Election Day 2019 Canada

“Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for supper” – James Bovard

Plain box containing message "To all candidates and all parties, Negative campaign ads will cost you my vote.  Tell me in a positive way what you can do for our our country and I will listen, otherwise we are finished.  I urge all Canadians to take a stand on this.  Smear campaigns are not the Canadian way".  Captioned with "My voting pledge"
My voting pledge

Today is election day and I am torn. In over forty years I have never felt such trepidation over a federal election while at the same time being so glad it is coming to an end. The amount of negativity and vitriol that has been spun is beyond belief. It is important to recognize that because how we message these days has changed so much.

Social media is second nature to generations like Millenials but not as simple to many baby-boomers. Social media allows vast platforms for the spread of misinformation, or as some like to politely refer to it, targeted messaging. Truth has become irrelevant when spin can be so powerful to a segment of the demographics (baby-boomers and seniors) who trust an electoral system that is badly outdated.

I find it quite unnerving, as an older Canadian, living in an age of rapid technology advancements over how how broken our electoral system is. We badly need a 21st century governance system that will work for today, not a system that was build to tackle 20th century issues.

There are four generations of voters this time around and each have their own generational challenges. So regardless of what generation you belong to, we are ALL Canadians that want what is best for our country. An important distinction here is the acceptance of compromise so we can accomplish what is best for the country and not just our generation. Compromise use to be a given in Canada but it is now seen as a weakness by the more aggressive ideologist.

We need to accept compromise as a way to move Canada forward, a country that benefits all. We shouldn’t want to be a country that is becoming increasingly fearful with citizens that feel their mere existence is threatened because of who or what they are. I experienced that myself in the past week just because I was in a wheelchair. I am, as these two idiots put it, “a drain on society”. Welcome to the new Alberta.

We can no longer afford to allow the polarization generated by a campaign of fear and promoted by hateful ideology pit Canadians against each other. I have never seen an election use so much negativity and superficial blame (often baseless) by ALL parties while being so policy weak. Effective policy, not negative messaging, is how we will move towards a better Canada for ALL regardless of what generation you are part of. The policy commitments I have heard I take the time to “fact check” but that is a luxury many do not have or understand.

I have a little list of “pro’s and con’s” over my voting concerns. Prior to voting I tally those up and use the results as “one” of my deciders. Democracy is important to me and I will not surrender it to any one type of ideology. We are a diverse country, our diversity is what sets us apart on the world stage, and I am quite open to seeing that diversity as part of our political system. With that said, I will not accept any one ideology to be the guiding force behind our political direction. That is not diversity. Nothing gets a tick faster on the “con” side of the list faster than a negative ad.

I have been around long enough to understand election “promises” are like click bait on Facebook, they have little meaning when the time actually arrives. Election promises are like the beads thrown all over New Orleans during Mardi Gras, the next morning you have a drawer full of colourful beads with little value, that’s an election promise. Ask Ontario, how did Ford’s “buck a beer” work out for you?

What goes in my “pro” side of the list is statements like “we will try”, “with all due respect”, examples of ethical behaviour, actions that demonstrate respect for difference, etc. Election promises are optics, not direction. Our democracy is under attack and we are doing that to ourselves by being naive as well as complacent.

We don’t need more ideologists making power moves for the sake of power and control, not for the betterment of Canada. We need governments who are committed to moving us forward and not dragging us back to the times of baby-boomers (of which I am one) childhoods. Times have changed and to maintain a valuable democracy we need to change as well.

My four simple steps for voting

  1. Don’t don’t vote based on fear.  It is fine to be cautious but fear is not cautious, it is an excuse for avoidance and serves no purpose.
  2. Don’t vote based on what others tell you to do.  You can take advice but do your homework, respect the laws and respect yourself.  Voting is similar to taking an exam, you can get advice from others but when it comes time to write that exam you are the only one in the room.
  3. Vote based on a your principles not just your personal ideology. Ideologies can change with time but principles and ethics remain dynamic, not static.  Understand your principles and know where they come from.  Your principles are the guiding lights for your actions and your actions are what others will respect you for.  
  4. Be yourself and if those close to you don’t like that, well maybe you should be asking yourself “am I really important to this person”.  We all have many acquaintances during our life time but we only have a handful of true friends.  Understanding the difference establishes the quality, not the quantity of your life.  Life is not Facebook.

My trepidation today comes from the feeling that we are at a true crossroads of our democracy. Get out and vote but vote with purpose. And don’t let your political involvement stop at the polling booth. Protecting our democracy is ongoing and your involvement must also be ongoing. It doesn’t have to be time consuming but it should be continuous. An action as simple as sending a regular e-mail to your MP demanding accountability or change (four or five lines) is involvement. Keep up the demand for that electoral reform we were promised a little over four years ago. We cannot go through another election as full of vitriol and misinformation as we did in 2019. Be part of the solution, not a contributor to the problem.

Get out and vote…

Alberta’s Spectre of Trumpism

“The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man is threatened” – John F Kennedy

I know I promised to do an article on my perspective of the changing education system in Alberta and I will. However I will save it for my Monday meanderings post because right now I want to raise the issue of the Trumpism spectre being cast over Alberta by Premier (that’s hard to say) Jason Kenney.

To the future policy makers of our province (and possibly our country) please be aware of the power of words. I listened to Jason Kenney’s address to the Oil Sands Trade Show in Fort McMurray this week. I was blown away that a Canadian politician would find the deprivation of human rights to Greenpeace activists to be “instructive” for Alberta. I find it not only frightening but also insulting to every Canadian that believes in the protection of human rights.

It tears at the fabric of my soul as a Canadian to listen to Kenney justify human rights abuses with the same glee he proudly echoed over his success in removing spousal visitation rights for those dying of aids in California. This isn’t a leader “for all people”, this is an ideologist who will say or do whatever he has to in order to accomplish his agenda. It is truly frightening.

Kenney has back off from most of the sound bites of misinformation he expressed during the run up to this election. He not only removed the protection of anonymity that had been provided by GSA’s to vulnerable youth but also exhibited his lack of understanding regarding education. A large part of learning happens “outside” the classroom so his ignorant remark about his acceptance of kids protesting was fine but should not be done during class time, totally out of touch with the realities of experiential learning. That response was as much Machiavellian as it was absence of knowledge.

Kenney and his government put a freeze on funding to students and adults living with a disability. This left thousands of young people moving from children’s service to adult programming over the summer (a consequence of turning 18) with little or no supports. He suspended an agreed upon teachers contract condition and froze school board funding up to the last minute resulting in understaffing with oversized classes.

The creation of this “Blue Ribbon Review Committee” on education was, in my opinion, an exercise in optics. The results were a foregone conclusion. It would be like me suggesting an “independent committee” made up of the Calgary Catholic Bishop, two priest, the retired Mother Superior of the Alberta Grey Nuns, maybe an obstetrician/gynecologist (need that medical expertise) and a couple of foster parents (community balance) to determine the need to change the abortion issue. I can pretty well guarantee the results.

My main issue here is nobody should be surprised. If you followed Kenney’s time in Ottawa at all you would be aware of his operating style. Remember this is the same guy who was forced to issue an apology in 2012 to the then Deputy Premier of Alberta, Thomas Lukaszak for calling him an asshole. Kenney wasn’t always Alberta’s biggest fan.

Picture with seven boxes rows of two side by side, first row reads The Holocaust was legal" next to "Hiding Jews was Criminalized", second row "Slavery was legal", "Freeing slaves was criminalized", third row "Segregation was legal", "Protesting Racism was Criminalized" Bottom row )one square) "Friendly Reminder:  Legality isn't a Guide to morality"
Ideological differences

And this brings us to today. The federal election is being called and Kenney has vowed to be on the trail helping his friend, Andrew Scheer. Well there are rules about that so I have to ask, “Premier Kenney are you doing that on the tax payers dime?”. If so are you making every Albertan complicit in contravening the federal election regulations. Have we, as citizens of Alberta become “third party donors” to an election campaign? Are we registered in compliance with the regulations? #WordsMatter and I’m not donating $1600 to a campaign I don’t support.

We are at a point in our provincial history where it has become imperative for the collective electorate to speak out for services. If we don’t by the time we get to that point where we want a better place for our kids nothing will be left. The Kenney government is busy dismantling education, human rights, labour relations and starting to tackle healthcare. If we want these protected, we have to speak out. We cannot afford to live in the spectre of Trumpism politics…

Writing From Frustration

(A variant quote) – “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission” – Grace Hopper

With the writ finally coming down for the next federal election it is time to start writing again. I have ignore my writing all summer while I took on other challenges only to realize my absence of expression only contributes to the erosion of democracy. I needed a good kick in the ass and I received one this morning (actually numerous but I’ll only focus on one).

First a quick history lesson to the members of @YYCShapers. They are a group of young Millenial professionals dedicated to making Calgary the best city it can be and kudos to them for that. This opening quote is a variant attributed to Read Admiral Grace Hopper someone who laid a lot of the groundwork for the likes of the Millenials. Get to know Grace who was one of the early pioneers of computer coding and is often overlooked. She contributed to the development of the Advanced Research Project Agency Network (ARAPNET) which was the ground work for todays Internet. Grace passed away in 1992 but her work has carried us to where we are today.

Now to business and I am a bit pissed off. I have tried repeatedly to work with Calgary around the whole issue of “accessibility”. Many of these issues I felt had been dealt with years ago. I was wrong. From my recent dealings it appears that the City of Calgary doesn’t really gives anymore than lip service to access.

I spend almost two hours on the phone this morning with the City’s “Accessibility Specialist”, Dave Morton. He was polite, tried to be helpful but fell back onto the denials offered by limited policy interpretation. He basically told me “too bad, so sad, wish I could do more, keep up the fight” (click) over almost a two hour period. I suspect he meant well but can only do what his policy interpretation allows.

Policy should never be allowed to guide a myopic ideology. Having been a government policy analyst for years there are always (or should be) alternative solutions. Policy should never be that rigid that it eliminates the need to use “common sense” and practice some critical thinking. From my experience policy should be used as a guiding map, not a restrictive law.

Picture of front of Dorchester Square condo building, drive-way and pedestrian ramp to front door
Dorchester Square – condo building where I live

My issue of frustration, access to where I live. This was the front of my place up until recently. That ramp, which is non-complaint by todays standards but served the purpose, was recently replaced with a couple of stairs. This ramp has worked fine for over 25 years but it recently disappeared. I didn’t notice it right away because I was always parked in the underground and entered the building from the underground garage. I had to make a very drastic decision this summer and sell my car. The old shoulders just are not working well enough anymore for me to do a safe transfer and since where I live in the Beltline 90% of what I do is within wheeling distance. That changes in the winter with the arrival of snow but the reality was the car had to go.

Front of Dorchester Square after modifications involving removal of ramp and installation of stairs.
The new look

So imagine my surprise when I went out recently and discovered stairs had replaced the ramp. I use to think I had a pretty good understanding of how peoples minds worked but this one blew me away. Why would a condo building swap out a ramp access for stairs? Everyone I spoke to in management positions with this condo had no idea it had happened. Now I’m sorry but somebody had to authorize it and issue payments to the contractor. This not knowing is just a blow off to me.

Enter the City. I did what I believe every well meaning citizen should after failing to get an appropriate answer from the condo management people. After all, access is suppose to be promoted and protected is it not. Well apparently I was wrong. After being placed in the gerbil exercise wheel by the City’s answer to everything, the 311 phone line (Service Request Number: 19-00814592) I finally received a call from a gentleman with the City Roads department suggesting I call the aforementioned Dave Morton. He is reportedly the City Specialist on all things “access”. After a couple of phone conversations it would appear nada. This City has no real interest in accessibility issues.

First of all Dorchester Square never made application to do this ramp conversion. They did make application to upgrade and change the ramp to the underground parking. I remember that well because one side of the underground parking ramp was out of service for about six weeks last summer. They replaced that ramp to include a water warming system to help avoid freezing over the winter. The ramp to the underground parking is quite steep so I appreciate that action.

However that ramp upgrade had nothing to do with the removal of the current front door access ramp. You don’t replace an access ramp with stairs and consider it “job well done”. It makes absolutely no sense but then the lack of common sense is becoming pretty self evident in todays society. The City, who is already battling a budget deficit, states this issue is on private property leaving the City with no jurisdiction.

I would think that a City with budget issues should be fining those businesses who don’t comply with the current process. Despite the fact that no permit was ever applied for or issued the City has removed themselves from my service request and it is every man for himself. No wonder the City has a budget problem when they allow the “chosen” few to do whatever they decide and process be damned. Why no fines? Why does the victim pay the price?

Fighting for access is now up to each individual. We cannot collectively battle for something that I thought was already settled. I just have a really hard time accepting a City that talks about “inclusion” while almost going out of their way to make the community less inviting. Accessible living accommodation are hard enough to find so to start rolling back the few options that are available sends a very firm message that certain members of the community don’t really count. This is yet another situation I find myself in clawing my way back up hills of battles previously fought. There is no retirement for someone who is a self declared advocate.

Then to add insult to injury (and the mentality of this blows me away) getting rid of my car and using Access Calgary Transit is no longer an option. One of the criteria is that if a bus stop is within two blocks you are expected to use public transit. I can partially understand that but I have a few questions for the City. Do you consider a difference in two blocks when it is 25 degrees versus -25 degrees because trust me, there’s a huge difference. Will the City stop piling all of the plowed snow across every curb-cut to eliminate the mountain of snow one has to get over to get to that “two blocks away”? Where has common sense gone?

Stay tuned, I’ll be back. With an election looming and a Premier who is using tax dollars to stump for Scheer on the national stage while proroguing Alberta legislature I will be watching and writing. Next on my list, the removal of the word “public” from education. This may appear innocuous enough but those with disabilities are only guaranteed educational opportunities in “public” venues, #WordsMatter.

So yes I am frustrated…

Public Safety over Fiscal Responsibility isn’t Really Responsible

Home is where the heart is, home is where believe we are safe” – Terry Wiens (2019)

I love Calgary. Calgary is my home. I’ve left it many times, sometimes for career purposes and a few times just to go on a crazy adventure. However every time I leave I eventually find myself returning. And each time I return I see new cracks and fissure taking place in the fabric of what Calgary was. I am slowly coming to the realization that the Calgary I loved may not exist anymore. The question I keep asking myself is “Can it be turned around?”. Can it continue to grow while maintaining that vibrant sense of community which is what I have always loved about Calgary, that sense of community.

Turning on the lights 1953

I still have childhood memories of family picnics and romping through the wading pool at Riley park. Or the annual employees picnic and BBQ held yearly at Bowness Park. All of the adults gathered around the picnic shelters, men playing games like horseshoe while mothers kept the younger kids entertained (no electronics back then) and the older kids swam or canoed around the lagoon. No fecal issues then.

It was a very different City then and civic pride was strong. The City was more united while being determined to grew and prosper. The urban sprawl began and Calgary has been prospering for the past sixty years. Sure there have been a few up’s and down’s, every City has those periods but Calgary, overall, has done very well for itself. That’s what keeps me coming back.

What does concern me is that every time I return there appears to be a new fracture. I think you have to have been gone every now and then to notice, you see things differently when you are looking through refreshed eyes. A lot of that change occurs, in part, due to regulatory change. To really understand that one has to know the history of regulatory change, like the downloading of jurisdictional responsibilities.

A lot of this began in the late 80’s (a period I refer to as the dawning of the age of regulations ending the “Age of Aquarius“) and into the 90’s. The various levels of government used “fiscal management” as a way to dump the responsibility that goes with regulations. As an example the federal government couldn’t keep up with the cost of rising health care. In an attempt to maintain the “universality” guaranteed in the Charter they adjusted the federal transfer payments system. This meant giving provincial jurisdictions the authority to decide how healthcare could be administered and what would be covered. From that simple adjustment the concept of treatment by postal code was born. Many disabilities were treated differently based on what province you were in.

The ripple effect of this resulted in the provinces, as their own way to avoid costs, to begin downloading to the municipal level. It was only in the mid 90’s that the Ministry of Municipal Affairs got out of the inspection business. The inspections that use to be provided by the province were either transferred to local government or, in some cases, created “inspection authorities”, a form of privatization. What local government didn’t factor in was the cost of that “responsibility” which is why, in part, we are seeing such an erosion to our infrastructure. A number of those programs are now being reversed, an example of that is returning driver licence testing back to government from the private sector.

Now, in any attempt to cut cost, municipal governments are abandoning the responsibility of inspection services. I live in the Beltline and all you have to do is walk around the pathways to see how much deterioration has gone on. Without regular inspection erosion just gets worse. Being wheelchair dependent a well maintain walkway is important to me. All it takes is a small crack to come to an unexpected screeching halt and do an airborne out of a wheelchair if you are not paying attention.

I spend a week in the Rockyview Hospital this past February as a result of one of those wheelchair flying patterns due to a poorly maintained curb-cut. The City’s response (cut and pasted from the e-mail) “We were able to mill the road on the NE corner of 14th Ave and 7th St SW on Tuesday. However, after reviewing the location and the wheel chair ramp it needs more attention than what I was able to provide. I have forwarded this location to our Construction department and they have said they will look at it and will do their best to have the grade redone in the 2019 construction season so that the wheel chair ramp is not so steep.” Even the City’s Central District Manager, Roads Maintenance has no idea how bad the walkways are in the Beltline.

I have over 70 e-mails that I have send to the City describing or supplying pictures/videos of unmaintained sidewalks. We are paying the price for the City’s inability to inspect or maintain road safety in a very high density community. Meanwhile I pay the price with my body but most recently a major setback for my wheelchair.

Lightweight Titanium wheelchair

Now I’m facing a $6000 cost to replace a bend frame due to a pothole the size of a small volcano. This was during Stampede week and I was left on my ass with a bag of groceries strewn around me. Thanks to the kindness of strangers who helped me back into my chair and helped me rearrange my groceries things got resolved. I took the video, send it to the City and, on the trip home, realized my frame was bend. When all four wheels are no longer touching the ground you know something has happened to your chair (and my chair is Titanium so it doesn’t bend easily),

Calgary is subject to some pretty intense rain falls and small lakes are not uncommon around curbs. Had of that been the case here it wouldn’t have mattered if you were in a wheelchair or walking, you would have toppled.

As I have mentioned numerous times, I love Calgary so I can live with this. I contact the City regularly reporting bad walkway situations. I do that believing I am being a responsible citizen and trying to do my part to make Calgary the best City it can be. It would be nice if my elected Ward rep would return one of my notes but that never happens. Doesn’t matter, let’s just get the repairs done.

But this latest has pushed me beyond my limits. It is very personal to me and the City’s lack of regular inspections has the potential to create issues for many of our kids. When the City allows the public splash pool on Olympic Square to get to the point where the health authority makes them shut if down due to dangerous levels of fecal matter, that’s my limit.

As a polio survivor it’s personal to me because the polio virus lives in fecal matter. We are living in a time when people are avoiding vaccines, where international visitors are coming from countries that have NOT totally eliminated polio and the virus can live for a long time in a persons gut. How long do you have to go to get to a point where the coliform count can get that high. Calgary, I love you but you still have a level of responsibility to maintain. If the level of fecal matter can get to 7 times the acceptable level you have failed. There are budget cuts but that doesn’t justify increasing the level of danger that threatens our kids.

Colour me pissed off…

The Western Migration

“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb

A couple of political events in Calgary and Alberta opened some curtains in the mist of some lost memories this week. That can be beneficial because it makes me think of how we got to where we are today, certain events on the development of Calgary and some of the irony generated by our past. The first was the issue over Calgary’s planned transit expansion, the Green Line and the second is the Alberta governments new labour law, Bill 9. Both of them stirred up childhood memories.

We are experiencing some elements in our current societal discourse regarding diversity and reacting like it’s something new. ALERT, it isn’t. My fathers legacy is buried deep in the world of the Mennonite faith. His ancestors had migrated to Canada in the late 18th century to avoid the religious persecution Mennonites were experiencing in many European countries of that time. With him came a diversity of faith. Large sectors of Mennonites settled to farm in what would eventually become Manitoba following Confederation.

Mennonites are pacifists and live almost communally. They are tight knit and dedicated to self sustainability. They were into environmental protection before anyone even knew what environmental threats were. This was reflected in their farming techniques, rotating crops, field left seasonally fallow and planting crops to meet the needs of the soil. This wasn’t a conscience plan, it was just common sense farming.

When WW2 came along many of my fathers generation of the Mennonite faith joined the Canadian military. They were young and they felt they owed the country that allowed their fore-fathers an opportunity to live a safe, unthreatened life. Unfortunately the price, as ideological pacifist, was excommunication from the Church. As the new generation of Mennonites, their belief in Canada as a nation, the very country that had offered them safe harbour, was a belief worth risking excommunication over. They left the farms, took up arms and the rest is history.

My father, upon on his return from the war, began dealing with war related health issues before beginning a new life off the farm. He began with my mother in a small rural Manitoba town and eventually found himself in Winnipeg driving street car. Electric vehicles driven on tracks and power through trolley wires. Again “electric” vehicles ahead of their time.

But the lure of the west was growing. For numerous reasons the need to move westward was decided over 60 years ago for my parents and the offer of a driving position with Calgary Transit just sweetened the deal. So started the transition to what became my home city, Calgary.

Calgary Transit circa 1960

Calgary, like dad’s family, was growing. A position with Calgary Transit was a “union” position which offered some security to my father. A security he needed with a growing family and a son (me) who was a polio survivor. The Alberta Children’s Hospital was offering services to polio kids so there was no hesitation when the opportunity arose. With the assurance of employment and health care for his son (this was long before universal healthcare) he packed up the family in the mid 50’s and made the westward move to Calgary. When we arrived Calgary was just shy of 200,000 and a good number of those were European immigrants displaced by the war. There was no doubt Calgary was diverse but far from the shining beacon of success it is recognized as it is now.

One of my first memories of Calgary was sitting on dads shoulders as he walked picket in 1958. The transit workers had taken strike action due to the City’s reticence in renewing a union contract (I now refer back to the current situation with the Alberta governments position over Bill 9). Part of the issue with the contract was the extension of transit routes. At that time the northern most point for transit service ended at Northmount Drive and 4th Street NW (Mount Pleasant/Killarney). The Thorncliff/Elbow Drive routed ended at Northmount Drive and Centre Street. Thorncliff was the northern most part of the City at the time. How boundaries have changed!

My point here is Calgary has a long history of being progressive and diverse. The diversity was mainly European and it existed. The Kensington area was Little Greek Town, Bridgeland was little Italy, Tuxedo was German Town and Thorncliff/Highwood was basically prairie farmers who had decided to move west. Calgary was the stopping point and the expansion began to happen. With the value of natural resources taking off in the mid 60’s the growth explosion happened. By 1980 Calgary had almost tripled in size (to almost 600,000) but the driving group-think was still the WW2 veterans. The Baby-boomers were just coming into their own.

Today I watched the City Council meeting listening to arguments and debates that mirrored many of the past issues this City has faced. We have had that “Green Line” transit argument in the past except it involved extending trolley lines for electric buses but resulted in gas powered vehicles because of the new found belief in the natural resource community. We have had that same argument over tax relief by cutting services, services that are crucial tools to quality of life issues. That same quality of life that brought thousands of immigrants to Calgary over the past fifty years.

Palliser Hotel downtown Calgary 1964

While some may think todays Council meetings are steps backwards (in my opinion they are) others frame it as protecting the future. I see it as a Council that either doesn’t recognize their history or have chosen to ignore it. Times are changing, again, and how politics works needs to change as well. What worked in the 60’s wasn’t so hot in the 80’s. At the same time we have also outgrown what was working in the 80’s. Time for a rethink over how we move forward and how we do business. Most of the people our politicians are playing to are dying off (myself included). It’s time to focus on the policy makers of tomorrow and what will work for them. Time for change…

Canada Day Celebration 2019 – what is it?

Canada is the only country in the world that knows how to live without an identity.” – Marshall McLuhan


It is Canada Day and the country is celebrating. Large, joyous celebrations from coast to coast to coast. That day of the year dedicated to what it means to be Canadian and express our joy of being Canadian. For many new Canadians, this is the first experience enjoying a Canada Day celebration and welcome. Many more have celebrated back to the time it was still called Dominion Day and for those, to quote a great Canadian artist (Neil Young), “keep on rocking”.

What would Canada Day be without a bit of Canadian trivia, another contribution to the world, Trivial Pursuit? Today is “Canada Day”, originally called Dominion Day but changed to Canada Day when the British North American Act (BNA Act) repatriated to Canada in 1982. From that point forward the BNA basically ceased to exist and the Constitution Act, we we know it today, came into being as did Canada Day. “O Canada” was not proclaimed our official national anthem until July 1, 1980 but was sung for the first time in French 100 years ago. The Canadian flag became official February 15, 1965 leaving the Union Jack behind. We have been an evolving country for 152 years now. As long as new Canadians continue to arrive at our shores and families, regardless of what part of Canada they live in, we can look forward to another 150 years of celebrations.

Speaking to Inclusion and Diversity at a Canada Day celebration in 2014

In the 90’s I was very involved in an international exchange student program. I spoke with more international students (these were high school students) about where they would prefer to be placed. The program had volunteer host families (no families were paid but the student was expected to some of their own spending money). The importance of a “good fit” placement could not be understated.

This was planned this way with the expectation that the student would become part of the family and truly understand life as part of a Canadian family. In my mind it was a successful model. My wife and I hosted a young man from Japan the first year, a young fellow from Belgium the second and finally a young fellow from Germany. I am still in touch with all three of them almost 30 years later and they continue to be like family.

That is when I really began to think about Canadian “identity”, I needed some concepts to help frame it for these kids. The first time I heard my student from Japan phone his parents the call was over in about five minutes. He then shared with me the extent of the conversation and part of it was “Canadian”. I asked how he had cramped all of that info into such a short call including describing what a Canadian was. His was response was simple “Easy, I said you were Canadian”.

I have lived in Toronto and they would describe a Canadian very differently than some from Calgary. I have lived in Halifax and they would describe a Canadian very differently than someone from Montreal. I have lived in Montreal and they would describe a Canadian very differently than someone from Vancouver. My experience has been to most of the world we are “Canadians” and identity is unimportant. Identity reminds too many of them of “class distinctions” which is what many immigrants were fleeing when they came to Canada. They just wanted to be “Canadian”. My point is Canada is diverse and regional, that has worked for 152 years now.

Marshall McLuhan made that statement over fifty years ago and it is true today as it was then. We don’t have an identity. We are simply Canadian. We are a country that has been build by immigrants escaping perceived “identities”. My roots go back generations however they began with one branch escaping persecution in Europe. We all started somewhere so it is always overwhelming for me on Canada Day to see the focus being put on what it means to be Canadian, diverse, accepting and open to compassion. We are Canadian not based on identity but based simply on being Canadian.

I can only hope that 150 years from now those grandchildren of this newest group of immigrants are sitting around in their lawn-chairs celebrating the way most are today. Right now I fear we are at a turning point where too many politicians are playing “identity politics” rather than continuing to build on the strength that is the commonwealth of Canada. We may have regional differences but at the core we are all CANADIAN.

Happy Canada Day…and in true Canadian fashion, let me close by saying “I’m sorry” if I’ve offended anyone (smiley face).

Burning Through Tax Dollars

“It is worth our passions as it is with fire and water; they are good servants but bad masters” – Aesop’s Fables 1692

I am really upset with this most recent suggestions from our local government to cut $9 million from our fire departments budget. This is no way to manage a progressive city, public safety should never be used as a cost saving measure. I find this particularly upsetting considering it has recently been identified that Calgary owned golf courses have lost over $2 million in the past two years while being subsidized by the City. Now I have no issue with golf or City involvement in assisting recreational facilities success but I do take issue when programs that threaten public safety pay the price for political expediency.

Calgary 1964, 9th Ave before the Tower, Palliser Hotel standing tall

I love Calgary and have spend 40 years of my life here. I have also taken time to live in other cities in all parts of Canada while few of the people I grew up have. They have spend their entire life here and really have no idea just how well off Calgary actually is comparatively speaking.

Many still think of Calgary (or like to) as that sleepy little cowtown of 45 years ago. I don’t. Having left and returned five different time I have observed the difference between sleepy town and thriving metropolitan. It is like those relatives you see every three or four years, you are much more aware of the changes because you haven’t seen them every day. The relatives have so they don’t recognize the change as much, they have been part of the evolution. To me, every time I have returned to Calgary I have noticed the changes and they really have been massive, mainly in a good way

Since returning to Calgary I moved back into the inner city 17 floor condo building I lived in ten years ago. I consider where I live to be a microcosm of the City around me. There use to be a sense of community in this building that just isn’t here anymore. It’s still a nice building (about 30 years old) but the demographics have changed and some of that sense of community has changed. That is something that is reflected in the “city sprawl that has gone on over the past fifty years.

I experienced the effectiveness of the Calgary Fire Service just recently. For the first time since I first lived in this building (now or back in 2009) we had the fire department respond when the alarm went off. The fire department was excellent and arrived very quickly, under five minutes. Unfortunately all of the tools that should have been available to them wasn’t. When the alarm went off (7:50pm) I didn’t really do much, I knew there were suppose to be emergency plans in place and that nature would take its course.

I couldn’t smell smoke and I couldn’t see flame licking away at the building so I just stayed in my recliner. As a retired policy analyst with the BC Office of the Fire Commissioner I know the standard and regulation relatively well. Being in a wheelchair I knew the elevators would lock down so it is always best to just wait in my condo.

The fire department was kept here for almost an hour with the alarm being shut off at 8:45pm. Traditionally, and based on fire regulations, the fire department immediately check the status of the alarm. They then go to a lock box that is suppose to include a “list of vulnerable residence” (in other words people living in the building that wouldn’t be able to use the stairs). If required they will respond to those on the list that may be trapped for any number of reasons in their suite. Basically people like myself who wouldn’t be able to manoeuvre the stairs due to wheelchair or mobility. If the threat wasn’t serious the fire department would shut down their operation and move on to the next call. Traditionally the condo staff person would then check on those on the list to reassure them all was well. That didn’t happen. I discovered the next day there was no list in the lock box and condo management company wasn’t aware of the regulations (which I have now send them copies of).

Last year Council voted to change the fire response time from seven minutes to ten minutes despite the fire chiefs recommendations. Why is public safety threatened whenever we need to reconcile budgets while we subsidize golf courses? I have no issues with supporting community sports or other community programs but I do take issue when funding for public safety is threatened. I find it even more insulting when developers, property managers and condo management companies download their responsibility onto tax payer public safety services.

The first time Calgary burnt

In 1886 Calgary was almost destroyed due to fire and lack of services. This opened the door for written standards and a demand for sandstone buildings. That’s part of our history. Whenever we undo part of our public safety system we move backwards. My message to City Council, we don’t need management by crisis. We need proactive planning, not reactive knee-jerk actions based purely on optics.

Calgary is full of some beautiful old wooden construction. Take a walk through the Inglewood-Ramsey area, as an example. We cannot afford to threaten areas like that as a means to save money. Nine million dollars removed from an already over taxed public service is the crux of my opening quote. We want fire and water as good servants, not masters of disaster. Let’s work as a community and get away from that silo management style. Keep our fire department strong, show out fire fighters and first responders that you have their backs, not their wallets.

Return to Sender

“A lesson learnt and not shared is destined to become a lesson lost on wasted time” – Terry Wiens (2019)

I stopped writing about six weeks ago thinking my publishing days were over. In part because one just gets tired of writing the same thing over and over by finding different words but also in part that most people just weren’t getting the message. For over forty years I have tackled the issue of “access” from every conceivable angle, ramps to curb cuts, alternative formats to audible signage and then a light went on. Access wasn’t the real issue, access was simply a tool.

The real issue lay in building an inclusive community, access was a way to ensure everyone in a community could be part of that community. The disabled activists of the 70’s and 80’s had spend years defining “accessible” as physical. In todays world accessibility is simply one tool to an “inclusive” community that is welcoming to everybody. You can put all the ramps into a library you want but that doesn’t mean it is accessible to someone with a visual disability. So now we have to undo terminology that took thirty years to establish and for me, I’m tired, that is the battle for the new generation. Time to step back and let the next generation take over.

This kind of re-enforces my reasons for stepping back. In the midst of file purging I came across some of articles from my day as a columnist with the Alderlea Magazine. They served as a physical reminder of how long and hard I had been beating this drum while questioning if it was all worth it. As a polio survivor I have dedicated much of my life fighting for disability rights and community inclusion while identifying it as access. I don’t want to get involved with an old process using new language. Words are important but they keep changing. It is difficult to walk away from what had been a big purpose in my life but at some point we all have to accept certain realities.

Historically, for half of my life, I was considered a “non” citizen. Even the right to vote for anyone with a disability was based on the whim of the voting poll manager up to the mid 70’s. There was no Charter in those days so there were no regulatory protections. I could be refused a job interview based purely on me identifying my use of crutches. I could also be refused rental units based purely on my disability so we have made some major moves forward but the world of disability has changed. So it is time to step back.

With that said I have also returned to Calgary to retire in. Calgary has always been my “comfort city” and has always been where I identify as home. So it is nice to be back home. What I find disheartening since my return is how fracture and divisive Calgary has become. I love this city and it tears me up to see how the city is tearing itself apart. So I may stop pushing access (“inclusion”) ands start speaking out on Calgary issues. I want this city, and believe it can be, to get back to the days where it was a city full of people who were proud of Calgary. Right now I am seeing fractured and polarized citizens that want to keep blaming others for issues rather than being part of the solution to keep Calgary the welcoming city it use to be. For now…

Life Long Memories
As I look back down my path of life,
The up’s and downs, rewards and strife,
What have I learnt? I ask my soul,
Was I helpful or was I drool?
Did I do right by all my friends?
Who will gather when my life ends?
Have I left my son a legacy clean?
Have I left him foes, spiteful and mean?
The questions we ask as we move through the years,
Reflections of memories, love, joy, and tears,
Memories that make us what we are today,
The love we have gathered from all those that stay,
The joys of experience of a lifetime abound,
The tears we have shed for those all around,
We are what we do; we are what we’ve made,
Hold onto your memories, let them not fade.

-Terry Wiens May 2006

The Influence of Youth

Racism is a refuge for the ignorant. It seeks to divide and to destroy. It is the enemy of freedom, and deserves to be met head-on and stamped out.” – Pierre Berton

After all of the news regarding the Alabama legislation today to redefine abortion, the White House basically flipping off the Congress by refusing access to documents, ignoring the oversight role of Congress and the list goes on America teeters on the brink of a new monarchy. I don’t know what else to call it but when the Judiciary Chairman, Jerry Nadler, refers to President Trump as “King” one can no longer ignore the red flags of a silent coup being conducted “inside” the White House.

I find it astounding that we have sat back as long as we have watching democracy slip away from our American friends while filling provincial governments with that same type of populism. I reflect back on the influence of the mentors I have had contribute to my believes and find this complacency among the electorate to be just about unbelievable. But it is and it has past the state of being believable. The re-emergence of racism, the erosion of rights, the rewriting of history and a demographic polarization that favours those sipping their mint julep on the back deck while others have to boil their water so their children can safely drink.

In 1973, on my way to Montreal from Vancouver, I stopped for a couple of days to see my brother in Ottawa. He was there on his air traffic controller training. This was a time period when “beer parlours were just that, beer parlour”. If you wanted a cocktail or high-ball you went to the lounge. We had been in the beer parlour but I had a craving for a shot of sherry so I went upstairs to the lounge.

The Chateau Laurier was and is a very upscale hotel in Ottawa which is often reflected in the quality of their customers. I was blown away when I walked in and stumbled upon Pierre Berton quietly reading in a corner while sipping his glass of wine. He was in Ottawa promoting his newest book “Drifting Home” and quietly relaxing over a glass of wine. Now I didn’t know him but as an activist I knew who he was. Being a brash young activist who lacked some of the social skills that come with maturity I approached him and offered to buy him a drink. He was very polite and accepted.

Alberta Wheelchair Sports team outfit, off to Montreal

We spend about a half hour discussing (more me asking him the occasional question and absorbing his wisdom) on a wide range of social issues. I was 23 and had just left a hotbed of activism Vancouver. Since my crutches were very obvious we open the discussion around polio and disabilities. We talked about wheelchair sports, my college days at Mount Royal College in Calgary, navigating a world not really designed for accessibility.

When I mentioned coming from Alberta and my activities as an activist be praised Alberta for finally having repealed the Alberta Sexual Sterilization Act (1972). He gave me a lesson on the importance of a democracy and how it affects everybody, not just the elite which made laws like that one very discriminatory. To be discussing something like discrimination with a man of Berton’s stature made me feel like a kid on his first trip to Disneyland. My chest pumped out a little when he praised my activism accomplishments to that point. Things I didn’t really recognize as accomplishments but he stressed the importance of citizen engagement and the role it plays in protecting democracy. This was a point in my development where the term “citizen engagement” was a brand new concept to me but I soaked it up like a sponge in a bucket of water.

Of course as a young guy engaged in activist and the civil rights movement being very important to me I was just soaking up the dialogue Mr. Berton was spreading on me. This 45 minutes of mesmerizing conversation ended with him explaining the connection between the Alberta repeal and the recent American Supreme Court decision “Wade vs Roe”, something I had never really heard of. Having been involved with the anti-Vietnam protests in during my Vancouver days I was well aware of the civil rights movement but had yet to engage in the pro-life or women’s movement. That came later when I returned to Calgary and eventually became involved with the United Nurses of Alberta.

This renew attack on the protection of women provided by “Wade vs Roe” decision is not restricted to America. Canadians are also encouraging threats by voting in populist governments in Canada. I can now reflect on the history of how we have arrived to where we are and realize how important casual contacts were in my past. Trump has taken America almost back to the very reason they are a Republic, escape from a monarchy (King George the third) and if Wade vs Roe gets overturned, almost fifty years later, it will reverse so many ideals women fought so hard to achieve.

Meanwhile in Alberta we have a new government who are already eroding an Education Act that was recently amended to offer further protection to threatened students. With the protection GSA’s offered students and a government rewriting legislation taking away a teachers right to practice confidentiality I am left wondering just how protected we really are.

After finishing our drinks we both went our own way. I never ran into him again but certainly was aware of his activities. It just recently that I have begun to understand the impact of those fleeting moments I have had experienced with so many positive role models. Pass me my fiddle Nero said…  

And the Children Shall Lead the Way

You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good-bye.
Teach your children well,
Their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picks, the one you’ll know by.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry,
So just look at them and sigh
And know they love you.
– Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (Teach Your Children)

Crescent Heights School Student Protest 1964

With the actions of the influencers of tomorrow, those students who took one (1) class off to to remind this government what democracy is about. Our Premier, again, displayed his ignorance (or maybe disdain) for history since what these students did is not new. The first one I remember in Calgary was the 1964 student walk-out protest at Crescent Heights High School and it was a true learning experience in a time when civics was taught in Calgary schools.

This has been an insane week and I am still trying to make sense out of it. Again the influence of social media is highlighting the polarization of the generations and it really is a coin toss as to which way our society is heading. So I need to ask these polarized baby-boomers (a generation I am a member of) what does this “better future” look like that you want your grandchildren to have?

The same grandchildren that were probably part of the student walk out that took place on Friday May 2. These kids showed more insight into the potential threats to their future than you did at the voting poll. So, please, quit hiding behind the excuse of “building a better future” for your grandchildren and face up to your own lack of knowledge of the truth. It is these same grandchildren that recognize the issues that lead to things like young nine year olds committing suicide due to bullying in a school system supposedly protecting her.

This is a generation that is connected by social media and are more aware than you are about the reality of this new world. Your lack of knowledge regarding social media has put you exactly in that position that we use to bad mouth our own parents comments about rock and roll while they listened to Perry Como. Your denial of it is polarizing you and you are not even aware of that polarization. You are still firmly entrenched in the groupthink of the 80’s and that entrenchment is as much of a threat to your grandchildren as your dismissal of climate change.

We now have a Premier who has bullied our democratic process, filled a cabinet with dangerous ideologues and managed to insult a whole new generation of voters while removing school protections they had gained in the last couple of years. When a politician fails to see the educational aspect of activism we are no longer a democracy. When we have a Premier who is prepared to change recently amended legislation to force teachers to betray the trust they have developed with their students we are no longer a democracy. The building a better future for your grandchildren is spelt out in the opening of this article. “You who are on the road, must have a code you can live by, and so become yourself because the past is just a good-bye”. Teach your children well.

There is a certain irony to a Premier having just returned from politicized trip to Ottawa. A Premier who, for three days, spewed his ideological rhetoric and misinformation on issues that impact, not only the country, but these very students future. Then for him to come back to Alberta and admonish thousands of students from all spectrums of the province (students who will be old enough to vote by the time the next election rolls around) to “doing politics outside of a school during school hours” is beyond arrogance and again we have left democracy.

These very students exhibited more character in standing up to an issue for thirty minutes then returning to class. These very students that went out of their way to tell the public they kept their protest short out of respect for their teachers. Meanwhile our Premier is busy threatening our Confederation with a Constitutional challenge because he can’t get his way. So tell me again how it is that you elected a man who is going to remove the protections of the very grandchildren you state you are voting for to protect. If you weren’t so disconnected from the new world of social media you would have a better understanding of “Fact checking”. You would be better prepared to filter the vitriol and misinformation so many ideologues like to push.

And to those parents/grandparent who are so worried about their children’s future I borrow from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to say “Teach your children well, Their father’s hell did slowly go by, And feed them on your dreams, The one they picks, the one you’ll know by.” Meanwhile to those students who took a stand I also borrow and repeat “Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry, So just look at them and sigh, And know they love you”. Lesson well learnt…