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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

How we launch #startups #salmonarm
May 7, 2017

This column first appeared in the May All Month Edition of the Friday AM.
As you read this, the latest round of Shuswap Launch-a-preneur winners will have been announced. Congratulations and sincere thanks to all those who sponsored and mentored competitors in the 2017 edition of this popular entrepreneurial initiative. 


It’s important for me that you know that in the ten weeks proceeding Thursday night’s gala event, all the teams exhibited a winning attitude in participating in 7 workshops, a sneak peek trade show at the local mall and hours and hours of preparation for their 2 and 10; a two minute pitch and a ten minute presentation. 
 
Something to consider is that business ownership and entrepreneurship is, in the grand scheme of history, a relatively new opportunity and privilege.
 
History reminds that in the Middle Ages, the rulers decided who could and couldn’t operate as a business. You might not know that, by definition, a journeyman is someone with a recognized trade who has been given permission by the ruling Monarch to journey from town to town. A brand, something we’re so fond of marketing today, was originally a symbol, on a tool, so that illiterate peasants would be able to recognize from whom they purchased their original tool when the time came to replace it. 
 
Entrepreneurship and business ownership is especially important in small communities and on that front, Salmon Arm is considered, both provincially and nationally, as a very entrepreneurial city and editorial rankings from business magazines support this. 
 
Those of you who have lived in big cities might relate to my own experience of life there. Most of my friends and colleagues worked for someone or something else. I can’t tell you how many jobs I’ve had where I knew my manager, but I did not know my owners; from teenage work at McDonalds, to university shifts at Eaton’s to a stint with Western Living Magazine in graduate school. Owners would fly in and fly out with little time for the employees. 
 
But in a small town, we are in business together. I can’t get through a day without relying on another small business. We are less so competitors and more so collaborators. Because we know our community and we know the job needs to get done. 
 
An important economic metric is what’s called the multiplier effect. By most accounts, the multiplier effect of a small business punches above its weight. It’s a high as 8 to 1 which means that every dollar spent is circulated locally as many as 8 times in the supplies and wages they pay. The same can’t be said for multi-nationals. Not that they don’t make an important contribution, because they do on a national level, but it isn’t quite the same.
 
Case in point, next time you go to a local fundraiser for a cause that you care about, check the logos at the bottom of the event poster. Are there multinationals supporting it? Unlikely. Not because they don’t care but because it’s a different business model run from a different place. Local business understands community in ways that multi-nationals do not. They both make significant contributions overall but the measure of support favours local business. It’s important to remember this. 
 
It’s also important to support them in return. Inclusion and partnership are key to the very thing we love and work so hard for; leisure. Their support is critical to events and projects so that we, as a community, have events and projects to enjoy in our leisure time. We work hard for leisure time. That’s the basis of the economic model; work hard to enjoy leisure. I hope you haven’t forgotten this. It’s important to find a balance wether your leisure is baseball (as it is for my husband Dave), or art and culture (as it is for me) or sports (as it is for my kids and their friends).
 
Entrepreneurs are brave souls – for whom we should all be grateful – for without their appetite for risk and reward – our community would be much weaker, as would our economy. 
 
I will say, as a now entrepreneur, there are days I shake my head and wonder why I take the risk and responsibility of being a small business owner. Will the cheque clear? Will the deadline be met? It can be very stressful. But those moments pale in comparison to the joy and pride I feel for a job well done, a fellow business made better by our work, a positive balance in my bank account and the knowledge that I make more than money. I help to build community. None of which I could do without you. None of which I could have done had I not moved to Salmon Arm going on twenty years ago. 
So to the new batch of Launch-a-preneur businesses, make sure you carve out time for your own well being and leisure. And to those of who enjoy the hard-earned privilege of leisure time as a result of your work, please make sure you carve out time to support our brave local businesses.
 
I am fond of saying that team work makes the dream work. Congrats to all.  I have total faith in you. And if you find yourself a bit short on that front, please reach out. We’ve got more than enough to go around. 

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.

Country mouse, city mouse
September 22, 2016

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

First of all, I’m not a fan of actual mice. But it’s worth acknowledging that, as fictional characters, they have played a major role in literary culture. They are determined underdogs. And anyone who lives in a house as old as mine is well aware of their clever nature.

Do you remember the fable of the country mouse and the city mouse? I love fables. They remind us about important life lessons. 
 
Having grown up in cities larger than Salmon Arm, I was always curious about country mice. Now, as a well established country mouse myself, I sometimes envy the city mouse. How fickle we are. 
 
Over the summer, I spent some time reacquainting myself with my inner city mouse. Still alive and well. Three days in Toronto reminded me that I love big cities. I love people watching. I love riding the iconic TTC street cars. I’m enthralled by the improvised theatre that is a city with a cast of millions all singing their songs and telling their stories. 
 
I also visited with a friend who lives in the delightful chaos that is Toronto. We went to nursery school together. She lives a few blocks away from our old stomping ground. As we visited, I remarked on how lucky she was to live in such a vibrant city. And then she surprised me. You see, she came to my neighbourhood earlier this year to play at the Hive and was quite struck by the sense of community and appreciation for live music here. Fair enough. We too appreciate art and culture. But as we stood steps away from the place in which we grew up, she said she would trade it all in to live in a small community like mine. Wait? What? 
 
It’s an accomplishment, she suggested, to live in a small community and be able to make a decent living and love what you do. I hadn’t thought about that before. She’s right, I think. It takes a brave mouse.
 
As small communities, we spend a considerable amount of time and energy trying to attract city mice. Sometimes we do it by trying to make small cities appear more big. I’m not so sure that’s the best way.  Maybe, just maybe, we should take the opposite approach. We should celebrate all that we are. And all that we aren’t. 
 
We have no commute times. We have no traffic jams. The average family home is not worth a million dollars. It doesn’t cost $35 a day to park downtown. We can get by with one car, and in some cases, no car. We needn’t take vacation days to take the kids skiing or spend time at the beach or go biking. There are no executive headquarters, or sky scrapers, heck, we don’t even have an escalator in Salmon Arm.
 
And maybe our competitive advantage is just this. We plan carefully for what we need because there are fewer of us.  And because we do this, we always have a little extra. Extra room for those who want to live here for the great schools, stellar health professionals, experienced business community, diverse neighbourhoods and spirited community. 
 
And as the saying goes, if you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence. 
I have lived in 7 cities and 5 provinces. I even dallied with Paris and London for awhile. There was a time I would have thought of not living there as a miss. But, thanks to a few lucky bounces and a willingness to try, I made it to Salmon Arm instead. And after the summer I’ve had, I no longer think of it as a compromise. I think of it as a win. I’m proud of us. And I’m happy for anyone else who made that choice too. You make our little city better.  
 
We do not need to ask for people to come here, we need to say to those hungry for small city life that we have a place for them at the table too. 
 
I must tell you that when we stopped at the store to buy milk and bread on the way home from our holiday, our boys’ friends were at Canoe store and were so happy to see them. Had we been city mice, it’s unlikely we would have had that delightful homecoming. 
 
Bravery pays off. Thank you for being brave and choosing a small town. Urban Canada has much to learn from us. 
 
Au revoir Paris, goodbye Toronto. We’re home. 
 
They should be so lucky.

Summertime and the living is eas(ier)
August 4, 2016

This column first appeared in the August 2016 All Month edition of the Friday AM in Salmon Arm, BC

As I write this, I have vacation on my mind. 
 
Of course, when you live in a place that is someone else’s vacation spot, there can be challenges. Other people’s vacation keep many of us locals a fair bit more busy. And that’s a good thing. But it’s summer. And we all deserve to enjoy it. 
 
We really are so fortunate. I have enjoyed visits to the gallery for the Trail Mix Exhibit (don’t miss it) and WOW (don’t miss that either) and I marvel at the work being done by Roots and Blues as they prepare for festival 24. Amazing team. Please go. 
 
I’ve enjoyed evenings at the Hive and my kids have had a great time on the lake. I’m more of a beach dweller, myself. I live for the late night campfires in my backyard.
 
But I’m trading it all in come Monday for three weeks in North Bay on Lake Nipissing, the town in which I grew up. Crazy right? Who would leave the Shuswap mid summer? Me, that’s who. And I’m beyond excited. 
 
The thing about summer is that it’s about nostalgia. And I’m headed that way. North Bay is much like Salmon Arm, a tourist town on a beautiful lake. It’s no wonder I ended up here. Like Canoe, I lived in an older neighbourhood very close to the lake. We would wander over to the beach at all hours for a quick swim as my kids do now at the dock. We were about 10 minutes from town as we are here. As kids, we would ride and skateboard around the neighbourhood till dark. When the porch lights turned on, it was time to come home. Same goes at our house now. 
 
But my homing beacon is calling me back big time. Some years ago, facing some difficulty in my business and helping my best friend move to the East Coast despite the prospect of missing her and her family terribly, I made a decision. I went to my high school reunion in North Bay. I didn’t have the money or the time but I knew I needed to go. So I did. And I reconnected with people who have known me since I was seven years old.
 
It was a watershed moment. In that three day weekend I remembered that I am who I have always been. A happy kid from a small town full of ideas and optimism. And it was a reminder that I sorely needed. I have been back since and I’ll go anytime I’m invited. There’s something about spending time with people who knew you before you were a grown up with expectations and responsibilities that does a soul good. I can honestly tell you that since that reunion, things have worked out for me both in terms of my business and my connection to this community. I’m proud to be a city councillor and small business owner. I’ve now lived in Salmon Arm longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere else. It’s my new home. And I Iove it. But nostalgia is a powerful force. 
 
This is the first time that my husband, my boys and my best friend will see where I grew up. I can’t wait to show them. I know they’ll say it reminds them of Salmon Arm.  We’ll see my parents, my brother, his wife and their kids, some cousins and some wonderful friends. I can’t wait. We’ll visit our neighbourhood, my old school, my hang outs and we’ll take quick dips in the lake at all hours. 
 
If you ever have to leave a place you love for a new place, please find a way to go back. It’ll help. Nostalgia is the best part of summer. I’ll miss Salmon Arm if only briefly but I’ll appreciate it more for going back to the place that made me fall in love with this town in the first place. 
 
Be safe. Be happy. Enjoy each other. That’s what summer is for. See you in September.

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. 

Celebrate 150
March 4, 2016

This column first appeared in the Friday Am All Month Edition, March 2016

I remember 1967. I consider myself a centennial baby (well, toddler, to be more precise). I remember Expo 67; the sights, the sounds, the spirit. 

 
In 1967, Canada turned 100 and its premiere event was Expo 67 in Montreal. It was Tomorrowland, not the Disney theme park, but the nation. We were a land of youth, optimisim and innovation. Montreal was dressed in its finest modernity and the whole world noticed. It’s still thought to be one of the most successful world expos breaking records for attendance. And it almost didn’t happen. 
 
The world expo had been planned for Moscow but for reasons we won’t detail here, they bailed and we got the job. Thank goodness for us. On a personal note, thank goodness for me. My fondness of all things Expo 67 and Canadian Centennial likely shaped my choice of career in design and publishing. I’m particularly proud of my little stash of Centennial memorabilia including, among other things, cufflinks and shot glasses. It’s my most favourite brand. Eleven beautifully coloured triangles representing 10 provinces and the North West Territories shaped into an elegant and modern maple leaf; classic visual storytelling that stands the test of time. We should all be so lucky. 
canada
 
It’s nearly fifty years later and we get yet another chance to celebrate. I’m grateful to Mayor and Council for appointing me as the chair of the City of Salmon Arm’s Canada 150 sub committee. Our goal is to prepare and inspire the community to embrace the opportunity. Through collaboration and cooperation, all individuals and groups can come to the table to share ideas, plans and resources. There are already a great number of projects in the planning stage including special editions of well-loved community events from the Children’s Festival, and Quilters Guild to the Fall Fair and the Shuswap District Arts Council. 2017 will also mark the 25th Anniversary of Roots and Blues and the opening of the Montebello Building at Haney Heritage Park. The work is well underway. But there’s room for more, for everyone and for a few surprises. 
 
At our last meeting, we brainstormed the elements of a birthday party. The invitation, the cake, the food, the card, the games, the party, the loot bags, the gift, and most importantly, as my mom would be quick to remind me, the thank you. Everyone at the table has embraced the once in a half-century opportunity to celebrate, be it neighbourhood BBQs (the four fire halls were suggested as ideal locations), art installations, ferocious flag displays, a giant birthday card, random dispensing of cup cakes, well, you get the idea. It’s time to have some fun. And further, it’s time to have such fun that members of other communities might make a visit here just to see what all the fun is about. It seems at this point in time, we’re the only community in the region taking this collaborative approach to the festivities. 
 
Towards the end of the meeting, we turned our focus to the legacy piece. A party is fun and all but while birthdays are about looking back, honouring our past and our good fortune, their real power is about looking ahead and laying the ground work for the future. In fifty years from now, what will our sesquicentennial babies be sharing with their peers? Ironically, that lesson comes from 1967; youth, optimism and innovation. Of course, those words mean different things now but the spirit is the same. 
 
Join in. There’s room for us all. That is the best Canadian legacy of all. Please save the date for the next Canada 150 Meeting on Thursday, March 24, 2016 at City Hall in Room 100 at 2:30 p.m.
I’ll be the one in the red and white Canada jacket.
Louise

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.

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.

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

There’s nothing like some time away from your community to help you understand all that your community has to offer. This was much the case for me when I attended the Arts BC annual conference in Penticton as Salmon Arm Arts Centre’s Community Development Coordinator. It’s good to get away. Especially for me, as I’ve been hyper-focussed on learning all that I can as a new city councillor. 

The first take away for me was how big this province really is. It’s one thing to jump in a car and get to your destination, but when you take out a map, and give it some serious consideration, you might be surprised. BC is four times the size of the United Kingdom. It’s bigger than Japan and New Zealand combined. It’s all of Florida and then some. It’s big.

For all the benefits of big, it’s not without its challenges. How do we, as a province, made up of individual communities, plan and partake in a provincial cultural plan? Is it even a realistic option? These are questions I took home with me after the conference. We have big island communities, small island communities, northern communities, mountain communities, coastal communities, rural communities and urban communities. We’re a complex place. That’s a good thing. But it’s messy when it comes to provincial policy especially as it relates to culture.

But sometimes, big is just too big. We need to focus on specifics and learn from that. For example, did you know that more people earn their living in the arts in BC than any other province in the country? Maybe it’s the landscape, maybe it’s the sense of place. Whatever it is, it’s exciting. And come this summer, our region is in for some major excitement.

What might seem “normal” to us, is extraordinary in other regions. Both the Roots and Blues festival (23 years young) and Caravan Farm Theatre (now producing four shows per year) have been identified as national treasures in terms of cultural offerings. We’re very fortunate. Roots and Blues brings Grammy and Juno award winning artists to our community on an annual basis. Caravan Farm Theatre, over its long history, continues to have legendary influence and attract national talent in the theatre world.

When that level of talent is attracted to a region, other good things start to happen. Creatives like to cluster with other creatives. That’s how it works. In 2006, internationally renowned installation artists Cardiff and Miller, based in Alberta, moved their Canadian studio to the area. And here’s the small town benefit. The curator at the Salmon Arm Arts Centre, Tracey Kutschker, was a student of Janet Cardiff’s at the University of Lethbridge. When she learned her former professor had relocated her studio to the Shuswap, she began the process of securing a loan of a Cardiff and Miller piece. It took six years to secure as good things take time. This summer,  two Cardiff and Miller pieces, Experiment in F# Minor and The Muriel Lake Incident will show at the Salmon Arm Arts Centre.

So next time someone asks you “should I head to the Shuswap this summer?”, I’ve got an important answer for you to deliver. Say yes. There’s only one place in North America where you can see world renowned artists Cardiff and Miller, award winning performers at Roots and Blues and ground-breaking theatrical talent at Caravan Farm Theatre. It’s all right here.

So, much like me, you might not be an artist, or a musician or an actor. But you still have a role to play in your community’s cultural capacity and that starts with yes, come and visit. Art is at the heart of the Shuswap this summer. And we’re all the better for it. BC might be big, but the Shuswap is a small gem. Just as the milky way is big, ultimately, it’s the small star that sparkles. That’s us. Let’s enjoy it.