

Stumbling over the New Year’s threshold into 2020 – a wonderful number when applied to vision testing – we did not fare well viewing political decisions through the mist, make that fog, that so often clouds them.

We had hardly recovered from New Year’s festivities when in February, the first whispers began to reach us that a new and dangerous pestilence was threatening mankind in faraway places. A month later, the plague had leapt from the Far East to central Europe and from there back across the Atlantic to North America. And we all became familiar with its name – COVID-19.

To its credit, our legislature debated with urgency what should be done and, again with rare unanimity, agreed to establish a $50 billion-plus fund to meet grievous economic emergencies in March.

Andrew Weaver quit as leader of the Green Party and vanished from the front line with a puff of smoke and little explanation. With the ‘Weaver of Green dreams’ gone, the never robust party trembled but rallied, called for a leadership vote and elected Furstenau.

Before she could get her Cowichan office stationary changed, the premier ignored the existing statute and called for the vote a year earlier than legislated. A few days later, he announced relief payments of $1,000 for every BC family with moderate income; and $625 for singles.

In the debate a few days ago, Horgan insisted the election announcement and the cash awards were not politically connected: “I think we did it right. We got the right balance, and once the money started to go out the door … I felt it time to ask British Columbians where they wanted to go and who they wanted to lead them.”

Furstenau’s response: “We are not against you using it (funds from the $50 billion relief fund unanimously approved by the legislature) … we are against you using it as a campaign promise.”

That’s when I remembered what Ronald Reagan said in 1970.

Without Prevarication

The recent announcement by Premier John Horgan that every family in BC with moderate income or less is to receive a cheque or one thousand dollars, or singles a cash deposit of $500, rings a bell first chimed out west in 1957.

I heard its joyful echo as I read an opinion piece in the local newspaper penned by veteran journalist Les Leyne, whose writing seems to have found new energy since the general election bells rang in BC last month.

The Times-Colonist columnist, colleague and friend for many years was reviewing the latest wave of gracious government benefits bestowed on BC voters in a hastily called general election. Included in the election tsunami of kindness was a $1,000 cheque to every BC family existing on moderate income or less and $500 for individuals.

Liberal party candidates were quick to react with Jas Johal snapping “Onconscionable, it’s a naked attempt to bribe BC taxpayers with their own money.”

Which of course it is – as are all suddenly announced pre-election cash rewards from a government treasury stacked with dollar bills collected earlier from the now recipients of government largesse. Such “gifts” are received gratefully by an electorate so thankful to be getting cash relief of any kind, they forget it’s their own money they’re getting back.

When W.A.C. Bennett introduced the now treasured Home Owner Grant in 1957 it was the NDP who screamed the  election bribe protest – and kept screaming for years until it realised home owners loved seeing their taxes reduced annually.

That was close to 50 years ago. The Home Owner Grant survives untouched, unthreatened, protected by the electorate. It is the first thing they check when they get their annual residential tax notice; a quick glance to savour what the tax should have been – and the bottom line what it actually is with the grant deducted.

For decades, like the majority of home owners, I always knew where the grant money came from and received it without complaint. And watched as the electorate again and again re-elected WAC. No one confessed to having ever voting for him – but he was Premier for 20-years with many election promises.

Premier Horgan could have been dreaming of a similar response for his generosity, but he may have ruined any advantage his government’s gift to the people might bring by what was surely the unintended confession that his $1,000 per family was a hurry-up job hastily put together AFTER he called the election.

Writer Leyne, backed I am sure by tape recording, quotes Horgan: “We did not contemplate this until we were putting together the platform which was not until after the election was called. We put this together over the past two weeks,based on what we see as the needs of Briish Columbians.” The emphasis is mine.

Let’s consider the time frame. It was back when 2020 was a young year and Covid 19 was casting its first dark shadows across the world from China to Europe and Europe to North America and, what seemed like overnight, around the world.

Wise governments watched, worried and began to plan for worst case scenarios, Canada and most of her provinces among them. The situation was grave as the now declared pandemic shutdown economic activities. Governments world wide began to tremble but somehow found the billions of dollars required to help pandemic victims financially for job loss, and medically if stricken by the virus.

BC ranked high among the Covid 19 responders with admirable leadership from Chief Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry and the entire ministry of health. Up front health line workers from Paramedics to hospital staffers, from nurses to janitors, held the line.

When money was needed money was found. In March. With a rare show of crisis solidarity the BC Legislature endorsed unanimously a $5 billion emergency allocation fund.

Scroll back a few paragraphs to Premier Horgan’s confession that the $1 thousand dollar cheques now being made to families with modest incomes and the $500 for singles in similar circumstances was not considered back in March.

The Premier is quite clear about it. The NDP cabinet and presumably caucus did not discuss this $1.4 billion give away “until we were putting together the (election) platform which was not until after the election was called.” Again the emphasis is mine, although I hardly think it required.

It can be justifiably claimed the NDP are not alone in occasionally giving us back a dollar or two from the many picked softly from our pockets by a variety of taxes and “fees.”

But the Liberals and Greens, caught off base by the NDP decision to advance the previously set election date from October 2021 to now, can be forgiven for some clumsy promises. It is not so easy to justify the use of $1.4 million of the $5 billion approved by a unanimous Legislature last March suddenly tapped and announced as part of the NDP election platform.

Maybe Premier Horgan can tell us before the polls close and – please, without political prevarication – how he intends to raise the money.

The Loudest Shouter Lost

The great debate last Tuesday between U.S. President Donald Trump and his would-be replacement, former vice-president Joe Biden, achieved a major goal: It made Canadian politics, politicians and the election system used to grant the right to govern look sane in comparison to the system now playing out south of the 49th parallel.

In our constitutional democracy with its first-past-the-post electoral system, all Canadian voters decide which party (or parties) governs. We do not have a convoluted republic with an Electoral College system that weighs and allocates votes jurisdiction by jurisdiction. Our prime minister is not a directly-elected, all-powerful commander-in-chief. He serves as long as he can inspire the loyalty of his cabinet and his caucus and, in the case of minority governments, the House of Commons, thus the people.

Not for us, a U.S. federal election where a final decision on who will run our country can be made by the Electoral College – with an outcome that could well be different from the wishes of the majority of voters. (Use your favourite search machine to find How the Electoral College Works in Six Minutes.) It provides a better understanding than I could ever provide. I will confine myself to fair (or foul, if you disagree) comment on the non-debate between Trump and Biden with occasional asides on highly paid journalists who must have flunked the basic tests of elementary news reporting.

While trolling TV prior to the entrance of the gladiators, I sat fascinated and unbelieving as veteran reporters probed the minds of the men and women who, so we were told, had been part of the teams preparing Trump and Biden for the critical battle then just minutes away.

Such preparation is normal – and wise in these days when one wrong answer can be a disaster for political ambitions. The practice of having the participants face every type of question – sneaky or blunt, fast ball or slow ball, or a favoured curve ball variation of “have you stopped beating your wife, answer ‘yes’ or ‘no.’”

So, I was amused more than shocked when I heard veteran reporters from the bottomless CNN vault of talking heads asking individual members of the Biden-Trump “advisory teams” the same questions, with one so dumb it’s hard to believe: “What strategy will your candidate (Trump or Biden) be using in the debate?” This is akin to asking a rival coach for a copy of the playbook before the game starts. It wasn’t surprising when the question went unanswered.

Some media prognosticators did get the thrust of the debate right when they based their forecasts on past performance and conjectured Trump would be unable to control his arrogant, spoiled, spiteful, childish, tantrum-throwing ways. He couldn’t. Within minutes Trump – his face florid and puffed with malevolence – rudely tried to domineer the moderator while he launched, unimpeded by any rules of decency or rules of order, his attack.

It was noisy, all sounding brass and crashing cymbal, but far from wilting under the often-untruthful assault. Biden kept his cool, smiled sympathetically from time to time as though feeling sorry for a president so out of control. There were a few flashes of return anger, but only one with voice raised when he told Trump to “shut up, man.”

When he denounced the president as a purveyor of lies and repeater of unproven gossip, he did so in a calm and articulate voice. When he talked of hopes and aspirations should he become the next president, he looked full face to the camera and spoke to his unseen TV audience with respect.

It wasn’t Franklin Delano Roosevelt nor John F. Kennedy, but it was a steady, calm and thoughtful voice in a time when calm and thoughtful leadership is required.

Most observers in the country – where opinions matter and winners of such debates are essential – declared Biden, the winner. I would align myself with them but with two footnotes:

1 – It would be fairer to say President Trump lost the debate with a clear revelation of his arrogant, bullying and boastful “I, I and I again” demeanour. 2 – And, I must repeat my opening thanks to the participants, politicians, pundits and TV networks that gave Canadians an inside look at the terribly flawed U.S. system and left me, and I’m sure many others, thankful for what we have in “our home and native land.”