Trudeau the Younger acquitted himself well

Appeared in the North Shore News – October 23, 2015

I have been standing back admiring the brilliance of my prediction that the Conservatives would win Monday’s election.

The logic was impeccable, though not unique — just more genially expressed. It follows.

Liberal Justin Trudeau and especially New Democrat Thomas Mulcair were as zealous campaigning to one-up each other as they were to bury the common foe, Stephen Harper, who you will remember was Conservative prime minister (how quickly the political history books open and coldly snap shut).

While they exhausted themselves clawing and mauling one another over which was the more worthy regicide, King Harper would soar through the blue skies in a coach drawn by two noble steeds, reduced from the usual four for the economy’s sake, back to his well-deserved throne.

This theory was rooted in samplings of popular support showing Mulcair as front-runner before the formal campaign began — the heady prospect of the first Sussex Drive socialist — and Trudeau the Younger a lame third. But incrementally Trudeau got back his legs. He strode up mountains real and metaphorical, a chip off the paternal block, at least for the Liberal spinmeisters’ ads. He found his tongue too. He acquitted himself well, possibly better than he dared hope as bearer of the profound burden of having a word-skilled father.

And in the last dozen days or so, a Trudeau dynasty emerged. Mulcair was the big loser, partly due to so-called strategic voting. Trudeau sold the product.

For what is a democratic election all about if not politicians selling themselves in a milieu where faking sincerity is a prime requirement, where actors play not their own fallible, privately frightened selves, but someone more confident, astute, wise and caring, to an anxiety-ridden audience yearning for leader authenticity and gullible enough to believe in words—– which, as the Greek said, have horns and forked tails?

So if my theory of Conservative victory was wrong, as it lugubriously was, clearly Mulcair and Trudeau were spooked by a nightmare variant of it too — that a Liberal resurgence could lead to their virtual second-place tie. Harper, his crown slightly askew, would then resume a brand of governance that they hated and feared, being largely successful in substance and unfashionable in style.

Of course by any global terms most Canadians are so incredibly spoiled that, as my old mother would say, they don’t know they’re alive. And it will be fascinating to see how Trudeau handles his vow to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees; the nation’s military commitments; the inevitable terrorist attacks on our soil; and the citizens’ equally inevitable demands for business to create more prosperity, more social services in a shaky global economy. Such are among Harper’s bequests to him. A poisoned chalice?

In the interests of all Canadians, including petty self-interest, I certainly wish Trudeau well. He will need no lessons in Canadian history about the long slope down from the deliriums of election night to the disappointments and fractiousness of actually governing: Making choices, shifting money from pickable pockets to favoured ones — the top priority for skilful governing.

How Brian Mulroney was viscerally hated as prime minister by many, and how wonderfully Mulroney spoke Monday night: Gracious, witty, philosophical, good-natured, self-mocking. Only a consummate actor could pull that off.

• • •

A fast-off-the-mark reader emailed me: “I hate to tell you how far off you were on your prediction.” My reply: “Thank you for this. Many will not ‘hate’ to tell me — they will enjoy it immensely.”

• • •

This may not be a bad opportunity — how many remain? — to muse about columnists and such making election predictions. Flatly, I’d rather be wrong than timorous. Afraid of flying and crashing? Get out of it. My newspaper roots go back to meatier times when columnists were expected to shoot their mouths off. Yes, and argue rudely with one other, sometimes across the page.

The judicious thumb-sucker doesn’t engage me.

• • •

As for the two-and-a-half North Shore ridings — red from end to end to end — I asked the mayors for their election reaction.

West Vancouver Mayor Michael Smith: “I look forward to working with our new member of Parliament, Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, as she understands the issues facing local governments around getting adequate funding for infrastructure. She also knows the unique challenges we face in West Vancouver and I’m sure she will serve our community well.”

District of North Vancouver Mayor Richard Walton praised previous MPs, especially citing “Don Bell (Liberal) and Andrew Saxton (Conservative). … Jonathan Wilkinson has good role models as predecessors, and we have every belief he will serve well. … Saxton was a class act in his appearance at the Liberal victory celebration, offering strong support for Wilkinson in the transition.”

No criticism of North Vancouver City Mayor Darrell Mussatto — long an open New Democrat — for not responding on very short notice before my deadline.

© Trevor Lautens, 2015

Conservatives on track to take top spot

Appeared in the North Shore News – October 9, 2015

The Conservatives will win the election. Could get a majority.

They’ll win on the economy (the Globe and Mail recently ran a glowing double-page spread, declaring “the West Coast is on a roll” while “much of Canada’s economy sputters”).

They’ll win big on the terrorism and revoked citizenship issue — the big-city media buried the pulled citizenship of the leader of the Toronto 18, who merely planned to explode truck bombs in the city centre, and of another who plotted to decapitate staff of the (stupid, irresponsible) Danish paper that printed cartoons mocking Muhammad. Are the leftist parties and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association OK with defending convicted terrorists’ citizenship “rights”?

And they’ll win on the niqab issue at citizenship ceremonies, which Tom Mulcair absurdly linked to women’s rights.“They can wear anything they like,” intoned The Eyes, whose Marxist backroom backers’ manifesto, which a wit called Tommunism, was also hastily buried by the media.

Justin Trudeau is definitely attractive, especially striding up mountain slopes in his ads.

Stephen Harper will again be the choice of the old. They Twitter not, neither do they Facebook. They vote.

Even the young have had a bit of a leg-up. In this riding the job signs are up, from Blenz in Horseshoe Bay to Fresh St. Market and beyond. Outside a Tim Hortons pleading for help was a knot of loafing youth, brilliantly described by a veteran backroom Conservative as “work-deniers.”

And I believe Harper has a powerful ally: Harper-haters. Their viciousness goes beyond anything I have witnessed since, in junior reporter days, standing touching-distance from John Diefenbaker right after his stunning upset in 1956.

Example: The Vancouver Sun recently ran as its top-placed letter this missive by Geoff Snell, Richmond: “The Harper government is a lying, mean-spirited, vindictive, climate-change-denying, fundamentalist, immigrant-hating government, run by a two-faced, bitter, twisted little shell of a man.”

No paper in this land would run such a letter about a serial killer or murderer of his own children. Snell and his ilk are handing a lovely backlash to calmer voters.

Harper faces five opposition parties: Liberals, New Democrats, Bloc Quebecois, Greens, and CBC Radio.

Granted its charms, CBC Radio has a newsroom and public affairs staff that doesn’t even make a pretence of hiding its hatred of small- or cap-C conservatives.

Locally: Conservative John Weston has had to defend government actions, many unpopular — everyone in this country knows how to run the government, except those who actually do it — which he’s done civilly, a harder task of course than opposition parties having no record and gasbag promises.

Green Ken Melamed shamelessly pandered, at a West Vancouver secondary students’ meeting, to half-baked teen notions (we were all half-baked then; we may live long enough to be blackened by overcooking), advocating lowering the voting age to 16 (screaming applause) and legalizing pot and making it a rich business (rockin’ applause). Scratch Melamed.

As for his party, Elizabeth May is the real reactionary — the Greens are promising a creaky, olde-British Labourite-style guaranteed livable income, with no guaranteed national income of course, and free university tuition, the working poor and struggling new immigrants stuck with the bill.

The NDP’s Larry Koopman, a former drummer with a rock band, speaks valiantly among the polished pols, pretty hopelessly in this riding. And speaking of polished pols, there’s Pam Goldsmith-Jones.

She and I got off badly after her first mayoral victory when I reported a grumbler’s claim she was an unadmitted Liberal. Furious denial. Then the controversial term of police Chief Kash Heed, including his astonishingly loose talk about a criminal investigation to a West Vancouver Police Board member. When he resigned in February 2009, ex-officio WVPB chair Goldsmith-Jones claimed total surprise. So no severance, right? Lo, Heed emerged as a provincial Liberal candidate – and, shockingly, the board paid his salary until Election Day three months later, in May 2009. (Heed won but his campaign was fouled by illegalities. His political career was destroyed.)

Add: The secretive in-camera council allowing the “bus shelters” resisted by previous mayors. The reversal of her predecessor council’s vote on the Sea to Sky Highway improvement, protested right to jail time by some. The uproar over 500-odd dog violation tickets issued by a zealous bylaw officer: She called a meeting, some older dog-owners wept, she sympathized and many must have left thinking how nice she was, not noticing she offered no refunds … a textbook case of skilfully reaping political capital from disaster.

Back to the larger picture: In the voting booth people forget the national interest. They vote their personal interest. Canada’s story is rife with scandals, deals, favouritism. Essentially ungovernable, it has bungled along, but, under Harper and his predecessors, the people have laboured, largely prospered, and nobody is beating down walls and commandeering boats to flee to a better place.

© Trevor Lautens, 2015

Politicians face off on transit vote

Appeared in the North Shore News – March 13, 2015

The transportation referendum — hold on, we interrupt this rant for a breaking rant from our opinion room: Stephen Harper will win this year’s federal election. We now return you to regular ranting . . .

You read it here first. The Conservatives have taken two decisive steps — turning up the investigative heat on the gauche wannabe domestic terrorist and the imported real article, and the so-called tough-on-crime legislation.

Those initiatives will win the hearts of Main Street Canada — leaving, stranded up a political Suburb Street without a trolley, Trudeau the Younger with an expired transfer of me-too-but-we’ll-change-this-when-we’re government, and Tom (Eyes) Mulcair with a pompous harrumph, at curbside. Watch getting splashed by the Tory campaign bus speeding past, guys.

We interrupt this interruption to despise Justin Trudeau’s just-in racial demagoguery, accusing Harper of fomenting hatred against Muslims. Can anyone doubt the intent of a few Canadian-born converts to Islam to kill and to spread terror? Who’s playing the polarizing race card?

• • •

Now, the original top item for this piece.

Two representative West Vancouver views of the mail-in transportation plebiscite, running from next Monday till May 29:

Mayor Michael Smith, one of three Metro mayors voting no: “TransLink is being treated like a political football being kicked back and forth between the Metro mayors and the province. . . . I would suggest that decisions should be made locally. . . .

“How can anyone argue that by defeating the yes vote the consequences would be worse? In the past three years the mayors have had to deal with three ministers of transportation . . . and still have no control over how the new money raised will be spent, as TransLink management does not report to the mayors’ council. . . . It is poor public policy and unrealistic to expect citizens to understand a complex issue such as transit funding.

“I believe that we do not have the right to ask taxpayers to pay higher taxes with no guarantee that the money will be well spent. If the vote on the referendum is no, then finally the province and local mayors will have to sit down and make changes to the governance of transit.”

Poll-topping Coun. Craig Cameron: “I am a yes. If there is a no vote, I believe we won’t get any meaningful transit upgrades for 5-10 years. The province will (wrongly) take it as a signal that Lower Mainland residents don’t want to pay for transit improvements. . . . The province will then take the money set aside for transit and apply it to other objectives. No significant changes will be made to TransLink’s governance structure and TransLink will not become any more efficient than it would have otherwise.

“In short, the worst of all worlds — no benefits and all of the same negatives.

“Moreover, if the province decides to proceed with all or part of the (necessary) improvements, we will pay for them through property tax and fare increases. . . . And from a West Vancouver residents’ perspective, the property tax increases will far outstrip the cost of the (0.5 per cent rise in) sales tax.”

Cameron doesn’t disagree with Smith’s points. But he’s a pragmatist. With a grin: “If a meal is put in front of you, eat it.”

• • •

My shy observations:

In a crude waltz of mutual back-scratching, Gregor Robertson, Greg Moore and Linda Hepner, mayors respectively if not respectably of Vancouver, Port Coquitlam and Surrey, connived to unseat North Vancouver District Mayor Richard Walton as head of the Metro mayors’ council. Which self-poisoned the yes well from the start.

Then there’s the yes team, the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition. It includes the Vancouver Board of Trade, B.C. Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Vancouver, Unifor (union) Local 111, the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association, the David Suzuki Foundation, Greater Vancouver Gateway Council, and others.

A key goal of this exercise is getting people out of their cars and on public transit. But Constant Reader will have noted the common thread linking these leaders and many of their members. They don’t take public transit themselves. They want other people to take it.

Less traffic would speed their way from Metro’s tonier homes, including on West Vancouver’s leafy slopes, to their important roles. Not to be unkind to the successful elites, bless them.

But many have designated company parking stalls. Others have business write-offs as they move to serious lunches and meetings. They don’t pay for their driving and parking. Taxpayers ultimately do. Thanks, I’m marginally one of the privileged.

Out of space. See next column. But here’s a teaser: Not one word of the heavy thinkers I’ve read has even mentioned the A-B-C of any merchandiser: The customers. And how to attract — not bully, demean, treat like stacked cordwood or store-window dummies — these and prospective transit riders. What an original idea, eh, yes side?

© Trevor Lautens, 2015

Behind council’s sober second thoughts

Appeared in the North Shore News – August 15, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or was Dal willingly cooperating? We may never know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

Objective journalism takes another hit with VBOT protest coverage

Appeared in Business in Vancouver – January 14, 2014

Hello, business persons (I’ll ask other citizens some other time): Do you sometimes get mad at the media? Me too.

But in my case the annoyance is as complex as love and as fat with conflict of interest as a Montreal mayor or two.

At this stage of veteranhood I may be a utility infielder, but I’m on that media team. I’ve not drawn a single breath whose oxygen wasn’t pumped out by print or by the noises and pictures of radio and television. And it’s a thin day when all three don’t ruffle me.

To continue the baseball metaphor, here’s the pitch I’m swinging at today: photo on the front business page of the January 7 Vancouver Sun.

The scene was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s discussion with members of the Vancouver Board of Trade.

Harper’s impassive face gets the southwest corner of the shot. But who’s the black-clad dude who occupies front and centre?

He is not identified. But why the editors chose this photo – taken by Jonathan Hayward of the Canadian Press news agency – is as clear as riot clips. The fashionably short-bearded dude is holding up a sheet of paper bearing three capitalized words: “CLIMATE JUSTICE NOW.”

Wanna bet that far, far more people looked at and remembered the picture than read the abutting story’s 26 earnest inches of type? No takers.

Thought so.

So this uninvited attendee, one of a couple of so-called activists, hit the influence/demagogic jackpot by bursting into the setting with a crude message of fascinating, almost voluptuous ignorance: demand that an undesignated somebody create with magic-wand speed an implied good that neither the world’s wisest nor stupidest nor the masses in between could define if they took all eternity.

It is a slogan that, in essence, is linguistic fascism or leftist totalitarianism – no difference; as the Frenchman said, les extrêmes se touchent, the extremes touch one another – of nearly Orwellian purity, the kind of sloganeering George described in his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

More to the point, what’s the media to do when a rent-a-crowd of a dozen demonstrates near convenient cameras? Or bully-boys and bully-girls break up a peaceful gathering? Or an unclothed chap runs across a football field in his yearning for brief, naked fame? Serious or silly, all aim at manipulating the news/public attitudes/whatever.

They usually succeed. Journalists are almost human. They quickly grasp what human beings want to read, hear, watch.

Of course some of it is trash or alarmist or not sensible models to follow. (Hey, that’s a newsroom “good news” day.) Yet the phrase “responsible journalism” sticks fast in my, and many, throats. That way, albeit over a few hills, lie state-controlled media. The Communists in China and North Korea know how to deal with those who would upstage a prime minister.

The solution? There is no solution. The untidy situation will stumble on, like democracy itself – under editors as subjective as anyone else.

A journalist friend mischievously gave me A Good Life, the memoirs of Ben Bradlee, who famously let loose his Washington Post reporters to destroy the arguably eminently destroyable Richard Nixon. The Post publishers, the Grahams, were big, powerful Democrats.

Neither the Post reporters nor any others, nor White House crony historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., ever touched John F. Kennedy, whose bed-hopping, much of it on office hours and with office staff, they well knew, just as they knew the story would have crushed Kennedy.

The “scoop” waited nearly half a century. Objective journalism be damned.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

Senate and House of Commons vie for crown of most politically redundant

The Harperland version of democracy has slipped over the border from the knuckle-under-or-else whip system into soft fascism


Appeared in Business in Vancouver – April 9, 2013

There are three problems that periodically surface to trouble the Canadian mind.

1. What is the meaning of life? 2. Did Romeo ever actually sleep with Juliet? 3. When are we gonna get rid of the Senate?

Let me help with No. 2. Actor John Barrymore was once asked that very question when lecturing to students. The Great Profile reflected a moment and replied: “Only in the Chicago touring company.”

Moving on, No. 3 is one of our inexhaustible revolving-door questions. Just as you think it’s on its way out, presto, the door revolves and it comes back in, joining the other unsolvables: Quebec’s Canada Problem, or vice versa, and when the Maple Leafs will beat someone, anyone.

The Senate is one of those slam-dunk matters that any moron can have an instant opinion about, and has. Like suggesting a design for a distinctive Canadian flag. Oh, we had that debate, didn’t we.

The polls show weakening support for the Senate. My personal poll: I’m 79% in favour of the status quo. A genuine chamber of second thought is sound statecraft. The present flaw is unchecked prime ministerial power to appoint – with rare exceptions, his own party members. But there’s nothing wrong with exploiting the services of experienced politicians.

What’s needed is to expand the range to include “ordinary” but frankly mostly extraordinary Canadians, in diverse fields, who are too modest, too egotistically deprived to run the merciless gamut of electioneering. They are numerous. So let members of the Order of Canada, in genteel conclave, vote for nominees. Elitist? Of course. Meritocratic? Unashamedly. Read on.

Canadian politics can’t be discussed with a straight face for long without the twist of grimace or the gleam of grin. So serious aficionados of baggy-pant comedians with a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down the pants were not disappointed during the recent flare-up of anti-Senatism.

The boffo moments occurred when the usual suspects scorched the appointed Senate for corruption, for scandals (Mike Duffy’s tiny erring), above all for the political equivalent of the uselessness of the human appendix, compared with … sit down, folks, this’ll kill ya … compared with … I’m sitting down myself, squeezing the edge of the desk …. compared with … the House of Commons!

Yeah, right, where the Harperland version of democracy has slipped over the border from the knuckle-under-or-else whip system into soft fascism, castrating the interior rules and historically hard-won independence of the Commons. Tory dissidents were taken to the woodshed and beaten into whimpering obedience. The Opposition parties are silent – they do the same. The peoples’ MPs parrot party-prepared bromides or risk being sent to the political gulag. Harper has relieved them even of self-respect.

The tipping-point may look like inside baseball, but the nub of it is that the prime minister’s bully-boys used every means to drown a motion by Mark Warawa, of just 13 words: “That the House condemn discrimination against females occurring through sex-selective pregnancy termination.”

Warawa, a four-term Langley MP who in 2011 drew more votes than any B.C. candidate, cites studies suggesting 92% of Canadians believe such practices should be illegal, adding that the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada oppose sex-selection pregnancy termination.

Harper risk offending “certain” racial groups, mainly South Asians? Never. Ingratiate himself further with slippery-slope feminist fanatics, even to emasculating Parliament? Readily. You want cynicism? Harper is politically right on. He’s a Mackenzie King nobody warms up to – but a manipulative master of survival, nullifying enemies who loathe him and betraying no-other-choice friends. The Senate is such an easy, distractive punching-bag.

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

Canada increasingly a pushover for China’s economic imperialism

Appeared in Business in Vancouver – January 8, 2013

Today Canada is eagerly kissing neo-imperialist China’s backside, its face clearly revealed by the still-ubiquitous public posters of mass murderer and towering economic bungler Mao Zedong


No, the following rant wasn’t fuelled by a weekend of intense liquid partying, a warm-up for New Year’s. It comes straight from a gnarled, bitter heart.

At a moment of national despair years ago I recorded in one of my private notebooks, kept since 1960 (sure to be of posthumous historical importance): “I hate being Canadian, and I could never be anything else.”

Today I furiously revisit that sentiment. Canada has spent half a millennium under colonialism – French, British, American economic variety. Today Canada is eagerly kissing neo-imperialist China’s backside, its face clearly revealed by the still-ubiquitous public posters of mass murderer and towering economic bungler Mao Zedong.

A generation after the Soviet Union’s evil empire collapsed, China remains a Communist – and dangerous – dictatorship. It beats and jails its internal critics remorselessly. Its well-documented industrial espionage in North America, and its currency manipulation that facilitates purchase of Western bonds and companies, are outrageous.

Nobody’s outraged.

Stephen Harper approved the purchase of Nexen by the China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC), this anti-democratic rogue state’s consortium of national oil companies.

Backed by detailed analysis of its legal and constitutional implications, Brian Seaman, researcher with the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Association, baldly states that the agreement “trades away our rights and laws” (“New Canada-China trade deal is bad for Canada” – Business in Vancouver issue 1210; January 1-7).

He speculates that if CNOOC became a lead partner or investor in a pipeline project, it could trump the objections of the B.C. government, First Nations, environmentalists and anyone else.

Hear this: Writing in the Financial Post, Wenran Jiang, University of Alberta political scientist and director of the Canada-China Energy & Environment Forum, which met recently in Beijing, dismisses the deal as minuscule in the global economic picture – then concedes it’s “the largest Chinese overseas takeover by far.”

Hear more: “Canada is not the only game … there are many places where the speed of projects is much more efficient and the returns much more profitable than the Canadian market.”

If this silken threat is too subtle for the crude Canadian intellect, Jiang closes with sharper proxy bullying on behalf of the Middle Kingdom: “In other words, we will be fooling ourselves if we think Canada is the only dinner party in town and that the Chinese would stick around with only an appetizer’s tasting after we have invited them to buy a full dinner ticket.”

Substitute an American corporation’s advocate talkin’. Canada’s U.S.-hating leftists and adenoidal nationalists would go crazy. Yet Canada, like other Western democracies, is kowtowing to Chinese economic imperialism without a peep.

Just a “cheap-cheap” – as our amoral businesses and consumers eagerly sacrifice Canadian manufactures and industrial workers for sweated -labour Chinese goods, impossible to avoid and even less to compete with.

More grotesque is China’s HD company – supposedly a consortium of “private” companies, but no company in Central Committee-controlled China is private in any Western sense – buying B.C. mining properties and getting a permit to import Chinese workers to staff it, over angry union objections.

Canada is partly the author of its own misfortunes.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney cites devastating figures: In the next decade Canada will have a shortage of 10,000 skilled workers, 163,000 construction workers and 130,000 oil workers.

We native-born Canadians don’t like dirtying our hands (mea culpa, why do you think I chose this work?). We prefer soft university arts courses to strongly job-oriented schools like BCIT.

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

Pro-lifers lose battle, but war expands

Appeared in the North Shore News – October 12, 2012

ATTENTION, abortion pro-choicers: If you disliked Stephen Woodworth, you’ll hate Mark Warawa.

First, the North Shore angle: Praise for Conservative MP John Weston, who joined the surprisingly large minority supporting Woodworth’s House of Commons Motion 312, defeated 203-91, to create an all-party parliamentary committee to discuss when an unborn child becomes a human being.

No praise at all for Weston’s fellow Conservative Andrew Saxton, who joined the other 202, explaining that he was following the party’s position on abortion – shut up about it – as ordered by the prime minister.

Stephen Harper never misses an opportunity to betray the so-called social conservative core of old Reform party voters and MPs who put him where he is. (Here’s my own hypocrisy: I thoroughly understand his loathsome pragmatic politics, and I’ll vote for him next time anyway.)

No one expected Woodworth to succeed. But, freed from party discipline to vote their conscience, an astounding 10 cabinet ministers – who owe their status, extra income and fine offices to Da Boss – supported Woodworth. You wouldn’t get a snivelling Liberal or New Democratic Party constituency association petty apparatchik who would have the jam to do as much. (Send names if I’m wrong.)

Among the Ethical 10 were two especially courageous ministers: Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney, who by now everyone knows is grandson of the leader of Canada’s top dance band of the 1930s, Mart Kenney and His Western Gentlemen (I’d bet on Jason to carry the swing vote, little joke there), and ethically even tougher Status of Women Minister Rona Ambrose.

Can’t you feel the hissy fits among the real (bad sense) conservatives in the university women’s studies departments, certain editors I have known, the ultra-conformist Canadian ruling intelligentsia?

High, high praise for Woodworth himself. He conducted himself respectfully and without wild-eyed ranting, sneers and gleeful taunting such as you are reading here.

Pro-choicers have long tarred opponents as mostly Catholic and fundamentalist bigots. Two magnificent women don’t let them get away with this.

The National Post’s indispensable Barbara Kay cites facts, figures, Danish and Finnish studies, too much for this space. Her major point: Abortion clinics (like Henry Morgentaler’s money-spinners) resist giving Canadian women seeking abortion plain information. In her Oct. 4 column, she writes that she once sent a woman posing as unsure about having an abortion to three facilities, asking about the dangers. She was told to fill out a form and have the abortion the next day.

She insisted on seeing a doctor. “Each time the doctor emphatically assured her there was no downside or risks to a future pregnancy, even after multiple abortions. They lied, and they could lie, because there are no regulations around informed consent.” Denmark, Finland and New York State have compulsory induced abortion registries. “That’s the route we should be going” in Canada, Kay writes.

Margaret Somerville is the founding director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University. She’s long written thoughtfully on abortion. I’d sum up her Globe and Mail commentary as: Woodworth lost the battle. But he advanced the war. Strategically, pro-life moved far beyond anything since the 1988 Supreme Court of Canada decision left this nation without any abortion law at all.

“So where do we go from here?,” Somerville asks. “The answer came almost immediately when B.C. Conservative MP Mark Warawa filed another motion (408): ‘That the House condemn discrimination against females occurring through sex-selective pregnancy termination.'” Warawa used evidence documented in a Canadian Medical Association Journal study and confirmed by a CBC sting investigation of “recreational ultrasound” businesses.

Warawa moved the debate into a space where abortion-righters can’t use the “religious (code: Christian) bigots” shtick. Or duck that some cultures, read especially East Indian, disproportionately abort female babies because they want boys. Somerville cites a study from India that followed 8,000 consecutive abortions: “Three were of unborn boys and 7,997 of unborn girls.”

Pro-choicers like Joyce Arthur twist themselves into pretzels to defend that repulsive choice. They’d be big losers in the court of public opinion. Warawa notes a poll indicating 92 per cent of Canadians “believe sex-selective pregnancy termination should be illegal. . . As well, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada have vehemently opposed sex-selection pregnancy termination.” Not even a big margin of error could melt that poll figure down to “choice” levels.

Somerville drily remarks of our MPs: “My prediction is, they might find they’ve jumped out of the frying pan of Mr. Woodworth’s Motion 312 into the fire of Mr. Warawa’s Motion 408.”


. . .

My West Van Agent dg630w can’t praise Christy Clark’s new chief of staff, Dan Doyle, enough. As a contractor he negotiated – not easy bargaining sometimes – with Doyle when he was deputy minister of highways. Total respect.

© Trevor Lautens, 2012

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

Appeared in the North Shore News – September 16, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

They puzzle their secular Western allies with unashamed public prayer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not one of them asked: But is he right?

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

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

Quiet. Peaceful. Nice. What went wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wake us when it’s over.

© Trevor Lautens, 2011

Of Old Bulls and Young Turks

Appeared in Winnipeg Free Press – May 14, 2011

VANCOUVER — Ready for the Parliamentary Channel switching to re-runs of Sesame Street?

How about a private member’s bill bringing acne into the Canada Health Act?

Think diaper boards in the washrooms will raise public respect for the Commons?

The parliamentarians’ informal afternoon naps may be made mandatory, with taxpayer-funded teddys and dolls provided (why not, in the nanny state?). Could be a bit of a shock to see Pablum on the parliamentary cafeteria menu, though.

You’ve (now) heard all the jokes about the new BQ (Baby Quebecois) party, the young New Democrats — five from McGill University — who trounced Gilles Duceppe and the Duceppetions in the May 2 election. Earnest persons who repeatedly fail to grasp the brass ring of electoral victory must have been dismayed to see that for these youngsters, some barely of legal drinking age, winning an election is mere child’s play.

The youth wing’s tastefully gender-inclusive pin-ups are Pierre Luc-Dusseault, University of Sherbrooke politics student and youngest-ever MP at age 19 and 11/12ths, and Ruth Ellen Brosseau, who worked at Carleton University’s student bar and whose “campaign” was conducted from the fantasy world of Las Vegas — excellent preparation for Ottawa. She’d never even set foot in the riding, yet beat the incumbent by nearly 6,000 votes. Must be a lesson there somewhere. There were more women elected, too, than ever before, almost a quarter of the Commons.

What a deliriously gripping election that began as a snorer. But, to those of philosophic bent, with an overlay of anticipated poignancy. Parliament needs young blood, but, unless party leaders, and especially the NDP’s Jack Layton, loosen the screws, the heavy hands of party whips and Parliament’s grey ploddings will quickly turn them into young stuffed shirts.

At first they may blurt out some alarming truths, even their honest beliefs. Then they will be sternly taught — symbolically, a whack of the ruler on the knuckles that they never felt in school life — that all Canadians enjoy the right of free speech except MPs.

The Conservatives got their welcome majority, almost a footnote in this shoot-’em-up Wild East election. Stephen Harper’s campaign was repetitiously dull — rote-teaching that the young neophytes also never experienced in their progressive classrooms. That’s a compliment to Harper. It is a great feat when a government successfully defends what has been, with its chronicled warts, against the assaults of its opponents’ what might be, the fluffy clouds of costless campaign dreams.

Now don’t overplay your hand, prime minister. Let Layton twist slowly in the wind of his probably unmanageable success. It would be fun to be the scorpion on the wall at NDP caucus meetings when the party’s Old Bulls, like those here on the Left Coast, confront the Young Turks — with the generational friction of old people’s very natural hatred and jealousy of the young, and youth’s equally heavenly ordained cool contempt for the old, in the mix.

A serious word. Our elections trivialize policy into trite slogans and dumb-down candidates into puppets mouthing pre-programmed party bromides. Michael Ignatieff and Layton hold PhDs, but in our political culture they, like all candidates, have to disguise their learning, so that the highest praise for Layton, was the vomit-inducing mantra that he’s “the kind of guy you could have a beer with.” What a grand qualification for leading the country.

Our denominator is so shudderingly common that Bob Rae was brave to pitch a rare literary note at beer-swilling Boobis canadensis, quoting Kipling’s profound words in his poem If on the twin impostors of Triumph and Disaster. Ignatieff quaffed the latter in full measure.

It is a deeply unkind irony that he and his motley allies touched off — whatever Harper’s parliamentary provocations, evidently of little import to us belly-scratching, hockey-hypnotized Canadians — an assault on the castle walls that ended with two of the three leaders bathed in boiling oil and politically slain, and the third with the ambiguous success of soaring in status but with diminished power. It was a curious time, and we may not see its like again. Or care to.

© Trevor Lautens, 2011