Saturday, April 14, 2012

With Adrian Dix, What You See is Just the Tip of the Iceberg

{I can think of four specific instances when Adrian Dix was less honest than I would have been, and less honest than most public servants I have known would have been: in 1997, 1999, 2002, and 2011. This posting refers to the third of these cases, relating to his testimony at the Clark trial in 2002, and asks: was this just the tip of an iceberg?}

This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of  the H.M.S. Titanic.  It seems  fitting, therefore, as the B.C. Liberals steam toward their inevitable rendez-vous with destiny in 2013, to ask whether this disaster also could have been averted.  Part of the answer lies with the leadership of Christy Clark, who could have charted a real change of direction simply by cancelling the HST and its accompanying referendum immediately after assuming office, but who in her hubristic self-delusion told herself that such drastic action was unnecessary.

There is also another  set of facts concerning her inevitable successor, Adrian Dix, which have remained largely submerged and hidden from view. Had they been properly illuminated-- if the general public could have seen beneath the tip of the iceberg--it might have been a very different story. You see the key to his success has been his nearly-complete control of his own image. People first started seeing Adrian Dix on TV and hearing his name on the radio in 2005 after he became an Opposition critic. But what if  their first impression of DIx was on the night of the RCMP raid, with BCTV cameras in tow? Wouldn't it have been far more appropriate to have seen Adrian Dix answer the door in stunned surprise, instead of Glen Clark's wife?

The RCMP bungled the investigation by wiretapping Clark's family home but not bugging Clark and Dix's Victoria condo--and by seizing Dix's Victoria office computer but not seizing his computer in the Vancouver Cabinet offices.   In 2002, almost 10 years ago,  he testified at the criminal breach of trust trial of his friend Glen Clark that he hadn't given much thought to the Burnaby casino application while he was Principal Secretary ,and  that maybe they had "discussed for about five minutes before going to bed one night". Was this candour under oath?    Hardly. Dix's and Clark's friend Tim Gallagher  had been in a bureaucratic position ( "trade policy analyst")--but then Dix had used his powers as Principal Secretary  to move Galalgher into the Gambling Secretariat within the same Ministry. Dix and Gallagher then took a vacation to Las Vegas together, and after they got back, Dix moved Gallagher into Mike Farnworth's Office as a Ministerial Assistant--just in time for a certain casino application to come across Farnworth's desk.  I surmise that Farnworth took the presence of Gallagher and Clark's general remarks about the desireability of getting more casinos as hints--and overrode the Secretariat's recommendations about not granting the licence in Burnaby at least in part because he felt that that was what would please the Premier. The day after the RCMP raid, Gallagher was immediately transferred back to his "bureaucratic" position.  (Put this alongside my other favourite example of complete contemptuous disregard for  the line between politics and policy/administration--Tom Gunton's virtual collapsing of the Policy Secretariat and the Communications Secretariat in order to better counterpunch the media.)

 Two and a half years later, I returned to Victoria and  picked up a copy of the Times Colonist,  where I saw  a smiling Adrian Dix writing an op-ed about how the new Premier, Gordon Campbell, "should listen to people more". There is no indication anywhere in the article about who Dix is or what his role in the Clark Government was, and not a trace of humility or self-criticism from the most notorious non-listener in the entire Clark Government--just a condescending lecture. I think he really must have enjoyed getting away with that.

If we had had photos of Dix answering the door to the RCMP,  or hours of wire-tapped conversations of his various machinations concerning gambling and gambling licences, long discussions with Clark about  how to best ram the fast ferries through, etc., he never would have been able to rehabilitate and control his image in the way that he has.  This consummate political operator would have been forced to remain in the backrooms, where he belongs.

So the next time Dix or one of his apologists refer to the backdated memo as a single youthful indiscretion, or you see Dix spitting with hypocritical indignation on The News Hour  over the "games" that the government is playing, remember what they say about icebergs: nine-tenths of them are hidden beneath the surface.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Alison Redford's Change versus Wildrose Reaction

" I think she[Premier Redford]'s wrong... I don't think Alberta has changed  and I don't think it needs to be changed."  ---Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith.

I have done a pretty good job of predicting political outcomes lately, mainly just by being as cynical and pessimistic as possible.  The sheer audacity of Wildrose TV commercials boldly proclaiming "New Ideas"--when the new ideas are the recycling of Klein bucks (resource dividends) as "Danni Dollars" and the Wildrose "Family Pack"--a set of nothing more than  tax incentives and tax expenditures substituting for social policy. Could anything be more tired?  The divorce between image and substance in our politics  is now complete; and that is why Wildrose will win.

To say that these policies are superior because "you know better how to spend your money than the government does" does not stand up to reflection.  Does Ms. Smith think that the building of 50 new schools and the replenishing of the Alberta Heritage Trust Fund--both moves that would secure wealth for future generations of long-term residents--are just bureaucratic confiscations, while using revenue from non-renewable resource wealth to subsidize and pander to current consumption--including that of a great many transients--is somehow more respectful of citizens?  Today's TV leaders are masters of the false dichotomy and the misleading example.

While a Wildrose victory  would represent the most fundamental change in the party system since the early 1970s, that purely political fact merely disguises the underlying truth about Alberta's policy and society: that Wildrose represents outworn and simplistic approaches as well as vested interests. It is a reaction against change, not a balanced and more nuanced engagement with the new and more complicated economic, environmental and demographic realities of the twenty-first century.

And while Danielle Smith  explicitly invokes Ernest Manning  and implicitly evokes Ralph Klein as the best premiers in Alberta history, it is time for Premier Redford to make the case for Peter Lougheed.  Lougheed has been a voice of common sense in the Alberta wilderness for many years now--arguing for paced and value-added development of the oilsands, the  rebuilding of the Heritage Trust Fund, for "thinking like an owner" about the oil resource, and --like the Royalty reviews, Jack Mintz and David Emerson--serving as a sensible reminder that we should stop being so reliant on revenue from non-renewable sources to subsidize our current consumption and taxation practices.

Alberta's conservative ethos is largely built around a myth is that it has been a bastion of rugged individualism that chooses to live with less government and less taxation. The truth about Alberta is that  it is a jurisdiction that uses depleting oil wealth to avoid making that choice. The sooner we honestly face up to that  reality, the better off future generations of  Albertans and Canadians will be.  And that would be the real change that Alberta truly needs.