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 or communities 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.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


This post is re-post from my Nunavut blog that I thought I'd share here.  It never hurts to have more than one platform to get a message out.

Having lived in both Nunavut and Alberta, I'm used to running into stories about celebs spouting off against issues involving seal hunting and the oil sands.  Issues they aren't necessarily that educated about.  I'm not saying that such celebrities are necessarily stupid, but rather ignorant, in the sense that what they espouse is quite often mis-informed.  Which is why when I read about a group of Iqaluit residents starting a seal-fie campaign online, I was keen to show my support.

"Seal-fie" of course, is a play on "selfie" and involves a self-portrait wearing seal products.  This after talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres posted a photo of her at the Oscars with a number of celebs and made a donation in the order of $1.5 million to the Human Society of the United States based on the number of time he selfie was "re-tweeted."

The Inuit seal hunt is something I delved into many times on this blog so I won't re-hash everything here other than to say that I hope DeGeneres (and others of her ilk) are aware of stories like this. Having spent 6 years in Nunavut, I can easily vouch for the difficulty of maintaining a good diet in the face of food insecurity.....and I was single and drawing a government salary as well.

My sealskin kamiks......

Seal skin gloves (one of a few pairs I own, actually)....

Cat seal-fie?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

25 And In Transition

I was tagged in a little Facebook meme by an old school mate and thought I'd do an extended post here.  Essentially it's a trip down memory lane as I have to think back to when I was 25 and share a few things about my life then.  As it turns out, it was a good age to be randomly assigned since that was a pretty big year in my life with many changes.

At age 25 I had been living more or less on a permanent basis in Windsor, Ontario.  I was finishing up my Bachelor of Education degree there.  I had been a reservist with the Windsor Regiment for the past 18 months or so before moving away from there and taking a student job stocking shelves at an independent grocer while completing my degree.  I didn't drive but found my way around the city pretty good on the transit system.  But really, I was a student.  Where was I going to head off to to spend money?

In August of that year I accepted a teaching position at the high school in Fort Smith, NT.  Moving from Canada's largest southern city to north of the 60th parallel was a big transition but really it was just continuation of my way of showing my individuality and adaptivity.  I adapted well and didn't freeze to death during a long northern winter at least.  It was a tough work year but I managed it and still keep in touch with people I met there after almost 15 years.  I did a great deal of fishing and hiking that year and explored Wood Buffalo National Park.  While I was only there a year it was a very formative year for me in many ways.  I've really bought into the notion of history being circular but do find it interesting that in the intervening years since I lived there I've moved many times and almost done a complete circle geographically as I spent a few years back east and now live a mere 500km south of Fort Smith.  Perhaps in another 10 years or so I'll find myself right back there.

Today, I'm 39.  I live in Fort McMurray (apparently I like forts).  I no longer rent now and have my own ball and chain.....I mean mortgage, er....I mean a pretty comfy place.  By no means a mansion but it keeps the rain off my head.  I also have a cat who seems to think I'm her staff for some strange reason.  I'm still essentially an introvert though I'm not as naive about the world as I was at 25.  I've made poor choices and bad decisions in the interim.  Life can be tough and you get banged around a bit but you get up push on.  I'm not always enamoured with my job but I know I won't be doing it forever and there are many I work with who don't have that luxury.  I have a son who is almost 3 who I don't see as often as I wish but life can be tough at times and I own up for the mistakes I've made.

I still enjoy a good hike and took up bird watching about 5 years ago.  I used to blog quite a bit but have slowed down in the last couple years.  I have hopes of returning to Windsor to complete a Masters degree in History and have hopes of perhaps getting into university teaching or research in the future....and if that doesn't pan out, I've been doing a great deal of research into one day operating my own bed and breakfast or turning my extensive blogging and 5-odd years worth of journaling into a book of some sort about all my northern adventures I've had since I turned 25.  It's been an interesting journey so far.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Redford Resigns

It just seemed like it would be an interesting day this morning when I left for work.  And it was....the first day of a new shift, a pleasant discovery of a recording of all 6 of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos by I Barrochisti, a nice spring dump of snow continuing on as I type this, a mere few hours before the (supposedly) first day of Spring.  But the biggest surprise of the day was undoubtedly the news of the resignation of Premier Allison Redford.

Now without being too partisan here, I can say I'm not particularly surprised or upset.  I had a feeling it might come to this what with the recent caucus defections.  I did think she would have hung on a bit longer as politicians tend to be a bit blind to the writing on the wall.  I don't follow provincial politics that closely.  I'm no die hard.  But the last few months have been like watching a slow train wreck so it has caught my attention from time to time.  Part of me wonders why this region keeps putting Tories in office given that our last MLA was booted out of the party and finished up his tenure as an independent and one of our current MLA's also left the party to sit as an Independent after getting caught with his pants down in the US.  (Literally, the guy was busted for soliciting two undercover officers for sex while on a government trip last summer).  At any rate, it is what it is.  After 40 years in power, the PC's here were in danger of becoming stale.  And while they did make attempts to re-invent themselves during the 2012 election campaign, it seems they were never able to shake their arrogance and sense of entitlement that often comes with too many years in power.

Cuts to post-secondary education, drastic changes to pension plans, questionable spending practices, anti-labour legislation and a seemingly endless barrage of flights to the US, South Africa, Europe and God knows where else only succeeded in alienating her more moderate supporters.  Supporters who would likely have continued to vote Tory if only to ward off the even more right-wing Wildrose Party.

I assume Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk will take over the reigns and try to keep the party from imploding while a new leader is chosen.  Here's hoping that, in the meantime, the party does a good deal of soul-searching and remembers not only why they are in power but also WHO put them there.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Hookers and Blow in Fort Crack?

One thing I get asked about living here is the crime rate.  It's not really something I like to talk about or really think about, not because I want to ignore or whitewash things but simply because I've found the stereotype annoying and removed from the reality of my everyday life.  I'm not naive enough to think that we inhabit a perfect world or that this city isn't without its challenges.  But for the most part, I tend to find out about illicit happenings here pretty much like everyone else in this reading it in the news.  In my 4 years year I can say I've never seen a drug deal go down or a hooker, even in those parts of town in which they supposedly exist, thus feeding into the old "hookers and blow" notion.

Other than a friend of an old tenant a couple of years ago who had sticky fingers, I've had it really good and I've only really heard things second hand or, as I mentioned above, by reading about it in the news.    Still, it was frustrating trying to explain to someone about the stereotypes here with no statistics to back me up.....until now. A study, commissioned by the municipality, by Simon Fraser University criminology professor, Neil Boyd and recently released, sheds some interesting light on this topic.  Actually, what he discovered by analyzing 10 years' worth of crime stats flies in the face of what most people think when it come to crime in Fort McMurray.  Many categories of crime here are in steep decline and are in fact at a lower level than provincial and national averages.  I have to admit to being a bit of surprised myself, if only because I constantly here in the media how my city is awash with hookers and blow.  Consider some of the key findings...

* The rate of break-entry-theft in the region is substantially below provincial and national rates. It is approximately one-third of the Albertan and Canadian rates, with 172 incidents per 100,000 population, while Alberta had 513 and Canada had 504.
* The rate of robbery is well below provincial and national averages: Wood Buffalo had 55 incidents per 100,000 population, while Alberta had 71 and Canada had 79.
* The rate of sexual assault is well below provincial and national averages: Wood Buffalo had 44 incidents per 100,000 population, while Alberta had 75 and Canada had 63.
* The rate of cannabis distribution is substantially below provincial and national averages: Wood Buffalo had 12 incidents per 100,000 population, while Alberta had 33 and Canada had 45.
* The rate of prostitution is nearly identical to provincial and national averages: Wood Buffalo had seven incidents per 100,000 population, while Alberta had eight and Canada had six. 

As Boyd also notes, one big reason per capita crime stats here can appear so inflated is because publications like Maclean's use incorrect population figures.  The municipality's population figures include a rather large transient population in the many camps here while Stats Canada does not.  This of course inflates the per capita figures considerably.  Our population according to Stats Canada is around 65,000 while the municipality pegs it around 116,000.  The municipality includes our transient population in its totals because our camp population, while not living here permanently, also use local medical and social services and other infrastructure. At any rate, Boyd's findings shed some much needed light on this issue.  Media such as Chatelaine, GQ and Maclean's have in the past, painted a very different picture of what I see and experience everyday and its refreshing to see another side to the story.  Frankly, I feel safer here than in say Toronto or Edmonton.  Sure, some of what I feel is based on stereotypes (I'm just not a fan of big cities in general, plus both their hockey teams are just sad) but much of what tends to be said about Fort McMurray is based on silly stereotypes as well.  In this case, its nice to see that what is sometimes written is not always based in reality.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Race To The Bottom Continues for Northland School Division

Since I haven't mentioned it in quite some time, I thought I'd touch base with an a former employer of mine to see how things were coming about.  As school boards go, one can certainly do better than to send your child to Alberta's Northland School Division. As it turns out, not a lot has changed among the enlightened geniuses in the offices over in Peace River. If anything, things seem to have gotten worse for the inept Northland School Division.  With luck these continual consultations and review processes will result in what the Minister of Education should have done in the first place....disband the board, much like putting a feeble horse out of its misery.

My guess is that this will eventually happen.  Of course government by its very nature, moves at glacial speed.  You really can't fix stupid.  It goes way beyond funding levels.  The only real silver lining I can pull out of this mess is that, while the board's superintendent hails from my home province of Ontario (which when I was teaching, was a bit of an embarrassment) at least she is here and not not back east, buggering up my own son's education.

Saturday, February 1, 2014


As a kid I never really realized how many different work schedules there could be.  It all seemed rather simple 9pm to 5pm, Monday to Friday and the rest of the time was your own.  My parents own a small business so they never really fell into this particular demographic (if it really even existed)  but for the longest time I remember assuming that for quite a number of people the 9 to 5'er was the norm.  I only bring this topic up because my own work schedule has changed recently.  Yes, it's changed in the past as well but this one is very new to me and will no doubt take a bit of an adjustment.  While I'm not clairvoyant, I know this particular schedule won't last forever so rather than grip over it, you just pick up and soldier on.

Now as you might imagine, questions of work schedules (particularly for those who work at site) come up quite often here.  After the ubiquitous northern Canadian winter question of "Cold enough for ya?", the question "What's your schedule?" provides some healthy competition.  The answer to this question leads to answers that almost seem like a strange code.  Or least it seemed to me initially, as person with no experience with the resource industry.  10 and 4, 14 and 7, 18 and 3, 24 and 4 were only some of the possible answers.  There are also 8 hour shifts (for office staff), 10 hour shifts and 12 hour shifts.

I started out with my first employer working 10 days on, 4 days off, one of the more common ones.  About a year and a half ago, I was on 11 and 3.  Initially, I wasn't keen on losing a day off but soon came to appreciate an extra day's I figured if its too cold and dark during the winter, I'd rather just suck it up and work it rather than staying home.  It wasn't too long before I was asked to do a lot of overtime so in reality my 11 and 3 schedule morphed into an 18 and 3 schedule which I pretty much worked for the bulk of 2012.  A bit gruelling at times, yes but I'm one of those people that once they get into a solid routine (I thank my military training for this) I'm good to go and adjust rather well.  

As a bit of an aside, one of the things my parents taught me, and taught me well, was that no matter the work you do, find something no one else wants to do and do it well.  I've always found this to be good remedy to ingratiate yourself with your employer and make you a bit more lay-off proof.  So for the better part of two years I was dealing with scaffolding from another sub-contractor that was being dealt with in our yard.  It's mainly used in Europe and while there are a lot of similarities (scaffolding is scaffolding after all), it was a different system that I soon became familiar and comfortable with.  This led to a great deal of overtime for me, hence all the 18 and 3's I worked.  These were 10 hour work days although I did my share of 12 hour days too, which turned out to be a smart move on my part if I may way because....

At the moment I am now on a 7 on, 7 off rotation of 12 hour days.  Oddly, its not the 12 hour days, but the 7 days off part that is the challenge.  Its a bit outside of what I'm used to having worked for longer stretches in the past but, as before, I'll adjust.  I suppose the cat is happy I'm around the house more and it does give an opportunity to get more things done around the house.   As I mentioned earlier, I don't see this particular schedule lasting for me as things will invariably get busier once the spring rolls around.  I suppose my dream schedule would be to work 14 and 7 but its not a decision in my hands.  In the mean time, since I find myself with a few extra days off and a leisurely morning, I think I'll go grab another coffee.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Arctic Bay Promo

This post actually has nothing to do with Fort McMurray or even Alberta, but I felt compelled to do it anyway after seeing an amazing video promo of one of the communities in Nunavut where I was privileged to live  prior to moving out here.  It was created by InMotion, based out of Ottawa and posted on Facebook by Clare Kines, current Economic Development Officer in Arctic Bay.   Truly a magical place.

For me it was definitely a treat to see a professionally-done video about a place I woke up in almost every morning for 4 years.  I instantly recognized the mountain I climbed a handful of times, the bay I would race across on my skidoo at (sometimes) breakneck speeds....even the first house I lived in there makes an appearance.....and of course a number of faces I recognized.  Great memories that will always stay with me.

Click here and prepared to be amazed.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Birds of Hiroshima

Evening grosbeaks and Pine grosbeaks eeking out their existence in a nuclear winter.