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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Shooting down gun registry long overdue

Canada’s long gun registry is a $2 billion debacle that has done nothing to make you safer and much to criminalize hunters, farmers and other legitimate users.

If you take a drive by (or witness one) in the Lower Mainland there is no shortage of gang members packing hand guns and fully automatic weapons.

This despite the fact we have required the registration of hand guns in Canada since 1934 and fully automatic weapons have been banned for decades.

The shocking thing, at least amongst the urbane naïve, is that criminals tend by definition to break the law.

But the long gun registry was so onerous and so ineptly implemented that it became widely flouted by many peaceful citizens particularly those living in rural Canada.

There have been many city police Chiefs who have spoken out against the impending demise of the long gun registry, but let’s face it the police like having as much data as possible on you and they like the idea that they are the only ones with guns.

Unfortunately so do criminals.

That is why in countries such as Britain that have banned firearms violent crime rates have sky rocketed, whereas in countries like Switzerland where every household is required to have a rifle, home invasions and other such gun violence are virtually unheard of.

Despite Canada having a higher rate of per capita gun ownership than the United States our murder rate is much lower and most murders in Canada are committed with knives not guns.

Perhaps it’s time we made every household register their flatware.

In July of this year three cougars were killed within a two week period near Princeton, BC.

All three had been killed after being seen stalking humans. The first was shot by a conservation officer and the third by an RCMP officer.

But the second one was shot by a Princeton area resident as he saw stalking two girls who were tubing down a river.

If that rural resident had not had a rifle both of those girls would likely have been either horribly maimed or died an absolutely horrific death by being mauled to death and then eaten.

Those with criminal intent will always have access to guns, knives, or even baseball bats.

Should we be forced to cut our steak with a plastic butter knife or shut down the baseball leagues our children play in? Of course not.

Nor should we continue to harass farmers and hunters with a long gun registry that has served only to spur on criminals while deterring legitimate users.

So kudos to the Harper Conservatives and kudos to those brave Liberal and NDP MPs who have finally listened to the views of Canada’s rural constituents, by voting to kill the long gun registry.

Its demise was long overdue.

Mike Geoghegan is a government relations consultant based in Victoria, BC. He can be reached via his website at www.mgcltd.ca or on twitter @bclobbyist

This column was published on Page 5 of the Thursday November 26, 2009 edition of 24hours Vancouver, available at finer skytrain stations and those nifty orange newspaper boxes.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Demographics driving BC tax hikes

Thanks to the surprisingly poor PR job done by the Campbell government, there is a common misconception that the global recession alone was behind the provincial government’s recent budget cuts and tax hikes.

In fact there is another subtle contributor that has slowly wormed its way into the economy – it is demographics.

To be sure the global recession that was brought on by the poorly regulated U.S. financial system likely brought matters to a head a few years sooner, but this demographic day of reckoning has long been coming.

After the Second World War there was a huge post war baby boom. No country experienced a larger post war baby boom than did Canada. Hence was born the boomer generation who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s. What also came of age in the 1960s was the women’s rights movement, the sexual revolution and the birth control pill. There followed a precipitous decline in birth rates.

Women, especially in Canada, have been having fewer and fewer children at a later and later age. In 1960 the average woman was married and had finished having her four children by the time she was 24. Today’s average 24 year old woman is wondering how the hell she is ever going to pay off her massive post secondary student loan and keep paying the rent on her one bedroom condo.

Unlike other wealthy nations, Canada’s birth rate has continued to decline. I believe that is because we have made family housing so unaffordable in this country that many middle class couples simply feel they can’t afford to start one.

So the net result is that we have fewer children and more seniors. That’s where the rub comes in. Ten years ago a senior BC health official mentioned to me that the average 18 year old cost the health care system $800 per year while the average 80 year old cost the BC health care system $21,000 per year.

So the more seniors the more health care costs sky rocket. Also because there is a relative shortage of young workers that means the provincial government is not collecting enough money from income taxes in order to cover these health care costs. So to solve this problem the provincial government will be imposing a 12% Harmonised Sales Tax (HST) and will be raising the Medical Service Plan (MSP) premiums we pay every month.

Both taxes are regressive in that they will affect the working poor and middle class much more than the wealthy. They will also act as a further impediment to middle class couples being able to afford a new home and raise a family; thus will continue Canada’s demographic death spiral.

Ah but what about immigration? Just to maintain our current population, we need to allow 500,000 people per year to move to Canada. Moreover we would have to make sure these were 500,000 young people. Canada both in terms of logistics and legalities is simply unable to undertake such a massive change to our immigration system.

But there are two groups in Canada that are having children above the replacement rate, those whose income qualifies them for subsidized housing and the wealthy. Those couples that are in the fortunate position of having made their money the old fashioned way – by inheriting it from Mummy and Daddy – are now having more kids as it has become recognized as a status symbol.

Squeezed out of the equation are the long suffering middle class who now require two incomes just to afford to purchase a glorified walk in closet known in Vancouver as a condominium. Some of these condos are so small you need to go out in the hallway just to change your mind. There certainly isn’t enough room to raise a child or two in.

In short unless or until we figure out a way to make family housing affordable enough for young people we’re not going to have young families and you can continue to expect further tax hikes, program service cuts and longer health care waiting lists.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Of Pride and Prejudice

There are some advantages to living in this brave new digital world. For instance, it is no longer such a safe world for thugs. David Samuel White, Adam David Huber and Robert William Rodgers learned this lesson the hard way when on July 3rd they were caught on digital camera assaulting Jay Philips while hurling racist taunts at him.

Jay Philips, whose mother is white and father was black, is familiar with being singled out for discrimination. But his father also taught him to stand up to bullies and that is exactly what he did despite being outnumbered three to one.

The three young hooligans eventually sped off in a truck and later that same evening attacked a young Caucasian man showing that their hatred and need for violence knows no racial bounds.

The video of their attack on Jay Philips, which was posted on YouTube, was certainly an eye opener for Courtenay BC’s predominantly white community.

The community responded admirably and residents organized a rally in support of Jay Philips and to speak out against hatred and violence.

A thousand people attended the July 9th event and speakers included Mayor Greg Phelps, Comox Pastor Maggie Enright, Wendledi Speck of the Native Friendship Centre as well as Jay Philips.

Jay Philips father, who passed away in December of 2008, had taught his son to not be racist, stand up for himself and “not to take shit from anyone.”

That is a lesson we as parents should instill in all our children. I certainly have in both my son and my daughter.

As a government relations consultants I have worked with quite a number of First Nations and Indian Bands. In 2000, I did some work with then Okanagan Indian Band Chief Dan Wilson.

I remember being horrified as he told me of how as a young man his father had been beaten to death on the streets of Vernon. It seems some of the local white lads had taken an exception to the fact that Dan’s father was a gifted athlete and had routinely bettered them in local baseball tournaments.

The one witness to the attack was a mildly retarded man whose testimony was dismissed by the judge. This was small town BC in the 1960s.

We’ve certainly come a long way since then but of course racism and discrimination still exist in many forms within Canada. I remember meeting a couple who had moved to Canada from Bulgaria. They had lived for a couple of years in Vancouver and then relocated to Victoria when the wife landed a job with the BC government.

They had invited me over for a beer and I asked them how they liked Victoria compared to Vancouver. I was expecting an answer along the lines of, it rains less here, or life is more slowly paced than Vancouver. Instead the jaw dropping comment the husband made was, “it’s really nice there’s a lot less Asians living here than in Vancouver.”

So even as we welcome people from around the world to live in Canada, the challenge will be for both long term residents and newcomers to learn to live in peaceful co-existence with one another.

Nowhere is that going to be more challenging than with regards to religion. At the school my son attends a couple of his friends were starting to fight over religion. One kid had parents who are devout Christians and the other devout Muslims. My son deftly solved the problem by explaining to both of them that all organized religion is equally ridiculous and full of arbitrary rules and mythology and the only thing more ridiculous was getting into a fight about it.

Thus my son was able to get the two of them to stop fighting and be friends again. Perhaps this is also an area where Canada has something to offer the world; by demonstrating that a healthy dose of skepticism towards all religious zealotry allows for much greater tolerance and peaceful co-existence amongst those of disparate faiths.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Iran, twitter and the retweet seen round the world


In the past few weeks there have been two revolutions going on, both with profound implications for the future of our global society. The first has been the large and sustained democratic protests in Iran in response to the sham election results that had the unpopular incumbent president scoring an extremely improbable 2 to 1 victory over a rival that had been surging ahead in election polls in the final days of the campaign.

The second revolution has been that of social media sites such as Facebook, Youtube and Twitter that have been able to keep the increasingly tragic news events in Iran reaching the outside world. Thanks to these sites, as well as the now ubiquitous cell phone camera, the outside world is able to bear witness as the Iranian autocrats shed any pretense of decency and assault and murder their own citizens.

In what has been dubbed the retweet (RT) seen around the world the shocking murder of Neda Agha-Soltan, has generated worldwide anger and contempt for the theocratic thugs who are in charge of Iran. Neda who was a young philosophy student at the University of Tehran was shot in the back. The shocking images of her death posted on Youtube and linked to on twitter have galvanized and united the civilized world in a way not seen since September 11, 2001.

In a speech given on June 23rd, US President Barack Obama called the video of Neda’s murder “heartbreaking” and said it made clear the violence against the protesters was “fundamentally unjust.”

President Obama then went on to state that, “In 2009, no iron fist is strong enough to shut off the world from bearing witness to the peaceful pursuit of justice.” In this regard Obama was not referring to the mainstream media outlets whose reporters in Iran have been arrested, intimidated, or ordered to leave the country. The President was instead referring to those brave Iranian citizens who were continuing to video with their cell phone cameras the brutal crackdown by Iranian police on peaceful protestors, Twitter the location of upcoming rallies and get their videos and comments posted onto the worldwide web through a variety of proxy sites.

The brave efforts of these democratic protestors are all the more impressive given the increasingly desperate measures the Iranian government is enacting to try and prevent the world from seeing these images. Thus the sudden importance of Twitter – which cancelled a scheduled shut down of its site for routine maintenance in response to an urgent request from the U.S State Department.

Technology, once the feared ally of despotic communist and fascist regimes, has now advanced to the point where it is now the ally of democratic citizenry the world over. Whether it is four RCMP officers Tasering a man to death in a Vancouver airport or a young women shot to death by police in the streets of Tehran, the age old police policy of lie and deny is no longer working because people around the world will be watching, tweeting and posting.

Mike Geoghegan is a government relations consultant who can be reached via his website at www.bclobbyist.com or on twitter at bclobbyist.

This story has also been posted at Vancouverite and on the Western Standard's Shotgun blog.

Friday, June 12, 2009

If you don't want your politicians to act like sheep stop condemning them for being human

I am old school enough to still subscribe to my local daily newspaper. Sure much of the news in it I have already picked up on twitter or by reading various blogs, but it still provides me with a good overview of the day’s (or yesterday’s) events and sometimes the layout itself reveals the dichotomies within our society.

For instance on June 11th I could not help but notice the juxtaposition of an editorial cartoon showing cabinet ministers being turned into sheep above that of a thoroughly unreasonable article calling for federal minister Lisa Raitt's resignation.

For those of you who may have missed the latest Ottawa tempest in a teapot Ms. Raitt had the exceedingly bad luck to have a young staffer who was prone to leaving briefing papers and tape recordings of her minister where the media could find them. Worse yet, this same staffer also inadvertently taped a private conversation issue where Minister Raitt was discussing the shortage of medical isotopes as being a politically “sexy” issue.

Of course once this conversation was released by the media, it took only moments for a great wail of indignation and outrage to be vented over Raitt’s brazenly human remarks by the media, opposition politicians and anyone and everyone who has ever had cancer.

Such was the hysteria that Raitt’s remarks were even presented as meaning somehow the Minister thought cancer was sexy. This is of course a gross distortion of the truth. A politically sexy issue (for those of you who did not take politics 101) is of course something that is politically salient and that the media is paying attention to. Thus the challenge and opportunity of solving a real problem that had national media attention was what Ms. Raitt found sexy.

I personally found that refreshing as the inclination of an increasing number of politicians is to run away from real problem or try and delegate them to someone else. Raitt even took to task in a relatively mild manner in this same private conversation a colleague who was pursuing exactly that strategy.

As a former BC political chief of staff, I am appalled at the sheer incompetence of Ms. Raitt’s former political staff person. She has been fired and justly so. As a former staffer I can tell you that cabinet ministers can and do vent in private their frustrations about other people and situations just like every other human being I have ever met. And just like every other human being politicians also say very concerned and caring things about other people in private as well.

What I found most troubling of all was that when Raitt received her public flogging, with the notable and commendable exception of Christie Blatchford in the Globe and Mail, not one other member of the media bothered to note the fact that Raitt's own brother died of cancer when he was only 37. Such is the heights of ignorance and hypocrisy our national sense of outrage towards any and all politicians has become.

The bottom line is this if we do not allow our politicians to be human, then they will have no choice but to act like sheep. They will be mild mannered sheep that will never cause offense while real leaders with their all too human foibles will either stay hidden in the backrooms or more likely far far away from politics all together.

Mike Geoghegan is a government relations consultant who can be reached via his website at www.bclobbyist.com or on twitter at bclobbyist.

Please note that this blog has also been posted at Vancouverite and on the Western Standard's Shotgun blog.

An ambitious politician? The horror!

An ambitious politician? The horror!

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By John Robson, The Ottawa Citizen June 12, 2009

Oh, here's a sexy story. A cabinet minister was caught privately calling a difficult problem "sexy" and an opportunity for career advancement. We journalists would never do that.

Get caught, I mean. We certainly have blunt private conversations about our colleagues' failings and the way certain tragic events make for great copy. And we could not do our work at all if every editorial discussion made it into print.

People in public life are equally unable to function without space for frank private conversation. Especially about the things they must be most smoothly hypocritical about in public.

Would it not be terrifying if politicians' private talk presented the same appalling mix of fake outrage and smothering vacuity as their public utterances?

Defending embattled Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt in question period, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said "This minister has been working around the clock to make sure we get a greater supply of isotopes. That's what this minister is doing, that's what this government is doing, not playing cheap politics." But we do not think members of cabinet work around the clock and never sleep, nor do we want them to. Surely the PM doesn't either.

Even if politicians often are as vacant as their more polished utterances suggest, it is no excuse for the rest of us to turn into bellowing buffoons just because a politician has been detected smelling opportunity in a crisis. There are far worse ways to advance a public career than solving problems; watch question period and you'll see what I mean.

It took a ridiculous comedy of errors for Ms. Raitt's infamous remarks to become public.

But honestly, if she does solve the medical isotope crisis, wouldn't you be willing to promote her even if you knew that's why she'd done it?

Just as you'd pay a mechanic to fix your car even if you knew he'd done it for the money.

In perhaps his most famous passage, Adam Smith said: "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages."

And the same is true of politicians, if we are smart.

Some people honestly think politics is less grubby than private enterprise. Stephen Leacock satirized one utopian socialist for depicting office-holders as "sagacious and paternal ... free from the interest of self and the play of the baser passions" who "work ... as work the angels". But, Leacock snapped, "let me ask in the name of sanity where are such officials to be found?"

Not, clearly, in our Parliament.

In a classic piece of standardized outrage over the Raitt affair, Michael Ignatieff snarled, "The cheapest politics here is to call a crisis a career opportunity." As if he did not treat every Conservative misdeed, real or imagined, as both a massive crisis and a stepping stone toward 24 Sussex. I certainly hope he and his inner circle are aware of what they are doing, and honest about it in private. Cluelessness is not a desirable quality in a politician. Or in a citizen.

In the name of sanity, then, let us take James Madison's advice, in Federalist #51, that to secure liberty and check the appetite of the authorities for power, "Ambition must be made to counteract ambition."

Ambition is part of human nature, especially among those drawn to public life. As Madison also said, "If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary."

Politicians might have us believe they are so exceptionally public-spirited and virtuous that we may dispense with checks and balances in our political arrangements. But to borrow another phrase from Adam Smith, those who make such claims are by no means such fools as those who believe them.

It is the beginning of wisdom in public affairs to reward politicians who solve problems and punish those who do not. That way we harness their mighty ambition to our well-being, instead of prompting it to work for our undoing.

In this case, I grant, Ms. Raitt's instinct for advancement seems to have come unhitched from any functioning instinct for self-preservation. But that's just one more thing I hope, and trust, her colleagues are discussing privately in salty language.

Politicians alert to career opportunities!

Partisans exploit crises!

Ministers backbite!

It's as sexy as rutabaga. So stop the presses .... and don't start them again until we get a grip on human nature, political ambition and the fundamentals of political economy.

John Robson's column appears weekly.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Close results prove that in BC politics every vote counts!

At a time of steadily declining voter participation where now even the most innocuous comments by politicians and their staff gets vilified by reporters, (public eye online) is it any wonder that the majority of British Columbians are now completely disengaged from the political process?

But as fewer and fewer people vote , those that do are finding their vote counts more than ever. Just take the recent election here in British Columbia. Not one but two results have been overturned by careful recounts by Elections BC. And it is even more significant that the margins of victory were very, very small indeed.

The most high profile result is that Independent Vicki Huntington has defeated Liberal and BC’s current Attorney General by 32 votes. On election night he was leading by only three votes. The matter could very well go to a judicial recount but it looks like for now that Vicki Huntington is the first Independent to be elected an MLA here in BC since the 1940s.

As I referenced in my previous column, (Check here) Huntington’s election is a clear demonstration that voters want MLAs who are able to represent the concerns of their constituents rather than just that of the Premier’s Office. Most interesting of all, for me at least, is the fact that both the Green and even most of the NDP vote collapsed in Delta South and went over to Huntington. This shows me that many Green and NDP voters are not actually that enamoured with either party but are looking for something that allows them to voice their concerns to Victoria.

In the recounts there was also a bit of good news for Premier Gordon Campbell. In its official recount Elections BC stated that BC Liberal Donna Barnett had defeated incumbent BC NDP MLA Charlie Wyse in Cariboo-Chilcotin by 88 votes. Wyse had just squeeked in the previous election and had led on election night. He has now graciously conceded defeat to Barnett who will now be joining her Liberal colleagues for a swearing in ceremony on June 8th.

Even in cases where elections weren’t overturned there were many ridings where candidates won or lost by only about 500 votes. Here in Victoria, where I live, Liberal cabinet ministers Murray Coell (Saanich North) and Ida Chong (Oak Bay Gordon Head) hung with only about 500 votes. I had met with Ida Chong during the election campaign and she was extremely worried that supporters in her constituency were taking her re-election for granted. It turns out she was right.

I think the close results were both a bit of a shock and a wakeup call to Murray Coell. He is no longer the MLA of a safe riding but a swing riding and thus will have to put considerably more efforts into securing the support of his constituents if he wants to be re-elected in 2013.

On the other hand was the result in Saanich South where former television and radio personality Robin Adair came within 500 votes of taking Saanich South for the Liberals. It was a tough loss for Mr. Adair but he did reduce the NDP’s margin of victory in half from the previous provincial election.

Both on a provincial basis and on a constituency basis the challenge is clear to somehow reengage the voters. To do that MLAs have to be allowed to do their jobs. For that to be accomplished the Premier’s Office is going to have to relinquish some power and control. The media is also going to have to stop reporting on minutiae and politicians themselves and are going to have to learn to say enough is enough when it comes to the petty condemnation that comes with every minor indiscretion and miscue.

This column has also been posted on Vancouverite and the Western Standard's Shotgun blog.

Mike Geoghegan is a government relations consultant who can be reached via his website at www.bclobbyist.com or on twitter at bclobbyist

Friday, May 15, 2009

Seinfeld election hands threepeat to Campbell

It was in the end a Seinfeld election, an election about nothing. The campaign started off with some high profile environmentalists slagging the NDP for its promise to end the carbon tax and ended with a plea from Campbell to re-elect his government to help see BC through the worst global economic calamity since the Great Depression.

Along the way we had Ray Lam resigning as an NDP candidate because of a few inappropriate pictures on Facebook and John van Dongen resigning as Solicitor General because of too many speeding tickets. But in the end less than half of British Columbians could be bothered to vote in an election where they felt the choice was between cream of wheat and porridge.

The fact is that democracy is slowly dying in BC - from terminal boredom. Thanks to the internet and various social media any politician who has ever said or done anything inappropriate or perhaps even interesting is finding themselves weeded out of the political process either before or during a provincial election campaign.

Well known 24 Hours columnist and blogger Bill Tieleman has suggested that voting be made mandatory in BC. As someone who has voted in every election I strongly object to that idea. If you give people bland campaigns and politicians that aren’t allowed to say or do anything interesting then why should we be surprised when more than half the electorate doesn’t bother to vote?

The people who aren’t voting are sending a very strong message to the politicians; the problem is they aren’t listening. The public want MLAs who are actually allowed to do the job of representing their constituents

In Delta South Attorney General Wally Oppal is only at present two votes ahead of Independent candidate Vicki Huntington. In that riding both the NDP and Green vote collapsed, not because Huntington is left wing but because the people that generally vote for these left wing protest parties saw a chance to send someone to Victoria who would actually represent their interests rather than the interests of the Premier or the leader of the Official Opposition.

We need to revitalize parliamentary democracy in Canada and get more power back to the hands of voters and MLAs. First of all every party leader should have to face a recorded vote of confidence once a year from their caucus. That would make the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition far more mindful of the concerns of their fellow MLAs.

Secondly all cabinet appointments should be approved by caucus. Thus if a cabinet minister runs roughshod over backbench MLAs they may find themselves vetoed out of cabinet the next time a cabinet shuffle goes up for approval.

Independent votes should be made the norm not the exception. Imagine a Premier and cabinet that actually had to make sure the legislation they were proposing had the support of a majority of MLAs in the legislature rather than it just being a foregone conclusion. Also the parliamentary rules need to be changed so that unless it is the final vote on the provincial budget or a specific non confidence motion a defeat would not result in the government having to call an election.

Private members bills which are at present token statements of intent should be referred to legislative council that can rework them into proper legislation and time set aside for votes on these bills when they are brought back to the legislature. This might in turn lead to more bi-partisan support of legislation.

All of the aforementioned would greatly increase the functionality of the legislature and once again enable MLAs to do a much better job of representing their constituents and the collective interests of our province.

One thing the Premier could also do is pass legislating stating that whenever a vacancy occurs in the Federal Senate that a province wide election will be held to fill that position. I am sure that is a move that Prime Minister Stephen Harper would support and once firmly established as a precedent would eventually result in other provinces following suit and us actually having a democratically elected Senate in Canada.

Finally we need to make it much easier for referenda to happen here in BC. According to a recent Vancouver Sun poll 65% of British Columbians support the decriminalization of marijuana. So let’s have a vote on it. I am sure there are many other issues people might also want to see put forward in a province wide referendum.

The fact is that unless or until we flow some democratic power out of the Premier’s Office and back into cabinet, our MLAs and ultimately ourselves as citizens, voter turnout will continue to decline and deservedly so.

Mike Geoghegan is a government relations consultant who can be reached via his website at www.bclobbyist.com or on twitter at bclobbyist

Bill Tieleman is a columnist and blogger for 24 Hours. Read it HERE Also here is a linkback to this column by Tieleman located here.

This story has also been posted on Vancouverite and at the Western Standard's Shotgun Blog.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

What the hell is STV and is it contagious?

The STV or single transferrable vote is an issue that British Columbians will be asked to vote to approve or reject on May 12th. It is an issue that has received relatively little coverage in an election campaign that seems to have garnered little interest from voters. But STV holds the potential to radically alter the way in which we elect our politicians here in British Columbia.

In order to pass it needs 60% of voters to approve it. Current polls suggest that the public is evenly divided on the issue. Instead of the present first past the post system where we have 85 ridings each electing one MLA, STV would instead have only 20 ridings each electing 5 to 7 MLAs.

Obviously in rural areas these ridings would be huge and would include about 350,000 people each. Instead of voting for your favourite candidate, you would have the option to vote for up to seven candidates you like much like you do when you vote in a municipal election. As is the case in a municipal election you do not have to vote for all seven positions. You can instead plump your ballot by only voting for one or two or three candidates the choice is yours.

The theory is that by having this municipal style voting at the provincial level it would result in more representative government. It would certainly help the Green Party which routinely gets around 12% of the vote but has yet to ever elect an MLA.
Under STV it is likely that instead of being shut out, the Greens would finally get some MLAs elected. That is why people who support the Green Party of BC have been speaking out in favour of STV. STV also has other more conservative supporters such as former Socred MLA Nick Loenen.

These supporters, I presume, believe that under STV it would allow Liberals to run as Liberals and Conservatives as Conservatives without causing a vote split that would allow the NDP to win as would be the case under our present first past the post system.

But STV has its critics, most notably Bill Tielman of the BC NDP who feels that STV would make politicians even less accountable to the voters and even more beholding to their political party. He notes that Malta which has an STV system has not elected an independent politician since the 1950s or a third party candidate since the 1960s.

Ireland, which also uses the STV system, seems to be an example of where party discipline takes precedence over all other matters. However is our first past the post system that much different?

Perhaps the most troubling fact about STV is the complicated system used to figure out who has actually won an election. According to the Citizen’s Assembly which recommended adoption of this system, “The BC-STV system recommended by the Citizen’s Assembly uses the Weighted Inclusive Gregory method under which all votes are counted and assigned to other candidates still in the count according to the voters’ preferences, but the ballots are given separate transfer values depending on their origin (that is, whether they are first preferences, or transfers from one or more other candidates).”

With both the BC Liberals and BC NDP opposing this change it is my prediction that STV will fall short of the 60% required to be approved in this election.

However this is such a sleeper election that who knows what could happen. On May 13th we may have woken up to Carole James as the Premier and STV being the way we are going to elect BC politicians for at least the next three elections. That is why it is best you to take the time to inform yourself and vote on May 12th.

Please note that this story has also been posted on The Western Standard's Shotgun Blog as well as in Vancouverite.

Mike Geoghegan is a government relations consultant who can be reached via his website at www.bclobbyist.com or on twitter at bclobbyist

Monday, April 27, 2009

Candidates struggle to connect with voters

On Tuesday May 12 BC voters go to the polls at a time when we are facing the worst economic calamity in 70 years and politicians are struggling to find voters who care. What is up with British Columbia’s political state of ennui?

In the old days politicians would try and connect with voters by holding big rallies and attending all candidate forums. Now they post candidate pages on facebook, send innocuous messages on twitter, wave signs at you as your drive on the highway and knock on your door and hope that you are home and interested enough to spend a minute or two chatting with them.

The question that worries all of them is will you actually go out to vote on May 12th? Recently I had the opportunity to attend a dinner where Small Business Minister Ida Chong was the guest speaker. Even in her relatively safe riding of Oak Bay Gordon Head she is worried that not enough of her supporters will come out to vote on May 12th.

I had a chance to speak at length with Ida and she told me, “This is not an election we can take for granted, I am door knocking every day and when constituents tell me I have their support, I let them know what I really need is their vote because that is what counts on election day.”

Another candidate for the BC Liberals is Robin Adair who is hoping to win back the riding of Saanich South. Adair is a familiar face to many people having served for years as a news anchor, radio host and more recently as Chair of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce.

In addition to door knocking at least several times a week Adair and his campaign team our out on the pedestrian overpasses waving signs at the commuters as they drive to work. Adair is also on Twitter and sends out messages such as “Did u know? BC housing budget this year is $469 M – the highest level ever & four times more than under the last full year of the NDP.”

John Horgan, the NDP MLA for Malahat Juan de Fuca, is in a tough race with former Colwood Mayor Jody Twa of the BC LIberals. At a breakfast event I attended on the weekend, he took pains to portray himself as a political moderate, a message that was received with some relief by the construction industry contractors he was talking to.

Horgan, if he is re-elected, will no doubt be a serious contender for the position of leader of the BC NDP. But to get re-elected he like many other candidates is out burning up the shoe leather knocking door to door, hoping that you are home and encouraging you to actually go out on vote on May 12th.

This election is going to be a nail biter for all candidates. Technology has not only affected the way we interact with politicians, it has even affected the reliability of political polls. If polling companies are only phoning landline numbers, what about the increasing number of people who only have cell phones?

Thus at the end of the day this election will not be determined by who people intended to vote for, but those who actually took the time on May 12th to get to a polling station and actually vote. There are lots of politicians who have lost by only a handful of votes who were told after the election by supporters, “I meant to go vote for you but I thought you were going to win anyways so I didn’t bother.”

The bottom line lesson here is, if you expect someone else to do your voting for you don’t be surprised if the results turn out differently than the way you wanted them to.

This blog has also been posted at vancouverite.com and on the Western Standard's Shotgun blog

Mike Geoghegan is a government relations consultant who can be reached via his website at www.bclobbyist.com or on twitter at bclobbyist

Sunday, April 26, 2009

It’s decision time in British Columbia!

On May 12th voters will have elected a new government in British Columbia. Who it will be is anyone’s guess as at least one poll suggests the BC NDP are only three percentage points behind the BC Liberals.

It was with this fact in mind that on April 25th at its annual conference the Mechanical Contractors Association of BC invited a representative from each of these political parties to speak to delegates. The first was John Horgan, MLA for Malahat Juan de Fuca, the riding which encompasses the location of this year’s conference which was held at the Westin at Bear Mountain near Victoria, BC.

First elected in 2005, John Horgan also worked as a political staffer in both the Mike Harcourt and Glen Clark NDP governments of the 1990s. Thus he brings far more [political experience to the table than his one term as an MLA would initially suggest. John spoke to delegates at the breakfast and focused on training issues and the critical role of public infrastructure spending to help the construction industry through the current global economic recession.

At our President’s Dinner held later that evening, was the Hon. Ida Chong, Minister of Small Business, Technology and Economic Development. Ida was first elected as an MLA back in 1996. Thus she knows what it is like to have been an opposition MLA, a backbencher and to be a front line cabinet minister.

Ida is also seeking re-election as the MLA for Oak Bay Gordon Head. This has traditionally been one of the few safe ridings for the BC Liberals in the Greater Victoria area. But when she meets people on the door steps she has made a point of telling supporters that she needs not only their encouragement but their vote as the election has become far too volatile for anyone to assume their (re)election is a given.

In speaking to delegates at the President’s Dinner, Ida spoke about the fact her father had been a boilermaker, who had helped build a number of BC Ferries and the pride she felt when her father showed her some of the work he had done when she was a little girl. She also spoke about the need to make sure the bidding process on all public infrastructure projects is fair and open.

Both the BC Liberals recognize we are facing the most serious global economic recession since the Great Depression. Both recognize the importance of public infrastructure projects to help stimulate the general economy and keep trades people and contractors working.

These are not just trying economic times, but demographically challenging ones as well. Many skilled trades people and contractors are reaching the age where they wish to retire. At the same time there are many apprentices who have been or face the threat of layoffs as a result of the global recession. It is vitally important that those apprentices and the companies who employ them are able to keep working.

If these apprentices are simply let go en masse, many will never return and when the next economic recovery happens (as it surely will) the construction industry will be in even more of a fix to try and find qualified trades people than we were during the last construction boom.

That is why now, more so than ever, construction industry organizations like MCABC are going to be critical to the success of our member companies. Through our collective lobbying efforts we can ensure that the public procurement process is done in a timely open and fair manner and that programs such as the Apprenticeship Training Tax Credit and other initiatives which MCABC has successfully lobbied for continue to be there and are built upon in order to ensure that we have the companies, the contractors and the skilled trades people here in BC to meet the next upturn in the economy.

Mike Geoghegan is a government relations consultant who lives in Victoria, B.C. He can be reached via his website at www.mgcltd.ca or on Twitter under “bclobbyist”

Monday, April 20, 2009

If Ray Lam had read my blog three months ago he wouldn't be in this mess today


As most people know by now the BC NDP candidate for Vancouver-False Creek Ray Lam has quit the provincial election race after he foolishly posted a picture on his Facebook page showing his hand on a female friend's breast while he grins at the camera. Another picture is even more risque - showing a man and a woman grabbing at his underwear and taking a peek inside.

Lam has not only resigned as a candidate for the BC NDP but now many are calling for him to resign his position as planning commissioner for the City of Vancouver.

If Lam had read my article The Crotch Shot Hypothesis and the Politics of Hypocrisy, which I posted back on Janaury 7th of this year, he wouldn't be in this mess today.

In that prescient column I wrote the following:

"The paradox of the Internet is that with various social networking sites and Wikipedia it is a great way to keep in touch with distant friends and to quickly gather information. The problem is that none of this information ever goes away. Thus any ill thought out statement or embarrassing photo that is posted to the internet will always be there.

A colleague of mine has come up with a hypothesis. She gives it a much ruder title but for her sake and yours, I will refer to it as “the crotch shot hypothesis.” Her hypothesis is that by the year 2040 everyone in the world under the age of 65 will have an incriminating photo of themselves posted somewhere on the internet.

That brings us to an interesting democratic dilemma. In a democracy we elect people that represent us. They are not saints but people with the same foibles, miscues and embarrassing moments as the rest of us. Having worked as a political consultant for the better part of twenty years I can certainly tell you that candidates at both the provincial and federal level face a much higher level of scrutiny than they did when I first started out.

As we have seen here in Canada, this trend towards bland colourless politicians is creating increased public disenchantment with politics and declining voter turnout. The real problem is not just the Internet but our own hypocrisy as voters. Perhaps in the future when everyone has dirt on everyone else then politics will lose its all too tiresome hypocritical and moralistic tone."

Evidently we are not there yet. Lam acknowledged that the pictures he posted had been a distraction to his campaign and an embarrassment to his leader Carole James, and presumably at least a few of his friends.

So the lesson here is folks do not run for political office without first deleting all tawdry photos and inappropriate comments from the internet. And voters get used to seeing an ever more bland, uncontroversial and uninspiring breed of political candidate to vote for in the future. That is unless or until we get over our collective hypocrisy.

Please note this story is also posted at Vancouverite.com under the catchy title "Don't run for office in your underwear"

For more on this story click here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

It’s election time in British Columbia!

As I write this the provincial election campaign has commenced with the BC Liberals enjoying a 17 point lead over the BC NDP. The economy has emerged as the number one campaign issue as well it should.

Over the last six months 357,000 jobs have been lost in Canada and over 80% of those losing their jobs were men. This is because the job cuts have generally happened in traditionally male-dominated industries such as trades, including construction, transport, manufacturing and natural resources.

The losses in the construction sector are especially troubling. This is a time when we desperately need young people to enter the workforce and become skilled tradespersons to replace a graying workforce that is nearing retirement age. Instead thanks to the financial market meltdown in the US that triggered a worldwide recession, we are instead seeing apprentices being laid off and contractors scrambling to find work to bid on.

There is a timely solution and that is public infrastructure spending. But for that to work federal, provincial and local government agencies are going to have to do a much better job of coordinating their efforts and flowing those dollars. It also needs to be done in a much more timely and consistent manner.

Prior to the provincial election being called, I met with Housing Minister Rich Coleman at his office at the BC Legislature. One of the issues I raised was the lack of a clear, consistent and transparent bidding process for public infrastructure projects. Minister Coleman told me that his government (if re-elected) will be taking to steps to centralize and make consistent the bidding process.

Regardless of who wins the next election, this is something that the Mechanical Contractors Association of BC (MCABC) must be involved in. It is in everyone’s interests, you as a contractor, and your neighbor as a taxpayer, to ensure that the bidding process is open to all qualified contractors. There have been troubling incidents with some school boards directly awarding contracts with no public bidding process and there even being an incident where the project manager for a public project was also having the general contractor do some renovation work on his house.

In this particular instance a complaint was filed that resulted in a lengthy and expensive audit by KPMG on the project. Investigating after the fact simply isn’t good enough. The bidding process needs to be fair and consistent up front in order to avoid these sorts of shenanigans.

In Victoria there has been much talk about the Capital Region’s aging infrastructure, everything from Victoria’s 80 year old blue bridge that needs to be replaced to Saanich’s rotted out storm water pipes. The CRD’s $2 billion sewage project is also under increasing fire as being too expensive while financing of the project has also become of increasing concern.

Because of all the aforementioned issues, MCABC has invited two incumbent candidates to come speak on April 25th to the MCABC Annual Conference and AGM which is being held at the Westin Bear Mountain Resort near Victoria, BC. Ida Chong who is the Minister of Small Business and Economic Development, and seeking re-election in the riding of Oak Bay-Gordon Head will be our featured dinner speaker. Meanwhile opposition MLA, John Horgan, who is seeking re-election as the MLA for Malahat Juan de Fuca, will be our featured breakfast speaker on April 25th.

Both of these candidates have years of experience in government. Ida Chong was first elected an MLA in 1996, and prior to that she served as a councilor for the Municipality of Saanich. John Horgan was first elected as an MLA in 2005 but in the 1990s served as a Ministerial Assistant and then a senior political advisor throughout the NDP’s two terms of government in the 1990s.

This is your opportunity to not only listen to them speak, but ask question as well. As we are in the midst of an election I think it is very timely for you to bring forward your concerns as well as your suggestions to these candidates. If Ida Chong and the BC Liberals are re-elected then she will almost certainly remain in cabinet. If the BC NDP are elected then John Horgan will likely be appointed to a senior cabinet position.

Thus by attending the 2009 conference in Victoria and by making a point of going to the breakfast and the dinner on April 25th you have an opportunity to directly dialogue with these politicians and have your voice heard. I look forward to seeing you there!

Mike Geoghegan is a government relations consultant who lives in Victoria, B.C. He can be reached via his website at www.mgcltd.ca or on Twitter under “bclobbyist”

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Libertarianism in a nutshell


by Karen Selick

Libertarianism in a nutshell
National Post
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Page: A15
Section: Issues & Ideas
Byline: Karen Selick
Source: National Post

Perhaps the best way to explain libertarianism is to show you the graph developed in 1969 by an American named David Nolan. Nolan observed that the traditional political spectrum of "left versus right" is spectacularly unilluminating. There are simply too many nuances in political ideology to map the differences on a single dimension.

So Nolan said, "Let's add a second dimension -- a vertical axis perpendicular to the traditional left-right spectrum." His political map looked like an L-shaped graph.

On the horizontal axis, we plot economic freedom. The more economic liberty you support, the further along this axis you are. If you believe in capitalism (minimal taxes and unregulated markets), you are out at the right. The more government control you support, the closer to the origin you are. So if you believe in socialism (high taxes, the welfare state and extensive regulation of the marketplace), you are all the way to the left.

On the vertical axis, we plot "social" freedoms. The more social liberty you support, the further up you are. So if you believe (for instance) that we should legalize gun ownership, marijuana ownership, raw milk, surrogate pregnancy, prostitution, pornography, gambling, polygamy and so on, you are up at the top. The more government control you support, the further down you are. If you believe that the government should criminalize all those things, you are down at the bottom.

Libertarianism is the political philosophy occupying the top right-hand corner of the graph. We believe in maximizing individual freedom in both the economic and the social spheres. We believe in minimizing state interference in both spheres.

Down at the origin is totalitarianism or "statism" -- the belief that the state should control virtually everything. Conservatives tend to cluster in the lower right-hand quadrant, although there are so many variants of conservatism that you can't really generalize.

Now, I want to stress that libertarianism is strictly a political philosophy. Philosophy has five main branches: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, aesthetics and politics. Politics is the branch that deals with the relationship between the individual and the state. Libertarianism is a political philosophy only. It's not a package deal. It says nothing whatsoever about any of the other branches of philosophy. So, for instance, there are some libertarians who are atheists, and others who are religious. The two groups have radically different views on metaphysics and epistemology, but they agree on politics. They agree on what the state should or shouldn't do to its citizens and for its citizens.

I feel compelled to address the erroneous notion that conservatives often have that libertarians are also libertines. A moment ago, I said that as a libertarian, I would legalize drugs, prostitution and so on. But in my own personal life, I neither engage in nor advocate that others engage in such activities. In fact, I personally behave pretty much like a social conservative. But I don't do it because that's what the state decrees. I do it because of the branch of philosophy called ethics. According to my ethics, self-destructive activities are evil, and people shouldn't engage in them. But that's entirely different from saying, "The state should outlaw them."

The libertarian view is that the state exists to protect individuals from harm inflicted on them by others, but not from harm that they inflict upon themselves. The sole justification for the state is to prevent the use of physical force or fraud by one person or group against another. It does not exist to protect people from their own self-inflicted, voluntarily chosen idiocy.

In fact, I would argue that when the state assumes the role of moral guardian over the social sphere, we get the same unintended consequences as when the state intervenes in the economy. In an economic welfare state, people become lazy and incapable of providing for themselves financially. In a "moral welfare state," they become morally lazy and incapable of determining for themselves what actions are virtuous, or even why they should behave virtuously in the first place.

That's libertarianism in a nutshell.

kas@karenselick.com

Friday, March 20, 2009

Kudos to Nanaimo



You know it's not every day I get the red carpet rolled out for me. But that is what happened when a couple of days ago I was invited by Bruce Williams of CTV to meet with some of the people who have done so much to improve Nanaimo's downtown area over the last six years.

I was treated to a delicious lunch at one of the recently refurbished eating establishments in the downtown core. Present at the lunch was Bruce, myself, economic development officer Marilyn Hutchinson, media relations Chelsea Barr, Matt Hussmann managing director of Downtown Nanaimo and Cathy Dyck of Tourism Nanaimo.

The meal and the company were both fabulous as was the decor which very much reminded me of Yaletown except with more elbow room and much easier parking! We then travelled next door where I met with George Leschuk who owns a gallery and framing shop. It was while touring the gallery that I also had the chance to chat with Mayor John Ruttan who has done so much to help spearhead the revitilisation of downtown Nanaimo.

Then it was off to meet with Denise Tacon, general manager of Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre. This building is truly impressive as was Nanaimo's brand new museum which includes many interesting artifacts from Nanaimo's colourful history.

The final treat was being given a box of Nanaimo bars from a local bakery that put to shame the kind they sell on BC Ferries. These things were beyond scrumptious! So on this morning's radio show did I make a point of working in a plug for Nanaimo? You betcha!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Speech to MCABC - Vancouver Island

Thank you for that kind introduction. I am excited to be here tonight. Why? Because it’s not every day that I get to be in a room full of people who have been charged with helping to save the world.

If you think I’m kidding I’m not.

Not just our local, and not just our provincial and federal governments, but governments around the world have latched onto infrastructure spending as a key way to help drive our global economy out of this recession.

As an economist, I think they’re right. Infrastructure spending is a much needed solution to our economic crises. In fact at present, infrastructure spending will probably do more than even tax cuts would to bring about economic recovery.

That is because for decades now, infrastructure spending has not kept pace with demand, nor even the ravages of time. In Canada alone our infrastructure deficit is estimated to be on the order of $150 billion dollars.

Thanks to the current economic crises, over the next decade many tens of billions of tax dollars will be doled out on new and accelerated public infrastructure spending. In terms of specifics, the federal government will boost infrastructure spending by close to $12 billion over the next two years. More specifically, the federal budget shows new spending of $6.2 billion in fiscal year 2009-10 and $5.6 billion in 2010-11

If you add in expected new provincial and municipal government funding of nearly $9 billion, the construction industry could benefit from a $21 billion boost in infrastructure projects over the next two years.

New budget initiatives related to infrastructure investments include the following:
• a $4 billion Infrastructure Stimulus Fund over two years to renew public infrastructure
• $500 million for projects in small communities and $500 million for recreational facilities
• $400 million set aside for the Green Infrastructure Fund
• $2 billion for improving infrastructure at universities and colleges
• $515 million over two years for “ready-to-go” First Nations infrastructure projects
• $700 million in federal infrastructure aimed at improving rail services, bridges and highways, refurbishing harbors and improving border crossings

This increase in federal infrastructure spending is expected to be matched by $8.9 billion in provincial contributions, bringing the total stimulus from new infrastructure spending to $20.7 billion over the next two fiscal years.

The challenge for everyone in this room is to ensure that your region and your business gets its fair share of that money and to lobby for even more. Remember there is still an infrastructure deficit in this country of $150 billion.

That means that as individual contractors and as members of the Mechanical Contractors Association of BC, you need to have greatly improved communication with your local, provincial and federal governments.

Not every municipal government is going after the infrastructure money they need. For some it’s because they lack the expertise, for others it’s because they are being politically held hostage to the environmental banana groups – you know the ones that say build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone - BANANA.

But without these infrastructure dollars being spent there will continue to be neighborhoods with leaking septic systems that should be hooked into modern sewer systems. There will still be communities where storm water lines are running into and overloading the sewer lines every time it rains, and there will also be community swimming pools and other public amenities that won’t get built.

When I was a Ministerial Assistant I was the staff facilitator for a cabinet sub-committee that handed out community grants. Was there political favoritism? Of course there was. But we also provided grants to those communities that lobbied the hardest for them.

As an association and as business owners you need to be proactive so that not just road building and bridges get all the media attention and government dollars. That’s why instead of shovel ready projects, MCABC has been promoting the idea of pipe wrench ready projects.

In January of this year CIBC issued a report estimating that over the next 20 years $25 to $30 trillion dollars will be spent worldwide on infrastructure. That’s trillion with a T. As I mentioned previously, it is estimated that Canada needs to spend at least $150 billion on infrastructure just to repair, replace and expand its infrastructure as a result of years of neglect and our growing population.

CIBC predicts that the US will start spending $150 billion per year on infrastructure, China $200 billion per year and Europe $300 billion per year. Governments around the world are in short using tax dollars to buy construction jobs while at the same time doing much needed repairs and upgrades to their public infrastructure.

Most Canadian politicians want your companies to prosper so that you retain, train and hire more workers so that when the next economic boom happens we aren’t caught as shorthanded as we were in the last one.

In dire economic times, governments and the public they serve always get more nationalistic. If tax dollars are being spent the public wants it to create jobs for Canadians not for foreign workers. Even if the local worker is being paid more, people figure the money they earn is going to stay here in Canada and benefit small business owners and the community as a whole.

Besides, as some general contractors have found out to their chagrin, once you start advocating the outsourcing of workers, government is just as willing, often through a P3 process, to outsource the general contracting to foreign companies as well.
As we all know when sewer and water lines get replaced and expanded, when roads get upgraded and new bridges built, that in turn often enables private sector growth and expansion to take place.

Infrastructure spending also means money is being spent on local goods and local labor and these projects are often highly visible which can also give a positive psychological as well as economic boost to a community.

Bridges, highways, water treatment facilities and sewer systems are all past their prime in most provinces. Also, as you are aware, there is always a time lag before spending can get underway. Allocation of funds, project specifications, and bidding on projects all take time.

That is why now is the time to be contacting your local government to make sure they have submitted a list of their most pressing infrastructure needs. If they haven’t then they won’t get funding and you will have fewer contracts to bid on.

Ten years ago I was hired by the Vancouver Island Economic Developers Association to do a report. One of the more interesting things I learned is that it can cost as much to ship goods from Vancouver Island to the mainland as it costs to ship goods from China to Canada.

Thus in terms of manufacturing it is at present virtually impossible for Vancouver Island to compete, so that means we will increasingly tend to have a service orientated economy. But we can’t all be baristas at Starbucks or bureaucrats in Victoria. Yes there are still some forestry jobs left on the Island, but in terms of well paying jobs, the construction sector is one of the few areas that offer an opportunity for people to earn a decent living up Island.

By way of illustration I also wanted to talk about another sector I have done some consulting work for and that is the energy sector. In fact I was one of the guest speakers some years ago at the first ever annual general meeting of the Independent Power Producers Association of BC.

As far as I am concerned you can’t get much cleaner and greener power that these so called run of the river projects. But they have met with a vociferous amount of opposition from the BANANA – build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone – crowd that I mentioned before.

A lack of electrical power is something that we as Vancouver Island residents need to be much more concerned about. I suspect that the problem won’t get addressed until we have rolling brownouts, but the fact is that electrical demand is far outstripping supply and as the Lower Mainland continues to develop they won’t have much power to spare either.

So we need to be more energy self reliant here on Vancouver Island. We need some of these Independent Power Projects to proceed. But there is a tendency amongst engineers to let the merit of their design speak for itself, which is all too often a recipe for failure when it comes to dealing with the public and government.

Anyone who saw that miniseries they did some years ago with Dan Ackroyd on the Avro Arrow Project saw that, despite designing and building the most advanced fighter jet in the world, a plane that was decades ahead of its time, the company had not done its homework in terms of lobbying the incoming Conservative government. Thus the project was cancelled.

That isn’t the first time that a good project was scrapped because of poor government relations. These IPP firms are in many instances not doing enough in the way of government and media relations work and the result is that government is essentially shrugging their shoulders and saying if you won’t fight for your projects why should we?

I can give you another example, some years ago the Westbank First Nation formed a partnership with the company that built the bridge over to Prince Edward Island. They had come up with a $200 million design for a new bridge linking Westbank with Kelowna.

It was a great design, and included a realignment of the highway as well. There was only one problem the provincial government had its own design and predicted it would only cost $100 million.

At Westbank’s request I phoned the President of the private sector company they were working with. I could not get him to understand what the problem was. All he kept saying was, “yes but our bridge is a really good design.”

So I tried to dumb it down as much as possible by saying that he had designed a Cadillac and the government had designed and budgeted for a Chevy. No one is saying the Cadillac isn’t better than the Chevy, we all agree on that. But the Chevy will still get them from A to B. The challenge was to try and convince the government as to why they need to spend twice as much money to upgrade from the Chevy to the Cadillac.

His only response was “but we’ve designed a really good bridge.” At which point I ended the conversation and then phoned the Westbank First Nation and told them their project was dead.

Sure enough the Government of BC proceeded with their in house $100 million bridge design which at the end of the day still ended up costing taxpayers $170 million and the President of that company in Calgary has a nice set of blueprints for a really good bridge that will now never be built.

If there is one message that I want you to remember from my speech today it is those companies and those industry associations that are the most proactive in their dealings with government that will reap the lion’s share of public infrastructure spending.

When world financial markets do stabilize, and I am predicting that is something that may take years rather than months, those companies that have done well in terms of public infrastructure spending will also have the skilled workforce in place to compete on the next wave of private sector construction that will then follow.
So if I was to reduce my message down to a bumper sticker it would be proactively prosper or reactively perish.

That also means making sure the industry associations that you belong to are doing what they can to fully engage with both government and the public.

So with that I conclude my remarks, and I welcome any questions any of you may have.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Excusing the men who ran away

Bravo to Mark Steyn for having the courage in his MacLean's column excusing the men who ran away to point out the fact that our public education system has since the 1970s been churning out ever more passive students, especially amongst males.

As Mark Steyn points out in his column about the Montreal Massacre which saw 14 women gunned down, no one thought to act alone or in concert against the crazed gunman. In our schools today our children are taught not to stand up to bullies but to simply be passive and report the matter to the teacher or principal.

I have taught both my son and daughter that they not only have the right but the responsibility to stand up to bullies. The result is that they have no problems with being bullied and other children in their school have learned from their example much to the horror and disgust of the teaching establishment who peddle the mantra of be passive, be a victim, then report the incident to those in authority.

That mantra greatly helped Mark Lepine to slaughter those 14 women, it kept both the men and women docile instead of attacking him en masse. If instead those students had been taught by our public school system to defend themselves many of those 14 women would still be alive today.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Media changes coming!

The recession has hit home. Due to the newspaper's declining ad revenue my column with the Thompson Okanagan edition of the Business Examiner has been put on hiatus. I will however still be making comments both on this blog and in other locations such as The Economist and various other publications that are now online.

There has also been some big changes in the Victoria area television and radio media. The result is that Capital Gang as of March 6, 2009 has now shifted to Fridays at 9:00 am from its original slot of Thursdays at 8:20 am.

For a transcript of one of my Capital Gang appearances click here. For an audio example of another Capital Gang show we did click here. To catch an example of me on video click here.

There will also be some changes coming in terms of updating and linking my website this blog, facebook, linkedin, twitter and other social media, so stay tuned!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

CFAX Capital Gang transcript

Every Thursday morning at 8:20 am I am on CFAX Radio (as of March 6, 2009 it has now shifted to Fridays at 9:00 am) here in beautiful Victoria, BC Canada on a political commentary show called Capital Gang. Here is a transcript of the show similar to the one the politicians at the Legislature in Victoria receive:

David Schreck and Mike Geoghegan join Joe Easingwood – CFAX – The Capital Gang – 8:23 AM February 5, 2009

Topics include:
o B.C.’s stimulus package
o Pay cuts for B.C. politicians
o Port Mann Bridge
o Opportune time for infrastructure building
o Federal and U.S. stimulus packages
o Municipal infrastructure projects
o Cost of Port Mann Bridge project
o U.S. protectionism
o B.C.'s criminal justice system
o Wally Oppal as Attorney General
o Salaries paid to B.C. politicians

Joe Easingwood: David, you came out swinging on your piece yesterday. In fact it’s been so popular, it’s been copied elsewhere. I’ll let you talk about that in a moment.

To lead off, it says: “Premier Campbell will have you believe that he is taking a bold step to stimulate the economy, accelerating $2 billion in capital spending over the next three years. Keep in mind that B.C.’s GDP is $200 billion. So over three years $2 billion represents .3 per cent of GDP.”

I’ll let you pick it up from there.

David Schreck: The stimulus package that Gordon Campbell announced this week amounts to one third of 1 per cent of GDP. Anybody who’s read the newspaper lately knows that internationally the call is for 2 per cent of GDP to be the stimulus.

Easingwood: Yeah.

Schreck: Now, we will have some federal stimulus on top of that.

But it’s just important to keep in mind that while $2 billion is certainly a lot of money, we have none of the details of what that is going to be spent on. Those will come out probably about once a day as campaign announcements. I think this has much more to do with an election than it does with stimulating the economy.

Easingwood: Right. Yeah.

Schreck: But at the same time that the Premier said that, he said us poor cabinet ministers will have to suffer a 10-per cent pay cut because we are going to run a deficit and that’s what the law requires.

Some columnists — one of my favourites is Mike Smyth; I always read Mike. Mike bought the Premier’s line hook, line, and sinker, and repeated the 10-per cent claim.

Easingwood: Yeah, it was on the front page.

Schreck: That’s right. And the truth is that the pay cut applies to the ministerial bonuses not to the base pay of $100,000. So a cabinet minister makes $100,000 base pay plus a 50-per cent bonus for being a cabinet minister. The claw-back if they run a deficit is 10 per cent of the bonus. So it’s not 10 per cent off pay; it’s 3.5 per cent off pay.

Oh, and by the way, the cabinet ministers got a 29-per cent pay increase in April of 2007. The Premier…. Well, the Premier gets a slightly bigger hit because his bonus is 90 per cent of base pay. So he gets a hit of about just under 5 per cent. But he got a 54-per cent pay increase in 2007.

So I’ll tell you what, Joe: would you be willing to take a 5 per cent pay cut if we gave you a 54-per cent pay increase first? I don’t understand why these….
And Mike Smyth, to his credit — he didn’t credit me, but he did at least repeat the line. The headline on his column in today’s Vancouver Province is: “oops, that pay cut is anything like the Premier claimed.”

Easingwood: No, of course not. Why should we expect anything else from that…?

Geoghegan: Well, first of all…

Schreck: You just can’t believe what these guys say.

Easingwood: I know.

Geoghegan: First of all in terms of spending announcements, we’ve had a number of specifics. For example, just yesterday the Premier announced there was going to be a ten-lane Port Mann Bridge constructed. You know, this is a very smart strategy. I mean, it’s fortuitous in terms of the election timing; let’s not kid ourselves. But it’s also very fortuitous because the time you want government to be spending money on infrastructure, it’s during an economic downturn because first of all you’re helping to ensure that those construction jobs continue.

That’s vitally important in this province, Joe, because we’re in the middle of trying to train more people to come into the construction industry. So by governments stepping up to the plate with these infrastructure projects, we’re ensuring that those people stay hired, continue to train, so when the next boom comes along, we’re not sitting there with not enough trained construction workers.

The other point is that the taxpayers get more bang for their buck because when you’re constructing infrastructure in a bubble market, contractors — they’re already full. They’ll through out a number that’s really high, thinking, well, I don’t really want that job, and then they say, oh god, we won the bid. Whereas now they’re sharpening their pencils, how can we trim costs, how can we be more competitive. Land costs are starting to come down again.

But, you know, the other thing I want to emphasize, though: this is sort of jumping to the affordable housing issue. Unless or until local government is willing to be less restrictive in terms of land zoning, in terms of land use, etc., we are going to continue to pay sky-high prices for housing, for commercial and industrial properties.

Easingwood: The other thing on the bridge, before we leave that. It’s rather interesting when the Pattullo Bridge was in trouble, part of it burned down, and they got it going again within a week — to build a new one was going to take ten years. This ten-lane bridge he announced yesterday: wow, it’s only going to take four. What kind of jiggery-pokery is that?

Schreck: Four or five years, Joe. It’s 2013 or 2014 that it will open.

Mike is right that we need to construct public sector construction to help stimulate the economy. The question is: are we really going to get it? How much money is going to be spent in 2009?

The point of my article is this is all smoke and mirrors. They’re announcing stuff they had already planned. They are not making significant acceleration, and we’re going to have minimal if any impact on getting us out of this recession because of it.

Easingwood: If you want to join the Capital Gang here, pick up a phone.

We were talking about fiscal things across the country before the break. You might have heard the first item in the newscast at 8:30 this morning: Parliament’s budget watchdog is questioning some of the assumptions and projections contained in last week’s fiscal plan from the Tory government.

As Canadian Press reporter Keith Leslie explained, the government may have been too optimistic in its views on the recession.

Keith Leslie: Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Paige says the recession will be deeper than forecast in the budget, which had assumed the downturn would be milder than the previous two slumps in the early 1980s and 1990s. Paige told the Commons finance committee that the current recession may already be more severe than the previous two. He said Finance Minister Jim Flaherty likely did not factor in enough downside risk in predicting Canada would be out of a recession in four years.

Easingwood: Paige also says the government’s nearly $40-billion stimulus package over two years is actually about 20 per cent smaller at $31.8 billion.

Schreck: Exactly the same thing applies to the U.S. stimulus package, and exactly the same thing applies to the rhetoric coming from Gordon Campbell. The public is being conned. The line here is for governments to try to make it look to their citizens as if they are doing something because we are in trouble and things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.

Tomorrow the unemployment numbers come out, and they are not going to be good. You can bet that B.C. will have lost 5,000 to 10,000 construction jobs alone when we see tomorrow’s numbers.

Governments want to make it look like they’re doing something, but governments really aren’t doing very much. The more cynical governments are saying, well, the economy will turn around on its own anyway; if we just make it look like we’re doing something, then we can take credit when it finally turns.

But I think they’re wrong. I think this recession could last a lot longer than they think, and that stimulus is going to be necessary, and it better be effective. There, we will be betrayed and failed is I don’t think they’re going to do enough soon enough, and that will lengthen the recession.

Geoghegan: It is a real challenge out there, and you’ve heard the expression “shovel-ready projects.” But perhaps the more accurate term is “pipe wrench–ready projects” — you know, storm drain systems, sewer systems. There was an article in the Times Colonist last week about how some of the storm water systems in Saanich date from 100 years ago and were made out of wood and they’ve rotted away. So basically you’ve got these holes in the ground that are just dirt-lined.

Clearly there’s a huge amount of infrastructure that needs to be replaced. There’s a huge amount of infrastructure that needs to be upgraded. There’s, of course, sewage treatment for Victoria, which heretofore they were quite content to try and let 13 municipalities squabble about who’s going to pick up the billions of dollars in costs. Obviously the feds and the province have to step up to the plate. In terms of these infrastructure projects, quite frankly the weakness that these different municipalities have in terms of keeping up in terms of infrastructure reflect the fact that you have all these little Barney Fiefdoms.

You have all these little tiny municipalities governing the population of Burnaby. That’s what greater Victoria is; it’s equivalent to the population of Burnaby. It would be nice if you had the province step in and sort of end the madness and say, hey, we’re going to have three municipal governments instead of 11, 12 or 13.

But we also need to have municipal governments that recognize, as Langford has, that if you say yes to development you can get significant infrastructure improvements, you can do things about affordable housing like telling developers a certain number of projects have to be set aside for actually below-market housing for the working poor and the working middle class, whereas you’ve got all these other municipalities that say no. Oh, we’d like to go to urban density and taller buildings. No. Well, we’d like to expand our industrial operation where we manufacture sheet metal products. No. Well, we’d like to do a housing development for affordable housing. No. It’s just like they say no, no, no, and then they turn around and wonder why they don’t have the tax base to put down sidewalks or repair sewer lines and water lines. It’s because they keep saying no.

Schreck: Well, to get back to the news of the day, Gordon Campbell announced the acceleration of $2 billion in capital spending. Can you identify one single dollar that’s going to be spent on Vancouver Island out of that $2?

Easingwood: You can go over it with a magnifying glass and not find it.

Schreck: That’s right. That’s because it is smoke and mirrors. It’s pre-election stuff. You might want to invest in a company that sells ribbons to be cut, because you’ll see a lot of that, but you won’t see much by way of detail.

Geoghegan: They are trying to roll out some detail. They’ve rolled out detail on the Port Mann Bridge announcement.

The other thing is that in dealing with…

Schreck: [Inaudible].

Geoghegan: David, they’re dealing with two other levels of government. You’ve got the federal government, you’ve got the province and you’ve got the municipalities, and the municipalities, particularly on Vancouver Island, have stepped up to the plate in terms of their wish list.

Schreck: You know the thing about the Port Mann. The Port Mann is just like the convention centre. The convention centre they announced at one price and it came in at twice the price. In the case of the Port Mann, they haven’t gotten one shovel in the ground yet and the cost estimate has already more than doubled. You can bet by the time that thing’s done it’ll probably be closer to $4 of $5 billion, none of which is going to help in terms of the current recession because they’re looking at a 2014 completion date.

Geoghegan: The thing is we have criticism at every turn of the government for what it is doing, but the fact is that it is doing a lot. Even the Olympic cost overruns, I say thank God that we have the Olympics coming. Those are projects, those are construction jobs that are happening right now. The convention centre….

Schreck: You have to criticize these guys because you can’t believe what they say, and you have to hold their feet to the fire.

Geoghegan: First of all, no one predicted…. When China and India’s economies took off, no one predicted that the cost of steel was going to go through the roof. No one predicted that the cost of concrete was going to go through the roof. Now, the one mistake the Campbell government made early in its term was it listened to Phil Hochstein of ICBA and gutted ITAC. But then the government learned its lesson and recreated it in a slightly different form under the Industry Training Authority. So it was exactly the wrong move at the wrong time because they got bad advice from Phil Hochstein.

Schreck: Congratulations, Mike. I’m glad to hear you say that Campbell screwed up on apprenticeship. [Inaudible].

Geoghegan: No, but hang on. Hang on.

Schreck: Three weeks ago Gordon Campbell was saying he would have a balanced budget. He was the last one in the province to believe that myth. He’s finally come clean and said: no, it’s impossible.

Geoghegan: This is why it’s so unfair, because the fact is that they could have had a balanced budget. They were undertaking cost-cutting exercises, and then they realized, look, we’re going to start cutting…we’re really going to start impacting programs on health care and education and social services. And like every other government since I’ve lived in Victoria, and I’ve lived here since 1985, every year every government, be it Socred, NDP or Liberal, has increased funding for health care. They’ve increased funding for education. They’ve never had cuts, right? And the fact is that they were saying, look, we’re facing…we could face real cuts at a time where our population is aging, etc. We don’t want to do that. So what we’re going to do is recognizing that the severity of this recession is much deeper than anyone would have predicted six months ago. We’re going to run a deficit. That is a good thing. That is a responsible thing.

Schreck: It’s good that Gordon Campbell came late to the party, even though he was the last one in the province to come.

Geoghegan: That’s right.

Easingwood: Kicking and screaming.

[Caller mentions President Obama, caps on CEO salaries, other U.S. government issues, Jack Layton and federal NDP policy].

Geoghegan: I just want to bring up this point. You know, Jack Layton is strangely silent on that issue, and I think that's because federally the NDP have been advocating protectionist measures for Canada, which is absolute economic suicide. I mean, the fastest way to turn a worldwide recession into another Great Depression is for everybody to start throwing up trade barriers. So, you know, this instinct to, like, "Oh, hey, we'll help out our local guys by throwing up trade barriers…." They don't realize that, you know, that's how the Great Depression occurred.

Caller Ron: Gordon Campbell gives new meaning to the term "shovel-ready projects." God, I've got my shovel out every time I hear him. I mean, these massive overruns, for example. Mike says, you know, they're good…. Half a billion for the convention centre, half a billion or more for security costs. They couldn't even calculate that when the last Winter Olympics cost three-quarters of a billion American dollars. At least a third of billion dollars for the Sea to Sky Highway and the Canada line. They couldn’t calculate the Vancouver Olympic Village overrun. I mean, these are massive overruns by people who claim to be good managers.

What about our criminal justice system? If you're poor, you can't get access to the system. If you're knowledgeable about the Campbell government dealings with the B.C. Rail sale, you'll be in court for at least six to seven years. They're ethically challenged.

Schreck: Wally Oppal is sitting on a report on the failure of our courts to give adequate sentences to criminals, and he's refusing to release it to the public.

Geoghegan: You know, I want to get into the issue of our criminal justice system anyway, and our criminal justice system has failed. You know, when you see these reports, "Oh, people are losing confidence in our justice system…." People have lost confidence in our justice system, because we have a justice system that…. You know, justice delayed is justice denied. It's right there in the Charter, actually.

Schreck: And Wally Oppal's an apologist for it, and he's not coming clean with the public.

Easingwood: No, he sure isn't.

Geoghegan: You know, the thing is…. We have police where they seem unwilling or unable to take on the gang-bangers, people who are busy killing each other in the streets, both in here Victoria and in Vancouver.

Schreck: And they don't care if they shoot an innocent passer-by while they're doing it.

Geoghegan: There was one idea thrown out there. Well, you know, gangsters are now wearing Kevlar. Maybe we should ban people's ability to wear Kevlar. Oh, that's just brilliant, because…. I don't know, Joe, but neither of us are wearing Kevlar. Again, it's like, well, if we prohibit it, somehow that'll make the problem go away. Like in metro Vancouver they got rid of all the gun ranges — right? Gee, that really worked well in terms of reducing the shootings. Oh, wait, they went up!

Schreck: What's disgusting about all these shootings…. I don't think most people care if the gangsters shoot each other. It's just they don't shoot innocent people in the process. The fact is, they might shoot innocent people.

But in most cases these people are out on parole. It's a revolving door with the courts. They've been up on gun offences before, yet they're caught with guns again. Wally Oppal is sitting on a report saying what's wrong with the courts in B.C. that allow this, and Wally Oppal refuses to share that with the public.

Easingwood: Why was Wally Oppal a pretty darned good judge but he's turned out to be a lousy AG?

Schreck: A good question, Joe. Maybe you can get him on and ask him if he's going to release that report before the election, or is he going to continue to apologize for the courts that he was part of all the way through May 12?

Geoghegan: I think the problem is that Wally Oppal, when he became Attorney General, was still acting like Wally Oppal the judge, and that's always been the problem. He was an excellent judge but didn't realize he was taking on a fundamentally different role as Attorney General.

Easingwood: I like the guy, but you know, it's like talking to two different people now that he's got this job.

Geoghegan: Well, and the other thing is that, you know, we keep seeing these stories in the media. I mean, I don't know how representative it is, but in any event, you know, there was an incident, I believe it was in a local jail, where a guy was drunk, handcuffed and the officer…. Oh, the guy grabbed his fingertips, so the officer felt he was being assaulted, so he had to do a controlled takedown. So the cop trips him, his head smashes into the concrete floor, permanently brain damaged. This is a guy…. He was a university student. He was a father. Now he's permanently disabled. And you're going: don't the cops have better things to do with their time? Maybe take on some of these gangsters — right? I mean, if you want to be a tough guy, prove you're a tough guy take on the gangsters. Don't be slamming drunk citizens' heads into concrete walls or Tasering them at the airport.

[Federal issues discussed].

Caller Gary: Campbell has just got to get his head out of his butt. I mean, take a 5 percent pay cut or a 3 percent pay cut. Roll back their salaries before that huge gut-wrenching feeding from the trough with the public’s money.

Easingwood: He’s doing that great job he does so well. He’s playing the fool with the people.

Schreck: They should go back to where they were in [inaudible]….

Geoghegan: No. I totally disagree with that. First of all, I was one of the people when they had a review of MLAs’ salaries, who strongly advocated there being a significant increase in MLAs’ salaries, which benefited both opposition and government MLAs, and both opposition and government MLAs got that.

It’s worth remembering that when Dave Barrett way back in the 1970s became Premier, he jacked salaries up significantly because under W.A.C. Bennett they’d…basically Wacky Bennett considered being an MLA a part-time job, which by the 1970s it certainly was not; it was more than a full-time job. Anyway, the point is he jacked his salary up so high, as well as that of MLAs and cabinet ministers, he was at one point being paid more as the Premier of B.C. than the President of the United States was. He was the highest-paid politician in North America.

Easingwood: Barrett doubled his salary.

Caller Gary: He was also one of the hardest-working. But how many times in a sitting does Campbell leave his little Vancouver fortress? He has grown the Premier’s office in Vancouver from about eight to 35 or 40.

Easingwood: Oh God, yes.

Geoghegan: Well, there’s been a tremendous centralization of power in terms of communication staff and others in the Premier’s office, but that’s a trend that’s been continuing under…that happened under the NDP under Glen Clark….

Easingwood: Under Bill Bennett.

Geoghegan: That’s a trend that continues, the reason being…and it happens with all political parties and it happens in other provinces and it happens in Ottawa, and that is because we nit-pick politicians. So what we are in effect doing as the media, as citizens who nit-pick politicians is we’re driving political power out of the hands of politicians and driving it into the hands of civil servants and driving it into the hands of political staffers, and the only sort of elected official who nominally has the power is the Premier. In fact, his new inner circle whereas years ago it would have been cabinet ministers and MLAs is now political staffers and key bureaucrats.

Easingwood: All his buddies.

Let’s get the final word here from David.

Schreck: I disagree with Mike. But wherever you stand on this pay issue, the point is that Gordon Campbell was trying to score cheap political points on it, and he was making misleading statements doing so. He may say, oh, he said what was accurate and you just didn’t understand. One way or the other Campbell is trying to play games, taking political credit, claiming he is taking a pay cut when it’s peanuts, and he’s laughing all the way to the bank with a 54 percent pay increase he gave himself in 2007.

Easingwood: There we leave it, gentlemen.