Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: accountability

Weekly column: Climate change is everybody’s problem

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday August 26, 2019.

The fact that there are still people who still debate whether the environmental (and social) phenomena collectively known as climate change is caused by human activity is, to put it mildly, a head scratcher. One can argue that we are each entitled to an opinion and if some choose to lean towards denial, well, not much to do about it.

Weekly Column: Accountability – What is it worth these days?

Originally published as a column on CFJC Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on April 29, 2019.

Here we are again: like some relentless zombie, the story of the forgotten trash that belongs to Canada but is currently ‘vacationing’ in the Philippines has returned do haunt us, much to our shame. This time it comes with a threat, in the shape of a clear-as-daylight message from the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte: ‘We will declare war against them.’ (Canada, that is.)

It’s Time We Decriminalize Political Discourse

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today and Armchair Mayor News on April 2, 2017. 

If I had a dollar for every time I was part of a conversation that had people purposefully steer away from subjects such as politics… well, you get the idea. It’d be a good chunk of money.

I know conversations that venture into politics can turn contentious, but that’s the nature of the beast. It doesn’t have to be all ugly though. Like with everything else, there is a learning curve that eventually can help us get to the place where we can engage in healthy dialogue that does not turn friends into enemies.

It seems we are inching the other way. Political conversations will get you a raised eyebrow in many circles. That, I dare say, is a threat to democracy itself.

We are soon to be immersed, as a province, in the thick of the provincial elections campaign. There will be news stories about parties and candidates, ugliness included, platforms to read and understand, and many will experience the campaign fatigue that comes from all that information pouring over our heads like incessant rain.  Come May 9, we will have to make our choices. And they’d better be good, is what most of us think to ourselves. But what’s good for the gander will not be good for the goose, or so we think.

The ‘good’ – in whatever sector we’re talking about – will not be the same for everyone, at least not in the details. The basics are the same for most of us: a good education system, medical needs taken care of no matter your social status or age, decent jobs and minimum wages that allow people to live rather than barely survive from month to month, the list goes on. It’s a long one. Then come the specifics. That’s where what’s good for some may not work for others and things like climate change-adapting economy proves too big a conversation to start. The specifics can turn healthy dialogue into ugly word exchange.

Scary as that is, if people aim to give it a decent makeover to the point of making political dialogue at any level possible, we’d all benefit from it.

That cannot happen though when so many of us are shying away from talking politics, considering it boorish and aggressive. It can be, but it doesn’t have to. Public discourse is what keeps democracy alive so it makes sense to have one brewing at all times. People staying away from political conversations at a time when they are most needed – prior to elections – has no positive outcomes whichever way you look at it.

If children and youths learn that talking politics is a dirty deed, they’ll be hard to convince to step up and vote when the time comes. That is a recurrent issue not just in British Columbia and Canada, but in many countries around the world.

When people start asking questions, exchanging information, debating, and engaging in public discourse that makes their concerns visible, that forces the political parties to pay attention and tailor their values to match those of the people they represent.

I get it. Political garb is far from the entertaining stuff that pours from social media platforms, sitcoms, reality shows, or whatever else people flock to these days. Getting past the gagging and learning what each party stands for or lack thereof in some cases, discerning through the promises that have the potential to become reality or fall flat on their faces, that can have some seriously uplifting down the road. Literally.

We usually read about developing countries dealing with corruption and people having to bear the effects of it, be it environmental disasters caused by loose industry standards, subhuman living conditions and treatment of vulnerable population groups, prosecution of people who dare challenge the system, to name but a few. The buffer zone between here and there allows us to touch on those topics or shake our heads disapprovingly while counting our blessings that come with living in a democracy.

As it turns out, those issues pop us everywhere, including Canada. One way to keep them at bay is having people engage politically – from the level of their living rooms to barber shops to public rallies and talks – so that knowledge can be shared, views can be challenged and wrongdoings turned into good decisions and deeds for the community.

It’s about time we decriminalize political discourse and instead focus on making it civil and constructive. There are tomes written on the art of conversation. An almost lost art, I’d say, that can be revived.

Public comments that follow online articles are often vitriolic in their nature and quickly turning to personal attacks. Many use fake names rather than their real ones, which adds to the volatile nature of the present political discourse, making it look ugly and boorish.

By decriminalizing political discourse, we can bring back something that often gets lost in today’s hurried life: a society where everyone has a voice is a better one. Though we call the hunter and gatherer societies primitive when we compare them with our present one, there was one thing that somehow the ‘primitive’ mindset included: everyone contributed to the well-being of the community, that ensured more than their well-being. It ensured their survival.

One facet of it nowadays could be the willingness to engage in educating ourselves politically, engaging with open minds in dialogue that will have us know more, challenge more, be humbled or bold when the situation calls for it, and most importantly, change what needs to be changed when the time comes to cast a vote. A privilege that cannot be ignored.

That our children will follow our example and be grateful for leading the way towards a better future, I have no doubt. That too is a privilege we cannot afford to ignore.

Why Do Pitt Bulls Get More Public Attention Than Abused Children

Initially published as a column in the Armchair Mayor News on Friday, October 7, 2016. 

ProtectSince 2011, at least 233 children between the ages of three and 18 have been subjected to sexual abuse while in foster care. That is in British Columbia alone. The majority of them were girls and more than 60 percent Indigenous. To put it in perspective, approximately 25 percent of the children in foster care in our province are aboriginal.

The report created some ripples on the day it hit the press, but definitely not enough and the ripples also did not carry through the next few days. In other words, it’s not something we talk about and become rightfully shocked by.

In contrast, the Montreal pit bull ban got so much publicity and word of mouth that it reached many corners of this province and the country too. While I will not go into that debate, my contention revolves around what makes us tick as a society. That over two hundred children (many more go unreported) were subjected to sexual violence in Canada in this day and age should make us all stop and question our priorities as a society.

Love or hate pit bulls, the thing is, we talk about it, we have it in the news, petitions are flying (one had approximately 191,000 signatures a week or so ago) and we collectively argue about the ban. There are some pretty strong opinions flying out there if you care to check the news.

For the record, I love dogs. I have one I dearly love, and I do think that dogs deserve to be cared for the right way. But, I am of the belief that every dog owner should be charged or drastically fined should their dog attack anyone and harm them. The money should go straight to shelters to help other animals.

On the other hand, are we being just as vocal about those abused children? A year ago or so I wrote a column about a little girl (age 2) who died while in foster care, bearing many signs of physical abuse. It saddened me then and it still saddens me now. There was a lot of muddling in the case as the foster parents denied being physically abusive and the natural mother who fought hard to get her baby back had a history of mental disease.

B.C. Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux still maintains that the ministry has rigorous standards when choosing foster parents. Outrage? Nah. New measures will be implemented, possibly after paper-pushing, stamping, approving of this and that, and then some more paper-pushing. Meanwhile, children suffer.

It’s hard to believe our most beautiful province has a shameful reputation when it comes to how we take care of children. Not mine or yours most likely, but of those who were born under less lucky stars. The most vulnerable of them all. They drop even lower and the sky above them darkens even more with every day of abuse and mistreatment.

It’s high time we put a stop to that. That in every society throughout time people found themselves at the opposite poles of status, financially or otherwise, is true. But nowadays we are privy to enough information to be able to step up and stop any kind of abuse, to shorten decision-making time when a child’s life depends on it and to make it big news and a subject of conversation until the issue does not longer exist. To paraphrase our PM who is still dragging his feet in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Inquiry, this is 2016. Almost 2017 in fact.

I believe in compassion and second chances, yet there is a fine line we ought not to cross when dealing with children who are subjected to sexual violence of any kind. The problem is, many of these children are scarred for life. Second chances are, in these cases and sadly so, more often for the perpetrators than for the young victims.

When we think of the future we think of children. They are the ones carrying the legacy into tomorrow. The more we allow as a society for a partially rotten legacy to exist, the more troublesome the future we hope for becomes.

A quote I often think of belongs to Nelson Mandela: ‘There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.’ Am I right to assume that our society’s soul is not doing too well at the moment? We can each do something to make it heal by fighting to treat our collective children better and let no harm of the above sort come to them.

Yes, We Talk Politics. Here’s Why

We do not watch TV in my family. That leaves us in the dark when a question like ‘Have you seen the last episode of…’ surfaces, but it’s a risk worth taking.

I read the news instead and often times conversations around coffee, tea, and meals, have us talk about the latest in politics. Children included. I’ve always believed that most children if given the chance and without having their minds inundated with useless, mainstream stuff, can have pertinent opinions.

We need that in today’s world more than ever. People taking the time to think, the courage to speak up and engage in conversations that may prove challenging, revealing but are overall necessary for pushing us towards knowing more, knowing better and educating ourselves.

We need our children to grow up knowing that it is not impolite or poor manners to engage in political conversations. It is necessary, because knowing what goes on in the political world can just make the world as a whole better. Simply because sooner or later that knowledge applies to voting, a tool that (should) shape the democratic world.

When a child is passionate about nature, for example, specifically the ocean, and tries to understand why people overfish and pollute the oceans which endangers us all ultimately, it is hard to come up with a good enough explanation.

That politics is intimately tied with that too is unfortunately true. Much like trawling, there is a whole lot of stuff that politics drags behind in terms of connections with industries or large companies that work for profit, no matter what’s at risk. That of course puts the politician in a sensitive spot where he has to watch out for the interests of the people, their well-being, that of the world around them, and yes, all of that should be done independent of big money.

Can a child understand that? Can they understand that though it seems Lilliputian in size, our freedom to make choices, from the businesses we support to supply our daily meals to the other utilitarian products provided by big companies, is a very important democratic muscle that grows bigger and stronger the more we use it.

At the risk of sounding overoptimistic, I will say children do somehow understand that or are capable to do so if we take the time to explain that to them. And we should. It’s the world they will inherit so it makes sense that they should have a say in how things are run.

A Canadian company is aiming to start deep sea mining sometimes in early 2017. That’s a lot of drilling and disturbing of worlds we have yet to learn of fully. That there are still species unknown to humans in those depths, that our very lives depend on the intricate mesh that marine life is, should be reason enough to give any company some pause for thinking and reconsidering. When our children grow and have jobs and funds that can be invested, they should know better than to buy stocks that chip away at the world they live in. It takes saying it out loud for them to learn.

Politics can teach a lot about ethics, or lack thereof. That politics is one of the least gracious of all the good conversation sisters is true. Yet imagine what the world would be like if most people save for those in positions of power, would engage in polite, often meaningless chit-chat, and no one would ever remark on indignities, unfairness and downright abuse of power.

We do not even need to cross the border to get close to some of that. As CBC recently revealed, a Canadian company sold armoured vehicles to both war-torn Libya and South Sudan. In both cases, the ethical and humanitarian implications are painful to discuss albeit important to do so. Sure these trades cannot reflect Canadian values. We are after all known for apologizing when someone steps on our foot; we are the kind nature-lovers with a postcard-worthy country and an appetite for wilderness discovery. We’re kind and helpful towards people who are in dire straits (see the case of recently relocated Syrian refugees).

There is enough news and information flying every which way to make this serious and saddening offense towards humanity disappear with no one wiser on whether the company stopped its death-causing trades or if anyone was sanctioned for what could almost pass as criminal acts. There’s been enough cases of ‘forgiveness’.

It is true that there is not enough time in a day to read about all that deserves attention. Canadian politics alone, local and country-wide, is enough to make your head spin. Add to that the heartbreaking events unfolding in Syria at the moment as millions of people are in need of water under sweltering heat and amidst daily bombings. South Sudan with its millions of displaced, famished people too. Millions of African farmers punished severely by climate change.

Yet if enough people talk politics, each bringing some pieces to the big conversation about the world, we might just realize that we know more and better simply because someone took the time to inform themselves, and decided to share it with others. To ask questions, to make us think, to make us do our part as much as we can.

It is by all means easy (not on our conscience) to stick to our summer fun that might or might not include water which we have free access to (imagine the complete opposite), to happy conversations and good things happening in the world, because really, there are many. But we ought to be fair and impartial and give enough attention to issues that can raise eyebrows or make people uncomfortable. After all personal comfort should come second to human suffering, environmental destruction or any other issues where violation of what is humane, ethical and respectful is evident.

So go ahead, talk about Trump and his undignified approach to politics, talk about mines and the site C dam, about pipelines and wars unfolding far away. Allow your children to pipe in and voice their opinion. It’s their world too. We may be personally attached to one issue or another and become reactive when another brings it up (case in point: mines and pipelines). Yet healthy debates can lead to exactly what benefits both sides: consideration and respect for people and the environment. Ethics. It’s possible to have it good in many ways, much better than we do, if we stand up, listen, speak our mind and respectfully learn and educate at the same time. It’s a win-win.

So yes, we talk politics. Now you know why.

Apples and Cherries and Oil Spills

Originally published as a column on July 29, 2016 in NewsKamloops. 

Up the street from where we live there is an apple tree loaded with apples to the point of having its branches snap under the weight. Plenty more are scattered on the grass. There is no one to ask about whether we could pick them so they won’t go to waste, and trespassing is not an option even if there is no fence.

Along one of the trails where I walk the dog there is a yard with a cherry tree where cherries now hang burgundy and withered. I got to see them beautifully red and inviting, until the cherry season almost passed. I took that trail daily hoping that I’d see someone and ask about picking. Again, nobody to ask, and the fruit went to waste.

But this is not a piece about food waste only but appreciation and gratefulness. For what we have and what we’re bound to lose if we’re not paying attention. Whether it is fruit that goes to waste when there are people right here in Kamloops, children included, who cannot afford healthy fares, or water that gets polluted and becomes toxic to the very communities it’s supposed to sustain, the trouble is the same: waste. In the latter case, waste in seen differently by those who cause it versus though who suffer from it.

That apples and cherries and oil spills could ever be connected like dots to reveal a surprising picture is hard to imagine, and yet I am attempting to do just that.

If you have been following the recent Husky pipeline oil spill in Saskatchewan in all its dirty bits, you know it cannot be left alone. Not when the possibility of a new Kinder Morgan pipeline passing through here is looming in the distance (hopefully not). Not when pipeline-related oil spills are happening when least expected (Kinder Morgan had seven spills in BC only since 2005, four of which involved volumes larger than 100,000 litres).

The approximately 250,000-litre spill in the North Saskatchewan River is no little thing. By now the oil made its way some 500 kilometres downstream and four communities along the way have declared state of emergency. The company is ‘deeply sorry’ and will take care of the financial side of the problem. That they call the spill a ‘pipeline release’ is disturbing and insulting.

There are two issues that that stand out with this spill.

The first is that a leak had been noticed 14 hours before the spill was reported. That is a lot of hours to do something to hopefully prevent a larger disaster. At least you can say you tried. They did not. While the initial story mentioned the 14-hour delay, a second version has now been released: no one really saw the leak. From guilty as charged, Husky swiftly becomes the responsible community employer that will try to remediate the ‘mistake’.

What gets a company off the hook easier: admitting that its staff should have and could have done something and they didn’t, or that they took all the appropriate measures but somehow they missed the leak? Accountability be damned, the PR team worked hard on this one and the Ministry of Environment rolls happily with it. Yes, Husky has already been praised for their stellar cooperation by the ministry, who perhaps forgot for the time being that they are called Ministry of Environment for a reason.

The second worrying issue is that the spill happened shortly after Husky restarted the flow of oil through its new extension pipeline. It was the old rickety pipeline that leaked or so they say, yet it is hard to avoid the obvious question: why so soon after the flow was reopened? Is that a known risk? We might never know if this could have been prevented since in 2014 the Ministry of Environment decided that there was no need for an Environmental Impact Assessment for the extension project. Choking yet?

Talk about a lesson being learned the hard way. Not by companies but by communities along the way. Except that those who pay the hardest price sometimes have the weakest voices sometimes. You see, being vocal enough to be heard and slick enough to be believed is often proportional with the finances tied to the issue.

There is but one conclusion: we do not have enough time for all the spills and carbon overload that can still happen with fossil fuels. A greener future must happen or else. We may not read much these days about climate change in our local and national news, except for the independent media outlets, but the 14 repeats of the hottest-month-on-record is one crazy reality that we should all think about.

Switching to alternative energy sources could not happen too soon. People are enthusiastic and willing to roll up their sleeves and do the work (and save money since the source is renewable). It would help immensely if the government, provincial and federal, would stop dancing with the same old rich partners and switch to the environmentally-responsible, albeit less rich ones that are waiting for their turn. It’d be about time.

So what is there to learn from cherries dried-up on the tree, scattered apples and oil spills? We only have so much that we can use in the time we’re given, and waste (of food and water and green clean spaces) is not an option. Not when there are alternatives.

Where to from here? Wherever our collective common sense takes us. The government, despite the occasional impositions, is still ruling over a democratic society so ideally we should function like one and demand that the right to make informed choices be respected.

If You Believe In Making Good Things Happen, You Need To Vote

Originally published as a column in the AM News on Friday, October 31, 2014. 

It is a time of turmoil, social and political. A few days ago, thousands were present for Cpl. Cirillo’s funeral in Hamilton. Next is Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent’s funeral, who will be laid to rest on Saturday in what the family requested to be a private, no-press-allowed, ceremony. Lest we forget.

As the dust settles and other news will boil over, one can hope that the troubling questions left behind by the sudden and violent deaths of the two soldiers will be answered sooner than later. Much has been said about the charismatic smile of Cpl. Cirillo and his good nature, less so about why he was shot by someone who managed to run amok in an area that has at least one surveillance camera.

Presumably, someone was watching that screen at all times, in which case, how could a man with a long gun be overlooked. And if he wasn’t, where were the security forces that were supposed to come out in a blink and contain the situation before anyone got killed. Answers are not easy to come by, and accountability is an elusive creature we want to see materialized among politicians.

Then we have the lingering, growing as we speak, energy-related issues that transform people into rabid partisans of the pro and cons arguments. We see it all over the country, and we see it in our own city.

Ideally, our elected officials should be able to sort it out in a way that will be good for all and there will be someone who will answer the tough questions or pay the actual price of damage should any damage occur after all precautions have been taken. Or oppose a project unless it is done right, which is the latest case of the David and Goliath type of confrontation between Kinder Morgan and the city of Burnaby, mayor and people standing together. Accountability is what helps with that.

We can toil over these issues and more all we want; truth is, there is no easy solution. Problems arise daily, some bigger than others, and it is often that people feel helpless about them. Expectedly so, when questions fall of deaf ears. Which is why voting becomes the one thing anyone can do to lessen the feeling of helplessness.

Unless we go out and vote whoever we think will do a good job at addressing issues that have to do with the state of our democracy, our environment, education, health, housing problems, and so much more, nothing will be done in a way that feels right.

Someone said to me ‘if I do not vote, at least I cannot say I voted the wrong person when they don’t do their job…’ But is that the point? It is never a matter of whether a politician does it right or wrong by me only. I can voice my concerns, I can express ideas and if I feel in any way betrayed by the ones I chose, I have to take it further than just sanctioning their activity in my head.

I do not vote my personal councilors and mayor, just like you do not either. It is a concerted effort and, as always, my deed (vote in this case) will affect your life and the other way around. A community that can vote is a community where good things can happen.

There is no escaping this one if we want to see changes and issues dealt with in a responsible manner. Freedom of speech and freedom to vote are two important assets in a democracy and they should be exercised by the people who have them.

There have been multiple instances of freedom of speech being impended (see the case of Canadian scientists being silenced to the point of scientists from other countries expressing concern over practices that are unbecoming of a democratic government) and there are cases of truth being withheld for various reasons.

There are decisions being made in regards to pipelines, mines and fracking that are questionable to say the least. There are accidents such as tailing ponds ruptures, oil spills and chronic health issues in many who live near exploitation sites and no one has to live with the consequences expect for the people who suffered in the first place. There are provincial parks that may be having their boundaries redefined just so pipelines could run through it.

All these matters have to be addressed in a responsible manner. More than that, the government officials who address these issues and more, have to be accountable to voters and open to having dialogues as needed.

In which case, one wonders, where are such perfect politicians hiding?

There are no perfect humans, politicians or otherwise. But in case of politicians, they have to understand their mission and the trust they are given by people like you and me.

More so, they need to be able to stand up right, be accountable and make truth their ally. If we all speak the truth, things are bound to get better.

I guess the best way to describe my expectations for what’s to come is to say that we elect representatives that will keep on growing to become great politicians rather than go for the perfect ones from the start, because truth is, no one is perfect and everyone should be given chances to grow and do better every day. What I do ask though is openness and a social conscience.

For that, I will go vote and I urge you to do the same. It is a privilege to have choices.

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