Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The culture of complaint and the case for optimism
June 3, 2016

This column first appeared in the June 2016 All Month edition of the Friday AM

I have started reading a book called The Rational Optimist. I am optimistic that I will finish it. Given the twitterverse of 120 character defining statements on all matters of global importance, it’s no small accomplishment to read, never mind write, a book of 500 pages. 

The author, Matt Ridley’s thesis, near as I can tell, is that a good case can be made to embrace optimism if you look at the facts over time. He had me at the opening chapter which I did manage to finish. I invite you to check it out. 
The part of our caveman brains that still remain in us all wants to believe that the next fire, flood, famine or sabre tooth tiger attack is imminent. And that stress level is not good for the humans. Not good at all. It leads to terrible outcomes; fear, anxiety and worse, bad decisions, especially in the public realm. Truth is, we are very fortunate to live where we do. It’s not unreasonable to state that Canada, and especially British Columbia, have one of the world’s best public service sectors. To say nothing of the strength and commitment of our volunteer and non-profit sector who work tirelessly to promote community, safety, sports, the arts and protect the disadvantaged. They need our support, not our complaints.  
So often we react rather than act. This is wrong, this is bad, this won’t do; we are increasingly fond of saying. I’ve seen some terrible and terribly disturbing examples in the public sphere of late. And I have one thing to say. Hold on a minute. Where is the optimism? 
Terrible things happen to your brain when you complain. Your nervous system is flooded with cortisol. It’s bad for your blood pressure. It’s bad for your heart. It’s bad for your health. And it rarely improves the situation. Resist the temptation to complain, if not for you, then for those who surround you. Research suggests that the culture of complaint is contagious. When you complain, those around you suffer and react too. 
A wonderful thing happens to your brain when you embrace optimism. Dopamine. Say it with me. Do Pa Meen. It’s good for your blood pressure. It’s good for your heart. It’s good for your health. And from it, comes the best ideas, the best intentions and the best outcomes. 
I’ll remind you that the Wright Brothers, bicycle builders who wanted to make something fly, could have complained about the buckets of money poured into maned flight by the US government to a competing group. The Wright Brothers were not remembered for their complaints. They were remembered for their accomplishments. If you had a choice, which would you prefer?
But in order to make it work, I suggest we need to do some heavy lifting just as the Wright brothers did despite the odds. It’s easier than ever to complain. Social media has been taken by some as a free ride to complaintville. But, if you follow my drift, that’s a one way ticket. nobody, not even you, can afford. 
First step. Breathe. In through your nose, out through your mouth. Say no to complaint. Say yes to solutions. It’s not an easy task but it’s an important one. You can do it. I am optimistic. 
Criticism is critically important. Of that there is no doubt. But criticism and complaint are two different animals. One is division (complaint) the other is constructive (criticism). Complaints are one-sided. Criticism necessitates a two-way conversation. Constructive criticism moves an agenda forward because it creates useful friction without which neither a car nor a bike, nor a human never mind an airplane for that matter, could move forward. 
The harsh truth is (not a complaint so much as an observation) that we don’t get that many chances to make a difference. If you find one, please use it. We all share the promise and potential of constructive criticism, conversation, discussion, debate and ultimately, positive change. 
As a final note, I admit, there can come some personal satisfaction, and even some odd fame (think Salmon Arm Salute) from the perfectly crafted single pointed finger of complaint. It’s important to remember, under all circumstances, without any doubt, that the real joy and possibility of making life better, comes from the lending of a whole hand.
Thanks for reading.

Make a decision. Be proud of it.
May 12, 2015

When was the last time you made a decision of critical importance? How would you feel if the people whose own decision was not endorsed by the voting public used it as an opportunity to slam yours? Not great.

This is how I feel about the collective conservative response to the election of an NDP government in Alberta. Seriously fellows, me thinks doth protests too much.

To be transparent, in my life, I have voted it all. Progressive Conservatives (three times), Liberal (more than three times), NDP (at least three times) and Green (once too). And every single choice I made came from a deep commitment to democracy. As, I suspect, did those of every single Albertan who voted a week ago. And frankly, the hard right should be ashamed of their elitists, we know better, attitude.

I think back to my own childhood. My parents had blue signs, red signs and brown signs (which pre-dates the NDP orange) on our front lawn during various provincial and federal elections. We were engaged. We discussed it at the dinner table. I am grateful for their commitment as well as the risk they took to take a stand in the neighbourhood. They didn’t have to do it. But they did it because it mattered. And looking back, I’m proud of it.

Now, as a city councillor in a very small and still beautiful town on the shores of Shuswap Lake in British Columbia, the election result in Alberta has been somewhat of a rally cry for me. And I didn’t even to get to vote. But my friends did and I’m damn proud of them. Proud of the decision they made. Proud of the recognition that a single focus economy based on forty plus years of “same old same old” came to an end.

As I watched the election results last Tuesday, I was shocked, to say the least, thinking that, in typical Alberta fashion, they might flirt with the newcomer, but ultimately they’d vote with the party that brought them to the dance. How wrong was I? Plenty wrong.

As I listend to Rachel’s acceptance speech I heard words that  I had never ever heard from an elected official. She called business owners JOB CREATORS. Hallelujah! Governments don’t create jobs, businesses do. It’s high time someone pointed that out. Shocking, isn’t it, that those words would be uttered by a New Democratic government in waiting. Leaders who can connect to the risk that individuals make to feed their families, employ their team and improve their communities need to be recognized. And this recognition is not coming from the typical right of centre business community who, for lack of better words, have spent much of the last decade asking for what, more or less, amounts to corporate welfare, in my view.

We have to stop asking for permission to build great communities, healthy neighbourhoods and sustainable environments. It’s not about government. It’s about leadership. It’s about understanding that everyone is part of the solution. So often in “economics”, and I should know as a qualified graduate of an economics school, we talk about profit and shareholder return. In that, we lose the importance of balance, the importance of value, the importance of equilibrium and the importance of respect.

I’m tempted to say – hey Manning Institute – suck it. But that’s not respectful and it doesn’t build community. And it doesn’t make it better. It’s better that we want. Think better. Think compassion. Think respect. And come October, think about voting. Your voice matters. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be bashful. Don’t put up with the ordinary. Reach for the extraordinary. Whatever that might mean to you. And know that your family, your friends, your neighbours will respect you no matter what you decide. And the Manning Institute will bitch about it regardless. But they are not government. They are wannabes. You are not a wannabe. You are a voter and in your pencil is held the future of our country. Make your mark. Kiss your children. And go for it! We are better for you.

The Quebec Question
April 7, 2014

This column first appeared in the April 2014 All Month Edition of the Friday AM in Salmon Arm, BC

Does Quebec have any real expectation that it can separate? It can’t do so without the rest of Canada. We would have to separate from each other, ironically, together. Quebecers can no more separate from the beauty of the Rocky Mountains than British Columbians can separate from the majesty of the St. Lawrence River. We are connected by geography, if nothing else, but also by so much more.

While we might want to blame each other for our ongoing discord, the truth is that Quebec’s woes are more about what happened in 1759 when the French failed to make a good showing at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. So blame the British for showing up on time and dragging a cannon up L’Anse au Foulon in the middle of the night to get the King’s job done. And that Canada isn’t all English as some (but certainly not all) in English Canada might prefer, blame France for the hundreds of years it spent colonizing the Americas before you wave your finger at today’s Quebecers. But most importantly, never ever underestimate the power of today’s choices on tomorrow’s problems. That’s the real lesson here.

Yes, of course, the technical issues of a separate Quebec are very complex and include, among many things, roads, airports, ports, waterways, debt, deficits, defense, health care, pensions, taxation, passports and currency. But it’s so much deeper than that.

To reacquaint myself with this deep divide, I looked up Donald Brittain’s NFB series “Champions” about Levesque and Trudeau. If you really want to understand the Quebec question, I encourage you to watch it too. It’s free on If you can watch the three-part series and still not be persuaded that there is much more at play than a simple “us vs. them”, I’d like to hear from you.

I remember as a child, grown-ups sitting around tables at family gatherings having heated discussion about the future of Quebec. I had no idea what it was all about except that it was serious, divisive, important and oddly secretive. Those conversations don’t happen as often now. I want young people to know that we used to have conversations that involved the value of things rather than the price of them.

I will say this: Marois is no Levesque and Harper is no Trudeau. Neither are champions of any kind in my view, other than championing the saving of their own skin. And we Canadians are the lessor for it.

Being both French and English (or as some call it, bilingual) can be a real curse. In English Canada, I’m a Francophone. In French Canada, I’m an Anglophone, which basically means I don’t always quite fit in.  Which is why the NFB series “Champions” is such a comfort to me in these trying times.

Levesque said of the lost referendum “Si je vous comprends bien, vous etes en train de me dire, a la prochaine fois.” Which, translated, means, “If I understand you correctly, you are saying to me, until next time.” I hope the “next time” isn’t now.

I am from Quebec. I am from Canada. I am grateful for and very proud of both. Please don’t ask me to choose because I will have no choice, which is the worst choice of all. Please just ask me to prepare for “la prochaine fois”. That, I think, I can deal with. In fact, it’s really the only thing I’ve ever known how to do.

There are deeply complex and well-hidden agendas on both sides of this persistent debate. As Levesque would famously surmise (and you need to watch Champions to witness it), hidden agendas such as these can have insurmountable consequences. History has much to teach us. I can only hope we can learn to accept her lessons.

Dear Minister, how could you?
February 18, 2014

Your government raised MSP again?

Have you no compassion or understanding for the needs of the working class and the self employed.

Why death by a thousand small increases? Why not just triple it, heck, quadruple it, and be done with us for good. And we’ll take those seniors on fixed incomes with us. It’s not like you want them hanging around either.

Wait, that’s not really how economics works is it? You need a working class. You need pensioners. Or maybe, in fairness, you don’t know that. It’s not like you’ve spent much of your working life in the private sector, now is it.

I could not be more disappointed. Unless of course you decide to charge a surtax on moving trucks to Alberta. Because you might want to consider that as a promising source of revenue. Then you’ll have your province full of lawyers, bankers, brokers and resource executives (you know them right, they come to your fundraiser parties I’m told). Just don’t come crying to us when the pantry is bare. We’ll find it hard to sympathize even if we know all too well how that feels.

Maybe HP, the giant US conglomerate you hire to run Revenue Services BC to collect those precious premiums will bail you out. They’ve got to feel sorry for a provincial government that can’t even collect its own revenue. Poor dears.

Shame on you sir. Is it not time you gave some serious thought to precisely which members of the public you were elected to serve? Last time I checked, it was everyone. Or are you needing a refresher course on that too? I might suggest that next year you set aside some government funding for the training and education of politicians in what the rest of us refer to as “real life” economics.

The burden of proof
November 8, 2013

This column first appeared in the Salmon Arm All Month Edition of the Friday Am in November 2013

Is it me or is the burden of proof especially heavy these days? I am gobsmacked at the sheer expense incurred by unearthing the truth behind the Senate and Ford scandal. Not that I’m not also gobsmacked by the scandals themselves, but the cost associated to both is what really leaves me reeling.

If I understand this correctly, we (and by we I mean you and I and everyone who pays taxes) have spent, on three senators alone, $500,000 in auditing fees. Which, if you follow my logic, means we’ve spent more money on checking into the problem than the actual problem cost in the first place. Now, again, it might just be me, but if my car repair cost me more than its total original cost, I probably wouldn’t have that car anymore. It would have promptly been picked up by the tow truck and sent to the wreckers.

We’ll likely never know how much money the citizens of Toronto have paid their municipal police force to unearth the alleged video of the alleged crack pipe smoking. I’m pretty comfortable alleging that it would be more money than anyone would ever put in any pipe and smoke.

On the other hand, we have the corruption inquiry in Quebec. We’ll probably never really know how much the inquiry will have cost the economy of Quebec and, in this case, it likely pales in comparison to what the bribes amounted to in the first place, but there again, the burden of proof, rather than the infractions themselves, has hijacked the headlines.

Perhaps it’s the drama that enthralls us. An episode of Coronation Street on steroids paid for by taxpayers. Who said what, who did what, who spent what, who hid what, who got what. Aren’t we really missing the point? The opportunity to repair, redress, correct, improve and move on. I think so.

We spend so much of our lives explaining, apologizing, justifying, projecting and blaming. It’s ridiculous. And we’ve no one to blame but ourselves. We elected them. And we keep electing them. What’s more, we give them permission to use their mandates as opportunities to get re-elected. Consider Harper’s speech at the recent Conservative convention. He wasn’t speaking to the problem, he was making the case for his next majority, complete with thundersticks, no less. Listen to Rob Ford’s radio broadcast apology. He turned it into a campaign speech. Tricky that. But he did it and his approval ratings are up.

When the late Edward Kennedy, one of the longest serving and most respected politicians of our time famously said “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die”, he was talking about leadership, not election campaigns. Our politicians would do well to remember this. If you win, and good for you if you do, then lead. And keep the campaigning to the painful number of days of rhetoric we endure every election period.

When you make a mistake, admit it, redress it and get back to work. It’s enough that we have to pay for the mistakes in the first place. Please don’t make us pay for the rest. The burden, it seems to me, is too costly to bear. Unless, that is, you think we have money to burn.

How I miss Parliament Hill (on days like today)
October 22, 2013

Years ago, I was a Parliamentary Page. Best Job Ever. Paid for university. Custom made suit (but ugly shoes). Front row seat to Canadian democracy and human frailty.

A few years after that, I was a Hill staffer for a wonderful Member of Parliament. Worked in a Whip’s office. I’ve seen phones ring. I’ve seen eight lines light up at once. Trust me, some days it’s worst than watching paint dry, but every now and then, a day will come that makes up for all of that and more.

Today would have been one of those awesome days. All the TVs would have been on. All on different channels. We’d be standing rather than sitting. Marveling at the drama. “He said what?” “No way, did he really, really say that?” OMG. Except we didn’t say OMG then.

When Mike Duffy stood up in the Senate and called out the PMO, I wanted to stand up too. When he called the PMO “the kids in the short pants”, I wanted to cheer. Best line ever.

There’s  plenty of childish behaviour happening on the Hill right now. And no trade deal with Europe is going to make that nonsense go away.

And, despite a happy life, a lovely family, a great town, and all that important stuff, part of me would have traded it all in to be on Parliament Hill today. I’ll settle for Power and Politics with Evan Solomon. I bet that studio was abuzz with OMGs today too.

I don’t know how PM Houdini’s going to get himself out of this locked box contraption, but I’ll be tuning in tomorrow to catch up on the drama. OMG indeed.

A Word’s Worth
July 30, 2013

This column first appeared in the All Month Edition of the Friday Am in Salmon Arm, BC

Years ago, I read an article in the Globe and Mail about plain language. It went something along the lines of this: “If Martin Luther King had said ‘I have a mission statement’, would anyone have listened?”

I doubt it. They listened because he shared his story. His dream. And with that, inspired a generation to strive for ideals that needed striving for.

We live in a world of words. The most prominent seem to be so deep in political jargon and overly complex double-talk that we’re not sure what people are striving for anymore. It needn’t this way.

I think of Mayor Nenshi of Calgary who has been so inspiring in his leadership in Calgary during the devastating floods in Alberta. And I compare him to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford who could hardly string a sentence together other than to warn citizens that the city’s power grid was “hanging on by a thread”. We like to think politicians don’t matter and aren’t worth our attention. But they do. And they are. For Nenshi, there are t-shirts with his picture sold (and bought) enthusiastically for flood relief funds. For Ford, I doubt they’d find the enthusiasm for a garage sale.

I’m inspired by Trudeau. Not for who his father was or the party he represents but for his ability to engage with young people. I don’t know if that’s a skill you can learn or if it’s something you’re just born with. Either way, I suspect it will serve him well in the next election. And if our government doesn’t get a handle on the Senate scandal, that might come sooner than we think.

I’m not inspired by Harper, nor am I inspired by Clark. It’s not about ability, commitment or even politics. It’s about voice and authenticity. Their ability to engage with the ordinary Canadian is lost on me. When either of their voices are heard, I turn down the volume. I haven’t done that since Mulroney, and, truth be told, the guy who ran against Obama (seems I’ve gone as far as blocking out his name entirely).

I was more enthusiastic about politicians as a teenager than I am now as a voting adult. This irritates me. Maybe grown-ups are just more cynical but we can’t afford it to be that way.

Believe it or not, people want leadership. Good quality leadership. Inspiring, interesting, authentic and humble. Someone to believe in – not blindly – but for a reason. Not because they agree with everything but because they stand for something. Not because they are interested in the golden fruit it can bear, but because, as the proverb says, they are willing to “plant trees under whose shade they’ll never sit”.