BC Provincial Election


BC’s Provincial Finance Minister Colin Hansen announced yesterday the provincial surplus has shrunk under the constraints of the global economic crisis, but he assured British Columbians he would not be running a deficit to jump start the floundering economy.

Hansen vowed to belt-tighten, examine expenses, reduce costs and mind the store, but offered absolutely no specifics when pressed to provide examples of areas where the government would cut spending in response to predicted shrinking revenues. The Liberals have spent a reported $30 million to tell BC residents we live in the best place on earth and Hansen gave no indication this type of highly discretionary spending would end immediately under his watchful recessionary eye.

What’s the plan, Colin? Sit tight? Stay the course? Hold the line? Focus on the prize? Sounds eerily reminiscent of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s first lame responses to initial indication of a widening global economic crisis back in September and Harper’s government has yet to launch a real plan to stimulate the national economy other than to offer support to the major banks’ mortgage lending.

Premier Gordon Campbell has shown virtually no leadership on the issue of the economy, indeed, he seems to be sitting dumbstruck in his office and I can only imagine the kinds of conversations he and his aides are having.

Campbell, mumbling, eyes glazed over, stares out the window, his voice barely audible: “Where’d our surplus go? Kevin? Colin? Uh, uh, where are my glasses, someone get me my glasses!!”

Kevin Falcon: “You’re wearing your glasses, Gord, remember? The ones you got from my guy? So we could look smart and edgy and less geeky?”

Campbell: “I can’t feel them on my face, I can’t see, dammit, who keeps giving me these forecasts to read? I can’t read them, they make my eyes bleed! My eyes! My eyes! Where did the billion dollars go? Colin, what the fuck?”

Colin Hansen: “Uh, it was me, Gord, I, um, thought you’d want to know so we could – I dunno – make a plan, revise the budget, something like that. I wasn’t trying to upset you – what should I tell the people?”

Campbell stares silently out the window for several long beats. Suddenly, he rummages crazily through the drawers of his desk, before pulling out a glossy, full colour brochure promoting BC.

“Tell them they live in the best place on earth! Tell them – because it is, we have all these natural resources to exploit, we have water to sell to the US, we have bridges to build so we can put more cars and trucks on the roads, we have lumber to sell, we have the Olympics coming – my God, can’t they see how great this place is? Tell them that! Go! Go!”

And that must be how Hansen ended up giving his announcement yesterday. Campbell’s body double sits in the Leg for him, because the real Gordo is in his office, drooling and mumbling still.

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Gregor, Gregor, Gregor…we really want to vote for you, but you’re making it damn hard.

Robertson’s Vancouver mayoral campaign needs a platform, it needs an issue, maybe two, that defines his candidacy and tells us who he is and what he would do and how he would be different from Peter Ladner. His missteps, although minor in essence, expose a deeply concerning lack of focus and conviction. First, he floats the idea – one largely regarded as legally impossible – to force landlords to rent out vacant strata condo units to help house the homeless, then flip flops when it becomes apparent the concept isn’t feasible.

Which brings us to the 2-fare SkyTrain boner Robertson pulled this week: Robertson received a $173 ticket for mistakenly buying an inadequate fare ticket and, when it became public, announced he was outraged at the amount he called an affront to the poor and vowed he would be taking the matter to court in December to bring attention to the injustice. Immediately, critics pounced on the story, charging Robertson was only making fighting the ticket a political issue because he was caught with an unpaid fine. For several days, his campaign veered dangerously off-track and the debate raged over whether he should have just paid the fine and moved on. It appeared Robertson’s campaign was so lacking a foundation that he tossed this line out in the water to see if maybe this could or would be the soapbox he’d been searching for.

Enter someone with some PR or political savvy to inject some sense into Robertson’s floundering run for mayor and the befuddled candidate paid the fine, decided against the court fight, apologized and cited the need to move on. Could Gregor not have worked this all out in his own head when he got the ticket – the receipt of which is not, as many seem wont to suggest, some sort of indication of low moral substance or underlying criminality on par with, say, giving an addict money to buy drugs and driving them to do it? Come on, people.

He has also come out with several half-baked ideas intended to solve homelessness and other local problems, but can’t give specifics on the cost and how the city would fund them – an ominous thread that seems to run through his presentation of new initiatives each time he raises one. Vancouver taxpayers still remembering the long garbage strike of 2007 and recent tax hikes wonder how the City will fund Robertson’s plans if he doesn’t even know – this does not exactly inspire the voters’ confidence when choosing a new mayor. We want to elect the good-looking, bike-riding, soccer-playing, business-building, socially-progressive, stick-up-for-Cambie-Street father of four, but is he up for the job?

Remember the Federal Election? Substitute “Anyone But Harper” for “Anyone But Ladner” and you sum up the feeling of many Vancouverites uneasy with the idea of electing a candidate who supported the vast majority of soon-to-be-sunset-riding Mayor Sam Sullivan’s wide-ranging and often bizarre initiatives, but only long enough to put himself in position to stab Sullivan in the back and deep six any future in politics (we hope). One can argue we don’t know or haven’t seen who Ladner is, either – is he the conservative, BC Liberal-linked, Olympic bedfellow, Machiavellian Sullivan-ite or the new and improved politico willing to revisit the Burrard Street bike lanes and achieve a homelessness solution that is respectful and supportive to all stakeholders? We just don’t know. All we do know is Ladner has proposed a tax freeze and many voters vote with their wallets, often to their detriment.

Gregor, here’s some advice: you will win if you get on Ladner about his knowledge of the City’s Property Endowment Fund and the use of that money to prop up the floundering Olympic Village project without public knowledge. Ask how this got approved and what likely scapegoat and fall girl Estelle Lo’s resignation means. Stay off TransLink or you’ll have the likes of venomous bullies such as Porvincial Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon on your back, making sure you don’t step on his carefully guarded turf. You obviously struck a nerve with him, but leave that dragon to sleep for now.

Use the gift you’ve been given today because we really want to vote for you.

Canadians long calling for Electoral Reform may finally have some support after millions of dollars have been squandered on an election that produced another minority government, no change in Canada’s leadership and no indication of a more effective House of Commons.

Tuesday’s Federal Election proved that the winning party – Stephen Harper’s Conservatives – do not represent the will of the majority of voters. The Conservatives captured just 37% of the popular vote while the combination of Liberal, NDP and Green voters represented 51% of Canadian ballots, indicating Canada suffers from the Ralph Nader Effect: a fatal splitting of the left of centre vote that allows the right wing party to win. Ironically, many suspect Nader’s 2008 US presidential candidacy will actually help Democrat Barack Obama rather than splitting the traditional left, but historically, Nader’s runs for the presidency have hurt the left and many blame him for the 2000 and 2004 Democratic losses.

So, what are the options in democracy where diverse parties and ideologies are encouraged? Countries such as the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Australia adopted the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system and swear by it, but in North America, the vote counting and transfer system that sounds a little too much like a disease you might get from sleeping around at rave parties has failed to catch on. People like the concept of their vote counting even if their first choice candidate isn’t in first place, but it is complex enough that Joe Six Pack won’t be a fan, much less understand it. Check out this BC-produced video explaining how it works far better than anything else I’ve seen.

bc-stv-full.swf

While this system makes sense and the most use of one’s vote, there is another option to consider – one that has worked pretty well for Stephen Harper: amalgamation of the left. Recognizing the potentially fatal split developing among Canada’s right wing parties in the early 2000s, in 2003, Harper manged to bring together the Reform Party of Canada faithful – who had recently morphed into the too-radical-for-even-most-right-wingers Canadian Alliance Party – to form the Conservative Party currently in power in Canada. Some of the Progressive Conservatives of old – a decidedly more centerist party than the Conservatives – came along for Harper’s ride, but many feared Harper’s neo-con agenda, choosing to either leave politics or join the Liberal Party of Canada.

Say what you want about Stephen Harper, but this was a masterstroke for him – and arguably rang the death knell for the Canada we love – enabling the right to attain governing party status in a predominantly socially progressive country. If the Liberals, the New Democrats and the Greens could forge such an alliance, they would be elected and free to advance an agenda of social responsibility, fiscal conservatism and environmental action.

This election carried with it more talk about leadership or the lack of it than any in recent memory. If the Stephane Dions, Jack Laytons and Elizabeth Mays of the country put aside their own egos and pride and called for a national convention of socially and environmentally progressive parties, perhaps they could forge a similar alliance and pull Canada out of the ditch Stephen Harper has pushed us into.

Time will tell, but that’s the kind of Green Shift we could all get behind.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May comes out swinging as national broadcasters deny her a seat at the nationally televised October 1 & 2 Federal leadership debate.

A consortium of television networks claimed Stephen Harper and Jack Layton threatened to boycott the debates if May was included, citing Harper’s concern that May was acting in support of the Liberals – an accusation that sounds eerily reminiscent of Layton’s New Democrats propping up Harper’s minority government for the past year. Apparently, Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe did not threaten to boycott, but did express his desire that the debate include only leaders of the four major parties. Stephane Dion stated he supported May’s participation, but would not take part in a debate if Harper were absent. Perhaps the broadcasters should have called Harper’s bluff – do they really think Mr. Bully would sit out a “leaders'” debate? This is a guy that wouldn’t miss a board meeting of the Calgary minor hockey association. If no one showed, who would that look the worst on?

The sheer lunacy of May’s exclusion at best makes very clear the priority national media and the Conservative government place on environmental issues and the imminent crisis that is global warming – at worst, it points to the very real existence of a deeply-rooted intent to back-burner the environment indefinitely in favour of protecting the oil and gas industry and Canada’s other manufacturing interests.

While May seeks legal counsel, the national broadcasters will no doubt scramble to come up with a more palatable, less actionable reason for the Green exclusion, mindful of the fact that in the last Federal election, May was excluded from the leadership debate because the Greens did not hold a seat in the House – a situation rectified when former Liberal and Independent MP Blair Wilson crossed the floor to join the Green Party as its first member of Parliament.

That May should be allowed to participate is undeniable, but beyond the obvious democratic, sexist and free speech implications, the issue raises a serious concern about whether the responsibility for the survival of the planet should be entrusted to our elected officials. The future of the earth should not be a mere politcal football to be tossed around, carbon taxes initiated, then withdrawn at the whims of parties trying to win favour with the loud SUV-driving, me-first, world-second lobby.

The newly-formed non-partisan group Canadians for Climate Leadership brings together high profile leaders from the environment, business, science and academia to demand the federal government do far more than pay lip service to climate change. This group includes former Prime Ministers Kim Campbell, Joe Clark, Paul Martin and John Turner, as well as respected Forest Ethics activist and spokesperson Tzeporah Berman and Nova Scotia businessman John Roy, a long-time supporter of green business practices and sustainable development. The groups draws deeply from a large number of people committed to change.

Canadians for Climate Leadership is the first group in Canada to being together power players from sectors that could actually effect change and lobby the government in meaningful and powerful ways. They will be launching a timely campaign tomorrow called PowerUP Canada, designed to enact tough domestic laws and provide Canadian leadership in the drawing up of international agreements on controlling green house gas emissions.

Regardless of who moves into 24 Sussex Drive, the first order of business in Parliament for the new government should be to sign over every decision regarding the environment and the regulation of green house gas emissions to the Canadians for Climate Leadership. They are far better-suited to make the tough choices and accept the fallout than any of our political leaders who really, really, really want to do something for the environment, but people just get so mad at carbon taxes. Enough lip service.

Tents dot the landscape of Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park, a Downtown Eastside (DTES) green space on the edge of ground zero in Canada’s poorest and most marginalized neighborhood. Drug addicts, the mentally and/or physically disabled, the working poor and underage runaways managing to fly beneath police radar share the dry grass as a marginally safer alternative to braving the violence on city streets and in the limited space in homeless shelters. A few short blocks to the west, developer Concord Pacific prepares to break ground on their latest condominium offering, inviting prospective buyers to consider the Greenwich Project, “a collection of modern flats surrounding the lush greenery of two interior courtyards”. Such is this latest scene of incongruity in a neighborhood under siege by the gentrification machine known as the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.

If dodge ball or hot potato were Olympic sports, local and provincial politicians, housing activists and police would share in the medals, each group denying – to some degree understandably – responsibility for the ever-growing problem that is homelessness. To be fair, the disaster is so entrenched in systemic and societal missteps, no one can fully accept blame, nor is blame particularly useful as a means to a productive solution.

Typically, the micro has won out over the macro and the argument seems to be over whether to approve the development of more shelter beds or allow a tent city to exist in Metro Vancouver as a means to deal with growing numbers of homeless. Local activists focus their attention on developers like Concord Pacific and the City’s Development Permit Board – both easy but inappropriate targets. The City of Vancouver Parks Board bizarrely sits squarely at the centre of the Oppenheimer Park debate, merely because the tent city exists in a city park. The police hover on the perimeter, tentative, but obliged to act, nonetheless, because enforcement of Parks Board By-Laws falls into their duties if the job is too fraught with potential danger or public safety concerns for Parks’ staff to deal with. These two entities assume the role of judge, jury and executioner while the Province and City Hall sit back and hope the problem will disappear. But, like Britney Spears’ breakdown photos, it is here to stay, etched on the permanent record of our society. Mayor Sam Sullivan and his Council continue their silence, while relatively powerless Parks Board Commissioner Spencer Herbert twists in the wind with calls for more shelter beds or a real City-run tent city somewhere outside the downtown core. Where, exactly? Point Grey? Too close to the Premiere’s house and too far from the open drug market of the DTES. Whalley? Undoubtedly, Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts would mount a gigantic NIMBY campaign to keep the tents away.

Comparing shelter spaces to affordable or supportive housing is like brushing your teeth with baking soda instead of Crest – you can do it for a day or two, when nothing else is available, but it’s never intended as a permanent solution. Early this year, advocates from the DTES Women’s Centre invited the Mayor and Council to participate in a housing swap, an invitation that was largely ignored and ridiculed by bureaucrats quick to cry “that is SO not the point!”. Seeing the likes of Kim Capri, Gordon Campbell, Rich Coleman and Geoff Plant bedding down under Science World – well, it’s impossible to imagine because they would never, ever do it, not even for one night. Because if they did, they would have to change their position, or at least break their silence. Wouldn’t they?

Vancouver needs a commitment to build respectful, affordable housing, not the ongoing smoke and mirrors show where we purchase more rundown rooming houses that will never be converted over to house the currently homeless – and it needs to happen now. Prior to the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics, authorities bused street vendors, buskers, homeless and other so-called undesirables out of the region – hopefully to a spa or cooking school somewhere in Tuscany, but that appears doubtful – in the weeks leading up to the Games. VANOC members expressed shock and disbelief when informed this was not possible for police to do in Canada because of a little paper called the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. VANOC officials continue to scratch their heads over that one. Why can’t we do that, again? I don’t get it. A lasting, sustainable solution to the homeless problem has to happen and it has to happen now.

Only by bringing together all the stakeholders – the homeless, the Provincial Ministries of the Attorney General, Aboriginal Relations, Health Services, Housing and Social Development, Children and Family Development, Community Development, Public Safety and Solicitor General, City Council, the Vancouver Police, and all of the DTES organizations who work so tirelessly to hold the band-aid on the profusely bleeding wound that is homelessness. The only sound politicians hear is that of money talking, and the mounting evidence showing homelessness is more of a financial burden on our province than the cost of building affordable housing may just be the linchpin needed to move this project into reality.

What beats in Kevin Falcon’s chest? Something undoubtedly small, hard and intent on mass destruction. The automaton often referred to as the Provincial Minister of Transportation is seemingly incapable of any empathy or human compassion as evidenced by his response to last week’s Porteau Cove rock slide. In an interview, he quickly expressed thanks for the lack of death or serious injury as a hurried aside, perhaps because a PR aide whispered in his ear that might be a good thing to mention, before launching into an obscure and confusing explanation of how an event like this would not impact the 2010 Olympic Games and how a plan for just such an eventuality was already being worked on by his people and VANOC. Pressed on just that the plan might look like, Falcon could not elaborate, citing not security or early days, but instead offering this reassurance: the athletes competing in the affected events would be living and training in the Whistler area – in the event of another Sea to Sky blockage, the games would go on without a hitch. Because somehow, he knows exactly how a crippling event during the Games would look.

What he failed to say was – assuming a similar slide occurred and not some other environmental event or act of terrorism – spectators wouldn’t make it, kids aspiring to future Olympic greatness would miss the chance to see their heroes win medals, parents who had dedicated years of time and money to finance athletes’ medal hopes might be caught in the jam and fail to witness their kids’ greatest moment – and, most notably, he failed to say that the truly important people would be there: the broadcasters. Their precious broadcast revenue would be intact, paid by advertisers because the show would go on, ensuring speedy transfer to VANOC and, ultimately, IOC coffers. Is this why you aren’t hearing more about 2010 security plans?

No doubt, Falcon has taken his cue from VANOC President John Furlong, who last October mentioned VANOC would consider asking the Metro Vancouver working public “to leave their cars at home, work different hours or consider staying with friends or family downtown during the 2010 Winter Olympics”. In concert with Falcon’s comments, it’s not difficult to understand whose Olympics these are, and they don’t belong to the athletes, the kids or the long-suffering parents, it’s the real estate developers, the IOC and the corporate sponsors who will scoop up all the events tickets to place in the swag bags of the rich and influential. Buy their Coke, eat at McDonald’s and all is right in their world.

Falcon’s rush to world-saving action on the rock slide could not contrast more heavily with his reaction to the Canada Day closure of the Ironworkers’s Memorial Bridge for a police incident involving a suicidal woman barely saved from a death plunge by quick-acting Vancouver Police negotiators. If he had any idea how close to fulfilling her wish she came, he might think again about complaining his potato salad went warm in the six hour wait – no, scratch that, of course he wouldn’t. The man has little compassion for anything but his own time and money and that of his associates. His childish, self-serving diatribes only further serve to show him as the petulant brat he is and one can only wonder what his Surrey-Cloverdale constituents think of him – surely they can’t imagine he would provide them any assistance if they walked into his office seeking help with a provincial disabilities claim or human rights complaint, he is clearly above that, serving the blue bloods, the movers and the shakers who form the BC that smugly calls itself The Best Place on Earth, not the BC of everyday men and women struggling to make a life for themselves and their families.