We Should Have Supported The Science

Sometimes I’m a little slow to react – and sometimes so slow that I find myself commenting on history instead of what should (would) have been current affairs had I been quicker off the mark. It is a fact that since I hunkered down in the Berwick Royal Oak Residence for senior citizens 16 months ago (yes, tempus does fugit) I have quadrupled my rate of procrastination.

Thus, today, I bring you my thoughts on an event that took place a year ago in and on the waters of Puget Sound; an event which would be hilariously entertaining had it not involved a spill of millions of gallons of sewage and stormwater and cost multi-millions of dollars to fix.

Readers of my blog, who reside beyond the provincial boundaries of British Columbia, may have picked up whispers from time to time that BC’s capital city, Victoria, admired for its scenic and floral beauty, disposes of its raw sewage and stormwater into the ocean which rolls between BC and Washington State.

For years, local governments and regional district authorities resisted the cries of environmentalists demanding that the disposal of raw sewage into the ocean end, and a full sewage waste-water treatment plant be built at a cost of millions of dollars. For years local government countered those protests with environmental and scientific studies and reports that the waste being piped into fast flowing deep water currents was being transformed, diluted and returned to nature with pristine efficiency.

The scientific evidence did not impress Victoria protesters. Their voices echoed across the ocean and found common cause in Seattle where USA local governments began to belittle Greater Victoria’s scientific evidence and apply economic pressure to force the building of a full treatment plant. Victoria’s economy depends heavily on tourism and negative media plus political attacks on the dumping of raw sewage into the ocean began to take their toll.

In Canada, provincial and federal governments ignored or rejected scientific studies that claimed ocean tides and currents were taking more than adequate care of any perceived problems. Local environmentalists created a symbolic mascot to wander the streets and attend public gatherings. It was an adult male made up to look like human faeces, aptly named Mr. Floatie.

There is little doubt Mr. Floatie’s vulgar presence was more appealing to an easily led public than the carefully reasoned science stating nature was already controlling the situation; that full treatment was not necessary. The threat that senior governments might withdraw heavy funding required to build the plant weighed heavily in the final equation. In September 2016, a decision was made to proceed with the project at a cost now estimated at more than a billion dollars.

In May 2017, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps accompanied Mr. Floatie to Seattle to triumphantly attend his “retirement party” after two years working for Mayor Helps, Tourism Victoria (and) their Seattle counterparts. The party was hosted by Canadian Consul General James Hill. The flight to Seattle would take the Mayor and Mr. Floatie over the site where four months earlier hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage and stormwater had spewed untreated from Seattle’s West Point sewage and stormwater treatment plant.

There is no indication in the reports on Mayor Helps’ and Mr. Floatie’s flight that the site of the disastrous sewage spill was ever pointed out to them or that they ever got to meet Kim Stark, the lead quality water controller at the King County Environmental Lab. Ms. Stark had assured a concerned public that in the days immediately after the spill caused by a mechanical failure, “some monitoring categories spiked,” but that just a short time later, “everything looks typical.”

Then she significantly added: “There was a reason West Point outfall was put in the location it was. It is a perfect location [because] there are some very high bottom currents. So, the effluent goes out and kind of moves and just becomes very diluted very quickly.”  Which is why in very short order after the West Point outfall disaster occurred “everything was back to normal” – which is exactly what the scientists and environmental engineers had been saying was happening with Greater Victoria’s sewage disposal since the great debate began.

But the people ignored the science and the logic and followed instead the advice of a piece of … well, maybe best not to go there.


Remembering The First Man He Killed

I was cynically amused a few days ago when USA President Donald Trump puffed his bottom lip and pronounced that had he been on duty the day 17 school children and school workers were murdered he would have burst into the school and without hesitation executed the shooter.

I have no doubt the President believed the thought. And, I have no doubt that he has never been in a position where he was required to face the fact that if he opened the door in front of him it could be the last thing he ever did on earth. Others were also critical of police who failed to react as they had been trained that fateful morning. Cowardice was not an unspoken word.

My reaction was a little kinder, although I have never been in a situation where a well-armed man was waiting just beyond a door ready to kill me if I opened it. I have no idea what my reaction would have been or would ever be but many years ago, William Manchester, a writer of great integrity, told me how I might have felt and reacted.

He was writing one of his several classics – Goodbye Darkness, a memoir of the Pacific War. In the opening pages we find him flying across the Pacific to revisit old battle grounds. As he flies through the night, old memories, “phantoms repressed for more than a third of a century come back; (one) with a clarity so blinding that I surge forward against the seat belt, appalled by it, filled with remorse and shame. I am remembering the first man I slew.”

Manchester, in charge of a 19-member squad of marines, takes us to a beach on Motobo where a fisherman’s shack from which sniper fire had already claimed several victims, was barring progress. He was the leader. “Sweating with the greatest fear I had known until then, I took a deep breath,” asked for squad coverage and made a dash for the hut dropping every dozen steps, remembering to roll as I dropped.” He was almost at the door when he realized he wasn’t wearing his steel helmet and “that was a violation of orders. I was out of uniform and I remember hoping, idiotically, that nobody would report me.”

He remembered, too, how his jaw began to twitch and “various valves were opening and closing in my stomach. My mouth was dry, my legs quaking, and my eyes out of focus.” He struggled for control, kicked the flimsy door open, crashed inside where “my horror returned. I was in an empty room!” There was another door, another room which meant that’s where the sniper was – now alerted by the noise.Waiting.

“But,” wrote Manchester, “I had committed myself. Flight was impossible now. I smashed into the other room and saw him as a blur to my right. I wheeled, crouched, gripped the pistol butt with both hands and fired.”

He was the first Japanese soldier Manchester had ever shot, the first he had ever seen at close quarters.

“He was a robin-fat, moon-faced, roly-poly little man … squeezed into a uniform that was much too tight.” Manchester’s first shot had missed “the second caught him dead-on in the femoral artery.” As the sniper slumped down and bled out in a pool of his own blood, Manchester kept firing until his magazine was empty.

He reloaded his gun, and “then I began to tremble, and next to shake all over. I sobbed, in a voice still grainy with fear – ‘I’m sorry.’ Then I threw up all over myself. I recognized half-digested C-ration beans dribbling down my front, smelled the vomit above the cordite. At the same time, I noticed another odour; I had urinated in my skivvies.”

Another member of his squad arrived, checked to make sure the sniper was dead. “I marveled at his courage,” Manchester wrote.”I could not have taken a step toward that corner”. The squad member then approached Manchester but quickly “backed away in revulsion from my foul stench saying: ‘Slim, you stink.’ I said nothing. I knew I had become a thing of tears and twitchings and dirtied pants. I remember wondering dimly: ‘Is this what they mean by ‘conspicuous gallantry?’”

And as I read Manchester again, I wondered if President Trump could read him and identify and confess without shame a true warrior’s tarnished distress;and I wondered how many of the people quick to brand as cowards men who couldn’t cope with fear, would have handled the situation in the beach hut on Motobu.

I ask myself the same question and hope I never have to find out.




Twenty Seven Words Divide The USA

It’s hard to believe that 27 words penned in 1791 to give strength to the then-emerging United States of America would be ripping the country apart 200 years later.

But, as Walter Cronkite would say, were he still around to enlighten us, “that’s the way it is” south of the 49th parallel where the fight continues over the right to bear arms.

The ink was hardly dry when the new and much-admired USA Constitution was revealed to the world along with a block of 10 amendments to the original – amendments that remain as a solid foundation to democracy, troubled as it is today.

The first of the 10 amendments grouped as “The Bill of Rights” was approved by Congress on September 25, 1789 and ratified two years and three months later on December 15, 1791. It dealt with “freedoms, petitions and assembly.” In 2018, this Bill of Rights continues to provide protection for people who worship other than a Christian God, and for “the press” when it publishes stories a sitting president might find offensive.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Not many words and as easy to understand as they were when written centuries ago.

That lengthy preamble brings me to the now famous “second amendment,” that has created angry debate for decades and burns fiercely today at the heart of the firestorm following the most recent murders of 17 Florida school students and staff by a mentally damaged teenager in ownership possession of an automatic firing rifle.

Amendment Two, the right to bear arms, is a concise 27 words and was clearly understood and supported in 1791: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The National Rifle Association of America, the powerful USA “gun rights” lobby, argues that any attempt to curb gun ownership rights as guaranteed in the second amendment of the Constitution is an attempt to destroy a foundation stone of the USA and a betrayal of the founding fathers. They say even the most modest increase in screening of people seeking to own firearms would be an infringement of the second amendment and violation of a sacred trust.

They do not mention that after the United States had defeated the British army, the USA retained no huge standing army. Its soldiers had gone back to their farms or other jobs – taking their rifles with them and keeping them handy just in case they should again be called on to defend what they now called “our country.”

They were “the militia” the founding father preferred to the standing armies they had so recently defeated in their battle for Independence. As the State of Virginia summed it up in the original debate on the right to bear arms: “A well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained in arms, is the proper, safe and natural defense of a free state…..”

With a powerful “standing army” today plus an efficient and well trained National Guard replacing the old militia, it seems to me that some of our more sensible neighbours down south are simply asking their government to make sure that any  non-militia civilians owning guns, especially rifles, are “well regulated … people … trained in arms.”

As a Canadian I can’t be too smug about the USA’s failure to tighten their gun culture rules. In 1989, Mark Lepine executed 14 women students at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique engineering school, and wounded nine other women and four men before committing suicide.

It touched off a debate on the need for beefed up registration rules and gun ownership fitness. Surveys at the time claimed only 17 per cent of the people supported the government registration program – and the furor died in Canada as it has in the USA following past mass shootings.

Will the current wave of revolutionary  anger  also fade? I fear so. In the land of the free the cult of the gun remains strong.

It’s Now A Hundred Year War

It is just a small spat in a vast world of conflict, but it’s been a long one. It started shortly after Alberta joined Confederation in 1905 and continues today. One hundred years ago Alberta in 1918 met in Ottawa with members of the new Confederation to discuss mineral rights and to whom they belong – the province in which they are located or the wider Canada, the State.

Usually Alberta and British Columbia have been on the same side fighting Ottawa for better resource sharing deals.Who can forget the 1980’s when Alberta lead the fight against Ottawa’s newest oil tax policies with the late Premier Ralph Clyne shouting “let the Eastern Bastards freeze.” Alberta’s current Premier Rachel Notley and BC’s John Horgan, both leaders of provincial New Democrats, follow different drummers with Notley allied to Ottawa and Horgan the lone hold out against the plan to twin the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific Coast at Vancouver.

The project has survived many scientific, environmental and engineering studies and has been approved by the National Energy Board, the federal government, Alberta and, in January 2017, by the then Liberal government of BC under the leadership of Christy Clark.

Clark won the election with one seat more than the NDP only to lose the right to govern when NDP leader John Horgan stepped forward with the signed assurance that Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, with two other newly elected Green MLAs, would give him a slim majority. Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon accepted Horgan’s proposal and he became Premier John Horgan.

Until a few weeks ago, Horgan was in harness with Weaver and implacably opposed to two Liberal mega job creation projects – Kinder Morgan and the massive BC Hydro Site C project in northern BC. In late January of this year Horgan announced his call for one last final, final, definitely final review of Site C by the BC Utilities Commission and then,reluctantly, admitted construction had already progressed beyond a point of no return and could not now be justifiably abandoned. Site C would proceed.

Weaver, who was at one time in favour of Site C as a clean energy project, shifted to the opposition as environmental protests grew. He became an objector and remains an objector, unhappy with Horgan’s decision but not unhappy enough to withdraw the support that keeps the NDP in power.

Both leaders now face much tougher decisions on Kinder Morgan, encouraged by thousands of environmental voices chanting their opposition – some vowing to lie down in front of bulldozers if construction ever begins, others boasting they are ready to go to jail for their cause.

But the masses forming to protest and the leaders jockeying for position to lead them, have a major problem. The federal government through Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has approved the pipeline. Premier Notley has repeatedly reminded Horgan, and his Green echo finder, of this constitutional fact – on issues like this Canada’s national rights take precedence.

Readers with good memories may recall my August 19, 2017 blog in which I wrote on this same subject: “When Canada became a country 150 years ago, our First Prime Minister John A. Macdonald told new Dominion of Canada statesmen: ‘Let us be English or let us be French – and above all else – let us be Canadian’”.

Not too many years ago, the people of Quebec wooed by many of their leading politicians were asked to make a decision on whether they wanted to remain Canadians or leave Confederation. The Quebecers proved to be Canadians first; our Confederation rejoiced.

Premier Horgan has said his aim is to get the best pipeline deal he can for British Columbia. That is an objective to be praised and supported as long he remembers, as should we all, to ‘above all else’ be Canadians.

Prime Minister Trudeau has said the approval of the project was the best option for all Canadians. “This is a decision based on rigorous debate, on science and evidence. We have not been and will not be swayed by political argument, be they local, or regional or national,” he said. “We have made this decision because we are convinced it is safe for BC, and it is the right one for Canada.”

Last Saturday, February 17, Premier Horgan announced his government would seek leave to appeal a National Energy Board (NEB) made December 7,2017, to allow construction work to commence at the Burnaby pipeline terminal.

If the appeal is granted construction will be delayed. If it is denied Premier Horgan’s always shaky supportive alliance with the Greens will collapse and BC voters will be back to the polls for a first election with taxpayers picking up the tab.

What taxpayer happiness to be able to look on a forest of election signs and slogans and know we paid for them.

Our Thanks Are Not Enough

I never knew Dave Barrett well. Better than most by the nature of my work as a political columnist I suppose, but never in the trusted friends group where ideals and beliefs are shared.

Over the years our conversations were many, but often not on politics. Our relationship was friendly with the exception of one or two pyrotechnic spectaculars. As I mentioned, we were not friends in the deepest sense of the word, but we were friends enough for me to feel saddened at the news of his death and guilty that I had made no attempt to contact him in the past two years.

It is an old failing of mine, leaving it too late to make a phone call or write a note to let someone know they were well remembered. In the case of Dave Barrett, for whom I always had great respect, I genuinely missed our brief if sometimes brittle exchanges and said a hundred times “I’ll write tomorrow” but never did.

Many of our conversations began as questions asked a politician by a newspaper columnist, but quickly drifted sideways to more important things. That’s the way it was one April morning in 1973 when I visited his newly acquired Premier’s Office to ask him about his latest appointment of a stalwart member of the NDP to a well paid staff job.

He gave me the Barrett stare across his desk: “Who were you expecting me to appoint – a Social Credit guy or a Liberal?” With the question answered we moved on to family matters. He asked how my sons were doing and I reported that one of them – Andrew, 17, – was languishing in Jubilee Hospital recovering from a serious knee injury acquired during an out-of-bounds rugby tackle a few days earlier.

A rugby player himself, Dave wanted all the details and asked me to convey best wishes. When a few hours later I dropped by Royal Jubilee to do just that, Andrew greeted me with a face-wide grin and “Guess what? I’ve just received a get well note from Premier Barrett!” With a proud flourish he produced a hand-written note expressing regret for the injury and wishing Andrew a full and speedy recovery. It also included a few cheeky references only another rugby player would appreciate. The note which immediately banished all teenage depression, had been delivered by hand within minutes of my leaving the Premier’s Office.

I mention this because it was typical Dave Barrett. He recognized a need and instinctively knew he could do something about it, and he did. He acted on his good intentions.

At times over the next three years, he sometimes acted too precipitately on larger issues and it cost him and his party dearly at the polls. In a little less than three years, the Barrett administration approved 357 bills and in the wave of sympathy following his death on February 2, a stranger to our shores could be forgiven for thinking Dave deserved recognition for them all. He would have been the first to point out that although he led the NDP to victory in August 1972, he had some highly talented foot soldiers in the ranks.

There are several versions of what happened when he called his first cabinet meeting – including one which has him sliding down the long, polished, conference table to its head. It is not the story Dave told me when, years ago, I asked him how that first meeting went.

“Í got everybody sitting down and said ‘okay, what the hell do we do now?’…and Ernie Hall (MLA for Surrey and newly sworn Provincial Secretary) boomed out ‘we prepare an agenda.’ And we did.”

There was an impressive array of political talent around the table despite being devoid of “governing” experience … Eileen Dailly, Bob Strachan, Leo Nimsick, Dave Stupich, Dennis Cocke, Colin Gabelmann, Bill King, Harold Steves, Rosemary Brown, Norm Levi, Gary Lauk, Alex Macdonald, Bob Williams, Phyllis Young to name a few of the better known.

Of that group, seven were (my choices) super star cabinet ministers – Dailly, education; Cocke, health; Stupich, agriculture; King, labour; Levi, social services; MacDonald, attorney general; and Bob Williams, lands and forests. They were the first string, the core of the Barrett team who moved with the highest ideals, but sometimes too far and too fast. King, Cocke and Williams would have stood tall in any cabinet.

They achieved much and Dave Barrett led them with courage and high ideal – if not always wisely. We still owe him, as we owe his widow Shirley for the years she and their children encouraged and supported his service to “the people.” They walked with him through the darkness of Alzheimer’s to his final rest in what Christina Rossetti describes as “the silence more musical than any song.”

Our thanks are not enough.

Hurry-Up Learning Curve For New Liberal Leader

Some neat juggling pending down Belleville Street way as members of our Legislative Assembly challenge our street entertainers with well-rehearsed appeals for the public’s attention.

A key performance is scheduled for Tuesday, February 13, when all but one member of the Assembly will gather for the Speech from the Throne. In the principal speaking role there will be a Lieutenant Governor, if we have one available, or an approved Supreme Court Justice to stand in and read a script prepared by Premier John Horgan and his cabinet … hopefully whipped into understandable English by a team of obedient scribes.

Sometimes “the Speech” is short, but more often it’s long with a multitude of platitudes plastering together a string of hopes and aspirations that may be realized in the coming months. Then, on February 20, Finance Minister Carole James will introduce the 2018-19 provincial budget and many of the undertakings in the Throne Speech will re-emerge as firm plans with the money available to make dreams reality.

Did I write a few lines back “all but one member” should be on hand for the Throne Speech? That would be the “empty chair and desk” being held in readiness for the winner of the Kelowna West byelection scheduled for Feb. 14 – which just happens to be Valentine’s Day.

Coming one day after the Throne Speech, the byelection date is potentially a good choice for a government with such an extremely slender hold on life as our New Democrats. In Kelowna West on Feb. 13, NDP candidate Shelley Cook will be able unload a full government basket of hope and promise just hours before the polls open the 14th. That said, she’s going to need a rocket-blast finale if she is to break long-held Liberal ownership of the riding. Kelowna West, which includes downtown Kelowna, has gone through several name changes over the years, but has never wavered provincially from solid right-wing politics.

The Liberal candidate on Valentine’s Day will be Ben Stewart. He won the seat for the Liberals in 2009 defeating his closest NDP rival by 5,000 votes. Stewart won the seat again in 2013 with an even larger majority, but resigned to allow then Premier Christy Clark, who had been defeated in her own riding of Vancouver Point Grey, to take a second crack in “safe” Kelowna West and retain her premiership.

In the 2013 byelection Clark outstripped the NDP challenger by an even larger majority with 62.66 per cent of the vote. She won handily again in the general election in 2017, but lost the right to form a new government. The final seat count in 2017 was Liberal 43; NDP 41; Green Party 3; with the three Greens voting to align themselves with the NDP to form the present government. Following that decision, Clark resigned from politics.

There are five candidates vying for the Kelowna West seat: Mark Thompson, Conservative; Robert Stupka, Green; Kyle Geronazzo, Libertarian; Shelley Cook, NDP and Ben Stewart, Liberal.

With three wins under his belt and still highly popular, Stewart remains the favourite, but this could be his toughest contest. Liberal leadership candidates seeking to replace Clark resorted to harsh personal criticisms in the recently concluded campaign. In public debates, they demonstrated more dissension in the ranks than eve of byelection unity. They haven’t left Stewart much to boast about.

NDP stalwart Cook had it rough last year facing veteran campaigner Christy Clark. Again this time, she has a veteran campaign winner to beat, albeit a Liberal without a leader until mere days before the vote. Not much time to end the leadership campaign disarray in Liberal ranks and present a polished, united front to Kelowna West voters.

Snipping at Ben Stewart’s heels for the right of centre vote will be Conservative Mark Thompson. He isn’t expected to win or even be close to the winner’s circle, but any votes he does scavenge will come from the Liberals, not the NDP’s Cook with her basketful of Valentine’s Day chocolate coated pledges.

We shall have to wait and see if newly elected Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson can find time to forget last Saturday’s leadership victory cheers and hurtle up to the Okanagan to keep Kelowna West a Liberal stronghold. He has nine days to solidify Ben Stewart’s bid to hold the seat, get ready for his first session as leader of the Opposition and start to prepare himself and his party for a general election call which could come at any time.

Relax – It’s Only $5 million A Year

A few desultory small-minded shots were fired when would-be BC Liberal Party leaders gathered recently to entertain the masses. It sounded like a bunch of teenagers with nothing else to do but strafe empty cans off the garden fence.

The shots did not sound threatening or enlightening, but their target was interesting and indicative of a possible uniting of old forces against new to preserve the continuity of true Liberal blood.

Six candidates graced the stage:
• Andrew Wilkinson QC, lawyer, former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Minister of Advanced Education, and Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services. He also served as deputy minister for Intergovernmental Relations in the Premier’s Office for two years from 2001-2003.
• Sam Sullivan, currently serving as the MLA for Vancouver-False Creek. Previously, he served as the Minister of Communities, Sport and Cultural Development, Minister Responsible for TransLink, and also as the 38th mayor of Vancouver. Sullivan has been invested with the Order of Canada for his work to improve the lives of people with severe disabilities. He has been quadriplegic since breaking his neck in a skiing accident at the age of 19.
• Mike de Jong, lawyer, who served for varying periods as Attorney General and Minister of Finance, as well as minister in the portfolios of Health, Labour and Citizen Services, Forests, Public Safety and Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation. He has also been House Leader.
• Michael “Mike” Lee, lawyer, and a relative newcomer on the provincial political scene, but a political activist for many years.
• Todd Stone, former Minister of Transport, who regards himself as a “new look” Liberal.
• Dianne Watts, former mayor of Surrey and a Conservative MP who, for years, resisted requests to take a run for the Liberal leadership and now feels ready to reach for the brass ring.

Watt’s opponents during the sparse leadership debates have focused on her attempts to capitalize on her “Liberal newcomer” status. The very fact that old guard heavy hitters like de Jong, Stone and Wilkinson appear to be concentrating on Watts is a sure indicator that she is the one they fear most as the finish line of Feb. 3 looms. She was first choice of many to replace Gordon Campbell years ago, but she didn’t feel ready for the task.

Back in 2010, Watts was described in a Globe & Mail article as “unscripted, unguarded – and unlike any other politician in BC … (she) has transformed the City of Surrey from a butt of jokes to a thriving and increasingly sophisticated metropolitan centre …”

The final debate in the less than inspiring series is scheduled for Jan. 30 in Vancouver – the city where the Liberals took heavy losses last May.

To date, only one candidate – Andrew Wilkinson – has made meaningful reference to the latest gift handed the Liberals by the NDP government in early January as promised in last summer’s Election Amendment Act. He has suggested a taxpayers’ gift-wrapped million-dollar cheque to the Liberal Party be earmarked to finance the coming fight against proportional representation. Wilkinson is not being touted as a leadership winner.

Ms. Watts is and should pick up the challenge to the new system of public financing of political parties. The NDP, of course, also cashed a cheque for a million. Well, maybe not quite a million according to Les Leyne writing recently in the local newspaper.

The Liberals (remember they did get more popular votes than the NDP) got a cheque for $995,965, the NDP picked up $994,882.50 and the starveling Green Party trio a piddling $418,383.75.

Leyne reminded us that’s just half the annual cash transfer from your pockets to the bank accounts of three political parties. The second half is due July 1 – about a month after the day in June when, economists tell us, we should have cleared away our annual income tax indebtedness to governments and get to spend our paycheques on ourselves.

Think how the political landscape will look if we listen to election system reform proponents and vote for a proportional representation system that could spawn more three or four-seat-parties all with their Oliver Twist hands out asking for more than the $5 million in public subsidies already guaranteed.

A vote on change to the voting system is still months away, but it will come with a success threshold of 50 per cent plus one which is easier to achieve than the 60 per cent thresholds when system change was rejected in 2005 and 2009.

We can only hope the electorate keeps its head and, with or without the help of a new Liberal leader, again deep-sixes the threat of minority governments spawned by proportional representation – and demands a return to strictly controlled political party funding.

If we can’t afford massive financially achievable housing projects and other urgently-needed social programs, we certainly can’t afford $5 millions a year to provide political parties with public funds to play their often vain-glory games.

In Praise of Premier Bill Smithe

In its wisdom or folly the electorate in British Columbia has on three occasions selected newspaper reporters to the high office of Premier. Two were named William; both were named Smith and were distinguished in their early years by the letter “e”. One was William Smith, the other William Smithe –with an “e”. Both were immigrants to BC. The third newsman was Premier John Robson August 1889-June 1892 but that’s a story for another day.

As soon as he was old enough Bill Smith without the “e” changed his name to Amor de Cosmos – “Lover of the Universe”. In the 1800’s he owned, published and wrote for what is today known as The Times-Colonist. He served as Premier for two years from December 1872 to February 1874. Born in Windsor, Nova Scotia in August 1825 he died July 4,1887, in Victoria the only Premier in BC to ever be officially declared insane.

The second Smithe stayed with William or Bill to his friends, from the day he was born in the picture perfect village of Matfen, Northumberland, in 1842. He was first elected to the Legislature in 1871, served as Premier from January 29, 1883 until he died on March 27, 1987.

Overshadowed in the history books by the flamboyant headline creator de Cosmos, Premier Smithe had arrived on Vancouver Island in 1862 with farming his chosen career path – IF a gold claim he held in the Cariboo didn’t work out. He appears to have worked the claim intermittently for two years before giving up and returning to farming full time with a stint as road commissioner in the Cowichan District in 1865 to supplement his income.

In his book Portraits of the Premier’s S.W Jackman described Smithe as “extremely personable and lively, handsome and well mannered, in sum, a most agreeable and charming young man as well as being a hard working one.” Although he doesn’t name his sources Jackman suggests Smithe “liked society – dances, picnicking and other forms of junketing….He also had a penchant for writing…” With those traditional requirements for a good reporter he began contributing to local newspapers.

His early childhood and education may well have provided the adaptable side of Smiths’s character. In the 2001 census in the UK Matfen, his village of birth, listed a population or 495. Nearby Great Whittington where he went to school boasted 401. Both are located a few kilometers north of Hadrian’s Wall, the great barrier the Romans built to keep illegal Scots out of England.

That means the sparsely populated Cowichan-Duncan area in the 1800’s would not be unfamiliar to young Smithe although he did at one point take a look at big city life in San Francisco. He stayed 18 months, worked as reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle then returned to the Duncan area and in 1871 tossed his hat in that year’s provincial election race. He topped the Cowichan poll with what today seems a laughable 58 votes – which was 29.59 percent of the votes cast in the riding.

In six following elections Smithe continued to top polls – and was twice – in 1876 and in 1883 – re-elected by acclamation.

Although a four year term as Premier doesn’t sound like tenure it was unusual in the 1800’s. One year terms were fairly standard; two years, occasional – and four remarkable especially for a young man who was not part of “the establishment” and whose first and only campaign promise made in half-a-dozen elections was that he would not pledge his support to any man. It should be remembered that it wasn’t until the 1900’s that party politics played any role in provincial politics.

Bill Smithes 16-years in office, the last four as Premier, have been acknowledged as stable and prosperous. He is credited with persuading the federal government to take over the graving dock in Esquimalt although he died before the first ship HMS Cormorant used the facility.

He did live to welcome the first passenger train from Montreal to the west coast as it pulled in to Port Moody on July 4, 1886. A month earlier the designated terminal Vancouver – for which Premier Smithe had fought for years – had been destroyed by a disastrous fire on June 13. The city was just over two months old when the Daily News reported: “Probably never since the days of Pompei and Herculaneum was a town wiped out of existence so completely and suddenly as was Vancouver…The flames spread…with amazing rapidity. The whole city was in flames less than 40 minutes after the first house was afire.”

It wasn’t until May, 1887, that a rebuilding Vancouver was able to welcome a trans-continental train. Premier Smithe was dead before it arrived.

He was in his usual seat when the Legislature convened in January of ‘87 but was too ill to continue attending regularly. He died on March 28, and was honoured with “an official funeral” which included two days lying in state before “a great hearse with four horses, velvet and crepe” carried him away, first to church for the funeral service then “the coffin was put on a train and taken to Somenos where he was interred in the Methodist burial ground.”

Bill Smith – Amor de Cosmos, 17-years older than William Smithe, died four months later in July 1887 and was buried in Ross Bay Cemetery. Jackman notes “his funeral was pitifully attended – sic transit amor de mundi”. He was probably aiming for the better known “sic transit gloria mundi” which translates “thus passeth the glory of the world.”

Jackson also wrote: “The four years the Smithe government ruled in British Columbia were prosperous and happy ones. Later in the19th century they were often referred to as the best years the province had experienced up to that time.”

Which leave me wondering why it is we remember Bill Smith, the flamboyant, eccentric, mentally unstable “Lover of the Universe” far more fondly than well spoken, calm and confident Bill Smithe with an “e”. He gave the people of BC stability in government, steadily improving economic times and remains best remembered as Bill Who?

What’s To Fear,Trump Or His “Base?”

It’s some years now since I read modern versions of what hell must be like. They replaced burning coals and fiery furnaces with compulsory viewing of day time television. After only seven days confined to sick bay, I can now confirm that terrifying picture of being locked forever in room and forced to watch the daytime tube.

In fairness to other countries, I should add my judgment is based on American television in general and CNN “the most trusted name in news” in particular. I hastily note “most trusted” is their judgment, not mine.

There was a time when I could have believed the claim; a time when I looked to CNN to take me to the far corners of the world to tell me in a balanced voice what was going on. But then came Trump, bellicose Donald the clown, whom CNN believed might prove some light entertainment during a presidential election campaign and then vanish in flash of redneck rhetoric on voting day.

The loudmouthed Trump crisscrossed the United States shouting a never-ending litany of corruption charges against everyone not wearing a Trump button. His early rivals were long-time Republicans and the Party struggled to decide which member it would bless as its presidential standard bearer. They laughed at Trump’s wildness, shuddered over his coarse language and hints of racism – until they were overwhelmed by the rookie slogan slinger.

When the votes were counted in the presidential election Trump trailed in the popular vote by close to three million, but won the all-important Electoral College vote and the presidency. And the Republican establishment, which had tried to keep at arm’s length during the campaign, suddenly became Trump lovers and defenders.

The rest of the USA went into shock and CNN girded its loins to do battle to save democracy, with Wolf Blitzer’s Situation Room front and centre. It was staffed with well-groomed male and female reporters or commentators whose sole duty appeared to be to praise the work of other journalists, especially those revealing another Trump unreality outburst.

It has not gone unnoticed that CNN rarely breaks hard news stories. Instead it brings viewers the latest revelations of miscues, false boasts or just plain blather as reported in The Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal or any other news outlet living up to old standards of journalism.

CNN assembled teams and then set out to prove what Trump had reportedly said was “offensive” or “insulting” to all Americans; would be “rejected” by all Americans; and would leave the collective nation bowing its head in shame. And, it would cause the Republican Party untold grief as its established Congressmen and Senators tried to explain away the latest Trump diatribe against third world nations.

As I watched “the most trusted name in news” try to assemble a “sky is falling” scenario, one calm voice drew attention. Jeffrey Toobin – writer for The New Yorker, lawyer, political analyst – was part of Blitzer’s panel but was being interviewed via remote connections. He quietly reminded Wolf that not all Americans will be appalled by Trumps latest scurrilous remarks on poorer world countries. He suggested they remember Trump’s base voters listened to similar or worse comments throughout the presidential campaign, supported him then and still support him now.

Blitzer seemed a little startled by Toobin’s reminder that there are millions of Americans who love Trump’s wild promises, his riches, his life style, his racist comments, his half-assed praise for the KKK, his thinly veiled contempt for non-whites. Toobin said he doesn’t think Trump’s latest derogatory remarks about less than rich nations “will cause him a lot of grief.”

Blitzer wondered out loud “are we blowing this out of proportion?” but only briefly. Being too fascinated to change channels, I continue to watch as Blitzer departs and Erin Burnett enters. Burnett is a beautiful virago with a great voice often ruined by staccato delivery, known to have a sharp mind and tongue and to not take challenge lightly.

She promises to bring me up to date on reaction to the Donald’s latest trumpeting. She doesn’t. Different panel of talking heads, different voices. Same theme, same phrases. Same ever wider publicity for the man who thrives on it and his 35-40 per cent “base” of voters who think the latest critical twist of their slogan from “Make America Great Again” to “make America white again” is a good idea.

And that is more scary than President Trump at his careless, unthinking worst.

Birthday Bust But Friendship Triumph

Well, I didn’t exactly finish the run for my 94th birthday finish line with a blazing burst of speed.I broke the tape stumbling forward with a headache from hell, a nose gushing to shame Niagara, rapid fire sneezing and a cough to rattle the walls of the Berwick Royal Oak Retirement Community.

Well trained by a paramedic son in what to do when contagious head colds strike overnight, I retired from the track, locked the stable door and settled in isolation to battle the unwelcome birthday burden with old world remedies – plus a few recommended by modern non-medics. It took six days and a diet of prescription drugs, endless bowls of chicken soup, cups of Bovril and a steady supply of hot meals to my door to bring the unwelcome bugs under control.

It was not a battle fought alone – although in typical male self-pity, on day one I was whimpering this would be the first personal sickness scrap I had ever fought alone. Over the past 9.4 decades there had always been a mother, wife, lover or close friend to supply the edible and mental nourishment required by the stricken.

My fears, for that is what they were – fears this was going to be a lonely fight – were quickly dispelled. On December 27 my mailbox was filled to overflowing with greetings from old friends and colleagues, many now scattered around the world and busy with their own lives but not too busy to remember me. It was quite a lift to the spirit.

Even greater were the phone calls from other residents in this “retirement community” who had noticed me missing from meals or my regular table in the Café where coffee and a read of morning newspapers has become a familiar routine. They wanted to know if I had everything required, and one most gracious lady politely listed half a dozen items missing from my modest medical kit. “I’ll leave them in bag on your room door,” she said, “with copies of the morning newspapers.” I asked for a bill. “No bill,” she said, “it’s just something we do for each other.”

Male “neighbours” were equally kind and focused on my needs. First words over the phone were “Hear you’re under the weather; how’s your supply of single malt?” Practical like-mind friends with ancient remedies to kill or cure.

And then, the never to be forgotten phone calls from treasured friends fighting their own health battles, but caring enough to make a daily call “just to see if you are okay.” Family and friends touching base to reassure me as I stumble into 2018 and my 95th year that:

“When you walk through a storm,
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark.

“At the end of a storm
There’s a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark
“Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown

“Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone, you’ll never walk alone.”

Saying THANK YOU MY FRIENDS is quite inadequate even in shouted capitals.