Monday, December 22, 2003

Ho, ho, ho. . .

Thanks, and a wish that will change your lives
By Paul Willcocks
VICTORIA - It's time to thank you all, and offer you my one special wish, a way to change your life in less than a minute.
I sent some 36,000 words your way last year. If you stuck with me through all of them, it's as if we sat down and had a three-hour chat,
Thanks for that. Not just because if you didn't read, I wouldn't be able to do the column, and my children would be selling pencils on the street. (Though I invite you to keep that in mind anytime you consider skipping the column.)
I really wanted to thank you for letting me have this conversation with you.
Sure the work itself is fun and interesting much of the time, and there's no heavy lifting. And it's a living.
But that's not why I like to do this. The joy in this job isn't in cataloging what's gone wrong this week. It's in believing that people, given the facts and a chance to look at an issue, will generally do the right thing, and in being part of that process.
And I get to talk with you - or rant at you, sometimes - about things I think are important, or things you've told me you think are important. I get to try and provide some facts, and offer an opinion about what we should be doing to make things better.
That's why I write most often about things that have gone wrong, and am more often critical than kind. It's nice - and even useful - to take 30 seconds to think about something that's worked. But it's much more important to look at the things that aren't working, and figure out how to fix them.
I don't expect readers to end up agreeing with me. (Though of course, I always hope for that.) I've got information, and ideas to offer. But the ideas may be wrong. I'm just hoping that together we'll agree some issues are important, and worth our serious attention. (The most dangerous people in the world tend to be those who believe that their ideas and beliefs are certainly right.)
Which leads to my wish for you this year.
I'd like you to make one New Year's resolution. This year, pay attention.
Not to me, but to everything in your life.
It's racing by. That child who wants you to read a story today, she'll be gone before you know it. And you can't know where. Maybe she'll be your best friend, maybe she'll have developed a nasty crystal meth addiction. Maybe she'll be happy. Maybe she'll be dead. It's unknowable.
The only thing you do know is that you have a chance to pay attention now. To notice what her eyes are telling you, just before you turn off the lights. It's not just children - friends, strangers, lovers, the way the sun looks over the rooftops tomorrow morning. Just pay attention. You'll change their lives. You'll change the way you see the world.
it sounds kind of new age, self-absorbed even. but it's not. The first step to a better world is paying attention to the one we've got.
Go back to the reason why I like this work. It's important to me because everything I've seen of people indicates that collectively we want to do the right thing. We don't want people around us to be unhappy, denied dignity and opportunity.
If we noticed their suffering - if we paid attention - we wouldn't stand for it. We wouldn't let the government slash spending on children and families if we paid attention to the scared girl in foster care who is losing some of the meager support she had. We are not that kind of people.
So that's my wish. Pay attention. The beauty and power will amaze you.
Footnote: And further, to all the politicians I have written about this year, and will next, thanks. No matter how painfully critical columns may be, I recognize that you all have given up a lot for the simple chance to make your communities a better place for people to live. Actions can be criticized; not your motives.

Back-to-work deals bad deal for B.C. economy
By Paul Willcocks
VICTORIA - There's nothing to celebrate in the government's role in ending the BC Ferries strike or the walkout by some 10,000 coastal IWA members.
That's not to say the government was wrong. It faced a wretched situation, and given the economic importance of both operations a prolonged shutdown would have been disastrous.
But government intervention can't get at the root causes of a dispute, and often can't produce anything but the shakiest and shortest of peace.
First the ferries.
The ferry workers' union scored a huge win with their illegal, irresponsible strike. Instead of having to labour on under essential service legislation and negotiate a deal with BC Ferries, they can now wait for an arbitration award from Vince Ready. It won't be all they hoped for, but it will be much better than any deal they could have reached at the bargaining table. And the government promised not to seek any damages for their illegal actions.
The ferry workers' union learned - again - that ignoring the law and the contract they signed worked. For more than 30 years governments have taught the union that illegal strikes get results, and bring no consequences.
The blame doesn't all rest with the union.
The illegal strike was sparked by a dispute over which unionized workers would staff the ships. Since cafeterias were closed, the company didn't want to schedule people paid a premium for that work. The union disagreed. And the ships stayed tied up.
My reading of the Labour Relations Board's essential services ruling indicates the company' was right. But BC Ferries could have avoided the showdown, allowed the ships to sail with the higher-priced crew and headed to the LRB for a remedy.
Instead the service was shut down, things got ugly and Labour Minister Graham Bruce imposed an 80-day cooling off period - which the union defied until it won arbitration.
The company is seeking major clawbacks, especially in terms of contracting out language which would leave no ferries job safe. The stage was set for those demands by the Liberals' changes to BC Ferries. The company faces the possible loss of its $70-million annual subsidy in four years and will be forced to show lenders it can repay some $2 billion needed for new ships over the next 15 years. BC Ferries made about $25 million last year; it needs much bigger profits to deal with those changes.)
The IWA strike is a similar disaster. Again, the union blundered with an illegal walkout, breaking their own agreement. The company responded by imposing a new contract. And the stage was set for a hopelessly long strike.
IWA president Dave Haggard agreed to a government back-to-work order, standing alongside Premier Gordon Campbell and the companies' spokesman.
In this case, the union has lost. The deal calls for an arbitrated deal if mediation doesn't work. And it says that the agreement must consider the economic well-being of the coastal industry.
That almost guarantees major contract rollbacks.
Meanwhile, on the ground, IWA members are attacking their leadership and each other, in some cases physically.
The disintegration of the IWA as a functional union is a problem that goes beyond this dispute. It's distant from its members and unable to come up with workable solutions to the real problems faced by the forest industry.
And instead of addressing those issues, the IWA is selling out workers in the health care sector to keep its numbers up. The private health care companies taking over contracted-out support services are signing sweetheart deals with the IWA before they hire a single worker, in order to avoid HEU certification. Employees have to sign an IWA membership before they are hired. They get no say on who represents them, or the terms of their contract.
B.C. has a reputation for a lousy labour climate. The last week has done more damage.
Footnote: Much second-guessing about whether Bruce imposed the ferry cooling-off period too quickly. Probably. But based on the situation at the time, and the blockades by ferry travellers, it was not an unreasonable call. It's harder to justify abandoning any penalties for the illegal actions.