The Whistling Santa of Caulfeild Village


He’s a classic. Some Santas are sincere but painfully unconvincing. Some are starvingly skinny, as if the North Pole could use a food bank. Some have joylessly droopy beards heading south onto their chests. The red suits of course are instantly identifiable but some are so fusty-foosty I’d be glad to direct their wearer to my favourite West Vancouver dry cleaner for a little rehabilitation.

   This Santa Claus is, as the saying goes or used to go, the real deal (not that I’m fond of the phrase).

   He’s a mirthful girthful who wears Santa’s extra avoirdupois healthfully, as if his flesh is taut with constant hard work and bespeaks good bones underneath the less-than-sylph-like figure. Under his bespectacled blue eyes he has Santa’s high apple cheeks that can’t be faked. Up close it’s plain that the flowing beard grows out of his skin and isn’t manufactured at the wig shop.

   But this Santa has one other striking difference separating him from other Santas.

   He whistles.

   Like a canary he whistles.

   He’s the Whistling Santa of West Vancouver’s Caulfeild Village.

   He’s an institution. He’s presided for years over the shopping centre’s Salvation Army kettle.

  This Santa whistles with seductive natural skill. Nothing like it since the early Bing Crosby, if you’ve lived so long (in the past). And with a rangey repertoire. Sacred, popular. Away in a Manger. Deck the Halls. We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Hark the Herald Angels Sing. The Little Drummer Boy. Jingle Bells (obligatory). I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (please, not that!). Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

   And also: Up on the Rooftop. O Little Town of Bethlehem. I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas. We Three Kings. Walking in a Winter Wonderland. Ode to Joy. Santa Claus is Coming to Town. What Child Is This? O Come All Ye Faithful.

    And many more. The clear, clean notes cut through the thick December air, gently contrapuntal to the vehicular and commercial clatter and raising spirits. “Some people,” he says, “come all the way from the other side of the parking lot wanting to know if the whistling is real or a recording, then invariably add something to the kettle.”

   That kettle is an icon of the world’s great, arguably most generous organization (veterans of WW2 have testified that the SA charged them nothing at their canteens and for other services, unlike certain others).   

   So it’s a tad odd that he’s not a member of the Salvation Army – or of any church. Holds no formal religious or spiritual affiliation. Not a bit preachy. Not holier-than-thou. Just does good. Which makes him even more universally Santa-like.  

    It began with Mrs. Claus:  “My wife was the first of us to work on the kettles, and dragged me, kicking and screaming, to become a part of it too.” Santa is vague about how many years ago. (But would Santa count in human years?) They’ve done the kettle turn in Whistler, Squamish, North Vancouver. Currently Mrs. Claus works the kettle at Fresh St. Market, in West Vancouver’s Ambleside neighbourhood.

   For three or four years the Clauses travelled the ferries every morning and night from their Sunshine Coast home – long, exhausting days over the six-week kettle program season.

  This year they volunteered only for Friday or Saturday shifts. “So what does Mrs. Claus do? She says that we have to put in some extra shifts in Sechelt for the SA on the coast.”

    Santa relates he was born in the U.S. and was named for a relative whose last name – you couldn’t make this up – was Jolly. He vividly recalls when his mother “sat me down and said ‘Well, dear, actually there is no Santa Claus. Most of your toys are from us, your grandparents and other relatives, but you have always had some that were labelled from Santa Claus. Maybe I should have told you sooner. Now that you know the truth, you must not tell the younger kids, including your brother and sisters, that Santa isn’t real.’ ’’

   Santa paused, mused: “I can’t say that I was very happy with this new information. … From that point on I was much more wary of anything that was told to me.” (Perhaps that skepticism about authority influenced him to move here as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War with his Canadian-born wife.)

   But he’s long revisited that youthful disillusionment: “My mother may have been right that Santa didn’t exist and bring those presents, but she was also wrong.”  

   He emphasized: “I am NOT a spiritual person, but I believe that good is better than evil. That evil sometimes presents itself as good. I think that I understand the core teachings of Jesus and agree with them. I also believe that evil has twisted some of them, and people are confused about what to believe. For myself. I believe in Santa Claus!”

   Be amazed. A man who, any rational person would say, not only dresses up as Santa Claus but actually believes in him. As Santa Claus would, wouldn’t he? That is, if he really existed, wouldn’t he believe in himself?

   Not to lure anyone into questioning what thoroughly up-to-date progressive persons – adherents of the rational, to repeat – know is mere myth, superstition, folklore. They aren’t children. (They haven’t the deeper wisdom of children.)

   But the astute reader will have noted that nowhere in this stick of type have I revealed his name.

   That’s because he politely declined to publicly state it. Not out of fear of ridicule or whatever. But because he thinks such personal self-hyping would detract from the deserved subject, the Salvation Army.

   So for all I know – which is little enough and, as time passes, getting less – his real name is:

   Santa Claus.

   And he whistles.

  Holland House Communications Ltd., Vancouver. Copyright 2019.

The Village Scold

An irregular column on West Vancouver matters (the logo stolen from the great Bruce Hutchison)

By Trevor Lautens

Give this a workout on your tongue:

Premier Pamela Goldsmith-Jones  

Pam for Premier!

Standing ovation? Or screams of horror? Is Halloween over?

My Agent 5%jwKnD7, who knows his or her way around town, states that Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, former West Vancouver mayor and one-term Liberal MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, is casting a covetous eye on the premiership of British Columbia.

Such secrets are impossible to keep. I may be the last to know. If wrong, I will plead, as Humphrey Bogart famously said in Casablanca: “I was misinformed.”

Of course I reacted with journalistic professionalism to this awesome rumour. I emailed Ms. Goldsmith-Jones and put it to her.

She replied instantly. With classic political boilerplate: “Thank you very much for writing to me.  This is to acknowledge that I have received your correspondence and will read it and reply as soon as I can. …”

I’m ashamed if I sound cynical. No reasonable person expects a political leader to drop everything, even a large campaign contribution, to immediately answer a constituent. Then again, someone has to speak up for the unreasonable. We are so numerous.

Moving on: Ms. Goldsmith-Jones’s email then helpfully furnished the link to a media aide, Morgan McCullough.

I explained my mission to him and named a deadline.

Mr. McCullough didn’t even provide a sincere pretense. Didn’t respond.

The political playbook here is join-the-dots convention to any astute reader, of which I have no other. Two possibilities.

One: Goldsmith-Jones really is seeking the premiership.

Second: She isn’t.

But if she isn’t, the well-thumbed guide to the theatre that is politics teaches that there is no such thing as bad publicity, short of abusing animals or the discovery of being a closet Christian.

And if she is, there’s only the annoyance that it slipped out. Such announcements are about as spontaneous as Greek tragedy. They are carefully plotted and shrewdly timed theatre. You knew that.

Don’t confirm. Don’t deny. Either way it’s a story for the media. Of course it’s humiliating to be one of the  manipulated, but would I rather be delivering telegrams on my Humber bicycle for CP Telegraphs? Damn right, if I were 15 again and with a huge secret crush on the meltingly lovely Gloria Greenfield.

At any rate if Goldsmith-Jones harbours the ambition to replace John Horgan, the incumbent premier in Victoria, there are some roadblocks to leap or outflank, including many of her own making. And obviously she must dispatch the present provincial Liberal party leader, Andrew Wilkinson. He may not dispatch lightly.

But, as outstanding legislative columnist Vaughn Palmer often writes, that’s for another day. The sure thing is that Goldsmith-Jones leaves her present gig with $98,000, hardly a living allowance, in severance pay. And with a touch of bitterness? Agent wuH3wbCsb5, one of my quietly polite spies, suggests: She left because she was disgruntled that she never got a cabinet post. Well, I never got Gloria Greenfield either. D’you hear me grumbling?


Meanwhile, all is not sweetness and light down at West Vancouver town hall. With an Angus Reid poll indicating that Mary-Ann Booth has a 41 per cent approval rating, she’s secure in the mayor’s chair – a hot seat some council meetings. 

Like at last Monday’s (Nov. 4) not untypical session. At one point first-term councillor Marcus Wong spoke with quietly measured respect for councillors he disagreed with on the issue at hand. When he finished, Booth in effect accused him of bad faith.

Murmurs from the public gallery – which has become more unruly as council personal antipathies have blurted into the open. Booth’s looks were severe. “I am the chair and I can speak to Coun. Wong,” she said. “This is nothing improper.”

The gallery volume was turned up. As was Booth’s discomfiture. “If anyone speaks up I will ask you to leave,” Booth warned. “And I am serious about that.”

Nigel Malkin’s West Vancouver Community Stakeholders isolated this contretemps and circulated it on the internet with arguably unseemly glee. Booth must hope that Malkin’s movement will run out of energy – and novelty – before the 2022 election. But her next three years don’t look enviable.

Trevor Lautens has been apprenticing in the newspaper business for 66 years. The above may be quoted liberally with attribution. Copyright Holland House Communications Ltd., 2019.

Tory leadership hopeful touches down in West Vancouver

Appeared in the North Shore News – January 27, 2017

Agent 6ki4nsP is one of my shrewdest agents. He also describes himself as more right-wing than Genghis Khan.

So it was revolutionary when he announced admiration for Justin Trudeau, whose character and decency impressed him in personal contacts when Trudeau lived on this coast.

One year after Trudeau’s October 2015 election victory, 6ki4nsP and I met in full prediction mode. His forecast: “After two years in government the Liberals will implode (i.e. in autumn 2017).” Mine – ever the light-hearted lad – was: “The Liberals will hold the centre and move both left and right, pushing Conservatives and New Democrats to the extreme margins, and the Liberals will rule forever and ever. Ah, men. And women.’’

Some would say Agent 6ki4nsP erred by a year – that Trudeau’s honeymoon resoundingly crashed late last year. Not me. I’m not that optimistic.

• • •

That said, Conservative leadership candidate Michael Chong touched down at a party gathering at former MP John Weston’s West Vancouver abode this month. Both spoke exceedingly well – to this jaded ear, measured and thoughtfully. Leavened with wit: Weston, introducing Chong, rolled out his attributes, turned to wave him on, then faced back: “I forget to mention, he can also walk on water.”

Water-walking aside, and without my pressing the flesh of the 13 other aspirants, Chong looks almost straight from central casting for the leadership. To cite only the superficial: Bright but revealing only a fraction of his brightness (classically Canadian), Hong Kong father and Dutch mother, small-town Ontario background. Had the rare jam to resign from Stephen Harper’s cabinet, opposing its motion to recognize the Quebecois as a distinct nation in a united Canada. Electable – unlike, say I, temporary media fave Kevin O’Leary.

• • •

It’s late, but happy birthday – her 105th! – to Mrs. Ann Reynolds, mother of peerless West Vancouver chronicler and former councillor Carolanne Reynolds. The birthday girl, in good health and wheelchair-bound only in the last year, was able to get out for dinner on the big day, Dec. 29, at the Sutton Place Hotel.

• • •

Correction: It’s Corus Entertainment, not Chorus, as misspelled in my last column. Embarrassing. I own Corus stock. Unfortunately.

• • •

The deaths days apart of Gary and Carol Troll, whose always packed restaurant is Action Central in Horseshoe Bay, had a local history dimension – they were collectors. The restaurant walls are enriched by syndicated caricaturist and delightful character Kerry Waghorn’s depictions of prominent personages of West Van and beyond. They amused countless patrons waiting for a table and for Troll’s signature fish and chips.

• • •

It’s lonely up here.

Every West Vancouver councillor voted for it. Not one council candidate in the November byelection questioned it. The West Vancouver Chamber of Commerce cheered it.

So, like the man in the blues song who couldn’t dance, who “don’t have rhythm/so nobody’s with him,” I’m the loneliest man in town in slamming the Dispiriting Trail link from 13th to 18th Street. Concrete planters separating two-wheelers from two-leggers on the 13th Street end of Argyle were erected almost on the day of the byelection. What a coincidence.

I asked WV town hall last year how beach-bound families would cross the trail: Tiny tots with sand buckets in hand, the old and unsteady of foot … I hope I’m breaking your heart. Silence. I suspect the boosters suppressed the fact as bad for their hype. The answer is: Zebra crossings (!), which the hearty kind of recreational cyclists will obey, as they do stop signs, red lights, and any impediments to their spandex speeding. Yeah, right.

More than 100 parking spaces lost. Businesses hurt. Relaxed strolling and neighbourly chatting replaced by regimented lines of pedestrians and show-off cyclists. Prediction: Some cycling packs will choose Bellevue and its motor traffic rather than share the bike lane with meandering cyclists and pedalling kiddies, as many do when slowed down on the trail’s present easterly link from Park Royal to 13th – they spill onto the dedicated motor lane, smiling at annoyed drivers.

And how many cyclists did you see on Lions Gate Bridge in the recent cold spell? In snow and ice, even those who regularly cycle to work – skilled, properly equipped and observant of traffic laws (applause for them) – have to use other transportation. Excuse the personal testament: I delivered telegrams in my mid-teens, and a Christmas holiday stint navigating icy Ontario streets lives in memory. I never slid, slipped, flipped. Angel-watched.

Gregor Robertson can preen until green as Ireland about his agenda, but Vancouver’s clownish mayor can’t overcome the bicycle’s limitations concerning riders’ age, strength, and physical ability or disability, let alone weather, terrain, and more.

© Trevor Lautens, 2017

Bombastic broadcaster recalls talk radio heyday

Appeared in the North Shore News – January 13, 2017

Rafe Mair, astronomically paid battling broadcaster in the balmy days when CKNW styled itself Vancouver’s Top Dog, is in shaky health and thinks he’ll die in 2017.

Mind and speech, he’s as sharp as ever. I assured him he looks fine.

“I wish I felt as well inside as I look outside,” Rafe replied. He turned 85 on New Year’s Eve, has balance problems probably due to a long-undiagnosed stroke, and uses a walker in his Lions Bay townhouse shared with wife Wendy. An electric scooter at the door gets little use these days.

Rafe would not like the formulaic panhandling-for-pity story reserved for the old or ill, and he won’t get one here. Even less, the definitive account of his riveting life, where the line between his private and public affairs was tremulous. Nor, a study in itself, his aggressive pride in B.C. – a Don Quixote tilting at windmills that sometimes blunted his lance in retaliation. (Such was his contempt for Eastern Canada that he once yielded as far as pronouncing this Ontario-born word-grinder “an honorary British Columbian,” but withdrew it when in my Vancouver Sun column I accidentally wrote kindly of Toronto.)

No, Rafe’s chronicle requires at least three volumes – and his biographer would have to tread carefully quoting him. He is particularly fond of giving vigorous exercise to that vernacular construction translatable as: “Depart, begone, go hence, get thee out of my sight.”

He wore an XXL-size personality and brandished a Napoleonic bravado in attack. (Daring a one-way ticket to Elba?) Always in motion, Rafe kicked up so much dust that his career in the Bill Bennett cabinet – health, environment, constitutional adviser – is almost lost in the memory clouds.

He’s proud of it. His own cryptic list: ‘‘Enabled cottage wineries. Beat back banks. Also fought several environmental battles including Kemano Completion Project, saved Skagit, placed moratorium on uranium, stopped killing of wolves.’’

He praises Bennett, albeit “a prickly bugger, and so am I,” as “a fine, fine guy. … Of course, I left blood on the carpet like everyone else.’’ (“The only thing that I worry about with criticism,” he told me, “is that I might agree with it.” And added: “No one likes to have unpleasant things said about them any more than a baseball player likes to be hit by a 100-mph fast ball, but I, like him, can’t wait to step up to the plate again.”)

Restless, Rafe quit politics. Money was thin. And, to speak ill of the dead: He claims the extravagance of his wife Patti and her failure to file income tax returns for some years landed them in a tax arrears and bank muddle totalling $250,000. He begged, successfully, to pay off each debt at $25 a month.

His first NW talk show, midnight-2 a.m., blossomed, and his salary with it: Initially $80,000, it soared to $125,000 when he reached the coveted 9 a.m.-noon spot. Close friend Fin Anthony, apprised of this intolerable exploitation, said he’d double it and add a $50,000 signing bonus. Anthony returned, confessing failure: He got the $250,000 but ‘‘only” a $40,000 bonus.

This was NW’s bombastic heyday. The station was a wacky zoo of naked ambitions, bruised and bruising egos, stabbings front as well as back, yet dominated by the universally respected Warren Barker. (I omit other names on the ground that they represent actual people and may sue.) Rafe’s audience adored his harsh have-you-stopped-beating-your-wife style of cross-examining politicians, many of whom refused return bouts. And his chocolate Lab Chauncey became part of his radio family.

But some faithful wearied of Rafe’s causes – notably his relentless is-he-on-that-topic-again crusade, allied with activist Alexandra Morton, championing B.C.’s fishery – against the detested fish farms raising Atlantic salmon. And with the territory came envy, gossip, new love. Rafe’s split with then-wife Patti bitterly divided loyalties within NW because she was, and for some time continued as, his producer.

The show closed in 2003 after a running battle with his then boss, starting with a female staffer’s complaint that Rafe had high-handedly ordered her to fetch coffee for him. Rafe denies it. The trigger, he says, was when he took to the mic to scorch NW owner Chorus Entertainment for firing 25 employees. His contract, with perks, was then an eye-popping $455,000.

He declares: ‘‘Everybody fired me. … When asked about my radio career, I reply: ‘I started in my 50th year, was B.C. broadcast performer of the year, received the Michener Award and was twice shortlisted, received the Bruce Hutchison Lifetime Achievement Award from the Jack Webster Foundation (and elevation to) the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame – during which time I was fired three times!’”

In our four-hour friendly lunch that grew into this interview – which Rafe had expected – I asked the stock question: What was his worst experience? It was the only time he hesitated. The human, not the career, voice answered: The irreparable loss of his beloved daughter and poet Shawn, 17, killed in a car accident in 1976.

Maybe only old men, one calmly stating he expects to die this year ‘‘uncomplainingly,’’ know that tears are without gender – and don’t reject out of hand the possibility of the unbelievable.

Two people, neither close to him, separately informed Rafe that shortly after her death Shawn had spoken to them. She told them she was happy.

© Trevor Lautens, 2017

Christmas in an era of reverse exclusion

Appeared in the North Shore News – December 30, 2016

A few days ago, you may recall, some Canadians celebrated Christmas, the birth of Jesus.

Many others didn’t. Christianity isn’t their faith. Sensitive to them, and eyes on demographics and possibly dollar signs, greeting card designers proclaim ‘‘Happy Holidays,’’ or replace Jesus with Santa Claus, that jolly old elf with a sleighful of gifts.

TV seasonal fare wraps female-meets-male love stories around a Christmas theme (my private term for this formulaic tosh is goopies).

Overwhelmingly, radio stations jingle the bells, don’t limn the faith – oddly, otherwise stonily secular CBC devotes the day to appropriate music, including carols.

So it’s a shock, I mean a real 2016 cultural shock, that in a business paper – this paper’s sister publication, Business in Vancouver – this headline jumped out over an opinion piece published just before Christmas: ‘‘Somewhere on the road to political correctness, we lost Christmas.’’

The author’s parents were immigrants. She recalled how in 1974 she and her sisters were in tears when this chubby man in a red suit visited her school with gifts for the children: ‘‘He never visited us.’’ Her parents, who arrived here with $7 and little English, learned that incredibly difficult tongue, unmastered by none, and befriended neighbours.

Years passed, and the writer ‘‘found myself on the defensive after my employer, a Canadian TV station, surveyed employees and decided to replace the annual Christmas party with a ‘Winter Festival’ in February.’’

She voted against. Colleagues glared at her. She praises Canada’s developing inclusion, like extension of the right to vote, and protection of religious freedom. And – you may not call this a bombshell, I call it a bombshell: ‘‘Yet as government and employers work to acknowledge and respect the multicultural nature of our society, political correctness has become a one-way road that’s left Christmas out in the cold. It doesn’t seem to matter that Christmas is the country’s most significant tradition or that Statistics Canada says two-thirds of Canadians identify as Christians.’’

There’s more: “In my opinion, we are in an era of reverse exclusion and intolerance, in which saying ‘Merry Christmas’ risks giving offence, even though Christmas has a cultural significance for many non-Christians.’’

Here I briefly intrude. It is jaw-dropping that her thoughts made the public prints. It shouldn’t have taken bravery, but in Canadaland 2016 it does. Millions of us native-born paleface Euro-North Americans prefer to judiciously keep any traditional religious beliefs to ourselves. Universities, bastion of rights? A late UVic professor mocked them as ‘‘islands of repression in a sea of freedom.”

Now heed this: The writer’s name is Renu Bakshi, and be shaken into thought if you wish by her final paragraph: ‘‘So, from my Hindu family to yours, Merry Christmas.”

• • •

Be warned. The following may upset some readers as utterly tasteless.

Malcolm Parry, excellent columnist for a well-known downtown newspaper and a North Shore resident, read that I’d had a bit of a swoon from an allergenic attack. He remembered his late pal Denis Mason, who similarly ‘‘one moment was sitting in bed reading his book, and then, following the equivalent of a movie hard cut, was surrounded by hospital personnel doing restorative things to him.’’

Mason, something of a West Van character, and once owner of a Bentley three-litre, which requires a certain eccentricity, was an exceptional jazz drummer – in London he had regularly backed famed blind pianist George Shearing. In retirement

Mason played with the Docs of Dixieland, “a traditional jazz group composed, as the name suggests, of medical doctors, who somehow lacked a drummer.’’

(You’d think with all that experience with surgical instruments … well, never mind.)

The possibly offensive bit: “One of the band’s volunteer gigs was at Lions Gate Hospital’s palliative care facility. And where the Docs ended sets by playing” — a pause here for readers too young to know the once-popular song, but the title tells enough – “After You’ve Gone.”

Far from being upset by this grim reminder of impending departure, reported Parry – who fell deathly ill himself several years ago – “the patients always insisted on it, said Denis,” who was pleased “to find a sense of humour alive and well in folk who were quite the opposite.”

Maybe they found gallows amusement in Woody Allen’s famous comment, “I’m not afraid of dying, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

• • •

Once more, hard-drinking actor Pat O’Brien’s advice: “Never drink on New Year’s Eve. That’s amateur night.”

© Trevor Lautens, 2017

Once around the dance floor with Death

Appeared in the North Shore News – December 16, 2016

I saw myself in a mirror where there was no mirror. I was purple on a shifting, sea-like purple background. My lips were most purple of all. And swollen. Thick.

My wife had called 911. Her voice was calm and clear.

Then I was standing on the edge of a dance floor wreathed in mist. Dressed in the elaborate dinner clothes of an earlier time, Death approached. He bowed with deep formality, so low that his horrible rictus descended to my waist level. I could hear the bony jaws click together like checker pieces.

He extended his hand. There was no rejecting it. We waltzed gravely, slowly, around the dance floor, once. He returned me to where I had stood, and bowed again. He straightened up, and his eyeless gaze did not leave me. He gradually dissolved into the enveloping mist.

Now this shift: Unseen men were all around. A woman’s voice quietly, expertly, directed them. Sound of furniture pushed back. Sense of doors being closed. I was in a white tunnel, like a big laundry chute lined with soft sheets. But not falling — instead being drawn swiftly upward, upward.

Then, as the poet said: No more time began. I broke out of the blackness and awoke, tethered and tubed and a human pincushion of needles.

I spent five or six days in the intensive care unit at Lions Gate Hospital, got outstanding attention, praised 911’s staff, learned, as only the stricken can, the priceless value of family, and mourned that I could never eat prawns again. I’d had an allergic reaction, whose serious possibilities I’d always underestimated. Like dying, for example.

Where did memory end and symbolism begin? The white tunnel was a clear memory, while the once-around-the-floor with Death was a mind’s imaginative creation after the event.

Yet they had equal claims to truth.

Christmas came early.

• • •

Extra, extra, read all about it! Women played a big role in Peter Lambur’s byelection victory for West Vancouver council!

It’s a cute story. Except for a male or two, a core of women of mature years with much cumulative experience in grassroots politics – not always warmly welcomed at West Van town hall – aggressively campaigned for Lambur.

‘‘They were a great support,’’ said Lambur, who handily won over second-place Andy Krawczyk, 1,262 votes to 939. “They brought a level of energy to my campaign that was great. Determining factor? Who knows?’’

During the campaign I was phoned by only one caller, urging me to vote for her candidate – Lambur. In my experience such political calls are rare bordering on unprecedented in West Van municipal elections.

Disgustingly suspicious, I had expected that special interests — broadly, pro-development money — would quietly back enabling candidates, or stack the deck with just one.

But if the election was a shadow referendum on WV development versus preservation, allowing that that’s an unsustainable black-and-white distinction, the result was clear.

Lambur’s campaign slogan was ‘‘Neighbourhoods First.” That played to his core backers, many of them members of the Ambleside and Dundarave Ratepayers Association.

Why such enthusiasm, at least among the 16.6 per cent of eligible voters who cast ballots?

Lambur and wife Rebecca are said to be very popular in their Ambleside neighbourhood. That he’s an experienced architect and urban planner were only Lambur’s qualifications.

What drew supporters was his character – “humble, kind, and very smart – a fine man … who cares about the neighbourhood, the environment, and the animals. He’s going to save Ambleside from chaos,” my Special Agent KW2T8u predicted.

This seems a heavy, saint-like burden for the new councillor to bear. We can only watch.

• • •

Canadian Geographic sought reader nominations for an official Canadian bird. The choice? I consulted my treasured copy — birthday or Christmas present, 1942 — of P.A. Taverner’s ageing but unsurpassed Birds of Canada. It lists that bird’s colourful vernacular names: whiskey jack, moose-bird, camp-robber, meat-bird. Its formal name, Canada jay.

The winner was … the grey jay, the Canada jay’s name today. Grey. Like most of the country, most of the year. The pulse races.

But there’s more: The grey jay actually was readers’ third choice. The loon drew 13,995 votes, the snowy owl 8,948, the gray jay 7,918.

But the Royal Canadian Geographical Society nullified the top two because they’re already official provincial birds. Have the mad electoral reform zealots seized on this? Is this a great third-place country for them, or not?

© Trevor Lautens, 2016

Ghosts of B.C. real estate scandal still linger

Appeared in the North Shore News – December 2, 2016

Premier Christy Clark of Banana Columbia – no misprint – is cruisin’ for a bruisin’ in May’s election if she doesn’t straighten up and fly right dealing with the multi-layered housing scandal.

Enough of the 1940s slang. If New Democrat leader John Horgan plays his election cards skillfully – not easy, since the NDP’s ideological high priests are even more frightened of offending than the Liberals – he has the stick if he’s bold enough to use it: A call for an inquiry into the scandal in offshore real estate deals, concentrated in Vancouver and Toronto.

The scandal includes money laundering, funny business with figures, jiggery-pokery about true ownership, fast flipping that cheated sellers and buyers alike, lies and deceit, tax evasion, loophole exploitation.

Its victims? Many young Canadians – and the homeless old – paying swollen rents and with little hope of owning a family home, or forcing them to take desperate risks that could leave them twisting in the wind if interest rates rise a couple of percentage points. That happened to marginal owners in the U.S. housing crisis of 2007-’08.

Its perpetrators and the complicit? Realtors and their fox-guarding-the-henhouse self-regulators. Developers. Bankers. Lawyers. Few, one hopes.

They were facilitators for mostly fabulously rich Chinese wheeler-dealers – a fact the Clark government dodged, implying that such claims, obvious to anyone conscious and upright who knew what was happening on their own street, as xenophobic. Clark remained in denial until further dodging was impossible and action arguably too late. The ghosts may have vanished.

Above all – and this is why corruption may well be the right word: Canada’s politicians and regulators had the incriminating data at hand. But political action on them would have spoiled the obscene real estate party of the last few years.

Douglas Todd, once and occasionally still the Vancouver Sun’s religion columnist – he recently wrote revealingly about composer Leonard Cohen’s beliefs – has joined other Sun stars as essential reading. His prose is calm, measured, even oddly non-judgmental, unlike some crazy old coot columnists I could name.

In a recent column Todd cites heroes: Lawyer Christine Duhaime, who claims bankers and realtors withheld information, impeding investigations; SFU Prof. Jonathan Kesselman, who offered solutions; UBC Prof. David Ley, flailing “silences”; Justin Fung of Housing Action for Local Taxpayers, who said: “Foreign money coming in clearly benefits the property developers who are major contributors to the B.C. Liberal party.”

Todd alleges those who failed their public trust include Immigration Canada, the Canada Revenue Agency, and Fintrac, which tracks money laundering. They didn’t fully use the tools they had. He concludes: “In fact, unenforced laws are worse than none at all. They give voters the illusion of protection when there is none.’’ The offshore ghosts, all too few punished all too lightly, may have already vanished.

And here’s election trouble for the Liberals: Prospective future leaders Rich Coleman and Mike de Jong were loyal backers of boss Clark’s laissez-faire stance of letting the unfettered market decide. That equates capitalism with crookedness, crime, exploitation – just business as usual. Marx would beam. Banana republics would rejoice: “Toothless police! Just like us!’’

And nothing holier-than-thou here: I am passively complicit in Vancouver’s moral real estate sewer. I’m a card-carrying capitalist and a beneficiary of Vancouver’s bloated real estate prices.

Canadians’ fear of offending electorally powerful “communities,” and economic and political cowardice, stifled frank debate. Blowhard billionaire Donald Trump is a highly unlikely champion of dispossessed Americans, but they may have a surer grasp of how our society really works than public intellectuals, shocked Hillary Clinton camp-followers, and media toadies.

What Trump said in the campaign may prove blather. Real people are the issue – ignored, not stupid, mostly skilled, humiliatingly under-employed, and angry. They backed him.

• • •

Selective historical memory: Haven’t encountered a word about the Cold War’s scariest days – the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, Soviet warheads aimed at the U.S. That doesn’t fit today’s lipsticked narrative of Fidel Castro and the Trudeaus, father and son.

• • •

My suspicious mind. The box in this paper for “party affiliation” under West Vancouver council candidate Peter Lambur was blank. Why?

Safely elected Lambur responded: “As I recall it was left blank because I honestly couldn’t remember if I was a current card-carrying member of any party. … In past years I have been a member of the Liberal party, but a follow-up look through my current membership cards comes up empty, so it’s safe to reply ‘nil’ or ‘none’ at the moment.”

© Trevor Lautens, 2016

Woodfibre LNG thumbs-up no real surprise

Appeared in the North Shore News – November 18, 2016

West Vancouver council voted unanimously against it. At least 9,000 people signed a petition damning it. Hostility toward it bristled at three public meetings.

So, no surprise, the Woodfibre liquefied natural gas project on beautiful Howe Sound got the thumbs-up, ultimately from the only thumb that counts, the prime minister’s or his proxy’s.

Right, the premier’s thumb also chimed in – why not mix metaphors, just for laughs? And the First Nation thumb will be on the scale, once its benefits are successfully negotiated.

Obvious. After the obligatory ritualistic bow to the environment, the human race’s relentless expansionism, the project’s corporate dollars, jobs and politics will always trump nature. (Hmmm, I’ll look for a better verb than trump.)

So the public consultation was the usual charade. I’d wager my record as a trained skeptic that the decision to go ahead with the relatively small $1.6-billion project was a fait accompli at the highest levels – the only impediments being the long-depressed price of LNG and international competition.

As Constant Reader will recall, my conscience is troubled by this area’s bland acceptance of tankers, pipelines and so forth – elsewhere. Not in our million-dollar-and-up backyards.

All credit to Liberal MLA Jordan Sturdy – this is his riding, West Vancouver-Sea to Sky – for up-front honesty. While opponents raged, Sturdy supported the project, partly for its tax benefits. A yawning contrast with the area’s MP, the federal riding confusedly called (couldn’t a less overlapping name have been chosen?) West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country.

I’ve been on the Pam Goldsmith-Jones watch for years, and once again I’m fascinated by, even admire, her non-stick political record as West Van mayor, her survival smarts, and her agile ascent to higher levels. I’d roll out that record again, but space is limited.

Teflon Pam repeatedly ignored my emails last spring soliciting her opinion on Woodfibre, yea or nay; adroitly chaired three heated open houses on the matter without doing so; and, cornered at a meeting at Gibsons whether she’d heard anybody favouring the project, responded: “There are definitely people in favour. That’s why this is so difficult. To be honest – and depending on where you go – it’s 50/50.”

Which raises the question: Where, exactly, had she gone?

Indefatigable Woodfibre opponent Eoin Finn stated that her 50/50 claim “beggars belief,” citing 9,000 signatories to the (Save) Howe Sound Declaration and the B.C. Environment Assessment Office process, reflecting more than 90 per cent opposition. Finn noted that the approval coincidentally occurred days before the provincial Liberal annual convention. Tsk tsk, what a cynic. Finn declares opponents of the project aren’t giving up.

• • •

The Old Frenchman, so often quoted here, mused: “Les extremes se touchent,” which my learned readers will easily translate as “the extremes touch” – more broadly, “the extremes resemble one another.” Hitler and Stalin claimed radically clashing ideologies. But they were tyrants united by mass murder.

On a fortunately milder matter, Donald Trump and his sore-loser detractors similarly share a bond: They’re fair-weather friends of democracy. On side when they win elections, outta there when they lose them.

Trump’s most reprehensible, even unprecedented, campaign turn wasn’t the sex thing or even predicting prison bars in Hillary Clinton’s future. It was his zero-evidence accusation that the election was rigged, and – as calmly as a psychopathic killer – his declaration that he’d wait to see the results before accepting them. He won. His “rigging” allegation instantly vanished.

The protesters? Hey, why the bellyachin,’ guys? The Republicans won the presidency (by the weird rules), the Senate, the House of Representatives. Democracy.

But Trump championed the forgotten (and more), and only a bull could smash the cosy Washington china shop – D.C. voted 90 per cent for Clinton, four per cent for the vulgarian  – which Trump is. Or was? In a trice, knives sheathed, Trump made statesmanlike noises, and Barack Obama and, briefly, Clinton rose graciously to the moment. They’re politicians. Actors, you know.

It’s a gamble writing about this shifting surrealism. All could change by the time you read these words. As for the overwhelming media bias for Clinton, it recalls the apocryphal son who was ashamed to tell his mother he was working in the news business. So he told her he played piano in a house of ill repute.

• • •

I can’t and wouldn’t want to recommend a candidate for councillor on the eve of West Vancouver’s very important byelection tomorrow – when there’s no time for rebuttal. Just get out and vote.

© Trevor Lautens, 2016

Candidates’ nomination papers provide a snapshot

Appeared in the North Shore News – November 4, 2016

The Old Frenchman said that a man is better revealed by his possessions than by anything he says, or claims to think or believe.

So here is a taste of the possessions of the 12 candidates in West Vancouver’s Nov. 19 council byelection – on which millions of private and public dollars may hang by the thread of a single vote (think Grosvenor) – from their required nomination papers.

Note: “Property” doesn’t include a principal residence. “Assets” and “corporate assets” are, murkily, separate entries; I’ve lumped them together. “Income” means remuneration for services – other income, from stock etc. not included. “Liabilities” don’t include residential property debt or money borrowed for household or personal living expenses. So a candidate could have a $3-million home mortgage and $75K credit card debt, not required to report. That said, here’s the list:

David Ayriss. Own financial agent. No liabilities, no income. Property: Whistler; 70 Mile Creek. Assets: shares in 22 Canadian and 11 U.S. companies and funds.

Farzaneh Bamani. Own financial agent. No assets, liabilities, income or property.

Joanna Baxter. Financial agent: Michael Preto. No liabilities or property. Income: owner, Joanna Baxter Design; employee, Hive Management Inc.

Tom Dodd. Own financial agent. No liabilities. Owns jointly with wife 466895 BC Ltd, DBA Grantham Publishing. Income: part owner/director of Grantham. Property: 2065 East Second St., Vancouver.

Tara Haddad. Financial agent: Lorana Mangali. No assets, liabilities, or property. Income: director, Aspire Math Academy and Jackson & Co. Chartered Accountants; employee, Royal LePage Sussex.

Rosa Jafari. Own financial agent. No property. Liabilities: StudentAid B.C., M. Seraj. Income: business consultant, self-employed. Assets: Rimex International Trading Co. (“not active”).

Jon Johnson. No liabilities, property or assets. Income: employee, Clairmont Camera Inc.

David A. Jones. Own financial agent. No liabilities or property. Assets and income: owner, president, Jones Custom Framing Inc.

Andrew Krawczyk. Financial agent: Robert Patterson. Assets: six bank funds. No liabilities, income or property.

Peter Lambur. Own financial agent. No liabilities. Assets and income: Peter Lambur Architect Inc.

Vernon Pahl. Own financial agent. Liabilities: left blank. Property: 5504 Marine Dr. (home address). Assets: pension and three funds. Income: partner, Guild Yule LLP.

Carolanne Reynolds. Financial agent: George Pajari. No liabilities or income. Assets: “Various corporations via mutual funds.”

Moving on: Why did the WV Chamber of Commerce schedule its meeting only three days before the election, little time for letters to the editor or other reaction?

Why is attendance only by RSVP – arguably allowing nimble factions or special interests to (already?) pack the meeting?

Ha, a mind corroded by journalistic suspicion! Leagh Gabriel, C of C executive director, crisply and quickly replied: “We chose the date because that was when Kay Meek was available.  …  Being a byelection we have no idea how many will attend so the request for RSVP is to give us an idea. If it’s a small turnout we will host it in the small studio downstairs.”

• • •

The U.S. presidential election: The undersigned fears for America’s next four, eight years – whoever wins. Scenarios:

Hillary Clinton wins. Elite Washington breathes easy. Major crisis triggers civil chaos. A young charismatic white firebrand emerges, championing angry whites and promising to restore order and make America greater than Donald Trump ever mouthed off about.

Donald Trump wins. Trump moves toward the centre, disillusioning his furious core constituency. A young, charismatic etc.

Second possibility: Trump begins carrying out his agenda – and can’t control the beast he’s unleashed. A young, charismatic etc.

Alarmism? Hope so.

U.S. columnist Ilana Mercer – who began her career in Canada, as she often acknowledges, and in this very paper – is a true original, a self-described paleolibertarian. Google “Disenfranchisement of Poor Whites Under Hillary.”

Among the points in Mercer’s blog post: Fashionable ideology considers all whites privileged. It ‘‘overlooks the descendants of poor white Southern sharecroppers who did not own slaves …  and with respect to education and income mirror those of the region’s African-Americans, with one distinction: poor whites are barred from affirmative action programs.”

Mercer isn’t alone. Under the head The Original Underclass, the September edition of The Atlantic – which passionately backs Clinton – reviewed White Trash: The 400-Year-Old Untold History of a Class in America by Nancy Isenberg.

Last words: Investment adviser Richard C. Young predicts Americans will elect Trump: ‘‘They have questions about Trump, but they know exactly who Clinton is.’’

What if a renewed FBI investigation confirms they didn’t know all? Nightmare: She’s elected. FBI recommends charges. Already the “i-word” – impeachment – has emerged.

© Trevor Lautens, 2016

Persecution by paperwork at hands of IRS bullies

Appeared in the North Shore News – October 21, 2016

What is WRONG with those people?

I was speaking – in very rare CAPITAL LETTERS – of the Americans. But large issues call for large letters.

About the U.S. presidential campaign? Good guess. But not so. Nor about the Iraq or Libyan invasions, or waterboarding – torture, a lingering unpunished crime – or the dangerous economic imbalance between the one per cent (some analyses say one-tenth of one per cent) with grotesquely fabulous wealth and a disenchanted American class who once had good jobs and hope.

After that list, the issue I have in mind may seem a trifle. Not to its victims. It is the relentless pursuit by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service of its own citizens abroad – more particularly, in Canada, including in our own North Shore communities. That’s what makes it a local issue.

The word fascism was fired at “Amerika” by the hippy-dippy real and play-Marxists of the unlamented Sixties. Absurd. But this stuff is near enough to the spirit of fascism and Soviet-style repression for the undersigned.

No barbed-wire camps, no gulag, no street beatings, but the IRS was empowered by a 2014 change in U.S. tax law to force banks everywhere to disclose the account information of American citizens living abroad.

And note well: The Canada Revenue Agency co-operated, giving the IRS the names of 155,000 American citizens holding accounts in this country, as Jeff Lee reported recently in the Vancouver Sun.

The law’s apparent intention was to expose rich, tax-ducking sleaze-bags stashing huge assets abroad. Good. Do it. Well deserved. And doubtless applauded by people at any level who conscientiously declare their income, certainly including the well-off.

No hate-the-rich animus here. Only look at the community benefits bestowed by the wealthy, both individuals and corporations, right down to small local businesses that underwrite kids’ sports and such.

But the IRS net’s mesh is so fine that it catches innocent financial minnows, some not even aware – like those who haven’t lived in the U.S. since infancy – that they were violating an outrageous new tax procedure shared by exactly one other country on earth: Eritrea.

“They’re terrorizing people,” a North Shore resident, living in Canada for decades, bluntly said.

The IRS bullies furthermore are demanding back taxes. Yes, retroactive to the law’s enactment.

There’s more. Given the complexity at best of complying with tax laws – including very much concerning our CRA – the IRS requirements have spawned hugely profitable work, thousands of dollars a year in many cases, for a raft of lawyers and accountants in Canada.

“It’s persecution by paperwork,” said the U.S. citizen quoted above.

It might seem to simple minds that the obvious course is to toss American citizenship. But you don’t wriggle out of Uncle Sam’s clutch that easily.

Reporter Lee quotes the case of Susan Wood, who came to Canada with her parents as a child and never worked or voted in the U.S. She paid Calgary tax lawyer Alex Marino $12,000 to renounce citizenship. (Marino’s firm recently held a free seminar to guide others.)

To be fair, the complexities are unbelievable, a mare’s nest even to experts in U.S. tax law. One victim on the North Shore put through the mill had to sign many dozens of papers: “They were threatening us with practically confiscation.” As for those who share title on American property with others:

More tangles, more billable hours for lawyers, advisers and accountants.

And hear this: Canada’s registered education savings plans and tax-free savings accounts don’t cut it as tax shelters with the IRS. They’re taxable.

We’re not as far from repressive regimes and arbitrary rule as our soft-shoe propaganda would have it.

• • •

The Sewells, a popular family and operators of a marina that has given Horseshoe Bay residents and visitors a stunning experience of Howe Sound for 75 years, won unanimous council approval of a development of 159 condo units in six buildings ranging from three to 11 storeys.

The Sewells deserve it. They’ve earned it. I just wish they – or any other developer – wouldn’t do it.

Stand at Bay and Nelson streets. The buildings will obscure a gorgeous sweep of mountainside scenery.

But how can anyone complain in good conscience? Every one of our West Van homes has diminished precious nature and wildlife space.

© Trevor Lautens, 2016