Author: theoldislander

About theoldislander

retired journalist blogging on word press at JimHume.ca

With All Our Faults We’re Better Than We Were

“I think that those who report politics, and by and large that would be members of that group of journalists called the lobby (in England; the Press Gallery in Canada), I think they are a very inward-looking, very incestuous bunch of people, who are overly preoccupied with process rather than policies.”

It is something President Trump would like to say today, but his vocabulary can only get him as far as bleated “fake news.” It was the well-known Brit politician Peter Mandelson who voiced that razor-edged criticism in a parliamentary speech a few years back – and he was just re-echoing William Windham, Minister of War in the UK in 1798, who had lamented the quality of press reporting on a war with France.

It was a time when parliamentary proceedings were not supposed to circulate beyond the walls of the debating chamber but were being “smuggled” out to unscrupulous publishers of news sheets.

“Newspaper writers are not the best judges of political affairs,” said Windham. “Their reports are evil in nature” but are being believed as true “by a great mass of readers who are not the most discerning class of society … newspapers are being carried everywhere, read everywhere by persons of very inferior capacities, and in common alehouses and places frequented chiefly by those who were least of all accustomed to reflection, to any great mental efforts …”

Oh dear, oh dear, what a bad bunch my forefathers in the news writing business were, “scattering poison where they could, bringing virtue to discredit … teaching the ignorant and credulous to despise every man and every measure that was respectable …”

Windham said he could not look at a man “of low condition with a newspaper in his hand” without comparing him to “a man who was swallowing poison under the hope of improving his health.”

There are more than 200 years between Windham’s tirade (1798), Mandelson’s scalpel slice-and-dice (2002), and the childlike trumpeting of President Trump to please his base support. But the theme remains unchanged. The masses – the people – could never be expected to understand what politicians were doing or why. And reporters should never be trusted to properly explain a government’s thinking.

For a hundred years or more, the contents of parliamentary debate were confined to parliament. MPs could not publish their speeches without special permission of the House. It was resolved in 1641 that “no Member of the House shall either give a copy or publish in print anything that he shall speak here without leave of the House.”

Lord Digby was caught distributing a printed copy of one of his speeches and reprimanded. All copies of his speech were collected and ordered destroyed by “the public hangman” as a gentle warning of what could have been much tougher justice for publicizing a parliamentary speech without permission of the House..

A year later, Sir Edward Dearing had a collection of his speeches printed and in the process of distribution when he was apprehended, expelled from the House, and imprisoned in the Tower “for acting against the honour and privilege of the House.” His speeches were bundled and “the public hangman” ordered to arrange another bonfire.

But the need for the censorship created to keep the King from punishing MPs who spoke against him was slowly diminishing. In 1660, parliament passed a licensing act for regulating printing and printing presses, though debate reporting was still not allowed.

It wasn’t until 1771, after riots, arrests, hasty trials, and imprisonments of printers in the Tower, that the Commons caved and parliamentary reporting as we know it today was established. The House of Lords followed in 1775.

It’s called one of our greatest freedoms – freedom of the press, but one thing has never changed: the lingering suspicion that “the press” can’t really be trusted; that reporters, columnists and editorial writers are told what to write by never-seen editors and publishers once described as “holding power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages”.

It isn’t true,but the doubts linger. Not a perfect arrangement, but as De Tocqueville wrote in defence of democracy and our free press: “In order to enjoy the inestimable benefits that the liberties of the press ensures, it is necessary to submit to the inevitable evils that it creates.”

(Andrew Sparrow’s Obscure Scribblers –a history of Parliamentary Journalism, is an entertaining read – if you can find a copy.)

Free Speech – But Be Careful

Thursday, May 30, 2019, should be circled on anniversary calendars, the day 38 members of the Legislative Assembly rose in succession on personal points of privilege to condemn the conduct of Speaker Darryl Plecas. And, failed in their mission.

One or two of the protesting MLAs altered portions of a prepared text, but the majority stayed with an unprecedented flood of identical criticism with most stating he or she had been personally offended. They intoned: “I have become aware of behaviour and conduct undertaken by the Speaker with respect to senior officers and employees of this Legislative Assembly that I believe to be improper and compromises the ability of those officers to independently do their duties.”

The actions referred to had been made public hours earlier with the revelation that Speaker Plecas had authorized the seizure of hard drives from senior staff computers. A seizure, Plecas claimed, he had the power to make anywhere in the Legislature precinct for “security reasons.” He had been reported as saying in interviews earlier that he had the authority to walk into offices and request hard drives from all over the Legislature.

The massed chorus of Liberal MLAs challenged that power with: “I believe that activities undertaken by the Speaker, including the seizure of records including electronic records … constitutes improper conduct with respect to my right as a member of this assembly and impedes my personal freedoms as a member of this House.”

In their final assault, they accused Plecas of the serious offence of breaching “the individual and collective privileges of this House and contempt for this House.”

And, that is just about the most serious charge any MLA can level against another member – or anyone in the public for that matter, including news reporters, pundits, editorial writers, and even lowly bloggers who may slip from fair comment to “bring into contempt” the democracy we all claim to cherish, but hardly understand.

Standing Order 26 in the rules governing conduct in the BC Legislature is brief when it first mentions “privilege.” It simply states: “Whenever any matter of privilege arises, it shall be taken into consideration immediately.” That’s it. No messing around.

Plecas brushed aside the 38 repeated charges and the House adjourned and MLAs began their summer barbecue break.How could he do that?

Immediacy is not the only requirement when dealing with “privilege.” In George MacMinn’s Parliamentary Practice in BC, Volume 3) there’s an advisory note following the actual order. It reads, with a note of despair: “To give a concise definition of privilege would be impossible … There are thousands of Speaker’s decisions on privilege throughout the Commonwealth and an abundance of decisions on the subject in British Columbia.”

He then provides several pages of advice on procedures to be followed “on raising a matter of privilege” and supports that advice with a special 46-page appendix detailing with debates and findings over the years when abuse of privilege has been charged.

Back in the early-90s, an unnamed newspaper ran a lead editorial accusing the Speaker of partisanship. The matter was raised in the Legislature and a motion put forward, mildly stating “this Legislature regrets the publication of the editorial in the newspaper.” A mild rebuke only, but with Speaker Norman Whittaker sounding a warning bell that harsher punishment could have been applied.

He said while no offence could be taken by a newspaper’s attack on government policy, the charges of partisanship against Speakers “of this Legislature … and what it is pleased to call ‘the progressive decadence of the membership’ is unacceptable.”

“The freedom of the press is a precious thing, but newspapers have a responsibility not to exercise that responsibility in such a manner as to bring into contempt our democratic institutions and systems of government.”(BC Journals,Nov 28,1938)

He echoed the warning note that while the House had held back from “calling the author of the article before the Bar of the House” it was an option – and remains an option today – if the Speaker, with support of the Legislature, ever decides to play hardball with “the press.”

Does this mean the Speaker has free reign; that any criticism of his actions could be construed as a breach of privilege in the form of a smear on the House? Speaker Whittaker seemed to think so. He said he was quoting “from a recognized authority on parliamentary practice’’ when he ruled “the Speaker is the representative of the House itself, in its powers, it’s proceedings and its dignity … And reflection, therefore, on the Speaker is a reflection on the House itself …”

Today’s Speaker remains in office until voting day in the next general election. He can only be challenged by “substantive motion” which some experts say could include a non-confidence vote.

But didn’t we witness 30 plus non-confidence votes on May 30? Not really. There may have been numerous attempts to do so, but the Speaker apparently decided they technically failed to meet the specific criteria demanded by the rules – and his ruling cannot be challenged.

And be warned, as you mutter or rage against the goings on under the Big Dome of the Legislature, do not use words that impinge on the dignity of the Speaker or a rank and file MLA. They are “privileged” and protected and the bar of the House is a fearful deterrent.

Stay tuned. Remember the day will come when you can tell them what you really think of their dignity and their decisions with a series of simple ticks on a ballot paper.

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.

Six Before Breakfast

“Do you remember what day this is, Dad?” the young man asked as we sat chatting in my Berwick Royal Oak senior’s residence café.

“It’s Wednesday, April 24, 2019,” I replied promptly and brightly. “It’s fresh in my mind because I had a dental appointment this morning. Along with doctor’s visits, such events keep my ‘what day is it?’ memory sharp. If I’ve remembered to write it down.”

“I was thinking more about tomorrow,” he said. “If you have remembered …” And, before I could dig up what I should have recalled from my faltering memory file, he rambled off down his own memory lane.

“It just seems strange to be sitting here chatting, while I’m thinking that about this hour tomorrow and 104 years ago my grandfather, your father, was lying very badly wounded on W Beach at Gallipoli.”

He was indeed, and close to death.

It took a second or two to respond because I had forgotten the time of year; I had forgotten that I had ever told Nicholas about his grandfather’s dawn charge ashore on April 25, 1915; about shrapnel from a Turkish shell killing two of his three-man machine gun crew, and leaving the third with massive wounds to chest and face.

It was dawn when he fell, and after dark before the Allies could get meaningful help to him and thousands – yes, thousands – of others lying in desperate need of help among the thousands – yes, again, thousands – of dead.

I once asked my father how far he got up the beach before he was hit. He said he didn’t really have an idea, “but it wasn’t very far – maybe 50 yards, maybe less. I didn’t know much at all after I went down … except for the flies.”

In Canada’s list of battles and wars to be remembered, Gallipoli (also known as the Dardanelles Campaign, an unsuccessful attempt by the Allied Powers to control the sea route from Europe to Russia) doesn’t stand very high. It did generate headlines briefly a few days ago with the arrest of a terrorist believed to be on his way to murder Australian and New Zealand pilgrims journeying to Turkey to celebrate Anzac Day at Anzac Cove. It’s just a few miles along the coast from W Beach. The young men from Australia and New Zealand fought there for king and country, dying for a cause they never really understood.

Anzac Cove is fixed in memories Down Under, and Gallipoli is remembered with holy grail reverence. At first glance, casualty figures leave the impression that beneath the Southern Cross losses have been exaggerated.

A second look tells the gruesome truth:

Great Britain, 21,255 dead; 52,300 wounded; France (rarely even mentioned as ever having been anywhere near Gallipoli) 10,000 dead, 17,000 wounded. Then comes Australia with 8,709 dead and 19,441 wounded; New Zealand 2,779 dead, 5,212 wounded; and India 1,358 dead, 3,421 wounded.

Canada? We appear to have beamed all available forces to Europe, but Newfoundland (not yet Canadian) made a cameo appearance at Gallipoli leaving 49 dead and 93 wounded.

The population of Great Britain in those days was getting close to 47 million; Australia was hovering around eight million; New Zealand was a baby with just over a million in total population.

Based on population percentages Australia and New Zealand made fantastic contributions to the Allied cause. It can be safely said all the children of the Commonwealth more than answered their nations’ calls to duty – and did so a second time when the world wobbled again in 1939.

I suppose I should thank the young lad for reminding me of the date, although I’m sure I would have remembered unprompted, even if a wee bit late. 

At the official Centenary of the Gallipoli Landing there was a remarkable display of six Victoria Crosses awarded to Lancashire Fusiliers on the first day of the Gallipoli battle. It was the first time all of the famous “Six Before Breakfast” had been displayed at the same time.

Captain Richard Reynolds Willis, in command of “C” Company which won four of the Six before breakfast VC’s. He survived the battle, dying at the age of 89 in 1966 “having sold his medal due to financial problems.”

Sgt.Frank Edward Stubbs, shot in the head and killed instantly as he led his platoon up Hill 114. The only one of the six to die on landing day.

Sgt. Alfred Richards shot several times in the leg which was almost shattered to pieces. Kept motivating fellow soldiers until he lost all energy. Eventually evacuated, lost his shattered leg. Died at home in 1953.

Pte. William Keenly volunteered to advance alone and cut barbed wire entanglement. Survived the action but killed on June 8 in the fight for Gully Ravine.

Cpl.John Elisha Grimshaw assigned to establish and maintain communications with HMS Euryalus. His citation calmly notes that at the end of the day “his badge, his water bottle and back pack. all were riddled with bullets but he emerged unscathed.He died in 1980.

Major Cuthbert Bromley – showed unprecedented bravery, wounded several times but stayed with his men. It was three days before he reported his first wounds. He survived the landing but was eventually evacuated to Egypt for treatment for multiple wounds. The ship on which he was returning to Gallipoli for further service was torpedoed and sank in Aegean Sea.

The Lancashire Fusiliers went ashore April 25,1915, with 1007 soldiers and 27 officers.When the day ended the ranks were down to 304 with 16 officers – and six VC’s before breakfast

Dream Drugs and Salted Bamboo

The lady bought her supplies of recreational opium over the counter at her regular grocery store in Victoria, British Columbia, a purchase that writer-historian Barbara Hodgson described in a 1999 study entitled Opium: A Portrait of the Heavenly Demon, was legal.

Kwong On Lung & Co, purveyors of“sugar, rice, tea, opium, groceries & provisions” was licensed to manufacture and sell opium and regular customer Mrs. Tai Chung was old enough to buy her dream drug along with mundane supplies like “salted turnips, salted bamboo shoot, some charcoal and a hundred dollars worth of pork.”

(Source:  https://web.uvic/ca/vv/student/opium)

Whether Mrs. Chung was buying her opium for personal use, or to maintain the needs of a modestly operated opium den in her cellar or a backroom windowless flat remains unconfirmed, but she was buying opium at a fairly expensive clip and private areas for the smoking of the drug were many and for a few years extremely popular.

On February 13, 1885, her “balance due” with Kwong On Lung was $2,489.08. On the 19th she added another $100 for opium, on the 20th another $50, and on March 11th, she added a further $200 to her private poppy juice fund but made a payment of $500 on her “balance due.” She was still $2,702.25 in bottom-line red and, although neither she nor Kwong On Lung knew it, the opium den was just starting to lose its rating as a popular technicolour dream palace.

It would have gone from dream to nightmare much earlier but for the massive introduction of Chinese labour to build Canadian Pacific’s Trans Canada railway. The opium culture thousands of those workers brought with them delayed the decay. In 1884 there were six opium factories in Victoria. Three years later 13 factories were producing 90,000 pounds of opium at $15 a pound with a “bonus” spin-off production of laudanum. Keeping the workers on the job wasn’t easy. Opium the dream-maker helped.

In the “new world,” opium was waning as a voice guaranteeing “happiness eternal.” That it brought peace and wonderful dreams there could be no doubt – but not forever. In fact, not for very long at all. Canada acknowledged the end of opium’s false promise in July 1908 when it joined the USA and banned open sales of opium in North America

Great Britain had a more difficult time banishing the promise of drugged happiness when many of the brightest artists, poets, and novelists of the UK openly embraced, praised, and used opium themselves and in their works had some of their leading characters excusably – even admirably – addicted.

A few that come quickly to mind are Thomas de Quincey, Byron, Shelley, Barrett-Browning, Coleridge, Dickens, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who even had his redoubtable Sherlock Holmes sneaking a nip of laudanum – a by-product of opium – from time to time to improve his brain power.

Dickens gets right into the nasty stuff when he opens The Mystery of Edwin Drood in an opium den but promotes principal character, Tom Jasper, as a man of integrity and benevolence – and opium addict.

Oscar Wilde, well known for his decadent lifestyle, does seem to condemn it in his Picture of Dorian Gray, but never enough for him to attempt to change it.

And so, here we are in beautiful British Columbia in 2019 with thousands celebrating in our capital city of Victoria the opening of three – more to follow in a matter of days – sparkling new government-licenced stores selling a drug guaranteed to ease pain and bring happy dreams and comfort to all. We don’t have any abundance of official pot dens yet, but can they be far behind government promoted sales?

They tell me marijuana is “safe” and not addictive like opium. And I’m not expert enough to challenge them. But I do know this: the problems I have before I go to sleep tonight will still be there when I wake up tomorrow, however many buds I smoke.

Parliament is Supreme not the Press

When I was ejected from the Speaker’s Corridor back in 2002, fellow denizens of the press gallery looked on with mild amusement. There were no notebooks and microphones at the ready to record my dismissal from the corridors of power. I did, however, detect a snicker or two as I was escorted past an assembling scrum.

It mattered not to the legislature dress code cops that my shirt was white and freshly laundered, my slacks grey and neatly pressed, my hair combed, my shoes shined, my manner courteous – and my neat wind-breaker carried the Union Club crest. Alas, cleanliness may well be next to Godliness, but in the BC Legislature precinct, it goes for naught unless enhanced with jacket and tie.

Grumpily, I moved along the corridor to then-Clerk George MacMinn’s office seeking temporary refuge and maybe a little tea and sympathy.

“George,” I said, “this is outrageous. I’ve just been tossed out of the Speaker’s Corridor … never in 30 years have I …”

“Why?” interrupted George.

“Because I’m not wearing a jacket and tie.”

“Quite right then, wouldn’t you say? Dress code says shirt, tie and jacket. You’re in violation. Quite proper they should ask you to leave.”

No sympathy and no tea either, but I did manage a free cup of coffee before making a run for the exit stairs and freedom. Clown or curmudgeon, makes no difference when the codes and rules authorized by the full Legislature are at risk. I could have staged a sit-in, have demanded then-Speaker Claude Richmond relax the rules to accommodate an ageing scribe. But that would have gained me less sympathy than I received from the Clerk MacMinn and could have led to my physical removal from the precinct, possible arrest and possible charges of showing contempt for the legislature. All three options would have been available had my dress code whimpers slopped over to be construed as contempt for the legislature.

That institution packs a lot of muscle; it has vast powers to protect itself from intruders, royal or common. And, it reserves the right to toss all media out on its collective ear if the spirit so moves it. Not that it will do that in this day and age. We reporters of things political have wangled our way so deep into the system that we’re an unelected part of it. We know the pols need us, can’t function without us – and on occasion, we push that relationship to the limit. But we need to tread this status with care because ancient rights, historic powers are still in play

The centuries have brought significant changes in the tolerance of politicians for the press. There was a time when it was against the law to distribute outside parliament anything that had been said or written inside. In 1640, a fellow named “Overton, the stationer” was ordered to kneel and beg for mercy in the British House of Commons because he had “falsely printed an Order of the House, without the authority of this House.”

Called before the assembly, Overton knelt in quivering repentance as “Mr. Speaker told him that his offence was of a high nature to presume, upon his own authority, to print any Order of this House, and not only so, but to misprint it …” Poor Overton, he’d not only broken the rules; he had also botched the print job.

Then there was Lord Digby who had printed and distributed copies of a speech he had given in the house. Like Overton, he was called to account and forced to listen as: “The Commons resolved that no Member of the House shall either give a copy or publish in print, anything that he shall speak here, without leave of the House.” Digby’s pamphlet was ordered to be burned “publickly (cct) by the hands of the common hangman.”

Remnants on the ban imposed by the first parliaments on any note taking in the public galleries remain to this day. Only in the press gallery can accredited reporters take notes – and even they have to do their scribbling sitting behind the Speaker and therefore out of sight of, and technically unknown to him.

It may seem silly to hold on to such ancient rules in an era when gavel-to-gavel proceedings are televised; when verbatim reports are flung around the world via the Internet virtually minutes after they are spoken. But maybe we need little reminders that parliamentary democracy was as hard a won thing as the freedom of the press to write about it. We media types need to remind ourselves that while we have earned the right to criticize the institution and its inhabitants, we also have the responsibility to defend its ancient right to make the rules which govern daily proceedings and define standards of conduct and dress, and protect the institution itself from interference, whether by an attention seeker wearing a clown suit or a Royal wearing a crown.

Parliament is supreme, not the press. It makes its own rules from dress code to procedure – and authorizes the Speaker to make sure they are carried out. And it has the power to punish those who choose to challenge its authority.

Many readers will remember the incident during Premier Bill Bennett’s government (1975-1986) when the RCMP, with an approved court order, bugged the telephones in cabinet minister Jim Nielsen’s legislature office, his constituency office and his home – and how all hell broke loose when the bugging was discovered.

Motions were made accusing the RCMP of showing contempt for the legislature. A committee was struck to investigate, and it was agreed that the RCMP, even though acting under a court-approved wiretap, was indeed “in breach of parliamentary privilege.” In more recent times, the highest judicial authority in Canada has ruled that the internal workings of parliament are for parliament alone to decide. And that goes for everything from dress code to rules relating to contempt of the legislative assembly.

The centuries have brought many parliament-press compromises, but it should never be forgotten that when we asked fellow citizens to take a seat in our legislature, we gave them our iron-clad guarantee that they could go about their business without impediment; that they were free to speak without fear of retribution or interference and free to establish whichever rules they thought best for good conduct. Those who report on parliamentary affairs must choose carefully between criticism and contempt. Criticism should be tolerated, always encouraged; contempt, which could threaten the foundations of parliamentary rights and privileges, should always be denied.

Twenty years ago, Christopher Jones writing about “the Press Gallery” in his book The Great Palace said: “Both ladies and gentlemen of the Press are still there strictly against the rules, for those thunderous resolutions which say it is a high crime for the Press to intermeddle with Parliament are still, theoretically, in operation. In 1971, the House did finally decide that although they would not actually enforce the rules, neither would they scrap them. Journalists, therefore, remain part of Parliament, but not in Parliament. It is a compromise both sides find works very well indeed.”

And should continue to work well as long as it is understood who makes the rules and has the untrammeled right to enforce them. Which means that, while I find the dress code a little stuffy, I’ll wear a jacket and tie.