IN THE BEGINNING…THERE WAS DAVE BARRETT

Image 7Watching the joyous, almost giddy swearing-in of the province’s new premier and his gender-balanced cabinet, I couldn’t help thinking of BC’s very first transition of power to the NDP, so long ago the Vancouver Sun had two full-time labour reporters. That historic ground-breaker took place way back in 1972, or five years before David Eby, the province’s new Attorney General, was born. July 18 was only the third such right-to-left tilt in BC history. Of course, that’s three more than the zero Stanley Cups won by the hapless Canucks, and just enough to keep politics interesting and a semblance of two-party democracy alive in BC’s polarized environment. No wonder John Horgan couldn’t keep that big goofy grin off his face. But the circumstances could not have been more different than the first official visit to Government House by an NDP premier-in-waiting. No live TV, no tweets, no hoopla from First Nations dancers. Very little buzz at all. Yet it was a pivotal moment for the province, never to be the same again. So, for David Eby and “all you kids out there”, return with us now to that thrilling day of yesteryear, when NDP leader Dave Barrett succeeded the indomitable W.A.C. Bennett as premier of British Columbia.

Given the NDP’s string of 12 consecutive, electoral defeats, going back to the formation of its CCF predecessor in 1933, it was a day many thought they would never see in their lifetime. Against all expectations, however, the party’s 13th campaign proved lucky beyond imagining. On August 30, 1972, Bennett’s 20-year grip on power came to a decisive end. The NDP won a stunning, landslide victory that few, beyond Barrett and a few canny observers, saw coming. The hysteria, bedlam and sheer outpouring of joy at party headquarters that night was off the charts. The “socialist hordes” were inside the gates at last.

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Yet such was the strange, almost surreal, nature of the times, like Monty Python’s depiction of the dull life of Ralph Mellish, suddenly, nothing happened. Barrett had no idea when he would actually get to be premier. The shattered, 72-year old Bennett said nothing about how and when the transfer of power from Social Credit would take place. An eerie, political silence descended on Victoria. Unsure of protocol, for much of the next two weeks, Barrett sat at home in Coquitlam, twiddling his thumbs, waiting for a summons to Government House. Finally, on the morning of Sept. 15, Bennett officially resigned, and the long-anticipated, formal phone call from Deputy Provincial Secretary Lawrie Wallace came through. The boyish, joke-cracking, 41-year old social worker, son of an East Vancouver fruit peddler, would be sworn in that afternoon as premier of British Columbia, the first Jew and the first socialist to hold the province’s top elected position.

Still, given the absurdly short notice, Barrett had to hurry. He scrambled his wife and kids into the family Volvo and headed off to Tsawwassen for the ferry to Swartz Bay. The premier-to-be’s vehicle took its place in line with everyone else. Once on the other side, Barrett realized he didn’t know exactly where to go. Fishing a dime from his pocket, he used a pay phone at the ferry terminal to call Government House for precise directions. “I think he reached the gardener,” Shirley Barrett laughed later. Barrett parked the car in the visitors’ parking lot, and the family sauntered happily up the driveway. Barrett’s tie flapped casually in the breeze, his teenaged sons grudgingly wearing jackets, but tieless.

The new premier was sworn in before a few officials and associates, family and the media. As he signed the book, a photographer asked him to “look up, Mr. Premier”. Sun columnist Allan Fotheringham reported that Barrett displayed a look of surprised delight at hearing himself addressed as “premier” for the first time. Afterwards, he lifted a glass of champagne and proclaimed: “This breaks a 20-year fast.” Outside, queried how he felt, the province’s 26th premier replied: “I feel a little more honourable.”

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An hour later at the legislature, the province’s first socialist cabinet was sworn in. Fotheringham watched Barrett, closely. He wrote: “[He] wore a continuing grin of simple pleasure. It was not a smug, greedy look. Just a boyish failure to subdue his true feelings.” It was if he knew already his government would fundamentally change the province. There would be no hesitation, no turning back.

Four and a half decades later, it was the turn of another NDP leader to take the oath of office. This was a far more public, more high-spirited swearing-in than the low-key ceremony that ushered Dave Barrett into office. The ornate room at Government House was packed, befitting a date for the transition set well in advance, rather than by the back-of-the-envelope whim of Wacky Bennett. TV networks carried the ceremony live. First Nations dancers were front and centre. All 40 NDP MLA’s were there, brought to the august residence in a rented bus. “That’s the way I roll,” said Horgan.

The atmosphere could not have been more happy and relaxed. Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon, who made the critical, pressure-packed decision to reject Christy Clark’s request for an election and call on the NDP to give government a whirl, got into the spirit of things. After Horgan, while taking the first oath of office, awkwardly stopped at “I’, without repeating his full name, she quipped “He’s a quick learner”, when he got the second and third oath right. Her Majesty’s Representative also gave Agriculture Minister Lana Popham an affectionate hug, after Popham inked her name in the ceremonial book. It was that kind of affair.

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Now comes the hard part, of course. Governing is never easy, especially when so many are out to get you. But Horgan has wisely copied one of the positive pages from the Barrett playbook: bring in simple and popular measures that help those who need it most right off the bat. Besides quickly increasing the minimum wage and welfare rates, the Barrett government enacted as its first order of business a guaranteed “mincome” of $200 a month for the province’s senior citizens. The first program of its kind in North America, it remained the most cherished of all the far-reaching moves by the NDP over the next 39 months. Mincome, said Social Services Minister Norm Levi, represents “the unfinished work of the socialist movement in its concern for people of all ages”.

On his third day in office, Horgan hiked disability assistance and welfare rates by $100 a month, the first welfare increase in more than 10 years. It was a good start.

 

 

 

 

RACHEL NOTLEY, DAVE BARRETT AND HISTORY

ndp-leader-rachel-notley-wins-alberta-election I wasn’t there, but I bet a lot of tears were shed by Alberta NDP oldtimers last night at the party’s giddy, raucous ‘n’ rollin’  victory celebration in Edmonton. That was certainly the order of the evening on a similar dragon-slaying night long ago, out here in British Columbia. On Aug. 30, 1972, Dave Barrett, the 41-year old son of an East Vancouver fruit pedlar, led “the socialist hordes” inside the province’s gates for the first time, after nearly 40 years of repeated failure. Among the hysterical crowd greeting a triumphant Barrett at the Coquitlam Arena (it was a different time…) was veteran union official Rudy Krickan, who’d worked for the party since the 1930’s. His eyes moistening, Krickan told a reporter: “This is the greatest night of my life.” Barrett’s mother Rose, who put young Dave on a Spanish Civil War float in the late 1930’s, hugged her son with tears streaming down her face. 8378182 I’m sure there were similar moments in Edmonton, as Rachel Notley delivered her warm, impressive, heartfelt victory speech at the little more upscale ballroom of the Westin Hotel (in the old days of the Alberta NDP, election night gatherings could probably have been held in the hotel lobby…).

I mean, even a day later, who can really believe that the NDP has been elected in Alberta? (Surely some mistake, ed.) It’s insane, unworthy of even a lame April Fool’s joke. Calgary has gone from Cowtown to Maotown. As someone tweeted last night: snowballs in hell are alive and well.

Despite the passage of time, there are a number of interesting similarities between the stunning elections of Barrett and Rachel Notley, whose father Grant was head of the NDP in Alberta when his B.C. counterpart came to power. Both Barrett and Rachel Notley toppled political dynasties that seemed destined to last forever. W.A.C. Bennett had reigned over B.C. for two decades with barely a hiccup, and of course, Alberta’s Conservatives had been in power for a staggering 44 years, almost as long as the Vancouver Canucks have been without a Stanley Cup.

Both incumbent premiers waged disastrous campaigns. For them and their parties, after so many years, it was one election too many. Meanwhile, Barrett and Notley were note-perfect on the hustings. A mood for change swept over the electorate. By the end of 72-year-old W.A.C. Bennett’s bumbling re-election bid, the Socreds were desperately buying full-page newspaper ads proclaiming “young is a state of mind”. The ads pointed to a still-productive Picasso at 90 and Einstein working on his “unified field theory” into his seventies. Alas for Social Credit, there was no unified field theory to salvage the ‘72 election. “Wacky” went down in flames, as did Jim Prentice, who also seemed preposterously out of touch with ordinary voters.

Last-ditch, political scare tactics that had always worked in the past were lost in the gales of change. The unified free-enterprise vote splintered, and both Barrett and Notley were able to steamroll to power with substantially less than a majority of the popular vote. At one point last night, the Alberta NDP vote was a scant .2 percentage points higher than the 39.6% B.C. New Democrats received in 1972. (Late returns bumped it up to 40.6%.) And eerily, both Social Credit and Alberta Conservatives were nearly wiped off the electoral map with the same paltry total of 10 seats.

I also note that in their victory speeches, both Barrett and Rachel Notley began by paying tribute to and thanking the leaders they had sent into political oblivion. In Barrett’s case, his mention of W.A.C. Bennett evoked boos and laughter from the exultant crowd. “No, no,” admonished Barrett, over the din. “Any man who has served his province for 20 years deserves our respect, and I think we should recognize that.” Notley, in turn, graciously thanked Jim Prentice “for the enormous contribution he has made to this province…in many roles for many years.”

I found myself charmed by Rachel Notley’s wide, beaming smile. It seemed so refreshingly natural  and unstaged. I can see why Alberta voters flocked to her, rather than to her rather dour competitors. And yes, Barrett, too, was like that in victory. Here’s Allan Fotheringham’s description of the incoming premier as he strode towards Government House to be sworn in: “The new premier wore a continuing grin of simple pleasure. It was not a smug, greedy look. Just a boyish failure to subdue his true feelings.” Image 9 And now, the tough similarities. The way ahead for Notley, as it was for Dave Barrett, is fraught with potholes of the potentially-monstrous variety. Neither came close to a majority of the popular vote. If the free-enterprise forces get their act together, Notley could be a one-term wonder, as was Barrett. (Same with Bob Rae’s upset victory for the NDP in Ontario in 1990. They won a large majority with just 37.6% of the popular vote, then soundly trounced next time out.) In B.C.’s bitter 1975 election, the NDP actually held their share of the popular vote, but Social Credit, under the hardnosed leadership of Bill Bennett, knocked them for a loop by building an unsinkable anti-NDP coalition. The Liberal and Conservative vote basically disappeared. In a two-party race, Barrett and the NDP didn’t have a chance. They were out of office for the next 15 years, until the free enterprise forces split once more.

As did Barrett, Rachel Notley also takes over the reins of a resource-rich province with a caucus completely untested by  government. Who knows how they will perform? Barrett turned out to have some exceptionally capable ministers, several among the best this province has ever had. But he had his share of dunderheads and lacklustre performers, too. Along with more than one big blunder by Barrett, himself, these lesser-lights helped fuel perception of a gang that couldn’t shoot straight. Image 9 The reality was quite different. The Barrett government accomplished more in 39 months than perhaps any administration in Canadian history. It was done purposefully. At the new government’s first cabinet meeting, when not sliding up and down the large, shiny cabinet table in their stocking feet, they considered the question: Are we here for a good time, or a long time? As we know, they opted for a good time. “We discussed whether we were going to make fundamental changes in British Columbia,” Barrett wrote, later, “or whether we would try to hang on for a second term, rationalizing that we would get the job done next time around. We agreed unanimously to strike while the iron was hot.” Many thought they did too much too soon, without sufficient consultation. In the process, they alarmed the business community and a good chunk of the public. Their fate in the next election was sealed.

Yet their short time in office was far from all bad. Much of what that wild and crazy government did survives today. The “Barrett boys” fundamentally changed B.C., mostly for the better. So far, the approach of Rachel Notley seems a fair distance from Dave Barrett’s approach. Although both are certainly populists, early signs are that she is opting, not for the good time, but for the long time. While Barrett gleefully took on the big mining and forest companies, Notley is already talking to Alberta’s energy industry moguls, seeking to re-assure them of her desire to work together.

Meanwhile, the Alberta media must be licking their lips in anticipation of a story that keeps on giving. There will be tales galore, as there was during the Barrett government’s brief, Roman Candle launch and fall to earth. Everything seems so easy in opposition. Actual government is hard, requiring a steep learning curve. And so, to Rachel Notley and her merry band of green youngsters, i say: Welcome to the bigs. It should be a hell of a ride.

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TOP 10 THINGS I LEARNED FROM LAST WEEK’S DRONE FROM THE THRONE

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10. Our MLAs have earned “a sacred trust to represent democratic values: Respect for each other and tolerance for differences of political beliefs….While we may disagree with the person speaking, we must always…respect their right to speak.” I guess they left out the asterisk that this refers only to Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver. Keep those nasty NDP jokes coming, Premier.

9. “A near-record 2.3 million British Columbians are working.” Since it’s not a record, that means fewer are working today than before. Nice try, government spin-meister.

8. “Thousands of British Columbians shared their input on a new transportation plan.” Not bad for a province of 4.6 million. Certainly better than the efforts of those puny, elected Greater Vancouver mayors representing 2.5 million people.

7. “B.C.’s mining and energy sectors provide good-paying jobs across the province, from rural communities to corporate offices in Vancouver.” Well, knock me down with a hard hat. Who knew?

6. I’ve long been worried about British Columbia’s absence from the world map. How can all those rich Chinese tourists find us, if we’re not on the map? Now, it seems, I can rest in peace. “B.C.’s technology and green economy are putting B.C. on the world map…” And to think, reporters claimed there was no news.

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5. “Perhaps no sector has attracted more excitement and investment than natural gas.” PERHAPS????? “Liquefied natural gas could create a hundred thousands and the revenues to eliminate our debt.” COULD????? How did those cautionary, weasel words slip in?

4 (a). For those who think humour is a lost political art: the Lieutenant-Governor reminded us that “most notably, the provincial government and teachers’ federation set aside more than 30 years of discord to reach a negotiated agreement. The longest in history.” Laugh? I thought I’d die. Those spoilsports who point out this happy event occurred only after a bitter teachers’ strike that was also the longest in history are just that. Spoilsports. Detentions for all of you.

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(b). Not only that. “Now there is an opportunity to work together on our shared priorities: students and student outcomes.” Court case? Court case? Don’t need no stinking court case!

3. “We can never forget there is only one taxpayer.” What, in the entire province? Jimmy Pattison, take a bow.

2. I’m not sure how reporters missed this grand ambition, but this year, British Columbia is going “to contribute to Confederation like never before.” While B.C. may have contributed a lot in the past by…..um….hang on…just a second…., you ain’t seen nothing, yet. Alas, details of this mighty contribution are still sketchy. So far, it seems to be nothing more than gloating by residents of Vancouver and Victoria about cherry blossoms, crocuses and daffodils in mid-February, as the rest of the country is buried in snow.
Unknown-11. And the number one thing I learned from last week’s Drone from the Throne, once again, folks: Vaughn Palmer is a very funny columnist. Clink the link below for Mr. Palmer’s take on the Throne Speech.

http://www.vancouversun.com/opinion/columnists/Vaughn+Palmer+tape+Reward+good+citizens+Protect+free/10803076/story.html
Happy Budget Day!

BRUCE EDMON MICKLEBURGH (1921-1987)

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My father and I did not have a warm, “let’s play catch” relationship. He was not that kind of guy. But he was a one-of-a-kind individual, who lived life large, when he could, and followed the beat of his own particular drummer. I admired the good side of that, such as when he cajoled our six-member family into a small, Singer station wagon and drove us across Canada in 1961, camping and sleeping in pup tents. No one did that, then. This was before Rogers Pass, and we spent a whole day nervously driving the precarious, twisting gravel road known as the Big Bend Highway, from Golden to Revelstoke. Who could forget Boat Encampment, where the Columbia River made its “big bend” and headed south, its old-style gas pumps and rustic general store now flooded by the Mica Dam? That trip to B.C. changed my life. The province grabbed hold of my heart, and when I was ready to make my own way in the world, this was where I headed. Without my crazy — in a good way– father, the rich life I have had in beautiful British Columbia might never have happened. His own roots were here, as were my mother’s. So, thanks for that, dad.

Thanks, too, for not throwing out that cool, black leather jacket you sported in the 1940’s. One day, at the height of “the Sixties”, I discovered it in a back closet, and wore it for years. Some fathers pass down wisdom to their sons. My father passed on his black leather jacket.

He’s wearing it in that cool photo at the top of this blog. The shot was taken on what were then known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, when he was 24. And here’s the same black leather jacket worn by his callow stripling of a son, on a back road near Naramata. Not bad, eh? Happy Father’s Day, old man!

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PREMIERS’ PIPELINE SOAP OPERA CONTINUES: TEMPERATURE BACK TO FROSTY

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First, they were the best of friends. Then, they weren’t. Then, they were the best of friends, again. Now, suddenly, once again, they’re not. Follow the bouncing ball, folks, as those good old neighbouring premiers, our own Christy Clark and Alberta’s  Alison Redford enact their own version of climate change. From warm and sunny, to frosty, to….well, you get the picture. The latest icy blast seems to have happened all in an instant.

According to Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason, Redford landed in Vancouver on Monday, ahead of her Tuesday speech to the city’s Board of Trade, fully expecting to meet at some point during the day with Christy Clark. In fact, she said she was looking forward to their long-planned meeting. All at once, she learned the meeting was off. Yikes!

The premiers’ latest falling out, of course, is over that that darned Northern Gateway pipeline proposal. Mason, who broke the story, said their get-together is now kaput, apparently  because of B.C.’s continued demand for some sort of compensation from Alberta for allowing the pipeline to cross the hallowed turf of beautiful British Columbia.

But oh, the timing. As recently as Saturday, on CBC’s The House, Redford talked warmly of Premier Clark, praising her leadership on energy matters.  She reminded host Evan Solomon of their private pipeline palaver on Tuesday, and yes, she was looking forward to meeting her again, after their friendly discussion this summer.

So what the heck happened to kibosh this pending love-in? Why the spat now, with Alison Redford right here, in the heart of Vancouver? What is this, As the World Turns? But even for a soap, the timing of the rupture doesn’t make sense.

Anyway, read Gary Mason’s fine piece on the Globe’s website, then take a gander below at what Alison Redford said just a few days ago about her warm and fuzzy feelings toward Christy Clark. Astonishing. Real scratch-your-head stuff.

From On the House, broadcast Saturday, Nov. 2:

REDFORD: I’ve never regarded our relationship as being frosty. I mean, we’re both premiers. We both represent our province’s interests. I like to think I do that well, and she’s certainly done that well. But in terms of personal relationships, we’ve gotten along very well, and this will be my third or fourth meeting with her in the last year on this issue.

We’ve had really good dialogue. You may know that we have a partnership with our deputy ministers to deal with some of the issues around Gateway. This [meeting] will be a continuation of that work, to really update, and make sure that we’re still on the same track.

Premier Clark  has really been important in the Canadian dialogue and what it means in terms of a Canadian energy strategy to get product to market. And she’s taken a really firm view on that in the last three or four months, talking about the fact that she understands the people in British Columbia do have a role in ensuring that we get product to market, cuz that’s good for Canada. So that’s the spirit of what we’re talking about right now, and I’m looking forward to seeing her.

EVAN SOLOMON: But given all the opposition, is this pipeline really possible?

REDFORD: It’s not too far in the future. It’s something we do need now to get our product to market, so that we can get the best possible price. The other thing is, it’s a bit of a misnomer, and some people in British Columbia, in government, understand this. The Premier certainly does. You actually have to connect LNG projects to oil sands projects, because very often the companies involved in investing in LNG have major investments in oil sands, and it’s all part of their corporate approach to how they invest in Canada. …There’s lots of work to do, but I think it can happen.

Now, the two aren’t talking. Winter appears to have come early….Brrrrr….