Category Archives: Politics

Dianne Watts, A Proven Leader

Dianne Watts

Can Dianne Watts, popular and highly regarded former mayor of Surrey, win leadership of the B.C. Liberal Party? When she announced her candidacy, one front runner in the leadership race quickly labeled her an “outsider.” Outsiders are rarely welcomed by those grasping the levers of power.

In a telephone conversation with Watts last week, I asked if being perceived as an outsider is an asset or a liability. “It’s an asset,” she responded without hesitation. “I don’t have to explain the budget.” She was, of course, referring to the desperate Liberal attempt to stay in office by unabashedly adopting much of the NDP platform in their doomed final budget.

My interest in Watts’ candidacy stems from a concern that the former cabinet ministers, if elected, would almost certainly not represent a positive change from the past. They have said publicly, “we stopped listening to the people.” Steeped in this stultifying culture of political deafness, have they now been given a miraculous desire to listen? Was their initial post-election hand-wringing an indication of repentance, or of sorrow at losing power?

Examining Watts’ personal and political history, I came to understand she definitely wasn’t given a free pass to success. Talking about her early years she told me “I was a classic case of a kid at risk and a runaway.  By age 17 I was on my own. The time came when I knew I’d have to choose which path I wanted to take. Difficult experiences can make us stronger if we choose to move forward. I chose to move forward.”

When she worked on a friend’s political campaign, some well connected individuals urged her to run for Surrey Council. She won a seat in 1996 and in 2005 defeated entrenched mayor, Doug McCallum. Watts needed all her grit, stamina and leadership skills to win over a hostile council.

A former MLA who at times worked closely with Watts said, “She was very good to work with. She knew what she didn’t know and asked questions. She organized a very successful Economic and Social Development conference. Dianne was strong on the anti-gang file. She also did a lot to change Surrey’s reputation as the welfare capital of B.C. She has excellent political instincts.”

A January, 2013 editorial in The Province observed “… in Watts you have a politician who listens to and works for voters, versus a provincial government that does things to voters, while refusing to hear them. Watts name always comes up whenever people talk about who would make a good premier.”

After establishing a solid track record as mayor, she didn’t run in 2014. She subsequently won the South Surrey-White Rock seat in Parliament. “Resigning your seat and running for the leadership seems pretty risky,” I suggested. “Why take that risk?”

Staying in Parliament would have been easier,” she agreed. “It was about my connection to the province. I saw the frustration across the province, the disappointment.”

Looking ahead she said, “when you’re elected, you’re in service to the people. I entered the leadership race to effect change, to change peoples’ lives for the better. To do that we need to rebuild and refresh the party. We need to rebuild the trust. Politics is a mechanism to do the work that needs to be done. If elected, I will work with caucus to develop a viable plan for the entire province.”

What does she believe needs to be done? “Among other things, we need to make housing more affordable. Affordability isn’t just a Lower Mainland issue. We need to give more attention to seniors issues, mental health, addiction, and Alzheimer’s. The time has come to strengthen partnerships between local communities and the province.”

As mayor of Surrey, Watts developed a pretty decent record. She was named 4th best mayor in the world by the UK based City Mayors Foundation. Surrey had the lowest residential and business tax rates in Metro Vancouver. She became known for taking good ideas off the drawing board and turning them into reality.

Watts’ track record suggests she has the leadership skills, understanding of government, and authenticity the B.C. Liberal Party needs to again become a viable option citizens can trust and vote for.

To support her leadership bid requires membership in the BC Liberal party. Deadline to join is December 29, 2017. For further information, google Dianne Watts or phone 604-265-9846.

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”.

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.

John van Dongen On Life And Politics

John van Dongen

In a drenching downpour on a Saturday morning in 1995, I huddled under an umbrella with a ragtag group of local citizens picketing a mushroom composting complex on Lefeuvre Road in the Fraser Valley. A car stopped alongside the roadway and MLA John van Dongen stepped out. Standing under a large umbrella he explained the Farm Practices Act and answered our questions. As the Liberal Agricultural Critic, he was a staunch supporter of farming in the province.

In the ensuing months we had further conversations with him and he came to understand our concerns about the stench emanating from mushroom plants at several locations in Abbotsford. Last week I called him at his home in Abbotsford and he agreed to talk about his early years, his time as an MLA and Minister in the provincial government and the recent Darryl Plecas decision.

His beginnings were humble. “I was born 5 months after my parents came to Canada from Holland in 1949,” he said. “They had $219.00 to get started. In 1951 they bought a little swampy farm, probably with loans from family and friends. I didn’t know much English when I started grade one.”

John’s parents were Catholic. “My siblings and I were taught all the basic virtues of the Christian faith,” he said. “I attended a Catholic school and two teachers, both nuns, had a positive influence on my life. Initially I had serious thoughts about becoming a priest. I attended the Seminary of Christ the King, part of the Westminster Abbey at Mission. After 2 years, I realized I didn’t have a calling to be a priest.”

My father was a farmer, and by age 16 I decided I wanted to be a farmer too. We’d come running home from school, put on work clothes and go to the barn. My father expected us to work hard.”

At UBC he studied Agricultural Economics, still intent on farming. After his third year, the Ministry of Agriculture hired him as an Assistant Dairy Farm Inspector in summer. “I was 20,” he said, “but I looked 16. That’s when I started growing a beard.”

By 1975 he was renting a small dairy farm in Dewdney. He later bought the 135 acre dairy farm that he still operates with the help of his nephew, who is gradually taking over the family farm. In 1979, at age 29, his political education began as a member of the board of Dairyland. “I read a lot about corporate governance, and I learned from 3 senior Directors”. He was particularly influenced by Peter Friesen, an Abbotsford dairy and poultry farmer. “I held Peter’s hand when he was on his deathbed.”

John van Dongen on the dairy farm.

When Liberal MLA Harry deJong resigned his Abbotsford seat in 1994, John was nominated to replace him and he won the 1995 by-election. “I wanted government to be relevant to the people,” he said. “I tried to educate citizens about their rights. My constituency office worked with people on issues like child protection and income assistance. I would offer to come to the family home to learn about the problem. To be more effective on behalf of constituents, I worked to have constructive relationships with (NDP) government ministers.”

He developed a reputation for following through on commitments and returning phone calls. In regard to the mushroom composting issue I mentioned at the outset, John worked closely with Corky Evans, then Agriculture Minister. When I called Corky at his home and asked for his memory of this matter, he said, “John and I didn’t care about the politics. We just wanted to get the job done.”

The Liberals formed government in 2001. As Minister of Agriculture, John stickhandled through the Avian flu crises and the disastrous “mad cow” disease. Then, as Solicitor General he worked patiently with the federal government and also the Americans, to bring in the Enhanced Drivers Licence. He had been warned the Americans would never accept this.

At the end of our marathon telephone conversation, I asked about Darryl Plecas’ controversial decision to become Speaker of the Legislature. “Darryl took a 50% cut in pay to become an MLA,” he said. “Money wasn’t the motivation. He knew people didn’t want another election.”

When John van Dongen declined to support Christy Clark’s leadership, this decision ended his political career. For him it was a matter of integrity and ethics. The outcome of the recent provincial election suggests a lot of British Columbians agree.

In Conversation With MP Dan Albas

MP Dan Albas in my home.

When I called the West Kelowna constituency office of MP Dan Albas a couple of months ago, the receptionist said, “He’s in Ottawa. He will return your call.” I live in a community with an insignificant number of votes so I anticipated a long wait, if he actually did call. Within 5 minutes my phone rang and it was Dan, calling from Ottawa, ready to help me with a Canada Post issue.

MP Dan Albas speaking at the Hedley Cenotaph Rededication.

Last week he was in Hedley for the rededication of the Cenotaph. After the ceremony I asked if he’d have time for a conversation before he returns to Ottawa. He glanced at his watch. “Let’s do it now,” he said. He had an hour before the next event.

Sitting in the sun room of our home, I asked, “what is important to you as a Member of Parliament?” Without hesitating, he said, “people.” Then he elaborated. “Most people pay their taxes and when they have a problem, they expect to be treated fairly. Often it’s not as clean though as the rules suggest. There are occasions when they need someone to help them deal with bureaucracy.”

Dan’s political education began during his 15 years as owner of a martial arts centre in Penticton. He joined Rotary in 2004 and in 2006 became chair of the South Okanagan and Similkameen United Way. Elected to the Penticton Chamber of Commerce in 2008, he became aware of concerns about the way some senior staff were responding to questions.

In 2011 he succeeded Stockwell Day as the Conservative Party’s representative in the Boundary/Similkameen riding, At the outset of Dan’s career in federal politics Tom Siddon, former Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development advised, “You go in with your integrity. Be sure to also go out with it.” Dan gave serious attention to this counsel. Wanting to make constituents his priority, he decided to have 3 full time staff in the riding office and only a half time position in Ottawa.

MP’s typically receive calls regarding income tax, employment insurance, immigration issues, Canada Pension and Old Age Pension, among others.“As an MP I’m like an ombudsman,” Dan said. “If people have legitimate concerns, I want to know about them. We can help people understand how to navigate the systems. We give them the steps to take.

In one case we intervened on behalf of a young woman when a company refused to return her funds, even though it had not provided the promised service. She received a letter from the company president and the money. The greatest reward comes when you help someone and they feel respected and they’re proud of their country.” He does “Listening Tours” to feel the pulse of the community and establish priorities.

Dan’s ability and diligence have evidently been noticed by party leaders. He has been assigned to work on key parliamentary committees. The Elder Abuse Act was passed during his time on the Justice Committee. More recently, as a member of the Finance Committee, he questioned the decision to not allow Credit Unions to use the terms bank or banking in their promotions. This would affect Valley First Credit Union. The Minister of Finance has promised to look into the matter.

On June 28, 2017 his private members Free my Grapes bill was passed unanimously. “Liberal MP Scott Bryson asked how he could help me with this. He agreed to allow me to speak at his designated time. I wanted to get the bill passed before the summer recess.” He almost didn’t succeed because some members wanted to make speeches. Alert and proactive, Dan forestalled this. “If we stop talking,” he said, “we can pass this today.” They agreed and the bill passed. Although some provincial legislation interferes with the act, it does allow people to purchase wine for personal consumption and carry it into another province.

It was Dan’s  expeditious return of my phone call several months ago that initially led me to believe he might be an MP people can rely on to listen and actually take action. After an hour of conversation with him, I concluded he genuinely wants to represent people effectively. He returns calls, hosts town meetings, writes monthly reports for constituents, attends to individual cases, and is active on national issues. At age 40, Dan Albas has the energy, experience, vision and will to be a potent force for good in his riding and in our country.

Which Political Leader Can We Trust?

Christy Clark, John Horgan, Andrew Weaver. photo by bc.ctvnews.ca

I’m certainly not the first to observe that politics can be a fickle, mischievous mistress. This is especially the case when politicians lose the trust of the people. In Searching For Certainty, Bricker and Greenspon suggest “trust is no longer given, but earned.”

I respected and enjoyed Christy Clark’s vibrant style as a popular Vancouver radio talk show host prior to returning to politics. My trust in her and the Liberals took a body blow though when she refused to order a Site C evaluation by the BC Utilities Commission. Like many B.C. citizens I feel such a massive project, estimated to cost $9 billion, should receive serious scrutiny by experienced experts. Some knowledgeable individuals not beholden to the government are saying the power isn’t needed and will have to be sold at fire sale prices. I’m wondering if the Liberals have set us on a course that will put our children and grandchildren on an unnecessary financial hook for many decades.

My trust was further eroded by Clark’s brazen inclusion of a number of NDP promises in her recent ill-fated budget. This seems at least a tad tacky when we consider the way she had earlier scoffed at the NDP program, claiming much of it was not affordable.

I still like Christy Clark’s enthusiastic gung-ho style. Having been disappointed too often by charisma unaccompanied by substance and wisdom though, I’m experiencing anxiety as to her motivation. She appears focused on toppling the in-coming government and forcing an election. According to several big city pundits, the Liberals have already amassed a considerable campaign war chest. Large donations are mostly from corporations, which is troubling in itself. Campaign contributions generally come with expectations of favours. Ordinary citizens are rarely in line for such favours.

I realize the Liberals are not going to accept any advice from me. Possibly not from anyone else either. They seem to be thinking about how best to again grasp the reins of power. If they were willing to listen, I’d suggest before they trigger another campaign they consider the 1944 Saskatchewan election outcome.

Premier William Patterson and his Liberal party thought they could convince voters the CCF (now NDP) candidates were dangerous communists. According to Charlotte Gray in The Promise of Canada, “corporations contributed dollops of cash for fear mongering.” Evidently the Liberals didn’t believe Tommy Douglas and his small contingent of MLA’s would be taken seriously. They didn’t understand the trust factor.

On the campaign trail, Douglas made promises that would benefit ordinary people, not big companies. Although the CCF had won only a total of 11 seats in 1938, including one in a by-election, and had never been in power, voters liked and trusted Douglas. In the 1944 election, CCF won a surprising 47 of 52 seats.

In subsequent years, Tommy Douglas delivered on his promises and went on to win 5 consecutive elections. Among other measures of benefit to citizens, he introduced public auto insurance, the first in Canada. People quickly saw that they were saving money.

During his time in office the government renovated or built 33 hospitals. By 1954, Saskatchewan had gone from having the fewest hospital beds in Canada to having the most. The government also began paying for hospital care. Charlotte Gray says one major secret of Tommy Douglas’ continued success is that he was bringing in polices and programs that made peoples’ lives easier. They came to trust him.

Although it was expected then, as now, that the socialist-democratic government would pile up debt, provincial treasurer Clarence Fines was tight fisted. Over the years he brought in 16 balanced budgets. He also began paying down government debt. New services were provided only as they became affordable.

Undoubtedly we can expect high drama in the B.C. Legislature in coming days and weeks. Will Christy Clark be a constructive leader of the Opposition, or will she be in campaign mode? Will John Horgan and Andrew Weaver maintain a positive working relationship, foster a productive atmosphere in the legislature and not drive B.C.’s bank account deep into the red? For all 3 leaders it will provide an opportunity to prove we can trust them to do what is right, not primarily for themselves, corporations, or unions, but for the citizens who pay their salaries. Along with the rest of us, the fickle, mischievous mistress of politics is observing.

After The Political Heavy Lifting

Book Cover photo from Amazon
Book Cover photo from Amazon

Now that we’ve done the heavy lifting, casting our ballot, where will we turn our attention next? For most of us, it likely won’t be to politics. Having pondered about whether the Liberals or the New Democrats will do the most good and the least harm, we’re ready to move on. Anyway, our democratic system encourages electors to get out of the way and permit the government to make all decisions.

There are several insidious black flies in this ointment, however. They hide behind a curtain of tradition and secrecy and bedevil politicians, federal and provincial, and also tax paying citizens. Their chilling influence is experienced by those on the government benches and also those on Opposition benches. Recently some frustrated retired politicians have drawn our attention to a number of disquieting issues in our political system, in the hope there will be change.

One of the key issues is the rigid control exercised by political parties over elected representatives at both the provincial and federal levels. Alison Loat, formerly a fellow and instructor at the University of Toronto, and billionaire businessman Michael MacMillan, have cast a glaring light on Canadian politics at the federal level. In “Tragedy in the Commons” they report on interviews with 80 former MP’s from all parties across Canada. According to Loat and MacMillan, “MP’s rarely speak out against their leader or party, fearing they will be demoted, removed from caucus, unable to fully do their jobs, or will not be considered for cabinet positions or promotions.”

One of those interviewed was Russ Powers, a former Liberal MP (2004-2006). He said, “the party tells us to say we are there to adopt national policies for the betterment of all in the country. Reality though, is we are there to adopt policies that are self-serving and beneficial to the party in order to stay in power and get re-elected. You had to adhere to the policy or endure the wrath of the Whip.”

Graham Steele, Nova Scotia’s former NDP Finance Minister, adds another unsettling thought. In “What I Learned about Politics,” he contends that “the desire to get elected drives everything a politician does.” He adds, “in politics regrettably, the undecorated truth is usually unwelcome.”

In spite of these gloomy observations by former politicians, all may not be lost. Knowing it’s extremely unusual for currently elected politicians to voice concerns regarding our political system, I was surprised to learn that a number of MP’s, representing all parties, have recently expressed their views in a new book just released last week. The title is “Turning Parliament Inside Out: Practical Ideas for Reforming Canada’s Democracy.” In a news release about the book, Samara Canada states “MP’s from all major parties and ridings across the country joined together in a rare display of unity to make change a reality, explaining why reform is so urgently needed and proposing practical, achievable suggestions for making it happen. It has chapters from MP’s Niki Ashton, Michael Chong, Michael Cooper, Nathan Cullen, Elizabeth May, Scott Simms, Kennedy Stewart and Anita Vandenbeld.”

What does this mean to us living comfortably in our beautiful Similkameen Valley? While we may consider it unlikely that we can play a part in cleaning up the political mess in Ottawa or Victoria, this may be an overly complacent, pessimistic conclusion.

We could begin by changing what we expect of politicians. When we ask, “what will you do for us,” are we not implicitly agreeing to be bribed with our own money? Understandably, politicians experience great pressure to outbid the other party. Leaders believe we are more likely to support them if they promise what we demand. To get elected and to be given consideration for committee positions, the lower ranks fall in line, even when at times those at the top make decisions that will adversely impact an unsuspecting electorate.

We need to view governance as a shared responsibility. This means we don’t ask for more than we can afford. It also means we remind our leaders that what we really value is integrity, honesty, truth, prudent decisions, etc. By shifting our focus from the material realm to a values realm, we may be able to begin a dialogue with our representatives about what is really important to us and our nation.

Graham Steele suggests that “the only person who can change our policies is the engaged citizen.”

Linda Larson, Wiser And More Experienced

Linda Larson
Linda Larson

Before Linda Larson arrived at our home for a conversation last Thursday, I read the column I had written about her 2 years ago. At that time she said, “In my childhood, mom struggled to put food on the table. She baked bread. We had butter every 2 to 3 months. Other kids at school wore store bought clothes. My mom made mine.” Since those early meager times, Linda has attained considerable success in politics, initially as mayor of Oliver and more recently as the Boundary/Similkameen MLA. I was interested in her perception of what it’s like to play a role (even if not a high echelon one) in Christy Clark’s high roller style of politics. I also wanted to know if success had in any way tainted her values and principles.

Sitting at the round table in our sun room, eating my wife Linda’s egg sandwiches and bean salad, we engaged in a pretty frank discussion of life in provincial politics. I was watchful for the usual escape hatches that politicians duck into to evade uncomfortable questions.

I began our conversation by suggesting that a lot of politicians express a desire at the outset of their career to make their community and country a better, safer, more liveable place, but before long they become jaded. “It is important to come into politics with the belief you can make things better,” she replied. “Politics is a game, but not a frivolous game. You have to learn the rules and make them work for you. As an individual, you aren’t powerful, but as a member of a team you are.”

She reflected for a moment. “If I want to get things done, I need to be a team member. Democracy is a challenging system, but it’s the best in the world.”

In response to my question, she cited several instances where she has obtained results. A transition house, a dam project and an irrigation system. Also a 10 year contract for the Grist Mill in Keremeos.

It’s complex,” she observed. “Sometimes it takes a lot of time and persevering. Three years ago a man came to me with the request that disabled motorcyclists be permitted to park in places designated as disabled parking. “It was quite a process,” she said. “A number of organizations and several government departments were involved. Now you can get a sticker for a motorcycle licence that lets you use a parking space reserved for the disabled.”

She told us that work on individual files is handled by a staffer in her office. “When a man didn’t have the funds to take a bus to Vancouver for cancer treatments, Pat knew who to talk to. She has dealt with 700 cases over the past 4 years. She really knows how to produce results. This allows me to work on larger, complex issues that require engaging various levels of government.”

About 95 percent of people are great, Linda told us. “I love my work and I love the people. When someone is angry, I know something has happened. We have to try to fix it. Only about 5 percent are negative, but they are also the most vocal. Dealing with them has taught me I have a thicker skin than I realized.”

Linda acknowledges there have been disappointments. “In my riding natural gas is not available to a number of homes.

Those people are hit hard by high electricity costs. I had hoped for more from the recent BCEU report.” Her face registered concern. “We can’t just tell a government body what to do,” she said. “A rule change can affect the entire province. Government needs to look at social, environmental and cost implications when making changes. I feel though there is a better way and we need to find it. I will continue to work on it.”

I sensed that her concern regarding exorbitant hydro rates is deep and genuine. She has the experience to know this will not be an easy fix. She’ll need allies. Her statement that she will continue working on it seemed much more than a convenient line to please voters.

After our 90 minute conversation, I had a better understanding of how government functions. Linda didn’t duck into escape hatches and I felt pretty certain she has not been unduly influenced by the flamboyant, off the cuff style of her leader. Still Linda Larson, but wiser and more experienced.

Linda Larson on the campaign trail.
Linda Larson on the campaign trail.

Vonnie Lavers, Green Party Candidate

Vonnie Lavers, Green Party Candidate for Boundary-Similkameen
Vonnie Lavers, Green Party Candidate for Boundary-Similkameen

When Green Party candidate Vonnie Lavers said she once worked as an executive assistant to the president of Syncrude Canada, I needed to mentally pause. This didn’t align easily with my perception of her party. Aren’t Green and Syncrude as incompatible as oil and water?

In a wide ranging conversation in the sun room of our home in Hedley, Vonnie talked freely about her life, beginning with the early years in Port Saunders, a small community in Newfoundland. We would learn that although she is committed to the preservation of our environment, life experience has alerted her to a variety of additional societal challenges. “We lived in poverty the first 8 years of my life,” she said in answer to my question. “I was the second oldest of 8 children. My parents are Metis and I’m also Metis. I did housework, picked berries, helped bake fruit pies, cleaned fish. We ate moose, bear, rabbits, fish, plants and berries.” Her early experiences gave her an appreciation for the role a healthy environment plays in sustaining all life. “We need to think about the future of our children.”

We began to see Vonnie’s grit and capacity to be proactive when she spoke of her time in a trades and technology college after high school. “I received a phone call from my parents one day,” she recalled. “They said I’d have to quit my studies. There wasn’t money to pay the $35 a week room and board. I had worked and had enough hours for EI, but being in school made me ineligible.”

She reflected for a moment, then smiled. “I sat on the doorstep of MP John Crosbie’s office 3 days. I guess he decided I wasn’t going away so he invited me in. After hearing me out, he arranged for me and other students to collect EI. That took away a lot of anxiety.”

After completing her courses, she managed a summer government work project. When she overheard 2 men talking about opportunities in Fort McMurray, she told her mother she’d like to go there to work. The response was, “we’ll have to see what Dad says.” Undeterred, Vonnie replied, “you’d better persuade him because I’m going.”

The move to Alberta would be important in her education outside the classroom. She would grow further in her understanding of the complex issues every society must contend with.

In Fort McMurray her college training and work experience persuaded John Lynn, president of Syncrude, to hire her as an assistant. During these years she witnessed the prospering of Syncrude when oil prices rose, and also the difficult times when prices declined sharply. She recalls seeing a bumper sticker saying, “please God, let there be another boom. I promise not to pee it away this time.”

The years at Syncrude gave her an understanding of the role natural resources play in providing good jobs. Extensive travel and reading alerted her to the need to ensure our environment is not overly exploited. “Even the Saudis are diversifying, moving into renewable energy. We need to allocate more funds for research and the development of alternative sources. There are good job and business prospects in this.”

She’s still enthusiastic about an opportunity she was given at Syncrude to make a positive contribution outside the corporate offices. A committee she chaired donated $3 million annually, primarily to child related programs and the arts.

Growing up with 6 sisters and a brother gave Vonnie a keen appreciation for family. “Our entire society is based on family,” she observed. “It’s important we sit down together for supper. We also need to be connected outside the family. We can’t just be taking all the time. We have to give back. Family and friends support us in the valleys of life.”

The president of Syncrude became her mentor and encouraged her to prepare for further accomplishments. At age 28 she enrolled in Mount Royal College in Alberta. Since then work, community involvements and business ventures have broadened her perspective. She can speak knowledgeably about Portugal’s response to drug and mental health issues, depletion of wild life in Zimbabwe or an apartment building in New York where at Thanksgiving the tenants come together around long tables in the hallway for a potluck meal.

Vonnie has an offer on her Kelowna home and plans to move to the Boundary/Similkameen constituency. This Green candidate is about much more than just the environment.

Green Party Candidate Vonnie Lavers with Dave Cursons, Campaign Manager
Green Party Candidate Vonnie Lavers with Dave Cursons, Campaign Manager

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.