The Writing Life

James Ralph was an 18th-century content creator, scratching out a living in England’s New Economy. In an age of political, social and technological upheaval, life could be precarious for those who kept the printing presses stoked with words.

Writing in 1758, Ralph said “there is no Difference between the Writer in his Garret, and the Slave in the Mines; but that the former has his Situation in the Air, and the latter in the Bowels of the Earth: Both have their Tasks assigned them alike: Both must drudge and starve; and neither can hope for Deliverance.”

The quote comes from The Age of Authors: An Anthology of Eighteenth-Century Print Culture, a remarkable collection of writing about writing and the plight of writers. Editor Paul Keen writes that Ralph was “often dismissed as a Grub Street hack writer,” but managed to produce some important work, including the essay quoted above.

The Distrest Poet, by William Hogarth.
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The essay, The Case of Authors By Profession or Trade, Stated, marks the decline of the era when writers relied on patrons. The new commercial model of publishing was generating profits that were being denied to those slaves in the garrets, Ralph argued.

In the new world of letters, anyone, it seemed, could be an author – even women. (Anyone, that is, who belonged to the educated classes. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that the literacy rate in Great Britain rose above 60 per cent.) Continue reading

The Liberal record, updated

 The Tyee has posted the final version of our look at 15 years of Liberal rule in British Columbia.

You can read the full story here.

117 BC Liberal Falsehoods, Boondoggles and Scandals: The Complete List

The Tyee’s updated tally of 15 years of public messes, sourced and explained.

TheTyee.caDavid Beers is founding editor of The Tyee and Tom Barrett is a long time contributor to The Tyee and before that covered B.C. politics for the Vancouver Sun. Grateful thanks to other Tyee team members who assisted in compiling this list and checking its accuracy.

[Editor’s note: This list, which combines the Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark eras, grew from an original 98 items published last week to 117 after we invited Tyee readers to suggest additions. Some definitions: By falsehood we mean promises broken or assertions that proved demonstrably untrue. By boondoggle we mean significant public money lost to waste, overruns, or ill-conceived initiatives. And by scandal we mean moments when government was revealed to have seriously broken rules or caused harm either deliberately or through neglect or incompetence. The Tyee chose these categories with the assumption that all voters, no matter their political leanings, would prefer their government tell the truth, spend money responsibly, and avoid embarrassing breaches of ethics or the law. We also present sidebar items that don’t fit the categories, but also aren’t anything a premier might put on her podium sign.]

The BC Liberal record, part 2

The second part of the Tyee’s look at the British Columbia Liberal party in power is up.

98 BC Liberal Falsehoods, Boondoggles and Scandals: The Clark Era 53

Part two of 15 years of public messes, sourced and explained. If we forgot any, please remind us.

TheTyee.ca

 

David Beers is founding editor of The Tyee and Tom Barrett is a long time contributor to The Tyee and before that covered B.C. politics for the Vancouver Sun. Grateful thanks to other Tyee team members who assisted in compiling this list and checking its accuracy.

BOONDOGGLE: Air Christy

B.C.’s high-flying premier ran up more than half a million dollars in private jet flights during her first five years in office, at times managing to squeeze in Liberal party fundraisers among the government photo ops. On at least two occasions, Clark flew on jets chartered from companies owned by wealthy Liberal backers.

BOONDOGGLE: Stanley Cup Riot Report Topped $300K, No One to Blame

After the 2011 Stanley Cup riot, the government hired former Olympics boss John Furlong and Former Nova Scotia deputy attorney-general Doug Keefe to co-chair an inquiry. Their report was criticized for letting Canucks brass, senior bureaucrats, police and politicians off the hook. The inquiry did manage to go over its budget, though, running up a bill well over $300,000. Documents showed that Furlong billed for four hours of work the same day he spoke to the International Olympic Committee in South Africa….

Read the full story here.

 

 

A modest proposal…

May election results reveal a surprising new voter bloc for the BC NDP.
By Tom Barrett
TheTyee.ca

Final results from May show the NDP made gains in some of B.C.’s wealthiest ridings. Orange champagne image via Shutterstock.
Final results from May show the NDP made gains in some of B.C.’s wealthiest ridings. Orange champagne image via Shutterstock.

As the B.C. New Democratic Party racks its neural tissues to discover how it blew a 20-point lead in the polls on May 14, it might be happy to learn that the news isn’t all bad.

Sure, the NDP was thumped in an election that everybody expected it to win. But it did make gains in some unexpected places.

Among the very rich, for example.

Final election results show the NDP made some of its biggest gains in some of B.C.’s wealthiest ridings. Ridings like Vancouver-False Creek, where the NDP increased its total by a healthy 3,479 votes over its 2009 showing. Ditto for Vancouver-Fairview (up 2,768 votes) and North Vancouver-Seymour (up 2,343 votes).

All three of those ridings are among the 10 constituencies with the highest median after-tax incomes, according to BC Stats. In fact, six of the 10 ridings where the NDP made its biggest gains May 14 are on that top 10 income list. (The figures, while the latest available for income by constituency, come from the 2006 census and are a bit dated. But heck, a riding that was wealthy in 2006 is probably still doing pretty well today.)

The table below shows the wealthy ridings where the NDP vote increased the most. The margin columns show who won the riding in the last two elections and the winner’s margin as a percentage of the total vote.

Riding 09 Margin 13 Margin
Vancouver-False Creek Lib 28.9 Lib 15.5
Vancouver-Fairview Lib 4.9 NDP 5.1
North Vancouver-Seymour Lib 31.8 Lib 18.0
Vancouver-Point Grey Lib 10.1 NDP 4.4
Surrey-Cloverdale Lib 32.9 Lib 30.5
West Vancouver-Capilano Lib 53.0 Lib 44.7

As shown, two of these wealthy ridings, Vancouver-Fairview and Vancouver-Point Grey, abandoned the Liberals for the NDP. And the Liberals’ victory margins fell in all of the other four. Clearly, in B.C. the class war is riddled with quislings. Continue reading

In key ridings, NDP failed to improve on 2009 results

By Tom Barrett
May 15, 2013
TheTyee.ca

One big reason the new B.C. political map looks so much like the old one is the NDP’s inability to pick up ridings they almost won in 2009.

Four hours after the polls closed, votes were still being counted and several ridings were too close to call. Still, it was clear that the New Democrats failed to make any headway in the many ridings that were close in 2009.

There were 17 ridings that were decided by less than five percentage points in the last election; 11 of them went Liberal. The NDP needed to drag most of those into their win column to claim victory Tuesday.

Given the comfortable NDP lead suggested by the polls, that should have been an easy task. Instead, the Liberals managed to hang on to most of their near wins and even stole two ridings that the NDP had narrowly won in ’09.

In Saanich North and the Islands, which the Liberals won by less than one percentage point in 2009, the NDP was leading by an eyelash Tuesday night in what was essentially a three-way tie.

In Burnaby-Lougheed, which the Liberals won by less than four points in 2009, the NDP was up by three points Tuesday night.

The NDP also took Vancouver-Fairview, which the Liberals won by just under five points in 2009.

But the NDP couldn’t hang on to two ridings they won by narrow margins in 2009.

In Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, where the NDP won by a little over one percentage point in 2009, the Liberals were ahead by three points Tuesday night.

The Liberals also took Cariboo North, which the NDP won by less than four points in 2009.

Find Tyee election reporting team member and contributing editor Tom Barrett’s previous Tyee articles here. Find him on Twitter or email him.

Did negative politics crush positive?

Or did Christy Clark just run a better campaign, period?
By Tom Barrett
May 15, 2013
TheTyee.ca

Premer Christy Clark. Photo by Carlos Tello.
Premer Christy Clark. Photo by Carlos Tello.

It won’t be hard to find people who will point to tonight’s Liberal victory and claim that negative politics beat positive campaigning.

But the answer may be that a good campaign beat a bad one.

The incumbent Liberals waged an aggressive battle that focused on raising fears about job losses and New Democrat leader Adrian Dix’s personal trustworthiness. The NDP, which had pledged a positive campaign, spent little time reminding voters of why the Liberals were so unpopular.

“It was a disastrous campaign and I felt that through most of the campaign,” political scientist Hamish Telford said of the New Democrats’ effort, which saw a 20-point lead in the polls turn into a five-point deficit when the ballots were counted.

“I thought the NDP was not campaigning effectively,” said Telford, head of the political science department at the University of the Fraser Valley. “I thought that Adrian Dix was quite lacklustre in both the debates. But I thought the campaign was going to be good enough to succeed.

“Evidently it wasn’t.”

Telford said much of the credit must go to Premier Christy Clark.

“A lot of people are going to focus on the negativity of the Liberals, that they ran a very negative campaign with a lot of attacks,” he said. “But I also believe it had a lot to do with the buoyant personality of Christy Clark. She’s always upbeat, positive and optimistic.”

Clark’s ability to project optimism while knocking down the NDP — combined with Dix’s “charisma deficit” — is what turned the tide, Telford said.

He said there will inevitably be a great deal of soul-searching within the NDP. The party caucus will be bitter and it won’t be easy for Dix to meet them, he said.

“I feel terrible for the man,” he said.

However, Telford said, “He didn’t pull it off and he’s going to have to carry the can for it.”

Going positive ‘right thing to do’: Dix

Dix insisted on election night that the positive pledge was no mistake.

“I believed and I still believe running a positive campaign was the right approach,” he said.

Saying he will have to accept the voters’ verdict, Dix said he had wanted to get young people interested in politics again.

“One way to address that is to stop attacking people personally,” he said. “I’m not naive about it. I think it was the right thing to do.”

Pollster Greg Lyle, managing director of the Innovative Research Group, said the NDP campaign “got very negative in the last week” of the campaign.

But the NDP defeat was not really about being positive or negative, he said.

“You’re taking a pretty big chance when you elect as leader of your party somebody who was fired for faking a memo,” Lyle said. “His record was just a scary record. At the end of the day I think some of that sunk in.”

When Dix came out against the Kinder Morgan pipeline, voters thought “maybe he’s not as safe as they thought he was,” said Lyle, who was Gordon Campbell’s campaign director in the 1996 B.C. election.

He said the Liberals won by turning the election from “a referendum on whether they were a perfect government into a referendum on whether or not Adrian Dix was a safe choice.”

Find Tyee election reporting team member and contributing editor Tom Barrett’s previous Tyee articles here. Find him on Twitter or email him. With files from Andrew MacLeod, The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief.

For pollsters, an Alberta-sized mess

But maybe one way to look at it is that polls don’t drive democracy.
By Tom Barrett
May 15, 2013
TheTyee.ca

Fooled by prediction: NDP members hear from Adrian Dix on election night. Photo by Joshua Berson
Fooled by prediction: NDP members hear from Adrian Dix on election night. Photo by Joshua Berson

It was a lousy night to be a pollster and a great night to be someone who thinks polls undermine democracy.

The pollsters got it wrong Tuesday: spectacularly, Alberta-sized wrong.

Not one published poll in the months before the election gave the BC Liberals a lead over the New Democratic Party. Instead of the six-to-nine percentage point NDP victory suggested by the province’s big political pollsters, voters appear to have given the Liberals a comfortable five-point victory.

It was eerily similar to the result in Alberta a year ago, when the last polls put the Wildrose party ahead of the incumbent Progressive Conservatives by six to eight points. On election night, the PCs won by a 10-point margin.

B.C. pollsters were well aware that Alberta voters appear to have changed their minds at the last minute and were polling up until the day before the vote. It didn’t help.

The closest late-stage B.C. election poll was produced by Forum Research, which still had the NDP in the lead and overestimated the NDP share of the vote by more than the poll’s margin of error.

Pollster Greg Lyle, managing director of the Innovative Research Group, said online polling — used by Ipsos and Angus Reid, B.C.’s two best-known pollsters — appears to have failed.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the online polls overestimated the NDP,” Lyle said. “They’re going to have to tear their panels apart and figure out what they got wrong.”

Lyle, who was Gordon Campbell’s campaign director in the 1996 B.C. election, said his firm did some private polling during the campaign and found a narrow gap between the Liberals and NDP.

“We thought our poll was wrong because all these other online polls were saying that there was this big gap,” he said. “But I think, hindsight being 20/20, that it’s pretty clear that it was never as bad as they said.”

There appear to be biases in the makeup of the panels of respondents to online polls that will need to be addressed, Lyle said.

“Everyone got burned,” he said.

Hamish Telford, head of the political science department at the University of the Fraser Valley, said there was a large undecided vote in the polls until the last week.

“Clearly, that undecided vote broke one way rather than the other,” he said.

Find Tyee election reporting team member and contributing editor Tom Barrett’s previous Tyee articles here. Find him on Twitter or email him.

The Premier who was a reporter’s ‘fantasy’

No one sprouted weird headlines like the Zalm. Last in our series.
By Tom Barrett
May 14, 2013
TheTyee.ca

Editor’s note: Alas, this is the last of “Some Honourable Members” — the addictive series by Tom Barrett and Tom Hawthorn reliving the most colourfully dubious moments in B.C. political history. Collect all 21 vignettes of shame here!

The Zalm
The Zalm

Bill Vander Zalm thought it would be nice if there were a quiet place in the legislature where folks could get together and pray. It didn’t stay quiet for long.

People complained that the so-called prayer room appeared to be reserved for Christian fundamentalists. Soon members of other faith groups began to show up.

During one lunch hour, a group of environmental protesters, including Muslims, pagans and a Sufi, dropped by and, in the words of Vancouver Sun reporter Keith Baldrey, sparked a “holy war.”

“Tolerance is ignorance!” declared a guitar-carrying fundamentalist.

“Peace is not always tranquility, sometimes it can be more exciting,” a woman replied.

“I heard something about Buddha here, and I didn’t like it,” said the guitar slinger.

“Buddha and Jesus were friends!” shouted a woman.

“Who says?” shouted another.

Wrote Baldrey: “A man watching the meeting from a hallway said between bites on his baloney sandwich, ‘It’s sure not like Sunday school.’”

For Baldrey and the other reporters covering the scene, it was just another day at the office. When Vander Zalm became premier in 1986, the surreal became the commonplace.

The Zalm lived in a castle in the middle of a biblical theme park called Fantasy Garden World. Whatever drifted through his head, it seemed, could pop out as a statement of government policy. And, like some giant weirdness magnet, he attracted strange people of all political types.

It was as if the 1986 election had punched a wormhole through the cosmos that dragged British Columbia into the eccentric orbit of Fantasy World.

Consider Vander Zalm’s trip to the Netherlands to shoot the movie “Sinterklaas Fantasy,” a semi-autobiographical production that, as Vancouver Sun reporter Gary Mason put it, saw the premier “riding a magical frozen rainbow across the world and landing in an Amsterdam canal.” (Well, he did say it was semi-autobiographical.)

Consider the anti-immigration activist and numerologist who claimed to be an economic advisor to the premier. Vander Zalm denied the story and said the paper that broke it should be banned.

Or consider the time Vander Zalm invited the Press Gallery to his office to watch him watch a video called Sex, Drugs and AIDS. The tape, part of a lesson on AIDS being considered by the Vancouver School Board, was a hot topic in the spring of 1987.

The 18-minute video explained how the virus spreads and showed interviews with HIV-positive men and women. Three young women talked about condoms.

Said Vander Zalm: “The part that troubled me most is the subtle message throughout the whole of it, starting from the very beginning, where it says ‘I want to have sex, but I don’t want to die.’” He called it “the longest condom ad I’ve ever seen,” adding: “It’s good for the condom makers.”

As the reporters quizzed him on what he planned to do about the video, Vander Zalm kept repeating the phrase like a mantra: “I want to have sex, but I don’t want to die.”

Whatever the topic, Vander Zalm always had time for the media. A morning news scrum involving the Zalm and the Gallery could last until the TV photographers’ tape ran out and provide enough news to keep reporters writing for the rest of the day.

Following one of these marathons, cabinet ministers would sometimes phone reporters to ask if the boss had invented any new policies involving their portfolios.

The love affair couldn’t last, though. Vander Zalm’s social conservatism upset many voters. His fondness for capitalists who didn’t belong to the Howe Street club peeved the party’s financial backers.

The Zalm era ended with a scathing report by conflict of interest commissioner Ted Hughes, who found the premier had used his office to help sell Fantasy Gardens to Taiwanese billionaire Tan Yu.

Vander Zalm was forced to resign; he was later acquitted of criminal breach of trust. True to the tenor of the Zalm years, the whistleblower who helped bring the premier down was Faye Leung, a realtor with a wardrobe containing several hundred flamboyant hats and a habit of delivering high-speed, high-pitched, high-volume monologues.

As she told Vander Zalm in a taped conversation she later released to the media: “Tan Yu got a good deal, you got a good deal, everybody got a good deal but I got the bum rap.”

Find Tyee election reporting team member and contributing editor Tom Barrett’s previous Tyee articles here. Find him on Twitter or email him.

Why polls don’t quell New Democrat jitters

Most BC surveys give NDP solid edge but several factors keep swing ridings in play.
By Tom Barrett
May 13, 2013
TheTyee.ca

May 10 vote mob at Vancouver's Roundhouse, where over 400 people lined up to cast ballots early. Which party gets highest turnout may decide riding races tightened in past weeks. Photo: Joshua Berson
May 10 vote mob at Vancouver’s Roundhouse, where over 400 people lined up to cast ballots early. Which party gets highest turnout may decide riding races tightened in past weeks. Photo: Joshua Berson

If the polls are right, the NDP is headed for a comfortable victory Tuesday. Of course, that’s what they said in Alberta last year about the Wildrose party.

The last polls in Alberta put Wildrose ahead of the incumbent Progressive Conservatives by six to eight points. On election night, the PCs won by a 10-point margin.

Friday, B.C.’s two big political pollsters, Ipsos Reid and Angus Reid, released polls that suggested an NDP lead of between six and nine points over the incumbent B.C. Liberals.

Those are large leads, given B.C. election history. But they’re dramatically smaller than the 20-point leads the polls suggested in March. That collapse in New Democratic Party support has sparked talk of the Liberals’ Christy Clark pulling off an upset for the ages.

You expect that kind of stuff from the Liberals and their media chums. But some well-placed New Democrats are sketching the same scenario, foreseeing a calamitous alignment of the stars that combines a better-than-expected Green party showing with a worse-than-predicted B.C. Conservative showing.

At this point in the campaign, you have to assume that everything is spin. And fretting aloud about the possibility of a Liberal win suits the New Democrats’ strategy; volunteers would be spurred to work harder, supporters scared into making sure they vote and soft NDPers warned away from the Green party.

But years of losing have taught B.C. New Democrats that even the fluffiest white cloud comes with a heavy rainfall warning. And you can make a case that there may be something to their fears.

After all, look what happened in Alberta.

Conservative klutz factor

To start with, the B.C. Conservatives are fielding only 60 candidates in the 85 ridings. Plenty of people who have told pollsters they’d vote for John Cummins’ party could turn up at the polls and discover they don’t have a Conservative to vote for. Will those people end up voting Liberal? Continue reading