An alternate reality: Clark pumps PR

An alternate reality: Clark pumps PR

An alternate reality: Clark pumps PR

Christy Clark supported PR in 2009 CKNW broadcast


Upon winning the BC Liberal leadership, Andrew Wilkinson, a long-time party fixture, lost little time in reminding his people that the party’s most important goal is the defeat of proportional representation in the upcoming provincial referendum.

While Liberal opposition to proportional representation is no secret, there is a BC Liberal insider whose thoughts regarding proportional representation they probably wish didn’t exist in the public domain. But they do exist, and the words are from none other than Christy Clark.

Yes, you read that right. Clark articulates a thoughtful, informed case for changing our voting system and, at the same time, levels a powerful indictment against the politicians who are fighting tooth and nail to keep first past the post.

FURTHER READING: Listen to Clark’s 2009 broadcast

In this rather confessional 2009 CKNW radio broadcast, Clark, who at the time was not in politics, admits, that while in the Gordon Campbell government, she avidly supported first past the post because it worked for her, was in her own interest. She confides, though, that since she has “left politics my views have changed,” mainly because she hears from her CKNW listeners who are “sick to death of the way our political system works.”

She agrees with listeners’ grievances, which include having their votes “thrown in the garbage,” politicians who “ignore what their constituents want” and an “relentless vitriolic” war of words during question period that “poisons us all against our democratic process.”

Clark’s indictment of those who fight against proportional representation is stark:

“When I look at the people who are actively campaigning against [proportional representation]” I see “people whose interests and, in many cases, whose income is dependent on keeping our system the way it is. People who … relish the ugly realities of the first past the post system.”

Clark believes that electoral reform actually frightens them.

Clark continues by saying that in proportional representation, all politicians will need “to compete for all of your votes,” they’ll need “to listen to their communities first and their leaders and their parties second,” and that voters can choose a representative they “think is the smartest, the one you think is most ethical.”

Further, according to Clark, “all politicians will have an incentive to get along,” which means a return to “civility in politics.”

Listening to this broadcast for the first time is like stumbling into an alternate universe. Certainly, not the same old, same old Liberal position.

We never thought we would say this: Listen to Clark, and vote for proportional representation.

Pat Carl and Mel McLachlan are members of Fair Vote Comox Valley




Courtenay-Comox: It’s still a swing riding

Courtenay-Comox: It’s still a swing riding

The newly reconfigured Courtenay-Comox riding dispensed a few surprises for the political experts this year. The biggest one: it’s still a swing riding.

With control of the B.C. Legislature hanging on the outcome of a recount and some 2,000 absentee ballots, the riding unexpectedly became this election’s center of attention. It wasn’t supposed to be so close.

When the B.C. Electoral Boundaries Commission split Cumberland from the Comox Valley, and moved this traditionally strong NDP community into a new mid-Island constituency, the change should have favored the Liberals. Add in growing Comox Valley support for the Green Party, which naturally siphons most of its votes from the NDP, and the stage was set for a third consecutive Liberal victory.

The fact that the NDP won the new riding by a slim 189-vote margin for Ronna-Rae Leonard triggers some interesting observations about Courtenay-Comox voters, as well as the mood of the province.

The vote was clearly a rebuke of Christy Clark. When a province’s economy leads the nation, records Canada’s lowest unemployment rates and balances its budget, the incumbent government should expect to retain a majority.

Instead, voters revolted against Clark’s arrogant attitude, her vendetta against teachers and the ravaging of public school funding, her too-cozy relationship with corporations and her terrible decisions for British Columbia’s environment regarding LNG plants, dams that only benefit Albertans and inviting an armada of oil tankers in the Salish Sea.

All of these issues must have resonated with the 16,000-plus Courtenay-Comox voters who cast ballots for the NDP and Green parties.

On the flip side, the strong military support for the Liberal candidate, Jim Benninger, a former commanding officer of CFB Comox, didn’t materialize.

Political pundits predicted that the absentee ballots would comprise mostly military personnel and that they would lean Liberal. Didn’t happen. The absentee ballots actually broke in favor of the NDP.

Was Benninger just not a good candidate, or do individuals in the armed forces share the majority’s growing concerns for the environment and of inappropriate corporate influence and access to Liberal cabinet ministers? The latter seems more likely.

And let’s not forget that this is still a swing riding. Of the 24 elections since 1933 — including this one — the NDP/CCF have won 11, the Liberal/Social Credit/Conservatives have won 13. (Herbert Welch, running for a Liberal-Conservative coalition, won two elections and served from 1945 to 1952.)

The popular vote in this riding has always been close. Except for the 2001 election when Stan Hagen rode the wave of support for a new Liberal/Social Credit coalition, no candidate has won a majority of the vote. Hagen got 56 percent that year.

And despite Hagen’s and Don McRae’s victories for the Liberals in 2005, 2009 and 2013, they received fewer total votes than combined NDP/Green candidates in each election. In the 2013 election, McRae trailed NDP/Green candidates by 1,768 votes.

In this election, the NDP/Green candidates nearly doubled that margin, out-polling the Liberals by 3,339 votes.

But in both the 2013 and 2017 elections, Conservative party candidates also played a role. They won 1,740 votes in the 2013 election, making that a dead heat. And they won 2,201 votes this year, cutting the NDP/Green lead to 1,138.

So, what does that mean?

It means this riding, with or without Cumberland, is almost evenly split.

So shouldn’t people expect the winning candidate to represent the Comox Valley with a mindful recognition of the progressive policies of the NDP and Green parties as well as the conservative ideology of the Liberals? That hasn’t been the case.

Hagen almost exclusively catered to the big money crowd. McRae less so, perhaps, at least not so obviously. And will Leonard turn her back on nearly half of her constituents?

The problem, of course, is the blind allegiance MLAs must devote to their party leadership. Vote how we tell you. There’s no tolerance for independence in the Legislature.

And until party leaders loosen their tight grip on individual MLAs, British Columbians will be best served by minority governments. When party leaders have to compromise and negotiate, rather than rule with an iron hand, they produce better legislation.


It’s the party that matters most, not the candidate

It’s the party that matters most, not the candidate

People often ask me about the differences between the U.S. and Canadian electoral systems. There are many, but one stands out as the most important.

Individual candidates hardly matter in British Columbia elections.

Canadians vote first of all for the party, its record or its campaign promises. And there’s a valid reason for this party-first voting tradition.

An MLA in B.C. is expected to publicly support and vote the party line. Every time. Without exception.

While differences of opinion may be tolerated during private caucus sessions, an MLA who dares to criticize his or her party or to vote against their party can expect a swift eviction notice. Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson discovered this hard truth in 2010 when he criticized his party leader on a community website.

Political parties learned long ago that if they failed to pass a piece of legislation, the public would lose confidence in them, and that, in turn, would make another general election unavoidable and its outcome uncertain.

So party leaders acquired the power to discipline MLAs who fall out of line.

And to keep them in line, well-behaved MLAs receive rewards. Some get cabinet appointments, some get travel junkets, some get pork barrel benefits for their ridings and some get other coveted appointments; the list of possible benefits is long.

As a result, most individual Members of the Legislative Assembly in a parliamentary democracy are much less powerful than members of American state legislatures or the U.S. Congress. In the U.S. system, Republicans and Democrats frequently swing their votes across party lines based on specific constituency interests. Not so much on the Big Ticket issues.

But this ability to vote independently of party affiliation, bestows greater importance on individual candidates in the U.S. system than in British Columbia.

On the flip side, it also makes American elected officials more vulnerable to the influence of lobbyists. Without a party leader telling you how to vote, the temptations dangled by outside interests, who aren’t accountable to voters, can be persuasive.

It’s also clear in B.C. politics that only the select few in the premier’s tight group of confidents have any significant impact on party policy. This is also true in the U.S. system. But as U.S. President Trump and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan have discovered, a fracture in party unity can disrupt the plans of the boys and girls at the top.

So, unless a candidate in B.C. is embroiled in some scandal or ranks high enough in the party to have a material impact on policy, the local campaign rarely hinges on the record or actions of an individual candidate.

And that’s what makes the May 9 provincial election difficult for many voters.

What if, for example, you dislike the B.C. Liberal Party’s policies on education, the environment and government transparency … and maybe you have a particular aversion to party leader Christy Clark..

Maybe you just think that after 16 years it’s time for fresh faces in Victoria.

But what if you find the Liberal candidate more likable, smarter and more sympathetic on the local issues that concern you than the NDP candidate?

You might consider voting Green or Conservative, but if you’re at all pragmatic, you know neither of those parties has a chance to win.

If you’re interested in the direction of British Columbia generally, and how it fits with your world-view, rather than only your personal interests or those of your specific community, you have no choice.

You must base your vote on party policy, not on the appeal of any individual candidate.


I’m running on May 9, and I’m no GOOBER, by golly

I’m running on May 9, and I’m no GOOBER, by golly

Those of us who study elections seriously have stumbled upon an alarming discovery about British Columbia politics: spending too much time in Victoria reduces your intelligence to the rough equivalent of a kumquat.

You’ve probably noticed this, too.

A candidate carrying a clipboard rings your doorbell and engages you in thoughtful conversation about the issues that affect you the most. Based on their doorstep brilliance, you elect them and off they go to Victoria where, after about two weeks, their ability to maintain rational thought basically resembles an obscure and bad-tasting fruit.

The problem is that all of our province’s major issues, like fully funding basic education, preventing further environmental disasters and when will we have enough medical marijuana stores, are kept in a big storage locker hidden somewhere in the Capital Region.

That means our politicians have to go there to work on them. But due to the rare Geographic Onset Of Brain Erasure and Restore Syndrome (GOOBERS), the problems just get worse.

That’s why those of us who take elections seriously have concluded after much deep thinking that we need to elect someone who refuses to go to Victoria, and why, at the last minute, I have decided to offer myself as a write-in candidate.

I don’t seek any applause, heartfelt personal thank-you notes or unsolicited friendly letters-to-the-editor. Although large envelopes filled with cash would be nice.

I’m just in it for the issues. And speaking of that, here’s where I stand as of 11:45 a.m. this morning, April 10, 2017:

Taxes and Budget deficits – Against ‘em.
The environment – For it.
Education —Hire more teachers for public schools because it will take a really smart new generation to fix all the messes we made.
Plush jobs for all my friends – No problemo.
War – Normally opposed, but I could justify a small offensive on the price of beer.

People have asked me whether I intend to run as a Green, NDP or Liberal because, you know, after the old conservative SoCreds glossed themselves as “Liberals,” nobody’s really quite sure what party designation means any more.

So I’ve worked up some of my own campaign slogans:

Politicians are like diapers, they both should be changed often, and usually for the same reason.

I’ll be tough on crime, so don’t steal. That’s the government’s job.

WARNING: I advise you to support me now because there are only so many really good pork-barrel jobs to go around (actually, both parties have proven this isn’t true, but it’s a good pressure tactic).

Remember, if I get only one vote, I’ll know it wasn’t you.


Recess returns to CV schools

Recess returns to CV schools

Recess has returned to the playgrounds of School District 71’s elementary schools as of February. That’s good news for children and teachers.

But why the school district eliminated recess at the start of this school year and the reasons for reinstating it now aren’t such good news: it’s political and, most egregiously, has nothing to do with children and the benefits they reap from the power of play.

The blame starts with B.C. Liberal Party leader Christy Clark who has seriously underfunded British Columbia public schools for more than a decade and robbed our children of world-class educational opportunities.

But the blame doesn’t end there.

To close a $3 million funding gap for the 2016-17 school year, local Comox Valley school trustees rejected a proposal by some parents to close underused and low-enrollment schools.

They chose instead to institute a 4.6-day school week, which ends at 12:01 p.m. every Friday for all Comox Valley schools. That saved the district about $1.8 million, and resulted in the firing of more than 15 teaching support staff because teacher preparation time was rolled into Friday afternoons. Spring break was cut in half.

But the shortened school week created a number of new problems.

Some students stopped going to school on Friday mornings because in many cases no substantial instruction occurs during the shortened versions of a full day’s classes. This squeeze on time led one district secondary teacher to apologize to his students before they took a province-wide exam for being unable to teach the full curriculum.

The district also eliminated recess, which they called a “gift” for elementary students and teachers to which they weren’t legally entitled. They reclassified recess as instructional time.

The loss of recess may seem inconsequential, but its importance for energetic young children goes beyond the need to stretch and move after hours of sitting still. Kids learn many of life’s important lessons on the playground.

There is a sophistication to the world of play that may be lost on many of us. Play gives educators, and parents, a chance to peek into the sometimes hidden world of children. When you want to see what children are really interested in, watch what they do when they have nothing to do.

For children, play is always purposeful. It is up to us as adults to unearth the special significance of the playful act. It may be a role that the child is trying on for the future.

There’s a possibility that taking away the joy that children get from recess will demotivate them and cause them to do less well in other areas. The amount of material children have to accomplish these days is overwhelming, so teachers have to move fast. With that kind of intensity in the classroom, kids and teachers need a break.

Recess should be considered an important part of the elementary curriculum, just as math and science. When children play, they’re thinking, solving problems, investigating and learning language skills. It’s the only part of the day when they can do whatever they want, so they learn how to cooperate, socialize and work out conflicts.

Fortunately, the Comox District Teachers’ Association had a tool to push back and they used it. The elimination of recess violated the contract language for elementary school teachers. In order to live up to its collective agreement with teachers, the school district reinstated recess, but continues to classify it as instructional time.

This sets the stage for a possible new contract issue, because the B.C. School Act clearly specifies that recess (and the time for lunch and between classes) cannot be considered instructional time.

School trustees and teachers both want to do the right thing. But this is the type of confusion and tension caused by the chronic underfunding of public schools.

So recess was reinstated. But not because it’s good for children or indirectly improves learning back in the classroom. Young Comox Valley school children can only rediscover the power of play thanks to a contractual technicality.

We should worry about the future of a society where kids are not encouraged to run and play. Where the power of play is devalued. Where there is no unstructured time to fuel imagination, encourage creativity and strength social development.

When you take away recess, you take away a complex learning environment that contributes to healthy childhood development.