Free your vote 2.0

vote

by Paul George

“Your input will help shape the future of our democracy,” declares a November 17 BC government press release. The release announces the BC government has introduced legislation to hold a referendum in the fall of 2018 through a mail-in vote that will ask voters to decide whether BC should keep our current voting system (First-Past-the-Post) or move to a system of Proportional Representation. https://engage.gov.bc.ca/howwevote//

It also introduced a public engagement process with feedback via an online questionnaire to help shape the referendum. Public input ends on February 28, 2018 at 4PM, after which the input will be compiled into a report by the Ministry of Attorney General and made public.

But before the government’s process was even launched, the BC Liberals were vigorously fighting against any electoral reform. Why? Why not give the process and ultimate proposal a fair hearing?

The Liberals had a different tack after they won the 2001general election. That election blatantly illustrated the unfair results that a first-past-the-post voting system can deliver in multi-party democracies. The Liberals, with 57% of the popular vote, elected 77 MLAs, a whooping 97.5% of the seats in the legislature. The NDP, with 21.5% of the vote, won just two seats (Joy MacPhail and Jenny Kwan). The upstart Green Party, with 12.4% of the popular vote, got no seats, no representation and no chance to present its ideas in the legislature for debate.

Nearly everyone, including Campbell, realized election results like that aren’t good for democracy and so he created the Citizens’ Assembly On Electoral Reform to come up with a fairer voting system to put to the electorate for a vote.

Unfortunately, the Citizen’s Assembly did not deliver an alternative that voters supported. Under the tutelage of two political scientists who were experts in a system called Single Transferable Vote (STV), a system used only in Malta, Ireland and certain jurisdictions in Australia, the Assembly voted to adopt STV and worked to craft a tailor-made version suitable for BC.

STV systems are inherently complicated. They are characterized by multi-member ridings, with voters ranking their candidate preferences and a ballot tallying system that redistributes an elector’s votes when their more preferred choices meet defeat. Computers are used to determine who is elected in a timely way.

BC’s 2005 provincial election included the first “Yes” or “No” referendum question on STV: “Should British Columbia change to the BC-STV electoral system as recommended by the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform?” 57.7% of the voters said yes, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to overcome the 60% super majority passage imposed by the BC Liberal government at the onset of the Assembly.

The voters at the time truly did support the Citizens Assembly. It was an innovative and exciting process involving people just like them. But there was no way they could have understood the system they voted “yes” for. There were no details. The made-in-BC STV system had not yet been designed.

To their credit, the Liberal government gave BC voters another chance to adopt the STV system in the 2009 provincial election. Between the two elections, the made-in-BC STV system was developed and a map of the proposed new ridings was circulated.

In the 2009 STV referendum, voter support plummeted. Why? Most political pundits figure it was because the devil was in the details. It was a complicated system. Electoral districts had varied numbers of MLAs. Some had seven; others (in the north) only two. Voter choice and the chance for representation varied as to where a person lived, which some perceived as not entirely fair. Some BC voters did not like the idea of ranking a long list of candidates. Some didn’t understand how voters got “transferred” and didn’t like having to trust a computer to tell them the results. This time, voters soundly rejected the Citizens Assembly’s recommendation. Only 39% voted for BC STV.

But the rejection of STV did not necessarily mean voters didn’t support electoral reform and a fairer voting system for BC.

What the Citizens of the Assembly proposed and what BC voters wanted were at odds. This was even known by some Assembly members before they decided on STV.

Prior to choosing which electoral system to propose for BC, the Citizen’s Assembly had narrowed their options to STV and one other proportional representation system: Mixed Member Prepositional (MMP). Used in Germany and New Zealand, MMP systems give voters two votes: one for a local representative for their riding, just as we do today in BC and a second vote for their party of choice. After the votes are tallied, if a party does not get its fair share of seats through the vote for local representatives, the party’s seats are “topped up” so the percentage of the popular vote that a party gets equals its share of seats. The method to “top up” seats varies. It is most commonly from a ranked list of candidates provided by each party, but it could be based on the top “vote-getters” that didn’t get elected from each party.

Interestingly, one of the Assembly members independently went out on the street to test sample ballots representing the two different voting systems. He found that people overwhelmingly liked the MMP ballot better.

When the Citizen’s Assembly held meetings in 50 communities around the province seeking public input on a new voting system for BC, more than 80% of all those who showed up expressed their preference for a MMP system.

In the light of this, why did the Citizens Assembly choose STV?

One of the professors assured Assembly members they could decide independently of public input because they themselves were a random sample representation of the whole province. He also implied they could ignore much of the public input because it was “politically” initiated. Although Adriane Carr, then Leader of the BC Green Party, in the year prior to Campbell establishing the Citizen’s Assembly, had previously personally sponsored an Initiative under the BC Recall and Initiative Act to hold a referendum on whether or not to adopt an MMP system, it was apolitical. Her Initiative garnered almost 100,000 signatures, not enough to be a success, but enough to widely educate the public.

I believe that what BC voters want and will readily adopt is a simple, easy-to-understand, inexpensive-to-implement and familiar-way-to-count-vote electoral system where a party’s percentage of popular vote translates into the same percentage of seats in the legislature and the vast majority of electors’ votes end up actually electing MLAs to the BC legislature – a made-in-BC MMP system.

I’ve improved on the system originally proposed by Adriane Carr (now a Vancouver City Councilor) in her Citizen’s Initiative, making it simpler and removing some elements, like a party “top-up” list, that were controversial in her 2002 Initiative bid.

  1. Electoral Districts (ridings) stay the same – in number and geography – as they are today. No need for redistribution.
  2. Voting for MLAs to represent electoral districts is carried out exactly as it is done today through the familiar first-past-the-post system.
  3. A second vote for “Which BC political party do you support?” is made from a list of registered BC political parties printed on the ballot. This vote is counted province-wide to determine each political party’s popular support.
  4. To be eligible to have representation in the legislature, a party must exceed a threshold of 5% of the popular vote. This is the same as in New Zealand and Germany.
  5. Up to 15 extra MLAs are added to the legislature to achieve as close as possible a fair proportional representation for those parties that exceed the 5% threshold of support required, but elect less than their fair share of MLAs based on their party’s percentage of popular vote.
  6. The 15 “top up” MLAs (or less) as needed to most fairly adjust to achieve proportionality are selected from that party’s unsuccessful candidates in that provincial election ranked by the candidates’ vote, from highest vote to lowest. (Note: many candidates who don’t win achieve a very near-to-winning vote in an electoral district.)

While having only 15 extra MLAs – easier to accommodate in BC’s current legislature chambers – will not always result in a fully proportional Legislature, almost all the time it will. I can only think of one election that was so skewed, that 15 extra MLAs wouldn’t be enough to correct the imbalance and that was the 2001 election, which started the whole process of considering a Proportional Representation voting system for BC.

Paul George is a Canadian environmentalist living in Gibsons, BC. He is married to Adriane Carr, former leader of the Green Party of British Columbia. He cofounded the Western Canada Wilderness Committee and was the first recipient of the BC Spaces for Nature Wild Earth Award. He is the author of Big Trees, Not Big Stumps, a history of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee.

Complicit – 2017’s “Word of the Year” defines our future

complicit

For the vast majority, the future isn’t what it used to be. The inevitable reckoning and consequences, still unscripted, will be Shakespearean in scope and proportion. “To be, or not to be” really “is the question” right now.

And ‘’All the world’s a stage… all the men and women merely players” is a fact of daily life, and death. We all have new roles and lines to learn for this looming, real-life epic. There are no exceptions and for better, or for worse, very few choices.

Warning: Canadian Microsoft researchers recently determined people now lose concentration after eight seconds, down from 12 since 2000 when our digitalized lifestyle began. The average attention span for the notoriously ill-focused goldfish is nine seconds.

Keep KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) in mind and a single Word of the Year (WOTY) in hand to help clean up our act. Dictionary.com has selected: “Complicit” as this year’s WOTY. It is defined as “Choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others; having partnership or involvement in wrongdoing… to be responsible, at some level, even if “indirectly” [emphasis added].

In last December/January’s issue, Common Ground focused on Oxford Dictionary’s 2016 WOTY “Post-truth.” It has stood up and stood out in the interim, ubiquitous on its own, and in synonyms such as “fake news” and “lies.” In fact, Collins Dictionary just recently put “fake news” on top for 2017.

But “complicit” is more significant in reflecting the ethos and capturing the zeitgeist of our time, attracting more interest and provoking much conversation. In 2017, we looked complicit up, on-line, at a rate of 10,000% more than the previous year.

The first spike in searches was on March 12, the day after a Saturday Night Live satirical ad featured an Ivanka Trump look-alike hawking “Complicit, the fragrance “for the woman who could stop all this, but won’t.” In a glittery gold dress, the fake first daughter was tagged: “She’s beautiful, she’s powerful, she’s complicit.”

The next spike on April 5, up more than 11,000%, followed a TV interview with the real Ivanka Trump. When asked if she and husband Jared Kushner were complicit in her father’s actions, she responded, “If being complicit is wanting to be a force for good and to make a positive impact, then I’m complicit.”

A few days later, the mother of all spikes occurred, when an outed, Ivy-league-educated, Ivanka, mouthed, “I don’t know what it means to be complicit.”

This 2017 WOTY had many other moments, including US Senator Jeff Flake’s unexpected retirement. “I have children and grandchildren to answer to, and so, Mr. President, I will not be complicit,” he explained, citing a “flagrant disregard for truth or decency,” adding, “It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.”

We have been complicit in speech and action and also when we remained silent. The cultural and political landscape – and the very landscape itself – demanded answers to not only what complicit means, but also what it means to be complicit.

And we turned to dictionaries. No one knows definitively what sends us looking for word meaning, but lexicographers report it’s a combination of seeking definition and searching for inspiration and emotional reinforcement. These quests, online, now show up in ongoing, digitally trending big data.

Complicity hit every hot button, globally. Touching everything from Russian collusion, to mass murder, opioids, Site C, Syria, the evil oil industry. extreme weather, humanity’s role in planetary implosion, obscene growth in inequity, normalized hate speech and groups and myriad other results, enabled through the collective ‘turning a blind eye.’

“Our choice for Word of the Year is as much about what is visible as it is about what is not,” explains dictionary.com’s Jane Solomon.”It’s a word that reminds us even inaction is a type of action. The silent acceptance of wrongdoing is how we’ve gotten to this point.”

Refusing was “a grounding force of 2017.” Five million stood in the worldwide Women’s March. Dozens of professional athletes knelt in anthemic protest against systemic injustice. The most impactful, far-reaching F**k You ever. Personal stories of sexual harassment and assault with the hashtag #metoo, finally gaining traction against age-old foundations of white male hierarchy, right down to micro-fiefdoms.

What does it mean to be complicit? Silent? Processing our current, globally existential question requires questioning our own behaviour, including co-dependency. Who knew what, when? Could I have spoken out? Did I go along because it was the path of least resistance?

Some silence, of course, is essential to self-preservation. And sometimes speaking out is a privilege unto itself. Not everyone’s voice is heard, after all. But refusals to accept the reprehensible, the repugnant and the questionable, transform apocalypse fatigue into action.

How tragic, absurdly comic or happy we make 2018 is down to us – most definitely down to our resistance. Last word on this most useful 2017 WOTY, to dictionary.com lexicographer Solomon: “We must not let this continue to be the norm. If we do, then we are all complicit.”

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola Island-based banjo player, gardener, writer and author of Our Clinic.

At mid-term: a Justin Trudeau report card

Justin Trudeau observing eclipse

It’s two years since he swept to power, high-fiving with one hand, promises for “Real Change” in the other. So right now, on the post-honeymoon anniversary of his election to majority government, halfway through his mandate, it’s time to take a full, accurate measure of our 23rd Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.

The TrudeauMeter offers a starting point and an ongoing gauge.

This non-partisan, collaborative citizen initiative is specifically designed to track performance on his platform. It lists 226 promises, spelled out in Liberal literature, speech-ified and selfie-fied during the federal campaign.

Check off 59 promises made good, but also note well: work hasn’t yet begun on precisely the same number: 59. There are 72 works in progress.

A useful word, going forward, is “porkies.” According to dictionaries, it’s cockney slang for shaded white “lies” as in, “Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been telling ‘porkies’ again.” According to the TrudeauMeter, he has flat-out broken, and downright abandoned, a whopping 36 promises to millions of Canadians, who took him at his word and got him in (and Stephen Harper out) by, in many cases, voting strategically.

The biggest fish he hooked, reeled in, used as bait or chucked overboard were electoral reformers, the environmentally inclined, the awakened millennials and First Nations.

Justin Trudeau, in the Canadian cliché, “campaigns on the left, governs on the right.” The run-up to power takes place in a less-bloodied kettle of fish. Also swimming, circling Parliament, are schools of lobbyists, assorted sharks, bottom feeders and bureaucrats, entrenched in the old power game of government.

Full marks for electoral showmanship, possibly gleaned from his part-time job teaching drama. Most unfortunately, Justin Trudeau, like far too many victorious politicians, in a post-campaign role, is now dancing with those ‘who brung him,’ the greedy elites who hold the real strings – the purse strings – and select and play the tunes.

The rest of us, the vast majority, are mere sidelined wallflowers, Still, a number of grateful Canadians would likely give the Libs a passing grade, another whirl, just for erasing “Harper” from the national dance-card. Perhaps enough, two years hence, for a nod to stay on as a minority prom-king. Some will continue to hold their noses while pointing south to the stench of a madman and his company of conspirators, fleecing and disassembling all remaining reason, resources and democracy below the border. To be fair, in context, the worsening dystopia of Donald J. Trump was beyond even our former prime minister, who trumpeted, “Nice hair, but Justin’s not ready.” Few, if any, were fully prepared.

Canada still looks good in comparison, while charting a best-course scenario through the unforeseen, current tsunamis of dangerously troubled waters, rippling and ripping northward. Endangered are trade, the economy, border security, immigration and foreign policy, etc., as well as life itself, through climate implosion or nuclear explosion.

Notable among Justin’s 59 check marks for jobs done: finally bringing 40,000 Syrian refugees to this privileged country, releasing unprecedented, public ministerial mandate letters, unmuzzling government scientists, restoring the mandatory long-form census, persuading provinces to impose low-hanging carbon tax, establishing protocols for decriminalizing medically assisted death, the Canada Child Benefit and an equal number of women and men in Cabinet. When asked “Why?” regarding the latter, Trudeau answered, “Because it’s 2015!” That went viral and global, along with the announcement in Paris during the woefully inadequate international climate accord, that “Canada is Back.”

Voters must also not forget his assurances on election night: “We are committed to ensuring this will be the last federal election using first-past-the-post” and “Meaningful ‘nation to nation’ engagement with Indigenous peoples to secure free, prior and informed consent.”

Surely “Real Change” is really just empty promise and stage-craft, unless it plays out in real-life. And we’re now nearing 2018.

There are more than enough disappointing failures to reverse many Harper initiatives and broken promises for us to take issue with: pay equity legislation; marijuana legislation; a plodding, infuriating national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women; the $15 billion Canada received to provide armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, while there are still no funds for the 100+ indigenous communities that lack potable water; forecasted $10 billion deficits, now $23b, projected to soon tally $28.5-billion; the outed, tax-evading Finance Minister and his suspect two budgets; increasing lack of free access to information (Canada now ranked 46th, between Peru and Bulgaria); big buck infrastructure work, being doled out from the Commons to private predators – ad infinitum.

In arguing for a mid-course correction, Elizabeth May has posted detailed, teacher-like, subject-to-subject second year Liberal letter grades on the Green Party website. From a purely west-coast perspective, let’s give the federal Liberals a generous, encouraging C-minus; their leader, a hard and fast D-plus, with lots of room to roll up his sleeves for needed improvement.

In two years, Canada’s cautious optimism has churned and morphed into brick-like cynicism. Justin Trudeau has squandered his, and our, potential. He’s out-of-touch and tone-deaf to the growing chorus of Canadians struggling for a living wage to pay rent, let alone save up for a down payment on a house, post-secondary training or decent childcare.

“Canadians do not expect us to be perfect; they expect us to be honest, open and sincere in our efforts to serve the public interest,” Trudeau opined.

To paraphrase time-honoured report cards, “Justin gets along well with others, but must apply himself to important subjects such as environment, electoral reform and Indigenous rights.”

Trudeau, the second, has two years until finals, to cut to the chase, pull up his designer socks and cut down on selfies and play-acting. And above all, cut out the porkies.

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola Island-based banjo player, gardener, writer and author of Our Clinic.

Calling All Coffee Lovers

Level Ground Trading

“We have one goal: to alleviate poverty through trade.”
– Stacey Toews, co-founder of Level Ground Trading

It all started in 1997. Four families in Victoria, BC came together with the idea of improving the lives of disadvantaged farmers through trade. They were inspired by groups like Ten Thousand Villages and set out to be fair and direct with small-scale producers of everyday consumables.

Their first relationship was with small-scale coffee farmers in Colombia. The social impact portion of their purchase price has been funding education for farmers’ children since Level Ground’s inception. For them, it’s been rewarding to see children go to school, become educated, and return to their communities to work as Doctors, Agronomists, and Social Workers. Level Ground’s work didn’t stop there: soon other Fair Trade relationships followed. Today, they import the annual harvest of 5000 farmers in 10 countries trading coffee, tea, dried fruit, sugar, spices, rice, vanilla beans and coconut oil.

Storytelling has always been foundational for Level Ground. Their stories start right on the package. On each package, you will find a farmer face and name. Each farmer is paid for the use of their photo. For Level Ground, it’s one more way they can provide transparency.

But, what does this practice of Fair Trade mean for consumers? It’s simple: quality. When you pay farmers a fair price, they save the best for you. Level Ground goes directly to the source, cultivates relationships, and receives the highest quality products in return.

Level Ground is proud to celebrate 20 years of partnering with small-scale farmers in developing countries. It is their mission to trade fairly and directly, offering consumers ethical choices. To learn more about Level Ground, its products and farmers, or purchase online, visit levelground.com

Visit us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/LevelGroundTrading/

Unlimited growth increases the divide

Unlimited growth at the Delmar Hotel

by Bruce Mason

The wisest words on Vancouver’s streets, “Unlimited Growth Increases the Divide” offer a strong medicine for healing the obscene growth for growth’s sake that’s killing us, our economy and the environment.

The seven-inch copper letters are artfully emblazoned across the front of the humble, 30-room Del Mar Hotel and tiny art gallery at 553 Hamilton Street, next to the skyscraper headquarters of BC Hydro.

In fact, the Del Mar credo did fundamentally alter the path of BC Hydro, in David and Goliath fashion. It’s a story that bears repeating in order to find workable alternatives to big developers’ vision for Vancouver and BC, a vision that saps our resources, robs our commons and prevent honest, affordable housing.

George Riste, former owner of the unassuming Del Mar, said, “I love watching people debate the meaning of “Unlimited Growth Increases the Divide.” But in her 1990 artist’s statement, Kathryn Walter clearly spelled out the intention: “It is directed at those who operate our free-market economy in their own interests, while excluding those interests that would be responsive to the needs of the community.”

In 1981, Hydro began their attempts at acquiring the property, the only domino still standing on the city-block of demolished ruins, on which to raise their edifice. Turning down hundreds of offers and a fortune in increasingly desperate bids, Riste said, “We’ve decided to keep this property for low-cost housing, and BC Hydro thinks we’re silly. But I really believe that we should try to put something back into society.”

And so, for once, the crown corporation had to modify and reluctantly re-design its grandiose plans, a victory for the integrity and mission the Riste family carries forward.

In stark contrast, a few blocks away, another building tells a much different story with “T-R-U-M-P” spelled out in large, gaudy, chrome letters, branding the 63-storey International Hotel and Tower.

Riste never forgot his childhood poverty in the Fraser Valley. Unlike ‘The Donald,’ George provided affordable rooms a few blocks from hellish skid row hovels. Riste explained, “We used to lease buildings, but we found the landlords were terrible people. So we went to the bank and managed to buy our own hotel. This is my life; this is what I love doing.”

One wonders what he would think of the recent count of 3,605 homeless in Vancouver, up 30 percent since 2014. Half have lived here for 10 years or more before becoming homeless. The numbers, like unemployment stats, don’t really add up. They don’t factor in borderline impoverishment, people in inadequate slums, squatting in structures, parks, and doorways, never intended for housing, couch-surfing with friends and family, sharing studio apartments and huge rents. The frequently reno-victed reluctantly flee the city of their birth, or choice, and its interminable housing crisis and near-zero vacancy rate. In May, the average price for a detached house in Vancouver reached a record $1,830,956, among the most unaffordable in the world.

Riste, who died in 2010, at age 89 would be appalled at the new luxury condos for “super cars” in Richmond. The 2,500 square-foot units boast options of luxury furnishings and decoration packages, featuring a mezzanine level, from which to guzzle something high-priced and choke back a hand-rolled Cuban stogie. Due for completion in 2019, two-thirds of the 45 units are already sold. Similarly, all condos in the 45 digs have been scooped up.

And if you search online for best deals for the ultra-rich, rooms at the Trump Tower are often fully booked, boasting that their ‘hyperbolic paraboloid’ triangular tower is the “premier luxury hotel,” featuring Canada’s first Mar-a-Lago brand, a 6,000 square-foot spa by Ivanka Trump.

Hyperbolic, indeed.

“Never settle,” the Trumps post. But for the 10,000 locals who applied to serve, massage and clean up those for whom the “Sweet-tastic experience” is chump change, the advice is irrelevant.

As Trump is unhinged and Site C and Kinder Morgan are exposed for what they really are – in courts of law or through public opinion – what we need to know is “Unlimited Growth Increases the Divide.”

The check-out bill for the rich is overdue and it’s time for a stop-payment on Site C. Put the money into job-rich renewables and for-purpose social housing. While we’re at it, take down the T-R-U-M-P sign as the public did in Toronto. “Unlimited Growth Increases the Divide” must now be the litmus test to take to politicians at every level of government, and the street.

Del Mar’s motto provides the inspiration and awareness to Stop Site C and other highly questionable anti-social projects. Better to build the Commons on common sense, insight and wisdom. More Riste-like, not Ritz-like, within reach of those who do the actual work.

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola Island-based banjo player, gardener, writer and author of Our Clinic.

Canada: the case for staying out of other peoples’ wars

white poppy and flag

by William S. Geimer

This book presents the case for staying out of other people’s wars. By other people’s wars, I mean those in which Canada’s national security, by any reasonable definition, is not measurably at risk. We will examine all of Canada’s wars, assess their costs and benefits and consider the vision of a better role for Canada in the world.

This is a particularly important time for a rational conversation about Canada and her wars. We are remembering the centennial years of the Great War (1914-1918). The recent change in government provides an opportunity for this conversation that has not been possible for a decade. The years of the Harper government featured rigid information control and a relentless propaganda campaign in support of Canada as a warrior nation. The only message was that we achieved our national identity on the battlefields of the Great War. If that were true, it follows that Canada should not shrink from invitations to join armed conflicts. Indeed, she should be alert to new opportunities.

The new government of Justin Trudeau has tentatively expressed a different vision. Within 24 hours of coming to power, Trudeau notified the U.S. that Canada would withdraw its planes from the war in the Middle East. He was immediately subjected to criticism for this move, as well as for the decision to fast-track acceptance of Syrian refugees. The government, however, remained committed to the war and pledged to explore new ways to assist the latest coalition assembled by the U.S. This is the time for Canadians to look critically at our war history and be heard.

I am a trial lawyer. I present my case, not the case of my learned friends who promote Canada’s continued involvement in other people’s wars. Their case is not difficult to access and it is put by those with far greater resources than I. Consult any works of David Bercuson or Jack Granatstein.

The outcome of this case will have important consequences for us as a people. For example, if military action really is good for our position in the world, we must accept that we will always lack the capacity to be a major military power in our own right. That means we must ally ourselves with a strong military patron. That patron was once Great Britain and is now the United States. Attaching ourselves militarily to a patron requires ceding some of our sovereignty and independence in decision-making, thus yielding control of an important part of how we are perceived in the world. It also includes being, and being seen as, complicit in the human rights abuses of the patron.

We do well to remember also that any call to join in military action will be made on the basis of what the patron sees as its national interest, not ours. Persuading the Canadian public to accept such subservience requires, in turn, accepting the notion that we need the protection of the patron, and dealing with what the patron requires in return.

Why do people continue to support war in general, in spite of its poor record of benefits? Why does Canada in particular involve herself in other people’s wars? An examination of Canada’s wars suggests that there are recurring factors, each with characteristics and themes that begin to inform the answers to these questions. We will see that most of them appear each time Canada goes off to fight someone else’s fight. These factors, individually and in combination, provide compelling reasons to stay out of any particular war. For that to happen, however, the factors must first be recognized and evaluated. It really does not matter whether the evaluation is done in a personal emotional manner or as a cold cost-benefit analysis. The war loses. But in reality, war always wins. And Canada, never under any realistic threat of invasion, continues to fight. Why? j

William Geimer is a veteran of the US 82nd Airborne Division. Through his work as a lawyer and law professor, Bill presents a compelling case that Canada can end its fealty to powerful patrons like the UK and the US and instead make a more valuable contribution to international relations.


EVENT

Come here Bill speak

VICTORIA: Saturday, October 28th 2:30 p.m. Pilgrim Coffee House,1910 Sooke Rd (Colwood Corners).

VANCOUVER: Sunday, Novemeber 4th Elizabeth May, MP, Green Party of Canada speaks at 10:30 service Canadian Memorial United Church and Centre for Peace, 1825 W 16th Ave. (16th and Burrard). Following the service, she will be joined by William Geimer, who will speak about his new book Canada: The Case for Staying Out of Other People’s Wars. tarheel@shaw.ca

Digital issues at the top of MPs’ agenda

photo of David Christopher

INDEPENDENT MEDIA
by David Christopher

Now that Parliament is back at work after its long summer break, Canadians will be watching expectantly as MPs get to grips with a packed agenda of pressing digital rights issues this fall.

Top of mind for many Canadians will be the government’s proposed reforms to Bill C-51, the controversial and unpopular spying legislation forced through Parliament with scant debate by Stephen Harper’s government.

These reforms were set out as Bill C-59 in June by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould. As my colleague Marie Aspiazu observed in last month’s column, parts of Bill C-59 represent a positive step forward when it comes to privacy, especially in the long neglected area of surveillance oversight.

However, the government’s proposals also leave very important gaps. For example, they completely fail to address Bill C-51’s information sharing provisions, which turn the personal information Canadians hand to the government in the course of their everyday lives into an open-ended surveillance dragnet. A group of over 40 organizations and privacy experts (ccla.org)

have also warned the reforms threaten to legitimize mass surveillance and data-mining activities by Canadian spy agencies.

While some progress has been made, a ton of work remains to be done to fix the significant remaining problems with Bill C-59. Goodale has promised these reforms will be thoroughly reviewed at committee stage in Parliament; MPs, especially those sitting on the parliamentary committees tasked with studying the bill, will continue to hear an earful from Canadians seeking to finally turn the page on the poisonous legacy of Harper’s Bill C-51.

Surveillance reforms are far from being the only major digital item on MPs’ to-do list. NAFTA talks are stepping up amidst well-founded concerns that the renegotiated deal threatens to replicate the worst aspects of the failed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Readers may recall how the TPP’s draconian copyright rules would have greatly restricted how Canadians share and work together online while also costing our economy millions. There’s no doubt the powerful media conglomerates pushing extreme copyright proposals will pull out all the stops to achieve with NAFTA what they failed to do with the TPP. To stop them, we’ll need to ensure that MPs hear loud and clear from Canadians that NAFTA must not be allowed to threaten innovation or restrict our access to information and content.

The fall session is also likely to see the publication of the government’s proposals on the future of Canadian content in a digital age. We’ll be watching closely to ensure these don’t undermine net neutrality or force low-income Canadians offline through the imposition of a Netflix Tax, an Internet Tax or similar, unfair fees. And we’ll need to keep up the pressure on the government to finally come up with the new investment required to create a national broadband strategy that ensures all Canadians, no matter their income level or place of residence, benefit from affordable, high-speed Internet.

David Christopher is interim communications and campaigns director for OpenMedia, a community-based organization that works to keep the Internet open, affordable and surveillance-free. openmedia.org

Mayday! This is Spaceship Earth

spaceship earth

Houston, we have a problem.

by Bruce Mason

It was a summer of fire, smoke and hard rain. Of nightmarish hurricanes and awakened dead reckoning. All connected and predictable, in fact, meticulously forecast for decades. Equally predictable is how quickly we forget the lessons and how easily we fall into death traps, exacerbating rather than mitigating. And it’s all down to a tiny, but global, cabal of fossil fools and liars and their financiers, followers, cheerleaders and enablers.

In late August, the real costs and consequences of inaction were on full public display, complete with smoking guns and dark, watery scenes of crimes against Nature, as fires and floods increased exponentially.

Surely, it’s time to stop naming hurricanes after people. How about Hurricane Exxon, Koch, Chevron and Shell, amongst the 90 companies responsible for two thirds of human-caused catastrophe? The 1 percent scooping virtually all new income, world-wide, while playing a losing game of chicken with Mother Nature.

Forty years ago they knew and fully understood the science, spent billions on government and so-called Think Tank disinformation, promoting the very technologies warming the planet, making disasters inevitable.

Just as the US National Weather Service introduced new colours on satellite maps to show the unprecedented magnitude of the 50+inch Houston downpour, we must make adjustments to fathom the cataclysmic scale of our collective problems.

“Global warming” morphed into “climate change” and “climate sceptics” have become “climate deniers.” It’s now time to call it what it really is: “climate crisis.” The World Health Organization conservatively warns it will be killing millions within a decade if left unchecked.

It’s tragically ironic that Harvey and its aftermath touched down in Houston, pounding the very centre, and quintessential symbol, of fossil fuel. A handful of scientists huddled in a small section of Mission Control, not underwater, to bring three astronauts – two American, one Russian – back to Earth.

As the trio of anxious space travellers slipped into gumboots on Texas tarmac, stark space images of dystopian flooding and fires were fresh in their minds, including BC’s continuing “season” of 1,000 fires. One million hectares – an area the size of half of Vancouver Island –burned, and in LA’s biggest-ever fire, it was much the same, while deadly smoke eerily returned: Seattle, to Denver, and Greenland, linking up, obscurring, more and more of the planet.

“It looks like an atomic bomb when you see the big billows of smoke,” 150 Mile House fire-chief Stan McCarthy reported, expressing his heartfelt concern for firefighters’ mental health.

The astronauts also witnessed historic rainfall affecting 41 million people in Asia, more in Africa; Europeans dubbed their searing heatwave “Lucifer” and regions of Australia were suddenly uninhabitable. Bangladesh was two-thirds underwater as floods ravaged Northern India, Nepal, the basin of the Himalayas and the financial capital of Mumbai, crossing the border into Pakistan.

Those particular events were all but missed in the America-centric corporate media, not wanting to “politicize” human catastrophe. “Unprecedented” and “record-breaking” became clichés, flavours of the week or hour, amid endless echo-chambers that all regulation is harmful and stunts economic growth.

Instead of clarity, we’re handed a prism of suffering; heroic man vs. nature narratives carved from the rubble, with no view or discussion of causes, let alone policy. Our attention capriciously re-focused on panicked speculation of nuclear war and endless examples of democracy, devolving into distracted idiocracy. Ignorant hubris, staring into an eclipse with naked eyes, praying for blind luck.

As flood waters subside, disease is becoming rampant. Irma has struck and other hurricanes are poised to strike, as more of the West catches fire. We are literally witnessing the end of the world as we know it. Look around. Where are the birds, insects? Why are trees and plants dying. Five-hundred-year floods don’t necessarily happen once every five centuries. They are events with a one-in-500 chance of occurring in any given year. Houston has now had three in the past three years.

While Fort McMurray burned, Justin Trudeau shilled for his elite donor class, who are now little more than arsonists. Their disaster capitalism is sure as hell amplifying damage, fundamentally altering everything in its insatiable, predatory path. As a species, we must take hold of our destiny and plan for something infinitely better.

“Talking honestly about what’s fuelling this era of serial disasters –even while they’re playing out in real time – isn’t disrespectful to people on the front lines,” observes Naomi Klein. “In fact, it’s the only way to truly honour their losses, and our last hope for preventing a future littered with countless more victims.”

Pope Francis pleads, in God’s name, “Listen to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor, who suffer most because of the unbalanced ecology.” We must re-visit consequence, the only way to break the cycle of ignorance and denial. Stop refusing to hold the negligent accountable, strike back with adequate force at toxic climate denial and corruption. The costs of engaging and heeding scientific guidance are nothing compared to the probability and gravity of coming loss, not even close.

Our strength is collective. It resides in the vast majority of people for whom homelessness is just an injury, an illness, a bad season, bad luck or one pay cheque away. We aren’t as disposable as the 1% treats us. It’s time to fight back against the greed, pipemares and other fossil fuel evils. To stand up for a better BC, in a better world.

Our lieutenant governor’s “Three Rs”

Judith Guichon

by Bruce Mason

Photo: 2017 Canada Day Citizenship Ceremony at Government House, in which Her Honour presided over the swearing-in of 150 new citizens. Photo by Rachel Rilkoff of Government House.

For a short time in late June, all eyes, and much speculation, focused laser-like on Hon. Judith Guichon, BC’s 29th lieutenant governor. Representing the Queen is mostly ceremonial, but the urgent, unenviable task of making a vitally important decision thrust Guichon onto a red-hot seat, under a glaring spotlight. The corporate media pack sniffed, chowed down and quickly moved on to another flavour shortly after she denied then-premier Christy Clark’s desperate, self-serving, 90-minute plea for a snap election.

Judith Guichon, BC’s busiest lieutenant governor in decades, was etched into our history then calmly carried on with her own personal goal, which includes visiting 150 schools and pledging to use her position to educate about what we must learn if we are to have a future worth living.

She calls them “my three R’s: respect, responsibility and relationships.” Guichon lives and breathes the belief that we have a responsibility to respect the land, and to honour that relationship in order to leave a healthy planet for future generations..

In January of this year, while accepting an honorary doctorate from Vancouver Island University, she explained why she had taken the job in 2012: “There’s an increasing gap in understanding between urban and rural populations. Since we both need each other, I thought this was an excellent opportunity for me to bridge that gap. And it was such a wonderful opportunity to learn something new.”

Christy Clark had welcomed her, saying, “She has a deep appreciation for the history and traditions of BC and has spent a lifetime ensuring that we all stay connected to our roots.” In retrospect, our former premier underestimated and misunderstood Guichon’s overriding “appreciation” and “lifetime” of work.

Sure, Guichon had been recommended by then-prime minister Stephen Harper and had donated a modest total of $1,350 in 2005 and 2009 to Gordon Campbell’s liberals. Her friends and neighbours note that she leans right, as most of them do, obvious in the recent election, supporting fiscal responsibility and economic diversification. All of which had little influence over doing the right thing.

Before she was appointed in 2012, Guichon lived in the Nicola Valley in BC’s interior and owned and operated the Guichon Ranch, as the family of her late husband, commercial pilot Lawrence Guichon, had done since 1878. The couple took over in 1979, the fourth generation to run the ranch. They studied holistic management, focused on environmental stewardship and practised and promoted sustainability that emphasized natural habitat, such as letting cattle graze longer and using less feed. They are credited with introducing healthy techniques to the ranching community.

While growing a small parcel of land and a few head of cattle into a sprawling property with thousands of livestock, a general store, post office and a hotel, Judith Guichon, with a neighbour, started a recycling society in Merritt. She played the flute in the Nicola Valley Community Band and spoke up on water issues, served on health boards and task forces on species at risk, ranching and agri-food. She also developed her signature biodiversity program.

After her husband died tragically in a motorcycle accident in 2003, she wrote, “The love of my children enabled me to carry on. To say that I would not have endured without them is not overstating the case.” Her current husband Bruno Mailloux and four adopted children carry on while she nears the end of her five-year term.

Personally, I never had any doubt that she would do the right thing and I wish I could shake her hand and share a few words, again. Two years ago, in a reception line at the end of her tour of the Gabriola Island Medical Centre, she asked if I wrote the book, Our Clinic, that had just been presented to her. It tells the story of how a community of 4,000 residents and a volunteer army of 170 built a multi-million dollar urgent care health clinic and heli-pad on donated acreage, without raising any taxes. Christy Clark’s liberals chipped in a total of $100,000 at the last-minute.

A short time later I received a hand-written letter – remember those – from Guichon: “It will be my pleasure to tell your story where I go because it is incredible, an absolutely amazing feat that I hope others can learn from. My own projects are about healthy land and healthy communities. We all have a responsibility to leave them in as good or better state for those who follow.”

Just as she did as a rancher, Hon. Judith Guichon broke the mould of lieutenant governor by making a decision to invite the NDP and Greens to form government in the best interests of the people of the province. And her story, the real story, is the one to record, share and act on.

Reflections of Canada – now that the party’s over

Canada reflections

by Bruce Mason

It’s been 150 years since the old province of Canada was carved up into Quebec and Ontario and joined by the hip to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in Confederation. We’re spending a cool half billion – plus security, promotional items, provincial expenditures and other unforeseen costs – to celebrate. Never mind the big bucks spent on beer, flags and assorted props and memorabilia. Some of us even learned to utter “sesquicentennial.”

The feds picked up the tab for 500 “projects” – 3,285 were pitched – for everything from the Gros Morne Summer Music Festival in Newfoundland and Labrador to a giant game of snakes and ladders in Calgary and Ontario’s six-story high, 11 ton rubber duck, which cost $150,000 to rent and transport to six cities. In the Lower Mainland, the SkyTrain stopped running to an overflowing Canada Place. There were so many parties and goers that a mobile application and website, Passport 2017, was created, to the tune of $1.3-million, to help us find nearby events in all this glorious and much-touted diversity.

Refelections of Canada book cover
The provocative book includes a foreword by Governor General David Johnston

But one of the biggest surprises had to be the number of citizens who opted to utilize, at least part of the day, to reflect on the current state of their nation. I spent July 1 with a remarkable book I had been saving for the occasion. It’s been getting a bit of a buzz in the press and deservedly so. Reflections of Canada: Illuminating Our Opportunities and Challenges at 150+ Years delivers on its promise on the book jacket “…to communicate a complex and engaging landscape of what Canada is at this point in its history. This is a book of lively, respectful and thoughtful debate.”

The book is a product of UBC’s Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies. Founded in 1996 through a donation from Peter Wall (of iconic Wall Centre fame) of $6.5 million shares in the Wall Financial Corporation, it was worth $15 million at the time. It was the largest single private donation in the university’s history. The institute is a significant community of scholars; more than 450 faculty associates “address fundamental research questions through collaborations that transcend disciplinary boundaries.”

The book includes a foreword by Governor General David Johnston, a preface from UBC president Santa Ono and an introduction by the editor, followed by a poem, “Diverse by Design,” from George Elliott Clarke, who will soon be an artist-in-residence at the Institute.

However, it is the first of 41 easily accessible essays that sets the tone and hits the reader right between the eyes. This is a collection that is more provocative than celebratory and “Practising Reconciliation” starkly lays out our collective “horrific reality.” It is conversation between three scholars who work in partnership to locate the burials of children who died at the Indian Residential School on Kuper Island, now called Penelakut Island, in the Salish Sea. And if you still don’t get reasons for the urgent need for Reconciliation, you will find them here in a handful of pages.

The book covers the state of Canadian democracy, environmental challenges, changes to our health-care system, income and other inequalities, the Arctic, arts and culture, technology and even relations with China. In “The Hygiene Hangover,” UBC microbiologist Brett Finlay and public-health physicians Perry Kendall and David Patrick address the unfortunate consequences arising from Canadians’ zeal for cleanliness, which include a sharp rise in asthma rates and other auto-immune diseases.

If you experienced the viral video of Trudeau’s explanation of quantum computing, you will enjoy Philip Stamp’s, “A Quantum Parable,” which offers a different take on the topic from PM Justin Trudeau. While Canada has been a global leader in quantum computing, it could be on the verge of hemorrhaging high-tech talent by not supporting Burnaby-based D-Wave, an innovative pioneer in the field. Stamp likens it to Avro, the Canadian company that manufactured the world’s most advanced fighter plane in the late 1950s: the CF-105 Avro Arrow. At its peak, the company employed 50,000 people, but after the program was cancelled by the Diefenbaker government, it led to a massive “brain drain.”

There is much more to recommend in Reflections of Canada. In the months that still remain in 2017, on the beach, in the fall and during the onslaught of an uncertain Canadian winter, this is a must-read for a sober analysis and for answers to ubiquitous questions, such as “What’s happening?”, “What now?” and “Will Canada grow into it’s legacy of hope and leadership in the world?

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola Island-based banjo player, gardener, writer and author of Our Clinic.