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Posted: September 28, 2013

Getting a political education at the UBCM

GerryWarner1-150x150Perceptions by Gerry Warner

Have you ever wanted to get a political science degree, but didn’t have time? Well, there’s a way of doing it in less than a week! It happens every year, but you’ve got to have a strong constitution to survive all the political hot air.

I’m referring, of course, to the annual Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) convention, which I attended last week – and considering that many of you reading this paid for me to go – I feel the least I can do is tell you something about it.

And right off the top, I have to say the star of the convention for me was one of Canada’s most iconic politicians and the convention’s keynote speaker, who is one of the few Canadian politicians almost as well known outside of our borders as within — Stephen Lewis (pictured above). Canada’s former Ambassador to the United Nations and special UN envoy for HIV/AIDS had the 2,000-member audience enthralled within minutes in a 45 minute address that was interrupted by applause 13 times.

Unabashedly a socialist who wears his social conscience on his sleeve, Lewis warned the audience his speech would be “intensely personal” and it was just that as he spoke passionately about the “contagion of sexual violence around the world,” the “horror of AIDS” in Africa and the enormity of climate change. “I can’t emphasize strongly enough if we can’t get our act together (on climate change) we’re endangering human kind.”

However, despite being a career socialist, Lewis showed what a true diplomat he is, praising former B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell for introducing the only carbon tax in North America and saying to loud applause the province’s new Climate Action Charter “could be a model for the rest of Canada if the rest of Canada was sane enough to incorporate it.”

Lewis also praised the province for allowing the continent’s only needle exchange program in Vancouver. “You’re ahead of the rest of us” and lauded the UBCM for declaring 2013 to be a “Year of Reconciliation” between the UBCM and the province’s aboriginal peoples.

Lewis said he was aware of B.C.’s penchant for “lunatic politics,” but added “I feel none of that in this room” and praised the province for trying to build “a more civilized and decent society.”

The audience responded with a thunderous standing ovation as one of Canada’s most consummate politicians took his seat.

ColGM DixImagine the contrast the next day when Adrian Dix took the podium after announcing only 24 hours earlier that he would step down as provincial NDP leader after his party’s stunning defeat in the May provincial election.

With the entire NDP caucus sitting in the front rows of the cavernous Canada Place Convention Centre, Dix proceeded to deliver a passionate speech warning against political cynicism in the province and making no apologies for refusing to “go negative” in his humiliating election loss. “I strongly believe that people in this day and age are turned off by the nastiness and rancor of politics,” he said, commenting that since “winning an election they didn’t expect to win” the Liberals have been “largely AWOL” refusing to even hold a fall session.

Dix earned a standing ovation for his speech; a speech ironically far better than any he delivered during his ill-fated election campaign.

ColGW Christy UBCMAnd on the final day of the convention, it was Christy Clark’s turn as the new Queen of B.C. politics delivered a triumphal tour de force speech as she did so many times in her unexpected spring victory.

“There is only one taxpayer,” she reminded the audience, and stealing a line from Toronto’s controversial Mayor Rob Ford, she said, “there is no gravy train,” but was quick to add she didn’t have a picture of Ford in her office. Bright, bubbly and optimistic as ever, Clark was quick to repeat her promise that the province was sitting on the threshold of a LNG boom that is going to bring prosperity to all. “It’s our turn to make the most of a natural resource that sits underground. We can’t rest on our laurels.”

B.C. will build the cleanest LNG plants in the world, sell the product to Asia and create 100,000 jobs, Clark said, adding “a promise made is a promise kept.”

And in a phrase updating former B.C. cabinet minister “Flying” Phil Gaglardi, who said pulp mill odor “was the smell of money,” Clark said northern B.C. residents have been complaining about noise from helicopters working on LNG prospects. “The sound of helicopters is the sound of money,” she said sitting down to a standing ovation.”

Only in British Columbia, you say, and you would be right.

Gerry Warner is a retired journalist and Cranbrook City councillor. His opinions are his own.

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