November, 2008

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Are Harper’s days numbered?

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

We deserve, so the saying goes, the government we elect. And so it certainly is this time round when we elect a Conservative minority matched with a feckless opposition for the second time in a row. Until now, that is. For the first time in half a decade, we might just have a real opposition ready to take over the strings of power.

Stephen Harper is starting to bare his teeth through his good-natured, sweater-clad persona. To be honest, I was really impressed with him in the first minority government. Instead of the Jean Chretien years of, “Well iss like when yer stuck in a snow bank- you go forwards den you go backwards den you go forwards until you get out” school of policy making, followed by the utterly spineless Liberal stewardship under Paul Martin that doesn’t even rate a methodology, Stephen Harper actually stood for something.

Many Canadians may not have agreed much with what he was wanting to do but at least he drew a line in the sand and stood by it. Like it or not, he was in charge. And he played Parliament like it was a violin- not a good one mind you, with broken strings and busted bow, but a violin nonetheless.

The opposition has been in as much disarray as it was before the election but there is something very different now. It’s almost as if Harper is tired of governing as a minority- and governing a pluralistic society. In past political manoeuvrings, Harper has made some significant changes to the Canadian policy landscape by either tossing in a sweetening pill for one of the opposition parties so that they wouldn’t dare defeat the measure, or else he would evoke some sort of poison-pill that pitted one opposition party against another. It was genius politics.

But this time he has gone way too far. Harper is starting to show is utter contempt for Parliament by bringing forth an economic statement that includes no measures to stimulate the economy but proposes to save the Canadian taxpayer all of $23-million in subsidies to the political parties. Twenty-three million dollars- that’s less than a dollar per citizen of Canada. Symbolically it’s significant. It’s just that the symbol speaks to the very democracy that we have here in Canada. And Harper clearly wants to have nothing more with it.

And so the opposition, in a shameless act of self-preservation is finally coming together to draw its line in the sand. Harper has seen the line and has delayed the vote for a week- presumably to measure the winds of opinion. And it doesn’t look good for his government. In this turn, his arrogance might have got the better of his Parliamentary chess game. It is not yet “Check-Mate”, but it is certainly the first “Check”- a warning that he is about to be taken out.

Editorials in the more conservative papers warn the Liberals that they were soundly repudiated in the last election. Quite the contrary- the election was the the Conservative’s to lose and that they did. Failing to achieve the magic majority they cynically thought they could grasp underscored Canadian’s rightful distrust of Harper and his policies.

Coalition or election, it doesn’t really matter. The Conservatives are wearing out their welcome mat very quickly. Harper is starting to show himself to be a combative, contemptuous troll and its time that we saw the change that the majority of Canadians were looking for in the Great Pointless Election of 2008.

A coalition would do Canadians very well. After all, the Bloc, the NDP and the Liberals are not far apart on most issues that are important to Canadians. And who knows- we might actually get some mature government since all the children will have to stop kicking sand in each other’s eyes and steer this ship away from the shoals of economic and political disaster.

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Robertson makes Vancouver a Happy Planet

Saturday, November 15th, 2008

Vision Vancouver Mayor-electAfter the most despicable civil election campaign season in Vancouver’s history, it looks like Gregor Robertson is going to be our new mayor and starting tomorrow he is going to have his work cut out for him.

The first item on his agenda will be to find a way to douse the open flames that are burning both on the deck of his ship, Vision Vancouver, as well as on the deck of his rival, the Non-Partisan Association.

Accusations have been flying between Vision Vancouver and the NPA over the hundred million dollar loan guarantee. First it was about whether it was appropriate to keep the deal behind closed doors. Then it turned out that the numbered copy of the discussion paper that went missing had been assigned to none other than Finance Committee Chair and NPA Mayoral candidate Peter Ladner. Just as Ladner started to cry foul, Vision Vancouver’s Raymond Louie threatened to sue everybody except Santa Claus over an unattributed report on Global Television that it was he who made the document disappear.

Lost in all the screaming and yelling have been all the other issues that affect Vancouver. While both mayoral candidates and their respective parties both agree that homelessness is the number one priority facing the city, neither side had a chance to make their positions clear to the electorate before the loan guarantee hullabaloo.

Other issues that were not discussed but will be white-hot topics of contention during this term will be the final preparations for the 2010 Winter Olympics. And then as though that won’t be contentious enough- it will also be in this term that Vancouver is actually going to play host to these games. Council better be ready for the onslaught of complaints from local residents concerning traffic, hotel vacancy rates, rents, and general disruption of everybody’s precious little worlds here in Lotusland.

Former mayor and Premier of the province Gordon Campbell can’t seem to keep his hand out of the civic arena either. Now that he has lost his ally, outgoing mayor Sam Sullivan, it is quite possible that Grandpa Gordo will start fishing around, stirring the pot that much more. Campbell would do well to stay out of the City’s business.

And so would Robertson do well to stay out of provincial affairs. Vancouver civic elections are often referenda on the provincial government’s performance but this time it doesn’t look like it was. Robertson, a former opposition MLA in the Legislature will have to manage expectations that he will want to pick fights with the BC Liberals when there needs to be continued good relations that front.

It’s good to know that there are points of common interest between the civic parties. Hopefully, our new mayor will be able to bring the council together to peaceably complete the financial arrangements surrounding the Olympic Village and get on with the business of making Vancouver a more liveable city- especially for the homeless.

There has been too much bickering on Vancouver City Council for too long. Now that the election is behind us it’s time for our councillors to grow up and get things done. After all, that’s what we’ve elected them to do.

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It's time to hold your nose

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Something really stinks at City Hall. And out of this pile of stinking manure we have to choose our future for the next three years.

The smell can be overwhelming when the mayor, two past mayors, and the Chair of the Finance Committee who is a mayor-wannabe, close ranks and agree that taxpayers should be kept in the dark about their money.

All four men represent the three governing political parties that got us into this mess. Anybody who thought they’d come out against these sorts deals should give their heads a shake.

Our most recent past-mayor, elected as a COPE mayor turned VISION mayor, is now a senator. So much for accountability. Larry Campbell knows who to ignore to get what he wants. Now that he’s a senator, those he can most afford to ignore voters since I don’t know too many senators who would risk their life-long powdered butts for the electorate.

For Sam Sullivan, one of Vancouver’s leading candidates for the ‘Demagogue of the Year’ award, to side against the public’s right to know comes as no surprise. Indeed, given that he’s the one that took the council in-camera to consider this $100,000,000.00 gift to the developer, he’d be beyond hypocritical if he were to turn around and agree to opening the process up to the light of day.

For Philip Owen to have come out of private life to weigh in on this fiasco is a bit of a surprise if not a serious disappointment. For the NPA to be reaching back to a leader they formerly repudiated underscores how desperate they are to save their collective political skin. What has Philip to gain from coming out of private life? Perhaps to save his own legacy?

Peter Ladner, asserting that he was framed, insisting that the city is losing millions while political posturing goes on, is desperate to get this flaming file off his desk. But he’s just adding gasoline to that fire by saying last week that the property endowment fund was able to carry this extra burden only to say this week that there is no liquidity in the fund at all. This, from the Chair of the Finance Committee.

Just like John “The Fundamentals of the Economy are Strong” McCain a month before the US stock market went to Hell in a Hand basket, I seriously doubt that Ladner has a complete grasp of the financial picture of the city. And now he wants to be mayor.

We should not be so naive as to believe that the city cannot have secret negotiations. What should concern us, however, is that only with the shining of light on this one case, other liabilities have become better known. Like another $390,000,000.00 loan guarantee to the same New York finance company. At this rate, it’s starting to look like the City of Vancouver is a joint-partner alongside the US Treasury Department in bankrolling Wall Street.

So let the politicians throw mud at each other. It’s time for us grown-ups to make a decision and to cast our vote. For the City of Vancouver’s ballot we should aim for a balance: a number of veterans and a few newcomers to city council. Gregor Robertson as Mayor, and a couple of Vision Vancouver candidates, such as Tim Stevenson and Raymond Louie. Robertson’s judgement may have been clouded over his fare evasion issue but like it or not, he’s as much an outsider as we are going to get in this election.

As for the capital expenditures, Vancouverites should vote a firm NO to all of them. It’s time there was real accountability at City Hall and throwing good money after bad to this bunch of children who seemingly couldn’t manage an allowance from their parents should not be the ones in charge of another $100,000,000 of our money for capital expenditures. At least not until the Olympic Village disaster is accounted for to the satisfaction of the voters, citizens and taxpayers of this fair city.

And once our councillors believe they have cleaned up the way City Hall does business, they can call for a plebiscite to approve the extra capital expenditures. Like an interim performance report card, it would be a decent referendum on whether we citizens think our politicians have cleaned up their act enough to once again deserve our confidence.

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Politics and the Hundred Million Dollar Question

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

A buck twenty-five, or a hundred million dollars. A transit-fare cheat or a dismissive steward of our tax-money who refuses to share what is up with the city’s finances. That’s our choice for mayor in this election.

Just when I thought I knew the answer to who I thought should be mayor of Vancouver, this perfect storm blows across out fair city. Peter Ladner, in an off-handed comment at CKNW surmised the convenience of diverting from Robertson’s fare evasion scandal last week and the loan issue this week- suggesting that Vision Vancouver created a stir to deflect from Robertson’s image troubles. Convenient indeed.

Were it not for Vision Vancouver’s Tim Stevenson to draw attention to this in-camera decision to lend (or guarantee) Millennium Developments or its own financier, Fortress Investments, $100,000,000 to ensure the Olympic village got done, we would have never known about it. Certainly not before the election. Any more details? Nope. It was all discussed in-camera.

To be clear, considering the sad state of real estate prices in the Vancouver market, it’s looking like the taxpayers of Vancouver are going to be on the hook for most, if not all of the hundred million.

But to be fair, if the city does wind up having to foot the bill for the final touches on the new False Creek neighbourhood, the entire development will revert to city ownership. While this much we do know, questions remain.

The fact that it is silly-season, with a full city-wide election only a week away, politics cannot be cleaved out of this discussion. Is this just a political stunt being played by Vision Vancouver to discredit the NPA? Maybe. But regardless, because all the political parties agreed to an in-camera session to discuss this issue there is no way of knowing the truth to this most political of questions and so I cast a pox on all their houses.

Since Vision Vancouver and their comrads in COPE got weak-kneed about playing along with the NPA to go in-camera concerning this massive liability, I question their judgement in the first place. Equally, the fact that the NPA wasn’t prepared for this public outrage is equally mind-stumping.

Peter Ladner, the NPA Mayoral candidate, assures us all that even if the city does wind up having to pay out the $100,000,000.00, taxpayers will not have to pay a dime. How, is that possible? Does he propose that the short-fall be paid out of parking meter revenue? How is it that demanding to know what’s going on, “posturing” as Ladner puts it, is “costing us millions of dollars”? Who is in control here? The developer or the citizens of Vancouver? What other financial surprises have you hidden from the taxpayers?

Should the city have entered into a $100,000,000.00 agreement at all- never mind that it was in secret? Not on your life. A contract was signed several years ago and a contract is a contract. In the case of default, according to the contract, the property reverts to the city. So if the entire development was about to revert to the city, why should it not? At least we’d have an asset to balance the liability. But we can’t un-ring a bell. What’s done is done. Or so it seems.

So putting politics aside (because I still don’t know who to vote for) and looking forward, it is imperative on the Vancouver City Council to add a condition to the loan- or loan guarantee- whatever it is, that Fortress Investments actively and agressively look for alternative financing. On this point there should be no negotiation so that the taxpayers of Vancouver are not exposed to this $100,000,000.00 liabiity until the end of the Olympics. If this condition isn’t met, the city should walk away from the table.

The taxpayers of Vancouver deserve no less.

 

Welcome to a New Day, America

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

It’s 9:25pm Vancouver-time, Tuesday November 4th, 2008. Barack Obama has been declared the winner of the 2008 Presidential election. John McCain has conceded to him. President Bush has called to congratulate him.

The people of the United States have finally allowed themselves to be what they really are: an incredibly proud and diverse population with a long and difficult history. And tonight, they have broken through a barrier as a nation, and done themselves proud.

While Obama may be African-American, of the two leading candidates in this election, he is definitely the best man for the job.

So while race is a big deal for the annals of history, the man who was elected President tonight is like all those who preceed him in this office. He still puts his pants on the same way and faces the same steep learning curve as all the presidents who precede him. And above all, like all the presidents before him, he did not win the election because of the colour of his skin.

Among his impressive speeches of the past, Obama’s acceptance speech was nothing short of spectacular. Reaching out to both Democrats and Republicans, Obama set the standard for his upcoming four years. There will be mistakes and false starts. But he vowed to be everybody’s president.

And so tonight after his victory speech, as the President elect stepped off the stage in Chicago’s Grant Park with his running-mate Joe Biden and their families, we can for the first time in many weeks, go to sleep and sleep soundly knowing that this planet is much safer in his hands than it has been in the past eight years.

Thank you, America, for electing Barack Obama. It was absolutely the right choice. It’s been a long eight years. Welcome back. You have been missed.

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