Breaking It Down In North Vancouver-Seymour

Below are the statements from the NDP and Liberal candidates in our riding.

The KEY:

Boilerplate background blurb with no real content. Warm and fuzzy stuff.

Environment boilerplate. Green and warm and fuzzy.

Some boilerplate about being a “strong voice.”

Growth! Growth! Growth. Also Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!

Fiscal responsibility boilerplate.  We’re prudent! We’ll balance the budget!

Innovation, children, seniors, and any other buzz-word that fills up space without actually requiring specifics.

Jim Hanson, B.C. New Democratic Party

“I am running as the B.C. NDP candidate in North Vancouver-Seymour because I know that we can do better. We can have a more environmentally sensitive, socially conscious and economically prudent provincial government.

“I was born in Lions Gate Hospital in 1961 and raised in North Vancouver-Seymour. Ruth and I have brought up our two children in Blueridge. My spouse Ruth is a Realtor in North Vancouver. My parents live on the North Shore. I have been a self-employed lawyer for 28 years. I believe my background as a lawyer, as a businessman and as a father have equipped me to make a contribution in government.

“I believe it is imperative that we find the right balance. I remember the natural beauty of the North Shore when I was a child. I do not want anything less for our children or our grandchildren. I oppose any initiative that will transform the Port of Vancouver into a major oil sands export facility. We need to preserve our community and find environmentally sustainable means of growth and prosperity. I look forward to being a strong voice for North Vancouver-Seymour in a new and better provincial government.”

Stuff Jim wasn’t allowed to talk about: Unions; Actually undoing Liberal legislation on stuff like employee rights; anything that might rein in corporations from running roughshod over the land; other candidates’ drunk driving convictions.

Jane Thornthwaite, B.C. Liberals

“I love my job and I want to continue doing my job to help the people of North Vancouver-Seymour.

“I had a career in dietetics for 25 years and I am the proud mother of three children, one of whom is a student is at Windsor secondary. That’s the reason why I initially made my entry into politics – because I’ve always been passionate about my children’s education and I felt I could do more. In 2005, I was elected to the North Van school board. When I wanted to make a greater difference for my community, I decided to enter provincial politics and have been the MLA for North Vancouver-Seymour for the past four years.

“I want to ensure that the economy remains strong, the number of jobs available to our children continues to grow. That is best achieved when taxes remain low, the government’s finances are well-managed and economic development is a high priority. I believe that one of society’s highest responsibilities is to provide a quality education system for our children and we need to ensure they have meaningful employment right here in B.C.

“We need more innovative solutions to protecting our environment in North Vancouver and province-wide.”

Stuff Jane wasn’t allowed to talk about: Vasi/Birk; BC Rail, Gordon Campbell; Christy Clark; HST; anything to do with poor people. Drunk Driving convictions.

Read more: http://www.nsnews.com/news/Thornthwaite+riding+lose/8286616/story.html#ixzz2RX8qcIYP

NDP and the Arts

The_MassesFurther to my last post, our local candidate tweeted (or more likely, retweeted what head office told him to) :

jimhanson_ndp: Great to see the@bcndp maintain its commitment to the arts. @northshoreartcr http://t.co/7lukURqVaf

If you follow that link you’ll see that the NDP is trying to score points by announcing a promise to increase the BC Arts Council budget to “$29 million over the next three years from $24 million.”

Well, big whoop-de-do.

Five piddling million bucks. Over three years.

As it stands now, according to Hill Strategies Research Inc., the acknowledged experts in these things, BC has the lowest per capita Arts funding of all the provinces. And would remain well entrenched at the bottom even after this drop in the bucket.

Provincial spending on culture per capita averaged $90 in 2009-10, with the highest levels in Newfoundland and Labrador ($156), Saskatchewan ($149), Prince Edward Island ($129) and Quebec ($125). Also above-average on this indicator were Manitoba ($117), New Brunswick ($107), Alberta ($102), and Nova Scotia (also $102). The only two provinces below the national average were Ontario ($63) and British Columbia ($54).

Yes, the NDP is promising to increase our per capita arts funding to an amazing $55!

I’ve worked in the cultural sector for a couple of decades, and have always been frustrated by the general lack of interest in Arts and Culture in the NDP.

Sure, they’ll always talk about loving us, but at the end of the day the classic NDP crowd just doesn’t get it, and likely never will. Despite some interesting projects like Hamilton’s Workers’ Arts and Heritage Centre, the NDP still seems to believe that their base supporters, imagined to be lunch bucket workers, although I suspect that’s not really true any longer, don’t really like or trust those artsy-fartsy types.

And yet I’d wager that your average NDP supporter is also pretty darned likely to visit his or her local library, or enroll their kids in piano and dance lessons, or go to summer music festivals.

All of these – in fact every single cultural and arts organization anywhere – depend on government funding to survive. In BC that means that they’re starving to death.

And, to bring it back to politics, the cultural community has generally supported the NDP, and the things that the NDP (traditionally) has stood for.  (although things are not always that simple – check out pianist Stephen Hough’s blog post “Do musicians tend to be socialists?“)

Ordinarily during an election the party faithful (as I tend to be) stick to the party line, and avoid asking embarrassing questions. That’s why candidate Twitter feeds are so dull and uninspiring.

This time though, the Liberals are almost certainly dead in the water, so I feel fine about holding the NDP feet to the fire and asking them to make some REAL commitments to things that I care about.

They’ve been getting a free ride from artists and creators for far too long.

Really, I Do Want To Like the NDP!

Part of me really, really wants to volunteer time for the campaign of our local NDP candidate.

The incumbent is one of those horrid, ineffectual, BC Liberal party hacks whose primary roles are a) photo-ops and b) recycling press releases from the Premier’s office.

There’s no way I’m going to vote for the party CRIME-Premier-Charged of Gordon Campbell (Pictured), and even less likelihood that I would ever vote for the BC Conservatives.  I am, in short, the classic NDP supporter.

My problem is that the NDP keeps saying stuff that is right out of the Liberal or Conservative play books.

First, they keep bending over (Backwards? Or the other way?) to try and make the Chambers of Commerce and Boards of Trade love them.

Aside from being a completely ridiculous idea – I mean, really, is there any chance whatsoever of the corporate sector ever liking the NDP? –  I really don’t want to support a party that would do whatever it takes to make these guys happy.

Second – the Federal NDP boss, Mulcair, comes out as a big supporter of Free Trade.  Oh yeah, less laws to protect workers and the environment  and all of the good jobs shipped to China – that’s what I want in a party.

Third – Adrian Dix declares that the NDP doesn’t want donations from Unions.  That’s just stupid.  Is he also going to declare that they don’t want votes from Union members?  Does he think that the Liberals will see one less dollar from their corporate buddies? Trust me, they’ll find ways to funnel the cash to the Libs.

Today though, a tweet from Jim Hansen capped it for me:

“Freezing BC ferry rates for two years while conducting an audit: a practical approach to a challenging problem.”

An AUDIT??? Yet ANOTHER “review” “study” “audit” of BC Ferries????? Haven’t we been through that about fifteen times already  Are we looking for more “efficiencies?”

Surely the answer from anyone in BC who has ever used BC Ferries is pretty obvious.

Fund them properly. Increase service. Reduce fares.

You would never guess that none of the MLAs ever use ferries – they take the helicopter to work from Vancouver….

FOI: Liberals and Facebook

Lib_FacebookEarlier this year the BC Liberals swamped Facebook with a barrage of “Sponsored Posts” (aka Facebook spam).

It proved to be a bad idea, since every one of these posts was met with hundreds of highly negative comments, about evenly divided between those who wished to challenge the far-fetched claims being made, and those who simply objected to having tax dollars used to pay for partisan election advertising.

I’ve long admired the excellent FOI work being done over at https://paroxysms.ca/, so I decided to make a Freedom of Information request to see how much tax money was being spent on this Facebook campaign. I asked for:

Contract details and detailed records of the costs of Suggested Post type advertising on Facebook.com and similar advertising on other social media web sites. Timeframe is January 1, 2013 to [March 5, 2013].

 

The response arrived today (see the PDF files below) and is notable for a couple of things.

First, it turns out that Facebook spam is really, really cheap. Despite drowning BC Facebook users for weeks with Liberal campaign ads, the government only paid Facebook a few hundred dollars – most invoices were between $30 and $50.

Of course that doesn’t include the time, labour, and design work to create the ads and the campaigns, so perhaps a follow up FOI is in order.

Second, and even more interesting?  “Some information has been withheld pursuant to section 17 (Disclosure harmful to the financial or economic interests of a public body) of FOIPPA.

I find it pretty hard to understand what part of “buying ads on Facebook” could cause harm if disclosed.

Here are the PDFs that they sent me:
Response – Letter
Response – Records
Response – Premier’s Office

Stuff keeps on dribbling in:

Response – BC Public Service Agency

What Voters Want

In a few weeks British Columbians will go to the polls to elect a new government.  Within hours of the poll’s close, the media will begin offering opinions why the voter turnout was so low. Once the Vancouver Sun and Globe and Mail have declared this an Important Issue, the politicians will join in, once again acting as if they are Very Concerned by the number of people who didn’t bother to vote.

The pundits, spin-meisters, and policy wonks won’t admit it, but the reason why people can’t be bothered to vote is pretty obvious: no politician ever addresses the things that really matter to regular people.

The press and the political operatives drive the agenda during a campaign.  Maybe they really believe that budget deficits are the most important issue, or pipelines across Northern BC, or global warming, or crime.

Certainly if pollsters ask people about these Important Issues, they’ll express concern about each of them, and maybe even will say that their voting choice will be based on a specific party’s position on any of these.  After all, no-one wants to admit to being uninformed or uninterested.

The truth is that there are things in life that matter far, far more than green house gas emissions, balanced Provincial budgets, or the trade balance with China.

A Good Job

will-work-for-food-franchiseWhen a politician announces a job creation plan, it invariably means that they want to give tax dollars to large corporations who will maybe hire some people, for a while.  The same goes for skills training.  No-one wants to actually pay you to go to school and learn a trade, much less guarantee you a job at the other end.  They want to give money to a large corporation, who maybe will use some of it to pay part of the cost of trades training, and who maybe will hire you for a while after you finish school.

An average person sees things quite differently.  When they take a job they’re looking for a handful of pretty specific things:

Security – a permanent job that they can count on for at least a few years.  Summer jobs are for teenagers, not for people supporting a family, a mortgage, and a car payment.

Good Pay – no-one really expects to support a family on one income, but between them two people should make enough to buy a house, make the car payments, take three weeks off each summer for vacation, and enjoy a full refrigerator,  new school clothes for the kids, hockey and ballet lessons, cable TV and Internet.

Benefits – Decent pay only goes so far.  A good job includes a good dental plan, medical benefits to pay for all of the things that have been delisted by the Medical Services Plan (MSP), and prescription drugs.  These things easily run into thousands of dollars a year, so benefits count. And of course sick pay so that you can stay home and get healthy.

Safety – Nobody wants to break a leg at work, or fall off of a roof, of be poisoned by chemicals. No-one wants to lose their hearing or eyesight while working.  No-one wants to be forced to work twelve hours days or sixty hour weeks, or to do back to back shifts.

The guy or gal who’s living pay cheque to pay cheque knows that these are things that the politicians could make happen, and they know that none of them is ever seriously discussed come election time.

Health Care

For most people the Health Care equation is pretty obvious.  They need:

A good Family Doctor – not always easy to find.

Medical Services Plan coverages – for someone on a tight budget, it’s a slap in the face to find out that the procedure or tests that your doctor recommended aren’t paid for by MSP.  Especially when you’re also paying hefty monthly premiums to the government for MSP coverage.  Universal health care is not so great if it you need to pay for it, and if it only covers some things, some of the time.

Emergency Room Staffing – any parent can tell you that a trip to Emergency lasts at least five hours. No matter what time or day you arrive, you’ll spend five minutes with a triage nurse, five minutes with a doctor, and four and a half hours in a waiting room between the two.    Government likes to blame the patients, or make veiled references to “finding efficiencies”, but in the four hours that you’re sitting there with a sick child it’s pretty obvious what the problem is: there’s not enough staff to serve the people coming in.  Hire a second ER doctor, and patients can be out in half as much time.

Your ordinary parent can see that despite every politician promising to fix health care, things get worse every year, and the people at the bottom of the totem pole have to pay more what they get.

Housing

It’s pretty simple: everyone needs a safe, secure, warm place to live and sleep. With a kitchen and bathroom.

If you hope to buy a house in BC, you need high enough wages to pay the mortgage.  $10 an hour won’t do it.  If you rent, you want protections against rent increases, scummy landlords, dangerous buildings, and security in knowing that you likely won’t be tossed out without warning.

Any average person can see that the developers aren’t going to build affordable rentals, or starter homes for families. They’re going to build whatever gives the biggest profit margins, even if they’re receiving big fat government tax incentives to build.

Again, even though every politician talks about housing, none of them seem prepared to actually do anything concrete to build more good, inexpensive homes.  The people who aren’t voting know this, and don’t believe that voting for one party or the other will make any difference.

The Cost of Living

economic-club-chart--584Gas prices are rising, Food prices are really rising. Housing prices are rising. Clothing prices are rising. School supply prices are rising. Tuition fees are rising. Check out this CBC chart – the cost of living is the number one concern of most people. If you look at the “Very Concerned” group, it’s #2, after Retirement and before health care costs.

At the same time, wages are stuck, or more likely going down from year to year.  The days of Cost of Living increases are long forgotten, and well paid, unionized jobs are being shipped to China or India because it’s cheaper to make toasters and cars offshore, or it’s cheaper to hire foreign call centre employees than people in Canada.

Real working people know full well that their standard of living has been in a free fall for a couple of decades, and they know that their children face an even bleaker future.  They know that governments could do things to change this, or did things in the past that created the problems.  None of them believes that any politician will do anything to help them.

Regular working people are being squeezed in ways that haven’t been seen since the 1940s, and there’s no end in sight.  That’s why the reaction to the HST was so strong – it was the straw that broke the camel’s back; the extra bit of money that people couldn’t afford to pay.

Retirement

alancatfoodbAnyone over 50 is worrying about this.  Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security  sure won’t pay enough for a decent lifestyle, and the decline in unionized jobs has led to a decline in the number of good employer pension plans.

The hard reality can be summed up in one sentence from a recent Financial Post story:

Last week, an Ipsos Reid poll found that just 27% expect to be fully retired at 66, down from 51% in 2008. An HSBC survey suggested that 47% of Canadians aged 55-64 have never saved at all for retirement.

Half of all people have no extra savings, and three-quarters of people can’t see when they would ever retire.

Average people understand that despite all of the moralistic finger pointing from RRSP proponents  it’s often just not possible to have banked a million dollars over the last thirty or forty years.  Once you pay the mortgage or rent, the car repairs, the dental work for the kids, the university tuition; and once you pay all of those ever increasing costs with an ever shrinking pay cheque…. where would that extra $300-400  month come from for an RRSP?

As it stands now, every politician is looking these people in the eye and saying “You got yourself into this mess – it’s not our problem to get you out.”

 

A Thoughtful Return

kieth_shoesThis blog first launched in November 2004.  It rolled along until last year, when it seemed to slow down to nothing.

Really, there were a couple of reasons for that slowdown.

The first was the sheer weight of the hundreds of posts already on the site.  All of that verbiage does hang over one, and make one feel that this is a serious enterprise that needs lots of serious work. It leaves one thinking that writing a new post has to be done within the context of what was written three, five, or nearly ten years earlier. Or that you need to contextualize it in terms of what you had believed or written all of those years earlier.

That’s kind of like the feeling you get when you finally take on the housework that you’v been ignoring for several weeks – where do I start?

The second reason why things slowed down is even more insidious – Facebook. Twitter. Google+. Forums. Web sites.  Each of these consume a certain amount of effort and creative thought, and each demands an endless steam of witty bon mots, thoughtful responses,  and outraged commentary.

Re-starting Three Squirrels follows on the heels of some significant pruning of social media.  Twitter is down to a half a dozen people that I follow. Facebook is a bit trickier. My collection of “Friends” continues to grow, but I manage it so that fewer than twenty appear regularly on my Wall.   Mostly Facebook is where I connect with family.

Today I’m spending a lot of time outdoors in the mountains above North and West Vancouver, and find myself a lot more interested in municipal politics than the seemingly hopeless national and provincial scene.

I’m also increasingly fascinated by the changes in the Internet since I started using it ten or fifteen years ago.  I’m not convinced it’s all good.

So welcome me back, tell your friends, and be sure to click through on those Google Ad links that will be coming soon.