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Friday, December 17, 2010

Woolly Headed Academics

As both an economist and an Alumni of the University of Victoria I was appalled by a recent study that suggested that already sky high taxes on alcohol here in British Columbia should be increased further. That prompted me to write a letter, not to the editor, but the academic Tim Stock who came up with this drivel. I have posted my letter below but first a timely editorial on the subject from my good friend Mike Smyth courtesy of CKNW

Hello Michael,

You often hear people complain that liquor prices are too high in British Columbia. WAY too high. Just go into any grocery store in Washington state and check their prices on beer and wine for proof.

But could it be that B.C. booze prices are actually too low? That's what University of Victoria researcher Tim Stockwell argued in a study this week. The addictions specialist says the B.C. government should raise liquor prices to stop people from drinking so much and turning into alcoholics.


To which I say: You're kidding, right? Please tell me this is a joke!

British Columbia already has some of the highest booze prices in North America, yet our rates of alcoholism are roughly the same as lower-priced jurisdictions. Consider Washington state again: Their booze is way cheaper, and you can buy their cut-rate grog in corner stores to boot. But is everyone from Seattle to Bellingham walking around in a constant drunken stupor? No, their rates of alcoholism are roughly the same as ours.

We talked about this issue on The Mike Smyth Show this week, and it sure provoked a lively discussion. I just hope this doesn't give the government any bright ideas to jack up our already sky-high liquor prices. That would be truly Grinch-like.

Merry Christmas everybody! See you on the radio.
Mike Smyth

And now for my letter sent to timstock@uvic.ca ....

Dear Tim:

Locked in your ivory tower do you have any concept of the real world? Are you aware that here in BC we pay with taxes and mark ups amongst the highest prices for wine anywhere in North America?

The long suffering middle class and working poor struggle to make ends meet in a province where substandard housing costs a fortune and you think it would be a good idea to jack taxes up even further on alcohol. God forbid a couple in Surrey might want a bottle of wine with dinner in order to soothe their nerves after a hard days work, a hellish commute and narrowly avoiding another murderous gang shoot out.

But according to your study we should all pay more money for alcohol for the sake of our kids. So instead of parents teaching their children how to drink responsibly, those kids will increasingly turn to marijuana and other illegal drugs which will be supplied to them by the aforementioned drug gangs.

Bravo for upholding the stereotype of the woolly headed academic who wastes our tax dollars on social engineering shenanigans. If you love high taxes on alcohol so much then move to Sweden. Then you can see first hand the waves of young Swedes who travel to other European countries and instead of drinking responsibly indulge in insane bouts of binge drinking before they return home puking drunk to their high tax homeland.

Michael Geoghegan
www.mgcltd.ca

Friday, November 05, 2010

Gordon Campbell Can't Leave Fast Enough

Recently resigned B.C. premier Gordon Campbell should not wait for the Liberals to pick a new leader before he leaves his post. Sticking around would be a disservice to his party and his province.

On Aug. 20, 2010, I predicted the fall of Gordon Campbell. On Nov. 3, Campbell formally announced that he had asked the B.C. Liberal Party executive “to hold a leadership convention at the earliest possible date to select a new leader for [their] party.” Thus ends Campbell’s career as premier of British Columbia.

What wasn’t announced is whether Campbell intends to stick around as a lame duck or whether an interim leader will be appointed. A regular B.C. Liberal convention has been scheduled for Nov. 19 and 20, so an actual leadership convention would likely not be held until spring 2011 at the earliest.

Staying on until then would be a strategic blunder for Campbell, something he has made a habit of since his 2009 re-election. After imposing HST after the last election with no warning to the public, Campbell saw his approval rating plummet to nine per cent. He then essentially lectured British Columbians about the HST in a televised address last week. Buried within his speech was a major income tax cut – yet the lecture was not well received, and Campbell’s approval ratings stayed locked in the single digits.

More worrying still for the premier was a leadership review vote that was due to be held at the November convention. Although there has been some speculation about the growing dissension within his own caucus, others have speculated that it may have been the possibility of getting a less-than-glowing endorsement vote from the party faithful that may have finally persuaded Campbell to announce his intention to resign.

Whatever his motivation, Campbell’s decision does create an opportunity for the B.C. Liberals to rebuild their relationship with the voters of British Columbia. The fact is that the Campbell era did generally provide sound fiscal and economic management.

The other thing the B.C. Liberals have going for them is that the only opposition party they face in the legislature is the NDP. Their leader, Carole James, has lost two elections in a row against the B.C. Liberals, and her approval rating stands at only about 27 per cent.

Right now, the B.C. NDP is at 49 per cent in the polls, while the B.C. Liberals are at about half that. Campbell’s successor faces the daunting challenge of winning back their traditional supporters while at the same time attempting to convince British Columbians that the HST is good for the economic growth of the province. A referendum on the future of the HST has been set for October 2011.

Rather than an income-tax cut, it would likely have been smarter for Campbell to announce his intention to lower the HST from 12 per cent to 11 per cent the next fiscal year and to lock it in at 10 per cent the year after that. At least that way B.C. voters would be choosing between an eventual HST of 10 per cent versus a return to a GST of five per cent and a PST of seven per cent.

The B.C. NDP, which has been delighted by the HST backlash, also has a reputation as a tax-and-spend party to contend with. It also doesn’t help that the NDP government in Nova Scotia earlier this year raised their HST from 12 per cent to 15 per cent.

A new leader not only gives the B.C. Liberals a chance to successfully contend with the B.C. NDP in the 2013 provincial election, but will likely forestall the rise of any third parties that would serve to split the anti-NDP vote. The B.C. Liberals are in fact a coalition of people who are federal Liberals and federal Conservatives. Keeping that coalition intact will make the matter of succession an especially tricky one.

This article was initially published by The Mark News

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Letter to Editor Vancouver Sun

Opposing views on
Vancouver Sun
Sat Oct 9 2010
Page: C3
Section: Editorial
Byline: Michael Geoghegan
Source: Vancouver Sun

The Robert Picktons of the world have little to fear as long as we have columnists like Daphne Bramham trotting out the same old naive tripe about prostitution.

Sweden is arresting johns and doing undercover sting operations, and she thinks this will result in the abolition of prostitution.

News flash: Most western countries have busted johns for decades and had undercover policewomen running sting operations. All it led to is increased violence against women.

As long as any aspect of prostitution is illegal, prostitutes will be forced to operate from the shadows, pimps will profit and women will die. Full decriminalization allows for regulation, which will lead to the protection of prostitutes.

Michael Geoghegan Victoria

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Fall of Gordon Campbell

Campbell was widely considered a capable leader. Then came the HST.

It has been a summer of discontent for British Columbia’s Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell. After winning his third straight provincial election against the B.C. NDP, Campbell surprised almost everyone by suddenly introducing a Harmonised Sales Tax (HST) with the rate set at 12 per cent.

Campbell’s initial spin – that this rate was less than that of Ontario’s – did nothing to lessen the shock and anger, especially amongst those who had up until then been his biggest supporters. The result was a plunge in the polls not seen since the collapse of the old BC Social Credit Party and a referendum initiative signed by over 700,000 voters demanding that the HST be rescinded. One B.C. cabinet minister, Blair Leckstrom, was so spooked by voter anger that in June he not only resigned from cabinet but quit the B.C. Liberal caucus.

The fate of the anti-HST petition will be decided by the Supreme Court of B.C. where a group of business organizations have challenged the legitimacy of the petition because they consider the HST to be under federal jurisdiction. The court case has created a no-win situation for the premier. If the challenge succeeds it means that essentially 700,000 voters who signed the referendum initiative will have in effect been told to get bent. If the challenge does not succeed it will force the premier to put the matter of the HST to either a binding referendum or a vote in the B.C. legislature as per the provisions of the province’s Recall and Initiative Act.

It is against this backdrop that many are expecting Campbell to announce his resignation no later than the B.C. Liberal convention, which is being held in mid-November of this year. Some cabinet ministers such as Mike DeJong and Kevin Falcon have already put together much of their leadership campaign teams. Others are soon expected to follow.

There is only one problem – Campbell has yet to announce his resignation and he has a habit of digging in his heels when people are pushing the hardest for him to go. Many thought Campbell would resign when he was busted for drunk driving in Hawaii in January of 2003. He didn’t. Still others thought he might resign when allegations of corruption involving the sale of B.C. Rail to CN began to surface and the RCMP staged a dramatic raid on the B.C. legislature in December of 2003. He didn’t, although a trial involving several of his government’s former political staffers and Liberal lobbyists is set to resume in September.

It has not only been through his tenacity that Campbell has been able to survive, but also because of the fact that, until the HST debacle, he was seen as having governed the province capably. But by imposing an HST without warning immediately after a provincial election, Campbell has earned the enmity of more than half the B.C. electorate. As such, if he doesn’t resign it is likely he and his minister of finance, Colin Hansen, will face a recall initiative.

Thus whether he wants to or not, this year will almost certainly be Campbell’s last year in office. If he resigns this November it is expected that Minister of Housing and Social Development Rich Coleman will be selected as the interim premier until a leadership convention can be held in 2011.

Whomever the B.C. Liberal’s select, that person will have to make a clean break with Campbell’s autocratic style of leadership and develop a far more populist approach if the party is to have any hope of being competitive in the next provincial election.

This article was first published at The Mark News

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tracking the B.C. Rail Trial

Dubbed B.C.'s "political trial of the decade," the Basi/Virk trial has cast suspicion on all those involved, charged or not.

B.C. media have dubbed the B.C. Rail trial the province’s "political trial of the decade." Former ministerial assistants David Basi and Bob Virk stand accused of breach of trust, while a former low-level communications staffer named Aneal Basi (David’s cousin), is accused of money laundering.

But lobbyists Erik Bornmann and former newspaper columnist Brian Kieran – both alleged to have offered bribes in the forms of free meals and other benefits to Basi and Virk – are not on trial. In return for their testimony, they have been given immunity from prosecution.

Premier Gordon Campbell is not on trial either, but his political chief of staff Martyn Brown was the first person called to testify regarding the highly controversial sale of B.C. Rail to CN. Brown’s testimony, riddled with claims that he did not recall many key events, proved less than credible to many court observers.

Brown, who has been Campbell’s right-hand man since 1998, did however admit that Campbell was very closely involved with the sale. It was also revealed in court that prior to the sale of B.C. Rail, CN had made a political contribution in excess of $100,000 to the B.C. Liberals.

Another fact defence lawyers revealed was that the RCMP had a full surveillance operation watching then B.C. finance minister Gary Collins as he dined at the upscale Villa del Lupo restaurant in Vancouver. The operation took place on Dec. 12, 2003, which was during the bidding process for the sale of the Roberts Bank spur line in Tsawassen. The RCMP chose not to reveal they were investigating the minister of finance, apparently as that would have required the minister’s automatic resignation.

The conduct of the RCMP was also called into question when it was revealed in court that the RCMP team commander for the B.C. Rail investigation, Kevin Debruyckere, is the brother-in-law of B.C. Liberal Party executive director Kelly Reichert. Their wives are sisters.

Another person who has raised questions regarding the RCMP’s handling of the investigation is Bill Tieleman. Tieleman is a political columnist and left-wing political strategist who has written extensively about the B.C. Rail investigation ever since the RCMP conducted an unprecedented raid on the B.C. Legislature on Dec. 28, 2003.

In December 2007, in a bizarre incident reminiscent of past RCMP dirty-trick campaigns, Tieleman returned to his office to find it ransacked and materials related to B.C. Rail pulled from his filing cabinets and placed prominently on his desk. Tieleman regarded the break-in as an attempt at intimidation by persons unknown who were obviously very unhappy with his in-depth coverage of the RCMP’s investigation.

Since the trial began, there have been other unusual events. On June 16 of this year, jury members were approached by a man at a SkyTrain station who attempted to discuss the trial with them. That man turned out to be the father of special prosecutor associate Andrea Mackay.

The lead special prosecutor, Bill Berardino, has come under media scrutiny for making a political donation to the B.C. Liberals in May 2005, well over a year after he had been appointed a special prosecutor, and thus having decision-making power regarding whether any elected politician would face criminal charges.

Two other lawyers with the prosecution team, Mackay and Janet Winteringham, recently leased office space at a building called The Landing in downtown Vancouver. That building is owned by David McLean, the chair of CN. Despite the fact that CP Rail pulled out of the bidding process for B.C. Rail, stating that the process was tainted and issuing a public letter saying so, the relationship between McLean and Premier Campbell is a matter that apparently neither the RCMP have seen fit to investigate nor the prosecution fit to pursue.

The B.C. Rail trial has now recessed for the summer. At present, far more in the way of questions than answers have been provided, but a pall of suspicion has been cast over all those involved.

This article was first published at The Mark News

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Put the "New" in New Democratic Party

The NDP should shift its stale policies and election platform to compete for votes at the centre of the political spectrum.

The problem with the New Democratic Party is that its ideas aren’t that new anymore. In fact, most of them look like they were lifted out of a time capsule from the 1970s.

Most problematic of all for the federal NDP is its image as a tax-and-spend political party, a party that is quite happy to tax the private sector in order to keep public-sector programs and their employees well funded.

The irony of this approach is that those working in the public sector have become the “haves” in Canadian society, with relatively good job security and generous pensions, while those working in the private sector have had to cope with layoffs and little or no pensions or retirement savings. Thus, traditional NDP tax-and-spend policies in effect take from the “have-nots,” struggling small-business owners and their employees, and give to the haves, those with secure public-sector jobs.

Where the NDP have made gains in recent years, most notably forming the government in Nova Scotia last year, it has been because of a willingness of the provincial leader to move their party to the political centre and compete directly for moderate voters with both the Liberals and the Conservatives.

When the NDP was elected government in 1991 in my home province of British Columbia, it was under the leadership of self-confessed political moderate Mike Harcourt. When the NDP was narrowly re-elected in 1996 under the brash leadership of Glen Clark, he promised to govern for all British Columbians. He didn’t, and the result was an unprecedented pummeling at the polls in 2001, which saw the party reduced to only two seats.

At the federal level, the NDP has squandered significant political opportunity. Canadians have shown a consistent reticence to entrust the Conservatives with a majority, and many remain resentful of the attitude of entitlement from the Liberals, who governed Canada for most of the 20th century.

There still exists an opportunity for the NDP to compete for votes at the centre of Canada’s political spectrum. That would entail, however, jettisoning much of their left-wing ideology and following a much more populist and pragmatic approach to politics.

To date, the federal NDP has shown little interest in trying to do this, despite the fact that Canada’s federal political parties now get public funding based on the number of votes they received in the previous election.

The obvious winning strategy is for the NDP to shift its policies and election platform so as to gain as many votes as possible. But that would require a federal NDP leader who is cable of convincing the NDP’s often ideological membership to let the New Democratic Party actually do something new.

This article was first published by The Mark News

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Basi-Virk Trail: Political Theatre

We might never get justice in the prosecution of B.C. political aides David Basi and Bob Virk, but we will get plenty of intrigue.

Six-and-a-half years after the RCMP raided the British Columbia Legislature as part of an investigation into drugs and money laundering dubbed “Everywhichway,” a very different case has finally been brought to trial at the Vancouver courthouse.

There are no drugs, and the most minor of money-laundering charges have been laid against a low-level political staffer named Aneal Basi. But there are also serious allegations of breach of trust in the trial of former ministerial assistants (political chiefs of staff) David Basi and Bob Virk – a trial that has been dubbed “the political trial of the decade.”

A veritable “who’s who” of senior political staff, cabinet ministers, industry CEOs, and lobbyists have been called to testify as witnesses. First up is Martyn Brown, Premier Gordon Campbell’s political chief of staff and his right-hand man since Gordon Campbell became premier of B.C. back in 2001.

The case centers on the controversial privatization of B.C. Rail and its subsequent sale to CN. The sale of B.C. Rail was controversial for several reasons. The first is that, like the HST, Campbell sprang it right after an election. The second is that in the course of the bidding process, Canadian Pacific Railway pulled out and complained in a letter that later became public that essentially the fix was in for CN to be the successful bidder. CN certainly wasn’t shy about letting its confidence be known to the other bidders.

But neither Campbell nor the chair of CN is on trial. Instead Basi and Virk stand accused of having accepted benefits from Pilothouse Communications, a now defunct lobbying firm run by former Vancouver Province columnist Brian Kieran and federal Liberal operative Erik Bornman(n).

To say that Erik Bornman(n) is a controversial character would be an understatement. The reason for the bracketed “n” is that he chooses to vary the spelling of his last name from time to time. In fact, he earned the nickname “Spiderman” after an infamous incident in which he allegedly broke into a federal Liberal office by climbing through the ceiling tiles in order to obtain the party membership lists on behalf of the Paul Martin leadership campaign.

More recently, Bornman(n), who articled with the prestigious law firm McCarthy Tertrault, attempted to become admitted to the Law Society of Upper Canada. What he failed to disclose to them was that in return for immunity from prosecution, he has allegedly agreed to state that he had committed fraud with regard to his clients and offered benefits to government officials. It was only the last-minute intervention of lawyers in B.C. that kept Bornman(n) from being a fully practising lawyer in Ontario.

More interesting still is the relationship between Crown Prosecutor Bill Berardino and Bornman(n). In another twist to the immunity deal, Berardino taught Bornman(n) at UBC law school. Did this have any bearing on Berardino’s decision to spare Bornman(n) and make him the prosecution’s star witness? We will likely never know.

Also of great media interest was the recent revelation that in 2005, almost two years after he was appointed special prosecutor, Berardino made a political donation of $600 to the B.C. Liberals. Again, it raises serious questions about the impartiality of the special prosecutor.

It has certainly not escaped my attention or that of many others who have been following this trial that all of the accused are Indo-Canadian, while all those who have been offered immunity from prosecution in return for their testimony are Caucasian.

This colour distinction was further reinforced when, during jury selection – which I myself observed – the prosecution objected to all jury candidates who were Indo-Canadian. The result is a jury that includes no Indo-Canadians and, with one exception, is made up entirely of Caucasians.

The result is a trial about political intrigue that is itself muddied with intrigue. At the end of the day, there seems little likelihood of truth or justice emerging from this process. What there will be, however, is great political theatre, and that, at the end of the day, is what we British Columbians relish most.

This column was first published at The Mark News

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

BC primed for economic upswing

We indeed live in interesting economic times. The Canadian dollar is now at parity with the US greenback and running at around $1.50 with the British Pound. Despite, or perhaps because of mortgage rates that are set to increase and a Harmonised Sales Tax (HST) that is to take effect on July 1st consumers are stampeding into the housing market driving market prices even higher.

Whether those prices remain sustainable is an increasing source of contention, with even National Realtor Royal LePage describing the housing market in British Columbia as “irrational.” However, what does seem clear is that BC’s economy is set to enjoy a significant post Olympic boom buoyed not only by the rising housing market, but increased construction activity and manufacturing output.

The Conference Board of Canada is predicting economic growth of 4.0 per cent in Vancouver and 3.2 per cent in Victoria. However aside from a still recovering domestic market, i.e. consumer demand, the other constraint on BC Business growth is a shortage of skilled labour. The shortage of skilled labour is especially troubling in the construction sector where the average age of a fully certified skilled tradesperson is now in their early to mid 50s.

Recognizing this demographic problem, about half a dozen years ago, the Mechanical Contractors Association of BC in conjunction with the Electrical Contractors spearheaded the effort to secure a provincial Apprenticeship Training Tax Credit (ATTC). This tax credit is designed to help offset some of the costs of fully training and certifying a new tradesperson.

The alternative to training is a bidding war when too many companies chasing too few skilled apprentices. Clearly it is to the construction sector’s benefit and to the consumers to make sure there are enough skilled tradespersons to do the work required.

Even China with its one child policy is now starting to run out of skilled and unskilled labour. Shanghai and other major east coast cities are now scrambling to find workers thanks to an economy that in the midst of a US led global recession grew by 8.7 per cent in 2009.

Thus looking to somehow outsource, deskill or bring in cheap labour is not in any way a viable long term option. Ensuring that our own young citizens have the skills and training to build and maintain our 21st Century cities is what will help ensure not only the sustained growth of BC’s construction industry but the economic growth of our province as well.

Thus it is vitally important that the Province of BC put a renewed focus and significantly increased funding into apprenticeship training. As a province we have put a great deal of tax dollars into academic training, but relatively little into the training of people who construct and maintain the buildings we live, work and study in.

As we move to newer “greener” technologies infrastructure is going to become more sophisticated; whether it is with regards to heating and cooling of buildings to waste management of both buildings and communities.

Greater provincial investment is not only required to make sure we have enough skilled tradespersons to repair and upgrade existing infrastructure, but to ensure that our current and next generation of skilled tradespersons are able to keep up with new technologies and new materials as they are developed and implemented for the 21st Century.

Apprenticeship Training has for too long taken a back seat to academic education. If our economy is to fully prosper and our young people have well paying jobs this situation needs to change. In the coming months the Mechanical Contractors Association of BC will be increasing its efforts to make apprenticeship training a greater funding priority for government and to better promote the advantages of becoming a skilled tradesperson to young British Columbians.

Mike Geoghegan is an economist, political commentator and a government relations and media relations consultant based in Victoria, BC. He can be reached via his website at www.mgcltd.ca and you can follow him on twitter @BCLobbyist

Friday, March 05, 2010

The Okanagan Water War


If you go out in the woods near Vernon, BC you’re in for a big surprise. The Okanagan Indian Band has blockaded a major logging road. Why? It’s not just the usual battle over Aboriginal Title and Rights, although that is certainly part of it. It’s because Tolko intends to commence logging of the watershed that supplies the majority of the 1,800 residents of the Okanagan Indian Band with their drinking water.

You would think that in this day and age that protection of your drinking water was established. Up until 1962 it was. But it was back in the early 1960s that the then Social credit government of WAC Bennett decided to open up many of these protected watersheds to commercial logging.

Of course most municipalities quickly moved to protect their drinking water supplies. It would be a cold day in hell before any forest company was allowed to go log near the watersheds that supply Metro Vancouver or Greater Victoria with their drinking water. But for many rural areas and nearly everyone living on reserve no such protection exists.

Also despite its fiduciary obligation to those citizens it placed on reserves, Canada did absolutely nothing to protect the drinking water supplies for indigenous communities while the hills above these reserves were parceled out by the Province of British Columbia to various forestry companies.

Of course having created this problem what have the decision makers in Ottawa and Victoria done about this mess? So far they have done absolutely nothing. They have been content to see the situation escalate because of much of this was happening when our and their attention was focused on the 2010 Olympics.

The courts haven’t been much help either. Despite the fact that title to the area is a matter that is in dispute and before the courts, the Wilson case, the courts have refused to grant an injunction against the logging so that a proper archeological assessment of the area can be done.

With all legal avenues having been exhausted, and continued indifference from the politicians in Victoria and Ottawa, the Okanagan Indian Band has set up an information picket on Westside Road, a paved road which runs through their reserve. High up in the hills they have established a camp and full blockade of a logging road near Bouleau Lake.

The Okanagan Nation Alliance, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and the AFN have all spoken out in support of the Okanagan Indian Band. The Western Canada Wilderness Committee and the BC Tap Water Alliance have even sent representatives to the blockade.

The Colville Tribes, the other half of the Okanagan Nation that ended up on the US side of the 49th parallel has also sent a strongly written statement to Prime Minister Harper in support of the Okanagan Indian Band. Many other First Nations and Environmental organizations are stepping forward to lend their support as well.

The one federal agency that has been watching this all very closely has been the RCMP. Essentially without some political leadership from Ottawa and Victoria this conflict could all too easily escalate into violence.

The solution to me is an obvious one. Tolko should go log elsewhere and the 1,800 residents of the Okanagan Indian Band should have the watershed that supplies their drinking water fully protected. Obviously Tolko should be paid some compensation by Ottawa and/or BC for their loss, which amounts to about a three day supply of fiber for their mill in Armstrong.

This being the 21st century the Okanagan Indian Band has set up a facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=318070971723&ref=ts

If you believe that their watershed should be protected there is even an online petition you can sign at http://www.petitionspot.com/petitions/brownscreek

Tolko is not the enemy in this situation, government mismanagement and indifference is. The only thing that will change that is if the politicians in Ottawa and Victoria see that there are actually enough people who care about the issue of safe drinking water to make them resolve this conflict.

This blog has also been published at Vancouverite.com

Thursday, March 04, 2010

2010 Olympics shone a welcome spotlight on a new generation of “kick-ass” Canadians


Being 44 years old, I grew up in the ennui days of Canada. Tedious times marked by interminable constitutional wrangling, separatist referenda and a national inferiority complex that was at times nothing short of nauseating.

Long gone (or at least soon to be) were the Canadian heroes who took Vimy Ridge, or ferociously stormed the beaches of Normandy a generation later. Then there were the upstart engineers who built a fighter jet, the Avro Arrow, that would take the Americans 20 years to surpass in performance. But Diefenbaker killed that project and with it seemed to die the idea that Canada could be best at anything in the world.

Then came the FLQ and then the separatists, a long string of deficit budgets, Meech Lake and over time Canada seemed so much less than it had ever been before.

Sure there were flashes of inspiration such as the epic hockey series between Canada and the Soviet Union, where we beat the best players the red army had to offer. But all too often there was a sense of discord and even of pettiness.

There was jealousy between the regions, a West that wanted in and a Quebec that wanted out. There was jealousy between generations, such as the bitterness of Gen Xers watching the best jobs being occupied by complacent baby boomers and Gen Yers who wonder how they might ever realize the dream of home ownership.

But then came the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. Here we were a country that had hosted the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal and the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary who had yet to win a single gold medal on home soil.

Sure the government and even some corporations had deigned to actually invest some millions of dollars in our athletes so that Canada might “own the podium.” Hardly had the games begun when the derision in the media began. Own the podium? How utterly ridiculous we’re Canadian, that’s absurd!

Fortunately there was a group that wasn’t listening and that was our athletes and all the fans who flocked to see them. Soon the unthinkable happened. Our athletes started winning, not just silver and bronze but gold. And what started as a trickle became a flood when Jon Montgomery, who won gold in the Skeleton, took a victory march in Whistler. He was handed a full pitcher of beer and in triumph downed a third of it before he got to the stands to greet the cheering crowds.

The Kick Ass Canadians had arrived on the world stage. Gone was the hand wringing and self doubt of an older generation, replaced by a new generation that wasn’t afraid to win and be the best in the world, not despite but because they are Canadian.

And win they did 14 Gold medals the most of any nation competing in this year’s winter Olympics. Suddenly it didn’t matter whether an athlete was from Quebec or Manitoba or Nova Scotia, what mattered was that they were Canadian. At every event in the audience was a sea of people waving Canadian flags and wearing Canada jackets, red and white was everywhere.

We cheered on our own but we also cheered on others such as Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, the self styled Snow Leopard skier from Ghana. We also mourned the shocking death of Georgian Luger Nodar Kumaritashvili and celebrated the bravery and determination of Canada’s Joannie Rochette who won bronze just days after her mother passed away.

As Canadians we went delirious with joy and patriotism as first our women and then our men’s hockey teams beat the Americans to win gold. While at the same time we laughed and cheered as Stephen Colbert gently mocked us while discretely singing the praises of Vancouver and our country.

The truth is that there have always been many Canadians who felt we were the best, but we held our views in check because of all the self-doubters. We felt that we were somehow being un-Canadian when we showed our patriotism. That time I hope has now finally passed.

These athletes who came from all regions of our country and all different ethnic backgrounds showed us that is okay to love our country and to be the best and to let the world know we feel that way as well. It is not gauche it is not unseemly it is in fact exhilarating.

And to the politicians in Ottawa who seemed so embarrassed that they had spent taxpayers money to help our athletes own the podium I simply say thank you. The success of our athletes has done far more to unite Canada than anything else you could have spent that money on.

Let us continue to support our athletes, not just those that may win Olympic gold but those who compete in our neighborhoods. Let us make sure that any girl or boy who wants to dance or play a competitive sport has the opportunity to do so.

As individuals and as a nation, let us no longer find refuge in mediocrity, let us instead be the kick ass Canadians we actually all are.

This blog was also published by Vancouverite.com

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Now is not the time to cut public infrastructure spending!

As anyone who has travelled any significant portion of the Trans Canada Highway knows, we have a significant infrastructure deficit in this country. Our national highway is a national disgrace. But Canada’s infrastructure is not just roads and bridges; it is buildings, sewer systems, waterlines and electrical transmission grids.

It is also our military which we call upon in times of crises, such as the recent massive quake in Haiti, to ensure the sovereignty of Canada, which is second only to Russia in size, and to meet our international obligations such as in Afghanistan.


The 2010 Winter Olympics has provided the impetus for the spending of provincial and federal tax dollars on new housing, including some for the homeless and low income, recreational facilities and transportation upgrades such as the RAV line and long needed improvements to the treacherous Sea to Sky highway.

But what happens when the 2010 Olympics are over? There are signs that both the provincial and federal levels of government are now prepared to significantly reduce the amount of money they spend annually on infrastructure.

That would be a mistake for many reasons. The first is that here in the province of British Columbia the average age of a skilled tradesperson is 55. If we are going to retain a skilled workforce then we need to ensure the apprentices that were hired during the last construction boom are still able to complete their apprenticeships.

A second reason is that the best time for governments to spend money on infrastructure is when the economy is in recession. If they do it during boom times they only serve to exaggerate rather than even out the boom and bust cycle of the construction industry. It also means taxpayers and private companies end up paying more for materials and labour if they are both doing the bulk of their construction during boom times. If government spends more during a recession, costs are lower and it means we as taxpayers get more built for our buck.

If government spends its infrastructure money strategically it can also serve as a great impetus for future economic growth. In 2009 the Government of Canada announced a $40 billion procurement for the construction of new naval and coastguard vessels. Such construction is long overdue as the last of our navy ships were built in the 1980s.
The problem is that because of this long naval famine British Columbia no longer has the kind of shipbuilding infrastructure we had in the 1970s. The last minute cancellation of the Polar 8 in the early 1990s led directly to the closure of a major shipyard in North Vancouver. Add to that the political games that have been played by both BC NDP and BC Liberal governments with regards to the construction of BC Ferries and it is a wonder that we still have a significant shipbuilding industry here in BC.

But the fact is that we do and in the 21st century the key ocean trading routes will not be between North America and Europe and they were for the last two hundred years, they will instead be between North America and Asia.

That means that as Canada’s gateway to the Pacific, British Columbia needs to have the ability to repair large merchant and naval vessels. That capability will only exist if BC gets the go ahead to build a significant portion of Canada’s new navy and coastguard fleet. The federal government, because of their historic capriciousness, should also be willing to put a significant investment into expanding the capabilities of the Esquimalt graving dock, which is the only publicly owned dry dock on the west coast of the Americas.

With an equitable portion of federal ship construction, private companies would then be in a position to also improve their own facilities. This in turn would enable them to get back to the business of building and repairing the BC Ferry fleet right here in British Columbia.

By once again having a thriving shipbuilding and repair industry it will also increase the pool of skilled tradespeople who are living on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland. This then becomes of critical importance when inevitably we hit the next construction boom.

It also means that Canada will not face the farcical situation of by the mid 21st century having the majority of its fleet stationed in the Pacific while most of the construction and repair facilities are located in eastern Canada.

The final reason for spending money on infrastructure is environmental. The better our national highway system the more efficiently goods can be shipped and the less fuel that is wasted. Similarly an electrical transmission grid that went across Canada rather than just south into the United States would allow utilities to shift power as electrical demand rises and falls during the course of the day across Canada’s five time zones.

An east west transmission grid would also make it much more viable for wind power and other green energy projects to make a significant contribution to meeting our nation’s energy needs. And when it comes to conservation, the upgrading or replacement of old public buildings so that they are now properly insulated ventilated and energy efficient would also result in tremendous energy savings.

So too of course does the upgrading of water and sewer systems so that less water is wasted to leakage and less energy is used and energy even generated from new sewage treatment facilities.

All this and more are reasons why Canada needs to keep spending money on infrastructure now when our economy is still struggling to recover and not when the next private sector construction boom hits.

Mike Geoghegan is a federally and provincially registered lobbyist who lives in Victoria BC. He can be reached via his website at www.bclobbyist.com

This column was also published at Vancouverite.com