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20th February 2011

My Own Disjointed Look At The BC Liberal Leadership Candidates

I don’t often use this site for political rants and comments, but as BC draws closer to the date where those of us who are BC Liberal party members will choose a new leader – and the next Premier of our fine province, the choice has not gotten any easier, at least for me. I say this is a disjointed look at the leadership race because there are many issues which concern me, policies that I stand for and change I want to see in all levels of government. It’s not easy for me to hold one line of thinking, but hopefully my disjointed thoughts will get some of you thinking, and perhaps we can then have a conversation and form even more thoughts, and there are probably lots of areas that I meant to comment on but missed due to seeing something shiny on another web site.

I sent an email to each of the candidates over a week ago – all were copied on the same email so that they had an equal opportunity at the same questions and points I was raising. Not one replied. Someone named Corrie did reply from Kevin Falcon’s team – to say that this was not a “normal election” and as such the candidates were not answering “questionnaires” as they didn’t have the time or resources to do so.

All of the candidates can take the time to send an almost constant flow of emails, they can speak with the main-stream press, and they can have their teams constantly call our house – but they can’t use travel time between rallies to express their thoughts on my points and questions. I even stated they didn’t have to answer all of the questions, just provide some idea of where they stand, and in that they failed, because they do not adequately address all of the issues on their respective web sites. I had the hardest time with Mike de Jong’s web site, as it was very difficult to find and compare his proposed policies with those of the other candidates, whereas the sites for both Christy Clark and George Abbott are nicely done.

The reply from Kevin Falcon’s team and a complete lack of reply from the others implies that the issues aren’t important enough, my one vote is not important enough. I may only have one vote, but I have my own platform from which to speak, and speak I will. The invitation to reply to my email is still open to the four remaining candidates.

I have many areas that I want to cover, and I imagine that this will turn into an expression of all the frustrations I have with several levels of government, not only pertinent to the digital media sector, but to many sectors which all tie-in to the issues we as voters from all walks of life will be taking into consideration not only for the two leadership races underway in BC, but also in the inevitably approaching next provincial election – and possibly even the next federal election. Hopefully politicos are paying attention, because I know I’m not the only one with an opinion on the state of things in this municipality, province and country. I’m quite sure that these issues also apply to those who are NDP supporters, what with the leadership of that party also being decided in the coming months. Maybe I will send my questions to those candidates as well and see what kind of replies I get.

Where do the candidates stand on improving our education system, because quite frankly it’s not the Industrial Revolution age any more – in case you hadn’t noticed. There are currently two high schools that I am immediately aware of in BC who are taking the steps to offer students the opportunity to learn skills that will give them a head start on a post-secondary education for the digital media sector. I want to know where our candidates stand on educating our children for the future instead of for a world that no longer exists.

All of the candidates have pointed out how important family is, and how government needs to put in place the tools and opportunities for families to get ahead. They all raise the issue of affordable daycare. I find this incredibly ironic, because one of the first things the Liberals did when they won back the Legislature from the NDP, was to axe the NDP’s excellent daycare programme, immediately causing daycare to be unaffordable for low income wage earners and single parent families like my own.

While I no longer require the services of a daycare, I did experience first hand trying to talk to the Premier early in his tenure at a fundraiser event for MLA Rich Coleman. He politely nodded and smiled as I expressed my concerns to him about the daycare situation created by his party’s desire to stamp out anything done by the NDP. He made empty promises to have someone from the appropriate ministry contact me to discuss the issue further, as he felt that my arguments at the time had merit – and that time the daycare issue was front and centre for me. No one contacted me, it was an empty promise. There were no improvements forthcoming for the affordability and availability of daycare at that time. For the record, I am not an NDP supporter, but every so often they do come up with some really good programmes, and the daycare subsidy programme was very well done.

You may be wondering why I am bringing up the issue of daycare – unless you are a woman working in the creative industry sector. In making it easier for parents to find employment, daycare is a huge issue.
I did put out the call to a few women who work in various Vancouver area studios, but being a beautiful sunny Sunday morning, I am not expecting speedy replies. I found out via Google that Electronic Arts, one of the biggest creative employers in our area, does support daycare as a matter of corporate policy, but offerings differ by studio and apparently this is one area that is under discussion at the EA Canada campus. On their employment benefits page, this is what Electronic Arts has to say:

“Some designated EA offices offer child daycare onsite. Also varying from location to location, EA supports childcare through other channels as well, such as childcare vouchers and the Back-Up Child Care program (USA). In addition, and likewise depending on location, EA provides financial assistance for adoption. This program provides assistance towards agency placement fees, court costs, and legal fees associated with adoption.”

In searching out information about Canadian tech companies and daycare, I came across an extremely informative site that may be of help to many involved with child care on both sides of the 49th parallel, and is well worth reading through. ChildCare.net is rich with resources for both parents searching out childcare and those who would like to start a childcare facility. A particularly excellent page is the one that lists the many corporate programmes available which assist daycare centres across the continent.

I continued off on my research tangent about family friendly companies – don’t worry, I’ll get back to the Liberal candidate race in a minute or two, and checked who was topping the lists of Family Friendly corporations across the country. On the Top 100 site, Next Level Games made the list in 2008, 2009 and 2010. In an article on Suite101 from last April, Next Level Games, Webnames.ca and the Microsoft Canada Development Centre were named as being among the Top 100 family friendly companies in 2009 by the Progressive Employers of Canada List. I did go to the Progressive site to see what other information was offered, but that site appears to be a link and ad farm now.

So, to tie in the Liberal candidate platform promises, it would be very easy for any of the four candidates to promise improvements to the daycare situation in this province, because right now the available services are expensive and there is a high demand for more spaces. Perhaps this is a part of the reason why younger couples are not starting families – because they would have to give up the income needed to survive in this province as daycare options are very limited. Not an easy choice – afford a home or have a child. Both are expensive choices in this province.

The next issue I would like to look at is education. I have one child who successfully completed high school, and even though it took her until Grade 12 to realize that high school was not a social event, she still got that all-important certificate. My youngest, however, is a different story. He is very talented creatively, but high school was a complete let-down for him. He wanted to study digital arts, but there was no digital arts programme at our high school. The digital lab at that time was very poor – using evaluation copies of software, offering the wrong types of software, and instructors were not well-versed in digital media.

If he had wanted to study a traditional trade like automotive mechanics, metal-working, wood-working or hairdressing, he’d have been fine. He would have also been okay if he was interested in a traditional science field – chemistry or biology. While he does have a strong interest in archaeology and history, he wanted to tie those in with digital media, and couldn’t. He ended his high school education at the Grade 10 level, giving up in frustration because being shut into a box all day listening to teachers talk was not conducive to his learning style. Yes, I know – many of you would’ve said “suck it up buttercup” but I too struggled through school, and the only classes I truly enjoyed when I was in high school were history, law and English – probably because I have an addiction to researching things and I am a voracious reader. But again, I digress.

As the Cavechild did not graduate, getting into a post-secondary environment is at best difficult. He does not qualify for scholarships, and we certainly can’t afford the thousands of dollars it would cost to put him through a full digital media programme, whether it’s one at the University of the Fraser Valley, BCIT or Vancouver Film School. In fact, we really can’t afford any programme at any post-secondary institution, no matter the content. On top of the course expense, he’d have to remain living at home, because he doesn’t have a job, nor does he have a vehicle, and the transit service in our town is less than poor, even though we get to pay all of those transit levies imposed on us by Translink and Government. This is also a barrier to him being able to obtain employment, unless he wants to work at one of the fast food outlets within walking distance of our house.

The bus line does not service Gloucester Industrial Park, which is the biggest area of employment in our fine town. In fact, it barely offers a service in town at all. High school students can’t even make use of transit to get to the school because there is one route into town and a different route out, there is no two-way line until you get west of town, where the bus comes into and exits Aldergrove at the junction of Highways 13 and 1A. Oh, and it’s too far to walk to Gloucester, especially along poorly light rural roads with no sidewalks. I guess we could buy him a bike, I’m sure he would enjoy the 5+ mile ride in our fine west coast weather, providing he doesn’t get run off the road by irresponsible drivers.

So really, I’ve raised three issues in the previous few paragraphs – education, employment and transportation. Kevin Falcon has stated his position on education. He recognizes that our schools must move forward to prepare children for the changing employment landscape, and while he does address the issues of special needs education, additional options for learning foreign languages as well as mention our digital world, he does not speak to improving things like access to learning materials or taking advantage of the innovation available to the education system through the use of current and future technologies.

None of the candidates directly address the possibility of digital schools, making use of eReaders or tablets and eTextbooks. Is this because they are focused on forestry and its spin-off industries? They can’t afford to alienate the logging companies and processing mills because of the paper industry, which is supported by the textbook publishers – but at the same time, schools and students are going without textbooks, or they are using outdated textbooks. Let’s face it, at the rate our society changes, a textbook is outdated before it lands in any school’s repository. The use of eTextbooks would change that, with the ability of publishers to push out regular updates to the information available.

That said, Christy Clark easily wins the education debate with the number of sensible and practical initiatives and programmes she would like to see developed within BC’s educational system. Her published proposed policies cover the widest area of concerns, and shows that she is at least willing to investigate possibilities and work with educators and parents on all levels.

To be honest, Christy Clark – and I am not saying that 100% of my support is in her camp – I’m just making an observation here – has the most detailed and well-rounded platform of all the candidates. Christy is the only candidate to single out the video game industry as being important to BC’s future in the digital economy:

“BC’s future growth and prosperity will be based on finding better ways of doing things in areas like mining, engineering, software, construction, transportation, resource management, green energy, clean technology, health sciences, and — even if some of the parents here may not like it – video games!”

Kevin Falcon does not talk about the technology sector other than in reference to green tech, instead he states:

Policy: We must leverage our people, talent and resources to build opportunities across BC

Plan: We need to ensure that any made-in-BC economic plan for the future takes into account the tremendous contributions and capacity of our Asian communities. No other province in Canada has better connections to Asia. We need to leverage those connections to access markets, build business alliances and identify overseas opportunities. I believe we can better put those connections to work for BC.
Plan: We must also make sure that both our First Nations and non First Nations communities are a big part of BC’s economic future. If we’re going to create jobs and opportunities right across the province, communities need to be part of that decision process.
Plan: Encouraging new, sustainable jobs in BC is a priority for me. I want to talk to British Columbians about how we can encourage new investment in R&D as well as growing our green technology sector in order to create new, sustainable jobs here right here in BC.”

These three plans as an answer to his posted policy do nothing, in my opinion, and do not state any definitive action that he would like to see government take.

Here is what George Abbott has to say about growing the economy:

*Diversifying our economy means supporting our traditional industries and job-creators, while also supporting the creation of new industries. Our technology sector – biotech, digital media, clean energy, telecommunications and information technologies – and areas such as health research offer the promise of high-paying skilled, creating new opportunities in our cities, and fostering a culture of creativity and innovation.
*Building the right environment for this industry can only be done through partnership between our industries, our educational institutions, and government.

Therefore, as Premier, I will:

* Work with our technology and health research industry strategies to grow these industries in the province over the next ten years so that they can employ more, export more, and build stronger clusters in our communities; and
* Work with our network of universities to build educational and research supports, with an additional focus of attracting more international skilled talent (workers and researchers) in the technology field.

Achievement of these goals will not only create an economic future for the province overall, but support an economy and workforce that is highly educated, economically stable, innovative, creative, and entrepreneurial.”

I think that, aside from not being a sitting member of the legislature for the past few years and through hosting her talk show with CKNW, Christy has better insight on what the people of BC want in its provincial government – again, not a statement of full support, this is another observation. George Abbott is another candidate whom I see as being a viable choice for the top position of Premier. He too has his finger on the pulse of the population, and being from the interior of our province has a deeper understanding of the issues faced by those regions.

I can’t remember which talk show host it was on CKNW, but when Mr. Abbott was briefly named as Education Minister just prior to the start of the leadership race, it was stated that he was excellent for the job due to his highly-developed negotiation skills. Those are a plus on my tally as it’s going to take some very skillful negotiation to continue moving this province and the digital sector forward.

I do not envy any of these prospective leaders the tasks they face – public confidence in the political system is probably at or near an all-time low. How our political leaders bring the economy and well-being of the nation and all its parts through the trials being experienced not just here at home but around the world will be an exercise in creativity in itself, and I highly doubt there’s an app for that.

Naturally, at the centre of the debate on our technical and creative industries – and also for education, is the national debate surrounding User Based Billing. I am not completely opposed to the idea, what I am against is the fact that there is the obvious appearance of collusion amongst the big providers – Shaw, Bell, Rogers and Telus. Shaw quietly made 25gb disappear off of our internet plan. There was no notice of a change in plan, no notice in a change of policy. Nothing. Those 25 gigabytes just vanished somewhere into cyberspace. Yet we are still paying the same price for less service. Not to mention that we will get charged an internet highway robbery price of $1.00 per gigabyte that we go over on our data transfer cap each month. This type of practice is not productive in growing a provincial knowledge and creative industry.

Granted, Shaw has placed a hold on those charges until it gains insight from its customers via several townhall meetings and other avenues, but how are these new caps going to affect schools and business? Openmedia.ca best addresses all of these issues, and they are well-worth following for the latest in the UBB debate.

Christy Clark states as part of her plan to bring the government into the 21st century with a greater online presence, but how many of us will be watching those webcasts or downloading needed files if they are going to put a huge dent in our monthly transfer allowances? We are already struggling to make ends meet with costs in every area continually going up – rent keeps going up, utilities keep going up, every area of just living keeps going up in cost. How can we possibly hope to save enough money to buy our own house, even at this stage in our lives, when everything is so costly? We even have to be careful on how we develop this very web site simply because of cost, even though we are hoping to make this site a viable income-earner so that we can leave our day jobs and do what we have a passion for – and perhaps leave a legacy behind for the son who also has a passion for what we do.

While tax credits and incentives are great for encouraging business, they are not the only answer to growing an industry. There needs to be a plan developed to market our industry and to attract not only investors and entrepreneurship, but to attract buyers of our services and products. I want to know if any of the candidates have considered marketing plans, trade missions and incentives to participate in non-local conferences in order to attract that business. On the federal level, DFAIT has and is extremely supportive of helping Canadian digital media companies discover new markets, offering conference assistance and more. I know in the past that the BC Government has had a hand in some of these initiatives, but what is on the horizon as we put a new Premier in place?

BC has many pockets of technological growth, it’s not all based solely in the Vancouver area – both Vancouver Island and the interior have some incredible development communities, and I would like to know how the new Premier will be working to grow and unite each of these areas so that we are all working towards dominance in the digital industry. How are our leaders going to work with the federal government in building Canada’s digital economy? I have a lot of confidence in Christy and her understanding of our technical world, in part because my friend Bradley Shende appeared regularly on her talk show with the latest goings-on and gadgetry, and I heard a distinct tone of interest in her voice and a desire to understand the technology and processes behind the technology were genuine. Admittedly I also often had a very different opinion on some issues compared to the ones Christy was giving on her show, particularly where video games are concerned, but she redeemed herself by recognizing the economical importance of the video game industry in this province.

BC had the opportunity to host one of the world’s biggest video game tournaments in the fall of 2010, and even that would have kept the world’s focus on our city and our province. The tourism departments cities of Vancouver, Burnaby and Richmond all worked hard together to help put forth a bid; members of the creative industry in Vancouver were incredibly supportive of the bid, but the ball was dropped at the provincial and federal level because of, you guessed it, the Olympics. While the door has not been closed on revisiting another bid for this event in the future, a huge opportunity to build on the legacy of the Winter Olympics by holding the “Olympics of the video game industry” in the same year, in the same city, was lost.

Many of the Olympic sponsor corporations are also sponsors of the gaming tournament, and we lost out on the double benefits of already having a good part of the required infrastructure in place. Our local game development studios lost out on this event, which would have been an incredible opportunity to draw the world’s eye to our industry at a time when we needed it most. Perhaps, and this is totally off-the-wall thought, if we’d been able to host this event we wouldn’t be experiencing the studio closures and lay-offs that we are now, because the world would have had an up-close-and-personal look at why Vancouver is a digital media creation hub. Instead, the world moved on to Los Angeles in the fall of 2010.

Thankfully we have the opportunity to host SIGGRAPH in August 2011 – let us hope that the Liberals will see the full potential in the event, and work diligently with the SIGGRAPH conference board, our local SIGGRAPH chapter and our provincial digital industry sector to make the conference shine and once again put the spotlight on why BC is the best place on Earth.

Christy Clark is the only candidate who openly states that there needs to be some type of process in place to watch municipal governments. If the other three had something to say about local government issues, I couldn’t easily find them. While I think that on the whole most municipal governments are decent, I cannot say that about Langley Township, which is where I live. Partisanship and back office deals thrive here, and there are many issues that need investigating, especially in how it deals with contracts to benefit one company, with the compliance of the local RCMP detachment. If any candidate wants to know what those specific issues are (and they pertain to MY family’s decades-old business and its continuing viability), you all have my email address, ask away. You can be guaranteed that I will answer your email. Or, you can get me on Twitter – George Abbott and Mike de Jong both know I’m on there – Mr. de Jong even follows me – which says that he is interested in our digital economy, even though I can’t find his stand on it on his web site, the week’s just starting, he still has time to spell out his platform in one easy to read document like Christy did.

Something I would like to see fully investigated as a possibility is province-wide business licenses. Now I can see all of the municipalities jumping up and down yelling no, no, no! But seriously, think about it. What a reduction in red tape and the need for 3 or 4 different business licenses like my parents’ company is required to have. Surely it can be administered in a way similar to the International Fuel Tax Act, but on a provincial level. Regulations can be put in place to safeguard consumers, and think of how much easier it would be to police the scammers such as the home renovation and driveway paving companies who move around from town to town bilking people out of their money.

Speaking of the International Fuel Tax Act, BC companies pays the second highest diesel fuel tax on the continent. Our province depends on the trucking industry to move goods, yet the trucking industry is everyone’s culprit whenever there is an accident involving a truck – whether the driver is at fault or not. Have you ever been in a big truck that had to try and stop after some idiot in a small car cut it off? Yes, the trucking industry is a whole other rant, again tied to my paycheque, on top of how ICBC deals with the towing industry and its unwillingness to meet market value for the services provided.

Don’t get me wrong with what I said about municipal contracts and the RCMP – I fully support the RCMP in their fight against crime, I just don’t support the local detachment misleading the general public at accident scenes, and using the “municipal contract” as a reason for their actions, when the information they give out is wrong and detrimental to the paying job I hold.

Of course, if the Township of Langley wasn’t so difficult to do business in, I would no longer be employed in my parents company, I would be doing what I have a passion for, but no, it’s not permitted in this Township, and Council’s understanding of what it is I want to do is so far off the mark it’s not amusing at all. Some members of Council understood what I was trying to do, but the others are incredibly closed-minded and did not want to understand at all. Yes, we could take our business elsewhere, but we can’t afford to move.

The issues I’ve raised above are only a glancing blow at the entire list of considerations, policies and arguments on what needs to be done in this province. No one candidate is going to be able to solve all of the problems. It is going to take all levels of government and all elected officials working together to make even a noticeable dent in the work ahead. I hope that all of those who are eligible to vote in either the Liberal or NDP leadership elections do so. I also hope that more people exercise their right to be heard and to vote in all upcoming general elections at all three levels of government. Your voice needs to be heard, and casting your vote is but the first step in holding our elected officials accountable to those of us who pay the bills.

If you made it this far in reading, thank you for taking the time out of your day to try and follow my random thought waves as I try to make sense out of who stands for what and thus will most likely do the best job in the Premier’s office. If you were looking for me to say unequivocally into which camp my personal support would be falling, I’m sorry for not making that very clear. I do not have much faith in the transparency of politics, and the experience of dealing with back-room deals and “old boys clubs” necessitates that I not implicitly say, because I don’t want my choice colouring any future dealings I may have with the future Liberal government. As alluded to above, I am a supporter – and long-time pre-politics friend of MLA Rich Coleman, and I don’t have a problem with anyone knowing that; however, just because he has come out publicly in support of Mr. Falcon, that does not mean that I will follow my MLA into that camp. As Christy and the others have stated, we have a voice 95 000 strong, and we will speak with that voice on February 26th. Maybe by then I’ll have firmly made up my mind. ;)

This entry was posted on Sunday, February 20th, 2011 at 2:54 pm and is filed under Editorials, Government. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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