Category Archives: Politics

Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)

At the conclusion of negotiations that produced the far reaching Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), local cartoonist Vince Flynn provided a rather unflattering and sobering assessment of the pact. His cartoon showed then Conservative Trade Minister Ed Fast saying, “I think we gave them everything they asked for.” The text of the 12 nation agreement had not yet been made public and I hoped the cartoon was more for the sake of humour than to convey an accurate portrayal of what was agreed upon.

Vintage Harold Anderson Calendar Picture
Vintage Harold Anderson Calendar Picture

All we knew at the time was that the agreement had been negotiated in almost total secrecy behind tightly closed doors, as though the various governments understood they were doing something enormously shameful. To me it smacked of young boys guiltily puffing on their first cigarette behind the family barn. Although we might want to believe its tentacles will not reach into our beautiful valley, the agreement has the potential to impact each of us directly.

Most of us have little understanding of the international trade regulations that already enable foreign corporations to extract huge sums from our governments. One example of this is the terms the World Trade Organization used to rule against a successful clean energy program in Ontario which had created thousands of jobs. Similar regulations targeted a moratorium on fracking in Quebec. The Sierra Club says the TPP will impose further limits on government efforts to combat climate disruptions.

The agreement has already been signed by the Liberal government. If ratified by Parliament, it will give foreign corporations even greater powers to sue governments for billions over laws and policies they contend will limit their profits.

To me it is incomprehensible that corporations will be able to challenge our environmental laws, not before a Canadian court, but before a tribunal of private lawyers. These 3 lawyers will not be accountable for their decisions and there will be no appeal process. They will have the power to order governments to pay firms for future profits they could have hypothetically earned if the protective policies were not in place.

Siphoning off of public funds is one way each of us will be impacted. It will ensure governments have even less resources to maintain our already stressed medical system, build schools, repair bridges and highways, and much more.

Government officials typically ignore concerns about threats to the environment, claiming there are provisions that protect against abuses. George Kahale III, chairman of the world’s leading legal arbitration firm says of the highly touted environmental safeguard in the pact, “the entire provision for protection of the environment is negated by 5 words in the middle. The supposed safeguard is actually much ado about nothing.” His firm has defended various governments in lawsuits by international corporations.

The TPP is all encompassing and includes much more than the environment. Many seniors and others in the Similkameen Valley will almost certainly be hit hard in their wallets when they go to renew their medical prescriptions. D G Shaw of the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance says “generic drugs will come onto the market less quickly and patients will have to wait longer for affordable medications.” Also, pharmaceutical companies will be more able to sue governments over policies they don’t like. Even under existing rules, they are already doing this. At the federal level, the giant pharmaceutical company, Eli Lilly, currently has a lawsuit against the Canadian government for $500 million because Canadian courts invalidated its Zyprexa patent. One observer suggested this is “the shape of things to come.”

Jim Balsillie, former Co-CEO of RIM, believes “signing the deal could be Canada’s worst ever policy decision.” Professor Ariel Katz, law professor at the University of Toronto agrees. He warns that “ratifying the TPP would lock Canada into a deal that could not be modified even if issues surface down the road.” He asks, “why would anyone in their right mind do this?”

Especially in regard to the environment, I’m puzzled by the Liberal position. Justin Trudeau proudly announced at the Paris climate conference, “We’re back. We’re here to help.” But his statements indicate he may favour ratification of the TPP by Parliament. Is it the citizens of Canada he intends to help, or multinational corporations? The TPP will impact us. If we’re concerned about greedy corporations blackmailing and plundering Canada, now is the time to inform our PM and our representatives in Parliament.

Tom Siddon, A Life In Politics

Pat & Tom Siddon visited us in Hedley
Pat & Tom Siddon visited us in Hedley

Last week, sitting at our kitchen table with Tom and Pat Siddon of Kaleden, Linda and I received the benefit of a 2 hour political seminar. When Tom began speaking, I set aside my interview notes and listened with great interest. He had been an MP during the years when Joe Clark, Pierre Trudeau and Brian Mulroney held the reins of power in Ottawa. In the Mulroney years he served in several key cabinet posts.

“I was born in Drumheller, Alberta into a family of modest circumstances,” he said at the outset. “ My dad was a barber. He was determined I wouldn’t follow in his footsteps.”

Tom studied Mechanical Engineering at the University of Alberta, not a common career track for an aspiring politician, but at that time he wasn’t considering politics. This is where he met Joe Clark, future Canadian PM, and also Pat. He and Pat were married at the beginning of his final year. She discontinued her studies to work so he could attain a Phd. at the University of Toronto’s Institute of Aeronautical Studies. “Pat was typing my thesis one day when I suddenly needed to rush her to the hospital to have our second son,” he said.

While teaching engineering at UBC he joined a group opposed to the construction of 3 high rise towers in Richmond. This experience persuaded him to run for a position on council. In the 1975 city elections, campaigning with Pat at his side, he defeated an incumbent councillor by 20 votes.

In this role he began garnering political experience and credibility. When he agreed to run in a federal by-election in Richmond, his parents didn’t understand. “You have a good career teaching at UBC,” they admonished him. “Why go into politics?”

Elected, he and Pat soon learned about the uncertainties inherent in a political career. In 1979 he was re-elected in the general election which handed Joe Clark a short lived minority government. “We moved our family to Ottawa and enrolled our children in school,” he said. “Then our government was defeated on a budget vote. We moved back to Richmond.”

Voters had come to trust Tom and gave him the nod in the 1980 election. This time he found himself sitting in the benches of the Official Opposition, facing a Pierre Trudeau government.

As is common after an election defeat, the Conservatives held a leadership vote. Tom deemed Brian Mulroney (a skilled labour lawyer and CEO of the Iron Ore Co. of Canada) to be the most promising candidate. Mulroney won, and Tom’s support would prove to have been prudent.

After taking power in the 1984 vote, Mulroney named Tom Minister of State for Science and Technology. In this role he was on hand to watch Mark Garneau being launched into space at Cape Kennedy.

When Mulroney subsequently appointed him Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Tom needed to deal with the sticky issue of disappearing cod stocks. “My science background enabled me to understand what the scientists were telling me,” he said. “I felt they were wrong and decided to close the cod fishery. I was roundly condemned for this by some but my instincts were correct. Even now the cod haven’t come back.”

His appointment as Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development in 1990 led to what he considers his most significant achievement, the creation of Nunavut.

“Pat and I were taken by dog sled across ice and snow to Igloolik on the western side of Hudson’s Bay,” he said. “Our Inuit guide built an igloo and that night we slept in it on caribou skins. In the morning I woke with my back against a block of ice.”

Chief Negotiator Paul Quassa & vice-president Bob Kadlun present then Indian Affairs Minister Tom Siddon with "Snow Block Carving" in Igulik on April 30, 1990
Chief Negotiator Paul Quassa & vice-president Bob Kadlun present then Indian Affairs Minister Tom Siddon with “Snow Block Carving” in Igulik on April 30, 1990

As part of the signing ceremony they were offered Inuit delicacies such as raw caribou, bear and Arctic char. Pat avoided most of the meal by handing out gifts of fresh fruit and daffodils. The signing ceremony laid out the basis for negotiations over the next 3 years. In appreciation of his dedicated work, Tom was presented with a carving of an Inuit hunter cutting snow blocks. In 2015 the Siddons returned the carving, considering it a treasure that belonged to Nunavut.

Today, among various involvements, Tom Siddon is Area D Director in the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen. His partnership with Pat still strong, he continues to believe being in politics should not be for personal honour. It must be to serve the community and the nation.

Politics Is A Fickle Mistress

All Candidates Meeting
All Candidates Meeting

For the past two months hundreds of decent, well intentioned individuals all over Canada have worked unstintingly to win the right to represent their constituency. Because my neighbour Angelique Wood was one of these dedicated ones, I have some comprehension of the energy and focus required to campaign effectively. Particularly in the last month, her car was rarely at home. Undoubtedly, she and most candidates entered the race motivated by a desire to make a positive difference. They have laudable intent, but in time the winners may conclude politics is a fickle and frivolous mistress.

Increasingly over the past four years, there has been a growing sense on the part of Canadians that our democracy has become confoundingly undemocratic. The Prime Minister controls the appointment of many key figures in our system of government, including the Governor General, members of the cabinet, justices of the Supreme Court, senators, heads of crown corporations, ambassadors to foreign countries, provincial lieutenant governors, and approximately 3,100 others. The appointees feel beholden to the PM and most do not dare voice disagreement with government policy.

The National Post’s Andrew Coyne recently wrote, “cabinet does not matter. It does not govern. That is the job of the Prime Minister and the group of political staff he has around him.” This is not new. Several Prime Ministers in recent decades have chosen to govern almost as dictators.

Some pundits contend it was Pierre Trudeau who first began seriously consolidating power in the Prime Minister’s office. Certainly his charisma generated a dizzying excitement in the electorate and people anticipated positive change. By the 1972 election though, the “halo effect” had run its course. Peter C Newman said being reduced to a minority government “was due to one central fact. He had lost touch with his constituency. He functioned the first 54 months in office as head of a government, not the leader of a nation. He didn’t understand Canadians and their concerns. What was worse, he didn’t appear to care.”

Although our democracy doesn’t prevent leaders with dictatorial inclinations from rising to the top, it does possess the means to push them ignominiously from “the throne.” Trudeau managed to hold onto power but, prior to the 1984 election, polls indicated the Liberals would not win with him at the helm. Chastened, he stepped down.

Voters then gave the Liberals a political spanking, allotting them only 40 seats. Brian Mulroney and the Conservatives snatched 211, the largest majority in Canadian history. Unfortunately, Mulroney didn’t learn the lesson of the Liberal debacle. He greatly irritated Canadians with the detested GST. When polls indicated he had lost support of voters, he retired just prior to the 1993 election.

We replaced Mulroney with Jean Chretien, who did not keep his famous “Red Book” promises. He also allowed the “Sponsorship Scandal” in which some two hundred million dollars were squandered. In time, voters wearied of the Liberals’ evident sense of entitlement and Chretien, under extreme duress, agreed to retire.

More recently, Stephen Harper, like Trudeau, Mulroney and Chretien, has ruled with a heavy hand and alienated large numbers of Canadians. MP’s, and even most cabinet ministers, received instructions as to what they were permitted to say in public. Scientists and others were also muzzled.

The problem of party leaders gripping the reins of power too tightly isn’t confined to the party in government. Writing in “Tragedy in the Commons,” Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan suggest “Canadian party leaders today enjoy a remarkable amount of power when measured against peers in Canadian history, or against leaders in similar parliamentary systems around the world.”

There is one possible glimmer of hope. Conservative MP Michael Chong has stickhandled a bill through Parliament that gives MP’s the power to trigger a leadership review and subsequently vote to oust the leader of their party. In a watered down version, the bill was approved by a majority of government MP’s. Very likely they realized many constituents longed to give them the heave ho for the PM’s undemocratic rule. In spite of some resistance in the Senate, the bill was passed and the Reform Act received Royal Assent this summer.

In politics there are few guarantees of course, but this could be a small step toward change. In time, newly elected MP’s could have a more substantive role. Canadian democracy may yet smile.

Baseball and Politics

 

Parliament on Ottawa River
Parliament on Ottawa River

There is a common thread running through both professional baseball and party politics in Canada. When an umpire calls the last “out!” in the 2015 World Series, the players will pick up their fat paycheques, retrieve their golf clubs and head to the links. The disciplined ones will continue their conditioning regime. At the management level, there will be frenzied preparation for the next season of ball. The fans, having cheered until they are hoarse, will go home and focus on other interests until the umpires again call, “play ball.”

When the current federal election campaign has run its course, the voters, like the baseball fans, will also resume other pursuits. Having voted, we believe those we have elected will now carry out their duties with an acceptable degree of diligence, having in mind what is best for citizens and the nation. We need to understand though, that the serious politicians, whether winners or losers, will now begin planning and strategizing to win the next election.

Just as for players, managers and owners, baseball is about winning, for career politicians, politics is also about winning. Many of their decisions will likely have little to do with good governance. We should not forget that over the past four years, the political parties have been engaged in an aggressive, perpetual “dog fight,” seeking to score political points.

In baseball it’s not a problem that fans are inactive in the off season. In politics though, when the people are not involved between elections, there is a significant down side. As citizens, we are stakeholders in our nation. If we are not attentive, we may one day understand to our chagrin, politics is often more about achieving and maintaining power than governing prudently.

In contending this, I certainly do not mean to slam the many fine individuals running for election. Recently I attended a local all-candidates meeting and concluded each is a reputable person with honourable intentions. If the party hierarchy listened more frequently to our representatives, we would almost certainly have a superior form of government.

In our country, as in every country around the globe, there are ambitious individuals aggressively grasping for the levers of government, whatever its form. And those holding the levers cling to them tenaciously, doing whatever is necessary to thwart rivals. Too often this results in decisions designed to gain favour with multi-national corporations, or with particular elements of the electorate, not to provide sound governance.

This dynamic has prevailed throughout history. The decline and fall of the Roman Empire is one of the most thoroughly documented cases of often mutually destructive struggles between ambitious individuals, sapping the vitality of a nation and in time contributing to its down fall. In “How Rome Fell: Death of a Super Power”, Adrian K Goldsworthy says, “there was never a shortage of men wanting to be Emperor. Being killed by a rival remained the most frequent cause of death of Emperors.”

At times powerful army commanders challenged the Emperor. If the challenge was successful, the usurper usually had the Emperor killed. Goldsworthy states further, “senior officials regularly arranged for the disgrace and even death of colleagues. Personal survival and success were the foremost goals of most officials.” By the third century of the Empire’s existence, Emperors and their administrations were thinking less of the good of the Empire than their own survival. It was not a recipe for efficiency.

Goldsworthy sees parallels in our time and suggests “perhaps we should expect more from our political leaders. If they do not set an example by placing the wider good above personal or party interests, it is most unlikely anyone else will behave any better. A greater willingness to take genuine responsibility would be a good place to start.”

Although Canadian political experience is considerably more civilized than that of the Roman empire, the grasping for power is uncomfortably real. For this reason, it is essential we encourage all politicians to work first for the good of Canada and its citizens, not for party advantage. After this election we need to continue asking questions and demanding substantive answers of those elected to represent us. Unlike the game of baseball, politics does impact us, our children and our grandchildren. We can play a part in the well being of this great country.

Alex Atamanenko on Life and Politics

 

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I share retiring MP Alex Atamanenko’s sense of disquiet at the state of governance in Canada. He believes an NDP government can save our nation from further undermining of our democracy at the highest level. At this time I’m not convinced any of the leaders have the will, integrity and wisdom required to bring about the change we need. I do respect Alex’s views though and if his party wins, I hope I will be proved wrong.

During an hour long conversation last week, Alex spoke candidly about his life and experience as an Opposition MP. He has an understanding of the turmoil that can overtake a nation. “My father was Ukrainian and my mother Russian,” he said at the outset. “My grandfather was executed by thugs released from prison by the Bolsheviks. My father was an officer in the Imperial Army, fighting against the Bolsheviks.”

Alex was born in New Westminster. He obtained a BA in physical education, a teaching diploma and an MA in Russian. He has taught Russian, French and English in Canada and America. His community involvement has included the Boys Club of Vancouver and instructing at the Castlegar Karate Club.

Concerning his entrance into politics he said, “I had become disenchanted with the Liberal government. Over dinner in a Medicine Hat restaurant on a trip across the prairies in 2003, I told my wife Ann I was thinking of running as a federal NDP candidate. She told me I was crazy, but she’d support me.” In the 2004 election he was narrowly defeated. “I just continued campaigning,” he said. “In 2006 I ran again and won.”

Initially, when Parliament was in session, Ann accompanied him on his pretty much weekly pilgrimages between the riding and Ottawa. His schedule permitted too little time together though. “It’s the most intense job I’ve ever had,” he said.

As NDP Agriculture Critic he met with farmers and farm associations. In his constituency he and his staff helped with a variety of individual issues such as obtaining a passport or dealing with a taxation matter. “As a final resort I’d write a letter to the minister and deliver it personally.” They were always very receptive. In Ottawa he participated in creating and examining legislation.

When possible, he collaborated with members of other parties, dealing with issues of concern to his constituents. “If I was touring in another member’s riding, I always sent advance notification. In many ways, our system of government is working. Our riding is receiving grants, even though it is represented by a party not in power.”

In spite of positives he is troubled by “an increasingly partisan and bitter tone in Parliament.” The NDP and Liberals suggested more than 20 amendments to strengthen the Food Safety Bill, he recalls. “The government rejected all of them.”

Alex found the corporate forces contending for free trade to be extremely powerful. During 9 years as an MP he proposed a number of bills, some designed to protect the health of Canadians. Only one made it to committee stage. “In one instance I suggested an economic impact study to determine if farmers would lose money if further GMO products were introduced. A representative from the biotech industry told me they didn’t want my bill to come before the House.” Some fifty lobbyists descended on the MP’s, pressuring them to vote against the bill. Initially the Liberals supported the bill but due to the intense lobbying, when it came to the committee level they sided with the government to defeat it.

In another agriculture related issue, he considers it a victory that by employing a seldom used maneuver, he was able to protect the Canadian Grain Commission from being dismantled for almost a year.

He believes proportional representation would eliminate many current abuses of power. Also, he would like schools to invite politicians to meet with students so they will become educated participants in our democracy.

In spite of concerns, in his final address to Parliament he said, “the privilege of serving as an MP has undoubtedly been the most enriching and rewarding experience of my life.”

It is my belief that Alex Atamanenko, like early party leaders J.S. Woodsworth and Stanley Knowles, is a man of integrity, without guile. A Canadian statesman.

Harper Song at NDP Gathering

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Supporters of Angelique Wood, NDP candidate for Central Okanagan Similkameen Nicola, gathered last week in the back yard of Bob and Marilyn Bergen in rural Cawston. Wood announced that party headquarters has noticed the local campaign is neck and neck with the Conservative candidate, who most election observers had expected to win.

“When Head Office decides a riding is in the game in a serious way,” she said, “they start paying attention to you. They have decided to send Bryan McIver, an experienced campaign manager to work closely with us. Things have been amped up a notch. We’re in the game in a whole new way.” A disciplined, hard working campaigner, she is heartened by this show of confidence.

Wood also told her supporters she and her team would shortly open a campaign headquarters at 1820 Byland Avenue in West Kelowna.

She and her team, and apparently many in the NDP, have enthusiastically embraced “The Harper Song.” After a meal of chili, bread and desserts, the gathering ended with an exuberant rendition. It was a crowd pleaser. Among the singers were Angelique Wood, retiring MP Alex Atamanenko, and Dr. Gerald Partridge, retired long time Keremeos physician.

The race in Central Okanagan Similkameen Nicola certainly promises to be one worth watching. It may not be decided until the last ballot is counted on election night.

Cenotaph: A Message About Past & Present

Cenotaph at Hedley, BC
Cenotaph at Hedley, BC

Hedley is preparing to commemorate a nearly forgotten but significant piece of its history. On August 22nd citizens of the Similkameen Valley will assemble at 1:30 pm for a ceremony at the Cenotaph on Scott Avenue. The purpose is to remember the 17 Hedley men who departed from this very spot on August 24th , almost exactly100 years ago, to enlist in the Canadian military. Those who enlisted before and after this date will also be remembered. Except for the diligent research of Andy English and Jennifer Douglass, this event would have continued to languish in the dust bin of history.

Very likely all of us living in Hedley have walked or driven by the Cenotaph numerous times without thinking about what it represents. The men who enlisted were in the prime of life, holding good jobs or owning a business. Some lost their lives defending the privileges and freedoms we have today. Privileges and freedoms we assume will always be here for us to enjoy.

It is troubling that as a society we are so willing to forget the lessons of the past and be lulled into a state of complacency, blithely believing others will attend wisely to the affairs of our community and nation. The 17 men who departed Hedley that day, and those who went later, accepted responsibility for defending the well being of this nation.

Today the world is a much more complex web of politics, economics, religious dogmas, etc. Because we are not at war, it’s a significantly greater challenge to recognize the dangers that beset our pleasant way of life. The majority of us apparently are too preoccupied with our own affairs to give time to understanding the serious, sometimes hidden issues that confront our communities and our nation.

A nation is endangered when the citizens are not alert or aware. While we doze, those in power forge ahead, making decisions and laws that will impact us.

One example of this is the Conservative government’s participation in the secretive, far reaching 12 nation Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations. The government website lauds the hoped for agreement as being favourable for job creation and strengthening the economy. The website does not honestly or satisfactorily address concerns being raised by many in the 12 nations. Wikileaks reports that some MP’s have not had access to the deal, and advisors who have received the required clearance face jail terms if they reveal details of the agreement.

The Council of Canadians warns that “the U.S. is using the TPP to push for excessive patent protections guaranteed to make medications much more expensive in Canada.” In its proposed form the agreement will dictate when a company or investor should be compensated if a country’s environmental or public health policies interfere with profits. Sujata Dey of the Council of Canadians says under the TPP, Canada Post, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and other public entities would have to be privatized and become “for profit” corporations. According to Dey, “the essence and mandate of our crown corporations are being traded away in favour of private corporate profit”.

The TPP would put a screen on all environmental policies to ensure they do not hurt trade or investment. Legislators in 7 of the 12 nations have called on the parties to publish the draft text of the agreement, and allow sufficient time for legislative scrutiny and public debate. In Canada the NDP and Green Party have endorsed this statement.

Unlike the enemy that threatened the world when the Hedley boys marched off to war, today’s foes are often unseen forces. Powerful multi-national corporations want to use the Trans Pacific Partnership to control the internet, our medical system, the government’s tax system, our banking system, and much more. Fortunately in the recent meeting at the end of July, negotiators were not able to reach an agreement on the TPP, so it may still be scuttled.

The Cenotaphs in our communities are a reminder not to forget the courage and sacrifices of an earlier generation. They can also remind us that today there exist insidious forces in our midst. Forces that are committed to disembowelling our government and the institutions we rely on for the way of life we hold dear. We need to be alert and aware.

Politicians Are “Shopping For Votes”

Image by Amazon.ca
Image by Amazon.ca

After reading Susan Delacourt’s “Shopping for Votes,” I want to ask Angelique Wood what insider information the party is giving her about voters in the Similkameen Valley. Wood is the NDP candidate running hard in the Central Okanagan Similkameen Nicola riding. She is also my neighbour, only two doors removed. It’s a question I hope to ask of the Liberal and Conservative candidates as well. Not having deep pockets, the Green Party doesn’t have the means to employ the expensive strategies and tactics described by Delacourt.

An award winning journalist with the Toronto Star, Delacourt provides a fascinating, but also disquieting account of how political parties endeavour to secure our votes. Her information reinforced my one cardinal rule concerning how I vote. The rule is, “I will not give my heart to any political party.”

Tactics and strategies of political parties have changed radically since the days when my parents voted faithfully for W.A.C. Bennett and Social Credit. According to Delacourt, the three major parties at the federal level now employ sociologists, statisticians, advertising experts, pollsters, and mass communication experts.

Like major corporations, they enthusiastically embrace the practise of “data mining” and “micro targeting.” The major parties all have systemized data bases which assemble contact information. Door-to-door canvassers are instructed to watch for indications of what might be important to the people of a neighbourhood. Children’s toys, camping equipment and golf clubs are examples. Canvassers may also report political lawn signs, doors slammed, a willingness to engage in political discussion etc.

Possessing this information helps party strategists make decisions about where to devote time, or what issues to emphasize in a particular riding or neighbourhood. Delacourt notes that one party sent a Jewish woman a greeting card at the time of the Jewish New Year.

Graham Fraser in “Playing for Keeps,” suggests political campaigning has become much like a corporate advertising campaign. Although politicians likely don’t consider it amusing, pollster Martin Goldfarb compared the selling of a candidate to selling cans of tomatoes.

Apparently the practises of data mining and micro targeting are just too powerful to resist. After the 2008 election, the New Democratic Party hired the polling firm, Viewpoints Research. They wanted a demographic profile of people who might be swayed to the NDP with the right marketing effort. It would be interesting to know how early socialist leaders like J.S Woodsworth, Stanley Knowles and M.J. Coldwell would view such maneuvering.

One benefit of data mining for political parties, according to Jeffrey Stevens is that “the 3 leaders, properly briefed, are able to make stage managed public appearances without falling into the orchestra pit.” One negative aspect, in Stevens view, is that “we learn nothing about which man would make the best P.M. or how he would conduct himself in high office.”

Politicians have long had a reputation for telling voters what they want to hear. Now with data mining and micro targeting, they can craft their messages with laser like accuracy to appeal to specific communities here in the Similkameen Valley. Unfortunately, too often the resulting promises come more from a thirst for power, than from a commitment to follow through.

Regarding political promises, Delacourt reminds us that before the 1974 election, Pierre Trudeau promised not to legislate wage and price controls. After the election he did impose price controls. Finance Minster John Turner added 10 cents and then another 5 cents to the price of gasoline. Delacourt goes on to say that in his 1995 budget, Jean Chretien cut health and social transfers to the provinces, a move contrary to public wishes.

Data mining tends to produce “designer policies”, whose purpose is to attract specific groups, or to please the party’s core supporters. Writing in the National Post, Attorney Edward Greenspan (1944-2014) and criminologist Anthony Doob suggest that “criminal justice policy is a product being shaped by the need to attract voters. Conservative criminal justice policy is developed not to serve public or societal needs, but to help market the Conservatives to specific constituencies.”

Although the political strategies described in “Shopping For Votes” may unsettle us, I don’t feel they are a reason to stay home on voting day. Rather, they’re a reminder for Canadians to listen with discernment and then vote in droves. It is important for politicians to understand we are alert and will be actively assessing their policies and decisions.

O Canada, We Stand On Guard For Thee

Canadian flag, blowing in the wind
Canadian flag, blowing in the wind

This week, when we sing “O Canada, we stand on guard for thee,” will it be with a comprehension that at times we must defend our system of government against those we have elected? I fear we have become overly complacent about our democracy, at every level of government.

We seem not to consider that early reformers worked unstintingly to attain what we have today. And we give little thought to the possibility it can be eroded by insidious forces if we become too preoccupied to observe what is happening. If my perspective seems negative at a time when we celebrate our nation, I suggest we take a careful look at what I believe is a too cozy relationship between the BC government and the giant pharmaceutical companies.

The provincial government’s arbitrary firing of 8 Ministry of Health researchers is strikingly similar to the manner in which this land was ruled before it became a nation. At that time the Governor and his appointed Council determined who received land and timber rights. Usually it was the wealthy friends of the oligarchy. The Governor and Council made all financial decisions, without permission from the people. Even after the Constitutional Act of 1791, any laws passed by the Elected Assembly could be vetoed.

When Canada was granted a Senate in 1867, its original purpose was to allow Canada’s wealthy elite to veto any legislation passed by the politicians representing the common people. Almost without exception, those in power at every level want to retain the privileges of power for their inner group. This enables them to reward those who help them hold on to their positions of influence.

The provincial government’s decisions concerning research in the pharmaceutical industry are reminiscent of a time when significant favours went to wealthy, influential speculators.

In 2012, when the government fired the researchers, it apparently didn’t occur to anyone that Roderick MacIsaac, one of the eight, would commit suicide and bring huge media scrutiny. With pointed questions, reporters began dredging up embarrassing, highly disconcerting facts concerning the possible motivation behind this decision.

In thetyee.ca, Andrew MacLeod revealed that “the researcher who committed suicide was developing a way to evaluate a project that was one of Premier Christy Clark’s pet initiatives.” It entailed the utilization of Champix, a smoking cessation drug. The Tyee reported that both Health Canada and the American FDA had issued warnings about Champix. Also, according to Colleen Fuller, Chair of PharmaWatch, other countries were removing Champix from the market at the time the B.C. government decided to list it under PharmaCare.

The Vancouver Sun learned through a Freedom of Information request that “police were never given evidence by the government to investigate the wrongdoing which was used to justify the firings, despite the government telling the public an investigation was ongoing.” The police actually closed the file due to lack of information.

Just as in the early years of our nation when the Governor and Council favoured wealthy friends, the provincial government appears to be favouring large corporations, from which they have received huge infusions of cash. Media reports indicate major pharmaceutical companies have given the Liberals tens of thousands of dollars in recent years.

The fired researchers had been delving into areas that were troubling for the pharmaceutical companies. Were the ill conceived firings the government’s manner of appeasing the multinational pharmaceuticals and thanking them for their substantial campaign contributions?

And what was the motivation behind the government’s 2012 suspension of funding for UBC’s Therapeutics Initiative research contracts? TI provides practical, evidence based prescription drug information to physicians and pharmacists. The program has saved Canada hundreds of millions and prevented many deaths from inappropriate prescriptions.

Only a massive media storm and public outcry persuaded the government to restore fifty per cent of the funding. Was our government so desperate to endear itself to the drug companies that it was willing to penalize its own citizens?

In “The March of Folly”, Barbara Tuchman suggests “the problem may not be so much a matter of educating officials of government, as educating the electorate to recognize and reward integrity of character.”

Retaining power has become a primary motivation of some in government. This makes them susceptible to the allurements of large corporate contributions.

“O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.”

Will Duffy Case Spark Citizen Outrage?

I was listening to a CBC broadcast once again reciting the litany of

Parliament of Canada
Parliament of Canada

charges against suspended Senator Mike Duffy. Living in the serenity of the Similkameen Valley, I was tempted to think this court case in Ottawa is too far removed to impact me or my neighbours. Surely we are insulated against the alleged predations of Mr. Duffy.

Then I recalled Bruce Hutchison’s words in The Unfinished Country, “Like most capitals,” Hutchison contends, “Ottawa is a parasite, a kept woman, feeding on taxpayers from coast to coast.”

It’s not what I want to hear about those who govern us. I would much prefer to think well of them. Maybe that is at the root of the problem. We assume our affairs are being tended to with integrity. This assumption lulls us into a state of complacency. The result is we don’t pay attention.

There have always been individuals prepared to take advantage of citizen apathy. The Pacific Railway Scandal during the tenure of our first PM, John A. McDonald, is an early Canadian example. More recently Vanessa Redgrave, former Premier of Alberta, became embroiled in a highly publicized case of misuse of public funds. Highly placed executives in the Portland Hotel Society lived lavishly on donated funds. Examples abound at every level of government and society.

Mr. Duffy’s attorney, Donald Bayne, has offered the explanation that “the rules about Senate expenses are unclear.”

It is apparently Duffy’s view, and that of at least some Senators, when rules are unclear it’s permissible to be reckless with our tax dollars. Although it would be unfair to believe all Senators have interpreted the rules too loosely, they have not chosen to rectify this situation that allows some members to live like High Rollers on the public purse. If they don’t understand that vague rules will lead to overspending on the part of some Senators, do they have the wisdom and integrity to represent us adequately?

I’d leave this alone if there were sufficient funds for a decent medical facility in our valley. If streets in disrepair in Hedley were redone with real blacktop. If we saw a police cruiser in town more than occasionally. If the aging infrastructures of towns and cities were being properly maintained. If disabled individuals and frail seniors received more services in their homes or in care facilities. If there were effective programs to support families with special needs children and youth.

The sense of entitlement has never been dealt with because Senators from all parties have become comfortable with rules that permit virtually any interpretation. It’s a system that will always remain in place unless we become sufficiently irritated to shake off our lethargy and firmly instruct political leaders to remove the lavish “public trough”.

Like many of my neighbours in this valley, I value the distance from our provincial and national capitals. I understand, however, that this distance does not impair the ability of the greedy ones in those capitals to be free wheeling with our tax dollars. I know also that I should not expect that the current revelations of shoddy practises will shame the Senate into enacting substantive change. The beneficiaries of our largess are not likely to do it willingly, or on their own initiative. The impetus will need to come from us, the citizens of this nation.

I have immense respect for those who write or call their elected representatives. Also for individuals who pen letters to editors of newspapers. Although it requires patience and perseverance, governments sometimes will change policies and actions due to significant public outrage and pushback.

Donald Bayne has asserted the Senate permits its rules to be interpreted in virtually any way a Senator chooses. His client should therefore not be punished for his extravagant interpretation of the vague rules. If we disagree, or at least feel strongly the rules need to be tightened, this is an opportune time to make our views known on this matter. Complaining to a neighbour over the fence won’t be effective. A brief note to our local political representatives and to leaders of the major parties could make a difference. Change comes when enough individuals act.