City hall hiring process raises a lot of questions

Merv Unger

November, 2015

Okay, everything is back on track – we have an interim city manager. Or is it back on track?

Council announced the appointment of Tracy Samra following an in-camera session this week but didn't tell us about the process. The mayor said the details would be announced when the new interim CEO was announced.

So, how many candidates applied for the job?

How many applicants were interviewed? Was there even an interview process? If not, why not?

Did the hiring committee create a shortlist of suitable candidates?

Were any references checked out?

How many council members were involved in the interview process?

It would be interesting to know whether there were reference checks, or even a criminal records check for someone who could earn up to $250,000 in annual salary? 

Was the council decision unanimous or was it pushed through by just a few councillors with an agenda? Was this a predetermined decision by only some council members?

After the mass exodus of city staff in the past fews years, you would think that a more extensive process would have been involved. If it was, we should know about it.

There's also something troubling in the report in the Nanaimo Daily News that the newly appointed Tracy Samra was previously employed in city as the corporate officer and manager of legislative services in 2013 but left her job with a severance package. What's that all about?

This is not about the person who was appointed, it's all about how the process. The way this appears to have been handled puts a cloud over Samra’s head before she even steps into her new job.

Taxpayers don't have the answers at this point, and that’s the problem. We certainly have a right to know what the process was and how council came to this decision, especially after the mass exodus of past management staff.

Let's start with City Managers Jerry Berry, Al Kenning and Ted Swabey. Also leaving were Deputy City Managers Doug Holmes and Ian Howat. Finance Director Brian Clemens also left along with Engineering and Public Works Director Susan Clift and Human Resources Manager Terry Hartley, and even earlier, Andy Laidlaw from the top echelon, and numerous others at the next level. The last time I looked there was only one remaining senior manager at City Hall. Another one is on sick leave. That leaves the new interim city manager with a huge mountain to climb in attempting to rebuild the management structure. 

It is no secret that some councillors had personal axes to grind with management at city hall. One has to wonder whether this is what a certain faction of city council had in mind all along – to clean house and rebuild it to suit their own vision.

What we know so far about this process doesn't pass the smell test.

 

Whither goeth the walk-on ferry proejct?

Aug 23, 2016

So, where do we go from here with the walk-on ferry project?

Now that the federal election campaign is over and any promises are null and void, does it finally sail off into the sunset? At least with the current proponent who has been trying to bring his plan to fruition for a number of years, without success.

The Conservatives promised to support the concept if re-elected, but that didn't happen. They never attached any dollar figure to their support.

We all know what "support" means in the language of politics. Many feel both the federal Liberals and Conservatives still owe Nanaimo in the neighborhood of $17 million promised by both for the Vancouver Island Conference Centre while it was being built. We’re still waiting.

There's no debate that we need a passenger-only ferry service between Nanaimo and downtown Vancouver. The question is how do we get there?

There have been many hurdles for this project. Financing has been the fly in the ointment right from the beginning, and expected Asian investment seems to have fizzled with the Asian economic downturn.

The city has gone above and beyond in trying to make this project happen, but it is restricted on what it can and cannot do. It cannot finance private businesses, and that's a good thing. The Nanaimo Port Authority is also restricted from investing in private business enterprises.

The city bought the former Welcox property, part of which was designated for the ferry operation. But it still needs a dock, terminal, paved parking and utilities. Buying land is usually a sound investment. Then leasing it to an operator makes solid business sense. Don't think the land purchase was a bad idea, it can be used for numerous other purposes.

In most cases, that would be a solid argument. However, just a few feet down the shoreline sits a fairly new cruise ship dock, and an award-winning passenger terminal which is turnkey ready. There's also acres and acres of paved parking availability, and the land has utility services on it. It's available for lease. The cruise dock can accommodate both a ferry and cruiseships.

So why re-invent the wheel when it's already there? If the city wants to be involved there has to be a serious discussion with other players.

As mentioned above, thankfully the city is prohibited from investing directly in the ferry business. To get around that obstacle the city turned it over the to the Nanaimo Economic Development office, a supposedly arms-length operation of the city. Doing the end-run financial assistance through NEDC makes it look like a shell game.

The first question to be asked is whether such financial investment by NEDC could lead to further taxpayer involvement in the future?

The present deal on the table apparently is not the only game in town. We're hearing suggestions of other proposals already "in the vest pocket" from some other operators, waiting for this deal to go away. Whoever it is, better have a fat wallet with their own money. But nobody will make proposals as long as there is a possible deal on the table. The city needs to divest itself of any commitment to the present deal on the table. It needs to clear the deck so it can look at other proposals, if there are any.

That would preferably be someone with transportation experience and the money to back it up.

The city needs to work with other players such as the Nanaimo Regional District and the NPA rather than in opposition. At present there's too much "who's on first" attitude to make anything happen. It shouldn’t matter who gets the credit, but that it gets done.

Merv Unger is a retired journalist living in Nanaimo, B.C.

 

 

Tories and NDP paved the way for Trudeau

Aug 23, 2016

So what happened? What led to the Liberals decisive win in the federal election?

There will be many theories from experts in all fields. (Definition of expert is a drip under pressure).

There were a number of factors that contributed to the outcome, and the main one was engineered by the parties that lost. The NDP and Conservatives missed the boat while Justin Trudeau sailed into the prime minister's residence at 24 Sussex Drive.

The NDP campaign did not encourage voters to vote "for" something, they cast their ballots "against" something, and that was Stephen Harper. The central theme of their campaign was "Stop Harper." Canadians didn't recognize what the NDP wanted them to vote for – any specific policy. At some meetings the NDP candidates mentioned Harper's name more often than their own leader's name.

Many people will most likely disagree with the characterization, but the NDP approach was akin to a hate campaign - demonization of Stephen Harper, building hatred and disgust for the prime minister. That began a couple of years ago and built up to a crescendo on election day. Many of the party's supporting organizations joined right in and in fact, led most of that campaign. That worked, Harper was stopped, but it didn't earn the NDP the support they really wanted.

At the same time, The conservatives were busy doing virtually the same thing, a derisive campaign belittling Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, telling the nation that he was not ready to become prime minister. 

It was a "Stop Justin" campaign, based on their own past performance but not much about what was on the horizon for the future. It didn't work, people voted for Trudeau, in spite of the Conservative campaign.

The Stop Harper campaign worked, the Stop Justin campaign did not work.

Both the Conservatives and NDP campaigned to defeat someone rather than elect someone. Meanwhile, traversing the country, Trudeau was merrily promising "free stuff"; something "for" Canadians, even convincing them to let him run up the debt and deficit, putting everything on the government credit card – the buy now, pay later plan.

Free stuff is always a good idea in politics. Voters bought into that idea, so now we'll have to wait and see how long before they have second thoughts if things aren't as rosy as they were painted. Many voters likely saw the Liberals as the least nasty and put their faith in them for that reason.

I paid close attention to social media in this campaign and noticed a vile under belly of politics; not necessarily by the parties but their uniformed supporters. Distortions became truths, and threats were the order of the day. That was the most disappointing part of the campaign. Low-class name-calling and even threats to supporters of the parties. Election signs were destroyed all over the nation.

Our system of democracy is what's good about our country, about the way we live. Hopefully we don't let this type of behaviour become a way of life.

Merv Unger is a retired journalist, living in Nanaimo, B.C.

Is it possible to sanitize the election news cycle?

By Merv Unger

02/02 - The biggest news these days is  . . . the news itself. It’s extremely difficult to differentiate between quality journalism and what is now called “fake news”.

The internet as a whole is more to blame than social media for this transformation, too many posts on the internet are disguised as real news outlets, and they’re pumping garbage faster than a big metropolitan sewage system.

The recent U.S. presidential election campaign gave us an excellent example of how far out some of these postings are, and that a large portion of the public are reading them and believing them. The presidential campaigns did not help, with the candidates indulging in smear tactics with slogans like “Lying Ted” and “Crooked Hillary” among others. Worse, the so-called mainstream news media began taking sides and outright campaigning instead of reporting.

CNN got caught with behind-the-scenes complicity in the Democratic Party campaign for Clinton when staff got caught providing debate questions in advance to Clinton’s campaign.

Now that the election is over, the gutter battling is continuing. I don’t know which is sadder, the original smear campaigns or the post-campaign gutter politics.

The fact that we’ve got a provincial election coming up in a few months is what got me thinking whether we can do something different, to elevate the level of debate. When I created a section on Nanaimonet.com specifically for election news I considered putting in a rule that there be no personal attack coverage. I’ve been monitoring the early-campaign material coming out and I venture to say it will be awfully difficult to enforce this rule. Also, is it censorship to remove someone's vile diatribe?

Party leaders are the front line troops, so they become the targets and the purveyors of slime. Premier Christy Clark has been front and centre in attracting comments. When you are the premier you are naturally in the spotlight. Hammering her government’s policies should be the focus, not personal issues.

NDP leader John Horgan has been playing it low key but just in the past few days has revealed the likely tenor of his party’s campaign – it is looks like it’s going to be mainly green.

Shining a light their policies and political records is fair game. Attacking their character is not.

I’m going to conduct this as somewhat of a political science project, presenting the campaign news in that way. It will certainly be interesting to see what happens. Will it be possible? Can we just ignore reports that engage in personal issues rather than political ones?

My greatest concern is censorship.

Stay tuned.

Now blow into this tube

    Dec 8, 2015

   When you get to be my age it’s difficult to engage in firsts any more. It’s mostly, “been there, done that".

So it was with some measure of curiousity and genuine interest that I scored my first-ever roadside breathalyzer test.

On Friday night I served as cashier at the VI Raiders Christmas dinner, not imbibing any alcohol. It was a great evening with a special dinner and fantastic company. When we decided to cut down the alcohol sales I cashed out and had one single drink before heading home.

Travelling north on the Island Highway I spotted the blinking lights on the police cars, but I’ve gone through road blcks before, no problem. I pulled over as directed and an RCMP member greeted me and asked if I had consumed any alcohol. I replied I had, and told him I had one single drink, about 10-15 minutes ago. He countered with the comment that since he could smell liquor that he wanted to administer a breath test.

 I pulled my car to the side of the road, informed him that I walk funny due to a partial disability, and got out of the car. He instructed me to follow him to another vehicle and carefully explained the procedure. He prepared the equipment, including a clean tube I would breathe into. Then he told me to take a deep breath and blow into the machine until my lungs were completely empty, which I did.

I was really curious to see the result, especially how much a single drink would measure. (I also suspected that the bartender might have been under-pouring), so I should get a really low reading. 

 After a short period a reading came up. Zero! The officer told me I was free to go, and I limped back to my car and headed home, adding one more experience to my large inventory. 

That whole operation took no more than five minutes out of my life and gave me a feeling of comfort, knowing that this experience could add a lot more than five minutes to my life because our police are keeping all of us safe from drinking drivers.

So if you have to go through this procedure thank the cops for keeping our roads safe. 

Keep that in mind as you celebrate this season. Taxis are cheap, Operation Red Nose is even cheaper. Designated drivers are free.

 Merv Unger is a retired journalist, living in Nanaimo.

 

 

Time to put egos aside

Dec 14, 2015 

First posted April 2012

There’s a lot of finger pointing in right-of-centre political circles in the wake of the provincial by-election results.

The problem with that is when you point a finger, you have three fingers pointing back at you. That’s the point the BC Liberals and BC Conservatives don’t seem to grasp. Each of them wants to be the group in control, blaming the other for “splitting the vote.” That’s exactly what both parties are guilty of.

Two former Liberal seats in the Legislature are now occupied by New Democrats. One NDP win is attributable to the dislike of the B.C. Liberals but the other due to the split in the free enterprise vote.

With personal egos in high gear, neither of those two groups is looking at the big pictures and are likely to continue their sandbox spat while the voters in this province opt for a left-wing government a year from now.

That’s what it appears it will take in order for the right-of-centre political forces to smarten up under a new banner. Liberals and Conservatives don’t trust each other – the labels are the stumbling block. 

Saskatchewan overcame that by forming the Saskatchewan Party, a coalition of voters from the right, but under a new banner. In Alberta you’re seeing the Wildrose Party appears to be on the road to decimating the old Conservatives who some say have drifted too far from the political philosophy that put them in power for 41 years – even more if you count the days of Social Credit, which was the same deal under a different label.

Until BC Liberals and Conservatives tear down the old and rebuild they’re going to remain in the mess they have created. It may be bitter medicine in the short term but the only answer in the long term if the free enterprise thinkers ever want to regain the trust of voters. If that doesn’t happen the divide will last for a long, long time.

That means prominent leaders other than politicians are going to have to take the lead and go to the leadership of both parties and lay down the law. Liberals claiming votes “belong” to them, and Conservatives spitting back will not solve anything.

Politicians’ egos are the problem, so others will have to step in.  If not, the political right will remain in the wilderness.

They have a year to get their act together, and enough time, if they can get past their egos, to combine the BC Liberals and Conservatives into a single new unit. 

The BC Liberal label is discredited and needs to make a fresh start under a different package. This is not new, this is something everyone has been saying for some time. When it comes to splitting the vote the Liberals and Conservatives are both guilty, one side can’t do it alone. They need to put their egos aside and let someone from the outside do the job. Who will step forward?

 

It's all about left and right

Dec 14, 2015 Posted 

Now that all the Happy New Year wishes are out of the way, it's that time many of us don't wish to face – the cold hard facts of reality.

The internet is a great place for debate where people of every ethnic, social and political leaning can and most often do carry on civil discussions about the world we all live in. That ranges mainly from religion to politics in its many forms, be it Conservative, New Democrat or Liberal.

Most of the discussion takes place on Facebook, where short give-and-take are the order of the day. The more devoted and dedicated use blogs (such as this) to expound in greater depth.

Bill Tieleman http://billtieleman.blogspot.com/ is one of the most prolific writers from the left side of the political spectrum, so he's a natural foil for much of my political perspective from the right. He was one of the people running around the province with the successful anti-HST campaign with that political chamelion Bill Vander Zalm.

Tieleman, however, still seems to believe in Santa Claus, ascribing to the idea that somehow once the HST is gone we're all going to be paying less taxes.

That will happen only if the BC Liberal government in Victoria moves to cut spending by leaps and bounds, and we all know how that works. We already have the two biggest government cost centres – health and education – feeling the pinch. In order for us to continue getting the level of government services to which we have become accustomed, more money is going to have to be spent.

You don't have to be a financial genius to figure out that in any financial arrangement there are two columns – incoming and outgoing, revenue and expenditures. The expenditure side cannot go up without the revenue side also going up (translation: taxes).

Governments can dress up the numbers and spin them every which way, and even run deficits for a while, but the bottom line has to balance sooner or later. It's not about political left and right, it's about bookkeeping columns on the left and right.

What the anti-HST people still stick their chests out about is that that kicked the props out from under the government. That they did, but they didn't do the people of British Columbia any favours when you look at the big picture. They did it to "teach the BC Liberals a lesson."

The biggest mistake was holding the referendum in the first place. You cannot set tax policy by popularity.

Yes, the HST will go away in name, but it will still be there by another name, in another format. That's not a negative argument, the simple reality is that we continue to want more from government. The bills have to be paid, but the left column has to balance with the right column.

It may come as a shock to many, but there really is no Santa Claus. The credit card is maxed out!

Let me hear from you. Use the 'comment' option at the top of this page.

 

It's time to get serious

Dec 14, 2015 First posted in 2012

Now that my six years in politics has come to an end I've been trying to revert to editorial commentary. It is not an easy conversion.

Something has gotten in the way after six years in elected office – diplomacy! I find my self constantly trying not to tick off anyone, trying not to displease anyone, playing both sides of issues.

It never used to be a problem – pissing off people was my stock-in-trade. It was a measure of my success. How much did I rock the boat today?

It's been an epiphany, a revelation of what may well be wrong with politics, everyone being afraid of making decisions and taking stands lest they offend someone. More accurately, will a particular decision cost them votes in the future?

Virtually every issue we face represents a group of people, a special interest. When you make a decision you step on more than just one set of toes, it's usually a significant voting block. So, there's the conflict of interests – doing what's right as opposed to catering to interest groups who may impact our own interests. 

My final year on city council is a good example. I had to make a decision on solutions to the city's homeless problem. There are deeply-rooted biases on all sides of this issue – location, tenants, services, etc. I would have had a much tougher choice to make had I planned to run in the election. But having made the decision to retire, I took a stand, in the face of a well-organized campaign of fear, disinformation and intimidation.

That didn't deter me, I made the choice to do what I believe was right rather than wimping out and siding with the opponents because that would have been more popular, vital votes I might have needed if I had been a candidate again.

This is very much the problem for elected officials at all levels, federal, provincial and municipal, pandering for votes rather than doing the right thing. The proof in the pudding is that those politicians who do not waffle whenever they face a decision very often don't get elected the next time around.

Wasn't it Abe Lincoln who said "you can please all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time?"

There comes a time to get off the fence and take a stand. Usually that takes courage. Politicians need to ask themselves whether they have commitment and courage when they look in the mirror.

 

Referendum is no way to set tax policy

No way to set tax policy

   Dec 14, 2015 Further to the issues discussed below, elected officials are going down the same path again with a two-cent gasoline tax to pay for transit services in Vancouver. Aside from whether motorists should be subsidizing transit users, there's the question of how to impose taxes. Floating them out in the public domain is still not the way to set tax policy.

A very interesting phenomenon is manifesting itself in the current HST referendum, and it threatens a reasoned outcome to the debate.

Many people have made it clear that their opposition to the tax has nothing to do with tax policy, it's based on revenge against the way the government brought in the tax.

There's no denying that the introduction of the tax was totally botched, and nobody in government is even pretending to deny that.

However, a lot of the traditional media and social media chatter is about repealing the tax just to teach the B.C. Liberals a lesson. It's not about whether this is good tax policy.

Premier Christy Clark has tried to make the tax more palatable by instituting rate reductions over three years, combined with rebates to some British Columbians. That may be a good rescue tactic, but that's also no way to set policy.

Those who are bent on revenge can get all they want, by turfing out the B.C. Liberals at the next election. Determining tax policy based on revenge is extremely dangerous.

Taxation is not a bidding process, and certainly cannot be based on whether there is going to be retribution. It's one of the risks politicians have to assume when they are elected to office – they have to make the best decisions with the information at hand, and stick with them.

Tinkering with the HST may have been necessary to save it, due to the referendum, but that is now creating a lot of uncertainty, taking a dribble off here, redirecting it elsewhere and creating instability in the finances of the province.

It's difficult to understand NDP leader Adrian Dix's approach to the HST. There is a chance that he could become the next premier of British Columbia and discover he tied his own hands before he even got there. No matter what the political philosophy, the bills of government have to be paid in some way, and that is through taxation. It's difficult to fathom how he expects to perform that miracle.

Taxes have never been popular, going all the way back to the Roman emperors. It's human nature, we don't like to pay, but they are a necessary evil. In too many cases political gamesmanship has pitted various groups against each other as to what is a fair share. Is there such a thing as a "fair" tax?

Are businesses paying their fair share? Are "rich" people paying their fair share? It's an endless debate with no definitive answer. Political opportunism has turned taxation into class warfare. 

Part of that is the misunderstanding about business and taxes. Do businesses really pay taxes, or do they simply collect them from their customers and then pass them on to government?

In the end, there is only one taxpayer, and that is you.

 

There is no real justice

Dec 14, 2015 

The B.C. Government has initiated a review of what it calls our justice system. I feel like I should be excited. . .  but I'm not.

I can't get over the feeling that we don't have a justice system, we have a legal system, and that's the problem. The legal profession is in charge, looking after its own interests more than the public interest.

My first concern is that the government appointed a lawyer to examine the system when what we really need is an efficiency expert.

To put it crassly, as long are lawyers are given access to the cash drawer, we are destined to have this problem. The mantra coming out of the legal profession is that more money is needed to bring about efficiency.

With every delay, every remand, lawyers get paid for appearing even when it is their fault for not being prepared to proceed. Judges have to crack down on both defence and prosecution for such sloppiness. 

You come to court you proceed, or you lose your case, and that must apply to both prosecution and defence. When either side is not ready, there needs to be an administrative or clerical process to take a case off the docket and not have a court appearance, clogging up the system and collecting more tax dollars.

Premier Christy Clark recognized the problem in announcing the review – we have fewer cases but more delays and resulting dismissals because of those delays. 

We don't have to look very far for evidence. The media report virtually every day about more and more charges being laid in the Stanley Cup hockey riot, with the accused making initial court appearances. 

That process started months ago, but not one single case has gone to trial or rendered a verdict. That's what's wrong with the system.

Police and prosecutors have spent endless time going over the evidence including still pictures and video of the riots. They have enough evidence to proceed, but they are not.

We also have the ongoing debate about whether to televise the trials. More wasted court wrangling and legal costs. The time it's taking to get to trial, television viewers may well ask "what riots, when was that?"

How many of the people who have been charged will go free because of the ongoing delays?

It's a good gig if you're a lawyer, but the taxpayers have to foot the bill.

 

Who is the real culprit when it comes to bullying?

Dec 14, 2015wer s It is difficult to fathom the misguided solutions some people offer to remedy bullying among kids.

Before we beat our chests with solutions, we as a society need to go to the root causes of the problem by recognizing what our children learn in their early formative years.

We need to take a look at the example that is set by adults in their lives - labour disputes are bullying, hockey parents are major bullies, bureaucrats are bullies because they know they have their self-made rules and regulations on their side. Some school teachers admit they are bullies. Many employers are bullies.

We're seeing a classic example of bullying now that the provincial election campaign is under way. Attack advertising is a classic example of bullying, though the politicians involved would likely disagree.

When that is what children see in their every day formative years, is it any wonder they feel it is the natural thing to do? Until we as a society learn to fix the example we set to our children, nothing will change other than politicians making rules that bureaucrats will enforce and complete the circle.

 Many people rationalize -  arguing "well a union is different", hockey parents "are only encouraging their kids". etc. etc.

Are we courageous enough to root out the cause?

Where is the justice?

Dec 21, 2014 

The B.C. Government has initiated a review of what it calls our justice system. I feel like I should be excited. . .  but I'm not.

I can't get over the feeling that we don't have a justice system, we have a legal system, and that's the problem. The legal profession is in charge, looking after its own interests more than the public interest.

My first concern is that the government appointed a lawyer to examine the system when what we really need is an efficiency expert.

To put it crassly, as long are lawyers are given access to the cash drawer, we are destined to have this problem. The mantra coming out of the legal profession is that more money is needed to bring about efficiency.

With every delay, every remand, lawyers get paid for appearing even when it is their fault for not being prepared to proceed. Judges have to crack down on both defence and prosecution for such sloppiness. 

You come to court you proceed, or you lose your case, and that must apply to both prosecution and defence. When either side is not ready, there needs to be an administrative or clerical process to take a case off the docket and not have a court appearance, clogging up the system and collecting more tax dollars.

Premier Christy Clark recognized the problem in announcing the review – we have fewer cases but more delays and resulting dismissals because of those delays. 

We don't have to look very far for evidence. The media report virtually every day about more and more charges being laid in the Stanley Cup hockey riot, with the accused making initial court appearances. 

That process started months ago, but not one single case has gone to trial or rendered a verdict. That's what's wrong with the system.

Police and prosecutors have spent endless time going over the evidence including still pictures and video of the riots. They have enough evidence to proceed, but they are not.

We also have the ongoing debate about whether to televise the trials. More wasted court wrangling and legal costs. The time it's taking to get to trial, television viewers may well ask "what riots, when was that?"

How many of the people who have been charged will go free because of the ongoing delays?

It's a good gig if you're a lawyer, but the taxpayers have to foot the bill.

What's going on here?

Merv Unger

01-10-16 - I'm beginning to have second thoughts about this retirement thing. It may be time to get a job, just to get away from the Twitter and Facebook world I'm living in.

I need to get a life!

I'm sure all those folks who share their thoughts on social media are basically nice people, all with good intentions, but there is a common thread. Most appear to be very unhappy people, nothing seems to be right with their world. A large percentage are just plain rude and mean.

Nobody is happy. Teachers have a hate-on for the government, just like whiney children when they don't get their way. Their demands are simply outrageous – even NDP leader Adrian Dix is keeping his distance.

And don't talk to me about what happens in the classrooms these days. Someone posted an example of how teachers are bringing politics into the classroom, indoctrinating young minds on how to protest pipelines and oil tankers. Someone needs to get them back on track – reading, writing and arithmetic.

At the same time there are protests against coal mines, copper mines, coal trains, mining in general, and hydro lines and hydro dams. The list goes on.

Many people, including me, are fed up with the lack of details on the B.C. Rail deal, as they should be. There are things we haven't been told. The $6-million legal settlement to the scoundrels who pleaded guilty is only the tip of the iceberg on what British Columbians deserve to be told. It's show and tell time.

I can't believe there are still people who believe that mankind is responsible for climate change. But, even if you give them that, how can they explain how taxing public institutions and giving the money to private corporations will solve the problem. Come on, folks, taxing schools, hospitals, municipalities and car owners won't change the climate one iota. Pollution seems to be in their heads.

I am bemused by the BC NDP – they have a conundrum - things they are beating the drum on now are exactly what they will be instituting when they see the reality of power after the next election. This province is in a huge financial hole – cutting revenue-generating ventures won't solve that problem.

FROM THE IN-BASKET, Federal civil servants are crying foul about the government's planned cutbacks. Does the public realize that under the Conservatives the number of people working for the government has gone up by 40,000? Now the prime minister is cutting half of them. There's great moaning and gnashing of teeth as to how government services to the people will be impacted. Maybe it's about time we relied less on government and more on our own resources.

One would think the message is starting to sink in, but far from it. Voters in France and Italy, which are bankrupt, cast their future with new governments that are promising to spend even more money that they don't have. They voted for the party leaders who promised to spend even more. They haven't caught on to the concept that you can't hope to get out of debt by borrowing more money.

 

It's time to put all the cards on the table for events centre

Merv Unger

02/18 - I have been waiting for the promoters of an events centre multiplex to bring out their heavy artillery to win the March 11 referendum. It’s been eerily still on that front of the campaign.

Virtually everything to date is coming from those who are against the project.

I’ve been waiting for the council majority to release point-by-point arguments why this is a good deal for our community, not the bad deal painted by the opponents.

We’ve been to the open houses where information is presented in bureaucratese – not in every-day English. That’s not the fault of city employees, bureaucrats don’t include guarantees when they give financial projections which are nothing more than conjecture and guesses. It’s not their job to be the sales staff.

What I would like to hear from the city council majority that created this issue would be to come forward and sell us on their project, why we should vote yes in the referendum.

Forecasting that there will be no tax increases is great. I’m from Missouri on that one; I need to be shown. It may be true, but how can we pull off this miracle? Is it the fact that the “mortgages” we have on other projects are about to be retired and we’ll have that money available for a new project? When is the Port Theatre paid off, the Nanaimo Ice Centre, the Nanaimo Aquatic Centre? Surely a council member should be able to find that out and provide it to the public. That way people would believe the no-tax-increase mantra. “Trust me” doesn’t cut it for $80 million.

The site chosen is another bone of contention for various reasons. Why hasn’t anyone addressed those concerns? If people don’t get the answers they make up their own and accept them as fact. Nanaimoites have a particular love for their waterfront.

Parking is another issue, what’s been presented doesn’t cut it. Has anyone from the city tried to create paid parking deal on the adjacent Nanaimo Port Authority land? There are acres and acres of paved land already there. The cost of parking meters or even ticket staff on event nights would not be that great in return for the possible revenue.

We’ve had untold financial benefits for our community dangled in front of us. If that is the case, how about getting some local business leaders to come forward and tell us they are supporting this project, and why. We haven’t heard from the business community, other than those who fear increased taxation. Where is the Chamber of Commerce on this?

One other impediment that many opponents see is the concept design drawings which look more like a cattle barn with a grass roof than a modern centre for all kinds of community events. The public I’ve met aren’t buying it. A cultural component can be included in numerous other ways. Why have the councillors not emphasized that this picture is just a concept, the finished product should be a lot more acceptable. We hope.

What is the status of the of the Western Hockey League proposal, who are the owners and what financial commitment are they prepared to guarantee? That is possibly the biggest concern, so somebody needs to come out of the shadows. I am told the ownership group is very well heeled and able to make a go of a franchise here. Okay, then give us the facts. They need to put their money where their mouth is. They want to be our “partner” in this, then they have to come out front and say “yes we’re here to make this work”.

Many arenas sell naming rights for tons of money, have any initiatives been undertaken by the city to secure a naming agreement, even before we vote? What are the prospects?

What we’ve been given to date is a pig in a poke, no hard facts, just hopes and dreams. “Just trust us,” doesn’t cut it.

There has been no champion for the cause, no salesman for the Yes side. There are more open houses, can we at least have someone standing up and providing a sales job? Standing back and waiting for someone to speak up does not exactly enure public confidence.

If the supporters don’t put up a much better campaign, and the referendum is defeated, we will have wasted all the money that has already gone into this project – up to $1 million up in smoke with nothing tangible to show for it.

It’s in the hands of the five members of council who voted for this project. I’m waiting for someone to tell me why I should vote Yes.

Space is available for them on this website.

So far the only thing voters will be deciding on his borrowing $80 million without anything concrete to tell them what they’ll get for the $80 million.

They have until March 11 to lay all the cards on the table. That’s three weeks, only 21 days. The clock is ticking.

 

Enough is enough - poor treatment of women at city hall

By Merv Unger

Merv Unger

01/22 - I spent a lot of time deciding whether to reveal the names of the people involved, but in journalism sometimes you have to make sure the truth gets out, regardless of the repercussions. The challenge is to do this while trying to protect the people who are in fact the victims. That seems to be the situation here.

That’s the case with an incident which happened earlier this month, and which I wrote an editorial about because of my revulsion of the way our two female city councillors are treated over all as they serve our community.

A number of readers of nanaimonet.com insisted on knowing the names of the people involved. They are not the important issue here, what continues to happen in our city is what’s important. But to get the point across I'm doing what I preferred not to.

The incident found Coun. Wendy Pratt walking in a hall way when she came into contact with CAO Tracy Samra. Trying to pass each other, the two came into contact. After the contact, Samra claimed she was assaulted.

RCMP confirm that an assault complaint was filed. In not wanting to deal with a local issue so politically-charged, local RCMP wisely referred the file to an out-of-town RCMP detachment.

That RCMP unit conducted an investigation and filed a report with Crown Counsel, who determined not to prosecute.

I followed this up very carefully, with written requests for information to Samra and the RCMP. Samra did not respond, but I got a reply from the RCMP (outside of Nanaimo) which confirmed the information about the complaint, the investigation and the Crown disposition.

I talked to Coun. Pratt and this is where it gets sticky. She preferred this not become public but she understood “you have to do what you have to do”. She simply wants to continue her job as a councillor without further disruption.

I have watched council meetings on TV and am deeply perturbed, no, pissed off, at the way both Coun. Diane Brennan and Coun. Pratt are treated time and again. Other incidents have been public for some time and anyone watching can clearly see the disrespect and rude manner in which they are treated.

For me “enough is enough”, it’s time for city council to pay attention to running the city and to working as a group of nine elected officials, not a separate group of five who simply bully their way to achieve their own narrow agenda.

Women do not deserve to be pushed around just because they are women or that people feel they can get away with it. If that comment opens another can of worms, I’m up for it.

Ongoing frivolous police investigations and lawsuits are nothing but a distraction from doing a proper job of running our city. Police and staff have better things to do.

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The glass ceiling in B.C. politics

Merv Unger

Aug 2016 - Women have been making progress on the political scene over recent years, but how much of that is real and how much is artificial?

Have they really crashed the glass ceiling? The evidence says otherwise.

There is a sorry history of women thrust into leadership roles in politics – all parties are guilty. Usually women have been handed the reigns of power after their base has been destroyed. They’ve been saddled with baggage that nobody could clean up. There are enough cases in point in our recent history to prove it.

Let’s go back to British Columbia’s first female premier, Rita Johnston. She was put in charge of a sunken ship previously captained by Bill Vander Zalm. Johnston was dead in the water before she even got her feet wet 

Then there was Kim Campbell who became Canada’s first female prime minister on the heels of Brian Mulroney’s destruction of the federal Conservatives. Thanks Brian.

The provincial NDP entrusted their leadership to Carole James only after the party had been decimated and reduced to two seats in the Legislature, below official party status after the Glen Clark debacle. They let her struggle to rebuild the party but when it became evident that success might be around the corner they unceremoniously dumped her and brought in Adrian Dix.

It’s now obvious it was the same script for Christy Clark when she became premier in the shadow of Gordon Campbell’s disastrous final term in office. She looks to be captaining a sinking ship . . . one that was already flooding when she came aboard.

The only exception appears to be Alison Redford, the recently-chosen premier of Alberta who was handed the task of picking up the shattered pieces of the Ed Stelmach leadership of the Conservatives.

It's not that women aren't capable, they've just been given their opportunities in untenable situations which were beyond repair. 

Merv Unger is a retired journalist, living in Nanaimo, B.C.

No room for gutter politics

Merv Unger

Aug. 2016 - In my many years in journalism as a political observer I found it disturbing that when parties or candidates lose momentum or feel challenged they resort to gutter politics.

Among the lowest of the low is dragging out the race card when a candidate or party is losing the debate. It doesn't matter if the target of the smear is not directly involved, just link them to the opinions and statements of other people. In other words, guilt by association.

That's the last resort when real issues no longer matter. Some of what is out there in this election is hate speech.

I've spent a lot of time in this election digesting the social media approach to the campaign and have noticed a growing trend that cannot bring anything positive to the democratic process.

Whether it's one party more than others doesn't really matter. Social media have provided the opportunity for anyone and everyone to broadcast opinions, including distasteful garbage. One-upmanship has led to vile and hateful vitriole that should have no place in decent society. It has turned into a case of differing opinions making another person's views not only unacceptable, but subject to hateful commentary.

In a free society everyone has a right to an opinion without being denigrated for holding his or her beliefs. Personal attacks have no place in the process. A caveat here, that's different than opining on a candidate's or party leader's track record or philosophy. They may not represent what we want them to, but that's no licence portray them as bad people.

I have the greatest respect for people who stand for public office. It's not easy when their trust worthiness is brought into question. We all need to step back and be civil toward each other.

All the candidates in our little corner of the world deserve that. It is possible to disagree respectfully. All of our party leaders are good people – they just have differing views on what's best for the country. 

One of our most cherished traditions – freedom of expression – is being trampled, boiled down to "freedom of speech as long as you agree with me".

Everyone seems to be teed off

Merv Unger

Aug 2016 - I'm beginning to have second thoughts about this retirement thing. It may be time to get a job, just to get away from the Twitter and Facebook world I'm living in.

I need to get a life!

I'm sure all those folks who share their thoughts on social media are basically nice people, all with good intentions, but there is a common thread. Most appear to be very unhappy people, nothing seems to be right with their world. A large percentage are just plain rude and mean.

Nobody is happy. Teachers have a hate-on for the government, just like whiney children when they don't get their way. Their demands are simply outrageous – even NDP leader Adrian Dix is keeping his distance.

And don't talk to me about what happens in the classrooms these days. Someone posted an example of how teachers are bringing politics into the classroom, indoctrinating young minds on how to protest pipelines and oil tankers. Someone needs to get them back on track – reading, writing and arithmetic.

At the same time there are protests against coal mines, copper mines, coal trains, mining in general, and hydro lines and hydro dams. The list goes on.

Many people, including me, are fed up with the lack of details on the B.C. Rail deal, as they should be. There are things we haven't been told. The $6-million legal settlement to the scoundrels who pleaded guilty is only the tip of the iceberg on what British Columbians deserve to be told. It's show and tell time.

I can't believe there are still people who believe that mankind is responsible for climate change. But, even if you give them that, how can they explain how taxing public institutions and giving the money to private corporations will solve the problem. Come on, folks, taxing schools, hospitals, municipalities and car owners won't change the climate one iota. Pollution seems to be in their heads.

I am bemused by the BC NDP – they have a conundrum - things they are beating the drum on now are exactly what they will be instituting when they see the reality of power after the next election. This province is in a huge financial hole – cutting revenue-generating ventures won't solve that problem.

FROM THE IN-BASKET, Federal civil servants are crying foul about the government's planned cutbacks. Does the public realize that under the Conservatives the number of people working for the government has gone up by 40,000? Now the prime minister is cutting half of them. There's great moaning and gnashing of teeth as to how government services to the people will be impacted. Maybe it's about time we relied less on government and more on our own resources.

One would think the message is starting to sink in, but far from it. Voters in France and Italy, which are bankrupt, cast their future with new governments that are promising to spend even more money that they don't have. They voted for the party leaders who promised to spend even more. They haven't caught on to the concept that you can't hope to get out of debt by borrowing more money.