Book Review: Generations of Hoop Dreams at the All-Native

For over 6 or 7 decades, one of the province’s most hotly contested annual sports competitions has been taking place in Prince Rupert – the All-Native Basketball tournament. It’s the largest basketball tournament in British Columbia, but it’s much more than that. It is an indigenous cultural phenomenon that draws dozens of teams and communities from the northwest, the central coast, and beyond.

It’s also the backdrop for All-Native, the debut novel of Prince Rupert’s Rudy Kelly. A former journalist who covered the annual tournament for the daily newspaper, Kelly leans into his own ancestry to produce a multi-generational story about a Tsimshian family, spanning the 1960s to the 1980s.  

The story breathes in the salty sea air of Prince Rupert, and takes us to the fish canneries, the working-class bars, the wharves, and the First Nations villages. Then and now, Prince Rupert is very much an indigenous mosaic, drawing residents from Tsimshian, Haida, Nisga’a, Haisla, Gitxsan and other peoples along the coast.  It’s a unique place that has had its share of struggles, but the embrace by First Nations of basketball as a vehicle for community building has endured.

The passion for the All-Native tournament is conveyed through main characters Frank Wesley and his son Nate, both who have high hopes on the hardwood. As the reader settles in to All-Native, he or she will discover that the book is less about the tournament and more about the father-son dynamic in the Wesley family -one that exists in many families: the transfer of the father’s dreams onto the son, the striving to make one’s own mark, the awkward code that exists between fathers and sons that requires the interpretive skills and conciliation of the mother. In this story, the father-son relationship is upended by the emergence of Nate’s friend, BJ, a free spirit with an outgoing and, sometimes, mischievous manner.  Inevitably, Nate is torn between loyalties to father and friend.  

The emotional centre of the story is Nate – loyal, innocent, and likeable.  From childhood, he is focused on playing in the All-Native. Upon entering the local high school in grade 8, he is in awe of the “hallowed halls” where the best played on the Rainmakers senior team.  He is not a kid hoping to bust out of town – his heroes are near to him.   The other characters revolve around him, before finding their own trajectory. Nate is the unfulfilled future for Frank and the ballast for BJ. Ultimately, the story becomes one of redemption and forgiveness.  Kelly navigates authentically through sensitive and turbulent emotional issues.  

The story also has a light touch and sense of humour.  These are boys growing up, a coming-of-age fuelled by bologna sandwiches and Orange Crush, thinking a lot about girls (or hoping not to).  For those who grew up during the time-frame of this book, you will find yourself recognizing a childhood that came before iPads and personal computers.

Indigenous novelists, like Eden Robinson and Terese Marie Mailhot, help bridge a cultural gulf by sharing their stories with a wider audience.  Rudy Kelly’s debut novel is another contribution to improving our understanding of indigenous BC while entertaining with compelling characters in a distinctive setting. It’s a nice addition to the regional stories that help paint a more complete picture of our province, and a welcome break from quarantine.

All-Native was published by Prince Rupert’s Muskeg Press in 2020.

This review first appeared in The Orca (April 18, 2020). Expect more reviews of BC books that catch my eye on the Rosedeer blog in the future.

See review of Dan Marshall’s Claiming the Land, first published in The Vancouver Sun (April 20, 2019)

UK Election: Smash and Grab to Victory

1/        It’s Election Day in the UK. The culmination of a fascinating period of political upheaval with two leaders – Boris and Jeremy Corbyn – that could not be more different than David Cameron and Tony Blair.  They eschew modernity for a new polarizing populism, chucking the old rules into the cut.  This is not the hopeful UK of Love Actually, the stoicism of Dunkirk, or the dash of 007. This election is a Peaky Blinders smash and grab.

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2/        Boris has remade the UK Tories. This guy.  An excellent writer with sense of humour, he was bedevilled by personal scandal as MP. And lying. Pulls off election as London mayor in a Labour city. Shores up David Cameron’s campaign in 2015 that led to surprise majority. At last-minute, joins Leave campaign and, unquestionably, made the difference. No Boris, no Brexit. His partnership with Michael Gove trumped Remain establishment.

3/        Instantly, David Cameron resigns from office. A leadership campaign kicks off (the Brits don’t mess around). Boris is not ready and stumbles. At deadline for filing, Michael Gove (Judas) wields the knife against Boris by jumping in race suddenly. Boris is shocked out of the race he was supposed to win. Theresa May emerges as safe alternative to stabilize divided Tory party. Gove loses and is sent to purgatory, Boris to Foreign Office. May starts strong with positioning that foreshadows a shakeup of Tory base. https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/statement-from-the-new-prime-minister-theresa-may

4/        May moves to an election within the year, with a huge lead in the polls.  I mean, she’s going to clean up against Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn (more on him shortly). Her campaign is a disaster. Textbook case of fuzzy strategy and failure to execute.  She falls short of majority by 5 seats.  Worse yet, she is already a dead duck.  Hobbled by blown opportunity, May attempts to finesse her Brexit deal through Parliament and fails again, again, and again.

5/        Meanwhile, Boris flew the coop to sit as backbench MP. He wants no part of wearing May’s deal.  But Gove was resuscitated to serve in Cabinet (he is a clever boy) to try to rally Brexiteers. Out in the countryside, former UKIP leader Nigel Farage (leader most likely to enjoy having a pint with) starts Brexit Party and is inhabiting the Tory electoral base like necrotizing fasciitis.

6/        Finally, Jeremy Corbyn. In 2015… hold it… need to go back more… in 2010, the Tories had a plurality of seats under David Cameron but far short of majority.  Labour PM Gordon Brown (UK’s Paul Martin) tried to extend Labour to a fourth term and failed. The Lib-Dems negotiated a true coalition government with the Tories with leader Nick Clegg serving as Deputy PM for five years.

7/        Labour has a leadership vote. Unlike Tories, this is membership-based vote.  Labour is divided into Blairites and Brownites.  Blairite David Miliband, a former Foreign Minister, is seen as frontrunner.  His younger BROTHER Ed, a Brownite, challenges him. Political fratricide.  Ed wins! Based on support from lefties and union supporters. It’s a bit of a mess, especially at Christmas dinner in the Miliband household.  Ed is not really up to it but he is competitive in the polls. The 2015 election is going to be a horse race!

8/        David Cameron, and his advisor Sir Lynton Crosby, with Boris’s help, surgically detach Lib-Dem voters.  You see, Scotland was feeling quite uppity at the time and Middle England did not see Red Ed as strong enough to preserve the union.  Cameron shocks by winning a majority. Five more years! Just have to deal with this election promise to hold a Brexit referendum then it’s onwards and upwards. (Of course, he loses referendum, resigns immediately, and squanders the 2015 majority).

9/        Ed is toast.  He didn’t even have time to change his underwear before resigning.  Again, the Brits don’t mess around. There’s a leadership contest and many Labour MPs jump in.  While the members vote, candidates must have papers signed by at least 40 or 50 MPs in order to qualify.  Jeremy Corbyn is running around getting signatures at last minute.  People sign because they feel sorry for him.  He has no chance of winning!

10/      Here’s the thing about political parties.  They are vulnerable to takeovers. Few people actually belong to parties.  An emerging group, Momentum, decides to take the piss out of the Labour establishment by backing Corbyn.  Corbyn represents what is on the minds of disillusioned activists. Blair brought them the Gulf War and ‘New Labour’ that looked like moderate Toryism to many. Gordon Brown hated Tony Blair but he was very much associated with that agenda. Ed was transitional and not strong.  Here comes ‘Jezza’ who voices the frustration and it catches fire.

11/      This is all happening around the same time as Trump is catching fire and Bernie is making his move.  The insurgents are on the move in the industrialized world, and in Jezza’s case, the party rules work for him. Mass sign ups and support from existing base steamroller over establishment candidates.  Labour grandees are sputtering in their protestations. Blair, Brown, et al. issue dire warnings.  No one listens.  Corbyn wins big.  What now?

12/      The Labour Caucus is having none of it.  Not long after, there is a push to remove Corbyn. He is not a conventional leader and routinely is taken to task by the merciless UK media. The Deputy Leader (who is not Corbyn’s man) returns to another caucus revolt early from Glastonbury, interrupting the good time he was having at the silent disco. Ultimately, Corbyn consents to a new leadership contest.  Finally… let’s get a real Leader, says Labour MPs.

13/      Corbyn wins again! He increases his margin.

14/      Theresa May is, like, “I’m having an election.  This guy is a clown, Labour is a disaster”.  We are now in 2017.  Please follow along.

15/      May is way, way ahead.  Her campaign chokes. Corbyn has one of the great comebacks of modern political history.  This is actually his first election campaign as leader after TWO leadership processes. Turns out UK voters like his sincerity and honesty.  “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” becomes an anthem on the left.  In fact, the election is polarizing between the two parties in England where most of the seats reside. Fun fact: Tories and Labours have held 1-2 position exclusively for about a century.

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Two party domination by Tories and Labour.  Lib-Dems and predecessor parties peaked out at 25% (1983)

16/      Corbyn is secured in his leadership.  It’s virtually a hung Parliament and Corbyn has centre stage across the dispatch box from the PM.

17/      [Intermission]

18/      Fast forward to summer 2019. May is out, Boris is in. After all of the feeble attempts to get her Brexit deal passed, the party turned to Boris. It wasn’t close, he won in a landslide. He arrives to office with his advisor, the Dark Lord, Dominic Cummings, who masterminded the Leave campaign.  Who is at Boris’s side in Cabinet? Judas! Boris and Michael Gove have kissed and made up.

19/      Jeremy Corbyn is still there, looking a bit wobbly, and does not have clear position on Brexit.  At first, they have Boris on the run.  He wants to have an early election but new legislation blocks him without consent of the House.  He wants to have the leverage of threatening to crash out of the EU without a deal. A majority of MPs flip out and force him through some humiliating votes.  Boris removes the whip from over 20 Tory Remain MPs, including Churchill’s grandson! Things are getting rough. Elites are aghast! Tory and Labour MPs are joining the Lib-Dems, who have the clearest Remain position.

20/      Why is Labour so fuzzy on Brexit? Many Labour voters in their traditional heartland outside of London voted Leave.  They are very split while Tories are more Leave than Remain, and Boris is betting that Tory Remainers fear Corbyn more than they fear Brexit.  The Lib Dems are banking on owning Remain and also riding unicorns chasing rainbows.  They are about to get squeezed like a lemon in a lemonade factory.

21/      Boris negotiates a deal! It’s oven-ready! Pop it in the microwave, let’s get Brexit done.  Enough’s enough!  We’re getting ready to have the election. Time to see the Queen.  Corbyn’s response, while fending off serious charges of anti-semitism in his ranks, is to make the ballot question all about health care. People don’t care about Brexit, they want someone to stand up for them.

22/      At the heart of Boris’s strategy is a ‘smash and grab’ of Labour voters in traditional Labour seats.  It would be like Stephen Harper trying to win East Vancouver.  Except, Boris might pull it off.  British voters feel like they know him.  They know he’s glib, stretches the truth, and puts his foot in his mouth, but, like Trump, there is high familiarity with him.  He’s been around a long time, leading a public life.  His flaws have already been discounted. They know what they’re dealing with.

23/      Personality aside, Boris has a proposition: get Brexit done and, unlike Thatcher and other Tories, he will spend bigly on health care and other core services. No more austerity!  He is coming for 30-50 year old working women.  He wants the mums.  He wants the union guy.  He is saying, “I don’t care about London bankers, I’m with you blokes in Birmingham!” In fact, he was out delivering groceries in Leeds this week in the early hours (before hiding in a walk-in cooler to avoid the media). He is looking to realign the political map.  Theresa May got started on this and Boris aims to finish it.

24/      Corbyn’s play is to remind people that the Tories don’t care for regular people – working people – and hopes to boost turnout among younger people, who strongly support Remain and the values that Corbyn represents. They are still singing “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” in Liverpool. Like Canada, the Conservatives in the UK have low support among under 35s.  They own old people.  The election battle is with middle-aged, workforce-aged voters.

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25/      The Lib-Dems have been cast aside despite floor crossings and thirsting for an election. They have fallen flat with new leader Jo Swinson. She has been unable to move the dial. In an existential battle between two populist insurgents, the Lib-Dems find it very difficult to elbow in to relevance.

26/      This post is about 2% political science and 98% soap opera. But there are a few things about the UK politics and this election that stand out:

27/      There is way more outspoken behaviour from backbenchers in the UK. Professor Greg Lyle counselled me that it’s because there are more MPs at Westminster (650 in total).  The chances of promotion are much lower so backbenchers feel more freedom to do as they like. There is no question that Westminster is a much, much, more vibrant cauldron of political debate than Ottawa.  I blame all Canadian parties for this. They are too focused on party discipline and dissent.  Loosen up!  Maybe we need more MPs in Ottawa? Did I say that out loud?

28/      Parliament really matters in the UK. The level of debate is high.  There are no desks.  Many MPs must stand at Prime Minister’s Questions (once a week).  There’s a sense that debates can turn issues. Even the TV angles are better, covering reactions of MPs and creating a sense of the environment in the Chamber. Maybe I’m mythologizing a bit, but I would sure like Canada to do a better job emulating Mother Parliament.

29/      The media is very diverse.  While Boris has taken on the BBC (and others), the reality is that there are clearly Labour papers (The Guardian), Tory papers (Times of London), Brexit papers (Daily Mail), and many others in between and all over. It may be suffocating for those in politics, but it also enlivens debate. BBC coverage is generally excellent, IMO.

30/      The advertising is more creative and to the point than anything we saw in the recent Canadian election.  The main parties are keying on emotions, using digital as key medium. In this election, Boris is rejecting old rules of mainstream media.  Declining some debates, and refusing outright to do a popular interview show. While the BBC sputters indignation, Boris is happy to have that fight.

31/      There are many more parties represented in Parliament than the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems.  First past the post also produces Scottish Nationalists, Plaid Cymru, Ulster Unionists, a Green MP, independents, and seven Sinn Fein members who refuse to take their seats. It’s a dynamic place.

32/      Around the UK, candidates will gather in their constituency at a central polling location where they will climb on stage to hear the results together, each wearing a candidate ribbon bearing their party’s colours. The losers will congratulate the winner – a much more community-spirited ceremony than the Canadian tradition of hanging out exclusively with supporters at campaign offices.

33/      I think Boris is going to pull off his smash and grab in the Labour heartlands.  As Tory grandees like Rt. Hon. John Major reject him, he gains elsewhere. He put Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party to bed. He may lose his own seat in London, but may gain Tony Blair’s old seat in northern England. He will receive a working majority and implement Brexit.  Can he hang on to be a competent prime minister? Who knows.  Labour will give Corbyn the heave-ho finally, but it will be Momentum that holds the cards.  Their own smash and grab of the Labour Party apparatus likely continues.

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Lib Dems fading down the stretch. Light blue line is Brexit Party.  Peaked around the time that Theresa May left office.  Boris has put them to bed.  Night, night.

34/ What happens when a powerful movement drives the politics of a party away from the mainstream (and victory)?  Is it a policy problem, or is it just a matter of leadership? The reality is that its problems pre-date Corbyn and he may have been the one to breathe new life into it. A new Corbynista could be the PM next time.  Our parties in Canada are very vulnerable to such movements ‘taking over’.  That’s democracy.  Anyone can join.  Don’t blame Momentum, or dairy farmers, or pro-lifers – anyone can join, but most don’t.

35/      What Boris and Corbyn realize is this – power is ‘out there’, to be harnessed. A strong message is the power to break, reshape and coalesce an electoral base, or motivate a narrow group to action, to supersede a passive majority.  Either way, it goes against the old rules. They are both prepared to “alienate the base” in order to – they hope – grow their movements. They are making new rules.

36/      Thanks for reading, if you made it.  This started as a tweet storm and ended as a blog post.  At 2pm Pacific / 5pm Eastern, the polls close. BBC will release immediately the results of exit polls that forecast what will happen with analysis by the brilliant Professor John Courtice.  Unlike Canada, the UK rolls out results slowly, over 6-8 hours.  It will be great entertainment, as usual.

(Apologies for errors and emissions)

B.C.’s Place at the Federal Cabinet Table

UPDATED: November 2019

With a cabinet announcement looming, what will it mean for British Columbia?

Sir John A parachuted into Victoria in 1878

B.C.’s place at the Cabinet table was at the head of the table in the 1870s when Sir John A. MacDonald was elected from Victoria in 1878, despite never having seen the place.  He would eventually visit Victoria once he fulfilled the ultimate the election promise – the construction of the CPR.

Who have been B.C.’s heavyweights at the cabinet table?  An historical review reveals British Columbia’s conflicted past in dealing with race relations and uneven influence compared to its provincial peers.

The early years ~ B.C. notables in Cabinet

In the late 1800’s, Edgar Dewdney was elected from Yale B.C. and served as an MP under Sir John A. MacDonald, becoming a partisan loyalist, personal friend, and ultimately an executor of his will.  Lured to B.C. by the Gold Rush, Dewdney’s name is remembered through major roads (Dewdney Trunk) and localities, principally for his role in surveying the province.  John A. dispatched him to oversee the territories as a direct report where he dealt with the Riel Rebellion and the demise of buffalo herds and resulting starvation.   Not averse to mixing public duties with private land speculation, he eventually made it to federal cabinet in 1888 but not from B.C.; later, he was appointed B.C. Lieutenant-Governor.  A B.C. cabinet minister?  Not exactly, but an influential British Columbian at and near the cabinet table, yes.

Hewitt Bostock founded The Province newspaper and went on to win as a Liberal MP from the riding of Yale-Cariboo in 1896 on the Wilfred Laurier ticket, serving one term.  Reflecting popular opinion at the time, Bostock opposed further Chinese immigration, and he also called Italians “a menace”. Laurier would appoint him to the Senate where he would eventually serve as Leader of the Opposition in that body.  Like many Liberals in English Canada, he supported Borden’s Unionist government over the conscription issue, but would return to the Liberals and sit in William Lyon MacKenzie King’s government as Minister of Public Works briefly, before becoming Speaker of the Senate.  Not many federal politicians have a mountain named after them, but he does, near the Fraser Canyon.

Conservative Martin Burrell, representing Yale-Cariboo, served in Prime Minister Robert Borden’s Conservative and Unionist cabinets as Agriculture minister, Mines Minister, and Minister of Customs & Inland Revenue.   He also served briefly in Arthur Meighen’s ministry. An interesting note about Burrell (a former mayor of Grand Forks), was that he was appointed Parliamentary Librarian in 1920 and served in this post until his death in 1938.

Future B.C. premier Simon Fraser Tolmie would serve in both of Arthur Meighen’s

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Simon Fraser Tolmie

cabinets as Minister of Agriculture.  In both stints, Meighen’s governments didn’t last long, out-wrangled by William Lyon MacKenzie King.  Tolmie was recruited to return to B.C to take on the leadership of the B.C. Conservative Party, leading them to victory in 1928.  Shortly thereafter, his government was caught in the jaws of the Great Depression and was dispatched by the voters in 1933 after one term.  Along with Ujjal Dosanjh, Tolmie has been one of two B.C. premiers to serve in a federal cabinet.  Other premiers, such as Amor de Cosmos, Fighting Joe Martin, and Dave Barrett, also served in Parliament.

H.H. Stevens aboard the Komagatu Maru

Conservative heavyweight H.H. Stevens served in Meighen’s brief cabinet (1926) then, later, for four years under Prime Minister R.B. Bennett.

He was a powerful Trade minister who crusaded against price-fixing.  He resigned in epic fashion and created the Reconstruction Party which split the vote and destroyed the Bennett government in 1935.  Stevens survived in his own seat in Vancouver Centre, but did not elect any other MPs.

He returned to the Conservatives thereafter but his political career fizzled out.

Stevens trajectory resembles both Maxime Bernier (started his own party in protest of leadership) and Jody Wilson-Raybould (Vancouver cabinet minister rebelling against prime minister).  Like Wilson-Raybould, he won his own seat back in the subsequent election.  Like Bernier, his party failed to launch, though his results were better, taking 8.7% of the popular vote in Canada, including 11% in Ontario (but no seats).

While he was unquestionably a force of politics in B.C. during the 1920s and 1930s, Stevens is also remembered for his role in stifling the Komagatu Maru and for reflecting public opinion during his time concerning Asian immigration: “We cannot hope to preserve the national type if we allow Asiatics to enter Canada in any numbers.”

Fishing boats seized during internment of Japanese-Canadians

Fear over Asian immigration was a multi-partisan issue, with labour leaders and Liberal politicians eager participants as well.  Liberal Ian MacKenzie was sworn into Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King’s cabinet prior to the 1930 election.  He won his seat but the government lost power.  In 1935 he re-emerged as Minister of National Defence.  He also became the first Government House Leader in the House of Commons.  As B.C.’s top cabinet minister, he championed the internment of Japanese-Canadians during WWII, stating in the 1942 election: “Let our slogan be for British Columbia: ‘No Japs from the Rockies to the seas.”

H.H. Stevens is probably the most notable figure in Canadian politics coming from B.C. between Confederation to the end of WWII.  But perhaps it was the librarian Martin Burrell who left the most lasting mark.

Moving toward modern times

James Sinclair: Justin Trudeau’s grandfather

Coast-Capilano Liberal MP James Sinclair, the grandfather of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, served in Parliament from 1940 to 1958; he served as Minister of Fisheries from 1952-57.  The Sinclair Centre, at the corner of Hastings and Granville in Vancouver, bears his name.  Again, reflecting mainstream opinion, Sinclair’s comments on race bear mentioning.  In 1947, post WWII, he spoke in favour of welcoming citizenship rights to the Chinese already in Canada, contrasting to the Japanese-Canadian population: “We have never had the feeling against the Chinese in B.C. that we have had against the Japanese”.  He said he would support restoring voting rights for Japanese if the post-war dispersal policy proved successful.  It wasn’t until 1949 restrictions were lifted.

Vancouver-Centre Liberal MP Ralph Campney served as Solicitor-General, Associate Minister of Defence and Minister of Defence under Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent.  A WWI veteran, and lawyer, he served as political secretary to MacKenzie-King and was part of the Canadian delegation to the League of Nations in 1924.

Campney would lose in 1957 to Douglas Jung, the first Chinese-Canadian Member of Parliament; Sinclair lost in 1958, thus making way for new Liberal cabinet leaders from B.C. in the 1960s.

After 22 years in the wilderness, the Progressive Conservatives finally returned to power in 1957. The Diefenbaker era ushered in B.C.’s first dose of serious cabinet clout.  From 1957-63, three senior ministers hailed from the west coast.

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Two-time P.C. leadership contender E. Davie Fulton

Kamloops MP E. Davie Fulton, a leadership rival to Diefenbaker, was an influential Minister of Justice for much of that time; Vancouver Quadra MP Howard Green ultimately served as Secretary of State for External Affairs; and George Pearkes, Victoria Cross recipient, served as Minister of National Defence prior to his appointment as B.C.’s Lieutenant-Governor in 1960.

Fulton had sought the leadership of the Progressive Conservatives twice, finishing third to Diefenbaker in 1956, at age 40, and third again in 1967.  Bilingual, he was the first true contender from B.C. for either of the major federal parties.  In cabinet, he was a key player in the Canadian Bill of Rights, the Fulton-Favreau Formula (an earnest attempt to repatriate the Constitution), and Columbia River Treaty. Fulton left federal politics in 1963 to lead the B.C. Conservative Party, but was thwarted completely by W.A.C. Bennett and the governing Socreds, returning to federal politics one more time in 1965. After leaving office, he was elevated to the bench.

While Fulton was a contender, Pearkes was a hero.  He was recipient of the Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery in battle in World War I during the Battle of Passchendaele – his biography, released in 1977, is titled For Most Conspicuous Bravery. His name was revered in my father’s household as my grandfather, in charge of the militia in Drumheller, reported to Pearkes when he commanded the 13th Military District based in Calgary at the outbreak of WWII.  He served in various capacities in Europe and in preparing for war on the Pacific, before retiring from the military in 1945 to jump in to politics, winning a seat for the PCs in Nanaimo.  He was approached to be the leader of the BC Conservative Party but stayed with federal politics. When the time came for the PC’s to govern, he was a front bencher, and under his command in Defence, he recommended the cancellation of the Avro Arrow.  He defended the decision during interviews for his biography, noting that he had been under huge pressure to stay the course. In 1960, he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor and had his term extended by Liberal Prime Minister Lester Pearson to serve through the centennial to 1968.  Like Hewitt Bostock, he also has a mountain named after him, near Princess Louisa Inlet, among many other tributes and honours in his illustrious career.

The election of the Pearson government in 1963 continued B.C.’s cabinet presence with capable ministers, albeit at a less prestigious level than the Diefenbaker years.

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Arthur Laing served in Pearson’s cabinet as Minister of Northern Affairs and Natural Resources then later as Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs.  A former leader of the B.C. Liberal Party, Laing was the “B.C. Minister”; the bridge from YVR to the City is named in his honour.  Laing’s wingman in cabinet was John Nicholson who served in various posts under Pearson.

B.C.’s decline in clout

While B.C. held at least three seats in cabinet during the first PET ministry (1968-79), B.C. seemed to lose ground with other provinces who had powerful ministers.  B.C. was not without credible ministers, but it was the Marc Lalondes, Jean Marchands, Jean Chrétiens, John Turners, and Allan MacEachens that defined the Trudeau era at the cabinet level.

In 1968, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau brought young Vancouver MP Ron Basford into cabinet as Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs.  He is remembered as the minister who championed Granville Island among other B.C. legacies.  Laing continued in Public Works until 1972.  Jack Davis served in Fisheries and Environment portfolios between 1968-1974 (before his election as a Social Credit MLA).

Len Marchand and Iona Campagnolo both served as Ministers of State in the mid 1970s, with Marchand finishing as Minister of Environment in 1979.  Marchand was the first First Nation cabinet minister and first First Nations Member of Parliament in Canadian history.  Iona Campagnolo was the first female federal cabinet minister from British Columbia.  Had the Liberal government not met the buzz saw in 1979, it would have been interesting to see what would have become of Campagnolo and Marchand’s budding cabinet careers.  Marchand went on to serve with distinction in the Senate, being an important voice for indigenous issues.  Campagnolo went on to serve in many important public duties, as president of the Liberal Party of Canada, and as Lieutenant-Governor, one of three formal federal cabinet ministers to do so, along with Pearkes and John Nicholson.

Senator Ray Perrault, a former leader of the B.C. Liberal Party who went to defeat Tommy Douglas in 1968 and serve one term in the House of Commons, served as Government Leader in the Senate from 1974 to 1979.  Perrault was the heart and soul of the party among grassroots Liberals for decades.

The short-lived Joe Clark government featured prominent B.C. politicians like Minister of Environment John Fraser, Defence Minister Allan MacKinnon from Victoria, and Minister of State Ron Huntington (father of former Delta South MLA Vicky Huntington). Fraser had run for leader in 1976, dropping off on the second ballot but delivering his support for Clark. Their tenures were short-lived when the Clark government was defeated in the House on December 13, 1979 and disposed of at the ballot box in February 1980.

When PET was campaigning again for election in 1980, he had the makings of a strong front bench from B.C..  Popular ex-mayor of Vancouver Art Phillips had been elected to the Liberals in 1979, serving in Opposition.  Former B.C. Liberal leader Gordon Gibson contested North Vancouver-Burnaby while renowned resource economist Peter Pearse sought election in Vancouver Quadra.   That would have been a strong trio of B.C. ministers, however, none were elected, nor were any other Liberals in B.C., Alberta, or Saskatchewan.  It was a western wipe-out, much worse than Liberal setbacks in 2019.  Senators Jack Austin and Ray Perrault became B.C.’s unelected representatives in Cabinet.  Perrault was later dropped, contributing to B.C.’s alienation from the Liberal Party.

When Prime Minister John Turner decided to seek office from Vancouver Quadra in 1984, he sought to bridge the divide between the Liberal Party and the west coast.  While he gained his seat (in the face of an electoral onslaught), he alone was elected from B.C.

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Turner’s B.C. story is a compelling one.  He spent his early years in Rossland and, while his formative years were spent in Ottawa, he returned to UBC for university (his stepfather was Lieutenant-Governor) where he was very much Big Man on Campus along with being Canadian 100 metre sprint champion.   His B.C. years are chronicled in Elusive Destiny, an apt title for a political giant who’s timing was off.  (Incredibly, his Olympic dreams were dashed when his car was hit by a train on the Arbutus Corridor).  Turner served as MP for Vancouver Quadra for 9 years, retaining his seat after relinquishing his leadership to Jean Chretien.  He had a strong B.C. connection but Turner was really a pan-Canadian instead of being owned by any region, representing three provinces during his illustrious parliamentary career.

The Mulroney-Chretien eras

From 1984 to 2004, B.C. had a steady presence at the cabinet table, not strikingly influential, but it produced our first and only B.C.-raised prime minister.

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney came to power in 1984 riding a wave of western alienation, but he also won big in Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes too.  Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 11.42.39 AM.pngIt was a huge mandate.  “Red Tories” John Fraser and Pat Carney, an upset winner over Art Phillips in 1980, led the B.C. contingent in cabinet.  Fraser went to Fisheries and Carney to Energy – two significant portfolios. Carney was the first woman from B.C. to lead a department (Campagnolo was a Minister of State).

Fraser would resign halfway through the first term during “Tunagate”, as scandal concerning rancid tuna, but his stature among MPs led him later to election, and much-dignified reign, as Speaker of the House of Commons.  Overall, Fraser served in the House from 1972-1993.

Carney would move to International Trade during the dramatic US-Canada Free Trade negotiations.  She did not run again in 1988 (and, later on, appointed to the Senate where she was an outspoken member). Tom Siddon would replace Fraser, and others like Gerry St. Germain, Frank Oberle, and Mary Collins would ultimately join Mulroney’s cabinet.

 

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 11.45.47 AM.pngSt. Germain was a Mulroney favourite.  The bilingual, Metis chicken farmer was my Member of Parliament in Mission-Port Moody.  He entered Parliament with Mulroney following a pair of 1983 by-elections.  He was also my opponent when, as a teenager, I rode my ten-speed bike down to Liberal Mae Cabott’s campaign office on the Lougheed Highway in 1984.

Losing big to Gerry taught me an early lesson in humility  (Tip: be careful burmashaving on a busy highway when everyone hates your political party, and they are not telling you that your party is #1 when they use their middle finger).  

In 1986, I found myself looking for a seat to Question Period in Ottawa and contacted my local MP, Gerry.  With great gusto, Gerry led me through the back halls of Parliament proclaiming, “Let me show you what a Tory can do for a Grit.”

Gerry became National Caucus Chair in 1984, a huge responsibility considering it remains the largest caucus in Canadian history. He was elevated to cabinet during that term, but, incredibly to me, Gerry lost his seat in 1988 at the very moment he was poised to move up into the senior cabinet ranks.  He would have been the senior B.C. minister with huge clout. BCers often choose protest over pragmatism.  He would be appointed to the Senate, serve as president of the Progressive Conservative Party in the dark years, and be an early mover on bringing the PCs and Reform/Alliance parties together.

A B.C. prime minister… briefly

In 1988, Pat Carney’s retirement created a vacancy in Vancouver-Centre.  Back then, Progressive Conservatives were electable in that riding, seemingly unimaginable today.  Kim Campbell resigned her seat in the provincial legislature part way through her first term, secured the PC nomination, then won the seat, and was catapulted into Cabinet.  She was another rarity – a french-speaking British Columbian. As Justice minister (then National Defence), she held a high national profile, and emerged as the consensus favourite to succeed Mulroney following the demise of the Charlottetown Accord.  Campbell fended off Jean Charest for the leadership win.

Kim Campbell on the campaign trail, 1993

She had a strong B.C. network behind her, like Chief of Staff Ray Castelli and other apparatchiks that have been a big part of federal politics from B.C., but Mulroney did not leave her much time to make her own mark and the subsequent election played out for her like it did for John Turner in 1984, except worse.  The party was decimated and, like 1984, Vancouver bore witness on election night to a humiliating concession speech by a sitting prime minister.  Unlike Turner, Campbell lost her own seat.

Jean Chrétien’s election in 1993 and subsequent cabinets through 2003 had consistent B.C. representation (unlike PET from 1980-84), yet it was not at the heaviest of heavyweight levels.  David Anderson, first elected in 1968, before switching to provincial politics to lead the B.C. Liberals, returned from the political wilderness in 1993 to serve as National Revenue Minister before moving on to Fisheries, then to his signature role in Environment.  Herb Dhaliwal was another prominent minister during the Chrétien era, following Anderson in National Revenue and Fisheries before going to Natural Resources.  Ministers of State included former B.C. ombudsman Stephen Owen, Richmond MP Raymond Chan, and Vancouver-Centre MP Dr. Hedy Fry.  Chrétien could never elect more than 6-7 from B.C. so he didn’t have a lot of MPs to choose from.  Moreover, about 99% of the MPs during his years as prime minister from Ontario were Liberal, therefore, B.C. was vastly outnumbered in the Liberal caucus.  The influential non-minister during that time was Senator Ross Fitzpatrick.  Fitzpatrick was a Chrétien confidante who backed him during the 1984 and 1990 leadership campaigns, and called the shots in B.C. for the general election campaigns.

B.C.’s return to Diefenbaker-like prominence: 2004-2011

I’ll run for the Liberals in 2004, says ex-NDP Premier Ujjal Dosanjh

Both the Paul Martin cabinet and early Stephen Harper cabinets saw a decided uptick in B.C. clout at the federal cabinet table.  Following the 2004 election, Martin appointed a record five B.C. ministers including star recruits David Emerson (Industry) and former B.C. NDP Premier Ujjal Dosanjh (Health).  The lineup was rounded out by Stephen Owen, Raymond Chan, and Senate Leader Jack Austin.  The B.C. delegation was aided by a regional campaign, led by Mark Marissen, that punched above its weight in the 2004 election with its “Made in B.C. Agenda”.  The Liberals won more seats in B.C. despite dropping from a majority to a minority.  (They would win more again in 2006 in a losing national effort)

Consul General Phil Chicola and Minister Stockwell Day with their Spouses

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Harper’s first cabinet contained a major surprise – David Emerson.  To the astonishment of Liberals and Conservatives alike, the Liberal star switched jerseys, eschewing politics for policy, and assumed the International Trade portfolio and eventually Foreign Affairs before he left office in 2008.  Emerson was recruited to Harper’s cabinet by outgoing MP John Reynolds.  Reynolds served in the House of Commons from B.C. ridings on two occasions (1972-77 and 1997-2006). In between, he was a Social Credit MLA from 1983-1991, serving as a cabinet minister and Speaker.  Reynolds acted as interim Leader of the Official Opposition, turning over the reins to Stephen Harper.  In 2006, Harper appointed Reynolds to the Privy Council.

Emerson was joined from B.C. by former Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day (Public Safety, International Trade, Treasury Board).  A former Alberta Finance Minister, Day was a B.C. MP  by virtue of running in a by-election in the Okanagan upon becoming leader.  He stayed put and became an influential B.C. minister.  Day was also an important interlocutor between the Harper government and the nascent Christy Clark government in 2011, helping build a cohesive relationship at a sensitive time.

Chuck Strahl (Agriculture, Indian and Northern Affairs, Transport), and Gary Lunn (Natural Resources) rounded out Harper’s first cabinet.  Jay Hill’s appointment in 2007 as Whip (elevated to cabinet) then Government House Leader would make it five ministers for the B.C. delegation, matching Martin.  B.C. had considerable clout.

Fading out of the Harper years

Emerson, Day, Strahl and Hill would all choose to leave politics by 2011, and Lunn involuntarily when he lost to Green Party leader Elizabeth May.  They would give way to James Moore, who started in Heritage and went to Industry, becoming the face of the government in B.C. during the final Harper term.  Ed Fast, in International Trade, North Islander John Duncan who served in Aboriginal Affairs & Northern Development, then-Delta MP Kerri-Lynne Findlay, and Richmond Centre MP Alice Wong all served in the final term.  As the Harper mandate struggled in its final years, so too did its profile in British Columbia – not an uncommon life cycle for aging governments.

A new team in 2015

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The appointment of JWR

Justin Trudeau only had two incumbents from B.C. heading into the 2015 election, but neither were invited into his first cabinet.  Instead, he went with new blood that aligned with Liberal political priorities.  Three ministers were appointed, all newcomers to Parliament Hill.  Jody Wilson-Raybould was a historic choice as Justice Minister – the first indigenous Justice Minister.  She followed in the footsteps of Kamloops indigenous MP Len Marchand who served in PET’s cabinet.  Joining Wilson-Raybould in the ranks of senior cabinet was Vancouver South MP Harjit Sajjan, appointed as Minister of National Defence, a post he kept for the entirety of the first term.  Delta MP Carla Qualtrough joined cabinet as Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities.  While

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Harjit Sajjan: senior post from day one

Wilson-Raybould and Sajjan were in the upper tier of cabinet, the Trudeau government took a different term in equating senior cabinet ministers with regional clout.  There was no “B.C. minister”, the traditional model where a minister is the “go-to” between the federal government and the province and its stakeholders.  Backed by a Ministers’ Regional Office, this role has informal influence and is where a lot of regional brokering would take place.  Instead, it appeared JWR and Sajjan focused on their considerable cabinet duties, freed from the political responsibilities coming from a regional boss role.

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Carla Qualtrough: moved up the ladder

Qualtrough emerged as a steady player and was elevated to Minister of Public Works in 2017.  Colleague Jonathan Wilkinson was recruited to cabinet in 2018 as Minister of Fisheries & Oceans, a vexing role which many previous B.C. MPs have performed.  With four full ministers, B.C. enjoyed a solid presence in cabinet despite the absence of a traditional regional minister role.

Then in 2019, everything changed.  The controversy surrounding JWR and the prime minister is well documented.  An early 2019 cabinet shuffle moved JWR from Justice to Veteran Affairs.  Sparked by the resignation of cabinet minister Scott Brison, the shuffle ignited tensions that culminated in JWR’s resignation from cabinet, then her removal from caucus.  Like H.H. Stevens, she sought re-election after parting ways, and won her Vancouver seat.  For several months, JWR’s future with the Liberals hung in the balance.  Today, she moves forward as an independent, and who knows what else.

Her departure created an opening for longtime Vancouver-Quadra MP Joyce Murray, a former provincial cabinet minister.  Murray took the helm at Treasury Board in spring 2019, keeping a low profile.

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Jonathan Wilkinson with the prime minister:  Saskatchewan roots may be called upon in next term of office

As Prime Minister Trudeau puts in place his cabinet picks on November 20th, he may well stay the course with Sajjan, Wilkinson, Qualtrough, and Murray, though one would think that roles will change for most of them.  They were all re-elected, and contribute to the gender balance that the prime minister says will be maintained.  Perhaps B.C. will gain more influence because of the absence of Liberal MPs in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

There are now 11 Liberal MPs from British Columbia. Trudeau will also be able to consider Terry Beech, Sukh Dhaliwal, Ken Hardie, Randeep Sarai, Patrick Weiler, and the indomitable Hedy Fry.  All Liberal MPs are from Metro Vancouver, meaning no opportunity for the Island or the Interior to have a voice in cabinet.

Eclipsed by other regions

For many Liberal governments in the Pearson-Trudeau-Chretien eras, it was often a case of being “west of the best” or so it seemed.  B.C. had many capable ministers during this time but very few national personalities that one hearkens back to when remembering an era.  Ron Basford may have the strongest claim for cabinet legacies.  The Martin government went in a stronger direction for B.C. but its lifespan was short.  Harper’s team started off strong but B.C.’s collective influence seemed to fade down the stretch.

Conservative cabinets have seen B.C. eclipsed by Conservative-crazy Alberta, which has established the storyline for much of the past 40 years.  Alberta had leader (1976-83) and Prime Minister Joe Clark (later Secretary of State for External Affairs and lead constitutional negotiator) and Deputy Prime Minister Don Mazankowski.  The demise of the PCs was born in Alberta too with Preston Manning’s Reform Party.  The evolution and return of the conservative movement was an Alberta story – Stockwell Day (who ran for leader of the Alliance from Alberta before moving to B.C.) and Stephen Harper led in succession.   Harper’s cabinet also featured prominent Albertan personalities such as Jim Prentice, Rona Ambrose (an interim leader), and Jason Kenney, now the Premier of Alberta. Neighbouring Saskatchewan produced Andrew Scheer, who won all but one seat in Alberta and Saskatchewan in 2019.  B.C.’s political climate is much more competitive, though conservatives usually emerge with a plurality of the votes federally, restraining the election of Liberal MPs and pool of available cabinet talent when the Liberals rule (which has been most of the time).

British Columbians have risen to prominence in the NDP, although not usually to the top.  Tommy Douglas led the party from a base in B.C. for a time.  Rosemary Brown, Dave Barrett, Svend Robinson, and Nathan Cullen have all been serious national leadership contenders, though unsuccessful.  Current leader Jagmeet Singh represents a B.C. riding.  Are they any closer to the cabinet table?  No, they have been getting further and further away since Jack Layton’s high point in 2011.

B.C.’s Burden

Why does B.C. lack clout?

Distance.  How many people want to fly 3000 miles back and forth each week?  Time spent traveling is enough to dissaude anyone, especially those with younger children.

Under-representation. A point of regional unfairness is that B.C. ridings have more population than most provinces due to Canada’s constitution and constitutional side deals.  The vast expanse of Skeena has far more constituents than ridings in Saskatchewan, Manitoba or any in the Maritimes.  How does that make sense?  It makes a tough job even tougher.

Political culture.  Federal politics is more abstract to British Columbians.  BCers do not live and die by federal politics.  There is very little media coverage of B.C. politicians on Parliament Hill (JWR controversy excluded). Provincial politics is the main sport and drives the media’s and the public’s interest.

Protest over politics.  We have often gone the other way when Canadians elect their governments.  B.C. abandoned PET in 1980, cut down the PC team in 1988, and kept Chretien on a short leash.

Political network.  It’s tough to aspire to national leadership when the critical mass is elsewhere.  Kim Campbell remains the only B.C.-raised prime minister.  Alberta has figured out how to gain national office, but no one here.  H.H. Stevens may have had the first good chance in the dying days of the RB Bennett government but he passed on it.  E. Davie Fulton was a thorn in Diefenbaker’s paw, but finished third to Dief in the 1956 PC leadership, and third again trying to succeed him in 1967.  John Fraser tried in 1976.  Hedy Fry and Joyce Murray both made quixotic bids to lead their parties but were never in contention.  Is there a B.C. contender to replace Andrew Scheer, if there is an opening? Hard to see.

Bilingualism. Fewer B.C. politicians speak french than in eastern provinces.  This has been a drawback in climbing the greasy pole.  James Moore does, and he had a good run, but he is an exception.

The challenge appears to be even greater for MPs outside the Vancouver area.  Most ministers, as this is where Liberals usually get elected, have been fairly close to the province’s largest city.  The B.C. Interior and Vancouver Island have lacked significant cabinet representation over time, and will lack representation again in the coming term.

Prime ministers have been piled up like cordwood from Quebec, Ontario, and Alberta.  Even Saskatchewan has had its run; B.C. has but one brief stint from one of its own prior to her electoral slaughter.  Where have been the Finance Ministers from B.C.?

Many excellent ministers from B.C. have served at the cabinet table, but my overall assessment is that we, as a province, haven’t been exceptional in the federal arena.  In part, because many have chosen not to run.

What’s next?

On November 20th, a new cabinet will be chosen and a new chapter will begin on B.C.’s role at the cabinet table.  While Justin Trudeau lacks representation in Alberta and Saskatchewan, he can at least draw from an 11-member caucus in B.C.  This is the second largest Liberal caucus from B.C. since 1968 – that’s not saying much, but it’s a lot better than 1980 when his father did not have an elected member west of Winnipeg.

A key sign to watch for B.C.’s clout will be whether the regional minister system is re-established, providing a more direct portal for B.C. interests to interact with the federal government.  Ottawa is a long way away from B.C.  It will help our issues and our interests if Ottawa is brought closer.

** This post was taken from a number of sources and not always easy to piece together B.C.’s federal voice.  If there are any sins of omission or commission, please comment.  Thank you.

Related

Political dramas and docs for a self-isolating time

It appears we are spending a lot more time at home than we expected this spring. As viewers scrape the limits of Netflix, Prime, HBO, Disney Plus, and even GEM, there comes a moment where you think you have reached the end of the Internet. I’m here to help!

Recently, the Times of London held a ‘playoff’ of the top political movies of all-time. I was greatly encouraged by what I anticipated to be an elegantly curated list of under-rated political dramas that delivered deep insight and resonated with those of us that closely observe politics. Sadly, the Times under-delivered with a predictable Hollywood-dominated roster and left behind many worthy UK choices.

So, here is my list. I’m not saying they are the best political movies in the world, but I liked them, that’s something. You may have a hard time finding them. They may be relegated to someone’s basement DVD collection or they may be languishing on YouTube in its furthest reaches. That’s on you to find them.

Let’s start with the UK…

The Deal

You have probably heard of, or seen the move The Queen, starring Helen Mirren. What you may not know is that it is the second instalment of a trilogy starring Michael Sheen as Tony Blair and written by Peter Morgan (The Crown). The Deal is part one.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were both elected as Labour MPs in 1983. The up and coming politicians were ambitious, but also opposites – the sunny, media savvy Blair and the dour workhorse Brown. They learnt the ropes during Neil Kinnock’s two failed attempts to win in 1987 and 1992, and then rose to key spots under Kinnock’s successor John Smith. However, Smith died suddenly of a heart attacking 1994, presenting an unanticipated opportunity for Blair and Brown. ‘The deal’ between Blair and Brown, and what was exactly agreed to at Granita restaurant in Islington, is a big part of political lore in the UK, with Brownites feeling Blair overstayed. Brown was never able to secure his own mandate (parallels to the Chrétien-Martin dynamic in Canada).

The third movie in the trilogy, the Special Relationship, looks at the relationship between Blair and Bill Clinton – the weakest of the three movies. Couldn’t really buy in to Dennis Quaid as Clinton.

First Among Equals

Jeffrey Archer wrote the novel in 1984, following the careers of four up-and-coming politicians (two Labour, two Conservative) from the same intake. The story weaves through the 1960s into the 1980s, integrating historical events such as IRA bombings, while dealing with inside political manoeuvrings like seat redistribution, party nominations, and floor crossings. At the heart of it are the relationships between the four politicians and how they evolve over the years. Archer had been a Member of Parliament and knows politics intimately. The novel, and the miniseries give political observers a lot to bite into.

The novel was turned into a 10-part mini-series produced for ITV in 1986 and aired, back then, on PBS. It has been available on YouTube at times. One of the four politicians is played by well-known actor Tom Wilkinson. I have read the novel, and watched the series twice, feeding my political junkie soul and satisfying my love of UK politics.

A Very British Coup

This drama made a splash when it was released as a mini-series in 1988. It is the story of a working-class, hard-left Labour MP who becomes leader and is elected prime minister. Imagine Jeremy Corbyn being elected prime minister and actually following through on his agenda. This is essentially what a Very British Coup carries through, but thirty years earlier. While the plot satisfies lefties who see the deep state resisting the democratic will of the people to unilaterally disarm its nuclear weapons among other things, it’s an interesting political scenario that, in some respects, was a preview of future campaigns (eg. Trump, Bernie, Brexit, presenting a leader who goes against the establishment and taps into popular support. The movie differs from the book it is adapted from, which also inspired the 2012 drama Secret State, starring Gabriel Byrne.

Ghost Writer

A stylish 2010 film starring Pierce Brosnan, Ewan McGregor, Kim Cattrall, and aforementioned Tom Wilkinson, and directed by Roman Polanski. It’s based on the Robert Harris novel. The plot revolves around a retired UK prime minister who is staying in the US and has become deeply unpopular in his own country over the invasion of Iraq (sound familiar?). Except, everything is not as it seems, and ghost writer Ewan McGregor begins to put the pieces together. Lurking not far from the action is – suspenseful music – the C.I.A.

Harris is a tremendous writer. Check out another of his novels – Imperium.

House of Cards (UK)

It really was a sensation when it was released in 1990. We were all so innocent then. The US-version followed the UK-version quite closely in its early years, mirroring key plot moves. The UK version, for its time, was more daring.

The drama picks up following the demise of the Thatcher government. Francis Urquhart, masterfully played by Ian Richardson, is the Chief Whip for the Conservatives. The second installation in the series, To Play the King, foresees a constitutional crisis with a new king (thinly disguised as Charles III). Filmed in the early 1990s, there is a Diana-dynamic that Urquhart exploits as well.

Don’t mess with this guy

The final part in the trilogy didn’t stand up to the first two in my opinion. If you like UK politics like I do, and haven’t seen the original House of Cards, you will probably get a kick out of it.

Let’s move on to the US…

Primary Colors / The War Room

These go hand-in-hand. For those millennials out there who missed the 1992 presidential campaign, it was a turning point in politics. With the onset of 24/7 news programming, the Clinton campaign mastered “quick response”. In part, they were facing a very traditional opponent (President George H.W. Bush) and they benefited from a third-party candidate that was chewing through Republican votes (Ross Perot). However, the winners write the history and the documentary The War Room mythologized James Carville and George Stephanopoulos as the new political craftsmen of the 1990s. It certainly helped that Carville is extremely colourful. The documentary was directed by D.A. Pennebaker, one of the greats of all-time. (Footnote on Carville: he starred as himself in the 2003 drama series ‘K Street’. He and his real-life wife Mary Matalin run a fictional K Street lobbying firm. The cast includes ‘Roger’ from Mad Men. Cameos from the likes of Howard Dean are woven into the episodes. It lasted a season. I have the DVD if you’re desperate for it).

A ‘fictional account’ of the 1992 campaign, Primary Colors, was written by ‘Anonymous’. The book was a bestseller though the publisher would not reveal the name of the author. It was clearly someone who knew the inside of the 1992 campaign and the scandals that dogged Bill Clinton over his personal behaviour. It would be revealed that journalist Joe Klein authored the book. By 1998, it was a movie starring John Travolta in the role based on Clinton (I did buy into Travolta), Emma Thompson in the role based on Hillary, and a strong supporting cast. This movie will feel familiar for a lot of former political staffers who encounter a lot of crazy situations, live through controversies and disasters, and make it through to the other side.

Face in the Crowd

This 1957 film directed by Elia Kazan, stars Andy Griffith, well-known as the amiable Mayberry sheriff in the Andy Griffith show and as Matlock. It was Griffith’s debut role and he is a menace.

His character, ‘Lonesome’ Rhodes is a drifter and radio host that was discovered by a media producer. He rises to stardom based on his homespun, southern charm and enjoys considerable influence. However, he is not a positive or even benign influence; he demonstrates a darker side that his enablers – actors Patricia Neal and Walter Matthau – must grapple with. It’s a ride on a populist wave and we see it through the eyes of the populist, on his way up and down.

Game Change

The 2012 HBO movie is based on the 2008 presidential campaign of John McCain. McCain, played by Ed Harris, is the outsider who must earn the trust of GOP supporters while shaking off the unpopularity of George W. Bush. McCain attempted to recruit his friend and Democratic senator Joe Lieberman to the GOP ticket. When that failed, he went all-in on Alaska governor Sarah Palin. The movie is based on the inside story written by veteran US journalists. We are taken behind the scenes of the McCain campaign and see the sausage being made.

Harris and Moore as McCain and Palin

Woody Harrelson plays McCain’s key campaign advisor while Julianne Moore delivers a stellar performance as Sarah Palin – I was beginning to believe I was watching a documentary. The movie takes us through the roller coaster. For about a week, Palin re-energized the McCain campaign and pulled off an exciting speech at the GOP convention. The tracks would soon fall off the snowmobile.

Robert Redford’s portrayal of a long shot would-be senator in The Candidate had a documentary feel and captured a mood coming out of the 1960s of a Baby Boomers seeking to change the status quo. I also like movies that integrate the campaign advisors into the storyline in a sensible way. An interesting sequel would have been Redford as senator after three terms and see what happened to the guy.

TV series

Danish drama Borgen is first rate. It follows the career of a centrist politician who finds her way to the top in Denmark’s brokered political system.

Another Scandinavian offering is Occupied (Netflix), a drama set in Norway that sees into the not-to-distant future where Russia occupies Norway to secure its oil supplies, with backing from the EU.

Again, from the UK, for its broad sweep of British history, you have to pay homage to The Crown, though the latest season is a bit tiring. What I like about the Crown is that deviations from history are quickly reviewed and chewed over. The Bodyguard (Netflix) is a political thriller that has a bit of sizzle to it.

Thanks to loyal reader Bruce Burley, I am reminded of Boss, starring Kelsey Grammar as a tough as nails mayor of Chicago, fighting his own private health battle, and not afraid to overcome political obstacles with brute force. Grammar fits the role perfectly, delivering as a plausible political leader and a monstrous operator.

A little known political drama from 2006-08 is Brotherhood, starring Jason Clarke and Jason Isaacs, two actors who enjoyed considerable success after the show ended. The show revolves around brothers – a Rhode Island state legislator and his crooked brother. The show was inspired by real-life story of mobster Whitey Bulger and his politician brother in Massachusetts.

For satires, VEEP is probably the funniest political show. I have heard from a clutch of Thick of It/In the Loop devotees – and I am unmoved.

No question that West Wing broke a lot of new ground when it came out, and it’s well done, but annoyingly self-righteous at times. A precursor of West Wing was American President, which pushed its agenda. Michael Douglas fits the role, and I always welcome Michael J.Fox in any role, but, like West Wing, it pushes its agenda to satisfy one half of the audience.

Finally, this one is a departure from my tendency to appreciate accuracy and realistic portrayals of politics and government. 24 – Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer created a new format for TV. It was basically live-action drama. For sure, it was preposterous at times, but 24 provided some great portraits of political leaders, such as the heroic President David Palmer, a Nixonish, weak and calculating President Charles Logan, an LBJ-ish president played by Powers Boothe, and William Devane as the Secretary of State who could be counted on. At least there was always a higher purpose (“save the world!”) unlike Scandal, 24 makes the list because it employed a lot of Canadian actors.

Speaking of Canada…

Champions

This three-part documentary, directed and narrated by Donald Brittain, should be curriculum in Canadian schools. It’s brilliant. It follows the trajectories of Pierre Trudeau and Rene Levesque, side by side, from their childhoods to the climatic moments of the 1980 Quebec referendum and 1982 repatriation of the Constitution .

Rene Levesque’s back story may be a revelation to many young Canadians who were not around for those constitutional wars. Levesque emerged from humble roots to become a renown war-time and post-war journalist. He was able to break down complicated issues and explain them to a broad audience. For a time, he and Trudeau were allies, resisting the repression of the Duplessis regime. Levesque was a prominent cabinet minister in the Jean Lesage Liberal government (‘the Quiet Revolution’) in the early 1960s. Meanwhile, Trudeau was recruited to federal politics in 1965 alongside Jean Marchand and Gerard Pelletier. In the late 1960s, Trudeau’s and Levesque’s paths diverged – Trudeau catapulting to prime minister of the federation; Levesque choosing to leave the Quebec Liberals and form a party dedicated to break up the federation.

These two foes were giants. It makes politics today look trivial by comparison.

Champions is available online through the National Film Board.

Where are the other Canadian offerings? The National Film Board does have a selection of documentaries on leaders like Prime Minister Diefenbaker, Tommy Douglas, and Danny Williams, and trailblazers like Flora MacDonald. I haven’t seen them yet and interested to hear any reviews.

As for Canadian political dramas, there is not a lot to consider. There was a mini series on Premier Duplessis in 1978. A biopic on Pierre Trudeau in 2002. Again, would be good to hear any contributions to a Canadian list. As a British Columbian, it’s pretty thin when it comes to BC political stories in film or video.

There is an inexhaustible supply of political films and documentaries. The list above are some that stuck with me over the years. It would be great to hear your recommendations.

Regional gains and losses in #elxn43

How did the votes get distributed on election night? Nationwide, the Liberal vote share declined by 5.6% compared to 2015, while Conservative vote share increased by 2.5%.  NDP vote share decreased by 3.8%, while the Greens increased 3.1% (this is counter-narrative).  The Bloc increased 3% nationally, translating to a 13.2% boost in Québec, and the Peoples Party, new to the scene, carved out 1.6%.

How the parties rose and fell varied on a regional basis.  The Liberals went down in every region, in terms of popular vote.  However, their losses were lowest in vote-rich Ontario and Québec.  They suffered a decline in their popular vote by over 15% on the Prairies, where they only elected 5 seats in 2015.  They also suffered an 18% decline in the Atlantic, but because they were so dominant in 2015, they had a buffer which allowed them to retake 26 of 32 seats.

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Conservative gains were disproportionately higher in Alberta and Saskatchewan, where they already had a near dominant position.  Significant gains were made in B.C. (4 point increase) which allowed for a six seat gain.  A ten point gain in the Atlantic helped deliver four new seats but they were climbing out of a big hole and needed more in order to harvest bushels of seats.  In Central Canada, Conservative popular vote declined, down 1.8% in Ontario and 0.7% in Québec.  To get from opposition to government, you can’t give up ground in the two provinces that combine for 199 seats.

Therefore, for the Conservatives, seat gains were modest.  Of the 22 newly acquired ridings, seventeen were west of Ontario: seven in B.C., four in Alberta, six in Saskatchewan-Manitoba.  Of the remaining five pick-ups, four were in the Atlantic and three were in Ontario, offset by the loss of two seats in Québec.

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Liberal losses were spread fairly evenly.  They gave up 27 seats, compared to the 2015 election, but lost no more than six in any region (B.C. and Atlantic).  The key to victory was only losing a net of one seat in Ontario, where they had a very strong showing in 2015.  Their Québec losses were lower than what they gave up in the Atlantic.

The storyline as it relates to the Greens and the NDP is interesting.  Much was made of NDP momentum and the Greens blown opportunity.  And it’s true.

However, the NDP momentum was relative to their abysmal standing in the polls at the outset of the campaign.  When it was all said and done, the NDP lost a significant share of  its popular vote, based mainly on it being decimated in Québec.  It made no headway in Ontario, where its leader is originally from and previously elected in the Ontario legislature.  Wasn’t the business case for Jagmeet Singh that – to offset losses in Québec – he could win in the suburbs of Toronto and Vancouver and broaden the base in the rest of Canada?  Didn’t happen.  Outside Québec, Singh’s share of the vote (17.5%) was lower than Tom Mulcair’s (17.9%).

The Greens on the other hand can see some encouragement in the wake of a hollow election night.  Yes, they had a golden opportunity on Vancouver Island, which passed them by.  They did, however, make significant popular vote gains in B.C. and the Atlantic, far surpassing the NDP in New Brunswick and P.E.I.  While the NDP went down 3.8% nationwide, the Greens went up 3.1%.  Again, it was a disappointment based on expectations, but in the long-run, it is a step forward.

As these graphs show, there was really only one leader who excelled at regional math on election night: Yves-François Blanchet.

Trudeau Liberals win plurality with lowest ever popular vote

It’s not uncommon in Canada to have a party with the most seats have fewer votes than another party.  But the 2019 election will be the first time the governing party was elected with less than 34% of the popular vote.  Justin Trudeau’s 33.1% is the new low, falling beneath John A. Macdonald’s 34.8% from Canada’s first post-Confederation election in 1867.

Justin Trudeau’s minority win is much lower than other minority wins we have seen over the past sixty years.  Joe Clark’s government came to power in 1979 after winning a plurality of seats with 35.9% of the popular vote, over 4% lower than Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals.

Over under

Aside from Justin Trudeau and Joe Clark, other prime ministers and parties that had more seats, but fewer votes:

  • 1896 – Wilfred Laurier Liberals lost popular vote by 7 points to Charles Tupper’s Conservatives
  • 1926 – William Lyon MacKenzie King’s Liberals lost popular vote 43% to 45% for Arthur Meighen’s Conservatives
  • 1957 – John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservatives had 39% compared to Louis St. Laurent’s Liberals 41%

Then there is MacKenzie King who had fewer votes and fewer seats in 1925, but continued to govern thanks to the Progressives which held the balance of power.  That could have happened following October 21st had Scheer won more seats, but fallen short of a majority.

So, that’s where the Trudeau Liberal win on October 21st fits in the context of Canada’s electoral and parliamentary history.  It’s not a majority and it’s underwhelming in terms of popular support.  With the lowest popular vote since Confederation to form government, the Trudeau Liberals can reflect on how it approaches governing where two-thirds of the electorate voted for other parties.

Your Election Night yardstick

It could be a long night.  Results will be coming in rapid fire from Cape Breton to Cape Scott.  How to make sense of it all?

Here are five charts to help you follow along on election night.

Chart 1: 2015 federal elections results by region

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In 2015, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals took 184 of 338 seats – a majority is 170.  As the chart above shows, the Liberals swept the Atlantic and North (35 for 35), took a majority in Québec, two-thirds of Ontario, and a bigger slice than usual on the Prairies and B.C.

Chart 2: Conservative pathway to victory

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During the campaign, I wrote about the potential pathways to power for the Conservatives, based on historic examples from Diefenbaker to Harper.

Winning 160 seats is a ‘stretch goal’ tonight, and if Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives pull it off, it will likely be because they won three-quarter of the seats from B.C. to Manitoba, and took at least half of the seats in Ontario.

Chart 3: Liberal pathway to a majority

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No one is really talking about the prospect of a Liberal majority and appears quite unlikely unless there is a last minute surge.  I looked at the ways Liberals have won in the past. A minority may look like Paul Martin’s win in 2004, but if they come close to, or pull off a majority, it may look like this:

  • Hold support in Central Canada
  • Limit losses in Atlantic Canada and the West to about 12-15 seats

Chart 4: the ‘over-under line’

Slide1

No party has won a majority government with less than 38% of the popular vote.  It’s not impossible, but it hasn’t happened yet.

No party has won a plurality of seats in past 60 years with less than 35% of the vote.  Perhaps tonight is that night.

See What is the magic number for a majority in #Elxn43? and A deeper dive into the conditions for majority and minority governments.

Chart 5: the B.C. Battleground

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The first campaigns of Pierre Trudeau and Justin Trudeau were the high water marks for Liberals in British Columbia between 1968 and 2015.  During most of that time, the leading conservative party had the plurality of seats, with two NDP exceptions.  Will the Liberals be able to hold 2015 gains tonight? Will the Conservatives return to historic patterns? Will the NDP hold its own and surge to a plurality in B.C.? Will the Greens add to their current tally of two seats?  And what about JWR?

See two posts on the BC landscape:

Tune in tonight to Global BC’s election night coverage.  See you there.

Vegas for political nerds – where the ‘smart money’ is going in #elxn43

It’s Vegas for political nerds. It’s one thing to read the polls, listen to your gut, and have a prediction.  But what about putting hard-earned, cold cash on the line? That’s exactly what UBC’s Sauder School of Business offers with their Election Prediction Market.  You can invest up to $1000 to test your theories.

The prediction market has been taking place in one form or another since 1993.  Here’s why they do it:

The exclusive purposes for conducting the prediction markets are teaching and research. Participants learn first-hand about the operation of a financial futures market and, because they have an added incentive to do so, learn more about the political or economic events associated with the contracts. As a research project, our markets generate valuable data that provide insights into market and trader behaviour.

There are four markets where you can bet:

Popular Vote Share Market

This is my least favourite as the bettors slavishly follow the latest poll results.  Sometimes you will see some sentimental investing, but the results basically mirror poll aggregators.   The payoffs aren’t great unless the pollsters are very wrong.

As the chart below indicates, the betting lines have closely mirrored public opinion during the writ period.  In the past 7 days, the Liberals have traded at a high of 33.69% and the Conservatives peaked at 33.88%. The NDP fever crested at 18.98%, but miserly traders currently peg them at 17.54% (no more Jagmentum, says the market).

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Seat Share Market

This one is more interesting and has more volatility.  Right now, the market has the Liberals and Conservatives both at about 39 cents, based on 132 seats each in the House of Commons.  There is likely some betting upside for one of the parties.

The NDP are trading at 11 cents, which translates to 37 seats.  This seems high.  If only I knew how to short sell.  The Bloc Québécois comes in at 10 cents or 34 seats, while the Greens are a penny stock (1.25 cents), translating to 4 seats.  It’s depressing when an historic breakthrough is only trading for a penny!  They don’t even make pennies even more.

This market has seen the NDP move from a low of 7 cents to almost 12 cents in the past week, while the Liberals have dropped from 47 cents to 39 cents.

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Parliamentary Plurality Market

Now, here’s a place to make 2:1 on your bet.  Only one party can win a plurality so it’s feast or famine.  The Liberals have moved from 71 cents to 50 cents over the past week, while the Conservatives have moved up from 31 cents to 46 cents.

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With the Conservatives and Liberals both in the 50 cent range, that’s a tidy payoff if you get it right.

Majority Government Market

The market has moved away from a majority government during the writ period.  Now, “any other outcome”, ie. minority government, is trading over 76 cents.  Still, if you are convinced that is the likely outcome, it’s still giving you in the neighbourhood of a 30% return.

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A Liberal majority is trading at 12 cents and a Conservative majority is trading at 10 cents.  Wouldn’t it be nice to get an 8:1 or 10:1 return on your investment.

The market is moving all the time so be quick if you see an opportunity.

The OVERWHELMING CONSENSUS is that there will be a minority government. We know the Holy Trinity – public pollsters, pundits and political scientists – are never wrong and would never lead the market astray!

Uh, so this was the 2013 BC election prediction market:

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I can tell you there was a very sweet payoff.  More than 10:1.

The prediction market at least proves one eternal truth.  There is a sucker born every minute, 19 times out of 20.