No opinion on LNG, says non-stick Pam

Appeared in the North Shore News – March 11, 2016

You’d think the local member of Parliament would have an opinion on the Woodfibre LNG project, wouldn’t you? Or am I being naïve again?

I’ve sent several unsuccessful emails to Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, our woman in Ottawa as MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, inviting that opinion. Surely she has one? Any doubt of the issue’s importance?

So what’s our Liberal MP’s stand – on arguably the most important current issue in this awkwardly sprawling and diverse riding wrapped around Howe Sound?

Not that she’s lacked opportunity. Goldsmith-Jones recently chaired three open houses on the matter in Howe Sound communities, one in West Vancouver – boisterously anti-Woodfibre.

She told a meeting last week in Gibsons: “Our government is moving quickly to deliver on our promise to overhaul the federal environmental assessment review process and to restore public trust. … The process will have greater transparency.”

Moving “quickly” – as governments uncannily always do. “Promise” – yes, look for the bank where you can take a promise of Justin Trudeau’s election campaign.

“Transparency” – no word deserves more banishment form the Dictionary of Political Platitudes.

An audience member in Gibsons came fairly close to pinning down Goldsmith-Jones. He asked if she’d heard from anyone favouring Woodfibre LNG. Jacob Roberts in the Coast Reporter quoted her: “There are definitely people in favour. That’s why this is so difficult. To be honest – and depending on where you go – it’s 50/50.”

“The audience,” reporter Roberts drily wrote, “interrupted Goldsmith-Jones with their unanimous disagreement of her numbers.”

Eoin Finn, with deep science and business expertise and exhaustive files on the issue, told me: “Pam’s statement – that community reaction was 50/50 for and against – beggars belief, and is at odds with the 9,000 signatories to the (Save) Howe Sound Declaration, and the public comments on the B.C. Environment Assessment Office process,” which showed more than 90 per cent opposition.

To be fair: Don’t expect candour. Under the party system the prime minister’s henchmen, and those for all party leaders, tell MPs when to breathe in and breathe out. A maverick is whipped and stripped – of perks such as sunny-climate conferences in January – and sentenced to the Siberian backbench. Thus the adage that MPs aren’t sent to Ottawa to represent their constituents’ views; Ottawa sends MPs to their constituents to represent Ottawa’s views.

So can you find it in your heart to sympathize with poor Pam, the most ambitious political animal in West Vancouver of her time, maybe all time? And not to flatter the environment’s more pompous guardians: B.C. has to toil to live, and that means dirty hands and dirty work that upper middle-class urban elites have only heard about.

Add this: Liberal MLA Jordan Sturdy, whose West Vancouver-Sea to Sky riding also includes the proposed site, supports the facility, partly for its tax benefits. He strongly slams a news story that took on a life of its own – that Woodfibre LNG “hosted” a fundraising dinner for him during the 2013 election campaign. It simply bought a table, he said, like other companies and 200-odd individuals, a tradition for the riding incumbent for 25 years.

The biggest barriers to the project may be that natural gas prices are scraping bottom, with inventories swollen since the U.S. vastly grew its fracking production.

• • •

Michael Smith entered the mayor’s office fighting for thrift. Has he wearily surrendered to the bureaucratic spend brigade?

West Vancouver’s 6.87 per cent property tax rise is easily Metro’s highest, and more than five times the Metro average, the Sun reported. That includes a 5.25 per cent levy – finance director Isabel Gordon wanted 10.5 per cent! – to maintain and repair WV’s $1-billion public assets. The $245 tax increase on a $2.5-million West Van home is stratospherically above all others (second highest is Port Moody’s, $97, with North Vancouver city and district not reported as of a week ago).

Hawk-eyed tax-watcher David Marley quotes the notorious figure that 80 per cent of WV’s operating budget goes to staff salaries and benefits. “Where do we find these people?” asks Marley, with commendable grumpiness. “Clearly, they live in an alternate universe from those of us who have to pay the bills.”

• • •

David Johnston is every inch the representative of the Queen. The Governor General charmed a business-attire crowd on his official visit last week that included a keynote speech to the Sea to Sky Community Foundations at the Kay Meek, where he was easily the most unstuffily relaxed person in the theatre. One of those born aristocrats with the uncondescending common touch.

© Trevor Lautens, 2016

New West Vancouver MP talks LNG, arts and Ottawa

Appeared in the North Shore News – January 1, 2016

In snooty West Vancouver, where we think foreign relations begin at the North Vancouver border, it is novel to have a bona fide parliamentary secretary for the federal foreign affairs minister.

“I got to Ottawa on the Monday and found I was going to be the parliamentary secretary on the Wednesday,” Pam Goldsmith-Jones said, her laughter and 24-hour-a-day political animalism crackling over the phone.

The freshly-minted Liberal MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country got a kick out of going through the Lester B. Pearson Building, home of the Department of Global Affairs. She – and fellow new North Shore parliamentary secretaries, Jonathan Wilkinson for environment and climate change and Terry Beech for science, who will both be asked for interviews by the undersigned – were briefed on secretarial duties and given security checks.

The fun part of the job over, Goldsmith-Jones took the initiative in inviting this hard critic of her West Vancouver mayoral record for a bit of a talk and a forthcoming lunch.

Obvious topics: The proposed Squamish liquefied natural gas plant, the (long) proposed North Shore wastewater treatment plant, and the (equally long) proposed new West Vancouver art gallery, now named the Centre for Art, Architecture + Design (CAAD).

The LNG plant decision process is getting a fresh re-start in the next couple of months, making it the most immediate issue of the three. Would she take part on behalf of her constituents?

“I think I’ll be in the conversation – I’m not sure how formal,” Goldsmith-Jones said. “I would like to be involved in the process. I’ve always had a lot of faith in the design of the process.
“If we are serious about living in a carbon-constrained world, that’s a serious game-changer. … I think it’s fair to ask: Where is the Squamish Nation coming from? There seems to be a disconnect there.”

She didn’t signal a personal stand: “To be truly interested in hearing from everybody, without saying what you think – does that leave you wide open, or does it lead to a good conclusion?”

The proposed sewage treatment plant, cost $700 million or much higher, is at the other end of the controversy spectrum – it’s not stirring public interest. “People don’t call (politicians) because the treatment plant doesn’t need fixing,” argues Troy Vassos, a North Vancouver environmental engineer and wastewater treatment expert, as reported by North Shore News columnist Elizabeth James.

The municipal boundary-crossing nature of the proposed plant led Goldsmith-Jones to emphasize the new reality – solid Liberal red from North Burnaby to beyond Powell River on Vancouver Island. That embraces four MLAs and three MPs, or two and a half if you split hairs about Terry Beech’s constituency bestriding the inlet. The larger picture: a western Liberal caucus that zoomed from four to 32 in October’s election. I suspect Goldsmith-Jones sees personal opportunities there.

The CAAD project, which Constant Reader knows I deride largely because of its proposed location overlooking John Lawson playground – even more, as a reader pointed out, if it threatens the magnificent sequoia on the northeast corner of the site – isn’t an immediate issue for Goldsmith-Jones.

“Of course I support the arts. … I haven’t heard anything from (West Vancouver) council,” our former mayor said. “I don’t know if they’ve got a formal application requesting capital dollars. I would have to know what West Van wants in regard to federal government dollars in the first place. I don’t know exactly where it’s at.”

The art gallery/CAAD is needed, she declared, pausing to praise the Michael Audain gallery under construction in Whistler. “We will find a way forward. I’ve seen things go through iterations. It takes time” – she recalled that Maggie Pappas agitated for a new theatre in the early 1990s and it took another decade for the Kay Meek to be built. Location? “I won’t get involved in that.”

Rather, she’s interested in the broad arts issue.

You can soon talk to Pamela Goldsmith-Jones yourself: Her constituency office opens this month in the heart of Horseshoe Bay.

• • •

Goldsmith-Jones’s foreign affairs role reminds me that this crept into my small mind years ago: The West’s Syrian policy is wrong. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s is closer to right.

Putin backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Assad does what all leaders fighting civil war do: act ruthlessly, desperately. Not one of his antagonists looks “Western.” No viable alternative has emerged in Syria. We in the West are great at focussing on this boogeyman and then that. The bungling West is responsible for much of the Middle East’s chronic turmoil. Put aside our democratic airs: Sometimes – consider Libya, Iraq, maybe Egypt — it’s better to stick with the dictator you have.

If we want to choke off jihadist terrorism, and slow refugee flight from Syria too, look hard at Saudi Arabia. We won’t. That’s one non-expert’s opinion.

© Trevor Lautens, 2016

Ambleside dog walkers are all ears for Raju

Appeared in the North Shore News – September 26, 2014

News rains on us incessantly. We must raise an umbrella over matters we choose to save and protect. Today I choose Raju.

Raju is an elephant. Captured as a baby, cruelly abused and shackled in spike chains, Raju spent 50 years as a begging elephant in the Uttar Pradesh region of India. When he was rescued, tears rolled down his cheeks.

If he’d been taught to do this, you have to admit this was one hell of a circus trick.

West Vancouver graphic designer and animal advocate Robin Schade has been spreading the word about Raju, notably around the Ambleside Beach dog walk where she predictably finds sympathetic ears.

Raju was rescued by Wildlife SOS, with an international reach beyond India. The Huffington Post quoted Nikki Sharp, executive director of Wildlife SOS-USA: “The vet and our team came with fruits and just started speaking softly to him and to reassure him that we were there to help, and it was at that time that tears flooded down his face.” In bad shape, he was taken to the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre in Mathura where he is thriving.

Happy ending? Not yet.

His claimed owner, a Mr. Shahid, charged with illegal custody of Raju and facing a possible jail term of three to seven years, demands his return. The case before India’s High Court has been repeatedly postponed, just days ago to Oct. 13.

Scores of thousands are contributing to Raju’s cause. Robyn Schade notes that a Global March for Elephants and Rhinos is scheduled for Oct. 4 at the Vancouver Art Gallery beginning at 1 p.m. Don’t get me further into the topic. The Chinese have many cultural graces, but sensitivity to animal life isn’t among them – like the fantastic cruelty of cutting shark fins for soup and throwing the helpless sharks overboard – but even more utterly revolting is their commerce in elephant ivory.

A sickening photo recently in the press showed a dead mother elephant and baby killed (as other animals must be) by African poachers, ingeniously poisoning their water holes with cyanide. This is reprehensible beyond words. I wouldn’t buy a single article from China if avoiding its cheap goods flooding world markets were possible.

I may be the only one in the world who is sore about the one thing his many detractors praise him for – that Nixon went to China. Better he should have stood in bed, as used to be said.

***

The coyness surrounding the Hollyburn Sailing Club lease issue frankly has annoyed me out of my usual cheerfulness.

Two weeks ago I reported Agent Y6xE9j’s claim that the Ambleside Beach club – a martini-glass throw from the not-universally-popular Grosvenor development – might go on a month-to-month lease next year, usually signalling a new use or development. Subsequent reaction to the item from the club only confused my small brain.

It’s been nicely cleared by John Long, West Vancouver’s manager of facilities and assets. The five-and-five lease – five years plus a five-year option to renew – ends Dec. 31. Negotiations are currently under way, but if no agreement were reached, the lease, like all such leases, would continue monthto-month – the basis for Agent Y6xE9j’s warning.

Only three months until the club’s lease expires? To me, that’s sailing close to the wind. Long assured me it isn’t unusual.

What does the club, as a public amenity, pay to lease this deliriously valuable stretch of waterfront? Like all town hall’s leases, the terms are confidential, Long said.

But another agent, 66mPwB, reveals that when the current lease was signed in 2004, the rent was – take a breath – $2,410.67 a year, plus GST. If it’s been bumped up, I’m unaware of it.

Such a deal. And, if there’s been a sticking point in negotiations, maybe that’s what it is.

Speaking of town hall, as I often do, and affectionately: Elections coming! Voters’ last chance on Nov. 15 to register approval or otherwise of candidates old or new until the next ones in 2018.

One new chair to fill: Coun. Trish Panz told council months ago that she wouldn’t run again. Which was hardly noted. I emailed asking if she was joining her personal friend Pam Goldsmith-Jones’s federal election team. No response.

One almost-declared council candidate at this writing: Christine Cassidy, 33 years in the financial services industry and currently on the board of the Ambleside and Dundarave Ratepayers’ Association. She’s raised funds for B.C. Women’s Hospital Health Centre and B.C. Children’s Hospital and has sat on the boards of Ballet BC and the West Vancouver Memorial Library. Early supporters include a couple of vocal critics of what they’re doing up at town hall.

Wanted: At least one opponent for Mayor Mike Smith. Acclaimed in 2011, Smith has said himself he’s not supportive of acclamation.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

Process, the last refuge of politicians

Appeared in the North Shore News – August 29, 2014

It’s always good to know the people you’re dealing with, wouldn’t you say?

Especially if there’s a dollar sign involved. Also if your personal well-being – basic air, water, protection from loud, hurtful explosions – are in the mix.

So, since we are unlikely to meet him face-to-face, here is an introduction to Sukanto Tanoto, the Indonesian billionaire whose Woodfibre LNG company proposes a liquefied natural gas plant and its transport through Howe Sound to China. Opponents of the plant, prominently Eoin Finn and Mona Helcermanas-Benge, provided important background – especially crediting Coun. Bill Soprovich.

John Vidal, environment editor of London’s Observer, reported in May that one of Tanoto’s many companies, world-class palm oil company Asian Agri, evaded taxes through shell companies in boltholes like the British Virgin Islands. Ironic name – the British Virgins are among top prostitutes for global tax evaders. A Jakarta court fined Asian Agri US$205 million. At these heights, just a small book entry in the costs of doing business.

International tax evasion of trillions of dollars, long condemned by finance columnist and editor-at-large of the National Post Diane Francis but rarely mentioned in most media, fits what British Prime Minister Edward Heath – a Conservative – called “the unacceptable face of capitalism.”

Back in little ol’ West Vancouver, council made an eye-blinking retreat from its unanimous motion in July that joined several other municipalities in urging a ban on LNG tanker traffic in beautiful Howe Sound. Council takes another swing at the issue next month.

This column speculated that the hasty reversal coincided with an unprecedented letter from riding MP John Weston, who disagreed with “the motion, the way it has been passed, and its timing.” Ordered, I suspect, straight from the prime minister’s office, which, like the money-scratching B.C. government, needs another environmental war like it needs a hole in the dam. (Coun. Craig Cameron, clearly rankled, later told me that he had initiated council’s reversal: “My concerns were … due process. … I never heard from Weston … until a few days later.”) Weston, evidently alarmed that media coverage didn’t lay out his objections fully, ran his whole letter in an advertisement in the News – preceded by: “I really wanted to clarify my Pro-Process position, not Pro-LNG.”

Ah, process. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a uniquely Canadian invention. Certainly the first refuge of politicians who sniff a no-clear-win issue, vote-wise.

Which may explain why Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, Weston’s Liberal opponent in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky in the next federal election, took 21 days after the News story to weigh in – issuing a media-wide open letter days after I asked her view.

She wouldn’t be the canny politico West Van grew to know and, in some quarters, loved, if she didn’t pen a thoughtful, measured and predictable non-opinion on the core issue, while boldly backing “our communities (who) are asking for a voice in the process” – there’s that word! – “and I stand with them.” Goldsmith-Jones also caromed a shot at Weston for being, in her quotation marks, “unimpressed” with West Van council, a word he never used and a sentiment he specifically rejected.

Politics. And not to be personally smug. The undersigned doesn’t envy the pressured political class. Arbitrate between mankind’s insistent needs and nature’s deceptive largesse? I wouldn’t want to be king making those choices. Might abdicate.

On one hand: For such tycoons, and for such still-dangerous, still-Communist customers as imperialist China, we should bow down and put our green lands, air, water and safety at risk? On the other hand: My scorn approaches infinity for those – and they are many – who don’t connect welfare programs with the private wealth-spinning that pays for them.

The opponents’ environmental case: “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, including herring, salmon, dolphins, orcas and whales, could be devastating.”

Which should trouble consciences. Can we in this favoured area cheerfully let those in distant places suffer scarred landscapes and the risk of terrible error – ducking our share of the burden? Erect “do not trespass” signs around this pristine ghetto for the welloff and the lucky?

I regret that my experience with our race cries out: Sure, we can.

Is West Van council secretly grateful that the LNG issue may distract opposition to its witless Ferry Building project, hoping for protester burnout?

*******

Unconfirmed: Trish Panz won’t run again for West Van council. Wild guess: She’ll join Goldsmith-Jones’s election team.

*******

Some oaf recently “keyed” 47 cars in two North Vancouver car lots, which police estimated caused damage of almost $100,000.

Why don’t courts make full restitution part of any sentence, and make it stick until paid? That could be sobering.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

Goodbye Slurpees, hello senior living

Appeared in the North Shore News – April 25, 2014

Where to start? Pamela Goldsmith-Jones? Sentinel Hill on guard again? West Van’s disappearing 7-Eleven? As the Good Book (as we used to call it) says, the last shall be first: Ambleside’s 7-Eleven at 14th and Marine Drive will close forever May 28. A huge blow to West Vancouver’s bustling night life! In truth, just about the only business in the area that bustles after serious dark.

Sure, largely with teens foraging for tasty snacks that are recommended by sugar and salt companies and patient-needy dentists everywhere. But any evidence of youth is welcome in West Vancouver, where the average age is 107 and the town coat of arms is a cane superimposed on a wheelchair, with lion and unicorn on each side, dozing.

The Canada Post outlet in the store closes May 24, but the town’s stand-alone outlet is just a block and around the corner away. The nearest 7-Eleven will be at 1245 Lonsdale in North Van. Get on those bikes with banana seats and pedal over there, kids! Agent 7G6eR2 messages me: “I currently go to North Van for movie theatres, car parts, cheap groceries and lumber. Now to top the list, Slurpees! I remember the fun days when all those were readily available in West Van, and I often ponder whether the sterilization of this municipality is a benefit or a minus to its residents.” He’s not alone.

This turn of events coincides with the shuttering Tuesday of Loblaw-owned Extra Foods at Park Royal, popular not only with purse-light but also thrifty shoppers who could afford better. (They got richer by being thrifty. Bill Gates still washes his dishes.) Extra Foods looked forlorn in dying days as the shelves emptied and some shoppers expressed sadness. Its flyers and those of competitors Safeway and Save-on-Foods bristled with sale items last weekend. Great savings for customers.

Adding to the dismal air: Extra Foods staff – given notice only last month, at least two having served as long as 40 and 45 years – weren’t offered other Loblaw jobs. They can apply and start at the bottom, one said bitterly. I’d expect more class from the rich Weston family owners of Loblaw (and, to repeat, I own Loblaw stock and Weston bonds).

Big issue at West Van council next Monday: The proposed Milliken project at Keith Road and Taylor Way, subject of a long and rancorous public hearing April 16. Shades of the 2007 dispute over the Millennium Group development of the Evelyn Drive area.

Andy Franks of the Preserve Sentinel Hill opposition group circulated an email listing half a dozen reasons to reject Milliken’s 91-suite Maison project – self-wounded out of the gate by a clumsy failure to notify neighbours. Among the criticisms: There’s “a surplus of this type of private seniors beds in our community (at a cost of $6,000-$10,000 per month.”

More ominous: Planning director Bob Sokol, as quoted here, quite off-handedly said there will eventually be commercial development all along Taylor Way. Feel better? And do any of the big developers – Park Royal, Grosvenor at 13th, on Lonsdale in North Van, in Lynn Valley, and the cement-pourers and other well-paid trades – care a fig about dumping on our beleaguered governments the problem of creeping traffic, not just over our two already throttled bridges? Oh, not their problem.

By this time you won’t have read it here first, a hack-free homing pigeon sent by Agent 6B3e9mD having alerted me but beaten by speedier email: Former West Vancouver mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones will seek the Liberal nomination for the federal riding of West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country.

Goldsmith-Jones, 53 this year, will face incumbent Conservative John Weston in the October 2015 election – assuming that she wins what could be a tough nomination battle, and that Weston, who turned 56 last Saturday, will seek a third term. Not that Weston’s nomination is guaranteed either: He’s crossed the boss on procedure concerning the abortion issue. And, as Blair Wilson shrewdly exploited to snatch the sprawling riding, more than half of its population of 134,000 is outside of West Vancouver.

No grass has grown under Goldsmith-Jones’s feet since she declined to run for a third mayoral term in 2011. She’s grown a consultancy while also studying for an executive MBA (smartly specializing in aboriginal issues, a sure-growth industry) at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business.

Take note: Two well-known West Vancouver women’s computers have been hacked. If you know them and get emails from them that seem strange – trash them. The illiterate language is the tip-off. The “bad guys,” a victim says, apparently live in Surrey and Abbotsford. One email urges the recipient to press “here” right away. Don’t.

Re all the praise for Jim Flaherty: Me too.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

Heed’s reemergence raises questions

Appeared in the North Shore News – February 28, 2014

The media grabbed the shallow story. They missed the deeper story. We do that, I’ve done it. Talkin’ about the West Vancouver Police Department “scandal.”

The real yarn here is the backstory — disgraced ex-cop Kash “The Stallion” Heed’s free pass to claw his way back to political respectability and power. Is this man a reliable witness to sickness in the WVPD?

No media report I’ve seen (delighted to be corrected) ran a word on the rise and fall of Heed, brief chief of the police force he now slags for endemic sexism, racism and bullying. And, granting him some credibility, West Vancouver Mayor Mike Smith agreed with that assessment, and is committed to cleaning the stables, though troubled that Heed’s “broad brush” tarred the whole department.

Heed was quoted at length in a recent scoop by Province reporter Sam Cooper about a 2013 WVPD survey showing nearly 70 per cent of the 83 police officers were very dissatisfied, a harsh comment on present Chief Constable Peter Lepine’s leadership. Now, some history:

Heed, a 29-year police veteran, unsuccessful in applying for chief of the Vancouver PD, was hired by the WVPD in August 2007. He replaced Scott Armstrong, after an officer in an off-duty car accident admitted to driving after drinking with others at the WVPD station. Armstrong had the honesty to admit alcohol was sometimes drunk on site, as he’d done himself. Not rare at cop shops, I suspect. (Incidentally, is there still a beer fridge in Victoria’s Legislative Press Gallery?)

Heed cleaned house. Or some said. Any new chief in the milieu of ambitious, A-type cops — well, no surprise, some win, some lose. Anyway, Heed replaced his four top cops. There were suits, at least one since dropped.

Early on, Heed controversially scrapped the WVPD’s DARE program against drugs in schools. Later, without apparent irony, he claimed West Van students were among the heaviest drug users. Later still, he went to a U.S. conference of officials with “liberal” attitudes toward drug enforcement, i.e. that it wasn’t working.

A consistent Heed hobby-horse was melding Vancouver area police into a single force. Wonder whom he had in mind as chief?

Then there was the incident when — a no-no of astounding proportions for a top officer — Heed told a police board member that a workplace colleague of hers was under investigation for pornography. This paper’s James Weldon and Jane Seyd dug out the story. Lo, it was the board member who took the fall. Her contract wasn’t renewed.

On Feb. 19, 2009, Heed, only 18 months into a five-year contract, announced he was resigning — without, Mayor and WVPB chairwoman Pamela Goldsmith-Jones insisted, any previous hints or explanation, except that it was for “personal reasons.”

Heed’s lasting legacy was the bold repainting of West Van police vehicles, bearing the now-ironic logo: “Serving with honour.”

The board was told Heed would be paid until March 6. Wrong. A deal was quietly struck. He received full salary, about $40,000, until May 19. Which happened to be seven days after the 2009 general election. Which Heed, apparently discovering his personal reason for quitting as WVPD chief, won as Liberal candidate in Vancouver-Fraserview.

Later Heed was to boast on Bill Good’s CKNW show that for years Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell had wooed him into politics, perhaps the source of speculation that the new MLA was tipped to be a future premier.

Heed quickly became a media darling. Ian Mulgrew, that tireless pusher of legalizing marijuana, ran a Sun story under the headline “The Man: Heed is just what the doctor ordered as Liberals stumble in justice area.” (That “doctor” should have been sued for malpractice.)

Before this political career, Heed’s most enduring utterance was recorded in 2008 on one of his later election team’s Blackberry, as reported by the Province’s Sean Sullivan:

“Think of things this way: You are a trainer that has a few horses in your stable … Wally (Oppal) is getting on and needs to be put out to pasture soon,” referring to a faithful B.C. public servant I much admire. “You have a stallion that has been in training for some time and you and everyone else know he’s a winner, but can’t wait on the sidelines forever.”

Heed was made solicitor-general, B.C.’s uber-cop. In that role he had to decide whether the West Van chief of the day, in indiscreetly discussing the pending charges against the man on pornography counts, had broken the law. That chief being — Kash Heed. The issue went through bureaucratic hoops and was left somewhat in the air because precedence was that the law — since changed — applied only to active, not past, police officers.

Worse followed. During the election campaign Heed’s headquarters pumped out a pamphlet, in English and Chinese, viciously smearing his New Democrat opponent, Dwaine Martin.

Heed — a career cop for 30-odd years — claimed he didn’t know of this wrongdoing, right under his nose. He lost his cabinet job. An auditor hired by Elections BC found campaign overspending. Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer crisply summed up the last act of this seedy drama: “The case led to the political ruin of Kash Heed. … He lost his seat at the cabinet table, was fined $11,000 for overspending and did not run again. His campaign manager was fined $15,000 and sentenced to one year probation and 200 hours of community service.”

Kash Heed began his brief political career as a rumoured crown prince to the Liberal leadership. The media’s recent silence on his past invites his return from exile.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

Christy Clark will win – you read it here first

Appeared in the North Shore News – May 10, 2013

MULTIPLE sparkling, titillating items battling for top spot:

Gordon Wilson is a fascinating British Columbia study, a shrewd maverick whose feet stepped into a cow-pie or two – most visibly a marital one – but whose head arguably contains the sharpest political smarts of any practitioner hereabouts of our times.

So when Wilson announced 10 days before an election, “It’s been 20 years since I called myself a Liberal, but it’s time to come home” – listen very carefully, and read the amazing shrinking numbers for New Democratic Party leader Adrian Dix, all but anointed premier by the punditry long months ago.

On Bill Good’s CKNW show, a few days before his return to the Liberal fold, Wilson sliced Dix fine on meaty points that Premier Christy Clark’s handlers have failed to exploit.

Notably, the “backdated memo” meant to protect Dix’s then-boss and premier, Glen Clark. Wrong, Wilson asserts. He defined it as a fraudulently altered official document, which sounds much more Criminal Code-ish. Dix, who long ago openly acknowledged his mistake, recently undermined his apology by the defence that he was “only 35” at the time. A beardless youth? (I’m too kind to describe Dix’s switch on the Kinder Morgan proposal between April 11 and 23 as “Guaranteed principles: Best Before Date 11 days.”)

Wilson also noted that the Liberal deficit budgets that bubbled under devout black-ink worshipper Gordon Campbell simply mirrored similar global humiliations during the 2008’10 depression.

Maybe Liberal strategists decided that pointing this out would sound like whining, vulnerable to jeering from the cheap seats – especially if elections are no time to debate the economy, as another Campbell, the brainy Kim, declared in her disastrous 1993 federal campaign and was mocked for. (No wonder politicians speak in stale, cautious platitudes. Ralph Sultan stated that single motherhood partly explained poverty. True! But the mad leftist correct-speak police jumped on this statistical and obvious fact.)

Wilson retired from politics but remains a favourite media go-to analyst. He can only help the bouncy Christy Clark, who – as I’ve repeatedly predicted – will astonish multitudes by winning the election. If I’m wrong: It’ll be far, far closer than the wise imagined just two or three weeks ago.

“We all knew the race would tighten up,” one of the sages is declaring as I write this. Yeah, right.

. . .

I made an executive decision not to assess or recommend North Shore candidates in this election. I attended all-candidates meetings for West Vancouver-Capilano and Sea to Sky ridings, but decided to comment only if I perceived any real duds or terminal blunders. There weren’t. This paper’s reporters commendably covered the meetings.

. . .

They can’t win, so treading where others fear to tread is easier for Jane Sterk of the Greens and Conservative John Cummins. Both have conducted themselves well.

Especially, strong praise here for Cummins’s condemnation of a threat by the Wet’suwet’en First Nation to shut down a mine in northwestern B.C. by using road blockades or by knocking down hydro lines.

Cummins urged Clark and Dix to show leadership by joining him in his condemnation. Fat chance. . . .

Amazing timing, one among many: Liberal Mary Polak’s homosexual campaign manager, Todd Hauptman, suddenly discovers a “hateful attitude” toward gays by Langley citizens and quits a week before the election, inflicting maximum damage on a hurt and mystified friend.

. . .

The stupidest election nonissue to date is Christy Clark’s stop-and-go drive through a red light one morning around 5: 15 a.m. – egged on by her son and dutifully recorded by (excellent) Vancouver Sun reporter Jonathan Fowlie. Any West Vancouverite driving to the ferry at that time of morning, who sits and seethes at red lights on the deserted streets, will empathize. Or do likewise. I have, once or twice, and I’m the squarest rule-follower in the Western world. . . .

Mayor Michael Smith was displeased, and he isn’t known for hiding his displeasure, by my April 26 piece slamming the proposed commercialization of the Ambleside waterfront strip between 13th and 18th.

“Unfortunately the staff report on this was somewhat misleading and as such was rejected by all of council,” Smith wrote me. Fallout possible?

. . .

Former mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones was spotted a while ago wearing a hard hat at Park Royal – working as a consultant.

When contacted, Park Royal executive Rick Amantea said her firm, PGJ Consulting Inc., was hired for six or seven months “to help us look at and create a new neighbourhood vision . . . identifying community needs, providing input on the design of our future public grounds and social amenities and sustainability, all sorts of things.” The contract ended about three months ago.

First as councillor and then two-term mayor, retiring undefeated in December 2011, Goldsmith-Jones obviously took part in decisions affecting Park Royal interests.

You all right with that? My take: No problem on the face of it. She has marketable skills and experience and, presumably, bills like the rest of us. But some might invoke the “Caesar’s wife” argument. Apparently anticipating any raised eyebrows, Amantea noted that Park Royal “wasn’t her only client. Her firm represents interests across Metro Vancouver.” Also, “Pam and I are friends, as we’ve known each other for 15 years.”

. . .

Chuck, not George, Walker was the gent who proposed a marina in the Ambleside Park area some years ago. I erred in my ramblings here two weeks ago.

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

At least ask the renegotiation question

Appeared in the North Shore News – March 2, 2012

AWRIGHT, youse cub reporters, line up, shut up, listen up, and learn good from an old bastard. Er, old master.

The lesson today is: At times in your trade – don’t let me hear you call it a “profession” – you will ask questions to persons in authority that you can take to the bank they won’t answer.

Which is why you ask the questions. You are putting on record silence. Which speaks.

OK, there’s a faint hope clause even in journalism. You could be wrong. They could fool you and reply. If they do (and if you don’t need a translation into English), there’s your story. If they don’t, there’s your story too. Can’t lose.

I clearly recall such a personal occasion. In fact it was last week. And, belatedly, I did get a response Monday, which blew my theory that is accurate 99 per cent of the time.

I emailed West Vancouver’s mayor and councillors three questions: “Are you satisfied with the WV bus shelters? Are you satisfied with the (in-camera) process that debated and approved them? If you are uneasy about that process – three of you were not party to it, and two have already expressed some misgivings – would you consider trying to renegotiate the contract with Pattison Outdoors?”

I’d heard a rumble that council might reply. Time passed. My theory looked 100 per cent accurate. Then Mayor Mike Smith emailed me:

“Council has asked that we respond to your request as a group. I have looked into this issue and offer the following:

“Council had previously challenged staff to find revenue opportunities to help offset the need for tax increases. In early 2011, staff were authorized to negotiate with Pattison Outdoor Advertising in regard to a possible opportunity.

“An agreement between the district and Pattison was reached and announced at a June 6, 2011 open council meeting.”

This I had been tipped to: “A manufacturing defect in the shelters which caused leaking was identified and has now been fixed. Adjustments to some shelters are being made to better accommodate the pedestrian environment.

“The overall revenue to West Van over the 20-year term will be between $1.1 and $2.3 million depending on ad revenue.”

(Interjection: Let’s say West Van’s share of Pattison Outdoors’ revenue is $2 million. That’s $100,000 a year for a town whose 2011 operating and capital budget totalled $93,820,375. Wow. If council was swayed by that . . . well, another lesson for you rookie reporters: If you’re gonna sell yourself – at least go big.)

Mayor Smith continues: “The district would have had capital expenditures of approximately $700,000 if we had paid for the shelters.

“I do not think there is any appetite on council to attempt to buy our way out of this contract. I have observed in driving through West Van that they are being well used by our citizens, especially when it is raining.”

Some valuable facts, from a mayor who has already set the standard for blunt openness. But it says here that the process – the in-camera meetings, the announcement of a done deal to citizens who didn’t know any deal was contemplated – fatally wounded the deal.

What’s to be done? If councillors had the moxie to publicly acknowledge that the Pam Goldsmith-Jones council made an honest mistake, mesmerized by pretty pictures, and urge Pattison Outdoors to consider the citizens’ widely held dislike of the bus “shelters”- they’d be making a statement, putting it out there, and the onus would be on the company to respond: Back up. Or ignore. Which (see above) speaks.

My sense is that Jimmy Pattison is a popular, even beloved citizen. What’s the price tag on that, Jimmy?

I’ve received one response applauding the shelters. Of the many opposed, I treasure this: “The one that bugs me once a week is at Marine and 15th outside the Esso station, where I fill up. That was always a nasty right-hand turn onto Marine Drive, but the hoarding has now made it difficult to see oncoming traffic until half the car is out in the curb-side lane.

“I hope that if someone demolishes one of these eyesores they are taken to court and successfully plead that far from committing vandalism, they have committed beautification.”

. . .

The AmblesideNow redevelopment awaits West Van council’s initial green light Monday – as ceremonial as the Queen’s signature on legislation.

Grosvenor’s current vision: Two eight-storey commercial/residential edifices on the police station site, joined by a public access atrium connecting Marine Drive and Bellevue.

Can’t improve on Scenery Slater’s Feb. 24 letter to the News editor, in part: Council seems “bound and determined to take the ‘village’ and turn it into yet another Metrotown or Coal Harbour.”

. . .

Is this the only country in the world where, watching women’s curling and specifically Manitoba vs.

Quebec, a husband turns to his wife and says: “What’s the best outcome for national unity?”

© Trevor Lautens, 2012

Get a return ticket for these bus shelters

Appeared in the North Shore News – February 17, 2012

I’M reluctant to speak ill of the politically departed, but the gatekeeper who waved in Jimmy Pattison’s widely disliked “bus shelters” in West Vancouver was Pamela Goldsmith-Jones.

The buck stops there – on the mayor’s desk. She was mayor. She was CEO. She set the agenda. It’s a myth that a mayor is just another councillor.

The ersatz “shelters” in fact are mini-billboards – and then mayor Mark Sager lowered the boom on billboards of any size in West Vancouver in the 1990s. Mayors Pat Boname and Ron Wood evidently saw no reason to scrap the prohibition.

It would have been fascinating to be the gadfly on the wall if and when Goldsmith-Jones and Sager – who ironically now takes a make-the-best-of-it stance, proposing displays of West Vancouver art on some shelters – discussed the issue after the latter’s closed-door council session unanimously approved the Pattison pitch last May.

From the start the decision was tainted – disgracefully tainted, in my view, because Goldsmith-Jones chose not to let the mere unsuspecting public in on the issue, supposedly because it involved a private company’s confidential finances and thus merited incamera consideration.

Council-watcher and former councillor Carolanne Reynolds of West Vancouver Matters denounced council’s secrecy. She’s too courteous to call town hall’s rationale for the in-camera decision pure BS. But I will.

Some of the “shelters” impede pedestrians and wheelchairs, obscure small business signs and entrances, block vision of oncoming buses, and finally do a lousy job of sheltering more than a few people in anything but a light, windless rain. Pattison Outdoors offered town hall the sweetener of an estimated $2 million share of its West Vancouver billboard advertising revenues over the 20-year contract. None of citizens’ business? The hell it isn’t.

I phoned Jimmy offering an interview for his side of the matter, asking that the request be put directly to him. His legendary secretary, who turns aside unwelcome calls like Roberto Luongo stops pucks on his best nights, instead referred me to Rob Hunt of Pattison Outdoors. Hunt left a message saying there was nothing “more” to say. Hadn’t said anything to me.

When the Downtown Eastside gets angry, militant rent-a-crowds are marshalled. Vancouver media pour in, cameras snapping. Vandalism possible. Top of the Six O’clock News. That’s not West Vancouver’s style. We’re too “respectable.” The political and development elites know this well.

If you’ve just dropped in to West Van for a cup of tea, you may not know that The Pattison Group is second – only to giant Telus – among B.C.-based top national and global companies: Revenue $7.2 billion in latest available year, 34,000 employees. Jimmy, as everyone calls him, merits highest praise for fighting unemployment – by providing real jobs, unlike the government’s “programs” and “stimulus” – and for his community work. He casts a blind eye on ideology, hiring on merit former socialist premier Glen Clark. I think highly of Jimmy. No vendetta here.

But, in his own town, he’s erected those unpopular “shelters.” Any chance he’d reconsider? Nope, one businessman believes, then he’d have to do the same if Brantfordians or Calgarians or whoever didn’t like theirs.

That old treacly saying that “money can’t buy everything” happens to be true. Some things really can’t be bought. Like lost affection. For top businessmen or still-ambitious ex-mayors.

. . .

As Jeremy Shepherd dutifully reported in this paper Feb. 3, West Van Mayor Mike Smith hasn’t changed either his words or tune since his acclamation in November.

Diplomacy isn’t Smith’s long suit. He blistered Metro Vancouver’s board for the triviality of its meetings – no business discussed, kindergarten patty-cake emails sent to the 37 members asking such profound questions as “What three guests would you invite for dinner? (Living, dead or fictional.)” (My own list: The Three Stooges.) Metro board chairman Greg Moore denied everything. He would, wouldn’t he?

But words aren’t actions. A major test of Smith’s grit: How he stickhandles the spongy, PR-goosed AmblesideNOW project, unkindly called AmblesideNO! by the undersigned.

. . .

Personal note. Robert Plommer was the most intimidating father I ever faced in decades of dating. His lawyer’s forehead bulged with a huge, restless brain, which surely sensed that I wasn’t good enough for his meltingly attractive daughter Leslie. But was any male?

Plommer, long a West Van resident, led prosecutions in big, complex cases involving Commonwealth Trust and Dr. William Jory (which Jory won, to Plommer’s anger). But his raging passion was golf. At his memorial service two weeks ago at Capilano Golf and Country Club – superbly MCed by Leslie, retiring after a career at the Globe and Mail, and the U.K.’s Times and Guardian newspapers – lawyers, friends and of course golfers joined his wife Sybil and family recounting stories about Bob. For more than three hours! Passed like a minute.

And ending with son Evan leading the bereft in the only song Bob enjoyed: Spanish Eyes. He’d have loved it all. Splendid day for golf too.

© Trevor Lautens, 2012

Mayor-elect Smith embraces restraint

Appeared in the North Shore News – October 28, 2011

WHAT’S the world coming to? Mike Smith is mayor-acclaimed of West Vancouver, he’s a long-time fuel distributor for Esso – yet he can’t get a fillup in his own town.

Smith’s car runs on diesel. None of the six remaining gas stations in West Van’s 89 square kilometres – only two beyond Dundarave – pumps diesel fuel. Ironic, no?

Cynics will recognize the above as a conventional cheap journalistic trick – suck in readers with the “human element” angle. Right. Now stick around for something completely different. This is not the mayoral – or any politician’s – style you’ve come to know and maybe loved. Or not.

“I’m cautious. I want to do things right. I really believe this – in 14 years I’ve treated public money as if it was mine.” He listed the West Vancouver projects that have cost far over budget, “two or three times” over: the aquatic centre reno, the Gleneagles Community Centre, the Gleneagles fire hall, the 22nd Street community centre (“it started out at $16.7 million and ended up over $40 million”), the Gleneagles clubhouse.

“Everything we’ve done has been over budget. That’s not gonna happen – I can promise you that.” And if he has a liberal-spending council? “I’m going to stand up and say ‘I don’t think the public is going to support this.’ The public is way ahead of the politicians.”

More: Smith scorns and defies the entire debt-ridden world, and essentially declares West Van will be an island of fiscal sanity. Few financial analysts are as brutal as this:

“We are going through an economic cataclysm. You’ve got to be pretty stupid not to see it. . . . There are 50 million Americans on food stamps. . . . Europe is a basket case. The western capitalist countries are paying for 50 years’ overspending and way too much debt. And it’s not going to end well – can’t.

“All the politicians do is kick the problem down the road, and it can’t be kicked any more.

“In West Van, I think we can stand up and say, ‘Look, this is the way it has to be.’ . . . We have a great community, we’ve got all these volunteers, we don’t have to go out and hire consultants, we don’t have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers. It’s got to stop. Look at the police department. I think they spend half a million dollars on legal fees.”

Smith talks turkey as if it’s still Thanksgiving. He cited a November Vanity Fair magazine article on U.S. debt problems: “It’s just haunting reading. . . . It’s happening in the United States. Do we want it to happen here?”

He’s soft-spoken, but the words are like a blowtorch peeling off paint. He scorned Liberal Dalton McGuinty’s debt-loaded Ontario, recently called the Greece of Canada.

“And (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper? He calls himself a conservative. He’s not my kind of conservative. Same with Gordon Campbell. Every year he increased the provincial debt. Yet they pass themselves off as these great fiscal managers. And they’re not. We haven’t had a sound fiscal manager since the (WA. C. and Bill) Bennetts.”

Does he belong to any party? “They’re all too left wing for me,” Smith laughed.

“I was on a Metro labour board for three years, and you want to see a frustrating experience. . . . I looked around – 18 representatives from the other municipalities, none of them with any management experience, any labour relations experience.”

The Smith view: If those municipalities pleaded they were forced by union contracts and fire and police legislation to raise wages four per cent, then they simply had to cut their budgets by four per cent. “They looked at me like I was a wild Attila the Hun type. You can’t have a system where the public sector workers have a standard of living that the rest of us are like apes looking through the bars.”

Unions got “way better than anybody expected” during tough times, Smith said, and now negotiations have to be about job preservation: “If you’re going to be talking about wage increases, we’re going to be talking about layoffs.”

Won’t that be huge for a mayor to do? “My drivers were unionized. I’ve worked in a unionized environment (the International Union of Operating Engineers) for years. We never had a problem. We never had a grievance that went to arbitration.” At bargaining sessions there were “rants and raves about what an evil employer they had. . . . We’d eventually get what we needed to get. It’s a bit of a game.”

Closer to home: He’s critical of AmblesideNow’s proposed public safety building for police and firehall, a cost of $65 million being floated around. “The thing’s taken on a life of its own.” It’s “a plain real estate play that’s become a giant, ballyhooed revitalization project,” complete with an information centre, website and consultants.

The present police station is “falling apart” but the firehall is perfectly good, Smith declares, and the plan only makes sense if the cost of a new police station can be covered by the sale of the present site.

He’s made a cause of the North Shore’s three fire departments: “Why do we need three separate bureaucracies?” He favours “one command and control structure” that would buy the equipment, do maintenance work etc. for all three. “The savings would be huge. What we have now is like Vancouver having 12 fire departments – one for Point Grey, one for Kitsilano . . . how can you argue against it?”

Who’s backing him? Any “downtown money” – code for Vancouver developers and businessmen hungrily circling B.C.’s wealthiest municipality?

Smith said evenly – he says everything evenly – that in his four school board terms and two as councillor “I’ve never taken a dime from anyone. . . . In North Van they take it from the goddam unions!”

He agreed a race for mayor would be healthier for democracy, and was surprised at how many people offered to work for his campaign – “I’m talking hundreds.” (After he declared his candidacy, Mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones announced she wouldn’t run again.)

Born in Brighton, U.K., in 1946, son of a Royal Navy captain and a mother with a gift for painting, Smith has lived in West Vancouver since 1955. He passed through West Van public schools and at UBC majored in bridge, poker and rugby, but they gave him a degree in economics and history anyway.

He worked as an investment analyst for Peter Brown, then in the Bank of America’s Vancouver office, and – something of a surprise – as a newspaper publisher. He sold his White Rock Sun and Surrey-Delta Messenger to Conrad Black and David Radler in 1976. He’s been with second wife Virginia for 12 years and they married three years ago. They had five children – all girls – between them. Smith lost a daughter aged 23 to a brain tumour. “It changes your life. Something you never get over.”

Big events lie ahead: He retires from the oil business this month, his dream house in Kauai is nearly finished, and in December he becomes mayor. Any views of his predecessor?

“She did some things really well,” Smith said. “When it comes to community engagement, I take my hat off to Pam. Citizen involvement, the working groups – that was all good positive stuff. . . . She had a good vision.

“The flip side of that is the reality that she had never come from a management background. . . . Pam was a great speaker and – better than I’ll be – a great front person for West Van. I can try, but it’s just not my nature – I’ll never be as successful as she was. Not as good a public speaker, not as flamboyant – she served West Vancouver well in that way.

“It’ll be a change of culture.”

I expect so.

© Trevor Lautens, 2011