Three Things Everyone Should Know About Autism in Canada

September 1, 2015 11:33 am
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Canadian governments have done little to address the crisis faced by autism families across the country. This sentiment was true in 2007 when it was put forward in the cross-party Senate report on the state of funding for the treatment of autism in Canada, aptly titled, Pay Now or Pay Later. And until recently, this sentiment could be used to sum up the role of the federal government which has largely left the crisis up to provincial ministries to manage.

But they are slowly coming on side. Last month the federal government appointed a new “Autism Spectrum Disorder Working Group” with a $2 million budget to develop a plan for a “Canadian Autism Partnership” that will address autism research, information sharing, early detection, diagnosis and treatment, among other issues.

It’s a good step forward but much more is needed, particularly on the health and educational services side of the issue so that real families get real help, now.  According to the first comprehensive autism needs assessment survey of caretakers and professionals across the country, Canadian autism families are struggling to get the health services they need but can’t afford.

As governments across the country try to tackle the gap between need and resources, here are a few things about autism everyone should know:

1. Autism is not a mental illness, a mental health condition or a learning disability

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterized by impaired verbal and social communication, rigid, restrictive and repetitive behaviours, uneven intellectual development, sensitivity to sensory input, challenges with fine and gross motor skills and gastrointestinal difficulties, among other characteristics.

Autism is more accurately referred to as ‘autism spectrum disorder’ (ASD) because each person on the spectrum can exhibit a differing array of these characteristics and with wide ranging severity.  There’s a favourite saying in the autism community: “If you’ve seen one person with autism, you’ve seen one person with autism.”

There is no cure for autism, though there are several evidence-based interventions that can help address the challenges those with autism face.

2. The rate of autism in Canada is not yet fully known, but we have recent estimates

Canadian media reports often cite autism rates from the United States.  Research from the U.S. Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention estimate 1 in 68 children in America has ASD.  Since autism is five times more prevalent in boys than girls, they estimate 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls has ASD in the U.S.

So what are the rates in Canada?  And are they on the rise?

“Our best estimate at this time is that ASD affects 1 in 94 children six to nine years of age,” according to Dr. Hélène Ouellette-Kuntz, Professor in the Department of Health Sciences at Queen’s University and Director of The National Epidemiologic Database for the Study of Autism in Canada (NEDSAC).  This estimate is based on diagnostic and services data from Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and Southeastern Ontario from 2003-2010.

What we know so far from NEDSAC is that published materials suggest that autism rates are on the rise in Canada, though they vary widely across the studied regions.  Even when you factor in increases due to the identification of previously undetected cases or diagnostic substitution (conditions that used to be labelled something else now being called autism), “we cannot rule out the possibility of a true increase in incidence,” says Dr. Ouellete-Kuntz.

3. Families can often wait several years to access autism services covered by the public healthcare system.  Government support for such services are widely uneven across the country.

It is not uncommon for families to wait several years to receive a diagnosis of autism for their child from publicly funded health services in most provinces.  And once a child is diagnosed, interventions with a strong evidence base, such as behavioural therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy, have wait times of several months up to several years in most places across the country.  Once services are received, families have access to these therapies for only limited time periods and often beyond the window of time that most experts believe optimal.

The wide range in disparity of publicly funded services for autism across the country has  even generated a kind of ‘medical migration’ with several published accounts of families leaving their home provinces to move to Alberta or British Columbia where autism services are more readily available and/or more flexible.  It is also no longer uncommon to find Canadian families using crowd sourcing campaigns to fund their children’s autism and related therapies.  Many organizations and affected families across the country have been calling for a National Autism Strategy to address the critical lapses in health coverage.

AutismKathleen O’Grady is a Research Associate at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, Concordia University and Managing Editor of EvidenceNetwork.ca.  She has two young sons, one with autism.  You can follow her on Twitter at @kathleenogrady.

Four Things We Can Do to Improve Healthcare in Canada

August 20, 2015 12:00 pm
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What’s next for primary care?

Healthcare is the purview of the provinces in Canada, but health leadership–setting big picture goals, helping achieve best practices across the country and providing long-term, sustainable funding models–is the role of the federal government. As the federal election campaign wages, Canadians should be pressing federal political parties to take a leadership position on the healthcare file. Primary care, in particular, could benefit from increased national dialogue. If we want to improve healthcare in Canada, primary care is a good place to start.

Evidence shows that the best healthcare systems in the world are founded on a strong primary care system–practices of family doctors, nurse practitioners and others who serve as the first (and ongoing) point of contact for patients. Canada has been a world leader in many aspects of primary care for a long time, and the last 10 or 15 years have seen some important changes, mostly for the better. There are more primary care providers than ever before, they are increasingly working in multi-disciplinary teams and more of them use electronic medical records, all factors which are linked to better outcomes for patients.

Not long ago, millions of Canadians said they didn’t have a family doctor. Now in places like Ontario, as many as 94 per cent of residents report having a primary care provider. While there is still more progress to be made on even this basic measure of access, there are several other ways we can and should improve primary care in Canada.

1. Timely access

It is not enough to have a family doctor, you need to be able to see this individual promptly when you are sick. In Canada, only 38 per cent of people report being able to see their primary care provider the same day or next day they call. France, Australia and the United Kingdom all report 50 per cent or higher rates, and countries such as Germany, New Zealand and Switzerland hover around 70 per cent.

Improving prompt access is critical to achieving continuity of care while reducing the number of people relying on walk-in clinics and emergency departments.

2. Doctors need to serve communities

We need to move primary care to a population based model, which means a fundamental rethinking of how primary care is organized. Perhaps the easiest analogy is public primary and secondary education. When you move to a new community, registering your children in the local public school is as easy as knowing your address and catchment area. The schools don’t have the choice of picking their students or saying they are ‘too full.’

Moving to a population based model of primary care will require a new level of planning and coordination–but it’s doable. We already have examples in several rural communities in Canada, and Community Health Centres in some regions also provide a good model. Entire countries, like the United Kingdom, have already achieved this. It should be as easy to find a primary care provider as it is the local public school.

3. A commitment to equity and improving the quality of care

We need to adopt a relentless commitment to improving quality in primary care. Canadian hospitals already have a couple decades of experience in building the skills, structures and programs to improve care, primary care can build on some of this success.

There are six widely accepted domains of quality, all of them relevant to primary care: safety, timeliness (access), efficiency, patient centeredness, effectiveness, and, importantly, equity.

In Canada, one of our great strengths is the richness of diversity represented across our people and geography. It is critical that primary care, the gatekeeper and cornerstone of our health system, treat people equitably. It should not matter where you live, what language you speak, nor your age, sex, sexual identity or cultural background.

4. Integrate primary care into the rest of the health system

Canada often ranks near the bottom of a dozen Commonwealth countries in patients’ experiences of an integrated healthcare system, including the timely availability of information across provider teams. It is about more than just getting hospital, lab and primary care computer systems connected (although this is a critical part), we need a fundamental redesign from sectors to systems while continuing to strengthen the foundational role of primary care.

Patients don’t experience their healthcare as discrete parts, so it shouldn’t function that way. The responsibility for this change is spread across all parts of the healthcare system and a wide range of healthcare providers.

While acknowledging that primary care looks different across Canada–varying payment models and structures according to the province or territory you live in–these four goals can be a unifying vision for the next, necessary evolution in healthcare.

Joshua TepperJoshua Tepper is an advisor with EvidenceNetwork.ca, a family physician at St. Michael’s Hospital and Associate Professor at the University of Toronto.

 

Canada’s Euthanasia Legislation: From the Perspective of Canadians with Disabilities

August 18, 2015 2:00 pm
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By Peter McGrath.

On Feb. 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada’s assisted suicide law, opening the door to physician-assisted suicide. This is an incredibly complex topic, one fraught with moral and ethical issues. Peter McGrath, a Counsel in the Department of Justice, gives his opinion from the perspective of a Canadian with a disability:

There are valid points to both sides of the debate on Canada’s euthanasia legislation. Steven Fletcher — a Member of Parliament from Winnipeg with a disability — is the most visible proponent of physician-assisted suicide in Canada. Some would argue his position has merit. Many people with disabilities live in fear of not being able to control the end of their lives. Poorly funded palliative care combined with the possible inability to make one’s wishes clear has led to many people living painful lives.

The occasional media horror story has magnified those fears tenfold. But isn’t the answer to fix the system, rather to provide people with a lethal end? Isn’t the answer to think beyond causing death and provide all of us — including people with disabilities — with dignified lives?

People with disabilities live far from inclusive lives in Canadian society. With low levels of education and employment, inadequate housing and transportation services, and even a medical system that is not designed to handle our needs, people with disabilities have a long way to go to be considered equal members of our society.

The new euthanasia legislation is intended to provide some level of control over ending our lives, yet it’s sad that we’ve achieved equality in death before we’ve achieved equality in life. In Canada, like much of the world, people with disabilities do not have sufficient access to education, transportation, housing, medical care, employment, or recreation and leisure activities.

First and foremost, what Canadians with disabilities seek is an end to inequality and an end to the lack of access to the basic quality of life enjoyed by average Canadians.

The positioning of people with disabilities in euthanasia legislation is somewhat off-putting. It is as if to say we define people with disabilities as suffering, and now they can have the option to end their life. People with disabilities are as much or more interested in their rights to life, because being disabled means living with a disability; it doesn’t necessarily mean dying with a disease.

All too frequently, people with disabilities can recount a time when a well-intended medical professional said to their parents that the disabled life of this baby or injured child would be one of suffering and perhaps not worth living. In effect, we have provided those children with disabilities the means to die before they have the means to live.

Physically and/or developmentally disabled Canadians with disabilities remain a marginalized segment of Canadian society. Our interests lie far more in rights to leading productive lives of equality, rather than achievement in ending of life options.

For more information on this topic visit www.epcc.ca.

Kazakhstan: A Land of Opportunity

August 17, 2015 12:03 pm
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Photo credit: ninara on flickr

What Canadians Can’t Miss

It’s raining reforms in Kazakhstan.

The Kazakh government’s recent economic reforms are preparing the soil for better business conditions. More Canadians should be there, among other nations, seeding their business ideas on Kazakh lands.

Since the beginning of this year, foreign companies no longer have to pay corporate income, land or property tax in Kazakhstan. The exemption from income and land tax will last for 10 years, the property tax for eight. The law also applies a stable tax rate and allows investors to hire labour without a foreign labour quota. And more incentives are soon to be announced.

The most developed country in Central Asia, Kazakhstan is little-known to many small and medium Canadian businesses. Yet, some big Canadian corporations have moved into Kazakhstan in the beginning of the ‘90s, when the new independent country revealed its rich natural resources.

Today, around 40 large Canadian businesses operate in oil, mining, aviation and other sectors. Among them, the uranium producer Cameco and livestock genetic export company Xports international.

A family-owned business, CanAgro, discovered Kazakhstan’s market by chance. In 2000, the dealer from Manitoba started exporting agricultural equipment to Russia. The company found that just across the Russian border, there was another country hungry for tractors, swathers and grain carts.

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The sixth largest wheat producer, Kazakhstan imports 99 per cent of its farming equipment. Photo credit: Kay Ledbetter on flickr.com

In fact, the Central Asian country is the sixth largest wheat producer. The country, however, lacks agricultural machinery, importing 99 per cent of its farming equipment. Melissa Vencatasamy, CanAgro’s representative, says North American agricultural equipment is ideal for Kazakhstan because of similar growing conditions.

Even though Canada is one of Kazakhstan’s top 10 investors, it falls behind European countries, the United States, China and Russia. To put this fact into perspective: In 2012, Canada’s share in foreign direct investments into Kazakhstan concluded only four per cent, while Netherlands—37 per cent, according to the National Bank of Kazakhstan.

The world’s economists marked Kazakhstan along with other 32 countries as the new frontiers—rivals to the BRIC economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China. While the Canadian government is trying hard to push for Canada-EU free trade agreement, the European leaders are already turning their eyes away to the East.

Little-known market

Sébastien Dakin works for the Canada Eurasia Russia Business Association (CERBA). The association facilitates Canadian companies in the Eurasian market, by providing information and organizing networking events. Dakin says Canadian businesses may be late to enter Kazakhstan’s market simply because of a lack of awareness.

“Kazakhstan is far away from Canada, it’s not the first market that Canadian companies are thinking about, when they think about exporting and doing business,” he says.

At this moment, Dakin says, Canadian investments are “minimal.” CERBA wants to change that. This June, the association held the first official Canada-Kazakhstan business forum in Calgary. The forum brought together governments, industries and enterprises of the two countries.

The conference turned out to be so successful that both sides have decided to make it an annual occasion. CERBA is also creating a special bilateral business council to discuss trade and investments between the two countries. It is expected to start functioning within a year.

Benefits of Eurasian market

In a world that represents one global economy, Kazakhstan and Canada are destined for economic cooperation. The two small economies mainly depend on trade to sustain their economic growth and development, says Stephen Wilhelm, a representative of Export Development Canada (EDC).

The trade between the two countries has recently decreased due to the global economic downturn, says Wilhelm. Yet, it doesn’t mean Canada is less active. Wilhelm says: “We are spending more time in Kazakhstan, exploring more potential people and companies.”

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Manitoba’s agricultural dealer CanAgro received five million dollars from EDC to export more agricultural machinery to the country. Photo credit: CanAgro Exports Inc.

One of the important benefits of working in Kazakhstan is its location, Wilhelm says. Chinese and Eastern European markets are within the hand’s reach. This allows Canadian businesses to expand their trade beyond one country.

Kazakhstan is a part of the Common Wealth Independent States—a union of eight post-Soviet countries. The newly created Eurasian Economic Union permits free movement of goods, services and capital between Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia.

Since its separation from the former Soviet Union in 1991, Kazakhstan has been undergoing changes to establish liberal economy, and opened the country for foreign investors. Investment process, however, stayed complicated. Many investors lamented the heavy bureaucracy, long waiting times and confusing rules.

The new legislatures should help with removing these barriers. In addition to new laws, the Kazakh government has introduced the so called “100 steps” program to increase the country’s economic competiveness. The program foresees institutional reforms that will enhance the rule of law, install efficient bureaucracy and make the government accountable.

***

It has been 12 years since CanAgro began operating in Kazakhstan. This June, the company has received additional funding of $5 million from EDC to export more agricultural machinery to the country. The company is now in the position to advice Canadians who plan to conduct business in Kazakhstan.

It gives a birth to a new business idea: How about staring exporting and importing rich cultures of the two countries? No risks, no competition, 100 per cent satisfaction.

Could This be the Best Campaign Ad Ever?

August 13, 2015 3:06 pm
wyatt scott

In what may be the greatest campaign ad of our time, Wyatt Scott announced his MP candidacy for the new Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon riding by flying on a giant Canada goose and then stabbing a dragon in the head.

“My name’s Wyatt Scott, and I’m running for parliament!” he roared just a few seconds after growing a beard in front of our eyes.

Click here to find his epically over-the-top campaign ad.

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Running for Parliament, and our hearts.

The video only hints at Scott’s platform, aside from the part about killing a giant robot with the Conservative Party of Canada’s logo on its chest. Between saving a falling person’s life and fist-bumping an alien, Scott hints that he finds “university too expensive,” and dislikes how Canada’s “indigenous people aren’t even protected by their own government.”

Scott is running to represent Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon, one of six new federal ridings in BC. He’s an independent candidate, and despite the bold claims in his video, his platform seems focused more on his community than dealing with larger issues like tuition fees.

If you live in the Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon riding, or you’re just concerned about Canada’s rising dragon problem, you might want to look Wyatt Scott up. You can find his FundRazr site here.

If you want to see a picture of Scott fist-bumping an alien, see below:

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Is it Finally Time for a Guaranteed Annual Income?

August 7, 2015 10:01 am
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Could the Guaranteed Annual Income–once considered radical notion–now be an idea whose time has come? The Dutch city of Utrecht recently announced it is starting an experiment to determine whether introducing a basic income produces a more effective society. Closer to home, Joseph Ceci, Alberta’s new Finance Minister proposed a guaranteed income program last year on the election campaign trail, and both Calgary Mayor, Naheed Nenshi and Edmonton Mayor, Don Iveson, have also promoted such a program. Now, medical officers of health and boards of health members across Ontario are officially calling for provincial and federal governments to bring in a basic income guarantee.

So what exactly is a Guaranteed Annual Income?

Well it turns out, GAI has been supported by generations of economists and welfare theorists, from the left and the right. One version works like a refundable tax credit. If an individual has no income from any source at all, they receive a basic entitlement. As earned income increases, the benefit declines but less than proportionately. As a result, low income earners receive partial benefits so that they are not worse off than they would be if they quit their jobs and relied solely on income assistance.

This means that there is always an incentive to work, and people who work are always better off than they would be if they didn’t work.

So why are such a broad group of peoplee–finance ministers, mayors and medical officers of health—pushing such a program? Poverty, substantial evidence now tells us, is one of the best predictors of poor health. And poor health costs everyone.

Research on the city of Hamilton, Ontario demonstrated that residents of the city’s wealthy west Mountain neighborhood lived, on average, to 86.3 years of age, while average age at death for residents of one of the poorest Hamilton neighborhoods was only 65.5 years – a shocking gap.

Way back in the 1970s, Manitoba tried implementing a Guaranteed Annual Income in Winnipeg and in the small town of Dauphin. In Dauphin, everyone was eligible to participate. A family with no income from other sources would receive 60 percent of the Statistics Canada low-income cutoff (LICO) which varied by family size. Every dollar received from other sources would reduce benefits by 50 cents. Important for an agriculturally dependent town with a lot of self-employment, the GAI offered stability and predictability. Sudden illness, disability or unpredictable economic events would no longer be financially devastating. The project ran for four years, ending in 1979.

So did the GAI produce anything to report? Remarkably, even this four year program had strong positive results. Dauphin high school students were more likely to remain in school than had been true in the years before the GAI started (or in the years after the GAI stopped). The health of Dauphin residents also improved, with fewer hospitalizations (8.5% reduction), specifically for mental illness, accidents and injuries.

So how much would introducing a Guaranteed Annual Income across Canada cost?

According to several Queens University professors, the cost of replacing social assistance (which includes welfare and disability support) and old age security (which includes a top-up for low-income seniors) and providing every adult with an annual income of $20,000, and children with an income guarantee of $6000, would be $40 billion. The Fraser Institute calculates the total cost of Canada’s current income support system (the payout plus administrative costs) at $185 billion.

Our own estimates, which build on existing social programs, range from a gross annual cost of $17 billion for a program that (in today’s dollars) is slightly more generous than was offered in Dauphin, to a “Cadillac” version costing $58 billion that would guarantee everyone a minimum income equal to the LICO, and pay at least some benefits to people earning well above the LICO. The cost of a Guaranteed Annual Income depends on how generous it is, how quickly benefits are phased out with additional income and how existing social programs are affected.

Some of these costs, of course, would be partially recovered from the additional taxes paid by recipients, as well as the lower costs faced by so many other social programs that are driven by poverty. Hospital care alone, for example, cost Canada $63.5 billion in 2014.

Bottom line, whether it’s our calculations or those done by other organizations, a GAI is definitely do-able. And it is clear: the potential benefits of a GAI are substantial.

Maybe it is time for the rest of Canada to at least look to what Alberta is saying and focus on the health, educational and financial benefits that the Guaranteed Annual Income might offer.

Noralou RoosNoralou Roos is the Director of Evidence Network and professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Manitoba. Follow her on Twitter at @nlroos.

 

 

 

 

 

Evelyn ForgetProfessor Evelyn Forget is a health economist at the University of Manitoba. Her re-examination of Mincome and ongoing work on Guaranteed Annual Income is supported by CIHR and SSHRC.

 

What You Need to Know About the Election

August 6, 2015 9:19 am
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On your marks, get set, go! The race is on.

The federal election to determine Canada’s 42nd parliament and leader has begun.

Set to end with the October 19 election, this campaign will be the longest in over a century (since 1872), running for a full 78 days.

In Canada, federal election dates are fixed for the third Monday in October every four years. However, the prime minister can dissolve the House of Commons any time before that date. On August 2, Prime Minister Stephen Harper did just that.

Harper’s Conservatives won the May 2011 federal election with a majority government. If Harper wins again, he will be the first prime minister since 1908 to win four federal elections in a row.

The major players in this race are, of course, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, NDP and opposition leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.

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As they head out on the campaign trail, the Conservatives will likely focus on the economy and national security. The NDP will highlight its differences with the Conservatives by noting their approach to child care and health care. The Liberals will chant that it is time for change after nine years of Conservative government. There are some buzzwords voters are likely to hear a lot over the next several weeks: economy, security, family, change, experience—to name just a few. It will be a rare three-way race.

For up-to-date polling information, take a look at EKOS or IPSOS.

Election day is Oct. 19, 2015, but you can vote in advance from Oct. 9-12. And don’t forget to bring I.D.! Due to changes to the Fair Elections Act after the last election, you must present valid photo I.D. when you go to vote—not just a voter identification card. (Your best bet is to bring your driver’s license along.)

Not sure if you are registered to vote? Click here to check.

About Your Riding

There are nine ridings in the National Capital Region. See below to find the candidates from each party in your riding. Click their name to access their website and find out more about who you are voting for.

Carleton

Pierre Poilievre (Con)

Chris Rodgers (Lib)

KC Larocque (NDP)

Deborah Coyne (Green)

Kanata-Carleton

Walter Pamic (Con)

Karen McCrimmon (Lib)

John Hansen (NDP)

Andrew West (Green)

Nepean

Andy Wang (Con)

Chandra Arya (Lib)

Jean-Luc Cooke (Green)

Glengarry-Prescott-Russell

Pierre Lemieux (Con)

Francis Drouin (Lib)

Normand Laurin (NDP)

Ottawa Centre

Damian Konstantinakos (Con)

Catherine McKenna (Lib)

Paul Dewar (NDP)

Tom Milroy (Green)

Ottawa South

Dev Balkissoon (Con)

David McGuinty (Lib)

George Brown (NDP)

John Redins (Green)

Ottawa-Vanier

David Piccini (Con)

Mauril Bélanger (Lib)

Ottawa West-Nepean

Abdul Abdi (Con)

Anita Vandenbeld (Lib)

Orléans

Royal Galipeau (Con)

Andrew Leslie (Lib)

Nancy Tremblay (NDP)

A Plan for a Vibrant and Sustainable CBC

July 31, 2015 2:00 pm
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The Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications has released a report on the future of the CBC. I was a part of that study, but I could not support the report. Some Conservative members of the committee spent too much time denouncing the CBC and not enough time on building a way forward. Regrettably, all we got was a lost opportunity. So I authored a Minority Report in response, A Plan for a Vibrant and Sustainable CBC/Radio Canada.

The CBC is facing significant challenges. There is the continued rise of the Internet and digital services like Netflix that are changing the broadcasting landscape. More and more content is consumed online. There are also long-standing challenges of competing against the U.S. entertainment giant to our south.

With these challenges in mind, here is what I propose. It is important to have a strong and vibrant CBC, to tell our stories, to entertain and inform us as Canadians. Polling suggests Canadians want it. The overwhelming majority of witnesses we heard from want a robust CBC.  They want it not only to fill gaps left by private broadcasters—as the committee suggested—but because, as one witness said, the “CBC is the only network that brings together all Canadians.”

Regrettably, the CBC’s ability to meet consumer demands is severely challenged.  Why is that the case? Simply put, the CBC is starved for cash. At $29/per capita, the CBC is well below the average of $82 per capita invested in public broadcasting in other industrialized countries.  The BBC in the UK, for example, receives three times more funding than the CBC.

To have an effective public broadcaster, the CBC needs strengthening. Not only should the government commit to stable and predictable funding over five year periods, adjusted to inflation, the government should also pledge to increase CBC’s per capita funding to at least $40 annually. This can be done by incrementally raising the parliamentary appropriation and exploring other funding models that could either enhance or eventually replace the parliamentary appropriation if sufficient funds are found. Other countries do this to great effect.

With increased funding, the CBC should get out of the commercial advertising business altogether leaving it to the private sector broadcasters. Not having advertising on radio has served the CBC well and would follow the highly successful model of the BBC in the UK or HBO on this continent that provides continuous uninterrupted programming that so many people enjoy.

As much more content continues to be consumed online, the CBC should launch a direct streaming service similar to Netflix. This should be a free service for Canadians so they can consume CBC’s content on the platform they desire.

On governance, the committee wants to leave appointments for the board of directors to the Prime Minister alone. I disagree. A new process is needed.  Either an arm’s length selection process or an all-party selection committee should be created to select the board. This would increase accountability, transparency and competence.  Once selected, the board would appoint the president and look for a person with proven expertise in business and the broadcasting industry.

Lastly, I strongly disagree with the committee recommendation that said, A portion of CBC’s funding should be reallocated to an external ‘superfund’ that would help finance the creation of Canadian content.”

Without increased funding, this would cripple an already cash strapped organization. Also, where would the money come from? If the goal is to create more Canadian dramas and comedies, then taking money away from those areas within the CBC doesn’t make sense – which means it would have to be taken from the other side of the CBC, the news.

This is not at all what we heard from witnesses who expressed how important CBC news is to our country. CBC news provides distinct local, regional, national and international perspectives and in-depth coverage, which contributes to a vigorous democracy.

The CBC is just as important now as when it was created. Canadians want and need a robust and durable public broadcaster to tell our stories, to inform and entertain and to nurture and convey our national identity.

official photo 2012By Art Eggleton

Art Eggleton is a Canadian Senator and former Mayor of Toronto and Member of Parliament. 

Former PM John Turner and the Arctic Youth Corps

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Should Justin Trudeau’s Liberals revive a 1965 Throne Speech promise?

“I really became a Canadian when I got to know Canada north of the 60th parallel… I have never felt more Canadian than when alone with my thoughts in the remote northern vastness.”
—Former Prime Minister John Turner

Former Prime Minister John Turner has canoed every river in Canada that empties into the Arctic Ocean. As a young parliamentary secretary to Arthur Laing, the minister of Northern Affairs and National Resources under Lester Pearson, he came to know the northern reaches of the country intimately.

While it is the current prime minister, Stephen Harper, who now garners arctic headlines, perhaps the Liberal Party should be reviving a policy idea Turner brought forward to the Pearson government in the 1960s.

Turner accompanied Laing on a trip to the Arctic during two consecutive summers, in 1963-64, and he was deeply affected by what he saw. From Cape Dorset to Port Burwell and many other Arctic communities, Turner saw the Inuit people in a realistic—although precarious—light. They were leaving their old ways behind, but yet not sure how to embrace the opportunities of capitalism that southern Canadians simply took for granted. As his biographer, Paul Litt, has pointed out, Turner wanted the Inuit to develop their own commercial enterprises, so they could run self-sustaining businesses. He believed in encouraging southern Canadian investment in the north.

Part of what Turner saw as a disconnect between the Inuit way of life and southern Canada was the lack of opportunity for the two to ever meet. It was this lack of connection—and the fact that there was no capacity to make it happen—that weighed heavily on him when he sat down to come up with policy options for the Pearson government.

One of his most inspired ideas has been lost in history’s pages – although it was both exciting enough and practical enough for the Pearson government of the day to include it in the 1965 Speech from the Throne. Turner proposed the formation of the Arctic Youth Corps, modelled after the United States’ Peace Corps.

In the US version, the Peace Corps sends Americans abroad to work at the grassroots level, in an effort to create sustainable change in communities. Turner’s vision was to see the potential for young people from southern Canada to get to know the northern realities of their country. He knew that it was sustainability that was needed in the arctic and that such a program might go a long way in building economic and social bridges between north and south.

He also knew that young Canadians who served in the Arctic Youth Corps would carry this knowledge into subsequent generations. It would be a legacy of real value passed on from one generation to the next.

In a recent interview with Turner, it was clear he believed the Arctic Youth Corps remains a viable idea, declaring that it would “open up the eyes of our young people to our great north.”

While he gives Prime Minister Harper credit for “taking a great interest” in Canada’s arctic, he also notes that “we haven’t done as much as we should.”

Turner says transportation development, education, and a broad range of business opportunities needs to be encouraged in the far north so it can attain its potential. Showcasing what the Inuit people can do with a hand up in infrastructure matters will be important. The Arctic Youth Corps could be a crucial, bridge-building link that is also relatively cost effective, compared to many other arctic initiatives.

Like many who have visited the Canadian arctic, Turner was never able to free himself from its pull. His personal interest remained, even when he moved into other political portfolios. Given Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s teaching background and his interest in Canadian youth, he could do worse than to revive a celebrated – albeit forgotten—policy idea from the most senior Liberal statesman in Canada.

By Roderick Benns

Roderick Benns is the publisher of Leaders and Legacies and the owner of Fireside Publishing House.

Light-Rail gets $1 Billion Boost from Feds

July 28, 2015 3:11 pm
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The existing O-Train passes over the Rideau River. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In a letter to Mayor Jim Watson dated July 22, Orléans MP Royal Galipeau announced his party’s intention to give $1 billion to support Stage 2 of Ottawa’s light-rail plans.

That money will make up one third of the project’s projected $3 billion price tag.

“Our intent to contribute to Stage 2 reflects our understanding that Canada’s largest cities depend on public transit infrastructure to fight gridlock, reduce congestion for people and businesses, and support economic development,” Galipeau said in his letter.

This money is dependant on the city completing a formal application to the Conservative’s Public Transit Fund. The transit fund has previously contributed to the Spadina Subway Extension project in Toronto and the Evergreen Line in Vancouver. The city will also need to release a more detailed plan of the project to receive funding.

Stage 2 of the LRT will reach from Bayshore to Place d’Orleans, and stretch as far south as Riverside South. The project will add 30 new kilometres of track and 19 new stations to the transit system.

Construction on Stage 2 is set to begin in 2018, after Stage 1 is finished. The projected completion date is 2023.

Will climate refugees in Canada finally spur action on climate change?

July 22, 2015 12:23 pm
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Photo Credit: Eric Wüstenhagen
Ryan Meili and Mahli Brindamour

A young child arrives at the hospital emergency room in respiratory distress, his asthma worsened by smoke exposure. An elder has uncontrolled blood pressure because there wasn’t time to get her medications when the evacuation orders came through. Scabies and other illnesses related to crowding spread quickly through the close quarters of the evacuees. Sudden departure from and worry about home bring significant mental stress. These sorts of health problems are commonplace for people in circumstances like the over 13,000 Northern Saskatchewan residents forced to leave their homes due to forest fires.

As physicians, we’re taught not only to look at the symptoms of an illness, but to seek its root causes. For these patients, the connection is fairly obvious: through smoke and relocation, the fires have hurt their health. And the cause of those fires? Canadian experts are pointing to high temperatures and dry conditions, with climate change a likely factor.

The people who have been relocated in Saskatchewan come from Northern communities with higher rates of poverty than the rest of the province. This is the predicted pattern of the repercussions from climate change, as remote communities with less infrastructure are more prone to its effects. Poverty, lower rates of employment, the effects of colonization and other social determinants also lead to higher rates of illness. This means that community members are more susceptible to the health effects of changes in temperature, air quality and diet that come with the disruption of climate.

We now have internally displaced people in Saskatchewan, and although they do benefit from state protection, in some ways they are as vulnerable as resettled refugees. The federal response to the forest fire crisis is certainly better, however, than the treatment refugees to Canada have received in recent history, as exemplified by the cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program, reducing health services to this vulnerable population.

Natural disasters can bring out the best in our political leaders. They come forward with extraordinary support for people affected or displaced by floods or forest fires. We’ve seen this in the past couple of weeks in Saskatchewan too, as provincial and federal governments have been assisting evacuees and adding additional resources to fight the fires devastating the North of the province.

This action is admirable, a manifestation of the care we provide for each other as a society, and of governments and civil society acting decisively in the public interest.

Tragic times can paradoxically be a boon for political leaders. It’s a chance for dramatic speeches and fire station photo-ops from government and opposition leaders alike. We say this not to cast doubt on their motivations. A strong performance in times like these demonstrates the dedication the public expects from their elected leaders. However, we should be able to expect more.

The point is that talking about climate change is not bringing up politics in a time of tragedy. There are already politics at play.  What we need from our leaders is more than a robust response to the downstream effects of climate change. For the health of Canadians, we need to see upstream thinking to prevent this from occurring over and over.

Unfortunately, we’re hearing nothing of the sort. Quite the opposite in fact; at the same time as the federal government is stepping in to take action to respond to the effects of climate change, they are the subject of international criticism at the Climate Summit of the Americas in Toronto for their inaction on its prevention or mitigation. Premier Wall has been openly resistant to taking any meaningful action to reduce carbon emissions, despite Saskatchewan leading the country in per capita carbon output.

Climate change is a massive and complex issue, and can be hard for people to get their heads around, and hard to motivate political leaders to make sacrifices to act. Sometimes what it takes to understand something on this scale is to see its effects on the health of a single person or a community.

Saskatchewan today has thousands of climate refugees suffering as a result of climate change. Will that be enough to change minds and spur meaningful action?

If our leaders have, as they should, the health and wellbeing of the population as their highest priority, it must.

Meili_Ryan_high resRyan Meili is a family physician in Saskatoon, founder of Upstream, and an expert advisor with EvidenceNetwork.ca.

 

 

 

 

 

Mahli BMahlirindamour is a pediatrician in Saskatoon and a member of the steering committee of Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care.

Mother Canada also about embracing immigrants, not just honouring war dead

July 17, 2015 12:00 pm
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It is not news to point out that Canada accepts more immigrants, per capita, than any other nation in the world, as Globe columnist Jeffrey Simpson recently pointed out. It is a distinction that serves us well as we build a welcoming society, bereft of the deep social turmoil that mars immigration in other nations.

By Canada Day, 2017, to celebrate the 150th birthday of this country, we can have a symbol that welcomes newcomers who continue to choose Canada as their home. On a half-acre of land at Green Cove in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, the Mother Canada memorial will rise, as soon as the environmental assessment and First Nations reviews have been completed.

With her arms stretched toward Europe where the two great wars were fought, she is of course a symbol of remembrance for the more than 114,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders who gave their lives overseas in defence of Canada.

But she is much more. In all the recent controversy about the proposed sculpture, it hasn’t been communicated strongly enough that this monument was always meant to be dually iconic – to honour Canada’s fallen, but to also welcome Canada’s future.

Tony Patrick Trigiani, the Toronto businessman who is the driving force behind the Never Forgotten National Memorial, pointed out his own immigrant roots in an interview last year with Leaders and Legacies. Trigiani was just two years old when his father arrived in the Toronto area from Italy in 1949 and his mother then followed in 1950. They settled in Mimico, in the Etobicoke area of the city.

“We have woven in a unique gesture of welcoming with her outstretched arms. Just like my father and my whole family was welcomed to Canada long ago, she is welcoming the ever-changing fabric that is now Canada,” Trigiani said at the time.

In the same interview, he noted that the project was always about doing something for the whole country.

“This is one of the very few times in this ethnically diverse and modern country where we can all participate in the building of a memorial of this nature…”

The Mother Canada statue was always meant to be a welcoming symbol, not a divisive one. Even though most of today’s immigrants land at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, not on the shores of Nova Scotia, an airport is obviously not the place for an iconic marker. Instead, it will be built on a half-acre of land in an area of Canada too few Canadians have bothered to visit, on the picturesque Cabot Trail. It will bolster tourism, encouraging travel to our rugged east coast. It will speak to our history but also resonate for the new generations to come — those whom we have an obligation to teach.

Just 0.4 hectares out of the 26,000 hectare Black Brook Granite Suite within and around the Cape Breton Highlands National Park will be set aside to honour Canada’s fallen and to welcome new Canadians. We should not be dismayed by this fact. We instead should be celebrating that we live in a nation that wants to both honour its history and welcome new immigrants who will contribute to the fabric of Canada.

At the time when the Vimy monument was erected, fresh from the memory of battle, we knew then that Canada was a noble cause – one worth fighting for. The proposed Mother Canada sculpture reminds all of us, native born and immigrant alike, that it still is.

RoderickRoderick Benns is publisher of Leaders and Legacies. He is also a volunteer director responsible for educational and narrative development, First Nations, and multicultural outreach for the Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation.

The Memorial to the Victims of Communism: It’s Complicated

July 15, 2015 1:00 pm
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There seems to be a general agreement that the Memorial to the Victims of Communism—Canada a Land of Refuge is a worthy project. However, controversy surrounds the current proposed location and design.

Canada, a Land of Refuge— More than a Memorial

“People are trying to make this political,” says Ludwik Klimkowski about the plans to build a memorial to the victims of communism. Klimkowski is the board chair for Tribute to Liberty, a Canadian charitable organization, established with the mission of creating a monument for the millions of people who struggled under communist regimes and for those who helped them find refuge.

“I wish they paid more attention to the eight million of us who live here who are either directly or indirectly touched by the evils of communism,” he says.

Milo Suchma is one of those eight million.

Early one September morning in 1951, six secret policemen came to the Suchma family apartment in Prague, Czech Republic (formerly known as Czechoslovakia). “They took my father immediately out. They took my mother for interrogation for some time and they were with me in the apartment,” remembers Suchma.

“After two days, they let me go to school and I went to my class teacher, not loudly, but I told her, apologizing that I missed two days of school but my father was arrested,” he says. The teacher was a Russian émigrée. Her husband was taken away after the war and she never saw him again. “She told me, ‘Be very brave.’”

Suchma had just started the fifth grade. His father, Miloslav Suchma, a jeweler, was arrested and all his possessions taken away.

“The communists took everything,” Suchma recalls. “They put him in prison for two and a half years and he was lucky…because some of his colleagues got seven or 12 years in prison .”

“After that, you are nobody. You are nobody.You cannot get a reasonable job,” he describes.

“This is even a relatively mild story,” Suchma warns.“Some people can tell you stories that their whole family was wiped out—executed.”

Suchma left Czechoslovakia in August 1968. While on vacation in Western Europe with his wife, Jana, troops occupied Czechoslovakia, and Suchma knew they would not be able to return.

During that time, Czechoslovakia was at a tipping point of socio- political change, as the leader of the communist party, Alexander Dubcek, pushed for reform—a programme he called ‘socialism with a human face.’ In response to increasing reform, troops from Russia, East Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Poland occupied Czechoslovakia. Everything changed. Supporters of liberal reforms after occupation were forcibly removed from the country. Anyone with alternative political views was potentially under threat.

“There was no hope that there would be change because I knew that they would occupy the country for a number of years,” Suchma says. So, at the age of 28, he and his wife left their lives behind and came to Canada— the land of refuge. “We, of course, had mothers and brothers, sisters and so on, but that’s life. You have to try and save your existence.”

Now 75-years-old, a proud father and grandfather, Suchma has lived in Canada for 47 years, raising his family in Ottawa. He is currently the vice- president of the Czech and Slovak Association of Canada.

Globally, more than 100 million people have been affected by communist tyranny and oppression. And the ramifications continue to this day.

“I think the situation in the world is very alarming,” Suchma says. “If you look right now at what North Korea is doing and what Russia is doing in Ukraine.”

Immigrants from communist regimes have sought refuge in Canada for generations. From all corners of the world, Czechoslovakia to China, Cuba to Korea, there are dozens of communities affected by communism who found a new home in Canada. They left everything behind and started a new life in a new country that promised freedom and democracy.

“This is not just a situation for Czechs. Look at the Vietnamese or Koreans or Chinese or Poles,” Suchma says.

“The memorial is devoted to the land of refuge. All of these people, including myself, appreciate that Canada gave us freedom, opportunity and liberty.”

Klimkowski agrees: “This is really about our common memory and above all, it is a thank you for the generosity, safety and prosperity that was extended to us.”

The latest design for the memorial only covers 37 per cent of the site, rather than the previously envisioned 60 per cent. The tallest point has been reduced from 14.35 metres to eight. And there will be five memory folds, not seven.

And many of those people wrote about their experiences on the Tribute to Liberty website as part of a fundraising campaign for the memorial. These are stories of bravery, strength, love and perseverance. Each dedication is just as powerful as the last; each one a reason for the memorial to be built.

Suchma wrote a dedication to his father.“I think that he would be proud of it,” he says.The Memorial - image 2

Breaking it Down: The Process, Supporters and Opponents

As noble a project that it is, The Memorial to the Victims of Communism—Canada a Land of Refuge has generated some controversy. While the project has the support of all of Canada’s federal political parties, and the mayor of Ottawa Jim Watson, there has been disagreement over the current site and design.All are opposed to the selected site. NDP Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar, Liberal MP Stéphane Dion, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and Mayor Jim Watson all maintain the memorial design does not work well next to the Supreme Court building.

In September 2009, the National Capital Commission board approved the monument theme and federal land use approval was given for an initial site at the Garden of the Provinces, located along Sparks Street between Wellington and Bay streets, in the summer of 2011. In 2012, Tribute to Liberty requested the current Wellington Street location next to the Supreme Court. On November 20, 2013, the NCC board of directors agreed that the Memorial could be located on the Judicial Precinct site southwest of the Supreme Court of Canada. In April 2014, a national design competition was implemented.

The two-phase contest narrowed down 20 proposals to six finalists. These six concepts were presented to the jury (design professionals, artists and architects) and the public on August 21, 2014.

Canadian Heritage Minister, Shelly Glover, and then Citizenship and Immigration Minister, Jason Kenney, announced the winning concept by the Toronto-based ABSTRAKT Studio Architecture in December 2014.

“This is a true multicultural mosaic of all the experiences of people who came here. We can’t get anything more beautiful than that story,” says Klimkowski.

The concept behind the winning design is a “fold of memory.” There will also be an interactive ‘Wall of Remembrance’ and a ‘Bridge of Hope’.

“You look to your left to see the memory folds and you experience each and every fallen victim of communism but then each and every pixel comes together as one large picture of Canada as the land of refuge.Then you come over to the Bridge of Hope.You see those names. You can see the story behind those names using your smart phone and then when you climb the Bridge of Hope, you see all of it in its glory,” he explains.The Memorial - image 3

Design Debate

Questions and criticism over the design quickly generated debate. Some said it was too dark, others said too ugly or too big.The problem here is that art is entirely subjective.Who is to say what the perfect representation of the victims of communism should be? It is nearly, if not completely, impossible to please everyone. Famed newspaper magnate Conrad Black recently wrote about the memorial debate in the National Post. “There seems to be an element of moral relativism involved, as if we have no right to recognize the hundred million or more people massacred by international communism in the Twentieth Century, as well as an aesthetic concern.”

“Almost all monuments, including the most illustrious, such as the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty, were much disparaged at first and I think the design is appropriate to the subject. Ottawa, and Canada’s other large cities, need more monuments—they add greatly to the visual environment and appearance of solidity of a city, as Washington, Paris, Rome, London, and other great capitals demonstrate,” Black says.

The NCC board considered the memorial design at a public meeting on June 25, 2015. The meeting outlined the progress of the project and the public was able to contribute to the discussion. The presentation outlined many alterations to the design, emphasizing the fact that the memorial’s size and scale had been significantly decreased, with an increased focus on the theme of Canada as the land of refuge. In fact, the latest design for the memorial only covers 37 per cent of the site, rather than the previously envisioned 60 per cent.The tallest point has been reduced from 14.35 metres to eight.There will be five memory folds, not seven and the memorial will not be higher than the National War Memorial.

Even though at this meeting the NCC board listened to concerns about the location of the memorial,it had already approved the site preparation.

As for the design of the memorial, there is a process in place, allowing the NCC board to reject or make changes to it. However, this outcome seems unlikely. This memorial has been a substantial undertaking for the federal government and it would be quite the political slap to completely reject the plans, especially considering a significant number of board members were appointed under the Harper government, some as recently as mid- June. Even in the unlikely event that the NCC rejects the current plans, the federal cabinet has the power to override the decision under the National Capital Act. So, really, it seems to be an irrelevant point.

All the same, Mayor Jim Watson and city councillors have voiced opposition to the project’s location. Watson addressed concerns at a council meeting on May 27, 2015, supporting Councillor Nussbaum’s motion speaking out against the current plans.

“As Councillor Nussbaum’s motion clearly states, our concern here is about the location of the proposed memorial and not the merits of the memorial or its design,” he said.

“The parallel discussion on the merits and design of the monument is neither one that is before us today nor one that I believe we should be undertaking, but the location of a monument of this size and prominence will have a significant effect on our city going forward and I believe that it is best suited in its original location, the Garden of the Provinces.”

However, he noted: “I recognize that this is ultimately not the city’s decision to make.”

It is a classic city issue versus federal issue debate familiar to residents of Ottawa who have watched the NCC and the city clash over a myriad of issues for decades, whether it’s about Sparks Street redevelopment, Rideau Street development, the proposed King Edward Boulevard, Canada’s Sport Hall of Fame (which eventually was built in Calgary) and Light Rail Transit routes.

Jurisdiction is further complicated at the national level, as the NCC, Canadian Heritage and Public Works and Government Services all have a part to play in the development of this memorial. The National Capital Commission is providing required land use and design approvals throughout the project, and is responsible for the construction of the memorial. Canadian Heritage is managing the overall monument project and the national design competition. Public Works and Government Services Canada is providing procurement services for the design competition. Once the memorial is built, ownership and maintenance of the monument will be the responsibility of Public Works and Government Services Canada. It is an entanglement of accountability.

So what happens now? The decision- making process for this memorial is ongoing and evolving. Once the NCC board grants the federal land use and design approval for the project, ABSTRAKT Studio Architecture will begin working on the construction documents. Canadian Heritage says the official inauguration of the memorial is expected to take place in 2016.

“There is a lot of work ahead of us,” says Klimkowski. “My sleeves are rolled up and I look forward to working with all partners to see this project brought to life.”

Where do the Parties stand?

Where do the parties stand - image 1“The Government is committed to seeing this important monument built in the selected location. Let me be clear, the monument will not be located in front of the Supreme Court. Rather, it will be off to the side, closer to the Library and Archives. Critics of the monument want to destroy green space and construct yet another building for government lawyers. This Memorial will honour the more than 100 million lives lost under communist regimes – and pay tribute to the Canadian ideals of liberty, democracy and human rights. In Canada, over 8 million people trace their roots to countries that suffered under Communism. Thousands of brave young Canadian soldiers fought against communism in Korea.We must never forget their sacrifice.” – The Honourable Pierre Poilievre

Where do the parties stand - image 2“My NDP colleagues and I join with architects, municipal representatives, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and Ottawa residents in opposing current plans for the Memorial to the Victims of Communism. The Conservatives’ decision to locate the monument next to the Supreme Court of Canada is particularly wrong-headed and inappropriate. The monument was originally approved for a different site, but the Conservative government intervened to change the location – in violation of the longstanding plan for the parliamentary precinct and the interests of local residents. A memorial to remember and honour those who fought for democracy is a fine idea – but Conservative political interference undermines the very principle of democratic consultation. As the NDP MP for Ottawa Centre, I have written to the Minister of Public Works, the National Capital Commission, and the Speaker of the House of Commons; asked numerous questions in Question Period; and written op-eds on this issue.The government must abandon its stubborn refusal to listen to the local community, and reconsider its ill-conceived plans for this monument.” – NDP Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar

Where do the parties stand - image 3“We support the idea to commemorate the victims of communism because so many communities came to our country in order to escape from these horrific regimes. So, Canada has been in some ways benefiting a lot from these communities who came to our country. To commemorate this difficult part of their history to explain why they came to Canada, makes sense. But we think that the process was not  respectful. So many people are against the site that has been chosen without proper consultation and to do it so close to the Supreme Court is not what we support.The design is a matter of personal taste.We do not have an official position about the design…We support the idea.We have a problem with the site. And we have a problem with the process.” – Liberal MP Stéphane Dion

Local Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger reinforced Dion’s comments and noted that his constituents have voiced concern about the memorial.

Where do the parties stand - image 4“I’m quite opposed to the current siting and approach and arrogance of the Harper administration in forcing this on the City of Ottawa…I can understand and am willing to give qualified support to the idea of a victims of communism statue in Ottawa, but not this one, not in that location and not at this scale. I certainly don’t support the current plans.” – Green Party Leader Elizabeth May

* These are the Party positions at the time of print.

Native History with Pulse: Inspiring Journey of Thousand Years

June 22, 2015 11:06 am
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Global Savages represent the members of the Anishnaabeg family: Debajehmud, Chibiabos, mother Sky Woman and Mudjeekwis (left to right). Photo courtesy of Ron Berti.

Have you heard the rowing of canoes?

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Public participates in the smudging ceremony

Because Global Savages were here to tell their 18,000 year-old story as a part of Canada’s Magnetic North Theater Festival that took place on the first week of June in Ottawa. Close to a hundred people, young and old, among them tourists and casual passers-by, gathered under the bridge near the Bytown Museum to view the performance.

It was just in time as Ottawa was preparing to celebrate the National Aboriginal Day on June 21. The holiday was overshadowed by the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools in Canada. Nevertheless, Global Savages brought some light and hope.

Global Savages represent the members of the Anishnaabeg family: the Sky Woman and her three sons Mudjeekwis, Debajehmud and Chibiabos. In   their stories, the family travels through thousands of years, through civilizations, to bring the wisdom of their elders – the Kahila teachings, lessons of preservation of humanity.

Kahila teaches people to be “gentle.” The gentle people cherish the Mother Earth that houses and feeds them, the Sun that gives the light, and the woman who begets life. The wisdom also teaches patience and reconciliation.

As the play begins, the family portrays their live on the Turtle Island, isolated from the world until strangers arrived on their land. Blue-eyed, dressed in different clothes, at first, the strangers were regarded as creatures from the higher, spiritual world.

The spiritual creatures, however, brought war, not peace. First, they fought each other. Then, they turned their spears against the natives. The strangers not only killed the indigenous people, but they tore out the hearts of the native families – their children. The children were sent to residential schools, where they were supposed to learn the Western language and manners.

4 In Act 2

Joseph Osawabine plays Debajehmud is also the artistic director of the Manitoulin Island’s Debajehmujig Storytellers Theater

Children’s separation from their families, and what it meant for their parents, was well acted out by the Sky Woman. Her dramatic narration about disconnection of children with their culture and language finishes with long, loud wailing.

The recent report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) revealed that there were 130 church-run, government-funded schools across Canada. In these schools, 150,000 First Nation, Métis and Inuit students suffered abuse and harassment, and many – faced death. Close to 6,000 children died in the walls of the residential schools.

Canadian government has always been slow to act. The last residential school closed in 1996. Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized on behalf of the government of Canada and all Canadians for the colonial school system only in 2008. The TRC report came out only two decades later.

It’s doubtful that the 94 recommendations by the TRC will be acted on by the present government. One of the recommendations of the report is for the Pope to offer an apology to Aboriginal people. When the TRC study came out, the prime minister was meeting with Pope Francis in Vatican City. Mr. Harper didn’t ask the Pope to apologize.

However, not all victims of residential schools had a negative impact, says Joseph Osawabine, the actor who plays Debajehmud. His grandfather withstood the residential system. As the result, the grandfather learned to read and write, which later helped him to become a successful entrepreneur.

“He [the grandfather] understood the world in a different way because of this [residential school experience] as well. And he instilled working values in us, in this family,” Osawabine says.

Osawabine is now the artistic director of the Manitoulin Island’s Debajehmujig Storytellers Theater. His theater is the only professional theater company on the Indian reserve that has been open for more than three decades. It is a place where the local youth learn their heritage, connect with the community, and find inspiration.

3 In Act

Anishnaabegs share their culture and way of life

“Our company gives youth a voice, we give them a sense of hope for the future,” Osawabine says.

One of the mandates of the theater is establishing connection with non-natives and introducing them to the version of the history that is not taught in the Canadian schools.

Many Canadians are glad to attend performances by the indigenous people. In Ottawa, the public who gathered under the bridge represented mostly non-natives.

Andrée Chartier was one of the spectators. The show inspired Chartier to learn more about history of Aboriginal people. There is a rich history yet to be discovered, she says.

“We, non-natives, have to recognize how much good philosophy there is, and the way native people live that we can learn from,” Chartier says.

Chartier thinks it’s a good idea for everyone to have a native friend to learn from each other, and walk along together on the immense land that Canada is.

The artistic director Osawibine is positive about the future of his people. In spite of all tragedies and challenges, Osawibine says: “indigenous people of this land are still here.”

After the performance the Global Savages “boarded their canoe” to continue their journey of sharing the heritage of the Anishnaabeg family. The place under the bridge slowly cleared as people parted. Only the wailing of the mother Sky Woman kept resonating in the air of the empty space.

Have you heard her perchance?

Was The Senate Audit Worth It?

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On a cost-benefit basis, probably not

Consider me one of the millions of Canadians offended by the Senate spending scandal. But it’s not for the reason you might think.

The auditor general spent $21 million on this investigation, and found less than $1 million in questionable expenses — out of $180 million worth of expenses investigated. So we, the ever-patient, ever-indulgent taxpayers, spent $21 million to find out that 0.5% of Senate expenses were questionable.

Should we be outraged? Yes, by the dollar cost of the investigation and by the cost to the reputation of Canada’s upper house.

The Senate’s expense rules seemed fuzzy at best, and downright muddled at worst. Many of the 30 Senators named in the report have already written strong defence statements, stating that they believed these to be simple administrative errors, or that the Senate rules, as they stood at the time, allowed the expenses.

Was there premeditated wrong-doing?

It’s quite easy to say, yes, there was. There are three senators facing charges, with another nine being referred to the RCMP. There are also 21 senators and former senators named who were referred to the Internal Economy Committee. However, 12 of these senators were reported for questionable expenses of under $11,000.

Perhaps much of it comes down to a grandiose sense of entitlement. Anyone who overnight becomes known as “The Honourable Senator” to everyone around them is bound to develop a somewhat grandiose sense of self. Add to that staff members who are often young and easily impressed by the aura of power that surrounds the Senate, and I doubt anyone would not feel a bit more self-important than the “great unwashed.”

This is not a unilateral defence of the Senate. There was a distinct need for expense reform within the Red Chamber. And perhaps it was necessary to bring in a third-party body to expose irregularities and enforce the Senate to tighten up its own rules. It may have been the only way. But it was also an incredibly pricey way.

The cost to Canadian taxpayers seems out of ratio with the benefit we will receive. And the Senate, which has actually done some very good work in researching and advocating for important social issues (palliative care, mental health, etc.) — but is terrible at communicating this good work and impact — will be irreparably damaged for years, perhaps decades to come.

Or perhaps this will be a tempest in a teacup and will blow over, just as many other spending scandals have in the past. Remember the Tories’ $50 million G8/G20 spending spree in Muskoka?

But we do know that pricey audits and commissions can have real political consequences. The Liberal Adscam scandal led to the $14 million Gomery Commission. In the end it found that $3.75 worth of spending was untendered or not completed, with $1 million of that ultimately repaid. And we all know the price former Prime Minister Paul Martin paid for that enquiry.

In reality, it may be the egregious lack of accountability and inflated sense of entitlement that we are most offended by. Will that change in any way if the Senate tightens up its spending rules?

In the end, it is up to each and every one of us who has paid for the audit to balance whether or not it was money well spent. If this is the going rate for such reforms, I, for one, vote no.

Lee Tunstall, PhD, is Lee Tunstalla consultant and adjunct assistant professor in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Calgary.

 

 

 

Canada Skips Dialogue of Leaders of World Religions in Astana

June 9, 2015 10:04 am
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Photos provided by the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions

Kazakhstan’s capital Astana is hosting an international conference gathering leaders of world religions and politicians from dozens of countries across the world. Canadian officials, however, will not be present.

The Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions was created by President of Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev in 2003. The conference serves as a platform for world politicians and religious leaders to engage in interfaith dialogue, seek ways to live in peace, better protect the environment and defend human rights.

In the fifthPresident Nazarbayev congress in Astana, delegates will discuss how working together can foster development and promote peace in the world. During the last congress in 2012, 85 religious delegations from 40 countries sat around one table, exploring solutions for building mutual understanding among inter-ethnic, inter-religious communities at home and abroad.

Canada has received an invitation to attend the forum. In February 2015, Kazakhstan presented the invitation to MP David Anderson, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Consular. Although Anderson would not be able to travel to Kazakhstan, he stated that Canada supports this initiative.

“Kazakhstan’s hosting of the triennial Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions is a welcome initiative which Canada hopes will serve to advance religious freedom in Central Asia,” Anderson wrote in his email.

Previous years, former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien, Parliamentary Secretary Robert Dechert and Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom, Dr. Andrew Bennett, attended the forum.

This year, however, Canada will not be sending its representatives. It’s unfortunate because the country has much to share and much to learn.

The interfaith dialog in Canada started more than five decades ago. The Christian-Jewish Dialogue movement was formed in the 1960’s. Two decades later, the National Muslim Christian Liaison Committee was created as a forum for the exchange of common concerns and interests.

In 2013, Canada launched the Office of Religious Freedom to speak on behalf of religious minorities under threat, to oppose religious hatred and promote harmony at home and abroad. Another mission of the organization is to facilitate an interfaith dialogue.

Ottawa’s interfaith dialogue is also giving sprouts.

Tom Sherwood, adjunct professor of Sociology at Carleton University, is one of the founding members and leaders of Interfaith Ottawa. The group was formed in 2001, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks as an advisory group to the mayor and the police. Sherwood says the group is still active.

“There is a lot of interfaith activity going on, and Ottawa is a leader,” Sherwood says.

Thanks to Sherwood’s efforts, Ottawa’s Carleton University started an Interfaith Chaplaincy in the fall of 2014. It’s quiet and part-time right now, Sherwood says, but it is gearing up for the new academic year at the end of the summer.

“At Carleton, we have recently transitioned in formal ways to reflect the reality, not only of the student population but the actual practices of campus chaplaincy,” Sherwood says.

In 1996, Ottawa created the Capital Region Interfaith Council, which includes representatives of Catholicism, Presbytery, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Baha’i, Sikhism and other confessions. The Council is meant to serve as a place for a dialogue among Ottawa’s faith communities.Participants

This all could be shared with other countries in Astana.

Ottawa’s religious organizations and communities won’t be travelling to Kazakhstan either.

Yesbossyn Smagulov, expert in the religious studies from the Eurasian National University in Astana, says it would be great to have Canadian representatives. Kazakhstan resembles Canada in many ways: vast terrains, abundant deposits of mineral resources and scarce population.

“I think that participation of every country in the Congress in Astana provides an opportunity for an exchange of experiences and establishing closer relations,” Smagulov says.

“Canadian representatives could share their achievements in the field of multiculturalism, tolerance, religious freedoms and the way it accommodated two official languages.”

In its turn, Canada could learn how different nations, ethnic groups representing over 40 religions and confessions live in peace in Kazakhstan. Unlike neighbouring countries, Kazakhstan has avoided conflicts on ethnic and religious grounds thanks to the hard work of the government and its citizens. The concept of big diverse family is widely promoted and strongly supported across former nomadic lands.

It’s unfortunate Canada will skip the world’s gathering of religious leaders, politicians and organizations in Astana. In the era of terrorism and radicalism centered around religions, the world can’t be short of such dialogues. It’s a brilliant opportunity to discuss how to live in peace on Earth.

Learning to Walk

June 4, 2015 10:23 am
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What will the lasting legacy of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission be?

As Cree youngsters in the north, we are taught the tradition of how to walk on the land and in the bush – with each foot fall carefully and quietly placed so as not to disturb the food sources that have always meant the difference between thriving and starvation. It is a hard won but essential skill for those living off the land and it takes many years of practice to master.

Sadly, like so many of our traditions, this one was almost swept away during the tragic Indian Residential Schools period, described by Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as Canada’s greatest shame.

On June 2, after the Commission’s findings and final recommendations were released, the baton will be passed to people like Ry Moran, director of the National Research Centre at the University of Manitoba. Here, the many hours of deeply personal testimony will be housed and a plan struck to foster further research and to decide how best to pass on all that has been learned.

As he reflects on the many tears that were shed during the thousands of hours of disclosures, the horrors that still haunt many Canadians, and all that was lost, Moran said, “At its core, kids were denied the right to be children and to feel the love of their parents in their lives. At the same time, parents were denied the right to give love – an attack on the most fundamental and sacred elements of any society.”

When I think back on the role my own parents played in our lives and in Moose Lake, Manitoba where they both began their careers as teachers, how very different things could have been.

Though they arrived separately to a reserve that was accessible only by boat, snowmobile or dog team back then, they left together and their story is nothing short of remarkable in the way it paints what life in a Cree community used to be like.

Yes, they witnessed first-hand the chasm created by residential schools, but, as the community’s first Cree teacher, my Dad fell in love with another young teacher, the daughter of a Scottish couple who no doubt feared their girl was entering the unknown. Together, their time there was impactful and not only in romantic ways but in how they helped hold the community together.

I love to hear their stories about Moose Lake, back when teachers used to smoke at the front of their classrooms, and Physical Education entailed cutting wood and hauling water.

They both spent most every evening visiting the families in the reserve. Mum says they had a calendar mapping out who they would have tea with on which night, so they could eventually spend time with all of the community.

Now and then I still run into people who used to be their students, and I am proud to say the relationships they built there are still cherished.

My parents often talk about the people from the reserve who lived off the land. There was no such grandiose a title as “Elder” back then, only people who held themselves with the confidence of spending years being solely responsible for their own and their family’s existence.

When young people began returning from residential schools, it is fascinating that what struck those who lived off the land the most is that these ‘students’ had to be taught how to walk all over again. Not with the harsh heel strike they had learned in the towns and cities but with the gentle foot fall of their early childhoods.

Maybe that will be the lasting legacy of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission – that we can face the truth of our past, see a way forward that is hopeful, and learn how to walk gently together so that, as Justice Sinclair so eloquently said, “we can turn our greatest shame into our greatest source of pride” as peoples and as a nation.

By James Wilson

James Wilson is an advisor with EvidenceNetwork.ca and commissioner of the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba, a neutral body mandated to encourage discussion, facilitate public understanding, and enhance mutual respect between all peoples in Manitoba. @JamesBWilson_

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