Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014, We Got It Right - and We Got It Very, Very Wrong

Year end review posts and columns tend to often be the same: the top news stories, good and bad, or the top newsmakers (also good or bad). Often they serve as a recap of the year and can be a bit dry as most of us (unless we suffer from some form of memory loss) are pretty good at recalling the last twelve months and the impact of the events we saw during them. While I have done year end recap posts before, this year I decided to do something a little bit different. I thought about some of the major events and issues we saw this year and decided to give my opinion on what we got right - and maybe even more importantly what we got wrong. I know not everyone will share my opinion and some of my "rights" will be their "wrongs" and vice versa - although as I have become prone to saying recently if they don't like it then they can go write their own bloody blog as nobody is forcing them to read mine (yes, I have gotten a bit older and a bit crankier this year it seems).

So here goes, Fort McMurray: 2014: What we got right - and what we got wrong:

1) The Highway, My Way

We got it right:

The provincial government continued the Highway 63 twinning project, making great strides toward completion. While some saw the progress as too slow, particularly after years of broken promises to achieve this goal, there was no denying that the project was moving along and would save lives in the future.

We got it wrong:

While we watched the twinning progress we also watched as people continued to die on Highway 63 in tragic and unnecessary collisions. Excessive speed, aggressive driving and various other driver-related factors contributed to the death toll on that highway continuing to mount even as we paid a great deal of lip service to wanting the highway to be safer. How did we get it so wrong, you wonder? My opinion is we failed to address the biggest threat to our lives: not the highway, but ourselves.

2) Safety Talks

We got it right:

A rash of horrible workplace deaths, including a tragic and almost unbelievable mauling by a bear, sparked a dialogue about safety on site and ensuring that this was one statistic that went down in the future. Safety became of paramount importance and the anxiety about safety in an-already uber-safety-conscious community reached new heights.

We got it wrong:

Somehow, in one of the most safety-conscious places in North America, we began seeing pedestrians dying on our streets in alarming numbers. Whether it was at crosswalks or on the side of local roads we saw a sharp spike in human vs. vehicle incidents, and generally speaking the humans fared poorly in this contest. How did we get it wrong? It seems we left our PPE, including our brains, at work some days and forgot some of the basic rules of safety that pertain to both drivers and pedestrians, like looking both ways, wearing bright colours, and paying attention to the pedestrians around our vehicles. We all got this one wrong, no matter whether you were inside or outside the vehicle.

3) Under Construction

We got it right:

Finally, FINALLY, after not weeks and months but YEARS of delay and subsequent agony, we decided to bite the bullet and tear down the travesty we know as the Penhorwood condos. This blight on our landscape and our spirits was the shadow that hung over us for far too long, and while we should never forget the lessons we learned it was time for the walls to come down, especially the ones covered with graffiti.

We got it wrong:

While there were many factors at play, the reality of the delay in developing the city centre meant vacant lots and buildings, turning them into a playground for graffiti taggers who took the opportunity to leave their mark on the community, again and again and again. And, since graffiti is influenza-level contagious, it began to spread to occupied buildings, spreading the blight across our community, spray can by spray can. How did we get it wrong? We allowed - and continue to allow - far too many vacant buildings to stand, serving as blank canvases for the taggers. The trumpet has sounded on Penhorwood - let's just hope it blasts the final notes for more of the other vacant buildings soon too.

4) Show Me the Money

We got it right:

It was cathartic, it was extensive and it revealed some troubling issues right under our noses - the Municipal Audit was a difficult time for many in this community but it was undoubtedly necessary. That the audit was required seems a no-brainer and it can only help us to improve by showing us what we needed to change.

We got it wrong:

While the audit was necessary and cathartic some of us spent a lot of time dwelling on placing blame and pointing fingers instead of figuring out ways to move forward. Mistakes were made, things went wrong and trains went off tracks, but nothing would undo any of those things. All we could do - and can do now - is figure out how to make sure it never happens again. How did we get it wrong? It's human nature to engage in some degree of acrimony after things go south in a dramatic fashion, but there comes a time to set the drama aside and move forward. Let's hope 2015 is that time.

5) Growing More Grey Every Day

We got it right:

We finally saw Willow Square transferred from the federal government to the province to the municipality after much delay and brouhaha about who was at fault, how much they were at fault and how they were at fault, when nobody really cared who carried the fault and what mattered was just getting it done and showing some respect for the seniors who founded this place and who are the giants upon whose shoulders we stand.

We got it wrong:

It ain't over until the fat lady sings, or in this case until Phil Meagher cuts his hair (he is starting to look a bit like those pictures of Methuselah now), when a shovel actually breaks ground and we see an aging in place facility under construction - although it looks like there is another battle looming on that front which can hopefully be forestalled through rigorous community consultations. How did we get it wrong? This one we can blame on the politics at play, as nothing anyone else said or did mattered until all levels of government decided to play nice with each other.

6) Traffic Snarl

We got it right:

The opening of new underpasses and overpasses and exits and entrances and bridges meant woohoo, less traffic chaos! It was incredible to find driving freedom again and not be caught in hours of endless traffic on the "wrong side" of the bridge (and somehow I always ended up on the wrong side).

We got it wrong:

When there were collisions that caused delays or work on the new underpasses and overpasses and entrances and exits and bridges, we lost our minds and practically wanted to call in the army to sort it out, forgetting that even in other communities traffic does, on occasion, grind to a halt for whatever reason until it gets moving again. How did we get it wrong? We just forgot how bad it was before because we found ourselves spoiled by our newfound freedom and ease of travel.

7) When the Media and Celebrities Come to Town

We got it right:

As someone who watches external media coverage of our community very carefully I was beyond delighted to see an upswing in positive media stories flowing out of our region. It wasn't all hearts and flowers of course, and while some pieces were not exactly glowing they were at least fair and balanced, and others actually focused primarily on the positives in the community. There were the inevitable junk stories about all our terrible inadequacies, but this was the first year in a long time when I read or saw stories generated by media from outside Fort McMurray that I thought truly reflected this community in a positive and/or balanced way.

We got it wrong:

We saw a number of celebrity visitors, and unfortunately we continued to get our knickers in a twist when anyone criticized us, even when it might have had some validity. The comments I read about Desmond Tutu were appalling beyond comprehension, and I realized that even if Mother Theresa visited us and commented in some way that was less than 100% positive that she would be figuratively burned at the stake (preferably using bitumen to fuel the fire). We might disagree with their comments - they might even be ill-informed and outright wrong - but it serves us better to treat them with respect while we correct them as opposed to insulting their intelligence and their basic humanity. You can combat the haters without engaging in hate, and you can confront the inaccuracies as presented by celebrities without tearing them down as people, which is a poor strategy given their massive reach compared to ours. How did we get it wrong? We have just become a bit over-sensitive to celebrity visits and, unsure how to respond to them, we have gotten down in the trenches. It's time to take the high road, just as those at Oil Sands Action have done so successfully this year.

9)  Show Me the Social Profit Money

We got it right:

In a place known for the strength of our philanthropic spirit we just kept it going and growing, seeing the coffers at the United Way filling in a tremendously successful campaign and seeing other groups and organizations like the Wood Buffalo Food Bank, Fort McMurray SPCA and Santas Anonymous continuing to meet their mandate.

We got it wrong:

In a community of great prosperity we continued to see a sharp division between the haves and have-nots, the working poor and the homeless who share this community with all of us. Far too often we have turned a blind eye to these issues as if they do not exist, trying to ignore them and hoping they just go away so we don't need to address them. How did we get it wrong? We want to believe our philanthropy is a "cure" for these issues, but we need to understand that there are causes that run deep and wide and that can only be addressed by ensuring the continued strength of our social profit organizations through our philanthropy not just this year, but every year.

10) Yay Us!

We got it right:

For many years Fort McMurray was the Albertan underdog. We felt inferior to Edmonton and Calgary and even places like Lethbridge, feeling left out and left behind. Finally we have begun to believe in ourselves a bit, showing a significant degree of pride in our community, our industry and our people. We began flexing our muscles, telling the world that we are here and we are proud and we intend to just keep getting better, too - and it was a lovely thing to witness.

We got it wrong:

The famous adage says: "pride goeth before a fall", and, while we began to believe our own press, at times I feared we had begun to believe it a little too fully, becoming rather full of ourselves and even exhibiting a sort of arrogance that will not likely serve us well. Being proud is good - but humble pride is even better. How did we get it wrong? We struggled to find that balance between arrogance and pride, bullheadedness and assertiveness - but I believe we are on the road to finding it, because it is a bit of a pendulum swing and I think we are headed back to middle ground now.

11) Heart of the Arts

We got it right:

It is astonishing to witness the way our arts community has grown and flourished, rising in strength and displaying tremendous diversity and resiliency. From theatre at Keyano to visual arts collectives and their initiatives to the art gallery at MacDonald Island to musicians at every venue to literary arts with Northword to filmmaking with the Fort McMurray Filmmakers Association, we have seen a virtual renaissance taking place in the arts in this region, although so too we saw the demise of interPLAY, a loss which was a crushing blow to all in the arts community, and really to us all.

We got it wrong:

While we love the arts and sing their praises we have continued to undervalue them, not recognizing their importance and significance in our community. I have spoken to far too many artists struggling financially as well as spiritually and emotionally to be understood, recognized and valued for their work. How did we get it wrong? We still don't seem to understand that just like plumbers and mechanics, artists make their living from their work, and if they cannot make a living here they will look to other places where they can, leaving us poorer for their loss. And we must find a way to resurrect events like interPLAY, because that humble little arts festival was in many ways our shining moment for the arts in this community and we need to continue to honour its legacy while making the arts scene even stronger.

12) Coming Soon!

We got it right:

As 2015 began to loom large we began to kick our plans into high gear, because that is the year when the region comes alive to host a variety of events almost too numerous to name. I cannot think of one person who is not touched in some way by one of these events, whether as organizer, volunteer, participant or attendee. The excitement began to build in a big way in 2014, and we are now on the cusp of seeing dreams become reality.

We got it wrong:

Somewhere along the way somebody turned to me and said: "so, what about 2016?", and it was a show-stopping moment for me, because I had been all about 2014 being the year to get ready and then 2015 being THE YEAR and then hey, yeah, what about 2016? And 2017? And after that? Even the Mayans knew the world didn't end in 2012, even though we were really lousy at interpreting their calendar and thought they knew something we didn't. In the same way the world didn't end then, it doesn't end in December, 2015, either. How did we get it wrong? We started taking a short-term view of a long-term game - 2015 will be a helluva year, but it is really just the beginning of, well, the future.

13) The Games Politicians Play

We got it right:

Whoo boy, that federal by-election? Boy, did we get that right, at least in the excitement department! There was political passion in the air in this town, with voices coming from every angle. When Justin Trudeau visited - three times - we pretty much rolled out the red carpet (and frankly my kid and I found him absolutely delightful to speak to, enough so that she interviewed him and her article published in Fort McMurray Child Magazine). We talked policy, we argued politics, we planted signs, we knocked on doors and we got down in the trenches with some old fashioned political campaigning right until....

We got it wrong:

We kinda forgot to vote. At least in my generous moments that is what I like to believe we did, because to think we simply didn't care enough about our future to take a few minutes out of our day to mark an X is more than I can tolerate. The low voter turnout was almost criminal, really. So I have chosen to stick with the story that we forgot it was election day. How did we get it wrong? We take democracy for granted, people. Let's hope that is not our eventual downfall in this nation.

14) I'll Fly Away

We got it right:

The official opening of the Fort McMurray International Airport heralded the beginning of a new era in air transportation in the region (and it even came with Starbucks, Burger King and Famoso Pizza, among other new amenities). No longer crammed like sardines while waiting for flights, air travel got a lot more appealing and started to seem a lot less like cattle transport and more like the airport experience one would want.

We got it wrong:

Almost as soon as some international direct flights were announced (cough cough, Vegas) they were cancelled due to low passenger numbers and too few flight bookings. The hue and outcry was immediate but the airline carrier was steadfast that the new route was not financially sound - at least not yet. How did we get it wrong? I'm not sure we did - I suspect we just need to be given time to embrace those new direct flights and prove them to be lucrative for the airlines. While a good percentage of our airline traffic is still domestic,  the numbers demanding those direct flights is increasing and I would expect we will see more direct flights to American hubs in the near future.

15) Come Together, Right Now

We got it right:

Whenever it mattered - whenever it was a crucial moment and a crisis loomed, when failure seemed not only possible but probable - this community came together. We came together, we supported each other, we brought our laughter and our strength and our belief and our commitment, and we continued to shine as an example to every other community in this country. We are a community of pioneers, many of us here not because we were born here but because we chose it, and those who were born here have welcomed us as we built a community together. It has been my pleasure - and my incredible honour - to not only witness it but be part of it, not just in 2014 but in every year past and in the years ahead, too.

We got it wrong:

We didn't. Not one damn thing wrong on this one, people, not one. Happy New Year, Fort McMurray. Thank you for getting it right, even when we got it wrong, because at least we did it together, which means we have been getting it right all along.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Resolutions Are For Chumps

Sometimes blog post titles come to me late at night. I have no idea where they came from, what they mean or even what I will end up writing about them, I just know they appear and demand attention, much like small toddlers at the checkout line at Safeway or my hungry cats at dinnertime.

Resolutions are for chumps, my brain said. I don't even use the word chump, I tried to tell my brain, but it was having none of that kind of logic. But I couldn't argue about the resolutions part, because on this my brain and I were in agreement: resolutions are not where it's at.

Maybe it's that resolutions always seem to reveal something about which we feel anxiety. We resolve to lose twenty pounds, or stop drinking beer. We resolve to change something about ourselves that is making us unhappy, but if we have made resolutions before we know one uncomfortable fact: resolutions have a high failure rate.

Maybe we set the mark too high, or maybe we just make a resolution without making a plan on achieving it. Or maybe our resolutions reflect too closely some negative piece of ourselves as we "resolve" to weigh less or drink less or eat less or the other million things we resolve to not do. And then next year, when New Year's Eve rolls around, we get to dwell on how the resolution we made last year has once again eluded us, and we feel like, well, chumps.

I don't do resolutions, never really have and never really intend to. I believe changing your life can happen at any time of year, not beginning on January 1, but more than that I believe you do it not because you declare a resolution to the universe. You change - I have changed - because my world demanded it of me, and sometimes it happened with me kicking and screaming because change is hard and painful and difficult and bloody awful most of the time.

I was having a conversation with a coworker about a project she is working on. Instead of asking people to make "resolutions" though, it is about expressing a "positive intention". Instead of resolving to lose twenty pounds perhaps you make a positive intention to simply take the stairs instead of the escalator. You reframe the resolution into a statement that doesn't feel quite so much like punishment but more like a positive step in the direction you want to head. It doesn't need to be all-encompassing or dramatic or a statement that begins "Let it be resolved..." - no, it's just a quiet note to the universe that you have a positive intention, even if it means you intend to simply go on doing what you have been doing and have no intent to change because it is working for you.

So, apparently that is where my brain was headed when it said "resolutions are for chumps". It was suggesting maybe we need to drop the resolutions we make every January 1 and start making some positive intentions instead - not stopping or quitting or all those other negative resolutions but reframing our goals in positive and affirming ways. And maybe, just maybe, instead of beginning the New Year by beating up on ourselves for all our failures and inadequacies by making resolutions to address them we could reflect over the past year and instead celebrate our triumphs, feel grateful for our successes and thank our lucky stars that we are here at all to welcome another year in which we will do some things right, do others horribly wrong and otherwise just keep on keepin' on, as life has us do.

Whatever your strategy happens to be - positive intentions, just keeping on keepin' on, or even making resolutions, may 2015 be a wonderful year for you and yours and all you hold dear. Celebrate 2014, with all its challenges and triumphs, welcome 2015 with all the challenges and triumphs yet to come, and, if you must, make some resolutions - but while you are it resolve to be kinder to yourself, because at the end of the day all of us chumps could really use that kind of resolution being kept, couldn't we?

(And my favourite New Year song, courtesy of 
Spirit of the West)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas, Baby

Overnight a soft new blanket of fresh white snow has appeared, covering the yard flawlessly until the dog prances out into it, leaving a jumble of pawprints in her wake. Right behind her at the door, Sirius Black makes his daily escape attempt, scooped up at the last minute while protesting loudly with a chorus of meows. Smaug sits on the stair landing, mooing softly (being the only cat I have ever heard moo instead of meow) as he begins his day.

It is December 24 in my world, and it is just after dawn.

This year is different than any other for me, though. For the very first time - ever - the Intrepid Junior Blogger will not be home for Christmas. This year she will spend it with her father in another city, and for the past few days I have poked at that, trying to see what I felt as I have a tendency to just barrel through difficult things telling myself I am too busy to take time to think, pushing all the troubling thoughts down deep.

Over the last year I have begun to write more about life as a single parent, touching on it here and in other pieces of work, and I have finally come to the point where I can write about it with a certain degree of freedom and confidence. There was a time when the subject was too treacherous, the ice far too thin to step out onto it for fear of falling through - but time and distance has thickened the ice and now I no longer feel that fear.

I am doing some writing these days to explore those early days of single parenthood, as well as what happens when your world changes in some deep and profound way, like a divorce or a death, or, as in my case, both. They are topics not right for this blog and not quite right for any other place, either, except perhaps a book which is an idea I have long considered possible and now seems more like reality than dream. 

I sit this morning in solitude, a cup of coffee at my side and a cat curled up on the chair next to mine. I don't feel the way I thought I might about the absence of the IJB this year as I find myself not feeling sad but rather peaceful. I know she will have a good Christmas and so will I, as I intend to follow my usual traditions, watching every holiday movie ever made, drinking coffee with Bailey's and baking cookies. Somewhere along the way this year I realized that just as your world changes, so do you.

The IJB is growing up. She is not far away from leaving home entirely, and who knows how often she will return for the holidays? She is no longer the little girl who asked Santa for a panda bear or who wrote Christmas letters covered in glitter. She is a young woman and one I feel incredibly honoured to have in my world, at times not quite believing she is a part of me as she is much more than I could ever hope to be. This past year as I struggled with some health challenges she had to change too, as her world and mine changed once again, and I saw her grow before my eyes.

I suppose I could be sad today, missing her and wishing she was here but instead I find myself almost inexplicably happy, knowing that she will enjoy her Christmas and that when she returns we will have our own celebration. I feel at peace with the world and, most importantly, with my world, because it is one I have chosen and built and worked towards. 

During the journey of this blog I have learned one truism that is valid for all of us: life changes. And as life changes so do you, but while you cannot always choose how life will change you can choose how you do. 

I sit here this morning of Christmas Eve, lights dancing, coffee brewing, cat purring and snow drifting down and reflect on all the changes I have witnessed and experienced in the last few years, and all I can think is this: Merry Christmas, baby. Merry Christmas to my baby, no longer a baby but a young woman, and Merry Christmas to all of you, my readers who have seen and experienced some changes, too. Take this season to celebrate not only the triumphs but the challenges, because each and every one deserves a celebration. Life changes and on some occasions we have the opportunity to pause and reflect on those changes. For me today is one of those days - and it is a wonderful way to welcome Christmas indeed.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Risking the Ire of the Elf

It is with great trepidation I sit down to pen this post as I know it will likely inspire hate mail. On one occasion last year when I had the audacity to comment on it on my own social media I found myself accused of humbuggery and grinchiness and eventually even unfriended. And it wasn’t even over some hot political issue, either. It was about what I have come to refer to as “that damn elf on a shelf business”.

The elf on the shelf is a new phenomenon but if I need to explain it to you then you are either even more of a Scrooge than I am or you live under a very large rock. My social media fills with elf pictures this time of year,  small toy elves up to all kinds of mischief. The elves, it seems, come to live with families and sort of serve as spies on small children, recording any bad behaviour. But while they are watching the kids for acts unbecoming to those who want gifts on Christmas morning it seems the elves have free reign to get up to whatever nonsense they can, because I guess elves are just like that and nobody is spying on them to determine if they deserve a gift. Now, in between Christmases the elves get stuffed in a box like all your other decor, but around December 1 they get yanked out for another season of elf shenanigans.
I got a text recently from a friend with much younger kids than my own Intrepid Junior Blogger. “The kids are agitating for an elf” it said, followed by “I fear riots and hunger protests if I don’t give in and buy the damn elf”. The kids had learned from other kids about their elves and suddenly they felt downright hard-done-by in their elfless house. How could their parents be denying them this elf business, clearly a longstanding tradition of Christmas and essential to the enjoyment and celebration of the holiday? They were outraged at their callous parents who had never introduced them to the elf and his antics, and this year, by god, they wanted the elf.

“I don’t want an elf” said the next text, followed by a string of unhappy face emoticons. I reminded my friend that when the kids both wanted smartphones she didn’t give in and that the hunger strike ended quickly when she baked cookies. I reminded her of that eternal adage of parenting (If your friends jumped off a bridge would you?) and that just because others had elves she did not need to. But I could tell she was feeling classic mom guilt, which would lead to getting an elf and even greater guilt when the family retriever ate said elf and left it lying on the floor in tattered pieces for the shrieking kids to find the next morning (true story).
I asked the IJB what she thought of the elf and she gave me “that look”. I explained about the elf watching behaviour and she said: “I thought Santa had the naughty and nice list? Are the elves trying to take over his job? Those little jerks,” and then she asked how much the elves cost exactly and when she was told commented on how someone was making a tidy profit off the sale of a vaguely creepy stuffed doll backed with a shady and questionable story. I explained some of the “mom-petition” the elf seemed to engender, with moms trying to desperately outdo each other with epic feats of elf derring-do and how some elves even came close to starting house fires when moms stuffed them in lamps and too close to candles. “It’s all about the kids!” I exclaimed to her, to which she rolled her eyes and said most kids just wanted the presents and the whole Santa story (and by extension elves) was pretty incidental to the whole thing.

When the IJB was smaller she went through a difficult period when she thought her dolls and toys were watching her as she tried to understand the difference between animate and inanimate life. I can only imagine how introducing an elf who was somehow not animate and yet “watched” her would have gone down (I expect adult therapy would have been involved somehow and it would have all been her mother’s fault). And when I explained that children could not touch the elf as it destroyed the elf magic she snorted and told me to leave the room as these adult shenanigans were too much for her.
You see it is my humble opinion that the elf on the shelf is a marketing gimmick and nothing more, a way to get loving parents to part with even more cash at Christmas time. It is the Tickle Me Elmo of holiday decor. I am a bit afraid that this post will cause me to become the target of the elf mafia and I could become the victim of an elf-planned drive-by marshmellow shooting or find my kitchen completely dusted in a light coating of powdered sugar with elf foot print tracks on the floor. I fear the moms who will see this as an attack on their own elves as this seems to be a topic that gets moms even more riled up than extended breastfeeding and circumcision (and trust me, I belonged to parenting forums for a long time and I am the veteran of some epic flame wars, so I know whereof I speak).

To each their own, I suppose, but I am so deeply grateful the IJB is older now and has no interest in an elf. I must admit, though, I have toyed with the thought of picking one up cheap after Christmas and hiding it in her bedroom closet so it falls out on her just to see her reaction, which could be priceless.
Call me a Grinch, call me Scrooge, but know this: there is no elf on a shelf in my house, and I am quite okay with that, because in my world that elf can stay on that store shelf forever.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Embracing the Challenges

It is the season of good cheer and good tidings, when merriment is on many minds and lights are twinkling across the city. It happens to come at a precarious time in our history, though, as oil prices tumble and with the fall comes worries and concerns about the impacts. This week I found myself splitting my time between wrapping gifts and signing cards and reading ominous stories about our doom and speaking to journalists from across North America as their focus shifts to the oil sands, this time due not to environment but economics.

I consider myself a member of the media to some degree and so I feel I can comfortably say that dark stories bring the media types out, circling a bit like vultures over a dying animal. The advertising adage says “sex sells”, but so too do stories of dark tones and suffering, and often the media is far more prone to tell those stories, perhaps because their audience is far more likely to read them. The recent oil price decline has raised alarm bells about the financial security of the oil sands industry, and so some journalists have come looking for stories to tell, eager to be in on the ground floor of telling the tale of the demise of our community.

And in case you think I exaggerate I assure you I do not. This week one journalist who contacted me asked me how long I thought it would take Fort McMurray to fall apart exactly, as if I would put some sort of numerical value on the length of time it would take my community and home to die. I admit I tartly replied that our interview was over, almost as soon as it had begun, as his question was a bit like asking “so when did you quit beating your wife?”, and I seethed for some time afterwards at the instant belief that a tumble in oil prices would somehow destroy Fort McMurray.

I am not na├»ve. I know the price of oil will impact our community but this is not a new phenomenon in our world and is not the first – or likely the last – time oil prices will fall and a slowdown in our economy will occur. But the belief that this is will somehow result in the destruction of my home – and finding some almost salivating at the prospect of being able to record it for posterity – troubles me because it shows that those with that belief understand little of the resiliency of the people who have chosen this place as home.

Let’s be frank. This is not always the easiest place to live. We contend with the kind of low temperatures in winter that make your flesh freeze and your bones ache. In summer we are home to mosquito populations of almost biblical plague proportions. We are not remote in that we are well connected by road and air, but it does take time to travel to other places. We still lack some of the services and amenities we would like to have, and we still find ourselves struggling to some degree with infrastructure that has not caught up with our growth. Sometimes I wonder why anyone chooses to live here, in a place where there are so many challenges.

And then I remember. We live here because the people who have chosen to be here are those who are the kind to meet the challenges, to tackle them head on and to wrestle them to the ground. We stick together through the good times and the bad, showing our spirit and our nature. We are in some ways the modern pioneers, long after a time when most other parts of our world have been tamed and civilized and the major challenges conquered.

I met with another journalist recently and we were discussing the challenges in this community. I simply said to them that “we embrace the challenges” and they laughed and said perhaps that should be the new slogan on the signs into town. I laughed too and suggested we have had enough slogans here to last a very long time, this place of big spirit and energy, and that we didn’t need to put a slogan onto a sign to believe it – or live it.

The recent economic crisis with the price of oil will impact this community and of that there is no doubt. But it will not be the demise of this place or these people or my home. This is just another one of those challenges we face, nothing more or less, and as we head into this holiday season I do so not with fear or worry for the future but with anticipation for the chance to face the challenge and do it just as we always do in Fort McMurray – together.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Home for the Holidays

I open my bedroom door and he practically falls in, plastered as flat to the door as a very fluffy, very large and increasingly fat cat can be. His beloved owner – the Intrepid Junior Blogger – has spent the night at a friend’s house and he has been denied his usual spot at the foot of her bed to sleep, and he is clearly quite lonely. I scoop him up (a challenge given his increasing girth) and hear snuffly purrs emanating loudly from his chest as he burrows his head into me. He is Smaug, the SPCA adoptee who joined our house this fall, and he is home for the holidays.

I write a lot about our pets, I suppose, the menagerie that has come to be known as the Triple M Zoo. Some of the pets, like Sirius Black Cat, have achieved some degree of local fame, with complete strangers asking me how SBC is and what trouble he has gotten  into recently. I have always lived a life with animals, grew up with cats and always felt best when there was a non-human creature in my home, but it is in recent years that we have had a pet explosion in our house, with Smaug being the most recent addition.
This past week the IJB went online and found a photo of Smaug from when he first arrived at the Fort McMurray SPCA. While I recognized the face I must admit the photo made me cry, because the soft affectionate cat we have welcomed into our hearts and home looks so scared in it, his eyes wide open with fear. He was found wandering as a stray and I cannot imagine a cat less suited to such a life, as Smaug (or Fitzsimmons as they called him at the SPCA) is a scaredy-cat of the worst kind, terrified of the dog, the vacuum and even large cardboard items. Unlike Sirius, who has an adventurous side and a wild streak, Smaug aspires to nothing more than a soft fuzzy blanket, a constantly refilled food bowl and a human to love. I can only imagine how scared he was when he was on the streets, afraid and alone. He is not the kind of cat to welcome solitude, and not the kind to enjoy the sort of adventures Sirius longs for.

After having adopted three pets from the SPCA I know a few things now. I know I will never again purchase a pet from a breeder or a store, as there are so many loving animals just waiting for their forever home. I know that the pets there came in every shape and size and personality, and that while Sirius Black and Smaug are as different as can be in looks and temperament they have become brothers in spirit who tussle and fight and groom and often fall asleep together in a heap of black and orange and white fur and paws and whiskers.
I don’t know how they came to be at the SPCA, Sirius and Smaug and River, their ferret SPCA companion, but I know that they all were likely owned before and that the people who abandoned them were too callous to recognize the incredible spirit of the animals they rejected. When I cuddle Smaug and hear his purrs and feel his love, this kind of all-encompassing love only a feline can project, I feel sorry for the humans who owned him before and who did not treasure and value his trust and love as we do.

Sometimes, late at night when I cannot sleep, I will creep down into the IJB’s room to check on her. At fifteen she does not need these checks, I know, but I find it comforting to find her there as I know one day, far too soon, that bed will be empty as she moves on in her life. But for now I find her there, cuddled under heaps of blankets and with two cats asleep on top of her, blinking at me with bleary eyes as I creep in.
This morning, though, in her absence I cuddled Smaug to me as Sirius began his morning with a stretch and sharp-toothed yawn. I stroked his downy soft fur and listened to his purr, and I reflected on the fact that this is his first Christmas with us. Smaug is home for the holidays – and forever.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Roller Coaster of Interesting Times

It is claimed that the phrase “may you live in interesting times” is the English translation of a Chinese curse or proverb. No evidence exists that this proverb was ever used in China, but I cannot help but think that it is perhaps the most appropriate phrase when one is considering the current Albertan landscape, both political and financial.

I don’t write in this blog often about financial issues as there are those much better informed than I who can provide intelligent commentary of falling oil prices, OPEC and the resulting impact on the economy of our country, our province and our community, but even I find myself pausing to consider things when it becomes clear that oil price instability has people deeply worries. As far distant as I am from being an economist even I watch the price of oil tumble and play out the scenarios in my head and what the potential ramifications are for a community and region heavily dependent on that resource. I cannot count the number of phone calls I have received from journalists, interest in our region renewed as the oil prices tumble.
I have lived through this before here as many of us have, watched as the oil prices dropped and varying degrees of panic developed, and I have watched our core resiliency – but there is no doubt that it has an impact, and I recall times when the community became much quieter as contract workers were laid off and local businesses felt the pinch of decreased revenues. And I have lived in a resource-dependent community before, a small gold mining town in Northwestern Ontario at a time when the price of gold could only be described as abysmal and when things seemed bleak for that industry indeed.

Resource towns are tough towns because they have to be, the kind of place where innovation and resiliency flourish because they go through the boom and bust cycles. That doesn’t mean we don’t experience some trepidation but generally speaking we are the kind who simply hang on through the bad times. As I recently said to a friend the only ones who get hurt on a roller coaster are the ones who jump off, and most of us have ridden this particular coaster before, shrieking a bit during the dips and dives but hurtling into the end of the ride quite alive.
And while our financial times are interesting indeed it is the political landscape, particularly provincially, that is even more so. I have been on the planet for a few decades and thanks to a father who took great interest in politics I have followed them for most of my life, no matter where I have found myself living. I would suggest the last year has been one of the most astonishing I have ever experienced when it comes to politics, as we are now on our third premier in just one year. The resignation of Alison Redford, the interim leadership of Dave Hancock and the successful leadership bid by Jim Prentice has made for interesting times , but the recent revelation that several members of the official opposition – including the party leader according to most reports – will cross the floor to join the PC government has most people, including me, a bit flummoxed. I have watched with great interest as Prentice stepped into the role of Premier, and while Bill 10 became a rather outrageous debacle most of the initial decisions his government made (the decision to sell the government planes that were the source of such controversy, keeping the Michener Centre open and leaving the Albertan license plate alone) were not only sound but definitely reflective of the mood of the province. This latest revelation, however, is the kind of thing I tried to explain to my politically engaged daughter but ended up throwing up my hands and saying “honestly kid I have no absolutely no idea what is going on here anymore” because it is perhaps one of the most baffling things I have ever seen. Seeing the official opposition collapse is one thing but seeing them absorbed into the government brings to mind episodes of Star Trek and the Borg (cries of “resistance is futile, Wild Rose Party, you will be assimilated” ring in my mind).

To be honest I have no idea where any of this is headed, from the economy to our political landscape. And the two do not exist in isolation as they are tied into an intricate dance, too, one affecting the other in deep ways. I find myself reading online papers a lot more than usual, following threads on the Facebook walls of friends as they theorize on the economy and/or politics and trying, in vain, to explain it all to my kid who is quite perplexed and who I fear is beginning to think this is some kind of normal. I find myself sitting back in the most bemused kind of way, too, wondering exactly where this particular roller coaster is headed and how low the dips will be – and who will be jumping off the ride.
All I know is that we currently live in interesting times, and whether that is a curse or not is truly yet to be determined.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Gingerbread Grinch

It is no secret that I think Fort McMurray is a pretty amazing place. After thirteen years here I continue to find people and acts of kindness that astonish me and that remind me of the close nature of our community. But on occasion, too, things happen that may seem small in some regards and yet fill me with sadness and anger. Yesterday was one of those occasions.

That, my friends, is a Tardis. You will likely only recognize it if you are a fan of a little British TV show called Dr. Who, one of the longest running shows in the history of television. It is undoubtedly a quirky little show, but it has millions of fans around the world who have followed the Doctor's adventures for decades. But as you notice that isn't just any Tardis, either. It's a gingerbread Tardis, made specifically for the holiday Gingerbread Village on display at the Sawridge Inn and Conference Centre, a fundraising event for the Centre of Hope.

It is an incredibly lovely idea, asking local companies to help celebrate the holidays by making gingerbread houses for display and then asking the public who enjoys them to donate to the Centre of Hope, one of the organizations in this community I am passionate about. And it didn't surprise me in the least when Nerdvana, a very new store to our community but run by people I know very well and of whom I am very fond, chose to participate by not just building a gingerbread house but by spending days crafting a gingerbread masterpiece reflective of the nature of their store and their interests, being all things collectible and pop culture. When I saw the original photos of the display I was delighted, so thrilled that Ashley, the store manager at Nerdvana, had once again outdone herself in the creative department by creating an incredible little bit of gingerbread pop culture art, complete with several rare and unusual collectible figurines owned by she and her friends. You see, I know Ashley's heart, and she is the kind of person who would spend days gluing together gingerbread, labouring over blue icing and white piping, installing lights and working until dawn to make sure every detail was perfect. She is the kind of person who gives her heart and soul to everything she does, including contributing to this community by making a gingerbread Tardis to display for a local organization I know she holds dear, too.

So you can only imagine how I felt when I received this photo yesterday:

You see that is what is left of the Tardis my friend Ashley created. On the weekend, after a Christmas party at the Sawridge, someone or a group of someones saw a gingerbread Tardis and decided that looking at it wasn't enough.

No, you see, they stole it.

Yes, while in the Dr. Seuss story the Grinch might have stolen Christmas these grinches (and I have several other words for them but I will endeavour to keep this family friendly) ripped Ashley's Tardis off the base and took it, no doubt chuckling at their cleverness. With it went some of the collectible items Ashley and her friends own, some of which have great sentimental value and some of which are quite rare. That this was theft is no doubt, but it wasn't just a theft of goods. It was a theft of spirit.

I don't quite know what compels someone to steal an item such as this in a display designed to raise money for charity. I don't know what, if anything, ran through their heads, but I would suggest they are Dr Who fans as only one of those would recognize the Tardis. I would suggest they are also the kinds of people who would likely frequent a store that sells collectibles and that specializes in pop culture - you know, the kind of store like Nerdvana.

I suspect the Tardis-thieves will one day find themselves at Nerdvana, and when they do they will likely find themselves being greeted by a lovely young lady with a stunning smile and a charming accent. I wonder if they will realize that this young lady is the person they stole from and the heart they broke with an ill-considered and cruel act? Will they understand that when you steal something like this you have stolen not from a store and not from a charity alone but from a person with feelings who spent days of energy and effort on something they likely tossed in the trash after their theft?

I cannot hide it. I am beyond angry about this, devastated for Ashley and all the time she invested and for the loss of the items stolen, too. But I am angrier still at anyone who could be so heartless and thoughtless, who could be the modern equivalent of a Grinch and who likely woke up Sunday morning hung over and with their hands covered in blue frosting. Nothing can undo what has been done, but I would suggest the Grinch (or Grinches as may be) in this case may want to take stock of their actions and recognize that they owe several apologies and consider not only returning the stolen items as Ashley has requested but making a sizeable donation to the Centre of Hope to atone and hopefully stave off the "what comes around goes around" nature of the universe.

If you are reading this and are equally disappointed I would suggest you do a few things, too. If you know someone who has recently acquired a gingerbread Tardis I would ask you to suggest to them that they are not nearly as clever as they think they are, and that they may in fact be assholes instead (oops, sorry about the language there, it slipped out).

If you get a chance please go to the Gingerbread Village at the Sawridge and make a donation to the Centre of Hope or contribute to them directly here as an act of support for their efforts and to show that this act is not reflective of this community.

And do me a favour and drop by Nerdvana and if you see a smiling young lady with a lovely New Zealand accent tell her you are sorry about the Tardis and let her know that Fort McMurray is not about people who steal gingerbread displays and leave broken collectibles, and broken hearts and Christmas spirits, in their wake. Fort McMurray is better than this. Fort McMurray is about people like Ashley and Mike and the others who open little stores like Nerdvana and who even at the very beginning of their business show their community spirit and heart by contributing to a fundraising gingerbread village and who will not, and cannot, be crushed by a willful act of thievery and destruction.

And if YOU are the Grinch in this story all I can is this: in the Dr Seuss version the Grinch's heart grew three times as he realized the error of his ways. Perhaps your heart is far too small and cold to grow, and perhaps you think what you did was funny and clever and acceptable, but know this: the world has a way of dealing with Grinches, one way or another. What comes around goes around, and one day when misfortune comes around to you I want you to reflect on a stolen gingerbread Tardis and realize that you have brought it on yourself. Any fan of Dr. Who should know this lesson very well, and your blue frosting covered hands are dripping in your guilt and your shame. You are the Grinch who stole the Tardis, and frankly I won't shed a tear if the Daleks or Weeping Angels get you.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Setting the Tone: Walter and Gladys Hill

I was delighted a couple of weeks ago to run into someone who grew up in the same city I did. As we talked and reminisced about the place I learned they had a family member who not only lived in that city still but in fact lived on the street I grew up on decades ago. They told me how much their family member loved that neighbourhood, but really that street, as it was the kind of place where neighbours looked out for each other, shovelling each others' driveways and mowing each others' lawns, the kind of place where block parties and block garage sales and neighbourhood potlucks occurred. I smiled as I remembered it all well, as my parents were one of the founding neighbours on that street, one of the very first to move into a brand new house there and call it home for almost thirty years, and I believe they and their generous and kind country ways set the tone for that street in many ways, a tone that appears to exist even today,

I thought a lot about that street when I attended the recent grand opening for the Walter and Gladys Hill Public School in Eagle Ridge. I was there a couple of years ago when the project broke ground, too. I recall the day fairly well, an expanse of empty field in a bustling new neighbourhood and a sense of excitement and optimism for the new school, a desperately needed addition to the Fort McMurray Public School District. For me to follow the project through from groundbreaking to official opening was one of those sweet moments in the history of writing about this community, seeing a beginning, a goal achieved and a glimpse of the future - but it was so much more, too, because the name of the school honours a founding family of Fort McMurray that I have written about several times.

I didn't know Walter and Gladys Hill, and I deeply regret I never had the opportunity to do so. I have had the great fortune to speak to their son Ken Hill on a few occasions, even writing about him for an issue of Big Spirit magazine a couple of years ago. I have taken the liberty of writing about the Hill family on other occasions, too, like on Remembrance Day when a name said during the ceremony took me on an exploration of a sad loss suffered by the Hill family and the kind of loss suffered by families all over this country during the wars we have fought. When I wanted to do some personal photographs reflective of this community I chose Heritage Park as the setting, which is how there are photos of me inside the Hill house and outside Hill's drugs, two places both iconic and symbolic of this community. And through it all, ever since starting this blog, I have wanted to know more about Walter and Gladys Hill.

I was incredibly honoured to be present at the grand opening of the school that bears their name to hear their son speak about them. He told stories about them, about his father being sociable and a talker who loved to chat with everyone who came into his store (and in my mind I could see it, the old Hill's drug store where these conversations occurred, bustling with shoppers and people seeking prescriptions but some probably just coming in to talk to Walter, too). Ken told stories of his mother and her sense of humour and her interest in sports. As Ken spoke - he said he thought for too long, but for me, hungry to know more about his parents, not nearly long enough - Walter and Gladys Hill began to come alive for me, two people who chose Fort McMurray as their home. They were not people who sought attention or notoriety, not those who served the community for some personal gain, but simply people who did what they did because they believed in doing good and contributing to their community in a positive way.

They were a lot like my parents, I thought as I sat in the audience listening to Ken. Just as my parents set the tone for their street, a tone that has lasted long after their departure from this earth, so too did Walter and Gladys Hill set the tone for this community. Through their example they showed others the way to live, and I believe we could trace much of the good parts of this community - our sense of philanthropy, of volunteerism, of pride - back to founding families like the Hills. They exemplify all that is best about this community and their legacy is not just their name on a school in Eagle Ridge but the sense so many of us have about what a community is and what we do to contribute to it. That is a powerful legacy indeed, one that runs deep and strong and true.

Decades ago people didn't talk about how to build communities. They didn't write books about it, do workshops or give lectures. They instinctively knew how to build a strong and resilient community, simply by doing good things for others, by contributing in whatever ways they could, by adding their skills and strengths to those of others in the community to create something amazing. In some ways we think of those times as antiquated and yet in the ways that truly matter they were so far ahead of us, a society that often struggles with knowing how to build the kind of community they just created without even knowing they were doing so, without a plan, a path or a map. Walter and Gladys Hill were those kinds of people.

The new Walter and Gladys Hill Public School is  beautiful indeed, and as a parent of a child who, when she graduates, will have spent her entire education in the FMPSD, I was beyond delighted to see the addition of a new school to our collection of incredible schools. I was honoured to be there to celebrate the grand opening, and I look forward to years of hearing about the accomplishments of the students there. The name that the school bears honours two people who deserve so much recognition and honour because they had an impact on a community that has lasted for decades and will likely last for decades more, not just in the name of a school or a collection of buildings in Heritage Park but in the tone and tenor of this community.

After the opening concluded I saw Ken Hill in the atrium. Although I felt a bit shy about it I decided to approach him, uncertain if he would remember the times I wrote about him, his family and their experiences in this community. I walked up and introduced myself, feeling a bit nervous, and was astonished when he exclaimed: "You do such a wonderful job writing about us!" and wrapped me in a bear hug.

I tried to hide it but at the moment he hugged me tears formed in my eyes and threatened to run down my cheeks right in front of everyone. As a writer and a member of this community all I have ever wanted was to be able to somehow capture not only some of the present in this community but some of our past, too, showing how it linked with today and led us into the future. I have always wanted to honour the legacy of those who founded this place and who helped it become what it is today, and to ensure that their contributions are not lost over time and during the inevitable changes that have occurred and are yet to occur. I always wanted it to be understood that, while I embrace and welcome the future as someone who is, in relative terms, new to the community despite my thirteen years here, I honour the past and the community members who were here long ago and built this place in both the physical and emotional sense. When Ken Hill, part of one of the founding families who set the tone for the community I love and call home, hugged me I felt something indescribable, a sort of joy at knowing that he felt I had done well in writing about and honouring his family.

I left the grand opening at the new school when it was still in full swing, people visiting and chatting. I sat in the parking lot for a moment, looking at the lovely new school which will keep the Hill name alive for decades more to come, and I reflected on how a couple I never knew impacted my own life long after they were gone. I thought back to the earlier conversation with the person who knew someone who lived on my parents' old street and how I had said to them: "My parents were named John and Betty - I think if your family asks around someone on the street will probably remember them", and how she contacted me a couple of days later to tell me that my parents were indeed considered legendary on that street, long gone but still missed and not forgotten, tales of their kindness and commitment to their neighbours being shared even today.

I drove away from Walter and Gladys Hill Public School smiling, because you see some names are never forgotten, because they are etched not just onto schools or buildings but right onto the very heart of our community, and I have been so fortunate to get to know, even just a little bit, the story attached to some of those names, and it has changed my life.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Aftermath of Bill 10

I sit at my desk late that day, realizing that every muscle in my body aches. I feel as if I have undergone a particularly gruelling workout. Coupled with my swirling thoughts, though, my entire body feels as if I have just come through a battle instead. And a battle of sorts it was, I suppose, the battle surrounding the contentious Bill 10.

Just earlier I had watched a live newsfeed of the press conference. As soon as I had gotten word that the conference was happening I called the Intrepid Junior Blogger to tell her what was about to occur, and then we began texting back and forth furiously to find a live feed.

"Have you found one?"

"Yes, just now, here's the link."

And so we watched together, separated in the physical sense but united in our intense desire to see what would happen next.

"He looks tired. Maybe a little angry."

"Both, I think. He just got back from a trip. He didn't think this would happen. And this won't be easy for him."

And we watched as the Premier of our province announced that Bill 10 would be put on hold indefinitely, pending further consultations with the people of this province. The announcement attempted to put the most positive spin on it, of course, tried to make it sound like Bill 10 was far better than the hastily prepared, and even more hastily amended, flawed document we knew it to be, but spin is part of the art of politics and even the IJB knew that. The Premier took responsibility for the debacle - and a debacle it has been - for which both the IJB and I were grateful as that is what true leaders do.

It was a strange moment, not quite a victory but also not the crushing loss it would have been had the government continued to ram Bill 10 through. But it would have come at their own cost to do so, too, as serious cracks were beginning to show within their ranks, MLAs openly stating they would not support the bill and I suspect many more behind the scenes questioning the wisdom of passing a bill that was so clearly unpopular, so clearly flawed in many regards and so clearly pleased virtually no one. Pressing pause on the bill was not only wise but quite likely entirely necessary to save themselves from the looming trainwreck ahead, and they stopped the engine in the nick of time (although already too late for some who had already jumped on someone else's train).

The IJB and I had discussed this battle before we fought it. We had talked about picking your battles wisely, and knowing which are the hills you are willing to die on. We discussed the consequences of taking a side and throwing yourselves into the fray, and we talked about how sometimes politicians are so insulated by their ranks of "yes men" and their echo chambers that it was necessary as citizens to take a strong stance to shake them up and out of their complacency in their chosen direction. We had discussed this hill and whether it was the one we were willing to die on - and we decided it was a good hill.

As with any controversial issue that I have written about my email inbox began to fill up fast and furious with commentary from readers. Most were extremely supportive. Some were, very decidedly, not.

There are those who say maybe we don't need GSAs and that equality and acceptance already exists in our schools, and while I hope that to be true I would venture that based on some emails I received that unless our youth are learning from other adults some are likely learning hate, anger and homophobia instead. I had emails questioning my ability as a parent. I had emails questioning my own sexual orientation. I had emails accusing me of using my child as a pawn in the g** agenda (written exactly like that, too, as if the word gay was somehow contagious and would infect them if they typed it). I saw a dark underside of some of the people who share our planet, walk our streets and live in this province. And it showed me exactly why youth need access to GSAs.

For some youth the GSA in their school may well be the only place they find acceptance and understanding, because I fear some of them live with parents or families like my correspondents above. I received so many emails from individuals who told me of a youth spent in pain and fear because they could not tell their own parents who they really were. They told me of struggles with depression and thoughts of suicide as they felt they had nowhere to turn. GSAs don't just help to make schools more accepting and inclusive - my correspondents were telling me that for some it may well be the only place they can feel safe at all, including their own homes.

There were some correspondents who expressed themselves with such vitriol that even I, after years of hate mail, was taken aback. They told me this was just another of my "crusades", all about me and my own ego and my notoriety. As I sat there late that evening and realized that I felt weary in body and soul I could only reflect on how wrong they were. This wasn't about me. It was about the transgender people in my life, the family member I love dearly and the child of a dear friend. It was about all the people I have known over my years who told me stories of coming out and of the trials they faced in their school years. It was about my own daughter who kept telling me that things just were not like they were years ago and that the decisions being made in the highest offices in our province were not reflective of reality today. It wasn't about me or the other adults in the discussion but about kids like mine who felt they had no voice and no way to make themselves heard - but this week I helped my kid to share her voice using the avenues I had to do so.

I dragged my weary body into my cold car and headed home. I arrived there to find sparkling bright Christmas light flashing, and the IJB on her laptop surrounded by cats and blankets and empty cans of Coke and homework scattered around her. And then she looked up at me and smiled, this beaming smile, and I forgot the aching muscles, the headaches, the hate mail and the battle song, and just hugged my kid instead. One battle was behind us, and peace talks in the form of consultations, hopefully with youth like her, loomed instead. It was a good time for two weary soldiers to just take a moment for some rest. And so we did, because we knew more battles - more good hills - lie ahead, and we would be there to fight on them, together.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

One Voice for the Youth of Alberta

This week my daughter asked me to helped draft and send a letter to one of our local MLAs, the one for whom she worked during the last provincial campaign. I am so blessed to have a remarkable young woman in my life, one who can not only write and speak eloquently but is passionate about human rights and social justice. My daughter hopes that this letter will have some impact on the decision yet to come about Bill 10 and the effect it will have on youth of this province. Today I share it with all of you as I believe her voice and the voice of other youth in this province are the ones to which we should be listening. Last night she said to me: "Who should they base their votes on? The adults that this will never effect or the thousands of kids that it will and who have been given no voice in this conversation?" She might be fifteen but I think we would be wise to listen to her and the other youth of this province, as their voices are perhaps the ones best suited to lead us today and into the future. Today I wanted to give her that voice.

McMurray Musings

A Letter from the Intrepid Junior Blogger
Dear Minister Scott,
I am writing to you to express my support of Gay-Straight Alliances in Albertan schools. As a founding member of my school’s GSA I think there is a lot of misunderstanding about what a GSA is and does for students.
I am a Grade Ten student in Fort McMurray. I have been involved in many extracurricular activities including drama, robotics and student council. A GSA is a student group that is in almost every way no different than every other student group I have been involved in. We meet on a weekly basis, we plan activities and we share ideas and thoughts on making our school a safe place for all students.
As a young woman in your community I think that if students wanted to start a group to end bullying or support multiculturalism there would be no debate or question that the school boards would be asked to support a group of that kind, so I am not sure why a GSA would be any different. The students in our schools, regardless of their religion, race, colour or sexual orientation deserve the support of our school boards to found and develop a group that encourages understanding between students, encourages interaction with our peers and helps us to ensure all students feel welcome in their school. The goal of the GSA is fundamentally to do exactly that, and I think it is a goal all people can and should support.
I am also a politically involved student. I worked on your campaign in 2012 and I intend to continue to work on campaigns as well as run for election myself one day. I believe the role of politicians is to represent their constituents, and I believe your constituents, at least the ones who currently attend schools in this province, are very clearly showing their support of GSAs. In my school there is no debate or concern regarding our new group and it seems most of the concern comes from adults outside of the school system who are significantly older than my age group and who attended school in a different era that may not have been as open or welcoming of students who are lesbian, bisexual, gay or transgender.
Fifty years ago I imagine a debate similar to this one took place about whether or not to support alliances between students of different colour. Since research has shown us that sexual orientation is no more a choice than skin colour is I find it sad that we even feel the need to debate this issue today, long after we moved into a more progressive society dedicated to the concepts of diversity and inclusion. This is an opportunity to vote based not on what was in the past but how society is today and will be in the future and to truly be progressive in leading us into a new era of acceptance and inclusion.
My mom has something she says a lot: it is easier to talk the talk than walk it. It is very easy to talk about diversity, inclusion and acceptance but a lot more difficult to walk that talk by making decisions that may not be popular with everyone. You have a chance to walk the talk of diversity, inclusion and acceptance. You have a real chance to not only change what happens today, but change the future.
I am concerned Bill 10 does not go nearly far enough to ensure students have the ability to form a GSA. The bill your government has proposed will not make it any easier for students like myself to form GSAs and may discourage us from doing so. I hope you and your colleagues will defeat Bill 10 and start again with consultations with the youth of this province. I believe if you do so you will not only be supporting GSAs but supporting students such as myself who simply want the ability to found groups designed to support other students. I would appreciate your support of youth like myself who hope to one day be the leaders of this province and country and who will be faced with tough choices, but who will make them based on what is best for the future and not on thoughts or beliefs rooted in a past that is no longer reflective of who we are.