Opinion » Maxed Out

Where stepping down might be stepping up


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Just off the starboard rail, on a blustery day when sheets of rain fell through squall after squall, when 20 knots of wind colluded with eight knots of current to make passing Campbell River seem like an all day affair, when the waters of Discovery Passage churned with life and hundreds of sea birds gorged themselves on its bounty, it was a sea lion that justified the long, wet days of this latest sailing trip.

It surfaced, big, brown and blubbery, perhaps five metres amidships. I swear it looked right at us, a moment of recognition, an opportunity perhaps to show off. It twisted longitudinally, rolled over onto its backside, threw its head backwards into the water and slipped in, both fins held high in the air, looking like an Olympic synchronized swimmer without the garish makeup. Like I said, showing off.

No sooner had its tail slipped beneath the gunmetal grey water than its head reappeared, mouth wide open, a silvery salmon, maybe nine kilograms, head half way down its throat. With an almost imperceptible flip of its head, the salmon was momentarily airborne, maybe sensing either doom or escape. Doom carried the day. It slipped neatly down the sea lion's gullet, nothin' but net, after which the satisfied brown body slipped silently out of sight.

Ten days in what Captain George Vancouver understandably named Desolation Sound — during a 1792 mapping expedition, during which he's recorded as saying, "... there was not a single prospect that was pleasing to the eye," — that sea lion's brunch was the unanimous highlight of the three of us silly enough to be standing in the cockpit, pooling in a puddle of water running off our rain gear.

For all his accomplishments, Captain Vancouver's appraisal of the aesthetic qualities of that convoluted part of the B.C. coast was likely tempered by the ignorance and chauvinism of someone rooted in Norfolk, England, his home town. That having been said, mapping the labyrinthine passages, narrows, channels and treacherous currents of Desolation Sound in a wooden sailing ship with navigational gear no more sophisticated than compass and sextant was an accomplishment of praiseworthy seamanship. Armed as we were with no fewer than three accurately plotted, constantly updated, GPS-tracking, real-time charts of the area — not to mention paper charts, tide tables, current readings, etc., — navigating, say, Hole in the Wall, still requires judgment, patience and vigilance. Here there be monsters.

Despite six days of typically nasty B.C. weather, my 10 days afloat was a respite. More frequently out of cell range than in, I ignored the news, missed both the leaders' debates — Canadian and Republican Wingnut — was social only in a non-media sense, ate well, drank well and rarely talked politics. If ignorance is bliss, it was a blissful calm in the tempest of a tight, three-way race.

So it made for a jarring return to this version of reality when I was confronted by an embarrassment of political signs — Vote for Me! — and a dearth of gas stations between Powell River and Sechelt. Needing only the latter, coasting on both fumes and downhill stretches of the inaccurately named Sunshine Coast, I gave passing thought to burning the former. Had the Mighty Truckette run on steam instead of unleaded, that stretch of road would be more beautiful today.

Far from the home stretch of this endless election — thanks again, Mr. Harper — we are nearing a Moment Of Truth. While I'm certain it will prove a meaningless MOT, hope springs eternal. As David Beers, founding editor of The Tyee, pointed out in his recent editorial, "No-chance Candidates Have One Week to Quit for Good of Canada," this coming Monday, Sept. 28, at 5:00 p.m., is the deadline for candidates to gracefully withdraw from whatever race they're currently mired in. Ironically, that's one hour before Whistler's all candidates meeting gets underway at Millennium Place.

I feel certain there will be, alas, four candidates in attendance. Such is the ego and drive it takes to run for high elected office.

In his editorial — you can read it here: thetyee.ca/Opinion/2015/09/21/No-Chance-Candidates-Time-To-Quit/ — Beers explains how what's come to be called strategic voting is too iffy to be reliable. That's mostly because polling has become too iffy to be reliable, as was most recently underscored by the distorted poll sponsored and released by the NDP showing Justin Trudeau trailing badly in his own riding. Far more noble, Beers writes, for candidates who know they have no chance of winning to do the right thing and withdraw from the race so their vote total, whatever it may be, doesn't have the effect of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory for some more popular candidate who has a better chance of defeating the Conservative Party candidate in their riding.

Even if pollsters are wildly inaccurate, Beers goes on, candidates have their fingers on the pulse of their ridings and therefore have a much better read on their chances. And when your own polls show those chances are slim to none, and when what you and your party stands for is diametrically opposed to what the Conservatives have been doing and will continue to do if re-elected, the only way to live with your conscience is to fold your tent and throw your support behind a candidate who can win.

With all three other parties saying they're willing to float some form of proportional representation if elected, marginal candidates representing marginal parties — marginal being defined riding by riding — will be better off in the future ensuring one of the non-Conservative aspirants denies Mr. Harper their riding's seat.

This is not a screed against our Green Party candidate. If I believed Ken Melamed was the candidate most likely to defeat John Weston, I wouldn't hesitate voting for him. But it doesn't appear he is that candidate. The most generous polls still show him trailing his NDP and Liberal opponents by a wide margin and Mr. Weston's numbers firming. In other words, a nail biter of a three-way race is facing Sea to Sky voters. If the Green tally tilts the results in Mr. Weston's favour... well, it's something I wouldn't want to carry around with me.

And let's make no mistake. Other than voting to retire Mr. Harper, we're not voting for the party leaders. Neither Mr. Thomas Mulcair nor Mr. Justin Trudeau is inspiring, Ms. Elizabeth May only marginally so, albeit entering the game with the weakest bench of any party. Any of them is better than another round of the Mean... Mr. Harper though.

And while it's too much to hope, it would be heartening if the leaders would add supporting term limits to their desire to reform our patently unfair first-past-the-post system.

As Cap'n Vancouver might have said, there's not a single prospect that particularly pleases the eye.