Thursday, March 29, 2012

Meeting a Honduran presidential candidate

We met our first Honduran campaigning politician on the weekend, likely the first of many given the nature of the process here.
He was Miguel Pastor, the guy in the picture above. (Though that's not Copan.)
We were heading to the square and he was walking along in front of a jeep with a bunch of followers. You could tell right away he was a politician - there is now a common look of big, healthy guys with nice haircuts and studiedly casual clothes. (Pastor and his guys had on blue-checked long-sleeved shirts, despite the heat. Blue is the National party colour.) There was even a younger guy who reminded me of Dave Basi walking along behind, whispering instructions to others in the group. (The candidates are still mostly guys, though Xiomara Zelaya, the wife of ex-president Manuel Zelaya who was deposed in the 2009 coup, is running for the new Libre Party.)
I thought it was a candidate for mayor, but people were taking pictures, which seemed over-the-top for a small-town mayor. So we concluded that it was someone bigger, though it took until the paper Monday reported that Pastor been on a weekend tour of the region that we figured out who he was.
Pastor quickly pegged me as a gringo and shifted his attention. But given Jody's tan and multi-ethnic look, he clapped her on the shoulder and gave her the full politician smile.
The next election isn't until November 2013. But the two main parties have member votes to chose their presidential candidates this fall, and that involves a long process that resembles a full election campaign.
Several people have characterized the political calendar in the same way. The president and Congress are elected to four-year terms. It's always a new president, because there's a one-term limit to avoid the rise of dictators.
The first year is spent complaining about the mess left by the old guys; the second year on announcing plans, followed by some ritual firings of ministers; the third and fourth years are devoted to campaigning for the next leadership races and the next election.
It doesn't leave much time for governing.
But then the BC Liberals launched their attack ads on John Cummins 20 months before the next election, and the first Dix ads even before that. The federal Conservatives have launched attack ads on Bob Rae already, with the next election likely three years away. That doesn't leave much time for governing either. (Which seems a serious error the BC Liberals are making, one that rates a separate post.)
I have no idea what the issues are here. The candidates all talk about corruption and crime, but it's pretty fuzzy so far, at least to me.
But they've got the politician style down cold.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Plant, Reid, Falcon and me on BC Rail scandal, with credit to John Van Dongen

John Van Dongen has accomplished something at least one very useful thing in reviving a discussion of the many unanswered questions in the BC Rail scandal.
Former AG Geoff Plant offers a useful perspective here. (The dissenting comment is mine.)
Finance Minister Kevin Falcon contradicts Plant here, saying every single Liberal MLA was "appalled" by the $6-million deal that ensured guilty pleas from Dave Basi and Bobby Virk.
Ian Reid argues Van Dongen is absolutely right in a blog post here.
And I refer you to two columns I wrote arguing the smell of the scandal lingers and questions remain, here and here.


I added another comment on Geoff Plant's post, responding to his argument that paying the $6 million in legal fees was not an inducement to get the guilty pleas because they were already in place.

"Sorry, but the hairs are being split too finely. If there were genuine guilty pleas arranged in negotiations with the special prosecutor in place, then there was no need to break the policy on indemnities. The guilty pleas would have been secured, the trial ended and the taxpayers could have recovered at least some of the $6 million.
If they weren't in place, then the $6 million was indeed a prior inducement because it came before the guilty pleas were actually secured."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Five thoughts on Van Dongen's leap

First, I don't buy the criticism John Van Dongen is just trying to keep a job in politics and thinks he would lose as a Liberal in his riding. My experience had been that he is an ethical person and I accept his explanation for sitting as a Conservative at face value. (That doesn't mean that he's right, of course.)
Second, the Liberal strategists' decision to have Rich Coleman stop just short of suggesting Van Dongen is emotionally and mentally unstable and hint at dark things to come out in the months ahead was sleazy and destructive. Criticize him for not staying to seek change in the party, or accuse him of betraying the people who elected a Liberal MLA. But don't launch a personal attack on someone you worked beside for 16 years. I can't imagine other Liberals were happy with the lack of decency.
In the same way, attacking Van Dongen for living with - and setting the pay - of his constituency assistant looked bad. The Liberals, apparently, considered it fine as long as he was with them, but a potential scandal once he wasn't. It smells of hypocrisy. (Van Dongen was anticipating the attack and had legal opinions saying he had done nothing wrong.)
Third, in the same vein, how can it have seemed a wise idea to keep Christy Clark unavailable for 24 hours? She's the premier, a senior MLA quits and challenges her government's integrity and she can't be found.
Fourth, I'd like to know more about Liberal constituency assistants, the hiring practices, rates of pay and who sets them. Van Dongen's assistant and partner is paid $78,000, a lot of money. The appearance of conflict of interest in setting the pay, at taxpayer's expense, for the person you live with, is obvious. So is the conflict in managing job performance.
What are other Liberal CAs paid? Who sets the amount, and what are the hiring practices to ensure the best candidates are in the jobs? (The NDP CAs are covered by a collective agreement; the last time I checked the top pay was about $47,000.)
It's time to lift the secrecy around MLA spending.
And fifth, Kevin Falcon's comments in The Tyee were a noteworthy contrast to Coleman's over-the-top attack.
"I can't say it's a total surprise to be honest," said Falcon. "John's been indicating he's been upset about a few issues for a long time."
"I like John, I respected John, I still do," Falcon said. "That's obviously a decision he's made after some thought and he'll have to live with the consequences good or bad."
Those sound like the comments of a person who might see a leadership change, and rebuilding job, in the near future for the Liberals.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Conflicting stories on Canada and Honduran police problems

Canada made the news in Honduras again this week, in a confusing kind of way, after a visit by junior foreign affairs minister Diane Ablonczy.
The Honduras Weekly, an English-language online newspaper, had a headline that said “Canada Will Help Honduras Reform Security System.”
That would be a big commitment. Honduras Weekly said Ablonczy had agreed to name a Canadian expert to to a five-person Commission for Public Security Reform. The commission’s focus would be on cleaning up corruption in the police and justice system, and is expected to result in a major re-org and purge in the police forces. Its work will be controversial and difficult.
And potentially important. Corruption, gangs and the drug transport business have made life woefully insecure for Hondurans, which has the highest murder rate in the world, and are a major barrier to economic and social progress of any kind.
But La Prensa said Ablonczy, while offering generalities about helping improve security in the region, had refused to confirm Canada would name an expert to the commission.
And the Foreign Affairs Department new release on the visit offered no help, only one of those made-up quotes so beloved of the people who work for government communications shops. “Canada reiterates its support for the Honduran reconciliation efforts and reaffirms its commitment to assist the Government of Honduras in meeting serious security challenges,” Ablonczy allegedly said.
The confusion is unfortunate. The Honduran government has named three members - a former university head, a sociologist and a former interior minister. The government hopes Canada and Chile will add members to take an independent view. And delays would undermine the commission’s credibility, already viewed skeptically by Hondurans.
It was also interesting that the visit, and the issues, got no coverage in Canada, as far as I can tell.
That’s not a criticism. When I edited newspapers, I wasn’t likely to use scarce space for a report on Honduran security. Online news means space isn’t an issue, but reporting time still is. But it does indicate how little the world matters to Canadians, unless there is an earthquake or war or big sports event.
Footnote: Ablonczyy confirmed Canada will provide $130,000 this year to assist women victims of violence, the second highest cause of death for women between 14 and 40 here after AIDS. Canada will also provide $200,000 to help implement the recommendations of the Honduran Truth and Reconciliation Commission report into the 2009 coup that removed then-president Manuel Zelaya from power.