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 fond farewell to St. Pierre and the glory days of dailies, CKNW

Appeared in Business in Vancouver – August 12, 2014

Paul St. Pierre died aged 90 last month, and the daily newspapers he adorned look a little wan too. Abandoning characteristic diplomacy, Vancouver Sun deskman Ron Riter, equipped with the keenest of journalistic noses, would call him the paper’s best columnist of his time.

Paul could write down and up to readers in every sentence. An equal-access storyteller to the lump and the literate, he wrote books and films, real cowboys and real Indian stories, set in B.C.’s Cariboo country. Once a pretty woman fell off a ranch fence there and he caught her. “Hello,” he remarked. They married, his first of two.

He was a Sun desker when Don Cromie – maybe Canada’s last big-city independent publisher and given to exotic epiphanies, like transmuting sports writer Jack Richards into a theatre critic and sending women’s editor Marie Moreau to interview Fidel Castro – elevated Paul to associate editor. The legend is that the day he began his new role was the first he’d ever worn a suit and tie.

Dark, restless, Napoleonic, Paul preferred big horizons to airless offices. He drove a Datsun B210, his “little rice-burner,” all over B.C., extracting columns from soil and river and ordinary lives he made important. Mexico was a second home. In advanced age he wrote a reflective masterpiece, Old Enough to Know Better.

Drinking occurred in those days. (And that was just the women; Moreau closed the door and opened the bottom drawer for her women’s department staff after every workday.) Names swim back: Simma Holt, Moira Farrow, Tom Ardies – who often wrote the prize zipper across the bottom of page 1. Unheralded deskmen like Lionel Salt, tough Tom Butler, Evan Evans-Atkinson. Inventive photographers under Charlie Warner. Cartoonists Len Norris and Roy Peterson. The dailies are thinner and the fun has vanished, along with the blue-haze newsroom and the booze.

Hold on – business readership, right? Better sprinkle some dollar signs. Determined to produce a brash, big-time paper, in 1963, when Earl T. Smith hired the undersigned, Cromie was paying columnist Jack Scott $24,000 per annum, and cigar-chomping managing editor Erwin Swangard $1,000 more – plus a white Cadillac, soothing any incipient jealousy. Everyone read self-styled saloon columnist Jack Wasserman, who weighed in at around $19,000. In perspective, the journeyman rate then was $128 a week, $6,656 a year.

These figures, stunning today when adjusted for inflation, were provided by know-it-all Allan Fotheringham, not yet the celebrity columnist of the same name, who incidentally assessed the value of Cromie’s handsome Shaughnessy house at an alarming $125,000.

But that was very much then. A source familiar with several area print, radio and TV enterprises reports that all are hurting, the common enemy of course the Internet, free and often worth every penny. Yet the dailies, including the Sun under Gordon Fisher, in many respects are better than ever, and still absolutely indispensable.

Now, CKNW. The rich, legendary days are likewise gone, along with Jack Webster, Warren Barker, George Garrett, Frosty Forst and a vast alumni roster of mostly female producers and outstanding executive Shirley Stocker. Front-liners Philip Till and Bill Good recently left hours apart, Till cheerfully telling me: “I’ve had enough, and I’ve got enough.”

Good, 67-ish, with his probity, civility, fairness, balance, integrity and inclusiveness, traits I yearn for, sailed perilously close to the status of Court Broadcaster, socially mingling with the prominent and even offered a job by billionaire Jimmy Pattison during a huge on-air sendoff. Permanent replacements TBA; Chris Gailus and Jay Durant have batted for Till, sassy and smart Mike Smyth for Good.

We may never see the glory days reprieved, certainly not at the old income of Rafe Mair. Memory, speak: didn’t it hit $300,000?

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

Milk showdown raises ghosts of 1812

Appeared in the North Shore News – August 17, 2012

BELLINGHAM citizens are furious because Canadian shoppers are monopolizing . . . milk.

Snatching milk from the mouths of American babies.

The Canadian milk-buying invasion is so alarming that pressure is on Bellingham stores like Costco to have dedicated checkouts or time periods for American shoppers only.

Doesn’t the U.S. Constitution have something to say about discrimination? You couldn’t get away with that under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Wrongs.

Bloggers have seized the obvious antecedent: The War of 1812, in which a few thousand British veterans of the Napoleonic Wars, their aboriginal allies led by the great Tecumseh and about 15 Canadian farmers wielding pitchforks heroically beat back the Americans, who were mostly frightened by the native fighters’ whoops in the night.

In my own home province, the Americans got as far as Stoney Creek, Ont., and, disappointed that the locally famous Stoney Creek Milk Bar wasn’t opened yet, retreated sullenly across the border.

As a young reporter on “freelance” – the assignment book term used when the city editor didn’t know what to do with excess staff and a shortage of news – I went to the battle site on the 150th anniversary and waited till midnight for ghostly apparitions or strange moaning noises. Were there any? Regardless, I wrote a feature about it. It was shameless. Talk about your silly summer story.

But back to cross-border milk wars: As one blogger wrote, “The real story is, why aren’t Canadian prices lower?” Well, if we all had an extra life to live, we might be able to understand our politicized dairy products system, aimed at protecting mainly Quebec and Ontario farmers. The government and the dairy lobby call this “supply management.” Consumers are free to call it protectionism causing artificially high prices.

It’s enough to make Canadians want to get away from it all and fly to Vegas.

From cheaper Bellingham, of course.

. . .

You’ve heard of the American Dream. Now the CKNW (pronounced “Canadian”) Dream. It deserves an item in Mac Parry’s Sun column.

An eight-year-old boy wants to be in radio so badly that on Halloween he goes trick-or-treating dressed as a CKNW reporter: Fedora, press pass in the brim, notepad in his breast pocket, suspenders with CKNW logo pasted on, and wielding a tape recorder.

Today that lad, James Lewis, is an impressively polished CKNW reporter and newsreader, with the perfect NW voice and style – at age 20. And this week he added another gig, writing news for Global Television.

Local angle: Proud parents of James, a Sentinel and BCIT grad, are West Vancouver Coun. Michael and Jean Lewis. From childhood dream to a skilled pro in a dozen years. Gotta love it, as Don Cherry would say.

. . .

Still with the media: Ian Morrison, spokesman for the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, dedicated to the purity of the CBC, is pained that the Harper government has pressured CBC Radio Two into carrying advertising. After that, the deluge: Morrison predicts commercials eventually will sully Radio One’s iconic As It Happens and World Report.

I agree. Neither the CBC nor the advertising-hungry private stations can welcome this. CBC listeners least of all.

But very old people will recall that CBC Radio has carried commercials before. A mere 45-odd years ago, my shy self had a regular morning CBC spot megaphoning my views, preceded by a commercial for an East Broadway truck dealer.

When Mother Corp stopped such commercials, neither the CBC, the world, nor my trade as opinionmonger came to a crashing end.

. . .

Summertime (finally) in Vancouver, and the theatre offerings are rich. There’s still time to see the outstanding Buddy Holly Story at the Stanley.

If you leave absorbed but sombre by Bob Frazer and Colleen Wheeler in Macbeth at Bard on the Beach, go back – as our family did last weekend – for the tickling gender manoeuvres of Lois Anderson and John Murphy in The Taming of the Shrew.

Ah, nostalgia: The first female I dated in Vancouver, The Mod, had her feminist knickers in such a knot over the latter that she publicly denounced the Stratford Shakespearian Festival for performing it. Sad. Died young, The Mod, perhaps of excessive principle. (I made a point of asking the three females I accompanied more recently if they were offended. They shrugged. Times and tempers change.)

But for this customer, the biggest pure treat – last show tomorrow! – was The Music Man, at the under-the-radar (less advertised) but definitely not under-patronized (full house when I attended) Theatre Under The Stars. Meredith Willson’s sentimental-but-subversively-sly look at the aforementioned American Dream is brilliantly directed and performed at TUTS.

. . .

More theatre, of sorts, and a growing tradition: Royal Tea at Dundarave Park, 2-4 p.m. tomorrow.

© Trevor Lautens, 2012

Kitchen oracle speaks economic truth

Appeared in North Shore News – September 17, 2010

Let’s get serious. Our family grocery bill for August was $1,091.25.

And yours?

My wife was shocked when she added up the figures. We have never budgeted. I always considered budgeting beneath the dignity of West Vancouver residents.

Little levity there. But I genuinely can’t figure out how a lot of “average” Canadians are making ends meet these days. I cite our own grocery bills only because they are handy and embarrass no one but my unembarrassable self.

To be sure, the $1,100-odd includes the bill for spirituous liquors and wine ($136.99), which I consider part of a healthy person’s proper diet.

But it excludes some cash outlays, like for fresh produce at the one-man farmer’s market off West Vancouver’s 31st Street near Marine Drive. And our supermarket purchases don’t involve expensive cuts of meat. We are quasi-vegetarians, in recent months becoming more quasi, guiltily slipping from our principles.

The final figure, excluding a couple of restaurant meals, is somewhere north of $1,200.

Some readers will retort that we’re living enviably high off the hog.

Others, who buy deliriously expensive cheeses, not Safeway’s excellent-value white cheddar ($1.79 per hundred grams) like us, and consider $25 wines their everyday plonk, derisive of the four-litre boxes we buy, might feel so sorry for us that they’ll quietly leave a donation at our door. (A friend warmly advocated a new brand of gin costing “only pennies more” than the Gordon’s, Beefeater, Gilbey’s I buy. It turned out to be almost twice as expensive as those common gins.)

The media report on “the economy” and use terms like “the recession” and quote the official “inflation rate” — a figure so patently bogus, so ridiculously selective (real estate, for good example, excluded), that a government that’s supposed to be open and democratic should be ashamed of it. It’s as cooked as statistics from dictatorships. Ottawa has a hard-eyed interest in keeping the numbers artificially low, partly to restrain indexed pensions and other outlays.

Those stuffy phrases, solemn talking-heads on TV, radio interviews, business-page stories and op-ed page pieces don’t reveal the subjective truth for many Canadians — the truth of the kitchen, you might say.

Behind closed doors, even on the affluent North Shore, there has surely been a lot of pulling in of belts, perhaps literally, since the “recession” (another stiff-lipped word) struck a couple of years ago and hasn’t departed for many people. There’s a story behind every old woman or man picking out coins from a change purse for a few small items at the supermarket checkout.

I went through our own costs.

First, the family census is like an accordion, membership expanding and contracting irregularly. The core members are two people, two dogs, a cat, and two birds, the latter apparently aiming for the Guinness book’s longevity record. (Pets are awesomely expensive. A woman walking her tiny poopsie at Ambleside Beach the other day casually mentioned that she paid $87 a month for pet health insurance.)

In August, we had all three of our young-adult children at home, raising the usual grocery bill. One bunked in to take a two-week professional course — alarmingly expensive: In my youth it could have paid almost the entire four-year undergraduate tuition for all three children.

The finance ministers, the chief economists for the banks, the experts of the Conference Board of Canada and the C. D. Howe Institute (named for a politician who once famously sneered “What’s a million?” — which now seems remarkably prophetic) are still largely insulated from the storm, like wealthy journalists such as me.

But there are a lot of anxious faces out there, especially outside of anomalous Vancouver — people living pension/paycheque to pension/paycheque. That’s to say nothing of the educated young, many under-employed if they’re employed at all. My young financial adviser suggests investing in Chinese bonds. Can you believe?

– – –

Last week I gently invited the North Shore’s four Liberals MLAs — much-liked Ralph Sultan, mediocrity Joan McIntyre, nice newcomer Naomi Yamamoto, and already baggage-laden Jane Thornthwaite — to state their views on the leadership of the premier. No responses so far. None likely after the most recent turn of events.

If they weren’t done like dinner before, Gordon Campbell and the B.C. Liberals he’s dragging with him are toast for the next election — to mix culinary metaphors.

Campbell’s lackeys’ decision to submit the Harmonized Sales Tax issue to a $30-million referendum rather than face up to a free vote in the legislature is — I never dreamt I’d write this — more disgraceful than anything the New Democrats did in power. An informed public debate and submitting the HST to the legislature initially would have settled the matter. A whole year of confusion and tax-influenced strategies, not to mention an expanding pay-cash-no-tax marketplace, lies ahead.

In the next election, the Liberals — notwithstanding their many good earlier initiatives — deserve to drop somewhere behind the Radical Vegetarian Party.

– – –

A reader scolds me for the item knocking the RCMP for shrugging off a dangerous Squamish reserve crack house as a problem for the natives to deal with.

“While I certainly sympathize with the natives living near this crack house with the inherent low-lifes and criminals that frequent it,” he writes, “it must be pointed out that for decades the native reserves have been pushing the white man’s enforcement and punishment out of their communities, and have been implementing their own ‘healing’ processes. The natives cannot expect to have their cake and eat it, too.”

A well-taken point and heartily conceded, allowing that it isn’t just them. Every group, every human being who treads the earth wants to have their cake and eat it too, and make bread pudding out of the crumbs.

– – –

What a good idea — creating a 3-D image of a child playing ball on the road approaching Ecole Pauline Johnson, startling drivers with a sober slow-down message.

It’s amusing that this brought more attention to West Vancouver, including coverage by CNN in the U.S., than much weightier matters.

– – –

As governments age they become stupider — unlike old journalists, who just keep getting smarter. Why Stephen Harper chose to drop the compulsory long-census form, and stubbornly won’t back up, would baffle the best minds. Months have passed and the issue won’t go away.

Worse, the government was caught out in falsely claiming that making the long form voluntary was Statistics Canada’s proposal. The angry, principled resignation of chief statistician Munir Sheikh sank the government narrative.

What no one seems to have noticed is the human factor. Some people like telling all about themselves. They’re flattered. Workplace analysts long ago learned that employees feel a rise in esteem when they see their work is important enough to be studied. It’s like the thrill of seeing your name in print, though I can’t see the magic of it myself.

– – –

Extra, extra, read all about it! West Vancouver sports writer makes history!

Jim Taylor, already in three sports halls of fame and with an earlier national lifetime achievement award, becomes the first sports writer to receive the coveted Bruce Hutchison Award for his life’s toil in what its denizens cynically call “the toy department.” In fact some of the best journalists began, and some stayed, in sports.

Coincidentally, Taylor’s 14th book, And to Think I Got in Free! Highlights from Fifty Years on the Sports Beat (Harbour Publishing), soon will appear at bookstores near you.

Little inside joke in the first para. CKNW lavishly reported Taylor’s triumph. No ink at all at this writing in the two downtown dailies, where Taylor wrote for a total of 30 years.

– – –

Speculation in legal circles is hot at this writing about who should head the Pickton inquiry. Here’s a suggestion: If she’s available, retired B.C. Appeal Court Justice Mary Southin.

© Trevor Lautens, 2010

From Victoria, the sky seems oddly secure

Appeared in North Shore News – August 20, 2010

More summer smiles, silliness and sobriety:

I trust every North Shorean read Peter Oates’s intelligent and soberingly candid Aug. 7 letter to the editor in The Vancouver Sun, refuting the gospel according to B.C.’s big business interests concerning the Harmonized Sales Tax.

Oates is owner/operator of Carmelo’s, one of West Vancouver’s top restaurants. He responded to a smug opinion piece by Jock Finlayson, a very decent man possibly shoved by a forked stick in his Business Council of B.C. role to act as blocker for Premier Gordon Campbell on the HST.

B.C. Chamber of Commerce president John Winter is also a very nice man — his son and mine played baseball together — and he too is running interference as surrogate for the premier, explaining that the business community’s last-minute lunge to stop the anti-HST petition was simply due to that disparate community’s disorganization. Sort of like the B.C. Lions.

The HST issue moved to the Supreme Court of B.C. Monday, and, courts moving at their own majestic pace, a ruling may take weeks or months. Whatever the result, six business groups support the tax, and they will be punished with Campbell in the court of public opinion.

Back to Finlayson’s piece. The headline said it all: “After a month of HST, the sky hasn’t fallen.”

Oates advised him that it was doing so. Finlayson apparently is standing under an undetachably secure part of the sky. Carmelo’s gross last month was the worst July Oates has experienced, $5,000 less than the previous worst July, in 2003.

Interestingly, his restaurant has proven something of an economic bellwether: Business fell two months before the recession, and rose two months “before the all-clear was sounded.” If Carmelo’s were a brokerage, I’d sign up. Best I can do is to lunch at Carmelo’s once I’m back from overseas.

Oates sounds like a pretty frank and fair employer. He’s consulted with his staff. He’s “already cut labour to the bone” — serving as pizza cook himself some days, waiting on tables others. He is evidently pained by letting staff go — 10 shifts lost.

The premier and Finlayson should assure those dismissed workers of the infallibly staunch security of the sky, perhaps bringing along meteorologist Mark Madryga to explain the technical points.

We are all tiny pieces in what looks like a major global economic dive — such an abstract phrase to describe felt hardship, including hunger — already begun in some smaller countries like Greece.

It would be nice to hear more from the optimists. Now who was it who said that hope makes a poor guide, but a good companion?

– – –

Still on West Van retail, I know one family regretting that Gulliver’s — an inventive travel accessory store for almost 30 years at Park Royal Shopping Centre — and nearby Eddie Bauer are being evicted to make space for a giant Swedish international store. That can be done under the terms of their leases. Who knew?

– – –

And furthermore regarding the HST, here’s what’s called anecdotal evidence, often as accurate as a royal commission: There’s an accelerated flurry of small business all-cash, “off-the-books” transactions being offered out there since the HST kicked in, and I’d wager that the tax police aren’t too eager to track them down because of the HST’s huge unpopularity.

– – –

Furthermore even some more on the HST, this is an overlooked underlying (oxymoron?) testament to how far out of touch even the most astute and well-informed can be regarding the public temper:

CKNW’s Cutting Edge of the Ledge segment on Fridays is a must-listen discussion among host Bill Good, Vaughn Palmer and Keith Baldrey, smart media people who probably know provincial politics better than most MLAs. Good was only half-joking when at the start of one session he advised political Victoria: “Start your tape recorders.” It’s that influential.

Short months ago the Three Wise Men, as I call them, were treating former premier Bill Vander Zalm’s anti-HST petition as an amusing diversion, a tilting at windmills sure to end up with a blunt lance. (Me too.)

But the ever-upbeat Zalm, impossible to dislike personally, and HST activist Chris Delaney did the wildly unlikely, and on a shoestring: They gathered the signatures of more than 700,000 voters furious about the HST — well above the required 10 per cent in each of B.C.’s 85 ridings.

All that you know. But regardless of where anyone stands on the HST, it’s been seriously under-appreciated that this was the greatest populist feat, the greatest organizing of ordinary people around a cause, since the 1972-75 movement to bang the heads together of the rival “free enterprise” parties in order to form a single party — Bill Bennett’s Social Credit — and defeat the incumbent New Democrats.

Credit where due: I’d say Vander Zalm was the only one, with Delaney’s tireless organizing work in the trenches and an army of great anti-HST volunteers, able to pull it off.

– – –

It’s appalling what party ideology can do to the political tongue. The New Democratic Party ferry critic ascribed the Queen of Nanaimo’s recent hard landing at Mayne Island to “the legacy of privatization.” Spare me.

– – –

It’s a small world, as they say — but this small?

Bill Vaughan attended Carolanne Reynolds’s Royal Tea celebration on the B.C. Day weekend — snappily turned out in white trousers, sharp jacket and straw boater.

Notable on Bill’s hat was some kind of insignia, and I was about to jest that perhaps it was his old school crest when, reading my mind, he animatedly stated that indeed it was — the school being Witgift, in England.

But, as Jack Wasserman used to say, that isn’t the item. The item is that a woman passing by not only instantly recognized it — but declared that she had actually worked at that very school.

The odds for that must resemble the odds of winning the Lotto Max.

© Trevor Lautens, 2010