To move forward, look back. #COVIDlessons I didn’t want to learn

April 15, 2020 - Leave a Response

I’m a part time instructor at a college in BC and City Councillor in a small and charming city. I’m also a mom of two equally delightful and annoying teenage boys. I’m a partner to one, a friend to many (I hope) and a member of what I believe to be the best neighbourhood in British Columbia. Yes, Canoe, I mean you!

My family, my students and our community members have been the focus of my efforts these last few weeks as we’ve moved from normalcy to complete “what the hell just happened” mode. But that taught me a few things.

Mostly, I found that if I was to make a contribution to this crisis I would have to focus on who I was, what skills I have at my disposal, and what good I might be able to do.

And to find that, I had to reach back. Way back. To the stories of my parents who were children in WW2. My dad’s story of VE day when the milk man was drunk and fresh bottles of cream lined the neighbourhood street because the wagon crashed. My mom’s stories of those Christmases where joy was found in hot chocolate and tobogganing on old pieces of carpet down local hills. Of family members who went to war and never came home. They know this pain. And still, they overcame it. We can too.

We have survival DNA pulsing through us. Our sudden ability to make bread or roll out pastry comes to mind. We are the cumulation of everything that has happened before us.

And now, we are called to put that into service because, let’s face it, all things considered, we’ve had it pretty easy so far. Now, we have a job to do. A difficult one. One that defies all that we thought we knew and calls on all that we didn’t know we had in us.

Our job is not to have a stiff upper lip, to be resilient or stoic. That’s bullshit. Forget about that.

Our job is to keep people safe. To remind them that the care they need is there. To convince them that the world will rally around them in the days, weeks, months and years to come. To reach out. To show emotion. To even lose it, as I have been doing from time to time, these last few weeks.

I think Maslow’s theory is more important than ever.  People need to have their basic needs met. Unless and until that is done, we will have learned nothing. And we won’t be able to overcome this otherwise. We are only as strong as our weakest team member. And we need our whole team.

As I sit here in my heated home with a fridge full of food,  my children in their rooms, a car in my driveway, bills and mortgage paid, can I humbly suggest with deep gratitude for my good fortune, that we need to reach beyond our own safe zone if we are to make decisions for and support people who do not have the benefit of our privilege.

Here are my thoughts on how we might do that, in no particular order. Nothing makes much sense these days but some things are becoming very clear.

House the homeless. When people live on the street, we are complicit in their misery and we need to fix that.

Cancel the school year. Ask teachers to spend the rest of the year making sure students are ok and reminding them they will be together again come September. That is the most important learning that will come of this.

Commit to a basic living wage. It’ll be cheaper in the long run. Poverty is expensive, punitive, unnecessary and humiliating.

Hire those who have medical degrees from other countries. Enough of our selective trust in the training and expertise of people outside our borders and the exorbitant fees they pay to join “our” club.

Ban for profit “senior care” facilities. And reinvent what the golden years look like. Goddamn, we’re ignorant when it comes to honouring the people who got us where we are.

Keep investing in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). We are a small educated country in a sea of countries that would trade their spot for ours in a heart beat. 

Continue to welcome refugees and provide international aid. It’s not just who we are, it’s why why we are who we are.

Don’t give up on climate justice. It’s not top of mind. But a pandemic has a way of showing us that we need the earth more than it needs us.

Recognize that partisanship is f’ing useless. Really, it is. It divides, it creates doubt (it raises money, however – shame on that). But it will NOT get us through this or anything else for that matter. To those who seek headlines instead of offering help, history will be very unkind to you, And you will have to wear that. It’s not to late to change course. It never is.

Protect the vulnerable you can’t see. They might be closer than you think. There are vulnerable young adults being lured to the dark side, the sex trade, the drug trade and the gang world. Why? Because sometimes grown ups pay too much attention to what they think they want and not enough time on what really matters. Connection. Relationship. Care. Compassion. Understanding. Check in on your kids and their friends. Ironically, this pandemic might well save a few families from a much worse fate. Others, I fear, will be lost. I carry that worry for reasons I will not share here.

Reject convenience. You do not need to buy crap packaged food. You can totally bake a meatloaf or make your own salad dressing. Reject it because convenience is your frenemy. Really, it is. You have time now. Use it wisely.

And finally, this is a critical and likely the most difficult part of this whole conversation. Do not put your need to do good so you can feel good ahead of what needs to be done. You may want to donate canned goods to food banks or your “extra stuff” to people in need. I’m sorry. That’s about your needs. Not theirs. If you really want to help (and I believe that you do), donate what you can to registered, approved and licensed non-profits. They are the boots on the ground experts and know exactly what is needed. Now is not the time to put your need to feel good above the safety of those who cannot be put at risk. So long as they are at risk, so are we. We’re a human eco-system. If COVID 19 had not taught you that, you’re not paying attention. And you need to pay attention.

“Donner son surplus, ce n’est pas donner. Pour donner, il faut donner son necessaire.” To give that which you have extra is not really giving. To give, you must go without.

My goodness, we have so much to learn and while my suggestions are random, know that they come from a place of love and exploration of what it really means to be a human, on this planet, at this time. Our time.

If you’re struggling, as I have been, please reach out. We only have each other. And if that’s the only lesson we learn from this, honestly, it will have come at a terrible, tragic and traumatic loss. It seems we like to learn the hard way. We can change that. We can start today. Wash your hands. And gaze at the stars. They remind us of our place in the world. We are small. But we can light up the world if we so choose.

Amities,

Louise xoxo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not supposed to be this way

April 9, 2020 - Leave a Response

Today was the last day of “classes” for my students. I am a part time professor at a local college and we haven’t had face to face classes for three weeks. On the eve of Easter Weekend, I find myself heartbroken. I’m normally quite resilient but it hit me. There will be no good bye and no good luck. No high fives. No hand shakes and no hugs.

I don’t think I knew until today how much I miss them. Before COVID 19, they were a task to master. To get them through the course work. To see through bullshit and excuses. To recognize genuine need. To foster curiosity and connection. To inspire excellence. To remind them that the world needs them more than it needs the rest of us.

I knew the day I took my textbooks and files home that I wouldn’t be back at my college, the office I shared, the classrooms they knew, or the seats that they claimed. I miss their expressions. I even miss their distractions. I miss the conversations, the laughs, the disagreements and the questions that would leave me speechless.

Education, it seems to me, is an eco-system. And when we are all suddenly removed from that environment, everything changes. I can teach you. At least I hope I can. But what’s missing for me is how much students teach teachers.

I don’t remember having these connections with my own professors – standing way out front – in a hall of 300 people. I didn’t matter. They didn’t know me. They didn’t know my story. They didn’t even know my name. They knew my student number. End of.

But in a small college, you get to know these kids. You call them by their first name. They call me by mine. It’s not a glamorous job. I’m not doing amazing research that will change the world we live in. I’m just Louise, teaching another chapter of another book and looking for that spark of interest, of engagement, of curiosity. But when you find it, the world lights up.

My world has gone a bit dark today and my students are truly more resilient than I am. In e-mail exchanges, most messages started with “how are you and how is your family”? Ugly cry time.

I start marking next week. I might yet find the mojo I need to rally back. I’ll get them through. As for me, I’m not sure I’ll recover. It’s not supposed to be this way.

I have such meaningful memories of my days in university. My friends, our adventures, our safe space together, our stories, our secrets. The trust that has lasted all these years. The time we had to say a proper goodbye when our time was done. This year’s class has been robbed of this by no fault of their own.

I can’t begin to know how we make it up to them, but we must. Some how, some way, some day.

It’s up to them now but, more than ever, they will need our support and love. And if you’re one of my students, past or present, know that I love, support and believe in you.

Louise

 

 

 

 

 

How I Learned to Love the Bus #transit #bcmuni

February 5, 2020 - Leave a Response

It started as a question.

As a city councillor, there are recurring themes to conversations with community members. Chief among them (at least this time of year) is snow plowing, closely followed by garbage pick up, then potholes. Also on that list is our transit system. While I can’t plow, can hardly get my own garbage to the curb and should never, ever, be trusted to fill a pothole, what I can do is ride the bus. So I did.

Then it became an experiment.

The inaugural ride was great. Convenient, fast and inexpensive. But maybe that was beginner’s luck or the novelty of being driven to work after having driven myself, my kids and my stuff around town for the last 20 years.

So rather than try for just a day, I tried for a week. Picked up a strip of bus tickets at Downtown Askews and made my way around town by bus rather than by car over a number of days to really get a feel for the transit experience in Salmon Arm.

The findings were positive. It was still easy and convenient. The routes are designed such that you can get to important community amenities including the health clinic, hospital, high schools, college, city hall, local mall, recreation centres and downtown businesses.

Now it’s a good habit.  

Since October, I have been the proud owner of a Shuswap Transit monthly bus pass available at City Hall for $45. This has allowed me to travel car free during weekdays. I’m learning a great deal about my community. Riding on the bus allows you to see your city differently than being behind the wheel of your own car. You see things you’ve never seen and meet people you’ve never met.

Before I go any further, let’s be clear. A bus pass is not a replacement for a personal vehicle. It’s a substitute and so adjustments must be made. Those adjustments have had a positive impact on how I travel through our city as well as my day to day goings-on.

I’ve had to adjust how I manage my time. No rushing out the door to get to town on time and hope I don’t have trouble finding a parking spot or needing to stop for gas. I plan my time to meet the bus schedule. It feels much less chaotic. And overall, I make much better use of my time. The bus schedule is reliable. You can set your watch by it.

I’ve had to adjust my budget. One fill up of my car is twice the price of a monthly bus pass. I need to fill my car at least once a week. That’s an 88% decrease in cost. What’s more, because I can only carry so much on the bus, I’ve had to adjust my grocery budget. No car means no extras. I buy what’s necessary and suddenly all those extras are unneeded.

I’ve improved my fitness. Taking the bus is a form of active transportation because we aren’t moved door to door. There’s walking to and from the bus stop to take into account. And count it does. I’m walking approximately 25 kms a week. It doesn’t feel like exercise. It just feels good. And walking through your city also means you see things you might never have seen and meet people you might never have met. Also, I sleep better. Walking is a wonder drug.

I’ve reduced my carbon footprint. I bring my take out coffee mug and reusable shopping bag with me. There’s no room or time for carrying around extra baggage or the waste that comes with convenient consumption.

The truth is that convenience is our frienemy. Of course having a car is convenient. Being able to come and go as you please and grab whatever you need whenever you need it seems like a good thing. And for some, it’s an absolute necessity. I don’t dispute or condemn that. But convenience is not efficiency and increasingly it’s not sustainable.

But I’m not hear to preach. I have a bus to catch. And I look forward to greeting the polite and professional drivers under who’s care many of us get around town. I’m grateful and appreciative.

So next time you ask me about transit, count on me to give you a bus schedule and ask you to try before we have that conversation.

See you on the bus.

Louise
@lwmediability

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?