Our lieutenant governor’s “Three Rs”

Judith Guichon

by Bruce Mason

Photo: 2017 Canada Day Citizenship Ceremony at Government House, in which Her Honour presided over the swearing-in of 150 new citizens. Photo by Rachel Rilkoff of Government House.

For a short time in late June, all eyes, and much speculation, focused laser-like on Hon. Judith Guichon, BC’s 29th lieutenant governor. Representing the Queen is mostly ceremonial, but the urgent, unenviable task of making a vitally important decision thrust Guichon onto a red-hot seat, under a glaring spotlight. The corporate media pack sniffed, chowed down and quickly moved on to another flavour shortly after she denied then-premier Christy Clark’s desperate, self-serving, 90-minute plea for a snap election.

Judith Guichon, BC’s busiest lieutenant governor in decades, was etched into our history then calmly carried on with her own personal goal, which includes visiting 150 schools and pledging to use her position to educate about what we must learn if we are to have a future worth living.

She calls them “my three R’s: respect, responsibility and relationships.” Guichon lives and breathes the belief that we have a responsibility to respect the land, and to honour that relationship in order to leave a healthy planet for future generations..

In January of this year, while accepting an honorary doctorate from Vancouver Island University, she explained why she had taken the job in 2012: “There’s an increasing gap in understanding between urban and rural populations. Since we both need each other, I thought this was an excellent opportunity for me to bridge that gap. And it was such a wonderful opportunity to learn something new.”

Christy Clark had welcomed her, saying, “She has a deep appreciation for the history and traditions of BC and has spent a lifetime ensuring that we all stay connected to our roots.” In retrospect, our former premier underestimated and misunderstood Guichon’s overriding “appreciation” and “lifetime” of work.

Sure, Guichon had been recommended by then-prime minister Stephen Harper and had donated a modest total of $1,350 in 2005 and 2009 to Gordon Campbell’s liberals. Her friends and neighbours note that she leans right, as most of them do, obvious in the recent election, supporting fiscal responsibility and economic diversification. All of which had little influence over doing the right thing.

Before she was appointed in 2012, Guichon lived in the Nicola Valley in BC’s interior and owned and operated the Guichon Ranch, as the family of her late husband, commercial pilot Lawrence Guichon, had done since 1878. The couple took over in 1979, the fourth generation to run the ranch. They studied holistic management, focused on environmental stewardship and practised and promoted sustainability that emphasized natural habitat, such as letting cattle graze longer and using less feed. They are credited with introducing healthy techniques to the ranching community.

While growing a small parcel of land and a few head of cattle into a sprawling property with thousands of livestock, a general store, post office and a hotel, Judith Guichon, with a neighbour, started a recycling society in Merritt. She played the flute in the Nicola Valley Community Band and spoke up on water issues, served on health boards and task forces on species at risk, ranching and agri-food. She also developed her signature biodiversity program.

After her husband died tragically in a motorcycle accident in 2003, she wrote, “The love of my children enabled me to carry on. To say that I would not have endured without them is not overstating the case.” Her current husband Bruno Mailloux and four adopted children carry on while she nears the end of her five-year term.

Personally, I never had any doubt that she would do the right thing and I wish I could shake her hand and share a few words, again. Two years ago, in a reception line at the end of her tour of the Gabriola Island Medical Centre, she asked if I wrote the book, Our Clinic, that had just been presented to her. It tells the story of how a community of 4,000 residents and a volunteer army of 170 built a multi-million dollar urgent care health clinic and heli-pad on donated acreage, without raising any taxes. Christy Clark’s liberals chipped in a total of $100,000 at the last-minute.

A short time later I received a hand-written letter – remember those – from Guichon: “It will be my pleasure to tell your story where I go because it is incredible, an absolutely amazing feat that I hope others can learn from. My own projects are about healthy land and healthy communities. We all have a responsibility to leave them in as good or better state for those who follow.”

Just as she did as a rancher, Hon. Judith Guichon broke the mould of lieutenant governor by making a decision to invite the NDP and Greens to form government in the best interests of the people of the province. And her story, the real story, is the one to record, share and act on.

Jesse Waldman an inspired voice from Vancouver’s dark side

Jesse Waldman

by Bruce Mason

Jesse Waldman’s long-awaited record debut was decades in the making, including four years of painstaking recording and production. The brilliant concept album, Mansion Full of Ghosts, stands out for not only capturing life in contemporary Vancouver, but for also giving voice and hope to all those who struggle in the dystopian, hollowed-out nightmare into which Canada’s most expensive city has devolved.

“I started with 20 songs and wrote at least 15 more, which accounts for some of the time,” reports Waldman. “More than half of the people that my girlfriend and I know here live under constant threat of renoviction and skyrocketing housing costs, holding on for dear life, with fingernails. I’m just back from playing gigs in Toronto, my old stomping grounds, and it was outstanding. In Kensington Market, on Queen, College and Bloor Streets, there is a vibrant, supportive arts scene, a stark contrast to the corporate, cookie-cutter culture that Vancouver is becoming.”

The 16 tracks on Mansion Full of Ghosts are individual rooms, artfully designed and built, with wave-like walls of sound, without any superfluous musical notes or words. From a journeyman’s lovingly created, solid, eclectic musical foundation, haunted dream-like characters emerge, linked with a jeweller’s eye for gems and settings. A “country mouse” doesn’t care for big-city small talk in the “smiley plastic face rat race of shiny people and phony deadbeats.” Others include “A Ballerina From the East Coast.”

Perhaps the most fully realized is “Lorraine.” A dime-less high-school dropout from Mississauga decides, “I’m goin’ it alone… changed her clothes in a phone booth and rolled a smoke for the road. Her grubby hands were shaking/As the honest world was waking she flagged down trucks in high heels.” She ends up on a poster at a drop-in centre, disappeared without a trace with no helpful leads. A cold case indeed.

Waldman’s own story is essential to fully appreciating Mansion Full of Ghosts. A cherished cassette of his grandmother singing a Yiddish folk song and a guitar abandoned in the basement of his family home helped fuel his teenaged flight from the suburban sprawl of Thornhill, Ontario. He paid his dues, underage, in Toronto bar gigs, through a succession of groups, including the grunge band Zygote, Web, The Beefy Treats and Phatty Phatty, perfecting his impressive chops and accompaniment skills in finger-style folk, country, blues and pop genres.

“Every band needs a writer and I became that guy, almost by default,” Waldman recalls. Fine-tuned musical and other skills enabled his emergence as a very fine songwriter. His website (jessewaldmanmusic.com/media) features four videos. “The Rest of My Days,” produced to launch the album, includes raw archival family footage, charmingly illustrating a credo and promise revealed in the album. The other three earlier examples demonstrate his laid-back, comfortable virtuosity on electric, acoustic and resophonic guitar.

A cross-country adventure to the West Coast was pivotal and transformative. After touching down, he has stayed for 25 years in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the poorest postal code in Canada. Home is Hastings St. and Commercial Drive where he is – and this is a compliment – a “fixture on the Drive,” as well as a highly accomplished national touring act.

Sensing the growing need for rehearsal space, then recording space, he co-founded Redlight Sound Studios, where months of rehearsals and pre-production for his debut took place. He also studied the recording arts and sound design and he is now in demand, with a busy client roster, including the CBC, Telus, The Knowledge Network and Bravo.

Waldman assembled an all-star cast of other “fixtures,” most notably Marc L’Esperance, whose diverse skills, longtime friendship and musical partnership resulted in a well-deserved credit as co-producer. Jesse excels at portraying post-modern Vancouver where shopping carts roll down alleyways as skyrocketing numbers of homeless sleep in too-many boarded doorways, with pleas for help on scraps of cardboard, in front of ATM’s and… “all them lyin’ servants in their parliamentary seats.”

Mansion Full of Ghosts is audio alchemy. Gold is transmuted into various forms – Klondike gold, fools’ gold – with its colour depicted in occasional skies and rays. In “Eastvan Blues,” he writes and sings, “I got one foot in a sunbeam/I got one foot in the grave.” The album is highly recommended, especially for those down-and-out in Vancouver.

I asked him to share his expertise from 25 years on both sides of the studio glass. “Tips for Up-And-Coming Artists Headed Into a Studio” is a one-page, seven-point checklist to avoid common problems and pitfalls in making the best, most-natural recording of roots music. Email brucemason@shaw.ca and I will reply with a copy.

Healing addiction

It takes a village

by Jennifer Engrácio

Perhaps it is possible to heal an addiction on your own. I have not personally met every addict in the world to know if that is true or not. However, I do know that the vast majority of addicts I’ve met needed a good support system around them in order to recover fully.

Many addicts do not have a healthy community to interact within. Addicts across the board tend to have weak skills in some areas, including impulse control, self-command, boundary setting and will, to name a few. During the healing phase of an addiction, addicts need to lean on the will of others so they can maintain their sobriety until they’ve built up enough self-worth on the inside and strengthened their own will.

We’ve assumed that punishing addicts for their behaviour and marginalizing them is the way to deter addictive patterns, but this is actually the stance that encourages addiction to flourish. Humans regulate themselves and learn and grow within the context of healthy and secure relationships. In the absence of loving connections and solid bonding with community and family members, humans begin looking for other ways to feel secure, accepted and safe in any way they can: joining gangs, taking drugs and becoming fanatical in their beliefs. Because intergenerational trauma is passed down through generations, many attitudes about parenting, relating to others and messages about how the world works that many of us carry are not life-giving.

Thankfully, my higher self guided me to a spiritual pathway that is filled with folks who have the experience to work with addicts and wounded people from all walks of life. They did not, of course, do the work for me; I had to do that myself. They always accepted me, even at my worst and ugliest. When I was filled with self-pity, they didn’t go along with it. They called me on it and this sent me to a place of ownership so I could reclaim my power. When I was self-important, they had gentle ways of bringing me down to Earth.

Ideally, the community is a place where we learn good coping strategies, where we are supported to grow, where there are elders and people available who can help us get to the root of what ails us and guide us in letting go of belief systems and habits that no longer serve us.

I am proof that it is possible to seek out these sorts of communities. They do exist. It requires the courage to try something new. It requires being willing to heal. It requires being willing to keep seeking support and never giving up. Perseverance. Patience. Faith. I found my way within a non-denominational spiritual community. Perhaps that is not your way. I pray you can find a way that is a good fit for you. Reach out. It’s worth it. You’re worth it.

A student of shamanism, Jennifer Engrácio is a certified shamanic coach, reiki master, lomilomi practitioner, and a certified teacher who has worked with children since 2001. She runs Spiral Dance Shamanics. Originally from Vancouver, BC, she lives in Calgary with her life partner. Engrácio participated in self-publishing three books: The Magic Circle: Shamanic Ceremonies for the Child and the Child Within, Women’s Power Stories: Honouring the Feminine Principle of Life and Dreaming of Cupcakes: A Food Addict’s Shamanic Journey Into Healing. For more information, visit www.spiraldanceshamanics.com

How spirit inspired an ecology centre

Science of Spirituality building

by Arran Stephens

Whenever a new person walks through the gates of the Science of Spirituality Meditation and Ecology Centre in Richmond, one often hears the words, “I never knew such a place existed. It’s so peaceful and the gardens so beautiful.”

In 2005, this haven was a barren, shuttered school, with a history going back to 1904. Feral rabbits had undermined the foundations while rats ran along littered hallways. The traffic roaring along Steveston Highway was hardly conducive to meditation, contemplation and fresh air! Neither did we have sufficient funds at the time to carry out a purchase. But there was hope, wild hope! To critics, I said, “We have a vision; let’s make it a reality.”

Our eclectic group was inspired to take this step under the loving guidance of Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj, a living Master in an ancient lineage of spiritual adepts. His immediate predecessors, Sant Darshan Singh Ji and Sant Kirpal Singh Ji, were revered Masters with whom several of us had studied as well. Despite the small size of our local charity, we took the plunge to purchase this place that spoke to us at some very deep level. Generous donations and effort flowed in from members, at exactly the right time, unexpectedly, if not miraculously. Thus began the physical genesis of the SOS Meditation and Ecology Centre. And to create it took a great deal of sweat equity. Gardens were dug and planted by volunteers; shoulder to shoulder, brothers and sisters laboured together, despite having families and full-time careers. Over the following years, beautiful gardens were established and every inch of the old building and roof were gutted, restored and added to. For noise mitigation, we brought in 50 truckloads of topsoil, built a fertile berm, a fence on top and a tall cedar hedge for privacy.

Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj
The author (L) and others strolling in the young orchard with Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj when he inaugurated the Meditation & Ecology Centre in 2010.

Attendance at the free talks, seminars and meditation sessions quadrupled. To accommodate growth, two large meditation/Satsang rooms were created, one for English (with Spanish subtitles) and one for Hindi-Punjabi language programs; a commercial-grade kitchen and dining atrium for over 100 people were added, and an Ecology of the Soul library, a children’s room, outdoor play area and eco-parking lot followed.

Free organic gardening, vegetarian cooking and ecology classes held at the Centre are given from time to time. All organic produce from the garden is used in the Langar, a communal kitchen that serves free vegetarian meals to 75 to 100 people each Sunday.

From a wishful dream and a loving handful, this special place, with its verdant gardens, became a reality. The Centre has become a beacon of light and love in a materialistic society, where seekers find peace, joy, help in meditation, fellowship and an opportunity to grow spiritually.

How the Spirit inspired an ecology centre is embodied in this verse by Sant Darshan Singh:

“I started alone on the journey of love,
filled with faith and zeal;
At every step, travellers joined me,
and soon we became a caravan!”

The SOS Meditation & Ecology Centre is run on Seva, or selfless service, and strengthened through the practice of meditation on the inner Light and Sound, initiation into which is given by a living Master of this science. The two combined enable steady, inner progress. Indeed, the purpose of life is to realize the true self and the Creator, while serving the community and those in need. This summer, seekers are welcome to meet and hear Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj, July 1 & 2 at the Chan Centre at UBC.

In service.

Arran Stephens is a Canadian entrepreneur, author, philanthropist, organic gardener, advocate for GMO labelling and co-founder of Nature’s Path, a leading manufacturer of organic foods.

Events:

July 1 & 2 , 2:30pm – All are invited to meet Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj in Vancouver for two public talks at the Chan Centre for Performing Arts, University of British Columbia, 6265 Crescent Rd. On July 2, the public talk is followed by Initiation into Meditation on the Inner Light and Sound. All events are free. For more information, see centrefold ad on page 12 of print edition.

Join Sea to Seed and “Over Grow the System”

by Bruce Mason

It’s impossible to over-emphasize the importance of localizing food systems, homesteading, organic farming, community building and permaculture.

So much time and so many resources are being spent fighting against something. Pick a cause and there’ll be placards, shouted chants, shared posts, too many marches, far too many speeches, ever more hand-wringing and much angst-ridden argument.

As essential as all these activities may seem, we won’t find the urgent solutions we seek, and need, in what we’re fighting against. Solutions will only be found in what we celebrate. That’s only logical or perhaps “eco-logical” is a better word.

The route to real change (long overdue) is not in the extreme growth economy or wresting back the power – and greedy lifestyles – from the tiny, highly organized minority who have grabbed it, stole it and otherwise usurped it from the vast majority of us, for whom ‘the system’ no longer works. The real power is on the ground, in the soil, in the sun and water and in the hearts, minds and hands of the disenfranchised 90+%.

Since 2013, every May, a crew of musicians, farmers, filmmakers, writers and photographers have set off on a month-long Sea to Seed Tour, a sailing adventure through the Gulf Islands and Salish Sea, which includes, of course, Vancouver and Victoria. The goal is to promote a culture of resilient, localized food systems through music, feasts and story-telling, and to create lots of ripples. And to spread seeds too, widely and joyfully.

As Naomi Klein has advised, “We live in a time of overlapping crisis and need to connect the dots because we don’t have time to solve each crisis sequentially. We need a movement that addresses all of them.”

That describes the mission of “Over Grow the System’s” Sea to Seed Tour: to connect farming communities, sown, nurtured and growing along the coast. It’s impossible to over-emphasize the importance of localizing food systems, homesteading, organic farming, community building and permaculture, or engaging art and culture in supporting these wonderful initiatives. The music, farm-to-table feasts, educational forums and story-telling are creating positive change, rooted in the fertile soil of generative celebration, and cultivating a way of living with integrity.

Among the musicians is Atlanta-based Rising Appalachia, who are “beyond excited” to be part of Sea to Seed. For me, they were the hit of the 2015 Vancouver Folk Festival and because of high-demand, were brought back to town for concerts. Backstage they said, “We’re trying to take the glitz and glam out of the music industry and bring performance back to its roots… where musicians influence the cultural shift as troubadours, activists and catalysts of justice and aren’t just part of fast-paced entertainment.” (Common Ground, August, 2015, http://commonground.ca/slow-music-the-summer-of-transformation/)

Rising Appalachia has toured Europe, the Caribbean, Central America, the Indian subcontinent, US and Canada “to help the environment, change the ‘mal-distribution’ of wealth and to simply make the world better.” Their Slow Music movement, inspired by the Slow Food movement, utilizes ‘non-industry methods,’ such as linking communities, pursuing alternative venues, supporting local businesses and non-profits and exploring transportation alternatives, including trains, bikes, low-impact vehicles, boats, horses and now: sailboats.

In partnership with “Over Grow the System” are companies like Guayaki Yerba Mate and internationally-touring musicians. Joining the slow-travel, small-scale-living adventure are Dustin Thomas, Peia Bird and Tarran the Tailor.

Visit www.overgrowthesystem.org for more information about the Sea to Seed Tour, including a wealth of inspiring videos and a cornucopia of food for thought and activity.

Our greatest challenges are not global warming, resource depletion, politics, pollution or financial shocks, all symptoms of a system that is neither sustainable, nor fair. Our greatest challenge is our lack of connection with nature and with each other – a disconnection that has spawned an insatiable, ubiquitous greed.

“Over Grow the System” offers a life-affirming, alternative model. Be part of the evolution and support the Sea to Seed Tour.

The Sea to Seed Tour

As you read this, the tour is on track. It will touch down on Mayne (9th), Salt Spring (12th), Galiano (13th) Gabriola (14th) and Denman (18th) Islands. It will be in Lund on the 19th and on the Sunshine Coast the following day. It arrives in Victoria on May 22 and in Vancouver on May 23. Ticket info at www.overgrowthesystem.org

Lillooet mayor champions the return of the train

The Cariboo Prospector

interview by Ray Kowalchuk

They used to come for the Gold Rush. Now, they come for the rush. – Old BC Rail slogan

Ray Kowalchuk: What inspired your “Bring Back the North Vancouver to Prince George Passenger Train” petition?

Margaret Lampman: I was contacted by the general chairman of Teamsters Canada – they are the union that represents all the railways – to talk this up again because of the lack of accessibility and tourism opportunities for, not only Lillooet, but for the province of BC.

RK: Tell us about the history of the rail line and how important it was in the region.

Mayor Margaret Lampman
Mayor Margaret Lampman of Lillooet

ML: When it [the Cariboo Prospector] was operating, it used to come into Lillooet three times a week and it gave tourists the opportunity to visit with us for three hours at a time, which was an immense influx of money into the small business community. And it helped them through the leaner times of the winter months. It also allowed our residents to take the train down to the Lower Mainland to access family and medical help or to go north to Prince George for work or social activities. The business community really took a huge blow when the train was deleted due to the lack of those tourists and activity, which is too bad because we like to support our local businesses and it also dropped our tourism in general, which affects your bottom line immensely. Let’s face it, tourists can become residents. That’s the cycle and how economics works. It was really hurtful for our residents who couldn’t get out of town if they didn’t have a vehicle. I keep saying, and will continue to say, we have no bus service in Lillooet.

RK: How did this hit the community?

ML: We had so many BC Rail employees living in the community that, when it was dispersed, quite a few of those employees, in order to keep working, had to be stationed in other areas. So it hit us hard by taking those families who were living here and supporting the businesses, our rec centre, medical facilities and schools. It was tough on the community as a whole. We felt the effects of it all down the line.

RK: How has the deletion of the passenger rail service and the sale of BC Rail in 2002 impacted you personally?

ML: On the personal side, it has hurt me because I have been involved in government for so long that I hear stories of people who have had to hire someone to take them down for medical treatment at a really high cost and that individual then has to decide whether or not to even get treatment. That should not be taking place.

RK: Why did tourists love the rail line?

ML: It has to be some of the most gorgeous scenery anywhere in the world. As you leave North Vancouver, alongside the ocean to the west and the mountains to the east, and coming into Whistler, you travel along rivers and lakes, cutting through mountains and then into the dry air of Lillooet. It drops down and you see our desert canyons – I call it Canada’s only Grand Canyon – and then heads north to some of the most spectacular ranchlands around, right up to Prince George. And the scenery all the way up there is just fantastic.

RK: What steps are you taking to bring the issue to the current government and what is planned for the future negotiations regarding passenger rail service?

ML: I started a letter writing campaign with all of the mayors, regional district chairs, First Nations communities as well as tourism operators from North Vancouver to Prince George. That resulted in a lot of letters of support going to the premier and Minister Stone. We have been working as a little group of cohorts to go to the next step. The response was overwhelming so I am working with the mayor of North Vancouver. He kindly offered his office to set up the meeting and through him we also have the support of the mayor of the district of West Vancouver as well as the MPs from down there, and so the request is in. If we do get that meeting, all the mayors will sit down with the minister, ask him and his staff to contact a private company, like Via Rail, asking for a them to provide a business proposal, then a business plan. That would be a huge win for us.

RK: How optimistic are you?

ML: I’m always an optimist and I think if we have a meeting and the minister looks around at that table and sees all of the support letters and mayors, it will be hard not to agree. I’m still waiting for more support letters to come in from different tourist agencies and businesses, international tourism operators and the teamsters. We will hopefully then have convinced him to give that directive to make it happen.

Ray Kowalchuk is a semi-retired carpenter and naturalist who moved from his home city of Burnaby seven years ago into the mountains of Seton Portage, BC. kowal@writeme.com

Sign the petition!

bring-back-the-passenger-train

 

BC Book Awards

bc book prizes

Celebrating the year’s brightest & best

Publishing is obsessed with “winners,” but I’ve always thought literary prizes are earned while winners are for lotteries. Still, awards recognize writers, endangered in our post-truth, anti-intellectual world. And they help sell books at a time when too many people don’t read and the average human attention span has shrunk to less than the seven seconds of a goldfish’s memory.

Since 1985, the non-profit West Coast Book Prize Society has drawn attention to the achievements of writers, publishers and illustrators in our part of the world. Since you are now reading, Common Ground hopes the 33rd annual BC Book Prizes’ list, and a bit about each, will encourage you to continue reading and support local writing.

Douglas Coupland, recipient of this year’s Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence. Photo courtesy of Random House,
www.randomhousebooks.com

Douglas Coupland has earned the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence. His first novel, the 1991 international bestseller Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, popularized such terms as “McJob “and “Gen X.” He’s published 13 novels, two short story collections, seven non-fiction books, drama, film and TV screenplays. Coupland’s latest works include the novel, Worst. Person. Ever., an updated City of Glass, and a biography of Marshall McLuhan. His art includes “everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything,” exhibited at the Vancouver Art Gallery and Royal Ontario Museum.

The Lieutenant Governor’s Award, established in 2003 by Hon. Iona Campagnolo, is $5,000. The awards – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s literature, children’s illustrated literature, books about BC and the BC Bookseller’s Choice – are $2,000 each.

Jennifer Manuel receives the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize for The Heaviness of Things That Float (Douglas and McIntyre). The story: the lonely world of Bernadette, a community nurse, who’s served for 40 years on a remote west coast First Nations reserve. A compelling debut novel, it explores the delicate dynamic with non-native outsiders and evokes desolate, beautiful and untamed Vancouver Island.

The Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize recognizes contributions to enjoyment and understanding of BC. This year’s winner is Mapping My Way Home: A Gitxsan History (Creekstone Press) by Neil J. Sterritt. His book traces European explorers and adventurers in the economic hub of 150 years ago, at the junction of the Skeena and Bulkley rivers. A Gitxsan leader, Sterritt also shares stories of his people, both ancient and recent.

The 2017 Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize was presented to Deborah Campbell for A Disappearance in Damascus: A Story of Friendship and Survival in the Shadow of War (Knopf Canada). In 2007, on assignment for Harper’s magazine, she witnessed millions of displaced Iraqi refugees flooding into Syria during the increasingly violent aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion. By personalizing the ongoing tragedy, she provides deeper understanding of the Syrian civil war and refugee crisis and deep ramifications that war has had on the Middle East.

Adèle Barclay earned the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize for If I Were in a Cage I’d Reach Out for You (Nightwood Editions). She is quoted as saying, poetry is “a counter-spell to the Neoliberal, patriarchal, white supremacist, mess… Poetry resists, something that is at home with messiness and paradoxes. I think radical kinship or radical kindness and being public about emotional vulnerability… saying those things out loud, is political. Or at least I hope so.”

The Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize for best illustrated book was awarded to My Heart Fills with Happiness (Orca), written by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Julie Flett. The charming board book not only celebrates indigenous culture and community, but also everyone’s ability to find joy in the small details of everyday life.

The best non-illustrated book written for children – Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize – is awarded to Iain Lawrence for The Skeleton Tree (Tundra Books). A nail-biting, page-turning survival story, it’s packed with psychological suspense and action, focused on an evolving relationship between two boys stranded in the Alaskan wilderness. Like all 15 books by this acclaimed author, including Gemini Summer, which earned the Governor-General’s Literary Award for Children’s Literature, this is a wonderful read for all ages.

Finally, the 2017 Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice Award is bitter-sweet. It’s awarded to Richard Wagamese, who died in March, at age 61. Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations (Douglas and McIntyre) is among 13 books by one of Canada’s foremost First Nations authors and storytellers. Honest, evocative and articulate, this is a collection of hard-won wisdom by the late, self-described “spiritual bad-ass.” More than ever, First Nations stories are being shared.

Finalist authors tour BC schools and libraries. And the Society also coordinates the adopt-a-Library program.

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola Island-based banjo player, gardener, writer and author of Our Clinic.

Trans-Pacific Partnership mistakes never to be repeated

photo of David Christopher

INDEPENDENT MEDIA
by Meghan Sali

By now, most of you have heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a sweeping international agreement brokered between 12 nations across the Pacific region, including Canada and the US.

Although often referred to as a trade deal, in reality, the TPP would have had profound impacts on the lives of the nearly 800 million citizens of the TPP nations, well beyond that which is traditionally within the scope of trade. It would affect digital rights, the environment, labour rights, health care, public services, even undermining the accountability of our democratic institutions by allowing corporations to sue Canada in secretive tribunals.

The TPP was negotiated in near-total secrecy; powerful corporations were given a privileged seat at the table while citizens and public interest groups were excluded from the talks.

At OpenMedia, our work on the TPP constitutes the single, longest-sustained campaign in our history. We have been deeply concerned about how the TPP’s copyright and intellectual property provisions would dramatically change how citizens use the Internet, criminalizing online activities, invading our privacy and costing our digital economy millions.

That’s why it was good news when public pressure pushed both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump into pledging to reject the TPP in the run-up to last year’s US presidential election. The subsequent withdrawal of the US from the TPP has effectively put the deal on its deathbed, although remaining TPP nations are in discussions about resurrecting it in an alternative format.

What does this mean for Canada? Why did the TPP prove to be so unpopular among the Canadian public? And what needs to be done to restore public trust in future trade processes?

High-profile trade negotiations are due to take place in the coming months: on NAFTA, with China, the UK and Pacific nations. Thankfully, Canadians have the answers.

Our recently-published Let’s Talk TPP Citizens’ Report, shaped by input from nearly 28,000 individuals who submitted feedback to the official TPP consultations, sheds light on why so many Canadians opposed the TPP and outlines what needs to be done to restore public trust in trade processes.

The most common reason given for opposing the TPP was simply that Canadians weren’t consulted. Stephen Harper’s government conducted negotiations that excluded the public entirely. The Trudeau government, on the other hand, launched a consultation process, but by then the deal had already been signed, with the result that Canadians were effectively being asked to take it or leave it.

Our report’s findings were clear: Canadians want the federal government to formally withdraw from the TPP and to ensure much greater transparency and genuine public engagement in future trade deals. Canadians’ desire for active citizen engagement to ensure the final product of any future trade negotiation reflects the broad needs of the public, rather than the narrow desires of powerful corporations.

Put simply, Canadians cannot support trade deals made in secret. And, with so many crucial negotiations close on the horizon, that’s a lesson the federal government needs to take to heart.

Read our report at LetsTalkTPP.ca/report and help by sending it to your local MP using our tool at LetsTalkTPP.ca

Meghan Sali is communications specialist for OpenMedia, a community-based organization that works to keep the Internet open, affordable and surveillance-free. openmedia.org

Relationship skills for today’s complex world

by John Gray

Both men and women require a new kind of emotional support that embraces greater authenticity, intimacy and personal expression. Gone are the days when a woman was required to be submissive and dependent on men and a man had to carry the burden of providing for his family alone.

This change has created incredible new opportunities, both for relationships and individuals. People have the opportunity to be themselves in ways they never could before and to embrace characteristics beyond those of their traditional gender roles, allowing for relationships of more profound intimacy than ever before.

But these changes also bring significant new challenges. We must learn to successfully express our masculine and feminine qualities in ways that reduce, rather than increase, our stress. And we must learn how to support our partners’ new needs as they do the same for us.

Just because women today work side by side with men in the workplace and men participate more in raising their children, it does not mean men and women are the same. Our roles are certainly changing but our biology is still very different. And because men and women are different, we react to the changes in our roles in different ways, ways that are often misunderstood and misinterpreted by our partners.

These challenges relate to single people as much as to couples because the changes in our modern relationships are a reflection of the changes that are currently happening within us as individuals. The new insights we receive by going beyond Mars and Venus are necessary not just for romantic relationships but also for our own happiness as well as that of our children.

What we are witnessing is a dramatic shift in the context of our relationships. Trying to have successful relationships today while using the skills and insights developed for traditional relationships over thousands of years is simply not enough and does not work.

For both men and women, providing each other the new support necessary to create a fulfilling relationship is a tall order. Most men have no role models for providing this kind of support. I know I certainly didn’t. Our relationship training came from watching our fathers, who may have been skilled in the old model but not in this new one. By going to work every day to provide for their families, our fathers could fulfill most of our mothers’ relationship expectations.

This journey of transformation into someone who knows their own needs and is able to support their partner’s is not immediate. But you can begin this journey now; you don’t have to wait for your current partner or a future partner to join you. All it takes is for one partner to change and the relationship will change. Eventually, as one person becomes a better partner, the other comes along.

When you are coming from a place of fulfillment, you have more to give. When your heart is fully open, and you have new gender-specific insights regarding your partner’s new needs, not only will you experience a higher level of fulfillment but also, with your help, your partner will be able to respond better to your own new needs. It rarely works to ask for more when you are dissatisfied with what you are getting. But even more important, it never works to ask for more when your partner is not getting what they need.

To improve your relationship, your first step is to find your way back to opening your heart without depending on your partner to change. Your second step is to feel, say, or do what you can to help them. By giving them what they need, they will be way more inclined to give you what you need in return. Your third step is to ask for more in small increments while giving your partner big rewards for giving more. This is your formula for success; expecting more without giving more first is a formula for failure. In addition, expecting too much too soon will also sabotage all your efforts.

By understanding what is most important
to your partner’s fulfillment, you can
more successfully target your energies and love. Both men and women in relationships need to find their own happiness first without depending on their partner changing. Likewise, a single person must find their happiness without depending on finding the perfect partner for them.

To be happy and fulfilled in our relationships, we first need to be happy and fulfilled in our lives. It is unrealistic to depend on our intimate relationships as the sole source of fulfillment. When we create a life rich in friendships, family, exercise, good food, meaningful work or service to the world and have plenty of opportunities for fun, entertainment, education, personal growth, and spiritual devotion, then having a loving relationship can make us even happier. To experience lasting love in relationships today, you must find a baseline of happiness by fulfilling your other needs separate from your needs for an intimate relationship.

It is much easier to drop a bomb than to drop our egos and find love. It is much easier to escape the pain of our broken hearts by running away from love. But those who continue to try are the most noble and deserve more love and encouragement, even – especially –when they make mistakes.

Today we all want more – from our lives and from our relationships. The good news is that we can have more. But first, we must learn how to get it.

Excerpted from the introduction to Beyond Mars and Venus: Relationship Skills for Today’s Complex World by John Gray. (BenBella Books)

EVENT March 25

Women’s Health Show 9:30am – 6pm
Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, 900 W. Georgia.
Bestselling author John Gray is a special guest.
Talk: Beyond Mars & Venus (his new book).
Full details at www.womensvoicehealthshow.com

This island Earth

island planet

by Geoff Olson

 

• More of a tourist than a traveller, I’m standing on an outcropping of volcanic rock in the Caribbean, scratching away at my archipelago of bug bites. My guide Calvin, a relaxed fellow with dark skin and blue eyes, notices my agitation and stoops to pluck leaves from a nearby plant used as a local medicine for wounds. He shows me how to apply sap from the leaf’s stem. Using my other bites as a control group, I wait to see if the itching stops in the applied area. It seems to work.

Barbuda – often confused with or mispronounced as “Bermuda” or “Barbados” – is a small, flat coral island in the Caribbean, only 17 degrees from the equator. It is ruled by neighbouring Antigua, 29 miles south, a nation with a governor general and a constitutional monarchy led by the Queen. Most of the 1,800 inhabitants of Barbuda are descendents of the slave trade.

Barbuda’s dusty roads and dilapidated buildings make the island appear to be a ramshackle place, although it’s blessed with one of the longest stretches of pristine beach in the Caribbean, at 17 miles in length. Calvin says life on Barbuda is casual and I take his friendly, laid-back demeanour as evidence. He says he not only works as a tour guide but also as the island’s minister of roads; I’m not sure if he’s joking, but he adds that Barbuda’s residents take on multiple jobs to serve their own needs. If there’s something you can’t do and need done surely there’s someone you know who can and will. Barbudans will spend years building their own homes, adding this or that when money comes along. When their concrete, hurricane-hardened homes are finished – on property they own – they have something to pass on to their children, mortgage free.

There are no supermarkets, Calvin’s brother Jala tells me, just “supermake-its” where Barbudans trade goods and services among themselves. There is something to be said for subsistence living; this is no debt-driven economy with wageslaves punching the clock to service their credit cards and home mortgages.

Islands are often described variously as hothouses, hotbeds or laboratories of natural selection, with flora and fauna found nowhere else. Wildlife is sped up in geological time on islands, with speciation and extinction playing leapfrog. But it’s not just biological evolution that’s accelerated. From Ganges Harbour to Reykjavík, new ideas and new ways of life can catch hold on islands in ways that are improbable or impossible elsewhere.

As a 22-year old naturalist aboard the exploratory ship, the Beagle, Charles Darwin spent 19 days on the Galápagos Islands in 1835. His main interest was the geology of the volcanic island, but his curious mind leapt from lava flows to the colourful range of birds across the island chain. Each island had its own unique avian species and this discovery seeded the young naturalist’s mind with the initial evidence for the theory of evolution through natural selection.

Darwin would have appreciated the new studies in “island biogeography.” In this context, an island “is any area of suitable habitat surrounded by an expanse of unsuitable habitat,” according to ecologist Robert MacArthur of Princeton and biologist E. O. Wilson of Harvard University. This includes not just actual islands, but untraditional islands “such as the peaks of mountains, isolated springs in the desert or expanses of grassland surrounded by highways or housing tracts.”

The ultimate piece of biogeography is Earth itself. The most worthwhile thing to come out of the American-manned space program wasn’t moon rocks; it was the first iconic photograph of planet Earth from thousands of miles away. Homo sapiens had its first collective ‘aha’ moment not looking out to the distant stars, but rather looking back from the perspective of space, on its island home floating in blackness.

 

Just as islands, in the traditional sense, are evolutionary toyshops, their distant lure has spurred human beings into astounding feats of invention. For thousands of years, trained sailors from Micronesia could literally look at ocean waves and judge the direction of an island from up to 40 miles away by how its unseen presence affected wave motions.

Natural selection is value-neutral however, making “progress” a tricky word. Just as biological evolution has produced monarch butterflies and tapeworms, cultural evolution has resulted in both choral music and napalm. The lure that drew sailors of the Neolithic into the Pacific infected the great naval powers during the Age of Exploration. Four mildly to highly addictive substances – coffee, chocolate, sugar and tobacco – drove sailors, soldiers, slavers, privateers and pirates across the Atlantic like a plague of locusts. Britain, France, Portugal, the Netherlands and Spain carved out trade routes across the waters, using millions of African slaves as both tradable commodity and the raw labour to extract tropical wealth – all the while warring among themselves for global dominance.

The islands of the Caribbean became gears in the terrible machinery of slaving, trade and conquest. “The distortion and dehumanizing of human institutions and human lives caused by crack cocaine today is nothing compared with what the European desire for sugar did in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,” wrote Terence McKenna in his 1992 book Food of the Gods. A museum in Antigua reveals the mind-numbing record of slavery in the Caribbean, with Africans stacked like cordwood on slaving vessels and traded like livestock in open markets. Abolitionists succeeded in officially banning slavery throughout the Old and New World by the 19th century. But it was the island of Haiti that led the way in 1804, with a slave revolt leading to the world’s first black republic.

 

In the past half-century, the wealthy citizens of industrialized democracies have found a more sophisticated use for the islands of the Caribbean: as places to secretly stash their money. A recent conservative estimate puts the money held in offshore tax havens at an astounding $21 trillion US; approximately the size of the Japanese and US economies combined.

The Financial Secrecy Index rates tax havens according to secretiveness, with the highest class being the Maldives and Nauru. The second highest class includes Bermuda, Vanuatu, Grenada, the Marshall Islands – and surprise, surprise – Antigua and Barbuda. Through these unregulated accounts an estimated $1 trillion flows as the annual cross-border flow of the proceeds of financial crimes, according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

 

Yet cultural evolutionary novelty can go in all kinds of directions. Several years ago, an island in the Northern Atlantic became the focus of a big money scam of more recent vintage: the international fad in deregulated banking and zombie funds. When Iceland got caught up in the madness, local herring fishermen suddenly became newly minted bankers, while homeowners mistook their homes for ATMs rather than ticking time bombs. It all unravelled in 2008, bringing people into the streets banging pots and pans, demanding accountability from their leaders.

Relative to the size of its economy, Iceland’s banking collapse was the largest experienced by any nation in economic history. But the Icelanders were in no mood to take a post-meltdown economic prescription from the sources that had sickened them in the first place. Icelanders nationalized one bank, put three others into receivership and instituted capital controls. Told they could no longer expect the same standard of education and health care that their parents had taken for granted, Iceland went it alone and managed their own affairs. Most notably, authorities indicted Icelandic banker Sigurdur “Siggi” Einarsson, head of the Kaupthing bank, along with nine senior executives. Bailouts, nei. Jail-ins, ja.

According to Wikipedia, the Icelandic Financial Crisis is commonly referred to have officially ended August 31, 2011. In other words, in spite of a severe recession, the sky did not fall over Iceland’s geothermal springs and brightly painted homes. (In contrast, a handful of nations in the Eurozone have reluctantly swallowed their IMF/ECB/EC austerity medicine after massive street protests, with shattered economies and record unemployment to show for it.)

Meanwhile, just for fun, in 2010 Icelanders elected a comedian as mayor of Reykjavik.

The defeat of the centre-right municipal government of Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir by Jón Gnarr and his Best Party was widely regarded as punishment of “serious” politicians for their role in Iceland’s 2008-2011 credit crisis. Other parties were secretly corrupt, said Gnarr, so his party promised to be openly corrupt, although he also promised a drug-free Althing (parliament) by 2020. After his victory, Gnarr announced he would refuse to form a coalition government with anyone who had not watched the HBO series The Wire.

The Icelandic people take their humour dark. The 2010 eruption of the nation’s tongue-twisting volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, momentarily darkened North Atlantic skies and grounded transatlantic flights, inspiring some local wag to note, “It was the last wish of the Icelandic economy that its ashes be spread over Europe.” Yet post-meltdown Iceland has done better than other sovereign nations by rejecting the bloodletting procedures of technocratic quacks. The rejection was a novel idea implemented on an island, with all the evolutionary practicality of the specialized beaks on Darwin’s finches.

 

In 2006, I took a floatplane to Salt Spring Island to hear former US Assistant Secretary of Housing Catherine Austin Fitts address the Salt Spring Monetary Fund, a group of residents rethinking how money works in their community. (The island even has an ATM that issues Salt Spring Dollars in exchange for regular currency.)

The brilliant Fitts is an enthusiast for alternative currencies and fostering communal nuclei for new ways of thinking and living. In a newsletter from her online forum for financial advice, solari.com, she writes about one of her partners, an entrepreneur who grew up on a small island. “He once explained why small islands produce a much higher percentage of people who are good at starting and building successful businesses. He said that it was because someone who grows up on a small island sees how everything is connected… He said that America is just a very big island, but most Americans do not know this – nor do they understand that the planet is also just an even bigger island.”

There are two classes of privileged people on Island Earth, Fitts notes: those afraid for the health of their chequebook and those afraid for the health of their community, nation or planet. She demonstrates how these two concerns are intimately linked.

“The folks who feel that their biggest problem is their financial equity – falling yields on their investment portfolios – have yet to see that they cannot enjoy capital gains unless their living equity is preserved. That is, our neighbourhoods and children need to be kept safe, and we need to understand that the very things that will contribute to their safety – an increase in real human productivity, honest feedback systems and a restoration of personal accountability – will also lead to huge increases in collective investment capital in the economy.

The folks who feel that their greatest problem is living equity – that they and their children are not safe and our environment is being destroyed, or that we are committing genocide in other parts of the world (or down the block) – have yet to see what the real issue is. We cannot achieve personal safety when yields for both retail and institutional investors are dependent on profits from organized crime, trickery of the investing public and government guarantees that promote unproductive investment and personal behaviour. Only when we achieve real economic growth based upon concrete increases in productivity, accounted for and disclosed on an honest basis, can we be both safe and wealthy.”

In other ways, one route out of our collective mess – perhaps the only route – is to start thinking like people with some inkling about their limits both geographically and communally. Islanders.

@geoffolson
www.geoffolson.com

image © Enlife