Trudeau losing his post-election lustre

Appeared in the North Shore News – November 20, 2015

I’d say Justin Trudeau fell from the honeymoon bed.

Possibly a matter of coitus interruptus in his post-election love affair with an adulating public and media. The CBC must be heartbroken. Even Mother Corp’s loyal radio arm noted Trudeau’s awkward pauses answering questions at the G20 meeting in Turkey soon after the terrorist attacks in Paris. (Will CBC newspeak now stop describing terrorists murdering innocents as ‘‘militants’’?)

Truly, I sympathized from afar with Trudeau. How many people would be composed, fast on their feet, quick with their tongues, under such pressure? Even, or especially, a 43-year-old brand-new prime minister? He’s just not ready.

Who would be? Stifle that man at the back of the room muttering, ‘‘Where is Stephen Harper, now that we really need him?’’

Trudeau’s fall from the honeymoon bed caused three bounces:

One, in the absurd auction – or was it poker? – in which Tom Mulcair out-Canadianized Harper’s promise to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees over three years: ‘‘I’ll admit 10,000 immediately!’’ followed by Trudeau’s ‘‘I’ll admit 25,000, by the end of the year!’’

Sheer logistics made fulfilment of this campaign vow highly unlikely. The Paris attacks made it approach cuckoo-land territory.

If letters to the editor accurately reflect quick public reaction, Canadians abruptly woke up to the consequences that Ottawa, posturing about Canada’s famous compassion and generosity before an international audience that barely notes or cares what we do, would be dumping on the unprepared provinces and cash-strapped municipalities. You know – taxpayers.

Premier Christy Clark’s suggestion that B.C.’s northeast could accept the Syrians – suddenly discovered as mainly Muslims, even a very few of them terrorists? – triggered an immediate hostile petition from the economically pressed people who merely live there already. Let’s not speak of the refugees’ cultural shock. Saturday night in Fort St. John could be alarming.

Two: When Paris was struck, Trudeau’s promise to withdraw our (six) Canadian planes striking ISIS targets in Syria, in favour of increasing our present (69) military advisers on the ground training soldiers, looked untimely at best. But he stands by it. The shock of the attacks – which are nothing compared to France’s leftist uprising in 1968 – will wear off (in Monday morning’s Globe and Mail three business reporters predicted markets collapsing; in fact Toronto and New York roared ahead more than 200 points).

Three: How now, Trudeau’s ambiguous support for, and promise to amend when in government, Bill C-51, the evil, uncaring  Harper’s law to tighten the screws on real and aspiring terrorists? Well, the lawyers absolutely love ambiguity, and the immigration lawyers adore defending bad apples committed to destroying our vaunted, and, to ratchet my skepticism down a notch, deservedly protected Western values.

Chief JuCstice Beverley McLachlin and the Supremes, who so obviously detested Harper and Harper law, may look more kindly on Trudeau’s tweaking of C-51. What the great unwashed are feeling, post-Paris, though of course ignorable by the high-minded liberal elites, may be different.

Speaking as one who could use a shave and a clean-up myself: I delight in gloomy, gasbag-puncturing wisdom, and here is a timely shard of it, in light of French President Francois Hollande’s declaration that France is at war against ISIS: National Post columnist George Jonas, a Hungarian Jew aged 80 who lived through Europe’s horrors, has written that war is fought not to make the world a better place, but to keep it from becoming a worse one. A late Remembrance Day thought. Think it. Canadians may need it in days to come.

 • • •

A contrarian footnote to the above: Last January’s Charlie Hebdo affair, a backdrop to last week’s attacks, is surrounded by hysterical champions of free speech – few knowing anything about the magazine issue and its “cartoon” that caused death and chaos.

Tariq Ali, a big 1960s radical, wrote a sombre corrective in the leftist London Review of Books: Henri Roussel, founder of Charlie Hebdo’s predecessor, denounced editor “Charb” (Stéphane Charbonnier) as reckless for running the cartoon that infuriated Muslims.

And with good reason. Roussel describes the cartoon – which I nor most fanatical “Je suis Charlie” free-speechers haven’t seen reproduced – of Mohammed in words which I would not write, and this paper, properly, would not print. It is revolting, scurrilous, reprehensible, and led to deaths not just of damned fool Charb but of magazine staff that Roussel knew well, leaving him “both angry and sorrowful.”

Yes, reader, there are two sides to every story. Even the seemingly morally one-dimensional. As I too wrestle with.

 • • •

Scoop! Ralph Sultan, popular Liberal MLA for West Vancouver-Capilano, will run again in the far-off-but-nearer-than-you-think May 2017 election – at a dewy 82.

His slightly party-outsider reputation notwithstanding, Sultan broadly thinks Christy Clark has it right, considering the complexities of running a $45-billion-a-year operation. And, speaking of emails, in case you were, Sultan replies to constituents in hand-writing. His.

© Trevor Lautens, 2015

Minister Sultan part of election victory

Appeared in the North Shore News – June 7, 2013

I predict backwards as well as forwards. So stand by for a prophecy for the past.

I predict that Ralph Sultan played a much bigger role in the B.C. Liberals’ election victory May 14 than he’s been given credit for. And this is not just parish-pump flattery for little old West Vancouver.

First, though, Sultan has been in the news since the election. First, rumoured to step aside for a Christy Clark byelection in West Vancouver-Capilano where his ownership is engraved in stone. He didn’t, gladdening supporters. Also, influential Tex Enemark, Gordon Gibson and Harry Swain mused in the Vancouver Sun that he could be the man to lead the glacial treaty negotiations with B.C.’s First Nations. That’s now a non-starter.

Sultan was the most strangely under-utilized talent in the Gordon Campbell caucus. First elected in 2001, aged 68 – which sounds youthful compared with his present 80 – and with a wealth of high-level business experience in banking and as a Harvard professor, this son of a modest East Vancouver background looked custom-made for finance minister.

Or was it so strange that Campbell passed over him? Often the big boss is nervous about giving a portfolio to someone who actually knows a lot about the territory – like, infinitely more than he/she does. Above all in finance. Might do dangerous things that make economic rather than political sense.

David Schreck, then North Vancouver-Lonsdale’s New Democratic Party MLA, hit a similar wall in the 1990s when, notwithstanding or because of a career in health matters, he never made health minister.

Yet there could hardly have been a more cautionary tale than that of New Democrat finance minister and later MP Dave Stupich – who knew plenty about figures.

Too much. In the scandal called Bingogate, Stupich, a professional accountant, was hit with 64 charges concerning the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society, an NDP piggy bank he devised. He pleaded guilty to fraud involving $1 million and running an illegal lottery. Blameless Mike Harcourt took the political fall, while arithmetic-challenged party people explained they’d left the numbers to Stupich because he was so adept.

Forward to Sultan. He finally made cabinet last September in the much less onerous role of minister of state for seniors. A brilliant choice. He is one of nature’s gentlemen, a rare intellectual patrician without airs who easily but rather shyly meets “ordinary” people and can relate to their situations.

Sultan soon put the Liberal show on the road for old people, as I prefer to call without euphemism those like my good self. I ran into him in April, crisply turned out with suit and tie and apparently fresh from political business. Aided by ministerial assistant Barb Ewens, he said he’d visited “50 or 60” B.C. communities (Terry Oaken in his office gave the final number: 68). In all, he said he talked to about 1,000 people.

He was surprised. Some told poignant stories. But few were angry or discontented. Most radiated what’s called “happiness economics,” pioneered by psychologist Abraham Maslow, whose work 50 years ago excited me. Maslow had the outrageous habit of studying happy people, an approach threatening to his Freudian peers, psychiatrists, pharmacists, scholars, social workers, journalists – hell, to Western civilization as we know it.

Levity aside, Sultan brought the Liberal message to an underestimated part of the electorate: Not the courted young, not the chattering political class, not the various parties’ phone-in squads and letter writers who distorted public perception, not the Twits and Internuts. No – old people who vote. Actually vote. Simple as that.

It would be entirely speculative to declare that Ralph Sultan single-handedly drew decisive votes to the party. Well, that’s the nice thing about it: It’s speculative. You can speculate right back, disagreeing. But I say that if anyone may have played a bigger role than met the eye, it would be well-respected Ralph Sultan.

. . .

Note: My dastardly election prophecy in no way was shaped by inside knowledge. I knew nothing of top-secret Liberal polls that predicted victory for Christy “Well, That Was Easy” Clark, and I didn’t chat up candidates. Both Clark and NDP leader Adrian Dix’s aides (hello, Jan O’Brien) ignored my requests for lunch, and at Victoria’s Union Club at that. Their loss. My table talk can be wittily delightful.

. . .

Mayor Mike Smith backs Grosvenor’s West Van development. Fair enough. Here’s a radical idea: Why didn’t this huge company just follow WV’s community plan about building height and such? Would have won acceptance with a chic, smaller proposal.

Answer: Because the Grosvenor family, its scion the Duke Of Westminster who owns big, choice parts of central London, is fabulously, I mean fabulously rich, impresses and intimidates hell out of lousy little grateful councils, and with British charm is used to getting its own way. They don’t do small.

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

Stop the cycles of madness on Seaview

Appeared in the North Shore News – March 1, 2013

If you want to save West Van’s leafy, peaceful Seaview Walk from kidnapping by the bicycle bullies, listen up.

Drop all commitments and attend the second and arguably decisive workshop on this issue, Wednesday, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Gleneagles Community Centre, and give the bullies, busy bureaucrats and councillors an earful. If it isn’t just another “public consultation” over a done deal.

Insanely, this verdant gem from Cranley Drive to Eagleridge Drive is under threat of becoming a link with the dubious Spirit Trail, the gleam in the eye of the Higher Environmentalists, allied with the rogue core of their most thoroughly unpopular faction, the bicycle lobby.

It’s grotesque that lobbyists routinely snarl downtown traffic with protests while the police helpfully abet their law-breaking, but that’s Mayor Gregor Robertson’s Vancouver.

Seaview Walk would be rebranded as “an accessible, multi-modal facility.” Translation from bafflegab bureaucratese: turned into an asphalt, even maybe night-lit speedway for clench-teethed, wannabe Lance Armstrongs, under the transparent ruse of being opened to the “modes” of seniors, people with walkers, wheelchairs and strollers.

That’s not sugar-coating, it’s another word starting with the same sound. It’s being sneaked in almost exclusively for the bicycle lobby.

Look at this narrow, verdant path and imagine how likely the tottering old folks etc. would coexist with the spandex-clad, 27-speed “recreational” cyclists. (Here’s a challenge. Check a row of parked bicycles. Find even one in 20 with a horn or bell to warn those walkers?) Yes, there are fine, intelligent cyclists who even stop at stoplights. Then there are the others.

This reborn Seaview Walk would not amuse residents along the adjacent drives – Cranley, Marine, Eagleridge and Bluebell, and Falcon Road and others. Heavy two-wheeled traffic apart, they’d have to enjoy the lively conversations that clumps of Sunday cyclists have with one another. As I did, mea culpa, in earliest morning, typically between Hamilton and Niagara Falls, 90 miles/145 kilometres return in a day, on a three-speed Humber. But what did I know, I was 15, 16.

The pedalers would not just dominate this “one multi-modal path, to be shared by all the users” – quoting Ray Fung, West Van’s director of engineering and transportation. They would scare off the other “modes.” Bikes don’t mix with pedestrians, least of all with small children in tow.

You can see this in the leg of the Spirit Trail from Park Royal to 13th Street – paved and regimented the way Seaview Walk would be. Some pedestrians and cyclists still prefer the vehicle lane rather than their own dedicated lane. Drivers are used to them.

It’s as plain as a Bruce Allen opinion: cyclists already have plenty of surfaces. They’re called streets and roads. That said, drivers who pass them dangerously closely, on blind curves, or over the line and threatening oncoming traffic, are arrogant idiots and deserve big, fat fines.

I praise Fung for candour and patience listening to my wild-eyed rant (chief administrative officer Grant McRadu sent him – too busy to talk to me himself). About 65 neighbours attended the first, under-the-radar “workshop” Dec. 5. I asked Fung about their reaction.

“The temper of the meeting was that they preferred to see Seaview Walk as is, thank you very much,” Fung acknowledged. My reading of town hall’s measured report pretty well bore that out.

The attendees broke into groups and wrote down their views. Especially denounced was the asphalt proposal. I admit my wacky dog interest, but many others objected to leashing their dogs on Seaview, one of the North Shore’s safest and friendliest walks with your best friend.

Staff, Fung emphasized, have taken no position on the issue – and the decision of course is West Van council’s.

All this is the dry goods of petty local politics. Speaking as a quite rare pilgrim to Seaview Walk – my dog prefers Ambleside – I sense the intense neighbourliness of the human and canine bond.

Last year the photo of a dog was posted. With elegant simplicity the owners announced its death and expressed appreciation of fellow dog-walkers’ love for the dog over many years. It clutched the heart, reader.

– – –

Liberal Ralph Sultan, who in 2009 creamed all comers (far more votes than all others put together), will face two worthy opponents May 14 in West Vancouver-Capilano: New Democrat Terry Platt, a return bout, and Conservative David Jones, known for his work with the Coho Festival and recent recipient of a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.

– – –

Don’t miss Quartet at the Park & Tilford, set in a home for retired musicians. Come for Maggie Smith and the still-ambitious, even still-randy old people; stay for the innovative credits, cameos of the real-life musicians. The film industry is shrewdly re-wooing audiences they alienated with their blinding violence and trashy sex for the last 35 years.

– – –

I had a journalist’s selfish reason to enjoy John Clark. The former West Van councillor, who died last month, was a great spontaneous, sidewalk interview in front of The Men’s Room on Bellevue Avenue, which he co-owned with Christine Brand, now rebooted as Baracos & Brand.

Clark insisted on no obituary. He probably didn’t want a party either, but wife Wendy and children Gavin and Laura threw a lovely one anyway, at North Van’s Holiday Inn. Mayor Michael Smith and Coun. Bill Soprovich were among the speakers.

Even in his last painful months, asked how he felt, Clark answered with his patented: “Fantastic!” His parting words were always “Adios, amigos!” Those were the last words Laura heard him speak.

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

What they learned in a year on the job

Appeared in the North Shore News – January 18, 2013

In time, as the Gershwins mused, the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble, but love for West Vancouver is here to stay.

As proven by the following. I asked West Van’s three rookie councillors and first-term mayor to write essays on their first 12 months at town hall, no looking up the answers. Bright students. Some droll wit. Slightly condensed for space reasons: Nora Gambioli:

“Municipal government operations and issues are incredibly complex and interesting. The substantive work of council is more about being a ‘judge’ than I had anticipated; weighing the interests of those directly affected, precedent, and the other 44,000 residents who did not have a chance to attend a meeting, speak or write to council, or who are not yet old enough to do so, requires careful reasoning and difficult choices.

“As an educator at heart, I am constantly striving to communicate in practical ways that will encourage as many residents as possible to understand and become involved in local issues.

“Election campaigns are the most lengthy, demanding and expensive kinds of job interviews!

“As a member of the ‘sandwich generation’ (job, young kids, elderly parent) I’m now forced to be an even more highly efficient multi-tasker.

“Speaking of sandwiches, ate them for dinner every weeknight for almost three straight weeks in November (thanks to evening meetings) . . . husband not amused!

“So far, I love this work.”

Mary-Ann Booth:

“I have met dozens of smart and thoughtful residents who care deeply about this community. This has been very much a learning year for me, for while I had some understanding of our diversity through service as a school trustee, it has been deepened vis-a-vis seniors, First Nations, new Canadians, and those who struggle financially.

“It is often assumed that councillors receive a great deal of negative correspondence, but I have found the opposite to be true: most of the feedback I get is respectful, constructive, and even at times inspiring.

“I’m particularly pleased with the progress on new initiatives to support and engage our youth, including a revitalized youth centre. . . . We are off to a great start this new year as we open two new wonderful additions to our community – the new Teen Centre at our much-loved library, and the just-completed salmon rearing pond in Memorial Park, both of which only came about through unique collaboration between the municipality and its dedicated, engaged citizenry.”

Mayor Michael Smith:

“A priority during the past year has been to improve both the look and the vitality of Ambleside. The village atmosphere needs to be retained, but parts of Ambleside need to be refreshed. This spring we are making plans to take this to the public for its feedback.

“While we have had no property tax rate increase for the second year, I am somewhat disappointed by the pace of our review of the programs and services we offer. To help accomplish this, I have scheduled monthly public council meetings in 2013 that will deal only with financial issues and economic challenges.”

On political service: “You have to manage time effectively. I believe it is important that we ensure that citizens with careers can serve on council and offer their talents to the community.

“In summary, I have enjoyed the past year and look forward to the future.”

Personable Craig Cameron was first to express enthusiasm, but his reflective essay just missed my deadline. Wait for it.

. . .

Speaking of essays, I crashed the Fresh St. Market opening-eve party in my university student garb and used the power of the press to avoid getting tossed out. Invitees included suppliers, consultants and the distinguished.

“That’s a supermarket!” marvelled one, examining the lush seafood counter. “I want them!” a woman greedily hissed, staring at some sexy crab cakes. The high-end counters dramatically seduced the eye, all right. In contrast the prosaic canned goods aisles seemed narrow and shy.

Summed up, the “village” Mayor Smith referred to above looks as if it’ll be crushed out of existence between the glossy new store and the development Grosvenor seeks on the police station site.

But – hold on. There’s competition for the humble (and sharp) shopper’s dollar: Example, a couple of “ethnic” markets in the 1400-block of Marine Drive sell produce often sharply below typical supermarket prices.

. . .

Delightful: Minister of State for Seniors and West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Ralph Sultan, a coltish 70something, honouring ageless 95-year-old music man Dal Richards with the title Hepcat Laureate. Cool! Dig it! . . .

Sign of the hockey times: In a WV shop selling $200-plus pullovers branded with Canuck players’ names: “LUONGO 50%.”

. . .

I’m giving up lists. How could I have recently omitted from Vancouver Sun North Shore notables the amazing Malcolm Parry, whose narrative skills and encyclopaedic people recognition have raised the traditional “names” column to the reportorial pantheon?

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

Friendship kills a newspaperman’s sources

Appeared in the North Shore News – September 14, 2012

UNLESS you are very, very sweet, the following must have occurred to you, especially when a reporter scores what used to be called a scoop:

Does friendship, partisanship, old family or business, school, religious, ethnic or other ties, or drinks after the day’s work – in plain words, cronyism – twist the reporter’s story, shape the columnist’s opinion, distort what’s really happening, misinform the public, and leave history to sort out the truth, if any?

Cynics will say it’s naive to even ask. The reporter who cultivates the most friendships – cronies – harvests the most inside stuff, scoops, right?

I try to avoid raising questions without answering them. But the fact is: Although I’ve been in paid journalism 21,552 days and counting, I can’t speak for others. Imagine trying to dig out the data. Would journalists tell? Talk about giving away trade secrets. Talk about indiscretion. Talk about valuable contacts vanishing, if names are named.

There is only one journalist – I prefer the term newspaperman, but let it pass, and it has – who will volunteer to answer, but only for himself. Me, you will have guessed.

My experience is that personal friendship with politicians is exactly the opposite of the cynic’s belief. Friendship doesn’t grow a source. It extinguishes it.

Other, better journalists – and the better politicians too – may readily separate friendship from occupation. They do not exploit the personal tie. The one keeps a dignified distance from the other. In public, they do not cease to ask hard questions on the one side, or to answer (or dodge) them on the other.

If they exist, they are marked for sainthood.

Which brings me, with laboured step, to a classic current example: British Columbia’s newly minted minister of state for seniors and member of the Legislative Assembly for West Vancouver-Capilano, Ralph Sultan.

Sultan (pronounced like the raisin) and I meet occasionally for lunch. I warmly look forward to these meetings. We chat. We speak generally about political happenings. Nothing deeper than like thousands of other people over lunch. No secrets sought or offered. Relaxed. Just a couple of old guys sayin’.

Busily resting a week or two ago, and on a small island with weak communications, I mused that if at home I would have playfully asked Sultan for any thoughts he had about Premier Christy Clark’s about-to-be-shuffled cabinet. In fact I had a hunch he’d be in it. When this proved correct, I wondered how he would have responded. He couldn’t have breached secrecy. And now Sultan is a cabinet minister. More secrecy.

I sent him an email last weekend. I dutifully asked what vision for seniors he had. Offered congratulations, of course. But the subject line tipped the personal issue. It was: “What Henry Adams said.”

Puzzling? The email’s last words explained: “Ah, and what did Henry Adams say – in his excellent The Education of Henry Adams, an autobiography quirkily written in the third person? You may well have run across the book, fine 19th-century reading.

“What Henry, a member of the distinguished American family, said was: “‘A friend in office is a friend lost.'”

And lunch with Ralph will never be quite the same.

. . .

Agent 650fgTy, one of my ablest operatives, advises that the city of Penticton and the local of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) have signed a four-year contract providing increases of 0.75 a year, eliminating 31 of its 280 employee positions (11 per cent of the workforce), and reducing the number of its $75,000-plus employees from 75 to 59.

Wow. Tells more about the wimpiness of the economic recovery than a faculty of economists. This led my Agent 90Kple3 to note that West Vancouver council begins its own contract discussions this month. Any urge to imitate? Mayor Mike Smith, you’re on:

“In West Van there was no tax increase this year and I would personally not support one next year, as I think we need to challenge ourselves to find other revenue sources besides property taxes,” Smith responded.

For years municipal employees have won settlements “well above inflation, particularly in police and fire. Unfortunately both these services have arbitration rights under the provincial Police and Fire Act. I have personally, as has our council, lobbied the province for changes to this act” – unsuccessfully.

Smith made a none-too-subtle reference to Metro municipalities that bargain with CUPE, a major contributor in their elections, “but thankfully not in West Van. We have the West Vancouver Municipal Employees Association, and it is my hope that we will have respectful bargaining with them.”

It will be a tough test of Smith’s public sector frugality. He talked against raising council pay this year. But he didn’t walk the walk. He caved in, to make council support for their pay raise unanimous. Not Smith’s, or councillors’, finest hour.

© Trevor Lautens, 2012

On MLA finances, clean noses all around

Appeared in the North Shore News – August 3, 2012

QUESTION: What is the difference between the B.C. legislature and Ponzi schemes?

Answer: Ponzi fraudsters keep accurate books.

So while the records of Ponzi crooks helpfully make police investigations simpler, our legislators collectively haven’t left a clearer paper trail than a kid’s lemonade stand.

Aw, that’s mean. But fact is the legislature’s nearly $70 million annual budget is such a colossal mess that Auditor-General John Doyle confessed he can’t tell if anyone had a hand in the cookie jar.

It is a relief that our North Shore MLAs – all Liberals – have assured me their own books are solid. And it’s a comfort to know an MLA committee was planning to travel to Victoria this week for a meeting concerning the legislature’s arithmetical inadequacies.

Hold on. Can we be sure their travel chits are accurate?

The Vancouver Sun ran the headline “Auditor-general slams fiscal farce” over thumbnail photos of every MLA, and crisply summed up: “$1.3 billion improperly recorded . . . No documentation for MLA travel expenses . . . $133-million gap between the legislature bank account and financial records . . . No annual financial statements.”

Seatless Conservative leader John Cummins demanded Speaker Bill Barisoff, the Liberal responsible for legislature business, resign and his New Democratic Party deputy, Dawn Black, take over.

“Especially troubling is the disclosure that Speaker Barisoff specifically requested the auditor-general to not examine the $119,000 annual constituency office allowance provided to each MLA,” Cummins thundered.

Back to the good news. I invited our local MLAs to comment on Doyle’s allegations and asked: “Are you confident that your personal records as MLA in these areas are in proper order?”

Naomi Yamamoto (North Vancouver-Lonsdale), minister of advanced education, responded: “It’s disturbing to hear that the accounting process for MLA expenses and legislature operations is not living up to public expectations. I submit receipts for all my travel and constituency expenses.

Taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent.

“I applaud the decision to review processes at the legislative assembly. Under the direction of the new clerk of the house, Craig James, changes have been introduced that will help ensure accountability.

“Let us await the actions of the Legislative Assembly Management Committee to address the concerns outlined by Mr. Doyle. I’m confident that the public interest will be properly served. Anything less is unacceptable.”

Commendably, Joan McIntyre (West Vancouver-Sea to Sky) replied almost immediately: “As a former business operator and a longterm member of the Select Standing Committee on Public Accounts, I am surprised and disappointed by the shortcomings. . . . It is particularly surprising since first elected in 2005 I have been compliant by promptly filing required receipts for travel expenses via my legislative assistant in Victoria. I am confident my records should be in order.”

Jane Thornthwaite (North Vancouver-Seymour) was also fast on the draw: “I provide receipts for everything including travel expenses. I am confident my office is managed correctly, and I continue to be open and transparent in everything I do on behalf of my constituents.”

Ralph Sultan (West Vancouver – Capilano) replied at length. Significant, because Sultan, former bank economist and Harvard professor, probably knows more about finance than anyone in the legislature.

Said Sultan: “I think the auditor-general’s attempt to shine a spotlight upon what has been – up to now – an excessively private world is to be encouraged. Auditor-General Doyle’s findings are an unsettling surprise, and as Mr. (John) Horgan of the New Democratic Party has already confessed, an embarrassment for all MLAs. It happened on our watch, and all must squirm.”

Sultan too called Craig James’s appointment as clerk of the house “good news.” That said, Sultan takes exception to “the rather indiscriminate tar brush wielded by Mr. Doyle. MLAs secretly running amok with legislative credit cards? Not true in my experience; the spending has always been there for all to see, on the web site . . . As evidence of the new management style, the legislative comptroller’s office has become very picky and finicky starting about 12 months ago.”

Travel and related expenses? In 2011, Sultan’s totalled $16,159, well within the norm for non-cabinet members, whose expenses ranged from $6,171 (Maurine Karagianis, NDP, Esquimalt-Royal Roads) to $61,532 (John Rustad, Liberal, Nechako Lakes, defensible in his role as chairman of the party’s huge northern caucus).

But Sultan says public questioning is reasonable: “It is one thing to walk to work in Victoria, versus (making) transportation connections to get there from the depths of the Columbia River Valley.

“But who can explain NDP front-bench star Rob Fleming somehow managing to spend $22,772 getting to work from his home in Victoria each year” – Fleming’s Wikipedia entry states that while on Victoria city council, he gained a reputation for being a “fiscally prudent democratic socialist” – “or Lana Popham, another Victoria-resident NDP star, who manages to spend $21,655 annually getting across town. Hmmm.”

Hmmm indeed.

© Trevor Lautens, 2012

No leaves required to read Pam’s fortune

Appeared in the North Shore News – September 5, 2011

WEST Vancouver mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones doesn’t strike me as the sort who jumps before figuring out where she’ll land.

So what I see in the flyspecked old crystal ball is that, maybe parking her good self temporarily in an attractive private enterprise or public advisory job until the propitious moment, she will run for the – wait for it – Liberals in Joan McIntyre’s West Vancouver-Sea to Sky riding. As suggested by her response to a question I put to her.

First, the lowliest Cold War cryptologist could read the tea leaves of her words in a CKNW interview Monday. Ostensibly euthanizing rumours old enough to have whiskers, Goldsmith-Jones told host Bill Good she “wouldn’t challenge” sitting West Vancouver MLAs for a nomination.

The slippery words are “wouldn’t challenge.”

If she were to challenge Ralph Sultan in West Vancouver-Capilano, she’d be too stupid for any political office, and she ain’t.

Sultan isn’t a fighter. Doesn’t need to be. The gentlemanly Sultan has friends, many and heavy, who work the political back alleys and Main Street for him, to crushing effect on all comers. If Goldsmith-Jones challenged him, the political rift in Liberal West Van would make mainstage legislature politics look like gentle taps under Marquis of Queensberry rules.

Incumbent McIntyre, though, is a very nice, uncombative soul who couldn’t find an opponent’s jugular with a road map. She’s a Gordon Campbell pick. She’s served two terms in a riding so Liberal that Minnie Mouse could win it. So if she’d be content to call it a political day – voila, an opening without a messy challenge for West Vancouver’s mayor, who lives in the riding.

Did she lie to Good? No. Just split a linguistic hair.

Now this: I asked the three North Shore mayors for reaction to the province’s proposal to oversee municipal budgets – a fighting issue.

Engaging answers. North Vancouver District’s Richard Walton, a chartered accountant and former auditor, is “not against the idea,” respects federal and provincial auditorsgeneral, but says the terms of any audit must be clear: “The broader question that the province might well ask is whether there needs to be 22 communities in Metro Vancouver. . . . Our concern is that the creation of a municipal auditor be politically-driven rather than value-driven.”

North Vancouver City’s Darrell Mussatto: The province’s intention is “misguided at best, a complete loss of judgment in reality. . . .

They are wasting their time and money and instead should be using the funds to audit their own financial mess.” And a little twist of the knife: “Perhaps the province is looking at the municipalities for sources of revenue now that the HST has met its demise?” Oh, stop straddling the fence, Mr. Mayor.

Stand by for Mayor Goldsmith-Jones’s response: “I plan to put this on our public council agenda (this month). In general, I think it is a good idea. I don’t entirely understand the Union of B.C. Municipalities’ objection.

I think (former Auditor General) Sheila Fraser and (Parliamentary Budget Officer) Kevin Page . . . at the federal government level provide a very valuable service. . . . The local level should also wish to broadcast its legislated balanced budget and should be secure in welcoming independent thirdparty scrutiny.”

I believe I can see the descending jaws of David Marley, Garrett Polman and other harsh critics of West Van town hall finances on discovering the mayor is on their side.

Exiting, Goldsmith-Jones supports a Liberal initiative denounced by the municipalities’ organization; in the bitter Eagleridge dispute, she lent a hand to beleaguered Transportation (now Finance) Minister Kevin Falcon – who owes her; her police board gave top cop Kash Heed a stopover and sweetheart termination pay deal during his run for the Liberals; etc., etc.

Am I accurately joining the dots? Or are those really fly specks on my crystal ball?

. . .

West Vancouver property owner Paul Marshall seeks a court order to shut down Brian’s Fruit Stand in front of his huge home, listed for $6.5 million. Brian’s was there first. Marshall built the house knowing it was there. Oh, and there’s the dusty park-and-ride and a train track squarely in front – also there first. Praise West Van planning director Bob Sokol for refusing to back him up. . . .

The reaction to Jack Layton’s death defied reason.

But I’ll try. First, the Lord Nelson effect: Legends are made of leaders (Canadian examples: Montcalm, Wolfe, Sir Isaac Brock) who die at the glorious moment.

Second, the emotion deficit: Vicarious love and death in film and video anesthetize us. Manufactured emotion drives out real emotion. We fear authenticity. “Closure” has invaded language and polluted natural grief. Formal funerals are in decline; either they don’t take place or are attended by “mourners” in shockingly casual dress. The tribe gave rare permission for individuals to elevate grief for Layton into a collective torrent.

Religion? “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. . . . Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than

fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic.”

The first is I Corinthians 13. The second is Layton’s deathbed message. The music is uncannily similar. The political Messiah spoke. And with worldly calculation, the orangeclad NDP disciples are zealously exploiting his death.

© Trevor Lautens, 2011

West Van-Capilano waters look murky

Appeared in the North Shore News – May 27, 2011

A current profile in a slick magazine might as well have said it with sky-writing: “We love this candidate! We’re hyping her for the coming election!”

The story is in Vancouver, one of those magazines devoted to restless consumers who find their perfectly OK bathrooms unsatisfactory and replace them with more fashionable ones at monster prices.

A full-page photo reveals an attractive, smartly coiffed politician “with a Jackie Kennedy flair.” (Think about that.) She’s charming but with a toughness (used sparingly), personally progressive but firmly consensual; she envisions a community where you can “have a glass of wine and head to a gallery, after 7 o’clock . . . that would be marvellous,” but cursed with a fuddy-duddy citizenry the writer describes as “obsessed with tax freezes and public-purse parsimony.”

The candidate who is the subject of this shrewdly timed puffery is, you’ve guessed if you haven’t read the piece, Pamela Goldsmith-Jones.

But — candidate for what: (a) Third term as mayor of West Vancouver? (b) Liberal MLA for West Vancouver-Capilano? Choose (a), or (b), or (c) — both.

If (b), there is a stumbling block if she sets foot on the road to greater political glory in Victoria. He is Ralph Sultan. The incumbent. And he has a lock on the riding that would make any politician weep envious tears.

Last time out of the gate Sultan drew almost two and a half times more votes than his five rivals combined. (One riding over, in West Vancouver-Sea to Sky, Christy Clark top loyalist and former TV personality Pamela Martin is a prospective challenger to Joan McIntyre, who also easily won in 2009.)

So if Goldsmith-Jones, backed by the laying-on of hands of Premier Christy Clark, challenges Sultan, the decisive election would be for the Liberal nomination.

Expect one of the most bitter, divisive, loyalty-testing political battles that the broader public will never see — closed doors, among the almost 2,000 party constituency members.

There’s the age thing. The mayor is reportedly 49, which sounds so much younger than 50. Sultan, brain still in fine working condition, turns 78 on June 6.

Granted, it would be an uphill fight against a Jackie Kennedy flair, and wine and a gallery visit after 7 p.m., but he’d have to make do with a record including a Harvard economics degree, teaching at Harvard, private business experience, and chief economist for a major Canadian bank.

Timetable: Months ago the mayor said she’d reveal her electoral plans in July. Municipal elections are in November. Clark, not on firmest ground herself after her narrow byelection win, and heiress to the HST mess, is wrestling with the timing of a general election — and whipping (almost literally, an insider says) her caucus to prepare as if it’s in September. Seems more than a dry run. If so, and if Mayor Goldsmith-Jones tried and failed to step up, she’d still have a job and the opportunity to keep it two months later. That’s the (a), (b) and (c) of it.

If this scenario doesn’t materialize, it won’t be my misreading of the tea leaves. It’ll be because Clark — and likely Goldsmith-Jones too — will catch the signals and decide that West Vancouver-Capilano is a boat not to be rocked.

The big signal being: Even if Goldsmith-Jones persuaded Liberal constituency members to desert the popular Sultan (don’t bet on it), he would not go gently into that good night. My infallible agent XJR707 reports that barring a health or other unforeseen problem, Ralph Sultan’s name will definitely be on the ballot in the next provincial election.

He’d run as an independent.

The vote-splitting potential would be huge. Throw in a credible Conservative candidate, and the heaven-guaranteed certainty of a Liberal victory in West Vancouver-Capilano would look less certain.

And coincidentally — a genuine coincidence — Coun. Michael Smith soon retires from his business, and has quietly mulled running for mayor. Nor has former councillor Vivian Vaughan ruled herself out. The year of the parsimonious fuddy-duddies?

– – –

Credit where due: The Interested Taxpayers’ Action Committee, its prominent spokesman David Marley, and ITAC’s council sympathizers including Michael Lewis, merit praise for the modest 1.1 per cent rise in your West Van property bill you’ve just received. Compare that with the nearly 10-per-cent rise in Gregor Robertson’s crazed, left-wing Vancouver.

– – –

You’ve gotta see the wild spoof, Bike Lane Nazis, on YouTube — a raving, frustrated Hitler, magically relocated to Vancouver, fulminating to terrified flunkies who admit they’re losing the war on bicycle lanes, which drives the Fuehrer (further) nuts. A must-see for fans and foes alike of Mayor Robertson’s bicycle panzers.

© Trevor Lautens, 2011