The Erosion of Rights

“Believing without questioning is an insult to the human conscience” – Abhijit Naskar

I have purposely been trying to stay politically quiet for the past four weeks while fuming internally. I grew up in Calgary but have had the opportunity to live and work in other areas of our great country Canada. However I continue to return to Calgary because, no matter where I was living, I have always been a proud Albertan. After an almost twenty year absence I have retired back to Calgary because it is MY city.

I have been an advocate and activist for the past fifty years and I am watching the erosion of so many gains I fought hard for over those years. It is time for me to speak up. I can’t be telling everyone else to speak up when I have silenced my own voice. I have been writing this for weeks now, then editing, then rewriting, then editing, then rewriting just to avoid looking like I’m angry and pissed off. That reticence has kept me from speaking out and the truth is, I AM ANGRY AND PISSED OFF. I’m sitting in the shadows while our new government is ripping our hard fought for democracy apart.

I have been hearing a lot of “voter remorse” on social media in Alberta lately. I wish I could say I’m surprised but sadly I’m not. I am continually disappointed when I begin to assume that everyone uses, at least, a modicum of critical thinking. I truly believed that most people would have seen past Kenney’s campaign of hate, fear and misinformation. To me Kenney’s pre-election promises were pretty unrealistic and, when you scratched the surface veneer, substantively lacking. That screamed “FACT CHECK”.

I didn’t vote for hate or separation and the people I know who did vote for the UCP have not been able to point at any misgivings or abuses piled on the NDP in the campaign of misinformation. They just kept drinking the cool-aid thinking Kenney would return them to the glory days of the 80’s energy abundance.

I was here for those days and trust me when I say they were good days but they also had their down times. I was here when mortgage rates were over 20% and hundred’s of mortgage holders were just walking away. I was here when a deregulated system allowed energy companies to declared bankruptcy then abandon wells, pipelines and other useless infrastructure for the tax payer to pick up the tab.

Anyone that believes for a minute that the 80’s were the party days Kenney’s pushing were undoubtedly snorting more coke than common sense. An eight ball of common sense and the ability to apply two minutes of critical thinking should have been enough for anyone to recognize the difference between realistic election promises and divisive rhetoric.

However when I question people today on who they believe the Conservative Party is to be they keep going back to the days of Diefenbaker. They just can’t get their heads around how far the new Conservatives have drifted so far from those guidelines so they wrap themselves in a warm quilt of cognitive dissonance while sipping hot chocolate.

The Conservative Party of today is like a five layer cake with bull-shit pudding between each layer. It has been blended, sifted with and mixed by so many angry disenfranchised power brokers that it has not just blurred but erased and redrawn the political lines of what Conservatism is. Meanwhile the voter is paying the price. I keep hearing “I didn’t vote to separate”, “I didn’t vote to eliminate the RCMP”, “I didn’t vote to turn over my pension”, etc. However these are the ideas being tossed around by the Kenney Conservatives and opposition be damned. For people who haven’t been paying attention a short review.

Over the past 30 year the Progressive Conservatives come so close to ash on so many occasions. Like minded parties like the Reform Party of Canada began to circle. Reform was little more than a resurrecting Social Credit substitute that managed to attract enough of the more far right of the Conservatives. Although I don’t deny the Social Credit did some good work in the almost 40 years of power in Alberta they became so tied up in their personal ideologies they lost sight of the democratic process and were completely wiped out in 1971. History can be so important.

A number of the Reform Party members began to realize that their very existence was damaging the Conservative power base by fragmenting that sector of the electorate. After some backroom meetings, strategizing and the establishment of some power brokers the Canadian Alliance Party of Canada grow from the ashes of the burnt out Reform Party in 2000. The Phoenix that arose from these ashes blurred the lines of conservatism even more by swinging the pendulum even further to the right. In this attempt to wipe out the Liberals those who had been centrist for most of their political life were being squeezed out of the conversation.

A consequence of this new political reality left room for the New Democrat Party to shift slightly towards centre. With the Canadian Alliance having moved so far right the Liberals were left with a larger and more diverse collective of voters. The New Democrats were able to recognize an opportunity to advance their political futures by encroaching on more of the centre voters. With the changing demographics of Canada and a generalized disenfranchisement of the electorate the NDP were primed for the future and no longer seen as “that leftist” party their past had indicated. This set the political buffet for the new world of the 21st century.

One of my scariest moments was the entertainment of a private members bill (Bill 207) disguised as an act to protect the “conscience rights” of healthcare providers. These rights are already protected from the Canadian Charter to most professional associations. Providing further, poorly worded legislation, would just be another step for an ideology to further muddy the waters of choice. This is just another Machiavellian tactic Premier Kenney has a long history of practicing with little to do with political party platforms.

To close let me say two words to you, FACT CHECK. Words matter and the improper use of a word can destroy the democracy generations of Canadians (both born and immigrated) have work so hard to build. Is your lack of knowledge destroying our country or do you take the time to keep us moving forward? You’re damn right I’m pissed off and, if you believe in a free open democracy, you should be as well.

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…

Political Promises, Vote Baits

“Those who don’t value their words, will never value your wishes.” 
― Amit Kalantri

I have put off writing for a week while my brain adjusted to the realities of the latest provincial election. In between writing this and the outcome of a very disruptive election period in Alberta was Easter. I am not a “religious” person but I am a person of faith. With that in mind I equate the vitriol and hate spewed during the election period as the same type of misinformation that the the Pharisees expressed to Pontius Pilate simply to protect their power. Religion aside, the politics of hate continue 2000 years later. April 30 is Kenney’s day of “ascension” and he will assume power over the people. That is where my concern is, he will have power “over” the people which is quite different from what politics should be about, power “for” the people.  

I listened carefully to Kenney’s election promises throughout the campaign and began to realize how little the average voter understands basic civic’s.  Of course a provincial government has the right to make some judgements on things like the carbon tax. I have no doubt it will go quickly but I firmly believe it will be done based on ideology rather than science.  For that not to happen Kenney would have to acknowledge climate change and facing 21st century reality is not one of Kenney’s strengths.  However Albertans will then get saddled with the federal formula minus the rebate four other provinces will be receiving. The UCP has come into this issue late so Albertans won’t receive the 90% rebates those provinces using the federal program.  However that won’t stop Kenney by using Alberta tax dollars to lodge another legal challenge based on ideology rather than facts..

Too many Albertans who grew up when energy and oil was king chose to elect a government who believes moving us back to the 80’s will solve all of our problems.  I can’t fault the electorate for that, many of those voters built this province and now want to enjoy the fruits of their labour by enjoying the planned retirement years. The idea of change is frightening. However growing up with a disability “change” is about the only constant in my life. Now I am focusing more on bridging that gap between my generation (baby-boomers) and the influencers of today (Millenials).

We see this fear of change in business. That same fear of change is embedded in the mentality of many in the upper management positions. They don’t relate the same way to the technology associated with change which makes “Shifting Gears in the New Economy” almost impossible. How do you move the economy forward while denying or avoiding the new world of a global economy. Technology represents change and too many upper management types just want to get to that retirement while avoiding as much change as possible. They did their part for change 30 years ago so now they want to just get to the retirement garden they had worked so hard preparing for.

The UCP leader, Jason Kenney, tapped into that generation and counted on their fear of change. He was able to wave the boogeyman of fear, hate and bigotry at every opportunity and tap into that by using his contempt for the truth by flaming the growing fears of Albertans. He disguise his commitment to the safety of our kids by attacking the protection that had been offered by the previous government but his commitment to his ideology speaks differently. He used the safety of the school supervised safe zones for Gay Straight Alliances (GSA’s) as bait for votes. His commitment to reverse the current piece of legislation that provides that safe zone by insisting teachers will now have to inform parents of their child’s involvement with the school GSA is the action of a man who is disconnected from the real world.

He lacks the compassion, discipline or understanding to truly appreciate what many of these kids have to deal with outside of the safety of a classroom. This safe zone that Kenney ignorantly denies while fanning the flames of hatred and bigotry just cost a Syrian immigrant family their 9 year old daughter, Amel Alshteiwi. Despite the reported support from the school and the awareness of what this wonderful young girl was enduring she still took her own life rather than face more hatred, racism and bullying she was being tormented with every day at school. Kenney’s commitment to “protecting” our children was a fishing hook aimed directly at his base.

One of his big commitments took us straight back to 2012. Kenney has vowed to counter any environmental or other groups who insist on “demonizing” the oil and energy sector. He send clear messages that he would do or spend whatever it costs by establishing a $30 million war room to counter groups like the Suzuki Foundation. Flash back to the “charity chill” he helped create when a Cabinet Minister with the federal Harper government. What the electorate fail to realize is the difference between a “non-profit” and “charitable status”. There are many small local non-profits who confront local issues but the issuance of “charitable status” is federal jurisdiction requiring a Revenue Canada charitable status number. Again vote bait for the base who don’t know the difference.

But the biggest and most threatening issue to me was how he jumped all over the federal transfer program. His repeated mantra about how unfair it is to Alberta. What Kenney never mentioned, and nobody seemed to question, was that he was part of the federal government that basically told provinces in 2009 “this is the deal, take it or leave it”. From conversations I’ve had most Albertans don’t even know, let alone understand, the transfer process. For the fiscal year 2018-2019 Alberta received $6.2 BILLION in two major categories and I’m not even going to touch the labour market transfer payments.

Comparing the Alberta transfers with the BC transfers

There are conditions and processes on how this money can be used while each provinces defines how they can use it themselves. For example, in Alberta, anything “medically” related comes out of the Federal Health Transfer fund ($4.6 billion) but anything that is considered a social program, like welfare, comes out of the Federal Social Transfer ($1.6 billion). Why is this important? In the world of disability it can make the difference of living on the street or living in a facility. Programs like the Alberta Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) is a social program, it comes out of the social transfer and a small “pension” (about $1400 per month) goes to the individual. It is not a health program.

The funds for Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD) is considered a “health” program. On PDD the individual is receiving a “service”, the payment doesn’t go to the individual, it goes to the service provider. That could be a facility, a group home or a private individual that is providing a room and board situation for someone who may not be able to live independently. One of the criteria for PDD (one I don’t necessarily support) is to have the label IQ 70. I don’t put a lot of faith in IQ measurements but Kenney has committed to review that criteria and possibly remove it.

On this one I am jaded. You take that piece of criteria out of their and you open the door to move many people from PDD to AISH. It is a worthless criteria but it does guarantee you a certain level of dignified living. On AISH you are on the street with little support but on PDD you have a safe (usually) place to live with some medical support. To me that is Kenney’s most threatening commitment. It might have sounded like compassion to his base and to those retired baby-boomers who want protection for the grandkids. I’ve dealt with enough disability reality in my life time to be pessimistic enough to see this as a ploy to cut the marginalized out of service.

The short version is his fishing trip worked. He laid out enough bait to hook the vote and I am left with this feeling of “back to the future”. And now for a PAID political announcement, if you like what you are reading hit the donate button above. Life in a wheelchair is expensive and I don’t qualify for any programs, therefore donations are my life. Have a good day and, if nothing else, at least take a minute on Wikipedia and learn a little “civics”.

Independence Requires Freedom of Expression

I am not a journalist.  I am not a reporter.  I don’t work in the news industry.  Now that I have set the table I am a person who can look past a thirty second sound byte, check a few facts from different sources and make an informed opinion.  I am not constrained by the rules and regulations that the mainstream media (MSM) purports to adhere to.  I use the term purport because if you compare the ethical parameters used by different news agencies you will notice some extreme differences.

I think it is the marketing gene in me so I make a habit of checking a news story from the perspective of at least three MSM sources and often as many as six including international.  It is interesting to see how the biases come through when a group of people are using the same information.  However it can be understood when you look at how journalist who were once respected bend to ethical standards in order to make the news rather than report it.  I believe a prime example of this was when Mike Duffy criticized journalism schools, in particular the University of Kings College, for teaching Noam Chomsky and encouraging critical thinking.  God forbid people should use critical thinking.  Why bother with critical thinking when blind adherence to an ideology is so much easier!

Setting yourself apart, origin of picture unknown
Setting yourself apart, origin of picture unknown

One of the main problems with the use of critical thinking is that it can alienate one from people.  Our society has taken a direction where facts and truth are inconveniences.  They upset people.  They make people look beyond their backyard forcing them to recognize issues that upset them.  People who adopt critical thinking as a lifestyle rather than just a tool to use at work often find themselves quickly losing friends and acquaintances.  Acquaintances I can understand, it’s the loss of friends that can become disheartening but that is when critical thinking has to kick in.

If you are losing friends because of your search for truth then the friendship was really shallow to begin with.  Being informed and being popular do not necessarily mix.  They should but it has been my experience that it results the same way when mixing oil and vinegar.  Initially the mixture goes fine but after a few minutes they separate and you are back to the oil floating on top of the vinegar.

One of the necessities to using critical thinking effectively is the need to have enough information to use the skill properly.  It is easy to say the oil will float on the vinegar but it takes more knowledge to understand why that happens.  If you do not know that the oil is denser than vinegar you have no idea why this happens.  Operating on limited information is one of the reasons an ideology can be so effective.  Keeping the masses dumbed down is an effective way to suppress freedom of expression.  Freedom of expression without facts is nothing more the ideological rhetoric.  People don’t even question it because it means fact checking.

Then there is another layer of information.  Knowing that the oil is denser than vinegar does not necessarily give you all of the answers.  Discovering that the density affects the weight of the oil or vinegar goes a long way in understanding why the oil floats on top of the water.  People are much more comfortable just accepting something because they recall hearing that somewhere.  They don’t really want to take the time to find the details to substantiate the message.  Oil floats, it’s a given but when asked why most people can only supply limited reason as to why.  They have given up on critical thinking and that mind set is a contributor to the abandonment of freedom of expression.

Having grown up with a physical disability I spend the first sixteen years of my life dependent, not on my parents ideology, but on the ideology of society.  That is what happens when you grow up in an institution like a children’s hospital.  To enter the real world and break away from that dependence requires a bit of a creative rebel.

When you live in a world that wasn’t designed for people outside the norm you either become innovative or dependent.  Being dependent is easy but not always fulfilling.  Being independent requires innovative and solutions base problem solving abilities.  The essence of innovation is critical thinking.  It has become second nature to me.  I have no problems expressing my beliefs even when it does alienates me.  I had a choice, I could chose to alienate myself because society said I was disabled or I can alienate myself by challenging peoples belief.  Deciding to be truly independent means challenging other peoples belief.  When you challenge peoples belief you are not always be popular but you will be well informed.

So as I began by saying, I am not a journalist or a reporter.  However I am a person who believes strongly in freedom of expression.  I believe any true democracy is dependent on freedom of expression (in conjunction with a number of other freedoms).  Critical thinking is a major contributor in differentiating between expression and rhetoric.  It’s the difference between thinking for ourselves or riding on the band wagon of the ideology of others.

Just one man’s opinion!