By Nancy Macdonald - Saturday, May 18, 2013 - 0 Comments
B.C. Premier Christy Clark in conversation with Maclean’s B.C. correspondent Nancy Macdonald:
Q: That was a grueling, 28-day battle. Now that the election’s over, are you going to take some time for yourself?
A: Hamish, my son, has never been to New York, so we’re going to take three days this weekend, and go to New York together.
Q: A celebratory trip?
A: It’s a thank-you trip. Win or lose, we were going to go. For 28 days I’ve hardly seen him. He was able to stay a few nights with me, during the campaign. He lives half-time with his dad, then half-time with me. And on my weeks, he went and lived with another family because I was gone. So we’ve really missed each other.
Q: I wanted to ask about the impact of all this on Hamish. British Columbia is unique—you just don’t see the degree of vitriol, the polarization, the incredibly harsh media commentary elsewhere in the country. How does an 11-year-old handle hearing these things about his mom?
A: We don’t get the newspapers at home because of that; it started to get really difficult for him. We used to read the paper—at our kitchen at home, over breakfast in the morning. He’d read it back to front because he’d start with the sports pages. We had to stop getting it because the commentary was so harsh.
Q: At what point was this?
A: Six months in—fall, 2011. There was a revealing moment for me on election night; he never talks to me about things people say to him, because he wants to protect me, right? He doesn’t want me to know that people have said bad things about me. He was sitting on my lap on election night, we’d won, and he said: “Wow, mom, you did it.” I said, “Well, sweetheart, do you want to sleep in tomorrow? You’ve earned a sleep in, you don’t have to go to school first thing in the morning.” He said, “Are you kidding me? I’m going to go to school, and all of those people who’ve been who made fun of me, and made fun of you—I’m going to go have a talk with them.” It was the first time he’d told me that there were issues for him at school that he was taking on.
Q: I remember watching your platform launch in Vancouver a month ago. You’d just seen the Liberal party through an ugly ethnic outreach scandal; you’d had to issue a public apology to the people of B.C.; your party was sitting 20 points behind the NDP—an unsurmountable gap, or so we thought at the time. You’d been completely written off—by media, pundits, even some in your own party. I was completely taken aback that day by your optimism, your confidence in the face of pretty overwhelming odds. Where did it come from? Were you putting it on?
A: I never doubted that we could win the election because I knew how important it was. I knew that if we did succeed, we’d have the chance to shape the future for a generation. So I was so committed to it, and when you’re really committed to something it helps you believe. I had a great team—they gave me their hearts. Think of the candidates we recruited—people who came on board when everybody was telling them they were going to lose: [former Vancouver mayor] Sam Sullivan, [three-term Langley mayor] Peter Fassbender, [high-profile, former Vancouver city councilor] Suzanne Anton—these are fantastic candidates. Peter Fassbender was running in an NDP-held riding! We all were seeing something that the media wasn’t seeing; that certainly, pollsters weren’t seeing. We saw it. We knew that the economy was going to be the central question. And we knew that we had a good plan for the economy. And I knew in my heart that once we had a chance to talk to people about the economy, about our vision, that we’d start to see a few heads nodding. I knew I’d get the chance in the election, and the TV debate.
Q: A strange thing happened after the TV debate. Going into it, pundits said that all NDP leader Adrian Dix had to do was show up, and not embarrass himself. He did both those things and was roundly declared the winner. But, as polls later that week showed, the TV debate changed a lot of minds in your favour; it was clearly a turning point. Why do you think you were declared the loser?
A: People didn’t say that; the media did. There are two schools of thought: you’ve got to get the knock-out punch. The other is my school of thought: you’re not talking to the media.
Q: How did media and pollsters get this election so wrong?
A: There was a well-established narrative—that I wasn’t going to succeed, that I couldn’t succeed, that I was a certain kind of person. I don’t really understand that. Maybe their bosses will have to ask them in their performance reviews this year.
Q: Three days ahead of the vote, your internal pollster had you at 48 seats—a comfortable majority [Clark would go on to win 50 seats, while the NDP won 33].
At that point, did you finally allow yourself to relax?
A: I never knew what the polls were saying; and I never asked.
Q: Not even internal polling?
A: No, I never knew.
Q: Really? Was that a deliberate tactic?
A: Not really. I’m not superstitious about that kind of thing. I just didn’t think it was relevant. Twenty-eight days is hard… Every day you have to be at the top of your game. Because you’re trying to communicate important things to people through the media; and you don’t get many chances to do this, so every one of those opportunities matters. And so what did it matter what the polls said? No, I mean really: what does it matter? If we were up or down I was still going to work hard, I was still going to keep doing exactly what I was doing—talking about the issues, talking directly to British Columbians about what I wanted to do to protect our economy. And also let them see who I was as a person; I think people vote on character as much as they vote on issues. I just didn’t see the polls as very relevant.
Q: Many believe this election was a referendum on the economy, and that you’ve been given a mandate to substantially increase natural resource development. Do you believe you’ve been given that mandate?
Q: Is that was the next four years will be about?
A: That’s exactly right. That is the core of our plan: grow the economy. British Columbia has always grown its economy based on the natural resource sector: mining, forestry, natural gas. They’re big, export-oriented sectors, and we have huge opportunities in China and India that we are going to pursue. One of the important threads in the campaign I really wanted people to connect with is how our resource economy drives our urban economies, how interconnected we are in Vancouver with Fort Nelson. Now, we need to drive the technology sector, the creative sector. But the tech sector is intimately connected with the resource sector. Technology is a huge part of natural gas extraction, and it’s big in mining. There are some natural synergies we’re going to build on as well.
Q: When it comes to natural resource development, you’ve got a good partner next door in Alberta. But you and Alberta premier Alison Redford have had a famously ugly relationship in the last 12 months. There are early signs that’s changing; is there a warming of relations?
A: Well I talked to her yesterday, and we had a really nice chat. We’re hopefully going to meet in the next couple of weeks. We have a lot more in common than we do differences: we believe in a strong private sector economy; we are resource-based economies; we believe in low taxes and paying off debt. I talked to her yesterday about all the things we have in common and how we can build on the partnership we have. I think we will have a very constructive relationship. And yes, we have had a very public disagreement about the Enbridge pipeline and heavy oil movement. But you know, everything is resolvable. I know it’s been public—but that’s a really small part of our relationship, overall. It’s like a marriage: you might fight about who takes out the garbage, but you still sit down and have dinner together, and plan a future for your kids.
Q: What do you make of the latest senate scandal?
A: I don’t think the Senate is a particularly relevant body. We’ve brought forth legislation in B.C. to elect a senator. The highjinks there—to me, it’s a bit of a distraction. What happens in the Senate really doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t. When I look to the rest of the country, what I’m thinking about is: How do we build our economy in B.C. so that we are big contributor to Confederation? We have a chance with natural gas. When you think of the contribution Alberta makes to our economy—we are going to make exactly the same contribution to our national economy. B.C. has never pulled its weight in Canada and we are finally in a position to start doing that. The country really needs us right now. Things aren’t good in Ontario and Quebec, and in other parts of the country. We’re going to step up.
Q: The NDP had crafted a campaign plan they were sure would bring them a majority; it flopped pretty spectacularly. What went wrong?
A: You’re going to have to ask them. I just focused on trying to do the best job that I possibly could. We didn’t make a lot of extravagant promises, money-wise, but we are going to build that prosperity fund; we are going to start paying off our debt. We’re going to keep that budget balanced, and we’re going to start freezing and lowering taxes as soon as we can.
By Nancy Macdonald - Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 8:34 PM - 0 Comments
‘Clearly we missed some of it pretty badly’
For pollsters, the B.C. election was a cock-up of epic proportions.
Today, some offered mea culpas.
“This is a blow to the industry,” said Steve Mossop, president of Insights West.
“Clearly we missed some of it pretty badly,” said Ekos Research Associates vice-president, Frank Graves.
But others are digging in their heels.
By Nancy Macdonald - Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 8:35 AM - 0 Comments
Nancy Macdonald on lessons from the B.C. campaign
First things first: British Columbians last night witnessed the most incredible comeback in recent political history, and the biggest choke the province has ever seen.
In the days ahead, Christy Clark’s stunning, come-from-behind win will be endlessly compared to Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s surprise win over Wildrose in 2011. But this is so much harder to believe.
For starters, Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives were actually leading Wildrose in polls right up until the election. The B.C. Liberals have essentially been trailing the NDP since 2009 (briefly, after the 2011 leadership race that saw Clark take the Liberal helm, the party moved ahead of the NDP in polls before again plunging far behind).
By Nancy Macdonald - Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 1:04 AM - 0 Comments
B.C.’s incumbent Liberals have won a majority government, a stunning turnaround for the party….
B.C.’s incumbent Liberals have won a majority government, a stunning turnaround for the party.
In the days leading up to the election, poll after poll had predicted an NDP majority.
Two hours after the polls closed, the Liberals are leading or elected in 51 ridings; the second-place NDP are leading or elected in just 32 ridings.
NDP leader Adrian Dix handily won his riding, but Liberal leader Christy Clark is in a battle for her seat in Vancouver-Point Grey, where she faces noted poverty lawyer, David Eby. John Cummins, whose Conservative party was considered a major threat to the Liberals, was soundly defeated in Langley, where the Liberals hung on to their seat. In a first, the Green party won its first seat; Andrew Weaver defeated Liberal cabinet minister Ida Chong on Vancouver Island.
By Nancy Macdonald - Tuesday, May 14, 2013 at 8:00 PM - 0 Comments
With abysmal approval ratings, the French president will auction off some of the world’s finest wine
“We are not the sick man of Europe,” French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici angrily protested in a recent interview. He may be right. While France and its hapless, broke Mediterranean neighbours occasionally appear to be in a kind of sick race for last place, the French have yet to fall behind Greece when it comes to levels of debt and unemployment or wretched fiscal policy.
Despised by both the left and right, François Hollande has seen his approval ratings plunge to historic lows. The French president, signalling his increasing desperation, has ordered wines from the presidential cellar at Élysée Palace be auctioned off next month to raise funds for the state budget. More than a thousand bottles will be sold, including some of the world’s rarest and most expensive champagnes. The three bottles of 1990 Château Pétrus are expected to each fetch more than $3,000; a 1975 Château Lafite Rothschild could bring $1,500. The Élysée wine cellar is a national treasure. Selling its contents is not unlike hawking the family jewels.
By Nancy Macdonald - Monday, May 13, 2013 at 10:08 PM - 0 Comments
Seven years after Queen of the North tragedy, families see measure of justice
It was, perhaps, the best-known rumour in B.C.
Just days after the Queen of the North sank, on March 22, 2006, killing Shirley Rosette, 43, and Gerald Foisy, 45, word began to spread that Karl Lilgert, the officer in charge of the ferry, had been on deck with his former lover. What exactly the pair had been doing was the source of speculation and innuendo.
The story was made all the more appalling when, for years, it seemed Lilgert, with the help of his union, would not pay for his careless actions.
First, the B.C Ferry and Marine Workers attempted to delay BC Ferries investigators from talking to Lilgert and its crew. When asked to testify at an inquiry into the fatal collision, Lilgert, with the union’s help, stonewalled. The Ferry and Marine Workers threatened labour unrest if Lilgert was sanctioned for refusing to co-operate.
By Nancy Macdonald - Saturday, May 11, 2013 at 5:41 PM - 0 Comments
Who is going to win? Depends which pollster you trust
Just weeks ago, pollsters in B.C. believed the SoCreds’ 1991 demise could be repeated this spring. Its Liberal heirs would be similarly routed, some predicted, reduced to a handful of seats.
With days to go before British Columbians head to the polls, it’s still far from clear how exactly they plan to vote. But that Liberal rout, it’s become clear, is no longer in the cards.
The yawning, 20-point lead the NDP once held over the governing Liberals has evaporated. But by how much depends on which polling outfit you trust.
An Angus-Reid poll for the Globe and Mail-CTV released yesterday had it halved, giving the NDP a nine-point edge.
But a Forum poll for the National Post released a day earlier put the NDP and Liberals in a dead heat: 43 per cent, compared to 41 per cent for the Liberals.
Then Ipsos-Reid came in down the middle, putting the NDP lead at six per cent.
So who’s right? Who knows. Remember that Wild Rose majority Alberta pollsters were predicting just three days before Albertans instead handed the majority to the Conservatives? Pollsters were similarly oblivious to the Orange surge that gave Quebec to the NDP in 2011, and the Liberal rout next door, in Ontario in that same election.
As response rates to telephone surveys have plummeted, polls have become increasingly unreliable. Pollster Allan Gregg blames the profession for having “fallen in love with the sound of its own voice,” and rushing out flimsy results.
So B.C.’s 2013 election is down to the wire. Or not. Whatever happens Tuesday, pollsters won’t be blamed for getting it wrong. With results all over the map, one at least will have to have got it right.
As for the race, it’s been a weird one. The NDP opted to run a “positive” campaign, à la Jack Layton. This has allowed the public, once so desperate to flog the Liberals for their many sins to have forgotten what it was they were so mad about in the first place.
Both the Conservatives and NDP have had to turf candidates for conduct unbecoming, though the NDP is inexplicably standing behind one, who once labelled Chinese-Canadians “chinkasaureses,” and was repeatedly caught padding her resumé.
The premier, an incredibly polarizing figure in B.C., has somehow been able to keep the conversation firmly turned to jobs and the economy, and has starkly defined the choice: four years of sound fiscal management with the Liberals’ free enterprise coalition, or runaway social spending that would send the B.C. back to its darkest era.
Christy Clark has done this despite playing fast and loose with claims of having balanced the budget, and a face-palm worthy gaffe as the campaign was in full swing—running a red on a dare from her son with a reporter along for the ride.
Adrian Dix, by flip-flopping on the twinning of an existing pipeline from Alberta to Vancouver, played into Liberal fear-mongering, scaring off centrist voters. The NDP leader is also pledging to put fracking to an environmental review, kill at least one mining proposal that has government support, and reverse the go-ahead on a new all-season resort in B.C.’s Kootenay region. Small wonder the Liberals have dubbed him Mr. Nix.
But there are some areas in which he is inclined to say yes. His party is promising new spending totalling $2 billion, including $210-million per year on a “family bonus,” for low- and moderate-income families and $100-million a year to hire more teachers (in a province which continues to see declining enrolment).
And yet Dix, who’s shown no interest in balancing the budget, somehow continues to present a moderate face. He’s gone to lengths to dampen organized labour’s heady expectations, at least for the short term, and has burnished his business credentials by making inroads in Vancouver’s business community.
He’s not unlike Stephen Harper, a plodder, methodical in his approach. He didn’t marry until his 40s. His approach to politics is equally deliberative. Just as Harper has slowly moved the country to the right, a Premier Dix could eventually push B.C. several clicks to the left. That’s the plan, anyway. We’ll know Tuesday whether British Columbians are willing to let him take them there.
By Nancy Macdonald - Thursday, May 9, 2013 at 4:35 PM - 0 Comments
Is the Liberal leader B.C.’s comeback kid?
For the past year, the B.C. Liberals, mired in scandals of their own doing, have been polling at least 20 points behind the NDP. Last week, the ground suddenly shifted. A Forum Research Inc. poll put the Liberals just four points behind the NDP. Later that day, Angus Reid released similar results, putting the Liberals seven points behind the NDP. And with that, the provincial election which, for the better part of a year, had been looking like a cakewalk for the NDP’s Adrian Dix, started to resemble a comeback tale for the ages for Clark’s Liberal team.
With just five days remaining before British Columbians head to the polls, it remains hard to imagine that Clark might actually close the gap. Crucially, Angus Reid puts the Liberals 10 points behind the NDP in the vote-rich ridings of B.C.’s Lower Mainland. Still, no one ever imagined the race would get this close, nor that Clark, whose two-year tenure has been marred by controversy and scandal, would perform as well as she has in the last four weeks.
Here are the 10 reasons for the Liberal surge:
1. Clark’s highly effective campaign
The Liberals have managed to frame the conversation on fiscal and economic issues—taxes, government spending and major projects like pipelines, liquefied natural gas and fracking—on which they are strong. That makes the NDP, who promise to increase taxes and government spending, show little to no interest in balancing the budget, and oppose resource mega-projects look like a risky choice. The NDP can’t seem to play their advantage, and turn the conversation to health care and education.
2. The NDP’s decision to come out against Kinder Morgan
Dix, worried about bleeding votes to the B.C. Greens, came out against the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion two weeks ago. It was a disastrous choice.
Green Party support remains unmoved. And it’s given Clark room to claim that resource development will come to a standstill under Dix—who also opposes Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline plan—killing jobs and wrecking B.C.’s shaky economy.
Dix’s stunning flip-flop has also alienated centrists, and is forcing those considering parking their vote with the Conservatives to think again.
3. The disastrous Conservative campaign
After last week’s debate, the tweet, “Cummins went full Gran Torino” was trending on Twitter—a reference to the 71-year-old B.C. Conservative leader John Cummins’ cranky incoherence during the April 29 leader’s debate. Again and again, Cummins, the only leader to rely on notes, repeated that the Liberals and NDP would “tax British Columbians to oblivion,” whatever that means. (“It’s possible,” said one observer, “that the only thing written on those notes was ‘Taxes = Bad.’ ”)
Cummins has had to fire four candidates since the campaign began; and the party, who saw support hit record levels ahead of the campaign, is looking more and more like a hopeless bunch of cranks. Potential Conservative voters have been running home to the Liberals ever since the writ was dropped.
4. Debate performance
Ahead of the debate, the media narrative said that Dix just had to show up, and not embarrass himself. He did both those things, and media commentators gave him the edge coming out of the debate. But the B.C. media are used to Clark’s slick communications skills. Regular British Columbians are not. They saw something very different on April 29. Dix, who began the debate with a shaking voice, often looked terrified, even when leaning stiffly against the podium, an apparent attempt to appear relaxed. (Some in the Liberal war room were playing a drinking game, knocking back every time Dix rested against his lectern.) By contrast, Clark, a former radio show host, looked polished, at ease and was quick to pounce.
Dix may not have fumbled; but only one leader looked electable that night. Polls released later that week confirmed that the televised debate had changed a lot of minds.
The bookish NDP leader has what one analyst has dubbed a “charisma deficit.” Clark’s best assets, meanwhile, are “her personality, her optimism, her attitude,” says the University of the Fraser Valley’s Hamish Telford.
The Clark campaign has been regularly tweeting photos of the premier in hard hats, hands dirty, all smiles. It’s cheesy stuff, but it works. Dix, who was recently photographed in a goofy bowler hat in historic Barkerille, has been running a cautious, defensive campaign, limiting scrums to one a day, and restricting media access.
It took his campaign almost four weeks to finally grant Maclean’s a 10-minute interview—after near-daily rescheduling and endless dickering over when and where the interview would be conducted and how the article would be framed.
The Clark campaign had the premier on the phone within days. They had no questions nor qualms about the tone of the interview or the article itself.
6. Attack ads
Voters may claim to hate attack ads. But research shows they have their desired impact on voting behaviour. From the start, Clark’s team has been running brutal attack ads against Dix. Yesterday came the release of yet another—a clip from the televised leader’s debate where Dix was asked a question about “memogate.” (Thirteen years ago, when he was B.C. premier Glen Clark’s chief of staff, Dix backdated a memo in an attempt to protect the premier from conflict-of-interest charges. Clark, it was alleged, had traded a renovation to his East Vancouver home from an applicant for a successful casino license.)
“It was my mistake, I take responsibility,” Dix said. “I was 35 years old.” It was a cringe-worthy line—at 35, he was neither young nor inexperienced, and the Liberals pounced, including the clip in a new online attack ad.
7. Being forthright
Where does Dix stand on the labour code? On fracking? On liquefied natural gas? On balancing the budget? Who knows? Details, Dix says, will be revealed after the vote, raising suspicion, and providing further ammo for the Liberals.
Clark’s obsessive faith in liquefied natural gas (LNG) as the province’s salvation may seem tiresome. But at least voters know where she stands on the issue.
Dix, despite insisting he wouldn’t run negative campaign ads, began doing just that three days ago, attacking the Liberals for “years of scandals,” and of “mismanagement and misleading voters.” All fair game—though after months of making hay of his “positive” campaign, it seems a little disingenuous to suddenly reverse that promise. With less than a week to go, look for the NDP to get even more aggressive.
8. The economic climate
Dix may have won endorsements from noted environmentalists like Tzeporah Berman by opposing both proposed pipelines through B.C., pledging to maintain moratoriums on tanker traffic, promising environmental reviews on fracking and calling into question LNG—one of the few bright spots in B.C., beyond the condo market. But it’s a hard sell to regular British Columbians in this economic climate, particularly when Dix is also promising major spending increases. Even support for the Keystone XL pipeline is growing in the U.S., amid polls showing that people’s desperation for jobs outweighs their concerns for the climate.
9. The Canucks early playoff exit
Two years ago, Christy Clark’s government held a referendum on the HST in the middle of the Canucks’ Stanley Cup run. Campaigners had to struggle to be heard through the din. Few tuned in, spoiling door-knocking plans and derailing pro-HST messaging. The harmonized tax, of course, failed on the June 30, 2011, vote.
This week, the city’s beloved Canucks became the first team to exit the playoffs, unceremoniously swept in four straight game by San Jose. All of a sudden, British Columbians are tuning into an election campaign that had, until now, been seen as the second-most important race in town.
10. Polls don’t tell a complete story
Pollsters in recent elections have looked red-faced, notably in Alberta, where they predicted a Wildrose majority in October 2011, only to see the Conservatives returned to power with a comfortable majority. Pollsters similarly didn’t have a clue that the NDP would wipe out the Bloc in Quebec in the 2011 federal election; and the Conservative minority they predicted was actually a comfortable majority for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The Liberals are desperately hoping the Alberta scenario repeats in B.C., where pollsters are still predicting an NDP majority.
By Nancy Macdonald - Wednesday, May 8, 2013 at 5:53 PM - 0 Comments
Nancy Macdonald on the game that marked the passing of an era
Never mind the summer-like weather. The mood in Vancouver this week is grim.
Two years ago, the city fielded the best team in franchise history, and came within a game of hoisting the Stanley Cup. Last night, the city’s beloved Canucks became the first team to exit the playoffs, unceremoniously swept in four straight by San Jose, a 4-3 overtime loss that marked the passing of an era.
Gone was the team whose Sedinery once dazzled, whose wingers skated as if shot from cannons, which boasted the league’s best goaltending duo. The club—the only one of the NHL’s 16 playoff entrants to fail to win a single post-season game—is a shell of their former selves, replaced by a group that is no longer good enough to challenge for a cup.
No wonder so many Vancouverites are frowning through the glorious, afternoon sun.
By Nancy Macdonald - Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 10:51 AM - 0 Comments
As Adrian Dix looks to return B.C. to the NDP, all eyes are on the most important provincial election in years
Two days define Adrian Dix. They shattered the careful world the B.C. politico had built around himself, shone a light on his imperfections, leaving him bruised, but also humbled, more disciplined. For better or worse, the person he is today—B.C.’s next premier, if polls translate to votes on May 14—was shaped in their aftermath.
The first, Nov. 25, 1992, came four days before the Seattle Marathon. Dix, then a 28-year-old top aide to former premier Glen Clark was planning to run it for the first time. He’d “never been fitter in his life,” he says. But something was amiss. He couldn’t keep weight on, no matter what he did. After skipping his afternoon run, Clark asked what was up. “I drank too much,” Dix replied, something Clark found even stranger. His shy, geekish, young staffer—known around Victoria as a workhorse with razor-sharp intelligence—was basically a teetotaller. But Dix was talking about apple juice, not booze.
Doctors, the next day, told him why he was suddenly so lethargic, and thirsty. He’d developed Type 1 diabetes, known as juvenile diabetes.
The diagnosis forced some immediate changes—“not all bad,” concedes Dix, now 48, seemingly poised to return B.C. to the New Democrats after more than a decade of Liberal rule. His erratic eating habits and hard-charged schedule had to go as he learned to manage the disease with four daily injections. Still, his hands shake when he speaks, which is sometimes mistaken for shyness. His weakest point of the day, the early afternoon, coincides with question period, precisely when he needs to be at his sharpest.
By Nancy Macdonald - Monday, April 15, 2013 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Canada’s new upper class: firefighters, police officers, teachers
Eddie Francis, the mayor of Windsor, Ont., can count the number of murders his city has seen in recent years on one hand. Windsor recorded a single homicide in 2011, after famously going more than two years without one. But the border city is making headlines for another reason, and it’s hardly a source of civic pride. The number of Windsor police and staff who took home six-figure incomes came close to doubling in 2012. In January, an arbitrator awarded the police a hefty 12 per cent pay hike over four years, retroactive to 2011. As a result, 40 per cent of the force took home more than $100,000 last year. Crime may not pay. But in Windsor, fighting it sure does.
Across the river, Detroit’s highest-paid police ofﬁcer—aside from the chief—took home US$53,000 last year, and probably had a much tougher job. With a violent crime rate five times the national average, Detroit in 2012 retained—for a fourth year running—its dubious title as America’s most dangerous city. Detroit’s chief of police earned $97,697, or less than half the $205,000 pocketed by Windsor chief Albert Frederick (which was about the same as Raymond Kelly earned as the police commissioner of New York City, one of the largest and busiest police forces in the world).
Jason DeJong, president of the Windsor Police Association, sees nothing wrong with a well-paid police department. Wage gains are deserved, he says, because they create parity with the province’s other large police forces. But with crime in steady decline, and police strength and wages going the opposite direction, it could also be that too many officers are policing too little crime in Windsor, and they’re being paid too much to do it.
By Nancy Macdonald - Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 9:38 AM - 0 Comments
Patrick Chan’s hat trick, Kim Campbell’s condo, Gwyneth Paltrow’s diet and Canada’s NBA takeover
It ain’t easy being a Mao
Serial laughingstock Mao Xinyu—Mao Zedong’s only grandson—made an appearance at China’s annual rubber-stamp parliament, which wrapped up this week in Beijing. The beefy fortysomething is at almost comical odds with new President Xi Jinping’s efforts to revamp the government’s reputation for bloat and indulgence. Mao, who is dyslexic and known to speak in slow, almost childlike sentences, is the People’s Liberation Army’s youngest major-general, and has advanced degrees from numerous prestigious universities. “Please take my proposal seriously,” he pleaded in Beijing after tabling a proposal to apply Mao Zedong’s strategic ideas to cyberwarfare. “I took much time in preparing it.”
Sending a message
The White House insisted on inviting Yityish Aynaw—Israel’s first black beauty queen—to a gala dinner celebrating U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to the Holy Land this week. The 21-year-old’s crowning last month marked a significant step forward for Israel. The country—founded as a refuge from anti-Semitic persecution—has long treated its Jewish Ethiopian émigrés as second-class citizens, or worse: this year, the Israeli health ministry is slated to begin an inquiry into allegations that black Falasha Jews were unwittingly injected with a contraceptive to limit their numbers.
By Nancy Macdonald - Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 9:53 AM - 0 Comments
Four of Surrey’s 10 homicide victims this year have ended up on the same isolated road
The idyllic setting hides the extent of the horror recently visited on Surrey, B.C.’s tiny Colebrook Road. Bulrushes, blackberry bushes and bored-looking horses surround the rural street. Salt flats in the distance lead to the ocean; a local boutique winery boasts an award-winning pinot gris.
But Colebrook’s isolation—the same quality that draws hikers, horse riders and cyclists—has also made it a haunt for murderous criminals. Indeed, almost half of Surrey’s 10 homicide victims this year have ended up on a single, 50-m stretch of the road—all in the last six weeks.
By Nancy Macdonald - Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 6:40 AM - 0 Comments
A freeway in China is built around one couple’s home (with picture)
When Luo Baogen and his wife refused to leave their apartment in the coastal Chinese city of Wenling to make way for a new freeway, officials ordered the road built around them. Adjacent apartments were left intact so the building would not collapse. The compensation on offer wasn’t enough, says the couple, whose home now stands as a strange testament to China’s rapid-fire growth.
By Nancy Macdonald - Saturday, November 17, 2012 at 7:40 AM - 0 Comments
The biggest buzz from the Communist Party’s meeting was around the yawns
Photos of bored Chinese Communist delegates at a pivotal party meeting went viral last week, before quickly disappearing from social media. Yawning party loyalists, after all, don’t fit with the official excitement surrounding Beijing’s once-in-a-decade leadership turnover.
In fairness, the 18th party congress, which ended Thursday, was hardly heady stuff. Decisions were made months in advance, and the names of the top leadership—including Xi Jinping, who replaces Hu Jintao as head of the Chinese Communist Party—have been known for years. Apparatchiks were just going through the motions.
But that didn’t stop an aura of paranoia from sweeping Beijing. Officials, spooked by falling growth rates, corruption scandals and the children of Communist politicians crashing Ferraris, ramped up security ahead of the handover. The sale of knives was banned in the capital. Buying a toy plane—which could have seditious messages attached to it—required a police chief’s permission. Cabbies were ordered to lock their back windows to prevent passengers from handing out political pamphlets. And in Tiananmen Square, guards carried fire extinguishers to stop Tibetan monks from lighting themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule. Still, in places, dissidents did turn out to protest; scores of them were hauled off by security agents. Continue…
By Nancy Macdonald - Wednesday, August 8, 2012 at 3:17 PM - 0 Comments
The instability that follows Assad’s fall will be felt far beyond Syria
The brazen, mid-morning bombing that struck Syria’s military command on July 18, taking the lives of several of Bashar al-Assad’s top advisers, may not have killed the Syrian president himself, but it is hard to believe he will survive the fallout. That stunning blow was quickly followed by a massive rebel assault on the capital, Damascus, the defections of several key generals and, this week, even the prime minister.
If Assad is toppled, his demise will be roundly cheered. But the consequences will be profound, and will echo beyond Syria, affecting the region’s volatile conflicts, those involving al-Qaeda—whose jihadists are now converging on Damascus—Lebanon, Palestine and Iran.
Sectarian bloodletting is possible in Syria. Lebanon and Iraq, with their complex divides—which know no borders—could easily be sucked in. Violence could drag in Israel.
That makes this Arab Spring revolt so different from Tunisia, Libya, even Egypt. The fight is not playing out in some corner of North Africa but in the heart of the Middle East. Syria’s revolt could be a game-changer. Syria, for decades a key player in the region’s geopolitical games, now finds itself a staging point for the ancient struggle between Sunni and Shia Islam, a fight currently playing out in Aleppo in northwestern Syria between Assad’s Shia loyalists and the Saudi-backed Sunni opposition.
Syria may be on the brink—Assad can no longer trust even his closest advisers. But the real fight has only just begun.
Here’s our nifty infographic that illustrates the ripple effects of instability in Syria in the Middle East and beyond. Click on the image below to open up the full-size graphic:
By Nancy Macdonald and Gabriela Perdomo - Wednesday, August 8, 2012 at 10:16 AM - 0 Comments
Havana is at the same time attracting and terrifying entrepreneurs
Until this spring, Stephen Purvis had it all. The British architect, who’d helped launch the Saratoga, Cuba’s poshest hotel, was one of the more prominent figures in Havana’s business community. As chief operating officer of Coral Capital, one of Cuba’s biggest private investors, he was overseeing a planned $500-million resort in the sleepy fishing village of Guanabo. The Bellomonte resort, which would allow foreigners to buy Cuban property for the first time, was part of Havana’s ambitious, multi-billion-dollar plan to attract high-end tourists and badly needed foreign exchange. Everything he touched seemed to turn to gold. The musical Purvis produced in his spare time, Havana Rakatan, had a run at the Sydney Opera House last year before moving on to London’s West End. But in April, the 51-year-old was arrested on suspicion of corruption as he prepared to walk his kids to school in Havana.
Purvis’s arrest could have been anticipated. Coral Capital’s British-born CEO, Amado Fakhre, has been held without charges ever since his arrest in a dawn raid last fall. The investment firm is being liquidated, and both men have faced questioning at Villa Marista, Cuba’s notorious counter-intelligence headquarters. They are not alone. Since last summer, dozens of senior Cuban managers and foreign executives, including two Canadians, have been jailed in an investigation that has shocked and terrified foreigners who do business in the country.
Since replacing his brother Fidel as president in 2008, Raúl Castro has painted himself as a reformer, and Cuba as a place where foreign businesses can thrive. Over the last year, he has relaxed property rights, expanded land leases and licensed a broad, if random, list of businesses—everything from pizza joints to private gyms. And he’s endorsed joint venture golf courses, marinas and new manufacturing projects. Canadians are chief among those heeding Raúl’s call to do business with Havana. Hundreds have expressed interest in the Cuban market in the last year alone, according to Canada’s Trade Commissioner Service. Flattering reports in Canadian media have praised Raúl’s efforts. Yet they seem to overlook troubling signs that Cuba appears to be moving backwards.
By Nancy Macdonald - Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 2:25 PM - 0 Comments
The country’s government encourages ‘office casual’ but workers are reluctant to dress down, despite soaring temperatures
Japan, this week, became nuclear-free for the first time in four decades; the last of the country’s 50 nuclear reactors was closed for repairs. Crippling public distrust is keeping reactors offline.
Environmentalists rejoiced, but for government, the timing couldn’t be worse. Temperatures soared in Tokyo as summer began. And across the chaotic city of 10 million, energy-sucking air conditioning units sputtered to life—so the government is urging office workers to go casual to keep energy use down.
Kiyo Uzawa, a Tokyo journalist, is doing his part, ditching his tie and business suit for the next four months. Etiquette, however, is a national obsession, making Japan’s so-called “Cool Biz” campaign a tough sell. Government is “trying to change our custom,” Takahiro Ishiwaka complains. The casual “kariyushi,” Japan’s take on the Hawaiian shirt, which the government is encouraging men to wear, is simply “too much,” complains Nobuhiro Isono. Only in Japan would men complain about being forced to remove their jackets. Here, says Uzawa, many would rather stay suited up through the hot, humid summer.
By Alex Ballingall and Nancy Macdonald - Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 1:26 PM - 0 Comments
The wooden club was given to Captain James Cook by the chief of a Nuu-chah-nulth village in 1778
The finely carved 32-cm yew club had to travel a long way before Margarita James got to see it. Her clansfolk gave the treasured object to Captain James Cook back in 1778. That spring, he was sailing off the coast of what is now British Columbia, looking for the Northwest Passage. Cook moored his ship in the sheltered cove near Yuquot, a Nuu-chah-nulth village, on Vancouver Island’s Nootka Sound. It is believed that Chief Maquinna, the direct ancestor of the Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nation’s current leader, gave the sculpture to Cook before the famed explorer continued north to survey the foggy inlets of the Paciﬁc Northwest.
Now, thanks to the goodwill of art collector Michael Audain, the artifact is back in B.C. and on public display after a 234-year absence. James was there when the club arrived at University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology from New York in late March. “It was overwhelming,” recalls James, the president of the Land of Maquinna culture society. “You could almost feel the power of the elders, the power of the chief’s family that gifted it.”
Mystery surrounds the club’s use and symbolic meaning. It features a detailed hand grasping a sphere, which experts speculate may represent the sun, the moon or even a human head. While the museum houses other, less expertly carved yew clubs with the same motif, they are larger and less delicate, suggesting that the club given to Cook served a ceremonial rather than a practical purpose.
By Nancy Macdonald - Monday, April 16, 2012 at 9:13 AM - 0 Comments
They’re our best hope, by far, for the Stanley Cup
Here we go again. With Vancouver clinching their second straight Presidents’ Trophy over the weekend as the NHL’s best team, and every other Canadian franchise failing to earn a playoff berth save for Ottawa—in by the skin of its teeth—the Canucks are the country’s best hope to repatriate the Stanley Cup. The painful drought that has kept the Cup on U.S. soil since ’93 was made worse this year by an especially grim season for Canadian hockey. Half the country’s franchises—Montreal, Toronto and Edmonton—rounded out the season as bottom-five clubs.
If it were the Winnipeg Jets or Calgary Flames sitting cozy at No. 1, they would surely be embraced as Canada’s team, the country’s hopes and dreams resting on their shoulder pads. The spring before last, when Montreal made it to the final four, almost 70 per cent of Canadians were pulling for the Habs, according to pollster Angus Reid. Last June, however, the Canucks were cast as arrogant, classless, even un-Canadian—and that’s just what Canadian media dubbed them. Things aren’t looking any better this spring.
At this stage, 35 per cent of Canadians tell Angus Reid they’ll root for Vancouver. That sounds okay until you consider that nearly half the country, 45 per cent, would prefer to see an American team take home the Cup over the Canucks, with Boston and Pittsburgh the most popular choices. “They whine. They turtle. They want referees to fight their battles,” Edmonton Sun columnist Robert Tychkowski wrote this week. “They are arrogant, they bite people, and their fans set fire to police cars.”
By Nancy Macdonald - Thursday, April 12, 2012 at 12:53 PM - 0 Comments
EXCLUSIVE POLL: Who’s dirty? Who’s admired? Who’s loved? And who likes Don Cherry?
The Canucks as Canada’s most hated team? Think again. A new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll conducted in partnership with Maclean’s has found that Toronto—not Vancouver—is the country’s most hated hockey team. It turns out Vancouver, which has worn the “hated” label since last spring’s failed Stanley Cup run, is actually one of the country’s most popular teams. Montreal, meanwhile, is the country’s favourite club.
But while Canada may respect the Canucks, it doesn’t mean they’re going to cheer for them this playoff season.
In the wide-ranging hockey poll, Canadians were asked to name their most loved—and hated—Canadian NHL franchise, to name teams they find arrogant, dirty or disrespected, and to say what they actually think of Don Cherry.
The Leafs, it turns out, are a polarizing club—both loved and hated by a large segment of the population.
When Canadians are asked to name their favourite Canadian NHL club, 17 per cent chose the Leafs. When the question was reversed, and Canadians were asked to name their most hated national franchise, a slightly larger proportion, 19 per cent, chose the Leafs.
Like the Leafs, the Habs—the country’s other Original Six franchise—are also well loved. They’re the country’s most loved club, the choice of 19 per cent of Canadians. And they are also country’s next most despised team, among 15 per cent of Canadians.
Vancouver was the favourite club of 11 per cent of Canadians, while fourth place was a tie. Both Alberta franchises, the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames are favoured by five per cent of Canadians.
That picture changes, however, when you ask only hockey fans.
Among fans of the game, almost a quarter of the country, 24 per cent, name the Leafs their favourite team, followed by the Habs, with 21 per cent of the votes, and the Canucks, at 18 per cent. The Oilers, rounding out the list, come in with 13 per cent of votes.
At this stage, 35 per cent of Canadians tell Angus Reid they’ll root for Vancouver, and one in five Canadians, 20 per cent, are supporting the Ottawa Senators.
Nearly half the country, 45 per cent, however, would prefer to see an American team take home the Cup over the Canucks, with Boston (11 per cent), Pittsburgh (8 per cent) and Detroit (8 per cent), the most popular choices.
CITIES AND HOCKEY
Canadians not only dislike the Leafs, they hold negative views of the team. They see them as weak (48 per cent), in decline (43 per cent), arrogant (39 per cent), boring (38 per cent) and overrated (38 per cent).
In a funny finding, Canadians view Toronto much the same way as their hockey team. Both the Leafs and Torontonians are seen as arrogant, dirty, disrespected and overrated.
But Canadians don’t just see Toronto and the Leafs as one and the same. The Alberta capital and the Oilers are both seen as down to earth, while the Jets and Winnipeggers are both seen as undervalued. Vancouver and the Canucks are both seen as strong, exciting and clean. Both Montrealers and the beloved Habs are seen as dirty and in decline.
But Canadians also hold positive views of the Habs, with 49 per cent agreeing it is a classic club, and 36 per cent calling it admired.
Canadians also see the Canucks in a positive light. They see them as strong (47 per cent), exciting (36 per cent), clean (26 per cent).
No surprise, the game’s most divisive figure is a polarizing fellow. Just 40 per cent of Canadians say they have a favourable opinion of Don Cherry. Among hockey fans, however, that number jumps to 59 per cent. But what you feel about Grapes seems to depend on where you live: Albertans love him most (53 per cent), while only one in five Quebecers (19 per cent) have a favourable opinion of him.
But that’s just Cherry. Canadians have nothing but love for the game’s stars. A huge proportion of Canadians think favourably of Wayne Gretzky (87 per cent), Sidney Crosby (80 per cent) and Mario Lemieux (78 per cent).
By Anne Kingston and Nancy Macdonald - Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 4:20 PM - 0 Comments
Via gives Jann Arden the boot, Sarko veers right, and Peyton Manning bids Indianapolis a fond farewell
Jann Arden tweeted up a storm this week, after she and her dog Midi “got booted off of via rail,” she wrote. After hurriedly renting a town car, the acerbic singer hightailed it to Ottawa, making it in time to perform at the National Arts Centre. “You apparently can’t have little quiet dogs in bags who are sound asleep,” she said of the incident. “S–tballs.” She told the company to “eat my bra” and claimed she and the “morky,” a part Maltese, part Yorkshire terrier, were dropped off “in the middle of nowhere.” Oshawa, Ont., is hardly the hinterlands, and dogs are clearly barred from the train, but Via Rail apologized nonetheless.
Hip hip hurrah!
A former winner of the Dutch version of Next Top Model prevailed in her lawsuit against Elite Model Management for firing her because her 36-inch hips exceeded the agency’s girth regulations by two centimetres. An Amsterdam court ruled that Gatineau, Que., native Ananda Marchildon, who holds Dutch-Canadian citizenship, was entitled to the prize she won in 2008: a three-year modelling contract worth more than $98,000. Marchildon, now 25 and living in the Netherlands, says the agency changed its hip maximum to 35 inches after she won—and that she was fired after only $13,000 worth of work. After the ruling, which awarded her $85,000, Marchildon said she’s been overwhelmed by “fantastic support,” and joked: “I’m starting to feel much better every day about my butt.” Not that she gets to show it off: she’s now working as a carpenter.
By Nancy Macdonald - Friday, March 16, 2012 at 12:15 PM - 0 Comments
Tiny Kiribati faces the possibility of evacuating to the undemocratic, military regime of Fiji
The island nation of Kiribati, facing the very real prospect of becoming a modern-day Atlantis, has come up with a plan highlighting its desperation: evacuating its population to a dictatorship. Last week, the sinking South Pacific nation endorsed plans to buy 6,000 acres on Viti Levu, the main island of Fiji, whose military regime continues its clampdown on free speech and media. Political questions aside, Kiribati’s plight—one facing other low-lying countries—raises difficult questions. “It’s never happened before—where a country has ceased to exist because of a physical problem,” said Columbia University’s Michael Gerrard. A state’s “legal existence” depends on it having a “permanent population,” the climate law expert adds. Yet the question is no longer academic, says Kiribatan President Anote Tong: “For the younger generation, it is a matter of survival.” Already, acute water shortages are raising alarms as sea water has begun contaminating the water supply. To Tuk Malcolm, a Kiribatan student, a sense of being “from nowhere” is setting in. “You’re a foreigner to this world,” he says. “You don’t have an identity.”
By Nancy Macdonald - Monday, February 6, 2012 at 10:40 AM - 0 Comments
On embracing failure, watching his mouth, and the sports he wishes he played
Kurt Browning, the four-time world and Canadian champion, says Patrick Chan may be the best figure skater of all time. In January, Chan clinched his fifth national title in Moncton, earning the highest marks ever in the modern scoring era. Now 21, the Toronto native exudes a quiet confidence—and who wouldn’t? Since November 2010, he’s won every competition he’s entered, including last year’s World Championships. But getting here, Chan says, meant first losing big in Vancouver.
Q: You worked 13 years toward the Olympics, missed sleepovers, school, and poured more than 10,000 hours into practice. Then, within seconds of the start of the short program in Vancouver, your dream of Olympic gold unravelled. What happened next?
A: I was furious. I wasn’t angry at anyone in particular. I was frustrated that something I’d trained and done so many times, I couldn’t do right on the day it counted most. I didn’t yell, or swear, or kick. I was just pacing, pacing, trying to figure out, “What did I do wrong? What could make it right?”
By Charlie Gillis and Nancy Macdonald - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 at 11:00 AM - 0 Comments
High stakes and big bucks lure athletes, who risk injury, and their lives, for sport
These are the days when sports confound. In a cruel split second, the steady rise of a gentle, pioneering athlete destined for Olympic stardom lurched, violently, to tragedy. Canada’s Sarah Burke, the winningest female freeskier in the history of the sport, crash-landed an alley-oop flatspin trick in a Utah half-pipe. Her death, nine days later, has given the sport momentary pause.
Burke had pulled the simple manoeuvre time and again, according to her friend, skier Peter Olenick, who was riding with her in Park City. In landing, her ski “caught an edge,” whiplashing her, head first, into the icy pipe. The impact knocked her unconscious. Initially, Olenick figured she’d broken her collarbone. Soon, however, emergency personnel swarmed her, performing CPR. Burke, who had no pulse and could no longer breathe on her own, was rushed by helicopter to hospital where Olenick, among others, began a bedside vigil.
The only word on her condition came from Olenick’s younger sister Meg, another pro skier. In a message that appeared momentarily on Twitter, the 21-year-old said Burke’s eyelids fluttered and her heart rate increased when she was spoken to. Few, even within skiing’s tight-knit community, understood the severity of Burke’s injuries. After all, they’d seen her bounce back from countless injuries, and far worse falls.