Opinion » Maxed Out

Maxed out

Liberal democracy in British Columbia



By G.D. Maxwell

If the two official languages of Canada are English and French, what’s the official language of Victoria?

Well, yes, that may be a trick question. Anybody who’s seen the Official Ballot for the Referendumb on What to Do About Those Pesky Redskins might be forgiven for wondering if bullshit hasn’t become the third official language of the province.

I have to admit, I’m probably at a disadvantage when trying to decipher exactly what the referendumb questions mean. Three college degrees – plus two more racked up by my Perfect Partner – doesn’t seem to help. An admittedly vague understanding of the often laughable political scene in B.C. isn’t of much value either.

No, to even begin to understand what this exercise in democracy is all about, you pretty much have to think like Gordon Campbell. That would require either a sharp blow to the head or paranoid delusions so rich they’d make Chuckie Manson seem like Mr. Rogers.

You’d also have to give a damn and I can’t understand why anybody would waste the energy to even try to figure out what the questions mean. Gordo and his bully boys have such a tenuous grasp on the fundamental principles of democracy they’ve made your answers irrelevant.

They’ve already said their government will be bound by the referendumb results if the results are a yes vote. Now, in what you and I might think of as a democracy, we’d be forgiven for thinking they’d also be bound by a no vote. Not so, sucker. Gordo and the boys feel empowered to ignore a no vote; they’ve said as much. What next, jackboots and brownshirts?

Why, exactly, are we spending so much dough – estimates of between $7.5 and $10 million – on this farce?

And then there are the questions themselves. Written in a style best described as Early Japanese Motorcycle Owner’s Manual, the questions have been dubbed "vague, ambiguous, misleading, amateurish and unintelligible" by professional pollsters, academics, community and religious groups and virtually anyone who’s taken the time to read them.

Assuming anyone manages to decipher the questions and cast a vote they believe accurately reflects their stand on the issue at hand, they then have to successfully get past the seven steps and three envelopes that will make their ballot official. The ballot, it should be noted, comes with a flowchart reminiscent of the startup procedures for a nuclear submarine. The whole exercise, beginning to end, is guaranteed to make Florida’s voting procedures seem like simplicity itself.

To summarize, we have eight unintelligible questions, seven steps, three envelopes and maybe 10 million bucks to come up with a vote that only counts if it goes the way the government wants it to go.

This explains why so many people are talking about spoiling their ballot. I have a better idea. One in keeping with the whole tenor of this sham and the generally stinky way Gordo’s been running B.C., breaking promises, telling lies and making a mockery out of a province we thought previous governments had already mocked about as much as humanly possible.

I think everyone who honestly believes the referendumb sucks should take their ballot, retire to their morning ablutions, use the ballot in place of their favourite toilet tissue – yeah, it’s a little stiff but really no worse than that waxy French stuff – carefully place it in the proper sequence of envelopes, and mail it to Elections BC with instructions to forward it to Gordo personally. We’ll call it the Soiled Ballot option.

It just seem to capture, how shall I say, the je ne sais quoi of the moment, doesn’t it?

Closer to home, our own little Democracy Inaction exercise continues to grind to a conclusion. Will we or won’t we WEF? I know, I know, you’re sick and tired of hearing about the World Economic Forum. Persevere; it’s almost over. And if you don’t persevere, it might just be getting started.

Having seen the overwhelming community opposition to the idea of inviting the WEF to hold their love-in here during the ski season – over 1,000 signatures on a petition, numerous letters and e-mails, lots of phone calls and more than a couple of personal contacts with voters – our councillors have decided not to fall on their swords and invite them anyway.

This has reportedly pissed off Gordo – who wouldn’t recognize a popular, democratic uprising if it bit him on the hiney – to no end. It has also brought the scary monsters out of hiding, most recently embodied by David Roberts and Suzanne Denbak, he of the Chateau Whistler, she of Tourism Whistler.

Dave and Suzanne think our community’s concern with potential negative fallout from protests and World Class security is overwrought. They think the security issue and possible protests can be easily managed. On the other hand, they seem to think Whistler might not survive missing the opportunity presented by hosting the WEF. All the people who signed the petition, wrote the letters and sent the e-mails think they’ve got it backward.

Dave manages the Chateau. Suzanne runs Tourism Whistler. Dave’s very nice hotel would benefit tremendously from the WEF and from business generated by a $24 million expansion to the conference centre. Suzanne’s raison d’être is expanding the conference centre. Dave and Suzanne were both engaged in the closed-door sessions leading up to this whole WEF thing.

Dave and Suzanne’s position reflects (a) the best interests of the community or (b) understandable, enlightened self-interest? You decide.

Arguments have been made the security for the WEF really won’t be any worse than for the Olympics, should our town be so blessed. True enough. But at least the Olympics, arguably, are more in keeping with what our town is about – winter sport.

Arguments have been made we’ll lose the $15 million the feds and province have promised for the conference centre reno. Most likely true. But when the whole idea of renovating the conference centre started, it was a $5 million gig. Then it was a $7.75 million job. Now it’s $9 million for phase one and $15 for phase two. Doesn’t it seem we really ought to be able to do a pretty nice, yes, even sustainable job for $9 million? You know what Everett Dirksen said, "A million here, a million there, pretty soon it adds up to real money." More and more, it seems the people running this town have lost sight of that simple, homespun reality.

It’s only another week and a half. Persevere. Keep writing, e-mailing and signing the petition. Keep the pressure on council if you believe we can continue to build a healthy resort and a healthy community without the WEF. Let’s show Gordo how real democracy works.