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.

Stay At Home Voters Shame BC

How will the general election in British Columbia go on May 9 this year? Frankly, I have no idea but I’ll make a forecast anyway: If voting patterns continue on the downward trend established and continuing since 1986, the thousands of citizens who hold the precious right to vote, but fail to exercise it, will again decide the outcome.

It should be disturbing that recent BC governments have been elected by just over half the people holding the franchise. But, it doesn’t appear to be.

Last time residents of Canada’s west coast province were asked for a decision on future governance only 57 percent of those eligible bothered to vote. Hardly a resounding victory for those who cherish voting rights so firmly embedded in our Charter of Rights and Freedom – and so casually, almost contemptuously, ignored by close to half of their fellow citizens.

To its credit Elections BC, a non-partisan office of the Legislature, has laboured mightily in the years between elections to stimulate interest in the election process. Its efforts have been backed and promoted by all political parties and there has been a measure of success in the increasing numbers of citizens taking the time to make sure their names are on the registered voters’ list. Unfortunately, their combined efforts have not yet convinced voters there is a second important step to take to fully exercise their franchise – actually casting a ballot.

Statistics can be boring and, more often than not, confusing, but Elections BC stats for the last provincial general election in 2013 tell a few remarkably interesting stories. Some should dismay as well as surprise.

In 2013, there were 235,615 registered voters listed between the ages of 18 and 24 years. A veritable army of young bloods with the voting power to swing most ridings – but only 112,918 or 47.9 per cent chose to spend the few minutes it takes to vote. Read the numbers the other way round and 52 per cent failed to cast their ballots and the show of energy and responsibility by our future leaders is far from impressive.

But, that isn’t the end of BC’s lack of enthusiasm for elections. The last time they were called to the polls registered voters in the 25-34 age group numbered 505,345. Only 200,984, a shocking 39.8 per cent, bothered. No, no, you read that right. Sixty per cent of the movers and shakers of BC stayed home. Readers who fell into this category four years ago should be ashamed to realize they were at the bottom of the list of those who took the trouble to register but failed to take the next crucial step and vote.

You can find all the stats in proud or embarrassing splendour – plus everything you ever wanted to know about the May 9 election but didn’t know where to ask at http://www.elections.bc.ca.

Did I write “proud or embarrassing” a second ago? Yes, indeed, but proud only if you’re rattling through life on the north side of 50 years. Nestling triumphantly with the Better Than 50 set are: 55-64 years – 591,106 registered of which 393,914 voted (66.6 per cent); 65-74 – 386,875 registered of which 287,242 voted (74.2 per cent).

The final Elections BC record is for citizens 75 years old and better with 312,412 registered to vote of which 204,518 or 65.5 per cent voted. Remember those 25-34 young adults’ registered voter numbers listed earlier at 505,345 but with only 200,984 voting? The old codgers had close to 200,000 fewer in their registered voter ranks – but out-numbered the youngsters with a 204,518 (65.5 per cent to 47.9 per cent) voter turn-out.

How will it go in May? As I said earlier, I have no idea, but if voting patterns follow the dismal register-but-don’t-vote trend of recent years the thousands who didn’t vote are again destined to become immediate vociferous critics of the government they never voted for but helped elect.

A World Apart German and Canadian Mothers Wept

5.25 am. Monday, April 9, 1917. Massed artillery that for days has been pounding German defences entrenched on the heights of Vimy Ridge have fallen eerily silent. In the palpable pre-dawn darkness of France 100,000 infantrymen, most of them Canadians, waited for a signal that would send them, bayonets fixed, storming from the base of Vimy Ridge to its well defended peak.

The signal came at precisely 5:30 am in the glimmer of first light. As officers blew their whistles the silent guns stirred again in anger, calibrated now as a “creeping barrage” to march just ahead of the infantry up what war correspondent Philip Gibbs described as “that great, grim hill which dominates the plain of Douai and the coal fields of Lens and the German positions around Arras.”

It was the beginning of the Battle for Vimy Ridge, the battle military historians list as the great turning point in Canadian history; the battle that saw four Canadian division fighting together as a unified force for the first time and winning a victory that had been denied other armies. Vimy, they say, was the beginning of Canada’s evolution from dominion to independent nation.

War time reporter Gibbs was there to witness the event:
“The hour for attack was 5:30. Officers were looking at their wrist watches. The earth lightened….there was a strange and solemn hush. We waited, and pulses beat faster than the second hands. ‘They’re away,’ said a voice by my side…It was dawn now, but clouded and storm swept….On the higher ground our men were fighting forward….I saw two waves of infantry advancing against enemy trenches….They went in a slow, leisurely way, not hurried though the enemy’s shrapnel was searching for them….’Grand fellows’ said an officer lying next to me on the wet slope…”

“Grand fellows” indeed, although as a phrase it sounds archaic a hundred years later and far too Downton Abbey upper-class when describing a bloody battle scene that left 3,598 Canadian young men dead on that “great, grim hill” and sent another 10,000 or so home wounded in body or mind and sometimes both.

Reporters like Gibbs did their best to convey some of the horrors of otherwise “glorious” battle fields, but were forbidden to report or write anything that might lower the morale of fighting men or their families
The Defence of the Realm Act became law in England four days after WW1 started in 1914 thus giving credence to the well established proverb: The first casualty of war is truth.” Gibbs began reporting on WW1 within days of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) arriving in France but after his first completely honest battle reporting he was ordered home, hauled before a disciplinary body and told to change his ways or face a firing squad

The threat was not idle. One section of the Defence of the Realm Act read: “No person shall by word of mouth or in writing spread reports likely to cause disaffection or alarm among any of His Majesty’s forces or among the civilian population.” Gibbs, like other reporters, reluctantly agreed to the reporting rules but managed by skilful phrasing to convey the grim realities of the battlefields.

And he never failed to tweak the conscience of those who glorified war with the claim that God was on their side. Easter Sunday, the day before the great assault on Vimy Ridge, Gibbs went for a walk through nearby villages. He wrote that he was “filled with a tense, restless emotion, and some of us smiled with a kind of irony because it was Easter Sunday. In the little villages behind the battle lines the bells of the French churches were ringing gladly because the Lord had risen, and on the altar steps the priests were reciting the splendid old words of faith ‘I have a arisen and am with thee always. Alleluia’….as I walked up the road to the battle lines I passed a battalion of our men….standing in a hollow square with bowed heads while the chaplain conducted the Easter service.

“Easter Sunday, but no truce of God.”

While Gibbs was prevented by law from telling detailed truths which might upset people at home in England there were no restrictions on describing the great slaughter of German soldiers. The massed artillery found easy targets preceding and during the infantry attack. “Trains on the move…troops massing on the sloping ground were shattered, guns and limbers on the move…men and horses were killed….The enemy losses were frightful, and the scenes behind his lines must have been and still be hideous in slaughter and terror….He has lost already nearly 10,000 prisoners…and in dead and wounded his losses are great.”

And then he penned a message which must surely have been understood by every woman – and man – able to read an English newspaper: “It is a black day for the German armies – and for the German women who do not know yet what it means to them.” German casualties totaled in excess of 20,000. Gibb

The real horror of Vimy for Canadians, kept secret until after the war, was officially recorded by the 2nd Division’s 6th Brigade (the “Iron Sixth,” comprised of Western Canadians), as they made their way into the fight at about 9 am four hours after the first wave went in on the opening day: “Wounded men (were) sprawled everywhere in the slime, in the shell holes, in the mine craters, some screaming to the skies, some lying silently, some begging for help, some struggling to keep from drowning in (water-filled) craters, the field swarming with stretcher-bearers trying to keep up with the casualties.” It can be fairly added that the ultimate victory was a bad day for Canada – and for at least 3,598 Canadian wives and mothers when informed of the cost of victory.

One hundred years later we remember the men who stood in the pre-dawn dark of an Easter Monday and were part of one of Canada’s greatest military victories, a battlefield triumph that lead to nationhood.
It is an event worth remembering – but only if we also remember and learn.

Philip Gibbs was awarded a Knighthood for his wartime reporting, even though openly embarrassed about the restrictions he was forced to work under. About 20-years before the outbreak of WW2 he wrote a voluminous book – Now It Can Be Told – with this introduction:” In this book I have written about some aspects of the war which, I believe, the world must know and remember, not only as a memorial of men’s courage in the tragic years, but as a warning of what will happen again –surely – if a heritage of evil and of folly is not cut out of the hearts of the peoples. Here it is – the reality of modern warfare not only as it appears to British soldiers of whom I can tell, but to soldiers on all the fronts where conditions were the same.”

So, let Canadians remember Vimy Ridge with pride if we must. But let us also remember the cost of the sacrifices demanded in our “heritage of evil and folly” since the slaughters of two world wars and seemingly never ending small ones.

(Now It Can Be Told can still be found for purchase on-line or ordered from most good books stores – or downloaded free via Project Gutenberg -www.gutenbeg.org/files. Google –First World War.com – Primary Documents –Philip Gibbs on the Battle of Vimy Ridge, 1917)

The Power Of One Multiplied

“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over” has been a rallying cry for individuals or teams of individuals striving for what appears to be a lost cause. It is a great truth, a final “never say die” appeal to team mates in a final sports championship contest, or a rallying cry for a group of workers seeking well justified recognition from a seemingly indifferent government.

If you like historic time lines it was first uttered by American baseball legend Yogi Berra in 1937 when his team appeared set to make an early departure from the National League playoffs. The challenge worked, the team rallied and won the series. Yogi didn’t invent the thinking. Credit for that should go to Robert Bruce, King of Scotland (1306-1329) who, according to legend still taught in British schools, watched a spider trying to swing a single anchor strand for a new web across a corner of a cave.

Six times the spider tried. Six times it failed and Bruce made a vow that if the spider tried a seventh time and succeeded he would continue his fight against the English. Having fought the Brits six times and lost he would regard the results of the seventh attempt as a message from the gods. If the spider failed he would give up the fight. On the seventh swing the spider made it and “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again” was added to the Bruce legend. Some 600 years later Yogi Berra gave it a sharpened 20th Century twist.

That long preamble brings me the tough battle being fought by BC Ambulance Service Paramedics as they try to gain official recognition of their work as an essential service. No one has any doubt that the work of paramedics as first responders is without question a recognized essential service, but successive governments in BC have been reluctant to give that incredibly stressful profession official status.

In recent weeks I have written several blogs lamenting that lack of decisive action and the long overdue recognition for a paramedic service that stands shoulder to shoulder with police and firefighters on first responder action lines – but still lacks essential service recognition.

It remains a mystery to me that both right wing and left wing governments – Social Credit, NDP and Liberal – have ignored and continue to ignore the people who clean up the blood and gore after highway accidents, bind up fearful injuries, are front and centre in the opiod addiction battle, are in constant demand by our aging population – and have probably saved the lives of more stroke and heart attack victims than doctors.

I know thousands have signed a petition asking for essential service recognition for presentation to whichever political party is in power after May 9. But to be successful it must contain the signatures of at least 10 per cent of the registered voters in each of BC’s 85 electoral districts. In 2013, there were 3.1 million registered voters province wide. Only 57 per cent voted. That doesn’t change the threshold target of 10 per cent of those registered to vote, even those who for whatever reason decided not to exercise that privilege and stayed home.

So, it is a tough target to meet and sign up continues until only until mid-April when the 90-day vote collecting period expires and our paramedics will know whether they have met the 10 per cent threshold.

If you haven’t yet voted ask the next paramedic you see where you can, or check out info@yourparamedics.ca.

If you have voted, but would like to add a little voter muscle to the cause take a few minutes to fire an e-mail to Premier Christy Clark at premier@gov.bc.ca and NDP leader John Horgan at john.horgan.mla@leg.bc.ca to ask if they would commit to introduce a Fire, Police and Paramedics Essential Services Amendment Act at the first sitting of the Legislature after the election whatever the percentage of petitioners. Let them know their answer will guide your vote.

And remember, however tough the battle “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” Remember that Bruce and the spider got it right and that “the power of one” can be a formidable force when it’s multiplied.