Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

It was Mark Twain who coined the critical phrase “lies, damn lies, and statistics.” At least, most historians credit him as the originator although Twain, with unusual modesty, always insisted he had borrowed the quote from British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.

As a man of words rather than numbers, I fear statistics, especially when they run into multi-millions of dollars and are more than four digits long. Thus, on August 27th, I trembled when I received from “Government Communications and Public Engagement, Ministry of Education” two pages of stats designed to provide a “snapshot of British Columbia’s education system.”

It’s a perk or punishment I get as an “Honorary Life Member of the Legislature Press Gallery.” I remain on the mailing list for the full flood of ever-flowing press releases. I read them all. Having paid for part of their production with tax dollars I can ill afford to pay, I feel I should at least skim them before clicking delete and sending them on their scurried way to oblivion.

So, I viewed the snapshot cursorily, quite prepared to be bored, but quickly came to realize I was not just reading a page of statistics. I was also picking up some signals that all was not well in our total society. Reading the stats was a bit like carrying canaries down a coal mine to test for life-threatening gas

Maybe I’m just an old guy getting a little paranoid, but after a few early, comforting, even proud numbers, there seemed to be two or three serious “canary” warnings. But first a polite opening:

There are 1,566 public schools and 360 independent schools in BC. It is estimated pending final enrolment count this month that there will be 538,821 funded public school students in the 2018-19 school years. This would be an increase of 1,737 students since 2017.

Then comes the first “canary” flutter.

“Based on student head-count in the 2017-18 year there were 69,685 students with special needs in the province – 3,020 more than the year before.” Close to 70,000 children with disabilities no child should have to carry? And getting worse each year.

The textbook description of special needs reads: Special Education is a broad term used to describe specially designed learning opportunities to meet the unique needs of exceptional learners. Special Education services enable students to have equitable access to learning opportunities to ensure they achieve the goals of their Individualized Education Plans. Education Plans can include academic, social, emotional and behavioural learning. According to the BC Ministry of Education: “Students with special needs have disabilities of an intellectual, physical, sensory, emotional, or behavioural nature, or have a learning disability …”

It should be noted that students with “exceptional gifts or talents” are also included and offered extended learning opportunities. I suspect they are vastly outnumbered by children with “disabilities of intellectual, physical, sensory, emotional, or behavioural nature or have a learning disability.”

My second “canary” died a few lines later in the “snapshot” report: “There are 70,487 indigenous students in the province – 1,299 fewer than the year before.” A drop in student enrollment is worrisome, especially when tied to the statistic reporting that only 66 percent of the indigenous students finish high school.

I rejoiced briefly when I read that 84 percent of public school students complete high school and 87 percent of English language learners do the same. Then my third canary hit the bottom of the cage.

There are 54,063 French immersion students in public schools in the province – an increase of 295 students. Reportedly, 96 percent completed high school. But hold the cheers for a second or two.

There are 5,940 Francophone students in the province – 249 more than the year before. They operate under the Conseil Scolaire Francophone school board and boast a high of 99 percent high school completion plus equal or better provincial exam marks in English than other high schools.

For readers beyond the boundaries of BC, French immersion students attend regular English-speaking schools with French a second language. Francophone schools are French speaking with English taught as a second language

So, what am I concerned about?

  1. Is the number of “special needs” children rising each year? Is there a cause? Were special needs children “hidden” when I was a child or when my now adult children were going through the system? I remember an occasional “problem” child but not many.
  1. Regarding indigenous students, I thought we were, and still think we are, making progress. First Nation leaders must recognize that, even though we interlopers made some dumb mistakes when we first moved in, we did correct our bad judgment errors and now maintain a reasonably good education system. But something must still be amiss if native elders can’t persuade their young people to not only complete grade 12 but move even higher on the education ladder.
  1. How come the Francophone schools have such a high rate of success? Is it pride in work ethic? Tougher disciplines? Better teachers even though they seem hard to find?

Two days after receiving my ‘education by numbers’ e-mail from the government word factory I spotted a single column headline in my local newspaper reading Government Lauds Extra Funding For Schools. The first paragraph confirmed what my e-mail had informed me.”BC’s schools have had a $580-million funding boost to hire up to 3,700 new teachers and a number of educational assistants.” The announcer of the good news – Education Minister Rob Fleming.

Instead of running up the flag and shouting “hallelujah” Glen Hansman, president of the BC Teacher’s Federation reminded the minister his funding announcement was not only old but was a decision reluctantly made by the Liberal administration the NDP replaced little more than a year ago.

“It is something the (Supreme Court of Canada) ordered because of teacher’s persistence through the court,” said Hansman, not something Fleming or the NDP have done. “Beyond what the court ordered there has not been any new additional funding on the operational side from the province.”

The brief exchange reported by Canadian Press can be chalked up as the probing rounds of the pending full-scale education funding battle between the BCTF and the government. It could continue for weeks or months with one observation guaranteed; Mark Twain’s “Lies, damn lies, and statistics” will be mentioned from time to time.

Keep an ear on the dialogue when it shifts to higher gear. And eye on the “canaries.”

Better To Build Than Break

Until a few days ago, Sir John A. Macdonald was fairly high on the list of achievers of Scottish descent who had carried inherited ideals to remote corners of the world.

But on August 21st, the ever-babbling Internet informed the world the Scottish National Party had ordered a purge of Sir John’s name from its honour rolls “following concerns raised by Canadian indigenous people about his legacy.” The story noted that the precipitous decision by the municipal council of Victoria, capital of British Columbia, to remove a statue of Sir John from City Hall, had encouraged the Scots to act.

How justified are the charges that Sir John was at the helm when grievous acts, unfair and unfounded, were taken against First Nations who had traditionally occupied the territories then coveted by waves of white settlers? How strong the suggestion that he was responsible for the incredible shame of the residential school system?

In our democracy, we have long held the captain of the ship responsible for the conduct of the crew. So, when today’s world blames Sir John for decisions to force natives to obey new government rules or lose their food supplies, we can join the lament against such faulty logic, such inconceivable thinking. But, we must remember whatever bad decisions were made, they were composite decisions … decisions made by cabinet, not by one man.

So, when we talk injustice, reconciliation or whatever we want to call modern cries against ancient sins, let us talk with measured and soft voices; let us talk without anger, always without hidden or obvious calls for revenge and, always, with balanced judgment.

It has become standard for Prime Minister Macdonald’s critics to list native residential schools among his greatest evils. That wise men could actually believe you could remove 150,000 children from their homes, lock them in schools barely a half-step better than prison and improve their minds and wellbeing, is certainly inconceivable today. It happened, but it wasn’t the worst of the things that happened in that shameful chapter of Canadian and Christian church history.

We don’t like to talk too much about the Christian contribution to the shame of residential schools, but we should keep it clearly in mind that many of the faults and sins in those infamous institutions were made by the people who staffed them. And, Sir John A. Macdonald should not be unfairly blamed.

One final thought to throw into the equation before we completely cover our founding father and ourselves in the sackcloth of repentance: Consider this February 2018 press release from the University of Victoria:

A new law program at the University of Victoria is the world’s first to combine the intensive study of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous law, enabling people to work fluently across the two realms.

Students will graduate with two professional degrees, one in Canadian Common Law (Juris Doctor or ‘JD’) and one in Indigenous Legal Orders (Juris Indigenarum Doctor or ‘JID’).  Their education will benefit areas such as environmental protection, Indigenous governance, economic development, housing, child protection and education – areas where currently there is an acute lack of legal expertise to create institutions that are grounded in Indigenous peoples’ law and to build productive partnerships across the two legal systems. 

“This program builds on UVic’s longstanding commitment to, and unique relationship with, the First Peoples of Canada. The foundational work for this program has been underway for several years, building on Indigenous scholarship for which UVic is known internationally,” says UVic President Jamie Cassels. 

“This joint-degree program is also a direct response to a call of action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to establish Indigenous law institutes for the development, use and understanding of Indigenous law.” 

Senator Murray Sinclair, former judge and Chief Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said of the joint JD/JID program and Indigenous Legal Lodge: “They are precisely what we had hoped would follow from the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and they promise to form the very best of legacies: A set of initiatives that reject and reverse the pattern of denigration and neglect identified in our report, and that establish the conditions for effective action long into the future.”

Ii may be hard for some to accept in a province where the horrors of the residential school were so real; but lessons were learned and corrective action has, and is, being taken. There is still a long way to go and the road to reconciliation will always be a tough one to travel with such a heavy load of baggage from the past.

It will best be traveled if we have reminders of the past in clear view and never forget that cries for justice are best seasoned with mercy and delivered with an ambition to build rather than break.



When Alaska Was Ours For The taking

Little more than 150 years ago Vancouver Island came within a pen stroke of owning Alaska by right of conquest.

As noted in this spot a week ago, in mid-1850s England, owners of what was then a remote Pacific Island were at war with Russia on the other side of the world in Crimea. Vancouver Island, with an infant settlement tucked in a sheltered bay, was prospering under its new name Victoria, that had been bestowed on June 10, 1843, by the Hudson Bay Company’s (HBC) Council of Northern Development meeting in Fort Garry. Five months later on November 10, Queen Victoria gave her blessing and Camosack, the original name bestowed by the First Nation Lekwungen people, and the briefly named HBC’s Fort Albert became Victoria.

It was soon playing an unusual role in the Crimean war – at least the Hudson Bay Company was. The new settlement was prospering and producing far more in crops than it required. HBC marketed some surplus south to Washington and Oregon – but its most lucrative market was to the north, Russian Alaska. The Russian trade was approved by London with HBC and the Russian American Company signing a neutral non-aggression pact for the duration.

A weird situation. On the Black Sea in Europe, British troops were finding the supply of everything from munitions to rations difficult to maintain; Florence Nightingale and her nurses were beginning their fight to reform field hospital care and nutrition. Meanwhile, on the Pacific Coast, the HBC was making a tidy profit from officially approved trade with the enemy.

In addition to the dollar value he was providing his company, headman James Douglas was keeping a wary eye on his Russian trading partner and on May 16, 1854, penned a formal report and request to the Duke of Newcastle in the Colonial Office in London.

London’s decision makers, weeks away by even the fastest mails, probably spilled a few drinks when they eventually received Douglas’s shopping list.

He was asking for 400 muskets, 100 Minie rifles (a new super rifle), general gear, uniforms and boots for 500 men he was convinced he could raise locally. He would need one year’s supply of rations, four light guns (artillery) and some heavy guns to protect the entrance to Victoria Harbour. And, almost as a footnote, he said a squadron of the Royal Navy’s Pacific Fleet would help.

What did he intend to do with his instant army? In their book, British Columbia Chronicle 1847-1871, historians G.P.V. Akrigg and Helen B. Akrigg tell us what they found when they dug through British Public Records. Wrote Douglas: “A very serious injury might be inflicted on Russia by taking possession of all her settlements on the American coast north of Queen Charlotte Islands (now Haida Gwaii). They are all upon the seaboard and accessible to shipping. Their defences are on a scale merely calculated to cope with savages and could not be maintained against a regular force.”

The warriors of Whitehall were not impressed with the Douglas plan and launched instead a joint French-British land-sea attack on Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka Peninsula. It was a brief and disastrous campaign with the British and French soon in full retreat. The British, with 26 dead and 79 wounded, retired to Victoria (Esquimalt); the French, with 26 dead and 78 wounded, to San Francisco.

Among the English dead was Rear Admiral David Price, overall commander of the operation. After his thwarted attack he attempted suicide by a shot to the heart, missed his target but hit a lung. In incredible pain he begged his second in command to finish the job but the officer refused to kill his commanding officer. Price died in agony a few days later.

The meticulous Akrigg historical researchers suggest Whitehall would have been better off accepting the Douglas offer: “Had the warships so ineffectually used at Petropavlovsk directed their guns against the weak Alaskan establishments, with landing parties made up of Douglas’s 500 Scots, French-Canadians and Indians, the campaign could hardly have failed.” They also noted that Russia had lost interest in its North American holdings and would probably have been open to offers to hand ownership to Britain as part of the treaty Russia signed in defeat to end the war in Crimea.

Whether the UK was slow to pick up on the offer or had enough with wild west acquisitions isn’t known, but all opportunity was lost in 1867 when Russia offered America its Alaska holdings for $7.2 million.

For those who love useless trivia it works out to two cents an acre.



From Camosack Peace To The Jaws of Hell

It looked promising from the start when James Douglas sailed into Camosack Harbour in 1842 on board the Hudson’s Bay Company Schooner Cadboro. He was looking for a site on which to build a replacement for Fort Vancouver, which was in the process of being evicted from its old location on the banks of the Columbia River in the USA. Douglas had been wandering the coast for weeks looking for a sheltered harbour with an essential fresh water supply and – equally essential – enough arable land to feed the anticipated population.

He had poked his head into Sooke Harbour, Pedder Bay and Esquimalt Harbour. They were impressive but didn’t quite fit HBC requirements. Then came the day when the Cadboro found its way past what we now call Ogden Point, across West Bay and around Laurel Point to the Inner Harbour. There he anchored and made his – for Victoria – momentous decision: “I made Choice of a Site for the proposed new establishment in the Port of Camosack (Camosun) which appears to me decidedly the most advantageous situation within the Straits of Juan de Fuca …”

He returned to Fort Vancouver but was back in Camosack on March 16, 1843 – this time with a work party. He reported the weather “clear and warm and wild gooseberry bushes in bud.” He had 12 workers with him – six to dig wells, six “to start squaring timbers.” He later wrote that he informed the local natives of his intent to build a fort and “they offered to provide the pickets” for the pay of “one two-and-a-half point Hudson’s Bay blanket for 40 pickets.” A “picket” for the outer wall of the fort was to be “22 feet in length by 36 inches in circumference.” One blanket for 40 “pickets” was hardly a Bay Day bargain.

Douglas and other senior HBC officials supervised construction and explored the surrounding countryside for that vital arable land required to feed the occupants of the new outpost and new settlers the HBC hoped would follow. The success of their exploration and the hard work that followed the first plough is recorded in a detailed study compiled by Douglas in 1854 and published a year later as The Census of Vancouver Island, 1855.

The stats didn’t claim to be 100 percent accurate but were close: around 300 (white) people in the Victoria-Sooke area, plus 125 at Nanaimo and maybe 25 at Fort Rupert (Port Hardy). So, about 450 people in 1853 and all, especially the “254 persons in the (now named) town of Victoria,” requiring farm produce.

The 111 men, 50 women, and 93 children were well supplied. Eleven years after Douglas landed with his 12 workers, there were four farms in the Esquimalt area – Constance Cove, Esquimalt Farm, Maple Point (better known as Craigflower) and Viewpoint Farm. All four were Puget Sound Company operations.

Douglas ruled over the rural acres known then and now as Fairfield. There were North Dairy Farm, McPhail’s Dairy, Uplands Farm, Beckley Farm, and “Mr. Cooper’s farm at Belmont.” In addition, all the landed gentry of the day ran their own farm operations of varying sizes to contribute to the well-being and economic growth of a once tiny fort now rushing headlong toward urban status.

In 1853, the Fairfield farm produced 530 bushels of wheat, 300 bushels of oats, 150 bushels of peas, eight bushels of barley and 400 bushels of potatoes. It was located on 90 acres of “improved land” and 328 acres “unimproved.” It was home for “10 horses, four cows, 12 working oxen, six “other cattle,” 44 swine and 26 poultry.

John Work, the Hudson’s Bay man, was up in the high production ranks with “40 acres of improved land and 543 acres unimproved” producing 500 bushels of wheat, 200 of oats, 100 of peas, 1,200 of potatoes plus 150 pounds of butter. He stabled 18 horses, milked seven cows, worked 12 oxen and had 20 “other cattle,” 59 swine and a modest four poultry.

In total, in 1853 Victoria area farms produced 4,715 bushels of wheat, 1,730 of oats, 1,567 of peas, 381 of barley, 900 pounds of wool, 6,125 bushels of potatoes, 690 pounds of cheese, 4,544 pounds of butter and 100 tons of turnips from 1,418 acres of improved land, 9005 unimproved with the aid of 284 horses, 240 cows, 216 working oxen, 560 “other cattle”, 6,214 sheep, 1,010 swine and 1121 chickens.

Production was more than needed to well feed the expanding population, so what happened to the surplus? Simple, they sold or traded it, some south to the States but most north to Russian Alaska. Trade ties between the HBC and its Russian counterpart were so strong that when the Crimean War (1853-56) between Russia and England broke out, the companies shook hands on their own “peace treaty” – or at least a free-trade non-aggression pact. There was “concern” in British Columbia and Russian Alaska that led to some “military defence preparations,” but not enough to seriously interfere with the trade which continued virtually uninterrupted with both governments turning a blind eye.

On Vancouver Island in the mid-1850s, life was good, the trade link with Russia firm – at least out in the far west. While businesslike farmers on Vancouver Island were counting their revenues from trade with Russia, England’s leading pacifist John Bright was pleading with Parliament to stop the war with Crimea.

“I shall not say one word here about the state of the army in Crimea, or one word about is numbers or its condition,” he told a subdued House of Commons. “Every member of this House, every inhabitant of this country, has been sufficiently harrowed with details regarding it. To my solemn belief thousands – nay, scores of thousands of persons – have retired to rest, night after night, whose slumbers have been disturbed, or whose dreams have been based upon the sufferings and agonies of our soldiers in the Crimea.”

It is said the silence was palpable when Bright, a Quaker by religion, launched his eloquent appeal to stop the bloodshed: “I am certain that many homes in England in which there now exists a fond hope that the distant one may yet return – many such homes may be rendered desolate when the next mail shall arrive. The angel of death has been abroad throughout the land you may almost hear the beating of his wings … He takes his victims from the castle of the noble, the mansion of the wealthy, and the cottage of the poor and the lowly, and it is on behalf of all these classes that I make this solemn appeal … to put an end to this war.”

They didn’t listen to John Bright in England and on Vancouver Island they didn’t even know he had made his eloquent appeal for peace. They did eventually learn about the Crimea War and 600 cavalrymen charging to certain death in the madness known as The Charge of the Light Brigade – one of the greatest blunders in British military history.

With Pride and Some Prejudice

When I wrapped up my few comments on Soccer’s World Cup contest in Russia a few weeks ago, my last line was one of regret that the nations sending teams to Moscow and beyond couldn’t use the same formula to settle more serious disputes.

How sweet it was, I thought, getting all on-field tussles settled instantly by a referee and two line judges backed by instant slow-motion playbacks if any particular incident had been too fast for the human eye to follow. 

How encouraging for future world peace to see teams from around the world paying respect to their opponents singing their homeland national anthem, and then bursting with pride to sing their own while their fans joined in their thousands from the stands. None was more inspirational than La Marseillaise, composed in 1792 by Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle and the national anthem of France since 1795. It’s a spine-tingler when witnessed on TV and an emotional roller coaster if you’re ever lucky enough to be in a crowded stadium and hear 30,000 to 40,000 French fans lift their team as they rejoice in their country’s national song. But it isn’t what you would call a hymn for peace and brotherly love.

It’s better if you join in and enjoy the music but don’t pay attention to the words because they leave no doubt as to what the French are singing about. It isn’t the perfection of their passes, the precision of their set-plays from corners or free kicks. The first stanza sets the scene: “Let’s go children of the fatherland / The day of glory has arrived! / Against us tyranny’s / Bloody flag is raised! (repeat) / In the countryside, do you hear / The roaring of these fierce soldiers? / They come right to our arms / To slit the throats of our sons, our friends.” And then the triumphant chorus: “Grab your weapons, citizens! / Form your battalions! / Let us march! Let us march! May impure blood / Water our fields.”

Thankfully, the French usually excuse us from more than the first stanza and chorus at soccer and rugby games. The second stanza opens with “This horde of slaves, traitors, plotting kings, what do they want? For whom these vile shackles, these long prepared irons?” and sounds more like the threat of a New Zealand Maori Haka than a joyous rallying cry for a sporting team. But, I guess if it kept the mob together long enough to storm the Bastille and win the great revolution, it’s worth reminding today’s generation where their freedoms come from.

Not all World Cup national anthems carried a “remember the revolution theme” although most had at least a few lines reminding singers and listeners that, in the not too distant past, some of them were literally fighting for their lives as nations.

Mexicans sing “Mexicans, at the cry of war / Make ready the steel and the bridle/And let the earth shake to the core / At the roar of the cannon.” The second verse is a little softer calling its citizens to crown their heads with the olive wreath of peace because peace is Mexico’s eternal destiny as written in heaven then adds: “But should a foreign enemy / Profane your ground with their sole / Think, oh beloved country, that heaven has given you a soldier in every son.”

Scotland didn’t have a team in World Cup 2018 – and it doesn’t have an official national anthem – but anytime its team performs on a world stage it powers through Flower of Scotland, a solemn but moving dirge reminding today’s Scots of the time their forefathers “stood against Proud Edward’s army and sent him homewards, Tae, think again.” That would be the Battle of Bannockburn under the lead of Robert the Bruce. Solemnly, the Scots sing: “Those days are past now, and in the past they must remain, but we can still rise now, and be the nation again, that stood against him, Proud Edwards army, and sent him homeward, Tae, think again.”

And there are one or two nations with anthems of rare beauty. Wales, like Scotland, wasn’t at the World Cup of soccer. But, come this fall, it will be popping up at international rugby events and sweeping crowds of 75,000 or more to sing along in the Welsh language when that country’s anthem precedes every game it plays on the big stage. It is a fact that the Welsh national anthem is always sung in Welsh – but you can get an English version and join in your English unnoticed. A few scattered lines:

The land of my fathers is dear to me, / Old land where the minstrels are honoured and free; / Its warring defenders so gallant and brave, / For freedom their life’s blood they gave / Though foemen have trampled my land ‘neath their feet, / The language of Cambria still knows no retreat; / The muse is not vanquished by traitor’s fell hand, / Nor silenced the harp of my land.”

Then the final chorus: “Wales, Wales, true am I to Wales, While seas secure the land so pure, O may the old language endure.”

A favourite? I think so. One of the Cinderella teams in the World Cup contest was Iceland. It won admiration on the field for sportsmanship and the surprising quality of its on-field skills. Iceland’s anthem is titled Lofsongur (Song of Praise). There are several translations with some slightly longer than my choice, and YouTube has an array of choral versions. It’s worth a listen.

“O God of our land, O our land’s God,

We worship thy holy, holy name.

From the solar systems of the heavens

Bind for you a wreath

Your warriors, the assembly of the ages.

For thee is one day as a thousand years

And a thousand years a day and no more,

One small flower of eternity with a quivering tear,

That prays to God and dies.

Iceland’s thousand years, Iceland’s thousand years,

One small flower of eternity with a quivering tear,

That prays to its God and dies.”


An Invitation to the Angel of Death

President Donald Trump is not the most serious threat to the wellbeing of the United States of America. That threat is the powerful men who permit him to rage unchallenged and often incoherently and the evangelical church leaders who naively believe he has repented his past lifestyle.

It’s hard to say who is the most obnoxious … the high-priced suits elected to serve their country, but now focused solely on protecting their jobs; or, the well-dressed preachers who don’t seem to care what President Trump says or how he says it, as long as he keeps his promises to protect a few specific principles they hold dear.

A few months ago, when the President engaged in his first slanging match with North Korea, he warned the small nation’s leader Kim Jong Un that as U.S. Commander in Chief he had at his disposal weapons capable of the mass destruction of Kim and his country. A few days ago, he was using the same bad-mouth bully talk to warn Iran’s religious leaders to exercise caution in their rhetoric.


A few observations on Trump’s illogic: He says if the USA ever feels threatened by Iranian rhetoric it will respond “with consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before.” He used similar bluster-bombs with Kim Jong Un warning him that his country could be wiped from the face of the earth with “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if push ever came to shove.

Then there was the muscle phrase “you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered.” No clue as to who those few were or what they suffered. We can presume fire and fury and consequences never before seen suggests Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the only cities in the world to suffer and survive – at horrendous cost – nuclear attacks. It is hard to believe the United States of America would be willing to lead the world into a third nuclear apocalypse.

Another thought on the word slingers in the realms of international diplomacy. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo had a brief comment about Iran’s leaders warning about the ‘hypocritical holy men” who run the country. I thought it introduced an unusual brand of diplomacy to the proceedings.

I’m sure hypocritical holy men are not a rare breed existing only in Muslim countries. I’m also sure President Trump is one of the last men in the world with the right to complain about anyone else using excessive rhetoric.

Which brings me to my point: I didn’t read or hear of any Christian holy men taking the President to task for the violence and arrogance of his threats. It’s possible that ministers of Christian flocks used Trump’s volatile tantrums as a Sunday sermon theme. Possible, but not likely.

So far, only one or two have wondered out loud if the White House thunder mug should be reminded of the advice of James the Apostle who warned of the dangerous power of the unbridled tongue. “The tongue,” he wrote, “is a fire, a world of iniquity. So is the tongue among our members that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.”

Trump supporters insist that tough talk has so far held the dogs of war at bay. Maybe, but I can’t shake the feeling that President Trump would love a session as Commander in Chief with his army in the field; and that he has no idea at all what follows when the “fateful lightning and His terrible swift sword” are released. And the Angel of Death takes the harvest she feels her due.

“Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid”

The letter to the editor was brief. Just five words published, I suspect, exactly as written: “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” It was signed by one Brian Smith and whether that is the Brian Smith well remembered as a municipal and provincial politician or a Brian Smith I have never met or known, I thank him for his timely warning of the looming danger contained in Premier John Horgan’s threat to create a Crown corporation with a positive sounding title – BC Infrastructure Benefits.

I use the word “threat” rather than “promise” because, although we still await the details of the latest gospel of NDP salvation, there’s more threat than comfort in the announced assurance that once it is up and running, the new corporation will bring undreamed of benefits to every corner of the province. Local workers will get an abundance of job offers in the multitude of jobs destined to be created in the near future. Wages will be improved in all sectors; all will be well with the world – as long as you’ve joined a union and paid your dues.

We do not yet have a list of the massive government projects we are assured will soon be on hand to create riches for everyone from file clerks to high tech experts working in the construction industry – as long as they are bona fide card-carrying members of a trade union.

Ah, yes, the new Crown corporation will be responsible for hiring all workers on the multibillion-dollar construction horizon. Full details we hope will follow but here’s a direct quote from Horgan’s blueprint of the road to economic prosperity as reported in The Times Colonist’s Comment page July 18: “Within 30 days of employment on the job site, any non-union worker or a worker from another affiliation will be required to join the union for work specific to the project.”

Schedule: Government announces a decision on a mega project; big companies enter bids; winning company informs BC Infrastructure Benefits what its workforce needs are; BCIB assigns the workers who will already hold current union cards or will be given 30-days to get one; no card, no job.

Significantly, the quote is in a brief editorial on the same page as Brian Smith’s flashing red light warning: “Be afraid. Be very afraid”, written, I am sure, by someone who remembers this same battle being slugged out not so many years ago. I’m talking about the 1980s, the “restraint” years which saw the birth of British Columbia’s version of the Solidarity Movement with massive protests at the Legislature and in Vancouver by militant trade unionists.

Readers interested in inside stories of that trade union versus government should grab a copy of Bill Bennett, a Mandarin’s View by Bob Plecas. His chapter “Restraint” is fascinating, especially the final scene in Premier Bennett’s Okanagan home where the toughest labour leader in the province, Jack Munro and the premier finally agreed to terms – with a handshake.

Plecas notes the Vancouver Province reported: “The clear winner in the 13 days of public sector strikes and marathon weekend bargaining was Premier Bill Bennett’s government.” Labour reporter Rod Mickleburgh commented: “Bennett budged, but he budged on his terms.”

One of the many issues on the table during that year of “restraint” was the right of construction companies to hire non-union workers on government projects.

I’m sure Premier Horgan remembers those years, but a quick refresher might remind him it was foolish labour leaders who came close to marching their members like lemmings to what Vancouver Sun columnist Marjorie Nichols described as “collective self-destruction.” And, it was a tough, hard-hitting trade unionist to the core, common sense Jack Munro, who saw the folly of the path Solidarity was pursuing and agreed to  acceptable compromise.

The premier should remember the election that followed hard on the heels of restraint and the tumultuous debate over enforced union membership – the debate some Solidarity leaders were convinced, based on massed membership rallies, would translate to massed support at the polls.

It didn’t quite work out that way. When the polls closed on October 22, 1986, Social Credit had increased its majority by 15 seats to hold 47. New Democrats had retained 22.

I’m sure Brian Smith’s warning was directed primarily to the electorate. I’m also sure the electorate will understand it.

But, I also I think Premier Horgan and his faithful Green echo Andrew Weaver would do well to take it to heart, to “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” Voters in BC don’t like to be told what they must join and pay membership dues to before they can earn a living.


When Students Teach Their Teachers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






Are We Now Old Enough To Know Better?

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

                                                       50 Dallas Road

                              Historic Site of Victoria Immigration Building

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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