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.

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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.

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. 

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?

The Quebec Question
April 7, 2014

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

Does Quebec have any real expectation that it can separate? It can’t do so without the rest of Canada. We would have to separate from each other, ironically, together. Quebecers can no more separate from the beauty of the Rocky Mountains than British Columbians can separate from the majesty of the St. Lawrence River. We are connected by geography, if nothing else, but also by so much more.

While we might want to blame each other for our ongoing discord, the truth is that Quebec’s woes are more about what happened in 1759 when the French failed to make a good showing at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. So blame the British for showing up on time and dragging a cannon up L’Anse au Foulon in the middle of the night to get the King’s job done. And that Canada isn’t all English as some (but certainly not all) in English Canada might prefer, blame France for the hundreds of years it spent colonizing the Americas before you wave your finger at today’s Quebecers. But most importantly, never ever underestimate the power of today’s choices on tomorrow’s problems. That’s the real lesson here.

Yes, of course, the technical issues of a separate Quebec are very complex and include, among many things, roads, airports, ports, waterways, debt, deficits, defense, health care, pensions, taxation, passports and currency. But it’s so much deeper than that.

To reacquaint myself with this deep divide, I looked up Donald Brittain’s NFB series “Champions” about Levesque and Trudeau. If you really want to understand the Quebec question, I encourage you to watch it too. It’s free on nfb.ca. If you can watch the three-part series and still not be persuaded that there is much more at play than a simple “us vs. them”, I’d like to hear from you.

I remember as a child, grown-ups sitting around tables at family gatherings having heated discussion about the future of Quebec. I had no idea what it was all about except that it was serious, divisive, important and oddly secretive. Those conversations don’t happen as often now. I want young people to know that we used to have conversations that involved the value of things rather than the price of them.

I will say this: Marois is no Levesque and Harper is no Trudeau. Neither are champions of any kind in my view, other than championing the saving of their own skin. And we Canadians are the lessor for it.

Being both French and English (or as some call it, bilingual) can be a real curse. In English Canada, I’m a Francophone. In French Canada, I’m an Anglophone, which basically means I don’t always quite fit in.  Which is why the NFB series “Champions” is such a comfort to me in these trying times.

Levesque said of the lost referendum “Si je vous comprends bien, vous etes en train de me dire, a la prochaine fois.” Which, translated, means, “If I understand you correctly, you are saying to me, until next time.” I hope the “next time” isn’t now.

I am from Quebec. I am from Canada. I am grateful for and very proud of both. Please don’t ask me to choose because I will have no choice, which is the worst choice of all. Please just ask me to prepare for “la prochaine fois”. That, I think, I can deal with. In fact, it’s really the only thing I’ve ever known how to do.

There are deeply complex and well-hidden agendas on both sides of this persistent debate. As Levesque would famously surmise (and you need to watch Champions to witness it), hidden agendas such as these can have insurmountable consequences. History has much to teach us. I can only hope we can learn to accept her lessons.

Dear USA
October 16, 2013

You are being a nightmare roommate. I’m pretty sure Mexico feels the same way. You can’t spend our rent money flirting with what’s her name, that Debt Ceiling gal and her buddy Default and expect us to bail you out.

I want my comedians, my actors, my singers, and my circus back. You can keep the wood and the steel and the oil. I can do with what I have left.

Please leave them in that empty box on the border you call Detroit. I’ll pick them up there.

Signed,

CANADA

Lots on our plates
September 6, 2013

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

This summer, I visited five provinces: PEI, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario. In addition to taking in some great scenery and wonderful hospitality, I also took a curious interest in what the messages on provincial and territorial license plates really say about each place.

 Some inviting, others promising, some a bit perplexing, they are equally iconic messages sent between visitors and residents of cities and towns, highways and byways all across this country, every day of every year. Seen more often than passports or postcards, website or advertisements, they are a very effective promotional “vehicle” if you’ll pardon the pun.

In British Columbia – Beautiful British Columbia – seems a bit vain compared to the others, but it’s nothing short of the truth.

To understand Alberta’s plate – Wild Rose Country – I had to ask an Albertan who told me it’s that Alberta is both wild and beautiful (as well as very protective of what it  has to offer). It might even think it’s its own country but I wouldn’t go that far.

Saskatchewan is Land of Living Skies and anyone who’s driven through on a stormy summer’s eve would have to agree.

Manitoba – probably my favourite – is Friendly Manitoba. It’s a statement but also a service promise of sorts. I’ve never met someone from Manitoba I didn’t like.

Ontario has changed its tune over the years. It used to be bossy (Keep it Beautiful) but now it’s more inviting – Yours to Discover – and Ontario really does have a great deal to offer outside the big blob that has become Toronto.

Quebec is probably the most complex of messages – Je me souviens – which, translated means “I remember” but it can also be interpreted as “I will never forget” which are two entirely different things. Still, being mindful of who you are, how you got there and what you went through to arrive is always worth keeping in mind.

New Brunswick perplexes me a bit. Its plates, which are bilingual read – Be…in this place and “Etre…ici on le peut” – implying that you can be whatever you want in NB, just fill in the … – except you could fill in the blanks with some pretty unflattering things if you were so inclined. Still, New Brunswick is chalk full of opportunity and extremely scenic.

Nova Scotia is the most poetic in my view – Canada’s Ocean Playground – which speaks to its maritime heritage and its landscape.

PEI’s is Canada’s Green Province – both in colour and in attitude – going as far as offering compost bins in hotel room and fast food joints. It’s largely unspoiled by big boxy developments. The farms seem to out number the buildings by my count.

I’m always intrigued by the rare sightings of license plates from the three territories. Northwest Territories “Explore Canada’s Arctic”, Yukon “The Klondike” and Nunavut or “ᓇᕗᑦ ” in Inuktitut.

Newfoundland and Labrador has no saying, per say, on its plates but it does feature its tourism logo prominently featured in its storied tourism television ads.

Every province and territory has its charm and Canada really is such a stunning and diverse country. I wish it were cheaper to travel cross country so every Canadian could see what’s outside their own province. As it is, life sometimes leaves us with too much on our own plates to be able to make those trips. And while I’m very grateful for my time away, I’m ever so happy to be home in Beautiful British Columbia.