Month: September 2021

Can We Rise Above Party?

A lot of speculation in these nervous post-election days as to how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will handle his continued life as PM – or if he will quit.

I wonder if he’s given any thought to the time Winston Churchill came close to being turfed from high office within days of being given the keys to No. 10 Downing Street.

I will let the New York Times bring readers up to date on events in the spring of 1940 “when British forces in Norway were overwhelmed by the Nazis. On May 7 Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain faced a critical motion by the Labor opposition in the House of Commons. His Conservatives had a big majority. But a respected Conservative backbencher, Leopold Amery, rose and addressed to Chamberlain the words that Cromwell had said to the Long Parliament 300 years before:

”You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. In the name of God, go!” Forty Conservatives voted against Chamberlain, and another 60 abstained. Three days later he resigned. Winston Churchill became Prime Minister. And many would say that the response of the Commons to crisis, its ability to rise above party, saved Britain.”

You will need to be getting along in years to personally recall those days in May,1940 when the world was falling apart. The German army and Luftwaffe were sweeping across Europe and heavy duty politicians with powerful Lord Halifax as peace maker were urging the war cabinet to seek peace with Hitler.The War Cabinet met to decided the next step – to seek peace  or fight a long war with a mighty foe?

Churchill, so recently appointed  won that battle then set about organizing a full strength war cabinet. He appointed Clement Atlee, already Deputy PM, as deputy head of his War Cabinet. As leader of the Labour Party, Atlee had often been the target of Churchillian wit (“He’s a sheep in sheep’s clothing.”) but; was obviously was highly regarded.

But, the appointment of Ernest Bevin, a tough working-class trade unionist and Churchill’s chief opponent in the bitter general strike of 1926, was a real eyebrow raiser. He was appointed Minister of Labour in 1940. He knew the trade union leaders; had been a leader among them for longer than a generation. He knew the employers, too. It was said of him that he respected many big business owners – and feared none.

That preamble brings me back to PM Trudeau and the immediate road ahead for himself and a new cabinet. He knows he will need support from losing parties – but how to get it without an eventual sulky separation like BC’s NDP and Greens after their brief fling as dance partners?

He can try for a similar deal with the NDP or, though less likely, the Bloc Quebecois, or the distressed Conservative Party preoccupied with its own failures and the breakaway of a renegade People’s Party which couldn’t win a seat but established base foundations in almost every riding and remains an embarrassing threat..

But, he might do better to try a Churchill and offer a cabinet post to a couple of New Democrats including one for Jagmeet Singh.

That was war time, for Churchill you say, and we all had to pull together. Precisely. We are in a war now – on two fronts against COVID-19 and global warming. Time to blure the party lines a little if we want to win. It would help to remember the NYT comment that it was “the Commons ability in time of crisis to rise above party” that saved Britain.

Think;Pause;Make Your Choice

Ten years ago, while still gainfully employed by Victoria’s Times Colonist, I wrote: “A long time ago, when the world was a much calmer place and I was young enough to believe I possessed enough wisdom to tell people how to vote, I co-authored a front-page election-day editorial with instructions to the electorate as to how to conduct themselves when they cast their ballots.

“The publisher of the Penticton Herald in those halcyon days of endless Okanagan summers was the late G.J. (Grev) Rowland. I was his senior scribe, managing editor, fearless and always confidently right. Together, just as the citizens of Penticton would choose a new mayor, we laboured on our front-page directive to the voters.”

It was time, we thundered, to recognize that vaudeville had no place in civic politics and that it was “time to end the sorry circus of civic administration” overseen in recent years by then-mayor Charles Oliver.

“Our directions were clear. Penticton’s mayor was making the city the laughingstock of the Okanagan. He had to go. Our readers were told, in no uncertain terms, that it was their duty to bounce him. No wavering. No doubts. Only one way to vote: Just get out there; cast a ballot; get rid of Charlie Oliver.

“The voters read, turned out in record numbers – and returned Mayor Oliver to of­fice by a three-to-one majority vote margin. It was a salutary lesson learned more than half a century ago in the late 1950s and never forgotten over the next 50-plus years of writing columns on elections and election candidates.”

I have pontificated, advised, and expressed opinions for and against candidates and their policies. I have said why I could support one candidate and not another, but I have never since the voters of Penticton cracked my knuckles so hard, dared to tell any electorate it had only one way to vote – my way.

As this may well be the last federal general election I’ll be privileged to comment on (at 97, I no longer buy green bananas), I tread carefully, advising my readers only to think what party leaders have been promising in the current election campaign. If you feel they make good sense, mark your ballot in favour of that party’s candidate.

If you agree with Maxime Benier of the People’s Party – splintered from the Conservative Party – that climate change warnings and vaccination policies are examples of a “tyranny that justifies revolution,” – a reflective pause might be wise before endorsing.

If you agree with established Conservative leader Erin O’Toole when he proclaims as part of his battle cry, “it’s time to take back Canada,” you might recognize it as an echo from Donald Trump when he won the presidency of the United States chanting “let’s make American great again.” It is not the only “tool” borrowed from Trump’s “How to Win Elections” manual.

New Democrat Jagmeet Singh is difficult to challenge. He looks great on television, whether walking with a crowd, chatting on a street corner or more than holding his own in formal but dull leaders’ debates. He would be easier to support if he could explain where the cash to pay for NDP projects would come from.

Then there’s Annamie Paul, who wears – not well – the crown as leader of the Green Party. There are no serious questions for her, and none for likeable Yves-Francois Blanchet, leader of Bloc Quebecois, with no pretentious desires to be prime minister. He represents Quebecers and does it well.

I’ve forgotten Justin Trudeau? Not really. He’s still young, still learning. Not old enough to be as arrogantly confident as his father displaying a single finger salute, but confident enough in the continuing COVID-19 crisis to show the world Canada with a brave face in time of crisis. Critics claim his election call, while an epidemic threatened the world, was an unwarranted “grab for power and unjustifiable bother and expense.”

Does that mean an election two or three years hence would have cost less?

My forecast for a first to the finish tape? Just a guess, really. Canadians, being a cautious people, will opt for the horse that’s been steady under fire –

the Liberals. But, not enough for a 170-seat majority government. I think that desired objective may be just beyond Trudeau’s grasp on Monday.

Make my day. Prove me wrong!

Being Careful What We Wish For

So where are we as we march resolutely, if confused, towards the privacy of the ballot box and mark our individual choice for the person and party we would like to govern our affairs, national and international?

It’s never an easy decision. Never has been. And, come September 20 – or sooner if I opt for an advance poll – it’s going to be tougher than usual. This vote is a little different from most being held in the midst of a great pandemic in which we appear to be fighting a holding action with little to cheer about. 

What’s different about it? Well, the prime minister who called it could have chosen a better time than the middle of a pandemic that has half the voting population worrying about more than where to mark a cross on a ballot paper. They would have preferred to wait until we got COVID-19 under control before trying to thrash their way through a jungle of election promises from political party leaders – promises that will be quickly forgotten once the final votes are counted.

PM Trudeau may have forgotten that he didn’t win the election of 2019. Maybe you have forgotten, too, that nobody won two years ago. True, the Trudeau Liberals won the most seats – 157 – but they needed 170 to command a majority. At the time of dissolution, they were down to 155 with byelections pending.

The Conservatives were in second place in 2019 with 121 seats – but are quick to point to their victory in the “popular vote.” They picked up 34.34 per cent support over the Liberals’ 33.12 per cent.

Fast forward to 2021; all polls are claiming the Liberals are losing ground, with the Conservatives picking up the slack. The pollsters put the Tories “slightly ahead” of the Liberals. While pollsters haven’t earned many gold stars in recent election forecasts, it’s reasonable to assume the odds are at least even and that they’re getting it right at this stage.

If they are, on September 21 or shortly thereafter, we should see ourselves back at Square One as in 2019 with a Conservative majority of seats but falling short of the 170 seats required for majority control.

But there is one factor that could change the possibility of another minority government repeat: Maxime Bernier and his People’s Party of Canada (PPC.)

One of his nicknames is Mad Max – earned as a maverick during his years in the Conservative Party, where he had once sought the leadership. In August 2018, he announced his departure from the Conservative Party, declaring it “too intellectually and morally corrupt to be reformed” and afraid to address important issues.

His departure speech was quickly condemned by former Tory Prime Ministers Stephen Harper and Brian Mulroney. Harper said he was a sore loser. Mulroney felt the new party Bernier had formed would siphon votes from the old party and assist the Liberals.

His presence on the ballot in most ridings will undoubtedly attract anti-vaxxers and those who see a conspiracy of scientists on climate change. He is also anti-immigrant. The PPC once sponsored billboards with an “END MASS IMMIGRATION” message.

The PPC claims a membership of over 30,000 – 4,135 are in BC, a thousand in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, 4,822 in Alberta, 6,229 in Quebec and 10,871 in Ontario.

Watching the results come in on the 20th will do more than give us a new government, major or minor. I hope we elect a majority government with the party chosen to run our affairs for the next few years having enough seats to govern with the confidence we need in troubled times. A government with confidence in its public health services and science advisors and capable of passing that confidence on to the people they are sworn to serve and protect..

And above all else I hope Canada can wake up on September 21 pleased with its decision.

Needed With Compassion

In the war that has ended in chaos in Afghanistan, Canada lost 159 soldiers and seven civilians over a period of 12 years.

In the war against illicit toxic drugs in British Columbia, it took just six months this year to register 1,011 deaths.

In the words of Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner for the province, the record-breaking death total is “a tragic reminder that the toxic illicit drug supply remains a significant ongoing threat to public health and safety in communities throughout our province.”

Of more immediate concern for our political leaders and wannabe leaders is getting elected or re-elected, and that involves selective bribery of voters. Promises of rich funding for community programs that the promise makers hope will fulfill their hopes of gaining or retaining power.

Chief Coroner Lapointe says her latest release of data highlights “the immensity of this public health emergency and the need for a wide-scale response.” As of this writing, I can’t recall any politician adding a plan to end or even curb the ever-growing “immense health emergency.”

How immense? Chief Coroner Lapointe: “Drug toxicity is now the leading cause of death in BC for those aged 19 to 39.” This is from a front-line observer who records the horrors of an addict’s death and the agony of family survivors.

“We must continue to urge those in positions of influence across our province and the country to move to urgently implement measures to prevent more unnecessary suffering and death.”

Local candidates seeking Member of Parliament status Sept. 20th could reasonably be asked for their thoughts. So could BC MLAs – especially those with cabinet rank.

“We are studying the problem” seems to be the best we get.

Better – if not popular – would be Chief Coroner Lapointe’s plea for “removing barriers to safe supply and ensuring timely access to evidence-based, affordable treatment and providing those experiencing problematic substance use with compassionate and viable options to reduce risks and save lives.”

Would you support “safe supply” and “timely access” to save someone’s dad or mom, son or daughter, from an addict’s ugly death? More important, would you support a political candidate who did? Or didn’t?

When we lose more lives in BC in six months from poisonous street drugs than we lost in 12 futile years of battle in Afghanistan – we need a solution – NOW – and administered with compassion.