Monday, November 12, 2007
THE BIG LIE: A short course in "realpolitic" in British Columbia
The M.L.A. for Nelson-Creston recently wrote to his Constituency. I hope readers will agree that this is an all-around general appraisal of British Columbia today from both sides of the political fence. Let me just add this dictionary definition of Realpolitic: it's from a German noun - realpolitik - "a ruthlessly realistic and opportunist approach to statesmanship, rather than a moralistic one, esp. as exemplified by Bismarck". Please note that the M.L.A. has set up a special blog for discussion of the ideas expressed here. To add your thoughts, advice, or experiences, go to: http://corkyevans.kootenayactivist.ca/blog/
THE BIG LIE
Back a few years, before the election of 2005, I was working in the town of
Nakusp. Walking down the street one day, I ran into a guy I used to know
who has served many years as a Social Credit Cabinet Minister.
It was winter and, in winter in Nakusp, pretty much everyone you meet on the
street is someone who lives there. The unlikely meeting of two historical
political combatants on the streets of a little town on the Arrow Lakes made
for a sense that we were on neutral turf. We struck up a conversation more
personal than public.
He asked me if I would run for office again and then, surprisingly, he
almost begged me to re-enter politics. I knew this fellow by virtue of our
mutual years as enemies, so I asked him why he cared.
His answer surprised me. I am only now beginning to understand. He said,
"Because Campbell is running the worst government in history and we have to
bring him down before he destroys British Columbia."
"We?" I thought. This SoCred icon and me are now "we"? This was
interesting and I wanted to know what might have caused such a shift. I
suggested we go for a walk and I steered us to the empty waterside walkway
where I was pretty sure we would be alone in the wind and he might be
inclined to tell me what had caused such a conversion in alliance.
"I like this new life," I said. "Why should I go back into the chaos we
both know is public life? Why is Campbell, as you describe, the "worst"
government in history?"
He said, "Your Party and my Party have always fought over who should run the
province, who should work for us, and how much we should pay them.
We did not fight over whose land this was, though, because we agreed, everyone agreed: It belongs to us." "We own it from the electrical power system to the trees to the bridges and the railroad. Campbell doesn't believe what we believed. He believes the idea of public ownership, of the concept of the Crown, is a failed idea that needs to be dismantled."
"Your governments and mine, Corky, were rich or poor according to the price
of what we had to sell, like coal or lumber or electricity or gas. When
prices were good we ran surpluses and people were happy.
"When prices were poor we ran deficits and cut services and people hated us.
Campbell doesn't need to care about the price of what we produce on the
farm. He is selling off the farm, itself, piece by piece, and running
government on the cash flow he gets from the auction of our assets."
"I am from the business community; the "old" business community. We like to
build commercial enterprises and make money. We believe in our right to do
work and make a profit. Campbell isn't interested in whether or not British
Columbia business makes a profit. He is interested in selling the
businesses, not running them. If this is allowed to continue, both your
Party, and the people who do work, and my Party, and the people who run
businesses, will be working for people we don't know making decisions we
don't understand because we no longer own the province."
I am chagrined to admit that I didn't believe my newfound political ally. I
had fought his kind all my adult life and I was not paying much attention to
parliamentary affairs. I pretty much decided he must have been just talking
out of sour grapes because his era in power had been eclipsed and his Party
had been destroyed by Liberals and he missed the limelight. We made small
talk for a while as I led us back to the main street where we had met. We
said good-bye. I returned to my life and my job and the much less lofty
preoccupations that had normally filled my days.
That was four years ago.
Lately, I have come to understand that I had been given a short course in
the "realpolitic" of British Columbia and I had, at the time, no idea how
real and how wise were the words my former SoCred newfound friend had
More and more I think we live in an illusion: a lie, even.
When I was a kid I was late home from school a lot. I liked to play ball
in the park and I would miss dinner and then make up some story to cover my
behaviour. One night my dad ran out of patience with my excuses and said,
"Corky, if you are going to tell me a lie, don't tell me a little one that I
can understand and figure out. Tell me a whopper that is too big for me to
comprehend and poke holes in."
It was many years before I understood that my dad was really talking about
the Joe McCarthy era he had just lived through, and not my little stories
about why I was late for dinner.
I am reminded of that lecture all the time now as I realize, more and more,
how Campbell has governed and why my SoCred mentor was so right in his
Remember those early years of this century? Remember how we were consumed,
sometimes almost daily, by the savage cuts to seniors' services and child care and government workers and every possible sector of human services?
While we were reeling from change, and two lonely women in the legislature
were trying to hold up the whole sky by themselves, the Liberals were
quietly dismantling the very idea of what "is" British Columbia. And only
now is it even beginning to sink in.
I was stunned into huge depression last year by my failure to save Formosa
Nursery (in Maple Ridge) from the stupidity of being cut in two by a road
that for 40 years has been planned to run next to, not through, their farm.
When I first met the farmers and saw their trouble, I thought, "No problem.
This is too stupid to happen. We will fix this." Only after months of
failure to "fix" the mess did it sink in that the road could not be moved
back to where it belonged, even if the municipalities and the ALC and the
Ministry of Highways wanted to move it off the farm, because the Province
had, literally, sold the road to a private company. The people we trust to
run the Province no longer controlled the outcome of their own decisions.
About the same time as we were dealing with Formosa, the woman who sells
feed for animals in my village yelled at me that we "politicians" were
destroying her business. I told her I had no idea what she was talking
about. She explained that there was some law that was making it illegal to
raise pigs or chickens or cows for farm gate sale, so her customers weren't
raising animals, so she couldn't sell feed and it was "the politicians'"
I told her, just as I had told Ting and Risa, that I was sure she was wrong
and I would figure out what the misunderstanding was. How could it be
illegal to do what we had always done? If she were right, it would be like
making it illegal to breathe or eat or live.
Sure enough, it turned out that back in 2003, when nobody was looking, with
no debate, Campbell and the big companies had quietly passed a law, that
would not take effect until after a provincial election (so it could not
become an election issue), that it would be a criminal act to sell meat to
Then I attended a meeting in Vernon, of people from the length of the
Okanagan from Anarchist Mountain to Kamloops who were all in a struggle with
trespassers digging up their land and diverting their streams. I learned at
the meeting that the laws of trespass had changed, too, and now it was okay
to invade someone's property if you had a Free Miner's permit. This time I
was not so dumb as to say, "This can't be true" in public, but I thought it
inside my head. When the rules are the rules for your whole life, and you
believe in the rules, it is hard to imagine that we could now be living
under different rules without even knowing what had happened.
(When my kids were little, I remember attending a lecture on parenting,
where the expert told us: "The way to make your children crazy is to change
the rules as you go along. If the same action on the kid's part has
different outcomes, they will not have any idea what is okay and is not
okay. They will learn that "authority" is really just power, and the
definition of "Okay" is whatever they can get away with and the definition
of "Not okay" is whatever they get caught at.")
Then, last spring, I was asked to visit a farmer in Delta I had known years
ago when we, as government, had returned his expropriated land.
The farmer showed me a letter from BC Rail re-expropriating his land to
accommodate a new port development at Tsawwassen.
It was hard not to believe him, standing as I was in his potato field and
holding the letter. In this case, something that I had, personally, tried
to make right was being undone to accomplish a massive industrial
development that had, originally, been stopped 30 years ago by Dave
In trying to learn about my farmer friend's troubles, I became educated
about the Tsawwassen Treaty, the "Gateway" project to add $7 billion worth
of roads (through farmland) in the GVRD and the plan to pave farmland to
make a parking lot for containers from Asia to accommodate the transfer of
goods to big box stores in Central Canada.
Now my father's words about the "Big Lie" were coming back to me on a daily
basis, sometimes hourly.
Now we are coming to the part that affects my friends in the Arrow Lakes
Region. A month or more ago, one of you said to me, "There is a rumour in
Nakusp that Pope and Talbot is going to sell their private lands in TFL 23."
And I said, "That cannot happen. Nobody can sell the private land component of a contract with the Crown, without breaking the contract and losing the Crown land."
For the first week I was so sure I was right that I forgot to ask anybody
what was really happening. How could I be wrong? I have worked in the
Forest Industry or in Government all of my adult life. This isn't a case of
not understanding "The rules". The rules are the same for every rancher
with a grazing lease or logger with a woodlot. If you sell off your private land, you lose your access to Crown land. Period. Most of those rules were put in place by Social Credit a half a century ago, to make an economy and to ensure that both private and public land would be managed according to some kind of plan and not exploited by any owner or government.
And then, when the Regional Director and the Mayor of Nakusp asked me about
the same rumour, I wrote to the Minister of Forests to ask him
what was going on. When he didn't answer, I began to listen to other
MLA's talking about similar land sales out of Tree Farm Licenses on
Vancouver Island and, together, we asked questions in the Legislature.
Sometimes the Minister called us "Socialists" for suggesting that legal and
social contracts were being broken. Sometimes he just was absent.
The upshot, of course, is that we learned that way back in 2003 Campbell
changed the rules. Not for ranchers or woodlot owners or the little
sawmills in the area, just for corporations. Now they can do anything they
want. Full stop. They can sell the private land that they put up to make a
contract with the Crown and the Crown will not withdraw their license to
public land. Worse, their Tree Farm License with the people of BC is no
longer a "right" that they receive as a contract from the people in exchange
for jobs: Now it is a "property", a "commodity" that they can sell for
money to anyone they want any time they wish.
Do you begin to see how big this lie is? We, the citizens, have the
illusion that we govern. We citizens have the illusion that we own the
roads or the bridges or the crown land and that we manage those assets
through the Legislature.
British Columbians have the illusion that we have protection for farmland
and we manage that through the Agricultural Land Commission.
We have the illusion that if we buy property we have the right to exclude
And those things are all true for the little people, the citizens of BC.
They are even true for most of the businesses in BC that my SoCred friend
spent his public life defending.
But they are not true for the super-rich, the corporate classes of the world
who are, now, invited not so much to invest in BC as to pillage, legally,
what used to be ours.
I want to close this letter with something hopeful. But it is hard and
maybe even inappropriate to do so.
Two friends in the last year have talked to me about hope. The first one
told me that hope and fear are opposite ends of the same emotion.
If you have hope, she said, you will also have fear that your faith may be
false, that you will fail; and fear is a bad place to start anything.
The second friend said it differently. He said my idea of hope was, in
fact, a weakness because, if events did not unfold in the way that I
"hoped", I was made sad or angry or depressed, none of which leads to good
What I think, today, is that the huge lie that the Liberals tell - the lie
that says that British Columbia is prosperous and that our prosperity is
sustainable (while they sell the farm) and the lie that we live in a
democracy that we control - needs to be exposed, not by me, but by a
thousand thousand conversations between the people.
I think that historical differences between old SoCreds and new Greens and
New Democrats have to be set aside for a while as we concentrate on what we
have in common as the people who believe in and used to own this place.
I think the antipathy between union and non-union needs to take a rest while
we focus on the rights of citizens.
In places like the Arrow Lakes, the wedge between those who log (in
Nakusp) and those who work in the mills (in Castlegar) needs to be replaced
with a dialogue about who owns this land and why we made rules about who
holds the right to harvest the bounty of the land.
I think we need to talk about what a Government "is" before we talk about
"who governs". Government must be more than just a real estate function.
Everyone who votes has a right to believe they elect a government, not a
lackey to world powers called corporations.
We need dialogue more than hope. We need to see the lie in order to name it
and we need to name it in order to talk about it.
I admit that the old SoCred on the street was right. I didn't understand.
I admit that I was wrong to promise the farmers in Maple Ridge or the
landowners in the Okanagan or any of you that I could fix what was broken.
I did not even understand the changes: How could I have believed I could fix
We need to get this debate out of the Legislature and into our homes,
churches and halls; and onto the street. We need to take it back - this
province that is ours to manage for the future - before we raise a
generation who didn't even know we had it.
M.L.A. for Nelson-Creston
November 4, 2007.
Is the leader of the Opposition listening?
When Gordo has finished his time, he can go back to the US where he took his schooling and write off any connection to BC. Maybe get on a few boards of directors, as he will need some money back for writing us all off.
We can only hope some of the provicne will still belong to the people. Corky can sure write letters. Hopefull the rank and file NDP supporters will give James a nice party and tell her to hit the road. DL
The first thing Corky could and should do is tell Carol to step down, she just doesn't have it.
Gordo and his gang must wake up in the middle of the night crying with laughter at the absolute incompetence of this woman and her advisers. If we want the theft of BC to stop we have to begin with punting her sorry butt out the door.
Harsh, but I can relate to what this commenter is saying. I can't think of a gang of crooks, whoops, I mean government that is less favorably positioned to parry, deflect or otherwise deal with properly focused investigation and OPPOSITION!
I hate to bring up an American comparison, but perhaps Carol and Nancy "Impeachment is off the Table" Pelosi should go off to some beach and exchange notes over Pina Coladas about being a Lady in the House, and how it is necessary to make nice with them mean men.