Dear Toronto

July 27, 2018 - Leave a Response

If only I could explain in words how much I love you.

As a child, I lived at Young and Charles in the married residence at the University of Toronto. You own my first memories of life. Walking to daycare. Hanging out at parks. The original Coles bookstore. Free museum day. The Santa Claus Parade. Toronto Island. St Lawrence Market. Street cars. Cycling in the streets with the old school fold up bikes. The Christmas windows and Simpsons and Eatons. 

And then a stint in the suburb of York Mills. Followed by a quick exit to Northern Ontario. Best decision ever. Great community. Great schools. Great landscape.  I didn’t have to drag my bike up the elevator to put it on the balcony. I could just leave it in the carport. It’s funny what matters to a kid. And it’s funny what we remember. I remember a neighbourhood that welcomed us with baked goods and jam. Where our parents knew where we were even if we thought we were hiding. Where the porch light on meant it was time to come home. And we did. 

Anyway, all that being said. You have an impact on many people who no longer live in Toronto, or even in Ontario. Why, for the love of all things good, would you EVER elect the likes of Doug Ford. Oh wait, maybe it wasn’t you. But somebody did. And now you, and to be frank, the rest of us have hell to pay. 

I live in BC now and have done so for decades but I watch daily with concern about what is happening. But today was too much. For an elected Premier to change the rules of municipal government on a dime with no mention of his plan in his election platform? I think it’s fair to say he hates you, despite you giving him all that he has. And others, who do not live in Toronto, gave him the rest he needed to win. 

If there is a silver lining, it’s this. We cannot fight what we cannot see. He has shown you now. If you’ve seen it, fight. 

Two moms, two boys, two scooters, three weeks – Europe 2018

June 24, 2018 - Leave a Response

If I could have hung a sign on my life for the month of May, it would have read “gone exploring”.

I’m not a fan on the word vacation, given the implied meaning that I have things in my life from which I need to vacate. I don’t. Not to say there aren’t challenges, there are. But in my estimation at least, I was overdue for an exploration.

So when my youngest and his friend suggested it might be fun to go backpacking in Europe, I got straight to work. As our kids get older, our chance to spend time and have fun with them diminishes. My days of racing down double-black diamond ski runs are long over. And I’m not very good on a skateboard. While I appreciate rap, hip hop and the strange humour of youtube, my appetite for it is waining. So I felt this was an opportunity I needed to make happen. Luckily for me, my son’s best friend’s mom happens to be my best friend so, with happy travel companions on board, we set off on our journey.

It’s a trip I’ve done before, with my high school class, as a young university grad, as a suddenly single thirty something and again as fearlessly new forty year old. I even had plans to move to London at one time. But then life changed, love happened, babies happened and life took shape. And I’m so glad it took the shape that it has. But for May of this year, it took shape in Barcelona, Arles, Florence, Paris, Lille and London.

So, couple things right off the bat. Europe is expensive (and I am not wealthy). Yes, but it’s less out of reach than it once was. Flights are cheaper than they have ever been. I spent less flying to London than I have flying back east to see my family. Hotels are expensive. Yes. But Air BnB has opened up a whole new supply of accommodation. They are priced competitively, and offer a variety and diversity you simply cannot get in a standard double occupancy room. We stayed in an abbey, a stone house, a five-storey walk up,  and on a wooden boat in an historic harbour. And it was awesome. Transportation is expensive. Sort of. European flights are cheaper than regional flights within Canada and non EU nationals qualify for reduced price train passes if you order them from Canada. Local transit is on par (well except for Salmon Arm which is the best deal going). Restaurants are expensive. Yes. But grocery shopping is not. It’s competitive to prices here. And, to my mind at least, I’d have to eat anyway. We weren’t there to tick off boxes of expensive attractions to visit. We did normal things such as visiting markets, hanging out in squares, going for long walks, and checking out different neighbourhoods. For our boys, the added bonus was that they brought their scooters so we scoped out our fair share of skateparks on the way. Which they loved. Because, they too were awesome. Even from a mom’s point of view.

And all that walking and scootering, (our app told us we walked over 300 kms in 23 days) taught me a few things. We are so spoiled for space. Canada is the world’s second largest country and has one of the lowest population densities on the globe. Scarcity teaches us to be better at using space. At least in my view. And at least in Europe.

Our apartments were modest and practical and mostly quite small. But they were well appointed, well designed and smart from energy efficient appliances, on demand hot water showers to drying racks and electrical plugs that you turn on and off rather than draw ghost power. The transportation was smart too. Electric cars and trams, high occupancy lanes in the centre of town to de-incentivize the one per vehicle addiction we are so fond of here in North America. And bikes, everywhere, shareable and with their own lanes to boot. London even has a high speed cycle way. It’s fun to watch from the top of a double decker bus. Like a commuter version of the Tour de France. Fascinating. And it works. For everyone.

And now the fun part, at least for me, was the design of public space. Every neighbourhood, every alley, every train station, every square, every garden featured an obvious attention to community engagement. We know we behave better when we feel connected to our public spaces. Europe has had its share of challenges. On previous trips, I remember armed guards with machine guns at various posts. I saw less of that this time. I am persuaded that all of Europe has taken an intensive class in crime prevention through environmental design (CPED – a field of study widely recognized for reducing crime – also look up broken window theory if you want to learn more about it). There was a presence of police and security no doubt, and CCTV cameras everywhere but the emphasis was less on militaristic security measures and more on safety and inclusion.

A couple of examples that come to mind include a swing at a tube station in London. What better way to wait for your ride home. Indoor playgrounds at the train station to keep the kids busy and happy before the trip. Pianos, just to play. A stationery bike to charge your phone so as to keep fit and in touch. Concrete ping pong tables in parks, skate park ramps in alleys between buildings, story machines that print very short stories for you to enjoy if you need a break. Chairs – everywhere moveable chairs – to sit and better enjoy your day at the park. Music in the Metro. Even a fellow willing to type (yes, on a typewriter) a poem for whatever you could pay. Coffee shops hidden under bridges. Public art, just to play on and around. Plaques to remind you of those who came before you and statues and fountains and, even a giant indoor slide in the courtyard of an art gallery. Space is at a premium in European cities and they really do make the most of it. But mostly, it was about people, lots of helpful people, residents, transit workers, security guards, merchants, who are there to help, not to hurt or hinder. Private space is limited and at a premium, obviously. But public space makes up for it in its accessibility, its welcome and its possibilities.

So all that to say, I’m home now. And I’ve kept up the walking. I take to the Park Hill trails in Canoe on a daily basis now and I continue to explore. I explore questions like where shall we put the swing, where shall we put the stationery bike, what about the story machine. And the piano. We need a piano. We need to explore how to ensure, with an over abundance of space, we still recognize the need to continue to make them, at least the public bits, as accessible and as welcoming as possible. We are all explorers, but sometimes we get stuck. So find a trail, or a bike, or a piano, and get started again. Put that sign on your life that reads “keep exploring”. That’s where I’ll find you.

Happy travels.

Barcelona

Arles

Italy

Paris

Lille

London

Dear America #canpoli needs a chat

June 12, 2018 - Leave a Response

We are neighbours.  And sometimes neighbours disagree.

And that’s okay.  Really it is. Normalement (as we say in French – which more of us speak that you might like to think). But these are not normal times. 

For the most part, neighbourly disagreements are of little consequence. They’re basically an invitation to improve a relationship. Your music is too loud is code for please invite us to your next party.  Your fence is on my property line is really code for why can’t we spend more time together than apart. 

Except for lately. You crossed a line. And that’s saying a lot for two countries that share the world’s longest undefended border. Like, as in, there is no line but you crossed it anyway. 

So, a couple things I’d like you, as neighbours, to keep in mind as we work our way through this major clusterfuck.

First – facts matter. We have a trade deficit with you. Not the other way round.

Second – reciprocity is key to human life. We are hard-wired to give and take and take and give. If you have fire and I have water. You can keep me warm, or I can douse the flames. We’re both safer because of each other’s willingness to share. 

Third, the US was colonized by puritans who sought exclusivity. Canada was colonized by extras. People who could not be put to work or properly fed, sent away on ships to seek a new life where food and work was plentiful. So, pity us for our misfortune but know that our appreciation for one another runs deep. We are not polite or kind by accident. We are polite and kind as a matter of survival, practice and scarcity. And if you don’t mind me saying, we are damn good at it. 

I’m careful to say colonized because that’s what we did. And our Indigenous Peoples suffer greatly and deeply to this day because of it. But that is for another post. 

Fourth – we put our money where our mouthes are. We fought along side you in WW1 and WW2 and Korea (I hope some of you see the irony of Trump’s early departure from the G7 in Canada to Singapore for a summit with North Korea). 

Fifth – remember Iran. Which ended Carter’s presidency and led to Reagan. That was not our goal. We got them home safe. That was the only goal. Or, if you’re not sure, watch Argo. 

Sixth – if you’re too young to remember Iran. Remember 911. And Gander. And see Come from Away on your bright lights of Broadway.  

Seventh – don’t even get me started on the Underground Railroad.

And eighth – we didn’t burn down the White House. That was decades before we were even a county, fyi.  

And there are 36 million (our population) reasons to make this relationship work and by all accounts, there are a 1/2 dozen of you who, as bizarre and yet undetermined circumstances would have it, are above their station, beyond their skill set and beneath their purpose who don’t share this view. 

And you are better than them. At least that’s what I want to believe. Because we are neighbours. And neighbourhoods are measured by their ability to include, to care, to show concern and to understand that universal kindness is our greatest ability to improve the lives of others never mind our own. And there is no tax regime, no tarriff, no rhetoric, no trade agreement, no TV pundits, no twitter hashtag that will ever supersede that. 

But grabbing a cup of coffee and having a proper chat over the fence might help. I’ll buy you a coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts if you buy me one at Tim Horton’s. And we’ll put this behind us. Because it matters. And it needs doing. The global neighbourhood is watching and they are counting on us. And if we don’t, I know that you know that no good will come of this.

Love,

Us, eh?

Dear Pipeline People – an important #canpoli conversation

April 11, 2018 - Leave a Response

First off, I admire you – your determination, your care and concern, your willingness to put yourself on the line for that in which you believe – for your stalwart protection of your values and the values of those for whom you advocate.

What challenges me is your inability and, if you don’t mind my saying, your unwillingness, to work with others to look for consensus. 

I’m reminded of the war in the woods at Claoyquot Sound in the early nineties pitting activists against loggers. That was one rough summer. Not just for those on scene but for the rest of us watching from afar. 

It’s not good when we don’t get along. And it might make for great super time news clips but I’m not convinced (despite your potential efforts to persuade me otherwise) that it works for either side. 

Fast forward 20 plus years, you understand of course that both environmentalists and foresters work together now on a sustainable forestry plan that meets the needs of both sides, not without challenges, in British Columbia – well, not that there are sides anymore – because there is only one big forest.

Canada is one country. There are 36 million of us. No doubt we have different needs and wants. We also have competing interests and shared natural resources. We are no more in need of oil than we are in need of wood or minerals or wheat, or milk, or canola, or fruit or vegetables or, well you get the idea, from our friends, our neighbours and our country men and women.  And to complicate things, we live on a planet with 7 billion other people. 

The bickering makes for high drama. The highest for me was seeing Green Party Leader Elizabeth May arrested in Burnaby. That was a calculated decision. The next, for me, was a tweet from Conservative Party Andrew Scheer mere moments into the the Humboldt memorial about Trudeau’s betrayal after Kinder Morgan, an American company, decided to suspend all unnecessary expenses on the pipeline expansion.  That too was a calculated decision. I’ve not seen much from the federal NDP.  But I’m sure that’s yet to come. I’ve watched elected officials and ordinary people call our Liberal Environment Minister a climate barbie. How is any of this helpful, I ask you? It’s foolish, rude and unproductive. 

Now before you jump to the conclusion that I am a snowflake liberal (look up the real meaning of snowflake in political terms first, by the way, unlikely you’ll use it again), know that I belong to no political party. Because I’m abhor partisan politics. I am, if nothing else, practical. I’m a mom. That’s my job. 

And as a practical mom, can I ask you if you, personally, know what your own contribution is to the green house gases altering the sustainability of the planet for future generations?  I do. I own a home. I use a dryer and a fridge. I also, as it happens, heat my house, buy inexpensive clothes, drive a car, fly home to see my aging parents, occasionally buy a pineapple from South America, use plastic bags from the grocery store (because I always forget the reusable ones), suck at composting (but I’m learning how), and occasionally forget what day my city picks up recycling. See? I’m no angel. 

Next, I need you to know that there are three major oil reserves on the globe – they are in Saudi Arabia (a kingdom run by appointed sheikhs where human rights are not human), Venezuela (where families can’t afford food for their families because of out of control inflation and a collapsed democracy) and the Alberta oil sands with the highest environmental standards on the planet. Are you starting to get the picture?  Add to this that there isn’t a single town in this country that doesn’t rely on the income provided by the oil industry. No word of a lie. Fort Mac pays for plenty. To suggest otherwise is ignorant.   

We need to find the room in between. This idea that our natural resource future is an either/or choice is fool hardy and, frankly, wrong. It’s an “and” solution we need. And we need it desperately. 

Of course we need to migrate to a more sustainable energy future. Nobody, at least nobody reasonable, knows that isn’t the way forward. But it won’t happen overnight. This is a generational change. Trudeau knows it, Notley know its. Even Horgan knows it but he has a tenuous hold on power and is drawing his line in the sand to fulfill his term because he has other things he wants to do that need doing. I know. I live in BC.

This is not an Ottawa/Alberta/BC conversation. This needs to be a national discussion. Quebec and Ontario are getting a free pass on this. Ironically, their green house gas emissions likely trump the rest of ours. The truth is, unless and until we all reflect on our impact, non-pipeline and non-coastline provinces included, this nonsense will continue. And while I’m at it, Kenney, Ford and Scheer don’t get that. They are in election mode. So I ask you to consider what signals are being sent in terms of real and meaningful importance? 

Remember the two most powerful warriors are patience and time. It appears to me, we’re running out of both. Now is the time to lead, not to fight. The truth is that our lives are not measured by that which we oppose or that which we support. Our lives are judged by the changes that we make. It’s time for the change and I humbly suggest, we all have a part to play. That is the price of democracy. Expensive but important. 

So far, this debate has mostly shown those who are focussed on change and those who are focussed on blame. 

This might be the most important change this generation gets to make. I choose “and”. I have a feeling I’m not the only one.  

Unconventional Leadership – Voters are the best leaders #canpoli #bcpoli

March 14, 2018 - Leave a Response

There’s nothing conventional about recent leadership races.

I am sort of sad to tell you that I’ve watched almost every political leadership race since Clark was elected oh so many years ago. It’s my thing. I’m not sad for me. I really do enjoy it. I’m sad for the use of my time. You know as well as I do that there are more productive things I could have been doing. 

But last Saturday, partly by circumstance and partly by my world-class housework avoidance skills, I watched the Ontario PC leadership in all its dumpster fire finale. Go home, said the volunteer in chief who worked tirelessly to serve his party and its members only to be booed. Pretty sad moment. But I understood their dismay. Why do you think people take time out of their lives and money out of their pockets to be there? Because they craved being a part of history, and the ridiculous number of balloons and epic speeches, that’s why. Sure, in the grand scheme of things, it’s no more important that being at a great hockey game or a golf match. We crave experience. The PC Party of Ontario robbed their members of that. Mostly, it appears, because it was too close to call and the hall was booked for another event. Bad timing or bad planning. You decide. 

Quick side story – I attended the 1990 leadership Liberal convention in Calgary – I was a (very) young delegate. We were tasked with showing enthusiasm. They didn’t really care who we would vote for (but they had some suggestions) as long as we showed up keen and early (these were the days of the free hospitality bars). Which we did. Few of us had ever been to Calgary. And that’s what really drew us to the event. 

In the hallway, I met Peter Mansbridge and told him that I really liked his show. Stupid thing to say but I was star-struck by him. His response was polite but could we just get this done already because he had a flight to catch. Nobody won on the first ballot so we all had to actually vote again. I know right? Darn those pre-internet conventions, well, except for the funny hats and watching candidates cross the floor. But I learned that leadership contests are all about TV ratings and news cycles rather than the promise of good government. 

I suppose now is as good a time as ever to tell you that “some” youth delegates registrations were paid by bag men (not mine – I paid my way). Bag men are wealthy party members. They raise money. They make deals. And fair enough for youth delegates. We were in university, we had no money and no part time job would cover the bill. And, who would say no to a weekend away. Somethings, it seems, never change. 

But it taught me a lesson. We were enlisted to wear cowboy hats and vote for a candidate in exchange for a flight and a few days hotel in a city to which we had never been. Those who paid for us were rewarded with handsome tax credits. Within six weeks of that experience, I left the party, the job on Parliament Hill and the whole partisanship scene. 

There are significant sacrifices for anyone who holds very high office. And part of it is keeping up the appearance of partisanship. I may not be the best person when it comes to money, but I know when I’m being bought. And I just couldn’t do it. 

So my message is this. And I hope you are willing to absorb it. Partisan politics will be the death of us. It’s time every single riding picked qualified, dedicated, experienced candidates who owe nothing. Nothing to bag men. Nothing to other politicians. Nothing to parties. Nothing to anybody except the people they intend to serve. And I will argue that because I was very fortunate to serve the most honourable, the most honest and possibly the most hated member of the Federal Liberal Caucus because he opposed the notwithstanding clause compromise of Canada’s much contested constitutional debate. Jean Robert Gauthier – no longer among us – but arguably Ottawa’s greatest elected official (notice I didn’t say politician). 

I will never forget the day Chretien called. He needed Gauthier. I patched him through. Turner was leader. “Bonjour”, I said, “office of Jean Robert Gauthier”. His office door shut.  That was my job. Connecting my MP with anyone who needed to talk to him. Including the leader-in-waiting. He always answered the call. 

I went back to my typewriter (remember those?) knowing that I would never know, for sure, what that conversation was about. But I can tell you this. It was harder on Chretien that it was on Gauthier.  He taught me the value of not having a price. I’m grateful for that lesson. 

And if I can pay it forward, all I ask is that you please think before you vote. Then think again. Be unconventional. That’s where the power is. And that’s where the secret to change is.

A vote is not an exchange for a promise. A vote is an expression of hope. The sooner we learn that, the better off we’ll all be. I’m grateful I learned that lesson early. 

So, for the next few months our social media and news sites will be filled with partisan fuelled arguments from the centre of the universe (Toronto, in case you wondered). And in the not too distance future, our own social media and news feeds will be filled with local election news. Try, as hard as you can, to cut through the noise and the partisanship. Get informed. Ask for the information you need. Make the call you need to make. Beware the balloons. Focus on your internal dialogue. You’ve got this. And if it helps, remember that voters are the best leaders. Elected officials are your employees. It’s not the other way round. Never has been. Never will be.

See you at the polls. And, yes, I’d love to be your employee again. It’s been a balloon-free honour and privilege. #bcpoli #saturdayoctober20_2018 #notatanyprice

Are the kids alright? #chooselove #readon

March 1, 2018 - Leave a Response

The Columbine shooting happened when I was a full-fledged grown-up, living in a big city. I admit, it didn’t hit me much. I didn’t have kids. Neither did any of my friends. That doesn’t make me heartless, at least I hope not. But it does speak to how we deal with trauma and tragedy. Those best equipped to deal with it are those most able to connect with it. 

The Sandy Hook school shooting however, happened when my kids were little. That hit hard. Really hard. But the loss of innocent young children made me feel hopelessness and despair. 

The Florida Parkland school shooting hits even harder. My kids could have been those kids. Those kids lived in a small town known for its park like setting not that much bigger than Salmon Arm. The loss of teenagers makes me angry. They were so close to making it to full-fledged grown-ups. I don’t know why that makes a difference but it does to me. Likely because I have teenagers. 

I don’t think it’s that easy to be a teenager right now. In fact, I have it on good authority that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Social media is basically the equivalent of spending your whole life living those awkward moments in the high school hallways. Remember those? I know that you do. 

But for this generation of teens, there is no escape. The chatter never stops. Not for the evening, not for the weekend, not ever. Youtube is always on. So is Instagram and Snapchat. So is texting and FaceTime. They are connected all the time. They think they like it. As a parent, I’m not so sure it’s the best option. Not that I didn’t log my fair share of time chatting with friends on the phone. The cord from the wall unit in the kitchen was long enough to get me to a place of privacy if I gingerly snuck it under the bathroom door. In some ways, it’s the same. But in others, it’s a world of difference. 

You would think that in an age of hyper-connection, we would be better positioned to see the danger. Ironically, no. It’s said that the average person, in this day and age, is the recipient of 10,000 messages a day from radio commercials, to billboards to Facebook ads. And I say that as someone who works in and teaches marketing. How many of those messages can we really connect to, I ask you? It would appear that we are quickly loosing our ability to edit what, in the sea of media, is the big wave that matters. And it extends to law enforcement too, at least it did in the Florida tragedy. Someone picked up the phone to try to report the risk. It was missed. Or at least that is what appears to be the case. But who knows, it’s difficult to trust sources of information. Which makes it even more difficult. 

I miss the days when the TV would turn off for the night after an odd rendition of the Canadian anthem. It was a rare day that I was allowed to stay up that late but, truth be told, I think we all need that good night’s sleep. One thing’s for sure, those dead teenagers will sleep to infinity and their classmates will live the nightmare forever more. But it will fuel them to embolden a nation, our downstairs neighbour, to ensure that Parkland is the #lastmasshooting. I really think they can do this. In fact, it’s pretty much the only thing I’m sure of these days. 

But we’re going to have to hold on tight. All teenagers are vulnerable. The journey from childhood to adulthood is a test of will, of trust, of trial and of error. If you’re the parent of a teen, you’re going to need all the strength you can muster and it’s in you to give. You’re a trained professional. We got them through diapers, crawling, walking, talking, potty training, reading, riding their bike and tying their shoes among many other things. They’ve trained us well. At least I hope so. Because, the truth is, we need them more than they need us. It’s not advice you’re going to find in any parenting book but it’s the God’s honest truth. 

And the efforts, theirs and ours, will bear fruit. 

Downstairs, the NRA is running scared. And it’s for unlikely reasons. Insanely well-paid and well-positioned lobbyists of the US government are not afraid of youth because a gun is being held to their heads. They are afraid because teenagers hold our hearts. And no assault weapon can ever beat that. Ever. 

Closer to home, they are challenging us on plenty of societal norms that we have built our lives upon. Gender, marriage, ownership, climate, activism, music, language, and fashion to name but a few. While I’ll never understand their attraction to Family Guy and American Dad, I remember so well the ways in which I challenged my own parents. That’s why the common refrain (or was it a complaint) was that we wait until we had our own teenagers to really understand. Well played Mom and Dad, well played. 

We’re going to need courage, love and common sense. The kids are alright. More than alright. They have plenty to teach us. Our challenge is to give them the respect they deserve and to listen to things we do not want to hear. It’s on us. Without truth, there is no trust. Not easy. In fact it might be the most challenging time you face as a parent. But we are here for a reason. At least I hope we are. And one day, they too will have teenagers. And they will need our help with that. So we need to survive this.  

Important post script – all teens are vulnerable but some are more vulnerable than others – if you have a teen who is struggling with anxiety, depression or substance abuse, please reach out to your family doctor, your school counsellor, a therapist or a child and youth mental health team member. On the upside, there is a sea of dedicated and trained professionals willing and able to help. But the biggest step is your willingness to face the fear.  Choose to empathize, not to criticize. It may well be the most important decision you ever make. If you want to know more, know that any message to me at louise@mediability.bc.ca or 250 833 5554 will be held and responded to in the utmost confidence. I’m not an expert but I am a parent and we’re going to have to rely on each other, and on them, to make it work.

Everyday we have a choice. Choose love. It always wins. 

Louise

Dear Santa #thankyou #salmonarm

December 4, 2017 - Leave a Response

Dear Santa,

I really should be writing
You more than once a year
Alas it’s now December
So my Christmas list is here

No shiny wrap required
Nor finely-tied up bow
It’s something more important
I need for you to know

From you this special season
I have a kind request
An opportunity to thank
Our city’s very best

Our awesome volunteers
Who give so very much
Improve community
By the kindness of their touch

And for our social workers
Who give past point of hurt
We really must do better
To recognize their work

For those who build the trails
Delivering without fail
A place for us to walk
And hear our nature talk

And for our fire fighters
Who always put us first
And bravely keep us safe
From flames that do the worst

The mounties up the hill
Barely a moment still
Who watch upon the town
And never let us down

And for our first responders
Who witness oh so much
But show up for each call
And make it safe for all

Our talented musicians
Whose fingers strum the notes
To fill our hearts with music
with joy and song and hope

And to our gifted arts groups
Who battle scarcity
But always paint a picture
We love to share and see

For small and local business
Many a risk they take
A vibrant little city
Gives thanks for what they make

Youth leaders and team coaches
Who give much of their time
And always do it for the kids
And never for the dime

Hard working health care teams
All experts whose esteem
Is well deserved by us
And always will be thus

Our gratitude is deep
For those who climb the steep
This season is for them
And so is this po/em

In thanks for your kind favour
You can expect from me
Cookies from local baker
and a gift to charity

I do please ask for one wee thing
Before I let you go
If not too much to ask of you
Perhaps, a little snow? 

Merry Christmas. Thank you for 2017.

Louise

The stories numbers tell #census #housing #salmonarm

November 6, 2017 - Leave a Response

This column first appeared in the November 2017 All Month edition of the Friday Am

I love the story of the three little pigs. Three little pigs trying their best to overcome their housing challenges given the big bad wolf. For me, it’s the ultimate story of collaboration. We all try to overcome challenges in our way but in the end, it’s our ability to work together that really defeats any wolf.

Good things also happen in threes – at least that’s been my experience – maybe it’s the universe’s way of reminding us that we need one chance to try, two chances to learn and three chances to win. I love it because it speaks to the importance of trying new things, learning from mistakes and finally achieving success.

So why the focus on numbers you ask? My modest support of the current federal government is largely tied to its decision to make its first order of business the reinstatement of the mandatory long form census. The final numbers will be released at the end of November but we have to date, a nearly complete picture of what our community looked like in May 2015. I can’t begin to tell you how important census data is from a public planning point of view. It’s critical to how decisions are made at the local level to ensure that scarce public resources are allocated as appropriately as possible given the story that our numbers tell.

It’s my observation that all communities are to some extent, afraid of the wolf and as such are prone to jumping to conclusions and making assumptions that the statistics defy. This can lead to significant misallocation of resources. Do we need more daycares or senior homes? Do we need playgrounds or pickle ball courts? Do we need more police officers or more kindergarten teachers? You get the idea. The census gives us a picture in time to help us make sure we spend the money where it needs to be spent.

This census for Salmon Arm might surprise you. It surprised me. The population of Salmon Arm grew by 1.2%. I thought it would be higher because we’re undergoing the largest building boom since 2008 and the schools are nearly full but we live in an integrated regional economy and our city boundaries do not necessarily reflect who is coming to town or attending our schools. Also, most families who move from one community to another do so in the summer, not in May when the census is held.  

What also surprised me is our median age. It increased from 48 to 50 which is significant because, ceteris paribus (my favourite latin saying that means all things being equal), it  could have gone up by five years. So, things did not stay equal. And that’s a good thing. It’s an indication of change. There is no question that Canada is getting older. It’s merely a question of how much older we are getting here, for the purposes of this discussion. 

We have seen a mild bump in the number of 30 to 40 years olds, aka, the millennials. And their presence makes a difference. The 55 to 64 demographic increased as well, aka, the baby boomers. It’s all good. The millennials are at the beginning of their earning stream and the baby boomers are at the end of theirs. It’s balance. And, to bring up another latin term in economics, what we seek is a manageable equilibrium. 

And I suppose that is my point. We like to believe we are singularly responsible for what happens in this town. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are part and parcel of an economic eco-system where young people are seeking more affordable places to live and raise their families while baby boomers are cashing in on their successful careers and property value to fund healthy retirements. So we’re on the upside of two trends and I’m happy about that. 

Having said so, we also have some monumental challenges ahead. When I moved to Canoe nearly twenty years ago, I purchased a home for three times my annual wage. There’s that lucky number again. It’s unlikely I could do the same now. Land is the most scarce of resources and, in my view, it will continue to rise in value. British Columbia has grown by five percent. There is a greater population base seeking out fewer properties. That’s just the math talking. So, how do we continue to grow at a rate that is manageable and affordable? 

I believe that we must take an all encompassing approach to housing. It’s too easy to talk about affordable housing as a younger generation’s problem. It more difficult to look at the whole picture from supportive housing to rental housing, to entry-level home ownership to land trusts and traditional mortgages. What we need is an exploration of the housing ladder where supportive housing clients can move to rental, and rental can move to modest ownership and modest ownership can move to traditional mortgages. It’s a complex question in need of an integrated solution. Housing is a ladder and if one or more of the rungs is broken – either at the top or at the bottom – it cannot fulfill its role and purpose. 

While housing is a need we all share as members of the public, it’s developed, built and purchased with private money. The private sector is infinitely better at allocation private resources with a view to profit and sustainability than the public sector. And profit is a requirement for the sector to sustain itself – not a luxury – a requirement. So it’s not a conversation we can have in public without having the private sector at the table. 

I remember the day I moved to my tiny house in Canoe. It’s worth three times what it was when I bought it (see, that rule of 3 is important). I never thought I’d own a home having moved here from Vancouver and it’s now my most prized possession. So, let me know your thoughts. You see, our contribution to building a sustainable community comes down to statistics and to commitment. We can’t change the stats. We can change the conversation on commitment. Let’s face it, huffing and puffing nearly worked for the wolf, but he didn’t win then and he won’t win this time. That I don’t need stats for. I know my community and I know we’re up for this challenge. Nothing will blow us down so long as we work together.

Reflections on #UBCM17 – from Roots to Results

October 6, 2017 - Leave a Response

The last week of September in municipal politics is very busy in British Columbia. All councils and regional districts are invited to attend the annual meeting of the Union of BC Municipalities. All MLA and Ministers are also invited. For some of you this might seem like a fate worst than an emergency root canal – a week of meetings in rooms full of politicians – but for me, it’s one of the most exciting weeks of the year.

I always go to UBCM full of expectation. I can’t wait for the workshops, the community forums, the expert panels, the opportunity to meet with Ministers and Ministry staff about our community, the trade show displays and the networking of ideas and the experiences. We have so much to learn from one another – the decisions we make in our communities impact the decisions made elsewhere and vice-versa – it’s an important symbiotic relationship.

What most might not know is that local government is a child of provincial government as we’re regulated by the Local Government Act and the Community Charter which are British Columbia legal statutes. That relationship is symbiotic too.  What’s more, municipalities cooperate on dozens of services such as property assessment, municipal insurance and municipal borrowing. We are duty bound to one another. 

So by now, you get the general idea, we have to work together. However, you might also remember that in May, we went to the polls, The Liberal party was given an opportunity to form government, tried the confidence of the House and was unsuccessful. As a result, the NDP was given the same opportunity and found success with a Confidence and Supply Agreement with the B.C. Greens – that’s BC politics for you – never a dull moment.

Which brings me back to UBCM. I’m not sure anyone quite knew what to expect as a result of the change in government. There’s been quite a bit of uncertainty as most major projects come to a halt during an election period and can be slow to ramp up again afterwards. So, this year I arrived in Vancouver with excitement and trepidation. 

The UBCM team is top notch (they’ve been at this since 1914 after all) and the convention went off without a hitch. The theme, Roots to Results, weaved its way through every part of the week long event. I attended workshops on the roots of the housing affordability crisis and the results of important research on the opioid crisis. I heard from many communities about new approaches to economic development (our own Salmon Arm Economic Development Society among the presenters), fire and flood mitigation and the future of forestry. I learned about advances in technology in city services and supplies. I am personally very excited about recent advances in ambient lighting, eco-friendly building materials and tech advances in open data. I know, I’m such a geek. 

The most impactful workshop for me was the “Investing in People” Provincial Cabinet town hall where the new Ministers with social portfolios such as Education, Children and Family Development, Advanced Education, Indigenous Reconciliation, and Health came together to address municipal leaders on priorities and plans. The question and answer period saw members from various communities, backgrounds and experience express their sincere hope that the most vulnerable among us be given the priority they deserve to also have a chance at success be it through access to supportive housing, prevention measures, harm reduction and special needs education. Those without a voice are rarely in the room, but their needs and pleas were heard and more than a tear was shed, which, I can tell you from my limited experience, is not typical of a UBCM Convention. Even now, I feel the need to reach for the tissues. It was the most humbling and powerful ninety minutes of my political career.  

So I arrived in Vancouver full of expectation and some trepidation, but I left a few assumptions behind as I headed east on the Trans Canada Highway back to Salmon Arm. Housing isn’t just about the supply and demand of houses, addiction isn’t just about drugs, economic development isn’t just about economics and forestry isn’t just about trees. It’s all about people. And the people I spoke to and heard from reminded me that when we share, and we listen and we care and we plan, we can make things better. And that’s precisely what I intend to do.

PS – For more information on the conference, the program and the hundreds of resolution considered during the plenary sessions, be it resolved that you visit www.ubcm.ca – and you’ll get that joke if you read through the resolutions. 

Take care and keep in touch. It’s the most important job we have as a community. 

The anachronism of partisanship. Are we over it yet? #canpoli

September 12, 2017 - Leave a Response

In my last column, I alluded to some concerns I had about the public dialogue regarding women in politics.  Upon reflection, what I really think concerns me is the damage extreme partisanship can cause to public dialogue. It divides us. And it needn’t do so. In fact, we may not need partisanship at all. 

I think it’s human nature to be partisan to some extent. We are safer in a cave we share with people we know and trust. But we evolve by venturing out beyond our comfortable cave. Really, we do.

As for me, I am partisan when it comes to baseball (Jays) and hockey (sometimes Leafs, sometimes Le Canadien – depends on the day) and football (Go Argos!). It’s a reflection of where I grew up, who I spend time with and with whom I want to share memories, and ultimately, victories. Sorry Canucks friends. I do still love you.

But that’s the point. We might not like the same teams but I don’t hate yours. The exception makes the rule when it comes to politics. We seem to have set the amplifier to 11 on that front because, I suggest, we don’t always listen to each other as much as we should.

Here’s my challenge. For a world astonishingly adept at advancing in science, technology, arts, business, education, health and environmental research despite mounting global challenges, why is it that partisan politics and their lead personalities take up so much air space. Trudeau wears fun socks. Melania wears high heels. Putin isn’t crazy about hunting with a shirt on. Trump likes the occasional spray tan. Are we really that shallow? Is it the last frontier of conflict? Do our caveman brains still like a scrappy drama? I’m thinking maybe it is so.

So I cast my mind back to the Quebec Referendum of 1980. My dad understood the impact of the outcome for a half-French, half-English family and told me, in no-uncertain terms, that despite my inability to cast a vote, I might have to decide if I was a Canadian or a Quebecer. Would I need a passport to visit my family in Quebec, my place of birth? From that moment on, I was hooked. I knew every name and every portfolio of every Cabinet Minister in the Federal Government. And still do, for the most part. There’s just less room in my brain than there was once upon a time.

I quickly turned my hero-worship to the Honourable Flora MacDonald, which re-inforced my love of the Argos (watch the movie and you’ll understand why). She was a Progressive Conservative. And how progressive she was. There have been many progressive women leaders, I’m just not so sure we’ve been progressive enough to appreciate their work.

As it turns out, I didn’t have to make that fateful Canada/Quebec choice but it gave me a love of politics even those closest to me still don’t quite understand. Shortly after that, I was offered a scholarship as a Parliamentary Page in the House of Commons and spent my in-between first year post-secondary courses observing proceedings in the House, while delivering messages and water to our MPs at work. And I must tell you, never did I see the vitriol I see now in public discourse. Sure, you can blame Twitter and Facebook, but I think it’s more than that.

And it distresses me greatly to the point where I am really questioning the value of partisan politics. Imagine, if you will, just for a moment, that there were no political parties. We elected representatives from our community. This model still exists at the small municipal level and, dare I say, it works. And I say it with a clear conscious: I’ve voted every colour of the rainbow at different times and in different jurisdiction, for different reasons. I’m also an independent Councillor for the City of Salmon Arm. We’re all independent. Collaboration and criticism are key to the decision making for our city. And partisanship is not. Sometimes, we agree. Sometimes, we don’t. Sometimes that’s more important than the vote itself. We have that option and it doesn’t carry any sanctions. You can’t say that about partisanship in higher levels of governments.

It’s possible, all be it remote, that political partisanship is anachronistic, meaning that it’s a tradition that no longer has a reason for being. It’s centuries old and from a time when the masses simply didn’t have either literacy or the permission to access information. While I’m not suggesting we have perfect access to information now, we are certainly more educated and more able than ever in the history of the world to access it.

And yet, despite recent democratic election results at the provincial and federal levels, I continue to witness terrible things said about well-meaning, extremely talented elected officials of all political stripes, who, despite the incredible sacrifice, are subjected to terrible criticism, most of which is driven by partisanship and not based in reality but in the hope the constant blows will weaken their opponents and improve their chances when next they battle.

Sometimes Members are kicked out of the House for unparliamentary language. Is parliamentary language only for Parliament? Does it not extend to the public statements of Parliamentarians, be it household flyers, social-media feeds or public rallies?

I’d like to see the bar reset. If we stopped electing parties, a number of things would happen. One, the party nomination process would be no more. Candidates would be the choice of communities, not parties. Two, we would have a government based on meritocracy and authentic community representation. Three, while It would take longer to form government all questions of electoral reform would be addressed because partisanship is the barrier to elector reform, voters aren’t. Four, MPs and MLAs are elected to legislate in the legislature. All members can present bills to the House. They would have to work collaboratively and collectively to get bills passed for the good of their respective jurisdictions. As opposed to the amount of time used now to oppose new initiatives. It would be transformative to elect partisan-free Parliaments. The work would still get done. There are 425,000 employees in the federal government alone (source: StatsCan 2011). We’re in plenty of good hands. There are 338 Members of Parliament. Isn’t it possible that the partisanship influence is out of balance?

The quality of public dialogue speaks to the strength of our democracy. There’s room for improvement in my view. So in the spirit of back to school, please sit with someone you don’t agree with and ask them why they hold a certain point of view. When we learn something new, it changes the way we think and ultimately, makes for more rationale, compassionate and effective decisions.

And please, listen twice as much as you speak. That’s why we have two ears and one mouth. But we’ve always known that. My question is, and maybe you have the answer, why we don’t make better use of it?