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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Ah for the exciting days of politicians and envelopes full of cash

Perhaps it is the fact that I am writing this column on Christmas Day, but I am feeling rather nostalgic when I read about politicians and envelopes stuffed full of money. Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney recently admitted that “in the biggest mistake of his life” he had accepted three cash payments of $75,000 from German lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber in 1999.

For those old enough to remember, about ten years earlier there was the infamous incident of former BC Premier Bill Vander Zalm taking a cash payment from a Vancouver real estate agent named Fay Leung that played a significant role in his departure from office.

Both politicians had started off their governing terms winning landslide elections. Both finished their careers by resigning in disgrace and having their governments resoundingly defeated and even the political parties they once led falling by the wayside.

But in the media’s coverage of the Mulroney – Schreiber scandal there is also something of a political nostalgia trip that the Ottawa Press gallery is also going on. It’s as if the political media in Canada are trying to relive the glory days when political scandals graced the front pages of our daily newspapers and editorials thundered and editorial cartoonists skewered those caught up in their political crosshairs.

Now as a society it seems we simply don’t care. We recognize that for the most part politicians have delegated much of their power either to faceless bureaucratsor nameless political staffers leaving not just backbenchers but in many instances cabinet ministers to be regarded and treated as political nobodies.

But even when it comes to scandals involving those at the top, there seems to be little appetite for any form of serious or sustained investigative journalism. The simple fact is that if the Watergate Scandal had happened today instead of three decades ago, Richard Nixon would never have had to resign. Such a scandal nowadays would likely have been considered too complicated and too boring to be followed up on by other than few tenacious bloggers.

If you don’t believe me then consider the fact that a bribery and corruption scandal involving the sale of BC Rail that is still making its way through the courts has now become all but ignored by the mainstream media and nowadays is only being consistently reported on by one or two bloggers.

Even the obnoxious and condescending Christmas letter sent by ICBC to almost half a million drivers received relatively media attention. For those of you that received ICBC’s sanctimonious diatribe, you may take some comfort in the fact that Paul Taylor, whose name appeared at the bottom of the letter, seems to have conducted himself in a highly questionable manner with regards to a couple of lobbyists who, in return for immunity from prosecution, have admitted to bribing various government officials.

But the fact that most of the people caught up in the BC Rail scandal are either people who were lobbyists, political staffers or bureaucrats show how much real decision making power has moved out of the hands of the people we elect and into the hands of people they appoint.

So as our governments and their various ancillary agencies get ever more technocratic and bureaucratic expect far less in the way of stories involving some lobbyist handing some politician an envelope full of cash and expect far more where some faceless bureaucrat is demanding more of your money in the way of fees levies and fines as you go about your daily struggle to simply provide for yourself and your family.

Michael Geoghegan is a government relation’s consultant (lobbyist) who can be reached via his website at www.mgcltd.ca

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Killing at Vancouver Airport a wake up call to all Canadians

The senseless killing of Robert Dzienkanski at Vancouver International Airport is something that has left many Canadians both afraid and ashamed.

Ashamed that bureaucratic indifference and incompetence by Canadian Border Service Agents, Vancouver Airport staff and finally the RCMP led directly to Robert Dzienkanski’s death. Afraid because what happened to him could easily happen to you or me or any one of our friends or loved ones.

The four RCMP officers who tasered Robert Dzienkanski have been assigned other duties. They should be fired. Let’s go through the litany of their mistakes. First of all they ignored several individuals who tried to explain that Mr. Dzienkanski could not speak English, secondly without provocation they tasered him twice and then they piled on top of him putting their weight onto his back and neck. Finally as he died these four RCMP officers did nothing to try and revive Mr. Dzienkanski even though they are all supposed to have CPR training.

Their breath taking incompetence and callousness deserves their termination. However the subsequent actions of the RCMP are also noteworthy, such their extreme reticence to release the video footage of Mr. Dzienkanski’s killing and the fact that this video footage, which was released only after court action was taken, showed none too surprisingly that the RCMP had in their official statements seriously misrepresented what had in fact occurred.

But it would be unfair to blame just the RCMP. There are the Customs Agents who let Mr. Dzienkanski loiter for over six hours near a baggage claim area without anyone trying to find out why. The answer was that his mother Zofia Cisowski had mistakenly told her son to wait at the baggage carousel forgetting that when flying internationally you pick up your baggage in a secure area and then have another layer of agents to go through before you can meet your loved ones.

So there was Robert Dzienkanski’s mother less than a hundred yards away from her son pleading with Customs Officers and presumably Vancouver Airport staff to let her see her son. The unwillingness for anyone to take the ten minutes it would have required to sort this matter out is what ultimately cost Mr. Dzienkanski his life.

The Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP report to Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day. Minister Day who is also the local MP for many of the readers of this column needs understand how little confidence the public now has in the RCMP and has to take real action to restore our trust.

This must include an immediate independent review regarding the use of tasers and the enactment of much stricter police procedures concerning their use. Tasers were supposed to be used to replace the use of lethal force; they were not supposed to replace routine questioning and restraint of an unarmed individual.

We also need an independent civilian department that investigates the RCMP rather than continuing to allow the RCMP to continue to police itself. There also needs to be a full enquiry into the conduct of CBSA and Vancouver Airport staff in the area that day with an eye to overhauling procedures so that such a tragic incident cannot happen again.

Finally airport staff and customs officers have to be given the discretion to deal with unique situations as they arise. No policy or procedure manual can cover every circumstance and always going by the book without exercising any reasonable judgment or compassion will only lead to more people needlessly being killed.

Michael Geoghegan is a government relations consultant who frequently travels through the Vancouver International Airport. He can be reached via his website at www.mgcltd.ca

Friday, October 19, 2007

Dion Blinks

"He who fights and runs away will live to fight another day."

Ever since Athenian orator and statesman Demosthenes uttered these words in 338 B.C. after fleeing a battle in which 3,000 other Athenians were killed by the victorious Macedonians, many a modern day politician has held them dear to his heart.

Federal Liberal leader Stephan Dion certainly did when he blinked in what was the face of almost certain personal political annihilation if he had defeated Stephen Harper’s Conservative government over the recent throne speech.

With some polls showing the Conservatives as high as 40 per cent in public support and with the Liberals trailing the Bloc Quebecois, the Conservatives and even the NDP in Quebec, Dion knew that if he had forced an election the net result would likely have been handing Prime Minister Harper a majority government and seeing himself become one of the few federal Liberal leaders in Canadian history to never have the honour of serving as Prime Minister of Canada.

The current Liberal malaise is hardly just Mr. Dion’s fault. His predecessor Paul Martin earned through his indecisiveness the political nickname of “Mr. Dithers.” In selecting safe non-controversial leaders the Liberals have learned that these safe choices also tend to be boring choices.

Worse still Prime Minister Harper rather than imploding, as many Liberals initially expected, has instead grown more comfortable in the job of being Canada’s Prime Minister. Harper is not afraid to make a decision and whether you agree or disagree with the decision at least you know where he stands.

I for one think that whoever is advising Harper with regards to drug policy is either stuck in the 1950s or smoking crack. But his decision to appoint former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley to head up a commission looking into Canada’s mission in Afghanistan was a political masterstroke.

Rather than an election in 2007 as I previously predicted, it now seems certain that the earliest we will see a federal election is in 2008. I expect that both the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois will lose seats, while the Conservatives and to a lesser extent the NDP will gain seats. The outcome will either be a strengthened Conservative minority government, or a Conservative majority government.

In either event that would spell the end of Stephan Dion’s time as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. Waiting in the wings is Michael Ignaeteff, an individual who seems all but certain to replace Dion as leader.

But in having blinked and run away to fight another day, does Dion have a comeback strategy? At present it seems unlikely. Instead it is Prime Minister Harper that is running the table.

Harper is putting forward a number of popular measures such as lowering the GST another percentage point that are sure to win over the support of Canadians who are labouring under a punitive amount of taxes and an ever increasing personal debt load.

At this point what Dion and the Liberals have to avoid is political irrelevance. If they end up advocating a tax, regulate and spend agenda then there is already another political party, the NDP, which is doing that. If they want to focus on environmental issues, well all of the other political parties are doing that too.

In short Mr. Dion and the Liberal Party of Canada have to actually articulate a vision beyond that of “we are the naturally governing party of Canada.” If they do not then it is the Conservative Party of Canada that will end up governing Canada for much of the 21st century.

Mike Geoghegan is a government relations consultant based in Victoria BC. He can be reached via his website at www.mgcltd.ca

Sunday, September 09, 2007

A Tale of Two Native Bands

I first had the opportunity to meet Chief Clarence Louie over a dozen years ago when I was the Ministerial Assistant to former Okanagan Boundary MLA and Cabinet Minister Bill Barlee.

Since that time Chief Louie has become a national icon for economic progress and development on reserve lands. The facilities his community has built are not only the envy of other native communities but non-native ones as well.

I spent the labour day weekend visiting with friends and family in Penticton. While I drove her around town, my 81-year-old mother took great delight in pointing out the bits of old shed that is supposed to be some form of public art in my old hometown.

While Penticton’s art choices have provoked ridicule and vandalism, the Osoyoos Band have gone for metal sculptures by U.S. artist Virgil "Smoker" Marchand that amaze and inspire. Thus both in terms of architecture and public art the Osoyoos Band is head and shoulders above the other non-native communities in the South Okanagan.

But an even more glaring contrast emerges when one compares the progress of the Osoyoos Indian Band with that of the Penticton Indian Band. When Clarence Louie was first elected in 1984, at age 24, the Osoyoos Band was bankrupt with only marginal land and extremely high unemployment.

Two decades later, the Osoyoos Indian Band owns nine businesses, and is the largest employer in the South Okanagan. These businesses employ both native and non-natives and they also inject $40 million per year into the local economy.

Contrast that with the Penticton Indian Band where poverty unemployment and drug related crime are still rampant. As a consultant who has worked for quite a number of First Nations here in British Columbia, I have often said that having federal bureaucrats dictating every aspect of people’s lives worked about as well for natives in Canada as it did for peasants living in the Soviet Union.

But for natives to break free of the capriciousness and inefficiency of Ottawa bureaucrats they need not only greater political independence but greater economic independence as well.

Although he may have seen the light in more recent years, it certainly was not that long ago when Chief Stewart Philip of the Penticton Indian Band espoused a doctrine, which was long on talk of political autonomy but came up very short on the economic side. But self-government that is still entirely reliant on funding from Ottawa means that the bureaucrats in Ottawa are still calling the shots by controlling the purse strings.

The economic progress, or lack thereof that is happening on native reserves is of critical importance to the future of Canada. Canada’s Aboriginal population is growing seven times as fast as the non-native population. Thus the success or failure of native communities will have a steadily increasing economic and social impact on adjoining non-native communities.

Just as the economic success of the Osoyoos Indian Band has had a tremendously positive economic and social impact on the communities of Oliver and Osoyoos, the continued economic malaise of the Penticton Indian Band is having a very negative impact on the City of Penticton.

For the sake of my old home town and native and non-native residents alike, I certainly hope that the Penticton Band will soon be able to start emulating the success of the Osoyoos Indian Band by making economic development a number one priority.

Mike Geoghegan is a government relations and media relations consultant who lives in Victoria BC. He can be reached via his website at www.mgcltd.ca

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Government policy threatens to kick sick kids off the bus

Regardless of their political stripe, most people who have had dealings with Shuswap MLA George Abbott has come away feeling they were dealing with a very sensible low key person who uses humour as a way to make people feel at ease.

Abbott’s self-deprecating sense of humour and low-key approach has earned him the admiration and respect of both cabinet colleagues and his constituents. A feat that is all the more amazing when you consider that for the past two years he has served as BC’s Minister of Health.

There are a few health related charitable organizations that over the years have done very good work, in a low-key way and have also utilized humour to help make both donors and patients feel at ease.

This approach has some people, including myself, talking about George Abbott being a potential future successor to Gordon Campbell as Premier of BC. However there is one organization that has utilized a similar approach that is now languishing due to a lack of profile and awareness by both the public and the politicians over the tremendously important work they do.

I am talking about the Gizeh Shriners of British Columbia & Yukon. You may know them as the folks in the funny fez hats, or the guys who dress as clowns and ride tricycles in parades. What you don’t know is that for nearly 85 years, Shriners Hospitals for Children have provided some of the best medical care in the world, totally free of charge, to more than 835,000 children with orthopaedic conditions, burn injuries of all degrees, spinal cord injuries and cleft lip and palate.

However, for children requiring specialized treatment at medical facilities in the United States or in Vancouver, just getting to the hospitals is often a major challenge. Parents especially single mothers often do not have the money to transport themselves and/or their sick child.

In order to help deal with this growing problem here in BC; the Shriners in 2001 purchased their first Highway Motor Coach. The coach was modified to comfortably transport physically challenged children and their parents to the Shriners Hospital for Children in Portland, Oregon, for treatment.

Due to both the success and increasing need for this service today the Shrine Care Cruiser program, which is one of a kind in North America, has grown to five modern highway coaches that are travel throughout the province of British Columbia.

Most amazing of all is that any BC child and their parents (or care givers), who are receiving treatment at any Shriners Hospitals for Children, BC Children’s’ Hospital, BC Women's Hospital and Sunny Hill Hospital are provided with this transportation free of charge.
This program has helped alleviate the suffering of thousands of BC children and their parents, particularly those that are living in more remote regions of their province. In 2005 alone 3,384 children and parents from BC were transported by the Shriners to various hospitals for treatment.

But these buses in driving the length and breadth of BC need to be replaced on a regular basis. It was for that reason that the Gizeh Shriners of BC & Yukon applied last year for a capital grant to assist them in purchasing new replacement buses.

This is of course where the story takes an unhappy turn. Although the BC government provides $4 million per year in funding to Northern Health to assist them in transporting patients to hospital, the provincial government has refused to give one penny to assist with the Shriners’ Care Cruiser Program. This despite the fact that Northern Health charges a fee to the people it transports while the Shriners’ Care Cruiser program does not.

As any health care professional will tell you, the medical treatment and transportation requirements for grievously sick children is often quite different than that for adults. Children in traumatic times like this need to have those they know as the parents that love and protect them close at hand.

They do not want to be alone with strangers and the mixing of children with adult patients can be extremely psychologically traumatic. Yet because the Shriners’ Care Cruiser Program restricts their service to children only, it is under current BC government policy ineligible for funding assistance.

As much as people in the media love to harp about political interference, we do on many occasions need our elected officials to intervene in these sorts of situations where government regulations inadvertently end up hurting rather than helping those most in need in our society.

Thus for those sake of those children and their often poor and/or single parents living in rural BC, one can only hope that Minister Abbott will intervene before the Shriner buses are forced off the road due to wear and tear and a lack of capital funds to replace them.

For more information on the Care Cruiser Program visit their website at http://www.shriners.bc.ca/news/shrine_bus.shtml

Mike Geoghegan is a consultant, entrepreneur and radio personality based in Victoria BC. You can contact Mike via his website at www.mgcltd.ca check out his columns at http://mgcltd.blogspot.com/ and listen to him debate BC politics Thursdays at 8:20 AM on www.cfax1070.com/

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Believe in Reason Over Religion

"God gave us reason. Man gave us religion. Believe in reason over religion." Inscription I put into a family bible I purchased recently...

Friday, June 01, 2007

BC MLAs deserve pay and pension perks

They say that the biggest mistake you can make in politics is to tell that truth. By that measure Yale Lillooet MLA Harry Lali has been making a lot of mistakes lately. He is the NDP politician who had the temerity to suggest that BC MLAs should actually take the pay increase and pension plan benefits recommended by an independent commission.

Before we proceed any further I should also point out that many of the recommendations made by the commission were in fact based on a submission I made to them. You can compare the two by clicking here.

I have known Harry Lali for many years now and I have always thought highly of him. Then again I have always liked politicians who have the guts to tell the truth rather than just always playing to the peanut gallery. Speaking of which a lot of peanut shells were fired at the government over suggesting, gasp, that the people elected to run our province might be worth being paid $98,000 per year.

To put that in perspective, try hiring a 22 year old to drive a dump truck full time in Fort St. John. It will cost you about $120,000 a year in wages and benefits. But what of the working poor, the unemployed and the homeless? Newsflash, as difficult as their circumstances are, they are not responsible for running a $100 billion entity known as the Province of British Columbia.

Besides if there ever was a time when our provincial MLAs deserved a pay increase it is now. The economy of BC has never been doing better. In my home town of Victoria we are enjoying the second lowest unemployment rate in Canada, only Calgary has a lower unemplyoment rate.

Yes governments at the local, provincial and federal levels need to do much more to provide affordable housing. Employers also need to get with the times and recognize that if you are offering a starting wage of less than $10.00 an hour don’t expect to have that job position filled any time soon.

As for the MLAs’ so called gold plated pension plan I believe it is comparable to other defined benefit pension plans offered in both the private and public sector here in BC. The irony being is that because of regulatory overkill, the BC government’s own pension solvency rules which only apply to private sector pension plans (public sector pension plans are exempt), has resulted in many pensioners receiving income cuts and is forcing more and more companies to give up on offering pensions and instead offer matching RSP contributions.

So if the government is feeling any contrition at voting itself such a hefty (albeit well deserved) pay increase, they can make up for it by either suspending or eliminating the so called pension solvency rules that are at present doing far more to hurt rather than protect BC pensioners.

As the former President and CEO of the BC Construction Association I can tell you that the construction sector’s multi-employer pension plans are in far better shape than that for BC government employees. So memo to Finance Minister Carole Taylor, suspend or eliminate the pension solvency rules as Alberta and several other jurisdictions have done before any more private sector pensioners face income reductions.

As for MLA Harry Lali keep speaking up for the truth rather than political expediency and kudos to the government MLAs for having the jam to accept the fact that if we want above average people seeking political office we need to pay them above average salaries.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Commission on MLA compensation listens to yours truly

For any of you who may doubt my ability to affect the course of political events here in BC, take the time to compare the submission I made with the Full report by the Independent Commission to Review MLA Compensation (.pdf) regarding MLA pay and pensions. It is very gratifying indeed to know that they were listening so closely.

For those of you who listen to Capital Gang on CFAX 1070 on Thursday morning you would have heard me also correctly predict last week that Harry Lali would break ranks with NDP leader Carole James on this MLA pay raise issue.

Of course Harry was quickly bullied back into towing the party line, but it is refreshing to see a little bit of honesty surface admist all the hypocrisy.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

BC Liberals Soar while NDP founders in Polls

Ah to be a BC Liberal now that full employment is here. These are heady days for the Campbell government. A poll last month showed that 58 per cent of British Columbians approve of the government’s performance, while NDP approval ratings have fallen to 32 per cent.

If an election were held today the BC Liberals would get 49 per cent of the vote, the BC NDP 32 per cent and the Green Party 15 per cent.

For the most part this support is well deserved. Unemployment in British Columbia is now less than four per cent. In communities like Victoria, where I live, the unemployment rate is the lowest in the country at 3.1 per cent.

Of course not everything is perfect. We have far too many skilled immigrants driving taxis instead of being allowed to work as engineers, doctors and scientists. There are also skilled tradespeople who are under or even unemployed back east who lack the funds to move out west to where the jobs are.

But these problems, and their solutions, are by and large federal rather than provincial. Regulatory agencies need to drop their protectionist mentality and make it much easier for foreign trained doctors, nurses, scientists and engineers to be eligible to work in their profession once they move to Canada.

A small fraction of the billions of dollars in surplus funds Employment Insurance is collecting each year should go to help relocate families with skilled trades from one part of Canada to the other. The federal government would actually make a profit from doing this as these people would go from collecting Employment Insurance to paying taxes.

But again when it comes to the Campbell government here in BC they are doing most things right. Yes the NDP are correct when they say that the minimum wage should be raised to ten dollars an hour. And if polls suggest the majority of British Columbians agree they almost certainly will be. Therein lies the secret of the Campbell government’s success.

During their first term the Campbell government was not so much right wing as reactionary. If the NDP had been for it they were against it. After coming shockingly close to being defeated in the last election, Campbell and his inner circle dropped much of their hubris and started listening to the multitude of political pundits (including myself) who had been telling Campbell both publicly and behind closed doors that the path to electoral lay with the centre of the political spectrum, not the left or the right fringes.

To be fair I had once given the same advice to then Premier Glen Clark. His response was to quote Dave Barrett’s line that he believed “an ounce of loyalty was worth a pound of brains.” That should give you some insight as to why Barrett and Clark ended up being one term wonders as Premiers of British Columbia and why I used to say that Bill Vander Zalm made me (along with most other British Columbians) a supporter of Mike Harcourt and Glen Clark made me a supporter of Gordon Campbell.

But perhaps nothing convinced Premier Campbell of the wisdom of marching towards the centre of the political spectrum than seeing his government go from the largest majority ion BC history to near defeat during the last provincial election. It was a wake up call delivered by the voters and to his credit Campbell listened.

The result has been a much more moderate and popular government that if current polling trends continue will cruise to an increased majority government in the next provincial election.

Mike Geoghegan is a consultant, entrepreneur and radio personality based in Victoria BC. You can contact Mike via his website at www.mgcltd.ca check out his columns at http://mgcltd.blogspot.com/ and listen to him debate BC politics Thursdays at 8:20 AM on www.cfax1070.com/

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Move British Columbia's legislative library to a new building

The pending (temporary) closure of the BC legislative library has created quite a furor in the local media lately here is the quick missive I fired off to the local paper which was published today in the Times-Colonist:

Instead of simply saying no to the proposed closure of the legislative library, I think there is an opportunity here for us to have an eyesore removed from near our cherished legislature.

I am speaking about the hideously ugly "temporary" buildings erected behind the legislature in the 1950s.

The clear win/win is to tear down these 50-year-old temporary tin and clapboard structures and build a new office building that would house a larger and more publicly accessible legislative library while at the same time allow for the required expansion of office space for the politicians and their staff within the legislature.

Michael Geoghegan
Victoria, BC

Thursday, April 05, 2007

MLAs deserve a significant pay raise

Dear Commissioners:

The purpose of this submission is to argue that there should be a significant increase in the salary and pension benefits currently provided to BC MLAs and moreover the salary and benefits should be assigned to corresponding management level pay grids as is currently the case with civil servants and political staff.

In preparing this presentation I was frustrated by the fact that there is no listing on either the BC government or legislative website of the current salaries, benefits and expense allowances for MLAs. Whatever you recommend with respect to MLA pay rates and pensions, I urge you to also recommend that all details of their compensation and benefits be made available on the Legislative website.

From September of 1989 until July of 1996 I worked at the BC Legislature. For most of that time I served as the Ministerial Assistant to Minister Bill Barlee. Unlike MLAs, my salary was not subject to some arbitrary and acrimonious political process but was instead tied to management level pay. At that time it was ML4 so as the pay grid shifted so too did my salary. The pension I received was the standard one for government employees.

It was during this time that I served as a Ministerial Assistant MLA salaries were initially reduced and then frozen and the so called “gold plated” pension plan was repealed - although of course not retroactively. MLA salaries were modestly increased following the adoption of the 1997 Citizen's Panel Report on MLA Compensation.

Now once again we are into yet another review process. However all of the secrecy and acrimony over MLA salaries could be eliminated if salaries were based on the existing management level (ML) pay grid. So for example an MLA could be assigned an ML 6 pay level, cabinet ministers could be assigned ML 11 and the Premier ML 12. The Speaker could also be assigned ML 11 and the Deputy Speaker 80% of ML 11. The beauty of assigning salaries based on the pre-existing ML system is that once these assignments have been made salaries will automatically increase over time as they do for the rest of the civil service including political staffers.

Presently compensation arrangements for all MLAs are handled by the Legislative Assembly Management Committee (LAMC). This committee does its work in camera and Hansard does not record it. Since 1997 the LAMC has had the legislative authority to set salaries for: the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker, the Deputy Chair, Committee of the Whole, the Leader of the Official Opposition, the Government Whip, the Deputy Government Whip, the Opposition House Leader, the Official Opposition Whip, the Government Caucus Chair, the Official Opposition Caucus Chair, and the Chair of Select Standing or Special Committees as well as the corresponding position for any other recognized party in the legislature.

The base pay for MLAs is currently at $76,000, which is only about half of what an MP in Ottawa makes. In fact a backbench MP in Ottawa receives a higher wage than does a cabinet minister here in British Columbia.

Some may argue that $76,000 is significantly higher than what an average British Columbian makes. Well we don’t need average British Columbians seeking office in this province we need the brightest and the best. If you keep political salaries too low you tend to attract two kinds of people. The first are the idle rich, people who made their money the old fashioned way – they inherited it from mommy and daddy – and are now looking to make a name for themselves. The other person is one where being an MLA is the best paying job they are ever going to have in their lives.

I can recall one former MLA who well being a nice enough person had worked as a dishwasher at a hotel. Being an MLA, even with the wage freeze that was on at the time, certainly proved to be the best paying job this individual had ever had.

Low salaries and great responsibility is also a recipe for corruption. If MLAs are well paid and have generous pension plans most will find it easy to resist the siren call of under the table money or post-election pasta consulting contracts.

The other thing we must keep in mind is that unlike most government employees, MLAs do not work Monday to Friday nine to five. They have the work they do at the legislature and the work they do at their constituency. Other than perhaps a week with the family over Christmas or a couple of weeks in the summer they often work seven days a week.

They must also maintain two households, one here in Victoria and another in their constituency. Cabinet Ministers like deputy ministers, have great responsibility. In my view they should be paid a similar wage rate. MLAs also collectively have great responsibility and are asked to exercise themselves in a manner that is beyond reproach.

We certainly expect MLAs to hold themselves up to a far higher standard of decorum than we would ask of ourselves or anyone else. The slightest misstep and they can find themselves demoted or ridiculed in the media and their reputations ruined.

MLAs take a lot of abuse and so too do their families. In fact it is because of the manner in which politics and politicians have become so denigrated that many upon leaving office find it difficult to return to work. There are a lucky few, usually Premiers or Finance Ministers of pro-business governments, who may go on to lucrative careers but they tend to be the exception. Worse still the longer a person stays an elected official the more difficult it is for them to make the transition back to making a living as a private citizen.

It is for this reason that I think MLA Pension Plans and severance packages should be generous. For example I think that if MLAs are defeated (as opposed to simply retiring from politics by not running again) they should receive one months severance for every full year they served as an MLA up to a maximum of two years salary.

I also believe that the pension plan should be based on a scale where if you have served for twenty years as an MLA you receive 100% of your MLA pay as a pension. Thus if you had served only ten years you would only receive 50% of your pay, three years 15% etc.

But the fundamental recommendation I would make is to peg MLA salaries to an ML wage level. Additional responsibilities such as being appointed to cabinet would boost you up to a higher ML level.

Finally I would also recommend that MLAs salaries need to be immediately increased to around the $100,000 per year mark. BC cabinet ministers should also make more than backbench MPs in Ottawa and cabinet ministers should also make a wage that is comparable to the Deputy Ministers that report to them.

Sincerely,



Michael Geoghegan

Monday, April 02, 2007

Time to rein in the horsemen

Quis Custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will police the police? That question was first posed by Plato almost 24 centuries ago in the Republic which was his work on government and morality. It is still a question we still do not have an effective answer to two and half millenia later.

Here in Canada the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, an institution which goes back 133 years, is once again being tarnished by scandal and misconduct. The last time the Mounties were in this much trouble, back in the 1970s after a bizarre series of barn burnings and illegal break ins, they had their spy license revoked and a new agency CSIS was created.

The allegations of a major scandal involving RCMP pension funds are indicative of a police force that is poorly led, unaccountable and increasingly out of control. If he is to save the RCMP from itself, Canada’s Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day faces a monumental task in trying to rein in its horsemen.

It is not just the public, but members of the force itself who are losing confidence in the RCMP. Recent weeks have seen senior Mounties breaking down and crying when testifying before the federal public accounts committee about the untrustworthiness of the RCMP’s leadership. Retired RCMP sergeant Ron Lewis told the commons committee that in looking into pension-fund irregularities he was "met with inaction, delays, roadblocks, obstruction and lies.” Lewis also alleged that the person who orchestrated the cover-up was none other than former RCMP Commissioner Zaccardelli.

That allegation remains to be proven in a court of law. However what is already known is that under Zaccardelli, the RCMP acted atrociously in the Maher Arar case. Justice Dennis O'Connor concluded that the RCMP mislabeled Arar as an Islamic extremist with terrorist ties and that this led to his deportation from the United States to a Syrian prison cell, where he was tortured. Zaccardelli resigned in early December amidst concerns about his conflicting testimony to a parliamentary committee reviewing the Arar affair.

It is not just in Ottawa but here in BC the RCMP has been increasingly mired in scandal. In January of 2006 former Mountie Gary Stevens resigned from the Kitimat detachment after being charged with sexually assaulting two teenage girls while off duty. He is currently serving an 18-month prison sentence.

That same month former RCMP Constable Nancy Sulz won a $950,000 lawsuit for long-term harassment she was subjected to by her former detachment commander while stationed in Merritt.

Over in Houston many residents are still seething over the fact Crown Prosecutors refused to lay criminal charges regarding the shooting death of 22-year-old Ian Bush by a rookie RCMP constable. Bush had been arrested over a minor incident involving an opened beer can at the local hockey rink.

In October of 2006 a case against a Prince George RCMP officer accused of having sex with underage prostitutes was thrown out by an internal disciplinary tribunal — comprised of three RCMP officers from out of province — because the force failed to bring allegations against the constable in a timely fashion. Constable Justin Harris was one of nine officers in Prince George named in investigative reports alleging links to underage prostitutes.

In testimony before the tribunal, Constable Harris was accused of hitting a teenaged prostitute when she refused to perform oral sex on him because he didn't want to wear a condom. Another teenaged prostitute told an investigating officer Harris was “drunk and aggressive” on the two occasions she had sex with him.

Again in October of 2006 the B.C. Supreme Court was told that RCMP investigators intercepted and taped a cell phone conversation between Premier Gordon Campbell and his then-minister of finance, Gary Collins, during an investigation that included an unprecedented police raid on the British Columbia Legislature in December of 2003.

As a follow up to this matter, in February 2007, a wide-ranging application for disclosure was filed by defence lawyers which alleges that the RCMP were not forthright with a second judge when requesting permission to wiretap government phones and they also failed to tell the second judge that their application to get warrants to wiretap government phones had been denied twice by a previous judge.

In March of 2007 the witness protection program and the case of Agent E8060, a paid RCMP informant was brought to light. The informant, Richard Young, an unemployed man from Victoria was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the RCMP for what turned out to be fabricated information. British Columbia Supreme Court Judge Dean Wilson called Young’s evidence a “cruel charade”. Despite the exposure of his lies, Mr. Young was placed in the federal witness protection program and, under his new identity; he was convicted of killing someone.
But because it is a criminal offence under the Witness Protection Program Act to disclose anything about Mr. Young's new identity or whom he killed even the victim's family cannot be told the truth.

The House of Commons is now looking at amending the Witness Protection Program, but what is really needed is a top to bottom house cleaning of the RCMP. There clearly also needs to be the establishment of an independent agency that is completely separate from the RCMP and responsible for investigating any and all allegations of incompetence, misconduct, and/or criminal wrong doing involving the RCMP. It is only by having such an independent agency that some modicum of confidence can be restored in the RCMP.

Mr. Day you have your work cut out for you.

Mike Geoghegan is a government relations consultant based in Victoria BC. He can be reached via his website at www.mgcltd.ca

Thursday, March 29, 2007

I'm back on CFAX radio

Guess whos back, back again Geoghegan’s back, tell a friend....

Listen to political pundits Mike Geoghegan and David Schreck debate BC politics Thursdays at 8:20 AM on CFAX 1070.

For all of you who sent in letters of support over the past three and a half years thank you. Please note that as of March 6, 2009 Capital Gang has now shifted to Fridays at 9:00 am!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Media asleep at the switch on Basi Virk trial

I have often said that if Watergate were happening today Richard Nixon would have easily got away with it. Why cover some obscure break in at the Watergate Hotel when the media could instead be reporting on why Britney Spears shaved her head?

Fortunately there are still a few reporters out there who are prepared to put in the time, effort and intelligence to really get to the bottom of issues that although they may not be as titillating as the latest Hollywood celebrity meltdown, are actually far more important.

One such reporter is Bill Tielman. For those of you who are more interested in trying to find out why the RCMP raided the BC legislature in December of 2003, than who the father of Anna Nichol Smith's baby was I would encourage you to read Tielman's latest posting at http://thetyee.ca/Views/2007/03/12/Basi-Virk/ or visit his blog at http://billtieleman.blogspot.com/

For those of you who are still fixated on who the father of Anna Nichol Smith's baby is, I will simply state for the record that it wasn't me!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Security versus Liberty

Security versus liberty. This is a debate that all western societies have wrestled with in the wake of 9/11 and now here in Canada in the run up to a federal election it has emerged as a major “wedge” issue between the minority Conservative government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and the opposition Liberals led by Stephan Dion. This is ironic given the legislation being debated by Harperwas originally implemented by a Liberal government.

In response to the horrifying terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the majority Liberal government of Prime Minister Jean Chretein enacted Canada's first anti-terrorism legislation. This legislation defined what terrorism is and made it a punishable offence within Canada's Criminal Code.

Canada’s Security Act (Bills C-36 and C-42), was the subject of heated debate and controversy as Chretein’s government fast-tracked it through the House of Commons and the Liberal-dominated Senate. The Act became part of the Criminal Code on December 18, 2001. The changes to the code are "aimed at disabling and dismantling the activities of terrorists groups and those who support them."

However, in a nod to civil libertarians, the bill contained a five-year sunset clause on some of its more controversial elements and it was the proposal by Harper’s minority government to extend those provisions that provoked a storm of controversy and a split within the federal Liberal caucus in Parliament last month.

Of the two clauses that were at the heart of the debate, one allowed police to arrest suspects without a warrant and detain them for three days without charges if police believe a terrorist act may be committed. The other allowed a judge to compel a witness to testify in secret about past associations or perhaps pending acts under penalty of going to jail if the witness did not comply. It is worth noting that neither clause had been used by police or prosecutors in the five years these provisions had been in place.

When Bills C-36 and C-42 were passed, the legislation had three main objectives: To suppress existing terrorist groups, provide police with new investigative tools, and toughen prison sentences for terrorists. The bills also contained provisions to comply with new UN rules on combating terrorism as well as with similar laws that were being put in place in the U.S. and Britain.

In June 2006, then Conservative justice minister Vic Toews said the government had no plans to toughen Canada’s Security Act after the arrest of 17 suspected terrorists in Toronto last year. However, he said, it may consider changing the law's definition of terrorism, which is called the motive clause.

This clause defines a terrorist act as one committed "for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause." Toews said there are two problems with that definition: it could lead to profiling of people of a particular religion, Islam especially, and it could be difficult for prosecutors to provide evidence of a suspect's personal beliefs.

On February 27, 2007 a motion to extend two controversial anti-terrorist measures was defeated 159 to 124 in the House of Commons in Ottawa. After the vote, Prime Minister Stephen Harper berated the Liberals for choosing "internal caucus politics over the national security of Canadians."
A dozen Liberal MPs including former Prime Minister Paul Martin and BC MPs Keith Martin (no relation) and Ujjal Dosanjh absented themselves from the vote, while another Liberal MP Tom Wappel even broke ranks and voted with the Conservative minority government.
Since a federal election is expected to happen as soon as this spring, Prime Minister Stephen Harper wasted no time in trying to utilize the outcome of the vote for partisan purposes. "Any party that doesn't take the national security of Canadians seriously will never be chosen by Canadians to form the government of Canada," he said outside the Commons.

But to be fair to Stephan Dion, there has been growing fatigue amongst Canadians with the numerous inconveniences that have gone along with the so called war on terror. Going through airport security is now a major hassle with every passing month seeming to bring ever more tedious restrictions.

Here in Canada we have been fortunate in that our last terrorist attack was over twenty years ago. This was when Sikh militants planted a bomb in a suitcase on Air India flight 182 which blew up on June 22, 1985. The bombing killed 329 people including 82 children. Just as most of the victims of Muslim extremists are Muslims, most of the people killed by Sikh extremists on Air India were also Sikh.

It was another incident, a terrorist attack which failed, which also suggests that perhaps the best defence against terrorism is not giving more power to government but more power to ourselves. In December 2001 British born Muslim Richard Reid was on American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami when he was spotted attempting to light a fuse protruding from his shoe. Passengers and crew immediately attacked and restrained him and Reid was subsequently arrested for attempted murder and was sentencted to life in prison.

Having a Security Act in these troubled times is a prudent thing. But as Louis D. Brandeis once wrote, “the greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”

Thus investing too much power in the state is tantamount to signing away the very freedoms that Canadians fought for and died fighting fascism in Europe and communism in Korea. Those freedoms were signed with the blood of our fathers and grandfathers and we must never let fear coerce us into signing away those freedoms.

I would much rather have my children live in fear of terrorism than live in fear of their own government. To quote Thomas Jefferson, “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.” And to paraphrase another founding father of the United States, Bejamin Franklin, “Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither and will lose both.”

Thus even though the circumstances may have had much more to do with partisan politics and a pending federal election I believe parliament made the right choice when they let those two controversial sections of Canada’s Security Act expire.

Now if only we could get our MPs to show some real initiative and do something about the ridiculously long lineups at the passport office.

Michael Geoghegan is an entrepreneur and consultant who lives in Victoria, BC. He can be contacted via his website at www.mgcltd.ca

Monday, February 05, 2007

An Unequivocal Truth

Okay I admit it. When the issue of global warming first came up I thought, what a load of hot air (pun intended). Keep in mind when I was a kid back in the 1970s scientists were still talking about the next coming ice age.

But there has been a growing body of scientific data that makes clear that global warming has gone from being an inconvenient truth to an unequivocal one. So much so that as a resident of Victoria I am starting to eye up which hillside properties may end up as ocean front lots in another generation or two.

But as Canadians it is also worth keeping in mind that if not for the development of agriculture 6,000 years ago much of what we call Canada would currently be sitting under a mile thick sheet of ice. This is because based on the normal 22,000-year cycle of rising and falling CO2 (carbon dioxide) levels in the Earth’s atmosphere we should have slipped back into an ice age a thousand years ago.

Instead the rate at which CO2 was declining in the Earth’s atmosphere was slowed over the past 6,000 years by the slash burning of forests to make way for agriculture. Then about 200 years ago, with the coming of the industrial revolution and the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, CO2 levels stopped slowly declining and began to rise at an accelerating rate.

The impact of global warming on our planet will be dramatic. The Arctic Ocean will be ice free in the summer time within the next 50 years. If much of the ice sheet covering Greenland and Antarctica slides into the ocean, the majority of the world’s population and cities will be displaced by rapidly rising sea levels. Here in British Columbia much of the Lower Mainland would be under water as would of course much of Greater Victoria.

But as consumers and as voters we still have an opportunity to slow and even reverse the rate at which we are loading CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere. For example if all the cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles we drove here in Canada and the United States were all gas electric or diesel electric hybrids that alone would allow both countries to not only meet but exceed the C02 reduction targets set out in the Kyoto agreement.

I recently had the opportunity to drive with a business colleague in a Toyota Prius from Delta to Merritt and back again. We drove this distance on less than 30 dollars worth of gas. The Prius has more interior room than my Ford Mustang and burns much less gas. Now imagine a slightly re-engineered Prius where you could charge up the battery from your house the night before so the first 60 or 80 km you drove was almost all on battery power. Then have a roof, which has a photovoltaic film over it that also recharges the battery while you have your car parked or driving in the sun. Then last but not least imagine the fun of driving for days or even weeks without having to stop at a gas station.

But our dependence on big oil is not the only issue we must grapple with. British Columbia has gone from being a net exporter to a net importer of electrical power. We need to generate more electricity. Wind, tidal, solar and micro hydro are all projects we are going to have to support if we want to keep running our computers and plasma screen televisions. But we will also have to look at undertaking major hydroelectric projects such as Site C and even nuclear power.

But as my friend in the Prius pointed out, there are many other things we can do as consumers to reduce our electrical consumption. For example given how hot and sunny it gets in the Okanagan in the summer time, how insane is it that nearly everyone reading this column still uses a dryer during the summer to dry their clothes?

I was in Merritt last summer camping by Nicola Lake. The wind blew one of my towels into the lake. I didn’t even both to wring it out but just dumped the soaking wet towel on a picnic table. I came back from swimming 15 minutes later and was shocked to discover the towel was now bone dry.

In Mexico where I vacationed for a month last year, no one has an electric hot water tank. Instead they have a metal tank on their roof that is painted black. These tanks get so hot from the sun they actually have to have pressure relief valves to vent the steam that builds up in them. So would it not make sense for our houses here in Canada to have the same feature? Sure in the wintertime we would need to drain these tanks and use electric hot water tanks but again imagine the electrical savings in the summer which would help offset the electricity used in running air conditioners and fans.

Here in Victoria we have a morning traffic jam called the Colwood crawl. A $300 million investment would establish a light rail line that would allow most of these commuters to park their vehicles and ride the train to work each morning. A relatively modest investment when compared to the billions of dollars in residential and condominium tower construction set to occur in the Greater Victoria area.

So again both as consumers and as voters we have the ability to make choices that will either accelerate or slow global warming. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to make sure the decisions we make now are wise ones.

Mike Geoghegan is a government relations and media relations consultant who lives in Victoria BC. He can be reached via his website at http://www.mgcltd.ca/

Monday, January 01, 2007

Surprise election of Stephan Dion as Liberal leader sets the stage for battle of the policy wonks

Surprise election of Stephan Dion as Liberal leader sets the stage for “Battle of the Policy Wonks”

As those of you who are unfortunate enough to be addicted to politics already know, in a stunning upset that shocked pundits and politicos alike, Stephan Dion went from fourth place to winner at December´s Liberal leadership convention.

Such up the middle scenarios, although always discussed in leadership races – particularly amongst those backing non leading contenders - rarely occur. Sometimes it can re-invigorate a party, as Pierre Trudeau´s Liberal leadership victory did in 1969 and sometimes it can lead to electoral disaster as was the case in the mid 1980s when the bumbling Bob Skelly ended up as leader of the BC NDP.

Stephan Dion´s biggest challenge will be to gain fluency in English. Although there are over 7 million Canadians that list French as their first language there are almost 22 million Canadians where English is their primary and often only language they converse in.

What Dion brings to the table is a passionate concern about the environment and support for the Kyoto Accord. Although this will make it difficult for the Liberals to win any seats in Alberta it should help them win seats in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. In fact Dion´s green agenda may eat significantly into NDP support and will certainly ensure that the federal Green Party remains irrelevant.

In electing Dion as their new leader, the Liberals have also upheld a very old tradition of alternating between French and English leaders. Although Paul Martin was an MP from Quebec he was seen as being an Anglophone, albeit a thoroughly bilingual one.

The question is, after such a short hiatus, are Canadians ready to elect yet another Prime Minister from Quebec? That is certainly what we have primarily been governed by throughout most Canadians lifetimes. It seems to be what Quebecers want and what people, especially those living in Ontario, are willing to support in return for keeping Quebec within Canada.

But there is another dynamic that has been set up by Dion´s election as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. We now have the top two political parties in Canada both being led by policy wonks. For all of you out there who have long decried the fact that elections tend to be more about style than substance, we may actually end up having an election that is about issues rather than photo ops.

Conservative Party Leader and current Prime Minister Stephen Harper is an economist who has never shied away from getting into the substance of an issue. Stephan Dion is a professor who has a similar fondness for policy detail. Will this engage the Canadian electorate or bore them to tears? It remains to be seen. But with Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper leading only a minority government, we likely won´t have long to wait. If Dion´s election gives the Liberals any momentum in the polls, or if conversely he falters, you can bet that we will be into another federal election in 2007.

Mike Geoghegan is a government relations consultant based in Victoria BC. He can be reached via his website at http://www.mgcltd.ca/