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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