Friday, March 4, 2016

Out of the Mouths of Babes

NOTICE: As this post includes text that is not my own creation, the content of this post MAY NOT be reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution - No Derivatives 4.0 International License. Sorry. You're just not allowed with this one.

For about 12 years now, I've been teaching and encouraging my students to blog. Some continue to blog many years after they leave high school and move on with their adult lives. Not only is it beneficial for them to write as a practice of becoming better writers, and improving their literacy skills, they generally use their blogs to give voice to some of the more sensitive topics that they ordinarily don't want to talk about. They will be blunt. They will be honest. They will write about whatever they choose from their own unique perspectives and describe the world as they see it.

This is not always in keeping with how the rest of us (adults) see the world, but it is not for us to tell them they are wrong. This is their reality. It isn't always pretty.

You may be wondering how this ends up being a blog topic for a blog I have set up for the upcoming Manitoba Provincial Election on April 19th. Simply put, a lot of us adults who will be voting this Spring will be, and have already long been, engaged in a great deal of discussion about an issue that is pretty important and relevant to about 10,000 Manitoba Children: The problems that are present in our Child Welfare System, more specifically, the issues surrounding Child and Family Services/Child Protection.

There are about 1,282,000 people in Manitoba (July, 2014). Included in that total are about 10,000 children in CFS care. This means, by a bit of simple math, for every 128 Manitobans, one of them is in the care of CFS. Using this base number, in my community of 674 people there *should* be just over 5 children in care. I know for a fact that that number is far below reality, here, by a factor of 3 to 4 or more.

That's right. The number of children in care here is between 15 and 20+, year to year, depending on transience, including those staying with family voluntarily on a temporary basis, availability of placement locations, rates of reunification/return, and other factors. 

Children that have spent years in situations that the majority of us cannot fathom can be very resilient, however. Growing up in the homes and communities they have grown up in has had a profound and lasting effect on them. While the majority of us decry their realities for the human injustices they are, the fingers of the majority are often pointed towards the groups of people that are trying their best to help these kids. We blame Agencies. We blame Departments. We blame individual Ministers and entire Governments for the tragedies and travesties of the lives of 10,000 children. 

Rarely do we celebrate their successes. That's just not what makes headlines.

Ask the children themselves whose fault their situations are, and you will receive very different responses. They don't blame our leaders and politicians. They're far too smart to be that blind. They know that the Premier, Cabinet, and members of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition had nothing to do with why a CFS Worker, with or without an RCMP officer present, came to their house, collected them and some of their clothes, their siblings, and took them somewhere else.

A word of caution: Much of what follows may upset you as you read through it. It is my hope that in reading it you will be able to gain a better perspective of the lives of children who have been involved in our CFS system. Many children who are involved in our CFS system do not have the same literacy skills as others but I hope that you may use what you read here as a starting point to consider what likely goes through the mind of a child who is unable to describe their situation as well as the examples that follow. Draw your own conclusions.

I read the following in a blog I've been following and in three simple paragraphs, the author has identified a number of the problems that are common threads of the blanket that many children involved with CFS find themselves wrapped in. 

There are a number of challenges we must overcome as a society. One of the largest hurdles are the perceptions and misconceptions we have about Aboriginal Peoples. Even the author of the text above, an Aboriginal youth, has expressed a number of misunderstandings and biases in regards to what she sees, but it is her vision. Her reality. Who are you or I to say she is wrong?

 Recently, I read and article by Nancy Macdonald published in Maclean's Magazine titled, "Canada's prisons are the 'new residential schools'". In that article, Ms. Macdonald draws attention to four of the key elements that contribute to some of the larger problems faced by many Aboriginal Peoples and many Aboriginal Communities in Canada:

- dislocation
- disadvantage
- addiction
- abuse

These specific elements were identified by the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Gladue as elements that sentencing judges must take into consideration at sentencing hearings of Aboriginal defendants.

It isn't just judges and academics that recognize these as problems that need to be addressed. Even if our youth don't recognize the reasons for how they feel, they are more than familiar with the direct impact that these things have upon them even if they have difficulty expressing these complex ideas. They are reacting to these aspects of their lives without fully understanding the how of why they feel the way they do.

Politicians cannot simply add money to budget lines to solve these problems. No piece of legislation can adequately address the fundamental human needs that so many children in our society need and deserve. The feelings of frustration, anger, hopelessness, and confusion that so many of our children in care feel and express is understandable in most cases. The escalating tragedies with our youth are accentuated and punctuated by numerous examples that we ourselves don't understand the reasoning behind. 

Not all is lost, however. We need to look at ourselves as a society through our own mirror, once we wipe the fog off it, and try to see the world we have created through the eyes of our youth. If we fail to provide them with the care and direction to become stable, healthy, successful adults, they won't. The problems won't be resolved. The escalation will continue. Our future generations will continue to be irreparably damaged by our present failures to act. 

We need to redefine our priorities and seek the wisdom of people who are not yet blind to the biases and inequities that we ourselves have been instilling in our children as our parents instilled them in us.

From out of the mouths of babes, they've been telling us what we have been doing wrong. Isn't it about time that we started listening?

It's time to stop and listen to our children. They're an awful lot smarter than most of us give them credit for.

As you watch this campaign progress, remain mindful of the people who point fingers and lay blame. Keep in mind that while Manitoba has 10,000 children in CFS care, every one of them has parents and the issues that both they and their children are facing are far more important than the election strategy of any party.

Don't use them as ammunition in your war against opposing platforms and ideologies. I will call you on it. 

Vote for who you choose, Manitoba, but please make an informed decision and VOTE! 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

What A Waste. Or Is It?

For over 20 years the Town of Lynn Lake, along with a number of other communities in Manitoba, has been increasingly concerned with out-migration, urbanization, economic stagnation, and outright economic collapse in our community. Speaking from the experiences I have had here in the past 12 years I have observed economic collapse first-hand. I have also been challenged, and challenged others, to find one or more methods to turn this trend around and ensure the long-term viability and sustainability of our community.

This has taken me down some incredibly interesting paths. This has been particularly true in the additional role I have taken on as an Elected Official since February 2012, about seven years after I moved here. I have met and communicated with numerous members of Federal, Provincial, and Municipal Governments both past and present. I have learned far more about Water Treatment, The Municipal Act, Property Taxes, Mill Rates, Grants, and Public Works Operations than I had ever thought I would ever in my life need to.

I didn't embark on this journey alone and un-armed, however. My entire life previously had been spent as a very well informed and vocal proponent of the democratic process and both Federal and Provincial politics. Municipal Government was a new realm for me, and one that brought me the rapid realization of just how important this job is. It also brought me to the realization of how crucial seeing "the big picture" and engaging the other levels of government in advocating on the behalf of your community is. As a very small community of about 675 residents, we have a pretty small voice in a country of over 35 million and a province of over 1 million people.

It can have one of two potential effects on a person.

- Surrender... we're too minuscule to matter, anyway.
- Think BIG... BE what the rest of the province and nation needs.

So what does Manitoba and the rest of Canada need that we can provide here at the End of the Road?  Once I gave it a lot of thought, I actually came up with a few ideas. Some have met with no interest whatsoever, others have raised some eyebrows, and still others have had people rather immediately react with a look of concern for my mental health, and ask, "Are you serious?"

The short answer on that one is, "Yes."

Almost a year ago, on the auspicious occasion of what would have been Sir John A. Macdonalds' 200th Birthday (January 11th, by the way, if you were wondering) I released a proposal: "Northern Development Potential and A Nuclear Future for Western Canada". On that date I began distributing it to the Leaders of all Federal Government Parties, the Leaders of all Provincial Government Parties in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and the leadership of The Territory of Nunavut.

I gotta say, it is a pretty ambitious plan. I only received formal acknowledgement from a few recipients. It does, however, highlight a large number of the shortcomings of current and past higher levels of government that likely should have been thinking much longer-term than a 4-year election cycle for the past 100+ years once the basic groundwork for the country was laid out. We still have far to go in many parts of this great nation and we have some pretty big debts to be paid to groups such as indigenous peoples.

We've had motorized ground transportation for over 100 years in this world, but there are still communities that have no all season ground access. We also expect these small isolated groups to feel they are as cherished and valued members of our society as everyone else. That makes no sense. You cannot expect a segment of our society to achieve their highest potential in the 21st Century if you keep them isolated and unable to access the basic tools that the majority of society takes for granted.

Like healthy food. Education. Housing. Safe drinking water. Economic opportunity. Basic reliable ground transportation. Reliable and affordable information communication technology. Health care. Grid based electricity. A meaningful source of income.

Fortunately, things like pride do not require multi-billion dollar infrastructure investments, because even with so many road blocks to accessibility that some communities face, there is still a strong sense of both pride and community in many places that are under-serviced and lacking in the core infrastructure that would allow them to see success.

Transportation is a key driver for solutions to many of the problems that these remote communities face, and I addressed it as an aspect of the proposal I mentioned above. Transportation is a starting point for many communities who have a desire to grow and be successful. I also encouraged others to see the benefits of this concept: We started to engage our neighbours.

 This year has been unseasonably warm. There are cumulative effects of Climate Change that have been amplified by the El Nino that is presently influencing the weather patterns in central North America. It is at least 20 degrees warmer here than it should be. There is little ice. The swamps are not freezing. The Winter Road Network that many communities rely on for seasonal shipments of fuel, dry goods, construction materials, and seasonal transportation may not even open at all in some areas. Our governments have left this dragon sleeping for 40 years longer than they should have, and the toll it takes now will be costly.

We need to make changes and those changes need to be made now. Clean energy, like renewables, hydro-electric, and nuclear must be encouraged.

"Nuclear? You're talking crazy again, James."

When fear drives our decisions, we generally make bad ones. Here's some facts:

Gigawatt for Gigawatt, nuclear is cleaner than every other current source of base-load electricity. Nuclear is also the safest form of energy generation in Canada and almost every other developed nation using the technology - our regulatory system insists on it. It has to. The toxicity of the reactor fuels once activated make it among the most dangerous substances that mankind has ever produced.

"Whoah.... You advocate for nuclear energy and make a statement like that?"

Of course I do. Just because it's dangerous doesn't mean we don't have incredibly stringent requirements for dealing with it. You don't just leave this stuff lying around, after all.

Except we do. It's presently all being stored at reactor sites in Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick. Sure the sites are "pretty secure" and all the applicable regulations regarding the storage and handling of used nuclear fuels are being followed, but, it's still sitting around on surface in the vicinity of about 40 million people, if you include our neighbours on the south side of the Great Lakes.And the piles are growing bigger each year.

About 30 years ago (1984/85), the Federal Government began to strongly suggest to the Canadian Nuclear Industry that storing used nuclear fuels at these nuclear facilities above ground might need a better solution. Following the Chernobyl disaster (1986) there was a much stronger push from the Government of Canada. In response, the Province of Manitoba enacted the High-Level Radioactive Waste Act in July, 1987. This Act prevents the storage of used nuclear fuels in all of Manitoba unless it has been produced in Manitoba, as it has at the Whiteshell Lab in Pinawa.

In my opinion, this was a well thought out and reasonable piece of legislation.

At least, it was... in 1987...

A great deal has changed in the past three decades. Our engineers and physicists have learned a great deal more about the atom in 30 years. We've also made advances in alloys, design, materials construction, transportation, and every other aspect related to the nuclear industry. Further, when tasked by the Government of Canada to provide a safe, long-term plan for the permanent management of the Canadian Nuclear Industry Used Fuel Inventory (which grows every year), the industry responded by creating the Nuclear Waste Management Organization -

Regulated by the Federal Government and funded by the Canadian Nuclear Industry, they were told to find a solution that was scientifically valid, safe, and met with the expectations of both the Government of Canada and any "willing and informed host community" that chose to be considered as a host location for a facility that could meet their mutual goals.They created a plan. The plan was reviewed by Engineers and Physicists from multiple countries. The plan was acceptable to Federal Nuclear Regulators. The NWMO opened the idea up for "expressions of interest" from municipalities across Canada and had 21 communities express an interest and begin the lengthy process to find the best and safest location.

Admittedly, I was late to the discussion and found out about it several months after the expressions of interest phase had been closed by the NWMO. Still, I noted in their documentation that, "The NWMO therefore reserves the option of reopening the process to expressions of interest by new communities in the future."

This gives me some hope that the remaining communities that have expressed an interest in this project will either be found unsuitable, or will decide to cease participation and they will have to open expressions of interest once again. The NWMO has confirmed this with a response to my inquiry in February 2014, that, "...if we find we need to re-open the process to more communities in future, we will certainly let you know."

Of course, there are some who have criticized me for this position on its face without any understanding of what is involved or even doing the due diligence of a bit of reading. Too many fans of the Simpsons' and apocalypse films, I guess. I've also been told that I'm wasting my time pursuing this. The only response to that is that it is my time to do with as I please.The only thing more potentially damaging than a decision made based on fear is a decision that is made while un-informed of facts. As I told the AMM Delegates in November,

"We are seeking a change to this legislation in order to allow any Municipality in Manitoba the opportunity to be considered as a partner with the Canadian Nuclear Industry and gain the long-term economic stability that such projects would provide. Changing this Act does not mean that High-Level Radioactive Fuels will be stored in Manitoba, but it would allow for Manitoba Municipalities the possibility to engage the Canadian Nuclear Industry in achieving a safe, secure, stable solution to an on-going problem."

The door is presently closed, but it may re-open. Because of this, I have, since 2014, been seeking changes to the Manitoba High-Level Radioactive Waste Act. Recently, the AMM (Association of Manitoba Municipalities) approved a resolution at their 2015 Annual General Meeting to engage in discussions with the Province of Manitoba to amend this piece of legislation. That resolution was passed with 71% support. I have also been in contact with the Leaders of the Manitoba Political Parties to express to them our desire to move this discussion forwards.

We'll see how that goes. It is an election year, after all. So far, I've only received feedback from one camp and they were seeking additional information and review before making further statements of intent either way.

But at least the idea is on the radar.

Once again, folks, vote for who you choose, but please make an informed decision and VOTE!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Shooting for the Moon

I figure that's a pretty appropriate title for this blog post. since even before the Association of Manitoba Municipalities hosted the 1st Leaders' Debate of this yet-to-be-officially-called election, the race has been on to convince Manitoba Voters to either:

- Stay the course! (Vote NDP)
- Change the Government! (Vote Conservative)
- Try a New Direction! (Vote Liberal)
- Enough with the Party Lines! (Vote Independent/Alternative)
- Why bother? (Not vote at all)

What to do, what to do? My (partisan) thoughts on the five possibilities follow.


Stay the Course!

As a life-long Socialist, this option makes the most sense to me. They have a 4-0 record since 1999 and an 8-4 record since 1969 (Do we get the Moon-Shot reference now?). There is a great deal to be said for experience like that. For 2/3 of my life, Manitobans voted NDP. I also agree with ~almost~ every one of their policies. There are detractors and downsides to all Parties, so yes, I might as well concede one or two points here right off the top:

Their Leader is viewed as very experienced (ie: also viewed as an "Old White Guy") by many. Now, before you on the Right get overly excited by that statement, be warned: My Grandfather was an "Old White Guy", but also a Socialist who earned the respect of everyone he knew by treating them fairly, kindly, and with understanding regardless of Age, Race, Gender, Ability, or Sexual Orientation long before it was fashionable. Remember that if you ever choose to play that card.

This government has, like most of the rest of the world, been tossed about by Market Implosions and Natural Disasters. We're still here. We might not be doing as well as we think we should be doing, but we're doing a lot better than most.


Change the Government!

This has been the mantra of Manitoba Conservatives since 1999. You can't blame them, though. They have been behind the 8-ball since 1996, thanks to the former head of MTS,... errr... thanks to the former Premier and Party Leader who became the head of MTS after a barely respectful period following his departure from Provincial Government.

Their Leader today was a part of the problem caused then. It's no wonder so many people still dislike and distrust him. I imagine that list is at least as long as the list of people that he himself doesn't like. Like fans of pagan holidays and celebrations, and non-Christian religious groups and Atheists. I doubt he likes #PeopleLikeNenshi, no matter how many other #PeopleLikeNenshi.

The man does tend to stand out in a crowd, though. Well, so do most former athletes. They also have a tendency to stand out in the minds of people who weren't on the hockey/baseball/basketball/football/etc. team. There does seem to be a certain attitude that is ingrained in our more physical types. I'm pretty sure it's tied to testosterone levels, but, hey, I'm not a doctor. Or a coach. I will admit, however, to being a target of some of the same personality types during high school. Thirty years later, when I see them, they make mention of how much I've changed. Many of them, on the other hand, have not.


Try a New Direction!

This has got to be getting vexing for Manitoba Liberals. They haven't won a Manitoba Election since loooong before the Leafs' last won the Stanley Cup. They had their hands-down best showing in 1988 as Her Majesty's' Loyal Opposition, but following the nightmare conditions that Premier Filmon left, Manitoba voters swung sharply left once again.

I have to say, that even as a Socialist, I grow more and more impressed with Rana Bokhari by the week. She unquestionably won the first Leaders' Debate held in Brandon last month, in my humble opinion. As I watched that debate, next to a stranger in the audience with opposing political views, we began to discuss who would be best suited to become Premier. During that discussion, I asked him if he had to guess which of the three provincial Party Leaders had made an appearance at the End of the Road in northern Manitoba in the time I've been here (12 years), who would he choose?

He was wrong.



Enough with the Party Lines!

There is an argument to be made for voting for Independent or Semi-Independent candidates (Is there a Manitoba Green Party?). They can be wild-cards, and will work towards acting in the best interests of their constituents, but, depending on how their thoughts and plans align with other Parties, usually find themselves hard-pressed to make much headway on their own. They can foster a different sort of legislative cooperation, however, if there are enough of them or a minority government is a slim one.


Why bother?

These are the people I find truly disturbing. Worldwide, literally millions of people have faced death and torture for the democratic rights we allegedly hold so dear today. Voting is a civic responsibility we all share. I believe that we should institute a system of Fines to be levied on anyone who fails to cast a ballot in an election. Want to spoil your ballot? Go ahead. But if your name isn't crossed off the voters list because you couldn't be bothered? You should have to pay a penalty for that inaction.

Too many people in human history paid with their blood so that you are guaranteed the right to vote. Do not disrespect them - It's bad karma.


At the end of the day, I am still personally a Socialist and because of that, many people try to make me change my mind, friends and family included. If people are truly that dissatisfied with the performance of the Manitoba Government since 1999? Well, maybe Manitobans will decide to change it.

If they do, however, I hope they make their decision free of bias brought about by a candidates age, gender, or ethnic background. I look in the mirror and see myself becoming an "Old White Guy", and while I most likely won't vote for Ms. Bokhari or any Liberal Candidate they choose to run here...

I won't be campaigning against them, either, unless they move too far to the Right.

**UPDATE - December 12th: Liberal position of privatization of MLCC is, in my opinion, too far to the Right. That will be a deal-breaker for me.

Best of luck to you, Manitoba. Do your homework.Vote for who you choose, preferably with an informed decision, but please, VOTE!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

... And... We're Off!

Yes, I am well aware that the Manitoba Writ has not been dropped, nor will it likely be dropped for a number of months. That doesn't mean the campaign to determine who will/should form the next Government of Manitoba hasn't already been underway since polls closed at the last provincial election (it has been an ongoing campaign, in case you were unclear).

Manitoba has faced a number of challenges since we were last asked to select 57 men and women to govern the province on our behalf. In contrast, Manitoba has also experienced a number of positive changes since the last election. This post isn't about going into detail on all the many things that have been viewed as "wins" and "losses" for the citizens of the Province.

Instead, I thought I might kick this blog off with as little partisanship as I can. I hope I can achieve this lofty goal considering that, as a Private Citizen, I am about as far from non-partisan as it gets.

One of the criticisms I have always held in regards to our political system is the idea that "The Provincial Government" only includes the Honourable Premier, Members of Cabinet, and other Backbenchers of the same party. While in most respects this appears to be true it is not an accurate representation of who "The Provincial Government" is. The fact is that all 57 Duly Elected Members of The Manitoba Legislature, as chosen by the voters of Manitoba, are ALL Members of the Government.

Even if they sit in positions of Her Majesty's' Loyal Opposition or, as the most recent compositions of the Legislature have been, even if they are MLAs with seats in the Legislature and are aligned with parties that have not achieved Official Party Status, they are all still "The Government of Manitoba".

Regardless of ideological differences between them, fairly sharply defined by Party Lines, each one of them has been elected by us to act in our best interests en masse, whether they like to admit it or not.

Sadly, in an adversarial system, most of what the average member of the public sees are sound bites and maybe an entire session of Question Period where Members of the Opposition point fingers and criticize the current Leadership while the current Leadership explains for the record why they have made the decisions they have made. All the while, other members of both the Leadership and Opposition make background noise expressing their agreement or objection to what is being said at the time.

It's all very theatrical in nature, and, in my opinion, an unnecessary and inappropriate way for our government to conduct itself. Some days, it's an outright embarrassment and I find myself wondering how it is that We, the citizens who cast our ballots to place these men and women in these positions of trust and authority to act on our behalf, continue to accept this as part of our system of governance.

No Party is blameless in this respect. During Question Period, at both the Federal and Provincial Levels, the conduct of our elected representatives is unacceptable in any other situation of human interaction. If people behaved like this in any other situation, they would be asked to leave or bodily removed.

But wait. After the time for Oral Questions has expired, something magical happens:

They move to Committee.

In Legislative Committee Meetings, there are no cameras (at least not in the Manitoba Legislature) and our politicians discuss and debate the exact same topics that were being yelled about minutes earlier in a frank, open, respectful, and efficient manner. All parties to the discussion are talking in stark contrast to their performance for the cameras.

Premiers and Cabinet Ministers present Legislation and Opposition Members ask questions about the proposed legislation. The questions asked by Opposition in Committee are every bit as tough as the questions asked when the cameras are rolling, but like the 14 year old who consistently plays the clown in Math Class, without an audience present he or she can focus on the task at hand: Honest Debate and Discourse of proposed legislation that has the potential to create either positive or negative changes throughout our province.

Voters don't listen to Committee Meetings, though. They are boring. There's no name calling. No drama. No raising of voices. No puffing of chests. No inflating/deflating of egos. Just plain old governance.

Admittedly, unless it's something you are truly interested in, it's pretty boring.

More is the shame. All too often, the only way to rouse the average voter from our off-election-season apathy is to point out something that is of little consequence to almost everyone, like socks in sandals, and blow it up to sound as if the very continuation of life on this planet as we know it is at stake because of it. We see this happen through each and every campaign and it is a strategy used by each and every party.

"Vote for us! If you vote for them or them, they will destroy the Province/Country/City/Town (as appropriate)."

Here, my friends (and maybe even more importantly, those of you who are not my friends), is what I would like you all to do between now and the upcoming Provincial Election:

Talk to the people who want the job. Ask them honest questions. Ask them important questions about what they intend to do IF you give them your support. Then, ask the exact same questions to every other candidate running in your Constituency. If what other candidates say leave you with more questions, keep asking questions. Don't stop asking questions of all the candidates until you are satisfied that they have answered your questions. Don't settle for a mass-mailer or even a hand-delivered brochure.

Get answers on the public record. Ask them on Facebook. Ask them on Twitter. Attend Public Forums and Debates and step up to the microphone.

Be an engaged, informed, and active Citizen. Take your democratic responsibility seriously and ensure that the people who want to represent you in Government are listening to your concerns. Make them make commitments and preferably get them in writing. You have every right to ask for and receive it. Remember: They want to work for you, not the other way around.

This is all one very large and long job interview for them. Make sure you hire the right individual as your employee.

For your tweeting convenience:

Premier Greg Selinger: @GregSelinger
Opposition Leader Brian Pallister: @Brian_Pallister
Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari: @rana4manitoba

If you tweet, you should be following every one of them, and every other current MLA and Manitoba 2016 Candidate in your Constituency (once they are selected by their processes). I would also encourage you to start following and using the #mbpoli hashtag.

Ask questions. Get answers.

Vote for who you choose, but please, make an informed decision and #VOTE! Every vote matters!