Sunday, March 02, 2008


Steve, Gwen, and an old pick-up truck

As I read Vaughn Palmer's column Saturday morning, some strong responses tumbled around in my head. I distrust Palmer. It's come to where I can scarcely believe a word he says even if it's only G'day. So I halfway expected to scoff at his latest candidate for the pandering treatment. And yet ... I'd like to think of Steven Point, BC's newly-appointed Lieutenant-Governor, this way.

And so I got around to the real question: how much damage has CanWest done to us all, in their private war against all who stand in their way? Well, read the book Marc Edge wrote, ASPER NATION which appears (from the Online Chapters info and Tyee excerpts) to confirm that CanWest has done more damage than even the casual skeptics like me, have guessed.

By the end of Vaughn Palmer's column about Steven Point, however, I simply decided that, in this case, I WANT to believe him because I HOPE he's correct and that Steve and Gwen and the old pick-up truck are genuine. I'll copy it below. This is a genuine Vaughn Palmer item:

Vaughn Palmer
Vancouver Sun - Saturday, March 01, 2008

VICTORIA - Five months into his term as lieutenant-governor of B.C., Steven Point is bringing a lighter touch to an often stuffy and constricting office.

When MLAs turned out for a dinner in their honour at Government House recently, Point entertained them with his recreation of the call recruiting him for the post.

Wife Gwen handing him the phone, saying the prime minister was on the line.

Point, hand over the mouthpiece and more than a little taken aback, asking his wife to remind him of the name of the current prime minister.

Once on the line, the first voice he hears is that of an officious staffer asking: "Is this a secure line?"

The prospective lieutenant-governor tells what he knows. The phone line travels from his handset, down over the table, across the floor and into the wall. Beyond that, it was anyone's guess.

Laughter all around, which is a common experience when Point works a room.

He's even managed to bring his distinctive touch to some of the most ritualized of tasks.

"Pray be seated," is the usual way for the lieutenant-governor to ask MLAs to take their seats on assuming the throne at the front of the chamber.

Point varied that to a colloquial "everybody sit down" in his first appearance in the chamber. Later, when he adopted the traditional language, he confided: "They made me memorize that."

Appearing in the house to deliver royal assent to legislation at the end of the last session, he gave the official word -- "I assent" -- then broke up the place by adding: "Tough job, eh?"

Another of his official duties is to formally adjourn the old session of the legislature on the morning of the day set aside for the speech from the throne, so a new one can begin in the afternoon.

The usual practice is for his honour to thank the MLAs for their deliberations and formally relieve of them of their duties until the house reconvenes a few hours hence.

The Point variation on the theme: "I now relieve you of your duties." Pause. "Just don't go too far away, that's all."

Later on that same day, he shouldered one of the tougher burdens of the job, reading the government-authored speech from the throne.

It means being crammed into the gold-brocade-laden, tight-collared official getup while soldiering through the usual lengthy outpouring of every last thing on Premier Gordon Campbell's mind.

This year's logorrheic offering ran to 42 pages and took a full hour to read. "That is all," Point said, with undisguised relief when it was over. "I am now going to take a break."

Everyone laughed.

Then there's the business with the pickup truck, the 30-year-old GMC that he sometimes uses to get back and forth from Government House in Victoria to his home in the Fraser Valley.

"It's my dad's old truck," Point says. "I like it." But it will still get him to the lieutenant-governor's preferred spot at the front of the line when taking the ferry.

"I'm sitting there in this old truck and I've got my plaid coat on and baseball cap," as Point described it to my colleague Jonathan Fowlie recently.

"All these people are sitting there wondering how come that old truck is going on first. I'm sitting up there thinking, 'well I guess I'm lieutenant-governor. I guess that's what's going on.'"

More than one denizen of the capital has been hoping to catch a sighting of the vice-regal pickup truck, official flags flapping from the fenders, their honours, Steve and Gwen, crammed into the front seat alongside the chauffeur.

None of this should be taken as evidence of a lack of seriousness of purpose on the part of the first person of aboriginal heritage to assume the vice-regal posting in B.C.

The closest Point has come to discussing his method publicly was during a speech last fall at the opening of the Vancouver Opera season.

"It is said by our elders that each individual has a voice inside," he said. "This voice speaks to you, guides your behaviour, gives you inspiration and even laughs at you from time to time."

He mentioned the "trickster," a figure in some aboriginal cultures, who would tell stories and play practical jokes to provoke laughter but also to educate.

"The purpose was to teach new lessons and to remind us of our need to improve ourselves through self-awareness."

Take the job seriously, the cause seriously, but never yourself too seriously.

I thought about our lighthearted lieutenant-governor one evening this week, when I stopped by the front of the legislature buildings.

He was inside giving royal assent to a supply bill. His driver was outside, pacing the cobblestones alongside the very official vice-regal limousine.

Alas, no pickup truck. I guess the trickster had given it the night off.

© The Vancouver Sun 2008

That was fun, wasn't it? Informative, educational, collegial. Leaves us smiling, feeling kinda proud, and sorta high-fiving one to another. But then, back to regular business. It apparently took three ... THREE ... (3) ... professional journalists (maybe more) ... to compose the following CanWest item:


Times Colonist; with files from Lindsay Kines, Les Leyne and Jeff Rud
Sunday, March 02, 2008

DELTA CHOO-CHOO BLUES: New Democrat Guy Gentner, who's a rhetorical runaway train on the subject of Lib-eral perfidy, paid an extended tribute to Johnny Cash this week while expressing his contempt for the budget.

The exact target was the plan to spend millions expanding the port in his Delta North riding, some-thing he has opposed vigorously.

"What a rail yard this is going to be, the largest rail yard west of Winnipeg -- diesel-spewing rail cars, engineers. Where is the gas tax on B.C. Rail? Oh, the little guy can pay at the pumps, but where is it when it comes down to the globalized spewing Deltaport?

"I think it was Johnny Cash who said: 'I hear the train a comin'.

"I hear that train a comin', Madam Speaker. If Johnny Cash was here today...

"When I think of Johnny and the B.C. Rail, I think of him singing that same tune [Folsom Prison Blues] 'I hear the train a comin'.

"If he was here today in B.C., he'd sing it to the inmates, probably in Agassiz, and the Liberals would be clamouring to get through the gates to get a ticket to hear him.

"The B.C. Rail corruption scandal. Oh that little railroad that could. Big expansion, big pollution. Some people like the smell of carbon. I hear that train a comin'. It's pulling into the station right now. We can see it comin'.

All aboard. Who is the conductor? I don't know. Who is the engineer? It's the premier."

THAT'S RICH: While Gentner was hearing a train a comin', NDP house leader Mike Farnworth was listening to the sweet musical stylings of Forests Minister Rich Coleman.

"I hear the baritone bellows of the member from Fort Langley-Aldergrove," Farnworth said, prompting interjections from other MLAs.

"He's a tenor, not a baritone," said one.

"Whether the Minister of Forests is a baritone," Farnworth continued.

"Or a saxophone," added another.

"Or a saxophone," agreed Farnworth, "or -- judging from the increase to his ministry at the cabinet table -- perhaps a castrati. . ."

Now that's hitting below the belt. {Snippppp} ...

UTOPIA OR BUST: Health Minister George Abbott didn't take kindly to suggestions by NDP critic Adrian Dix that the Liberal government is hiding dirty secrets by refusing to allow the Fraser Institute to rank its hospitals by name.

Dix said the government has an "obsession for secrecy," which prompted Abbott into the sort of extended tongue-in-cheek routines for which he has become renowned.

"We've put in a whole bunch of different modes of transparency that simply didn't exist back when the NDP were running the government of British Columbia,'' Abbott said.

"Mind you, we were at that time living in a socialist Utopia so it wasn't necessary, of course, to have that kind of a rigorous analysis that is there today because, of course, it was a Utopian society where problems didn't exist."

Which simply leaves me searching for a brick wall that needs kicking. Isn't this CanWest message telling us "Ain't nuthin' to see here, folks, so just move along please, just keep movin' on past, thank you ..." or did I miss the point?
- BC Mary.


Palmer has never struck me as being shifty. Rather, he's got the I-got-mine mentality. His Vancouver Sun gig, combined with his cheque from CKNW and Shaw TV, have made him a pretty comfortable middle-aged man. When you're that comfortable, what incentive do you have to rock the boat?

As for the last item, well, Press Pass is often just a funny take on the week. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, as the man said.

Les Leyne hasn't said an original thing since Glen Clark was in power, but I will defend Lindsay Kines and Jeff Rud. Probably the two best reproters in the province, they did most of the work to bring the sad case of Sherry Charlie to light, and managed to do so in a way that the blame went where it belonged.

I'm with you re: Kines and Rud.

Hi, 10:20, and thanks for your comments on the journalists. I wrote a big comment about your comment, then some devilish computer quirk caused it to vanish, never to be found again. So I'll try again ...

I said that your description of Vaughn Palmer as the middle-aged guy who "has it made" sounds logical. But I sure wouldn't call that a passport to sleeping through the rest of his life. He could do journalism way, way better, and he doesn't. We need him to wake up and do it better.

Rock what boat? Is that what journalism has come to, in Vancouver, not rocking "the" boat and t'hell with the public interest? I think so. And if you can, I need you to show me it isn't true. But I don't think you can do that, with the materials at hand.

I hold journalism in very high esteem. I mean, what's the point of pretending to be a journalist? Either you are one, and like a genuine journalist, you go after "the" story; or, if not, you cave to something else, something asking you to mask, ignore, perhaps ridicule the story. And then people trying to read these pieces get uncomfortable.

Take, for example, the NON-reporting of the break-in at Bill Tieleman's office -- a criminal act of violence purposely designed to intimidate him with regard to his work on the Basi-Virk / BC Rail case. Did any CanWest newspaper report that? No. Worst of all: did any journalists stand up for one of their own? No. Not one.

So please, perhaps two CanWest journalists actually lived up to the high principles we expect from their profession ... but this doesn't mean that they can slump into an armchair alongside Mr Palmer and fiddle away the rest of their lives.

In this piece about BC Rail, they are doing just that.

But please, come back and talk about this again because we think that news coverage is important, and would like to hear more about it -- not less -- and not ridicule. OK?

"The exact target was the plan to spend millions ****expanding the port in his Delta North riding****, some-thing he has opposed vigorously."

They might be good reporters but they apparently got their facts wrong!

Delatport is situate in Liberal-held Delta South, around a 15 - 20 minute drive soth/west from Delta North.
I would not disagree with anything you said, there, Mary. My point was not that Palmer should be excused for the context-less drivel that he dishes out. Far from it. My point is that he doesn't have an agenda; he just refuses to do any real leg work to get to the bottom of a real story. And the system he's in rewards his lack of initiative. That's an explanation, not an excuse.

As for the Press Pass items, I'll just say this: when something funny comes by, we should take advantage of it and laugh. Gentner's monologue in the Legislature was meant to be a light-hearted look at a serious subject. I suspect he should stick to something other than comedy writing, but the TCThree seemed to find something amusing in it.
Anonymous 5:15, thank you for that well-timed correction.

Thank you, too, Anon 6:03. It would be great if we could find something about BCRail or Basi or Virk or the premier or Gary Collins or Bill Berardino to laugh about ... I suspect it's still too early for that, but hey, try us.

There has been a sharp change in the way CanWest deals with those issues. Remember in the hours after the police raided the Legislature, how Vancouver Sun covered its entire front page with large black print asking "27 Questions"? Good questions, too, such as "Can we be assured that organized crime has not entered into government?" That was a good approach, I thought. Straightforward. Made people feel as if The Sun was speaking up for us and our concerns.

Well, there was no reason why those questions couldn't have been followed up in that YEAR before anybody was charged, and before government could refuse to answer on grounds that "the matter is before the courts".

In my view, there is still NO reason why general questions can't be explored in B.C. newspapers. For example:

* should the Basi Virk / BC Rail trial be televised so that British Columbians in all corners of the province can hear the evidence?

* why is BC Rail important to us at this time?

* is the Prosecution team doing a good job?

* should we prepare for a Public Inquiry, if the case is dismissed before Basi Virk Basi come to trial?

But the B.C. public is being anaesthetized by a news media which infers: "Ain't nuthin' to see here, folks ... just keep moving please."

Mary, as I interpret Mr/Ms Anon above, this is what he/she is trying to say. Vaughn Palmer (a much better music critic than pundit, and I didn't agree with that much of his musical taste) isn't evil or involved in conspiracies. Vaughn Palmer is merely lazy and useless.

I guess being lazy and useless isn't as bad as being evil, but it is nothing to brag about. Apparently it pays well though, and today there is no value or ethic held in higher esteem than a pile of money. The higher the pile the more praiseworthy the pile's owner.

It's starting to appear to me that the way to prepare for a career as a political columnist isn't to say, study political science/journalism at university. A more productive preparation would be to study communications/public relations and be either a sports or celebrity (or both) "expert." Then one is prepared to cover the important aspects of politics instead of the issues - like personalities and the horse race aspects.

I thought only bloggers are lazy and useless.

(when they're not hard-working, of course).

Along the line of the Point column, I remember what may have been my favorite Vaughn piece of all time. I'm sure VP would also remember the column about a musician he had known growing up and had recently seen playing Heavy Metal at a small time arena somewhere in North Ontario (maybe). Anyway the column was about the friend, the trajectory of his career and the toil of being a professional musician "not in the majors."

By halfway through the column I realized I had known the subject of the column, during a period when he was out west and playing with some close friends of mine, their band was rehearsing in my studio. I found Vaughn's perspective on this fellow very discerning and sensitively and stylishly delivered. I don't remember if VP was still pretty much full time on the music/entertainment beat, it was many years ago.

Perhaps if the Public Relations gig with Gordo should go south, Vaughn could go back to writing such truly evocative and "truthy" prose.
Where are you Mary? I'm worried about you. I hope you're not getting discouraged after all your hard work.
Anonymous 4:56,

What a nice message. Thank you! It lifted my spirits. It's been a bit weird lately, I must admit.

First, the news. There ain't none. Each of my days since Dec 28/03 has involved reading the Headline Scans of the three BC CanWest daily newspapers hoping to gather a bit of news here, a bit of news there, to add to our understanding of the BC Rail Case. For weeks, there's been virtually nothing. Ya think nothing is happening? Ha. I don't think that. I think it's like the break-in at Bill Tieleman's office intended to scare him off the Basi-Virk Trial ... we're just not hearing the news, that's all.

2) I hear a lot of stuff behind the scenes which people aren't ready to let go of yet ... and that bothers me a bit.

3) I hear a lot of other stuff about important things affecting our country but not connected to BC Rail, so that doesn't get included here. That's a bit frustrating too.

4) Have had back trouble, very painful - all this sitting at the computer.

5) Biggest problem was when I sat up (after computering all day) and watched 2 great old movies on Saturday night. First, Fahrenheit 451 in which a strict society decided to burn all books; then, Soylent Green, in which an overpopulated and polluted society decided to feed their starving population with small biscuits called Soylent Green. An old Professor had kept some of the books also banned in this desperate society and he stayed alive by being the research assistant to a tough cop in New York (pop. 40 million). When the old Prof. discovers that the authorities are using dead people as the protein ingredients for these nutritional wafers, he decides he can't go on. He goes to the public facility for assisted suicide, at which each patient is allowed to see a 20-min. colour film of what the world had once looked like, complete with gorgeous symphony music.

Tough cop arrives too late to stop the suicide but he does see the film. He sees blue skies, fields of tulips, rushing creeks of crystal waters, deer browsing in the wild. And he is astounded.

The old prof says weakly "See Thorn? Didn't I tell you? Didn't I always say how beautiful it was?" And the cop replies, "Yes, you told me. But how could I have known?" This scene hit me hard this time, knowing that this film was made in 1973 about an imaginary world of 2022 - only 14 years away! And we've already had the corporate decision to double profits from food-grains by processing them into bio-fuel so tht poor people will starve, forests are vanishing, we've seen our run-of-the-rivers given away, the Athabaska turned from emerald green to dark brown ...

That film ends with the old professor telling the tough cop what he has learned: "Tell the people, Thorn, that Soylent is making Soylent Green out of the people who die here! Tell them!"

The cop goes running through the Soylent factory and discovers it's true. It's apparent how hideous it will be when profits and pollution push all resources to the edge of extinction.

Soylent security guards begin shooting at the cop so he can't escape to tell the true story. He's wounded but he keeps running. "Tell the people what they're eating!" he cries, running, "Tell the people!"

Final scene: his bloody fist raised and his voice croaking: "Tell the people!"

And it occurred to me that I've been trying to tell the people just a little tiny bit about BCRail, and how hard that is, and how the authorities seem to have no trouble at all, keeping their awful secrets.

Well, maybe I've been a bit discouraged ... but it won't last. In fact, I feel a whole lot better just since your note arrived. Thanks very much indeed. And thanks for listening. I hope this made sense ...

I'm glad to hear you're OK. Take some time to look after your back and your emotional self. Your message does indeed make sense. It's tough to put your heart, soul and truth into something and then be misunderstood, put down, or not listened to.
Thanks one more time, 8:39.

Na, it's not tough at all, I feel singularly blessed to have made contact with so many strong souls.

I must say I could stand hearing a few good jokes, though.

Best review of Soylent Green I've ever read Mary.

I wonder who'd play the part of Health Minister George Abbott in the Campbell government's version of a free market know they one where they don't eat the old folks, they just ‘cure’ them in their soiled bed clothes for hours on end and then take nudie pictures of them...

You know THAT kind of 'transparency’.

Maybe they could get Charlton Heston to play the role of a demented oldster. There would be a certain moral symmetry in that, don't you think?
Many thanks, G.

There were layers of meaning in that old (1973) film. Remember how it begins, with the good cop being sent to investigate a murder at the sumptuous apartment-residence of the CEO of the giant Soylent Corporation? The CEO was the murder victim.

First of all, Charlton Heston the NY cop avails himself of every luxury he sees in his "investigation": and yet it was touching that he filled his pockets with his loot: a bottle of fine liquor, a piece of beef, a stick of celery and an apple -- and took them home to the old Professor. Their dinner, that evening, is a joy to watch as you guess at their hunger, at the old profs memories.

On another layer, there's the official corruption as one bigwig of New York (pop. 40 million, all starving, all confined to city limits) tried to bribe the police chief to cancel the murder investigation.

By then, the good cop had again shown himself to be human as he forms an attachment (it's hard to say "fallen in love") with the beaudacious woman who gets rented out with the sumptuous apartment. By then, our cop's had his first hot shower in YEARS ... and this must suffice to explain why he didn't succumb -- like everybody else -- to official bribery.

Over to you, G. Have you read the book? I must do so, as I'd like to know how the old Prof. and the cop formed their partnership, and what made it so strong - despite that terrible environment where most human values had been lost.

I wonder if we'll be seeing more of this old film, in the near future ... before [cue the somber music] it's too late.

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