Category Archives: Politics

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.

Vigilant Citizens Elect Better Leaders

Voting for Better Leaders Edmonton Journal photo
Voting for Better Leaders
Edmonton Journal photo

 

In a recent letter to the Editor, Mary Masiel of Princeton expressed her belief that Stephen Harper has done more damage to Canada than any other Prime Minister. Sentiments such as this are not uncommon, whether referring to the current Prime Minister or others before him. I consider her statement a reason to acquaint ourselves with the present leadership candidates. Only by being vigilant and informed will we be likely to elect leaders we trust and respect.

With the federal election on the horizon, many candidates are already in the political marketplace, shopping for votes. The parties are engaging pollsters to determine what issues are important to Canadians. They are beginning to tell us what they hope we want to hear.

Possibly one reason we are so often displeased with politicians is that we don’t pay sufficient attention to what they are saying and doing long before we enter the voting booth. And we aren’t asking enough tough questions and demanding substantive replies. If we have an inadequate understanding of a candidate‘s character, how can we even guess at what that individual will do if elected?

When we complacently vote according to party brand, we are essentially telling politicians, “we are not deeply interested in the affairs of our nation. You have our permission to do whatever you think is best.”

For me deciding who to vote for begins with the underlying principle that I will not give my heart to any political party. Then I look at the leaders. In this regard I like Peter C Newman’s words in Home Country, “I stopped believing in magical leaders.” Like the rest of us, political leaders are flawed, and we should not decide who we will support on the basis of party brand, charisma, or extravagant promises.

With this understanding, I hope to find particular qualities in a party leader. Wisdom and sound judgment seem a good place to start. Without these, a leader can cause serious damage, especially to those having little political clout. RB Bennett, Prime Minister in the early years of the Great Depression (1930-35) seemingly lacked these qualities.

Bennett approved the construction of work camps for young men

R.B. Bennett (thecanadianencyclopedia,ca)
R.B. Bennett
(thecanadianencyclopedia,ca)

unable to find employment. The administration of these camps was generally appalling, the pay abominable. The men embarked on a trek to Ottawa to make the government aware of their serious grievances. Instead of giving them an audience, Bennett ordered the RCMP to halt the march in Regina. The crackdown was harsh, with some bloodshed. With wisdom and sound judgment, the discouraged young men could have been given a hearing and their legitimate grievances dealt with fairly. Fortunately Bennett lasted only one term.

I also hope a leader will deeply and genuinely care about and respect the citizens of the country. As a student at SFU, I was caught up in the Trudeaumania that swept through Canada in 1968 when Pierre Trudeau first ran for the position of Prime Minister. Like many Canadians, I thought he would bring a creative approach and positive solutions to complex issues. Instead, when his popularity waned, from the comfort of his plush railroad coach he gave the finger to 3 disheartened placard carrying citizens. He also raised gas and other taxes after promising during the election campaign he would not. Newman’s opinion is that “Trudeau didn’t understand Canadians and their concerns. What is worse, he didn’t appear to care.”

Another quality I look for is integrity. When Jean Chretien made his promises public in the famous Liberal Red Book, I thought he intended to fulfill them. Apparently their sole purpose was to garner votes.

Fortunately Canada has had leaders who exemplified good

Sir Wilfried Laurier
Sir Wilfried Laurier

character and values. Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Liberal Prime Minister from 1896 to 1911, is still considered by many to have been a true Canadian statesman. JS Woodsworth, the main founder and first leader of what later became the NDP has been called the “conscience of Parliament.“ Robert Stanfield, leader of the Progressive Conservative Opposition from 1967 to 1976 continues to be regarded as an honourable politician by political writers.

If we want good governance in Canada, it is essential that we elect individuals of good character. To accomplish this we will have to be diligent, proactive and vigilant.

Angelique Wood Chosen By NDP

With the selection of Angelique Wood as the NDP candidate for the Central Okanagan Similikameen-Nicola constituency, I find myself

Angelique Wood
Angelique Wood

dealing with an inner quandary. She is my neighbour, only two doors away. Also, I observed her efforts fairly carefully during the three years she was the RDOS representative for Area G. Her work ethic is impressive and she has an evident love for the Similkameen Valley and for Canada.

Given that I have a positive opinion of her, why would I hesitate to vote for her? It certainly isn’t that I favour one of the other two major parties.

I think former PM Jean Chretien best epitomizes why I might hesitate to vote for any party other than the Greens. Some years ago, I was in a line of people patiently standing in a hot sun waiting for the privilege of shaking his hand. When he finally appeared, he sped along the line with the determined visage of a Kentucky Derby race horse. He showed no warmth or interest in us.

His inner voice might have been saying, “I really would rather not be here. These people mean nothing to me. The only reason I’m here is that they are potential votes. Let’s get this done and leave.” This is only conjecture on my part but that certainly is the message his visage and body language conveyed. Only our votes mattered in his relentless drive to be re-elected.

Although I went away unimpressed, I still had some faith because of his famed Red Book boldly outlining Liberal Party promises. I agreed with my wife Linda when she said, “if he puts them in writing, surely he means to follow through on them.” How naive we were. How easily deluded. Experiences like this have made me cautious, even skeptical, when listening to politicians, especially those who could soon be governing our nation.

Does my lack of enchantment with political parties mean I won’t vote in the upcoming federal election? Certainly not. Does it mean I hold Angelique Wood accountable for the arrogance and failings of Jean Chretien and other politicians? Again, certainly not.

I’m actually deeply impressed by the founders of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) precursor to the NDP. Before being elected to Parliament, J.S. Woodsworth was superintendent of the All Peoples Mission, working with the poor in Winnipeg. Later, in an address to Parliament he said, “the economy should be planned for public benefit rather than allowing businesses to gouge customers.” Pierre Berton referred to him as “the conscience of Canada.”

On the provincial scene, in 1944 Tommy Douglas and the CCF won

Tommy Douglas photo courtesy of Douglas-Coldwell Foundation
Tommy Douglas
photo courtesy of Douglas-Coldwell Foundation

47 of the 52 seats in the Saskatchewan legislature. According to Vincent Lam in his biography of Douglas, the province at that time had the second highest provincial debt in Canada. The CCF, he says, recorded a surplus in each of its 17 years in power and steadily paid down the debt.

Speaking at the 1983 NDP National Convention, Douglas said, “We are not just interested in getting votes. We are seeking people willing to dedicate their lives to building a different kind of society. A society founded on the principles of concern for human well being and human welfare.”

Lam says “voters continued to elect the CCF in election after election, because they delivered what they promised.”

Lam states further, “the need for a Universal Public Health Care program was a well used plank in the Liberal federal election platform since the early years of the 20th century, one that was never followed by action.” It is his opinion that Douglas and the CCF can take credit for having the commitment and political will to make universal health care a reality in Canada.

I believe many Canadians long for politicians who will represent the wishes of the people to the leader, not the wishes of the leader to the people. With the Party Whip system, employed by the Big Three parties, this is difficult to achieve. It is for this reason I often vote Green.

I do recognize that we need people of integrity, ability and vision to sit on the benches of the governing party and the opposition. It is my opinion that Angelique Wood embodies some of the qualities and zeal of the party founders. Although I have never voted NDP and am troubled by their spending commitments, I do feel she established a strong track record in the RDOS. I may yet be persuaded to affix an x beside her name on election day.

RDOS Director Says Goodbye

With a degree from the Emily Carr School of Fine Arts, how could

Angelique Wood, visionary & pragmatic
Angelique Wood, visionary & pragmatic

the outgoing Director of Area G possibly have had the understanding and practical experience to deal with the difficult issues confronting the RDOS? This is a question we might be tempted to ask about Angelique Wood.

Living on the same street, two doors from her home, I’ve had the opportunity to observe her at fairly close range. Professor Ashley Montague, formerly of Rutgers University, has said, “if you want to know what a person is going to do, don’t ask them what they believe. Observe what they do.” After being her neighbour several years, I’ve concluded that although the lady is certainly a visionary with ideas, she has a distinct pragmatic streak as well. She is quite capable of chopping her own wood, attending to plumbing problems, and building a work shop.

Over a cup of hot ginger tea at our kitchen table, I asked Angelique what had motivated her to get into politics, what had surprised her, what she had learned.

Prior to coming to Hedley she worked at the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, one of the biggest in Canada, largely devoted to aboriginal and ethnic art. She also sold aboriginal art for 7 years.

When she bought a small home in Hedley in 2005, it wasn’t her intention at first to live here. However, she found Hedley increasingly alluring. After deciding to make this her home, she got involved with the museum. She painted the basement floor and installed glass shelves in the Tea Room. In 2007 she joined the Fire Department and got her air brake endorsement.

Turning to her time in the RDOS, she said, “I came to the role thinking that most politicians must be corrupted. I found though that I was working with 17 individuals who cared very much about their communities. Many were brilliant in their careers. They came with ideas to improve things. There was an atmosphere of respect.”

Over time she came to the realization most people don’t feel anyone is listening. To counter this, she and fellow Hedley resident Kim English created a forum. They invited speakers from other communities, politicians from the Similkameen Valley and interested citizens.

“We brought together a lot of grass roots leaders,” she said. We wanted them to understand how to communicate with elected officials. We wanted to get people thinking, and talking to each other. We wanted them to be aware of what was happening in the rest of the universe.”

She emphasized that “we need to nurture each other and make our organizations strong. People need to feel safe enough to express their views.”

I have sometimes seen Angelique up very early in the morning, doing yard and garden work before attending to RDOS affairs. She feels a compulsion to get things done. It was a surprise to her that the wheels of government turn very slowly. “I learned that even working 40 to 70 hours per week, I could not speed up the functioning of government. Getting agreement of stakeholders takes time. It’s important to stay focused on what you want to accomplish.”

She reflected on this a moment and then added, “ A lot of what you do as a politician is listen. Often when people have a problem, they are frustrated. Sometimes they begin with yelling. It takes patience to wait for them to calm down. Then we can begin working on their issue.”

“Where did you make progress?” I asked.

“We signed a protocol agreement with 3 of the 4 Indian bands,” she replied. “We wanted to open lines of communication between the bands and the RDOS. We came to understand we need to work together.” She said the USIB is considering signing.

Angelique also cited development of a joint tourism strategy as an important step. This agreement includes both Area G Indian bands, Keremeos, Princeton and areas H,G and B.

What was gratifying? This question triggered an emotional moment and she picked up a kleenex. “The most gratifying thing about being an RDOS Director,” she said, “is the many people who have said ‘thank you. You did a good job’.”

Meriam Ibrahim Still Needs Our Help

Late yesterday Linda and I read an online report stating that an appeals court had released the Sudanese Christian woman, Meriam Ibrahim and her children from prison. This morning we read that the Sudanese National Intelligence Security Service had re-arrested Meriam and her 2 young children and her husband at a Sudanese airport.

We listened to the CKNW news this morning, hoping to learn more. There was no mention of this situation. I called the station’s news room, told Gord McDonald what I had heard and asked if CKNW was going to shed more light on this issue. He promised to get it on their news.

I admit that often when I feel something is wrong, I hesitate to express my concern publicly. Sometimes I question my own thinking. Is my concern valid? Will others consider it foolish?

At times our timidity prevents us from drawing attention to a government or corporate policy that is hurting vulnerable individuals. Hurricane Rubin Carter believed that “the most powerful enemy of justice is inertia.” A racially charged trial cost him 20 years in the Trenton State Prison for 3 murders committed by someone else. Surely there must have been individuals who realized that the process was flawed and that this innocent man needed people to speak loudly on his behalf.

When we allow the media to guide our thinking, we tend not to question whether a matter is being dealt with fairly or justly. And even when we realize that something should be done, we expect someone else to do it.

If the problem isn’t resolved rapidly, we are diverted from it by the next issue being reported by the media. The case of the Nigerian girls who were abducted is a prime example. Is the Nigerian government still looking for them? They assured parents they would find them. But now the media has lost interest and the government no longer feels international pressure.

We become complacent so easily. We are quickly diverted. We are fearful and hesitant. This permits base, corrupt, dishonest individuals to carry on with their nefarious schemes. An ancient Israeli poet once asked, “if the foundations are destroyed, what can good citizens do?”

In the game of life, we cannot be bystanders. At this writing, it is not known where the family has been taken. Whatever country we live in, each of us can ask our national government to press Sudan to release them. Meriam Ibrahim and her family, and many others, desperately need our help in drawing attention to their plight.