When Students Teach Their Teachers

It had been my serious intention to pen a few thoughts this day on the merits of England’s soccer team and its glorious long-awaited burst from round ball bottom feeders to capture the beautiful game’s World Cup trophy. Alas, as I have long been aware, the way to hell is paved with good intentions and, as Robert Burns once wrote, “the best-laid schemes of mice and men gang ‘aft agley’.”

A few days ago, things went badly aft agley for England’s soccer team as an inspired 11 men from Croatia recovered from a one goal deficit, went on to win a semi-final contest 2-1 and left England exhausted, bewildered, dismayed and sadly aware – if they knew their Burns’ – of the line warning what happens when best-laid schemes go astray “and leave us nought but grief and pain for promised joy.”

It was back in 1966 that England made it all the way to the final game of the World Cup winning gold by defeating Germany 4-2 in extra time. A well-remembered game because England’s winning goal was disputed and remained under challenge until a couple of years ago when, in 2016, modern technology re-created the moment when Geoff Hurst’s shot hit the crossbar and bounced down across the goal line. You can watch it all in slow motion via Google.

From its 1966 peak England bobbled about, sometimes looking like a possible threat, others like a third-rate side trying to avoid relegation – until two years ago. Coincidental with the high-tech vindication of its 1966 victory, the Football Association (FA) appointed Gareth Southgate, a new young manager. He had two years to select and whip a dubious England team into shape and hopefully play reasonably well in the World Cup contest. He wasn’t expected to beat the world’s best, just to show challenge and restore a bit of old country pride.

The same year a rock band, The Lightning Seeds, launched a rap song – Football’s Coming Home. It was a prophecy and didn’t draw much attention until the Cup preliminaries began and English fans started singing – singing? Well chanting, rapping, whatever – “football’s coming home … everyone knows the score, they’ve seen it all before … they just know … they’re so sure that England’s gonna throw it away, gonna blow it away … but I know they can play ‘cause I remember Three Lions on a shirt … I never stopped dreaming … football’s coming home.”

It became the team song and the Three Lions, which had been the team’s logo since its first international match against Scotland on November 30, 1872, quickly became The Young Lions who responded to the new and unusual support from sports writers and the thousands who watch club games every Saturday.

They went into their first 2018 World Cup match among the clubs least favoured to win. They finished in the final four and moved up as possible Cup winners but fell at the final hurdle. As the BBC sportswriter put it, their “good work undone by tired legs and perhaps a withdrawal of ambition to protect a precious lead.”

King Henry I was the first English leader with a lion on his standard in 1100. He added a second shortly after his marriage to a lady whose father had a lion on his shield. In 1152, Henry II married Eleanor of Aquitaine whose family crest was a lion. And it was Richard the Lionheart (1189-1199) who used three golden lions on a scarlet background. It has been used by every king or queen since.

Rumour has it that the Young Lions preferred The Lionheart design – three lions on a red shirt background as their lucky game shirts. When they lost to Croatia they played in white. Inconsequential? Of course. We all know shirts don’t win soccer games any more than images of lions on flags and shields won battles for Crusader knights. Belgium popped the lucky red shirt Saturday morning before it had a chance to grow a legend. A good thing too if England is to continue with its promising path of a return to former greatness in the game it once owned and taught the world to play.

They say it’s the sign of a great teacher when students build on knowledge taught and rise to heights their mentor only dreamed of. That is certainly true in soccer and was clearly demonstrated these last few weeks as new names appeared on the list of challengers for the game’s greatest bauble. In rapid order once triumphant South American teams were sent packing by less flamboyant but harder working and ever confident teams.

England was lethargic in Saturday’s battle for bronze. Belgium was full of energy and far more determined to win a spot among the champions – even it was third. And in the cup final Sunday, one of the teams that started with little chance of surviving for more than a few early games will be challenging France for the right to be crowned the world champion of soccer.

France, powerful, classy, are favoured to win. So was England when they played Croatia and the small nation came back from one goal down to win their spot in the final. England, team, and country, were shocked as France and fans will be if the blue shirts lose.

I’ll be rooting for Croatia and thinking how wonderful it would be if nations could settle all their differences this way.






Are We Now Old Enough To Know Better?

The bronze plaque looks new, not yet weathered by wind or rain. It tells a simple story. Too simple.

                                                       50 Dallas Road

                              Historic Site of Victoria Immigration Building

“Known simply as ‘The Immigration Building’ the imposing red-brick building that once stood at this site was a symbol of hope, often a difficult hope, that new life in a new land would be better than in the old.

“The Immigration Building was opened in 1907 and until the late 1950s, any immigrant landing in Victoria had to pass through its doors. Depending on their country of origin, some immigrants were detained for a very long period of time and many were forced to pay an entry tax. This Monument acts as a reminder of the enormous courage it took to set off on a journey to an unfamiliar land. Although often entered with trepidation, The Immigration Building offered promise new; a chance to become a part of the vast mosaic called Canada.”

The plaque does indeed mark a spot on Dallas Road where hope may once have sprung eternal but quickly died in a new nation consumed with the evil belief of white supremacy. Called “the new Immigration Hospital” when it replaced the old centre in 1909, it was a two-storey structure with racially segregated wards, medical inspection areas, and administrative offices. It was designed to accommodate 96 Hindus, 36 women, 24 Chinese, 48 Japanese and 16 others. Care had gone into the facility with one administrator explaining the difficulty of “providing plumbing suitable for immigrants accustomed to washing themselves with water rather than using toilet paper.” At the same time, he said he could “assure white people that care is taken that they shall not commingle with Orientals at any stage of their stay.”

While the bulk of inhabitants at 50 Dallas Road would be Chinese or Hindu, it was clear from the outset that any white immigrants confined for whatever reasons would have “privileges.”

In the month of July 1908, more than 30,000 passengers from foreign ports were processed in Victoria by immigration officials and doctors. And, that was at a time when massed arrivals of gold seekers and labourers to build the Canadian Pacific Railway were on the wane and Victoria was no longer Canada’s chief port of entry for immigrants or travelers.

It had been the busiest immigration port in the early 1880s, first with the gold rush, then with CPR hiring 17,000 Chinese labourers to blast and tunnel a railway track through the great mountain ranges blocking land routes from what was rapidly developing as a new country to be called Canada and the Pacific coast.

The railway workers were not the first Chinese imports. That distinction goes to a few brought out earlier to work in newly discovered coal fields. Those workers impressed mine owners with their skills, their work ethic, the fact that they could be fed on a cheap diet of fish and rice, and that they were happy to work for low wages. At least, their employers were happy. It is doubtful if a Chinese worker immigrant was ever asked if he was happy with his dollar a day pay.

The cheap labour made Chinese workers welcome and desirable until November 7, 1885, when “the last spike” was driven at Craigellachie at 8:30 in the morning. Suddenly, the vast number of Chinese labourers became redundant, unwanted, and far from welcome in the province in which they had helped build a vital rail link. In BC, the disenchantment had been growing for couple or years, mutterings about the “yellow peril” were rife.

In 1884, a Royal Commission was established “to make inquiry into all the facts and matters connected with the whole subject of Chinese immigration, its trade relations as well as the social and moral objections concerning the influx of Chinese people into Canada.” On August 9, the Commission met in Victoria with the recording secretary reading a terse but clear history as to how the Commission came to be: “British Columbia has repeatedly, by her Legislature as well as by her representatives in Parliament, solicited the Executive and Parliament of Canada to enact a law prohibiting the incoming of Chinese to British Columbia.”

BC was not the only province expressing fears about the growth of the Chinese immigrant community, but it was possibly most aware that immigration laws in the province were not well written, and during the gold rush and the railway building years it hadn’t been too careful in framing sound legislation to welcome workers from other countries.

It was estimated that by using Chinese labour, railway building costs were reduced by between $3 million and $5 million. Chinese workers were paid roughly half a white worker’s pay and they had to provide their own food while the white crews were provided meals.

The fact that an estimated 600 to 2,200 Chinese lost their lives didn’t seem to enter the debate – possibly because no one has ever been able to come up with definitive records. It is a sad fact that Canadian attitudes at the time did not rate a Chinese death as being as important as the death of a white person. Coal mining disasters were commonplace a hundred years ago. On Vancouver Island coal mine casualty lists, white workers are named – often with their place of birth noted. Chinese workers are noted only by a number. No name, no place of birth. Just a number.

So, in the year the last spike was driven, The Chinese Immigration Act designed specifically to address the “Chinese problem” became law. The Royal Commission had recommended the imposition of $10 head tax on Chinese immigrants. In its wisdom, and probably egged on by BC, the federal government upped the head tax to $50 – a huge amount of money for a labourer to raise.

The new law quickly became nicknamed the Chinese Exclusion Act because, although not as openly hostile as the USA “exclusion act” of 1882 which banned Chinese immigration entirely, the new Canadian law did effectively exclude a class of immigrants for ethnic reasons. Their place of birth rather than their personal health or character decided their fate. Just to make sure Chinese would-be immigrants understood the government’s feeling, successive governments boosted the head tax from $50 to $100 in 1900, then to $500 (a year’s pay for a Chinese labourer)

And then, to make absolutely sure everyone understood which way Canada was leaning, in 1923 (the year I was born so not yet a lifetime away) Ottawa passed a new Chinese Immigration Act. It was properly named the Chinese Exclusion Act because that is exactly what it did – ban for the next 24 years the entry to Canada of anyone born in China.

There were four exceptions: Diplomats, students, merchants, and Canadian-born Chinese returning from education in China. A Canadian-born Chinese was allowed two years for an education stay in China. Failure to return to Canada on time would result in barred re-entry.

There was one other penalty for every person of Chinese descent. On passage of the Act, whether a citizen of Chinese descent was born in Canada or was a legal immigrant accepted as a citizen years earlier, he or she would be required to register within 12 months for a photo identity card. Failure to register would result in imprisonment or a fine of up to $500.

The Act was repealed in 1947 after the world saw the ultimate results of racism and genocide in WW2.

In the post-WW2 years, Victoria’s Immigration Hospital Centre became the target of many complaints about the care provided inmates. The building, too, was suffering from neglect. It was finally left empty and stood that way for 20 years; a haunted house, gaunt and falling apart until, in 1978, the wreckers’ ball finally ended its life.

But it wasn’t until 2006 that then Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced in Vancouver what his government hoped would be an end to “the Chinese question.” He had already extended a formal apology for past insults to the Canadian-Chinese community. Now, he said he was announcing the payment of $20 thousand to each of the estimated 400 survivors of the head tax years or to their widows. He hoped the payment would at long last remove “a moral blemish from our country’s soul.”

All that’s left today is a plaque. Let it remind us of hope and promise by all means. But let it also remind us of what we once were when racism was normal, bigotry acceptable and defended.

We were young as a country then and should have been old enough to know better. I sometimes wonder if we ever will.




Of Soccer, Goals and Gout

It’s been a tough writing week. First a bout with gout – and there’s no poetry intended. Poetry will never blend with gout unless a budding Edgar Alan Poe is standing by ready to launch a new name-sake horror epic while his old Raven croaks “Nevermore!” I am not a stranger to gout but the current occurrence seems to have exploded from ambush rather than using the more casual method of a small hurt gradually expanding to close to the tears of pain.

This time it started big and at the exact moment that Messi missed a penalty shot in soccer’s World Cup. Not, unfortunately, a mere sympathy pain twitch for the world’s greatest footballer but a big toe reacting as though stepped on by a Clydesdale. And if you’re asking “whose Messi?” or “what’s the World Cup of soccer?” you would be wise to check your passport to make sure you’re still on Planet Earth. I mean, for goodness sake, it comes around every four years as wide as the Olympics in its embrace.

It’s not like the baseball World Series, named after a defunct newspaper The World and confined to teams playing in the United States. Actually, I guess the baseball World Series is a good idea; the sort of competition President Donald Trump might invent to make sure America is great again every year.

But I digress from the beautiful game played in one form another since the beginning of time and developed into a cheaply equipped team sport in every country where Great Britain flew the flag of its once world embracing Empire. The empire is long gone, the Union Jack no longer flies in every sunset and in this World Cup year of 2018 it’s a red cross on the white background flag of St. George that flies over the English team. If Scotland, Ireland or Wales had made it to the Cup in Russia, they would be playing under their own flags, singing their own national anthems. Alas, only England it made through the preliminaries so the three nations that helped make Britain great can only sit and watch the young Lions go for broke.

While most sports are now played around the world in their myriad forms in most countries soccer is undoubtedly the most popular – especially in countries less than rich in cash for luxury sports. Every four years new names appear on the final roster to challenge for the title of world’s champion. Some flash in the largest sports’ fishbowl in the world then slide back into obscurity to never again reach a World Cup final – but to always remember the year they did. This year Mexico and South Korea soccer players have guaranteed their nations notes in soccer history by defeating favoured to repeat world champion Germany and knocking it out of the tournament early.

Every four years we, the watchers of the beautiful game, observe with courteous good humour the presence of Egypt, Panama, Morocco, Costa Rica, Korea, Japan, Iceland, Australia, Nigeria and wonder how they got there and why Canada seems always to be with the stay at homes.

Well, we did make it once in back in 1986 – all the way to the Big Dance. We cheer ourselves a bit by saying 32-years isn’t really a long time and we are (in the always popular jargon of a losing team), “in the rebuilding process.” In 1986 the World Cup was in Mexico; in 2026 it will be in Canada, USA, and Mexico so who knows– with an eight-year target to aim for maybe we’re due for a repeat. I mean if Iceland with a total population of 334,349 (2017 count) of which 171,033 are males can make it we should be able to at least qualify. I should mention Commonwealth cousin Australia is pushing well ahead of us. Our family friends from down under have been to world cup five times. For their first visit in 1974 all team members were amateurs and didn’t get out of the group stage. But they were back but no longer an amateur side in 2006-10-14 and of course Russia 2018 where I think they acquitted themselves well but didn’t make it through to the final 16.

As you are reading this half of the 32 teams lining up at the start line have already packed their bags and gone home to watch the final week of competition. Some, like Iceland, would be welcomed home jubilantly thankful that their small nation had done well when tangling with giants on the World Cup stage. Others like Portugal and Argentina who flew home after losing games Saturday would be less joyously received. A few would be losing coaches, or managers as they’re called in soccer; a few players will take sudden retirement and the others will take the rest of summer off to permit egos to recover with a multitude of “if only” stories – and then started preparing for 2022 in Qatar.

Should be an interesting Cup four years from now considering the close relationship between soccer crowds and beer. It is an offence to be intoxicated or caught drinking liquor in a public place in Qatar – which should make crowd control easy and fans in air-conditioned stadiums a little quieter than normal. With a bit of luck I hope to be around for FIFA World Cup 2022, Qatar – without gout. I would like to say cheering for Canada but the experts forecast it will be at least 2026 before our National round ball kickers can muster a team capable of competing with best in the world.

No forecasts for where I’ll be by 2026 but 94 plus eight……!! Shudder.

While I’m waiting I can prop my right foot on a cushion, click on the magic screen and hope the nation, my “old country” England, can win it all this year. They have been in the fight for supremacy since the first World Cup in 1930 – but have only won it once, in 1966. Brazil won the first and has won four more since for a world-leading total of five. Germany and Italy have each won the cup four times. Argentina and Uruguay, twice.(Uruguay, who defeated Portugal  2-1 Saturday, was the first winner in 1930).France, England and Spain have lone cup victories.

Any bets on the last team standing on July 15? No, only hopes for my old country – and that this damn gout will forget my right foot big toe for the duration and beyond.







Lots of Questions; Few Answers

A recent letter to the editor of a local newspaper was sharply critical of the conduct of our Members of Parliament when they participate in a daily vaudeville show from Ottawa called “Question Period.” The writer was upset because the questions were being asked as if spontaneously with the cabinet ministers’ answers delivered from notes – a sure indication that the ministers had been given notice of what the questions would be.

It’s not a new complaint from people interested in the goings on in our national and provincial parliaments. In fact, despair over Question Period in BC is the most consistent complaint I hear about whoever is in government federal or provincial “because they never answer the questions.” I usually suggest a visit to a library with a good reference section and a quick look at BC Standing Order 47A  in Orders of the Day, the rule book for all the games played under the Belleville Street dome – where the distressed will find a description of how Question Period should proceed. Readers will note the qualifier “should.”

The standing order states: There shall be a 30-minute (originally it was just 15) oral question period at the opening of each afternoon sitting on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday which shall be subject to the following rules:

(a) Only questions that are urgent and important shall be permitted;

(b) Questions and answers shall be brief and precise, and stated without argument or opinion;

(c) Supplementary questions may be permitted at the discretion of the Speaker. There shall be no supplementary question to a question taken as notice;

(d) Debate shall not be permitted.

(The supplementary question rule means if when the question is first asked, the minister responds with a promise to “take it as notice,” that assurance ends the issue for the day. The minister is, in effect, saying the answer needs a little research before it can be given.)

In addition to the precise rules, former Clerk of the Legislature George MacMinn’s (LLB, QC) Third Edition of Parliamentary Practice in British Columbia presents a long list of other rules “which members have received from time to time.” They are quite precise as to the language a questioner and responder can use. A few: “In putting a question a member must confine himself to the narrowest limits”; a question oral or written must not be “ironical, rhetorical, offensive, or contain epithet, innuendo, satire or ridicule.”

And, maybe the toughest task for those asking questions or answering when their tongue is racing ahead of their reason or they haven’t paid due care and attention to question or answer, they should never: “Be trivial, vague or meaningless.”

You would think that with all these carefully spelled out rules intelligent men and women – watched over by an equally intelligent Speaker who should be able to recite the rules as well as enforce them – would be able to get through 30 minutes of questions without a hitch or voices raised in satirical rhetoric or meaningless trivia. It is true question period has been around for only about 50 years, but that should be long enough to at least learn the basic decencies of asking a serious question and getting a clear and equally serious answer.

Many times during his 20-year and 45-day reign, Premier W.A.C. Bennett was bombarded with demands from opposition politicians and members of the public that BC establish a question period. When he refused he was taunted with the charge that he was afraid to face the heat of tough questions. He was unmoved – and he never changed his simple reason for not liking the formal question period used in England and all Commonwealth countries.

It was his belief that official question periods were well-rehearsed affairs where the questions are partisan, and asked not to gain knowledge or advance and improve good programs, but to win a political point. Questions were delivered with political “spin” and governments responded with a counter political spin to win a few one-upmanship battles.

It became a standing joke that BC had a question period and would one day introduce an answer period.

It was Bennett’s contention that opposition members in the BC Legislature had ample time to hold a government’s feet to the fire during the time allowed for full debate when ministry budgets were tabled and spending estimates questioned clause by clause. It was his way of providing all the time legislators needed for questions, even if it meant sitting all night. The opposition called it legislation by exhaustion, but he boasted that as premier he was just responding to the Opposition demand for more time to challenge. He claimed he didn’t force the lengthy session, he was just patiently providing all the time required.

In his fine biography, W.A.C. Bennett and the Rise of British Columbia, writer-historian David Mitchell suggests tea-total Bennett undoubtedly would have concurred with hard-drinking Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald when he said: “In a young country like Canada, I am of the opinion that it is of more consequence to endeavour to develop its resources and improve its physical advantages, than to waste the time of the legislature and the money of the people in fruitless discussions on abstract and theoretical questions of government.”

I spent a long afternoon with W.A.C. back in 1975. It was on Sept. 5th, the day before his 75th birthday. He confirmed his related thinking with Macdonald but with simple words more suited to a small town hardware store owner: “You build a home to protect your family. That’s what I tried to do when I was in office. I tried to build a home for BC strong enough to withstand the storm we all knew was coming. I even had a few ‘nuts’ in the basement you know. Even squirrels do that. But inside of three years, they’ve made it a shambles.” 

Born in Hastings, New Brunswick in 1900, W.A.C. died in Kelowna on Feb. 3rd, 1979. He was 78.


When Second Choices Top The Polls

March 16, 1950, dawned cold and West Coast damp the day South Okanagan MLA W.A.C. Bennett resigned his membership in the Progressive Conservative Party, informed the Speaker he would henceforth sit as an Independent, and then, went to the movies. It was 5° Fahrenheit in the days before Celsius and raining off and on.

There is no record of what movie he took in, but he had five theatres to choose from: The Atlas offered John Wayne in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon; The Capitol, Spencer Tracy and James Stewart in Malaya; The Dominion, Gregory Peck in 12 O’clock High; the Royal, Lady Takes a Sailor with Jane Wyman; and the Fox, “Raging Island” and “raging passion of the place Stromboli with Ingrid Bergman under the inspired direction of Rossellini.”

Those who knew the old man guess he went to see 12 O’clock High with its heavy action and tough decision making. After all, he had been going through some heavy action in the legislature fighting endlessly with his own party to demonstrate inspiring leadership. Failing to arouse them, he had finally quit to sit as an independent like old Tom Uphill, who sat proudly as Labour’s lone representative to the dismay of the CCF – now the NDP.

Unlike Uphill, who never changed his independent status, Bennett survived only a matter of weeks as a loner. Stirring in the wings of BC politics at the time was a strange new party under the banner of the Social Credit League. Already active federally and strong provincially in Alberta, it attracted the maverick from Kelowna and the SCL welcomed him when he eventually became a member, even to the extent of wondering if he would like to be their leader. It was an offer Bennett declined. He liked some of the SCL’s new ideas but not others. He wanted to see if they were real before committing.

In April 1952, Premier Byron Johnson’s Coalition government of Liberals and Conservatives decided to go for broke. They called for an election on June 12. In the back rooms, they prepared a well-organized and completely legal trap to virtually guarantee return to their comfortable coalition pew.

The vote would be conducted on what they called a “preferential ballot.” It would be a first for BC and the pious organizers insisted it would be a much fairer way of electing a government than the “first past the post” system used around the world. And it would be simple: Candidates were listed alphabetically on the ballot; the voter would mark a first choice, then second and successively until every candidate got a vote in descending order of preference. When the votes were counted, the candidate with the least votes would be removed from contention with his/her votes then divided among survivors according to the preferences marked on the loser’s ballot.

The process would continue until one candidate emerged with more than 50 percent of the vote.

It was a month before a final decision could be announced and the Liberal/ Progressive Conservative Coalition had been truly hoisted on its own petard. The Coalition had convinced itself that Liberal voters would cast their first vote for Liberals with a second choice for a Conservative – or vice versa – and that the CCF voters would cast all their second votes to either Liberal or Conservatives and thus inadvertently re-elect the Coalition. It was inconceivable to those who had ruled so long that CCF socialists would ever make their second choice a candidate from the amateurs in a party which had no official leader and only one or two members with political experience. (Rev. George Hansell, unelected and not a candidate, was temporary Social Credit League leader during the election but had declared he didn’t want to make it permanent.)

Then the CCF did the unthinkable and, when the day was over, the Coalition was shattered. Social Credit had won 19 seats, the CCF 18, and the Coalition had dropped from 39 seats to 10 – six Liberals and four Tories. CCF supporters had solidly placed their second votes for the rooky SCL candidates presumably thinking it was a safe dump because the new party was not capable of generating much of its own support.

In short order, after the election, the SC League held a leadership convention to make W.A.C. their new leader and premier – a job he would hold for the next 20 years. His first year as premier was short and some suggest made so deliberately by the premier himself.

Convinced he could win a clear majority in an election re-run, he introduced school building legislation that he knew would end in a vote of non-confidence and a loss of government. His anticipation was accurate, the Social Credit government fell and CCF leader Harold Winch approached Lieutenant-Governor Clarence Wallace to suggest that, as he had only one seat less than Bennett, he should now be given a chance to govern. Lieutenant Governor Wallace didn’t agree and supported Bennett’s request to call another election to let the voters settle the issue.

It was held June 9, 1953, with the preferential ballot still in play. If he was gambling that second and third vote ballots would flow his way this time from disenchanted Tories and Liberals and that CCF supporters with a deep distrust of the coalition would also provide second vote strength, he was right. The Social Credit Party led on the first count and never looked back. When it was all over, the preferential ballot gave the Socreds 28 seats, the CCF 14, the Liberals four, Labour one, and the never-to-recover Conservatives one. In some ridings, it had taken six counts before a winner could be declared, and it was second and third votes that swung the SC to a final popular count of 300,372 which was still only 45.54 percent of the total vote.

Bennett never again used the system where second and third choices could overtake and surpass the first. Sitting governments, planning changes for the sake of change rather than legitimate need, should remember Robbie Burns: “The best laid schemes of mice and men oft go astray”


It’s More Convenient to Forget Than Remember

On June 6, 2018, the day unfolded like so many others; bright sunshine, scattered cloud, a light breeze. A perfect day to enjoy and to forget, as most people seemed to forget what happened on this same date 74 years earlier.

Back then, the weather was not quite as perfect. It was D-Day, June 6, 1944, the first – and longest – day, the start of a series of battles destined to end less than two years later with the collapse of Adolf Hitler’s Germany.

Before that day was over, 425 thousand young men would be dead – 209 thousand from Allied forces, 216 thousand German. Among the thousands were many U.S. soldiers, sailors and airmen fighting and dying in only the second major great war in which the U.S. fought on the winning side. The first was when they beat the British in the Revolutionary War.

There have been quite a few smaller, but still vicious, conflicts since D-Day began and V-E Day ended the re-conquest of Europe, and V-J Day celebrated the collapse of the final WW2 Axis power, Japan. The hangovers from WW2 victory celebrations had hardly faded when most of the nations “allied” against Hitler’s Germany/Italy/Japan axis joined forces again, this time under United Nations colours, to save South Korea from a North Korean communist invasion.

The Korean War has never officially ended. An agreement to cease fire still holds precariously but there has never been an armistice. The shooting stopped and the United States forces quietly faded south across the north-south border where the U.S. still maintains a strong military presence. North Korea has spent its time since agreeing to the cease-fire while developing nuclear intercontinental weaponry capable of carrying nuclear warheads to U.S. targets.

President Donald Trump – who has often stated it was time his country “started winning wars again” – is (at this writing) planning to meet with North Korea on June 12 to talk about that nation giving up its nuclear capabilities to make the world a safer place. President Trump, having never tested his own courage on a battlefield, has already warned North Korea that the U.S. collection of weaponry holds more nuclear power than NK can dream of and that “my button is bigger than yours.”

His bellicose threat would indicate that nuclear weapon reduction and/or control would not apply to the U.S. and, should war break out, North Korea could be easily obliterated from the face of the earth.

After Korea, the States took a brief breather from big wars, but only briefly. It was soon at it again in South Viet Nam, defending it against invasion from fellow Vietnamese living in North Viet Nam.

If WW2 was “the just war,” Viet Nam must go down as the most “unjust war” ever fought by the U.S. with only minor aid from other nations. It did awaken the nation’s conscience. It did, when anti-war protests reached rebellious heights on the streets of America’s great cities and on many university campuses, generate hope that maybe this once truly great nation was ready to flex its muscle for peace; that its governments would strive to eliminate military action as a problem solver in the future.

The anti-war cries didn’t last; terrorist action made sure of that when hi-jacked aircraft rammed New York’s twin towers killing thousands of civilians going about their daily business. Under attack, the U.S. was soon at war again in the deserts of the Middle East and the wild hills of Afghanistan searching for the organizer of the twin tower bombing and waging war against Isis or al-Qaeda or the Taliban.

As unnoticed as the passing of D-Day on June 6 was news that in Afghanistan, the commanding U.S. General John Nicholson will be replaced sometime this summer by Lieutenant General Austin “Scott” Miller. Miller will be the ninth officer to command the U.S. forces in Afghanistan in the 16 years America has been fighting there. That’s a new commanding officer every two years – with victory always “close” but never won – in the country that has fought Russian invaders to a standstill before sending them home defeated, and decades before that destroyed an entire British Army in the field. The only time in Britain’s vaunted history that it lost an entire army.

Writing recently for Tomgram, Andrew Bacevich posed this question – among many: So the relevant question for our present American moment is this: Once it becomes apparent that a war is a mistake, why would those in power insist on its perpetuation, regardless of costs and consequences? In short, when getting in turns out to have been a bad idea, why is getting out so difficult, even (or especially) for powerful nations that presumably should be capable of exercising choice on such matters?”

Let me confess that my Bacevich quote is just a fragment from his wide-ranging article on what we have learned or failed to learn from great wars and not so great wars; and how soon we forget if we ever did once learn. For full text check (http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176433/tomgram%3A_andrew_bacevich)

He reminds us of another writer and lover of American history, Gore Vidal, who once wrote of The United States of Amnesia. Comments Bacevich to include us all: “We remember what we find it convenient to remember and forget everything else. That forgetfulness applies to the history of others. How could their past, way back when have any meaning for us today? Well, it just might.”

We all know those who forget or ignore the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. Unfortunately, we seem to elect to high office many leaders unaware of the past or with limited memories. And, the U.S. appears to have elected a president more limited than most when it comes to history, precedent and power.

Maybe someone should whisper in his ear one of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s favourite proverbs first voiced by U.S. trade unionist Jesse Carr in 1976, appropriated and repeated by the Iron Lady: “Being powerful is like being a lady – if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”


Roads Waiting To Be (RE)-Opened

It was in 1874 that British Columbia’s surveyor-general Stanhope Farwell came staggering back to Victoria after a two-day expedition in what author-historian Maureen Duffy describes as “very rough weather” with “snow, hail, and rain” and reported to the BC Commissioner of Lands and Works that it would be a waste of taxpayer’s money to build a road alongside Saanich Inlet from Goldstream to Mill Bay.

“There would never be a pound of freight over it,” he wrote. “A few people might ride over it, and farmers might drive stock over it occasionally.”

He suggested that if they wanted a better return on road building costs, they should improve the main road between the farms in the Duncan-Cowichan-Mill Bay area and Nanaimo, a community growing at a tremendous rate courtesy of coal mining and destined to become the main market for farmers and their produce.

The Daily Colonist sniffed in a comment that Farwell may be getting a little long in the tooth for in-the-field surveying and “was not as physically agile as his guide (W.C. Duncan after whom the city is named), so found the really steep climbs beyond his limited ability.”

Farwell did make a second recommendation if the thought of making Nanaimo the go-to centre for trade and commerce was too much for Victoria; road improvement money could be spent on “the present trail (which) if improved and bridged would in my opinion answer every purpose for years to come.”

“The present trail” was just that, a roughly hewn slash through the forests called a wagon road. However, in reality, it was a three-day, high-risk traverse for anything on wheels testing the run from Shawnigan Lake through Leechtown, then following the Sooke River to a road link to Victoria. The road exists today, although blocked by a tall fence a few kilometers north of where Leechtown once flourished. The fence is to protect Greater Victoria’s watershed, but the rest of the trail is as it was when it was the only land route from the north to the provincial capital. Today it’s called The Galloping Goose Trail, nicknamed for gasoline-powered freight trains operating between Victoria and Shawnigan.

Two years after the Farwell report in 1876, another surveyor, A. R. Howse, took a look at the road being demanded along the coast on the east side of the Malahat. His report was unequivocal: “I am of the opinion this line is quite impractical for a wagon road and moreover I am convinced that no suitable line can be found east of Goldstream and Mallahat [sic] Range of Mountains.”

Howse had also checked out “the western side of the hills” dividing east and west Vancouver Island. His recommendation was clear – abandon thought of a Malahat highway – “the only practicable line for a (north-south) road (is) from Victoria to Cowichan.”

Ten years later in 1886, the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway – coal baron Robert Dunsmuir’s pride and joy, was completed. It came close to following the Farwell-Howse “west of the hills” route recommendations.

The E & N lies silent these days, its tracks getting rustier by the day. Talk of a second highway running north and south stirs once in a while but basically sleeps, forgotten for the most part like the once “vital” railway.

A few days ago, there was a flurry of second highway chatter when an oil tanker was involved in a two-automobile collision and the Malahat was closed to all traffic for about 19 hours. The event prompted loud lamentations from stranded travelers and a knee-jerk response from government that it would study what happened and work to make sure it won’t happen again. It’s the same response echoing over the decades since Major James Francis Lenox MacFarlane led the fight to persuade the government to hack, blast and build down the side of the Saanich Inlet to give him and his fellow farmers easier and shorter access to Victoria markets.

Major MacFarlane’s fight is the stuff of legend. Readers can command Google to find volumes at the mention of his name. For a good look at his character, I recommend a Jack Knox Times-Colonist column of 2017. A taster quote: “…it was MacFarlane – mule-headed, hard drinking, charming, considered barmy by friend and foe alike – who almost single-handed cajoled and browbeat the government into building a road over the Malahat just over a century ago.”

A search of “Mill Bay/Malahat Historical Society/Major MacFarlane” will captivate – especially the documentary One Man’s Dream – The History of the Malahat Highway.

And http://nauticapedia.ca/articles/MacFarlane provides good reading. One article includes a brief quote from a letter he wrote to the Victoria Times in 1938 to correct errors in an article referring to the opening of the Malahat Drive “built by the provincial government in 1914 to replace the Old Summit Road.”

Writing from his retirement address at 1353 Pandora Avenue, the Major gently chided “there are two mistakes in this: First there never was an “Old Summit Road”; second, the present road was finished and opened for traffic a week before Christmas, 1911. I had the honour be the first to drive over and ‘hanseled’ it with a bottle of Burke’s whiskey to the road gang.”

With “hanseled” being a new word for me, I checked. Readers can do the same with no extra charge for a new neat word learned. The Major was correct of course – there never was an old road, just a rugged trail. There still is – and not so rugged anymore. It remains a well-marked, well-used track which could be brought up to emergency road standard with far fewer millions than the Malahat demands to keep it safe and open 24/7/365.

There is a third north-south link in existence but waiting for a place in a modern transportation system. It’s a little remote for everyday use but could be of immense value a few years hence as the tourist industry continues to grow and thrive. Round-the-world travelers are seeking new horizons, and stay-at-home islanders are setting out to discover roads they never knew existed. Like the road from Port Renfrew to Port Alberni via Bamfield, Sarita River and east alongside the Alberni Canal to Port Alberni and then, if you can afford another tank of gas a long run down the valley to Courtenay-Comox.

Try another Google search, this time for a map: Port Renfrew to Bamfield and Port Alberni. It may surprise you, but it’s been an Alberni Valley dream for decades. However, it takes giants in provincial governments to make dreams come true – and we have been a little short of political giants for quite a while now.

And Major MacFarlanes have always been far too rare.



No Fuel For Energy for Five Days

You wake up one morning, turn on your smartphone – or your slow PC – to see if the world is unfolding as it should. You are informed that all gasoline and fuel oil sales have been suspended for at least the next five days.

Although you had been warned such a thing could happen if Alberta’s Premier Rachel Notley didn’t see some positive movement on new pipeline construction, you didn’t believe that our friendly neighbour would ever do such a thing.

Citizens of the eastern United States must have had similar feelings the day their morning newspapers informed them that, “effective tomorrow,” coal could not be used on specific days, even to generate modest heat.

The 1918 edict banning coal as an energy source was issued by a presidential decree supported by Congress and the Senate and it applied to “all manufacturing plants with but few exceptions in all states east of the Mississippi River.”

In my hometown of Victoria on the distant Pacific Coast of Canada, the local Daily Colonist ran the story front page on January 17 – a Thursday. The five-day total ban for major manufacturing plants kicked in the next day to be followed by partial closures of “all activities that require heated buildings.” They will “observe a holiday every Monday for the next 10 weeks.”

The Colonist noted the Monday “holiday” would do more than shut down factories and create spells of mass unemployment; it would also close down all “theatres, saloons and stores – excepting drug stores and food stores – and hotels and rooming houses heated by coal furnaces.

There were protests, with one of the loudest coming from the New York theatre district, claiming the Monday closing of all theatres could result in serious psychological problems. “On a public with nowhere to go but home on a Monday evening, that could be demoralizing for the people of New York,” the Colonist reported. No explanation was given as to why Monday without theatre would be more demoralizing than Monday without pubs.

It all happened “entirely without warning” when oil, gasoline, and electricity were in their infant years. Coal and coke were the fuels that drove huge manufacturing plants and kept America rich and warm and able to fight in a world war. Stocks were running dangerously low when the five-day shutdown was ordered. There are those who say the shock of the 1918 coal shortages as the first World War came to a close hastened the end of the black stuff as a prime energy source. At the time oil and gas were edging in as cleaner and more efficient replacements – as solar, wind and electric power are today, sounding the death knell for their old unclean ways.

But, the world is not quite ready for the next big shift to wiser, more efficient, energy.

Maybe a shutdown of supply is what we need to convince the “ban pipelines and oil tankers” naysayers that until we have a cleaner energy source to turn on, we need fossil fuels to keep us moving, eating, and staying warm in winter.

Five days to 10 weeks without the lifeline of oil – which one day The Big One might bring coastal BC  “entirely without warning” – would be a hard way to learn and admit that evil fossil fuels have brought us many comforts on their way from welcome to disgrace.

Retire them we must, and the sooner the better. But not until we have found, and have in place, a better way.





Electric Trains From Victoria to Air and Ferry Terminals

If you have ever been fortunate enough to roll from central London, England, to the heart of Heathrow Airport for a flight to wherever in the world you want to go, you will know how easy it is. At the busy but orderly Paddington railway station, you step aboard the quietly purring Heathrow Express, stash your luggage on a low-level shelf, and settle yourself on a comfortable clean seat for a 15-minute glide to the airport.

There’s a train every 15 minutes; the journey itself takes the same amount of time – 15 minutes from the centre of one of the busiest cities in the world to the middle of an airport with tentacles reaching every major city on Planet Earth. Just enough time to check your latest electronic gadget for e-mails courtesy of free wi-fi throughout the train.

Some 100 years ago, a traveler living in Victoria, British Columbia, could have enjoyed the similar ease of connected travel. The journey itself may have lacked the clean comforts we demand on our modern public transports, conversations would be limited to fellow travelers, speed would be slower, the ride itself perhaps a little less smooth. But, in the early years of the 20th Century, a traveler could climb on board an electric train in downtown Victoria and get off at a place called Tatlow where, in 1914, the BC Electric Railway Company built The Chalet to feed day trippers or more leisurely vacationers. It’s just a little north and west of Sidney and close enough to the airport to call it neighbour

A few days ago, I was reminded of another once vital transportation connection between Victoria and its suburban neighbours when Premier John Horgan downgraded old proposals to restore what was once a vital railway link between BC’s capital city and the western communities, now called the West Shore. The premier said he would prefer to see the historic Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway right-of-way used as a fast bus and possibly multi-passenger car lane, rather than see it reborn as a light rail rapid transit system.

The dream of a modern transportation system to service the growing West Shore population would have to wait, and while waiting, the old right of way, owned by the Island Corridor Foundation, could be used to get some heavy traffic off the main highway into special bus lanes where it could continue to speed up global warming and increases pollution at will.

That’s an interesting proposition promulgated by those who have never heard – or never want to be reminded – about the Victoria and Sidney Railway (1892) or the BC Electric Railway Company’s once famous Interurban Railway Line (1913). Wikipedia tells us the early negotiations between Victoria City Council and V&S Railway involved “certain tax concessions and various loans” before construction of the line connecting Victoria and Sidney started in 1894.

In the early years, the V&S prospered but aging equipment and the challenge in 1913 of BC Electric’s Interurban Line offering ultra-modern equipment plus faster and more frequent service proved too much. In 1919, V&S ceased operations and its line was abandoned – although a few spots like “Veyaness Road” remain on street maps, inadvertent historic markers that “a railroad once ran here.”

The Interurban Line didn’t survive much longer, although it was often praised for the beauty of its route out along Burnside Road, Interurban Road, Interurban Road Rail Trail, West Saanich Road, Wallace Drive, Aldous Terrace and Mainwaring Road. One section of the old track is now an airport runway; another section is part of the old Experimental Farm now known as the Sidney Centre for Plant Health.

In 1923, the Interurban Line was officially shut down. “Tatlow Station” no longer exists but Tatlow Road does and still leads to The Chalet with its continuing five-star claim to fine dining.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful for we southern Vancouver Islanders if the Interurban Line right of way had survived intact and been developed as a clean energy 21st Century light rapid transit system with transfer stops at the airport, the ferry terminal, downtown Sidney – and of course, before the return run home – The Chalet for lunch or dinner?

Maybe Premier Horgan should consider the lessons of the past and the times and costs of missed opportunities.



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Hold The Applause ’til The Final Curtain

It’s a year now since British Columbia, true to its maverick reputation in politics, re-elected the ruling Liberal party to continue to run the province. The reigning Liberals won more seats than any other party but not enough to control the Legislature. When three Green Party MLA’s officially pledged their support to the New Democratic Party then Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon felt that with guaranteed support from the Greens John Horgan’s New Democrats offered a better chance at stability.

John Horgan became Premier Horgan, threw himself into the job with great energy and sometimes surprising “presence” and a never-ending supply of self-praising announcements when new schools, hospitals, parks or playgrounds were opened with each event a reminder that good things were happening since he was elected Premier of BC. Once in a while, a background voice would murmur he had been appointed rather than elected premier and the Green Puppy Party would yelp what they hoped sounded like a threatening bark as a reminder the Green trio holding him in place was very fragile.

By and large, as 2017 rolled into ’18 the NDP world was unfolding comfortably, although not as perfectly as a first glance might indicate.

When two new hospitals opened a matter of weeks after the election it did not escape public attention that hospitals are not planned and built overnight or even a short 12-month span. It was remembered by many that location of the new facilities to serve the Comox Valley and Campbell River had generated fierce debate locally and that the massive financing came from the taxpayers of British Columbia courtesy of the then Liberal government, not from the ribbon – cutters on hand for the Grande finale with speeches seeking praise for  a new government after only a few weeks in office.

Last Thursday, May 10, the BC Ministry of Finance issued a press release announcing Moody’s credit rating agency had reaffirmed British Columbia’s status as a Triple-A credit rating holder. It holds similar status with the Standard and Poor’s and Fitch agencies and remains the only Triple-A rated province in Canada so rated by all three international accredit rating agencies. The release carries a statement from newly minted Finance Minister Carole James: “Moody’s affirmation of our Aaa rating is further validation that our plan to make life more affordable, improve services and create good jobs for people is prudent and fiscally sustainable….It signals confidence in our province and in the future of our strong economy.”

It is true that a Triple-A rating is a prized confirmation of British Columbia’s economic stability, a feather in our cap. It is also true that the recognition was not earned last year but decades ago. Premier Horgan, held in office by three Green fellow travelers, inherited a prosperous province with a sound economic base and programs. Neither he or his finance minister played a positive role in building that solid economic base.

It would be foolish to expect a newly seated government to praise too loudly – or even softly – a predecessor’s accomplishments, but it should not be beyond reason to expect the new team to boast only of its own laurels. In that way Premier Horgan and his team can claim some credit for the announcement a few days ago of a $90 million affordable housing plan to ease if not eliminate what is now a lack of housing crisis. It’s an ambitious plan with three levels of government jostling for credit with Ottawa tossing in $30 million; the province matching the federal donation with another $30 million,  and the Capital Regional District (CRD)  topping it up to $90 million to, claimed Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Jean-Yves Duclos, federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development “effectively end chronic homelessness in the capital region.”

It is a project long overdue, too long ignored but we, especially “the government”  must never forget that every one of the $90 million dollars comes from taxpayers, not a magic money tree money planted and nurtured by the NDP.

Sadly it must be remembered the “choir” gathered to praise the “end to chronic homelessness in the capital region” has less than sterling reviews when staging mega construction projects. Its most recent performances – a multi-million wastewater-sewage treatment disposal system now under construction but years behind schedule and wildly over original budget, and the expensive comic opera involved in replacing an old cross-harbour bridge with a new one were disasters in budgeted cost control and construction timetables. So, while I welcome the new hymn of praise for affordable housing I shall wait a while before joining the adulation chorus – and hope I can live long enough to join it. And we should all hold the full “hallelujahs” until the last unit is built and occupied.




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