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.