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.

ICAN 2017 Nobel Peace Prize winners

ICAN press conference

photo: Prize winners International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) holds press conference at UN Headquarters, led by Beatrice Fihn (centre), Executive Director of ICAN. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Statement by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)

It is a great honour to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2017 in recognition of our role in achieving the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This historic agreement, adopted on 7 July with the backing of 122 nations, offers a powerful, much-needed alternative to a world in which threats of mass destruction are allowed to prevail and, indeed, are escalating.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is a coalition of non-governmental organizations in one hundred countries. By harnessing the power of the people, we have worked to bring an end to the most destructive weapon ever created – the only weapon that poses an existential threat to all humanity.

This prize is a tribute to the tireless efforts of many millions of campaigners and concerned citizens worldwide who, ever since the dawn of the atomic age, have loudly protested nuclear weapons, insisting that they can serve no legitimate purpose and must be forever banished from the face of our earth.

It is a tribute also to the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – the hibakusha – and victims of nuclear test explosions around the world, whose searing testimonies and unstinting advocacy were instrumental in securing this landmark agreement.

The treaty categorically outlaws the worst weapons of mass destruction and establishes a clear pathway to their total elimination. It is a response to the ever-deepening concern of the international community that any use of nuclear weapons would inflict catastrophic, widespread and long-lasting harm on people and our living planet.

We are proud to have played a major role in its creation, including through advocacy and participation in diplomatic conferences, and we will work assiduously in coming years to ensure its full implementation. Any nation that seeks a more peaceful world, free from the nuclear menace, will sign and ratify this crucial accord without delay.

The belief of some governments that nuclear weapons are a legitimate and essential source of security is not only misguided, but also dangerous, for it incites proliferation and undermines disarmament. All nations should reject these weapons completely – before they are ever used again.

This is a time of great global tension, when fiery rhetoric could all too easily lead us, inexorably, to unspeakable horror. The spectre of nuclear conflict looms large once more. If ever there were a moment for nations to declare their unequivocal opposition to nuclear weapons, that moment is now.

We applaud those nations that have already signed and ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and we urge all others to follow their lead. It offers a pathway forward at a time of alarming crisis. Disarmament is not a pipe dream, but an urgent humanitarian necessity.

We most humbly thank the Norwegian Nobel Committee. This award shines a needed light on the path the ban treaty provides towards a world free of nuclear weapons. Before it is too late, we must take that path.

Support and congratulations to ICAN

“If Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr were alive today, they would be part of ICAN.”
Martin Sheen Actor and activist

 

“I salute ICAN for working with such commitment and creativity.”
Ban Ki-moon Former UN chief

 

“Governments say a nuclear weapons ban is unlikely. Don’t believe it. They said the same about a mine ban treaty.”
Jody Williams Nobel laureate

 

“Because I cannot tolerate these appalling weapons, I whole-heartedly support ICAN.”
Herbie Hancock Jazz musician

 

“We can do it together. With your help, our voice will be made still stronger. Imagine peace.”
Yoko Ono Artist

 

“I can imagine a world without nuclear weapons, and I support ICAN.”
Dalai Lama Nobel laureate

 

“With your support, we can take ICAN its full distance – all the way to zero nuclear weapons.”
Desmond Tutu Nobel laureate

 

“Let’s act up! Ban nuclear weapons completely and unconditionally.”
Ai Weiwei Artist and activist

The figures on the Site C dam that count: why our electricity rates will skyrocket

View of the Peace River Valley

photo: view of Peace River which would have been flooded by Site C Dam courtesy www.peacevalley.ca/future. Photo by Don Hoffmann and Andrea Morison

by Reimar Kroecher

Estimated cost of building Site C Dam: $9 billion. BC Hydro sells $9 billion worth of bonds to investors to pay for the construction of Site C Dam. At interest rates of 2% paid on these BC Hydro bonds, the yearly interest bill will be $180 million; at 3% it will be $270 million; at 4% it will be $360 million.

Site C dam has a life expectancy of 90 years. After that, it is worthless. $9 billion needs to be depreciated over 90 years. Depreciation per year is $100 million.

The total cost of interest plus depreciation per year will be $280 million at interest rates of 2%; $370 million at interest rates of 3%; $460 million at interest rates of 4%. The total cost of Site C electricity is completely dependent on interest rates, over which BC Hydro has no control.

BC Hydro’s claim that Site C power can be produced at a given low fixed cost is pure public relations fabrication. The total revenue produced by selling Site C power may well be zero since there does not seem to be a market for it.

More likely, the power will be exported at a price that does not even come close to covering the total cost mentioned above. The resulting deficit will be made up by huge increases in residential electricity rates.
Easily overlooked is the fact that the $9 billion debt will never be paid off. As BC Hydro bonds mature, they will be paid off by selling new bonds to pay off the old bonds, thus passing the debt on to future generations.

Now retired, Reimar Kroecher taught economics at Langara for 32 years.

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.

Know thy activist – on carrots and sticks in Parliament

Rafe Mair cartoon by Gerry Hummel

by Rafe Mair

cartoon by Gerry Hummel

I’ve been an activist for too many years to count. In earlier times, I’d catch hell when my Establishment mother heard me rant on the radio, but knowing her love of nature, I think she was secretly a little proud! Do I support protesting Kinder Morgan and the proposed LNG refinery on Squamish? You betcha, on both counts. I’ve watched activism become more acceptable to more people. Sadly, some activist groups have much to learn about the subject for which they claim expertise – and about basic honesty. That’s what this article is about.

First, let’s remind ourselves why there is activism.

Merriam Webster defines activism as “a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.”

Jesus was an activist and an extremely effective one, such that it cost him his life. His throwing money-lenders out of the temple and the giant rallies he held were substantial threats to the elite, and, as the scriptures tell us, they lay in the weeds until they could nail this dangerous activist and put him away once and for all.

History teaches us that every single right that we possess came not from the generosity of the king, but by the threat of force, as in the case of the Magna Carta in 1215, or actual force as in America in 1776 and France in 1789.

Rafe Mair
Rafe Mair 1931-2017

Rights we now take for granted, such as the male franchise, the extended male franchise, the universal franchise of males, the partial enfranchisement of women, and the eventual franchise of all adults, coming as late as 1991 in Switzerland, only came by force, real or threatened.

Rights of British workers were nonexistent as late as the 1830s, and it was a serious offence to form groups to pressure an employer to alleviate the appalling conditions and increase pitiful pay. In 1834, a group of Dorset agricultural labourers known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs were convicted of swearing a secret oath as members of the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers, even though the society’s rules showed it was clearly structured as a friendly society and operated as a trade-specific benefit society. They were banished to Australia and their case became a flashpoint for a struggle for basic reforms that took 100+ years, during which virtually all improvement in conditions and pay were gained by force or threat of it.

The notion that people should run their country’s affairs was considered idiotic until Thomas Jefferson’s July 4, 1776 Declaration of Independence made this a sacred principle, yet women and slaves were not included, and both groups say to this day (with justification) that this hasn’t happened yet. I’m always surprised to hear women oppose civil disobedience when without it, they would not yet have any vote, much less an equal one with men. Again, basic civil rights had to be extracted by activism, often extreme. Oppression by the elite, far from going away, keeps emerging from stacked legislatures and loftily imposed under the guise of the “Rule Of Law.”

Do I go too far? I think not when you consider, for example, the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Do you recall any debate, much less approval by Parliament or the BC Legislature, of this project? How about the Woodfibre LNG plant? Tanker traffic in Howe Sound? Increased fossil fuel exports? Masses of tankers in Burrard Inlet and the Salish sea? Just for starters.

Enterprises clearly not in the interests of those hurt by their operation are shielded by laws passed by the elite, supported by the elite, and paid for by the elite. Those adversely affected are powerless unless they disobey the laws in which they had no say. Our legislatures and parliament have the trappings of democracy but little more, and opposition, with nowhere else to go, must find other methods.

In spite of these struggles for democracy, a vacuum exists in our system of governance that activist organizations have filled. In raising funds they declare goals to be met. Money being limited they must therefore be effective – and honest – for if an organization raises money through deceit, deliberate or not, they’ve effectively stolen it from other activists that know their business and only state goals with a decent prospect of success.

Sadly, not all achieve that reasonable standard.

This is utter deceit if groups asking for donations pretend to not know when they ought to know that no Liberal member would vote against any government bill no matter how sincerely they opposed it personally.

To understand the way the system really works, one must know that since 1867 only one majority government has had to resign. In 1873, before true party discipline had evolved, Sir John A. Macdonald, with a tiny majority and perceiving he could lose a vote over the Pacific Scandal, resigned. All prime ministers since have, through strictly enforced party discipline, kept ironclad control over their members.

The method, simplicity itself and 100% effective, only requires some carrots and sticks.

The carrots? It starts with little things like promising to visit the MP’s constituency, and perhaps attend a rally; or sending the MP to a tropical isle for a useless convention in the middle of an Ottawa winter. Even better, there’s cabinet, double the money, a car and driver, first class travel, a permanent Honourable in front of his name, and the virtual certainty of a cushy job when he retires.

Now the sticks: the PM can demote or fire a minister or a parliamentary assistant, but if the MP votes against a PM in a major vote, here’s what happens, as Liberal MP John Nunziata in 1993 and Tory Bill Casey in 2007 found when they broke ranks. By the time the Liberal MP gets back to his office from his fatal vote, he’ll have an email from the PMO expelling him from the Liberal caucus and the Liberal Party, meaning he can’t run under the Liberal banner again. In short, the political version of capital punishment.

Read that again and ask yourself if a single Liberal MP, let alone enough of them to defeat CETA, is likely to throw his political career away?

The only effective protection against oppression by the elite is an activist organization – just make sure that they know what they’re talking about before sending your cheque.

Rafe Mair was BC Minister of Environment in the W.R. (Bill) Bennett government (1975-8), a Michener Award-winning, Canadian Broadcasters Hall of Fame radio broadcaster, and a founder of and writer for commonsensecanadian.ca. His 13th book, Politically Incorrect: How Canada Lost Its Way and the Simple Path Home, from Watershed Sentinel Books, is at the press now. Rafe was born Kenneth Rafe Mair New Year’s eve 31 December 1931 in Vancouver and died 9 October 2017.

This article was originally published in the Watershed Sentinel, Summer 2017. www.watershedsentinel.ca


Politically Incorrect:
How Canada Lost Its Way and the Simple Path Home

by Rafe Mair

Part memoir, part history, part constitutional analysis and part pure Rafe – on federation, BC’s role, how Canada’s “responsible government” undermines democracy, and what to do about it.

Watershed Sentinel Books, $20 plus $6 shipping.
www.watershedsentinel.ca/incorrect
Box 1270,
Comox BC V9M 7Z8

White Poppies – new Remembrance Day ceremony highlights the true costs of war

white poppies

by Teresa Gagné

The white poppy was first introduced in Britain in 1933, only 12 years after the red poppy. Alarmed by the rising tide of post-war militarism, British women, many of whom were the wives, mothers and sisters of men who had been killed – looked for a symbol to express their belief that civilized nations should never again resort to the terrible and ineffectual method of war for the settlement of international disputes. The wearing of a white poppy on Armistice Day became a focus for the British peace movement and the newly founded Peace Pledge Union undertook its promotion and distribution.

The growing demand for peace poppies highlighted the need for Remembrance Day activities to reflect the diversity of Canadian perspectives on war and remembrance and to acknowledge the war experiences of many immigrant Canadians. With this in mind, Vancouver Peace Poppies partnered with The BC Humanist Association in 2016 to co-host “Let Peace be Their Memorial,” a Remembrance Day wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate refugees and other overlooked victims of war. The following is largely excerpted from my address at the 2016 ceremony.

The first armistice day was in November of 1919, pretty close to 100 years ago, a year after the end of a war so huge and horrible it was regarded by many as “The War to End War.” People thought that surely nothing this terrible could happen again, that governments and nations had learned from this horrific and wasteful experience. But 100 years later, we find there have been well over 300 more wars, with close to 200 million people killed and every year on November 11, we get together and remember. But really, what have we accomplished with all our remembering if 200 million people have died in war since then? Do we really think that was the torch John McCrae and his comrades threw to us? They would be appalled to think they had lost their lives and we had learned so little from it.

There are lots of reasons to be against war: it’s immoral and it’s wasteful, but I think the inarguable reason now is that it doesn’t work; it just doesn’t work. The reasons given by our governments and our press for why we have to enter this or that conflict aren’t valid: that it will make the world safer, it will spread democracy and that it will increase human rights for persecuted minorities. In fact, it isn’t working. If we look at the most recent effects of 20 years of war in the Middle East and ask, “Is Canada safer? Is the US safer? Is the Middle East safer? Is the world safer?” No! “Is it more democratic?” No! So all those deaths, all that money spent, all that waste haven’t really achieved their stated goals and we have to raise our voices to say, “Your way isn’t working.”

Around the world, we need to be training hundreds and thousands of people as a mediation resource available to communities and countries to deal with the difficult situations that are always going to happen. Not providing training for peacekeeping forces or the military or the police.

We need to commit ourselves to counting all the different costs of military conflict: the social costs, the environmental costs, the desperate refugees, the lost potential of 50 million children whose schooling is disrupted by war, the women traumatized, abducted or sexually assaulted, the conscientious objectors who sometimes pay with their lives for standing up and refusing to fight, the psychological costs of PTSD on veterans and civilians. We need to include all those things and we owe it not just to ourselves to do so; I would say we even owe it to our military.

If we ask somebody to risk not just their physical health, but also their mental health, on a military endeavour, we’d better be sure it’s likely to succeed and that in the cost-benefit analysis, it’s worth the costs. So I don’t see any disrespect to the military in saying, “Let’s count all the costs of war and evaluate if it’s really going to achieve what we want to achieve.” If we don’t do that and find a better way, we will really have ‘broken faith’ with those who died and with those who will continue to die.

This year, wear a White Poppy to:

  • commemorate all victims of war.
  • mourn the environmental devastation it causes.
  • reject war as a tool for social change.
  • call for dialogue and peaceful conflict resolution.
  • show your commitment to building a better future.

Because Remembering is important, but it isn’t enough.

Teresa Gagné is the co-founder of Vancouver Peace Poppies (www.PeacePoppies.ca). White poppies may be ordered on the website. The poppies commemorate civilian victims of war and encourage people to challenge the ‘normalization’ of militarism.


EVENT

NOVEMBER 11: Wreath Ceremony to recognize overlooked victims of War, 2:30-4PM, Seaforth Peace Park, 1st Avenue & Burrard Street, Vancouver.

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