Thursday, March 14, 2013

Liberal MLAs should be ashamed of role in scandal

The sordid, bumbling ethnic outreach scandal has sealed the Liberals' fate in the coming election.
It has also finished Christy Clark’s leadership. She is responsible for the actions of the government, for choosing the senior managers, for not demanding to be kept informed, for remaining willfully blind. 
She failed as a leader. She failed the citizens, and the people who put their trust in the Liberal party.
But what about the Liberal MLAs? This is supposed to be a system in which citizens elect representatives who speak for them and share in responsibility for governing. MLAs are responsible for the conduct of government, or the opposition.
Liberal MLAs also failed. They abandoned their responsibilities and let the premier’s office and political staffers run amok. They didn’t ask questions about who was hired or what they were doing, or set standards. 
These are $100,000 a year jobs, representing voters who have placed considerable trust in the men and women they send to Victoria.
Instead, MLAs vote the party line. They defend the indefensible. They inexplicably give up their right and responsibility to represent their constituents, and cede all power to the premier’s office and political operatives. 
Which is not why most chose to run.
All the candidates in the coming election should think about this scandal, the failure of Liberal MLAs to exercise their responsibilities and the dire consequences - not just for the party, but for democracy.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Racing through jungle rivers in the night

Sweeping through a narrow jungle river at high speed, in a long, narrow crowded boat, as a searchlight picks out trees crowding the banks in the darkness - business travel didn’t used to be like this.
We’ve gone to where the road ends and far, far beyond.
Travel in Honduras is often an adventure, but last week took it to a new, Indiana Jones level.
The boat journey, about four hours, was the highlight. We left Batalla at dusk. The collectivos - shared boats to the heart of La Moskitia - don’t leave until the last truck has arrived at the end of the road in the Garifuna village, delivering passengers and goods for roadless communities down the line.
The boat is a pipante. The traditional versions - still much in use - are hollowed out of a log, long, narrow and barely above the water. Men fish and paddle the lagoons to forage in the jungle, families travel, hand-carved paddles moving the log boats through the water.
The collectivos follow the same design, though larger. Some 40-feet long, less than six feet wide, flat-bottomed and with about 18 inches of freeboard.
We cruised down the first lagoon, then through a canal so shallow the boy had had to jump out and pull us to deeper water. Then down a river, with scores of egrets settling in trees for the night.
Past Garifuna villages and isolated settlements and suspiciously large new houses with open launches in front powered by twin 200-hp outboards. (Some questions are best not asked in the region, a centre for drug transport to northern markets.)
By the time we entered the next large lagoon, it was fully dark. We passed another pipante full of travellers, and I realized none of the boats had running lights.
The waves picked up a bit. The freight - including our packs - was in the front, covered with a tarp. There were six rows of benches, with three passengers in each. Passengers shared green sheets of plastic to pull up over our heads when the spray splashed over us.
At the end of the lagoon, we slowed and picked our way along the shore as the driver played a searchlight along the dense forest until he found an improbably small river entrance - perhaps 10 yards wide.
Then he opened the outboard up, and we swooped and swerved through the channel. Our bow wave swept through mangroves and water hyacinth and floating grasses rose and fell. In the dark. Openings appeared magically just when it appeared we would run aground.
The shore, glimpsed in the starlight, changed constantly - grasses, trees, a long stretch of six-foot tall fan palms that looked like waving creatures in the star light. Triffids maybe.
Then a light flickered from shore, and we pulled into a makeshift log dock, where a cluster of people waited. We unloaded a few passengers and lot of goods, took on some more passengers with their belongings and set out again. A cluster of boys struck a gangster pose for a photo.
The jungle closed in, the channel became even narrower and the boat still moved impossibly quickly, skidding through turns, brushing past thick trees growing from the water, the spotlight playing over the trees and vines, bats darting through the bright tunnel. When we had to slow, the night came alive with sounds of the jungle.
Stars, jungle, an outboard motor, river banks pressing in - part Heart of Darkness, part the grandest Disneyland ride ever.
We slowed suddenly in the dark, because two other boats were in the channel, a smaller one unloading melons into another pipante.
We were stranded in shallows again, this time both the boat chica and the driver, stepping into to the muck to push os free.
Then out into Laguna Brus, a giant body of water separated from the Caribbean by a sandbar. 
We picked up speed for the run to the town of Brus, our destination. There were more stars than I have ever seen in Canada, and under the light the water turned to a light grey, so it seemed we were racing through clouds. Burst of phospherence flashed by in the wake.
It was a painfully long trip by the time we pulled up to the dock in Brus, a town of about 8,000 that can’t be reached by road. 
It would have been spectacular in the day time. But it was unforgettable at night.
Footnote: The boats leave Batalla in the late afternoon when the trucks arrive. The truck drivers and helpers sleep there, then head back to Tocoa in the morning, leaving early enough to allow a return trip. Which meant we had to catch a return boat at 4 a.m. in Brus to get back in time to pile into a waiting truck. A good chance to see dawn over the lagoons.