Democracy is an exercise

June 9, 2019 - Leave a Response

Democracy is an exercise. And like all exercise, the goal is fitness, strength and resilience to meet challenges.

The month of June is a poignant reminder that challenges to democracy require epic feats of strength and still may not be overcome.

June 4 was the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. For weeks, indeed years before, university students had mobilized to bring more democratic measures to a society and an economy in turmoil after the death of Mao Tse Tung. The Tiananmen protests began in April upon news of the suspicious death of a professor who had lead the movement and continued for weeks until June 4 when the People Liberation Army acted on what they called civil hostilities. To this day, we do not know the death toll nor the opportunity lost of that push towards democracy. We remember only that student facing that tank and the 10 metre tall sculpture of the Goddess of Democracy made of foam and paper mache in a mere four days. She didn’t survive either.

June 5 and 6 on the other hand are dates of epic feats of strength and tragic human loss where the battle to save democracy was brutally accomplished. On June 5, troops gathered on the shores of the English Channel in Portsmouth when an army was moved across an ocean to face a waiting and well equipped enemy. Churchill and the Allies understood that Hitler would never give up a port city so the decision was made to build and move a floating port under cover of darkness across the channel for the D-Day Invasion of June 6 on the shores of Northern France, the artefacts of which still stark in their reminder of that fateful day. 

Increasingly, progressives leaders of our time are likening the mobilization required to win in World War 2 to the efforts now necessary to combat the greatest threat to democracy today, the fight for climate justice. And we’ll need to be fit and strong and resilient to save the planet. Many will argue that Canada is not on the front line of climate change. We are a free and open society with an enviable lifestyle. We are not an island nation facing rising seas, not a war ravaged state in the Middle East, nor a drought stricken third world country. But just as the war efforts on the home front were critical and necessary to the success and sacrifice on the front line, so must we mobilize.

This was a prominent theme at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities that I attended last week on behalf of the city. All four national leaders were present and spoke to the delegates, none more passionately than Elizabeth May, Leader of Canada’s Green Party who referenced Churchill and how perilously close we came to a negotiated settlement with Hitler’s Nazis. Days away in fact when the entire British Army was stranded on Dunkirk in May of 1940. Churchill called on the local population to use their mere hundreds of private vessels to rescue 240,000 troops so that the war efforts might have a hope. And they did. It’s our turn to get in the boats and row ourselves to safe shores. And we will need to be fit and strong and resilient.

Democracy is an exercise. There are acts of democracy we can practice daily. Conserve water. Grow and eat local food. Ration carbon use. Reduce, re-use and if you can’t do otherwise, recycle. Take transit. Compost. Refuse single use plastics, among many others. But the greatest act of democracy is to cast an informed vote and in the lead up to the next federal election, participate, educate, challenge and act as if you were on the front line. Democracy only works if we do. 

At the municipal government level, there is clear evidence of a take-charge attitude. No longer are we waiting for directives from the province or the feds to take action. From organics collection, to plastic bag bans, and enhanced transit services, the work is being done at the level of government closest to citizens. The work is being done here, on the home front, and I thank you for your efforts and sacrifice to get it  done. 

 

“As long as we have faith in our own cause and an unconquerable will to win, victory will not be denied us.” ― Winston Churchill

Paris, je t’aime.

April 15, 2019 - Leave a Response

The emotion of today is difficult to bear. Paris doesn’t belong just to France. It belongs to all of us. A beacon of history, of art, of culture and most of all, of memories.

I feel as if a part of me died watching the Notre Dame spire fall.

There are lessons in Paris that cannot be learned elsewhere.

When I was a little girl, my Grandparents had, in their home, a teeny tiny wrought iron sculpture of the Eiffel Tower on display. How I would stare at it and wonder when I would get my turn to visit the real thing.

I was fortunate in that my high school hosted a trip to France for the graduating class. It must have been expensive. But my parents promised me I could go if I did chores, cooked meals, babysat my annoying little brother. And so I did and so I went.

I had made up my mind that I would love it. But I didn’t. It was noisy, smelly, loud and I thought the people rude. But on reflection, that first trip probably said more about my state of mind as a young person. Fearful, short on confidence, skeptical of how the world was.

But I remembered Notre Dame; Our Lady. She was beautiful, peaceful and a monument to the Catholic faith for which I am grateful still despite my choice to leave the Church.

Five years later, I returned as a University graduate. More confident, more curious, more adventurous. And that is when I found its beauty and its lessons. I found humility. To spend time in a place that my ancestors were from, that my Grandparents had visited, that had informed my Quebecois culture. I fell in love.

I visited again a decade later, her charm still over me. And then again after my post grad degree. I had two weeks between my internship and real life. There was only one place to go. Paris. I emptied my bank account. Jumped on a flight and spent a glorious ten days at the National Archives of France looking at the manuscripts that informed my life,  the highlight of which was the micro fiches showing Antoine de St. Exupery’s hand written edits to The Little Prince. As luck (or misfortunate) would have it, I also got to spend four hours locked in the Louvre because I happened to visit the same day some retrograde decided to steal a painting. Good times.

I went back not too long after with my BFF. We marvelled, once again, at the neighbourhood of neighbourhoods. The culture, the connections, the appreciation for la belle vie. They have much to teach us crazy, busy, money-obsessed North Americans.

And then I had kids and my travels stopped. But I promised myself that one day I would bring my kids to meet the Mona Lisa. I got that opportunity. At least for one of my boys. Just last year. We went to the Louvre. It was busy. It was uncomfortable. It was a city in distress. And my heart broke. It was noisy, smelly, loud and I thought the people stressed. “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”. This time, it wasn’t about me. It was about a global crisis that we like to ignore. Climate change and populism is changing the face of the universe. And it has changed Paris. As we boarded the train to the next town, I was sad to think, au revoir Paris. We may never meet again.

That hurt in ways I cannot describe. On nights when I  cannot sleep, which happens more often than I’d like to admit, I used to decorate my imaginary apartment in Paris. On la rue Mouffetard, in the Cinquieme, a few stories up, close to the market. Small but smart. Bright and practical. I haven’t called on that for awhile. I do multiplication tables now.

Until today. Paris, je t’aime. And I’ll be back. Because Paris, as it turns out, I thought I needed you but you will need us. I owe you at least that much.

 

 

 

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. #canpoli

March 3, 2019 - Leave a Response

I have a confession to make. Once upon a time, I was neck deep in partisan politics. I was a staff member for the Office of the Chief Opposition Whip on Parliament Hill and an active party member.

I lucked out getting the job. I’d only just finished my degree in economics and was eager to get to work. The office was epic, right below the Peace Tower in the Centre Block. It was prime, middle of the action location. I loved it. At least for awhile.

I saw all the drama on the Hill in the form of protests (which aren’t new or unusual, by the way) and all the drama in the House (which everyone can see CPAC if so inclined).

Every MPs office had TVs and we’d watch Question Period and follow the debates all day long. The proceedings were (and continue to be) a spectator sport complete with cheers, sneers and the occasional expletive.  

I was so happy to be back on the Hill having served as a Parliamentary Page some years earlier. I learned I wasn’t the only one. The Hill is full of young, optimistic, well meaning and easily influenced youth. It was also a very volatile place. It was exciting but there were warning signs, at least for me.

It didn’t take long for me to come to the conclusion that working on the partisanship side of politics was a much different world. Parliamentary Pages were insulated from partisanship. We weren’t even allowed into MPs’ offices. Our job was to deliver water, carry messages, answer calls in the lobby and run for the occasional sandwich from the amazing cafeteria. Next time you see me, snap your fingers (which MPs would do to get our attention) and I will fight the urge to bring you a glass of water. No word of a lie.

The language in my MP’s day to day business, on the other hand, was unlike that of the House itself. Nobody seemed to have a name (whereas Pages needed to memorize the names and ridings of every single MP). Everyone had a position (the leader) and a duty (the research office). Even places didn’t have names, just acronyms (PMO, OLO). It was weird at best and disturbing at worst.

And then there were the war stories. Some I believed, others, were more likely urban legends.

When one Government was brutally defeated, (all parties know the trials of defeat) the rumour was that the Opposition took it upon themselves to have the gold leaf adorned ceiling in their office (the OLO) office repainted beige for the new occupants. Poor Parliament Hill painter – he likely didn’t even get a choice – Parliament Hill was a village and the village, with cooks and cleaners, barbers and stationers, upholsters and bus drivers, was more or less controlled by the rulers of the day. It was also rumoured that the night of that defeat, there were so many documents shredded that the fire department had to be called.

In fact, I knew there would be a change in government in the 2015 election, not because of the polls, but because someone on the Hill posted a photo on Twitter of a shredding truck parked outside the PMO  (Prime Minister Harper’s Office). It was a tell tale sign. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

Back then, my boss secured a coveted lobby pass  (the tiny room outside the House of Commons) for me because I was his research assistant and as Whip, he needed to be in the House most of the time (the Whip is in charge of getting people in to vote). I’m still amazed to what lengths smart, experienced people will go to screw up a process over which they have no control. Opposition is not the easiest place in which to spend your time.

I, however, loved spending time in the Opposition lobby where as a Page, I had been assigned phone duty (there were many calls). And being the receptionist on shift, I witnessed first hand how effective MPs deal with their constituents. The longest serving MP on the Opposition bench at the time (who was still there when I worked for the Opposition Whip) had insisted that his constituents phone him directly. And, in pre-cell phone times, I directed those calls.

I listened in, not that I had a choice (it is really quite a small space), when he took those calls. He would help them through challenges (mostly passport, immigration, and unemployment claim issues which are still likely the source of most concerns for constituents) and he was always straight-up and honest about the answer. I even recall a few times when he said, “Look, if we were in Government, I could help you. But we aren’t. So work on that for me next time, will you please?” For me, that was a lesson in humility and honesty.

I often miss those days. I would certainly give a great deal for a day in the Opposition lobby given recent events though I doubt the phones ring as often. It’s more likely that MPs are on their smart phones tweeting their disgust with the benches opposite rather than speaking to constituents directly whilst sitting in uncomfortable green leather chairs. (Quick aside, all the upholstery in the House of Commons was green and all the upholstery in the Senate was red. It’s a brilliant design solution if you ask me).

I do wonder if those days are gone forever. Despite everything, the partisanship, the games, the tactics and the nonsense, there was a singular determination to serve constituents. Every letter was answered. Every call was logged. Even letters to Ministers were answered within 30 days. The MP for whom I worked, had days upon days dedicated to private appointments with constituents who would patiently sit outside the door waiting for their turn to have a meaningful conversation with their elected representative.

Last week, when I heard the Clerk of the Privy Council tell the House of Commons Justice Committee that he was worried for his country, I worried too. Have we forgotten what our job is on the Hill?

We are in trouble. And our only way out is to find humility, honesty and to address the difficult calls no matter from whom they come. Please, if you’re so inclined, watch the social media feeds of your elected representatives. I don’t care who you voted or who you intend to support next time around, but if you call or write your MP, regardless of party affiliation, and you don’t get an answer, know that when it comes to politics (and I say this as an elected municipal councillor) sometimes what we don’t say says more than what we do.  

I suppose we all have to ask ourselves, as I have done often these last few weeks, what are MPs doing in the lobby outside the doors of the House of Commons these days? I would hope the answer is that they are speaking directly to those who elected them. But for some reason, I don’t think that’s the case. And I cannot know, because I no longer have the privilege of serving those who have the privilege of serving.

But make no mistake, serving is a privilege, and we forget that at our peril. And if I don’t take your call when you dial my number (250 833 5554), it’s likely because I’m watching Question Period. But I promise, I’ll get back to you because it is a privilege and I will never forget that.

Louise

Why the #franco fuss? Nothing to do with Quebec.

November 21, 2018 - Leave a Response

It might surprise you to know that the fuss about Franco rights has absolutely nothing to do with Quebec. We are a bilingual country. Not because of Quebec, but despite it. Harsh but true. And while you might not be a current Trudeau fan, know that the previous Trudeau understood this.

It might surprise you to know that most of the communities up in arms about franco rights and privileges have no connection whatsoever to Quebec.

I know, I’m a Quebecer who grew up in Northern Ontario. We want to believe that every francophone in the country is a displaced Quebecer demanding language rights. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Think Acadie, Northern Ontario, Southern Manitoba, much of Saskatchewan, northern Alberta and BC’s lower mainland. Those ancestors are not repatriated Quebecers. They came here from France centuries ago and established communities.

Some of us have rights, like Franco-Ontarians, some of us don’t, like British Columbians.

So forgive us our outrage and know that the absolute best outcome for which you can seek is kids who grew up as minorities in communities not close to here who feel the outrage of being dismissed, discounted and unimportant.

Something happens to you when you live in a community in which you are a minority. You learn respect, appreciation, power and influence. And you take that power and move your community forward. This isn’t about language. It’s about so much more.

I know what it takes to raise money for a french school in a town miles away from mine. I know the honour of winning a scholarship for my commitment to an education in French. I know what it takes to defend the interest of minorities never mind the  language I speak. I know what it takes to sleep rough to get my kids into French Immersion. And being a #franco taught me that. You’re welcome. I know that sounds obnoxious but life demands, from time to time, that we be brave, bold and slightly obnoxious.

So, if you don’t mind my saying – “vous n’avez aucune idee”, you have no idea. It’s time you got one.

This doesn’t end well. And there are plenty of examples of history that show as much. So while you might consider the budgetary reasons for which Ford deep sixed francophone rights in Ontario, know that he also unleashed a beast of pride, of history and of determination that he will not soon not forget.

Je me souviens. I remember. And I’m not the only one.  In fact, I lived my whole life remembering it. It defined me. And I’ll do more that remember it, I will never forget it. Je n’oublierai jamais.

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