Breakfast with the Honourable George Abbott and the BC Chamber of Commerce

The previous BC Chamber of Commerce breakfast with a Cabinet Minister featured the Honourable Kevin Falcon, Minister of Health Services. He arrived to the breakfast meeting late and while approaching the podium exclaimed about the amount of traffic coming downtown. I thought that was pretty amusing since he was BC’s Minister of Transportation. Would this month’s guest Cabinet Minister, the always sombre looking George Abbott, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation have any witty or memorable comments? Let’s just say he did not disappoint.

But before we get to Abbott’s talk, a little backgrounder on the purpose of this event. It is a networking opportunity for current and future members of the BC Chamber of Commerce. As such, the idea is to go into the room, and meet and greet people to expand your network of business contacts. And the first person I met was Victor Godin.

I actually met Godin as we both stepped off the curb to cross Hastings Street. The little white man popped into the crosswalk sign and we both stepped off the curb. As we did so a cyclist raced through the red light and almost knocked us both to the ground. We survived. And soon realized that we were both headed to breakfast with the Honourable George Abbott.

Once inside the room Godin and I continued our conversation. We completed the obligatory business card exchange (this time I had my Vancouver Observer business cards ready for distribution). I handed one over to him.

Typically at a networking event of this sort you chat for a few minutes with somebody and then move on to another person. But I found Godin amusing to listen to and we ended up sitting together at a table near the back of the room. Godin has a hint of irreverence about him that I appreciate. We continued to chat and I found out that in another life, Godin was actually the Director of Policy and Research for the BC Liberals when they were the Official Opposition.

Godin was the one who pointed out that the crowd that morning was full of loggers, miners and lawyers. All of them have a vested interest in knowing how the government is going to deal with the First Nations land claims issues. And the lawyers perhaps are the group who would prefer to never see a resolution, as their billable hours continue to accumulate.

Just as the breakfast meeting kicked off, Robin Adair, my tablemate from the last breakfast meeting arrived. He had a great big smile on his face as he said that he had already been in his office since 6am that morning doing work on an Olympic related issue for the city of Vancouver. When I asked him a probing question about Mayor Gregor Robertson and his city council, life as an NDP MLA and more, Adair smiled again and said he had to be careful answering me because I am “one of those quasi-media-types.”

Godin corrected him and said, “No, he is media.”

My undercover reporting was now completely blown.

And then it was time for the Honourable George Abbott to speak. And he did. The funny thing is that whenever he is being interviewed on television his head moves around like one of those bobblehead dolls they give away at hockey games. Same phenomena in real life.

He began by acknowledging that his, “Former friend and colleague, ahh…I mean friend and former colleague, Geoff Plant was in attendance.” Then he talked a bit about the Olympics and how we are going to “own the podium.” From his tone of voice I was not sure if he meant we were going to literally own the podium because Vancouver is hosting the Olympics or because we are going to win medals.

And then Abbott spilled off a series of government spun one-liners to placate the crowd.

He talked about how governments don’t create jobs, but create environments and business climates where private enterprise can create jobs… About how we all need to develop and grow better relationships with the First Nations people of BC… about the need to diversify BC’s economy… about how the forest industry has been beset by a number of challenges due to worldwide economic conditions, but it is poised for great success in years to come…and how skills and training are essential to a recovering and expanding economy…particularly for the First Nations people of BC…

And then he seemed to go off script. He said that sometimes when government gets involved it just makes a colossal screw up of things. He talked about how government can learn a thing or two about involving First Nation communities in business, from business. The example he gave was the controversial Plutonic Power hydro-electric generating business up the BC coast.

And then he went further off script. He told us he would answer questions afterwards, in question period. He suddenly stopped bobbing his head, looked up at the audience and said, “Question period. That’s government talk for when the Opposition pummels us.” He paused, looked at the unresponsive audience and then added, “But we pummel them back, of course.” A few nervous chuckles in the audience followed.

Then the topper, “We will try not to do as many egregiously foolish things in the future…I’m just kidding.” What was he kidding about? About stopping doing egregiously foolish things? Are they going to stop doing foolish things? Not too clear on what he was trying to say there.

During the question period that followed the speech, you could sense the thought that was put into every word. While he was giving his speech from script, even though he fumbled words and lines, he seemed comfortable with his material. However, once he was on his own, his words were calculated and very carefully measured. Phrases like, “The issue is not that clear cut…work needs to be done on that…government will need to better define…want to work with industry and business…there is an ongoing need for consultation…" and other usual government weasel words that fill time and say nothing.

One can only imagine that the loggers and miners in the crowd left the meeting hungry for more certainty on the land claims issue and hungry for more breakfast after eating the skimpy eggs Benedict sans potatoes of any sort that were served to us. At the same time the lawyers in the room must have felt some relief to know that there is no resolution to the land claims issue on the horizon.

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