Can’t Afford Christy Clark Dinner

February 14, 2016 -  BC Premier Christy Clark. Photo by Dave Chan.
February 14, 2016 – BC Premier Christy Clark. Photo by Dave Chan.

A few days ago I received an e-mail from the B.C. Liberal party. It began as follows: “We’re honoured to invite you to the 2017 Vancouver Leader’s Dinner on April 10 in support of Premier Christy Clark and Today’s B.C. Liberals.”

Naturally I felt flattered that they’d think of me, a little white haired guy living in an obscure community, far from the centre of provincial power. Before I could even briefly savour the moment or make plans to attend, Linda read the rest of the message. Her words quickly doused my euphoria. “Listen to this,” she said, a tinge of regret in her voice. “I don’t think you’ll be able to attend. Single tickets are $500. For a seat at the Premier’s Circle Table, where I know you’d like to be, it’s $10,000. This is for people in the big leagues. They’re looking for high rollers, like Jimmy Pattison.”

I suppose, even after many years, I’m still hoping those holding the reins of power want to hear from average people like me. I should have known immediately though they weren’t really enthusiastic about having me there, unless I came with pockets full of high denomination bills.

Lately there has been much discussion by political pundits and members of the opposition concerning Liberal fund raising. The party has attached a hefty cost to the privilege of access to the Premier and elite members of her cabinet. Certainly this dinner is not for average citizens striving to feed children, pay rent or property taxes, maintain a vehicle, contend with constantly rising government fees and a plethora of other expenses.

It isn’t surprising that polling suggests the connection between ordinary citizens and governments is in serious disrepair. An Ekos poll revealed that at the national level, the proportion of Canadians who trust their government to do the right thing decreased from 60 percent in 1968 to 28 percent in 2012. In 2013, participants in a Leger poll rated politicians as the second least trusted professionals. Only psychics ranked lower.

In Tragedy in the Commons, Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan state “there is a growing sense among Canadians that conventional politics are not working quite as they should.” They add “for well over a generation, in election after election, voter turn out has declined.”

Compared to the NDP, the Liberals are already lavishly funded. (In one recent week, London Drugs, Copper Mountain Mine, Ernst & Young LLP, among others, each contributed $10,000.) The fact that it will be primarily the wealthy who attend the fund raising dinner suggests the party will be under a huge obligation to corporations.

Having at times expressed the belief that one individual can make a difference, I have sent the following note to Premier Clark.

Dear Premier,

I feel honoured by the invitation to your Party’s 2017 Leader’s Dinner. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend, due to the cost.

My wife Linda and I would certainty like to meet you, however, and undoubtedly would enjoy a conversation with you. We’d like to invite you to our home in historic Hedley when you are campaigning in this area. We’d be happy to serve lunch, or any meal.

I write a column for two Black Press papers, the Similkameen Spotlight and The Review (Keremeos). Often my focus is on individuals doing important things in the Similkameen Valley and in our country. I’d be happy to write some positive things about you. Stopping in Hedley would almost certainly attract the attention of big city media.

Linda and I look forward to hearing from you.”

If you’re thinking this is a “long shot,” I won’t argue with you. If you consider it silly, I won’t argue with that either. I realize Christy Clark’s campaign bus may not even pass through our community, and if it does she isn’t likely to visit Linda and me. I do feel though she needs to hear from average citizens.

As I’m writing this, Linda has just informed me the Premier’s Circle Table is already sold out. Don’t despair though, for a mere $500 you may still be able to sit close to Mike Dejong or Rich Coleman.

My hope is not that Christy Clark will visit, even for a few minutes. Rather, I feel a responsibility to remind her she needs to govern for the benefit of all people, even quiet folks hidden away in the Similkameen Valley.

Basketball, A Preparation For Life

Mascot for "The Demolishers"
Mascot for “The Demolishers”

There are times in life, as in a game of basketball, when the outcome is determined not only by the skills we have acquired, but also by the character and habits we have developed. I was reminded of this last week in a game between Langley’s Brookswood Bobcats and a team I will refer to only as the “Demolishers”. This game was of interest to me because my 6 ft. 5 grandson Brandon was playing centre for Brookswood.

Brandon began playing basketball in grade 8, at that time a tall, gangly kid with lots of energy but little finesse. Observing him in their backyard dribbling, feinting and shooting, his dedication and work ethic impressed me. At times I scrimmaged with him but my grandfatherly body couldn’t match his height, long arms, agile movements and increasing skill. Before long I retired from the backyard court and cheered him on from the comfort of the second story patio.

Now in grade 12, Brandon is finishing his last season of high school basket ball. Unfortunately, none of the Bobcat teams he’s played on over 5 years have been hugely successful. Several of the players he grew up with on the team were scarcely over 5 feet. Opposing players towered over them. In spite of the great height disadvantage however, the boys battled on, bringing enormous energy and commitment to each game. They developed the inner strength to play with amazing determination even when losing, which was frequently the case.

Mentally basketball hasn’t been as high a priority for Brandon this year. He has a pretty girlfriend and a part-time job. Although his passion for the game has diminished, his loyalty to the team has not. Their tallest player, he has many times thwarted the shots of opponents. He can also score. Aware of the team’s dependence on him, he has continued to play with the same vigour.

Somewhat unexpectedly, the Bobcats squeaked into the Fraser Valley Tournament. Knowing he was nearing the end of his high school basketball career, Linda and I made the trip to Langley to watch him play. Because the Bobcats were ranked low, we realized they’d immediately be matched against a strong, higher ranked team. We were dismayed to learn this would be the Demolishers, a team with a reputation for rough play.

All games in the tournament were scheduled to take place in the Demolishers home gym. Upon entering the gym, it was evident to us Demolisher fans intended to make noise a significant factor. Watching the Demolishers go through their warm up routine, I became conscious of how much bigger these boys were than the Bobcats. Their swagger suggested a high level of hutzpah. They had manhandled Brandon and his team 2 times in the regular season. Brandon had come home with an abundance of bruises from those games. The Demolishers were confident.

At their end of the gym, the Bobcats were going through warm up drills with quiet determination. In the previous match ups, the referees had allowed the Demolishers to push the Bobcats around almost at will, calling few penalties on them. If that happened again it would be a basketball version of dirty hand to hand combat. Life isn’t always fair, and basketball referees aren’t either.

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Expecting Demolisher fans would again attempt to distract his team with noise, one of the coaches had brought 2 garbage cans for fans to bang on. The mother of one of the Bobcats came with a shopping bag filled with noise makers. The coach had also announced in school he would bring $200 to pay the entry fee for students.

 

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When the play began, it quickly became evident the Bobcats would refuse to be intimidated by their bigger opponents. They surprised the Demolishers with their feisty defense and the scrappy manner in which the point guard drove in to the basket and scored. When the Demolishers tested reffing, a couple of penalties made it clear the refs would not tolerate their rough brand of play. This deprived them of their bullying advantage and permitted the Bobcats to play more creatively, less concerned they might be injured.

The Bobcats pressed relentlessly, determined to beat this team which had bruised their bodies and egos. In the end, their work ethic and inner strength enabled them to overcome a team that relied on intimidation. In basketball, as in life, character can still determine the outcome.

Basketball banner for Brandon's team at Provincials

Visit From A Homeless Girl

Homeless Girl (morningadvertiser.co.uk)
Homeless Girl (morningadvertiser.co.uk)

Some years ago, on a frigid day in early January, I came upon a young homeless girl huddled under a tree against the wall of our Abbotsford condo.

Surprised, and sensing her misery, I asked “are you OK?”

“Yes,” she responded. Her voice suggested she meant “no.”

“You look cold,” I said, pulling off my thin gloves and handing them to her. She protested a moment and then accepted them willingly. Skinny as an anorexic fashion model, she seemed incredibly vulnerable. Giving her a pair of skimpy gloves was a meager gesture.

“Would you like to come in and get warmed up?” I asked.

She nodded.

In our condo, Linda turned up the fireplace. “Sit here,” she said. “I’ll bring you hot chocolate and a sandwich.”

“Complexa” seemed eager to talk about her life. We learned she was only 16, and for the past year her home had been a couple of tarps and blankets under some trees. Without any prompting, she volunteered she had done some drugs, including crystal meth. “I haven’t done a lot of meth,” she said. “I don’t have much money. I don’t sell my body.”

Still, we observed considerable twitching as she talked and ate. We attributed this to the meth.

Thinking she needed a thorough warming, Linda asked if she wanted a bath or shower. This thought appealed to her and she spent a good two hours in the tub.

We became concerned she might have taken drugs in with her and overdosed. Linda asked several times, “are you OK?”

Possibly the long stint in the bathroom was to forestall going back to the snow-laden streets.

We had a commitment that evening and couldn’t leave her in the building alone, so when she emerged from her long sojourn in the bathroom, we attempted to help her find a place for the night.

“Does your mom live around here?” Linda asked.

“Yes,” Complexa replied, “but we don’t get along. I haven’t seen her in over a year. Her cell number is out of service.”

“Do you have a dad?”

“My dad faded out of my life quite a few years ago,” she responded. “I don’t know where he is.” There was no indication of regret.

“Any brothers or sisters?”

“I have one brother,” she said. “He’s in prison.”

“What about grandparents?”

They were separated and living somewhere in Ontario. We attempted to find a phone number for them, but without success.

I phoned Community Services, the Salvation Army and the Abbotsford Police. I learned that only one small facility took in young girls. No answer there.

In the end, Complexa asked to use our phone and someone agreed to take her in. This person frequented a “drug house” in our neighbourhood.

Before leaving, she ate a bowl of hot stew and a bun, then thanked us warmly. When she walked out of our door, she walked out of our lives. In more than four hours, she had not smiled once.

Living in a strata building with strict rules, I’m not sure we could have done much more for Complexa.

Although I was aware of our limitations, I felt great unease knowing this 16-year-old unsmiling girl must wander about with no hope, no real destination and no connections outside the drug scene.

The social ills that were already prevalent in Abbotsford at that time have also been creeping into the Similkameen valley. In Hedley, addicts freely visit the much complained about drug house on Daly Avenue. Several are reputed to be making drugs available to teens. It seems that as a society we are capable of building impressive edifices, but we do not know how to create a future for drug addicted,homeless youths. The recent provincial budget, in spite of its many spending promises, will not change this.

Can we do more than wring our hands over this condition that is festering in the bowels of our society?

If our community and our larger society are to be healthy and vibrant, we must make a serious commitment to individuals and families in trouble, before they walk too far along this perilous path to utter hopelessness.

In spite of the scarcity of resources, I’d like to say to the addicted homeless Complexas in our communities, “don’t stop looking for help. It’s always too soon to give up.”