Country mouse, city mouse

September 22, 2016 - Leave a Response

This column first appeared in the September All Month edition of the Friday AM

First of all, I’m not a fan of actual mice. But it’s worth acknowledging that, as fictional characters, they have played a major role in literary culture. They are determined underdogs. And anyone who lives in a house as old as mine is well aware of their clever nature.

Do you remember the fable of the country mouse and the city mouse? I love fables. They remind us about important life lessons. 
Having grown up in cities larger than Salmon Arm, I was always curious about country mice. Now, as a well established country mouse myself, I sometimes envy the city mouse. How fickle we are. 
Over the summer, I spent some time reacquainting myself with my inner city mouse. Still alive and well. Three days in Toronto reminded me that I love big cities. I love people watching. I love riding the iconic TTC street cars. I’m enthralled by the improvised theatre that is a city with a cast of millions all singing their songs and telling their stories. 
I also visited with a friend who lives in the delightful chaos that is Toronto. We went to nursery school together. She lives a few blocks away from our old stomping ground. As we visited, I remarked on how lucky she was to live in such a vibrant city. And then she surprised me. You see, she came to my neighbourhood earlier this year to play at the Hive and was quite struck by the sense of community and appreciation for live music here. Fair enough. We too appreciate art and culture. But as we stood steps away from the place in which we grew up, she said she would trade it all in to live in a small community like mine. Wait? What? 
It’s an accomplishment, she suggested, to live in a small community and be able to make a decent living and love what you do. I hadn’t thought about that before. She’s right, I think. It takes a brave mouse.
As small communities, we spend a considerable amount of time and energy trying to attract city mice. Sometimes we do it by trying to make small cities appear more big. I’m not so sure that’s the best way.  Maybe, just maybe, we should take the opposite approach. We should celebrate all that we are. And all that we aren’t. 
We have no commute times. We have no traffic jams. The average family home is not worth a million dollars. It doesn’t cost $35 a day to park downtown. We can get by with one car, and in some cases, no car. We needn’t take vacation days to take the kids skiing or spend time at the beach or go biking. There are no executive headquarters, or sky scrapers, heck, we don’t even have an escalator in Salmon Arm.
And maybe our competitive advantage is just this. We plan carefully for what we need because there are fewer of us.  And because we do this, we always have a little extra. Extra room for those who want to live here for the great schools, stellar health professionals, experienced business community, diverse neighbourhoods and spirited community. 
And as the saying goes, if you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence. 
I have lived in 7 cities and 5 provinces. I even dallied with Paris and London for awhile. There was a time I would have thought of not living there as a miss. But, thanks to a few lucky bounces and a willingness to try, I made it to Salmon Arm instead. And after the summer I’ve had, I no longer think of it as a compromise. I think of it as a win. I’m proud of us. And I’m happy for anyone else who made that choice too. You make our little city better.  
We do not need to ask for people to come here, we need to say to those hungry for small city life that we have a place for them at the table too. 
I must tell you that when we stopped at the store to buy milk and bread on the way home from our holiday, our boys’ friends were at Canoe store and were so happy to see them. Had we been city mice, it’s unlikely we would have had that delightful homecoming. 
Bravery pays off. Thank you for being brave and choosing a small town. Urban Canada has much to learn from us. 
Au revoir Paris, goodbye Toronto. We’re home. 
They should be so lucky.

Summertime and the living is eas(ier)

August 4, 2016 - Leave a Response
This column first appeared in the August 2016 All Month edition of the Friday AM in Salmon Arm, BC

As I write this, I have vacation on my mind. 
Of course, when you live in a place that is someone else’s vacation spot, there can be challenges. Other people’s vacation keep many of us locals a fair bit more busy. And that’s a good thing. But it’s summer. And we all deserve to enjoy it. 
We really are so fortunate. I have enjoyed visits to the gallery for the Trail Mix Exhibit (don’t miss it) and WOW (don’t miss that either) and I marvel at the work being done by Roots and Blues as they prepare for festival 24. Amazing team. Please go. 
I’ve enjoyed evenings at the Hive and my kids have had a great time on the lake. I’m more of a beach dweller, myself. I live for the late night campfires in my backyard.
But I’m trading it all in come Monday for three weeks in North Bay on Lake Nipissing, the town in which I grew up. Crazy right? Who would leave the Shuswap mid summer? Me, that’s who. And I’m beyond excited. 
The thing about summer is that it’s about nostalgia. And I’m headed that way. North Bay is much like Salmon Arm, a tourist town on a beautiful lake. It’s no wonder I ended up here. Like Canoe, I lived in an older neighbourhood very close to the lake. We would wander over to the beach at all hours for a quick swim as my kids do now at the dock. We were about 10 minutes from town as we are here. As kids, we would ride and skateboard around the neighbourhood till dark. When the porch lights turned on, it was time to come home. Same goes at our house now. 
But my homing beacon is calling me back big time. Some years ago, facing some difficulty in my business and helping my best friend move to the East Coast despite the prospect of missing her and her family terribly, I made a decision. I went to my high school reunion in North Bay. I didn’t have the money or the time but I knew I needed to go. So I did. And I reconnected with people who have known me since I was seven years old.
It was a watershed moment. In that three day weekend I remembered that I am who I have always been. A happy kid from a small town full of ideas and optimism. And it was a reminder that I sorely needed. I have been back since and I’ll go anytime I’m invited. There’s something about spending time with people who knew you before you were a grown up with expectations and responsibilities that does a soul good. I can honestly tell you that since that reunion, things have worked out for me both in terms of my business and my connection to this community. I’m proud to be a city councillor and small business owner. I’ve now lived in Salmon Arm longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere else. It’s my new home. And I Iove it. But nostalgia is a powerful force. 
This is the first time that my husband, my boys and my best friend will see where I grew up. I can’t wait to show them. I know they’ll say it reminds them of Salmon Arm.  We’ll see my parents, my brother, his wife and their kids, some cousins and some wonderful friends. I can’t wait. We’ll visit our neighbourhood, my old school, my hang outs and we’ll take quick dips in the lake at all hours. 
If you ever have to leave a place you love for a new place, please find a way to go back. It’ll help. Nostalgia is the best part of summer. I’ll miss Salmon Arm if only briefly but I’ll appreciate it more for going back to the place that made me fall in love with this town in the first place. 
Be safe. Be happy. Enjoy each other. That’s what summer is for. See you in September.

Make. America. Great. Again. #fouremptywords

July 6, 2016 - 2 Responses

I feel as if I know why people like Trump. He tells it like we want to hear it. Let’s just Make America Great Again. Simple, right?

He does not, however, tell it like it is. Not great. Not a four word sentence. Not even a five word one. It took me six words to even say that. See the dilemma?
We want to believe there is an easy solution. Nope (one word). Not so much (three words). Nada (four letters for our delightful Mexican friends who might find themselves behind a wall they have to pay for). 
We are slaves to convenience. There, I said it in five words which will not fit on a baseball cap or win a Presidential election. Even if it’s true. We want to believe that someone, anyone, can wave some sort of mythical wand and Make America Great Again. There are big (I would say significant but that wouldn’t poll well) things wrong with that four word statement. 
Make – The United States hasn’t made much of anything these last few decades. Tax legislation passed during the Bush administrations made it much easier to produce goods in countries with cheaper labour. And while this has has led to a middle class in countries most of us have never visited, it has decimated a talented pool of communities who didn’t see it coming and were unnecessarily blinded sided by the shift. There is no shortage of talent in the US. There might have been a shortage of the understanding of those consequences. Queue Detroit. A memo might have helped. Even a plan. Just saying.
America – Believe it or not, for most of the world, both North and South America are “America”. Just like we refer to Spain and France and Italy (and until recently, the UK) as Europe. I cannot handle Europeans thinking of Canadians as Americans but that says more about my point of view than their perspective. The United States might be the most populated part of “America” but it’s not the only or the biggest part. Of course, that’s wouldn’t fit on a baseball cap either. 
Great – Ok – what does great even mean? Good? Better? Best? You know what is great? Products. A concert, a dinner out, a movie, a cup of coffee, an ice cream cone, eighties music. Countries are not great. They are complex systems made up of millions of people. They are not products. They are not hotel stays or casino visits or even mattresses but Trump lives in that world. He wants to make a country into a thing, a product with a marketing manager and a market share. But the United States is not a product. It’s a collective of people, some of whom are awesome and can send a space craft into orbit on freakin’ Jupiter while others shoot school kids with assault riffles. Harsh, but true. Not great. Just excessively complex and in great need of thoughtful and forward looking leadership.
Again – That word, again, is a huge assumption. Again, as in when? Recently? Obama might not be remembered as the best President in recent times by his own country but history will be kinder – just as it was to others – because he is kind and did amazing things despite great odds. So let’s go back to what again might mean – Bush, Reagan, Nixon – you have 43 from which to choose. I’d like clarification on that. But I won’t get it. Because I am not that “American”. I don’t buy that the US is a product for sale to the highest bidder.
And I want my friends to know, if you could vote or would vote for Trump, the price of that convenience is a null and void warranty. He is not running to Make America Great Again, he is running to Make Trump Great Again. That would fit on a baseball cap but it wouldn’t win him the White House. I’ll give him this – he’s clever and manipulative – but please don’t give him 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or it’s more than baseball caps we’ll need. Much much more.

On #brexit and its lessons

June 26, 2016 - Leave a Response

When I was little, we would often go for family dinners at my Grand Maman’s house in Quebec City. We loved her company. She knew that. And she was always happy to have us. 

She was also the master of the subtle hint. If we stayed past the point of welcome, she would quietly start to set the table for breakfast. The spoon jar, the butter dish, the sugar bowl, a coffee cup and a cereal bowl. My Grand Papa was an early riser and had his own rituals which she deeply respected. This likely explains their long marriage and their contribution to society. They were the parents of over a dozen children and several dozen grand children. As far as measurements go, I think they did their part. In fact, I know they did. 
She was also fond of saying that if we didn’t leave, we couldn’t come back. Wrap your head around that. Wise indeed.
My Grand Maman didn’t care much for the United Kingdom being born in Quebec. She claimed she didn’t know much English. But I doubt that. She was as smart as a whip. She just knew she’d be better off keeping that piece of knowledge to herself. So she shared the other stuff. How to make pea soup, how to make baked beans, how to write a proper letter, how to keep a family together. That was her thing. 
And as we watch the UK leave the EU, I’m reminded that we all have our role in life. 
I do not have a role on why David Cameron rolled those terrible dice. But I have my share of thoughts just as my Grand Maman might have on decisions made in her lifetime. During the first Quebec referendum, I heard one thing from my grand parents. We do not believe in separation – in marriage – or otherwise. Plus, my Grand Papa was drawing a pension from CN Rail. A leave vote would have affected their share of sugar and butter, let’s be honest. 
But honesty is not what was at stake in this case. Cameron called the referendum vote to save his own skin. Leadership at the expense of the well being of others is not leadership. It’s opportunism.
And I am sad about it. I feel for the young people who until Thursday had the incredible opportunity including Canadians like me whose UK born grand parents (on my English side), live and work freely in Europe. 
Honestly, I cannot think of a single person in my generational cohort who wouldn’t have wanted that opportunity. C’mon – Berlin, Paris, London, Rome, Amsterdam, Barcelona – cities we live our lives to explore.  Sure, we love Toronto and Ottawa and Vancouver but they are not Europe. And a man afraid to lose his job does not have my permission to rob those opportunities from my friends, my friends’ kids or my own kids. 
The leave campaign was built on fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear that things will not be as they used to be. News flash – our greatest potential as human beings is that we enter into a world we never knew and make our mark. 
I know for sure that my Grand Maman wouldn’t be happy about this. She went to Paris once and brought home a wrought iron souvenir sculpture of the Eiffel Tower which she kept in her perfectly delightful living room that we had trouble leaving after dinner parties. I used to stare and it and think that one day, I too would go there. I did. I was not allowed to stay. 
I want David Cameron to know this but that it is not my role. I will put out the butter dish and the sugar bowl and hope that cooler, less opportunistic heads will prevail. 
But Grand Maman was right, sometimes you have to leave to come back. 

The culture of complaint and the case for optimism

June 3, 2016 - Leave a Response
This column first appeared in the June 2016 All Month edition of the Friday AM

I have started reading a book called The Rational Optimist. I am optimistic that I will finish it. Given the twitterverse of 120 character defining statements on all matters of global importance, it’s no small accomplishment to read, never mind write, a book of 500 pages. 

The author, Matt Ridley’s thesis, near as I can tell, is that a good case can be made to embrace optimism if you look at the facts over time. He had me at the opening chapter which I did manage to finish. I invite you to check it out. 
The part of our caveman brains that still remain in us all wants to believe that the next fire, flood, famine or sabre tooth tiger attack is imminent. And that stress level is not good for the humans. Not good at all. It leads to terrible outcomes; fear, anxiety and worse, bad decisions, especially in the public realm. Truth is, we are very fortunate to live where we do. It’s not unreasonable to state that Canada, and especially British Columbia, have one of the world’s best public service sectors. To say nothing of the strength and commitment of our volunteer and non-profit sector who work tirelessly to promote community, safety, sports, the arts and protect the disadvantaged. They need our support, not our complaints.  
So often we react rather than act. This is wrong, this is bad, this won’t do; we are increasingly fond of saying. I’ve seen some terrible and terribly disturbing examples in the public sphere of late. And I have one thing to say. Hold on a minute. Where is the optimism? 
Terrible things happen to your brain when you complain. Your nervous system is flooded with cortisol. It’s bad for your blood pressure. It’s bad for your heart. It’s bad for your health. And it rarely improves the situation. Resist the temptation to complain, if not for you, then for those who surround you. Research suggests that the culture of complaint is contagious. When you complain, those around you suffer and react too. 
A wonderful thing happens to your brain when you embrace optimism. Dopamine. Say it with me. Do Pa Meen. It’s good for your blood pressure. It’s good for your heart. It’s good for your health. And from it, comes the best ideas, the best intentions and the best outcomes. 
I’ll remind you that the Wright Brothers, bicycle builders who wanted to make something fly, could have complained about the buckets of money poured into maned flight by the US government to a competing group. The Wright Brothers were not remembered for their complaints. They were remembered for their accomplishments. If you had a choice, which would you prefer?
But in order to make it work, I suggest we need to do some heavy lifting just as the Wright brothers did despite the odds. It’s easier than ever to complain. Social media has been taken by some as a free ride to complaintville. But, if you follow my drift, that’s a one way ticket. nobody, not even you, can afford. 
First step. Breathe. In through your nose, out through your mouth. Say no to complaint. Say yes to solutions. It’s not an easy task but it’s an important one. You can do it. I am optimistic. 
Criticism is critically important. Of that there is no doubt. But criticism and complaint are two different animals. One is division (complaint) the other is constructive (criticism). Complaints are one-sided. Criticism necessitates a two-way conversation. Constructive criticism moves an agenda forward because it creates useful friction without which neither a car nor a bike, nor a human never mind an airplane for that matter, could move forward. 
The harsh truth is (not a complaint so much as an observation) that we don’t get that many chances to make a difference. If you find one, please use it. We all share the promise and potential of constructive criticism, conversation, discussion, debate and ultimately, positive change. 
As a final note, I admit, there can come some personal satisfaction, and even some odd fame (think Salmon Arm Salute) from the perfectly crafted single pointed finger of complaint. It’s important to remember, under all circumstances, without any doubt, that the real joy and possibility of making life better, comes from the lending of a whole hand.
Thanks for reading.

No Easy Answers

April 12, 2016 - Leave a Response

This column was first published in the April 2016, Friday AM All Month in Salmon Arm.

You’ve heard the joke about the Trivial Pursuit game for economists, right? 500 answers for every single question. I often think about this joke when a budget is presented. 

Of the 2016 federal budget, many will say (in fact, have already said) that the wrong buttons were pushed and the wrong levers were pulled and if the new government really knew what it was doing, we wouldn’t face a deficit.  But that’s a bit like assuming any of us really know what combination of tactics will spark the economy. Previous budgets certainly haven’t cracked that code. Still, I would be wary of those who know better without proposing workable solutions. 
What we know for sure is that we’ve been in a historically low growth economy since 2008. We also know that oil prices are low and when we rely on those royalties to pay for government services, we’ll see a decrease in revenue. When facing a decrease in revenue in government, there are really only four options. Spend less (cuts to services), charge more (increase taxes), borrow (deficits) or find efficiencies (we don’t talk about this one as much as we should; there is always room to increase productivity, share resources and reduce waste). 
While we also watch the up ticks and down ticks of the stock market, we need to realize that relatively speaking, very few companies are on the stock market. They are there because they needed capital the banks couldn’t (or wouldn’t) lend and they stay because of the equity their company keeps and the money they can make for shareholders.
I never want to be the one to decide who works hardest and who contributes most to an economy. Do we reward risk, results or efforts? I do, however, suggest that we really need to have that talk. We like to think our tax system is based on risk. We reward those who take it because they benefit those of us who don’t. Ironically, in a low growth economy, we are rewarding low risk with profit and high risk with loss. 
Perhaps it’s the nature of risk we need to revisit as well as the nature of capital. There are different kinds of risk and different kinds of capital. Each works in its own way and works best when they are considered in relation to one another. It’s a complex question. There are no easy answers. Only easy criticisms. 
As a self employed person, I like to think I have taken a risk. One that rewards me personally and rewards my community and its economy. Does that risk discount my relative contribution to the shared assets we all need to live and work? Public infrastructure, education and health, among many other common societal needs, cost money that is raised through taxation. What is a fair share? 
But like risk and capital, not all businesses are alike. Micro business (fewer than 5 employees) constitutes 80% of business and we can’t be treated like big business. There are not the same expectations of big business concerned with share value. It’s an important distinction to make and one we ignore at our peril. Small business is not solely focussed on profit and shareholder value. It’s about self-employment, multiplier effects and community capacity. How do we measure that accurately? 
Questions such as these will make for interesting discussions at the upcoming Respect Lives Here: The Economics of Happiness workshop being held on Wednesday April 13 at the Log Building at Pierre’s Point. Local business owners and community leaders will explore the nature of an economy of well being, where more than one kind of capital is considered in the equation. The full day workshop is $20 and includes lunch. More information can be found at
Of the 2016 budget, I will say that while no one ever said with glee “Hooray, let’s borrow MORE money”, if the middle class is to have more disposable income as a result of the child tax benefit, then, micro businesses who sell goods to consumers or to other small businesses, it’s likely that relative increase in income will help the economy. If we are to invest in the maintenance and repair of infrastructure, it’s likely the construction industry will benefit as will the economy. If we are to reduce the amount of debt our young people face by pursuing post secondary study, it’s likely to increase their disposable income upon graduation which, in turn, will boost the economy. 
But what do I know? If studying economics teaches you anything, it’s that all you ever learn is how little you know. But learn we will. Criticize without alternatives, maybe not. At least not yet. There’s too much work to do. 

Celebrate 150

March 4, 2016 - Leave a Response

This column first appeared in the Friday Am All Month Edition, March 2016

I remember 1967. I consider myself a centennial baby (well, toddler, to be more precise). I remember Expo 67; the sights, the sounds, the spirit. 

In 1967, Canada turned 100 and its premiere event was Expo 67 in Montreal. It was Tomorrowland, not the Disney theme park, but the nation. We were a land of youth, optimisim and innovation. Montreal was dressed in its finest modernity and the whole world noticed. It’s still thought to be one of the most successful world expos breaking records for attendance. And it almost didn’t happen. 
The world expo had been planned for Moscow but for reasons we won’t detail here, they bailed and we got the job. Thank goodness for us. On a personal note, thank goodness for me. My fondness of all things Expo 67 and Canadian Centennial likely shaped my choice of career in design and publishing. I’m particularly proud of my little stash of Centennial memorabilia including, among other things, cufflinks and shot glasses. It’s my most favourite brand. Eleven beautifully coloured triangles representing 10 provinces and the North West Territories shaped into an elegant and modern maple leaf; classic visual storytelling that stands the test of time. We should all be so lucky. 
It’s nearly fifty years later and we get yet another chance to celebrate. I’m grateful to Mayor and Council for appointing me as the chair of the City of Salmon Arm’s Canada 150 sub committee. Our goal is to prepare and inspire the community to embrace the opportunity. Through collaboration and cooperation, all individuals and groups can come to the table to share ideas, plans and resources. There are already a great number of projects in the planning stage including special editions of well-loved community events from the Children’s Festival, and Quilters Guild to the Fall Fair and the Shuswap District Arts Council. 2017 will also mark the 25th Anniversary of Roots and Blues and the opening of the Montebello Building at Haney Heritage Park. The work is well underway. But there’s room for more, for everyone and for a few surprises. 
At our last meeting, we brainstormed the elements of a birthday party. The invitation, the cake, the food, the card, the games, the party, the loot bags, the gift, and most importantly, as my mom would be quick to remind me, the thank you. Everyone at the table has embraced the once in a half-century opportunity to celebrate, be it neighbourhood BBQs (the four fire halls were suggested as ideal locations), art installations, ferocious flag displays, a giant birthday card, random dispensing of cup cakes, well, you get the idea. It’s time to have some fun. And further, it’s time to have such fun that members of other communities might make a visit here just to see what all the fun is about. It seems at this point in time, we’re the only community in the region taking this collaborative approach to the festivities. 
Towards the end of the meeting, we turned our focus to the legacy piece. A party is fun and all but while birthdays are about looking back, honouring our past and our good fortune, their real power is about looking ahead and laying the ground work for the future. In fifty years from now, what will our sesquicentennial babies be sharing with their peers? Ironically, that lesson comes from 1967; youth, optimism and innovation. Of course, those words mean different things now but the spirit is the same. 
Join in. There’s room for us all. That is the best Canadian legacy of all. Please save the date for the next Canada 150 Meeting on Thursday, March 24, 2016 at City Hall in Room 100 at 2:30 p.m.
I’ll be the one in the red and white Canada jacket.

Response to CBC’s 180 French Immersion Opinion

February 21, 2016 - Leave a Response

Ok – I get it. You think FI parents think their kids deserve better. But, with sincere respect, here are a few points I think you missed.

On the one hand, you make the argument about elitism and how FI parents are robbing other parents of support and appreciation for English schools. Then you promptly debunk it by saying that fewer than 10% of children in the program become bilingual. So our efforts are lost. But I see these kids every day. They can speak French. They can read French. They can do math in French. They can do “dictee” and “discours”. They have two sets of words. Sure, there’s one set for the classroom and one set for the playground. But they still have two sets. It’s unlikely a large percentage of them will serve as bilingual members of the public service but that’s NOT THE POINT.
The point is, It does not take more effort to have kids in an FI programme. Unless, of course, you are one of those parents who think that your child’s success is a tribute to your personal awesomeness. That’s NOT what FI is about. FI is about giving children the opportunity to learn things in more than one way, in more than one language. It’s about diversity and brain plasticity.
The only difference between going to French Immersion and going to a French school is this: the parents. I went to school in French. My notes and report cards came home “en Francais”. As a parent of two boys in FI, my notes and report cards come home in English. “C’est tout.” It’s not that big a deal. Can we please stop making it such a big deal.
French Immersion is not about me as a parent. It’s about my kids. All children in Kindergarten are geniuses. They could learn three and four languages. I have yet to meet a five year old child incapable of this. We’re talking about the plasticity of the child’s brain.
We discount this ability by putting our limits and our values on their potential. A letter is a letter. A sound is a sound. A word is a word. If we restrict that potential to fit our view of what children should and could be, we rob ourselves of a generation of genius.
I think parents need to check their biases at the classroom door. Our goal is not to make them in our image. Our goal is to give them every opportunity to succeed. And the brain plasticity that comes from learning the world in two, or three or more languages is how we honour how very capable they are.
In the not too distant future, they will make our decisions, spend our money, innovate our future, solve our problems. Is it not our responsibility to give them every tool possible to achieve that? I say yes. Also “oui” and “si” and, well, you get the idea.
Thanks for exploring the topic. It’s a good problem to have. One I’d spend yet another “nuit blanche” to get my kids into French Immersion in Salmon Arm. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.
Louise Wallace, M.Pub
Mediability Corporate Communications
Salmon Arm, BC
250 833.5554

Chin Up!

January 29, 2016 - One Response

This column was first published in the January 2016 All Month edition of the Friday AM.

The single most important economic drivers are confidence and certainty. When confidence is low and uncertainty is high, we don’t have a very good view of the economy. The reverse is equally true.

Sad stories and bad stories drive readers to newspapers, and viewers to television and browsers online. It seems we’re hard wired to consume cautionary tales.

This reminds me of an unfortunate but nevertheless true comment about US local television news I remember from the early eighties: “Watch Buffalo burn down on Channel Four”. Many supper time broadcasts began with reports of yet another building fire. Police and Fire Departments were at a loss to explain the frequency. After studying the sad state of affairs, it was determined that pyromaniacs were triggered by TV coverage of buildings engulfed in flames. The fire-starting behaviour was reduced when the coverage was changed: no flames on TV equalled fewer fires, so the story goes.

In some ways, we’re now watching a full blown economic fire on our shared media; TV, radio, print and web. And it’s feeding the worst in us: will our house be next to burn?

I want to suggest that what we really need to do is embrace confidence and certainty. Yes. The dollar is low and oil is cheap. And that’s not likely to change anytime soon. But, on the other hand, the dollar is low and oil is cheap. See what I did there?

The low dollar means we can sell more into the US, our largest trading partner. It also means their economy is on the upswing and they can spend more buying from us, be it commodities, professional services, or manufactured goods. Cheap oil means transportation will, eventually, get less expensive. It takes time for that price change to work its way through the system, but it will.

The low dollar means US visitors suddenly have Canada on their vacation list again and that’s good for the Shuswap. So if you’re in that business, be sure to target our Pacific neighbours on your Facebook campaigns. That’s easier too. Even ten years ago, marketing campaigns targeted to US customers would have been complicated and expensive. That is no longer the case. Thank you social media.

As for Canadian visitors, we’re likely staying closer to home. Consider upgrading your board shorts and bikinis to snowboards and skis come March break. And join in the best snow our ski hills have seen in years. Don’t discount the value of a great staycation either. We’re not exactly hard done by in terms of landscape and leisure.

Finally, and this is probably the part that inspires me most, cauliflower is really expensive. This excites me for the growing season ahead. We are fortunate to live in such a bountiful agrihood. With so many producers – fruit, vegetable, livestock, dairy, and grain – our producers are basically guaranteed a good year assuming weather conditions cooperate. That’s good for our micro-economy. I can live without cauliflower for a little while (well, truth be told, a long while) because I know that soon, our farmers will be planting and I have complete confidence in their ability to deliver. I might even try my hand at a decent garden myself. But that’s for another column.

So chin up Salmon Arm. Wether your glass is half full or half empty, you can still douse the flames. The glass is refillable and we’ve got plenty of water.

In you, I am, most certainly confident.

Counting on a Merry Christmas

December 11, 2015 - Leave a Response

This column first appeared in the December All Month edition of the Salmon Arm Friday AM

Christmas came early for me this year with the new government’s first announcement that the mandatory long form census would be restored. Sometimes the best presents are the most difficult to wrap. Numbers – good, properly collected ones – are important because, like words, they tell compelling stories and make better decisions.

I invite you to spend some time with your friendly neighbourhood statistics at Simply enter Salmon Arm in the search box on the top right hand corner and, voila, our numerical story unfolds.

We are relatively older than the provincial and national averages. At the last census, the median age in Salmon was 48 while the national average was 40. Some cities in Canada are 10 years younger than the national average. It’s important to know this because, just like people, no two cities are alike. Often times, a provincial or national “one size fits all” policy decision does not fit all at all. Which is why good representation from MPs, MLAs and municipal councillors is so important, especially in smaller communities.

Not all of the demographic cohort grow at the same rate. For instance, from 2006 to 2011, the population growth in the 65+ category grew by 16.6 percent while Salmon Arm overall grew at 9.1 percent.

We earn slightly less than the provincial average but our housing costs are significantly lower.
The median after-tax income of economic families in Salmon Arm in 2010 was $57,223 (British Columbia of $67,915) But our average monthly shelter costs are 76% of the provincial average.

Most of us live in single family dwellings and the median value is $349,000. When you compare this to the average $667,000 home price in British Columbia in 2015, up almost 100,000 since 2014, you can see the early conditions under which young families with some labour mobility from the Lower Mainland might consider a move to Salmon Arm thus giving us the opportunity to lower our median age which is important for long term future planning.

Given our older demographic, it might not surprise you that many of us drive ourselves to work. Some of us walk. Few of us take the bus or ride our bike. Active transportation is an area in need of improvement and is an attractive quality to newcomers. In fact, if you look up a real estate listing in the area, you might note the “walk score” of the property in question. Building trails, connecting neighbourhood and enhancing a community’s health adds value to our properties and indeed to our lifestyles.

Of course you’ll remember that the Christmas story also had to do with a long walk and a census. Mary and Joseph travelled on foot (mostly) to Bethlehem to be counted, after all.

Perhaps Christmas is a reminder that we all need to stand up and be counted; for what we believe in, for what we care about, for what we contribute and this Christmas especially, for the newcomers (from near and far) who will soon settle here and be counted among us.

Merry Christmas.