Tuesday, December 20, 2005

We have to support Stanwick's habit

Times Colonist (Victoria)
Page: A11 Section
Letters Byline: Michael Geoghegan
Source: Times Colonist
Re: "The Island's health crusader," the three full pages devoted to Dr. Richard Stanwick, Dec. 18.

It was enlightening to learn of a public official who has such high regard for his own intellect that he is willing to completely ignore public opinion.

This was certainly in evidence back in September when Stanwick attempted to push through a series of bylaw amendments without any public consultation, or even advance warning to the Capital Regional District board of directors.

There are city officials in both Toronto and Winnipeg who certainly could have further enlightened your readers on Stanwick's modus operandi, and the negative impact his controversial decisions tended to have on the local small business community.

But in the CRD Stanwick has found the ideal home. The CRD is not directly accountable to the public and thus Stanwick has virtually a free hand to come up with new rules and regulations governing every aspect of our lives.

In his worldview Stanwick knows what is best for us and we as citizens and small business owners should be grateful to cover the cost of having our freedoms curtailed.

Michael Geoghegan,

Illustration:• Photo: Bruce Stotesbury, Times Colonist / CRD MEDICAL HEALTH OFFICER DR. RICHARD STANWICK: Won't listen to public opinion, a writer says.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Mugging for the media

It's not every day that a childhood ambition get's fulfilled. When I was a kid growing up in small town western Canada, we only got a few television stations. One of them was the CBC and the other was CTV. Thus watching Canada AM on CTV was something I did on more than a few occassions.

So I found myself thinking that one day I would like to be on Canada AM and get one of those coffee mugs. Although in previous years I have been interviewed on CBC Newsworld, when I got interviewed by Canada AM on November 28th at the beginning of the current federal election campaign I insisted on only one thing, getting sent one of their Canada AM coffee mugs.

It arrived a week before Christmas and now has a place of honour amongst all the other coffee mugs I have received from various other radio and television media over the years.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Stephen Harper’s political fate is in his own hands

I had just finished being interviewed by Canada AM when word came of Stephen Harper’s comment’s regarding gay marriage. When questioned by the media Harper replied that he would put the matter to “a true free vote in the house of Commons.”

This was followed moments later by the sounds of Tories pulling their hair out in frustration while Liberals and NDPers cheered. As one life long Conservative put it to me so succinctly, “If Harper ever wants to be Prime Minister he has to start realizing that he has to govern for all Canadians and not just those that attend his church.”

Rather than taking the bait that was offered to him by the reporter’s question, Harper should have simply put the issue to rest by stating, “the Supreme Court of Canada has already rendered a decision on that matter and it is not one I intend on revisiting.”

But then Harper recovered a few days later with an announcement that his government would immediately lower the GST to 6% and then to 5% within another five years. The timing was perfect in that it was made just as Canadians were storming the malls shopping for Christmas presents. At last some signs of political intelligence!

Of course there are economists who will tell you lowering income taxes is better than lowering sales taxes. I have a degree in economics and what I will tell you is we as Canadians pay too much in both income taxes and sales taxes so any reduction in either is good.

In addition to scoring some much needed positive political points with the Canadian electorate, Harper has also focused some attention back on the need for tax reform in this country.

The Liberals were quick to point out that they were in favour of lowering income taxes while of course the NDP remained deafeningly silent on the issue. If the NDP holds the balance of power in the next election they will likely veto any significant tax cuts and will instead increase government spending.

Which is a shame because the way the federal polling numbers are in BC right now 35% Liberal, 30% Conservative and 29% NDP it looks almost certain that the NDP will increase the number of MPs they send to Ottawa, the Conservatives will drop while the Liberals may or may not gain depending on whether their support holds up through to election day in January.

Unless the polling numbers change dramatically, what we are currently headed for is another Liberal minority government with the NDP holding the balance of power. Where things could get really interesting is if the Liberals and NDP combined do not have enough seats in the House of Commons to form a majority government. Then the Liberals and Conservatives may have to do what the Socialists and Conservatives did in Germany and form a coalition government.

If you think that is unlikely then consider the only other alternative under such circumstances. Since we know that the Bloc Quebecois would never support a Liberal government the default option would be some sort of Conservative, BQ, NDP coalition government. Quelle horror!

In the meantime Harper needs to learn from the first week of the campaign this simple lesson every time he says something that is socially conservative he increases support for the Liberals and NDP and every time he talks about an economic or tax policy that helps stressed out debt ridden voters he increases support for his own party.

In this regard Harper’s fate is very much in his own hands. If he does well on the campaign trail he may yet get to be Prime Minister as head of a Conservative minority government. If Harper does poorly then he will be gone.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A Tale of 14 Cities

Published in the Times Colonist (Victoria) Thursday, November 10, 2005 Page: A15 Section: Comment Byline: Michael Geoghegan Source: Special to Times Colonist, as well as the Okanagan Business Journal

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness," Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

When most people think of Victoria they think of a quaint little city bustling with tourists during the summer and bureaucrats during the winter. But the Greater Victoria area, with roughly the same population as Burnaby, is broken up into 14 contiguous municipal governments.

Most of these municipal governments have, for the most part, been a dismal failure. The municipality of Victoria itself, which predominantly represents just the downtown core of the city, still does its best to promote urban sprawl by restricting new condominium construction to no more than 12 storeys.

Another dozen or so municipalities are for the most part populated with mayors and councils made up either of NIMBYs (Not in My Backyard) or the ever more prevalent Banana bunch (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone).

Worse still has been the ever-burgeoning bureaucracy of the Capital Regional District. Increasingly it is the CRD rather the local municipality that is running the show with little if any public input. A recent example is an attempt by CRD staff that put forward a bylaw change that would have banned people from smoking on outside patios and decks without any public consultation.

Municipalities such as Sooke and Colwood have even taken to letting officials at the CRD shortlist their candidates for chief administrative officer, ensuring that the bureaucrats running the local municipal halls have the same sort of tax, spend and regulate mindset as the CRD.

Fortunately there has been one notable exception to all this -- the city of Langford. When I first moved to this area 20 years ago Langford was known as "Dogpatch." It was the place where 4x4s could be found parked on people's front lawns and a lumberman's jacket was referred to as "a Langford tuxedo."

All that started to change when Langford incorporated and then elected an innovative entrepreneur, Stew Young, as mayor. A Langford guy with a flair for acquiring struggling businesses and making them successful and profitable, Young took the same approach to fixing Dogpatch.

The first thing he did was take advantage of the fact that all the other municipalities were saying no to big box retailers. As mayor he got Langford to say yes, and in so doing he was able to attract a massive new commercial tax base, as well as get these big box retailers to pay for tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades.

Now rather than looking like Dogpatch, Langford is becoming the envy of Greater Victoria area with not just new curbs, sidewalks and streetlights but also tree-lined streets, parks and trails. Langford has a new City Hall and true to Young's vision, the ground floor is rented out for commercial businesses while offices and council chambers are located upstairs.

Goldstream Avenue has been transformed from a grungy little street to one where there is an increasing array of small stores, restaurants and condominiums that serves as the heart of this revitalized community. Again Young has shown that if done right, big-box retailers can attract rather than drive away small-business owners by bringing in thousands of shoppers to a given area.

Young has even ensured that new residential developments also add to the supply of affordable housing by requiring developers to build 900-square-foot homes that are sold for $150,000. This makes it possible for families earning $50,000 a year or less to become homeowners. This is increasingly important in our region where the cost of an average home is six times higher than the average family income.

So for Langford it is the best of times, while for most other Victoria area municipalities it has been the age of foolishness. Case in point: The still-unfinished Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre.

Sure, as citizens we could try to find and elect 13 more mayors like Stew Young. Better yet would be a provincial government that had the moxie to nix the CRD and start merging these 14 municipal governments into just three: Victoria, Saanich Peninsula and Westshore.

It's this sort of tri-city model that Young sees as the only real long-term solution to the bureaucratic mess our region is currently mired in. Given his track record of success let's hope someone at the legislature is listening.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The three real issues that are driving the teachers strike

When teachers walked off the job the day before the Thanksgiving Day long weekend many parents including myself assumed that we see a one or two day strike and then teachers would return to work. Here are the three main reasons why that has not happened:

1. Demographics: Like in nearly every other job category, teachers are predominantly made up of aging baby boomers who are now approaching retirement. So let’s say you are 60 years old and have taught for 30 years and now decide to retire. Your pension income is set at 70% of the average of your top five years of income.

This is where we get down to the crux of the issue. At the end of the provincial government’s three-year 0,0 and 0 contract, a teacher in BC with 30 years experience would be making $53,000 per year while a teacher in oil rich Alberta would be making $71,000 per year. That wage gap is the difference between retiring on about $3000 per month versus $4,000 per month pension income.

2. Working Conditions: Back in 1990 during the last days of the Socred Administration teachers took job action around working conditions. Limits on class sizes were put in place and special needs students, i.e. those with severe physical or mental disabilities were limited to no more than two per classroom.

Although it is debatable whether or not having a class of 30 students is that much worse than having a class of 20, what is clear is that increasing the percentage of special needs kids, without increasing the number of teaching assistants is leading to mayhem in the classrooms.

So why aren’t the teachers making this a front and center issue this time around? Because teachers figure that as classroom situations continue to deteriorate that sooner or later parents will start squawking and that if enough of us do that then Victoria will start providing more funding for teaching assistants.

3. Politics: Over the last twenty years the leadership of the BCTF has become ever more closely aligned with that of the BC NDP. The BCTF openly campaigned on behalf of the NDP during the last provincial election and a former BCTF President, David Chudnovsky, even got himself elected as an NDP MLA.

This political alignment has been incredibly damaging to the BCTF in that it has created a thoroughly antagonistic relationship with the provincial government and has led to a situation where any of teachers’ concerns, legitimate or otherwise, are dismissed as political posturing by the BCTF on behalf of the NDP. The lesson to be learned here for teachers is that they are better off having a union that has the ability to negotiate with the provincial government regardless of which political party is in power.

(This column was originally published October 14, 2005: 24 hrs)

Monday, October 10, 2005

Do or die time for the BCTF

Do or die time for the BCTF

By: Michael Geoghegan

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light

Dylan Thomas

Several days before teachers walked off the job on October 7th I interviewed a Victoria area teacher to get her perspective on why teachers seemed so determined to force a show down with the provincial government over the issue of wage increases. Although she wished to remain anonymous, it certainly helped me both as a parent and as a political consultant understand why this matter is finally coming to a head.

Let me begin with a disclaimer. My father Anthony Geoghegan, who passed away 18 years ago, was a highschool teacher and was active in both the BC Teachers Federation and prior to that the Manitoba Teachers Federation. As a teenager and young adult I was able to see first hand some of the dysfunctionalities that plagued the BCTF and, in my opinion, have only grown worse over time.

Back in 1990 during the last days of the Socred Administration teachers took job action around working conditions. Limits on class sizes were put in place and special needs students, i.e. those with severe physical or mental disabilities were limited to no more than two per classroom.

Then through both NDP and Liberal administrations, limits on class sizes were generally relaxed. Now I for one do not think it is a big deal if children end up having class sizes increase from 20 students to 30. However I do think it is a very big deal if the number of special needs students increases in any given class from two to five. I am even more concerned when not all of these special needs students do not have their own teaching assistant.

Without these assistants the special needs children are learning little if anything and if the teacher is having to spend much of her time dealing with special needs children that means the rest of the class isn’t learning much either. So clearly if we are going to integrate physically and mentally handicapped children into mainstream school settings there needs to be proper resources allocated towards this.

So why aren’t the teachers making this a front and center issue this time around? Because they figure that as classroom situations continue to deteriorate that sooner or later the parents will start squawking and if enough of us do then Victoria will take care of the problem by providing more funding for teaching assistants.

So why are the teachers so focused on wage increases this time around? Well first of all let’s keep in mind that when the Campbell government was first elected it carried out its election promise of providing an extra $1 billion in funding to health care. Much of this increase ended up in the pockets of nurses and doctors who received significant wage and fee increases. There was no similar windfall for Education, although as is the case with Health, the amount the province spends on education has increased year after year.

So unlike nurses and doctors, teachers did not see significant wage increases and in fact in the latest round of failed bargaining negotiations, the province if offering teachers a three year contract where they will receive no wage increase over that time period.

Now this is where we get down to the crux of the issue. At the end of that three-year 0,0 and 0 contract, a teacher in BC with 30 years experience would be making $53,000 per year while a teacher in oil rich Alberta would be making $71,000 per year.

Then note that if a teacher is 60 years old and has been teaching for 30 years then they will receive an annual pension that is 70% of their annual salary and that their annual salary is determined as being the average of their top five years of income.

One only has to visit the nearest school to note that many of the teachers there are aging baby boomers that are fast reaching their retirement years. 70% of $53,000 is only $37,100 per year, which is just over $3,000 per month retirement income. 70% of $71,000 is $49,700, which is over $4,000 per month retirement income. Now you know why so many of our aging teacher population here in BC are so determined to try and get a significant wage increase out of the BC government.

In this regard however, the BCTF has not done its membership any favours by becoming so closely aligned with the NDP. The BCTF openly campaigned on behalf of the NDP during the last provincial election and a former BCTF President, David Chudnovsky, even got himself elected as an NDP MLA.

It has created a no win situation for the BCTF, where their concerns, legitimate or otherwise, are dismissed as political posturing on behalf of the NDP, the Liberal government rightly regards the BCTF as being political opponents, while the NDP is forced to straddle the political fence lest they end up portraying themselves as the political party that would simply open up taxpayers’ wallets to all their public sector union supporters.

It is for that reason that regardless of the outcome of this latest job action the BCTF should give some serious thought to restructuring itself into a more politically autonomous entity. Perhaps then provincial government negotiators, as well as the general public, might take their concerns a little more seriously.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

New Orleans, end of an era?

My memory is muddy what's this river I'm in
New Orleans is sinking and I don't want to swim

Those lyrics penned by The Tragically Hip some years ago took on new meaning as the future of New Orleans came into question in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

It is almost certain that thousands of Americans have been killed in what will likely be the worst natural disaster since the 1906 Earthquake and fire that destroyed most of San Francisco. Of course New Orleans was not the only city smashed by Hurricane Katrina. There are dozens of other communities including Biloxi Mississippi where homes and businesses were flattened. But it is New Orleans that has suffered the most due to the flooding which left much of the city filled with floating debris, sewage and dead bodies.

The final death toll may never be known. And what of New Orleans itself? It may be months before the floodwaters are pumped out and perhaps sometime next year before rebuilding can really begin. Many of the displaced have lost everything and have no job, no money and no insurance with which to rebuild. Will they return?

What of corporations like Harrah's Entertainment, Coca-Cola and General Electric that have major operations in New Orleans will they return? Panama City, a Florida panhandle city 300 miles east of New Orleans, was in the immediate aftermath of the storm the only deep water port in the upper gulf cost region that was still open for business.

Will container traffic return to New Orleans or will people and business relocate to safer areas? President Bush after admitting that federal response to the disaster was inadequate declared, “New Orleans would rise again.” But will it?

It was after the 1906 earthquake that Los Angeles surpassed San Francisco as California’s premiere city; and in 1900 Galveston was the main port city of Texas until a Hurricane wiped out much of that city. After that, Galveston went into decline while people chose to relocate to the nearby river port of Houston.

The other question is should New Orleans be rebuilt? Hurricane season is not over. Much of the Gulf of Mexico is at 30 degrees Celsius, well over the temperature level needed to spawn more of these killer storms.

If the current trend towards global warming continues than New Orleans can expect more hurricanes to come rampaging in on a more frequent basis and perhaps packing an even greater punch. The levees and dykes around New Orleans were built to withstand a class three hurricane. Katrina was a class four, what happens when a class five hurricane hits the city?

Aside from the future of New Orleans there are also the oil refineries that are located along the gulf coast. Oil rigs need to be where the oil is but refineries do not. Rather than simply rebuilding, does it not make sense to move at least some of that refining capacity further inland where it can be better protected from the impact of hurricanes?

Perhaps the biggest question is what will be the political impact of those searing images of tens of thousands of poor black Americans left abandoned for days with no food or water? Many Americans, especially blacks feel the government would not have been so slow to respond if this is a disaster that had afflicted a predominantly white community.

Internationally many countries, including Canada looked on with amazement at how ineffectual the US government’s initial response was to the calamity and then rushed forward with offers of assistance.

As was the case with 9-11 there is a sense that a turning point has occurred in history and things are never going to be quite the same again either for New Orleans or the United States.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

No one can say they didn't see it coming

In 2001, FEMA warned that a hurricane striking New Orleans was one of the three most likely disasters in the U.S. But the Bush administration cut New Orleans flood control funding by 44 percent to pay for the Iraq war.

By Sidney Blumenthal
Salon -- Aug. 31, 2005

Biblical in its uncontrolled rage and scope, Hurricane Katrina has left millions of Americans to scavenge for food and shelter and hundreds to thousands reportedly dead. With its main levee broken, the evacuated city ofNew Orleans has become part of the Gulf of Mexico. But the damage wrought bythe hurricane may not entirely be the result of an act of nature.

A year ago the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed to study how New Orleans could be protected from a catastrophic hurricane, but the Bush administration ordered that the research not be undertaken. After a flood killed six people in 1995, Congress created the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, in which the Corps of Engineers strengthened and renovated levees and pumping stations.

In early 2001, the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a report stating that a hurricane striking New Orleans was one of the three most likely disasters in the U.S., including a terrorist attack on New York City. But by 2003 the federal funding for the flood control project essentially dried up as it was drained into the Iraq war.

In 2004, the Bush administration cut funding requested by the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for holding back the waters of Lake Pontchartrain by more than 80 percent. Additional cuts at thebeginning of this year (for a total reduction in funding of 44.2 percent since 2001) forced the New Orleans district of the Corps to impose a hiring freeze. The Senate had debated adding funds for fixing New Orleans' levees, but it was too late.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune, which before the hurricane published a series on the federal funding problem, and whose presses are now underwater, reported online: "No one can say they didn't see it coming ... Now in the wake of one of the worst storms ever, serious questions are being asked about the lack of preparation.

"The Bush administration's policy of turning over wetlands to developers almost certainly also contributed to the heightened level of the storm surge. In 1990, a federal task force began restoring lost wetlands surrounding New Orleans. Every two miles of wetland between the Crescent City and the Gulf reduces a surge by half a foot. Bush had promised "no net loss" of wetlands, a policy launched by his father's administration and bolstered by President Clinton. But he reversed his approach in 2003, unleashing the developers. The Army Corps of Engineers and the EnvironmentalProtection Agency then announced they could no longer protect wetlands unless they were somehow related to interstate commerce.

In response to this potential crisis, four leading environmental groups conducted a joint expert study, concluding in 2004 that without wetlands protection New Orleans could be devastated by an ordinary, much less a Category 4 or 5, hurricane. "There's no way to describe how mindless a policy that is when it comes to wetlands protection," said one of the report's authors. The chairman of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality dismissed the study as "highly questionable," and boasted, "Everybody loves what we're doing."

"My administration's climate change policy will be science based," President Bush declared in June 2001. But in 2002, when the Environmental Protection Agency submitted a study on global warming to the United Nations reflecting its expert research, Bush derided it as "a report put out by a bureaucracy," and excised the climate change assessment from the agency's annual report. The next year, when the EPA issued its first comprehensive "Report on the Environment," stating, "Climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment," the White House simply demanded removal of the line and all similar conclusions.

At the G-8 meeting in Scotland this year, Bush successfully stymied any common action on global warming. Scientists, meanwhile, have continued to accumulate impressive data on the rising temperature of the oceans, which has produced more severe hurricanes.

In February 2004, 60 of the nation's leading scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, warned in a statement, "Restoring Scientific Integrity in Policymaking": "Successful application of science has played a large part in the policies that have made the United States of America the world's most powerful nation and its citizens increasingly prosperous and healthy ... Indeed, this principle has long been adhered to by presidents and administrations of both parties in forming and implementing policies. The administration of George W. Bush has, however, disregarded this principle ... The distortion of scientific knowledge for partisan political ends must cease." Bush completely ignored this statement.

In the two weeks preceding the storm in the Gulf, the trumping of science by ideology and expertise by special interests accelerated. The Federal Drug Administration announced that it was postponing sale of the morning-after contraceptive pill, despite overwhelming scientific evidence of its safety and its approval by the FDA's scientific advisory board. The United Nations special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa accused the Bush administration of responsibility for a condom shortage in Uganda -- the result of the administration's evangelical Christian agenda of "abstinence."

When the chief of the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the Justice Department was ordered by the White House to delete its study that African-Americans and other minorities are subject to racial profiling in police traffic stops andhe refused to buckle under, he was forced out of his job.

When the Army Corps of Engineers' chief contracting oversight analyst objected to a $7 billion no-bid contract awarded for work in Iraq to Halliburton (the firm at which Vice President Cheney was formerly CEO), she was demoted despite her superior professional ratings. At the National Park Service, a former Cheney aide, a political appointee lacking professional background, drew up a plan to overturn past environmental practices and prohibit any mention of evolution while allowing sale of religious materialsthrough the Park Service.

On the day the levees burst in New Orleans, Bush delivered a speech in California comparing the Iraq war to World War II and himself to Franklin D.Roosevelt: "And he knew that the best way to bring peace and stability to the region was by bringing freedom to Japan." Bush had boarded his very own "Streetcar Named Desire."

Sidney Blumenthal is a former assistant and senior advisor toPresident Clinton and the author of "The Clinton Wars," is writing a column for Salon and the Guardian of London.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Transformation of federal civil service long overdue

I must confess my jaw dropped when I learned earlier this week that the Treasury Board Department in Ottawa has been quietly been working on a plan that would see the elimination of 41,000 of approximately 291,000 federal civil service jobs.

Until recently no government would have had the temerity to contemplate such a move for fear of alienating Quebec voters. But now with a majority of Quebecers set to yet again vote for the Bloc Quebecois Liberal strategists are now focussed on picking up seats in key battleground provinces like British Columbia.

Extensive polling has told the Martin government that British Columbians want more money for health care, more money for our long suffering military and money to improve our national highway systems. But we do not want to pay more in taxes, in fact we already feel over taxed and would like some federal tax relief.

We also feel very alienated from the federal civil service in Ottawa which is predominantly white and francaphone. This contrasts sharply with the ethnic diversity of British Columbia where residents are far more likely to speek Cantonese or Punjabi than French.

One move the federal government has already commited to is relocating the Canadian Tourism Centre (CTC) from Ottawa to Vancouver. For those of us living on the westcoast such a move seemed to be a no brainer but that did not stop indignant howls of protest coming from Ottawa area MPs.

But what we want to see even more is a reduction in what is widely perceived to be a bloated civil service. Certainly trimming 41,000 positions is a good start. Treasury Board analysts conservatively estimate this would save $11 billion over a five year period. Best of all many of these job reducations can be achieved by going to shared services model and eliminating the duplication that currently occurs.

But beyond a much needed trimming of our federal civil service there needs to be a new model where our civil service better reflects the make up of our country. That means moving from the old bilingual model to one which is multi-lingual and multi-ethnic.

It means placing less emaphasis on being fluent in both official languages and more on being fluent in one, passable in the other and bonus points if you are fluent in a third language. In significantly widening the pool of talent upon which they have to draw, Ottawa would also emerge with a civil serive that is far more capable and in tune with the needs and aspirations of all Canadians.

This column was published in the August 12, 2005 Vancouver Edition of 24 hrs, www.24hrs.ca

Monday, August 01, 2005

This too shall pass

In the 20th century we have seen various “isms” come and go. Amongst the most destructive were fascism and of course communism. As history has demonstrated time and time again, any fanatical ism usually ends up have the direct opposite effect of what its leaders and followers originally espoused.

Take fascism. Hitler’s “thousand year Reich” lasted a mere dozen years. And as blood soaked as those years were they brought about the utter destruction of Hitler and his henchmen. Instead of the eradication of the Jews, there emerged the new nation state of Israel, something that likely would not have happened if not for the Second World War and the horror of the Holocaust.

Then there is Communism which was supposed to be about ending the oppression of working men and women and bringing about a better world. Instead it delivered mass starvation, executions and death camps which claimed the lives of approximately 100 million people during the 20th century.

Unfortunately this particular ism still survives in a few corners of the world. In China it survives in name only. You still have one party rule, but that party now serves to encourage rather than discourage capitalism and economic growth in China. In North Korea an estimated one million Koreans starved to death, thus adding to communisms deadly toll in the 21st century and in Cuba an aging Fidel Castro hangs on by jailing political opponents and courting western tourists and their much needed dollars.

But Communism is on the way out. Sooner or later North Korea will collapse, much the same way as East Germany did. As was the case with West Germany, South Korea will simply absorb its economically hobbled neighbour and move forward as one nation. Sooner or later Castro will die of old age and with it will go his one party rule.

But the latest death cult to emerge is Islamic Fundamentalism and a loose terror organization called Al Quaida. But like communism and fascism it seems to be bringing about the opposite effect of what it has intended.

Through its terror attacks in New York, London, Bali and Egypt, there is growing concern and anger amongst mainstream Muslim communities around the world. Best of all a growing number of Imams, including quite a number here in Canada have been speaking out against the Al Quaida terrorists.

So rather than rallying support in the Muslim world, the terrorist actions are serving to isolate those religious leaders who put forth a fanatical version of Islam that is based on hatred and fear rather than love and respect. In short by killing innocent men, women and children the terrorists have served only to desecrate and discredit everything they stand for in the eyes of a growing number of people around the world.

That is why it is important that we in the West do not overreact to what the terrorists are doing, because that is exactly what they want us to do. For example, I do not think it was mere coincidence that the bombings in London occurred just as the United States congress was debating whether or not to renew the ironically named “Patriot Act.”

These Islamic terrorists know that the light of freedom emanating from the Western World is a powerful beacon. In Iran which has spent almost 30 years run by a repressive theocracy you will find the most pro-western populace in the Middle East outside of Israel.

If out of fear we are foolish enough to turn our western democracies into police states then the terrorists truly will have won. I for one have no desire to see my children and grandchildren grow up in a repressive police state any more than I would want to see them grow up in an 8th century Caliphate. In either scenario the lunatics, or more specifically psychopaths and sociopaths, end up running the show.

We have already had one tragedy where a young Brazilian man was mistakenly shot dead by London police. Given the way the police act in Brazil, including dealing with homeless street children by killing them, it is not entirely surprising that when confronted with armed police officers this innocent young Brazilian man ran away in fear. He paid for that decision with his life.

Having done consulting work for a number of security companies, I am well aware of the technology that is available to unobtrusively scan for explosives and weapons. It is that technology that we should be investing in. We will also likely have to put up with more in the way of closed circuit television cameras or CCTVs as they like to say in Britain.

Although I don’t like it, I am willing to put up with this added level of electronic surveillance on public transportation systems in order to make these systems safer for commuters. It would also serve to greatly reduce the kind of criminal activity that has, for example, occurred at several Skytrain stations in the Greater Vancouver area.

What we should not be willing to do is give up any of our rights as citizens in a free and democratic society. This means that our police must remain at all times accountable to the public it serves. Yes the police in Britain made a tragic mistake, but they also have achieved a number of remarkable successes in terms of finding and arresting those associated with the terrorist bombings.

Meanwhile the best example the world has yet seen is the stoic attitude of the British people themselves who refuse to be cowed by these psychopathic terrorists. As Winston Churchill defiantly declared to the Nazis during the Second World War, “You do your worst and we’ll do our best.”

Finally one of the best things to come out of the recent wave of London terror bombings is to help encourage the IRA to give up its cache of weapons and utilize democratic rather than terrorist methods to achieve their political objectives.
Again rather than causing the unraveling of the western world, Al Quaida’s terrorist attacks have inadvertently helped end one of the bloodiest problems that had plagued the English speaking world throughout the late 20th century.

Will there be more terrorist attacks? Almost certainly and they may even occur here in Canada as well. But no matter how bad things get this latest fanatical ism will also be relegated to the dust bin of history.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

London Calling

A tip of the hat to Paul Wells of Macleans Magazine who in a recent posting noted:
"If you were a fanatic murderer who liked to flatter yourself on your knowledge of history and you wanted to terrorize a population, could you possibly choose a worse target than the people of London?"

My own Mother lived through the London Blitz when the German Luftwaffe tried to bomb the British into submission during the Second World War. Although she rarely spoke about it, she did mention to me her experiences as a girl of 14 living through the London Blitz and walking passed smashed houses and stepping over dead bodies.

Later in the war she was almost killed when a V1 “doodlebug” - the forerunner of today's cruise missiles - hit the hospital she was staying at while recovering from abdominal surgery. She crawled through the billowing smoke to the nursery, grabbed a screaming baby, and carried it while crawling on her hands and knees out of that hospital. In doing so she saved both herself and that baby who was later reunited with its mother.

That is the true spirit and toughness of a Londoner and for an update of that spirit I direct you to a recent posting by a London blogger who was in the train car behind one of the ones that got hit. His sentiments although profane, perfectly capture the anger and defiance felt by many Londoners and those of us who are only one generation removed from London.

It is also worth noting that as was the case in New York, Madrid and now London, it was innocent civilians both young and old, black and white, Christian and Muslim who were killed. And I am pleased to see more and more Muslim leaders and organizations speaking out against these terrorists and their cowardly attacks on unarmed men, women and children.

With every act of murder these terrorists earn nothing but the contempt of civilised people around the world. They strengthen our democratic resolve while they defile their own religion. Thus with every terrorist act they bring closer the day in which everything they stand for will be swept away by those seeking freedom, democracy, tolerance and peace.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Olympic Construction Costs Soaring (just like I predicted two years ago)

Not to brag or anything but in the October 25, 2003: Vancouver Sun I predicted that due to a shortage of skilled labour that construction costs were going to increase.

Now almost two years later CBC News has posted the following story:

Concerns are being raised about the costs of venues for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver because of rising labour rates and material prices.

Organizers say a B.C. building boom has forced those costs to skyrocket, but say they'll do whatever necessary to ensure the Games come in on budget.
Celebration at GM Place when theInternational Olympic Committee announced that Vancouver had beenawarded the 2010 Winter Games

FROM JULY 2, 2003: Olympic construction boom ahead

The executive director of the Council of Construction Trades Associations believes it will be a challenge to meet that budget because of the province-wide building boom.

Richard Campbell says the cost of materials such as steel are rising quickly. He warns there could soon be a labour shortage that would drive the final price tag even higher.

"When it comes right down to the crunch, it's very possible that we're still going to have to import people at whatever price it will take, to bring them here to help us finish things off," Campbell said.

Monday, July 04, 2005

The founding Sachems

The New York Times

Amherst, Mass.

SEEKING to understand this nation's democratic spirit, Alexis de Tocqueville journeyed to the famous centers of American liberty (Boston, Philadelphia, Washington), stoically enduring their "infernal" accommodations, food and roads and chatting up almost everyone he saw.

He even marched in a Fourth of July parade in Albany just ahead of a big float that featured a flag-waving Goddess of Liberty, a bust of Benjamin Franklin, and a printing press that spewed out copies of the Declaration of Independence for the cheering crowd. But for all his wit and intellect, Tocqueville never realized that he came closest to his goal just three days after the parade, when he stopped at the "rather unhealthy but thickly peopled" area around Syracuse.
Tocqueville's fascination with the democratic spirit was prescient. Expressed politically in Americans' insistence on limited government and culturally in their long-standing disdain for elites, that spirit has become one of this country's great gifts to the world.

When rich London and Paris stockbrokers proudly retain their working-class accents, when audiences show up at La Scala in track suits and sneakers, when South Africans and Thais complain that the police don't read suspects their rights the way they do on "Starsky & Hutch," when anti-government protesters in Beirut sing "We Shall Overcome" in Lebanese accents - all these raspberries in the face of social and legal authority have a distinctly American tone. Or, perhaps, a distinctly Native American tone, for among its wellsprings is American Indian culture, especially that of the Iroquois.

The Iroquois confederation, known to its members as the Haudenosaunee, was probably the greatest indigenous polity north of the Rio Grande in the two centuries before Columbus and definitely the greatest in the two centuries after. A political and military alliance formed by the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk and, after about 1720, the Tuscarora, it dominated, at its height, an area from Kentucky to Lake Ontario and Lake Champlain. Its capital was Onondaga, a bustling small city of several thousand souls a few miles south of where Tocqueville stopped in modern Syracuse.

The Iroquois confederation was governed by a constitution, the Great Law of Peace, which established the league's Great Council: 50 male royaneh (religious-political leaders), each representing one of the female-led clans of the alliance's nations. What was striking to the contemporary eye was that the 117 codicils of the Great Law were concerned as much with constraining the Great Council as with granting it authority. "Their whole civil policy was averse to the concentration of power in the hands of any single individual," explained Lewis Henry Morgan, a pioneering ethnographer of the Iroquois.

The council's jurisdiction was limited to relations among the nations and outside groups; internal affairs were the province of the individual nations. Even in the council's narrow domain, the Great Law insisted that every time the royaneh confronted "an especially important matter or a great emergency," they had to "submit the matter to the decision of their people" in a kind of referendum open to both men and women.

In creating such checks on authority, the league was just the most formal expression of a regionwide tradition. Although the Indian sachems on the Eastern Seaboard were absolute monarchs in theory, wrote the colonial leader Roger Williams, in practice they did not make any decisions "unto which the people are averse." These smaller groups did not have formal, Iroquois-style constitutions, but their governments, too, were predicated on the consent of the governed. Compared to the despotisms that were the norm in Europe and Asia, the societies encountered by British colonists were a libertarian dream.

To some extent, this freedom reflected North American Indians' relatively recent adoption of agriculture. Early farming villages worldwide have always had less authoritarian governments than their successors. But the Indians of the Northeast made what the historian José António Brandão calls "autonomous responsibility" a social ideal - the Iroquois especially, but many others, too. Each Indian, the Jesuit missionary Joseph-François Lafitau observed, viewing "others as masters of their own actions and themselves, lets them conduct themselves as they wish and judges only himself."

So vivid were these examples of democratic self-government that some historians and activists have argued that the Great Law of Peace directly inspired the American Constitution. Taken literally, this assertion seems implausible. With its grant of authority to the federal government to supersede state law, its dependence on rule by the majority rather than consensus and its denial of suffrage to women, the Constitution as originally enacted was not at all like the Great Law. But in a larger sense the claim is correct. The framers of the Constitution, like most colonists in what would become the United States, were pervaded by Indian images of liberty.

For two centuries after Plymouth Rock, the border between natives and newcomers was porous, almost nonexistent. In a way difficult to imagine now, Europeans and Indians mingled, the historian Gary Nash has written, as "trading partners, military allies, and marital consorts."

In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, the aging John Adams recalled the Massachusetts of his youth as a multiracial society. "Aaron Pomham, the priest, and Moses Pomham, the King of the Punkapaug and Neponsit Tribes, were frequent visitors at my father's house," he wrote nostalgically. Growing up in Quincy, Mass., the young Adams frequently visited a neighboring Indian family, "where I never failed to be treated with whortleberries, blackberries, strawberries or apples, plums, peaches, etc." Benjamin Franklin was equally familiar with Indian company; representing the Pennsylvania colony, he negotiated with the Iroquois in 1754. A close friend was Conrad Weiser, an adopted Mohawk who at the talks was the Indians' unofficial host.

As many colonists observed, the limited Indian governments reflected levels of personal autonomy unheard of in Europe. "Every man is free," a frontiersman, Robert Rogers, told a disbelieving British audience, referring to Indian villages. In these places, he said, no person, white or Indian, sachem or slave, has any right to deprive anyone else of his freedom. The Iroquois, Cadwallader Colden declared in 1749, held "such absolute notions of liberty that they allow of no kind of superiority of one over another, and banish all servitude from their territories." (Colden, surveyor general of New York, was another Mohawk adoptee.)

Not every European admired this democratic spirit. Indians "think every one ought to be left to his own opinion, without being thwarted," the Flemish missionary monk Louis Hennepin wrote in 1683. "There is nothing so difficult to control as the tribes of America," a fellow missionary unhappily observed. "All these barbarians have the law of wild asses - they are born, live, and die in a liberty without restraint; they do not know what is meant by bridle and bit."
Indians, for their part, were horrified to encounter European social classes, with those on the lower rungs of the hierarchy compelled to defer to those on the upper. When the 17th-century French adventurer Louis-Armand de Lom d'Arce, Baron de Lahontan, tried to convince the Huron, the Iroquois's northern neighbors, of Europe's natural superiority, the Indians scoffed.

Because Europeans had to kowtow to their social betters, Lahontan later reported, "they brand us for slaves, and call us miserable souls, whose life is not worth having." Individual Indians, he wrote "value themselves above anything that you can imagine, and this is the reason they always give for it, that one's as much master as another, and since men are all made of the same clay there should be no distinction or superiority among them."

INFLUENCED by their proximity to Indians - by being around living, breathing role models of human liberty - European colonists adopted their insubordinate attitudes. Lahontan was an example, despite his noble title; his account highlighted Indian freedoms as an incitement toward rebellion. Both the clergy and Louis XIV, the king whom Lahontan was goading, tried to suppress these dangerous ideas by instructing French officials to force a French education upon the Indians, complete with lessons in deferring to their social betters. The attempts, the historian Cornelius J. Jaenen reported, were "everywhere unsuccessful."

In the most direct way, Indian liberty made indigenous villages into competitors for colonists' allegiance. Colonial societies could not become too oppressive, because their members - surrounded by examples of free life - always had the option of voting with their feet.

It is likely that the first British villages in North America, thousands of miles from the House of Lords, would have lost some of the brutally graded social hierarchy that characterized European life. But it is also clear that they were infused by the democratic, informal brashness of American Indian culture. That spirit alarmed and discomfited many Europeans, aristocrat and peasant alike. Others found it a deeply attractive vision of human possibility.

Historians have been reluctant to acknowledge this contribution to the end of tyranny worldwide. Yet a plain reading of Locke, Hume, Rousseau and Thomas Paine shows that they took many of their illustrations of liberty from native examples. So did the colonists who held their Boston Tea Party dressed as "Mohawks." When others took up European intellectuals' books and histories, images of Indian freedom had an impact far removed in time and space from the 16th-century Northeast.

The pioneering suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage, both Finger Lakes residents, were inspired by the Great Law's extension of legal protections to women. "This gentile constitution is wonderful!" Friedrich Engels exclaimed (though he apparently didn't notice its emphasis on limited state power).

Just like their long-ago confreres in Boston, protesters in South Korea, China and Ukraine wore "Native American" makeup and clothing in, respectively, the 1980's, 1990's, and the first years of this century. Indeed, it is only a little exaggeration to claim that everywhere liberty is cherished - from Sweden to Soweto, from the streets of Manila to the docks of Manhattan - people are descendants of the Iroquois League and its neighbors.

Charles C. Mann is the author of the forthcoming "1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus."

Saturday, July 02, 2005

A Canada Day Guest Editorial

One June 29, Sean Holman’s Public Eye Online website reported that Victoria federal Conservative director-at-large Eugene Parks had criticized fellow director Norm Fiss for circulating his sister's views on aboriginal property issues. Mr. Fiss's sister is Tanis Fiss, the director of Canadian Taxpayers Federation's Centre for Aboriginal Policy Change.

However having recently corresponded by email with Mr. Parks, he provided to me the following Canada Day editorial that happened to coincide with many of my views and feelings as well. So here is a Canada Day Guest Editorial by Eugene Parks, which is posted here with his permission:

As a conservative thinker, on Canada Day my thoughts turned to the righteousness of Trudeau's call for a "Just Society". When I was a child growing up in Canada, blacks were still called "niggers". If you knew a Jew you probably didn't know it. Metis were still hoping that their children would be white enough to blend in and have the same chance as any other Canadian. Women worried about destitution when their marriages broke down. That was the backdrop of Trudeau's cry for a "Just Society".

Canadians responded to Trudeau's call for a better society in a way unlike any other political campaign in Canadian history, and maybe world history. Racism, bigotry, and mean-spiritedness was called into the light and given a bruising. So powerful was the message, and the response, that a majority of Canadians forgave Trudeau all his many other sins; just because of the strength of his one truly righteous and lasting message.

At Canada Day celebrations people were wearing "No to racism and hate"buttons. My heart just said, yah. Trudeau, your message obviously made it into me. I was helping out at my company's booth at an event and two aboriginals came up, asked questions, shook my hand and said, "thanks brother". It moved me because there is no way that they could tell by looking at me that in my heart I was thinking, my great ancestor would beproud of us for seeing that we are brothers even though on the surface our common heritage is beyond simple recognition.

So strong was Trudeau's passion for a "Just Society" that it propelled him to become a truly global figure. Here at home support for Trudeau's message became support for establishing a made in Canada constitution. Profoundly, Trudeau's just society is the central theme of Canada Day celebrations and still the central rallying cry behind politics in Canada.

As a conservative thinker, my only regret is that our strong belief in a "Just Society" has been mixed up with the concept of over-bearing government. Government waste is the central economic driving force behind environmental damage. We work and consume environmental resources to pay for over-sized, self-important, government. Justice does not require big wasteful government. Alas, despite the sound of it: "economic socialism and justice" are not natural allies.

Today's society still has many social issues to resolve and Trudeau's call for a "Just Society" must not end. However, today's work must also include eliminating government waste and corruption. A society cannot be truly free and just if its government is corrupt and wasteful.

Friday, July 01, 2005

New Cabinet signals Campbell's shift to the political centre

On June 16, 2005 Her Honour Iona Campagnolo, the Lieutenant Governor of BC, swore in Premier Gordon Campbell’s new cabinet. The new 23-member cabinet signaled a dramatic move back towards the centre of BC’s political spectrum.

As I have mentioned in this column before, the social conservatives whispering in Gordon Campbell’s ear very nearly succeeded in electing an NDP government. The courting of controversial Surrey School Board chair and former Christian Heritage Party member Mary Polak, the lack of attention paid to the grass roots membership and the resignations of such high profile cabinet ministers as Christy Clark, Gary Collins and Geoff Plant all served to lend credence to NDP Leader Carole James’ message “that politics in BC has never been more polarized.”

However after the unexpected by-election loss in Surrey, Premier Campbell recognized that he had to regain the middle ground in order to obtain a second term. Thus came the political courting of Justice Wally Oppal and Carole Taylor.

With his new 23-member cabinet Campbell further cemented his claim on the political centre ground by appointing Taylor as Minister of Finance and Wally Oppal as Attorney General. But in perhaps the most dramatic break with his first term in office was the creation of the BC Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.

You might recall that Campbell had started his first term with both a legally and politically ill-advised referendum, which far from “putting natives in their place” as one or two key staffers in the Premier’s Office had ignorantly hoped, instead served only to hamstring provincial treaty negotiators and strengthen the legal arguments being put forward in various court actions by First Nations leaders.

Once again Premier Campbell deserves full marks for having the courage to recognize that his government needed to do an about face with regards to working with First Nations. In addition to “recognizing the contributions and importance of British Columbia’s First Nations” the Premier in re-establishing a stand alone ministry governing Aboriginal issues also had the following to say:

“In every ministry and every sector we will foster new working partnerships with first nations that will move us beyond the barriers of the past, to new horizons of hope for every British Columbian. The future will belong to all British Columbians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, alike, as we light the way together for Canada.” Premier Gordon Campbell

Okay a little flowery but certainly a step in the right direction. Another step in the right direction was the appointment of Okanagan-Vernon MLA Tom Christensen as the new Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.

Tom Christensen, who was first elected in 2001, is an extremely likeable and decent individual. He has a law degree and from first hand experience I can tell you that he has a keen interest in aboriginal issues. For example in December of last year both Tom Christensen and Shuswap MLA George Abbott, who is now the new Minister of Health, took time out of their hectic schedules to tour the Round Lake Treatment Centre which is a nationally renowned aboriginal run facility helping people coping with drug and alcohol addiction.

But besides Minister Christensen’s good will, a couple of other fundamental changes are required if treaty negotiations are to go anywhere in BC. The first is dropping the current 8 and 12 tax formula that has served to defeat every treaty ratification vote since Nisga’a. This formula calls for those First Nations ratifying a treaty to give up their sales tax exemption within 8 years and their income tax exemption within 12. Needless to say that provision generally goes over like a lead balloon with the band membership and inevitably the treaty deal goes down to defeat.

Even if this 8 and 12 provision were not fatal to treaty making, which it is, it would serve only to provide a mish mash of Indian Bands of which some had tax-exempt status and some that didn’t. Clearly the only sane recourse is to drop the 8 and 12 provision and if one day Canada wants to remove the tax-exempt status for First Nations people living on reserve then all it would take is a simple change to one a section of the Income Tax Act.

As one federal treaty negotiator said to me a few years ago, he would be very surprised if the tax-exempt status remains in place for more than another 25 years. Which serves to only strengthen my argument for dropping the 8 and 12 formula that is serving only to waste billions of dollars in treaty negotiations that so far have gone absolutely no where.

The other advice I would provide to Minister Christensen is to separate self-government negotiations from the Treaty process. Both the Sechelt and West Bank First Nations successfully negotiated self-government agreements and did so outside of the treaty process.

Another key advantage is by making self-government a separate agreement it means their governance structures are not forever locked into a treaty that can never be amended. Instead the way in which these First Nations govern themselves can change over time. It also allows First Nations that are not ready for self-government but desperately want an expanded land and revenue base to proceed ahead with a treaty and negotiate the terms of self-government later. Or as was the case with Sechelt and West Bank, those First Nations that require self-government can proceed ahead and focus on treaty negotiations at a later date.

Although there were some individuals and even candidates within both the NDP and Liberals who supported STV, by and large both parties were terrified that it might actually pass. In fact it came damn close missing by only the narrowest of margins in terms of the overall requirement of a province wide 60% yes vote.

Such strong support speaks as to the frustration a solid majority of voters felt at being asked to chose between an opposition that was seen by many as fiscally and economically irresponsible (the NDP) and another that seemed to be arrogant and callous (the BC Liberals). Obviously Campbell is taking significant steps to be seen as less aloof and more caring.

So expect to see in term two a kinder gentler Campbell government that each year will continue to spend more on health care, education and social services. All in the hopes that when the 2010 Olympics comes around it will be Gordon Campbell who will be presiding over the Winter Games as Premier of BC.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Quebec ban on private health insurance unconstitutional, flood of litigation from other provinces sure to follow

In a historic decision, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Quebec’s ban on purchasing private medical insurance violated Quebec’s constitution. “The message from six out of nine judges was that if you are going to ban access to private health care, you can’t allow waiting lists to grow to the point that patient’s lives are in jeopardy,” said Victoria lawyer Robert Janes.

As Janes predicted several years ago, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that making a person suffer on ever lengthening medical wait lists is a breach of their rights to liberty and the security of the person.

This unfortunately is a decision that for now applies only to Quebec. However the Supreme Court’s decision will likely trigger a flood of litigation in provinces like BC and Alberta where the legislation banning private health insurance is identical to that of Quebec.

Essentially the Supreme Court of Canada has faced up to the reality that as our public health care system collapses under the weight of our aging population base, people have lost their health, their freedom and even their lives while being relegated to ever lengthening surgical waiting lists.

It is worth remembering some of those that have died. Nineteen-year-old Mary-Louise Carlos of Saanich died December 21, 2004 of meningitis after being turned away from the ER at Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria. While 42 year old Baljit Singh Bains died February 13, 2005 after being discharged from Surrey Memorial Hospital because they did not have a bed available for him.

For years now WCB claimants have received treatment at private health care facilities, while the wealthy and the desperate have resorted to seeking private health care services abroad. What this decision opens up is the possibility that as Canadians we can purchase supplementary private health insurance so that if injury or illness occurs we can get treated right away at a private health care facility.

Meanwhile Canadians that can’t afford private health insurance will also benefit, as waiting lists for treatment at public facilities will be significantly reduced. Thus all Canadians will ultimately benefit from this decision.

But before that can happen there needs to be a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada that Canada’s ever growing medical waiting lists violates the Canada Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and not just the Quebec Constitution.

Once that decision is rendered, Canada will join the rest of the western world in having a mixed private and public health care system. It is a decision that as far as I am concerned cannot come soon enough.

(an edited version of this article was published in the Vancouver daily tabloid 24hrs on Page 5 June 10, 2005)

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Stronach defection signals emergence of blue Liberals

Nowadays it takes a lot to shock the Ottawa press gallery, but shocked they were when in mid-May a beaming Prime Minister Paul Martin entered the House of Commons press conference room with high profile Conservative MP, Belinda Stronach in tow. Gasps and disbelieving shouts of “No!” could be heard from various hill reporters before Paul Martin sat down to announce the latest addition to his caucus and cabinet.

If hell hath no fury than a woman scorned, it still pales in comparison to a Tory kicked in the nuts. Keep in mind this is not the first time a Conservative has crossed the floor to the Liberals. Both Scott Brison and Keith Martin had done it before Stronach and both had been awarded with positions in Paul Martin’s cabinet. Like Stronach Brison had been a contender for the Conservative leadership while Keith Martin had once run for the leadership of the Alliance Party.

But that did not stop Conservative politicians, political commentators and even some editorial cartoonists from characterizing Stronach as a prostitute and worse. In fact the furor from the media and opposition got so bad it started to remind me of that Meredith Brooks song “Bitch” where the chorus goes:
I'm a bitch, I'm a lover
I'm a child, I'm a mother
I'm a sinner, I'm a saint
I do not feel ashamed
I'm your hell, I'm your dream
I'm nothing in between
You know you wouldn't want it any other way

Concerned Christians Canada Inc. issued a press release on May 17th stating:
“HATE TO SAY WE TOLD YOU SO, BUT WE WILL Belinda Stronach was a Liberal Plant Funded By The Stronach Family! Move To Liberals Was A Calculated And Manipulative Move.”

More importantly their histrionic press release also included a link to their website http://www.belindamartin.ca/ which had been set up when Stronach had first run for the leadership of the Conservative Party. This site detailed all the similarities between Stronach and Paul Martin. More importantly the site was never taken down after Stronach lost.

In a similar vein was the March 21st column by Ezra Levant in the Calgary Sun, which was entitled “Party poopers” and subtitled “Stronach and McKay need to be taken down a peg.”

In his column Levant went on to state that, “The greatest embarrassment to the [Conservative] convention did not come in the person of a crude critic of gay marriage or a wild-eyed opponent of abortion. Rather, it was the preening Peter MacKay and his trophy girlfriend, Belinda Stronach.”

After reading this material which had come out long before Stronach’s defection I came to the conclusion that Stronach had not so much jumped as had been pushed out of the Conservative Party of Canada. It also explains why having treated her so shabbily when she was on their team, the Conservatives went into apoplectic overdrive when she defected.

But when one also looks at the Liberal side of ledger, you have to keep in mind the manner in which “tax and spend” Liberals like Sheila Copps were pushed out of the party and one begins to understand that a political significant political realignment has been underway for quite some time.

I believe what we are seeing is the emergence of a new bluer shade of Liberal under the leadership of Paul Martin. They are taking up some of the centre right ground that has been abandoned by the Conservatives while at the same time utilizing social issues such as same sex marriage to hold their ground on the centre left. Thus what emerges is Liberal party that still straddles the centre of the political spectrum in Canada but through its social policy occupies the centre left and through its fiscal policy occupies the centre right.

It is a brilliant political strategy in that it leaves both the Conservatives and NDP marginalized with segments of the respective right and left wings of the political spectrum that are unlikely to ever come close to receiving the support of a majority of Canadians.

Of course the Paul Martin’s Achilles heel on all this is the Gomery enquiry. Thanks to Stronach’s defection and the support of Independent MP Chuck Cadman it looks like Martin will be able to stave off an election until early in 2006. But he has promised to go the polls within 30 days after Gomery releases his final report.

Within those 30 days Martin will have to act decisively not only to shed the remnants of the “Mr. Dithers” label The Economist stuck him with, but also to demonstrate that he is serious about cleaning up the corruption that occurred under his predecessor Jean Chretein.

But the Gomery Enquiry has also further increased support for the Bloc Quebecois so unless Martin achieves a significant gain in seats in Ontario and BC; it is likely he will emerge after next year’s election with yet another minority government.

In last months column I predicted that the NDP would win 20 to 30 seats. It looks like (barring any changes due to recounts) that they have won 34. This represents a stunning comeback for the BC NDP and puts them in serious contention for government in the next provincial election.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Election Fever Hits Ottawa

What a difference a month and a half makes. At the beginning of March I was in Ottawa on business. The weather was cold minus 15C and was relieved only by the warm self assurances emanating from the federal Liberal Convention that Canada’s naturally governing party would likely not face an election until at least 2006.

Then came the bombshell testimony from the Gomery Inquiry that made headlines across Canada. It confirmed our worst suspicions about the way things are done in Ottawa and the way politics operates in Quebec. It then sent support for the federal Liberals tumbling while Conservative, Bloc Quebecois and NDP polling numbers have been on the upswing.

So it was a very different Ottawa that I returned to in late April. First of all the weather was warm, hitting over 20C and breaking temperature records in our nation’s capital. Instead of thick coats and boots women were relishing the opportunity to walk around in open toed sandals and summer dresses while men smiled and swiveled their heads at such an early display of summer scenery.

Also smiling was the Conservative Caucus and the prospect of bringing down Paul Martin’s government on May 19th with voting day happening on June 27th. Also catching election fever was the Bloc Quebecois who see an opportunity to sweep the Liberals from Quebec and hold the balance of power after the next federal election.

But if the Conservatives learn from the mistakes they made last time, they do have an opportunity to actually win a majority government. As I have stated in a previous column, the Liberal Party of Canada campaigned last time on the basis of fear, (e.g. Stephen Harper’s Hidden Agenda) while the Conservatives campaigned on the basis of anger (e.g. bumbling bureaucracy, over-taxation, same sex marriages, etc).

Thanks to the Gomery Inquiry anger is now triumphing fear. It has been said that governments are like a baby’s diaper, they both have to regularly changed and for the same reason. The smell emanating from the Sponsorship scandal has substantially increased the number of Canadians who believe it is time the Liberal Party of Canada spent some time on the opposition benches cleaning up their act.

This has created for the first time since the Mulroney era a real opportunity for the Conservatives to win the next federal election. To do so will mean that leader Stephen Harper will have to tightly discipline his caucus and candidates so that they focus in on reducing taxes and government red tape, rebuilding our nation’s rusted out military, canceling the gun registry program and improving our nation’s transportation infrastructure.

This also means getting Conservatives not to blather on about their views on same sex marriage, abortion or any of a myriad of other socially conservative issues. To do so will only drive swing voters back to the Liberals and cause greatly increased tensions between the Reform and Progressive Conservative factions within the party.

Also since Stephen Harper has all the charisma of a mortician, it would also help if he gave people like Peter McKay and Belinda Stronach high profile roles within the campaign and made it clear that both will hold senior portfolios within his administration.

I also believe that if it looks clear midway through the election campaign that the Conservatives are headed for a minority government that Canadians who would otherwise vote Liberal will swing towards the Conservatives in order to prevent the Bloc Quebecois from holding the balance of power. I for one would much rather see a Conservative majority government than a minority where the BQ was able to utilize its position to hold the rest of the country to ransom.

Jumping from federal to provincial politics, by the time you read this column the provincial election will likely already be over. At the time of writing this column it has just begun and the Liberals are eight points ahead of the NDP. Barring any major catastrophes I expect that the BC Liberals will be handily re-elected with a comfortable majority.

The NDP after being reduced to just two seats in the last provincial election will likely see 20 to 30 of their candidates elected as MLAs. Most British Columbians would agree that the BC Liberals have done a good job of managing the province’s economy. Campbell has also finally come to understand that it’s the centre of the political spectrum and not the far right that determines who gets to be government here in BC.

So what about the Greens and that upstart political party Democratic Reform BC? With the re-election of the BC Liberal government a virtual certainty, and Carol James lackluster performance as NDP leader becoming more of an issue, voters in certain ridings may even choose to look for an alternative to the NDP to send an opposition MLA to Victoria. Thus at this point I see both the Greens and even DR BC doing more to siphon support from the NDP than the BC Liberals.

Also in case you missed it columnist Bill Tielman, who used to write for the Georgia Straight now writes for the new 24hours daily newspaper in Vancouver. In mid-April Tielman broke the story that Liberal lobbyist Erik Bornman has become a key Crown witness against former BC Ministerial Assistants David Basi and Bob Virk in the RCMP’s on-going investigation, the highlight of which was the dramatic and unprecedented raid on the BC legislature in December of 2003.

According to Tielman, Bornman has also been given immunity from prosecution. As Tielman pointed out in his column why this was so critical to Bornman is that he is studying law at the University of B.C. But if he had been charged or worse yet convicted of a crime such as influence peddling or bribing a government official any chance of a thriving career as a lawyer would have come to a permanent end.

Until heading off to law school, Bornman was a lobbyist with Pilothouse Communications, a firm headed by former Province political columnist Brian Kieran. Prior to that he served as a political assistant to Paul Martin when Martin was Minister of Finance. Bornman also attended the recent federal Liberal convention that was held at the beginning of March in Ottawa, which may indicate he is still doing some behind the scenes lobbying work.

Not to be outdone Vancouver Sun columnist Sean Holman revealed in one of his articles that one of the lead RCMP investigators in the Basi, Virk investigation, Corporal Andrew Cowan, bought the house in which he currently resides off of none other than David Basi. If nothing else it proves once and for all that Victoria really is a small town!

Sunday, February 20, 2005

BC Budget reveals true Grit sensibilities

On February 15th BC Finance Minister Colin Hansen was in the enviable position of delivering the largest surplus budget the province has ever seen. $1.7 billion was earmarked for debt reduction, thus reducing the provincial government’s overall debt to $36.6 billion. As a result of this decision the province will save over $125 million in debt servicing costs this year alone.

But it was in where the BC Liberals decided to spend more money that the Liberal sensibilities of both Colin Hansen and his predecessor Gary Collins, were most evident:
$6.5 billion over the next three years has been dedicated to health, education, social services and environmental spending programs.
730,000 low income British Columbians will pay less or no provincial income tax, those earning $16,000 a year or less will no longer pay provincial income tax.
Single people earning less than $20,000 a year, while couples 65 and over and families of four making less than $29,000 per year will no longer pay MSP premiums.

Overall there were tax reductions totaling $484 million a year that were targeted almost exclusively at low-income earners. Yet despite these tax cuts and the additional spending next year’s surplus is projected to be $1.4 billion.

So for all those naysayers who said, “tax cuts don’t pay for themselves” take heed. They do. Another thing to keep in mind is that the BC NDP has never rescinded its promise to roll back “the Gordon Campbell tax cuts.” So for those of you hoping for an NDP victory on May 17th, your reward should they be successful will be more taxes, especially for low-income earners.

Of course the NDP have also been promising more spending for health care. Well while the NDP have been promising the BC Liberals have been delivering with $3.8 billion in increased annual funding since the Campbell government was elected in 2001. As Finance Minister Colin Hansen recently pointed out it wasn’t until the Liberals were elected that the BC Mental Health Plan was fully funded. The NDP had been content to announce, re-announce and announce yet again, but cruelly enough never actually got around to funding it.

As the father of two school age children I was very pleased to see an additional $622 million allocated over the next three years for kindergarten to grade 12 education. There is also $372 million to help create 16,000 news spaces for post-secondary education and $450 million for loan and grant programs for post-secondary students. Best of all future tuition fee increases have been capped at the rate of inflation.

Over $1 billion dollars has also been earmarked for road improvements and repairs, and $207 million for municipal and regional infrastructure and $81 million to enhance BC’s thriving tourism sector. Having worked in and around the BC Legislature since 1989 I would have to say this is the best provincial budget I have ever seen bar none.

It is not a statement I make lightly. I have said in previous columns and I will state again that Gary Collins will likely go down in history as one of the most able Finance Ministers this province has ever had. Collins did much of the groundwork for this budget and Hansen has shown himself to be a worthy successor to Collins.

I also feel the need to mention that both of these gentlemen are in fact federal Liberals. I believe that is worth noting because all too often we tend to assume that fiscally responsible government spending is solely the purview of Conservative governments. One only has to look at the disastrous deficit budgets that the Conservatives racked up in Saskatchewan under former Premier Grant Devine, or the surplus federal budgets achieved by Paul Martin to know that all political parties tend to have a mixed track record in this area.

Even the NDP, who in BC tend to be irresponsible tax and spend socialists, are in Saskatchewan much more prudent financial managers. In fact the NDP here in BC are so left wing that even Manitoba NDP Premier Gary Doer urged his BC brethren to adopt a more politically moderate approach.

Unfortunately Doer’s pleas seem to have fallen on deaf ears. NDP leader Carole James has surrounded herself with a very hardcore group of union activists and “former” Marxists as political advisors. One such person is Boyd Pyper, who during his days as a student at the University of Victoria was a self-described “Gramshite Marxist.” I’m not sure if Boyd is still a follower of Gramshi or Marx but he is certainly one of Carole James new generation of “moderate” advisors.

Similarly in a column published on January 18th in the Province newspaper, Mike Smyth revealed that one of Carole James’ new generation “moderate” candidates was in fact a former communist. Rob Fleming, who is now 33, admitted to Smyth that when he was in his early 20s that he was a member of the International Socialists and used to hand out copies of the Socialist Worker on downtown Victoria streets. Fleming is now the NDP’s candidate in Victoria-Hillside and will likely be the sitting MLA for that riding after May 17th.

All this points to a situation where during the disastrous Glen Clark era, most of the real moderates who had become involved with the NDP when Mike Harcourt was leader quit. Left behind was a group of “true believers” whose ranks were bolstered with the arrival of recently reformed Marxists and Communists who sensed an opportunity to slightly modify their ideology in return for a shot at achieving real political power.

What makes this all the more frightening is the fact that it is still not inconceivable that the NDP could win the upcoming provincial election. If that happens we will see one of the most left wing administrations in Canadian history. Now I write this not as some right wing ideologue but as someone who served as a Ministerial Assistant in the Mike Harcourt government and went to the same university at the same time as Boyd Pyper and saw first hand his political leanings.

As for Rob Fleming one of his claims to fame during his days at the University of Victoria was impersonating an electoral officer in order to have a political opponent’s signs removed. In fact I am still friends with one of the people who served as an electoral officer during that campaign and she has never forgiven nor forgotten the dishonorable manner in which Fleming conducted himself during that election.

I have written previously in this column about the conduct of Adrian Dix who was Glen Clark’s right hand man and like Fleming he also tends to subscribe to “the end justifies the means” school of political thuggery. Dix who is the NDP’s nominated candidate for Vancouver-Kingsway is also likely to be elected as an MLA in the upcoming provincial election.

The upcoming provincial election on May 17th does matter because it is the economic well being of our province that is on the line. I strongly support well-funded health, education and social services programs. I also approve of regulations that protect our environment and workers from harm. I also strongly support any initiatives that improve our transportation and communications services. But I also recognize that the only way we can have well funded public programs is to have a thriving private sector.

If you over tax, over regulate and treat business people as the enemy then investment will flee the province. This is exactly what happened during the Glen Clark administration. So as a result unemployment increased and health care suffered. So ironically enough those who want to vote NDP to help our health, education and social service programs will at the end of the day actually be doing more to hurt than help those areas.

In fact, regardless of your personal political views, if you want a good understanding of what it takes to make an economy prosper then I would encourage you to read “The Birth of Plenty” by William J. Bernstein. A colleague of mine at the Victoria Times-Colonist recommended it to me and I was not disappointed.

Bernstein points out that four conditions must exist for a nation to experience economic growth. They are:
· Property Rights, this means not only having legal title to your home and business, but also intellectual property rights so that innovators are encouraged to innovate.
· Scientific Rationalism, or as it is better known the scientific process where everything is subject to investigation and testing regardless of religious view or dogma.
· Capital Markets, entrepreneurs need access to capital (i.e. money) in order to help start and grow their businesses.
· Transportation and Communication Infrastructure, farmers, business owners and society at large need to be able to rapidly and efficiently move information as well as goods and services.

In 1820 all of these factors came into being in England and shortly thereafter countries like Holland the United States and Germany. The result has been sustained economic growth that has averaged 2% per year that has made all of us in the Western World wealthier.

To put things into perspective, prior to 1820 the life expectancy of the average European was 25. For these people life was indeed nasty brutish and short. Now average life expectancies are closing in on 80 years.

To put it another way, if the Romans had been able to put these four factors into place during their time, with sustained 2% growth per year, everyone reading this column would now be a multi-billionaire in real dollars terms.

The book also serves to explain why some nations, like Japan and West Germany quickly recovered from being almost completely destroyed in the Second World War while other nations, such as Communist North Korea and virtually all of Africa and the Middle East have remained mired in poverty and despair.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Rules hem us in on both sides

Victoria Times Colonist

Re: "All that red tape is simply too much," Jan. 8.
With each passing year more and more citizens find themselves caught in an ever-growing web of rules and regulations. Not only does this cost us in terms of fines, but as your editorial so astutely pointed out, it costs us many thousands of dollars each year in coping with this ever-growing mountain of paperwork.

Moreover it has led to a culture where public employees see it as not only their right but also their responsibility to admonish the taxpayers who provide their wages, thus adding insult to injury.

Whether it is the religious right trying to impose their moral views on the rest of society or the left wing attempting to tax, regulate and fine our every move, we find ourselves hemmed in on both sides.

I fear the situation will get much worse before it gets any better.