We Aren’t Nearly Frightened Enough

A couple of weeks before the US election I incorrectly stated Donald Trump was finished because of the “pussy-grabbing” audio tape… His poll numbers dropped after the taped admission of casual sexual assault. Rod Mickleburgh was much more accurate, when he suggested that the Democrats had released that tape too early in the campaign. That turned out to be true, as Trump’s poll numbers recovered. And if there wasn’t massive Russian hacking of voting machines, Trump is President.

I want to share my admittedly dark thoughts on what this means , how it relates to politics in Canada, and why “We aren’t nearly frightened enough”

I have spent the last year and a half as a new member of the political blogging community in BC. I’ve been supporting a narrative that BC media is too soft on a government that thinks nothing of ethics (triple delete, health firings) or law (SCC-BCTF ruling, influence peddling). Media, in my opinion, also supports a narrative of fiscal concern and competence with regard to the BCLib government which has holes you could drive an aircraft carrier through… (ICBC, Hydro debt, Site C energy projections, provincial capital debt inflation).

Ironically, much of my supporting argument comes from the mainstream media which I criticize. I’m a lover of newspapers.. And if there were any 6 PM newscasts worth watching in BC I would be a devoted viewer. But this is important: most of the time the news I think should be reported is reported… If it doesn’t get through to the electorate there is a legitimate debate about to what degree that is “MSM’s fault”. Does the media ask enough follow up questions? I think no. Does the media fall prey to the bias in favour of the new? I think yes…(Yesterday and today we will talk about privatizing campsites without enough information to properly  judge Clark’s plans instead of talking about the 14 year war on the BCTF she began and lost bigly only two weeks ago). But while I make these judgments about the perceived inadequacy of BC Media, I want you to think about it and make your own assessments.

I’ve often noted how the arrival in BC of investigative reporter Kathy Tomlinson of the Globe and Mail constituted an earthquake in the complacency of government toward  a real estate bubble driven by greed, by fraud, and by company donations to the governing party. One journalist changed the course of BC history by adding her weight to the efforts of Sam Cooper and Ian Young, who had been sounding the bell for a couple of years. Eventually, we will arrive at better Real Estate governance and policy because she came here.

How does this relate to Trump’s election? It’s about the end of facts. It’s about a world in which millions of people wrap themselves in a bubble of the fake and slanted news they want to believe rather than digging behind the 140 characters on Twitter or the 20 second Fox News/CNN headlines.  (My blog, and the blogs I admire, are an act of resistance to the death of facts in a world of spin and misdirection.)

When CNN burst on the news scene roughly around the time of the first Gulf War if I recall (someone correct me if I’m wrong) , we entered a world in which news was constant but shallow. We became bombarded with the latest breaking story (always with video) told in 50 words. The news cycle was repeated every half hour. Analysts commented quickly before any analysis of what just happened could possibly be done deeply or rationally.

As much as I’m a fan of Twitter as a way to get links to a wider array of news sources on a daily basis than I’d otherwise be able to access….. And as much as I use Twitter as a way to get my licks in to various debates…I’m getting pretty jaded about it. It’s become a tool for those who get excited before thinking. Sometimes that describes me. It describes Trump in spades.

The evolution of the 24 hour news cycle (and the rise of disreputable news sources such as Breitbart) is the election of a madman as leader of the “free world”. Donald Trump is not sane. The fact he won the election, but thinks it’s essential to go on Twitter alleging “millions of people voted illegally against him” proves this. He has no evidence. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud perpetrated by the Democrats.

It’s incredible that Trump, 70 days or so from inauguration, would undermine confidence in the system he leads based on the rantings of Alex Jones or anyone else. He’s about to lead the most powerful army ever assembled, and when the New York Times or CNN point out to the population that Donald Trump is lying? Donald Trump feels it necessary to lash out at them on social media. For a summary of this see Montreal Simon’s blog here. http://montrealsimon.blogspot.com/2016/11/donald-trumps-latest-scary-twitter.html

What Donald Trump did was advance a narrative to support wider efforts at voter suppression… If “millions of fraudulent votes were cast” then surely every voter roll must now be redone across the US, with an eye to making sure “those people” (mostly brown) prove their citizenship. Equally troubling, Trump has created an atmosphere in which anyone who looks or sounds as if they were not born in America is looked on with enhanced suspicion. And the boldness of anti-Black and anti-Muslim threats has grown since his election (according to the FBI).

Trump will take no responsibility for the social carnage his 3 AM Twitter tirades wreak on his society. He’s no longer a candidate manipulating the rubes with populist rhetoric. The fact he is still speaking so irresponsibly reveals that it’s who he is… DT is an unbalanced, chaotic, attention seeking, easily riled and temperamental narcissistic madman who has no idea of the impact his random words and statements now have. It’s no longer about Donald Trump. It’s no longer “reality TV entertainment”.  Except it seems that the United States of America has become a four year episode of Jerry Springer, and the audience is the President.

We aren’t nearly frightened enough of what that means in Canada.

We have Kellie Leitch, supported by Nick Kouvalis who ran Rob Ford campaigns and worked with Christy Clark as well, telling us “Donald Trump’s message needs to come to Canada”. She soft-sells more stringent immigration interviews, (never mind we don’t have the staff to personally interview every applicant, and our system works just fine). This is insidious, soft-coloured racism… it appeals to a base that is frightened of the different and foreign. It should not be underestimated because that base may well be wide enough in the CPC to elect Kellie Leitch leader. I have no idea if Leitch is really a racist herself, but from there, she would owe that portion of the CPC base something, and could well become our “Le Pen”. Don’t kid yourself that isn’t what Kouvalis may be thinking.

We have racist flyers distributed in Richmond BC, as our own despicable wingnut minority gets more vocal. These people are few, but they see an opening with the possibility of conflating legitimate complaints about fraud and money-laundering and tax evasion in BC Real Estate fuelled by foreign money with anti-Chinese sentiment.  Crime and rule bending and a blind eye turned to those things by complacent provincial and federal governments are, in fact, blind to race. But the bigots can use this.

The defence against all this is education and journalism. These undercurrents in our discourse have to be challenged, and when they are challenged by media, we have to support it. When CBC National hosts the bigot Ann Coulter from the US, we have to call them out and make sure the National tells us clearly who she is and what she represents. It’s  essential in a free democracy that media be both trusted and trustworthy.

Bloggers in BC are understandably not too popular with the press… We’ve arisen in response to social media technology first of all… Some of us have arisen to challenge the media to be better, to dig more deeply, to be less biased in favour of both the status quo politically and the “new” in terms of story selection.  … No doubt there are some who have arisen or will arise to disrupt civil society, the way fake news sites from Europe disrupted the US election narrative.

Now I’m speaking for myself, and I invite anyone to read my stuff and tell me where I’ve gone wrong if I have…. I blog to contribute to knowledge of how media and government are behaving. I blog because I care about a rationally ordered society which works as well as it can, for everyone. Bloggers can be feared as contributing to a “post-truth” political discourse….I work to resist it.

And yes, Donald Trump scares the hell out of me, mostly because he’s real, but substantially because he wrote a nightmarish new narrative about how to win in politics. It must not happen here.

 

 

 

 

 

So How is Media Covering the BCTF Win at the SCC?

Why is the 14 year violation of constitutional rights, and bargaining in bad faith, not addressed fully in the press? The Supreme Court ruling matters in terms of restoring supports to under-resourced classrooms. It really matters. But it’s a case about the rights of labor to fair and honest bargaining with government employers, and the SCC recognition that the BCTF has been deprived of fair process intentionally by an anti-union government for a very long time. Why is this a non-issue in the mainstream press? I note there are exceptions, as there usually are..I’ve seen decent editorials in Burnaby Now and in the Times-Colonist, but none have taken the dishonesty of Christy Clark and company to task as firmly as they should.

To summarize….the ripping up of contracts was ruled by the SCC to be unconstitutional in the Health Services case (also a Campbell debacle) in 2007. Despite the similarities and the high likelihood of losing in the end to the BCTF, the Campbell and Clark government chose to spend millions dragging it through the courts when that time and money could have been better spent reaching a negotiated agreement on the issues.  To those who say the BCTF is some sort of crazy rogue union that’s completely unreasonable, let me say this. The view of the Supreme Court of Canada is that the government didn’t even try.

It’s my contention that the worthies of the Press Gallery have had a prejudice against the power of the BCTF, or more broadly, the influence of public sector unions, that spans decades. (This applies of course to those members who have been around since before Campbell swept to power in 2001.)

So how have Palmer, Smyth, Baldrey, et al dealt with the BCTF win?  (I’m leaving Gary Mason out because he’s essentially decided not to comment as far as I can see. Perhaps it’s embarrassment at having written a column last year advising the BCTF to raise the white flag after their loss at the BC Court of Appeal).

As often happens, when the going is tough Palmer tackles the tough issues in one column… the source of the quote “The Supreme Court handed the BCLiberals their ass on a plate”. Ouch, as they say. Read that here: http://vancouversun.com/opinion/columnists/vaughn-palmer-binding-arbitration-not-negotiation-may-be-only-answer-to-provinces-mishandling-of-teachers

So far it’s the only column to address in any way the essential issue, which is the government’s decision to violate constitutional rights and bargain in bad faith. Those are the findings from Justice Griffin’s rulings and from the Justice Donald dissent which is now upheld by the highest court in the land.

Let’s read the next offering from each of Smyth , Palmer, and Baldrey. Each of these three columns view the court win through a political lens. How will Christy Clark turn it into a quick win? After 14 years of doing precisely the opposite, she will now be happy to flood the education system with more money and claim credit (however hypocritically).   Here they are with a key quote from each:

Smyth : http://theprovince.com/news/bc-politics/mike-smyth-b-c-teachers-are-out-to-settle-the-score

“The B.C. teachers union has suddenly got the Christy Clark government right where they want them: over a barrel and ready to spend”.

Baldrey: http://www.burnabynow.com/opinion/columnists/opinion-b-c-teachers-just-won-the-lottery-1.2721765

“As much as disputes between the BCTF and the government usually involve money, it’s important to note that the issue of which side controls the classroom is really at the heart of these fights.”

Palmer : http://vancouversun.com/opinion/columnists/vaughn-palmer-liberals-can-turn-legal-lemon-into-k-12-lemonade

“Still the premier’s “invest in people” theme dovetails with dedicating a sizable funding increase to education. The shift would probably be welcomed as long overdue by a significant sector of the public.

Never mind that the priority has been forced on Clark by the courts. If the Liberals are prepared to free up the necessary hundreds of millions of dollars, they may yet find a way to turn this lemon of a legal defeat into electoral lemonade.”

Note: It’s about money.. It’s about power.. It’s about control. It’s not about government behaving decently.

I had an exchange with radio reporter Shane Woodford… social media commentary has been rife with allegations of a pro-BCLiberal bias among media. Shane Woodford, who is a good guy, denies it. The trouble is that it’s a generalization and I would never argue it’s universal.

Yet, CBC via Richard Zussman quoted Clark being “excited by the opportunity” to put more specialist teachers in classrooms, with no follow up questions. None. Shane said he would have asked some follow-ups if he had been at the Presser…… But none of the reporters gathered had questions that found their way into print.…such as…

  1. You’ve fought the idea of decreasing class sizes and increasing special needs support in schools for 14 years Premier Clark (since you tore up the contracts). How can you say you’re happy you have to do these things now by court order?
  2. Justice Griffin ruled that your government bargained in bad faith in 2012, that your negotiators folded their arms and refused to listen or read the BCTF proposals for months at a time. Is this the way you believe government should behave?

My message to the press…. to columnists and press organizations: Journalism matters, because it gives the public informed democratic choices. I don’t believe you’re incompetent to ask difficult questions. When those questions don’t get asked I assume it’s because there’s a side agenda. I could be wrong.

Cabinet documents which supported Justice Griffin’s conclusions about the deception and bad faith of the provincial government, have been under a publication ban. That ban should have been challenged at the hearing stage by the press. It wasn’t challenged. The reason to challenge that ban is the public interest. The public has been left to wonder if Justice Griffin’s conclusions were balanced and true. Now we know… the court record for all time is that BCPSEA, under orders from Christy Clark’s administration, was bargaining in bad faith.

The obvious question follows from that observation.. What confidence can we have that the BCLiberals intend to honour the word of the SCC and won’t continue to politically scheme and manipulate against the BCTF?

This is reminiscent of the Triple Delete scandal. In all the press coverage, I don’t recall one editorial that said : Journalism cannot function if government gets away with routinely destroying damaging information and records.

To the Press Gallery and it’s employers: Do Better.  Journalism is nothing without hard questions, and critical analysis, and facts.

 

 

 

 

Was Horgan Sandbagged?… and Teachers’ Resounding Victory at the SCC

First I want to get something off my chest. The Vancouver Sun editorial board recently wrote a piece excoriating NDP leader John Horgan for politicizing the tragedy of a stabbing at an Abbotsford High School. They linked a statement of condolence from Horgan to statements he made at the same press conference about the Clark government’s record on ensuring public safety. It’s absolutely true that linking the two together in the same paragraph would be reprehensible.

I have it on good authority that the facts are otherwise. It may have been the Vancouver Sun that politicized the issue. I challenge the Vancouver Sun to release the entire tape of the fifteen minute press conference and let us judge.

The press conference was about the seismic upgrade issue, and FOI documents the NDP wanted to share that showed the 95% occupancy demand for schools was an invention to avoid upgrading Shoreline School and another Victoria area school. Playing politics with kids safety, some would call it. During the press conference the gallery members asked about a number of issues… fentanyl, gang violence in Surrey, the seismic issue. John Horgan also talked with passion and empathy about the Abbotsford School shooting. He did not politicize it.

There’s a reason I question the media on this, and it’s not wholly unrelated to the bigger story of the week.

The time is over for celebration of the BCTF’s victory at the SCC. Now it’s time to get to work, holding Clark and the BCLiberals accountable for repeated violations of bargaining rights, for starving public education, for cost-cutting on the backs of kids. It’s also time to make sure the media tells the truth about the education wars. It’s time to make sure the media asks the difficult questions that follow from the highest court in the land upholding the decision of Madam Justice Griffin in 2012 and 2014.

It’s clear the teachers won. I’ve seen headlines that say things like “BCTF claims that they won at the SCC”. This is manufacturing doubt about established facts.

The Supreme Court of Canada took twenty minutes reportedly to throw Christy Clark out on her ear. Don’t believe the word salad from the Premier, or the Finance Minister…. They aren’t happy, but they do see a (misguided) political opportunity. That’s not surprising because political opportunity is nearly the only motive they have for anything they do. From now to May 2017, no sincere negotiations on Class Size and Composition will happen, but the education question will be .. Who do you trust to negotiate with that evil union? Because in the popular press, the BCLiberals are penny pinchers (ignoring 100’s of millions in project overruns and a $9billion dam we won’t need for another 20-40 years).

What has been gained in this 14 year legal battle though? It’s a legitimate question. I won’t attempt to answer it definitively. We don’t have the written ruling yet, and many new questions will arise after the written opinion of the court is published.

The main question is this: To what degree will a provincial government that consistently bullies the teachers union and any and all public education advocates, to the point of violating constitutional bargaining rights over 14 years….repeatedly….well…to what degree will the SCC force them to change? I fear the court may in fact do very little, despite the clear fact that the BCLiberals have been evading the force of law for years.

The Campbell/Clark war on the BCTF has been supported by a pervasive (though not completely universal) media narrative in support of that war since 2001. More on media at the end of the post.

While Clark is saying she is “excited to get to work on getting more specialist teachers and more special needs supports into classrooms” , her social media trolls are busy pumping up the rationalizations for the contract breaking of 2002 which is now definitively an illegal strategy.

The spinners are reprising the old themes of the “sweetheart deals” made by the NDP of the 90’s. They are yelling that the “courts should never dictate public policy” which is code for underfunding public schools.

In my view this is a conscious pushback against a massive embarrassment to the Premier, and a foreshadowing that nothing will change with respect to the BCLiberals bargaining in good faith with the BCTF…. When you don’t want to address the issue, talk about something else.

Here the issue is not money.. (It’s hugely unlikely the SCC will mandate any specific expenditure next week). Every time the government cites $300 million to restore the old contract provisions, we have  to remember that money was removed from classroom education while education spending was reduced relative to GDP by 25%.

The issue is not the 90’s. Whatever one thinks of the contract in force at the end of the 90’s between the BCTF and the government, the Campbell/Clark regime has had 14 years to make changes in good faith. Instead, they chose to violate the Charter of Rights repeatedly. If they didn’t know they violated the charter in 2001, they agreed that they had when Griffin’s first ruling came down in 2011… Then they did it again for another five years.

Justice Griffin’s first ruling, which was not appealed by the government, said that the stripping of contract terms enacted by then Education Minister Clark in 2002 was unconstitutional. It was enacted unilaterally, with ten minutes notice to the union.

The government played silly bugger for the next two years. Clark promised to “right the wrong” of the unconstitutional legislation. She did the direct opposite. As found in Justice Griffin’s second ruling, after being ordered to negotiate the Class Size and Composition issues in good faith…months into negotiations the government negotiators had not read the clauses which were in dispute.

From the BCLiberal point of view, why appeal the first ruling (devastating enough) when you can kick the can down the road and appeal the second ruling which was sure to come? That is, of course, if you have no intention of respecting the law.

Enough history for now… The SCC has upheld what Griffin ruled, and it couldn’t be more devastating for Christy Clark. Here’s a link to a  fine Sandy Garossino summary of Justice Griffin’s second ruling. http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/sandy-garossino/bc-teachers-court-ruling-highlights-bctf_b_4699343.html

I want to wrap this up with quotes and comments from the media. Over the years we’ve been treated to blistering opinion pieces from Mike Smyth and Gary Mason about the intransigence of the BCTF. A view has been widely promoted that of all the public sector unions, only the BCTF fails to reach agreements with the BCgovernment.  Never mind that the HEU would have similar trouble if the government hadn’t lost a similar case at the SCC in 2007.

In the late 90’s and 2000-01, talk radio was alive with anti-union rhetoric. Everything was rotten in our province because the NDP government was in the pockets of the unions. These days the discussion is about the current government beholden to huge corporate donors, including donors from out of province and out of country. At least the unions are local people. Whatever, let’s get behind John Horgan’s NDP initiative to ban both union and corporate money from politics.. Today.

When the second Griffin ruling came down, Keith Baldrey immediately responded that it would be appealed all the way to the SCC… He was right of course, but the reason was that Griffin would cost money. Lots of it. No concern for the constitution, labor rights, or resources for kids in classrooms… It was money.

Norman Spector noted the finding that the government bargained in bad faith and schemed to provoke a strike and said “That can’t be allowed to stand”. What? Is it fact or not? Did the judge hear the evidence or not?

Near the beginning of the strike action of 2014, a Global anchor introduced a story on the strike as follows : “We have the results of a new poll. Do the people of BC support the teachers or the government in this dispute? The results may surprise you”.   Griffin had only recently ruled that the government had been pre-occupied with provoking a strike for political advantage, and to diminish the power of the union. Was it really “surprising” that support for the teachers fight over their constitutional right to bargain was riding high? Really?

Tom Fletcher wrote a derisive column on the Griffin ruling that said “The BCTF is the only party that is provoking a strike”. As if the judge hadn’t spent months weighing evidence and testimony the idiotic Fletcher paid no attention to. Had he attended a single day of the court process?

It was my strong opinion in 2014 that with the insults and provocation from Minister Fassbender and the “affordability zone” propaganda which blanketed the airwaves…. there was nobody home for the teachers to have a rational negotiation. Everything about the government strategy in 2014 reeked not just of hardball negotiations, but bad-faith bargaining all over again.

So after all this, to have Vaughn Palmer state the obvious “The Supreme Court handed the BCLiberals their ass on a plate”… is not good enough. The media must hand them their ass on a plate too. Because when the Supreme Court of Canada found in favor of Griffin, after a twenty minute recess to consider, it was an absolute beatdown of a government that lied, provoked, dissembled and schemed for years……

I’m looking forward to the Vancouver Sun’s Saturday editorial on that. Let’s see media suspend its deficit of attention and recognize how abominably the Clark cabal has behaved in its “righteous quest” to bust a union. Let’s have the popular pundits insist that the Supreme Court’s directives are not a parking ticket. (Or a skytrain ticket).