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

Premier’s dark side slowly emerging

Appeared in the North Shore News – June 5, 2015

Christy Clark is becoming nasty, vengeful and self-pardoning in her old age.

Such a nice lady, too. On camera, anyway. Beaming smile. Can’t imagine her using the f-adjective describing the federal cabinet, as Green Party leader Elizabeth May — another big smiler, gleaming like a 1952 Cadillac grille — did at what she curiously thought was just a genial, after-work private gathering. Private? Completely surrounded by the Ottawa press corps?

But back to Da Preema. Chivalry aside — and the undersigned proudly, nay, defiantly, belongs to the last age of chivalry (before they blunted our lances) — the premier’s dark side emerged soon after her May 2013 election victory.

Local angle: As the election approached, Clark shrewdly created a new cabinet post — minister of seniors — and plucked from her back bench a bona-fide senior to fill it: Ralph Sultan, legislative member for West Vancouver-Capilano.

A bold stroke. Sultan has more academic credentials than Rachel Notley’s fresh Alberta cabinet — in front of which, I place no f-adjective. (Never mind, didn’t W.A.C. Bennett’s first

Social Credit cabinet boast only one university graduate? And look what it did.)

Sultan’s credentials would fill this page. Highlights: Harvard grad and professor. Years as chief economist of the Royal Bank of Canada. Hands-on real business experience. No wonder

Gordon Campbell didn’t make him — obvious choice — finance minister. Let a man like that at the books, and you never know what mischief might follow.

Clark’s brilliant stroke was a magnet for the old people’s vote. Nor did Sultan treat the job like a sinecure for loyal service. He campaigned hard.

The rest is history. The Liberals won. Clark lost. In her own riding. So she felt around for an MLA who would take one for the team. Make way for her in a byelection. Step down from a safe seat. And none safer than Sultan’s, heartland of comfy adherents of capitalism who adore socialist benefits. (Like all of Middle Canada.)

Sultan politely declined. One can imagine the smile fading from the premier’s dainty mouth. She canned Sultan, even scrapped his ministry. Politics. Cynical.

But that was then. Clark evidently was just warming up. Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Rustad tipped George Abbott for leader of the B.C. Treaty Commission six months before the job came open, on April 1. Seemed a done deal. People tend to make plans. On March 18 Rustad informed Abbott it was no go.

Abbott had been a respected Liberal minister. He’d run against Clark for party leader. This, he told columnist Vaughn Palmer, left “deep memories of real or perceived hurts.” West Van’s Sultan had supported Abbott’s leadership bid. Coincidence?

Richard Bullock was chairman of the Agricultural Land Commission — a profoundly important body. (Embarrassed confession: The undersigned stupidly railed against its creation by Dave Barrett’s New Democrats 42 years ago.) Bullock vigorously protected his turf, so to speak. Annoyed the Liberals, and shall we guess their friends? Bullock was dropped with just five months left in his mandate. Petty.

There’s more. That funny, low-ball sale of public lands just before the 2013 election, yielding the arithmetic that balanced the budget, the buyer a great and good Liberal friend. The terrible, unjustified firing of eight health ministry researchers on false accusations, for which Clark publicly if belatedly apologized.

Fair enough. Government is vast. Honest mistakes happen. Dishonest ones, too. Somehow Clark has come smilin’ through.

• • •

Praise for smart merchandising where it’s due: Jimmy Pattison’s Overwaitea, operator of the Save-on-Foods supermarket chain, is promoting its 100th anniversary with tin containers with embossed, olde-style lettering. They’re eye-catching, and everybody loves a tin that can subsequently be used to store rubber bands, pens that don’t work any more, licences for departed family dogs, and other such treasures.

What snatched our family dollars was the tea tin, boasting 520, not the usual 500, grams of tea. Of course you know that Overwaitea’s competitive pitch and source of its name was to offer “overweight” tea. Works out to 162 tea bags, price $8.49. We are swilling this fine beverage, alternating with excellent Ceylon black tea from Nancy, the Iranian store in North Vancouver. (If we drink any more morning tea, my wife and I will be obliged to join Tea-drinkers Anonymous.)

That’s good retailing by West Vancouver’s multi-billionaire entrepreneur, who has interests all over North America — yet who made the amazing admission recently that the only business he really knows is selling cars.

Believe It Or Not! Which, if you visit Niagara Falls, you should know is one of the many pieces of the Pattison empire.

• • •

A little late to say so, but what a great tribute to their national character is Holland’s perennial warm gratitude — like no other nation’s — for the role of Canadian armed forces in liberating their country in the Second World War.

© Trevor Lautens, 2015

Redevelopment to set sailing club adrift?

Appeared in the North Shore News – September 12, 2014

The Hollyburn Sailing Club: More Grosvenorization of West Vancouver? Fairness, my worst fault, makes me reflective.

Agent Y6xE9j reports that the club may be sailing away into the sunset – next year put on a month-to-month lease, almost always the precursor to redevelopment. Club commodore Roy Morford’s response:

“No gossip or rumours, just the facts. Last year we celebrated our 50th anniversary. … The club’s first premises consisted of an old garden shed located at Dundarave Beach. … Change being the only constant, I fully expect more changes, particularly with West Vancouver’s plans for Ambleside.

“Regardless of our location, our lease or other factors, I am confident we shall continue to be a fixture on the West Vancouver waterfront for many years to come. Indeed, our mayor has said so on more than one occasion.”

Notice – nowhere does Morford, a witty chap, deny the rumour.

Now this admirably crisp reaction from Michael Ward, senior vice-president and general manager of Grosvenor Americas:

“Grosvenor continues to support the Hollyburn Sailing Club in its current location but respects the opinion of the district and the community should they think otherwise.”

So Grosvenor supports the club’s location. Could it be that town hall is busting an intestinal tract to anticipate whims that Grosvenor doesn’t have, or does it have its own dream of commercialization of Ambleside Beach?

Ward also explains the conflict between the dates for West Van’s Ambleside police station to vacate and the glossy Grosvenor project to begin: “Grosvenor Ambleside will be built in two phases. Construction of the first phase (westerly side of the block) is expected to begin at the end of 2014 or early 2015. Construction of the second phase. .. where the police station is currently located will commence only after the district has constructed the new Public Safety Building and has relocated the police to this location.”

Then why this? All four small businesses cheek-by-jowl with the station – near the block’s east end – have been given notice to vacate at the end of next month. Long before the police depart, sod-turning on the new building not even close. Maybe the modest businesses don’t fit nicely with the Grosvenor showroom being built beside them?

West Van council heard the pitch for the proposed Woodfibre natural gas operation Monday. As Agent 6Tcu03 implies, the current environmental assessment and opposition by the Squamish band may kill it without painful political decisions.

John Weston, MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky, politely writes about a recent item here: “You are wrong in surmising the prime minister or his office had anything to do with my opinion concerning West Van council’s motion on the proposed (Howe Sound liquefied natural gas) plant. The opinion is my own.”

I gladly stand corrected, but gently ask: Would an MP, of any party, knowingly do something the party leader wouldn’t like?

Meanwhile Weston is aggressively campaigning for re-election in November next year – not May, as recently stated here, though some Liberals expect or perhaps want the federal vote earlier.

Figures quoted here about the Howe Sound LNG project have been vigorously challenged. The opponents’ claim: “If approved, Woodfibre LNG says it will discharge 17,000 tonnes … of chlorinated, desalinated water, 10 degrees hotter than at intake, into Howe Sound every hour of every day for the next 25-plus years. The effect of this on the marine food chain in the Sound. .. could be devastating.”

Responding, Fred Bowyer, West Vancouver retired engineer grad who declares neither professional nor financial interest in the project (and his origins at “the other end of the social scale” from the admiral whose name adorns Bowyer Island), writes:

“Woodfibre LNG will discharge what amounts to tepid tap water (chlorinated/desalinated) into Howe Sound. Natural drainage flow into the Sound averages about 1,656,000 cubic metres of water per hour. 17,000 tonnes/hour from the plant equals … one per cent of the average fresh water drainage into the Sound.

“The Sound, east of Gambier and Bowen Islands, has an area of about 175 square kilometres and a depth of about 200 metres. That’s 35 cubic kms or 35 billion cubic metres of water. A year of LNG discharge is 149 million cubic metres, or 0.4 per cent of that.

“Oh, did I mention the twice/day water changes due to tidal flows? ‘The effect of this on the marine food chain. .. could be devastating.’ Or not.”

And Victor Morgan writes: “17,000 tonnes per hour? Surely you jest. That works out to approximately 1,000 gallons every second. I wouldn’t think so … the rest of that article certainly makes one think. But those figures?” Search me. I’m just the messenger. Can’t figure out my hydro bill.

How would Christy Clark, CKNW talk show host, be judging the teachers’ strike handling by Christy Clark, premier?

West Vancouver’s Elizabeth Smily, an outstanding painter with international exposure, died Sunday, aged 96. She deserves more space than this hasty late addition allows. Funeral Monday at 2 p.m. at the Unitarian Church, West Vancouver.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

Behind council’s sober second thoughts

Appeared in the North Shore News – August 15, 2014

Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow was bloodier, but West Van council’s U-turn on its slamming of proposed liquefied natural gas tankers on Howe Sound was quicker.

Councillors at the Aug. 4 meeting volubly backed off their unanimous decision two weeks earlier when they had asked Ottawa to ban Asian-bound tankers from waters uncomfortably close to the western shores of West Vancouver.

I pause. Let’s be fair. This is what politicians should do more often, right? – have sober second thoughts, admitting mistakes first time around.

By this measure, Mayor Michael Smith deserves praise for the frankness that slick politicians avoid when they give a 3,000-word, non-answer to an unwanted interview question.

At the second-thoughts council meeting Aug. 4, Smith commendably took full responsibility for the July 21 decision.

“All blame lies at the feet of the chairman of the meeting,” Smith was quoted by News reporter Jeremy Shepherd. “My legendary impatience sometimes gets the better of me after over an hour of going around in circles on a debate. You get desperate to call a question, any question.” (If you can recall any time that former mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones publicly admitted to her blunders, jog my memory.)

On that point – what the hell did we agree to? – Coun. Craig Cameron was equally candid: “I didn’t know what we voted for.” His only vote he’s been embarrassed about in three years on council, he confessed.

Returning now to my usual sunny cynicism: Why council’s hasty retreat?

Wild guess: Largely because John Weston, MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country – the LNG tankers would sail through the population heart of his riding – wacked council’s motion, the way it was passed, and its timing. Otherwise he’s OK with it, one might drily say.

Strange. Does Weston carry such clout? Another wild guess: Yes, if he’s the messenger boy for the big guy, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and by proxy for an equally agitated Premier Christy Clark. (As indispensable Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer recently noted, Clark vowed in 2011 that the first LNG export venture would be “operational by 2015.” Not.)

If my take is correct, Harper, Clark and the oil and gas industry don’t need the distraction of yet another protest.

The Howe Sound LNG plant, a subsidiary of Pacific Oil and Gas, owned by a Singapore billionaire, would be small potatoes compared with the proposed Northern Noway Gateway project. But it’s our small potatoes. The issue hits close to home.

So was council’s first decision correct? Or its second? Or will it be its third, next month? Coun. Michael Lewis expects more information will uphold council’s original decision opposing the project.

Predictably, industry leaders say LNG is safe. Predictably, opponents, including chemistry doctorate Eoin Finn, cite the worst case: An LNG tank explosion destroyed a square mile of Cleveland and killed 130 in 1944.

Extraction industries are locally popular, generating prosperity and jobs. Unless something goes hugely wrong. Hello, Mount Polley.

Agent 7p2sd4g angrily writes: “Just as dear old Dal Richards was about to sign off on his delightful Harmony Arts concert at John Lawson Park (Aug. 7), who should enter, accompanied by 100 or so (mostly) female followers, right at the foot of the stage, but Justin Trudeau. Absolutely tasteless, and downright rude. Poor Dal looked shell-shocked.”

Or was Dal willingly cooperating? We may never know.

Also speculative: Lisa King’s front-page photo in the Aug. 7 News was a great shot – worthy of an award-winner – of Justin Trudeau dancing in a steamy, almost orgasmic clinch with Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, John Weston’s Liberal opponent in next May’s federal election. But was it winning politics? My guess is that it turned off as many voters as it turned on.

Agent C8tt0j4 reports “turmoil” at CKNW. Right, vertigo must be swirling in management/ownership heads – dropping its best and most loyally listened-to segment, Cutting Edge of the Ledge, with top Victoria-watchers Vaughn Palmer and Keith Baldrey, hosted by Bill Good. The Three Wise Men, I called them.

Except for sharp Mike Smyth, NW is wildly shuffling the deck, conscripting mostly affiliate Global TV staffers as temp fill-ins replacing

Good and Philip Till – it’s radio’s new Amateur Hour. Complete disclosure: I hold parent company Corus Entertainment stock. I sell my shares, you guys could be done like dinner!

Closing in Ambleside: Familiar, colourful and long-established Amadeo, and Redfish Kids Clothing, consolidating its business at its Hornby Street store after only two years in West Van.

One of my most respected Agents, Y8c5scu, conjectures what town hall will never admit about the delay in a joint police-fire department building: The police and firefighters don’t like each other (not a unique wariness). The plan for a “combined safety building” in fact showed two separate edifices joined only by an atrium.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

A year for proving pundits wrong

Appeared in the North Shore News – January 3, 2014

Try to excuse a personal item, but as a column-provider I’ll remember 2013 as the year of my most embarrassing success.

It has become a howling nightmare.

I speak of accurately predicting in this space – “You Read It Here First,” the headline trumpeted, inviting boisterous derision had I been wrong – that the Christy Clark Liberals would win the May provincial election.

Every poll, pundit, politics-monger, tweeting twit etc. – and the Liberal cabinet ministers and backbenchers who deserted the apparently sinking ship, plus the entire body of smug New Democrats – predicted otherwise. I especially cherish the Jehovah-like finality of Martyn Brown, ex-premier Gordon Campbell’s former chief of staff, self-invented as columnist and radio prophet, who declared: “It’s over, folks – an NDP landslide.” By the way, where is Brown now? I admit I crowed a bit.

The morning after, the astonished Bill Good and the newspapers claimed “nobody” had predicted the result. I may be a nobody, but I informed Good and sent a letter to the editor of my old paper, the Vancouver Sun, gently stating the plain fact. Good and the letters editor declined to correct their unfactual reporting. (Good and I don’t exchange Christmas cards.) Only Sun legislature columnist (and regular CKNW contributor, PBS commentator on B.C. affairs, etc.) Vaughn Palmer had the grace to give credit where due, while properly noting my earlier equivocations.

My first printed call for a Clark victory was a year or two before the election. I was given preferred access to a high-roller whipround for Conservative John Cummins. I sadly detected a leader born to fail. He arrived late and stumbled through a badly read speech before moneyed sympathizers. Fatally, during the campaign he declared more affinity with New Democrats than with Liberals. Donations vanished. Some party members rioted. Downhill for the Conservatives – and all upside for the Liberals.

End of story? Nay.

Luckily it’s forgotten that, puffed up, I then rashly predicted Clark, beaten in Point Grey, could have a tough time winning the Westside-Kelowna byelection. I overlooked that Okanagan residents culturally are ethnic Albertans, displaced to the next province over, and believe God has ordained that B.C. premiers represent their northern desert.

The brief limelight properly shifted and obscurity thankfully returned. But recently my correct call was handsomely acknowledged in several 2013 retrospectives, first by Timothy Renshaw in Business in Vancouver and last week by Keith Baldrey, Global TV’s chief political correspondent, in a column in these pages.

Then on Monday CKNW host Philip Till and the unsleeping Vaughn Palmer – generous in self-criticism for his election mea culpa – kindly recalled my election prophecy.

My gratitude to the above. But – the nightmare? The pressure, of course, to get it right the next time. And by then my secret may have leaked out: My mother told horoscopes. Walked around with a big, black raven on her shoulder. Foretold romantic futures for many a beautiful, broken-hearted young female. I inherited the gift.

Vancouver’s Red Robinson is properly recognized as an international treasure of rock music’s pioneer days; moreover, he isn’t a clappedout, hollow-eyed ex-druggy who fits the well-known observation that if you can remember the 1960s, you weren’t there.

Nope, Red started out as an eager, clean, well-turnedout teenage disc jockey who met and interviewed the early rockers, including Buddy Holly long before he became a legend and the young Elvis Presley. (I once asked him: “What did you and Elvis talk about?” Well, Red replied, they talked about things teenage kids talked about – they were almost spot-on the same age. What, not the meaning of life, or causes of the French Revolution?) He’s heading for his 77th birthday in March and he’s still eager, well-turnedout, and delightfully literate and anecdotable about his career. Recognition includes induction into the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and he’s generated a mint of money for children. And how many entertainers have a theatre named after them? Ah, now past tense.

The Red Robinson Show Theatre in Coquitlam was a proper tribute and Red was properly proud of it. But the theatre owners, the Great Canadian Gaming Corp., just renamed it – in the face of some furious people, including some who were around in the ’60s and do remember it, and Vancouver’s own singing star Michael Bublé, who wasn’t.

The company’s executive director, Chuck Keeling, said – with a straight face:

“We are not ending the relationship with Red. We are changing it.”

As of Dec. 20 the name is gone, folded into – wait for it – the Hard Rock Casino Vancouver.

Wow! What a grabber! Just who was the genius, the imaginative innovator with the soul of a poet, who dreamt up that beautiful, stirring, evocative name?

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

Liberals need to meter Nestlé’s water tap

Appeared in the North Shore News – August 30, 2013

Stewart Phillip and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs aren’t the only ones who should be outraged by the Swiss behemoth Nestlé sucking free water out of its well near Hope.

All British Columbians should be furious that this many-tentacled corporate octopus – domiciled in a nation that deserves far more hard-eyed criticism than it ever gets – is drawing 265 million litres of water every year from the well. And sells it. In little bottles. Doesn’t have a permit. Doesn’t need one.

Know of any other enterprise that pays zero for its raw product and without the annoyance of fussy permits? How can other bottlers compete with that? Anyone for a level playing pond? How this can happen in a country with bureaucratic regulatory agencies to the sky, and grossly over-governed – we need more MPs and MLAs like we need more privilege abusers like Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy at the Senate trough – beggars belief.

Grand Chief Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, unsurprisingly supports the Chawathil First Nation, which claims the well is in its traditional territory – a concept, as an aside, guaranteed to screw up B.C. forever except for enriching band councils, lawyers and bureaucrats. But the groundwater issue concerns all.

So deploy some of your famous moxie, Christy Clark, to put revisions to the B.C. Water Act scheduled for 2014 right at the top of the priority list for the legislature fall session. And make Nestlé pay big-time – somewhat more than the cost of a driver’s licence – if it wants to continue the business.

Might this caricature of competition haughtily get up and leave? I’d personally hold the door. Not likely, though.

Nestlé defines corporate obesity. It’s the biggest food company by revenue in the world. It’s No. 1 in the FT (Financial Times) Global 500 and the Fortune Global 500.

If you tried to boycott Nestlé-linked products, you could starve, or die for lack of medicine, or even from ugliness. Wikipedia lists just some of the 8,000 companies it owns, co-owns, has big shares in, or has distribution or other deals with. You’ll recognize some past and present names: Kraft, Carnation, Pfizer, Gerber, Libby’s, Ovaltine, Crosse & Blackwell, San Pellegrino, Perrier (water for those connoisseurs who eschew some of the best tap water from on and below the earth).

Nescafé, Stouffer’s and Belgian chocolate and Greek ice cream makers you’ve never heard of, not to overlook Haagen-Dazs.

Also Rowntree Mackintosh, Aero, Cheerios, Shreddies, Coffee Crisp, Kit Kat, Smarties. Not to forget the pets: Purina, Friskies, Dog Chow.

For the body healthy and the face beautiful: Colgate-Palmolive, Novaris, Jenny Craig, L’Oreal’s many brands, The Body Shop.

With clout like that, Nestlé defines the gulf between market-makers and markettakers.

Nestlé’s homeland, Switzerland, is an anomaly, for sure. There’s something to be said for a neutral country as the clearing house for back-channel diplomacy, wartime refugees, spies, and art contraband and safekeeping.

Shrewdly, the Swiss took 57 years to join the United Nations (2002) and never seem to help anyone but themselves. The government officially described its peacekeeping contribution:

“In early 2012 the number of Swiss citizens deployed abroad totalled 265. However, the Swiss government plans to increase the number of Swiss soldiers available for peacekeeping missions to 500 by 2014.” Wow. What a helping hand. (Or, to be fair, a model for all countries?) Its banks are dragged kicking and screaming into lifting secrecy on US$2.2 trillion stored by international tax evaders – isn’t that laundering the proceeds of crime, hurting the honest in the democracies and the world’s poor? Arguably there’s a better reason for invading Switzerland than Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries where it’s getting late in the year for the “Arab spring.”

Further solving the world’s problems, concerning the allegation of the use of nerve gas by the Syrian government and the reaction: I don’t trust Russia. I don’t trust the West. I don’t trust media coverage. I don’t trust the Syrian government, knowing little about it except as reported by (especially American) media. I don’t trust the Syrian rebels, knowing little about them except as reported by (especially American) media. I trust Voltaire: “In the case of news, we should always wait for the sacrament of confirmation.”

I’d claim that Horseshoe Bay’s Troller Pub serves Vancouver’s finest salmon burger, except that now I rarely try others. It’s that good.

Troller has moved one block into the former Japanese restaurant and rebranded itself as the Troller Ale House. No doubt the burger will be just as succulent, but, oh my, the loss of the pub’s character.

Increasing the number of Commons seats is stupid. The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission’s creation of the riding of Burnaby North-Seymour is the triumph of idiocy over stupidity.

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

An extraordinary, irreverent sendoff to an extraordinary, irreverent lieutenant-governor

Appeared in Business in Vancouver – July 30, 2013

It was the most religious of funerals, it was the most irreverent. It was the most solemn, it was the funniest. It was the most conventional, it was the most mischievous – a broad wink from the grave by the dearly departed, who planned and scripted it himself.

The best line was his advice to a daughter: “Enjoy yourself, Baby, tomorrow you could be on the wrong side of the lawn.”

Unusual words at a funeral. But everything was extraordinary about the service – what in the Mother Country would rate as a state funeral – for the Hon. Garde Basil Gardom, K.St.J., O.B.C., Q.C., LL.B, LL.D (Hon.), former lieutenant-governor of British Columbia, former B.C. agent-general in London, zealous tennis player, dog fanatic, nature’s aristocrat with a democrat’s touch, held at Christ Church Cathedral on the deceased’s 89th birthday.

The list of the distinguished included a premier who easily won an election but stumbled on her Bible reading, and another attendee some consider the best premier B.C. never had.

The music choice was breezily eccentric. After the entrance of dignitaries led by Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon and welcome by dean and rector the Very Rev. Peter Elliott, the first hymn was “Jesus Loves Me.” Yes, the child’s hymn many lisped at age six and had never sung since. Some could barely sing through their smiles at Garde’s cheeky choice.

Then, “Come Sunday,” composed by the elegantly worldly and profoundly religious Duke Ellington, performed with heart, soul and outreaching arms by gospel singer Marcus Mosely.

Next surprise was the militant Christian anthem “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory,” better known as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” choir directed by Rupert Lang and soloist Emma Jang. And the recessional piece, played with whimsical tootling, was the “Colonel Bogey March”. More smiles.

Of course there were serious moments. The Right Rev. Michael Ingham’s homily stressed inclusiveness, as witness the five clerics who led prayers: Father Mario Marin (Catholic), the Rev. Tom Miles (United), rabbi Dr. Yosef Wosk, Major Brian Slous (Salvation Army) and the Rev. Tom Cooper (City in Focus).

A memory: Once when I was in Garde’s office he paused to phone his beloved wife, Helen, in tenderest tone: “Is there any grief you can’t handle?” Tiny Helen was almost lost in a forest of Gardoms, starting with daughters Kim, Karen, Brione and Brita. It was Brita, nicknamed Baby, who recalled her father’s mordant “enjoy yourself” advice.

Dr. Pat McGeer, distinguished UBC scientist and Garde’s lifelong friend and running mate in the old two-member Point Grey riding, remembered that, as a friend drove them across Lions Gate Bridge, Garde proposed to Helen in the back seat. (McGeer and other former cabinet ministers who sat near the undersigned, Russ Fraser and Grace McCarthy – who lost her premiership bid to Bill Vander Zalm, also present – looked fit enough to jump into the government front bench tomorrow.)

Lieutenant-Governor Guichon, Kim Gardom Allen and Christy Clark gave Bible readings. The premier’s was Psalm 23. She read with the fine flow of a leader who’d spoken flawlessly on the hustings – then choked on the final words “… and I will dwell.” There was an eternal, almost horrified silence. She restarted: “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever,” quavering voice barely reaching the finish line, lip bitten, chin bunched with emotion. A dramatic moment, the woman under the bubbly public face revealed.

Garde’s parting advice, on the last page of the program, was a rude saying decades ago known even by those with no Latin: Nil carborundum illegitimi. Loosely: “Don’t let the bastards wear you down.” He left us laughing.

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

Clark’s happy illusion trumps dour truths

Appeared in the North Shore News – July 19, 2013

MY spectacular streak of correctly predicting B.C. election results having been snapped at one, what excuses do I have? First, I overlooked that Premier Christy Clark was running not in Metro Vancouver under cynical media eyes, but to get a legislature seat in a bleak desert where wine-sodden voters snooze poolside under the brain-cooking sun. Not a milieu that lends itself to rigorous thought.

Aw, just checking the fine residents of Westside-Kelowna for their sense of humour.

Not kidding so much: Factor in the appeal to Okanagan vanity – the opportunity to boast yet a third premier in B.C. history – and, proof that their heads are stuffed with smarts after all, their shrewd grasp that a legislator who also happens to be the all-powerful premier can bestow goodies on the local populace. Promise me a bridge and I’ll follow you anywhere.

And now, not joking at all: Even a zealous supporter of Ralph Sultan privately murmured that if the West Vancouver-Capilano MLA had sacrificially bowed to let Clark run in his equally bank-safe Liberal riding conveniently near her actual Vancouver residence, her constituents – and the whole North Shore – might have received tangible evidence of her gratitude.

Such as: Revived pressure for a third crossing (some distant day)? Political muscle to improve the beloved Blue Bus service that TransLink short-changes with arrogant indifference? Maybe a quiet word to municipal councils to co-operate more in costcutting, especially concerning policing and firehalls? That said, there’s no discounting Clark’s huge Westside-Kelowna victory: 62 per cent of votes cast. But how could I have overlooked the chief factor that I wove into my prediction of a Liberal win in May? Which is: Clark’s beaming, bubbly optimism.

I don’t expect Clark will really balance the budget and vanquish B.C. debt, or put well-paying jobs in every household. Adrian Dix is much brainier. So are top members of her caucus (and they resentfully know it). But a Viennese saying quoted long ago by journalist Robert Fulford comes to mind: An illusion that makes you happy is better than a truth that makes you sad. Optimism may be an illusion, but it’s a better political sell than dry policy.

Big differences of style and substance aside, another Kelowna premier, mocked by

the Opposition, media and sub-intellectuals as a blowhard and buffoon, had a similar gift for reaching out to hopeful hearts, not analytical minds. W.A.C. Bennett, of course.

Park Royal Shopping Centre will make a major announcement in three or four weeks – more reshaping of the mall that is alienating some customers with its seemingly nonstop construction, dust and confusing access and internal roadways.

The west end of the “old” south mall will be transformed by 2016, starting early next year. A predictably (I stand foursquare behind this prediction) glittering new store, possibly with a fashion theme, on the elderly Extra Foods site will anchor the area.

Wait for it, wait for it, a public announcement will be made probably in three or four weeks. Negotiations are still under way, Park Royal vice-president Rick Amantea told me, and there are “some competitive reasons why we have to keep things closer to our vest.”

All tenants west of the small salad bar will be gone, offered space elsewhere in the centre. Some have chosen not to relocate. A big hole was left by the abrupt closure on June 30 of Peter Black & Sons, the butcher, a 30-year tenant. Nearby, the lively British Newsagent departed in February for Edgemont Village, leaving a boarded-up dead spot.

One tenant’s employee said it’s rumoured that Extra Foods – last refuge of the $1 crunchy French loaf, a staple of the undersigned’s diet – will move to new space in the north mall.

Loblaws-owned Extra Foods has its loyal customers and its share of attractive specials, and especially President’s Choice brands (like its yummy giant chocolate bar). But there’s little disputing that it’s your grandmother’s grocery store in terms of the clever display and customer-wooing that Marine Drive’s Fresh St.

Market recently brought to the North Shore’s highly competitive grocery scene.

Amantea, a well-respected, up-front gent, acknowledges that some customers are put off by Park Royal’s relentless growth. “We know that the level of work we’ve done here causes inconvenience but in three years we’ll have the best retail environment we can create. To not do it is not an option.”

Amantea expresses strong support for nearby Ambleside Village’s rejuvenation, which he sees benefitting area business generally and therefore good for all, including Park Royal. “We’re competing to get great retailers, so our competition is with the Oakridges, Pacific Centres and Metrotowns of the world.”

The only thing faintly competing in stupidity with the well-funded drive to legalize marijuana is the proposal for allowing strong drink on beaches and streets.

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

Clark could lose – you read it here first

Appeared in the North Shore News – June 21, 2013

BLOATED with vanity for having shocked millions with my accurate May 14 election soothsaying, I now recklessly sooth more:

Premier Christy Clark will be humiliated by a very narrow win – grab a long-odds bet that she will actually lose – the July 10 Westside-Kelowna byelection. She’s riding for a fall. A big kick in the seat. Little punning there. Oh, you got that.

Obvious though they are, even to the experts, let me count the ways:

First, The Desperate Revengers: The butterfingers New Democrats, who complacently let their poll-topping lead slip away while taking the high-minded road, and the B.C. Conservatives, who never got their act together and got the hook without filling a single seat, are eating their guts out over the Liberals’ “Well, that was easy” knockout. They can’t get even. But they can get off the mat, bloody a nose on the way to the dressing room, and restore some respect.

It hardly needs saying (a peculiar idiom – if so, why say it?) that Adrian Dix and John Cummins are scanning the help-wanted ads. They need a strong showing if they have a hope of keeping their jobs. Dix’s (new, surely) strategic team will drop the Marquis of Queensberry rules and throw every rabbit punch, knee in the groin and thumb in the eye the NDP can get away with. Anyway, that’s my advice.

Second, The Sideliners: Clark sucked votes – and goosed some chronically lazy/ indifferent non-voters out of their sofas – from those who were less enchanted with her than fearing a Dix win. Relax. The pressure’s off. New game. Advantage: Dix. Maybe also Cummins among small-c conservatives in south Okanagan, while Liberal potatoes return to their couch.

Third, The Carpetbagger Effect: Will Okanagan voters burst their buttons with pride, welcoming a premier to represent their own dry land (once more, as God intended)? Or will they be on a knife-edge balance with those deeply resenting that their May 14 choice, popular Ben Stewart, was muscled aside by the Liberals’ hit men, an insult to local democracy?

Which impulse, pride or resentment, is stronger in Westside-Kelowna is beyond even my prophecy. But some of those who sweated bullets campaigning to elect Stewart will deeply resent him being handed a made-in-Victoria sword and advised to fall on it for the greater good of the party, the people, and all that noble stuff.

A premier who couldn’t win her own riding? Too damn bad. Let her wait a few months until paralytic boredom or kindly death removes a Liberal. She doesn’t have to brighten the legislature with her bubbly presence, especially having voiced her disdain for the never-never-land insanity of political Victoria.

Fourth, The Personal Factor: Anyone actually care about Stewart’s feelings? Or are such trifles shrugged off in politics’ crude snatches at power?

If I were in his campaign-worn shoes I’d be tempted to tell the party thugs who came a-calling to go take a Highland fling at a rolling doughnut. Actually “Highland fling” is not the exact terminology in this thoughtful phrase from my Hamilton youth, but close enough in a family paper. Won’t some voters empathize with Stewart’s frozen-smile disappointment?

Fifth, The Marie Antoinette Syndrome: Clark raised salaries of party-appointed twenty-something go-fers, fixers and footmen to $105,000 then, under attack, cut them to $102,000 – still more than MLAs’ pay, and much more than most of her let-them-eat-cake subjects earn. The Vancouver Sun’s Barbara Yaffe revealed her deputy chief of staff, Michele Cadario, is paid astonishingly more than U.S. President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, and more than the premier herself. Beleaguered, Clark retreated again.

Old B.C. story: Thirty years ago a researcher handed Social Credit cabinet minister Jim Nielsen evidence that a Vancouver Island school superintendent had a bigger paycheque in exchange-adjusted dollars than J. Edgar Hoover, powerful director of the FBI. That researcher’s name will not be revealed here.

Clark’s learn-nothing arrogance coincided with a peak in Canada’s Gross National Cynicism about the Senate, the prime minister, the mayor of Toronto, Quebec political payoffs, and (once again and still) the RCMP.

Not fair wind for any election, especially a byelection.

Sixth, The Bad-Luck Gremlin: A tiny oil pipeline leak, but none is too small to gladden the told-you-so enthusiasts, while Clark is finessing the Northern Gateway project, which of course she’ll eventually approve. Even a retreating stock market is shadowing her.

Seventh, The Poor Christy One-Note Phenomenon: Clark effectively pounded the election key of jobs, jobs, jobs – us or disaster (while B.C.’s 2012 growth was lowest in Western Canada).

Liquefied natural gas, given its own ministry, is the knight in shining armour that will slay the demon debt. Or call in the Sugar-Plum Fairy.

The premier will have to find a fresh song sheet to woo Westside-Kelowna, and it says here she’s in tough and tuneless.

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

Senior service given short shrift in Clark cabinet considerations

Sultan is a politely independent gent not cut out to be among the cringing court flatterers who populate the Canadian party system

 

Appeared in Business in Vancouver – June 18, 2013

Smiley-face Christy Clark kilted up in her Lady Macbeth mode and plunged her dagger into two honest cabinet members who dared cross her.

Of course the premier and party will never admit to such a dastardly motive in dispensing with ministers Moira Stilwell and Ralph Sultan. Official explanation: Regional balance. Fresh faces. And all that.

Their stepping out of the Liberal Party line? Pure coincidence. Bloody weapon put aside, Clark’ll sleep soundly, unlike Shakespeare’s conscience-troubled lady.

True, having lost their cabinet jobs and the added $51,000 a year income, Stilwell and Sultan might still be granted lower-paid consolation prizes such as chair or deputy chair of some committee.

Stilwell, who was regional development minister, in a previous life was a doctor and radiologist with deep community service in breast cancer and other good causes. She blotted her copybook by publicly criticizing Da Prima for running that red light in dark of night. Also Stilwell dropped out of the Liberal party nomination race in 2011 to throw her support to George Abbott. This couldn’t have helped, in an occupation where elephantine memory for trifling slights and major treachery goes with the brutal territory.

Ralph Sultan was more ruthlessly exploited. Sultan has wiped out all opponents put together in West Vancouver-Capilano since first elected in 2001, routinely attracting two-thirds of the votes and at or near the top of Liberal vote-harvesters provincewide.

Sultan (emphasis on the “tan”) has credentials that few can even read through without working up a sweat: engineering (UBC), economics (Harvard grad and prof, member Economic Council of Canada), award winner (many), banking (Royal), mining (Global Energy and Minerals Group, Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting), philanthropy (J. W. McConnell Foundation, endowment of a UBC professorship), adviser (Queen’s), forestry (starting as a tree faller before university).

Straight from central casting for finance minister, right? Not. Sultan is a politely independent gent not cut out to be among the cringing court flatterers who populate the Canadian party system’s “Yes, premier, certainly premier, how high, premier?”

For whatever reason, Gordon Campbell passed over him. Last September, East Vancouver native son Sultan finally made cabinet – minister of state for seniors.

Sultan, who turned 80 this month, took the task seriously. He visited 68 communities and met about 1,000 seniors. Quietly charming, approachable and unstuffy, he may well have made a solid contribution to the Liberals’ widely unexpected victory on May 14.

Whereupon Clark treated Sultan – and the seniors – like a resource she had cynically used for the campaign and now cast aside; no replacement was named, a fine kick in the store-bought teeth. But was there a more pointed political reason?

Yes. Clark, you noticed, lost in her own Vancouver-Point Grey riding. The convention is that a safe seat had to be found for her, and the suitable sacrificial Liberal MLA to fall on his sword.

Sultan was high on the media list. Ageism a factor, doubtless. But rookie Andrew Wilkinson, helpfully in Point Grey-abutting Vancouver-Quilchena, was tapped on the shoulder first. Talk. No action.

Then Sultan. He declined. A good guess is that the negotiations weren’t especially amicable. A better guess is that Herself was not amused by his refusal.

So Ben Stewart, Westside-Kelowna, a popular chap and winery owner and evidently not in need of a tag day, generously stepped up to the plate, or the guillotine, or whatever. As has oft been said, watching politics being made is like watching sausage-making, just a little more sickening.

© Trevor Lautens, 2013