For publication in The Kamloops Daily News, Saturday, Feb. 21, 2009
Q: How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Forty-one. Eight to argue, one to get a continuance, one to object, one to demur, two to research precedents, one to dictate a letter, one to stipulate, five to turn in their time cards, one to depose, one to write interrogatories, two to settle, one to order a secretary to change the bulb, and 16 to bill for professional services.
Which means, by my calculation, the first class to graduate from the new TRU law school will be one lawyer short of what’s needed to change a bulb.
But, we’re not here to talk about that. Today’s topic is The Big Announcement.
When governments give us something back for the money we send them, they like to make sure they get appropriate credit. This requires The Big Announcement.
The two Big Announcements for Kamloops this past week – the TRU law school, and the funding for the sewage-treatment upgrade – couldn’t have been more different, and neither followed the usual script.
The first, the law school, was carried out like a military raid, with precision planning and execution, and admirable attention to the element of surprise.
The other, the sewage money, was all over the place, literally. Not that it wasn’t done competently (as compared, say, to the federal airport grant announcement) but it was certainly different.
Both were creatures of politics and at least a little gamesmanship. I’m talking here about the manner in which the information was released, not the substance of the announcements, both of which are excellence news for Kamloops.
Though I’m not a big fan of secrecy in government, when it comes to cutting a deal for these kinds of things secrecy is essential. The bigger the deal, the more people involved, and the tougher it is to keep it under wraps.
When you think about it, keeping the TRU law school a secret for two years was masterful.
But why, you might ask, did it have to be kept a secret? In answer to your question, I ask whether you noticed that the deal is between TRU and the University of Calgary rather than UBC or the University of Victoria, both of which have fine law schools and happen to be in our own province.
So (as Anna Maria Tremonte might interject) why not hook up with one of those instead of a university on the other side of the Rockies?
The reason, as one of the people close to the deal told me, is this: “The reality is, if we went to UBC or UVic and asked them to partner with us, they’d have said, ‘get real, we’ll just add 40 seats to our own school.’”
This is quietly backed up by several others who seem to know what they’re talking about, though nobody is anxious to come right out with it. UBC and UVic, it’s apparent, would not have been thrilled at the prospect of another B.C. university setting up a law school on their turf – the competitive spirit sometimes trumps the interests of education, it would seem.
So, the lid was kept so tight that even some of those on the inside were surprised when the Big Announcement came as part of the throne speech. They were hoping and expecting, but a throne speech?
The premier’s decision to throw it into the throne speech was unorthodox as such things go, but added a certain drama to it, and gave the speech a decidedly positive ring in a couple of ridings that will be key to keeping the Liberals in power come election time in May.
The downside is it removed the opportunity — at least in the immediate term — for the premier to come to town and make the Big Announcement here in traditional fashion, in which he could have heaped praise on his own government including Claude Richmond and Kevin Krueger.
Praising Krueger would be entirely appropriate, since he’s the guy who made it all happen.
Several local lawyers did a lot of work on this, and they’ve been credited in news coverage. But good ideas always require somebody to say, “Why don’t we do such-and-such?” and to bring people together to do it.
Krueger was the guy who did that. He got a committee together, got the premier’s buy-in early, and they were away to the races serenading the U. of Calgary.
Not to worry about a lost opportunity to give him kudos, either. If Campbell is true to form, he’ll fly in and stage some kind of law-school kickoff event closer to election time, in the same way he used the annual UBCM meeting to announce removal of the Coquihalla tolls, then set up a toll-booth demolition photo op a few days later.
The sewage announcement was an entirely different kettle of fish.
It was announced at least five times, if you include the obviously strategic leak to radio. Governments are given to announcing good news several times, but not usually on the same day.
One must admire the strategy. Somebody in government (I’m guessing at the ministerial level) leaks the story to a news media toady for the morning of the day of the official announcement. Then the MP gets her moment in the sun by announcing it during a special meeting with the TNRD board.
Then she visited City Hall to share the news again. Meanwhile, the announcement is being made yet again in Victoria, with Krueger, infrastructure minister Kevin Falcon, and federal minister Stockwell Day sharing. And, finally, there was the official press release.
Admittedly, one reason for this scatter-gun style of Big Announcement is that Day happened to be in Victoria. But, hey, stringing out good news through two days of media coverage beats a single blast.
It could have waited for a day when everybody could be in the same room, but both the Conservatives and B.C. Liberals are anxious to show some action on stimulating the economy.
In the end, though, it’s less important how we received the news than that we received it.