Graduation – 15 tips for the class of 2015

June 8, 2015 - One Response

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

It’s graduation season and the internet is chalk full of commencement speeches by the famous and infamous; some marvellous, some just meh.

The irony of how we cap off our academic achievements is not lost on me. We finish the way we start. By standing in front of a class of sitting students to tell them how life really is. And we would know, right, because we are the grown-ups after all.

Or do we? Our reality is not their reality. We forget that. And when we forget that, we miss important lessons such as student debt, higher youth unemployment, housing affordability, twitter, instagram and snapchat to name but a few. We take our lives for granted. Our graduates can’t yet afford that luxury.

I think high school commencement speeches should be delivered by those who graduated last year, or those who just graduated from post secondary or those who just got their big job or signed their first mortgage. Those are the lessons from which our grads could really benefit;  solid first-hand peer experience.

There are things I didn’t know that I’d need to know when I left high school. But within a year of the cap and gown ceremony, I appreciated the opportunity to learn them. There were also delightful benefits, the sum of which nobody had ever told me about. That was a gift too.

I’ve thought of a few lessons my twenty something self would have given my eighteen year old self. Simple stuff really but there is beauty and power in simplicity That’s the trouble with being a grown up it’s unnecessarily complicated.

Here, for your consideration is a list of 15 simple things for the Class of 2015.

1) You’re going to meet some very interesting people. They will think that you are interesting too. That’s how they roll.

2) Have a bit of cash on hand, just in case. A cab ride can save you from a mess of trouble.

3) Follow your gut. it won’t lie to you. If you think it’s creepy, it is. Go with that.

4) Don’t drive like a show off. It’s the single most dangerous way to impress nobody at all.

5) Show up early. That’s when all the fun stuff happens.

6) Keep all the important papers in the same place. There’s lots of paperwork to deal with.

7) Hanging out with friends, listening to music, laughing and getting some exercise won’t cost you money or your good judgement. Other choices might. You always have a choice.

8) Staying up all night and eating crap food isn’t nearly as much fun as you might think.

9) That boring stuff that parents do – laundry, grocery, paying bills – it’s kinda awesome when it’s yours to do on your own.

10) Your parents will miss you. You might miss them too. Keep in touch. They were your age once upon a time. They get it.

11) If you ask people for help, they almost always say yes. So go ahead and ask.

12) Fear, loneliness, heartbreak and anxiety are universal emotions. See above.

13) Try new things – travel, food, movies, sports, arts, hobbies – it’s a big world and it’s pretty amazing.

14) Curiosity is a good friend. Spend time with it.

15) The place you left to find your way will always have a place for you. There really is no place like home.

Go. Be. Happy. And congratulations on your graduation. It’s only the beginning. The world belongs to you now and we can’t wait to see what you’ll do, how far you will go and how proud you will make us.

Make a decision. Be proud of it.

May 12, 2015 - Leave a Response

When was the last time you made a decision of critical importance? How would you feel if the people whose own decision was not endorsed by the voting public used it as an opportunity to slam yours? Not great.

This is how I feel about the collective conservative response to the election of an NDP government in Alberta. Seriously fellows, me thinks doth protests too much.

To be transparent, in my life, I have voted it all. Progressive Conservatives (three times), Liberal (more than three times), NDP (at least three times) and Green (once too). And every single choice I made came from a deep commitment to democracy. As, I suspect, did those of every single Albertan who voted a week ago. And frankly, the hard right should be ashamed of their elitists, we know better, attitude.

I think back to my own childhood. My parents had blue signs, red signs and brown signs (which pre-dates the NDP orange) on our front lawn during various provincial and federal elections. We were engaged. We discussed it at the dinner table. I am grateful for their commitment as well as the risk they took to take a stand in the neighbourhood. They didn’t have to do it. But they did it because it mattered. And looking back, I’m proud of it.

Now, as a city councillor in a very small and still beautiful town on the shores of Shuswap Lake in British Columbia, the election result in Alberta has been somewhat of a rally cry for me. And I didn’t even to get to vote. But my friends did and I’m damn proud of them. Proud of the decision they made. Proud of the recognition that a single focus economy based on forty plus years of “same old same old” came to an end.

As I watched the election results last Tuesday, I was shocked, to say the least, thinking that, in typical Alberta fashion, they might flirt with the newcomer, but ultimately they’d vote with the party that brought them to the dance. How wrong was I? Plenty wrong.

As I listend to Rachel’s acceptance speech I heard words that  I had never ever heard from an elected official. She called business owners JOB CREATORS. Hallelujah! Governments don’t create jobs, businesses do. It’s high time someone pointed that out. Shocking, isn’t it, that those words would be uttered by a New Democratic government in waiting. Leaders who can connect to the risk that individuals make to feed their families, employ their team and improve their communities need to be recognized. And this recognition is not coming from the typical right of centre business community who, for lack of better words, have spent much of the last decade asking for what, more or less, amounts to corporate welfare, in my view.

We have to stop asking for permission to build great communities, healthy neighbourhoods and sustainable environments. It’s not about government. It’s about leadership. It’s about understanding that everyone is part of the solution. So often in “economics”, and I should know as a qualified graduate of an economics school, we talk about profit and shareholder return. In that, we lose the importance of balance, the importance of value, the importance of equilibrium and the importance of respect.

I’m tempted to say – hey Manning Institute – suck it. But that’s not respectful and it doesn’t build community. And it doesn’t make it better. It’s better that we want. Think better. Think compassion. Think respect. And come October, think about voting. Your voice matters. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be bashful. Don’t put up with the ordinary. Reach for the extraordinary. Whatever that might mean to you. And know that your family, your friends, your neighbours will respect you no matter what you decide. And the Manning Institute will bitch about it regardless. But they are not government. They are wannabes. You are not a wannabe. You are a voter and in your pencil is held the future of our country. Make your mark. Kiss your children. And go for it! We are better for you.

Art is at the Heart of the Shuswap this Summer

May 1, 2015 - One Response

There’s nothing like some time away from your community to help you understand all that your community has to offer. This was much the case for me when I attended the Arts BC annual conference in Penticton as Salmon Arm Arts Centre’s Community Development Coordinator. It’s good to get away. Especially for me, as I’ve been hyper-focussed on learning all that I can as a new city councillor. 

The first take away for me was how big this province really is. It’s one thing to jump in a car and get to your destination, but when you take out a map, and give it some serious consideration, you might be surprised. BC is four times the size of the United Kingdom. It’s bigger than Japan and New Zealand combined. It’s all of Florida and then some. It’s big.

For all the benefits of big, it’s not without its challenges. How do we, as a province, made up of individual communities, plan and partake in a provincial cultural plan? Is it even a realistic option? These are questions I took home with me after the conference. We have big island communities, small island communities, northern communities, mountain communities, coastal communities, rural communities and urban communities. We’re a complex place. That’s a good thing. But it’s messy when it comes to provincial policy especially as it relates to culture.

But sometimes, big is just too big. We need to focus on specifics and learn from that. For example, did you know that more people earn their living in the arts in BC than any other province in the country? Maybe it’s the landscape, maybe it’s the sense of place. Whatever it is, it’s exciting. And come this summer, our region is in for some major excitement.

What might seem “normal” to us, is extraordinary in other regions. Both the Roots and Blues festival (23 years young) and Caravan Farm Theatre (now producing four shows per year) have been identified as national treasures in terms of cultural offerings. We’re very fortunate. Roots and Blues brings Grammy and Juno award winning artists to our community on an annual basis. Caravan Farm Theatre, over its long history, continues to have legendary influence and attract national talent in the theatre world.

When that level of talent is attracted to a region, other good things start to happen. Creatives like to cluster with other creatives. That’s how it works. In 2006, internationally renowned installation artists Cardiff and Miller, based in Alberta, moved their Canadian studio to the area. And here’s the small town benefit. The curator at the Salmon Arm Arts Centre, Tracey Kutschker, was a student of Janet Cardiff’s at the University of Lethbridge. When she learned her former professor had relocated her studio to the Shuswap, she began the process of securing a loan of a Cardiff and Miller piece. It took six years to secure as good things take time. This summer,  two Cardiff and Miller pieces, Experiment in F# Minor and The Muriel Lake Incident will show at the Salmon Arm Arts Centre.

So next time someone asks you “should I head to the Shuswap this summer?”, I’ve got an important answer for you to deliver. Say yes. There’s only one place in North America where you can see world renowned artists Cardiff and Miller, award winning performers at Roots and Blues and ground-breaking theatrical talent at Caravan Farm Theatre. It’s all right here.

So, much like me, you might not be an artist, or a musician or an actor. But you still have a role to play in your community’s cultural capacity and that starts with yes, come and visit. Art is at the heart of the Shuswap this summer. And we’re all the better for it. BC might be big, but the Shuswap is a small gem. Just as the milky way is big, ultimately, it’s the small star that sparkles. That’s us. Let’s enjoy it.

In Good Hands

March 9, 2015 - One Response

This last month on Council has been inspiring to say the least. After part one of a city facilities tour that included the water plant, RCMP station and Fire Department, it’s abundantly clear to me that Salmon Arm is in very good hands.

And by hands, I mean the volunteer Fire Fighters, the RCMP constables, the Auxiliary Members and the Citizens on Patrol but it doesn’t stop there. City council work isn’t just about council meetings (every second Monday, everyone welcome), it’s about committee work. The city has a number of committees that report to Council and Council members are also assigned to community committees. Mayor Cooper has assigned me to two city committees; the Heritage Commission and the Social Issues Committee as well as two community committees Aspiral Youth Partners and the Chamber of Commerce. In addition, all members of Council are members of the Planning and Development Committee (which meets the other two Mondays – again, you are most welcome to attend).

Most things we value as community members and as Canadians, in fact, are as a result of committee work. From Confederation itself to the Vancouver Olympics to Minor Hockey and the Art Gallery, a community has much to be grateful for thanks to their volunteer committee members. 45% of Canadians volunteer in their community. Statistics Canada values their contribution at about 14 billion dollars or 1.4% of the national GDP.

Canada excels in the non-profit sector which is the second largest in the world. Approximately 11% of our workforce is in the non-profit sector. We’re very good at this.

Some might still argue that committees keep minutes but lose hours. Fair enough. I respectfully challenge you to spend an evening at any one of the hundreds of community meetings that are held every month here in town and you might find that your point of view changes. In fact, some studies indicate that a volunteer hour is worth two and half times what a paid hour is worth. If the average wage is $25/hr as noted in Stats Canada records, that makes a volunteer hour worth approximately 62.50. I’ve heard higher. And based on some of the meeting I’ve been to this month, I’d argue it’s more.

There’s something about the communication, conversation and collaboration that happens at committee. Every now and then, the mere act of sitting together around a table, following a set agenda and getting to the business of committee work creates magic. It’s about ideas as much as it’s about experience. We all know things. But something very special happens when we all share what we know on a topic at the committee level. It’s exciting, it’s inspiring, it’s community building and I’m grateful.

I acknowledge that I knew a Council win would bring with it it yet more meetings. As a business owner, I spend much of my working day meeting clients and working with a great team to get the jobs done. What I didn’t expect was to find new meetings that I enjoyed as much  as the ones I already get to go to for my business. This town is stuffed full of talent and commitment.

Please don’t, even for a minute, doubt the capacity of your fellow citizens. The dedication, experience and commitment they bring to the community table is of great value and makes things happen. It’s a formal process and no doubt, it takes time. Sometimes it takes more time that we might like. But the work needs to get done. And most things of value happen through hard word, diligence and dedication which can’t (and shouldn’t, in my opinion) be rushed.

So, as logic would have it, if you want to build community (and I hope that you do), please join a committee that matters to you. Truth is, most of you already belong to one but if not, you have hundreds to choose from in our community – arts, crafts, recreation, sports, business, government, transportation, communication, education, well-being, environment, economy, health – you get the idea.  Whatever you care about, there’s a committee that needs you.

Ironically, we live in a world where we’re often encouraged to “be our own person” and “do our own thing”, but the people we are and the things that matter to us are ultimately about how much we care and how much we can contribute to each other’s well being. In business, we often talk about the free market and the invisible hand. Truth be told and knowing what I’ve learned about our economy and our community day in and day out, it seems to me that the free market isn’t really free and the invisible hand isn’t really invisible. We all have contributions to make and the more we celebrate what one another has to contribute, the better off we’ll all be.

So thank you. I appreciate your time, your meetings, your ideas, your conversations and your commitment to collaboration and community. As a result of what you do as volunteers, I can’t drive down a street, attend an event, walk in the park, or put my recycling out without remembering that we’re all in this together. We all have a say. We all have a role. We all have a share. And as such, we all are what we are together. So thanks for what you have to say and the role that you choose to play. It’s what makes community happen.

Je Suis Sorry

January 16, 2015 - 6 Responses

On the morning of the massacre, I awoke in my normal fashion. Coffee on, time to get up, CBC News. My ever aging eyes saw only 12 and Paris on the news scroll at the bottom of the screen. As a self declared francophile, I moved closer to the screen to see. 12 what in Paris? 12 new fashions shows? 12 new art pieces? 12 new patisseries? To my horror, my eyes then focussed in on the word dead. 12 dead in Paris. 

 
My first reaction was outrage. How could they? Why did they? What is wrong with the world? As it happened, and this is the weird thing about the universe – it forces us to address important issues – I was co-hosting a community radio show on the very topic of comic illustration that morning. To be honest, I stopped for a minute to wonder if I was having a bad dream. But no, there it was in all its live gory television glory – 12 dead; ten journalists, two police officers – Paris, democracy, western values, all under attack. 
 
I think I was in shock. I moved through the motion of the normal morning. Breakfast served, lunches made, bus met, kids to school, off to work then to the radio station for the weekly show. Would we still talk about comic books in light of the massacre? We had all of five minutes to decide. And decide we did. We ran with it. What else could we do. Give in? Give up? Be afraid? I hardly think so. In my own exagerated sense of outrage, I was defiant. Charlie would want us to go on with the show. So we did. And that was that. Nothing ground breaking happened except that we went on with our lives which, under the circumstance, was a welcome banality.
 
As the day progressed, I watched and listened and witnessed my culture’s typical response to a tragedy such as this. All united in our outrage about the whole matter. Twitter was set alight with #jesuischarlie. I too thought I was Charlie. I even tweeted as much. I listened to the defiant messages of world leaders which, “en bref” another great french expression, amounted to the usual rhetoric – we will not let this change who we are or do what we do and we will get them for this – phew I thought, life, as we know it, will go on, except for the man hunt, heightened security alerts and millions of people who would march in Paris a few days later. But other than that, it was pretty much the same old same old. 
 
And then I thought some more. It’s not the same. It has to stop being the same. How angry do you have to be to buy guns, plan attacks, kill and try to escape. As if this is something from which one can ever escape, alive or dead. Dead as it turns out. The French boast Fraternité, Egalité and Liberté which has never included getting away with murder (except for King-killing revolutions – that, as they say in France – is “pas pareil “)
 
Slowly, a mellow sadness overcame me. Maybe I’m not Je Suis Charlie. Maybe I’m Je Suis Sorry. I’m sorry we live in a world where young men (and a young woman too) were so angry and so radicalized that their actions were a viable option for them. Where not a single world leader had the humility to say sorry. Sorry to lead a culture where this kind of violence is a way to send a message of deep dissent. Sorry to be unable to acknowledge a deep and deadly divide. Hell bent on revenge. Which, if you’re keeping score, means we’re answering violence and threats with violence and threats and we wonder why it keeps happening. We aren’t Charlie. We aren’t Sorry. And we certainly aren’t finding the fundamental humility to find a solution. 
 
And then my argument falls apart. I don’t know how to fix it. All I know is that the young people who committed these crimes had parents and siblings and grand parents and aunties and uncles and cousins and neighbours and friends and colleagues and employers and team mates and coaches and school mates and teachers and doctors and yet, they left us. And they left us long before they fired the first bullet. We missed, and most certainly ignored, the cues, as we continue to do. 
 
Maybe, just maybe, we need to acknowledge that these tragedies belong to all of us, not because we endorse or approve (because we don’t), but because we live and walk and share our lives in communities and we have a fundamental responsibility to one another. Being a community member is a reality, a practicality, a convenience, a delight. But most importantly, as the tragic loss of life this last week in Paris highlights, a healthy and connected community is so much more. It’s how we survive, it’s how we thrive and it’s how we stay alive. Community failed last week. And if we miss that lesson, we fail too.
 
With all the compassion I can muster in light of this tragedy and trauma, could I be so bold as to suggest, the lesson here is that while history will remember JeSuisCharlie, we must never forget that, ultimately, we are #JeSuisNous.

Postcard from the campaign trail

November 21, 2014 - 8 Responses

In 2011, I ran willingly for municipal council in my small town. I wanted to experience life as a candidate. From the beginning, I knew the odds were not in my favour. Six council seats, five incumbents, 19 candidates. Not exactly a horse race. In hind sight, or as a good friend of mine would say, kind sight, it was a good thing. Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you wanted.

In 2014, I was reluctant. Campaigns, as I learned in 2011, are hard work and hard on the budget. I’ve always wanted to serve in public office. The question I needed to ask myself was should I risk the time and money again or stay focussed on the path that matters most to me, my family, my living, my life. I had actually ruled it out, truth be told, until a friend of mine walked up the stairs to my office with nomination papers in hand. “Here Louise” she said. “We are days away from the closing date and not a single woman has put her name forward for councillor. Please think about it.” It wasn’t the first time in October that someone commented that I should run. “Why?”, I thought. I tried that last time and I didn’t win. What would be different this time? But then, I kept thinking. And ultimately, walked over to city hall and filed my papers.

Twenty or so minutes later, the local newspaper’s facebook page posted something along the lines of  “Louise Wallace Richmond files nomination papers for council. We have a woman in the race.” That’s how small towns work. News travels fast. This had been a matter of some concern in the days prior. Three incumbents, three open spots, no women candidates. Better odds, this time, I thought. But in my career, I’ve never played the woman card. And I’m grateful to my grandmothers and my mother for forging a path that meant I’d never had to worry about that thus far. An odd turn of events. So off we went, designing campaign materials and signs, setting up private appointments and public meetings, updating websites and posting messages on social media, answering e-mails and taking phone calls. Here we go again, I thought. But something changed. In the lyrics of Joni Mitchell “but something’s lost and something’s gained in living life everyday”. I had learned. And I took those lessons with me to the campaign trail.

Running for office in municipal politics in a small town is still, thankfully, not really about your positions or your political leanings. It’s not about left or right. It’s about what you can bring to forward motion. It’s not about slates or party politics, it’s about people. And surprisingly, it’s not always about the candidates themselves. It’s about team work. In 2011, I ran alone. In 2014, I ran with people I care about and people who care about me. My neighbours canvassed the neighbourhood with me. My office colleagues help put up signs, Fellow candidates encouraged me. In fact, they helped put each other’s signs back up after windy nights and wayward sign smashers. Total strangers stopped me on the street to shake my hand in thanks for putting my name forward even if we didn’t share a point of view. I met with business leaders and told them how much the union contributes to the local economy. I met with unions leaders and told them about how important owning a business was to me. I told special interest groups I couldn’t change legislation that was impeding their goal. I told the audience at the all candidates forum that being on council was a job for which I wanted to apply and I thought I was qualified to get the job done. I said publicly, on our community radio station, that our town could be a tough place to earn a living but we are full of talent and good will and we have an important role to play. I chose to challenge them rather then placate them. And it worked. When my mom friends congratulated me on running, I was careful to remind them that if they wanted a mom on council, they would have to do the hard work. I’d filed my papers. The rest was up to them. They took up the challenge. It worked because people want to participate and make a difference. While the voter turnout belies this, I really think it’s because we haven’t done a good job of reminding them of their power and influence. Our fault, not theirs.

On election night, friends showed up to share the news, good or bad. I didn’t do this in 2011. I isolated myself. About 35 minutes after the polls closed, the first text came through “You’re In”. And to be honest, I’m not sure who was more excited, my friend or me. We did this together. In the days following, so many people have congratulated me. I’m careful to remind them too, that even as a candidate, I only had one vote. They did the work even if I won the coveted one spot of six.

On December 1 at 7:00 pm in council chambers, I will take my place at the table. And I owe it to those who took their voting responsibility with honesty and humility. Nobody wins alone. I learned that. And for the next four years, I will never forget it.

Thank you!

Parliament Hill is Canada’s Home Town

October 22, 2014 - Leave a Response

Parliament Hill is a very special place. Few of us have even seen it never mind understand what happens there. It matters because it’s for all of us. Everyone is represented there. Every man, woman and child in this country is there. We want to believe it’s a place where only the politicians loftily come and go but men and women of every walk of life are there too. Cooks, messengers, researchers, writers, journalists, librarians, barbers, stationers, upholsters, carpenters, guards, pages, clerks. Every walk of life. All of us. It’s Canada’s greatest home town.

Something has changed forever. I want our country back. I want our Wednesday back. Where caucus meetings fire up the troops with partisan fervour instead of guns. Where members tear each other’s words, rather than flesh, apart during Question Period.

The Hall of Honour echoed with gun fire. In all its marble and granite glory, the sound must have been deafening. Let that be the loudest and final scream of anarchy we ever experience.

While on guard for our bravest moments as a country, a young, volunteer reservist full of life and promise died of a cowardly act. Now we mourn. Never must we forget.

Adopt a non-voter

October 5, 2014 - 2 Responses

In the last municipal election, the estimated number of eligible voters in Salmon Arm was 12,982. Meanwhile, the number of votes cast was 5,108.

This means – ladies and gentlemen – that only 39 per cent voted while 100 per cent of us live here, pay taxes and contribute as citizens.

What to do? Chances are that 61 per cent reading this column did not vote. I’m not blaming you, but am confused.  Salmon Arm’s budget for 2014 was an estimated $29.5 million. That is certainly bigger than my household budget and business budget. In fact, it’s the biggest budget for which I feel I have some direct ownership.

Granted, it is not the most exciting thing to own. A city is responsible for water, sewer, garbage collection, fire, police, recreation, culture and certain capital projects. But as far as budgets go, it is substantial, and our votes are more than just important. They are critical to how the whole system works.

Could I be so bold as to make a few assumptions about the non-voter?

  • You are busy.
  • You find politics petty and boring.
  • You’re sure your vote won’t make a difference either way.
  • You find that bureaucracy is slow and clunky and you just don’t have time for that nonsense.
  • Plus, you’re not really sure who to vote for and where to vote.
  • You’re not sure anything will change anyway. So why bother?

Fair enough.  I don’t blame you. I’m just asking you to reconsider this time around. Let’s break it down, one by one. We can do this.

You are busy.

I agree. We’re all busy. It’s human nature to fill our days with lists of things to do, places to go, people to see, money to earn. But you’re not too busy to pay for the roof over your head. That includes property tax. You pay either way. You might as well have your say.

You find politics petty and boring.

I have to agree to a certain extent. Some politicians are petty. But the majority of elected officials are people like you and me who care about the well being of their community. We should be grateful for council members who spend their evenings pouring through briefing books the size of the New York city phone book, week after week.

And yes, it might seem boring to you. But they aren’t bored. They like that stuff. That’s why they ran. A democracy is only democratic if due process, as tedious as it might seem, is followed. Better them than you. That’s worthy of vote, is it not?

You’re sure your vote won’t make a difference either way.

That is where I have to disagree. Every vote matters. Every single one. In fact, there are countless examples of people winning and losing by single digit differences. Ask anyone who has run in an election. Ask me. I had 854 votes last time and if I could shake each of their hands in thanks, I would.  It matters.

You find that bureaucracy is slow and clunky, and you don’t have time for that nonsense.

Well, that’s a skewed perception if you don’t mind my saying. It is hard to watch water boil or paint dry. But it still boils or dries eventually. The trick is, you have to let it happen. Patience is critical to politics too. Things done with impatience and hurry don’t often end so well. I’m sure we can agree on that.

You’re not really sure who to vote for and where to vote.

This is a challenge. If you don’t read the paper or listen to the radio or visit the city’s website, this information can be difficult to find.

We could do a better job at this. I’d like to see a non-partisan professionally designed public service campaign address this. We can do a better job of election awareness.

And I don’t mean signs on the highway. These are a necessary evil. We don’t vote because someone has a blue sign or a red sign or a square sign or a rectangle one. We vote because we know them or we trust them or we think that we can. We just tolerate the visual clutter until the day after the election. Then we get cranky if not cleared out at once.

Most candidate will (or at least should) have a web presence or an e-mail address. Go ahead. Seek them out and ask questions. They want to hear from you. Really, they do. And if they don’t, they should not be running and should not be winning.

You’re not sure anything will change anyway?

C’mon now. That’s not really true and, deep down, you know it. Plenty has changed these last few years. On my daily commute from Canoe to Downtown, the landscape has vastly changed. There are new businesses, restaurants, grocery stores, financial institutions, parks, homes, trails and public art. It seems every day something new happens. It is all about awareness. And that is up to you. If you look for new, you’ll find it. If you don’t, you won’t. But you should because it’s delightful.

If you are a voter, I want to thank you. Maybe in your travels these next few weeks you’ll meet a non-voter. If you do, gently remind them of their importance. Help them by adopting them and bringing them to the polls.

Voting is one of the easiest and most powerful things we can do to preserve our democracy. I hope we can at least agree that democracy is worth voting for, especially in light of countries not as lucky as ours where democracy is what they fight for.

Voting really does make a world of difference. See you at the polls.

Twas the Night Before School

September 6, 2014 - 4 Responses

(with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore and his heirs)

Twas the night before school, when all through the house,
not a textbook was open, not even by mouse.
No backpacks were hung by the front door with care,
in hopes that the school bus soon would be there.

The children weren’t nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of math quizzes danced in their heads.
And mom in her kitchen, and dad in his cap,
had just resigned themselves to a long summer gap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the couch to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the late summer glow,
gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but Ms Christy Clark and her tiny Fastbendeer.

With tailor made suits, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment this was going to be slick.
More rapid than twitter, their excuses came.
They whistled and shouted and called each by name.

“Now unions! Now, teachers! You are not alone.
Increases must fall in the affordability zone.
If kids aren’t in class, then fault is your own.”

And yet, on my street, up the hill at the school,
walk teachers and workers not playing the fool.
Determined to find a much fairer way,
spend weeks on the line for strictly no pay.

And the kindies all ready, their eyes how they twinkle.
Excited for school and yet what a wrinkle.
No teachers await them, no cubbies assigned,
no classroom to enter, no morning snack time.

And seniors in high school, all keen to succeed.
A last year of classes to set them on scene.
Their future on hold. Their hopes live in limbo.
They must really think the grown-up a bimbo.

But she’s jolly and chic, and a right smarty elf.
And I scowl when I see her in spite of myself.
With a wink of her eye and a twist of her head.
She could easily put us all out of this dread.

But her caucus is whipped.
Not a word will they say,
or they too might find
that they’re short on their pay.

Then right on cue, to her copter, she sprang.
With her team all set to repeat the refrain.
I did hear her exclaim, as she flew out of sight.
“Forty bucks for each kid, and to all, a long night.”

The Age of Extraction

August 6, 2014 - One Response

This column first appeared in the August 2014 All Month Edition of the Friday AM in Salmon Arm, BC

In the last decade, Canada has spent most of its time focussed on fixing its economy rather than strengthening its society. 
 
As a result, in my view, we now stare down the barrel of  income disparity like it’s a new danger. It’s not new. It’s just made worse by what’s happened to our economy these last ten years. And while income disparity will always be global as corporate forces search endlessly for cheaper labour and greater shareholder value, now it’s noticeably regional and local as well. 
 
How many of you are separated three weeks out of a month so dad can work away and earn the money in the patch? That sacrifice allows the extra money to fuel the economy with home renovations, new trucks and trips away. Income disparity also means that working and living in the same place is a luxury few of us can afford not just in third world countries but in small Canadian rural communities as well.  Ironically, our stronger economy is also leading to a weaker society. We can’t be there for one another as much as we once were. We’re too busy making money. 
There is a difference between money and wealth. The economy is focussed on money. Society is focussed on wealth. We build a society’s wealth with money from the economy if we use it right. Income disparity tells me that we aren’t using it right. We’ve elected a steady stream of leaders – Harper, Clark, Ford – who promise us more money, rather than more wealth. 
History reminds us that Canada has always been a resource economy. Wood and water once upon a time. Oil and gas now. And, as a society, we’ve always handsomely rewarded those who were prepared to take that risk with money. But in turn, once upon a time, they built wealth – wether it was a foundation, a museum, a hospital, a university or a city park – their riches created wealth. I’m not sure that’s so much the case today. 
Do the rich have an obligation to create wealth rather than just spend money? In the Age of Enlightenment, this was called “noblesse oblige” – the obligation of the nobility to create wealth. Maybe we will call this century the Age of Extraction where we’ll remember all the oil, gas and money we extracted from the economy at the cost of a society of well-being. 
 
It’s not enough to just make money and trust the government to spend the tax revenue appropriately. It starts at the ballot box and it continues at city council meetings and volunteer efforts with community groups. We all have a role to play. If we stand back and complain governments aren’t doing a good job, yet make no personal commitment to the decision-making process, we are the problem. Ironically, some leaders would prefer this laissez-faire approach as 100% of us pay taxes and fewer than 50% of us bother to vote. No wonder the balance is off. 
It’s my suspicion that Steven Harper longs to be the King of the Canadian economy rather than the Canadian society. He thinks it’s his golden ticket to perpetual power. I hear he is a military history buff too. I hope he remembers the fate of those who proceeded him so many centuries ago.
In the 1600s, the conquest of the new world garnered Spain a massive fortune. In fact, they were the richest country in the world but the King of Spain insisted on hoarding all the gold for the rich which led to the entire country’s demise. They’ve yet to recover. In the 1700s, the King of France lost his head because of the price of bread. The price of bread is heavily regulated to this day in France. Seems they learned that lesson, at least. Complex dysfunction can manifest itself in very simple ways. 
No doubt, economics is integral to a society’s well being and worthy of our significant attention. Trouble is, sometimes we get it wrong like Spain and France once did. And when it goes wrong, it goes terribly, terribly wrong and everybody pays. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of paying for those mistakes. Sure we need money but we mostly need wealth. You cannot isolate one from the other. And if you do, you could lose your crown, your country and possibly your head. Are you listening King Stephen?
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