All posts by Rafe Mair

About Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at

Rafe Mair: The BC election no one can win

Christy Clark (Province of BC/Flickr and John Horgan (BCNDP/Flickr)
Christy Clark (Province of BC/Flickr and John Horgan (BCNDP/Flickr)

The election is sufficiently near to develop a few axioms to carry us through the sea of a largely imponderable mass of horse buns that we’ll have to face. I suggest that the following are good starts to our defence mechanisms as our eyes and ears become mercilessly assaulted by heaps of political bullshit, endemic to all campaigns, this one having a master, or should I say mistress, of it?

We can assume the following:

NDP Leader John Horgan probably won’t know what the hell he’s talking about most of the time but he will  honestly believe that it’s appropriate and accurate.

Premier Christy Clark, though it is highly unlikely, may know what she’s talking about on some occasions but no matter what she says, where or when, she’s most certainly lying through her teeth.

In the days and weeks to come, I’ll be examining the Liberal record and Ms. Clark’s role in it with some care. That’s reasonable enough because she has been our elected premier for 3 1/2 years (My God, is that all it is?!) and the Liberals seem to have been in power forever. Let me take a look first at the John Horgan and the NDP.

Horgan missed golden opportunity with LNG

The Official Opposition is supposed to be the “government in waiting” – that is if they really want the public to take them seriously. I don’t imagine at this point that many believe John Horgan has got this done. Most people would be hard-pressed to remember any NDP MLA, with the exception of David Eby, and in some cases their own MLA – and Horgan scarcely looks like a premier-in-waiting. He has saddled the party with an impossible issue, namely blanket approval of LNG. I’ve  mentioned this ad nauseam and am sorry for mentioning it again but it’s of huge importance and Mr. Horgan deserves to wear it.

BCNDP Leader John Horgan touring Metro Van Pipes in 2014 (BCNDP/Flickr cc licence)
BCNDP Leader John Horgan touring Metro Van Pipes in 2014 (BCNDP/Flickr cc licence)

He supports LNG because, he has said, “we can’t be against everything”. What he has done, as I predicted a year and a half ago, has foreclosed the NDP’s right to criticize any part of LNG and it is now stuck with approving things which nobody in their right mind – which is to say a non-Liberal hack – would dream of supporting.  This for a gamut of good reasons – from the atmospheric damage it does, the substantial fracking damage to our water supply, the transportation dangers of natural gas to the refinery, pollution to air and water, immensely dangerous transit by tanker as LNG. Finally, he and his party accept, uncritically, the outrageous expenses of Clark and Coleman selling LNG they didn’t have to people who don’t want it and who, even if they did, could get it much cheaper or make it themselves.

The NDP can’t even point out that scientists have found LNG to be an even worse pollutant than they thought. He must also refrain from challenging the absurd Clark/Coleman statements that LNG will pay off all our debts and fill up their Prosperity Fund to over-flowing.

LNG should be the NDP’s biggest issue but their leader has made it into a big weight in their boots. Horgan would be wise to swallow his pride and make LNG an issue. Since he won’t, his party may lose the election because their leader feared he would lose face, and refused to deal with an issue that the people of British Columbia by and large do not support.

Record on Hydro should dog Clark

If Asian LNG prices keep falling - as analysts predict - this may be as close as BC Premier Christy Clark comes to building even one LNG plant (BC Govt Flickr CC Licence)
Christy Clark playing the LNG game (BC Govt Flickr CC Licence)

Premier Clark and her government have a substantial task on their hands, unless, somehow, the people accept her appalling record, rather than take a chance with a stubborn man whose personal pride has hidden any ability he might possess. (When I stopped and reread that, I thought to myself “what on earth have we done in this province to deserve an election where our choice is between supporting a failed a government or an opposition which gives no confidence it will be any better?”)

I’m not going to deal with the Liberal record overall today but just look at one aspect as being such an unbelievable failure that I’m only surprised it doesn’t have people taking to the streets. I refer to BC Hydro.

When the liberals took power in 2001, BC Hydro was not only a thriving Crown corporation – literally the envy of the energy world – it made a substantial and legitimate profit for the people of BC. It had, over the years, presented profits of several hundred million dollars per annum to the provincial treasury – in fact, close to $1 billion on occasion. They were real profits (with the exception of those gained in the California-Enron scandal) that built hospitals, schools roads and so on.

Hydro didn’t have to borrow money to pay dividends to the treasury as they have under this “business-oriented” government. Admittedly, that appalling practice started with the last NDP government but as Keith Baldrey, scarcely a Liberal-basher, puts it:

[quote]The B.C. Liberals have taken things to an entirely different level altogether. The government has locked-in contractual obligations to independent power producers to the tune of nearly $60 billion, which means that in some years, B.C. Hydro will likely be paying over-market prices for electricity it doesn’t need.[/quote]

(Evidently Mr Baldrey somehow overlooked the inconvenient fact that this is what’s happened from the start and will, assuming the Liberals continue to reward their pals, go on ad infinitum!)

Why BC Hydro always overestimates future power demand- Economist
Headquarters of the once-great BC Hydro

Just think about this for a second and let’s assume you have a small but nicely profitable business. For many years, you made a nice profit and it sustained your family needs. Suddenly, it starts to lose a bundle, and you’re advised that this is due to your incompetence, not bad luck, but you say to hell with them – we want that money, so we’ll borrow every year and because we have some assets, we will act as if everything was just peachy. You would, of course, reach the point where no one would  lend you money and you’re out of business.

That, my friends, is BC Hydro, with this wrinkle – they’ve not gone broke because their banker has to lend that money, whether he likes it or not – because the Banker is YOU, the public of British Columbia, who are forced to pay electricity rates to BC Hydro or be without power!

Think on this when you’re considering how to mark your ballot – as of now, Hydro owes $852 million to the government over the next three fiscal years in mandatory annual dividend payments and, not having the money, they must borrow it — which ratepayers will have to pay  — so that Hydro can meet government’s annual demand for a share of its non-existent profits, thus transferring the debt from us the taxpayers to us the ratepayers!

Did the poor, old, helpless government suddenly find itself in a position where global catastrophes or unforeseeable local conditions made it impossible for the poor Minister of Finance to do any better? Must we excuse the poor devil because he had no way of avoiding this calamity?

Usually, when financial disasters occur, a government has some sort of legitimate excuse. This government of fiscal fuck-ups has no excuse and in the next column I’ll examine how this bankrupting of BC Hydro was deliberate, probably because of Gordon Campbell’s Fraser Institute philosophy that no government-owned company can perform as well as a private company and he set out to prove that with catastrophic results. What we will determine, however, is that it wasn’t all loss, as this disaster unfolded because friends of the government made and continue to make billions of dollars. I will place before you prima facie evidence of wrongdoing by someone, for which the Attorney-General, who’s supposed to be above politics, must authorize a thorough investigation.

That she has not even commented on, much less authorized, an investigation is not an encouraging sign.


Rafe’s New Year’s letter to Trudeau: Time for PM to get to know BC…for real

Justin Trudeau hasn't learned much about BC in the time he lived here and through visits like this one to the north coast in 2014 (Flickr/Justin Trudeau)
Justin Trudeau hasn’t learned much about BC in the time he lived here and from visits like this one to the central coast in 2014 (Flickr/Justin Trudeau)

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

Allow me to introduce myself. I am a lifelong, pretty old British Columbian who loves his province with the same passion I’m sure people in Trois Rivières love theirs. Your inferential calling BC’s patriotism into question because we will vigorously oppose your approval of the Kinder Morgan pipeline demonstrates clearly that you’re quite unable to understand this, your connections to BC notwithstanding.

There’s a sense that British Columbians think that because they’re different that “different” means “better”. That simply isn’t so. What we cherish is our distinctness (a word I use advisedly). When BC is included in the term “The West”, we bristle because we are indeed a very separate region but also because it does a great disservice to our neighbours to meld them into a fictional, however convenient, sameness as us.

Let me tell you a personal anecdote. I’m a writer who’s written 11 books and God only knows how many columns. For many years I wrote for the Financial Post and during that time, perhaps 20 years ago, I was offered a column with the Toronto Globe and Mail to be called “The View From The West”.

I protested that this would be badly received because I didn’t live in the West but on the Pacific Coast. I told Sarah Murdoch, the editor, that people in Brandon, Saskatoon, and Lethbridge would be justifiably outraged that I pretended to speak for them and their issues, as I would be if they spoke for mine.

Recent Kinder Morgan protest in Vancouver (Photo: Lu Iz/Facebook)
Recent Kinder Morgan protest in Vancouver (Photo: Lu Iz/Facebook)

Your decision to support the Kinder Morgan pipeline and the horrific Site C Dam demonstrates that in spite of your connections to this province, you don’t come close to understanding this – or you understand it perfectly but, for strictly political reasons, choose to ignore the inconvenient truth. More on that point later.

Sir, may I suggest that you read The West Beyond The West by Dr. Jean Barman, professor emeritus, Department of Educational Studies, at your old alma mater and mine, the University of British Columbia. Dr. Barman, a Winnipegger by birth, came to British Columbia many years ago and, like so many converts, became more devout than the natives. This highly readable book is a fascinating history of how this province really came into being, which was quite unlike Ottawa’s more preferred, vague version and I can assure you it contains much that will surprise you considerably.

Let’s deal with one area that you should know about. There are close to as many First Nation tribes and discrete languages here than in the rest of the country combined. I was surprised indeed to learn from Grand Chief Ed John that while he couldn’t understand the language of the nation next door, he could understand the Navajo in New Mexico. Our ignorance of First Nations is astonishing, except how could it be different when my generation were only taught about Iroquois, Algonquin and Hurons, not Salish, Secwepemc or Musqueam. This not terribly subtle effort to “Ontario-ize” English speaking Canada has been energetically applied in BC and just as energetically resisted. It spawns resentment, not national unity.

I don’t pretend to speak for all British Columbians but I believe, based on a long and multifaceted experience – including being a BC cabinet minister responsible for constitutional affairs – that there’s a general defiance in BC towards unfair treatment of their beloved province, endemic to Ottawa from the beginning. You may well see that defiance in action.

An existing BC salmon farm (Damien Gillis)
A BC salmon farm filled with a million Atlantic salmon (Damien Gillis)

I need only point to federal fisheries policy going back to 1871, continuing to this day with Atlantic salmon farms. Science, always brushed aside by the highly politicized Department of Fisheries and Oceans, has demonstrated that fish farms containing the alien Atlantic salmon carry, multiply and spread disease to wild Pacific salmon. They also propagate sea lice that damage and often wipe out wild salmon runs. This redounds to the enormous disadvantage of First Nations who rely upon wild salmon for food and ceremony, not to mention the damage to the commercial industry and sport fishing sector.

Your government, Mr. Trudeau, persists in defying science and not only permitting Atlantic salmon farms in BC, but promoting them. The Pacific salmon is, for us British Columbians, Prime Minister, our symbol – our icon. And you want us to believe that you really give a damn about BC?

Let me put it plainly – are the Tar Sands of Alberta really more important than the renewable salmon from which so many British Columbians derive their daily bread, prosper and enjoy as sports people?

Mr. Trudeau, a question: As Canada’s prime minister and grandson of a former fisheries minister, can you (without peeking or prompting) name the seven species of Pacific salmon (8 if you count Asia) and tell us which five are commercially caught? What about your fisheries minister? How about your cabinet ministers?

The ignorance in Ottawa of the Pacific fishery – what it is, where it is and where each species spawns – goes back to 1871 and gets worse by the year. This appalling ignorance is part of Ottawa’s built-in lack of concern about the discrete character and makeup of this province and its people who love it so much.

This symbolizes, sir, the difficulties between our province and your autocratic attitude, as evidenced by the Kinder Morgan decision.

Let’s get down to cases. This is our home.

OIl lingering on the Kalamazoo River long after Enbridge's 2010 spill (Jason W Lacey/Flickr)
OIl lingering on the Kalamazoo River long after Enbridge’s 2010 spill (Jason W Lacey/Flickr)

The land between the Tar Sands in Alberta and the ocean is extremely important to us, not only economically but as part of the ecology we have learned, often the hard way, that we must protect. Oil spills on land are permanent disasters because, even if they are reachable, bitumen is virtually impervious to clean-up. In the ocean, they are far worse. I urge you to spend a moment of your valuable time examining the spill in the Kalamazoo River six years ago which still hasn’t been cleaned up and never will be. In spite of the mindless blathering of our premier, there simply is no such thing as a “world class” cleanup that works on bitumen.

Like people everywhere, British Columbians had to learn environmentalism. This took time, a lot of effort, careful and often hard to accept education and a great deal of political shifting to decide that you couldn’t chop down all the trees, dam all the rivers and clog up the inlets with garbage. We discovered that the extraordinary beauty with which we, and I might add the entire country, were blessed with did not last without considerable, care, cost and sacrifice.

This is our home every bit as much as where you live is yours, Prime Minister, and we don’t intend to allow you or anybody else to damage, much less destroy it. I believe that the vast majority of British Columbians would endorse that statement and stand behind their province with every effort available to them.

This nonsense that bringing 400+ tankers laden with bitumen, plus many more with LNG, is of little or no consequence is, frankly, pure barnyard droppings. The constant statement by industry that that accidents are extremely unlikely, or if they do happen, they will be quickly cleaned up, is typical corporate bullshit from Kinder Morgan, and the people of British Columbia know it and will fight it desperately.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna with BC Premier Christy Clark (right) announcing her government's approval of PNWLNG (Province of BC/Flickr)
Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna with BC Premier Christy Clark (right) announcing the Trudeau government’s approval of PNWLNG (Province of BC/Flickr)

The Laws of Probabilities tell us that there will be serious accidents in Burrard Inlet, Howe Sound, Saanich Inlet, the Salish Sea and any of a number of passes, including Juan de Fuca. Moreover these explosive, poison-laden vessels won’t cease being a threat when they are outside the inner waters into the Pacific coast. You have to know what we’re dealing with here, Prime Minister – a substance which simply cannot be cleaned up.

Let me close with this. We will fight for our homes in the Peace Valley, which I’ve only touched upon, but you’ll soon know a lot more about that very grave issue. We will battle for our homes and safety on the coast. We will put up one hell of a fight.

What have you won if, through the enormous advantage you have, you beat us down? Think on that Mr. Trudeau.

Will Canada be a better place if, by force, you compel the Province of British Columbia, to facilitate the full exploitation of the Tar Sands of Alberta, the acknowledged worst polluter in the world, make the wealthy wealthier, save the political bacon of Premier Notley and give your party lots of Alberta seats?

The fossil fuel industry will be better off, as will Premier Notley, and so will you. But will Canada be better off with a badly alienated British Columbia – an alienation which will increase every time there’s a tanker collision or an oil spill?

British Columbia didn’t provoke or ask for this fight, Prime Minister – you did, and whatever defence you may mount, or noble motive you preach, the evidence will shine through that you and the Liberal Party of Canada had a substantial interest in the outcome.

That, sir, will be your everlasting legacy – not just to this province, but to the country.

Ponder that, Prime Minister.


Rafe: Site C Dam shows how broken our democracy is

BC First Nations Chiefs Roland Wilson, Liz Logan and Stewart Phillip took their anti-Site C message to Ottawa – to no avail (Liz Logan/ Twitter)

This week I said I would talk about Site C but little did I know what I had taken on. I spent nearly a day and a half with stuff that wouldn’t likely be in the article but knew I needed to read.

After devouring an enormous pile of material which I’d rather not have, I came to the firm conclusion that Site C is a terrible idea, founded on a professed need for energy in BC based upon highly suspect, self-serving research by Hydro, which has a long history of deliberately overestimating electrical demand and with no reasonably certain market except a very dubious LNG industry. The price tag, likely well in excess of $10 billion, will guarantee the bankruptcy of BC Hydro, which I suspect was the plan all along.

The whole story

It’s interesting and important to note a March, 2016 article by Justine Hunter in the Globe and Mail:

[quote]The author of a report the B.C. government used as a green light to proceed with the $8.8-billion Site C dam says there are better alternatives, but his review panel was not permitted to look at other solutions to future demand for more electricity.

In fact, Harry Swain, an associate fellow at the University of Victoria, whose May, 2014, report on the dam was viewed as a “mostly positive” study that justified the government’s decision to proceed, says British Columbia could meet its future energy needs at a lower cost with the stroke of a pen by taking back the power available under the Columbia River Treaty.

“In the report, we held back a lot of stuff because we were not allowed to talk about policy,” he said in an interview this week. “It wasn’t the whole story.”[/quote]

In short, in typical Christy Clark style, the report upon which the government bases its support of Site C, according to the Chairman of the Joint Review Panel that produced it, “wasn’t the whole story”.

Wow!  Even with this incompetent lot, that truly takes the breath away. 10 Billion bucks to be spent based on an incomplete assessment of the facts as honestly admitted by the Chair of the Committee!

Knowing that MLAs don’t have the guts to do anything about this, I realize that the real question is the same as that which I talked about recently with the Kinder Morgan pipeline. How was the decision to be made?

Democratic deficiency

Our version of a parliamentary system is totally unsuited to deal with a large controversy.

If you were to say that to someone ignorant of political philosophy, let’s say Christy Clark, she would respond, “Well we had an election in 2013, we got a majority and therefore we make the decision.” In fact, that’s just what her slightly less than cerebral colleague, Bill Bennett said.

That ignores a number of factors, not the least of which is that elections, including the one in 2013, are seldom over one controversy. They are held to elect a government, not decide a single issue which may not be well canvassed in the election campaign and indeed may not yet have become a recognized issue.

Secondly, under our system, we elect people of various backgrounds but who all have one thing in common – they will all, in every matter, do as they are bloody well told.

There is still this myth that great discussions take place in Caucus, which opinions the Minister responsible uses as the basis of his legislation. As the Duke of Wellington said when a man accosted him with “Mr. Robinson, I believe”.

“If you believe that, you’ll believe anything!”

These days, caucus is rarely even told about government policy, much less consulted. What they read is the same mindless, self-serving shit they mail out to you at public expense.

Kinder Morgan: A top-down decision

Let’s examine the federal government decision to approve Kinder Morgan, a flashpoint issue in BC the likes of which I have never seen before. It was publicly denounced by half a dozen Liberal backbenchers in BC, all of whom can now forget about promotion. The decision was made by Cabinet in accordance with orders from the Prime Minister.

Now, suppose you were vehemently opposed to Kinder Morgan and it so happened your MP was a Liberal. Let’s say that you know him/her very well, are a good supporter and even gave them money. Naturally, you go to this MP and advise them that you believe strongly that Kinder Morgan is a terrible idea, not only for the constituency but the whole province, and that you would be furious if the MP didn’t make that clear. Furthermore, you could say with accuracy that the vast majority of the constituency felt the same way.

What do you think would happen?

I can tell you what would happen: Nothing! Two times the square root of sweet Fanny Adams.

Now that is a democracy? That is the people having a say in the policies by which they will be governed?

There is an obvious solution to this problem – on major issues, submit the question to the people by way of referendum. I think I can feel the shivering out there as these words are being read. We don’t use referenda because this is a parliamentary democracy.

Well, that takes us back to where we started – our parliamentary democracy in practice denies individual voters any role in decision making for controversial issues like Site C or Kinder Morgan. Do we all just say “who cares?” and amble off to the pub for a beer?

The real reason we don’t use referenda more often is that the “elite” are afraid that the rabble won’t do what they’re told.

A lesson from Charlottetown

One only need to look at the proposed changes to how we elect MPs in Canada to see how vigorously – and illogically – the “elite” fight the idea of letting the people decide how they want to perform their democratic right to vote!

Isn’t that absurd when you think about it?

The most glaring example of the nations ignoramuses thwarting the wise decisions of the “elite” came with the Charlottetown Accord referendum in 1992 when the Rabble told “those who know best” to get stuffed and, in fact, in British Columbia, by 67.9%.

There were a number of us in BC who threw everything into the fight on the “No” side, including constitutional lawyers, professors of constitutional law, members of the British Columbia Court of Appeal, probably Canada’s most experienced constitutional lawyer and so on – yet the answer from the “higher purpose persons” (the late Denny Boyd’s wonderful phrase) was that these stupid bovine masses, following hypnotic broadcasters, destroyed the country.

Well, even though the “elite”, from the Prime Minister down, predicted that the country would fall to pieces if Charlottetown didn’t prevail, that not only did not happen but, I would argue, the county was saved. In due course, Quebec realized it would have to be like all other provinces if it wanted the benefits of being part of the nation and, although the last separation vote was close, the separatists lost and it also became clear that the changing population was going to make their case harder and harder to make.

The voter should be boss

I think the killing argument is simply this: If the principle is that decisions in our democracy will be made by ordinary people voting for their representatives, how can they be smart enough to elect good representatives but too stupid to give instructions as to what they want to happen?

No, don’t let me mislead you. I do not say that ultimate wisdom comes from referenda but I do say neither does it come from electing ordinary people to Parliament or from benevolent despots, for that matter. Nor do I support government by referendum; I support representative government where the voter is boss, not the Prime Minister, and, on major issues, by referendum.

I would argue from the Charlottetown experience that people in a referendum on a serious issue inform themselves far better than they are ever informed in an ordinary general election. With Charlottetown, it was remarkable what information the public demanded, what they observed on their own, the questions they asked of expert guests on my show and what they learned and learned so well.

What we really get down to is that the “elite”, whose motivation is not reaching an appropriate decision that’s beneficial to all, rather a resolution that suits their personal interests or those of their backers, don’t like it when the people they normally control in parliament or the legislature are not there to do what they’re told.

Yes, these are harsh words and betray a hearty mistrust of the system under which we govern ourselves. I say them by reason of a lifetime experience watching, participating and seeing just how willing we are to fool ourselves, rather than attempt any sort of change. We are masters of allowing perfection to be the enemy of improvement.

I am not so naïve as to think there is a perfect system available. What I do know, and I’m sure most people realize, is if you are never prepared to change, you will always have the same lousy situation.

Over the festive season I suggest you sit down with your mate or a good friend, with a glass of good BC wine and ask yourselves, “Do I really have a say, however minor, in the decisions that are made by the legislature or Parliament? The decisions on which my life is directed?”

If the answer is negative, you know that the big kids don’t want the rules to change – does that mean that you passively accept your fate?

Or do you go to work as freedom loving people always have when the “elite” run the citizen’s life from the comfort of their favourite chair at the Club?


If not Civil Disobedience, what? Letters to the editor?…Rafe Mair on the necessary response to Site C Dam, Kinder Morgan

84 year-old retried librarian Barbara Grant getting arrested at Burnaby Mountain (Burnaby Mountain Updates/facebook)
84 year-old retired librarian Barbara Grant getting arrested at Burnaby Mountain (Burnaby Mountain Updates/facebook)

Beyond doubt, British Columbia must get involved in two separate and substantial actions of civil disobedience, one with Site C and the other with the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline.

Civil disobedience runs against the grain of many people but I beg you to hear me out because we have reached the point where there is nothing left for our free society to do if it seriously wants to maintain any semblance of that freedom.

Sham dictatorship

Let me state a critical axiom of democracy: It’s not important that those who dissent get their way but what is critically important, fundamentally important, is that they get to be heard in a meaningful way. The moment people are denied the right to speak their opinion freely and with a clear opportunity to convince the government that they are right, there is no democracy left but only a sham dictatorship of the elite.

Let’s examine our system and see if we meet that test and use the Kinder Morgan pipeline decision as the example.

British Columbians, I think it’s fair to say, are vehemently opposed to this; what then is the answer Premier Clark and Prime Minister Trudeau would give to those who complain that they cannot get a hearing that matters?

Why, they would be told, you have both the legislature and the Parliament of Canada and all you need do is persuade 50% +1 of either of those bodies and your complaint will be satisfied. It is at this point that I have a lot of trouble containing my anger.

We’ve been told a lot of rubbish, starting in childhood. I did a paper on this so-called system of “responsible government”, which paper has been highly praised by people who understand government. It’s easy to understand – you will be appalled at the simplicity of the methods used to steal away your democracy.

In the last federal election, it was impossible for any British Columbian to elect an MP who opposed the Kinder Morgan pipeline because the leaders of both the Liberal and Tory party supported it. Every Liberal and Tory MP were bound by party discipline to support the leader’s policy or be thrown out of caucus and the party. Think about that. Their judgment on this issue was already made for them. Even if the leader waited until after the election, his decision was also automatically that of all his MPs.

The fix is in

Now, if I am right that a majority of BC citizens oppose Kinder Morgan, of what use was their parliament? Their concerns would never be discussed, much less voted upon. Even if the Opposition were against the project, since no government MP would dare vote against it, the entire process becomes a sham, a make-believe debate and a vote where the fix is in. In fact, no longer can government be bothered and cabinet endorses the deal behind closed doors.

Since the BC government has always been in favour, over 4 million British Columbians have turned its forests, rivers, streams, land, coastline, marine line and public safety over to the tender mercies of the fossil fuel industry without any say in the matter!

And somehow it would be undemocratic to say “fuck you, we’re going to stop you, without using violence, from ravaging our beautiful province”?

In a nutshell, it’s lawful to be a thief and unlawful to try to stop him!

Media part of the problem

We are in a very different world from that even a few years ago. The people have caught onto big business and big government and know they’ve have been lying through their teeth for years. It’s taken a while but voters now realize that their vote really doesn’t mean much. Capital now owns governments – one only has to look at the situation in British Columbia to see how the fossil fuel-dominated media has not only supported the industry’s actions but meekly supports the lickspittles that make up the government. As long as the government behaves and does as it’s told then the muckrakers confine themselves to accepting large fees for making speeches before gatherings of friends of the government. It has become a pathetic sight, especially for a former cabinet minister like me who still bears the justifiable scars inflicted by Jack Webster, Marjorie Nichols, Jim Hume, Pat Burns, Gary Bannerman, Allan Fotheringham, Jack Wasserman, and the like, upon whom the public could rely to keep our feet firmly to the fire.

With respect, you the public must ask yourselves what you will do where there is an absence of any legitimate democratic process, where there is no place you can effectively voice your concerns and where the media won’t do it because they, the government and the domineering fossil fuel industry are all on the same team.

I have no hesitation in concluding that civil disobedience, properly exercised, is the only tool left to the voter to replace the meaningful vote they are supposed to have but have been cheated out of.

Next week, a look at Site C Dam.


Rafe: Trudeau, Notley’s defence of Kinder Morgan doesn’t wash for BC

Justin Trudeau is greeted in Alberta by Rachel Notley (Premier of Alberta/Flickr CC licence)
Justin Trudeau is greeted in Alberta by Rachel Notley (Premier of Alberta/Flickr CC licence)

I listened to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley on CBC with Rick Cluff this week and must say she said nothing to give me cause to change my mind on Kinder Morgan. To the contrary, I asked myself how could she be so indifferent to the problems 400-plus tankers a year full of bitumen would bring to the BC coast.

I have a lot of trouble with the Trudeau/Notley attitude because the position British Columbians take is so obviously rational and natural. Just why people in the rest of Canada can’t understand eludes me. Wouldn’t they protect themselves and their homes?

Clark cutting a deal for BC?

The light went on when premier Notley talked about Christy Clark trying to make a deal with Kinder Morgan for money, saying that she understood that they were pretty close.

Justin Trudeau and Christy Clark (Province of BC/Flickr CC)
Justin Trudeau and Christy Clark (Province of BC/Flickr CC)

Of course! Clark, being a far-right-wing airhead (forgive the redundancy) has never concerned herself with the impacts all these extra tankers plus would have on our coast.

It would never occur to her that the colossal damage done by the inevitable spill would be permanent. It would never cross her mind that a simple understanding of the law of probabilities tells you accidents will happen over and over again and that, given the filthy nature of the cargo of these tankers, the damage is bound to be extremely serious. If these things don’t bother her, why would others care?

I dare say that if you mentioned Kalamazoo to Christy Clark, she would immediately think of the old Glenn Miller song of the 40s;  it wouldn’t  occur to her that it now signified the worst pipeline spill in history, six years ago, which has never been cleaned up and never will.   

If the premier of our province is not telling other Canadian leaders how serious the Kinder Morgan issue is to her province, then the press, such as it is, won’t pick up the story and all people east of the Rockies will have read is Gary Mason in the Toronto Globe and Mail.

Horgan ready to make Kinder Morgan an election issue?

The NDP's only shot at winning in BC: Embrace the NEW ECONOMY
BCNDP Leader John Horgan (BCNDP/Flickr)

Until very recently, John Horgan, leader of the BC NDP has been waffling, so any who gauge the opinion of a province by the pronouncements of their politicians would conclude that it was only a small group of crazies that were opposed to this pipeline. Somebody has obviously had a word with Mr. Horgan and he now realizes this is an issue upon which an election might depend. He’s seen the error of his ways and is now enthusiastically opposed.

The result of this misrepresentation of our general position makes us look bad in the eyes of other Canadians who simply don’t understand what our problem is. Although it is difficult for me to keep my cool on this subject I will try to put this in clear terms.

Public opposition based on common sense

Other Canadians must understand that the case against a multitude of bitumen loaded tankers on the BC Coast has never been stated by the government for the people. Quite, the opposite: the BC Liberal Government went as far as to sign away the province’s constitutional authority to represent its constituents on this matter, through a controversial “equivalency agreement”, which we’ve documented in these pages. Thus, it has been left to private individuals and groups. This is taken to mean that the environmentalists are hysterical and the government is calm and accurate.

In fact, environmentalists have all of the science as well as common sense on their side and, importantly, the law of probabilities. When you have this many tankers constantly using water ways such as exist in the routes out of Vancouver through the harbour and all of the channels involved, the law of probabilities says there’ll be more accidents as this traffic increases, as it surely will. 

What’s worse, the bitumen cargo ensures that an accident will have very serious consequences, especially near populated areas. Added to to this, Mr. Trudeau has approved an LNG plant near Squamish, sending tankers loaded with LNG  through Howe Sound to meet with the tankers coming from Vancouver. Mr. Trudeau chose to overlook the fact that even by standards of the tanker industry organization,SIGGTO, Howe Sound is far too narrow for the necessary tanker traffic. He doesn’t give a damn and neither does careless Christy.

It must also he understood that clean-up is a very iffy proposition. Both Kinder Morgan and the government play down the frequency and seriousness of spills and their inability to handle them, but they don’t mention that bitumen is impossible to clean up under the best of circumstances. I mentioned the Enbridge spill in the Kalamazoo River in 2010 and if one takes a moment to Google this tragedy, they’ll learn how catastrophic bitumen spills are, even when easily accessed.

Fellow Canadians, this is merely a thumbnail sketch of the consequences of the Kinder Morgan proposed pipeline extension.

Bad deal for BC

Now, here is the deal proposed to us by Justin Trudeau and Rachel Notley:

Alberta gets to fully reopen the world’s biggest polluter, the Tar Sands, and ship its shit through BC by pipeline and then, by some 400 and ever-increasing bitumen tankers a year, ship it through the hazardous Salish Sea (formerly Straits of Georgia) to foreign markets. It bears no risk and neither do the Feds.

For its part, BC stops complaining about statistically certain ruptures in the pipeline and statistically certain bitumen spills on their coast with the calamitous consequences they bring, including the safety of citizens, and agrees to support the pipeline and bear the damage.

That way, we’re advised, both Albertans and British Columbian will then be good Canadians.

Well, Madame Premier and Mr. Prime Minister, in the politest phrase I can think of, get lost. Don’t go away mad, just go away.

Neither the Kinder Morgan line, nor any other, is going to get built, next year or any other year. We have the inherent right, like all good Canadians, to protect our homes from any outside threat and that sure as hell includes the Tar Sands.

You have pushed us too far.


Rafe: Gary Mason, quit lecturing Vancouverites for opposing pipelines

Recent Kinder Morgan protest in Vancouver (Photo: Lu Iz/Facebook)
Recent Kinder Morgan protest in Vancouver (Photo: Lu Iz/Facebook)

I simply couldn’t believe Gary Mason in Friday’s Globe and Mail In his article entitled “Sorry Vancouver: The rest of Canada needs pipelines”. I urge you to read the article so that if I misrepresent Mr. Mason you will see it for yourself.

Mason gives Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson hell and by extension all of us the same for being overly proud and concerned about our coastline and other beauties we cherish. He tells us about the unemployment in the oil patch and tough times in Newfoundland and Labrador and praises Justin Trudeau for his decision on the Kinder Morgan pipeline, the strong implication being that this was in the best interest of all Canadians and therefore it didn’t matter if it was distinctly not in the interest of some of them.

We selfish British Columbians

The, dare I say, majority of British Columbians are bad Canadians because we are not prepared to sacrifice our coastline, homes, fjords, mountains, forests, rivers, farmland, lakes and oceans so that Alberta can reinvigorate the Tar Sands, the world’s worst polluter, and send its, forgive me, shit through our province, into our ocean and destroy what we hold dear.

Mason glosses over the environmental disaster that Alberta’s Tar Sands are. It’s evidently an act of patriotism to get it up and running again so that Alberta will be rich again and their employment problems all behind him. There isn’t a suggestion, perish the thought, that Trudeau has a large political stake in this decision.

It doesn’t seem to matter that this decision will wreak huge destruction in this province. Oh, a bit of a risk perhaps but nothing to be concerned about. Never mind that a risk is an event waiting to happen, never mind that, once started, not only does it never end but increases. Overlook the fact that statistically it’s a certainty that there will be bad spills and collisions and never mind that the consequences will be terrible, British Colombians are churlish in the extreme to withhold their support for such selfish reasons. Mason, at one point, sneers:

[quote]People in Vancouver need to get out of their Idyllic little bubble and see how things are in the rest of the country. Not everyone has fluked a small fortune as a result of home ownership. Many people across this country live day to day.[/quote]

This from Gary Mason surprises me a great deal. I believe that British Colombians have a great deal of empathy for other Canadians who are having financial difficulties. In fact, I was part of the debates on equalization in the 70s at first ministers conferences and our province was always supportive of the “equalization” being part of our Constitution and we consistently recognized that we were fortunate in our natural resources where others have not been so lucky. Alberta, I might add, wasn’t quite as supportive. However, it never occurred to me, nor did I ever hear it suggested, that it was part of our obligation to permit our resources to be damaged and destroyed in order to fulfill our patriotic duty.

BC has changed…for the better

British Columbians have made extraordinary adjustments in their outlook in the last several decades.  When I was a boy and a young man there was always another valley to log, another run of fish, more farmland around the corner, more rivers to dam or even reverse. This was considered our birthright. But though it took us a long time to realize it, we saw that we no longer had those luxuries. For far too long we carried on with blindfolds, in denial, but, helped considerably by brave men and women, mocked for their ideas, who marched, picketed, protested, harried, we changed. Groups seen as crazies, even outlaws, gained respectability and stature. I think of people like Colleen McCrory, Joe Foy, Paul Watson to name just a few. Resource extraction companies and politicians, however reluctantly, began to change. We started to ask questions and do research before we acted.

We left a hell of a lot to be desired but we did better and better. We began to respect what we have and not just see resources as dollar signs in the making. We accepted that conservation and restraint cost money. Not everyone did, of course, but more and more every day.

More environment than “resources”

Photo: Canada2020 / Flickr
Photo: Canada2020 / Flickr

Those who didn’t feel this way sometimes just said to hell with it as Stephen Harper did. Others, like Justin Trudeau learned duplicity, how to speak out of both sides of their mouth. They eloquently talked about saving the environment and changing our ways while doing the very opposite.

As I assess it, and I could be very wrong, the majority of British Columbians, in ever increasing numbers changed and saw their province as much more than a cash cow. They took increasing pride in what was around them and became determined to protect it. They also noted a great example of what past government follies unchanged can do to a great salmon fishery. This has become a daily reminder to British Columbians but unnoticed by Justin Trudeau and his crew.

And they learned that oil companies and their own government obscured facts and in fact lied. They saw and remembered what Enbridge said was a minor pipeline rupture did to the Kalamazoo River. When they’re told that tankers don’t hit things they read publications like gCaptain and see about one serious collision a week. They see environmental assessments as about as honest as a the old Soviet show trials were. There is no trust of corporations and governments any more because they damn well don’t deserve it.

Now comes Gary Mason and the Toronto Globe and Mail telling us that British Columbians are wrong to be proud of caring about their surroundings and taking increasing steps to protect them and that when the likes of Justin Trudeau tells them they owe it to Canada to sacrifice them for the Tar Sands we should cheerfully do so.

The Prime Minister and Premier Christy Clark are prepared to do so.

Most British Columbians are not and to call their patriotism into question is disgraceful.  It is our Premier, Prime Minister, Gary Mason and The Toronto Globe and Mail who should be ashamed.


Rafe Mair to Justin Trudeau: BC is not yours to give away

Justin Trudeau speaks at the Paris climate talks - flanked by Canadian premiers (Province of BC/Flickr)
Justin Trudeau speaks at the Paris climate talks – flanked by Canadian premiers (Province of BC/Flickr)

“They hang the man, and flog the woman,
That steals the goose from off the common;
But let the greater villain loose,
That steals the common from the goose.”

I’ll not waste too many words on Prime Minister Trudeau’s treachery.

Of all the many political sins, surely the greatest of all is hypocrisy and this prime minister has taken that sin to new levels. He basked in the glory of Paris and being portrayed as the hero of the earth but had scarcely got home when he cast aside the cloak of righteousness, reverting to being a cheap hustler for the fossil fuel industry, even outshining Stephen Harper.

May takes a stand

Photo: Laurel L Russwurm/Flickr
Elizabeth May (Photo: Laurel L Russwurm/Flickr)

The consequences that would flow from Kinder Morgan’s pipeline would be a monumental contribution to global warming and killing the earth’s atmosphere but he’s consoled by the fact that the fossil fuel industry loves him and with their captive pseudo-journalists are falling all over themselves in support. I can’t help but comment on Gary Mason in the Globe and Mail, who criticizes Elizabeth May because she’s said she’ll go to jail if necessary in protest of the Kinder Morgan line. Mason, the sneer undisguised, quips, “Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has already said she is willing to go to jail over Kinder Morgan. Less clear is what good she thinks she can do behind bars.”

Gary Mason knows the answer to that full well and fears it because it would do one hell of a lot of good. There’s not a public figure in BC who could rally people against Kinder Morgan in a more effective way then she. Elizabeth May behind bars would be Kinder Morgan’s all-time, number one nightmare – not to mention a political horror story for the Liberals and the Tories. She has that commodity the media has abandoned – credibility.

From Brexit to Trump

Ms. May, along with other leaders of this fight like Grand Chief Stewart Philip, head of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, understands something that Trudeau chooses to ignore: There’s been a sea change in politics in this world. The enemy is no longer the other political parties but the elite, regardless of individual political persuasion. Brewing for a decade, it recently manifested itself in the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump. No one needs to explain this to Ms. May or Grand Chief Philip and I’ve neither the time nor the inclination to explain it to Trudeau.

Not long ago I said this about the Brexit result and in predicting Trump’s victory:

[quote]The media and pollsters have been caught out making outdated assumptions and asking irrelevant questions. They’re looking at this contest through the prism of elections past and are still declaring their choice of issues and missing the main one.

It’s an entirely new ballgame and I refer back to articles I’ve done here and elsewhere saying that society as we have come to know it is mortally wounded …[/quote]

Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr CC Licence
Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr CC Licence

The accepted media wisdom, an oxymoron if there ever was one, is that mostly kooks voted for Trump. In fact, interview after interview discloses the underlying reason was deep anger with what the Anglican Book of Prayer so neatly calls “those set in authority over us”.

The phenomenon is not Donald Trump but a worldwide movement of ordinary people who are angry. Whoever looked less elite was going to win.

Tired of being lied to

Who are these angry people?

Not the poor and disadvantaged, although they are part of it; not the traditional left, many of whom are unwelcome. These are people pissed off at the entrenched wealthy, the elite, who have the power to do as they wish. Mr. Trudeau, your ilk, sir!

What was the cause? The catalyst?

Clearly, it was pollution, a phenomenon that showed the elite to be incompetent, serial liars who, since the start of the industrial revolution, had assured the public that no harm came from gunk emitted from smokestacks even though cities like London were blackened by these emissions.

The denouement began with Rachel Carson’s 1962 Silent Spring. It was just a matter of time before people realized they had been, and were being lied to. For the first time, the need to regulate industry in order to protect the environment became widely accepted, and modern environmentalism was born.

Industry and politicians went into denial. Tobacco smoke, hitherto claimed harmless, was proved to kill both smokers and innocent bystanders, yet the companies fought every inch of the way like cornered rats. The chemical companies went into full denial, even though companies like Union Carbide became massive killers.

The list seemed endless and the evidence piled, up but the elite kept on lying and hiring pliable scientists and clever PR specialists. Governments were willing accomplices and, every day, the elite lost credibility, yet clung to their denial.

Then, in a different but related area of public health, there was that kook Ralph Nader, denying the wonders of America’s icon, the automobile and its ever-increasing safety features, in his 1965 book Unsafe At Any Speed. Suddenly, the courts demonstrated that Nader had been right all along. Jesus! Was there nothing sacred?

More valuable than money

Prime Minister, we’ve come to the crux of the matter. 

It has dawned on people that the elite have only one standard of judging value – money – and that they would risk destroying the earth to make it.

More and more, people see that there’s real, tangible value to water, more than just making electricity and slaking our thirst. What, they asked, if it does no more than be beautiful in its untouched state? Can it be said that water is only valuable when destroyed for a dam?

Trees have a dollar value when they become lumber and paper. What about the life they harbour and perpetuate? Is an uncut forest not valuable in itself? Do we have to destroy it before it’s an asset?

Environmentalism went from being semi-admirable Kookism practiced by, you know, those sorts of people, to the respectable, then became mainstream, moving into the realm of the sacred.

Unholy catechism

No one believes developers or governments any more, not even Prime Ministers. Projects that once would scarcely cause a ripple of adverse reaction became hugely controversial and it was no longer just the “usual suspects” picketing and demonstrating against those in authority. Suddenly “Jack was as good as his master”, perhaps better. The elite, the “higher purpose persons”, have their knickers in a knot, unable to comprehend what’s going on or why. Lying, bribery and blatant hypocrisy constitute the only catechism they understand.

You are in denial, sir, because you can’t think of anything except business as usual, always hoping this all goes away.

“National Interest”

Let’s move into contemporary British Columbia.

You tell us, Mr. Trudeau, that our environment and way of life is subject to what you say is in “the national interest” – whether we like it or not. Money counts, especially oil money. Your political commitments, not to say bribes, are paramount.

Justing Trudeau and Jody Wilson-Raybould meet in Hartley Bay on the BC coast in 2014 (Flickr / Justin Trudeau)
Justing Trudeau and Jody Wilson-Raybould meet in Hartley Bay on the BC coast in 2014 (Flickr / Justin Trudeau)

We must accept that pipelines carrying deadly bitumen go through virgin forest where spills can’t be reached or, more likely, there’s nothing to be done anyway. You glibly dismiss the horrible, ongoing risks of tanker traffic – plain statistics tell us what will happen.

We’re told we must, in the interests of the “nation”, put our rivers, inlets, shorelines, fjords, public safety and unbeatable environment at risk to enhance the interests of others.

Why, Prime Minister? Please spell out this national interest. Don’t you really mean the interests of the Liberal party in Alberta? The political survival of premier Notley? Don’t you mean really the masses of investment capital which hasn’t a soupçon of social conscience?

I would never hold this against them Mr. Trudeau but I remember so well going to first ministers conferences on the patriation of the constitution and watching Alberta oppose equalization for poor provinces, lecturing them that if they only managed their affairs as Alberta did, they would be fine. That these provinces had no resources and Alberta was sitting on all that oil didn’t seem to count. It seems as if shoes have changed feet in this country.

Rights and Wrongs

Let me ask you a niggling question: Are Property and Civil Rights not a provincial right under our Constitution?

Attitudes have changed, Mr. Trudeau, and people all over the world now believe that those things that you cheerfully donate to your corporate friends don’t belong to you or the government but to all of the people.

Yes, you have the legal right to give them all away but that’s because our political system is a couple of centuries out of date and reposes in your office dictatorial powers while you pretend to run a democracy. You know, as does anyone who thinks about it, that MPs, particularly in the governing party, have absolutely no power and are just expensive cyphers whose main job is to make sure that pension checks are mailed on time.

Let me put it perhaps more bluntly, Mr. Trudeau: We in British Columbia – and especially First Nations whose unceded territories are at stake – regard those mountains as ours, the rivers are ours, trees are ours; so are the oceans, the beaches, the coastlines, the lakes and on it goes. Your right to steal them from us and give them to oil companies only rests upon a political system that, frankly, stinks.

BC doesn’t belong to you

If that was just the position of one ageing pol living in Lions Bay, British Columbia, you would be able to rest easy. What I’m trying to make you understand, sir, is that the ever-increasing masses of people all over the world are fed to the teeth with a phoney political system that takes away from people what is theirs and gives it to greedy supporters of politicians in power.

In short, British Columbians regard all of our forests, rivers, coastlines, as having enormous value to us simply as they are – not in their exploitation but their existence. This is where we live. our home, our legacy.

Why can’t you understand that, Prime Minister?

You, the hero of the Paris conference, ask us to sacrifice our home so that the Tar Sands, the world’s biggest polluter, can spew its poisons full time again? Why are you telling us, Mr. Trudeau, that we must pledge what God gave us to the tender mercies of the fossil fuel industry? .

Sir, we aren’t fools. We’ve seen how your lot cares about BC. When we hear soothing words from industry and the federal government about how they will treat our assets with care and respect, we think of our sacred salmon, which has been at the mercy of industry and the federal government – a government flooding our waters with diseased foreign fish to this day – ever since Confederation.

You are dead wrong, sir, letting hubris overcome common sense and you’re clearly spoiling for a fight.

If that’s what you truly want, you shall have it.


Rafe: Trudeau will have hell to pay in BC if he approves Kinder Morgan

Recent Vancouver rally against Kinder Morgan (Photo: David Suzuki Foundation/Facebook)
Recent Vancouver rally against Kinder Morgan (Photo: David Suzuki Foundation/Facebook)
None should be in the slightest surprised at the anti-British Columbia stance of Justin Trudeau and the Liberals. As Talleyrand famously noted when, after the fall of Napoleon the Bourbons were restored, “they learned nothing and forgot nothing”.

Thus it is with the Liberals who, once safely back in power, turn their attention to repaying supporters, namely Ontario financiers and the oil industry, often the same people. This ancient Liberal policy never fails.

Whose interest?

This time Justin Trudeau has overstepped the mark and as Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson warns, if he approves the Kinder Morgan pipeline, “…you’ll see protests like you’ve never seen before …” His Worship is right. British Columbians know that the standard Ottawa patter that something is “in the interests of Canada” is ill-concealed code for “in the interests of Bay Street and whatever they’ve invested in or covet.”

The operative words are “the interests of Canada”. To Industry, they cover material interests only and no value whatever is placed on assets like mountains, rivers, lakes, forests for their own sake, wildlife, peaceful safe inlets, beautiful views, peace, quiet, tranquility, and so on. Why aren’t these things material Canadian assets too? They sure as hell are once they’re gone!

Enough is Enough

Don’t British Columbians have a real interest, say, in protecting their lakes and rivers from being industrially developed? Or Howe Sound, our gorgeous southernmost fjord? Or the Peace River? The list is endless.

Who is Justin Trudeau to say that letting industry make money on LNG tankers is more important than the safety of people and property where they sail?

British Columbians say, “enough is enough!” From here on, our values speak as loudly as those from the businessmen’s clubs of Bay Street and the nests of political party strategists.

We are inspired as never before by the bravery of the Kinder Morgan protesters. Their guts and steadfastness has inspired a province as you seem determined to discover.

The right to protect our province

The Constitution Act, 1982, clearly states in Section 92:
“In each Province the Legislature may exclusively make Laws in relation to Matters coming within the Classes of Subjects next hereinafter enumerated; that is to say,…13. Property and Civil Rights in the Province.”

We say to you, Mr. Trudeau, that for those words to have any meaning at all, they give us the right, the power and indeed obligation, to protect provincial assets, including all those assets so clearly threatened by Kinder Morgan and other fossil fuel undertakings proposed, notwithstanding the fact that the federal government approves them.

More than this, we have “right” on our side. It’s Kinder Morgan, and its ilk, who would disturb, threaten and harm our precious environment, our property and our homes.

We resolve that this will not be permitted to happen. If you approve Kinder Morgan, sir, there indeed will be hell to pay.


Clark’s big loss to teachers is an opening for NDP’s Horgan…at last

BCNDP Leader John Horgan (Flickr/BCNDP) and Premier Christy Clark (Flickr/Province of BC)
BCNDP Leader John Horgan (Flickr/BC NDP) and Premier Christy Clark (Flickr/Province of BC)

You have to feel sorry for John Horgan, the BC NDP leader. He has had a hell of a time getting traction and seems unable to find an issue he’s comfortable with. Even when a decent one has come along, he’s found a way to screw it up.

But the tide seems to have changed and landing on his lap is an issue a politician can only dream of in his wildest reveries. Here is the premier of the province taking on a huge, organized body of society, by deliberately taunting them, illegally stealing their hard-won rights, forcing the issue into the Supreme Court of BC (twice) and Canada, losing badly three times, and managing from a standing start to keep it going for some 15 years. What more could you ask for that?

This issue can’t be explained away in a one-liner, which is one of the reasons Mr. Horgan is quite inadvertently in trouble. I am speaking of course of the BC Teachers Federation’s smashing victory against Christy Clark, not once, but twice – I mean, when has that ever happened before? And there was no need for it to have started but for the Premier’s airheaded picking a fight and refusing to let go.

Teachers’ never-ending battle for rights

The issue goes back into the mists of time in terms of disputes between teachers as employees and one form or another of government, usually the department of education, as an employer.

This was not a BC issue alone, by any means. Teachers struggled right across North America to get what one might call union rights – the right to organize and the right to withhold their services. This one was hugely controversial, even back when I was a child and that’s a while ago.

The technical difference was whether or not teachers were professionals or “workers” and for activists in the profession that was a most unfair red herring, but holy writ to traditionalists. It was not unlike the long internal struggle the nurses had in getting bargaining rights.

Throughout this long struggle, there was scarcely unanimity amongst teachers and, in fact, there were bitter, deep divisions. Their long history of the struggle which is worth the google and the read, carefully ignores this inconvenient, internecine struggle.

I think a reasonable look back would say that the unionists had the better numbers but they by no means had all of their colleagues onside. That took considerable internal debate and resulted in lasting bitterness.

In those days, they scarcely had the entire public on side either and I have no doubt that governments took advantage of this nasty debate, with the NDP being the least guilty but by no means totally innocent, since they also had teacher members who were firm on remaining professionals.

Now, looking back in 2016 terms, it’s hard to understand why one can’t be a professional with full bargaining rights, but that was then and now is now.

Blaming Bennett

In order that it now be seen that the saints won and sinners lost, oldtime BCTF warriors find it convenient to find one bête noir, and there he is, the ever-useful target, WAC Bennett. Crawford Killian, an oldtime warhorse and propagandist for the BCTF, recently said this in the Tyee:

[quote]If the old patriarch W.A.C. Bennett had had a vision beyond highways and dams, he would have seen the need for a highly educated population. Instead he mistrusted almost anyone who’d spent time on a campus, and his political descendants haven’t learned any better.[/quote]

So, the battle is to return to the ancient trenches and all of the old rusty weapons cleaned up for use.

OK, let’s suppose that it was all WAC’s anti-intellectualism and we overlook the fact that he started the massive community college program and founded, amongst others, Simon Fraser University. This means that this government’s ghastly dealings with the teachers can be spread out and blame shared.

For a politician to have no colleague or bad luck to share a calamity with is very bad news and hard to deal with at election time. The best thing is for someone else to take the blame.

The very next best thing is a diversion. Premier Clark, who deserves no pity or help on this one, just had a neat diversion provided by long term NDP supporter Killian, who forgot that it’s not WAC that the NDP is fighting.

Horgan needs all the help he can get

I’ve had many a sip in days gone by with NDP protagonists on political stuff and not long into the grape we’d be into stories of famous NDP times where they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Leaders as recent as Adrian Dix in 2013 can tell you how quickly it can happen. So can Carole James before Dix. As has been so  wisely observed, in politics it’s not your enemies you must watch, but your friends.

John Horgan needs some luck not another knife to pull out of his back.


Rafe: Trump win was a vote against the “establishment” – but don’t count on them realizing it

Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr CC Licence
Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr CC Licence

Fresh from the heady feeling of predicting an election result, indeed an American presidential election, and having the reasons pretty accurate, I’m encouraged to take the next logical step. I only go over a bit of old ground to make the point that if we do not understand the depth of the problem – I suspect that the elite doesn’t even know there is one – then we might just as well have a drink or two and see what happens.

This is the most solidified establishment in modern history. It runs through several strata of society and includes members who profess not to like what they see as the “establishment”.

My father would have faded away even to find a union leader next to him in his comfy Anglican pew, even though he only went to Church once a year (though that once with great enthusiasm) and the union leader would have been no less surprised and uncomfortable. Today, they would seem part of the same elite fraternity to an environmentalist who sees them both as the forces destroying the river.

The folks that run things are like universities of elites, where the colleges don’t like each other very much, but have a strong commonality of purpose – to run things – and the students can’t wait to guillotine the lot of non-elites.

Loss of tradirional political discipline exposes imponderables that didn’t used to be – speaking just of the United States, where do the armed forces stand? Here is the eternal steadying tradition of the president being the Commander-in-chief, which suddenly is not such a sure or, indeed, comforting thing. Whether this hitherto stability will stand the shock of Donald Trump is the number one question.

There is good news and bad news.

The good news is that institutions are not easy to bring down, least of all when there is no organized force with that directly in mind.

The bad news is that when they do come down, it’s with a hell of a crash and there is a lot of collateral damage. Moreover there may be someone ready to help with the crash launch. That brings on the next imponderable.

To say it’s difficult to get a constant theme out of Trump’s mumblings is putting it mildly. What does he really want to do? Does he know? Trump has an enormous following as I write this but they’re scarcely a homogeneous group and seem to have as their only thing in common being thoroughly pissed off at something or someone or both. Just as the former elite came from disparate unorganized units, so does the Trump outfit, as any look at a Trump crowd clearly indicates.

The first concern, then, is domestic and there simply is no precedent from which to work. We have seen malevolent dictatorships crumble and we’ve watched benevolent aristocracies and all other manner of a governments go but the United States of America, and what it has become in fact and psychologically over the last 260 years, is just not readable on the evidence and leaves us in the highly dangerous “waiting game.”

Foreign affairs, of course, is the scarier part. Contestants, in whatever the contest, love weakness in their opponents and will probably exploit it even though there may not be much point at the time. It’s a natural reflex.

When we are talking about a game where the stakes are not very high, no big deal, but we’re on survival where missteps under the most benign of circumstances yield catastrophes. I needn’t begin to mention nightmares waiting to occur that exist all around the globe.

There is always one saving grace, otherwise known as MAD, when referring to nuclear warfare. In most international contests of any consequence there are huge doses of self interest available, namely survival, to keep some sanity inside the war room. Unfortunately, leaders have not always responded well to the obvious and even good counsel available. In the situation that exists in the world today, failure is not acceptable.

One cannot be blamed if after all of this time, being exposed to Trump blatherings, one becomes just a tad irrational. I am now going to be just that by saying “you never know”.

Ironically, President Warren Harding, who fights it out with W for being the worst of the lot, once said “the White House is an alchemist”. By that he meant one can never be sure what the person occupying the Oval Office will be like until time has passed. Admittedly, it seems a wild dream to suppose that Donald Trump could turn out to be a decent president, but this is as good as most dreams available to us.

The real issue is not Donald Trump – he is just the catalyst. The issue is slow, rumbling, unforseen, huge, undisciplined change by the “post-elite” who don’t get it yet and show no signs of doing so.

It’s a watching game and a very scary one.