Archive for the ‘canada’ Category

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?

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Don’t let your obituary be your biggest story – he didn’t #StuartMcLean
February 15, 2017

I am so very sad to learn that Stuart McLean is no longer with us.

But I am so very happy for the time he spent with us celebrating the power of storytelling.

When the news came today. I hung my head and cradled it in my hands. “No” was my reply.

I thought back to his earlier message – that he would need more time – and in the meantime, we should take care of each other. I think that was his way of saying goodbye. Without saying goodbye. Because story tellers, by their nature, never really say goodbye because the best stories never really end. And neither will his.

Dave, Morley and Sam (I have a Sam too), will never really end. They will live on in our memories. That was his gift to us. And our opportunity here, in the very sadness of his passing is to remind his family, his friends and his colleagues, that we will never forget him or his stories. Or his love of this place we call home. Or of our appreciation of a good story.

When those we care about and admire leave unexpectedly, we turn inward. My first thought was how fortunate I was to meet him. Once. At a writer’s festival in Sechelt. I told him how much I had loved his day at the Eaton’s Centre phone booth when he told Peter Gzowski about all the people he’d met using the pay phone and the stories they had to share. He was humble and spoke of how his friends at CBS in the US thought he was crazy but still admired his courage to try that angle. But that was his thing, he had a human angle. And so much of our media is void of it now. I have to say, I’m not sure that he left us so much as we left him.

We have so many stories and such little time.

I often read the obituaries in our local paper. I knew many of them, but not all. I admire their stories. I just wish I’d known them before reading them in the back pages of the local paper. And if today has taught me anything, is that we cannot wait for our obituary to tell our stories and the stories of those we love. Stuart didn’t. He wasn’t a front page kinda guy, but unfortunately, he will be tomorrow, and, it’s my view that he’d hate that.

Live your life. Tell your story. That’s what he taught us. I am grateful but I will miss him so.

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. 

Chin Up!
January 29, 2016

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.

Will the universe unfold as it should?
October 18, 2015

I have spent countless, honestly, a ridiculous amount, of hours pondering this federal election.

I woke up today as nervous as I did the day I was elected to Council in my own town. Why are some of us driven to care so much about the outcome of the vote? Who knows. But I can tell you, my life would not be the same without it. And despite the butterflies and total disregard to household detail, I’m grateful for it.

As the sun sets on another general election, I’m thinking back to the first time I voted. My guy lost.

That’s been the trend (with one exception), I must admit. But if I get any sleep tonight, it’s because I think this time is different. You see, it’s not a general election for me, it’s a generational one.

So I will lay bare all my votes this past so many years. I hope I remember most of them. But I’m getting to the age where the details get a bit fuzzy.

1984 – I voted for Jean Jacques Blais – a Liberal Cabinet Minister. A stand up guy. He wrote me a letter of reference for the Parliamentary Page Programme. When offered six tickets to the Queen’s State Dinner in Toronto that same year, he invited high school students instead of campaign donors – I made that list. All round stand up guy. Got pummelled by a nice guy named Mo. Tough lesson. Something about “patronage” and “not having a choice”. We always have choices.

1988 – As a young economics student, I was enthralled by the possibility of “free” trade. I voted Conservative. The Liberal incumbent, who I would eventually work for, won handily. He understood that serving the constituents was his number one job and they rewarded him for that. Lesson learned.

1993 – I voted for Kim Campbell. Her house was two doors down from my apartment in Vancouver. I learned that being a good neighbour was more important than politics.

1997 – I honestly can’t remember. I don’t think I voted Liberal because the candidate had spelling mistakes in the flyers and I was in the publishing business. Fickle, I know.

2000 – I voted for Joe Clark. I always liked him. Still do. No go.

2004 – Again, not sure. Maybe Jean Charest. He was a Minister when I was a Page. Nice guy. Capable. young, promising. A girl can dream. He lost too.

2006 –  Likely Conservative – I liked (and still like) Colin Mayes, Mayor of Salmon Arm and new federal candidate at the time. They won. Just barely.

2008 – Liberal – though I was uninspired by the local candidate. Was seeing that my 2006 vote might not have paid the dividends I’d hoped for.

2011 – Green – Elizabeth May continues to be a powerful and inspiring voice. I hope tomorrow’s winner remembers that.

2015 – This time, I’ll vote Liberal. And it’s the first time, I feel great about the candidate AND the leader. I feel good about the vote for my parents (whom, I’m sorry to say, haven’t figured greatly in my previous votes). My mom is, to say the least, not a fan of Harper. My dad is unsure about “young Justin”. I hope they don’t cancel out each other’s vote. But I know they’ll vote as they need to because they are honest, determined, smart, kind and considerate. But mostly, I feel good about a Liberal vote for the young people in my life. My kids, my nieces and nephews and their friends, my students, the young people I get to work with every day. It’s their Canada now. And I want them to have that.

So maybe, just maybe, the lesson is that when you cast a vote for you, it doesn’t always turn out as you might have liked but when you cast a vote for the benefit of the people you love and care about, things work out.

Trudeau Sr. was famous for quoting Desiderata by Max Ehrmann “The universe is unfolding as it should”. Here’s hoping.

Please vote.