Will they, won’t they run again?

Appeared in the North Shore News – December 6, 2013

But enough of my opinions. For now. Municipal elections are less than a year away. Read on.

I asked West Vancouver councillors two questions: “1. At this point do you intend to run for re-election next November? 2. Are you considering running for mayor?” I thought they were pretty good sports to answer. Let them speak.

Bill Soprovich: “I plan to run for re-election to council.” Short and sweet from West Van’s senior and perennially popular councillor.

Trish Panz: “Apologies for my delayed response, out of the country dealing with a family situation. My easy answer to your easy question is, my focus is working hard on council’s five priorities for this term, and I have not made a formal decision at this time.”

Nora Gambioli: “1. I love this 95 per cent of the time – who else can say that about their job? Thus, unless some major tragedy or upheaval were to befall me in the upcoming year, my intentions would be to run again, as a councillor, yes.

“2. Absolutely not. Mayors are paid three times what councillors are paid for a reason; it’s three times the work! “I have two young kids, another job, an unwell 85-year-old father and a big garden. Councillor is just perfect for me. .. for now. .. (ha, ha!).”

Craig Cameron: When I solicited councillors’ feelings about their first year on this council, Coun. Cameron barely missed the deadline. Also his candour is admirable and his points informative. I hate to cut the following too:

“The short answers to your questions are yes and no. I am very much enjoying my work on council and feel I have more to accomplish.

“Regarding the position of mayor, the truth is that I simply could not afford it. By my rough calculations, taking such a pause in my career would leave me more than $200,000 in the hole for a three-year term (not counting the cost of my pension being reduced about $9,000 per year from age 60 on – another $200,000 if I live to age 80). Keep in mind I am a lawyer in the civil service and am paid far less than my private bar contemporaries (for whom the loss would be higher).

“At present, only those who are independently wealthy or supported by someone else could afford to take the job. … I don’t point it out to complain (as I am content with my lot in life and the privilege of being on council) but instead to offer a real-life rejoinder to those who question the earnings of civic officials.. .. I wouldn’t want to be the first sitting mayor to go bankrupt! “Nor, in all seriousness, would I want to force hard financial choices on my family so I could be mayor (and, for the record, our lifestyle is modest and does not include luxury cars, private schools or exclusive clubs).”

Mary-Ann Booth: “While it is still early days, at this point I’m very much enjoying the job and am likely to run again.”

Mayor Mike Smith: “There are things I would still like to see get done in the district and some projects that I would like to see through to completion. I am getting a lot of encouragement to run for a second term but I will make a final decision in the spring.”

Michael Lewis: “1. Yes. 2. Too early to say.”

With her sharp analytical mind, Constant Reader will jump on the last three statements.

Got it? Booth doesn’t answer the mayoralty question. I rate her council’s most politically ambitious member. She wants the mayor’s office.

I believe she’s weighing whether the voters – who overlooked her husband’s employment with a law firm serving the Grosvenors and their now-approved development for Marine Drive and 13th – have moved on from doubts about the propriety of the family connection, and don’t care that she had to recuse herself repeatedly from voting on the Grosvenor issue. That stilled a council voice on a top local issue. Not good.

My take is that Smith has an even hand on the tiller, gets establishment backing, is respected even by critics, and has re-election in the bag. If he runs. He’s financially triple-A, loves his Hawaii home that he visits on each side of the holiday Mondays when council doesn’t meet, and may feel he’s done his one-term mayoral bit.

Reader, look closely at the website video clips or when Shaw broadcasts West Van council meetings. Unless my drawing attention to them makes them change their ways: Check the councillor(s) who don’t speak to other councillors – but directly to the television camera. Starting their election campaigns early, hmmm? Most intriguing response? Lewis’s. Employing my unmatched gift of prophecy, I predict: If Smith retires, look for a Lewis-Booth faceoff for mayor next November. If.

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

Picking over the election’s entrails

Appeared in the North Shore News – November 25, 2011

Is West Vancouver Citizens for Good Government (WVCGG) a monster that eats a whole town’s political culture every three years, then burps, digests and snores for the next three?

Or just nice neighbours, exchanging apple pie recipes over the back fence?

Fascinating issue, you’ll agree. But first, applause for the 50 per cent of fresh new faces on West Van council: Mary-Ann Booth (lawyer), Craig Cameron (lawyer) and Nora Gambioli (lawyer).

Amazing how so many lawyers are devoted to selfless public service.

They will join incumbents Bill Soprovich, who came last in his first council bid and has topped the polls six times since, Trish Panz and Michael Lewis around the town hall power table next month – December, Christmas month.

But there’s a new hardeyed Santa in charge, no lawyer but a none-too-jolly private businessman, and he is not in a giving mood in this ho, ho horrible time for many financially pressed West Vancouver citizens and even anxious wealthier ones.

Disillusioning though it will be to some readers, the gifts to run town hall, where salaries gobble up 80 per cent of the budget, come from the taxpayer. They aren’t cobbled in Santa’s workshop by elves.

The elves have retired – on handsome pensions, of course.

Mayor-elect Mike Smith has made it clear: If Metrowide union contracts impose a four-per-cent salary rise, the budget will have to be cut four per cent. Period. Last year’s determined squeeze on the budget that fell just short of its zero-rise target will be resurrected.

Don’t think the grandiose projects of the Pam Goldsmith-Jones era, like Grosvenor’s boosterishly dubbed AmblesideNOW!, will be invulnerable. Or the swollen sums paid to lawyers, typified early by the half-million squandered by the mayor-chaired police board to fire honourable cop Scott Armstrong and replace him with the vainglorious scoundrel Kash Heed.

The last two councils were evenly split several times on development-related issues, often with Couns. Lewis – former member of the budget-policing Interested Taxpayers Action Committee – Soprovich and Smith on the nay side. Coun. Shannon Walker, businesswoman and daughter of the glossy Walker Building’s Chuck Walker, who retired to raise her children, proved no fool with the public’s money either.

(Longish footnote: I asked Shannon’s take on the election. In part: “I am very encouraged by the make-up of the new council. . . . Actually makes me a bit sad I won’t be part of it because I think it looks like an energetic and intellectual group of leaders that will push the boundaries a bit. I think it is unfortunate that Coun. (Michael) Evison was not re-elected as he was always a very diligent, wellprepared and enthusiastic member of our team and I really enjoyed working with him.” She and Smith are also mutual admirers. She asks who I think might run for mayor in 2014. Answer: Herself. Have I ever been wrong?)

And now? Let’s see if council’s chemistry changes with the three newcomers (none of whom, Constant Reader unkindly notes, got the nod from the undersigned).

Gambioli didn’t mention that she had been a Green party candidate in the 2002 provincial election. Still Green? West Vancouverites quirkily are kneejerk naturelovers but not political environmentalists, a large distinction.

Cameron, affronted by the suspicion in this space that he was too sleek, too trite in speeches, too “downtown,” cordially suggested a get-toknow-you informal interview over coffee, an hour-plus.

Charming. A justice ministry lawyer, granted one (unpaid) day off weekly for council work. “I’d be better off if I lost,” he laughed. Father of three youngsters. Boyishly belies his 42 years (youngest kid on the council block), and almost embarrassingly open – I feared that if I asked him about his sex life, he’d tell me. I gave notice I’d be on the lookout for his alleged sleekness, downtown-ness etc., so he’s been alerted to look quietly rich and dress in stained dog-walking clothes like all genuine West Vancouverites.

Mary-Ann Booth isn’t so amusing. In my view she shouldn’t even have thought of running for council: Her husband is a lawyer for a firm that does business with Grosvenor – a connection only drawn from her at an allcandidates meeting, and which subsequently she smoothly passed over.

Of course Booth will abstain from debate and voting on Grosvenor-related matters. That abstention in a small six-member council could be decisive. But also, what of other developments that conceivably might compete with Grosvenor’s? All aspiring and even practising politicians should consult Plutarch’s narrative that established the “Caesar’s wife” example.

. . .

Oops, no space to hash over WVCGG’s influence, except to say that it can’t be blamed for having no competitors in this small town. It should have. The real knock on the WVCGG is its up-front fee of $900 from council candidates (refunded if they don’t make the cut) before it even considers their pitch.

© Trevor Lautens, 2011

West Vancouver ballot advice nobody had to pay for

Appeared in the North Shore News – November 11, 2011

It is time once again for the sage old gent who has been at this stand for 21 years to give his sage old advice

Feel free to ignore it, as you probably have in past West Vancouver elections with no loss.

First, a favourable nod to former member of the Interested Taxpayers’ Action Committee Michael Lewis, a principal player in shrinking the West Van budget increase toward zero. A possible future mayor.

Perennial poll-topper Bill Soprovich won’t quit and won’t relax. Loves the work. Loves responding to citizen calls. A love reciprocated – this is his sixth election.

Carolanne Reynolds is committed, deserving, but, as a long-time citizen council-watcher and editor of West Vancouver Matters (a labour of love that she underwrites), arguably is more valuable outside than inside the tent.

Vivian Vaughan is the Woman Who Would Have Been Mayor, maybe, second in a three-way split in 2008. She’s of independent mind, brainy, politically not necessarily a team player.

On the other hand. . . . School board chairwoman Mary-Ann Booth plunged right off my recommended list with the revelation that her husband is a lawyer with a firm representing Grosvenor, hip-deep in redevelopment in West Vancouver. This clear conflict of interest would fatally disqualify her from important decisions ahead. On the other hand. . . .

Incumbent Trish Panz made a jibe about something negative I wrote about her in 2008, and she won. No kidding, I like that. Keeps me humble. Panz is a “Pamette,” a total political and personal friend of retiring Mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones. If you liked the one, you’ll like the other.

Craig Cameron is too sleek, too “downtown” by half for my tastes, his speech stuffed with clichés – will someone please kill the word “transparency” with a stick? My suspicion: Another development-friendly heir of Goldsmith-Jones. And allow that there’s no black/white on that issue, but a matter of degree and kind.

Nora Gambioli has a law degree (Dalhousie), teaching certificate, and diploma in psychology, but in 2008 she impressed me anyway.

Still does. Less impressive: She doesn’t advertise that she ran for the Green Party provincially against Ralph Sultan (a distant second) in 2001. “Environmentalist” isn’t a dirty word to me, but her silence on this point slightly bothers me.

Gregg Henderson may have got the sympathy vote in 2008, his speeches painfully inept, but three years have improved his platform confidence without improving his mind. His foolish pitch to end incamera meetings shows blank ignorance of why, though open to abuse, they exist.

. . .

Finally, West Van voters will have to decide whether the following is important.

A curious reader questioned this statement on Coun. Michael Evison’s website: “Michael is a FCCA Fellow, Chartered Association of Certified Accountants in the U.K.”

The reader couldn’t find Evison’s name on the members’ or Fellows’ list.

A Wikipedia entry describes ACCA as a global body for professional accountants with 147,000 qualified members, who, if they have “sufficient post-qualification experience are designated Fellows, and use the designatory letters FCCA in place of ACCA.”

After we exchanged a few emails, Evison – who is seeking re-election – explained, verbatim: “Thank you for your question for clarification. I am not now a ‘registered’ member. I use the designation as in I’m a Lawyer or an Engineer or a Teacher.

“For the record, I never practised, as in public/private practice. I spent most of my career in financial roles for a variety of companies.

I formally resigned my membership 22 Feb., 1998.”

At best it’s strange that the affable Evison is flaunting an affiliation that ended 13 years ago.

. . .

After West Van acclaimed mayor Michael Smith made it plain in an interview that he was scandalized by union donations in North Van, I questioned North Vancouver’s city and district mayors, Darrell Mussatto and Richard Walton about that.

Walton: “No, I don’t accept contributions from unions. I have maintained a very positive relationship with our unions over the years but am uncomfortable accepting financial support and have spoken very amicably and objectively with them explaining why. They fully understand and have not offered me financial support.”

Mussatto: “Hi, Trevor. Yes, as an ambulance paramedic I am a member of CUPE 873 and I do receive money from them. As well, I receive contributions from CUPE B.C. and from CUPE National. I received money in all my previous campaigns from CUPE since 1993. I also receive money from independent businesses and from individuals. If you would like to donate to my campaign I would be happy to receive it from you! Warning, all donations to my campaign are disclosed as per the provincial government regulations! Cheers, Darrell.”

I prefer Walton’s stand, but whatever your take on Mussatto’s, top marks for his openness and wit. Maybe that’s why his constituents have given him four council and two mayoralty terms for 18 years.

© Trevor Lautens, 2011

Don’t count the U.S. out as a superpower

Appeared in the North Shore News – September 16, 2011

I’M uncomfortable sounding upbeat. It’s so out of character.

But – in the face of assured opinions that are becoming conventional wisdom, which has proven unwise so often in history – that America is in terminal decline, finished as the world’s uncontested superpower . . . well, I’d hedge that bet.

The solemn marking of the 9-11 anniversary was a corrective to the confident stereotype. Not the skin of self-celebrating showmanship – the Americans are as adept at that as the British are at staging incredible royal weddings and funerals – but the underlying substance that can’t be faked.

Oddly, they are a strangely unknown people, even by their nearest neighbours, who are not always pleased by the propinquity – while enjoying a rising conviction of their superiority.

Americans have an inner toughness, the connective tissue of a powerful national faith that stunningly unites even, or especially, so-called disadvantaged groups, and, yes, a Godfaith too, that confounds the picture of a bankrupt, high-unemployment, appallingly fat people stuffed with fast foods and the listless escapism of violent films and stupid television, warring unwisely abroad and dysfunctional at home.

They unfurl a flag at a football game that looks half as big as the field.

They puzzle their secular Western allies with unashamed public prayer.

They have a track record of resilience. They have an instinct for reinvention. Problems are, in a curious way, their most important product – challenges to solve. Don’t count them out. The referee has never reached anywhere near 10 in their narrative of frothy exuberance and hair-raising dives.

The obvious global contender for No. 1 is China. Too obvious, if New Brunswick-born Troy Parfitt, who spent a dozen years in Taiwan and South Korea, is correct.

His book Why China Will Never Rule the World: Travel in the Two Chinas won’t be the last word, but as North Vancouver resident Jonathan Manthorpe agreed in a Vancouver Sun review: “China is unlikely to be an influential superpower because its current regime has no vision, its economy has developed no capacity for innovation” – thus the fake Western luxury goods and the continuing industrial espionage that includes a Canadian branch – “and there is no sense of optimism.”

Economic power alone won’t make the cut, Parfitt assured CKNW’s Sean Leslie, and its class/income divisions with 800 million in poverty make the United States look red socialist.

The Americans have severe problems, including combatting terrorism with growing unfreedom in order to protect its freedom. They need more fresh green vegetables and a better night’s sleep.

Speaking of terrorism: Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently said “the major threat (to Canada’s security) . . . is still Islamicism.”

Bob Rae and all the little and big liberals went nuts! You can’t say that in inclusive, tolerant Canada!

Not one of them asked: But is he right?

And add this to the Harper file: Unless I missed it, nobody among the left liberals acknowledged the Conservative prime minister’s graciousness in granting New Democrat Jack Layton a public funeral unprecedented for one of his status since D’Arcy McGee’s in 1866. Not one of that surly, bitter deposed establishment or its media footmen had the decency to return Harper’s graciousness.

But enough frivolity. The coffee shop in Dundarave’s mid-24th block, Ariel’s, has closed, the second on the site to do so.

Quiet. Peaceful. Nice. What went wrong?

Quiet, peaceful and nice, that’s what. We are a herd species, fearful of solitude and of being left out of the scene, the action, the gossip. Nearby Starbucks and Delany’s and the Bakehouse prosper. Ariel’s patrons bought a toonie’s worth of coffee and settled back for a morning’s newspaper reading. Fatal.

I empathize with MP John Weston’s decision to move his family to Ottawa from his West VancouverSunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country riding. That West Coast commute meets the Criminal Code definition of abuse.

I dined recently at the Saturna Island home of Pat Carney, retired senator and trade minister during Ottawa’s most gruelling task of the time, negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement. She’s pounds lighter in weight and heart since leaving the weird MPs’ polarized diet of official banquets and hasty takeout/airline chow, and has resumed her journalistic career – there’s a weightloss program for anyone – notably with a superb piece on Ireland’s economic woes.

Speaking of the media, again – horrors! Is it possible that all North Shore mayors will be acclaimed in November?

Darrell Mussatto and Richard Walton, mayors of the City and District of North Vancouver respectively, waltzed back to their offices unopposed in 2008. West Vancouver Mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones is leaving gracefully and Coun. Michael Smith seeks the office.

Two months to municipal elections and no others are in sight. Former councillor Vivian Vaughan has been following West Vancouver town hall closely and mused about running but, on further musing, likely will run for a council seat instead.

Wake us when it’s over.

© Trevor Lautens, 2011

Election Fanmail

Here’s a piece of fanmail from the municipal elections:

Pamela Goldsmith-Jones has been re-elected Mayor of West Vancouver! This must provide you with an opportunity to continue with negative reporting for the next three years or until your progressing senile decay sends you to the care of geriatric attention. I will be glad to offer you the addresses of good seniors care facilities A close neighbour of ours has advised me not to be too hash with my remarks and informs me that when seen in our neighbourhood and still walking the dog, he is assured that by your presence that their is a life after death.

My reply:

Thank you for your thoughtful words – I’m always pleased to receive fan mail and of course will repeat your words in my next column, space allowing.

While you are flipping through the Yellow Pages for a good seniors home for me – may I, with the kindliest of intentions, suggest you reflect on your ageism, which some people consider as vicious as racism, anti-Semitism or sexism? – you might spend some time pondering the numbers showing that the
mayor was not supported by a very clear majority of voters in a virtual three-way race. The margin of her rejection was significant and would trouble any politician, especially an incumbent, looking at such figures.

You’ll also appreciate that I was, as far as I know, the only practitioner in the media in the world who openly and without qualification predicted the mayor’s victory. One would have expected at least a modicum of gratitude.

Tell your neighbour I’d be delighted if he/she would describe symptoms of “life after death” that can be observed through a man walking with his dog.

I thank you again, most sincerely, for your message. I appreciate anyone who takes time to contact me in this busy world.

Regards,

trevor L.