Special Updates

“May Selfish Pride Not Divide Us…”

I have never been sure if the Gods hear our prayers or even listen to them. I am sure that I, and my fellow humans, often hear prayers spoken, but all too rarely do we really listen to the words.
I felt that way Thursday afternoon when Rabbi Harry Brechner from the Congregation Emanu-El synagogue in Victoria opened the First Session of British Columbia’s 41st Parliament with the traditional prayer for guidance in forthcoming deliberations.
Some of his words echoed a prayer said every Saturday in his Victoria synagogue; others were from a prayer written by his predecessor Rabbi Victor Reinstein.
They are worth repeating, even reciting, but only if we hear what they are saying.
“Divine source, we call to you using many names that reflect our divine understanding of you and our individual and collective relationships with you. We ask on behalf of our great province of British Columbia – a shining place of beauty, goodness and abundance – to guide our provincial government in compassion.
“May selfish pride not divide us. May pride in one another unite us. Banish hatred, despair and cynicism that together we may work towards peace and harmony creating prosperity so that all who call British Columbia home may flourish.
“May we honour with humility those who first dwelled in this land and learn from them the sacredness of earth, sky and water. May we come to know the blessing of unity through diversity.
“Sacred source of life, in our rapidly changing and evolving world, we ask that you provide our leaders with clarity, compassion, strength, wisdom and resolve to ensure that British Columbia is an influence for good, a voice of conscience and a leader in seeking peace and justice.
Chazak ve’ematz – Strength and courage. Amen.”
A long list of attributes for legislators old and new to seek. Banishment of hatred, cynicism, and the conversion of selfish pride to pride in one another. Not impossible goals with or without divine guidance – but a tough learning curve for a legislature steeped more in the desire to harm those with different beliefs than in the desire to embrace compassion, peace and harmony.
Premier Christy Clark’s Throne Speech – read by Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon following the Rabbi’s prayer – was, as forecast over the past two weeks, loaded with promises of benefits, including two or three NDP-Green favourites. The new alliance has indicated it will have no difficulty in voting against those inclusions as outlined by Clark’s Liberals when it moves its anticipated non-confidence vote to end her life as premier.
Last week I forecast that the House – having missed a mandatory deadline for framing an agenda for a Private Members’ day Monday June 26 – would adjourn until Tuesday the 27th then miss a second Monday Member’s day July 3 courtesy of the Canada Day long weekend.
However, at the conclusion of Thursday’s sitting the government tabled a motion that adjusted the mandatory agenda deadline to all allow for Private Member’s Day on the 26th. The government motion was unanimously approved thus inadvertently maintaining my reputation as a less than reliable political events forecaster. Such a minor setback will not deter me from future prognostications carefully disguised as questions as our ping-pong “who’s in charge” contest continues.
Like, will Christy Clark – tied to the railway track as the NDP express with its Green baggage car threatens dismemberment – rejoice in last minute salvation? If she survives pending disaster, will she proceed with her spending program challenging the Opposition to deny the people the benefits they have earned?
Or, if she is retired from the premiership, will Ms. Christy regret she didn’t shovel money off the back of the truck sooner?
Then, will the new Premier John Horgan launch his brand new government with a throne speech equal or even better in spending promises than his predecessor’s? In addition, if he does, will he remember to say his big spending was made possible by the Liberal’s often parsimonious spending that balanced budgets for years and stashed the fortune the NDP could spend at will?
What will Andrew Weaver’s role be if Clark retains premiership? A reliable, articulate critic? And if Horgan takes over? Future unknown, but as even the most amicable coalitions can have only one leader, and Mr. Weaver doesn’t have a reputation for enjoying the game of tag-along, it would be unwise to make large bets.
Talking of bets, it would be wonderful to wager that our newly assembled legislators heard and listened to Rabbi Brechner’s prayer and will surrender to divine or human guidance. I fear the distrust, and the lust for power, among politicians worldwide is too entrenched to be eliminated in one precariously balanced BC parliament.
And, I would love nothing better than to be proved wrong – again.

The Brass Ring Proves Hard To Grasp

As we have stumbled toward the June 22 witching hour to watch the final dramatic act in our May 9 Political Passion Play there has been a faint hope that election rhetoric might be replaced by confidence-building debate and modest courtesies.

Alas, the three parties emerging from the fray have done so in full battle mode with the Liberals waving the Orders Of The Day (the BC Parliamentary Procedure rule book); the New Democrats, who came in second at the polls, crying foul before the curtain rises for the grand finale; and the tepid Greens meekly pledging their troth and offering three Legislature seats as a dowry to the NDP.

Premier Christy Clark has insisted that although Andrew Weaver’s hasty NDP marriage announcement could cost her the right to govern, she would “not go gentle into that goodnight.” She would depart, but only when a majority of MLAs told her they no longer had confidence in her ability to govern and she had reported that decision to the Lieutenant Governor.

John Horgan has protested she is unfairly delaying her departure just to keep him sitting in the waiting room when he should sitting in the premier’s chair. Although Christy’s Liberals defeated Horgan’s NDP 43-41 in the big contest, Weaver’s grinning addition of three Greens has given Horgan his now oft-repeated claim of overwhelming victory. Actually, he doesn’t really claim victory; just that Premier Clark was overwhelmingly defeated.

His latest whine about his political opposition is the claim that attempts are already being made to sow seeds of division between the Green and New Democrat leaders. They are united, Horgan says, and will stay united – a pledge well known and profitably enjoyed by millions of divorce lawyers. We shall watch with interest the history of the Green-NDP marriage of ideals with the first test coming up in the days following the Throne Speech.

The Legislature sits on Thursday, June 22, with the first order of business being the election of a Speaker who will preside over the Throne Speech debate and the anticipated demise of the Liberal government. It’s a moment Horgan and Weaver are looking forward to – albeit perhaps prematurely – with unrestrained and sometimes unseemly delight.

They would welcome a Liberal Speaker and the modest – but not overwhelming – vote-cushion his/her appointment would bring. But, they would want that in-House election to continue when the NDP formally became government. Liberal House Leader and Minister of Finance Mike de Jong has dismissed Horgan’s suggestion saying it is “bizarre” to suggest the newly-defeated government should voluntarily gift the NDP-Greens the non-voting Speaker’s seat and reduce Liberal MLAs by one.

Once again, we shall have to wait while they get that sorted and the time-limited Throne Debate “which shall not exceed six sitting days comprising not less than eight sittings” can commence.

The mover and seconder of the Throne Speech debate are allowed 40 minutes each to make their presentation; the Premier “or a designated member” follows with a two-hour speech time limit. The same two-hour speech limit is extended to “leaders of recognized opposition parties” which would appear to exclude Weaver whose Green’s are expecting, but do not yet hold, designated party status. It could produce a little bump in the road when Weaver takes his turn after the big guys speak and floor is open to anyone recognized by The Speaker – with a 30-minute time limit.

Amendments and sub-amendments can be made and voted on but defeat of a government amendment is not regarded as a non-confidence vote. That opportunity doesn’t arise until “the main motion is disposed of on the sixth day.” So, does all that jabberwocky add up to a final decision on who runs the province for the next four years on June 28 – six days after kick-off.

Could be, but a few legitimate house rule technicalities including the hassle to get a Speaker in place, plus cancellation of two Members’ Days sittings could disrupt the timetable. In the rule book Monday is the designated day when private member’s bills can be introduced and  possibly provide a first opportunity for a non-confidence motion to be called. But the rule book states a detailed content agenda for Member’s Day must be prepared and printed for distribution on the Wednesday before the Monday sitting. As the Legislature is reconvening on a Thursday that means no agenda for the following Monday, June 26. No agenda, no meeting. The next Monday would be July 3 — but that’s a national Canada Day holiday. Nothing to despair about. Just the need for a little more patience while listening to yet more complaints from the newly united NDP-Greens leaders reaching for the brass ring of power but finding it a little slippery to grasp.

And before you ask “who writes these rules?” — the members of the legislature write them, amend them from time to time, but insist they be strictly oberved once they’re in the book.

It could take until July to clear the air – or even longer if the electorate is asked to take another attempt provide a clear cut decision at the ballot box on whom we best trust to be in charge as we travel through troubled times.

 

“When Two Men Ride a Horse – One Must Ride Behind”

(with changes to orignal final paragraphs)

There’s an old proverb: “When two men ride a horse, one must ride behind.”  Green Party leader Andrew Weaver should have it framed and prominently displayed in his office as a constant reminder of where he sits on NDP Leader John Horgan’s political mount.

It’s right behind Horgan who controls the animal and has a tendency to pull hard on the bit when his temper’s on edge. Weaver may feel comfortable, but he shouldn’t. He’s just along for the ride and has no idea where it’s heading or whether it will be at cautious trot or reckless gallop when dismount could be hazardous.

He should be having some concern already, although the tandem riders have barely started on their single common-cause mission to bring down the Liberal government as soon as possible after the Legislature convenes on June 22.

Rider Horgan was in full skimble-skamble style a few days ago when my local newspaper quoted him chanting his favourite riding song since the May 9 vote when, as the Horgan song goes, the electorate “voted overwhelmingly to replace” Christy Clark and the Liberal government.

If a 43-seat victory was “overwhelming rejection” for Clark, what would you call 41 for Horgan’s NDP and three for Weaver’s Greens?

Both riders on the Horgan-Weaver hybrid would better spend their time figuring out what they’re going to do if Premier Clark hobbles their horse in the Throne Speech on the 22nd. That’s the speech and following debate Horgan and Weaver can’t wait to end to enable them to dramatically move their non-confidence motion and topple the Liberals.

I wonder if they’re rehearsing that dramatic moment with Horgan making the motion and Weaver obediently seconding it from the rump? And, I wonder if they’re considering what could go wrong to spoil the day when three MLAs fire one government and replace it with another?

Let me offer one scenario. Christy Clark, love her or hate her, is tough. She’s one of those women described by Shakespeare: “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” She is also astutely clever politically.

A Throne Speech is traditionally a government’s shopping list for the next year and beyond. While read by the Lieutenant Governor, it is a government promissory note. Consider the position of jockey Horgan and easy rider Weaver if the June 22 Throne Speech is jammed with good things – including more than a few long coveted by NDP and Greens.

That they would scream foul is a given – but would they vote against programs and policies long demanded and now within reach? Could they be faced with a Throne Speech and following Budget it would be political suicide to reject? Could the mount they are both riding collapse under the weight of their expansive sometimes arrogant egos as the back-seat rider becomes aware how uncomfortable his position has become even before they cross the finish line?

We shall find out on June 22 or a few debate days later. While waiting, it might be wise for Weaver to consider returning to his well trusted, balanced and dependable Green riding colours horse to ride into the future – and for Horgan to seek another windmill at which to tilt if things go south.

Is The Tail Wagging The Dog?

Let’s see if I get this straight. In British Columbia, the golden Canadian province with mountains ranging from sea to sky, valleys rich in rivers, lakes, food and fodder production and beauty beyond compare, we seem to have marched our paradise into a strange form of democratic limbo.

While others rejoice in final election vote counts, I, always feckless when dealing with numbers, fret. I’m trying to understand how the political party winning the most seats (43) in our May 9 general election can be delegated to official Opposition in the new legislative assembly while the party with two less seats (41) supported by a rump party with only three seats is standing by waiting to be proclaimed government for the next four years.

I understand the minority arithmetic – 41 plus three is 44, which is one numeral higher than 43 and the magic number required to capture the right to govern. But, is it democracy at work when the party with only three seats can actually ‘elect’ a second-place finisher rejected by voters in 43 ridings?

I’m not saying that Andrew Weaver and his ‘band of two’ broke any rules when they decided New Democrats would be more comfortable bedfellows than the Liberals. Rather, I just think he let his unexpected power overrule his well-earned reputation for thoughtful decision making. His delight when he and his two Green colleagues signed the 2017 Confidence and Supply Agreement – endorsing the NDP’s right to govern and deliver peace and wise government in the Legislature – was not reassuring.

Am I suggesting he would have been better advised to have pledged his support to the Liberals, keeping them in power? Not at all. I just think he would have been wiser to have spent a little more time reflecting on the influence he and his two MLAs could have held as arbiters between Liberals and NDP in the debating chamber. The Green influence in that role, calling for reason to replace the raucous decibel level that has been the legislative norm for far too many years, could have brought desired stability and peace more surely than the 10 sheets of paper comprising the flimsy “peace in our time” treaty.

While we wait for final transition timing and outcome, we can remember a forecast made in this space just a short while ago – we are in for tough times and none tougher than for the MLAs charged with governance. John Horgan’s New Democrats with his newly recruited Green support hold a one seat majority reduced to a 43-43 seat tie with the election of a Speaker from NDP or Green ranks.

We can expect a flurry of tied votes resolved by the Speaker’s tie breaker with nerve wracking – for the government – moments when there could be a hesitant twinge of conscience as the Greens consider a vote in favour of an expenditure they’re not entirely happy with. They have pledged to support the NDP when money bills are debated. Four years of budget support with the NDP’s proclivity to spend could prove too long for Andrew Weaver to keep his powder dry.

Of course, he may never need to fire a fatal shot at such a fragile government. When soon to be called “Premier Horgan” gets around to naming his cabinet, there will be much rejoicing among those selected. But, we can also anticipate that seeds of dissention will sprout amongst some of those rejected after having served long and well in the lean years.

Crossing the floor – switching from one party to another or choosing to sit as an independent, is not unknown in BC. It would take only two dissenters to shatter the NDP dream and leave the Green’s thinking how much wiser it would have been to stand fast, divorced from the big guys; independent, proud in policy and modest in the way they used the powers fate had granted.

In the next election, which surely will be much less than four years away, Mr. Weaver could find the electorate a little less understanding of his hasty embrace of an erstwhile political rival than he anticipated. He should never forget Disraeli’s advice to politicians that “all power is a trust; that we are accountable for the exercise; that from the people and for the people all springs….”

The day of accounting could come sooner than he thinks.

 

 

 

Let’s Be Careful What We Wish For

Tough times ahead for our Legislative Assembly remodelled somewhat indecisively in May. Times that will test the true mettle of those so nervously asked to govern our affairs for the next four years in a world of fear and uncertainty.

Members of the Association of Former MLAs of BC who served in the late 1970s will be aware – none more so than those who survived the election of 1979 – that the NDP came within six seats of regaining the right to govern they had lost in 1975.

Social Credit had a majority of five seats, reduced to four with the appointment of Harvey Schroeder as Speaker – but still a seemingly, comfortable and safe majority when push came to shove on a vote in the House. By today’s measure, it would look like a landslide.

But, it wasn’t. There came a day when George Mussallem, a veteran MLA from Dewdney and the government “whip” responsible for making sure in-house voting strength was solid, noted he needed only a couple of MLAs sick, one or two others out of the city on government business or attending to constituency problems for a four-seat majority to vanish.

Whether it was George’s idea or one floated down from a higher authority, he never said. But, early in the 1979 legislative session, George began to maintain what he once told me was his “whereabouts” book. He wanted to know where all MLAs were if they were not in their seats in the debating chamber. Cabinet members were not exempt. If they had business outside Victoria, they needed to give George notice to enable him to make sure key government votes would always be strong enough to resist challenge.

It was restrictive and some felt an invasion of privacy, but it was accepted as essential by the government to maintain its slim majority lifeline.

Lacking the perfect crystal ball to forecast the future, we must now wait with understandable apprehension to see how our new Legislature of 43 Liberals, 41 New Democrats and three Green Party MLAs will handle what could be a daily voting crisis once the new Legislative Assembly gathers in normal session.

Will they remember that in the excitement of the photo finish to the May 9 epic  1,356,668 registered voters opted not to vote? Much has been said and written about the result being an indicator that the voters wanted change. Little has been said about the close to 1.4 million who took the time to register but failed to vote. Could it be that they were happy with the status quo? Or maybe convinced that whoever holds power will do a bad job? Were they just too lazy? Sad, really. Such a great, genuine, balance of power not persuaded to support any party or candidate.

It is something to be considered by the Liberals who could retain the right to govern by such a slender thread; the NDP who came so close to the driver’s seat and now stand ready to take control at the first opportunity; and the three seat Greens holding the enormous power to keep the Liberals in office or send them packing – and all of us back to the polls.

The last time BC had a minority government was in 1952 when the Liberal-Conservative coalition listened to those demanding change and called an election that was held with a new electoral system. It was called the preferential ballot or the transferable vote system. I have mentioned it before but it needs repeating as the cries for electoral reform increase without too much explanation as to how they would work.

In the 1952-53 experiment voters had a list of all candidates in their riding and were required to place “1” for a first choice, “2” for a second choice and so on. The candidate with the least votes in each riding would be crossed from the list with his or her alternate votes assigned as requested to alternate choices still in the race.

On the June 12, 1952, voting day, Frank Calder of Nisga’a native fame made it on the first vote count in Atlin with 56 per cent. Ralph Chetwynd won a first count for the Social Credit League with 52 per cent in Cariboo. Social Credit newcomer W.A.C. Bennett waltzed across the finish line in Kelowna with a first count of 51 per cent and CCF leader Harold Winch swept Vancouver East with 51 on the first count.

They were the only four out of 212 candidates to break the 50+ per cent mark on the first count. Most winners needed at least three counts, a few four and two ridings – Vancouver Burrard and North Vancouver – needed five and six counts respectively before a winner was declared.

The final seat count was Social Credit – 19, CCF – 18, Liberals – 6, Conservatives – 4 and Labour – 1. The CCF topped the popular vote with 34 per cent; Social Credit won with 30 per cent; and Liberals got 25 per cent. It’s an old story in BC … the party with the most seats wins elections, not necessarily the party with the most votes.

In its few weeks of life the government of 1952 featured crackerjack exchanges between Winch and Bennett. On March 24,1953, the government engineered its own defeat on a question of financing for schools. Winch wanted to govern, but Bennett asked Lieutenant Governor Clarence Wallace to dissolve the parliament and let the people decide. Wallace agreed to the dismay of Winch.

Premier Bennett set June 9, 1953 for his re-match of the June 12, 1952 cliff hanger he had won by one seat. It was a gamble that paid off. Social Credit expanded its popular vote to 46 per cent over the CCF at 29 per cent and increased the Socred’s seats from 19 to 28 after innumerable counts and distributions of alternative votes. But, although alternative balloting had undoubtedly helped Bennett and his infant Social Credit Party win two elections over well established rivals, he never again used it during his 20-years as premier.

Whether history is about to repeat itself remains unknown, but there are lessons to be learned from experience by those who govern and those who strive to govern. Waiting to see what they have learned will be fascinating – as BC politics have always been.

 

Were 1,356,668 Voters Status Quo Content or Just Indifferent?

The politicking re-started on May 10, just hours after we got word a final decision on the May 9 vote would not be available until after May 24. Elections BC declared “the Writ” would be returned May 31, the final whistle on sudden death overtime Election 2017.

While we, the great unwashed, wait for those final numbers to find out who’s really holding the key to the executive wing of government, two of our three political leaders are scrambling to control the agenda. And, they’ve been at it since the major polls closed with the Liberals clinging to government and the NDP and Greens pondering whether to extend a temporary helping hand – or stamp on fingers grasping for a firmer hold on power.

It’s an interesting scenario, a made in BC special with the NDP, renowned for its pit bull approach to problem solving, suggesting the Greens join them to force the government to make policy decisions according their “loser’s” agenda. All quite legal of course, even if a little conscience-stretching to see the least supported party on election day denying policy decisions proposed by the party with the most support.

Leaves me wondering how Green Party supporters and the general electorate would react to opposition threats to ‘do it our way or we’ll destroy this government’ and force a replay of May 9.

It is a debating method unrelated to anything we have seen to date from Andrew Weaver. His constant appeals for reasoned debate in favour of rhetorical demands won him much May 9 support. It also garnered sympathy for his party’s goal of being granted official party status in the House, a status that includes financial and legislature staffing benefits. Bully talk doesn’t fit the Green character we have come to know and respect.

Since my retirement from active duty in the political trenches, I am reliant on media reports for knowledge of political happenings – and confess to a diminishing faith in reporting accuracy when I read editorial comment woven into news stories which should be opinion-neutral – opinion being just that and always open to challenge.

I make this point because I have been hearing and reading that, if Andrew Weaver and his three Green seats hold firm in the final tally, they will hold the balance of power in a divided Legislature – and use that balance to demand concessions to Green Party policies. “Demand” is not the best of words to use in a democracy where “compromise” and “cooperation” are the favoured ways to solve problems. I read a few days ago in my local newspaper that Andrew Weaver now had “the muscle” to back up his demands.” Muscle? Demands? Makes it sound like a back-alley brawl is planned. I would hope logic, compromise and cooperation would be his weapons of choice.

However, as the rest of 2017 unfolds in BC, there will be many difficult decisions for the balance of power Green leader to make. Mahatma Ghandi once advised that on such occasions “when restraint and courtesy are added to the strength (of your reasoning) the latter become irresistible.”

Mr. Weaver will do better following Ghandi’s advice than flexing rhetorical muscle and seconding the NDP claim that the tight election result was a voters’ cry for change. It may be so. However, for sure it was also a cry for a change in attitudes when the Legislature is in session, a cry for reason and respect in debate to replace rancour and insult.always, a final sobering thought on the cry of the electorate: Elections BC states BC had 3,156,991 registered voters on as of April 11 this year. Preliminary counts record 1,800,323 valid votes were cast which means 1,356,668 voters remain content with the status quo or are too lazy to change it.

 

Don’t Panic – The Sky Ain’t Falling

 

Oh dear, oh dear, we have a minority government; the sky is falling and, in post-election confusion, British Columbia is collapsing back into the dark ages. Across the country, pundits and news reporters – who should know better – are gloomily wondering what the future holds now that voters have again stuttered in lock-step disarray and failed to appoint a clear-cut board of directors to run their affairs.

The doomsayers fearfully shout that it’s 65 years since we had the crisis of minority government. Yes, it is, and in 1952, many regarded an election result as a cataclysmic collapse of political order but BC soon dusted itself off, cleared away the election wreckage and spent the next 20 years as an envied, well ordered, prosperous province.

I touched on the 1952 general election last week, but it’s worth taking a second look. That was the year the Liberal-Conservative coalition government listened to those demanding change to the electoral process and introduced the preferential ballot –sometimes called the transferable vote system – for a general election tryout.  Voters would place “1” for a first choice, “2” for a second choice. The candidate with the least votes in each riding would be crossed off the list with his or her second votes assigned as requested to alternate choices still in the race. First to reach 50+per cent would be elected.

On June 12, 1952, voting day, Frank Calder, of Nisga’a native fame, made it on the first ballot in Atlin with 56.61 per cent. Ralph Chetwynd won a first count for the Social Credit League with 51.84 per cent in Cariboo. Social Credit newcomer W.A.C. Bennett waltzed across the finish line with a first count of 51.24 per cent and CCF leader Harold Winch swept Vancouver East with 51.42 on the first count.

They were the only four out of 212 candidates to make it through without “alternative vote” support to break the 50+ per cent mark.

Harold Winch’s father, Ernest, a lifetime member of the CCF and one of the NDP’s founding fathers, needed three counts of alternative votes before finally crossing the “elected” threshold with 51.37 per cent in Burnaby.

Most winners needed at least three counts; a few four, and candidates in two ridings – Vancouver-Burrard and North Vancouver – needed five and six counts respectively before a winner was declared. In Vancouver-Burrard, Social Credit won both available seats. Bert Price was declared a squeaky winner with 50.47 per cent after four counts, and fellow Socred Eric Martin garnered 51.25 per cent on the fifth count.

Of interest to electoral reform advocates, it’s worth noting that if the election had been run on traditional first-past-the-post rules, Alex Macdonald and Charles MacNeil would have won both Burrard seats quite handily for the CCF. They were among the few who held healthy leads on first counts but fell behind when alternate votes were distributed.

In North Vancouver, it took six alternative vote counts to push Liberal Martin Sowden over the threshold with 53.40 per cent to defeat CCF Dorothy Steeves with 46.60 per cent. A tight, tight race all the way.

The final seat count as noted a week ago was 19 Social Credit, 18 CCF, six Liberals, four Conservatives and – undefeated whenever he ran – Fernie’s Tom Uphill, Labour. The final popular vote counts saw the CCF well ahead with 231,756 – 34.30 per cent; Social Credit 203,932 – 30.18 per cent and Liberals 170,674 – 25.26 per cent.

It’s an old story in BC that it’s the party with the most seats that wins elections, not necessarily the party with the most votes.

The government of 1952 didn’t last more than a few weeks of crackerjack exchanges between CCF leader Harold Winch and Premier Bennett. The Legislature went into session in early February 1953. On March 24, the government was defeated on a school financing vote. Winch was quick to suggest Bennett should resign and let the CCF, with only one less seat, be asked to govern. Bennett countered with a request that Lieutenant Governor Clarence Wallace dissolve parliament, still formally in session, and let the people decide who should be in charge. To Winch’s dismay, the Lieutenant Governor agreed.

In the subsequent 1953 election, Social Credit won all the marbles. After innumerable counts and distributions of alternative votes, its popular vote expanded to 300,372 – 45.54 per cent, over the CCF’s194,000 votes – 29.48 per cent, thus increasing Socred seats from 19 to 28.

Bennett savoured his victory. However, having recognized the danger to a government of hard-to-sway second and third alternative vote choices, he never again in his 20 years as premier departed from first-past-the-post elections.

In 1952-53, politics in BC were in confused free fall on election day, but the end of the world was not nigh. And, 65 years later, I hope it won’t be for some time. There will be no descent into chaos and economic darkness following May 9 – but we could require a 1953 style final play-off election in the not too distant future to get things back on track.

Expensive, but perhaps needed in order to find a more certain way to govern..

In the meantime, let’s do what we do best in the west where we figure problems are made to be conquered by common understanding and respect, and that governments –elected or pending – need constant reminders of their fragile tenure.

 

 

 

The Year The Party Without Hope Won It All

Just a few days to go and you figure it’s all over. Conventional thinking suggests the undecided have now made up their minds although they have yet to mark their ballots to make it official. It’s over but the shouting – the die already cast.

But is it?

I am reminded of the BC general election of 1952 – my first witness of democracy at work on the western edge of Canada since arriving from the UK four years earlier. Byron Johnson was the premier. He presided over a coalition government comprised of Liberals and Conservatives, but was feeling threatened by the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF – that would become the NDP). They would be joined on the ’52 hustings by a motley crew of unelected but noisy and hard to understand “funny money” inconsequential members of the Social Credit League.

Premier Johnson called the ’52 election, confident the result would strengthen the coalition hold in the Legislature. The vote would be held under a new “alternative voting” system which meant a voter could cast a first ballot for the party of choice and list an “alternative.” Instead of an X, the votes would be cast as numbers – 1 for first choice, 2 for second to be counted if the first choice didn’t muster more than 50 per cent of the vote.

The assumption was that with Social Credit holding no seats and displaying confusion in its ranks, the CCF would opt for Liberal or Conservative if a second choice was needed.

Like so many assumptions, not based on fact, this was a bad one and produced disastrous results for Johnson and the Liberals and Conservatives expecting to celebrate a renewed coalition government. In the polling booths, CCF supporters had cast their second ballots in volume to the one party with little chance of survival – Social Credit.

It took at least four “alternative vote” counts to get most of the results; five to get a decision in one or two ridings; and six in at least two ridings. When it was sorted – to the stunned dismay of Liberals, Conservatives, CCF and the electorate – the infant Social Credit won 19 seats, the CCF 18, the Liberals six, Conservatives four and the glorious Tom Uphill from Fernie claimed one for Independent Labour.

First order of business for the Socreds was to elect a party leader who would automatically become the premier. In July, the 19 new MLAs gathered in Vancouver to cast 10 votes for W.A.C. Bennett, a Kelowna hardware store merchant who had previous Legislature experience with the coalition. Two of his challengers garnered two votes each, and Phil Gaglardi picked up a single vote, probably his own.

A year later Premier Bennett – elected by 10 of 19 voters – faced and lost a non-confidence vote in the Legislature. Premiers were expected to resign after such a vote, but Bennett chose instead to take a quick trip to Government House to ask the Lieutenant Governor to dissolve the House and call a new election for June 9, 1953.

It was held under the “alternative vote” rules. Once again, it took endless recounts before winners were declared. This time, Social Credit was the clear winner with 28 seats. The CCF won14, the Liberals four, the Conservative party was reduced to one seat, matched by the redoubtable Tom Uphill Labour Party.

All of which brings me back to our countdown to May 9. Do I have a forecast? Never. Just preferences. I think the Liberal government, warts and all, has done a fairly good job keeping us relatively comfortable economically in BC.

I would like to see Andrew Weaver and the Greens replace the NDP in opposition – or what I prefer to call the next “government in waiting.” I think he would bring to that task measured criticism where warranted and praise and support where deserved. I hear what he says and listen to what he means when he appeals for goodwill and regrets “we spend so much time fighting, we have forgotten what we were elected for.”

It’s an all-inclusive, and I feel sincerely given, critique that requires self-discipline and a genuine willingness by government to accept suggestions from others for improving legislation.

The NDP mantra for the May 9 vote has been “time for a change,” but even as they recite it, they cannot believe it applies to their “us versus them” collective belief. They still can’t believe “the fault dear Brutus is not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings….”

Is it time to let the Greens have a crack at opposition in preparation for governing maybe four years hence? I’ll leave the pollsters to crunch numbers and predict results. I just dream of a better, kindlier way to govern. It can’t possibly happen on May 9, you say and you’re probably right.

Just be sure to cast your ballot for your own dreams always remembering 1952, the year a political party without a hope and with a premier many derisively called “Wacky” came to power and stayed there for 20 years during which BC prospered.

Promises Bloom in the Spring Tra La

Why does President Donald Trump hold up his latest Presidential Decree for the TV camera to zoom in on his heavy-handed, carefully rehearsed signature? Is it to prove that he can spell and sign his own name? Or is he seeking praise for the artistic flourish he uses to link first name with last to make it one word?

Funny business, the President of one of the most powerful nations in the world signing supposedly historic documents and putting on a show fit for Sesame Street. But, nothing unusual I suppose, for the dog and pony show USA politics have become since last November.

To find any serious political talk these days, we have the good fortune of being able to watch our BC style politicians flitting across the silver screen from sawmills to factories, to schools to hospitals, dispensing promises like Gilbert and Sullivan’s “ The flowers that bloom in the spring Tra La, We welcome the hope that they bring Tra La.” They’re gorgeous when first picked, brighten many a room and heart – and fade all too quickly.

Still, it must be stated that our politicians are a calming relief when compared with the post-election chaos south of the 49th Parallel. In BC, as we head for the polls in May, we are being promised better government by all the candidates running – continued balanced budgets by the Liberals; almost always balanced budgets by the Greens; and virtually no commitment on balanced budgets by the NDP, whose past record while in government would indicate balancing the books isn’t all that important.

When the three leaders are on the same platform, they tend to be civil to each other – although on their recent TV gong show NDP John Horgan was pushed close to a temper tantrum by studious questions from Green leader Andrew Weaver. Horgan defends his sometimes anger in debate or when making public statements as “passion” for justifiable causes. It is not a strong defence.

Liberal leader Christy Clark, the most experienced politician of the three, kept her sometimes cheeky grin under control. It’s her best and worst weapon on television. Sometimes it conveys confidence with a happy outlook; sometimes it’s just a flashy smile designed to cover up uncertainty.

Taken all ‘round, I thought it a fairly reasonable showing by would-be leaders, except when candidates tried to talk over each other when making or challenging a point. Horgan was the worst of the three, his voice rising as he tried to overpower his debating opponent with volume rather than logic. But, all three were guilty of shout-down attempts when they would have been better off conceding the floor, and then quietly reprimanding the offender for rudeness.

Who won the debate? I don’t think there was a clear winner, but nor did I expect one. I think Andrew Weaver showed tremendous improvement over his first fling four years ago. Christy Clark was, well, Christy Clark, ebullient, self-confident and unfazed under pressure. John Horgan – chin out, voice raised – was to me the least impressive of the three seeking to become our leader in troubled times.

Any calls on an election winner? Not from me. I may be tempted next Sunday to venture a thought on what I would like to see happen. But there will be no guessing on what will happen. I leave that to the pollsters with their unimpressive record for calling winners in BC or anywhere else in recent times.

Looks Good, But Difficult To Use

When former NDP Premier Mike Harcourt introduced the Recall and Initiative Act in 1995 it was welcomed by many as a refreshing change to the political process in British Columbia. For the first time in history Canada’s westernmost electorate would have the opportunity to organize and persuade the government to establish laws wanted “by the people” but not necessarily favoured by the elected law makers.

The new act also made it possible for voters disappointed with the performance of MLAs they had elected in a general election or by-election to be fired and replaced. It was politely named “recall” and there was general rejoicing in the land – until disenchanted voters tried to use the wonderful new weapon a seemingly kind government had given them to discipline the elected between elections.

The rejoicing proved premature.

Since the Recall and Initiative Act came into force in the closing years of the 20th Century 26 recall petitions have been launched and approved by the Chief Electoral Officer. But hold the cheering for democratic progress because of the 26 recall petition applications “approved” by the CEO only six moved on to the application verification stage where five were rejected because they didn’t have enough valid signatures – and one was halted during the verification process because the member under “review” resigned his seat.

The placating carrot dangled temptingly was proving hard to bite by the number of registered voter signatures required to achieve the ultimate goal of removing an allegedly defaulting MLA. How many signatures? Says Elections BC: “A voter can only petition to recall the Member for the electoral district in which they are registered to vote. The voter must collect signatures from more than 40 per cent of voters eligible to sign the petition.”

The more than 40 per cent bold face emphasis is the CEO’s not mine. He wanted the collectors to be sure they knew what they were getting into and the fact that in BC there have been 26 recall starts but no finishes would indicate they learned the hard way that recalling a democratically elected MLA was not impossible, but it is tough and could be an expensive objective to achieve.

As noted earlier of 26 recall attempts only six progressed to the verification stage where five died for lacking enough signatures. The sixth slithered into oblivion when the MLA facing recalled resigned his seat – thus losing both his seat and a place in the record books as being the first and only elected official in Canada to be “recalled.” BC remains alone in offering its citizens recall and the right to draft new law initiatives for registered voter approval by referendum.

The “initiative” half of the Recall and Initiative Act is even tougher to achieve and requires an army of volunteers to collect petition signatures and involves considerable expense. At first glance the support signatures required seem a relatively easy 10 per cent until we discover that the 10 per cent must come from “the registered voters in each of the province’s electoral districts for an initiative petition to succeed.” There are 85 electoral districts in BC with quite a few embracing vast areas of sparsely populated land.

Of the 10 initiative petitions launched since 1945 only one – the 2010 last hurrah campaign launched by then private citizen but former premier Bill Vander Zalm to end the Harmonized Sales Tax – has been successful. It was a triumphant time for the old spell binder at his best. He needed 299,611 signatures on his petition. When he presented it there were 713,883 of which only 557,383 were verified on audit but more than enough to force the referendum that got rid of the harmonized collection system but not – as most voters seemed convinced – the taxes it had collected. It didn’t. Federal and provincial sales taxes are still in force – but collected separately.

Among the other initiatives, two were withdrawn, two were never submitted and the others “failed – insufficient signatures.” The last to finish in that category was this year’s bid by Paramedics to be declared an essential service and included as such in the Fire and Police Services Collective Bargaining Act. Their volunteers collected 2l5,192 signatures but fell far short of the 10 per cent of the more than three million voters registered in 85 ridings.

It is ironic that in 2010 when Paramedics went on strike to improve their working conditions they were quickly legislated back to work as an essential service. Today the government argues it would cost too much to permanently affirm what they temporarily proclaimed seven years ago. It refuses to include Paramedics with firefighters and law and order officers. The move would cost Paramedics the right to strike but government says the settlement by binding arbitration of future collective agreements to improve high pressure working conditions, would be too costly for taxpayers.

The end result means Paramedics will continue as a minor health care component under the Health Authorities Act lumped in with “hospital support workers.” Although there are 4,000 Paramedics in the province they make up only 10 per cent of the total “support worker” group which includes janitors and general labourers.

The refusal of the government to acknowledge the skills of Paramedics and the pressures they undergo while applying those skills on never-ending basis is mystifying, so is the lack of recognition and support by the NDP and the Greens whose platform promises so far are many but ignore the claim of recognized but denied “essential service.”

There should not need to be difficulty achieving a citizen’s initiative to place Paramedics alongside our two other front line essential services. It’s where they belong.