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.

It Should Not Need A Plea For Service

If you were paying attention while watching the grim pictures of the recent terror attack in London you should have noted small groups of paramedics quietly carrying out their duties. Their ambulances stood in orderly lines, back doors open wide awaiting the victims, some with horrendous injuries, a few with minor cuts and bruises, all in shock.

The paramedics were easy to spot. They were the ones moving calmly through the chaos. They carried no guns, only a quality of well-trained mercy. Among the victims were three French children, thankfully among those with minor injuries. Among the adults were two Romanians, four South Koreans, one German, one Pole, one Irish, one Chinese, one Italian, one American and two Greeks and 12 Britons. They all received the same level of highly professional care from the well-trained first responders.

We see similar response team reactions on a daily basis in British Columbia as our teams of paramedics respond to mayhem on our highways. The last full year of statistics (2015) listed 300 fatal highway accidents. Paramedics would have attended most if not all – plus the hundreds more which did not result in death but produced injuries as horrendous as those on Westminster Bridge in London.

And, as we watch local television stations bring us pictures of tangled cars and blanket-shrouded victims, our local paramedics, policemen and firemen calmly go about their business of attending to the injured and attempting to restore normal traffic flow. It is what we expect from our first responders and consequently we hold them in high regard for the dedication they take to their often unpleasantly bloody, highly stressful tasks.

We appreciate them, but our appreciation is not reflected in what we pay them – especially the paramedics. Still, they answer our cries for help whenever and wherever we make them, from highway crashes to strokes or heart attacks to simple falls at home at high noon or midnight when the rest of the world is asleep.

As the father of a paramedic, I have an interest in such things – and a possible bias. So, I turn to ex-Saanich policeman Bill Turner for evidence which might be suspect just coming from me. Bill has been active in recent weeks collecting signatures on a petition asking the provincial government to declare BC Ambulance Paramedics an essential service and thus group them with other key first responders – police and fire department personnel.

In a recent blog (http://mytruths.ca/?p=415) Bill wondered if people were aware that newly qualified BC paramedics are paid $2 an hour when they are on standby, usually “in a remote location … Only if they get a call-out are they paid a real wage … Often the cost of travel (they have to pay their own way from home to their station) exceeds the pay received … This near slavery condition can go on for years (about five years is the average) then if they are lucky they can land a slightly better ‘on call’ job where they receive minimum wage on standby …”

It is no wonder, Bill reflects, that after training and being treated like poor relations, many young people, their high ambition stifled, “seek work in other fields … It is a terrible situation for paramedics and bad for the citizens of BC” to lose a force of highly trained, dedicated first responders.

Within hours of the attack in London, BC Premier Christy Clark issued a “shocked and saddened” statement on “the tragic events.” She recalled that an earlier generation of Londoners when under attack “kept calm and carried on and I have no doubt this one will too.”

Her final thoughts were “with the victims, and the emergency and security personnel who risk their lives to keep us safe.” Even as I murmur “amen” to those well-chosen words, I wonder if the Premier would care to go one conscience-propelled step beyond and declare that if re-elected in May she will grant her paramedics, who stand shoulder to shoulder with others who keep us safe, the recognition they deserve and the pay and working conditions they have more than earned.

It could be a win-win promise, a voters’ popular choice: Paramedics finally promoted and formally recognized for what they have always been, a highly-appreciated essential service. But I don’t expect miracles. Government insiders say the move to pay paramedics would be too costly. It can only be the thinking of bureaucrats or politicians who have never had to call an ambulance and have no concept of what our first responder services would cost citizens with urgent need if left to free market forces.

It’s a public need for a public service as part of humanitarian health service. And it should not need a petitioners’ plea to bring it into being.

The Sins of Our Fathers

While Canada cranks up to celebrate its 150th birthday, it might behoove residents of British Columbia to remember that our forebears did not cover themselves with glory in the years of transition from colony to country. In fact, some of the decisions made by our first provincial governments still rattle like skeletons in a closet we strive mightily to close.

As mentioned in an earlier blog, BC elected its first provincial Legislature in 1871 when 3,804 voters elected 25 MLAs to serve for four years. The “estimated” population of BC at the time was “about 11,000,” mostly English immigrants with a sprinkling of European and Americans left over from the gold rush days – plus a native population, decimated by small pox epidemics, estimated at about 23,000.

It didn’t take long for the new government to get to work on thorny issues. During its first session (February to March 1872) it had its first go-round with women seeking the right to vote and indignantly rebuked the ladies with a 23-2 vote rejecting their petition. A little later in the same session, the Legislature gave reluctant approval to An Act To Extend The Rights of Property of Married Women. In today’s context the new rights seem condescending – a couple of chocolates to keep the women happy, but not the full box they were seeking.

Women got the right to vote, but only in municipal elections – and only if they were property owners. The new law “provided that real estate owned by a married woman could be enjoyed by her for her separate use and that a married woman’s wages and earnings would be deemed her own property, free from her husband’s control or debts.”

That was one small step for women’s suffrage which led to the big one in 1917 when women “who qualified as British subjects” were awarded the right to vote – and the right to stand as candidates in future provincial elections. For the record, let it be noted that between 1891 and 1914 some 18 women’s suffrage bills were introduced and defeated in the BC Legislature, but in the end truth and justice prevailed although the battle for equality continues.

So, unfortunately, does at least one other controversial human rights struggle created by super righteous governments. In that first session of the BC Legislature the law makers moved quickly to make sure their right to govern could never be upset by the native population which outnumbered white settlers by more than two to one.

In 1874, before the Legislature adjourned for summer, a new law was placed on the books stating “any person of Indian origin and any immigrant of Chinese origin” was disenfranchised – denied the right to vote. It is true that, in that same piece of legislation, school teachers, public servants, judges, clerics and others were disenfranchised. However, they didn’t stay disenfranchised long. Over the ensuring months, amendments to elections law were introduced to open up the polls and one by one racist and religious disqualifications were ended.

In 1947, Chinese and Hindus were removed from the prohibition list; a year later Mennonites and Hutterites followed.

Last on the list were BC’s First Nations and citizens of Japanese descent. First Nations, never welcomed at the first election polls (1871), were officially disenfranchised in 1874 to make sure they didn’t come even close to a ballot box in the second (1875), then officially cleared to vote for the first time 75 years later in 1949.

The Japanese, who had lost their right to vote in 1895 when “yellow peril” fears swept the province, had their rights restored in 1949 in concert with First Nations. Until 1945 Japan had been a military enemy of Canada and the rest of the western world. Settled Japanese immigrants and their Canadian born children were harshly treated after Pearl Harbour when fear and racism again overwhelmed common sense and decency.
First citizens? Ah, yes, they were here long before the whites came crowding in to claim their land first for the Crown and then for sale to anyone with money. In 1874, some 3,804 British-Canadian residents had voted to elect their first Legislative Assembly. In 1949, with First Nation members tentatively voting for the first time, a grand total of 698,823 registered voters cast ballots. Of that total, in a far northern corner of the province, 746 voters split their Atlin riding votes between two candidates with 370 for W.D. Smith (Coalition), and 376 for Frank Calder, a Nisga’a native chief representing the CCF – now the NDP.
Not a landslide victory but another “small step” leading to a giant stride in May 1998, when the Nisga’a land claim treaty was signed and the Nisga’a had their rights to govern their own destiny restored in 2000. It had taken 111 years since their first claim in 1887 to regain their stolen land. And, it may well take another hundred or so before we finally find a solution to decisions made so long ago in the prevailing racist patriotic feelings of the times.

There’s an old Biblical saying that “the iniquities of the fathers are to be laid on the children.” In BC in 2017, that is an uncomfortable thought leading to two even more uncomfortable ones: (1) Are we as a people, or as individuals, making decisions today that could place our children or future societies in untenable positions decades from now? (2) How do we solve legitimate native lands claims when today’s ownership claims are buried beneath modern ownership rights which are legal but deny ancient rights of inheritance?

The Biblical quote does say the children will be expected to make things right “unto the third or fourth generation” which gives my generation a little more procrastination time. And, the next generation? Well, good luck.

A Call For Support From Our Front Line First Responders

Ever had to call an ambulance in the middle of the night or the middle of the day, for that matter? Ever had to wait for hours for the ambulance to arrive – and then looked at your watch and figured it must have stopped because the hands say it’s less than 15 minutes since you made the call for help?

Maybe the better question should be: Have you ever been the stricken party who needed the emergency call made as you fought heart attack or stroke or injuries sustained in a fall or road accident? If you have ever been there you will remember how long it seemed to take for the paramedics to arrive and how unbelieving you were when told it was minutes not hours.

You should also remember the calm that arrived with the first responders as they went about their well-trained duties, controlled, efficient, in charge of the situation; however dire it may have been. You will remember for as long as memory lasts how you felt –
alone, frightened, deserted by the world; maybe threatened by the last great darkness – and how confident hands reached out and pulled you back into the light; and then wrapped you in warm blankets, gently strapped you to a stretcher, made sure you were snugged down tight in the waiting ambulance and transported with sirens wailing and warning lights flashing to the nearest centre where the full services of medical care could be provided.

If you had the opportunity and ability you probably thanked the attending paramedics – or hoped friends and family had – before they moved on to their next call. If, in the drama of the emergency you forgot, the above preamble is to recall your understandable oversight and suggest a way to make amends.

In British Columbia, fire fighters and policemen have long been declared essential services. Their unions are strong and negotiate freely with a binding arbitration process in place to settle collective agreement deadlocks. Under the Fire and Police Collective Bargaining Act the work force cannot strike and the employer cannot order a lock-out.

It has never been explained why public ambulance and paramedic services are not included in the Fire and Police Services Collective Bargaining Act. But excluded they have been – and continue to be – by successive NDP and Liberal governments.

But there is in BC what is called an “initiative process.” BC is the only province or territory to have one. In simple terms, it permits any registered voter to propose a new law or amend an existing law. Here is the address of the Elections BC site: http://elections.bc.ca/recall-initiative/initiative/

It is not an easy law to kick into action as citizens who have tried to implement the “recall of MLAs” section can attest. And as public service paramedics and ambulance workers are discovering as they attempt to correct a past government oversight and add ambulance and paramedic service to police and fire emergency services law.

To achieve that aim the Legislature requires that a petition be signed by 10 per cent of registered voters in each of the province’s electoral districts – not 10 per cent of the provincial total which is easier to achieve. Only when that mountain has been climbed will the people in power listen and move to frame a law based on the petitioned initiative.

So, if you have ever called for an ambulance and have good reason to say “thank you” to a paramedic crew, now is the time to do it. And if you have friends in electoral districts other than the one you live in, give them a shout. Tell them the paramedics need a shot of the support they so efficiently provide the rest of us 24/365. Make sure you are a registered voter before you sign the petition. The list will be audited.

Couldn’t the government just introduce an amended bill called the Ambulance, Fire and Police Services Collective Bargaining Act, and thus make paramedics full members of the “emergency services” family? The answer is “yes.” A majority government can bring in whatever laws or amendments to laws it wishes. But no government since 1996 has shown a desire to make the simple changes. New Democrat Premiers Mike Harcourt, Glen Clark, Dan Miller, Ujjal Dosanjh and Liberals Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark have done nothing in the 21 years they have been in charge to give paramedics their due.

Maybe they never had to call on paramedic services, which leaves those of us who have, with a duty to perform. Find a petition in your electoral district and if you’re a registered voter, sign it. It’s the best way to say “thank you.”

And if you would like to offer more than a signature in the paramedics’ cause Google – Information – YourParamedics for everything you need to know about the petition, how to volunteer and donate if you feel inclined. One last thing: You must be a registered voter in BC to legitimately sign the petition — and I would hope that with a general election scheduled for May you have already made sure you are.

The Year We Rejected The Opportunity to Call Donald Trump Our President

As British Columbians continue their 150th year of celebration of the July 1867 Act of Confederation and their welcome to join that Confederation and become part of Canada in July 1871, I wonder how many realize how lucky we are things worked out as they did.

I mean, it wasn’t a forgone conclusion that West Coasters would rush to join the new union. True, there was a strong body of opinion in the sparsely settled western colony that confederation with Canada and continued links with mother England were the desirable way to face the future. But, it is also true that on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland there was a strong lobby demanding British Columbia join the United States – voluntarily if possible, by annexation as a last resort.

The debate whether to stay with historic British connections or hook-up with the burgeoning and prospering America rumbled in many a tavern as well as local government offices throughout the 1860s. It came to make or break time in 1867 – the year the USA bought Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million. The deal was signed on March 30, 1867 – four months before Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick became Canada.

Still recovering from its bloody civil war (1861-65), America was certainly interested in the possibility of linking Alaska with Washington and Oregon thus giving the USA total control of the Pacific Coast from Mexico to the high north. But, history doesn’t tell us just how close it came to closing that geographic gap by annexing BC.

We do know that even as politicians in 1867 discussed the terms of BC joining Canada, a petition was being circulated in Victoria demanding heavy financial concessions from England if it wished to keep BC in the folds of Empire – or to grant the Colony permission to join the United States. The Library and Archives of Canada tell us that while “it is not known how many signatures the petition gathered, or if indeed the Queen (Victoria) ever received it … it caught the attention of (then) Governor Frederick Seymour and the Colonial Office which resolved to promote union with Canada more vigorously.”

Two years later in 1869, with BC still not safely in the Confederation fold, a second petition with 104 signatures was delivered to newly elected President Ulysses S. Grant. In simple terms, it urged the President to simply annex the Colonies and make them a State of the Union. He declined to act – but the two petitions undoubtedly shaped the thinking of the Canadian representatives at the Confederation bargaining table. It was later stated “the generosity of these terms was met with surprise and even disbelief in British Columbia – but without contest.”

The joy didn’t last long. One of the key promises made to BC was that a railway through the mountains would be built with construction starting within two years and completion promised in 10. In May, 1878, with the project hardly begun, Victoria’s Member of Parliament, Amor De Cosmos, took the floor in the House of Commons to demand speedier action or, he threatened, British Columbia would seek annexation by the United States.

The last spike was driven at Craigellachie on November 7, 1885, five years late but soon enough to silence further talk of annexation. For this, we should all be thankful. In this glorious year of celebration, we can look south thankful that 150 years ago, the pro-USA campaigners lost the battle, thus sparing us from having to acknowledge Donald Trump as our president.

Building Ever Better Mouse Traps

Well, a sitting government in British Columbia has done it again; they’ve introduced a balanced budget for 2017-18 and, with a suitable flourish of trumpets, announced a year end surplus in excess of $2 billion.

The new budget presented plans to spend the surplus and a wide series of scheduled increases to existing programs, funding for new programs, relief all round for beleaguered taxpayers and the promise of more to come.

Opposition and media reaction were instant, on cue; the government is bribing the electorate with its own money. No doubt about that. It is also following a time honoured process first laid down with exemplary skill by W.A.C. Bennett who served 20 years as Premier of BC, winning re-election every three or four years with a never varying election formula.

Back in those days provincial governments were elected for a maximum of five years with the date for a new mandate resting solely with the premier and the ruling party. The Bennett formula was simple: In your first year of a new term introduce all the unpleasant things you need to do to keep the province rolling along in relative comfort. Year one is the time to increase taxes, cut programs, reduce government grants and generally warn citizens that savings must be made and kept “for a rainy day.”

In year two the pressure on taxpayers would be eased, but only slightly. And then, if year three had been planned as the year to call for a new mandate the doors to the provincial Treasury would be opened. The people would be praised for the patient way they paid their taxes and endured myriad fees and they’d be rewarded with a new highway, a bridge here or there, a new school or hospital.

The Opposition would furiously denounce the money suddenly being “shoveled from the back of government trucks” as election bribes. None was condemned as much as the Home Owner Grant of $50 introduced by W.A.C. in the 1950s. It was condemned by the NDP as the most flagrant bribe ever offered taxpayers – and is still on the books as “a benefit” although the government reckons it costs the Treasury $825 million a year in lost revenue.

In 1972, the NDP finally defeated, W.A.C., abandoned his tried and true election formula and in their first two years in office spent and spent some more. MLAs got pay increases, so did public service workers. When Premier Dave Barrett called for a vote of confidence in 1975 there was no money left to make voters happy.

W.A.C.’s son Bill Bennett took over as Premier and declared the Treasury empty of cash but full of promissory notes. Spending was curbed, savings made, election year spending restored. He remained in office for 11 years winning three general elections.

And so it has gone in BC since and continues unabated as we head for a May 9 ballot with voters dazzled by seemingly never ending promises of even better things to come if only taxpayers stay the course and ask for more of the same until at least 2021.

The Opposition has it tough, tougher than usual, with a litany of complaints but, so far, no clearly outlined plans for a more prosperous future. It says “it’s time for a change,” but doesn’t say what the change should be.

Premier Christy Clark and her minions have made their offer to the electorate with a promise of even more relief if re-elected. It’s the tried and true formula, not new, not surprising. And, BC history shows, a call by the ruling party to “endorse us to continue these rewards” is usually a successful campaign enticement.

To lead the NDP to victory in May, John Horgan must stop complaining about anything and everything the government does. He needs to invent a better mousetrap, one that entices with a variety of goodies but doesn’t break the taxpayers’ back when the bait is nibbled. In other words, he needs a variation on the old theme always remembering taxpayers like to be stroked, and when they are they tend to purr on cue.

“Perception Management” with “Terminological Inexactitude”

It was Winston Churchill, long before he became Sir Winston, who invented “terminological inexactitude” when referring to something that may have been stated inaccurately.

That was in 1906 and in the more than 110 years since the phrase was coined it has been used many times in democratic parliaments when one member wanted to call another an outright liar but was restrained by parliamentary rules which forbid such uncouth language.

But there was nothing in the rules to prevent one member from implying that another was advancing an argument with “terminological inexactitude.” It’s clever, neatly permitting one member to imply what needs to be said but can’t be said outright. And, until recently, it was enough to discombobulate most politicians given to outrageous claims and/or carefully crafted lies.

Not anymore. In the past decade or so, spin doctors – the people hired by politicians to make them look good however dubious their policies and claims – have authored a new lexicon to cover the sins of their clients. When their lies are challenged with a well-documented array of facts, to prove them false they don’t withdraw but simply respond with a list of proudly proclaimed “alternative facts.”

In a recent speech at the World Government Summit in Dubai, Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz commented: “It used to be we could have a discussion and agree on facts, but disagree on interpretation.” He warned that belief in alternative facts would undermine “the basis of a common agreement about what is truth…..it’s going to be very, very difficult to reach a consensus on the way forward.”

I doubt if the spin doctors will listen. They subscribe to the view expressed in the Guardian newspaper a few days ago: “Facts are sacred – but alternative facts are free” to be used whenever necessary to blanket lies.

Alternative facts are not the only new slogans in modern media manipulation slang. With a provincial election due in British Columbia in May here are one or two guaranteed to surface as the campaign moves into high gear.

Gaslighting – (from the stage play and mind control movie Gaslight) is defined as a form of manipulation that seeks to create doubts in individuals or organizations. In BC, the government will use the gaslighting technique to plants seeds of doubt in the minds of voters and hopefully persuade them the NDP lacks the ability to govern wisely. The NDP will use the same technique to try and persuade the electorate the Liberal government has been deceiving voters for years and will continue to do so if re-elected.

Factoids – these close cousins to alternative facts are usually repeated “facts” about the ideology of a party or organization. All parties use them and hope that, if repeated often enough, they will become accepted as facts.

Perception management – mainly applicable to national governments seeking support for the launch of military actions, but also applicable in election campaigns. It was first used during President Ronald Reagan’s term in office. The U.S. Department of Defence defines the program: “Actions to convey and/or deny selected information to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives and objective reasoning….ultimately resulting in foreign behaviors and official actions favorable to the originators objectives…..”

Delete the two “foreign” mentions, and “perception management” as a civilian election campaign weapon is quickly recognized.

Woven into all campaigns will be a share of double speak, a dash of circular sourcing run through a filter bubble with a taste of dog-whistle politics. Feel free to Google them to better understand how you will be force fed for a month after the election writ is dropped.

Here’s one more tactic guaranteed to be served up: Euphemistic mispeaking – being economical with the truth; a slip of the tongue; to mis-speak.” All coming soon to an election platform near you, terminological inexactitude tested and possibly dangerously infected.

Stay alert!

When “the Quality of Mercy” was Strained in Canada

If you think President Donald Trump a bit of a flake, his bellicose racist fear-mongering disgraceful – so do I. He reminds me of a time, and not so long ago, when Canadian politicians had similar thoughts. Not just one politician with sycophantic followers, but just about all politicians federal, provincial and municipal teaching a mob to bellow in unison that Chinese immigrants did not belong in Canada.

There was never any doubt in their white supremacy. They were open, and frightening: China was a weak nation of backward people who could never learn to live like white Canadians. Those who had been recruited to Canada to build a railroad had “brought with them diseases and other bad habits (such as smoking opium) that threatened Canada’s well being.”

These unprincipled weak and backward people had served a useful purpose as cheap labour while railroads were under construction. Now they not only wanted to stay in Canada – they wanted to bring their families from China to join them. And they actually had the desire to establish themselves in the business world and open laundries, small productive vegetable farms and a few corner stores to raise the money to bring their folks over.

British Columbia led the fight to keep the “dangerous Orientals” in check but was by no means alone. The Library Archives of Canada tell us that in Calgary property owners living near Chinatown made moves to block its ever-expanding growth because they feared their property was being devalued by the Chinese presence.

History also notes that Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario introduced stringent laws prohibiting Chinese laundry owners from hiring white women. It was unacceptable to government that any white person could be answerable to a Chinese boss, and shockingly dangerous that white women should find themselves in a position where their Chinese employer “would take sexual advantage” of them.

Not “could” take advantage but “would” because these Chinese immigrants and refugees were believed to be a bad lot and government at all levels never hesitated to say so. The political ranks were full of replica Donald Trumps and the electorate loved, supported and re-elected them. Newspaper publishers and editors of the day agreed with the politicians, and stoked the rampant racist regulations banning Chinese from public swimming pools and ordering them to sit in special seating areas at the movies.

In 1885, Ottawa introduced the Chinese Immigration Act – the first law to specifically exclude immigrants to Canada on the basis of ethnic origin. The press and the people loved the law and the $50 head tax it placed on every would-be Chinese immigrant. The tax slowed down the flow, but not enough. In 1900 it was increased to $100 and three years later to $500 – more than a year’s pay for labourers.

It would be years before, with awakening conscience, the tax was eliminated and decades before 2006 when Canada, through its then Prime Minister Stephen Harper, apologized “for the racist actions of our past” and offered “symbolic payments” in compensation.

Readers interested in following the evolution of racism in Canada can Google Canadian Immigration Acts and Legislation and follow a legacy of growing intolerance from 1869 and the country’s first Immigration Act (which had virtually no restrictions), through the years when race restrictions first surfaced to the 1910 Immigration Act. That was the year the federal government expanded its prohibited immigrants list. Among the new exclusions were immigrants “unsuited to the climate or requirements of Canada.” Immigrants sponsored by “charitable institutions” were a surprising exclusion.

One phrase in the 1910 revisions would delight President Trump. It kept decision making power firmly in the hands of the executive branch of Canada’s national government with “courts and judges barred from reviewing, reversing or otherwise interfering in the decisions of the minister responsible….”

As the years rolled by Canadian governments at all levels abandoned old hatreds and beliefs. Maybe the riotous years of the early 1900s – when, in 1907, a mob several thousand strong invaded Vancouver’s prosperous Chinatown to smash store windows and wreck buildings – sparked qualms of conscience. Or maybe it was a quiet reflection on the racist proposal of Victoria’s School Trustees to banish Chinese students from “white only classrooms.”

Perhaps what troubled decent minded people, was the government’s actions during great recession of the 1930s when the BC government provided a Chinese soup kitchen with 16 cents per day per person and white people 25 cents a day; or the rule in Alberta where relief payments were $1.12 a week for Chinese people and double that for needy whites.

It was WW2 that brought about Canada’s final conversion to decency. In the post war years Canada was heavily involved in the birth of the United Nations which declared equal rights for all people in a democracy. After self examination in 1947, Canada removed the prohibition which had denied those of Chinese origin equal rights – and repealed the 1923 immigration law preventing immigration.

We can always hope that President Trump will come to see the error of his racist ways and change his ways quicker than Canada did; hope that he and his supporters will come to understand Shakespeare’s advice that “the quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth as a gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed; it blesseth him that gives and him that takes….”

But it’s not a hope to bet the farm on.