Archive for the ‘British Columbia’ Category

Reflections on #UBCM17 – from Roots to Results
October 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The anachronism of partisanship. Are we over it yet? #canpoli
September 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Country mouse, city mouse
September 22, 2016

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

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.

The culture of complaint and the case for optimism
June 3, 2016

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.
Louise

No Easy Answers
April 12, 2016

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 www.plan-be.ca
 
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. 

Art is at the Heart of the Shuswap this Summer
May 1, 2015

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.

Adopt a non-voter
October 5, 2014

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

(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

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?