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Happy New Year to my twenty loyal readers out there! 🙂

I want to take this opportunity to thank you for your comments, insights and input over the past four months. I intend to post far less regularly in the coming year – no doubt, I will still feel the tug of some insurrection and post occasionally, but for the most part, this will quiet down – as I focus my energies and computer time on a novel I’ve needed a New Year’s resolution to kick start once again.

Wish me luck – all the best to you all in your endeavors!

TM

Metro Vancouver residents reacted with shock, sadness and outrage this week at the news that two Lower Mainland police officers crashed while allegedly driving drunk – one of them tragically striking and killing a much-loved 21 year old motorcyclist from Delta and the other hitting a road sign on the Upper Levels highway.

The RCMP member involved in the Delta incident was identified as Corporal Benjamin Montgomery Robinson, a 38 year old currently assigned to the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit (ISU). It was quickly disclosed that Robinson was one of four RCMP members present – and the supervisor in charge – when Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski died at Vancouver International Airport after receiving jolts from a police taser in October 2007.

The question on many minds is this: why was this man, who remains under investigation for and will quite possibly be charged criminally in Dziekanski’s death, showing such a reckless and wanton disregard for public, his own, and possibly his children’s safety? Details from the incident seem to indicate Robinson had two or three children with him in the Jeep he was driving when it struck victim Orion Hutchinson and that Robinson handed his driver’s license to a witness at the scene and ran off carrying the children in his arms, claiming the scene was inappropriate for them – gee, do you think? – and he would return.

Anyone – like a police officer or a criminal defence lawyer – who deals with impaired driving cases knows that unaccounted-for time between when the accident occurred and when dealing with police provides the accused with an excellent defense to impaired driving because he can claim, honestly or otherwise, that he was so rattled by what just transpired that he ran home with the kids, belted back a few stiff ones to calm down, then ran back to the scene to face the music. The court will not be able to ascertain whether Robinson was drunk before the accident or began drinking immediately afterwards unless witnesses are found who can put him drinking somewhere in the time leading up to the accident. Assuming he may have been drinking with work pals, good luck getting any of them to testify to this and if it’s a local cop watering hole, there won’t be too many waitresses willing to put their necks out, either.

So, he could walk, which will be extremely difficult for the family, but there is a bigger picture. As long as there have been police, there have been those that believe they are above the law. More alarmingly, though, is the number of police that don’t believe they are above the law, but do fall prey to a police culture that tells them they are special people on the one hand and on the other, tries to reinforce to officers that they are just regular people like the rest of us. Police officers languish in this no-man’s-land and many can’t hold up to the pressure of this higher standard.

Added to this is the problem inherent in the very nature of police work: the emotional demands of policing and the stress police officers work under every day erodes their ability to make accurate judgments about ethics and what it means to be held to this higher standard, because most police officers are merely trying to survive the job itself and the emotional fallout it brings.

Society rightly has a higher expectation of its police officers; we expect if they are out arresting us for impaired driving they aren’t going home loaded themselves, but unfortunately, for too many, this isn’t the case. Police people don’t drive drunk any more than any other group of people, but they certainly don’t do it any less and because society reinforces to them constantly how capable and competent they are and how they do things the rest of us can’t even imagine, these super heroes of our society begin to believe they can drive drunk and they’re “okay” to do it because they have so many special skills and abilities. But, they can’t – they’re human just like everyone else. And when they do get caught and there’s no accident or injury, many get a break from on-duty “friends”, perhaps a ride home or no charges, sparing them the “humiliation” of a lesson that might ultimately save their life or the life of someone else.

Clearly, these officers made bad choices and – as is likely in the case of Robinson and New Westminster Constable Tomi Hammer, described as a well-respected school liaison officer – were dealing with various stressors, as most people do every day. The responsibility is on the individual to hold themselves to a higher standard but also on police managers and human resource professionals to do more than ask members like Robinson, who have been involved in a critical incident, if they are doing okay and leave it to them to ask for help if they need it – few police officers will admit they need anything. They may take counseling for marital problems or vague complaints, but very few will acknowledge that the day to day seemingly mundane demands of policing are wearing them down and rendering them incapable. Even the notion that they have to have been involved in a “critical” incident detracts from the reality that many types of seemingly innocuous events haunt many police people.

This is not to say that police aren’t responsible for their actions or can be excused because the job is tough, but we must understand the toll their job takes on them and avail them of the kind of help they really need, before they end up hurting anyone, rather than after.

This seemingly harmless little news piece found its way into several mainstream news media publications this week.

It appeared innocuous enough at first blush: a story about a farming New York State mom concerned enough about her family’s carbon footprint that she chose not to enroll her child in a hockey program that required them to drive long distances to practices and games. Read further and a tale of a man relieving himself on the family lawn to save a flush and a couple reusing the same Zip Loc bag for a year emerge in a bizarre game of If-You-Think-That’s-Weird-Listen-to-This.

The story talks about the newly-coined “Carborexics” – the supposed seven per cent of the population considered “dark green” – who are determined by the vaguely-referenced “mental health experts” to be hardcore recyclers and carbon footprint fanatics. Read about the family that huddles together in sleep to share body warmth – isn’t that also known as co-sleeping, another previously taboo child-rearing philosophy now universally practiced by millions of families and embraced by pediatricians and child psychologists as healthy for children and families? If it saves a few bucks on the heating bill and eliminates of a few tonnes of CO2 from reaching the atmosphere, does that make it a bad thing?

The media is the ultimate enabler in a society nursing a massive oil addiction; make those committed to change out to be wacko survivalist nut jobs and just drill, baby, drill. Even the psychiatrist cited in this story said behaviour only qualifies as a disorder if it begins to take precedence over everything else in one’s life and this article fails to produce any real evidence of that in the people it chronicles – but if you’re the average news paper reader, you skimmed, and you took away that people trying to reduce their carbon footprints in new and novel ways are mentally ill fringe-dwellers to be dismissed. No wonder we’re making no headway on climate change.

Barbara Kingsolver’s best-selling book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of food Life details her family’s efforts to reduce their carbon footprint and eat only locally-produced foods for one year. Somehow, this excellent book was embraced and few deemed it fanatical or crazy.

Consider the book Little House on a Small Planet which showcases some very interesting homes and addresses our North American obsession with huge dwellings. Neither of these “movements” is new, nor radically fringe.

So, what’s the reason for this little seed of a story tucked into your daily paper this week? Fear. Fear that Al Gore and David Suzuki and Kyoto and Greenpeace and the polar bears are starting to get through to us. Consider this quote near the end of the piece:

David Zucker, a sustainability specialist at Porter Novelli, a PR company which has studied America’s “dark greens”, said they were inordinately influential over other people’s behaviour.

He said the “deepest dark greens” were “bordering on the fanatic”, adding: “They’re pushing towards a lifestyle of zero consumption”.

He added: “You know Americans. We take everything to an extreme.”

And therein, my friends, lies the real story. Zero consumption would bring the oil industry – and, indeed, capitalism – to its knees. Make them sound crazy and maybe the masses won’t follow.

The Vancouver party system no longer fits with today’s complex and diverse candidates and the pressure to fit into a party ideology detracts from their ability to present themselves fully to the voting public.

The embarrassment of candidate riches in this election presents voters with an unprecedented number of quality candidates drawing from a deep well of experience from which the City of Vancouver will benefit for years to come. We have an exceedingly interesting scenario playing out whereby many of the candidates for the tradionally center-right (and inaccurately-named) Non-Partisan Association (NPA), the left-leaning Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE), and the center-left Vision Vancouver do not fit neatly into the ideologies once touted by those parties.

The announcement of architect and social housing planner Michael Geller’s entry in the election under the NPA banner is, by his own admission, something that surprises those who know him well who would have expected him to run for Vision Vancouver, or even COPE. Geller chose the NPA because he feels there is room for someone with his eclectic experience and he didn’t feel he could win a nomination – a refreshingly humble and likely wrong assertion – to the Vision roster given their full slate of qualified candidates.

City Council candidate Michael Geller

City Council candidate Michael Geller

If you look at the bios of many of the announced candidates seeking party nominations, it’s easy to see that the majority could run under any one of the two or three parties and have something to offer that falls within those ideologies. Disappointingly, the party system hamstrings candidates into having to toe the given party line to varying degrees or dumb down their rhetoric in order to win a nomination, so the voting public never sees the real candidate. Granted, that is the case with most politicians, but why not encourage transparency where it can be fostered in even small ways?

The first order of business for the new civic government should be to scrap the current partisan system in favour of an open race or possibly the implementation of a ward system where candidates run in a specified neighborhood and represent the interests of that neighborhood in addition to their duties to the city at large, much like the provincial and federal processes. The ward system engenders a sense of responsibility and accountability to voters whom many elected officials seem to conveniently forget are also citizens and taxpayers.

Viewing the decisions of the current civic government these past three years through this lens of increased accountability to neighborhoods would create some fascinating outcomes. Perhaps the votes on big box stores, Eco-density (where is the trademark symbol when you need it?), social housing at the 2010 Olympic Village and even the outcome of the 2007 civic workers’ strike would have been significantly different under a ward system where councilors answered more directly to their constituents.

Such a system would also serve to reduce the potential for distracting and misconstrued events such as the Jamie Lee Hamilton debacle. Hamilton could simply run as an independent – an option still open to her under the current system – and avoid the need for anyone’s rubber stamp of validation.

As Vancouver’s major civic parties prepare to nominate candidates for the upcoming election, concern mounts surrounding the sheer volume of people throwing their hats in.

The wide array of interested people has even the most seasoned and savvy watchers of 12th and Cambie more than mildly confused and questioning how the average uninformed voter will react at the polls November 15. Frances Bula ventured bravely where no one dared go before by compiling this list of prospective hopefuls for the Non-Partisan Association (NPA), Vision Vancouver, and Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) – a herculean and no doubt thankless task. Bula’s list serves to highlight several incongruities such as why Jamie Lee Hamilton – the woman who never met a board or committee she couldn’t single-handedly join and destroy with her pettiness and instability – warrants a mention when she hasn’t officially announced anything, while environmental activist Betty Krawczyk came out months ago as a candidate for the Work Less Party, but seemingly can’t buy a line in anyone’s coverage. She may be 80, but she’s a fighter and shows no fear.

Comparing the Vision Vancouver hopefuls with those from COPE, especially for City Council, the deck seems clearly stacked in favour of Vision, who will be hard-pressed to chose from the talented field. COPE is a party in decline and has been since Larry Campbell, Tim Stevenson, Raymond Louie and Jim Green broke from the party prior to the 2005 election to offer a more fiscally-conservative alternative to form what became known as “COPE Lite” prior to changing the party name to Vision Vancouver.

Pivot Legal’s David Eby clearly saw the writing on the wall, throwing his support behind Vision Mayoralty candidate Gregor Robertson and announcing his own intention to run for Vision, if they’ll have him, in what proves to be another quirk of this election since his politics appear far better-suited to COPE than Vision. Still, this is a guy who knows how and wants to make a difference and he can’t if ties himself to a dud party. Time will tell whether promising COPE candidates newcomer Meena Wong and veteran Ellen Woodsworth can hang onto the sinking COPE ship long enough to secure council spots and they may be watching Eby secure himself a spot as they ponder their next career moves.

All this confusion and the sheer number of names to juggle works in the NPA’s favour, as they maintain manageable candidate numbers and quietly work toward their September 13th nomination meeting, keeping as much attention as possible off the debacles of Sam Sullivan’s reign and their unflinching support of his whacky initiatives, even when they were wringing their hands behind the scenes, plotting his overthrow. One can almost imagine Sam mouthing the words “Et tu, Peter” as he leaves City Hall that final time in November. Will the public forgive Peter Ladner this subterfuge or question his ethics and commitment to the party that made him what he is?

More on the NPA next time…..