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Campaigns in crisis mode as B.C. mayors pivot from parks and potholes to big picture

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When Merlin Blackwell ran for mayor four years ago in the small community of Clearwater in British Columbia’s North Thompson River valley, the issues were simple, to say the least.

“It was, ‘Are you going to build us a dog park?’ ‘When are you going to fix the roads?’” Blackwell said.

That was before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, affordability spiralled out of control and Clearwater’s hospital became a poster child for the health-care crisis, holding the undesirable title of most emergency department closure days — 60 — in B.C. between early July and September.

Now, residents are asking local candidates in the Oct. 15 election how hard they will fight for nurses and doctors, and whether they’ll help health workers secure housing, Blackwell said, noting it takes creative thinking to do so with a $2.8-million annual municipal budget.

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“Health care is not part of the mandate of municipal governments in any way, but it’s what our citizens need us to do, so we have to get involved,” said Blackwell, who is running again.

“That’s the big change, is the amount of advocacy that local government has to get involved in, in basically provincial issues — because we have no choice.”

Clearwater isn’t alone in reporting a radical shift in focus this campaign to issues that are actually provincial or federal in scope. With cumulative crises including homelessness, crime, affordability and climate disasters, municipal politicians across the province are finding themselves tackling major issues from the ground up.

In some cases, they’re teaming up to share information, help one another and unify for a louder voice to advocated for what they need.

When flooding struck Princeton, B.C., the community looked beyond its immediate neighbours to communities that faced similar disasters, like Merritt, Hope and those in the Fraser Valley. Those relationships have grown as issues overlap, like ambulance shortages and substance-use issues, Mayor Spencer Coyne said.

“We can call each other up and say, ‘Hey, you know, we’re having this problem. I know, you guys dealt with it, how did you deal with it?’” he said. “I think there’s more and more of those growing, especially as we get frustrated as provincial services are underfunded and having a hard time staying afloat.”

Coyne, who first joined local government in the early 2000s, said he’s noticed a marked change in the relationship between municipalities.

“It was different back then. I feel like now we’re facing so many similar issues that when we get together, we can really dive into some of these things and we problem-solve them together,” he said.

Ahead of the Union of B.C. Municipalities’ annual convention last month in Whistler, Blackwell said he and the mayors of Port McNeill, Fort St. John, Whistler and Ashcroft created an alliance on health care with a goal of sharing bottom-up solutions to the crisis that municipalities could reasonably tackle.

“We started out with the five of us by the time we hit UBCM. A couple weeks later, we had 30 or 40 people that wanted to be involved,” Blackwell said.

Although the provincial government could be an easy target, Blackwell said he’s hesitant to point fingers when the problems exist beyond B.C. He said he’s satisfied with the access he’s had to cabinet ministers and the overall response, acknowledging that there’s no quick fix for many of the crises underway.

“I think the enormity of some of these problems is more of a challenge than anything,” he said.

Mayor Ward Stamer, who has secured a new term by acclamation in Barriere, said getting answers individually can be tough not just from the province, but also health authorities and other bodies. After an infant died in his community while waiting for an ambulance, he said he had trouble reaching anyone to find out what went wrong.

“You know how hard it was to try to get anybody to answer the phone? It took just about two weeks before somebody was willing to even speak to us,” he said.

That said, Stamer said he was also happy with the conversations he had with cabinet ministers and others at UBCM and hopes to see some changes as a result.

“The proof will be in the pudding,” he said.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, who is not running again, said city mayors recently came up with a way to influence provincial action on social disorder, which she attributed to the near collapse of the mental health and health-care systems.

In May, the province announced that, in co-operation with the B.C. Urban Mayors’ Caucus, it had hired two experts to investigate and report on prolific offenders and random violent attacks.

“What stimulated that whole investigation was us gathering our data and saying to the province, ‘Here is what’s happening in our municipalities.’ So even there, we do have a role to play in sharing information and shining a light on issues,” said Helps, co-chair of the caucus.

At the same time, she said there’s often blame laid elsewhere when local governments have significant power to make change independently, such as through land-use and zoning policy to increase housing availability.

“There is a lot that cities can do, particularly on the housing front, that doesn’t require one ounce of finger lifting from the province. But what it does require is political courage to make those moves.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 10, 2022.

 

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

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The U.S. and Iran beef is what politics has become at the World Cup

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United States head coach Gregg Berhalter and Tyler Adams attend a press conference on the eve of the group B World Cup soccer match between Iran and the United States in Doha, Qatar, on Nov. 28.The Associated Press

Over the weekend, U.S. Soccer sent out social-media posts containing an altered Iranian flag. Two lines of Islamic script and the country’s emblem had been stripped from it. A spokesperson for the American team said the change had been made to show support for Iranian women.

Iran has had a torrid first week in Qatar. Its Portuguese coach, Carlos Queiroz, devotes huge chunks of his near-daily remarks to alternately lashing the team’s critics and begging them to back off.

Here was a main chance to change the story, courtesy of their old enemy. The fight is so silly, you’re tempted to think the two teams – who play each other on Tuesday – cooked it up together.

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Iran saw the provocation from the U.S. and raised it. It demanded FIFA suspend the American team for 10 games – effectively eliminating it from the World Cup. FIFA ignored it.

On Sunday, in the midst of a U.S. news conference, an Iranian journalist scolded America’s media operation, telling it to “respect international media.”

“This is World Cup, not MLS Cup,” he said.

The presser was cut short.

By Monday, Iranian journalists were pressing American manager Gregg Berhalter to move the U.S. Fifth Fleet out of the Persian Gulf. Shockingly, Berhalter doesn’t have any juice with the Navy.

Berhalter explained that neither he nor his players knew anything about the flag flap, but still apologized for it. No one wanted to hear it. This is what happens when athletes become political advocates. Everyone ends up looking clueless.

FIFA has spent years trying to strip the World Cup of its political symbolism and replace it with a commodified, pop-culture, politics-lite. That would be the sort of politics that gooses viewership, but doesn’t upset anyone.

It hasn’t helped itself by placing the event in military autocracies (Argentina 1978), functional dictatorships (Russia 2018), and developing nations that can’t afford to host it (a few).

A high-water mark for political tensions created by soccer goings-on was the 1982 semi-final, France vs. Germany. The two nations didn’t like each other going in. They liked each other much less after watching their countrymen kick the tar out of each other for 120 minutes. At one point, the German goalkeeper delivered a flying knee to an onrushing French player, knocking out several teeth.

Afterward, the German – Harald Schumacher – was told about the missing teeth. “I’ll pay for the crowns,” Schumacher said, glibly.

That went over as well as you’d imagine. Tensions mounted to a postwar high. The Germans learned the French hadn’t really forgiven them, and the French figured out they were still piping hot over it.

The situation was only defused when the then German chancellor publicly apologized to his French counterpart. The incident – referred to as ‘The Tragedy of Seville,’ after the city in which the match was played – remains a potent touchstone in both countries.

That was back when politics in sports had guardrails. You only went so far, for fear that a shouting match might become a shooting match.

Those limits have come off in recent years. People feel perfectly entitled – compelled, even – to show up at events such as this and start delivering speeches and tossing around insults.

As usual, FIFA is mostly to blame. By inveigling teams to engage in soft advocacy, it has persuaded the human brands in its temporary employ to speak the sort of truth that makes sponsors comfortable. But once the complaints get anywhere near the money, FIFA becomes a stickler for rules as written.

So, ‘OneLove’ armbands? Out. ‘No Discrimination’ armbands? In.

What does ‘no discrimination’ mean? Who, exactly, are these people who are for discrimination? When’s that press conference, because I’d like to attend it.

‘No discrimination’ means less than nothing, because it pretends to be something. Proper protest is organic. It isn’t approved by the marketing department, then sent off to the printers to be colour-matched and sized for overnight delivery.

After FIFA nixed the armbands, Germany came up with its own stunt. During the prematch team photo ahead of its first game, German players put their hands over their mouths. Presumably, this means they can’t speak their minds. Who exactly this is a shot at – FIFA? The state of Qatar? The World Cup writ large? – wasn’t defined.

And yet, they can speak. They’ve got cameras on them every hour of the day. People are itching to tell their stories. The German players haven’t been prevented from speaking. They’ve opted not to speak because they fear sanction.

So what is it? You’re taking a principled stand, or you’re doing a photo op? You can’t have both.

Now you’ve got USA and Iran taking pops at each other for kicks, hoping a few callbacks to the bad old days will jazz up their current sports chances.

Is it now totally out there to say this stuff ought not be taken so lightly? You want to start an international slapping contest with a sovereign country? Maybe your foreign service should be the one doing that, rather than the guy who runs the Instagram account at U.S. Soccer.

If you’re the United States of America, maybe don’t do that at all. You’re in no moral position to lecture anyone else.

But stripped of actual menace, that’s what politics has become at the World Cup (as well as the Olympics). It’s gamesmanship. It’s theatre. It’s for funsies.

And it can be fun. Until one day, something silly that happens here leaks out into the real world, where everyone doesn’t slap hands and trade jerseys when the game ends.

You feel like protesting the injustice inherent in staging this World Cup in this place? Or how your opponents comport themselves? How about not coming?

Why not apply the same standards of total commitment to your protesting that you do to your play? Otherwise, make room for serious people willing to take actual risks.

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Scott Moe continues his embracing of faux-masculine politics

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Given my particular age (78) and my propensity to ask my wife what day it is, I am baffled by the path the current Saskatchewan Party is following (or forging) in the Marble Palace. Am I missing something here, or are these events actually occurring?

• We’re in a situation at the moment where hospital waiting rooms are filling up and patient beds are becoming as scarce as those proverbial hen’s teeth. The province is only now starting its campaign to “recruit nurses” – in the Philippines, no less, thus continuing past practices we’ve employed with doctors in raiding the health wellness trained resources of one of the poorer nations on Earth that at least had the foresight to train its own citizens with the meager fiscal resources of their own government, and

• While it will take some time for such persons to both come to Saskatchewan and “acclimatize” to the province, our hospital problems only get worse as we are “hit” with a triple whammy of SEASONAL maladies, flu and RSV (syncytial virus), duly accompanied by yet another strain of Covid-19 sating its appetite upon the very young, and

• Due to our propensity of late to accept online versions of reality versus life in the increasingly crowded corridors of our hospitals, and what with uneducated “helicopter” parents accepting disinformation as to the effectiveness and “dangers” to children in getting the Covid vaccine (not to mention the ones – mumps, measles, rubella, smallpox and polio that we’ve been immunizing our children with for decades), thereby increasing the very young and innocent being exposed to such maladies (which is now being documented as occurring in increasing numbers), and

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• Since these illnesses are ALL viruses, antibiotic treatment is useless as a “cure”, yet until yesterday (Friday) most of our pharmacies were without even the basic pain treatment remedies that could alleviate the suffering occurring in our ailing children, including baby Tylenol – which, ironically, was produced as a “safe” product years ago and created through the usage of m-RNA technology, thus,

• We ask: WHAT actions are also being taken by the provincial government to IMMEDIATELY address medical staff shortages?

Please note that we’ve failed at the moment to address a more serious and consequential question, that being, WHY is it that we’re losing so many health care workers in the first place, and why isn’t the government working on a plan to actually RETAIN them?

Saskatchewan Union of Nurses President Tracy Zambory, while acknowledging the ethical dilemma of our recruiting health care workers from Third World nations, knows that her membership would throw massive “Welcome to Your New Home” parties for anyone who chooses to come to Canada under such circumstance if it meant occasional relief from typical 60 hour work weeks and double shifting.

What the membership wants, however, is to have a thoroughly incompetent Minister of Health, Paul Merriman, actually draw up a committee of field advisory staff to go to the “front lines” of this fight and CONSULT with nurses, beginning with committing greater resources towards education and training of more recruits.

Thus, having been given a key strategy for tackling this issue, what does Scott Moe propose to deal with its sensibility? Well, in a statement on Thursday widely reported in the Toronto Sun, then restated on his Twitter account he noted that “The Trudeau Liberals aren’t even hiding it anymore, they are coming for hunting rifles and shotguns.”

Wait – WHAT?

As I have intimated in previous columns, the premier’s interests in dealing with issues about which the NDP have more than an ample amount of evidence to point to areas of concern and how to deal with them is literally non-existent. A list similar to what I developed at the start of this column could equally be provided when it comes to the major issues facing provincial educators.

The problem here is that with the extremely contagion rates of the three viruses now causing strain on our health care system, there has to be some manner of “control” exercised in minimizing the potential for distress. The simplest way to deal with that problem is that, at a minimum, at least ask students coming to classes to wear masks. That, of course, would be in turn misrepresented as an enforceable “mandate” (even though a lot of students are already doing just that, especially the younger ones). It would be immediately opposed by the yahoos who support the fringe element of the political spectrum – the Buffalo Party, Maverick Party and the Peoples Party of Canada (not to mention Harper apostle and current Conservative Party leader, Pierre Poilievre) as some mythical violation of their ego-enlarged “freedoms”.

The Sask Party believes such voters are theirs by fiat. Therefore, to avoid being mocked as merely advocating for policies pandering to this collection of misfits, they are seeking “alternative” pathways I refer to as “Chicken Little” to deny the obvious.

The whining about the amendments now occurring with Bill C-21 changes and their reference to assault weaponry are almost comical in that it again reinforces the Sask Party’s fixation with the faux-“manhood” concerns of fighting for a “strong Saskatchewan”. What better manner is there to re-instill the faith in the party’s governing prowess than to be pictured as grasping onto an issue of obvious masculine appeal as the guns used by everyone for hunting or pest control – and pointing their “weaponry” now in the direction of the federal Liberal Party?

Most such policy pronouncements of late promoted by the government have their roots in the reaping of vast rewards caused by the Ukraine – Russia conflict through royalty payments. The party has thus invested much in the creating of the Saskatchewan First Act, its only purpose being to grant further powers to the legislature to stop the federal government from interfering in its exploitation of our non-renewable resources and supposed federal “overreach” – powers it already has under our Constitution.

Police associations have also condemned the setting up of the Saskatchewan Marshals Service, preferring that such monies instead by directed towards expansion of existing law enforcement forces and training specifically designed to handle the types of investigatory services such a force would be expected to perform.

Faux-masculine grasping or the production of non-content in proposed legislation that confirms the existence of a gravitational vacuum in the legislature is only my way of introducing a gallows sense of humour as to the direction in which the Saskatchewan Party wants to move this province. The problem is, given the current unpopularity of Premier Moe and his party and the direction being taken by their policy agenda, one can only wonder if the actual victim of such policies will become a stifling of democratic freedoms and the ability of our citizens to redirect us away from this dangerous creep towards autocracy.

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How Your Politics Could Affect Your Job Prospects

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A study a few years ago from Penn State came to the fascinating conclusion that the increasing political polarization of society is affecting our mobility. The last few years have seen a clear divide emerge between the politics of big cities, and those of rural regions, and the study suggests that this ideological divide may be discouraging many people from making the rural-urban migration.

“We found that the places that were most likely to exhibit same-party preference in movement are counties that are politically extreme,” the researchers explain. “What we saw was that movement from very Democratic or very Republican counties tended to be isolated to migration to other counties that are politically similar.”

Party loyalty

Research from the Kellogg School suggests that political differences might also have an impact on our careers once employed by a firm. The researchers find that our political views have a distinct impact on our careers, including whether we’re hired for a job or not.

In some ways, this makes sense, as the Penn researchers found, politics plays a part in where we live but also increasingly who we’re friends with and the people we date. It stands to reason, therefore, that it would play a role in our professional lives too, especially when companies place such an emphasis on culture and social cohesion at work.

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The study found that business owners at small and medium-sized firms are much more likely to hire someone if they’re also members of the same political party as them. This also translates into benefits when they are hired, including better pay, more promotions, and a longer average tenure with the firm.

Career impact

Indeed, the impact was so strong that the study found that it was more influential on our career outcomes than any other factor, including our gender, our race, or our skills. The phenomenon was so striking that workers were 50% more likely to belong to the same party as their employer than one would expect if they were randomly assigned.

What’s more, employees who were “politically aligned” were, on average, paid nearly 4% more than their nonaligned peers, and were also more likely to get promoted. Sadly, this political concentration appears to be worsening.

Research from Harvard Business School suggests that executive teams are growing more and more partisan. The researchers looked at the political allegiances of bosses across America and found that 69% align themselves with the Republicans, versus just 31% with the Democrats. The analysis revealed that the likelihood of partisanship grew by around 7.7% between 2008 and 2020. What’s more, this trend was around twice that seen across the population more broadly.

The Kelloggs research suggests that this growing partisanship at the top of our organizations is highly likely to be trickling down across the workforce. This is worrying, as while research from ESMT suggests we increasingly want our leaders to be politically and socially active, this is perhaps not quite what we had in mind.

Does it matter?

This political homogenization is likely to have a significant impact on the workplace. A few years ago research from University College London found that it is making us poorer judges of talent.

The research found that when we know the political leaning of our colleagues, we tend to rely heavily on those with the same political identification as ourselves rather than relying on the skill level of the people in question.

“When we examined participants’ impressions of the co-players we found they overestimated how good the politically like-minded were at the shape categorisation task. This misperception drove the participants to seek advice from the politically like-minded,” the researchers revealed.

Diversity wins

This was followed by research from the University of Chicago, which showed that politically diverse teams were usually more effective. The researchers examined contributions to over 200,000 Wikipedia pages to explore whether contributions from politically diverse people resulted in higher quality pages than more partisan teams.

This study doesn’t say we can always get along,” the authors explain. But if we’re diverse along political lines, it actually means that we bring separate perspectives, and when we’re able to work together, then we’re able to produce a more complete and balanced perspective. If we’re imbalanced, then this study also suggests how bad it can be.”

So, while it may be prudent for job seekers to keep politics out of their resume as much as possible, it’s also beholden on managers to do a much better job of ensuring their decisions are not clouded by their political sensibilities.

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