The Nice List #salmonarm
December 9, 2016

This column first appeared in the December 2016 All Month Edition of the Friday AM in Salmon Arm, BC.

Here we are, approaching the end of another year. The further we go, the faster time flies.

It has been said that experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. There’s truth to that but if experience has taught me anything, it’s that little, if anything, ever comes from complaining. So much more comes from being a champion for what you believe to be important and the commitment you’re willing to make to see it through.

So for this column, I propose to focus on Santa’s nice list rather than his naughty one. Many of you rank quite highly on the nice list for your commitment and contribution. I’ll limit this list to ten but it is by no means complete. Lorne could print a phone book sized version in his Friday AM in that regard, I have no doubt. I only get 600 words. I’ll do my best here.

1. Shuswap Second Harvest
My office is located above Second Harvest. Not a single day goes by that someone doesn’t show up with food for our most vulnerable population. They are quiet and humble in their work. They ask for nothing. They just do what they know needs to be done. Their efforts inspire me to be a better person.

2. Shuswap Family Resource Centre
I am so humbled by the work of this non-profit organization. I can relate to the gift drive for children in need, especially teenagers, of which I have two. We want to believe that families have what they need but in many cases, this is not so. Please consider buying a gift for a teenager. A coffee card, a movie ticket, a swim pass. One day, they will make decisions on our behalf. Let’s remember that our greatest legacy is to let them know that they matter to us.

3. Syrian Refugee Sponsor Groups
This community has sponsored nine families from Syria. This is astounding for a community of our size. And sponsorship means getting them housing, medical and dental care and providing for language training among many other things. At a WOW event this summer, I watched with delight as a Syrian infant was comfortable in the arms of an audience member who as a stranger to her. That only happens in a place of peace. And they have provided that. And we are better for it. I thank you.

4. Literacy Alliance of the Shuswap Society
This group is committed to the well being of our community. Literacy isn’t about reading. It’s about inclusion. It’s about giving the tools needed to navigate an increasingly complex and changing world. And the more we can come together to support this, the better off we’ll all be. So unplug and play in January and please consider a donation.

5. Child and Youth Mental Health
This is more personal for me. Our family has been through some worrisome situations this past year. The work of these committed professionals helped us find our way. Their kindness and expertise got us where we needed to be. I am now and forever grateful.

6. The Safe Society
Every time I see a safe society poster in a public space, I notice that some of the phone numbers are ripped off at the bottom. This means that women are calling and asking for help. And the Safe Society always, always answers. Domestic violence lives in many unexpected places. If it happens to you, know that you have a safe place to go. And we have the responsibility to make that work. Really, we do.

7. The Salmon Arm Arts Centre
If you know me, you know that I am a passionate advocate for the arts. Not because it makes space prettier but because it makes spaces more meaningful. And we all search for meaning through our shared narrative of life here. This group is so inclusive in its approach – from free children’s programming to regular meetings of the odd socks knitting club and discounted tickets for cultural performances for youth. When we challenge perspectives on the ways in which we live together, culture happens. We are richer for it.

8. Okanagan College students
I am a part time professor at Okanagan College in the School of Business. Ironically, I show up twice a week to teach my students. But I am the one who learns. They share their enthusiasm, vision and hope for what happens next. It’s the most humbling part of my life. I have great hope for the future. Soon, the world will belong to them. It’s time we listened. Trust me, we’re in very good hands.

9. Council, staff and volunteer committee members
By all accounts, I am still a rookie on council. Every single meeting I attend, I learn something new. I hope I’ll always be a rookie. I love what I learn. I am so grateful for the patience of Council, staff and committee members to help me find the tools I need to make a difference. I can tell you that it’s not an easy job. But nothing worth doing is easy. They continue to teach me that and our city is better for them. Thank you.

10. Canoe
I can’t write a column about Santa’s nice list without mentioning my neighbourhood. Two years ago, a neighbour, by the name of Paul Ross decided to invite us all to watch the CP Holiday train pass by and donate to local food banks, even if it didn’t stop here. This year, the CP Holiday Train will stop in Canoe. Fifty communities asked to be considered for this priviledge. Canoe was the only one that made the list. Thanks Paul.

And finally, to you, the readers. I appreciate your time. Much is written. Not enough is read. Thank you and Merry Christmas. 2017 marks Canada’s 150th birthday. I hope we can celebrate together.

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. 

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.

So you think you can spell?
March 7, 2014

This column first appeared in the March All Month edition of the Friday AM in Salmon Arm, BC

So you think you can spell? We all do. At least secretly anyway. Admit it, you see a spelling mistake like a sore thumb. Red and painful and often unnecessary.

Why is that? Because words are the most powerful tools we have in life. How we use them and what we say with them tell our story. How we parent. How we learn. How we conduct business. How we connect. How we get jobs. How we earn a living. How we say hello and goodbye. How we say please and thank you. How we define our lives.

I want to tell you about LASS, the Literacy Alliance of the Shuswap Society. This group of dedicated volunteers and their small team of staff accomplish, literally, tomes of change. From books for babies to cyber learning for seniors, this grass roots organization is dedicated to improving literacy in the Shuswap. And literacy isn’t just about learning how to read, it’s about learning how to succeed. LASS will host its inaugural spelling bee fundraiser on May 2 at the Prestige Inn.

I want to ask you a question. Why is literacy important to the community? Because it’s a good cause? Because kids should have books to read and seniors should be able to use the internet? Yes. But that’s not nearly the whole story.

Here’s why I think literacy is important.

1) Canada is a world leader in the service sector. While we mourn the loss of manufacturing jobs offshore, the truth is the service sector is 70% of our economy and where our real future lies. Engineering, logistics, consulting, science, medicine, and even banking. Our strength is a matter of literacy.

2) Canada is a global leader in the non-profit sector, second only to the Netherlands. It’s 10% of our economy. Our strength is a matter of literacy.

3) 60% of business leaders report that low employee literacy is a productivity challenge. Our risk is a a matter of literacy.

4) The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development tells us that Canada has a productivity problem. Our risk is a matter of literacy.

It’s all about literacy. Especially in small regional economies like ours. Like it or not, your pay cheque has likely more do to with the work of your neighbours and your neighbours’ neighbours than you might like to admit. Our livings and, in turn, our livelihoods are interdependent. Truth be told, I can’t earn a living without you and you can’t earn one without me. If I struggle with literacy, I pay. So do you.

Now, I want to issue a spelling challenge. Please get a pen and a cheque book and spell out “pay to the order of the Literacy Alliance of the Shuswap Society the sum of one hundred dollars” in support of this fundraiser. It could be one of the most important investments you make in yourself, in your community and in your economy. When you do the math, it’s the words that really matter. We’re counting on, and spelling for, each other.