Telling the story of my life in my home - Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

What Is Your Legacy?


I love when I get emails from people with whom I have connected. Just recently I opened my email and discovered an email from a new friend from Toronto, someone I met on my recent trip and who provided a great deal of wisdom about the difference between crises and tempests, and how to tell which one exists in your teapot.

I thought my new friend would be pleased with what I had written as I hoped it had captured the essence of the wise words he said to me - and so I was a bit surprised when his first words in the email were:

Young lady, you have disappointed me.

Ack, I thought, had I offended him? Had I misrepresented what he said, misinterpreted his words? But he followed it with this:

Your recent article was very nice but you left out the most important thing I said. Do you remember I asked you about your legacy?

Ack. Indeed I had left out a very important part of the conversation. You see we had been discussing the current states of our communities, and the future - and he had asked what I wanted my legacy to be.

He didn't mean my financial legacy, but what I wanted to be remembered for after I had left this community in whatever form that leaving one day takes. He wanted to know how I wanted to be remembered by those I touched - in fact he suggested every single person should ask themselves about their legacy.

Do you want to be remembered as someone who was persistently negative or argumentative, or as someone who saw issues and worked towards solutions even when it was difficult? Do you want to be recalled as someone who worked to improve the community for others, or as someone who did nothing except the bare minimum required to exist? Do you want to be remembered for the good you did, the things you built and changed, the ways you contributed? Then, my friend suggested, you have to do something because legacies are not built on doing nothing. He suggested those who do nothing leave no legacy behind, while those who are negative or difficult leave a legacy others would rather forget.

And he had another point, too. He suggested we each need to worry about our own legacy, and not that of others. He suggested that if every person looked at their own actions - in an honest and reflective way, through a lens of objectivity - the world would be a better place because they would see the legacy they are building. He said far too many people worry about the legacy being left by others - politicians, athletes, celebrities, etc - and far too little about their own legacy. The legacy did not have to be big and grandiose, as perhaps it would only be remembered by a small number of people, he said - what mattered was not how many remembered you, but how.

It was a sobering email, and he was, of course, quite completely right in that I had forgotten this part of our conversation and had been so focused on the legacy of others - the tempest in the teapot - that I had stopped thinking about my own. Once again his wisdom re-centred me and started me thinking about my own legacy, and how I want the others in my world, whomever I touch in my life, to remember me.

I know this too - my new friend has left a powerful legacy in my life, and has now touched the lives of those who read this blog as through me his wise words have reached an entirely new group of people. That, my friends, is one helluva legacy.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Yes, All Women


(please be advised - graphic language is used in this post)

If you have been on social media recently you have seen it, particularly on Twitter. The "yesallwomen" hashtag arose in response to the recent shootings in the United States where a young man focused his rage and hatred on young women, and went on a murderous rampage, ending in the deaths of several innocent victims before taking his own life. He blamed his actions on the women who had rejected him, blaming them for his rage and his decision to take the lives of others.

"Yes all women" was a grassroots reaction to his actions, and to violence against women in general. To be honest I didn't give it a great deal of thought initially. I have been quite fortunate in this regard, never having been subjected to direct violence or intimidation based on my gender. Or at least that's what I thought until I spoke to a fellow writer recently who happens to be male.

We were discussing reactions to our written work. He had written something recently and was incensed that someone called his views "idiotic". I expressed some surprise and commented that I have been called far worse, and when he asked what I meant I shared with him some of the names I have been called in anonymous messages and emails about things I have written:

Stupid cow.

Moron.

Bitch.

Slut.

Whore.

Fucking cunt.

That last one hurts to even type as it was the kind of nasty vitriol one never expects to find lurking in your email inbox, and yet there it was one day.

My male writer friend was stunned into silence. He asked if I realized he had never - not once - been attacked in a manner based on his gender. His views and opinions, yes, but even then the level of nastiness was nowhere near what I had experienced.

It was a learning moment for both of us. As we discussed more I learned he had never been stalked, had never had to speak to the police about frightening emails or messages, never feared for his personal safety, never felt he had to protect his address or phone number, never felt he was being targeted because of his gender - and yet I had felt  and experienced all these things, and so had many, many of the other women I know who write.

Perhaps the worst part for me, though, is the suspicion that some of the nastiness I have experienced came from other women. While on occasion some of it has been from men I think much of it has arisen in my own gender, women who for whatever reason feel given to saying horrendous and cruel things to other women.

Perhaps we are our own worst enemy, I wonder.

But it has happened with men, too, like the ones on Twitter who learned of my daughter's admiration for Justin Trudeau and who dismissed her opinion as foolish because she is young - and female. I was outraged by this, that they felt they could attack her based solely on her age and gender, as if her thoughts and opinions did not matter because she is a young woman.

And I suppose as I thought about it I realized that yes, it is all women. I suspect all women have experienced some degree of this, although not necessarily at the hands of men but simply at the hands of those who attack based not on our opinions or beliefs but on our age, the colour of our skin, our religion, our country of origin, and yes, our gender. And perhaps it is not as simple as "yes all women" but "yes all humans".

So, yes, all women. Yes, this has touched my life, particularly in the last few years, and yes, it has already touched my daughter at the tender age of fourteen. And that is why "yes all women" matters and why it is important to understand - because I want the world to be a better place for her and for all other young women and men, a place where they can express themselves and know that they can do so without fear. Yes, I want it better - for all of us.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Lessons of Finding Hope in the Dark


Three AM has always been my nemesis.

It is the time of morning when I awoke every night for a year after my mother’s death, jolted into alertness by wrenching abdominal pains that appeared like clockwork. It took some time to determine that the pains were caused by grief and not physical illness, but 3 AM has become the number on the clock that has always tormented me because whenever something is troubling me I always find myself awake at that time.

For the past two years 3 AM has taken on a new significance, because twice now it has been the hour when I have found myself alone in the dark, huddled in a sleeping bag with fuzzy socks on my hands to ward them from the cold, trying to sleep on a hard metal bench or the damp ground. For the past two years, you see, I have spent one night sleeping outdoors as a participant in Hope in the Dark, the homelessness awareness event hosted by the local Centre of Hope.

I have had the good fortune to spend time with some of our local homeless population. I have learned some incredible lessons from them, and not just the value of fuzzy socks for keeping your hands warm when the nights have turned cold. I have learned of the fine line between being homed and homeless, and the community that the homeless create on the streets to help each other endure an existence that can be, at times, brutal.

I have met homeless individuals who have been homeless not for months, but years. I have met those who have slept in tents when it is 30 degrees below, and during our harshest seasons. I have met those who are homeless due to substance abuse, mental illness and physical injury. I have met a broad spectrum, elderly adults and youth not much older than my own daughter. And it has changed me.

A couple of weekends ago I was in Toronto. One evening the Intrepid Junior Blogger and I walked by a pile of blankets sheltered in a doorway. All we could see of the tenant of the blankets were two hiking boot covered feet - and a sign that said "pregnant and homeless, please help".

It was a wrenching moment. The IJB looked at me and said: "That's so sad, what can we do?", and I looked at her, my baby, and told her that I would think about it.

I remember being pregnant, you see. I remember the joy and the fear and the excitement. I can imagine those feelings all over again, but one thing I cannot imagine is being pregnant and homeless. And so very early the next morning while it was still dark and while the IJB slept, I went back to that doorway and left a bag of healthy food near the blankets, fruits and vegetables and meat for protein. I hope the occupant found it when she awoke, as it was the only gesture that made sense to me, because I felt so very helpless and yet I knew I needed to do something.

You see that is what the Centre of Hope and Hope in the Dark has done for me. They have made me see things I did not see before, and the things that far too many of us walk right by, the hand-lettered signs and the piles of blankets. They have made me realize that while I alone cannot solve the problem of homelessness I alone can engage in small acts of kindness that may make a difference in the life of one homeless individual.

This weekend on the same evening as Hope in the Dark our community will celebrate a milestone and achievement with a glittering gala event. I attend a lot of those in this community, and they are wonderful affairs, and so truly worthy of recognition. My favourite annual event, though, is one far from red carpets and Jimmy Choo shoes and swanky d├ęcor. It is an event that takes place in a park downtown, where the IJB and I set up camp and settle into our sleeping bags tucked inside cardboard boxes. I watch as she sleeps, the baby I once carried inside me, and I think about that fine dividing line between us and the homeless in our community.

And there is a moment, around 3 am, when clarity hits me, just when the skies above are filled with shimmering stars and the stark truths of life assail me. This year I will probably think about a homeless woman in Toronto sleeping in a doorway. I hope she found the bag of food I left and I hope she saw it for what it was - a tiny bit of hope in the dark.

Join us at the annual
 
The Intrepid Junior Blogger
Hope in the Dark 2013
 


 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Look Up! It's a Bird - No, It's a Plane - Wait, it's the Fort McMurray International Air Show!


One of the things few know about me is that I spent some of my life working in the aviation industry. While living in Red Lake, Ontario I worked for a small regional carrier called Bearskin Airlines - and my years there were some of the best times I have ever had in my life.

There is a rhythm to airline life, the departures and arrivals, and just enough occasional uncertainty with delayed flights and bad weather to keep it interesting. I loved every minute working in a small airport in northwestern Ontario, because it introduced me to people from all over the world who came to our community on business (gold mining) or pleasure (tourism and fishing). But most of all I loved it because it introduced me to the world of pilots, and planes.

I love to fly, enough that my pilot friends tried to encourage me to take lessons and try to acquire a pilot's license. They saw my love of aircraft, and my intense admiration for pilots and those who service the airplanes that fly our sky, because they are intricate pieces of equipment. I often thought it was almost magical, watching our "birds" take off one after another, gaining speed and altitude and tucking their landing gear up as they headed to their next destination. I was the person who would show up when unusual planes were on the tarmac, even on my days off, securing tours of luxury private jets flying aristocratic American fishermen to our airport where they would then head by boat to private fishing camps, and on one memorable occasion even found myself inside a giant Hercules, the workhorse of Canadian airforce aviation.  The shining moment every couple of years, though, was when one of our hometown boys, who had moved on to Cold Lake, would swing into town with his new ride - a CF-18.

You always knew when he was there even if you didn't know he was coming, because you could hear the engines as he would buzz low over the lake close to the airport. There was always a little shiver of excitement as you knew one of the finest aircraft in the world and a massively skilled pilot would soon be landing, and shortly after the crowd of local townspeople would show up, anxious for a glimpse of the CF-18, and, if they were lucky, see inside it. I was one of the lucky ones.

I left that aviation life behind me a long time ago, when I moved to Fort McMurray twelve years ago, but I have never lost my love of planes or my respect for the men and women who fly them. I spent enough time working with them to understand the level of knowledge and skill required to fly these precision vehicles, and I understood their passion because I felt a tiny bit of it myself. And besides, I have never lost that sense of magic when I see a plane take off, from the smallest float plane to the hugest cargo carrier. There is simply something incredibly exciting about seeing people take flight, a desire going far back into time and the story of Icarus.

I suppose that is why I am very excited for two things that are coming up very soon in Fort McMurray.

The first is the opening of the new airport terminal, which from all reports will be an astonishing accomplishment. Anyone who has been in our current terminal knows it is inadequate for the traffic it now sees, our region transporting passenger numbers beyond what any planner of that original terminal could have ever dreamed. This new terminal, though, has been designed to meet the needs of today and the future, turning us into an international destination and lessening our need to travel through the other hubs that often create delays in our flight itineraries. I am tremendously excited too because I have lived that aviation life, and I know the ebb and flow of the day of an airport, the busy times and the quiet times, and all the times in between.

I haven't seen the new terminal yet - I suppose I wanted it to be a surprise, refusing any media invitations as I think I want to experience it first on my own when the Intrepid Junior Blogger flies off to Calgary this summer. I told her about the new terminal and she was amazed, never expecting that we would see a terminal of this kind in our community, but now we will. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Scott Clements and all those at the Fort McMurray Airport Authority, who took an idea and are bringing it to reality, proving that we can achieve great things when we simply put our hearts - and our heads and our hands - into the task.

The second thing I am excited about is that next weekend all those who find planes magical like me - and to be honest like most of the world - will have an amazing opportunity when the Fort McMurray International Air Show takes over the skies and brings some of the premier aviation performers in the world to our community, including Canada's own renowned Snowbirds.

The jam-packed line-up of entertainment is pretty stunning- aerial acrobatics - or aerobatics - coupled with vintage aircraft, and even air show pyrotechnics. It is certain to be an incredible weekend, and on June 1 you can even take a tour of the new terminal (and while curiosity has a tendency to kill this cat she intends to skip the tour and stay true to her plan to experience the new terminal on an average and normal day, basking in that life she once knew so well).

And there will even be a CF-18 in attendance, and that I will go to see as I will never forget the day a very long time ago when I heard a buzzing noise for the first time and saw as people began to run from inside the terminal to the parking lot to see a favourite son return home in his new ride. I won't forget touching the aircraft and talking to the pilot about life in the skies. I won't forget the magic, because to me planes might be kept in the air by science but they are kept in our hearts through the magic they weave as we fulfill the dreams of Icarus, touching the sky.

I hope to see many other community members there. It is unlikely an air show of this magnitude will ever be held in this region again, and this may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see it right on our doorstep, and to hear that buzz of the CF-18 above our heads.

There have been some difficult days recently in our region. There have been days when I have felt a degree of despair about our future, and about our ability to continue to progress to meet the future that is coming at us like a freight train. I am taking a great deal of hope in the upcoming opening of the new airport terminal and air show, though, as it is the culmination of years of hard work, planning, hopes - and yes, even dreams - as we begin to embrace that future. It is a beacon of hope in our region that says we are strong, and growing, and progressive, and ready to welcome thousands and thousands of new residents and visitors to our region when they land on the tarmac at the new terminal for the first time.

In August of this year it will be exactly thirteen years ago that I arrived in Fort McMurray - my very first glimpse of my new life the airport tarmac and terminal. I had no idea back then what an adventure it would be or how this place would capture my heart. I had no idea back then that I would be here one day to celebrate the opening of a new airport terminal by being thrilled at an air show by the magic of flight - and yet here I am.

Join me as we celebrate the arrival of the future of Wood Buffalo and Fort McMurray next weekend as the skies of our region come alive with airplanes - and magic!

Fort McMurray International Air Show 


Thursday, May 22, 2014

How a Little Hip Hop Group is Changing Lives - Northern Elements Crew in Wood Buffalo

Sometimes you get the pleasure of being part of something from the very beginning and watching it grow. The experience is often an incredible one, especially when you see something go from being a small nugget of an idea to a huge success, impacting lives along the way. And that is how it has been with Northern Elements Crew, the local hip hop group that has grown in massive ways since it began - and changed lives.

Earlier this year I wrote a letter of support in the bid to nominate NEC for an award. I like to think I managed to capture the essence of what NEC is and means in this letter, and today I want to share it with you along with a video from a local event hosted by NEC. I went to the event - and it was a blast, confirming everything I have believed about NEC from the start.

It has truly been my honour to watch as Northern Elements Crew has grown, developed and begun to change lives. I have a few favourite organizations in this community, and NEC ranks right up near the top for me - mostly because they always, always manage to make me smile and feel optimistic about our youth and our future. I want to thank them for all they do for our local youth and hip hop enthusiasts - and for allowing me to be part of the journey.

Northern Elements Crew


I am submitting this letter in support of the nomination for Northern Elements Crew. I have had the pleasure of watching Northern Elements Crew from the very beginning of their journey in this community, and I would like to lend my full support to recognizing them with this award.

Northern Elements Crew began last January with a core of some adult community members who have a passion for dance, hip-hop in particular. What began as a small group of adult dance enthusiasts has blossomed into a hip-hop community that has taken the community by storm, and embraced local youth with an interest in hip-hop dance and culture.

As a parent who served on parent council for many years one of my concerns was the number of young adults we were failing to engage in our community. These students, who didn’t always fall into the categories of the “athletes” or the “mathletes” were slipping through the cracks as we were not reaching them through the programs currently being offered in our community. Having spent time with some of the troubled youth and young homeless individuals in our community I knew how easily young people who are not being engaged can lose their identity and fall into difficult lifestyles. I was concerned about these young adults, seeing them as children and becoming young citizens, and I was worried about how we would reach them and provide them with a community in which they could
grow and develop as individuals. I am pleased to say that I have now seen some of these local youth involved with Northern Elements Crew, finding a community based on their shared interest. Through the Northern Elements Crew they are finding adult mentorship, peer support and a group that is encouraging and fostering their development as young adults and citizens.

The weekly practice sessions attract youth from across our community and a wide age demographic. In a safe and supportive environment the youth are learning not only the art of hip-hop dance but the culture and history, instilling in them a sense of the importance of history and culture as it relates to a genre of dance they enjoy while also opening their minds to the general importance of history and culture in our world. The participants have had the opportunity to dance at several community events, 
such as:

• Flash mob at MacDonald Island

• Roller derby Performance at Casman Centre

• Fort McMurray’s First Community Hip Hop Battle

• Unity Day in July

• Young Choreographers Ball

• Grade 7 Youth Conference at Ecole McTavish

• Justin Slade Youth Conference at Westwood High School

• Pink Shirt Day at Ecole McTavish

The key point is that this exploration of hip-hop builds upon an interest they already hold, and is enabling them to develop connections and networks with their peers and with adults who hold similar interests. It is remarkable to see what Northern Elements Crew has accomplished in just over a year, and the potential for continued and increasing positive impact in our region is profound as they are able to welcome more youth and engage even more individuals in the hip-hop community.

What is also remarkable is that these youth, particularly the ones I have been so troubled that we would lose over the years as they grew disaffected with our community, are now forging connections beyond the hip-hop group as they interact with individuals from across the community at the events where they perform. Northern Elements Crew is not only encouraging local youth in the exploration of dance but in developing connections with the community that run deeper than hip-hop and that will, I hope, enable them to find a sense of belonging in our community both in and out of the dance world.

The adult mentors in Northern Elements Crew believe in capacity building, and are fostering capacity in the group by encouraging the youth to become leaders in the group, but my belief is that the skills and abilities they are fostering go far beyond the dance crew. I believe they are building capacity in these young adults to be the leaders of today and tomorrow in whatever occupation or life they choose, and that the leadership skills they are learning with Northern Elements Crew will serve them well through their entire lives.

To summarize I truly believe that Northern Elements Crew is not just teaching hip-hop dance – I firmly believe they are changing the lives of these young adults, and through a shared love of dance they are enabling local youth participants to become part of the fabric of our community. Through the dedication, commitment and passion of the adult mentors in the group the young participants are finding their own and I sincerely believe that this group is quite likely altering the trajectory of some of these young lives. I look forward to seeing what Northern Elements Crew can continue to accomplish and achieve in the years ahead, as what they have founded is nothing short of amazing and I believe we will have future community leaders who will one day cite their experience with this hip-hop community as one of the guiding forces in their life.

Sincerely,
Theresa Wells



The 'Fasten Your Seatbelt' Sign is Lit - Turbulence in the Fort McMurray Skies, Part Two

Two days ago I wrote about the ongoing saga of Phoenix Heli-Flight and their decision to end 24/7 lifesaving helicopter medevac transportation due to an inability to secure funding - or even a commitment for funding - from the provincial government or industry. Since then I have heard a great deal more about this issue, including speaking to Paul Spring of Phoenix Heli-Flight and reading several stories about the issue. What I haven't seen, though, is a response from government or industry.

It seems Fred Horne, Minister of Health, is declining to comment on this issue, passing it on to Alberta Health Services to be addressed. Alberta Health Services indicated they had not heard that Phoenix Heli-Flight was being forced to cancel 24/7 helicopter services and they would not be commenting on it further either.

And so we once again encounter a government stalemate where nobody is going to say anything to anyone, least of all to the people who are most impacted by this issue: the people of this region.

You know, it gets a little tiresome having to fight for everything in this region. I had someone send me an email this week asking why I felt Fort McMurray deserves such "preferential treatment" over other areas of the province, and all I could do was snort.

Preferential treatment?

It took the deaths of seven people, including two children, to secure a commitment to twin a highway that serves one of the most economically valuable industries in North America (and even then that only came with huge community advocacy).

It has taken years of fighting to even begin to get adequate infrastructure for our growth, including new roads so we aren't stuck in traffic for hours as we are caught on the wrong side of the bridge during an accident or other traffic snarl.

We are still fighting for an aging in place facility, more land for development, and more services for a rapidly growing region - a region that, incidentally, does more for the Canadian economy than perhaps any other region in the country.

We could go into the numbers, how many jobs in this country are reliant on the oil sands and how much revenue is generated for our economy, but I think we all acknowledge the industry has tremendous impact on this province and country in terms of economic benefit.

For years we were the poor country bumpkin cousin of Edmonton and Calgary, forgotten way up here in the north and conveniently overlooked as we got their hand-me-downs of services and goods, often too little and too late to address our issues. Never mind that the economies of those cities are hugely reliant on ours and our industry - we were just "lucky" to get anything at all.

The reality is, though, that Fort McMurray has come of age. We now have two MLAs who advocate for us and with us. We have a growing sense of community advocacy, and far less willingness to be the poor country cousin who must accept being "less than" their big city counterparts.

In my humble opinion the decision by Fred Horne and Alberta Health Services to decline to speak to this issue is simply further evidence of the attitude towards our region that has plagued us for decades. Does anyone think they would not speak to this if it impacted the other major centres in this province? Does anyone think they would not find a way to address this if it was Calgary that did not have night-time medevac services that could mean the difference between life and death? Or is it because we are a region that can be conveniently overlooked and forgotten, just the engine of the economic vehicle of this province and not the shiny chrome exterior?

Here's the reality. It doesn't matter how much you polish the chrome and shine the mirrors. Unless you pay attention to the engine of your economy it will eventually fail in some regard. This region is the economic engine of this province and it is deserving of attention to our issues and problems, including finding a solution to the current issue raging about Phoenix Heli-Flight and their ability to continue to save lives in this region.

I would like to see the stakeholders in this issue start talking, and soon. I would like to see the Government of Alberta and industry players come back to the table and begin to discuss not if this service should be continued but how they intend to ensure it does. And I would really, really like if we started to see all levels of government begin to pay real attention to this region and start servicing the economic engine of our country, before the "fasten your seatbelt" sign isn't the only one to come on and the "check engine" light begins flashing instead.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Turbulence in the Skies - Phoenix Heli-Flight and Emergency Medevac Flight Services


 
It is the middle of the night.
That’s when these things always seem to happen, when they are least expected. And no one ever “expects” tragedy or trauma to strike, which I suppose is why we call them an emergency.

They happen everywhere, and they have happened in my own life with my parents as they aged, although in their case they lived in a large city with easy access to rapid medical care and transportation. But what happens when these emergencies happen in a remote region, like a highway far from major centres or an oilsands site far from medical expertise? Who do we rely on then to get us, our loved ones, our fellow community members or our employees to the medical care they desperately need?
Well, in Fort McMurray for over twenty years we have relied on Phoenix Heli-Flight, and in the last few months Phoenix improved their service by offering dedicated 24/7 Helicopter Emergency Medical Services. In order to operate these night flights Phoenix had to invest in specialized equipment, including a helicopter capable of performing during demanding situations and serving a large – and growing – region.

For the most part Phoenix has shouldered the financial burden of these night flights and 24/7 operations. While they have been paid by Alberta Health Services on a fee-per-service basis and while two industry partners have contributed, along with donations from individual community members, the funding that Phoenix initially anticipated to come from government and industry has not materialized...and as a result Phoenix will be forced to stop offering 24/7 emergency helicopter services at the end of this month as the financial burden has become too much for them to bear. And I will say it right now – this cannot be allowed to happen.
We live in a region that is home to an industry that operates 24/7. Added to the potential for industrial incidents requiring emergency medical intervention is the workforce that operates that industry, a predominantly male group with medical emergencies ranging from strokes to heart attacks. As a result of that 24/7 industry we also have a 24/7 community, with our highways buzzing with traffic and the potential for collisions during every time of day. The reality is that our region is unique in some ways, including a 24/7 industry and community that demands 24/7 services to support it – including emergency medical transportation that is available around the clock, seven days a week, with the equipment and professionals necessary to both do the job and do it well – and Phoenix Heli-Flight are the ones who have the equipment and professionals to do it.

The residents of this region and those who work in our industry and live in the camps provided by industry are reliant on these services – and in situations where minutes do matter and where lengthy transportation delays can result in poor medical outcomes, including death. We are a region of remote communities, work camps, isolated roads, industrial sites and thousands and thousands of people for whom these night flights can mean the difference between life and death. It’s a pretty stark reality – and it is time for everyone to recognize it and come back to the table.
You see Phoenix Heli-Flight has tried to secure funding from industry and the provincial government but it has turned into one of those situations where everyone acknowledges the necessity of the service but no one wants to shoulder the cost. It seems a stalemate has evolved, and the ones losing are the residents of this region, as well as all those who come to this region to work.

This issue impacts a far larger group than solely the citizens of this region. We have individuals working in this region who come from across the country, and who are equally dependent on timely medical transportation in emergencies. This issue impacts those individuals and their families across the country, and so the ripple effect of the end of these services will spread far and wide.
Phoenix Heli-Flight has clearly shown their commitment to providing 24/7 emergency helicopter services, but they cannot continue to do so if it is not cost-effective and if they are shouldering the majority of the financial impact. It is time for the other stakeholders – the Government of Alberta and all industry representatives – to come back to the table to negotiate a resolution to this issue and find a way to continue funding a service that is, fundamentally, essential. The cost to provide the dedicated ‎service is $7,900 per day, with most of that going toward costs for 9 pilots, 2 mechanics, and administration. It also includes a hangar and office, and fuel infrastructure, insurance, training, night vision goggles, and a $6 million helicopter. This might seem like a large amount but if compared to what our region produces in economic benefit for the province and in revenue generation for the industry it is quite clearly a drop in the bucket on the investment scale.

So, what do you do and where do you come in? I happen to know that our regional MLAs have been advocating for this service and demanding that our region receive the 24/7 emergency medical helicopter transportation it both needs and deserves, so I suggest it is now time to take it higher and voice our demands directly to the Minister of Health and our Premier. The collective strength of our voices can, and has, accomplished remarkable things in this region in recent years and I believe this situation is no different. Perhaps you reside in this region and wish this service to continue. Perhaps you reside in another part of this country and work in this region. Perhaps you have family who live, work or play in this region. The reality is that if this region touches your life in any way then this issue has the potential to impact you as those emergencies, the ones that happen in the middle of the night, are never expected and we never expect them to touch our lives – and yet they do.
We need to advocate for ourselves and for Phoenix Heli-Flight as they have carried the burden of advocacy for long enough. We need to contact our government representatives, our unions, our employers and anyone and everyone that we believe will benefit from continued 24/7 emergency helicopter services. We need to ensure they understand that we believe this service must continue and that we believe the small financial investment it will require from industry and government is more than compensated for by the economic power and benefits generated by this region.

The reality is that we never know when one of those middle of the night emergencies may touch our life – and in this case we may lose the very service that could save our lives. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen. Click on the links below - and let your voice be heard.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Tempest in a Teapot



The first morning he said hello. The second morning in the coffee shop he said hello and asked where I was visiting from. The third morning he said hello and bought my coffee on the condition that we sit for a bit and chat as he had noted I sat alone the previous two mornings, reading the newspaper. I agreed, and that is how I found wisdom from a man who runs a barbershop.

When he joined me that third morning he saw that I was reading a story about Doug Ford, Toronto councillor and brother to the infamous and deeply troubled mayor of his city. He asked what I thought about the Fords and I commented that it seemed his city had a crisis.

He fixed me with steely eyes and said, “We have no crisis. We have a tempest in a teapot.”

“A pretty big tempest,” I replied, and just as quickly he smiled, shook his coffee cup at me, and said: “A pretty small teapot!”

I was I suppose a bit surprised at how cavalier he seemed about it all, a political nightmare plaguing his city with new allegations, revelations and accusations at every turn. He called this a tempest?

“A tempest in a teapot,” he emphasized. “Has anyone in my city been marched onto trains never to be seen again? Have any disappeared in the night without a word and no one knows where they have gone? Has anyone been thrown into jail without warning or defense? Has anyone stormed city hall with guns and grenades? Has anyone burned down buildings? Do you see any tanks?” he asked. And that is when I noticed the soft traces of an Eastern European accent in this older man, and that is when realization dawned that he had likely seen political strife that goes far beyond a tempest in a teapot.

I told him about my city when he asked, and about our crisis. He asked the same questions, and when I told him the nature of the crisis – money and greed, allegations of corruption and cronyism – he replied “Aha! Good old Canadian political crimes!” and laughed, his eyes twinkling.

He went on to explain that where he came from corruption was so common it wasn’t even something people talked about. Bribery was part of every day politics, and money and greed and elections went hand in hand. The true crises came when the guns came out, and when young people went to war and fought and died, their blood running in the streets amid bombed out buildings and houses.

And then he asked a question.

“The things happening in your city – will they change history?” he asked. “Will they make it into history books, will they alter the destiny of mankind, will they re-align the stars? Ours won’t. In ten years the Fords will be a distant memory. In twenty they will be almost forgotten. In fifty no one will even know who they were. Is this true in your city, too?”

I nodded, because of course it is true. You can get so enmeshed in something you fail to see the microcosm in which you live, and the macrocosm outside your door. You focus on the tiny and fail to see the big picture. You think what you are experiencing matters so much and forget that it is but a tiny, tiny part of the whole.

I suppose he saw the light dawn in my face as he exclaimed: “You see! A tempest in a teapot!”

I laughed. He laughed.

He asked what I do in my community and I told him. He told me what he does, cutting hair and giving hot shaves and talking to men all day long about their businesses and jobs and families and sports and health problems, and, yes, politics. He told me about his years spent volunteering with various groups in the downtown core, and I told him about this blog, and my writing, and my life, and my daughter. We talked about doing the things you can to make your city a better place to live, and what ordinary citizens can do when a tempest in a teapot begins – and what really constitutes a crisis and not a tempest.

“So when you go home,” he said. “When you go home what will you do? Will you listen to the rumours, give fuel to the stories, take sides in the ‘battle’, or will you do what you always do and be who you always are while the tempest in the teapot eventually boils dry?” he asked, his soft grey eyes twinkling a bit.

It was a good question, really, and anyone who knows me well and reads this blog already knows how I replied. It was the answer I have been leaning towards for some time, but I suppose I just needed a gentle push from someone who had seen a true crisis to help me understand the difference between a crisis and a tempest.

When he said goodbye he said: “I will read your blog, Tempest in a Teapot Theresa. Make sure you make me sound clever!”

I hope I have done him justice, although I don’t think it was hard to do. I didn’t record our conversation, although much of it is burned into my memory as those moments that re-align your thoughts, if not the stars, do. If he is reading this I want to say thank you – for the new perspective, the new nickname and the renewed commitment to refuse to add to the tempest and simply weather the storm instead, working to make a difference every day until  (and long after) the teapot runs dry.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Sharing A New Perspective on the RMWB

I have always taken some degree of pride in being a storyteller, able to bring a new perspective or share a perspective belonging to another. This week I was contacted by an employee of the RMWB who shared their perspective on recent events affecting the municipality, and I asked if I could share their thoughts with you. 

I think perhaps one of the most important things to remember is that there are many sides and points of view to every story, including this one. There are hundreds of employees at the RMWB who work hard every single day to improve our region, keep our communities functioning and do their jobs to the best of their ability. I believe their stories have just as much value as those belonging to anyone else, and so I am happy to share one story and perspective with you.

My correspondent asked to remain anonymous, and I respect their wishes as what has value here is their story, not their identity. I appreciate you reading what they have to say with an open mind - and remembering that every single person has a story to tell, even if we may disagree with their perspective.


Good Morning!

Spring is finally here, the sun is out, the birds are chirping, the season of change is surrounding us,from nature through to federal/provincial/local politics. With Spring and change, comes the enviable cleaning or flush required for that change, and that's what I want to speak about here.

Leaders in the RMWB all strive to provide for our employees and our community a higher quality of life.  Some of us go above and beyond, working excessive hours without compensation and using our own hard earned dollars to make a "higher quality of life" a reality.  Some of us routinely pay for appreciation lunches, office gifts, birthday parties, special events and minor project expenses with our own money.  Our duty to our employees is to celebrate their victories and their accomplishments, and if necessary, foot the bill with our personal credit cards.  While some leaders within the organization may have spent tax-dollars on questionable items, we have no context as a community to why those dollars were spent.

Perhaps that paltry $300 in soaps was used as a "thank you" to compensate non-unionized employees ineligible for overtime for working extra hours on an important project, that if paid out would have easily been in the thousands, if not tens of thousands for their time and effort.  One comment I saw earlier stated, "Under what circumstances would it EVER be acceptable to purchase scented soaps with tax dollars?"  To that, another comment stated, "What about a bathroom?"

We are so blind-sided by the shock of public servants spending OUR communities money, that we do not take the time to put those expenses in context.  When will it end, when we've cut all expenses but the absolute basics?

How many of our residents would continue their jobs if they provided no training, no compensation aside from base rates, no lunches/travel/conferences, no buses, AND expected you to work extra hours unpaid?


If we scare away all the staff that are hire-able by other companies, we'll end up with a large population of employees that are only there because they have too much to lose (ie: pension), which is VERY typical of government.  In turn, those employees do the bare minimum to retain their job, because there is no incentive to try, there is only incentive to not get fired.  When we end up with a team of leaders and employees doing the bare minimum, our residents suffer the results.

As a community, we need to "rip the bandaid off", move past this entire thing, and start focusing on whats important:  Improving the quality of life for our residents and our community. Part of that, includes looking after and retaining the employees of the RMWB.


Monday, May 12, 2014

Ripping Off the Bandaid

Tonight I share with you a blog post from a fellow communications professional. I do so without a great deal of commentary as he sums up his case quite well and it needs little additional comment from me.

All I will add is that perhaps it is time to rip off the bandaid. I have over recent weeks watched as the slow and constant revelation of new information began to poison our community. I saw it slowly sinking into our consciousness, beginning to fester like a wound where every day brought new ooze to the surface.

Maybe it's time to rip off the bandaid and expose the entire wound instead of plucking away at the edges of the bandage we have wound around it. I know that allowing former employees who signed non-disclosure agreements to now speak about their experience might have repercussions which we do not fully expect or understand, but I am not certain it can be any worse than what is currently occurring in our community - a slow and steady drip of toxicity that threatens to rip us apart. The information they possess will come out over time - of that I am certain - and so any attempt to keep things under wraps seems not only futile, but foolish.

Maybe our only chance for catharsis is to rip off the bandaid, expose the wounds and hope to let the healing truly begin. I don't know for certain, although I know that is the conclusion my heart leans toward. But I will let this former RMWB employee state his case, and let you decide:

Fort McMurray, Ticker Tape Parades and Cynicism

On Saturday two ministers with the Conservative federal government popped into Fort McMurray to make an announcement. I had hoped to be there in person, but was tied up with another commitment and so I watched from home, vicariously through Twitter, as Ministers Kellie Leitch and Rona Ambrose took the podium at Keyano Theatre to announce some funding.


The funding they announced during this road trip for Fort McMurray-Athabasca, which included funding for the arts and infrastructure projects, totaled just over $400,000, with $56,000 for Keyano Theatre and the remainder for infrastructure and other projects in the region.
And the crowd went wild! Cheering and high-fiving, slapping each other on the back with glee, confetti flying in the air, carrying Ambrose and Leitch out into the streets for a ticker-tape parade of celebration down Franklin Avenue as the populace rejoiced in the significant investment the federal government had just made in the economic engine and backbone of our country........or not.


In fact what followed sounded a lot like this: (insert dead silence coupled with disbelief)
Yes, the “announcement” was greeted with crickets, not rejoicing, as to call it an "insulting" amount of investment is to be entirely too kind.


$56,000 for the arts? Not a tiny figure but not exactly substantial. And the remainder, totaling less than $380,000? Less than my mortgage, and less than the mortgages of most who live in Fort McMurray.
If I was Ambrose and Leitch I would have headed back to Ottawa and said “Thanks for sending us out to insult the people of northern Alberta and almost getting us lynched in the process”, because the announcement was insulting and demeaning to a region that generates the economic power of this country. It was an announcement that speaks to the kind of complacency being displayed by the federal government when it comes to this by-election.


One could have hoped they came to announce that the government had cut through the red tape on the Willow Square property, expediting the process so that construction on an aging in place facility could being immediately – but no. Rumours I heard indicated that the ministers weren't even fully aware of the Willow Square issue, which if true indicates the level of disconnect this road show had with our community.
One could have hoped they came to announce that the government had decided to pursue a significant investment in our new airport, a development destined to bolster our economic strength and further generate revenue for the Canadian economy – but no, although they are apparently ever-so-kindly considering it (insert huge eyeroll here, the kind my kid gives me when I suggest doing the dishes).


One could have hoped they came to announce that the government was going to begin to seriously invest in this region and constituency, providing the kind of support we need from our government.
But no.


What we saw instead seemed to be a pathetic ploy to grab some headlines and attention with an announcement of too little and too late, and, while I don’t mean to seem ungrateful as I appreciate the token show of faith in our region, it is completely inappropriate given what this region needs, and what it means to the economy of this country.
One could think the only reason the ministers were trotted out here to make these token announcements was because Justin Trudeau, a charismatic man who is generating his own kind of power, was in the region as well this weekend to support Kyle Harrietha, the Liberal Party of Canada candidate in the upcoming by-election. One could think they came only because the by-election was finally called on Sunday, and that this paltry amount was an attempt to purchase some votes. One could think those things, but that seems rather cynical, doesn’t it? And what reason would we have for cynicism, given that our region has been fundamentally ignored by the federal government in their complacent belief in their stranglehold on this seat in Parliament, and our former MP who was more concerned about generating crossword puzzles for newsletters than generating good results for his constituents?


Nope, no cynicism here, even though on May 3 Conservative pollsters dialing voters in this region had no idea there was a Conservative candidate in the riding (as evidenced by a friend who asked them if the by-election had been called and their response that it had not due to the lack of a Conservative candidate – several days after the candidate had, in fact, been selected, on April 26). 

Nope, no cynicism about the commitment the government has to this riding, as evidenced by their own pollsters not knowing they had a candidate several days after one had been selected, and inadequate funding announcements made on the fly and in a seemingly reactionary way.
Okay, I am lying. There was no ticker-tape parade on Saturday, and no one reacted to the announcement with glee.


And frankly, I am cynical as hell.