Corky Evans, Not Jaded Or Bitter

Corky Evans (photo supplied by Corky Evans)

After a 2 hour telephone conversation with former provincial cabinet minister Corky Evans, I concluded that unlike some retired politicians, he has not become disappointed, jaded or bitter. Certainly it could have turned out otherwise. But now living with Helen Sebelius, his partner of 15 years, he retains a wonderful sense of humour and laughs easily.

I was born in California and grew up in Berkley,” he said. “There were angry protests by university students against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war. My wife and I were troubled by the unrest so we took our 2 daughters and moved to Canada. Our son was born shortly after we arrived. I had no money, no college education and I didn’t speak French. But I was willing to work.” Looking back now, he feels his experience as a stevedore, logger and heavy equipment operator later gave him an understanding of people in a variety of circumstances.

.Corky managed to buy 5 acres on the Slocan River and built a house. With a note of pleasure in his voice he said,”for 20 years I got to be a logger.”

“Against the Wind Farm” on the Slocan River.

In 1975 he became a Canadian citizen and joined the NDP. His community activities suggest his motivation in politics was not greed, a thirst for power, or prestige. Seeing the need to control the devastation created by large logging operations and wanting to protect forests and water, he became immersed in the Slocan Valley Forest Management project. It was at this time that Corky began to demonstrate a willingness to speak publicly against corporate disregard for the environment and government inaction. He was becoming one of that all too rare breed that will not remain silent, even when others hesitate.

Realizing an elected position would give him a stronger voice in community issues, he ran for a position on the Central Kootenay Regional District government. He earned a measure of trust and served 3 terms, growing in political awareness, instinct and courage. All attributes he would need at the provincial level.

His willingness to publicly speak on significant local issues was attracting attention. Only in his late 20’s, he was urged to seek the NDP nomination for the Nelson/Creston riding in the 1986 provincial election. “I worked hard and won the nomination,” he said. “I was quite well known locally, but not in Creston.”

A friend suggested he enter a car in the Creston Demolition Derby because it was the big event of the year. “Social Credit was strong in the area so I bought a puppet of Bill Vanderzalm and attached it to the front of an old vehicle. I hoped other contestants wouldn’t smash the radiator. I also attached a puppet of Mike Harcourt on the rear, thinking they would focus on it. I placed third in the derby and won $20.00.” His participation wasn’t enough though, and he lost the election by a narrow margin.

He subsequently ran in four more elections, and lost only in the 2001 rout of the NDP. Although named to high profile cabinet positions like health, transportation, and agriculture, he found time for local issues and played a key role in developing the Columbia Basin Trust. “Sometimes I think of it as my child,” he said.

He believed MLA’s should be permitted to disagree with the party leader. Even though it was politically dangerous, he spoke publicly in defense of Bob Simpson when party leader Carole James booted Simpson out of caucus for criticizing her. Another time some MLA’S met with James privately to suggest a leadership review. At a caucus meeting she had staff hand out yellow ribbons to MLA’s not involved in this request, thereby singling out the “culprits.” When she castigated them publicly, Corky spoke strongly in their defense. He didn’t hesitate to jeopardize his own position in caucus.

Helen was concerned about Corky’s health because he had already dealt with heart issues and a bout with cancer. Prior to the 2009 election she asked, “Do you want to die in the legislature or do you want to die on your tractor?” This question clarified his thinking and he realized he wanted to die in his community, not with strangers.

Helen grows cut flowers on “Against the Wind Farm”.

Now living on their “Against the Wind Farm” alongside the Slocan River, Corky grows organic blueberries, potatoes and squash, and raises turkeys. Helen grows cut flowers. It’s a wonderful life,” he said.

Corky Evans enjoys working on the “Against the Wind Farm”.

Gerry St. Germain, Making A Difference

Gerry St. Germain at Stirling Creek Ranch, Hedley, BC

Former federal cabinet minister and Canadian Senator, Gerry St. Germain knows the feeling of being underestimated. In a conversation with Linda and me in his home at the Stirling Creek Ranch, not far from Hedley, he said, “many years ago I started dating a young woman. Her parents told her to stay away from me. He’s got Indian blood in him they said, and he won’t amount to anything.” This turned out to be fortuitous. In time he met and married Margaret, who became his lifelong partner in many adventures.

I was born in St. Boniface, Manitoba,” Gerry began. “My parents were renting a small cabin. The night they brought me home it was snowing and windy. The next morning my blanket was covered with snow. We were poor.”

He developed a way of looking at his circumstances that could be a beneficial template for youths today. “I got a lot of encouragement and help from the people in my life,” he said with evident conviction. “My mom and dad, my grandparents, and the whole family were my mentors, my support system. I learned to accept their counsel and to change.”

He also gives credit to the Grey Nuns and the Jesuits who educated him. “In one test,” he recalled, “the passing mark was 50 per cent. I got 65. They wouldn’t let me go home because I had not tried hard. I realized they were right. They were the best teachers.”

Gerry began setting goals early. “I knew I wanted to be a pilot, I knew I wanted to be a policeman. I also wanted to own a cattle ranch one day.”

At age 17 he enlisted in the Canadian Air Force. Not knowing he was being timed, he failed a written test. Even so, he told the officer he wanted to be an air controller. “No,” the officer said. “You will be washing trucks.” When he wrote the test again later, he achieved a high mark and went on to be a jet pilot. “It’s the best life,” he said. “I learned leadership skills that I wish we could impart to kids today.”

He still felt the call to law enforcement and in time joined the Vancouver police force. “I was an undercover cop assigned to the 100 block East Hastings beat. I learned to be tough. That’s what the people there respect.”

In the 1970’s, as real estate developers, he and his partner pre-sold several lots with a handshake for $40,000 each. When the prospectus came out, they were valued at $80,000. “We could have backed out, but I insisted we honour the deal. Word got around and it gave me a lot of credibility.”

His impressive success in business attracted attention and in 1983 he was urged to seek the Progressive Conservative nomination for the Mission-Port Moody riding, an NDP stronghold. At a large political gathering, wearing his signature stetson and not dressed in an expensive business suit like many of those present, he told people he intended to put his name forward and win in the coming by-election. Bob Ransford, later his trusted assistant and lifelong friend, initially dismissed him as a country bumpkin. He drew aside a cabinet minister and asked, “Who is this cowboy and who does he think he is? He doesn’t have a chance of winning.”

Gerry did win and in Ottawa became a friend of Brian Mulroney. The PM liked his fluency in English and French. He was appointed Caucus Chair and became known for his ability to fix sticky situations.

Later in his political career, he was named to the Senate and it was here he became active on behalf of Indigenous people. A Metis himself, he used the prestige of his position and his personal credibility to help bands develop alliances to negotiate more successfully with large corporations.

Now retired from politics, he is active part-time on the ranch and energetically supports Indigenous causes.

Gerry turned 80 last week. Looking back he told us, “It really isn’t about me. Margaret played an integral part in my achievements. People loved her. People took time to help me. Also, I have 3 heroes who inspire me to live with integrity and hope. They are Jesus Christ, Mother Teresa, and Terry Fox.” For more about his numerous contributions to Indigenous people and all Canadians, I suggest reading his excellent biography, I Am A Metis.

Hedley Remembrance Day 2017

Bill Day delivering a Remembrance Day talk.

Bill Day and partner Lynn Wells returned recently from a tour of WWI battlefields. On Remembrance Day Bill delivered a talk, giving details about the places they saw, especially Passchendaele and Ypres. The notes below formed the basis of his talk.

Remembrance Day Speech Notes

What carried millions of young men and women to France and Belgium? Lure of excitement, praise, adulation, change, for young people who felt trapped or embedded in dull, boring activities in their place of birth. Told they’d be “Home for Christmas”.

Superiority of defensive technology – the machine gun, artillery, pill boxes, barbed wire. Poison gas of little significance overall. Aircraft of increasing significance.

Our journey included Normandy [Juno Beach], Caen, bridges, and then a chain of battlefields from the Great War stretching across the lowlands of North-West France and Belgium.

During the Great War Belgium was a focal point – the “weak point” in the defensive chain in France. Stopped at Ypres “Wipers” by British Expeditionary Force in 1914 – small but superbly trained riflemen.

Beaumont-Hamel July 1, 1916 Royal Newfoundland Regiment

Hedley to Bromley Rock = distance between Ypres and Passchendaele.

Penticton similar in size to Ypres

Over four years, about 1,000,000 killed and wounded in the Ypres “salient”.

Ypres was a medieval city with a huge earth and stone wall. Completely destroyed in 1915-1918. Completely rebuilt in 1920’s and /30’s by British and Belgian governments. All of the “medieval” and “old” buildings are modern.

German artillery in 1915 blew a huge gap in the eastern wall – now the size of the Menin gate and the base of the road to the East that the British hoped would lead to the penetration of the German lines and seizure of the Channel ports occupied by the Germans.

15,654 Canadian fallen at Passchendaele.

The British Imperial forces lost an estimated 275,000 casualties in the Passchendaele area to the German’s 220,000, making it one of the war’s most costly battles of attrition.

Passchendaele graveyards include Tyne Cot cemetery, 12,000 crosses and 35,000 missing.

Hedley Boys letters in this context are marvels of love and courtesy. The life at and near the “Front” was sheer hell and left no one untouched for the rest of their lives – short or long.

Verdun Somme Passchendaele

“On Guard” at the Hedley Cenotaph.
Jennifer Douglass, a local historian, read the names on the cenotaph,
and gave a little information for each one.
A young boy carefully places his poppy on the cenotaph.

BC Liberals Leadership Race 2017-2018

Candidates in the BC Liberals leadership race.
(Vancouver Sun photo)

When the BC Liberals anoint a new leader in February 2018, will it be the beginning of an exciting new era or just more of the same tainted politics? The answer to this question will likely depend on who is trusted with the reins of party power. Will it be one of the old guard, Mike de Jong, Todd Stone or Alexander Wilkinson, who all served in the cabinet of Christy Clark? Will it be a back bench MLA, like former lawyer Michael Lee, or past Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan? Or will they possibly choose to go with the one outsider, popular former mayor of Surrey, Dianne Watts?

It’s generally accepted that we become like the people we associate with. Parents discourage friendships with rebellious kids who get in trouble in school or are known to the authorities. This thinking applies in government as well. At the provincial level, ultimate power is lodged in the Premier’s office. In time this power tends to have a corrosive impact on earlier, more pristine intentions and values of those at the top.

While I do not consider myself competent to accuse the Liberals of corruption, I do believe there was a measure of hubris and arrogance in the Clark government. Some observers of B.C. politics have said there was more than just a whiff of erosion of values and principles. Reasons for believing this are numerous,

Possibly the most glaring one came when Christy Clark, and maybe high ranking members of her cabinet, threw the political dice one more time at the very end of their tenure. After telling voters repeatedly during the election campaign the province would be bankrupted by NDP promises, the sputtering Liberal government shamelessly concocted a budget including those same “too expensive” promises.

Another indication of corrosion was the high priced dinners. These gave business moguls and other influential personalities access to the Premier and cabinet. When I, along with possibly thousands, received an invitation to sit at her table at a cost of $5,000, I responded with a note explaining this was considerably beyond my means. I invited her for a home cooked lunch with Linda and me, at no cost to her or to taxpayers. I felt it was important to remind the Premier many of us are not affluent High Rollers, but would still appreciate an opportunity to express our views to her. This was in the midst of the election campaign and and it’s understandable she was too busy to reply.

In my view the most damning example of Liberal arrogance (and also neglect) was the refusal to allow an independent review of Site C by the BC Utilities Commission. The BCUC was set up to examine in detail such major projects before taxpayer dollars are invested. Because this project comes with an extraordinarily high price tag and is currently in the news, I feel it requires our attention.

In an October 17, 2017 submission to the BCUC, former Hydro CEO Marc Eliesen wrote, “Site C has been dogged by mismanagement, politically motivated decision-making and lack of transparency.” He also wrote, “Site C must be canceled to ensure BC ratepayers are not left with unconscionable electricity rate increases.” Eliesen is a heavy weight in the industry, having also served as CEO of Ontario Hydro and Manitoba Hydro.

In its final November 1st report, the BCUC does not take a position for or against Site C. It cautions, however, that Site C completion costs may be in excess of $10 billion, well over its proposed budget of $8.33 billion. It also notes the energy glut in North American markets could make it increasingly difficult to sell a Site C energy surplus. The panel suggests, “Increasingly viable alternative energy sources such as wind, geothermal, and industrial curtailment could provide similar benefits as the Site C project, with an equal or lower Unit Energy Cost.”

Like many British Columbians, I experienced an increasing sense of disillusionment with Liberal leadership prior to the election that dispatched them to political purgatory. Even so, I feel no desire to consign them to the ash heap of politics. Our province will be in a stronger position when both parties have competent, principled leaders. For this reason, I hope BC Liberals will make decisions that enable citizens to again trust and respect them. I hope they will select a wise leader who commits to serving the people and the province.