The day a legislator tried to do away with sex

Some Honourable Members, a series of vignettes of shame throughout BC political history, starts today on The Tyee and runs through election day. Illustration by Jessie Donaldson.
Some Honourable Members, a series of vignettes of shame throughout BC political history, starts today on The Tyee and runs through election day. Illustration by Jessie Donaldson.

Socred Agnes Kripps hated ‘that nasty little three-letter word.’ First of ‘Some Honourable Members,’ our new daily series.
By Tom Barrett
April 16, 2013

Editor’s note: With hundreds of legislative contenders competing in our quadrennial Democratic Games, The Tyee offers the first in a series of vignettes depicting some of the more dubious moments in B.C.’s political past.… Inevitably, most of those bidding for our votes will wake up on May 15 as just one more Honourable Member for Palookaville. To these losers we say: nice try. To the winners we say: pay close attention to these stories. This could happen to you.

As the paisley-patterned ’60s cast their swinging spell upon the world, the B.C. Social Credit party stood ready to repel the sexual revolutionaries at the gates.

Their shock troops were the Socred Women’s Auxiliary, the bedrock of the party and a perennial source of cheap laughs for the big-city media. Urban sophisticates might chuckle when WA members demanded the government circumcise rapists, but the party faithful knew what the ladies were talking about.

But no one knew what Socred backbencher Agnes Kripps was talking about on Feb. 19, 1970, when she rose in the house to say she hated sex.

Not the act, as it turned out, but the word: “That nasty little three-letter word,” she said, “carries with it a stigma and a distorted connotation. That word, Mr. Speaker, can have 100 different meanings to 100 different people, and while we all spell it the same way, there the similarity ends.”

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Polls ‘don’t predict the future’

Image: Shutterstock.
Image: Shutterstock.

And more hard truths about the use and abuse of modern opinion research.
By Tom Barrett
April 24, 2013

Election polls are fun. They can help you understand why politicians do and say the things they do. They can help you decide how to vote. And as long as the parties have access to polling, you should too.

But, as campaign polls proliferate like dandelions in April, they also become the source of a vast amount of the hooey that gets spewed by pundits.

Pollster Bob Penner has a long history of working for election campaigns. In a recent interview, he said the “literacy around polling” is pretty low.

Polling numbers naturally bounce around within their margin of error. “If you do the same method day after day, each day [the result] will be different,” said Penner, president and CEO of Stratcom. “That’s called sampling error.”

But if a pollster goes on TV and says the bouncing numbers are just sampling error, “he wouldn’t be on TV,” Penner said.

“So he’s got to construct a reason for why the numbers moved other than the probable real reason, which is just a natural variation in the polling method. So he says it’s because of the ads they ran today. Or it’s because of the media story that was on last night. Or it’s because this guy endorsed him. And that’s almost never true. It’s almost never the reason.

“But they’re out there saying it and people are at home consuming it and saying, ‘well, those ads really moved the numbers.’ “

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Behind BC’s pollster fail

Tuesday's outcome was not great publicity for some pollsters. Photo: Shutterstock.
Tuesday’s outcome was not great publicity for some pollsters. Photo: Shutterstock.

Were they foiled by the ’10-second Socred’? A look at several possibilities.
By Tom Barrett
May 17 2013

“Any election is like a horse race, in that you can tell more about it the next day.” — Sir John A. Macdonald

Greg Lyle has seen a lot of election campaigns — and campaign polls — as a pollster and a political organizer.

He says there’s a key difference between parties’ internal polls and the polls you read about in the media.

“Parties spend a lot of money on polling,” Lyle said in an election night interview.

A major party will spend between $150,000 and $200,000 on polls during an election, he said. Public polls, the kind you read about in the media, are either sponsored by media outlets at a relatively low cost or given away free.

Pollsters tend to be political junkies. They like to be a part of the campaign drama and they want to know what’s happening. That’s part of the reason they give campaign polls away.

But political polls are also loss leaders for pollsters. They make their money testing public opinion for people who want to sell shampoo and potato chips; having the media talk about their election insights helps attract such clients.

So if you’re a pollster, calling an election correctly is great publicity.

Having people say “How did the pollsters get it so completely, utterly, ridiculously, ludicrously wrong?” is not great publicity.

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How tanking turnout makes for ugly elections

Declining turnout actually affects how elections are fought. Photo: Shutterstock.
Declining turnout actually affects how elections are fought. Photo: Shutterstock.

Wedge issues and fear politics win when voters stay home, pollsters say
By Tom Barrett
March 20, 2013

Chances are the next government of B.C. will be chosen by approximately half of all eligible voters. That means that even in a landslide the winning party will probably have the support of no more than a quarter of all the province’s citizens.

Like other Canadians, British Columbians are becoming less and less inclined to vote. In the 2009 provincial election, only 51 per cent of all estimated eligible voters bothered to turn out.

A lot has been written about falling turnout rates and the precise causes of the decline are still largely a mystery. Some blame a dwindling sense of civic duty in young people. Some blame negative, fear-based campaigns.

But there’s another side to it. Declining turnout also affects how elections are fought. Ironically, the more that voters stay home because of politicians’ bad behaviour, the more likely politicians may be to behave badly.

“Turnout is increasingly becoming more important than persuasion in elections,” pollster Greg Lyle, managing director of Innovative Research Group,  said in an interview.

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Amazing Comebacks Christy Clark Hopes to Emulate

BC’s Premier Clark: Big ground to make up, but stranger things have happened.

Four election shockers that keep BC’s New Dems up at night
By Tom Barrett
Feb. 25, 2013

With less than three months to go until election day, Premier Christy Clark’s Liberals are betting on a major come-from-behind surge to wipe out the New Democratic Party’s lead in the polls.

It’s a tall order, but it wouldn’t be the first time voters have shifted that much, that fast.

“Things can change very quickly,” said Angus Reid pollster Mario Canseco. Even when an opposition party enters an election campaign with a healthy lead, voters can abandon it if they decide the party isn’t ready to govern.

For the past several years, the NDP has held a robust lead over the BC Liberals in the polls. Although the lead has dropped from highs of 20 points or more, the most recent polls still show the NDP up by 10 to 15 percentage points.

But headlines like Hudak Tories Roaring Toward a Majority: Poll and Danielle Smith’s Wildrose on Track for Majority suggest just how volatile voters can be. And headlines like ‘We Were Wrong’: Alberta Election Pollsters Red-faced as Tories Crush Wildrose serve as a reminder that polls are a snapshot in time, not a forecast.

Some experts believe that polls taken months ahead of Election Day should be taken with several grains of salt. They believe the people pollsters talk to between elections just aren’t paying attention.

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BC’s coming election: Myth of the demon vote splitter

When push comes to shove, do third parties 'steal' votes from larger parties more ready to govern? Image: Shutterstock.
When push comes to shove, do third parties ‘steal’ votes from larger parties more ready to govern? Image: Shutterstock.

Libs and NDP sow fear of third parties siphoning votes. But political life is complicated.
By Tom Barrett
March 1, 2013

We’re going to hear a lot about third parties and vote-splitting as we approach the May 14 election. That’s because everybody who knows anything about B.C. elections knows one big thing.

As a Young Liberal delegate said during last fall’s annual party convention: “The only time the NDP wins is when the free enterprise vote is fractured.”

The Liberals and Social Credit before them have been saying the same thing for more than half a century. When Martyn Brown was campaign director for the BC Liberals in the 2001, 2005 and 2009 elections, he worked that line like a government mule.

“It is a powerful argument, no doubt,” he has written, “one that I helped elevate to an art form in my long time in B.C. politics. It certainly helped elect Gordon Campbell’s three successive majority governments.”

There are, however, a couple of problems with the argument. For a start, as Brown now concedes, it misses the point by ignoring why people vote for third parties. It’s based on an outdated Cold War mentality. It also ignores how voters shift allegiance in elections. And it oversimplifies history.

As political scientist Norman Ruff wrote after the 1996 election — one of the key events in free enterprise vote-splitting mythology — “there has never been a monolithic free enterprise vote in British Columbia.”

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Dix’s Big Gamble: No Dirt

Mr. Nice Guy: Adrian Dix
Mr. Nice Guy: Adrian Dix

As Libs sling mud, NDP leader refuses to go negative. Will out-of-the-box strategy box him in?
By Tom Barrett
Feb. 14, 2013

The New Democratic Party intends to win the May 14 election by campaigning against negative campaigning. NDP leader Adrian Dix has said the party won’t fight fire with fire — or, in this case, mud with mud — no matter how nasty the other side gets.

Like pornography, negative campaigning is hard to define, but we know it when we see it. And most of us say we hate it.

Still, political strategists tend to believe it works. Just look at what the Stephen Harper Conservatives did to Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. Will negative ads hurt Dix in the same way? And if they do, is being positive an effective counter-strategy?

As election day approaches, the NDP’s lead on Christy Clark’s Liberals is likely to narrow. If that happens, “the NDP may have to resort to some harder-hitting commentary on the Liberals generally and Christy Clark in particular,” said political scientist Hamish Telford. “And that will raise all sorts of questions: ‘Well, Mr. Dix, you said you were going to have a positive campaign, now you’re doing this that and the other’…

“So it does box him in a bit and that may cause him a problem for sure.”

Text book tactics from trailing party

It’s not surprising that we’ve seen more negative ads from the Liberals than the NDP so far. The Liberals are in a classic position to go negative: an incumbent party with an unpopular leader that trails by 10 points or more in the polls.

If the vote’s a referendum on Clark’s leadership, the Liberals will lose. But if they can turn it into a choice between Clark and Dix, they have a chance. And if they can turn it into a choice between Clark and a scary, morally questionable Dix, their chances get a lot better. That’s why we’ve been hearing about Dix and the infamous “memo to file” from Liberal supporters Concerned Citizens for B.C.

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Attack Ads Through the Ages

Showing Jean Chretien in ways that emphasized his facial paralysis, roundly criticized Tory ad of 1993 asked 'Is this a Prime Minister?'
Showing Jean Chretien in ways that emphasized his facial paralysis, roundly criticized Tory ad of 1993 asked ‘Is this a Prime Minister?’

A brief, inherently dirty history, with video reminders of how low they can go.
By Tom Barrett
Feb. 14, 2013

When Adrian Dix refuses to engage in negative campaigning, he is turning his back on a Canadian tradition older than Confederation. An early biographer of Sir John A. Macdonald wrote of an 1844 election in Kingston that “every editor dipped his pen in gall; every column reeked with libel. Those who had no newspapers issued handbills, that might have fired the fences on which they were posted.”

Politics became more polite over the years. But in the 20th century, television gave politicians a weapon far more powerful than Macdonald’s fiery handbills.

In 1964, the U.S. Democratic party aired what’s become known as the “daisy” ad. The ad, which communications scholar Kathleen Hall Jamieson has called “arguably the most controversial ad in the history of political broadcasting,” played upon fears that Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater would start a nuclear war.

Designed by media sage Tony Schwartz, the ad showed a small girl standing in a field, pulling petals from a daisy. She counts the petals — “one, two, three, four, five, seven, six, six, eight, nine” — until she is suddenly drowned out by a robotic voice counting down a missile launch: “10, nine, eight…” The camera zooms in on the girl’s eye. A mushroom cloud fills the screen.

President Lyndon Johnson’s voice is heard: “These are the stakes. To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other or we must die.”

The spot, which never mentions Goldwater by name, aired only once as a paid ad. But it was shown again and again by the news media.

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Politics Buffet BC’s Carbon Agenda

Climate policy hot seats inside: Legislature building in Victoria, B.C. Photo courtesy of FerryDude2011 from Your BC: The Tyee’s Photo Pool.

Premier Clark inherited bold climate policies and strong pressures on all sides. What will she do?
By Tom Barrett
November 22, 2011

[Editor’s note: This Tyee Solutions Society series sets out to consider just what B.C.’s four-year-old Climate Action Plan has and hasn’t accomplished so far, including what informed observers say deserves rethinking. Part one of this series re-capped how we got here. In this second instalment, Tom Barrett takes the measure of Carbon Plan support — or not — in today’s political context. Future instalments will look in on how our unique-in-North-America carbon tax is working out; pull back the curtain on the mysterious world of carbon “offsets”; and more.]

Back in 2007, a radio hotliner named Christy Clark proudly announced that she had jumped on the “global warming bandwagon.” The environment, she declared, was “the single most important issue facing this country.”

Today, hotliner Clark is Premier Clark. Where she sits on the global warming bandwagon isn’t so clear. What is clear is that unless her government takes action on the climate front soon, B.C. will likely miss the legally binding emission reduction targets set by her predecessor.

Under a law passed under former premier Gordon Campbell, B.C. is committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to one-third below 2007 levels by 2020. Under Campbell, an ambitious Climate Action Plan was put into place. So far, to the relief of environmentalists and the frustration of business, Clark has not repudiated that plan.

But the plan went only so far. Three years ago, the government’s panel of experts, known as the Climate Action Team, concluded that the action plan would take the province only about three-quarters of the way to its target. To close the gap, the team proposed a number of measures. A key recommendation urged the government to increase the carbon tax after 2012. A second stressed the importance of putting a price on emissions not covered by the carbon tax.

So far, Clark has shown no intention of raising the carbon tax beyond its last scheduled increase in 2012. Progress on putting a price on untaxed emissions has been slow. Meanwhile, Clark has rolled out a jobs strategy, featuring a beefed-up oil and gas sector, which appears certain to increase emissions.

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Carbon Series Reporters Unravel Complex Knot
Tyee Solutions Society project probes real results of BC’s stated climate policies.
By David Beers
November 23, 2011

The series launched Monday here on The Tyee started with a question: Where have Gordon Campbell’s carbon reduction policies taken B.C.? That simple sounding query turns out to have many answers requiring complex investigation — the kind of journalism relished by the project’s two veteran lead reporters, Tom Barrett and Christopher Pollon.

After weeks of interviewing politicians, economists, environmentalists, policy wonks and others involved in the province’s carbon emissions reduction agenda, Barrett and Pollon have produced a detailed but easy-to-track road map of where we’ve been, where we’ve arrived and where the forks in the road ahead could lead.

If you are a regular reader of The Tyee, you will probably recognize those bylines. Tom Barrett was for decades a reporter at the Vancouver Sun, covering the political scene from Victoria and Vancouver. Then he became one of the Tyee’s first contributing editors and, four years ago, when then premier Campbell rolled out his agenda for climate policies in B.C., Barrett covered the moment closely. Chris Pollon, too, is a Tyee contributing editor. Widely published in magazines and newspapers, Pollon’s focus for our pages has been on industry and the environment. Most recently he produced a multi-part series on the push to make B.C.’s northwest more accessible to mining.

A project of the Tyee Solutions Society

“BC’s Quest for Carbon Neutrality: Reports from Canada’s Climate Policy Frontier” is a project of the Tyee Solutions Society (TSS), a non-profit organization that creates journalism in the public interest and makes the resulting articles available to other publications beyond The Tyee. This project was supported by funding from the Bullitt Foundation and the Hospital Employees’ Union. All funders sign releases guaranteeing TSS full editorial autonomy. Likewise, funders do not formally endorse any of the particular findings of TSS’s work.

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Is BC’s Public Sector Really ‘Carbon Neutral’?

Counting trees as carbon reducers is controversial. Photo courtesy of aloalo from Your BC: The Tyee’s Photo Pool.

Not everyone’s buying the math the government uses to make its claim.
By Tom Barrett
November 30, 2011

[Editor’s note: This is the fifth article in an in-depth Tyee Solutions Society series, “BC’s Quest for Carbon Neutrality: Reports from Canada’s Climate Policy Frontier.” Find the series so far here.]

The University of British Columbia (UBC) prides itself on reducing its carbon footprint. Long before Gordon Campbell got climate change religion, UBC was looking for ways to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Now the university would like to build more student housing on its Point Grey campus. This would be good for the environment; students who currently commute long distances would instead be able to walk to class. GHG emissions would drop.

But if UBC builds the student housing, the provincial government will force it to pay a penalty. And the penalty would be levied under a highly touted carbon-neutral government strategy that is supposed to be fighting climate change.

Turns out there’s more to being carbon neutral than meets the eye.

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‘Carbon Neutral’ Goal Spurs Projects

Solar panels on roof of Admiral Seymour School in Vancouver. Photo by Rob from Your BC: The Tyee’s Photo Pool.

Whatever its flaws, BC’s quest for carbon neutrality is getting some things done in the public sector.
By Tom Barrett
December 1, 2011

[Editor’s note: This is the latest in an in-depth Tyee Solutions Society series, “BC’s Quest for Carbon Neutrality: Reports from Canada’s Climate Policy Frontier.” Find the series so far here.]

Even its staunchest supporters admit that B.C.’s strategy to make government carbon neutral has some flaws. But the scheme has also brought benefits. By forcing public sector organizations to measure their carbon, and putting a price on those releases, the program has sparked greenhouse gas reductions throughout government.

The public sector’s interest in cutting emissions is reflected in the numbers. From 2008 to 2010, the government’s Public Sector Energy Conservation Agreement, or PSECA, gave out $75 million for capital projects that would reduce public organizations’ carbon footprints.

The program received a total of 852 applications, only 250 of which were approved and completed. While some of those applications were rejected because they didn’t meet program criteria, the level of interest was obviously high.

Even without the subsidies, public sector organizations have been working on cutting their GHGs, in part because they don’t want to pay to offset their emissions. To that extent, the carbon neutral government program has worked.

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Why the Pacific Carbon Trust Draws Political Heat

Penticton High School: Public educators across BC wonder why they must pay energy giants to cut emissions. Photo courtesy of bulliver from Your BC: The Tyee’s Photo Pool

Making hospitals and schools transfer tight dollars to corporations is no easy climate policy to sell.
By Tom Barrett
December 5, 2011

B.C.’s carbon neutral government strategy uses a carrot-and-stick approach to fighting climate change.

The private sector gets the carrot. The public sector gets the stick.

This has caused plenty of criticism, especially from public sector bodies. School boards have been angrily vocal about having to send tax dollars to a Crown corporation called the Pacific Carbon Trust (PCT), which uses the money to pay profitable corporations like Encana to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.

Politically, it’s a tough sell as well. New Democratic Party environment critic Rob Fleming complained recently in the legislature that “public dollars that should go to alleviate wait-lists, improve learning outcomes, replace inefficient boilers or install heat pumps and solar walls at schools are instead being given over to profitable cement, gas, spa and resort companies with revenues and assets worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

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Back to Drawing Board for Carbon Neutral Government

Competing policy ideas: ‘Everything is up for discussion’ says B.C.’s Environment Minister.

As BC Liberals revisit their approach to a carbon neutral public sector, some advice they’ll likely get.
By Tom Barrett
December 7, 2011
The Tyee

The B.C. government is reviewing its controversial carbon neutral government strategy and Environment Minister Terry Lake says “everything is up for discussion.”

He’ll get lots of advice. Critics have complained that the strategy uses tax dollars to pay profitable corporations to cut their greenhouse gas emissions and they’ve questioned whether public money was needed to make those cuts. Some, like Independent MLA Bob Simpson, have called the strategy a “sham” and want the carbon neutral legislation repealed.

It’s uncertain how far the government is prepared to go to answer these charges. Nor do critics and stakeholders agree on what Lake should do instead. The consultations will largely take place in private, but here’s a peek at some of the proposals — both solicited and unsolicited — Lake is likely to hear:

Scrap it

The most radical solution, this is also the least likely to be followed by the government. It’s the answer put forward by those who believe that the problems with carbon neutral government are more than growing pains.

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