Behind the Smile and You’re an Idiot

A Tale of Two Books
READ IT by Bruce Mason

Judi Tyabji’s Christy Clark: Behind the Smile and James Hoggan’s, I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean It Up

• I just finished reading a couple of current, timely, best-selling BC books back to back – make that back and forth – that speak volumes about our worrisome future. They also cry out for comparison. The first book focuses on the life and times of our premier, the second, on the result of a five-year global mission to answer a question from David Suzuki, “Why aren’t people demanding action on environmental issues like climate change, despite the overwhelming evidence?”

They are respectively: Judi Tyabji’s Christy Clark: Behind the Smile and James Hoggan’s, I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean It Up.

“Political insider” Tyabji’s “unauthorized, arms-length” biography is complete with dozens of pages of Clark family photos. It promises “an astute political portrait and a biting critique of the brutal partisan dialogue that often distorts our views of our leaders and their accomplishments.” Proves you can’t judge a book by its cover; the reviews have been, well, biting and brutal. One critic best sums it up in one word: “sad.”

The author, a friend of Clark since “1984 or 1985,” first noticed “her laugh, her curviness and her hair. She reminded me of a sexy version of Peppermint Patty from the Charlie Brown cartoons because she was at home with the boys, had a husky voice and a wry sense of humour.” Make that, Peanuts cartoons.

The interviews – and Tyabji claims to have conducted 30 or 40 – include Clark’s best friend from elementary school, who informs us that Christy had a Holly Hobbie lunch kit, a fierce competitive streak and “bubbly personality.” In “grade three, or four,” the future premier was “Leader of the Pack,” in a dance routine of the Shangri-Las’ hit record. The book reads like the Sister Sledge hit We are Family.

For personal history, there’s Clark’s older brother Bruce. Tyabji’s husband, Gordon Wilson, fills in some blanks. Glossed over is the fact the couple was facing foreclosure until Clark gave Gordon a fat contract as an “LNG-Buy BC” advocate. On Christy’s obsessive, fracked methane gas fantasies, there is, of course, LNG mouthpiece, Jas Johal. The all-important environmental file is virtually unopened. Ongoing scandals? Sssh.

Just as the reader begins to think this “in-depth biography” strays no further than numbers on the author’s cell, one discovers a bizarre, nine-page diatribe entitled Barbie Goes to Victoria in the chapter The XX Factor. The writer, one Pamela Cramond-Malkinon, describes the piece as a “largely academic analysis of why women in politics, particularly attractive ones, often get terribly and viciously excoriated by men and women alike.” Post-publication, she has taken to categorizing devastating criticism as the work of “trolls demented with anger against anything that is not their political belief system.”

Tyabji has reacted to all the thumbs-down with, “If me coming out with a book… if that makes me a target, that’s not about me. That’s about the people targeting me.” However, she does provide one insight in her 370 pages of fluff in a chapter entitled Young Liberals and True Believers. Christy is, above all, a “true, true believer.” In what? “Targeted government spending… tax policy that encourages economic growth or business investment, scientific work tied to economic development… and fiscal responsibility, including balanced budgets.” In short, neo-liberalism, now universally regarded as the main source of humanity’s do-or-die crises.

As for “balanced budgets” – for which Clark is applauded by one-handed right wingers – former CKNW talk show host and elected official, Rafe Mair, recently observed and proved, “The fact is we are in terrible financial shape and the government is lying through its teeth.” He points out the province’s financial obligations increased $72 billion in the past six years, more than the provincial debt in BC’s first 135.

James Hoggan is, among other things, chair of the David Suzuki Foundation and co-founder of the influential, ground and truth breaking website DeSmogBlog. He is also the author of Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming and Do the Right Thing. In addition, he led the Green Energy Advisory Task Force on Community Relations and First Nations Partnerships.

Common Ground asked him about our most divisive, polarizing premier and her oft-quoted phrases, such as “Forces of No,” “problematic,” and “a bit troubling and disturbing.”

Hoggan, who chooses his words carefully, replied, “I’m perplexed and frustrated by the spin doctoring swirling around the global warming issue, making it easy for people to refute the reality of what’s going on and ignore this critical collective problem. But I’ve became even more concerned and alarmed by the crazy state of debate today in general – the toxic rhetoric that permeates virtually all important issues we face, whether it’s vaccinations, refugee immigration, gun control or environmental degradation.

“I decided to take a deep look at our resistance to change, the human relations and ingrained psychology causing it and the gridlock, inaction and despair that result. Sometimes, it’s intentional, sometimes it’s inadvertent, but the troublesome fact is this toxic mix is coming from all sides and stifling discussion and critical debate.

“I began to explore how these tendencies arise, what spurs us to become close-minded, aggressively vitriolic and most importantly, what we can do about it. I also began to analyze how we can become highly effective communicators, deflect over-the-top advocacy and make our arguments more convincing.”

He describes his research and writing the book as a “fascinating journey,” especially the discovery of keenness for this discussion, which enabled him to share collective wisdom. In 60+ interviews with everyone from a NASA scientist to a deep-sea oceanographer, from cognitive researchers to authorities on systems thinking, he sat down with an expert in the House of Lords lunchroom, spent a week with Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, and travelled to the Himalayas to speak with the Dalai Lama. Insights from political pundits, philosophers, moral psychologists, brain scientists, scholars, media gurus and corporate analysts are all included.

I urge you to read this book and study the 10-page Epilogue: Lessons Learned. The phrase that echoes throughout is Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Speak the truth, but not to punish.”

I asked Hoggan if he found any hope. He said, “Some people think I’m saying activists should do less. On the contrary, I believe we have a responsibility to do more. People can face reality, change, and there is hope in the fact that we can, and are, getting better at it.”

Common Ground has sent a copy of I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean It Up to the premier’s office.

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

Tips on eating less industrialized meat

READ IT by Bruce Mason


photo of Sonia Faruqi
Sonia Faruqi recommends improved inspection regimes and shifting from inhumane enclosures to large pastoral operations on the farm. Consumers can ask more questions.

• Last month Common Ground interviewed Sonia Faruqi about her phenomenally influential book, Project Animal Farm: An Accidental Journey Into the Secret World of Farming and the Truth About Our Food. The article is posted on our website along with a promise of a follow-up with advice for consumers who want to eliminate or cut down on meat, particularly industrialized meat.

Turns out the most important action we can take on climate change is to change our diets and eat lower on the food chain. That would help eliminate both world hunger and the insanity of factory farming with its aftertaste of nightmarish suffering.

Sometimes taking inspiration from Europe, which is far ahead of North America, Faruqi recommends increased regulation, shifting from factory to large pastoral operations, ending battery cages, sow crates and veal calf enclosures and a complete reform of inspections regimes. In most Canadian slaughterhouses, inspectors are paid by the companies themselves. If an inspector shuts down a plant, everyone is out of a job. In the meantime, there’s an alphabet soup of labels: organic, free-range, free-run, GMO and antibiotic-free, etc.

Common Ground: Let’s start with labels and why they’re misleading.

Sonia Faruqi: I include myself in having a higher opinion of ‘organic’ than it deserves. It’s useful for fertilizers and pesticides, but could be much improved for food, especially involving animals. For example, the organic standard in the US and Canada is a minimum of 120 outdoor access days a year. However, too often that’s become the maximum. It could be higher; it should be higher. It’s 180 in Australia. And even if animals are indoors, they should never be chained down. ‘Organic’ still has a long way to go.

‘Local’ is popular, but often appropriated. I’ve visited US farms that were re-branded because they were in trouble and became more successful. Consumers incorrectly assume that a farm in their neighbourhood is synonymous with ‘humane’ and ‘sustainable.’

‘Free range’ is also ill-defined. How much space and how often outdoors is completely at the discretion of a farmer or contractor. Lack of policing is a huge problem. We have the technology – modern factory farmers only need a switchboard or cell phone – but have few basic standards about how farm animals should be treated. For instance, there’s no law that distinguishes a pig from a table. Clearly, this is the job of government. But currently, farmers often pay for their own audits. This is a conflict because they’re both subjects and clients. Slaughterhouses are overseen by government, but inspections are not being done well, if at all.

CG: Were farm animals ever treated better?

SF: Yes, I’ve seen indications in Indonesian villages and on farms in Belize and in growing numbers in the US and Canada. Small village farms were the norm a century ago; there was more of a relationship and more respect. Now, sentient animals are objectified and cost cutting and profit is paramount – a very different mindset from husbandry. Obviously, there’s been a heavy toll on the Earth and human health.

CG: You write that labels often mean little or nothing.

SF: This is a deliberate strategy by agri-business. ‘Farm-fresh,’ ‘Natural,’ ‘Family-farm’ and ‘Third-generation farm’ are meaningless. For example, most factory farms are family farms and there is no indication they operate traditionally. Because most broiler chickens aren’t housed in cages, ‘Free-run’ chicken or turkey’ is redundant and often inadequate. And ‘Grain-fed animal’ is usually equivalent to a standard corn-fed diet, likely GMO.

CG: Do some labels contain some useful information?

SF: ‘Raised without hormones’ is deceptive for chickens, turkeys and pigs because, unlike dairy cows and beef cattle, hormones aren’t generally used. ‘Vegetarian-fed’ indicates egg-laying hens aren’t fed slaughter by-products, but says nothing about living conditions. ‘Raised without Antibiotics’ is helpful because they are so widely used in factory farms where animals are under extreme stress, but once again, indicate little about treatment.

CG: What should we look for?

SF: ‘Free-run eggs’ are from hens that aren’t housed in battery cages, but are kept indoors. ‘Free-range eggs’ indicates some level of outdoor access. ‘Organic milk’ is stringent for pesticides and drugs, but insufficient regarding treatment. Organic dairies are permitted to chain cows by the neck, conduct castrations and perform artificial insemination.

CG: What should we be asking?

SF: To ensure humane treatment for meat, milk and eggs, contact the company on the label. Ask how much space each animal is allotted and how much time they spend outdoors. Also, what mutilations are performed – castration, tail-docking, de-beaking, de-clawing? Also ask if animals are regularly given antibiotics and other drugs and confined to cases or crates or chained to stalls. Finally, ask if the farm permits public visits. If there are no definite replies, you have all the answers you need. When you find meat suppliers you’re comfortable with, stay with and support them. And spread the word.

Email questions to For more information, visit

Primal Mind Primal Games

Why We Do What We Do

READ IT by Bruce Mason

Primal Mind Primal Games book cover • Perhaps we have been made numb trying to make sense of our world with its endless wars, senseless violence, ongoing, human-caused climate change, the dream-like stupor of shopping, celebrity obsession, insatiable money/power lust, the millions of traumatized refugees, greed, corruption and heart-breaking inequity.

But we still have a three-pound universe and resource between our ears with more connections than stars in the Milky Way. And we have innumerable books that provide insight, including bestsellers such as Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind, Jared Diamond’s Pulitzer-Prize-winners and the many books on shelves in endangered spaces such as Banyen (one surviving oasis in a desert of disconnected, information dust storms, parched of wisdom).

Primal Mind Primal Games: Why We Do What We Do is one such book. Exploring human behaviour and the human condition, it offers a practical guide and path forward for those who seek more sanity, coherence and fulfilment in life. Readers will undoubtedly identify with the chimpanzee pondering the chessboard on the book-cover.

The book is the result of a 10-year collaboration between co-authors Hifzija Bajramovic, an Ottawa-based psychiatrist with a career spanning 40 plus years, and Paul LeMay, a Vancouver-based science writer with front-line experience in national politics. Primal Mind uproots the hidden, unconscious programs – millions of years in the making – that run our minds and shape our thoughts, feelings, actions and reactions.

Bajramovic’s work in victimization resulted in the identification of three primal, biologically determined mindsets: fighting, appeasing and defeated. You will recognize yourself and everyone you know in these universal default systems. I know I did. Fight, flight and freeze pretty much sum up our options.

Let the games begin. The Primal Games. By analyzing and providing examples of what these ancient mindsets engender, Bajramovic and LeMay provide tools to unravel and demystify much of human behaviour. “Integrating Self Function” is the all important, missing key, the lifelong reward for absorbing, understanding and utilizing the mindsets.

Author Gabor Maté notes the book’s originality and “deeply thoughtful systematized expression of the human psyche and behavioural manifestation.” He also points out it is “theory with a practical dimension.” Pop references to films, lyrics and graphics help make Primal Mind accessible. So do the enthusiasm and optimism of the co-authors, who recommend you read it in stages. Sure, it’s complicated – by design – just like the solutions. It’s either that or victimization. It’s in your hands.

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

April 7: Paul LeMay gives a public talk (by donation), 7-9pm, Fireside room, Centre for Peace, 1825 W. 16th Ave.@ Burrard, Vancouver. Info: (Primal Mind is available at Banyen Books.)


Bearskin Diary – Surviving Canada’s shameful ’60s Scoop

READ IT by Bruce Mason

Bear Skin Diary Cover
The author’s cover artwork is a 5X4 foot painting of an Elder’s story – running to hide from Indian Agents – made from dirt, acrylics and other materials

• The wise Cherokee proverb, “Never criticize a person until you’ve walked a mile in their moccasins,” encapsulates the idea that it’s impossible to internalize another person’s point of view without climbing into their skin and walking around in their world. Too often, non-Aboriginals lack even the basic knowledge of the lives of indigenous people.

For example, how many of us could comprehend why a four-year-old child would attempt to scrub colour from their skin, scouring and bleeding profusely? Carol Daniels’ just-published first novel, Bearskin Diary (Nightwood), offers much insight and I winced at the unprecedented glimpses into the raw, painful reality of Canada’s First Nations.

Daniels was the first aboriginal anchor in national news – CBC Newsworld (1989). In her 30-year, far-flung, cross-country journalism career, she studied law at the University of New Brunswick, became the first female Aboriginal Lay Bencher in Manitoba and ran provincially in Saskatchewan (NDP, 2011), unsuccessfully. Now, an award-winning multidisciplinary artist, actress and member of the Cree Nation, she was a victim of the little known “60’s Scoop,” when 20,000 plus Canadian babies were torn from their mother’s arms, up into the 1980s.

Fostered and adopted, the only native in a white community, Daniels, like many “Scoop Kids” tried to erase her colour. I called her Regina home the day after the new federal government announced an inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

“I’m so happy, for myself and the families that may find some peace. I could have been among the victims. Now we might finally learn what happened and why it is happening. As well, as an unwed aboriginal woman, I would have been destroyed to leave a hospital without my three children.

“This is an exciting time in Canada, as First Nations, Metis and Inuit gain traction on what I call the ‘Red Road.’ The Truth and Reconciliation report is finished, with some recommendations being implemented. And we have an historic number of Aboriginal MP’s, including Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

portrait of Carol Daniels
Carol Daniels

“Many Canadians don’t know about the Scoop, nobody spoke about it. Kids who went through it constantly felt alienated, isolated, ostracized, asking, “Where do I go?’ Nobody listened or understood. We were just numbers, thousands of little brown babies, like stray dogs. They wanted to get us early, to assimilate us faster, rather than wait a few years as with residential school victims. Took us away, sometimes as slave labour, or didn’t have anything to do with us – didn’t know where to put us. I hope to add to new dialogue and to tell victims they aren’t alone; there is hope and help.

“Some things in Bearskin Diary, people won’t like: sexuality and really ugly behaviour, dark, in-your-face scenes. It’s a frank look at racism, at what First Nations have to go through. I wanted to put it out there and don’t care if it’s not polite.”

In her experience, most media aren’t up to reporting Aboriginal issues.

“They don’t know a damn thing about us. Where’s the perspective if you have no idea what’s going on, or what has gone on? I’ve heard it all in story meetings and press bars. ‘Who gives a shit what an Indian thinks.’ ‘No one wants to see one on TV’ and ‘You work here, but will never be one of us.’ There’s a handful of reporters from our fastest rising demographic. Being representative of the population is good business for God-sake and the CBC has been a godsend, a necessity, not a utility, a last bastion.”

Bearskin Diary tells the story of Sandy – named for soil – scooped, then adopted by a Ukrainian family. She struggles with relentless bullying and racism from schoolmates, strangers, co-workers and her own lack of understanding of her heritage. Daniels had enough journalism and opted for fiction. But she writes what she knows, reflecting her own experience, stories and characters, culled from assignments, in crisp, conversational news style. There are heart-breaking moments, including childhood mimicking of National Geographic magazine, the only window to a non-white world. Heart pounding, dangerous investigative reporting of the secret Saskatoon police “Starlight Tours” is eerily similar to police officers in Val D’or, Quebec, and elsewhere, questioned for driving Indigenous women to city outskirts, sexually assaulting them then leaving them to walk to safety.

Bearskin Diary is reaching an audience beyond what anyone imagined.

Daniels notes, “It started as a play while I was working in Yellowknife, after a close friend’s death in 2009 before he got to his wish list. It grew in the long, cold nights over eight years. I got so many rejection letters; I couldn’t even talk when I was told it would be published. It’s been translated into 10 languages, released worldwide.

“In my lifetime, the Pass System – modelled after South Africa’s Apartheid – has ended. We can leave a reservation without permission. And we are voting, in large numbers, something we never did – or were allowed to do – before. I ran for office as encouragement. Vote out those who hate us then we won’t have to protest as much, after the fact. Just get them out. Support people committed to moving forward with real change.

“Our culture is important to everyone. We all want the same thing for our kids, strong communities and opportunities, healthy food, basic education. Indigenous people are beautiful, strong and knowledgeable, just the way they are, friends and neighbours. Give us the tools to break stereotypes. Maybe, a simplistic start, but a good one, nevertheless.

“We need talk more – get to know each other, share food and conversation. In certain situations, I walk in and immediately identify racism. It’s like an energy you can feel. Then I start doing my thing and we come together in song and joy. It all boils down to love and understanding.”

Daniels (nee Morin) gives new voice to silenced First Nations women, truth to power and an essential, integral perspective that will resonate with all walks. Her birth mother is deceased, but she reunited with her biological family. All ties were cut with her adoptive family in 2012, when she married Lyle Daniels in a traditional ceremony. After attending her first pow-wow and picking up a drum and the Cree language, she asked, “Why haven’t I been doing this all of my life?”

Colouring books for grown-ups

READ IT by Bruce Mason

Adult coloring book• For millions of folks, 2015 was the “Year of the Adult Colouring Book.” After occupying at least five spots on Amazon’s Top-10 bestsellers for all 12 months, ACBs (a Common Ground acronym) are the current “most-wished-for gifts” in Canada and elsewhere.

Stressed-out, screen-weary grown-ups of every stripe are seeking digital detox from ubiquitous desktops, laptops, tablets, smart-phones, E-readers and dumb-downed TV. They’re unplugging Wi-Fi and Ring Tones to de-stress and self-express in good-old-fashioned, interactive, tactile analog. Opting for a time-out – in a world vibrating with anxiety – they’re taking a recess from the relentless news of recession, terrorism, climate change, the boss, the mortgage; pick your poison.

Art Therapy Cover
A fad among fashionable French ladies has morphed into a “niche,” the latest “literary” craze and the biggest publishing phenomenon in decades. Entire sections and display areas have cropped up in virtually every book and big-box store. Heather Reisman – CEO of Canada’s Indigo Books – recently credited them with “significantly lifting sales throughout the chain.”

Forget about freebie restaurant colouring sheets. We’re talking hyper-detailed doodling here: tropical birds and Tiffany designs, historic ships and tattoos, aircraft and luxury cars, human anatomy, art masterpieces and mandalas – endless mandalas. It’s worth pointing out that Carl Jung prescribed colouring to his psychiatry patients; clients received black and white mandala drawings in therapy.

And also forget about those bygone primary crayons. They don’t cut it anymore. Think Prismacolor and gel pens for a contemporary palette. Think spectacular spectrums and new rainbows to choose from to make that tricky owl in the corner really pop!

Much of the paper is heavy duty so colours can’t bleed through. And authors often include little treasure hunts of extra images in their exceptionally detailed illustrations, as well as blank spaces, encouraging personalized elements. There are pocket-sized editions for the commuter, detachable pages for the keepers among us and spiral-bound versions and flexible spines. Publishers and marketers are burning the midnight oil, keen to keep up with the almost insatiable demand, which is not going away anytime soon.

As well – and as usual – there are also myriad “experts,” scratching their heads on the sidelines of the dizzying array of paper playgrounds. Colouring is touted, and sold, as a boon to the housebound, to help one achieve mindfulness, banish anxiety, even deal with trauma. The plethora of themes and patterns include the Art Therapy Colouring Book, Stress-Relieving Cats and Can’t Sleep Colouring. The American Art Therapy Association shrugs, admitting it’s beneficial, self-care. A tad therapeutic, but not art, say critics who don’t like it, claiming it’s analogous to listening to music, not making it, or art inside pre-drawn lines.

Among the skeptics is Susan Jacoby, author of The Age of American Unreason. She quotes the Bible: “When I was a child, I thought as a child, but as an adult, I put away childish things.” She describes the phenomenon as bad colouring books, regressive, escapist fantasy, a general decline in effort and broad Great Recession cultural shift, presumably including jobless, indebted 20-somethings moving back into childhood homes, experiencing psychological retreat instead of maturity.

Guilty as charged. But consider new forensics and the technology to measure brainwaves and heart rhythms. Turns out colouring relaxes the amygdala – the fear centre of the brain – enabling our mind and bodies to get required rest. It opens up the frontal lobe, the home of organizing and problem solving, focuses the mind and helps us forget to worry, a critical skill in our interesting times. It unleashes free expression and facilitates relaxation in the moment. Much like crossword puzzling, it can help delay or prevent dementia.

Dr. Stan Rodski, a consulting neuro-psychologist and author of Anti-Stress: Colouring Book for Adults (Volumes 1-6), isolates three key elements – repetition, pattern and detail – as prompts for positive neurological response.

It’s limitless creativity with satisfaction gained from watching colour slowly spread and thought and effort becoming tangible and beautiful. Wander and wonder through the paper labyrinths, with no traps and nothing to solve. So, unlike some fads, this one is actually really good for you.

I think it’s part of our unacknowledged desire to do “nothing” sometimes, to let the liminal brain take over, without technological murmurs as ever-present cognitive buffers, to simply zone out. Frankly, I want to garden in colour, in winter.

“Peter Pan market?” Sure. Who doesn’t want to be “a kid again” and ditch technology, momentarily, in favour of our inner child? And DIY is all the rage. Common Ground readers know that the first step in mindfulness – or is it mind-fullnes – is to gather one’s attention and halt the mind’s repetitive ruminating and anticipating, shifting from linguistic to the somatosensory cortex, becoming grounded in body sensations and breathing.

There’s a good reason why Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford’s first two books – Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest – became instant best-sellers, now available in 14 languages. And why her latest, Lost Ocean, sold tens of thousands in its first week out in late October. She wanted to relax and share a little fun. Don’t we all? Especially with blockbuster franchises like Game of Thrones, Harry Potter and Doctor Who, now out with their own ACBs.

Want to colour? Knock yourself out; fill your boots. It’s cathartic, quintessential and the gift that truly keeps on giving. And there are lots of free samples to download and print; just Google free adult colouring books.

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

Mainstream media the big election loser

READ IT by Bruce Mason

harper on the National Post front page
photo by Victor Anthony

• “Anybody” won the federal election – as in “Anybody but Conservatives” (ABCs) and “Anybody but Harper.” But almost everybody lost something. The Greens were temporarily stunted and shunted and the NDP either misread or misplaced their ticket to “destiny.” Ultimately, we avoided a Conservative train-wreck, relieved to have less baggage to claim. First-class passengers either jumped early or were thrown off a switched track to a changed landscape along a transformed national information railway. The corporate media – a big loser – appears to have been left back at the station, diminished and even disgraced in some eyes, certainly increasingly irrelevant and ignored.

I’ve never paid for a National Post, including October 17th’s last-ditch, pre-election keeper, handed out in the hotel where I was staying. “The Case for Harper” headline shouted below a sketched portrait of the man, airbrushed in the style and content now abandoned by Playboy magazine. A deceptive “Canada’s Team” Blue Jays promo, emblazoned on top, championed another hoped-for cause. Far beyond an endorsement, the entire first section was full-blown propaganda, up until the last sentence on Page A17: “We really cannot have another four years of government by a sadistic Victorian schoolmaster,” wrote our best-known former press magnate, arch-Conservative, ex-con and ex-owner, Conrad Black.

I saved that copy, but not the ubiquitous other samples from Canada’s largest newspaper publisher, including more than 50 Postmedia rags, big-and-small city editions in every market outside Atlantic provinces. More than half of Canada’s English-language newspapers were wrapped, garbage-like, in yellow, costly front-page ads. The headline, “Voting Liberal will cost you,” was one message among many, previously considered unprintable, if not unthinkable. They must have missed the memo we don’t like to be told how to vote.

The bleak news tsunami – which went against the tide of public opinion – included the unprecedented, bizarre endorsement by the Globe and Mail, which touted the Tories, but not Stephen Harper. Few were fooled by the absurd, almost farcical, cheer-leading. Tweets included, “Globe endorses BLT: hold the bacon, hold the lettuce, hold the tomato,” “Gone without the Wind,” “Seinfeld, without Jerry” and “Globe, without the Mail.”

As the election fog lifted two days later, at a Postmedia shareholders’ meeting, a net loss was announced for the quarter ending August 31st, of $54.1 million, compared to $49.8 million for the same period in the prior year. Black spoke to the slow learning old boys who hadn’t been enlightened by the goofy endorsement of right-wing Jim Prentice in the Alberta election. He pleaded with shareholders, suits and deaf hedge funds, now in control of Postmedia, “Please return to quality,” in a bid to counter plummeting cash, credibility, brand value and a tenuous, almost irresponsible, grasp of new reality.

The same mainstream media that played a near-consensus role in the 2011 Conservative majority – shilling for a leader who insisted it was a “Harper government” rather than a government of Canada, during a campaign he foolishly characterized as “not all about him” – failed miserably in their fundamental responsibility to truth and credibility.

In contrast, the National Observer is part of a growing news alternative. Contributing editor Sandy Garossino’s October 18 opinion piece on corporate newspaper collaboration argued, “The stain of this shameful moment in Canadian journalism will never wash completely clean from the Globe and Mail and Postmedia. Not only did they tolerate the ugliest political episode in Canada’s post-war era, they signed their names to it. They sold their front page to it.”

In Common Sense Canadian, Rafe Mair added, “The news is going to come strained through the establishment sieve and we must all know that and take the credibility of all the mainstream media as one would a declaration of innocence by a child with sticky fingers and jam all over his face.”

Truth may be slightly more accessible now and somewhat easier with a PM who not only doesn’t duck hard questions, but also acknowledges that’s the job of journalists. Justin Trudeau promised, “I’ll be back” – after hosting what is only the third press conference in the press theatre in a decade – to a pack that had taken it on the chin, sucker-punched and conned into throwing the game.

In the meantime, the Centre for Law and Democracy, in co-operation with Madrid-based Access Info Europe, reported that Canada’s standing in Freedom of Information legislation – a world leader when introduced in 1983 – has “stagnated and sometimes even regressed,” falling to 55th place of 93 countries, behind Mongolia and Colombia.

The neglect and wilful destruction of the Commons will be uncovered and faced by our new government after – hopefully and blissfully – our last first-past-the post election. The mess and rot extends far beyond the barely inhabitable 24 Sussex Drive. Take your pick: war, the TPP, growing inequality, Bill C-51, C-24, last-minute cushioning of climate change, tardily transitioning to clean energy, restoring Canada’s tarnished image, rusted infrastructure, tattered social safety net, and on and on. It’s a long, hard to-do list. But a torch is being passed, a light in a tunnel in which corporate media crashes and burns while more Canadians – including additional youth and First Nations – vow to hold feet to the fire.

“Sunny ways, my friends,” says the promising PM. Hmm.

A broader, wider, better vision and aim are being set, beyond the spectrum and coverage of politics as usual. Cyberspace beats column space. Obsessing over races, voodoo fast-food polls and staged TV drama is becoming as passé, laughable and recognizable as tax mantras, economic mumbo-jumbo and toxic partisanship. Finally dumbed down to the point of a TKO. Debunked and de-railed.

“Read all about it” in independent media. Please support “news that’s fit to print.”

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

Super unequal British Columbia

BC tops the inequality list on many fronts

READ IT by Bruce Mason

A Better Place on Earth book cover• Have you heard that BC has earned yet another top spot on a list? No, not most “liveable,” “boring,” “expensive” or “unhappy.” Turns out the province is the most “unequal” in Canada. Here are a few numbers to crunch: more than half (56.2 percent) of the wealth in BC is held by the richest 10 percent. The “bottom” 50 percent of the population share 3.1 percent of provincial wealth. Three percent is a long way from 56.2, never mind any notion of 50/50. Coast to coast, BC is the bottom of the barrel – approximately 2,250,000 people share only 3.1 percent of BC’s wealth while about 450,000 divvy up more than half of what’s owned in the province.

That’s just one of the stats that stand out in Andrew MacLeod’s recently published best-seller, A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia(Harbour Publishing). Here are a few more facts: non-mortgage debt in BC in 2013 ($39,000) was the highest among Canada’s provinces and territories. So is our child poverty – one in five children – that is increasing by more than 50,000 annually. Half of BC’s kids who rely on single parents are impoverished. There is a stark contrast in median net worth – in 2012, it was a whopping $2,020,600 for the richest 10 percent and $10,700 for the poorest 10 percent, many of whom are deep in debt. Meanwhile, Vancouver, our largest and most expensive city, has the second lowest business taxes among 55, ranked just above Chennai, India. Consider that the numbers are from Stats Can and other reputable non-partisan sources.

The argument is over what we are going to do about this shameful reality. It’s a far cry from our “Super Natural” moniker writ large about BC and the “Beautiful” we see on license plates along with the tired, delusional slogan mouthed by politicians in power, “The best place on Earth.” This book brings it home that this tragedy and travesty, like climate change, is on our doorstep. We can and must do much better. The good news is we have many options.

The book began as a 10-part series by MacLeod on “Super Unequal BC” in The Tyee. As a father of two in a dual income family, he acknowledges his relatively privileged middle class upbringing and access to opportunity – he covers the legislature in Victoria online at The Tyee – and he describes himself as a journalist – a “reporter, not an activist” – who set out to assemble unarguable facts. But MacLeod not only spills the beans, he also counts them and lists dozens of ways to reconstitute them so more people here at home have enough to eat.

Journalist Stephen Hume describes the book as “a significant work of investigative journalism which deserves a wide audience… examining the growing income gap between the rich and the poor and contemplating the moral, ethical, social and political choices it creates.” He notes that it “frames one of the most important discussions that will challenge British Columbians in the coming decades.”

Laid-back praise alongside musician/activist Bif Naked who sings, “A Better Place on Earth lit me on fire and made me want to run in the streets, banging pots and pans, echoing the sentiments and words.” TheGlobe And Mail put it in the company of former chief economist of the World Bank and Nobel Prize-winner, Joseph Stiglitz’s The Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them. That review also quotes Plato’s declaration that no man should be more than four times wealthier than the poorest member of society. Canada’s current average CEO-to-worker pay ratio is 206:1.

“Since 1982, after-tax income for the top one percent of British Columbians has grown by 60 percent. For pretty much everyone else, the bottom 90 percent, that number has remained essentially flat,” MacLeod notes.

As trickle-down economics is discredited and disrobed, “growing the economy” isn’t stemming the inequality tsunami. That requires a revamped tax structure and social programs. But BC is the only province without an anti-poverty strategy.

Jimmy Pattison once opined, “Money is just a way of keeping score.” He didn’t mention – certainly not on his billboards – that the game is rigged and that in Russell Kelly’s 1986 biography, Pattison: Portrait of a Capitalist Superstar, former cabinet minister Claude Richmond observed, “You can’t live a week in BC without putting money in Jimmy’s pocket.”

The deliberate policy of the provincial and federal governments to cut higher and corporate taxes at all costs, while utilizing austerity measures to curtail myriad social programs and cook budgets, is obscene. Leonard Cohen wryly notes in his recently released Never Gave Nobody Trouble, “You got the right to all your riches/But you let it go too far.”

There is, indeed, trouble in paradise. And we are in McLeod’s debt – if we dare use the word – for exposing and enumerating the dark side of runaway growth. The stats will get much worse if we don’t change course and governments. Among the gifts of A Better Place on Earth are do-able options listed in the final chapters. Government policy, which got us into this mess, can be reversed at the ballot box. And I, for one, won’t vote for any candidate who hasn’t read The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia.

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola-Island based five-string banjo player, gardener

Read local, act global

READ IT by Bruce Mason

“World class” – a phrase that’s found its way back into Greater Vancouver’s vocabulary lately, as in “world class” spill response or mass transit. Happily, there’s no doubt we’re tip-top in other areas, including three recent books with strong regional ties: John Vaillant’s The Jaguar’s Children; Johann Hari’s Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs; and Laura Dakin’s Cookin’ Up a Storm; Sea Stories and Vegan Recipes from Sea Shepherd’s Anti-Whaling Campaigns.


Three books with very different themes – each one timely, illuminating some all-important topics. Written to make a difference and jam-packed with memorable characters. Classy and worthwhile reading.

Let’s start at the end. Even if the official Sea Shepherd cookbook weren’t fully rigged with 80 favourite, hearty, rigorously tested dishes, photographs and first hand accounts, purchasing it will help stem the silent collapse of ocean ecosystems. Join hundreds of thousands of supporters from 36 countries to help finance aggressive, effective, relentless direct action to halt the slaughter of endangered and threatened marine wildlife. You’ll also help stop bottom trawling – the equivalent of clear-cutting –which involves tossing what’s unwanted or dead back or grinding it up for cheap animal protein.

All vegan – and rightly so – Cookin’ Up a Storm will cast you off on navigating a new, necessary course of eating to save the planet. First, a few shockers from Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (1977) founder, Captain Paul Watson: 40% of the catch taken from the sea is fed to livestock, pets and farm-raised fish. Pigs eat more fish than sharks; chickens consume more seafood than puffins and cats, even more than seals. In fact, domestic cats top the list of hogs of the sea and eating bacon buggers up biodiversity and the ocean’s food chain.

Watson, the son of a chef, contributes such fare as Captain’s Habitat Split Pea Soup, Favourite Carrot Cake and the Antarctic Tropical Canadian Delight. But Dakin is in the wheelhouse here.

“I was sick of feeling helpless about the alarming depletion of our oceans and signed on to the Sea Shepherd crew, in 2005, in Bermuda, at age 21,” recalls the former private chef for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who has studied and worked at restaurants around the world.

Keep in mind Dakin stores food for a ravenous crew of 50, for hundreds of days, offshore, 24-7, in the killing grounds of barbarous death ships. Galley conditions sometimes resemble a roller coaster or dicing an onion inside a clothes dryer. A genius at what she calls “veganizing,” she serves up delectable Signature Sea Shepherd’s Pie, tofu sausages, Tandoori potatoes, Can’t Beet It Chutney, fish-free cakes, fresh bread and to die-for-desserts.

Hello, folks; you know you need this book.

Vancouver-based, bestselling, award winning author John Vaillant (The Golden Spruce, The Tiger) has given us what most readers long for: an engrossing page-turner that turns everything else off. It’s head-shaking story-telling you can’t put down and can’t wait to finish while wishing it would go on.

His debut novel – The Jaguar’s Children (now in paperback) – more than justifies the international acclaim for his narrative power. Set on both sides of the US-Mexico border, it’s based on a true story and heart-breaking emails found on a phone inside a sealed, empty water truck in which a group of illegal migrants died of thirst and starvation.

Evil is ubiquitous and tangled, actively predatory on both sides of the great divide between Mexico and El Norte; in the unscrupulous actions of the “coyotes,” hired to facilitate the dangerous escape. And attention Common Ground readers: in the terror of genetically modified food.

People and lands – of which Vaillant has much respect and knowledge – are imperilled, as we all are, by genocidal, international agri-business. It’s scary, very scary and essential to know. The book includes fascinating glimpses of old Mexico and ancient myths, masterfully woven into the rapidly changing new, told through the power of impressive talent, truth, courage and hope. Global praise for The Jaguar’s Children is richly deserved.

Chasing the Scream, is the result of a three-and-a-half-year, 30,000-mile descent into the 100-year-old, tragically counterproductive, international “War on Drugs.”

Elton John opines, “Absolutely stunning, it will blow people away.” Noam Chomsky adds, “Wonderful, couldn’t put it down.” Glenn Greenwald reports, “The perfect antidote to one of the most under-discussed moral injustices.” And Russell Brand pipes up with, “As intoxicatingly thrilling as crack, without destroying your teeth. It will change the drug debate forever.”

Through riveting, superb journalism and deeply human story-telling, Johann Hari cuts through the crap of what we think drugs are, what addiction is and the real reasons and motivation for the too-long, so-sorry, hopeless, so-called War. He shares compelling true stories of the likes of Billie Holiday, a transsexual Brooklyn dealer who was conceived when his crack-addicted mother was raped by an NYPD officer, and a prisoner kept at the bottom of a well for two years by a torturing dictatorship, who emerged to be elected President of Uruguay.

Central to the book are two brave, brilliant local citizens: Dr. Gabor Mate and SFU psychologist Bruce Alexander. Familiarity with their work and experience will change the way you think (hopefully) about drugs and our Downtown Eastside, forever, along with the rest of this remarkable book, which, as Elton promises, will blow you away!

Three books to pick up when you’re looking for a controversial, consequential keeper. World class. Really.

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


Junkyard Planet and the fourth “R”

READ IT by Bruce Mason

Junkyard Planer by Adam Minter book cover

• According to Adam Minter, author of Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade, repair is the fourth “R” that fits perfectly with reduce, reuse and recycle.

“Virtually everyone knows very well that repairable items tend to be better built and longer lasting. And that’s what we really need if we’re going to continue being a consumption-driven society: longer-lasting goods,” says Minter, a veteran journalist and son of an American junkyard owner.

He is among the 5,000+ people taking part in the world’s largest recycling convention: ISRI 2015 Convention and Exposition, hosted by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc. (Vancouver April 21-25) Among the featured speakers is former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Minter’s perspective is a first-hand view of the real global ground zero. His book is a journey into the vast, often hidden, industry that’s transforming the global economy and environment, from back-alley Chinese computer recycling operations to high-tech empires. And he has a great deal to share about smarter ways to take out the trash.

Stressing that recycling is only marginally better than landfills, Minter explains, “Recycling requires vast amounts of energy and water – aluminium and paper are two examples – and nothing is 100% recyclable.

“Most plastics can only go through the process once or twice. Paper, five or six times. As for metals, they can be recycled endlessly, but there’s always some lost in the process,” he adds.

Putting materials into the correct recycling bin is only part of the equation. Getting them into the hands of manufacturers who are going to utilize them is equally important.

Recycled automobiles are an amazing environmental success story, Minter notes. Deliver a car to a scrap yard and within a week or two it will be on its way to being transformed into a new vehicle.

We have a long way to go with other items – phones and pizza boxes, for example. “Apple tells us they’ll take an iPhone back for ‘responsible recycling.’ That’s true, up to a point. They don’t tell us that phones, like most electronics, are difficult to separate into components,” Minter reports.

“Try segregating plastic from the metal – can’t be done. And iPhones that can’t be repaired, upgraded and sold for re-use, are shredded. A combination of magnets and other technologies pull out metal. The rest – especially the glass and plastic – is destined for the landfill and incinerator. When a company offers recycling, consumers should ask how and how much. Conservatively, for iPhones, it’s below 50%.”

Pizza boxes are loaded with problems – grease and bits of food waste raise recycling costs and lower paper quality – but it’s not a big deal in Asia and other developing regions. Pizza boxes are fed into paper recycling lines in China, Malaysia and India, to name a few, Minter explains. “Sacrificing some quality for higher recycling rates is a trade-off that folks in rich, developed countries haven’t considered,” he adds.

“So nobody – especially an environmentalist – should feel as if they’ve somehow done the environment a big favour by tossing something into a blue bin. If you really want to do the Earth a favour, reduce your consumption,” says Minter.

Minter is well aware that’s a hard task. “I don’t want to do it, either. So what’s the solution? I’m not sure there is one. But France is working on laws to require companies to tell consumers how long replacement parts will be available for their purchases; a fine idea and a really good way to start lengthening product lifespan.”

In the meantime, Junkyard Planet – now available in paperback – is an engaging, colourful, sometimes troubling true story of consumption, innovation and the ascent of a developing world that recognizes value where so-called developed nations still do not.

For more information on the conference, visit Scroll down and see ISRI Events on the right. Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola-Island based five-string banjo player, gardener, freelance writer and author of Our Clinic.

Building a neo-liberal Canada

READ IT by Bruce Mason

harperism book cover• It rules the world, but do you know what “neoliberalism” really means? While rarely defined, often confused, misused and glossed over, understanding the term is basic to human interaction in the 21st century and the key to unlocking a different country and world.

After 40 years of tracking neoliberalism’s global rise, Donald Gutstein decided to help clear up any doubt and confusion by sharing his insights in a book. Happily, he uses our prime minister as a case study. Harperism: How Stephen Harper and his Think Tank Colleagues Have Transformed Canada (James Lorimer) has been published months ahead of what quite possibly will be the most important federal election ever.

Dictionaries define neoliberalism as a modern, political-economic theory favouring free trade, privatization, minimal government regulation, lower taxes – especially for elites and corporations – and reduced social services.

As Gutstein reveals, in power, neoliberalism is much more sinister and calculated. More than a simple desire for smaller government and taxes, it’s an agenda and an ongoing, utopian dream. Heavily influenced by think tanks, neoliberalism broadcasts through a mainstream media echo chamber, constantly repeating the mantra that governments screw up and markets make better decisions.

Gutstein reports the concept began with Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992), whose ideas were the subject of Stephen Harper’s graduate thesis. Hayek’s Mont Pelerin Society, created in 1947, was the first right-wing think-tank, followed by hundreds more around the world, including Canada’s very familiar and influential Fraser Institute. Many more – as part of an international network – sprung up across the country, partially subsidized by taxpayers.

Often incorrectly referred to as a conservative movement, neoliberalism radically restructures existing society by creating more and more unregulated markets. In contrast to libertarians who want a small, less powerful government that leaves people alone, neoliberals actually require their own brand of strong government.

While conservatives strive to save what they believe is the best of the past, neoliberal governments focus on creating, enforcing and enabling markets to flourish, unhindered by constraints such as environmental concerns. Economic freedom is the highest good, trumping everything else, including political freedom. Transactions rule over elected officials. Government is needed, yes, but democracy not necessarily so. Neoliberalism describes Pinochet’s Chile, Thatcher’s UK, Reagan’s US, Harper’s Canada and others.

No matter how incredibly subtle, incremental and hidden from view our leader’s moves might be, he is gradually, but radically, re-forming Canada into a shape that will outlast his time in office, requiring decades to restore. That’s documented in Paul Wells’ bestseller, The Longer I’m Prime Minister, Stephen Harper and Canada, 2006–.

Filtering through neoliberal ideology also sheds light on Harper’s weakening of unions and free collective bargaining, muzzling government scientists, killing the Canadian Wheat Board, undermining the CBC and encouraging privatization of land on First Nations reserves. He has eviscerated environmental protection and recast Canada as a “warrior nation” over its peacekeeping tradition, extolling the Tar Sands while turning his back on international climate initiatives and charging around the world to sign free-trade agreements. These issues and myriad other policies are examined in Michael Harris’ Party of One.

Gutstein, an adjunct professor in SFU’s School of Communication and co-director of NewsWatch Canada, provides astute, invaluable analysis as he dismantles and exposes the neoliberal labyrinth of corporate funded think tanks and interconnected corporate media. Most importantly, he also exposes the element of social control in 10 years of Harper’s pro-market worldview.

Harperism: How Stephen Harper and his Think Tank Colleagues Have Transformed Canada is essential reading. Understanding its central thesis is important to every voter, including the mistaken 30+% who think they are supporting “conservatism,” not “neoliberalism.” It should be mandatory reading for anyone planning to not cast their precious ballot. It offers scary motivation, indeed, for all Canadians to get to the polls this fall.

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