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

Monday, October 26, 2015

Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?

When I was little I lived on Sesame Street.

Okay, maybe not literally, but in my imagination I was a resident of Sesame Street, a place where puppets and people were equals, where race and colour of skin didn’t even seem to register with anyone and where the sun chased the clouds away.
Oh, there were challenges on Sesame Street. After all, Oscar the Grouch lived in a garbage can and was clearly the surly neighbour, but everyone was still fond of him because, well, that was just Oscar. Cookie Monster clearly had a substance abuse problem and The Count was unable to control his obsessive-compulsive counting. Big Bird wasn’t the brightest despite his brilliant yellow plumage, and on occasion there was conflict between the characters.

But there was a sense of community, a neighbourhood feeling that transcended the differences. They were all essential parts of Sesame Street.
When I was in Grade Ten Mr. Hooper, a long-time fixture on the street, passed away. Instead of shying away from the topic they wove his death into the story, and I recall watching that episode even though I had mostly outgrown Sesame Street by then. A beloved neighbour had died, and Sesame Street was grieving.

In a recent post I wrote about a note left on my car, one that was far from neighbourly and that spoke to a darker side of our human tendencies to be possessive and territorial. Since I wrote that post I have been deluged with emails and messages containing similar stories, of notes left on cars and in mailboxes, and of far, far worse behaviour.

I received emails from those who are afraid of their neighbours. The messages came from all over our country, with some even coming from the United States.

Sometime in the last few decades we moved away from Sesame Street. The gentle camaraderie of neighbours, the backyard barbecues and front porch coffees ended and were replaced it seems by flashing computer screens as we develop pseudo-communities with people we will likely never even meet.
We lost the map to Sesame Street. There are still places where it exists, I think, but I am hearing far too many stories of places where it is gone, and maybe forever. I believe we can still find it, map a path back to the magic of Sesame Street and reclaim our neighbourhoods.

So friends, can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Giving Thanks for Democracy and My Daughter

Thanksgiving Day,  2015: Today, I took my daughter to the airport for her flight to Calgary, and then I went and stood in line with dozens of other residents and voted in the advance polls for the upcoming federal election. These two things may seem unrelated, and yet in my mind they are deeply connected, as they are perhaps the two things for which I am most profoundly grateful.

That I am thankful for my daughter should be quite obvious - as she would likely say: "Thanks for pointing out the obvious, Captain Obvious". I could not be more proud of this young woman or more honoured to be her mother, as she is strong and smart and independent and bold and courageous and ferocious in all the very best ways. She is the best of me and yet minus some of my more glaring flaws. She is the future in every sense, as she is on a trajectory to do great things, whatever they happen to be, and I believe one day she will lead and mentor others to do great things, too.

And perhaps it is because of her that I am so thankful for democracy. As her mother I have the opportunity to have a say in her future and in the trajectory of the country in which she is growing up. One day soon - two years, in fact - she will be able to vote and will cast her own ballot, but until then I cast one with her future in mind, as she is the one who will inherit this nation, and she and her cohort will be the next generation to lead it.

Today as I stood in line to vote, awed by the massive turnout for the advance polls, I thought a great deal about my daughter and democracy. We have so much to be grateful for in this country - a proud history of immigration and multiculturalism, a strong sense of identity and quiet patriotism and a warm and welcoming atmosphere that has embraced families from around the world for generations, including my own a few generations ago.

Part of the joy in democracy is being able to openly share our political ideals and opinions, and even where we have chosen to place our X. We do so free of repercussion, knowing that true democracy means we can openly support those we choose without fear of reprisal. In the past I have been criticized for sharing my own political beliefs openly, as there are those who fear the open sharing of such thoughts can prove influential to others - and yet that is exactly why I am so very thankful for democracy, because we can share these thoughts and beliefs. Democracy - true democracy - hinges on that very fact.

I voted as I did today because I want the Intrepid Junior Blogger to grow up in the kind of Canada I did. I want her to grow up with a government dealing with issues likes ensuring quality education for everyone and addressing poverty, not one creating imaginary monsters to manipulate the public through fear. I am weary of a government that believes fear is the way to govern, as while it is a powerful tool it is one designed to strip us of our free will and our ability to think independently, as we become so consumed with fear we fail to question.  I have no interest in governments that create paper tigers to foment fear, ones that divide Canadians and go against everything we have worked to build in this country, like acceptance, understanding and peace.

Two years ago a visiting politician took half an hour out of his schedule to meet with a 14-year old young woman who had a lot of questions about politics. She wasn't old enough to vote, and it was unlikely the time he spent with her would translate into many votes for the local candidate, but he did it anyhow. He treated her like she was an adult, answering her questions and offering his thoughts in a candid and refreshing way. I witnessed this exchange with some degree of amazement, as what I saw was a tremendous gift being given to a young woman who is keenly interested in democracy, in politics and in the future of this country. The young woman was, of course, the IJB.

Friends, we have much to be grateful for today, and every single day. Perhaps more so than ever though we should be thankful for the opportunity to experience and exercise democracy. I hope that your gratitude is keen enough to compel you to vote in this election, whomever it is you happen to support with your vote.

Today on Thanksgiving I am thankful for my daughter, and for the opportunity to vote for a change that I believe will benefit her future, and the future of this country. You might agree with me, and you might not - but I hope you share my gratitude for your own ability to vote, and I sincerely hope that you  show that gratitude by heading to the polls and having your say in our future, too. It is one aspect of our lives in this country for which we should be very, very thankful, and today seemed like the perfect day to celebrate it.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Second Strike: Back to Talking Smack

On January 15 of this year I wrote a blog post challenging some dubious assertions made about the connection between the oil sands industry and the development of terrorists. Unlike many assertions made about this region, though, these ones did not come from external media or those with an interest in doing harm to our community - they came from the police chief in our closest neighbouring city: Rod Knecht of Edmonton Police Services. I followed that post with a letter to Edmonton mayor Don Iveson, and this morning I find myself sitting in a hotel in Edmonton, ready to pen a letter once more to Mayor Iveson, because it seems Chief Knecht has done it again.

This time Knecht, speaking about the troubling increase in crime in Edmonton, has once again pointed a finger north and said the increase in crime in his city is due to displaced oil workers from cities like Cold Lake and Fort McMurray - you know, my hometown. When I read this interview I could feel my blood beginning to boil as I fail to see what Knecht hopes to accomplish by engaging in some sort of blame game.

The economic downturn has affected communities across the country. Should Knecht wish to indicate he feels this has an impact he could speak to the number of those residents from Edmonton and surrounding area who work in the oil industry and who have felt the impact of this decline. He could speak about how economic downturns can be accompanied by an increase in crime rates (although interestingly it seems we have not witnessed this effect in Fort McMurray) but he can do so while acknowledging that this is a complex issue. He could do any number of things, but his choice to blame other communities for Edmonton's current crime issue speaks volumes about his disinterest in owning his own problem. It is much easier to say "hey, it's not Edmontonians engaged in criminal activity, it's those guys from other places!". It's the olly-olly-oxen-free of policing, absolving yourself and your community of any blame while conveniently finding a scapegoat.

I could likely pull Fort McMurray press releases and news articles from the last two years showing a number of arrested individuals claiming an Edmonton address and make the case that drug trafficking in Fort McMurray originates in Edmonton and is therefore a problem coming from Edmonton - but I would not, and our local RCMP have never claimed this as the truth is that if it happens in our community it is OUR problem, and the origin of the perpetrator matters very little. We need to own our problems to address them, and fobbing them off on someone else does nothing to actually resolve the problems (and does a great deal to harm our relationship with our neighbouring communities).

We could also talk about the fact that many of the displaced oil workers have gone back to their home communities as people often do when they are laid off. If this is true we should be seeing increased crime rates in cities across the country, and yet I am not hearing any other police chiefs claiming that any increase they are seeing is due to displaced oil workers - especially since those workers are often residents of their own communities to start with, ones who have come home after the economy has failed them.

As a communications professional I have to wonder if anyone is actually helping Knecht to develop key messages so he stops damaging the relationship Edmonton has with Fort McMurray. I am sitting in an Edmonton hotel, shopping at Edmonton businesses and eating at Edmonton restaurants - and Knecht's comments make me feel disinclined to do this again, choosing to instead bypass Edmonton next time and head to Calgary instead where the police chief doesn't feel the need to throw Fort McMurray under the bus every few months. Surely Edmonton Police Services has a communications team of some sort - and if it does they need to help Knecht to recognize that his comments have an impact that go far beyond Edmonton, and far beyond policing. To put it bluntly, EPS Communications: Your boss is out of control. Time for some damage control measures and some frank talk.

Frankly, I am tired of it. Edmonton Police Services Chief Knecht seems to have a penchant for saying damaging and unkind things about my home city and about the tens of thousands of people who work in the oil sands industry. If Knecht has statistics showing a direct link between displaced oil workers from Fort McMurray and Cold Lake (incidentally the people who keep the Albertan economy going) and the increased crime rate in Edmonton then he should produce them immediately, because he is starting to look very much like an individual who shoots his mouth first and asks questions later - not an appealing quality in an individual holding his office. His smack talk is not conducive to building a strong and resilient relationship with other communities in this province, something I would consider a key goal for policing that enables police forces to work together to address crime and protect our communities.

The relationship between Fort McMurray and Edmonton has historically been a strong one and I hope it continues to be, as it benefits us all in the end. Edmonton happens to be one of my very favourite cities and I would regret if the comments of their police chief damaged this neighbourhood relationship any further.

Acknowledge you have an issue, own it and work to address it. It's the responsible, professional and respectable way to deal with anything - not trying to foist the blame on others. I expect the smack talk from certain factions, but from the police chief of a neighbouring community with which we have strong ties? That I don't expect - or accept, either.

Strike two, Knecht.