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It’s time for the NDP in Ottawa

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015

The 2015 federal election has been called.

I’ve declared. It is the NDP whom I’m supporting.

No doubt, you’ve seen my many political posts and know well of my deep distain for the current government.

I was somewhat less committed to this choice until the Liberals under Justin Trudeau supported Bill C-51. That sealed my support for Thomas Mulcair and the NDP.

Many of you know that I once ran as a candidate for the NDP against who is now the premier of British Columbia- and later ran for the nomination in the federal riding of Vancouver-Centre. My own partisanship therefore might seem like a foregone conclusion. But don’t let that fool you. I was disillusioned by the NDP and its own weaknesses for many years. It isn’t perfect and my circumstances at the time had me staring straight into those imperfections. It took me ten years to realize that the seeds to those circumstances were sewn by none other than myself and that no party is perfect, anywhere at any time. But my return to the NDP fold has been very, very slow and I have questioned myself every step of the way. I still refuse to rejoin as a member but I certainly have no qualms about expressing why I will vote for the NDP.

As we look across the expanse of this upcoming 78-day election campaign, I see on the horizon two very different Canadas. Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are taking this country into some very deep and uncharted waters. They have lied and they have deceived us all to get us this far. I don’t want to overemphasize this but truly, this election will see us at the brink.

In one direction will see us having more added to the unprecedented record of what we’ve had for the last 4 years… Contempt of Parliament, a devastating economic record based on oil and gas, unprecedented scandals, unprecedented muzzling of science, an unprecedented targeting and demonizing of one cultural group (Muslims), an unprecedented overt attempt to control the media, an unprecedented suggestion that citizenship can be revoked, the unprecedented passage of an anti-terrorism act whose scope is so broad that just about everybody can be a potential target, an unprecedented commitment to warmongering and warfare, unprecedented secret trade deals and radical legal changes buried in omnibus bills, unprecedented limit on Parliamentary oversight, unprecedented attacks on organized labour and working families… What more evidence do we need? We are headed toward a country I have never known.

On the other hand, the opposition parties, disparate as they are, are jostling each other for the touted place as “government in waiting”. The Liberals under Justin Trudeau (a star leader if ever there were one) seem to be mired still in their own narcissism and arrogance- no matter what they tell us. Actions speak louder than words and their policies shift with the winds which means the finger they raise to test those winds could very well be the same one Justin’s father used to signal his distain for unhappy voters from a train in Salmon Arm in the summer of 1982.

This was the case when Trudeau kicked the Liberal senators out of the Liberal caucus. Good for him… that was a good start. But then he turned around and supported (as did the former Liberal Senators) supported the most draconian, invasive, unprecedented attack on Canadians’ political and civic rights ever by proposing a few amendments knowing they would be defeated and then voting for Bill C-51, the new “anti-terrorism” bill.

On every question, Canadians have to hold their breath wondering which way the Trudeau weathervane policy-machine will point. Behind the leader, who’s in charge? The Chrétien-ites who could go populist and left? Or the Martin-ites who would just find the path Harper has hitherto forged and follow it, leading us further into oblivion? We just don’t know and we would only know once they actually started to govern. That’s too much of a blank cheque in this time of extremes if you ask me. What we need is certainty. What we need is someone to stop the inevitable lock-step march we are headed on, point in another direction and then lead us in that direction. And as much as many might like to believe otherwise, Trudeau just doesn’t have the personal gravitas, or control of his party, to make that happen.

Then there is the Green Party. While principled, and in the past has been a very strong contender for my vote, is just not big enough to stop the Conservative bulldozing machine. I love Elizabeth May’s plucky earnestness- almost naiveté- in Parliament. She harkens back to a day when politics may still have been bare-knuckled but at least there was a civility and respect for the process and the institution of Parliament. She has principles and is no doubt the conscience of Parliament just as the NDP used to be under Tommy Douglas and Ed Broadbent.

But the reality is that the issues confronting Canadians in this election span much more than environmental or representational questions. There are elections where those questions are relevant- but not this one. This election is about much, much, more. Yes, she may be the lone voice talking about “Democracy” but right now we need boots- lots of them- in Parliament to ensure that her (and our) beloved democracy survives and the Greens just can’t pull that miracle off.

This leaves us with only one choice. The NDP is that party, although the media seem very slow to recognized that fact. The NDP is Her Majesty’s Official Opposition and second in the polls. They are there for a good reason. They have proven themselves to be competent in the “game” of politics and most reflective of the values of Canadians.

The national NDP has expertise rooted deeply in communities across the country. It has been government in six of Canada’s provinces as well as Yukon, and shares the same values as a long-governing party in a seventh. The NDP has had its grand moments and its downfalls. As a movement and as a political organization, the NDP has grown and matured. To be national government, it is ripe for the picking.

Along the journey in its quest for relevance, the NDP has shed much of its extremist “socialist” views, although I can’t say they are gone for sure. All I know is that the system of government we have now slows any agenda to glacial speed until you’ve been in office long enough to manipulate the systems themselves… just as the Conservatives have managed to do since 2006. But the direction the NDP pulls will at least right our “ship of State” and pull us back from that brink. If it goes too far in the future, kick the rotters out… just as we must do to the current regime in this election.

In the last decade we have seen almost imperceptibly incremental steps towards a totalitarian State under Stephen Harper and the Conservatives… but they have started to have a cumulative effect. With every ‘reform’, the Harper’s Conservatives are getting bolder. Never ever forget that Hitler’s Nazis were first elected to the Reichstag. They didn’t just magically appear there one day. Yes, Krystallnacht helped them seize power but not every extremist needs a staged riot to win an election, do they? The conditions that made their seizure of power possible were slowly built up over time making 1933 a  pivotal moment in German history.

But let’s look away from the extreme, worst-case scenario and look at our everyday situation. This election, like never before, is about the kind of Canada YOU want to live in. Tax breaks that impoverish, rather than services that empower. Environmental policies that pull us back into the dark ages rather than policies that would create jobs and improve our impact on the environment. Economic policies that support the wealthy’s tax havens rather than ones that build our communities. A “multi-cultural” Canada that suits Conservative dogma rather than one that supports all Canadians to be their best in their endeavours. Cuts to education and social assistance and growth in jails rather than the other way around. Lies sold as truth, or the truth as Canadians experience it. Solutions to problems invented for expediency, or solutions to make our lives better for real.

That is the choice.

This is the election for a generation.

This is the moment for real change.

This is a Call to Arms… for Democracy.

Tales from the Hearing

Friday, January 18th, 2013

Enbridge-ConversationIt has been a couple of day since I made my presentation before the Enbridge Northern Gateway hearings and I thought I’d share my impressions of what happened to you.

I figure I probably should since there was almost no way for you, the public, to know.

As a presenter scheduled to speak on Tuesday afternoon starting at 1:30, I reported to the 4th floor of the Sheraton Wall Centre Hotel by about 1:10. When I got there, one of the hearings officials was already in the middle of her presentation to tell us what to expect when we went into the hearings room.

I listened to the presentation and then signed in.

The first group of three speakers was called and they were shuffled off to another room on the 4th floor and we sat in our holding room and watched them enter and sit down in front of the panel. The camera angle looked over the shoulders of the representatives of the ‘applicant’, with the panel sitting to the left and the presenters sitting to the right facing them.

The Chair of the panel would welcome the three speakers and then ask the first to speak. When the speaker was finished, there was no comment, nothing more than a cursory “Thank you” and then the next speaker was invited to begin.

Once the third speaker had concluded, they were shuffled out of the room (not to return to our holding room) and the next three who had been called during the presentation of the last speaker of the previous group, were shuffled in and the whole play began anew.

I sat there, watching the big-screen TV displaying the goings-on in the hearing room and was deeply moved by what some of the other speakers had to say.

One was an engineer who spoke passionately about the engineering, the science and the chemistry behind this stuff benignly called “bitumen”. “Once the condensate evaporates after the accident, it’s basically asphalt without the sand”, he said. In his younger years, he remembered working for a firm that used bitumen in this form to patch roads.

Another was a photographer who chose to speak about two different types of albatrosses. It turns out that she encountered them on the Midway Atoll, but reminded us that they matter because while they nest half-way to Japan, they forage for food in the Douglas Channel.

Another was a lawyer who, if I recall, in a previous life, was a chemical engineer. She talked about how there is so much missing in the hearings, in the science, in the planning- and she was utterly astounded by how third-world-ish our environmental hearings are compared to what she encountered in Chile, Argentina and elsewhere in the supposedly less civilized world than ours.

And then there were those who spoke of close personal ties to the region. They spoke of swimming and drinking the beautiful, sweet waters of the Kitimat River. They recalled seeing humpback whales at the very docks that the tankers would be docking. Others contrasted the wonders of nature with the hazards of avalanches, of potential leaks under 30 feet of snow, of emergencies where helicopters can’t fly in because of the bad weather.

Others spoke of the hazards of navigating not only the Douglas Channel (one quipped that they were impressed by the hubris of Enbridge and its plan to remove all the islands of Douglas Channel- he just wondered where it was going to get the money to do all that work!) but the challenges of the Hecate Strait and the Dixon Entrance- both classified as some of the most dangerous navigable ocean waters in the world.

Meanwhile, I watched what the Enbridge representatives were doing. Sometimes there were two people at the table. Sometimes only one. Sometimes it was a woman, sometimes not. They clearly weren’t really interested in what was being said; they were there because the “applicant” had to be present. That’s all.

During these passionate speeches (all excellently presented, by the way), I watched Enbridge representatives type emails on their Blackberries, fiddle with their iPads and on occasion, check their watches. They looked like teenagers in detention- or else well on their way to being on detention, sitting at the back of the room like caged animals yearning to be doing better things than listen to these endless speeches.

It truly must have been terribly tedious for them. All they want is a goddamned pipeline. All they want is to provide the conduit for billions of barrels of ‘bitumen’ and ‘condensate (read billions of dollars into their shareholder’s pockets and their little take for their childrens’ retirements). To be forced to listen to all these people drone on about the environment, about the disasters which have been designed out of the proposal, about personal ties to the land, about oil tankers and their shortcomings when they really did have better things to do like, say, golf in Palm Springs. Poor things.

It is ironic that while I was sitting in the holding pen on the 4th floor of the Sheraton Wall Centre Hotel, I found in Tuesday’s issue of the Vancouver Sun on page A8 an advertisement from Enbridge’s Executive Vice President, Janet Holder, expounding on the economic benefits (spun so tightly it was self-evident in the ad that the benefits were dubious) and inviting a conversation after we ‘dug deeper‘ to see just how great this project is.

At 5:20 it was finally my turn along with two others and just as all the others were, we where staged just outside the hearings room, two VPD officers and a couple of security-types milling about the front door. When the previous three speakers were done, the door was opened and they filed out. We shuffled into our allocated seats and, just as with the others, briefly welcomed, and then instructed to begin.

So I launched into my speech, (see my previous blog entry below for the text) and ensured that no Enbridge representative was going to fiddle with his Blackberry or iPad while I spoke.

I’ll give the panel members credit: they actually listened. They actually took notes. Brief ones but hey- it was a C+ / B- performance. The truants at the back of the class? They may not have taken any notes but at least when it was time to nail them with the Truth, they were like deer in the headlights.

I was allocated 10 minutes. Because of two very small insertions into my speech, including a reference to the image of the air quality in Beijing in the very same issue of the Vancouver Sun as the ad, I ran overtime. I still had three sentences to go when I was cut off and ‘asked’ to give them one more sentence.

So I did. “We do not inherit the Earth from our parents; we borrow it from our children,” is what I closed with. And with that, the panel was on to the next speaker.

Twenty minutes later we were lead out of the room and after collecting our coats we took to the elevator and headed back out onto Burrard Street and on with our lives.

But I’m happy to smirk that I have one small footnote: I went up to the panelists and shook their hands. And then, like the smiling opponent I know I am, I went up to the Enbridge representatives and held out my hand. The first took my hand and shook it knowing that it was part of the show.

But the other one I know I got under his skin. Sitting there, he looked up at me standing with my hand extended. He looked at me in the eye and then looked at my hand. I could see disgust flash across his face- he really didn’t want to shake my hand- and then reluctantly, very reluctantly, he shook my hand extended in front of his face for over five seconds- but there was no eye contact.

I got you right between the eyes, Mr Enbridge Representative. You may get your pipeline, but I got your conscience.

After digging deeper, just as your Executive Vice-President invited me to do, I did my part. I said my piece and you didn’t like it one bit. Welcome to the conversation.  Enjoy it now, because for you, it’s only going to get worse.

Telus Park-Gate

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

The province is hundreds of millions of dollars in the red. The teachers have been on strike. Hospitals are dirtier and overflowing to the point that Tim Horton’s does a better job of cleaning and accommodating patients. BC Ferries is broke. The Enbridge oil pipeline is going to be a bigger issue in BC than all the logging confrontations in the past- put together.

And the best we can do for a debate on the direction of this government in Victoria, is whether Christy Clark was responsible for sabotaging a 20 million dollar deal with Telus to rename BC Place Stadium, Telus Park?

According to Vaughn Palmer of the Vancouver Sun, the Liberals were running full-steam-ahead with the plan with Adrian Dix of the NDP claiming that the stadium should always be called BC Place as it was build and renovated with taxpayers’ money. Suddenly, the Liberals ‘change their minds’ over the deal and Telus is left out in the cold. And get this… Dix is now fiddling the other tune… how could the government scuttle such a ‘valuable’ deal?

In my mind, what’s valuable about a $20 million, ten year deal? In 10 years, a single family house in Vancouver will probably sell for $2.0 million. So in 2022, Telus will have the naming rights to a 55,000 seat stadium for the price of an average house. Doesn’t sound like a great deal for BC at all.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am no supporter of the BC Liberals. Read my past entries and remember that I ran against Christy Clark for NDP in 2001. So when I say that this was the right decision, I am definitely singing outside the choir, apparently. But then again, BC politics rarely involves discussions and positions that actually make sense.

Let me say this again: In ten years, the average house will probably be equivalent to one year’s naming rights to BC Place Stadium.

Come on. Enough with this piddling around over a few bucks.

It feels like the governance and management of the province is being run off the end of the Premier’s desk while she applies herself to more important things- like being liked. Adrian Dix is doing no better. And the media seem to be content to sell advertising by reporting how bad the traffic is.

It’s time we had a serious debate about how we are going to afford the services we need in the province, and how we are going to put people back to work.

Party Memberahip Fraud

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

When will partisans of all stripes learn that signing other people up without their consent or worse, their knowledge, is wrong? What about pets?

Membership brokering sounds perfectly fine and normal but what it really is, is pimping hapless bystanders as a commodity.  It is a perversion and corruption of the democratic process. And it is wrong.

Full stop.

But what has piqued me enough to add my two cents worth is about Craig Bonner, the WHL Kamloops Blazers junior hockey team general manager who, as a result of a ‘communication error’ signs up the team to the Liberal Party of British Columbia.

Justifying such fraud by saying that it’s an “opportunity” for people aged 14 and up to participate in electing the next premier is unacceptable. If my hockey coach had signed me up for a membership in anything, much less a political party, without my consent I’d have his derrière in court.

And to call it a “communication error”, is disingenuous to say the least. Kevin Falcon’s spin-meisters toiled long into the night to come up with that one. There was no “error”. Mr. Bonner deliberately, and knowingly, penned his players’ names to specific forms that state that they are membership forms to the BC Liberal Party. He presumably signed their signatures and appended the $10.00 in their name to have them added as members. Yup, it wasn’t an “error”. Looks like “fraud” to me.

Now, having been caught out, he’s asked that all the names be withdrawn. But what if one of the players actually wants to be a member now. Are they blacklisted?

If the Chief Electoral Officer doesn’t investigate, then the RCMP should.

Kevin Falcon was not aware of the misdeed. I am certain that Christy Clark wasn’t aware that someone’s cat had signed on to her team. But Adrian Dix and Mike De Jong actively negotiated mass memberships with “brokers” from ethnic communities. While all of it is bad politics, the latter two are guilty of completely crossing the line.

Call it “mistakes” by overzealous campaigners. It doesn’t matter. I don’t hold the candidates themselves responsible but it certainly underscores the depths to which partisans will go to put their preferred candidate to the fore. Sadly, the relative moral ground upon which these leaders operate has its foundations in the membership who, as it turns out is no better than them.

Thanks, Carole

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

It couldn’t have been easy for Carole James yesterday. Resigning and all.

But it was the right thing to do on so many levels.

First, James just didn’t have what it takes to ‘lead’. Yes, she has all the right credentials and experience but she was unable to translate that into street-cred with the voters, myself included.

But yesterday’s press conference shed light on exactly what was missing from her performances as leader.

Through all that British Columbians have been through in the last ten years never, ever emotionally conveyed that she connected with their frustration and anger.

Sure, she’d say all the right things, stand with the right people but somehow it felt like we were always being being attended to by an college professor giving a lecture on public policy or a Sesame Street-esque chat on how to be being everybody’s friend..

Her press conference shed just a tiny ray of light on the Carole James that could have won the election, however.

When asked by a reporter to name those who had stabbed her on the back, she turned to the reporter with eyes that could have killed him and a tone of voice that could have then buried him and replied, “You know who those thirteen are.”

Just seeing that on TV was an eviscerating experience. I’d call it an Oscar-winning performance but it was no ‘performance’.

It was as real as the day is long. She was angry and it showed. For once the words that came out of mouth, measured and controlled as they were, aligned with the tone and body language that gave them gravitas.

If James had emoted or even pretended to emote like that throughout her time as leader of the NDP, she’d be premier today.

Another layer is that the party has been gripped with fear of busting open long-standing rivalries, age-old debates between the greenies and the brownies; about making the hard decisions that must be made to turn the party into a Liberal fighting machine.

James’ endorsement by the Provincial Council underscored the still existent lacuna between the party and it’s perpetually “waffly” fnirvana-like outlook of it’s die-hard membership and it’s core cadre of elected officials who ser the world through very different, pragmatic, eyes.

So ever the pragmatist myself, I offer my kudos to the thirteen who did what had to be done.

And now the political pablum that has gone for NDP policy and communications might just be on the verge of being replaced by a real and effective war chest of Liberal-crushing policies and communications strategies.

And so now what? That’s hard for me to say. In fact, I’ll leave that up to the prognosticators who are much closer to the game.

Even if it is just thirteen individuals, I’m just glad there is still a pragmatic streak in the Official Opposition that is willing to call a spade a spade.