Monday, July 7, 2014

Tory, Tory Same Old Story....The Return Of Mike Allen

When I first caught word that beleaguered MLA Mike Allen being allowed back into the Tory caucus I thought someone must have surely imbibed a bit much over the weekend.  But, no.  There it was in black in white as I began to peruse media sources.  My shock turned to disbelief and then anger, quite frankly.  I'm still stunned as I try to make sense of it all and I've had to step away from my keyboard several times here in order to get something coherent down on paper, or screen as it where.

When I learned prior to the last provincial election that our city would get a second MLA do to some electoral boundary tinkering I was quite pleased.  The city has grown, and continues to grow, and its important that this growth be reflected in the legislature.  What I didn't realize at the time though was just how much of a double-edged sword this would be.  Thankfully, as it turned out, Mike Allen is not in my particular riding here, but he still represents our community as the riding of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo covers that part of Fort McMurray not included in Fort McMurray-Conklin.

If you recall, Allen was arrested on a government junket about a year ago in Minnesota, where he attempted to solicit sexual services from two ladies who just happened to be undercover cops.  Oops.  Anyhow, after seeing his trial delayed a few times, Allen was finally found guilty of solicitation late last year and fined $500.   The guy actually got off pretty easy as he was facing the real possibility of jail time.   Rightfully, then Premier Allison Redford gave Allen the boot from the PC caucus, one of the few things I actually agreed on with her.  Rather than do the honourable thing and step down, Allen decided to hang around as an Independent.  Always nice to have your community represented in part by a useless Opposition MLA.

And now Mike Allen is back, welcomed with open arms into the Tory fold.  Will the government do the right things and make pubic which MLA's voted to have this misogynist pig back as a caucus member? It would be the right thing to do of course.  But then again, politicians are a self-serving bunch.  Having THAT information floating about would surely put one hell of a dent the re-election chances of whoever was foolish enough to vote the goof back in.   This government never ceases to amaze.  It's like they have some sort of competition to see just how low they can set the bar before voters finally tire of all their bullshit and choose to get rid of the whole rotten bunch.

Consider this a warning shot of sorts.  Mike Allen certainly does not represent me and he does not represent my community.  To the government, stop treating us like bloody children.  What are the results of this recent vote?  Why do you feel the citizens of this community and this province should not be aware of how our MLA's voted?  I for one would love to know.  We're adult.  We can handle the truth.

Something is very wrong in society when a politician can pull this kind of nonsense and essentially get a free pass.  I for one, am sick and tired of the excuses.  We have issues here in this community and we certainly do not need this issue taking up the time and space.  Enough, Mr. Allen. Your antics grow tiresome.

Please grow a brain, Mike.  Use your head.  NO, not THAT head.  THAT one got you in this mess in the first place.  Use your OTHER head.  Resign and end this circus.  That is all.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Post By-election thoughts

With 94% of the votes counted as I type this it's guaranteed that our riding will be sending another Conservative to Ottawa.  I can't say I'm too surprised as Fort McMurray-Athabasca has elected either Conservative or Reform MPs since its creation.   However, as I watched the results come in tonight it was clear early on that the Liberals weren't about to fade quietly into the night.  I suspected they would pick up some votes but was surprised by just how many.  The Liberals had put a great deal of time and energy into the campaign here though and were able to tap into what seems to be a growing frustration with the government.  I figured that if the Liberals improved their vote count only marginally then such a small increase would quickly be forgotten in Ottawa and things would carry on as before.  With Conservative support dropping from 72% in 2011 to roughly 47%, clearly a warning shot has been fired across the bow.  It will be interesting to see how these results carry over into the 2015 general election.

Two things do concern me as we move forward.  Firstly, the abysmal voter turn out.  This riding is notoriously bad in this respect.  I'm sure the fact that the by-election was called so close to Canada Day played a role. Apathy too.  The Conservatives have held this riding for so long that there was no doubt a sense among some of "why should I even bother?"  Frankly, I don't know what the answer is.  We had 3 days of advance polling and many people out on site were able to leave their shift early to vote (as I did) AND still get paid for the full shift.  Clearly, we can do much better.

My other concern has to do with our MP-elect.  I wonder how responsive David Yurdiga will be to people's concerns when he didn't bother to show up for any of the candidate debates.  I will say that this played a role in how I voted.  And I've generally voted Conservative for as long as I've been old enough to vote.  I will say that Mr. Yurdiga has his work cut out for him if he hopes be re-elected next year.

While much of my focus over the past few weeks was obviously on the contest here I did pay a little attention (or at least as much as my schedule would allow) to the other 3 ridings which were also facing by-elections.   John Barlow's win in Macleod was pretty much a no-brainer.  Anything less than a Conservative romp would have been a huge disaster for the government.  I was pretty confident the Liberals would pick up Scarborough-Agincourt but was surprised they cruised to victory in Trinity-Spadina.  Maybe I just read the tea leaves wrong on that one but I was expecting the NDP there to put up much better results.

I would like to acknowledge all five candidates who put their name forward to represent our region.  Its easy to be cynical and it takes guts to stick your neck out.  So to David Yurdiga, Kyle Harrietha, Lori McDaniel, Tim Moen and Brian Deheer....Thank you!

Anyhow, there you have it.  A bit disappointed here in the result but perhaps a strong message has been sent....yes, the oil sand are important here BUT it is not the only thing that defines us.  This region (and this city) are not a monolith but rather more dynamic than the stereotypes can sometimes suggest.  Here's hoping that at the very least, a strong message was sent to Ottawa tonight.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

By-election: The Empty Chair in the Room

When I heard about the all-candidates debate in town tonight for the June 30 by-election, my interest was piqued.  Here was a chance to see the candidates and hear their stances on the issues affecting our region.  I even considered booking today off as I was due to work so that I could attend.  In the end though it turns out I wouldn't be hearing from all the candidates because one of them would not be attending.  There would be an empty chair in the room.  I can understand candidates having busy schedules during an election campaign though I have to wonder what could be so pressing as to cause a candidate to skip out of such an important part of our democratic process.

But when I heard that Conservative candidate David Yurdiga had also passed on another all-candidate debate in Lac La Biche last week, I was puzzled, and then quite frankly, miffed.  To think that a political hopeful who wants MY vote can't even be bothered to hear constituents' concerns and questions is something I find disgusting.  Are we so unworthy of your time, Mr. Yurdiga?  If I had a dime for every time I've heard of a politician flying in for a day, gushing about how our region if the "economic engine of Canada" and then flying out and ignoring the challenges we face, I could probably retire.  I have to admit I find if disturbing that a candidate can blow off not one, but two public forums and then potentially win the seat by a large margin as tends to happen with Conservatives in this province.  I realize that Fort McMurray-Athabasca is quite a large riding (larger than several European countries in fact) but if a candidate who may end up representing me in Ottawa can't be bothered to show up for a debate in that riding's largest population centre then, really, why the hell would I feel compelled to vote for him?

I did receive some election mail yesterday so I suppose I HAVE heard from the Yurdiga campaign in a sense.  A rectangular laminated card from the Conservatives stating on the front that "Conservatives support the oil sands."   Because apparently the ONLY thing in our riding is the oil sands(?)  Now I realize this is a by-election and candidates aren't going to come out with a full policy platform as in a full-blown election campaign.  But still.  I resent the notion that as a voter I only matter to a politician because the industry I happen to be part of happens to make good money for them.  Now I wouldn't mind it so much if this card addresses other issues but only the oil sands is mentioned.  Mr. Yurdiga, you do realize there are other things going on here other than just what happens a few kilometres up highway 63, right?

On the reverse side of the card are 4 quotes from Liberals (including a senator and a former party leaders) along with a picture of Justin Trudeau.  None of the four quotes were actually spoken by Trudeau but they stick his mug there nonetheless.  Couldn't they have instead brought up some actual issues?  Do I really care about a quote spoken by Stephane Dion seven years ago?  I mean, we all know how that turned out for him.  It's 2014 now.  Try to keep up.

Don't propagandize.  Familiarize.  Familiarize us with your views and what you feel needs to be addressed.  Listen to what we have to say (to be fair, most politicians seem to fail in this).  But please.  There is more to our region than just the oil sands.

Our region needs a voice.  Not another empty chair.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Application Accepted

It's been a few days now since I received the email but I have to admit my head is still swimming.  Graduate school was an idea I had toyed with off and on over the last ten years and I finally found myself giving it some serious thought last spring.  Having been out of academia now for almost 15 years (where has the time gone?) the idea of going back for a masters degree was, I admit, rather daunting at times.  Ten years of living throughout the North also added a host of other historical interests on top of the 50 other things I find interesting within the discipline.  Thankfully, however, I don't have to decide on a research area tomorrow or the next day and I've managed to narrow things down (a little bit).

I began the whole process over a year ago and spent much of my free time in March and April figuring out research ideas and possible schools.  I didn't realize at the time just how long a process this would be but by last September I had the actual application underway.  I spent a couple weeks on this though the actual section where you have to detail your specific areas of interest for research took perhaps a month. I had never written a research proposal before so of course I wanted to take my time and craft a good one.  I'm pretty sure I sweated less when I wrote 30-page papers during my undergrad.  Never has a measly 250-word blurb caused so much angst.  The most time-consuming part was locating references, which, after a 15-year hiatus, was interesting to say the least.  Not without its challenges but obviously possible.  I managed to get in touch with a former professor of mine, now teaching in the US but currently on sabbatical in Germany as well as an acquaintance (and former MLA)  in Nunavut.  I'm pretty sure there aren't too many applications that have had references from such far-flung and radically different parts of the world.  I was hopeful that that in itself would spark some interest among the selection committee.

I should mention too that I was initially planning to apply to 3 schools and Windsor actually wasn't very high on the list.  But since I had done my undergraduate degrees there and lived there more or less continuously for 7 years, I decided to include it on my short list based on the familiarity factor alone.  As an added bonus, some of my favourite wineries are only a short drive away.  Gradually my list of 3 became 2 as I decided the one school would involve too far of a move and it would be nice to be a bit closer to family.  Then, as I was having issues with the one school over writing samples I needed for my application, I took the decisive step back in March of going for broke and focusing all my energies on Windsor.

In the end it all paid off as I've been accepted into the Master of Arts program for History at the University of Windsor.  I will have to take a couple of senior undergraduate courses prior to starting the program just to bring my writing and research skills up to speed but I'll take it as it will make the transition back to academia a little less jarring.  At the risk of getting too far ahead of myself, pursuing a Ph.D has been flitting around my head the last 6 months.  Time will tell.  In the meantime its nice to finally get the ball rolling.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Family Re-united and a Stereotype Smashed.

Let's be honest.  Teenagers probably have to be the most stereotyped group out there.  They're lazy.  They're ignorant.  They bitch and complain.  They vandalize.  They think they know everything.  I spent the better part of a decade working with young people in various roles so I think I've heard and seen a lot.  I won't say everything because there are always surprises.  How many times have you passed a group of teens on the street and just thought "ya, up to no good."?  I'll raise my hand.  I admit I've done that myself.

Which is why I found the story of a group of Quebec teens who took it upon themselves to take action and rescue a days-old infant from a would-be kidnapper so refreshing.  Rather than simply seeing a photo on social media and thinking "oh, how sad", they took action.  It's great to see these kids busting stereotypes, although really that should be on us as adults to do that.  How quickly we can be to judge.

At any rate....Sharelle, Marc-Andre, Charlene and Melizanne, YOU GUYS ARE FREAKING AWESOME!  And seriously, if I'm ever in Quebec, the meal's on me!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Fort McMurray-Athabasca By-election

If the paucity of election signs up around my little neck of Fort McMurray is any indication, the campaign for the June 30 by-election is off to a slow start.  On my way over to Timberlea to run some errands, I only recall seeing 4 signs, and three of them were from the same candidate.  Not that I was especially looking for them but they didn't exactly scream out at me either.  I'm sure things will pick up as time goes on.

I'm not one to read too much into by-elections but it is nice to a little more media exposure on our region, its challenges and needs.  I like to think of a by-election as being an interim report card of sorts and a wise government should always pay attention.  The by-election was precipitated of course, when our previous MP, Brian Jean, resigned.  Even before moving here I knew Jean's name, and not just because of the riding he represented.  I recall getting flyers in my mailbox when I lived in Nunavut about how Party X was going to cut this or that program or scale back funds for this or that but his Party would make sure it didn't happen.  Of course, none of the flyers were in Inuktitut which no doubt upset and confused many unilingual Inuktitut speakers.  Heck, even though it was in English I didn't have a clue what he was talking about half the time.  Part of me can't help but think that perhaps he should have spent more time focused on his own riding and indeed I've heard stories of him mailing out quirky cross-word puzzles about himself.  Just weird.

Anyhow, this post isn't tended to be a dump on the federal Conservatives.  The Liberals definitely have their work cut out for them.  I've read a couple other blogs about how the Liberals could make big gains  on June 30.  They would have to be pretty substantial in my mind, though. to put a dent in the Tory machine, given that a Liberal has never held this riding in its entire 46 year history.  Jean won with a pretty healthy 71% of the popular vote in 2011.  And while you may think the NDP are pretty much invisible here, they did capture more votes than the Liberals in the 2006 and 2011 elections.  Much as I dislike Trudeau though, I will give him credit for visiting our riding not once, but twice in recent weeks.

And if you're bored or disillusioned with the traditional parties, we do have a Libertarian candidate running.  Tim Moen is a pretty polished candidate and has an interesting relationship with Neil Young. His campaign slogan about allowing for "gay married couples to protect their marijuana plants with guns" adds some much-needed colour and conversation to what some may consider a pretty boring affair.

I'll save on any election predictions here.  I'm notoriously bad at them.  Plus, if the last provincial election here taught us anything, its that strange things can happen.  At any rate, I do hope to comment more on the campaign as time goes on and as I have the opportunity to do so.

Candidates for Fort McMurray-Athabasca

Conservative -  David Yurdiga
NDP - Lori McDaniel
Liberal - Kyle Harrietha
Libertarian - Tim Moen

edit - We also have a Green Party candidate running here as well, Brian Deheer.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Little Spring Bonanza

Prodded by milder temperatures and a touch of cabin fever, I grabbed the binoculars and headed out for a walk along a pretty familiar route I take. It takes me to a number of good birding areas....urban, boreal forest and some marsh lands....a good mix to see a variety of birds.  I wasn't disappointed.  It was a bit wet underfoot and the weather couldn't decide if it wanted to be sunny or rainy but I managed to set a new personal record for number of species spotted in a single outing, including 3 I hadn't see in some time and a first sighting.

Funny enough I did leave the house thinking to myself "Wouldn't it be great if I saw a Yellow-headed blackbird this afternoon?"  They are a pretty common bird here but oddly I had never seen one until today.  Initially, I even ignored it.  I assumed it was a Brewer's blackbird simply because I've seen quite a few of them so far this season.  They just seem to be everywhere.  Anyhow, I saw one perched atop a small tree but because it was so dark and overcast I only saw a dark shape until it left the tree and flew over an open area to land in a storm pond.  The yellow head stood out prominently against the muted colours of the reeds and surrounding brush.  I couldn't believe my good fortune.

A little further on, I took a rather mucky path behind some houses to get to a marsh that's always good for non-passerines.  Along the way I passed by a house that backed onto the trail and was treated to a nice mix of birds I hadn't seen in quite some time: Yellow-rumped Warbler, which I hadn't seen since the first year I moved here, a few Purple Finches and a White-Crowned sparrow, both of which I had last seen around the house here a couple years ago.  I actually passed the owner of the house who was out walking his dog and was returning through his back gate and admitted I was a bit jealous at the nice avian variety he was getting.

My ultimate destination was the two marshes pictured below.  By the time I reached the second one, it started to rain a bit and I wondered if I would see anything else.  The water was pretty calm and there didn't seem to be much around, although after several minutes and a little effort I was overflown by a number of mallards (not sure how I managed not to get a decent photo) and watched a mating pair of Buffleheads take a leisurely afternoon swim.

I was tempted to venture further closer in to the water here but didn't fancy wet feet.

All in all, not a bad day to spend an hour.  Last year's first big May outing netted me about 10 species for the year list.  This year I managed to top that number with 14, half of which were first sightings for the calendar year.   Here is my full list for the day's venture.....

1. Common Raven (shocking)
2.  Black-billed magpie
3.  Brewer's blackbird
4. Red-winged blackbird
5. Yellow-headed blackbird
6. American robin
7. Chipping sparrow
8. White-crowned sparrow
9. Junco
10. Chicadee
11. Yellow-rumped warbler
12. Purple finch
13. Bufflehead
14. Mallard

Wednesday, April 30, 2014


I didn't really need Stats Canada to tell me about this but it was still interesting to see actual numbers.  Yes, on average, Albertans work more hours per week than anywhere else in Canada.  What did surprise me was the figure of 32.1 hours per week as I thought it would be higher.    No doubt this is because living where I do, long hours by Canadian standards are just par for the course.   It would be interesting to see what the Alberta average is with Fort McMurray taken out of the equation.

I recall one of my foremen telling me just a few weeks back about a fellow he knew who worked a 24 days on/4 days off schedule for an entire year.  Apparently, the guy was investigated by Canada Revenue since some bean counter couldn't believe it was possible to work THAT many hours.  On top of this, he was also putting in overtime.  I couldn't imagine working that many hours myself though I've met a few people that have work 24 and 4 for short periods at a time.  At my peak a couple years ago, I was putting in 84 hours a week.  This number doesn't include the time it took me to get from my bus stop to work.  That was back before a couple of much-needed overpasses were constructed.  Traffic was hellish at times to put it nicely and travel alone would typically add another 2 hours to my already long day.  At the time, I joked that my cat actually owned the house and just let me sleep there during those few hours it seemed that I wasn't either on a bus, waiting for a bus or at work.  Thankfully, I only worked those insane hours for a month before reverting to my average of 55 hours a week.  Currently, I'm averaging 42 hours per week...much easier on the body but again, still above the provincial average.

I bring this all up not to brag about being some sort of super-human but rather to highlight the importance of striking a balance between work and leisure time.  This is, of course, important regardless of where you work but I think it is especially important here.  I'll admit this wasn't always easy for me but I have gotten much better at it.  I count myself lucky as, unlike many, I have a house in town and don't live in camp.  I have a bit of military background so I know I can deal with living in a more institutional-type environment with large groups of people and cafeteria-style food.  I could deal with it but I figure, why put myself through it if I don't have to?  I'm also fortunate in that my hobbies (other than my interest in wine) don't cost a lot of money and can be done pretty much anywhere.

It bears remembering that, although there are many notions out there about this city being a place where  people come and make their riches, that there are often long hours involved as well.  I've heard the line many times too about how if you're not happy with the long hours than just move.  These people then become strangely silent on how exactly then you build a healthier, sustainable community if everyone just up and leaves but I digress.

I know I won't be in Fort McMurray forever.  I'm open and honest about that.   I try to see the good and the bad, which can be a struggle.  There are many things I choose not to write about because I am wary about feeding online trolls and stereotypes.  Long work hours here, though, are just part of the package.  It is what it is.  How you deal with it and strike a balance is the important part.  I don't always have control over my work hours (ok, I very rarely do) but how I choose to deal with it and find that balance is completely up to me.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Motion 503 and Pandering to Bigots

While I never really intended this blog to become what one might term an "advocacy blog" there are certain times when I feel compelled to speak out on certain issues. Motion 503, which would have required school boards to develop policies to support students wishing to establish gay-straight alliance groups and activities in their schools, was defeated on the floor of the Alberta Legislature this past Monday.  While this motion would not have forced school boards to have such groups, it would have compelled them to accept their existence should students feel the need to have one.

It was disappointing, to say the least, to hear that Jeff Johnson, the Minister of Education, voted against the motion.  I was heartened to see that my own MLA voted in favour of the bill.  His constituency office is only a block away so I certainly know where to go if I need to track him down.  Unfortunately, as mentioned. the motion was defeated by a count of 31 to 19.

I do hope our PC government recovers from its seemingly chronic state of cranial-rectal inversion and joins us in the 21st century.  It's only just begun, really.  I'm sure there's lots of room.  Issues of suicide amongst youth due to bullying and homophobia have been unfortunately quite prominent in the media so I won't rehash everything here.  I will only add that any school group that works actively to prevent these tragedies from happening is a good thing and I find it frustrating that our so-called "leaders" would rather pander to bigotry for votes rather than actually move beyond talking and actually DO something about this issue.  Did Johnson actually go out and ask the opinion of his constituents or just pander to a few bigots in his church?  I'd love to get an answer to that one.

I did write an email on this topic to both the Minister Johnson on this issue.  Hopefully he  will grow a brain, recall that government works for US and not the other way around and get back to me on why he chose to vote the way he did.

I eagerly await his response.

Friday, April 4, 2014

How Trudeau Was Upstaged

So Justin Trudeau arrived in our region yesterday to beat the political war drum.  I had planned to write a bit on it and was actually in the process of doing up a post when his majesty was upstaged as a result of a Facebook conversation I had, not with le bebe but with a former student of mine from Nunavut.  I won't mention names here but can say that her kind words were heart-warming and inspiring and provided a welcome end to a long work day.

As a bit of background, I taught in a couple different Nunavut communities from 2003 to 2009, spending 2 years in Qikiqtarjuaq (formerly Broughton Island) and 4 years in Arctic Bay.  I actually didn't have this student in my class very long as she had moved to where I was working for part of a school year before returning to her home community.  As things turned out, I had flown through her community a couple of times and got to know some of the students there through some sports tournaments in Iqaluit I attended as a coach.  Frankly, I think it was only one (perhaps two) courses that I had her for so I didn't think I had really made that much of an impression.

Anyhow, as a way of showing how you can really have an impact on a person without knowing and also as a way of showing that teenagers really do listen (oftentimes more than we give them credit for) I've included a truncated version of our conversation below...minus some bad spelling and parts I'd rather just keep private.  I'll call her Marie.

Marie - How the heck are you?

Me - Not too bad.  You?

Marie - I'm great.  If it wasn't for me taking social studies in Arctic Bay I would never have went into NTEP [here she refers to the Nunavut Teacher Education Program run through Nunavut Arctic College].  I suck at social studies, but you can teach!

Me - Thanks :)

Marie - Take it as a compliment.  You're welcome.

Me - I saw you had done NTEP and were now back in [her home community]. That's awesome.  I really do appreciate that, Marie.

I then went on to mention about how I felt it was important for Nunavut to have local teachers in leadership positions and that she would do well to which she responded that having a mix of teachers from Nunavut and other parts of the country was a positive thing as well.

So there you have it.  I suppose we can all get hung up in image and people who just do a lot of talk.  I like to focus on the young people that actually get out and DO.  In my humble opinion, they do the greatest amount of good...and make the biggest difference.