Archive for the ‘community’ Category

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.
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Counting on a Merry Christmas
December 11, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas.

I elect to challenge assumptions
October 2, 2015

This column first appeared in the October All Month edition of the Friday AM in Salmon Arm, BC
 
A federal election is a most excellent opportunity to challenge assumptions. Our news feeds are filled with promises, statements, attacks and assumptions that need to be challenged. The future of our communities and our country depend upon our ability to rationalize all that is put forward in exchange for our precious vote. 
 
My take so far:
 
1) A long election campaign is worthwhile giving Canadians more time to decide.
 
Not so fast. A long election campaign means that the Caretaker’s Convention is in place for the Federal Public Service. No decision that shall lock in the future government to a course of action can be implemented. Seventy-eight days of fewer decisions has a direct impact on the business of running a country, running provinces, and running municipalities. We’re sidelined to some extent during such a long campaign. It’s my view that this unilateral decision is one for which we all pay in the short and long term. Plus, I think we could have done it just as well in 40 days. 
 
2) A failing economy is the fault of government. 
 
That’s false as far as I’m concerned. We compete on a global scale. The price of oil is controlled by those who have the easiest and quickest access to the resource. Our oil takes more time to get out of the ground and to market. The industry knows this, and that has had the greatest impact on the downturn in the Canadian oil industry.
 
It does point to the need for innovation, automation and specialization. Government can foster a climate that motivates business to change. But the change is ultimately up to the market to implement. We are leaders in science, engineering, international development, non-profit management, and resource management but we have to show the next generation that we believe in them by giving them what they need to succeed as early on as possible through education and infrastructure. But there is risk involved. 
 
3) A low tax environment will create jobs.
 
False as of late. Prior to 2008, that statement may have been the case. As it is now, we live in an ultra-low interest rate environment combined with a low-risk business environment. Yet money isn’t moving at the rate it once did. Money is like water: if it doesn’t flow, growth slows. There is, by some estimates, 650 billion dollars of dead money sitting in corporate bank accounts because the appetite for risk is not what it once was.  Unspent money can be expensive, as it turns out. 
 
Ninety percent of the Canadian economy is small business. It’s more difficult to access credit despite record low rates. When the largest share of the market has more difficulty accessing capital, the whole model falls apart. It’s my view that there is a direct correlation between access to credit and economic growth. If you don’t believe me, ask your small business owner friends about their relationships with their banks and multi-national suppliers. If we protect cash at the expense of reasonable risk, we slow things down. Cue the second quarter of 2015 of the Canadian economy. 
 
4) Cuts are bad. Surpluses are good.
 
Again, false. We need to stop talking about cuts for the purpose of surpluses. We need, instead, to talk about productivity. Something as Canadians, according to the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), we sorely lack. Some things need to be cut as public dollars need to be spent as efficiently as possible. And a surplus is just another way of saying that government took more than it needed. If a federal surplus goes directly to pay down debt after all the needs are met or to fund reserves for future public projects, then it’s worth it. But it has to be part of the plan in the first place. 
 
5) Canadians don’t understand the complexities of economics.
 
False. We are all economists. Economics is the business of managing households. We make economic decisions—powerful ones—every day. We are the most powerful economists in the system. How you spend your household budgets, what you buy, what you save and where you invest has far more impact on the economy than what any party of any stripe might have you believe. With personal debt levels at record highs, we likely know more than government about the real balancing act that is household management—or economics. 
 
6) Your vote doesn’t matter.
 
False. It always matters. But we like to vote for the “winner” and if we aren’t sure, we don’t vote (that’s just a theory). Running an election for the sake of defining a single winner is only of benefit to the winning party. But all parties represent some risk and some benefit. I don’t believe in the all or nothing approach. I don’t believe we can afford to take that view any longer. 
 
Which leads me to may last point. Please cast your vote for the local representative that you believe will best represent and engage us as an innovative, caring, contributing, and capable community. Some will tell you to vote for the conductor of the orchestra. My preference is that we elect good musicians who are in tune with the rest of us. 

Out on a Limb
September 8, 2015

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

I’m going to go out on a limb here (pun intended) and suggest that in Salmon Arm, we live in an urban forest.

What distinguishes us from many other communities is the tree canopy that surrounds and protects us. It’s as though the town was conveniently placed at the base of a natural forested amphitheatre from Bastion Mountain to the north, to Fly Hills to the east, Mount Ida to the south and Larch Hills to the east.

Trees are marvels of engineering. From roots, to trunk, bark, limbs and leaves, they reach towering heights in search of light and water to grow. They provide oxygen, act as nature’s air filters, air conditioners and shade from the sun. They dampen noise, nurture the soil and prevent erosion.

Our forest sustains us in many ways. And, as life would have it, sometimes we only appreciate what we have after it’s gone. I refer of course to the the catastrophic loss of reportedly 1,500 trees in Vancouver alone this past weekend during a violent storm on the coast.

In addition to their contribution in their lifetime, they also sustain us when harvested as building materials and, in turn, ensure major employment. Salmon Arm’s largest private employer is Canoe Forest Products. They harvest trees and manage forests. In BC, two trees are planted for every tree cut.

When a tree falls in the forest (maybe you’ve heard), they go on to provide habitat and valuable nutrients for the next generation of trees. When trees fail in urban environment, they need our help. Sometimes we have to move them away, trim them up, treat them for disease or replace them altogether. And given all they contribute, I suggest it makes good business sense.

Speaking of good sense, an emerging field of study called biomimcry addresses the ingenious attributes of nature. Engineers, scientists and businesses tasked with solving complex problems are more often turning to nature for sustainable solutions. From fish scales (that prevent bacterial build up) to coral (which captures carbon and uses it to build shell) to flowers petals (which repel dust and dirt), we have many lessons to learn from the nature that surrounds us. But that’s just a secondary job, the first priority is to contribute to a healthy environment where nothing is wasted (we could learn that lesson too).

Some communities in Canada boast about the economic advantage of their tree canopy. Oakville, aptly named, is a champion in this regard. Oakville is a community approximately 50 kilometres from Toronto on beautiful Lake Ontario. During the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference I attended with Mayor Cooper in Edmonton in June, I went to a workshop hosted by Trees Canada. The Mayor of Oakville outlined the direct correlation between their city’s urban forest policy, the health of the population, their relatively higher family household income and their ability to attract high-paying employers. It was a compelling argument; one that was not lost on me as I drove home from urban Edmonton to my rural neighbourhood of mature trees in Canoe.

Trees work hard to sustain their forest and in turn, sustain us. Might I suggest that a simple take away when faced with a problem within our own environment is to consider the question “what would nature do?”.

“When nature has work to be done, she creates a genius to do it.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Graduation – 15 tips for the class of 2015
June 8, 2015

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.

In Good Hands
March 9, 2015

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

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.