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Opinion  

An journey to inclusion

By Gerry Chidiac

In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to the aboriginal peoples of Canada for crimes committed against them in the residential school system.

It's sometimes difficult to see where this has made a difference. Canada's aboriginal populations tend to have lower levels of education, lower average income, higher levels of incarceration and higher incidence of health issues than the rest of the nation's population.

Faced with such a situation, it's important to look at where progress is being made.

I have the privilege of being part of one of the most progressive and effective school systems in Canada. Prince George has more aboriginal students than any other district in B.C. Our administrators have worked with aboriginal leaders to establish an innovative program that has a tremendously positive impact, not only on aboriginal children but on all students.

One measure of success is graduation rates. These fluctuated for aboriginal students in Prince George over the years but rarely rose above 50 per cent. Today, 61 per cent of aboriginal students graduate, and the next goal is to reach 80 per cent, which would be on par with the rest of the population.

Other areas of success are not as measurable but certainly as significant.

I was recently at a meeting of social studies teachers where it was noted the visible pride our students express in having aboriginal heritage. One teacher noted it was so refreshing to see students celebrating who they are from a young age – and that she had never even mentioned to people that she was Metis until she was well into her thirties.

Aboriginal culture is taking a prominent place in our schools. A few weeks ago, a work of Metis art was unveiled to hang near the entrance to my school. Fiddlers performed jig music in the common area during lunch and everyone was served stew. One could not help but feel the joy so prevalent in this rich culture.

There are also numerous curricular supports. Student artwork is breathtaking, but aboriginal content permeates all areas of study.

In looking at the residential school system and how and why it has had such a devastating impact on First Nations, the lesson became especially real when two students got up and spoke about how their families had been directly impacted. 

What's most thrilling about this journey is that it takes us back to the way things used to be, the way they're meant to be. Aboriginal and European cultures lived in symbiosis in this part of the world for many years. Fur traders were welcomed and everyone benefited. As a non-aboriginal teacher, I'm never made to feel like an outsider. It's clear we're moving forward together.

As we come together and improve our system, we demonstrate that positive change really is possible.

Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students. 

– Troy Media



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A sad state of affairs

By Dermod Travis

“When did our moral standards become so complicated?” 

It was a question left hanging in a recent email to me from Linda Kayfish, the sister of Roderick MacIssac. 

MacIssac was one of eight health ministry workers fired in 2012. He later took his own life, as a result of that firing. To this day, the government hasn't come clean on what led to the firings or who made the call. 

While the question was more rhetorical in nature over the government's intransigence, it could just as easily pertain to any number of political issues in the province.

A fact that hit home after reading a recent column by the Georgia Straight's Charlie Smith entitled: Has the time come for B.C. premiers to disclose their tax returns?

Anything coming out of the mouth of a politician has always been greeted with a dose of cynicism, but we may have turned the corner from skepticism street to distrust boulevard without noticing. 

Smith was writing about the flap over Premier Christy Clark's decision to forego her $50,000 stipend from the B.C. Liberal party.

It was sad that a premier who once boasted she was going to put families first didn't appreciate the optics of accepting a semi-secret, five-figure top-up that was more than most British Columbians make in a year.

It was sad that when asked by The Tyee to put some numbers after the stipend's dollar sign, the premier waved the question off, glibly calling it a “car allowance.”

This from a premier who had once promised to run the most transparent government in Canada.

It was sad that the premier still didn't get it after the Globe and Mail's Gary Mason put the numbers after the dollar sign for her.

The public wasn't so amused when they learned of the amount.

It was sad that B.C.'s conflict of interest commissioner, John Paul Fraser, didn't get it when a complaint was filed with his office over the stipend.

Fraser's son is a deputy minister in the B.C. government, but not your average, run of the mill deputy minister. Fraser Jr. is in charge of the government's communications and public engagement office.

It was never about the legal merits of dad's argument over whether there was a conflict in his investigating the premier, but the perception that could be left with some over his family circumstances.

It was sad that it seemingly took the New York Times for the premier to finally get it, saying she would refuse the $50,000 stipend, because it had become “a distraction.”

It's sad that a good chunk of the public still doesn't buy it. 

No question, some were in Clark's corner. 

One posted on social media, “Hey I think she should get more for putting up with your crap.” Another: “Think about this.... she is responsible for the whole province.... yes, we pay her $195,000 a year... so what... who you gonna get for less to do that job?”

– Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.



Move forward, go further

By Shachi Kurl

In the early hours of Monday morning, as people across Quebec and the rest of the country absorbed the shock of the murders of Muslims praying at a Sainte-Foy mosque, Premier Philippe Couillard found a way to summon words to bring his province together.

“We’re with you,” he told Quebec Muslims. “You are home, you are welcome in your home. We’re all Québécois.”

Indeed, in the days since, political, community and religious leaders have moved quickly to present a united front in the face of this heinous act. They have been supported by thousands of Quebecers who have turned out to vigils and community gatherings.

Such messages of support and inclusion are right, sincere and necessary. In the longer term, though, truly coming together may require individuals to go further in their thinking and actions than many have been willing to go in the past.

Feelings of exclusion, discrimination and suspicion toward minority groups, including Muslims, are undeniable.

We’re not so far removed from 2013, when Pauline Marois’ PQ government introduced Bill 60, the so-called “Charter of Values.” The legislation, ostensibly aimed at dealing with “reasonable accommodation” in Quebec, would have, among other things, imposed limitations on religious symbols and clothing worn by provincial employees, such as hijabs, turbans and kippahs.

It was condemned as racist, inflammatory and divisive. But in the late summer of that year, many Quebecers expressed an appetite for at least some of the provisions of Bill 60. At the time, nearly two-thirds of the respondents we polled in that province said they felt the province was doing “too much” to accommodate differences in culture and religion. By contrast, only 17 per cent in the rest of Canada felt Quebecers were going excessively out of their way.

In the same survey, two-thirds (65 per cent) in Quebec also felt laws and norms shouldn’t be modified to accommodate minorities, and 77 per cent said the values of Quebec society were at risk because of reasonable accommodation. 

Polled in 2014, Quebecers were also least likely among Canadians to see the Muslim community as a partner in the fight against homegrown terrorism, and most likely to say Muslim leaders were not speaking out against it enough. 

Just last summer, Quebecers were among the most likely to say minorities should do more to fit in with mainstream society.

It must be underscored – people like the mosque attacker can live anywhere in the country. No province or territory is immune to such venom. Indeed, anti-Islamic, anti-minority feelings persist in all parts of Canada.

As Canada mourns the victims, in vigils and in prayer, the memorials show Canada at its best, coming together as neighbours with a common purpose.

However, once the funerals are over, once the crowds and the flowers and supportive words have dissipated, a frightened minority community will still be left with the knowledge that in the past, many of their neighbours may have felt less than easy toward them.

Can Canadians allay these fears? It’s the going forward that matters most.

– Shachi Kurl is executive director of the Angus Reid Institute





Work less to live better

By David Suzuki

Since the 1950s, almost everything about work in the developed world has changed dramatically.

Rapid technological advances continue to render many jobs obsolete. Globalization has shifted employment to parts of the world with the lowest costs and standards. Most households have gone from one income-earner to at least two. Women have fully integrated into the workforce, albeit often with less-than-equal opportunities.

A lot of our work is unnecessary and often destructive — depleting resources, polluting air, water and soil.

Yet we’re still working the same or more hours later into life within the same outdated and destructive system, furiously producing, consuming and disposing on a wheel of endless growth and conspicuous consumption. The gap between rich and poor is widening, and working people — and those who can’t find work — are falling further behind, crushed by growing debt, increased competition for scarce jobs and declining real wages and benefits.

Although unions deserve credit for many gains working people have enjoyed over the past century, they also merit some criticism. In the face of technological advances and globalization, unions have failed to fight for reduced work hours, focusing instead on higher wages and better benefits — although lately it’s more fighting to prevent drastic cuts.

Many people are tired, too stretched to become politically engaged or even to spend as much time with family and friends as they’d like, and the grinding consumer cycle doesn’t bring them real joy or fulfilment.

It’s absurd that so many people still work eight hours a day, five days a week — or more — with only a few weeks’ vacation a year, often needing two incomes to support a household. Our economic system was developed when resources seemed plentiful if not inexhaustible, and physical infrastructure was lacking. We need an overhaul to meet today’s conditions rather than those that existed decades ago.

Research points to many advantages of reduced work hours and universal basic income. In Sweden, workers at a care home for the elderly were put on a six-hour workday as part of a two-year study. Although hiring 15 new employees to cover the workload drove costs up by 22 per cent, spending was reduced in areas like covering sick leave, which dropped by 10 per cent. Workers reported health improvements at rates 50 per cent higher than those at institutions with regular working hours. Patient care also improved. Women with children benefited substantially.

Many global warming impacts could also be lessened with small work-hour reductions, through shorter workweeks and increased vacation time, a 2013 report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research concluded. 

“A combination of shorter work weeks and additional vacation which reduces average annual hours by just 0.5 per cent per year would very likely mitigate one-quarter to one-half, if not more, of any warming which is not yet locked-in,” report author David Rosnick said.

A four-day work week cuts pollution and emissions from commuting and, in many cases, reduces energy consumption. When Utah went to a four-day week for government employees in 2007, the state saved $1.8 million in energy costs. Fewer commutes led to an estimated reduction of more than 11,000 tonnes of CO2.

A better work-life balance also brings advantages. Family life is strengthened, people have more time for creative or educational pursuits, and happier, rested employees are more productive. As more people share in available jobs, social service costs go down and more people are able to contribute to economic prosperity.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation senior editor Ian Hanington.



How grassroots is that?

By Dermod Travis

Mere hours before the New York Times went to press with its look at the B.C. Liberal party's ethical scorecard, the party chose to get its 2016 fundraising results out ahead of the storm.

One last chance at political counter-spin – and what a marvel of spin it was. 

The Liberal party reported that individual donors had outnumbered its corporate donors by a four-to-one margin in 2016, with 9,324 individuals and 1,876 corporations making donations. 

The party may want to check the auto-correct function on its computers, because it seems to have arbitrarily replaced donations with donors.

It would have been quite the year-to-year jump. Just the year before, the Liberals reported 2,084 individual and 1,124 corporate donors giving in excess of $250. The 2016 report posted to the party's website on Friday has 15,941 donations, but not from 15,941 unique donors.

There are 7,582 donations for $100 or less in the 2016 report and 8,359 donations from $100.36 to $200,000.

Party donations over $100 accounted for $11.7 million of the party's $12.15 million total. 

The party reported 15 six-figure cheques from 11 unique donors totalling $1.7 million, including Dennis – better known as Chip – Wilson, luxury car dealer MCL Motors, Arizona-based RPMG Holdings (ONNI Construction) and Teck Resources.

Their generosity wasn't limited to the 15 cheques, either. Ten of the 11 kicked in another $200,000 in smaller donations.

Three others – including the New Car Dealers Association of B.C. and the Independent Contractors & Businesses Association – gave a total of $341,550.

Effectively, 14 donors gave close to 20 per cent of the party's total haul.

The donations for $100 or less would normally pass by unnoticed, except for the big deal the party made of them just hours before that New York Times article.

In its statement last week, the party boasted that “Since Christy Clark became party leader, we’ve made a focused effort to grow our base of grassroots donors, including individuals and small businesses.” 

The 2016 report includes 7,582 donations – from $5 to $100 – totalling $449,384 (for context, Wall Financial gave $403,250 through four companies).

But what a grassroots crowd it is. 

Canadian Forest Products Ltd. cut a cheque for $84.73. Their total donations came in at $63,285.

London Drugs made a $98 contribution. The company donated $16,098 to the Liberals.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers gave $50, as part of its $11,225 total.

Mercedes-Benz Canada was in for $20 and that was it. 

Gateway Casinos and Entertainment made three donations for less than $100 towards their $84,118 contribution. 

Gibsons/Sechelt Coin Laundry gave $100, possibly in loonies and quarters.

Vancouver lawyer Larry Lien Kuan Yen gave $20 on one occasion and $10,000 on another. 

The Big 5 Canadian banks donated $47,505, B.C. credit unions ($45,085), HSBC Bank Canada ($5,050) and South Korea's Keb Hana Bank ($300).

Recipients of government funding also appear on the list, including Playhouse Child Developments Centre ($210), the Steveston Harbour Authority ($150) and the University of B.C.'s Centre for Drug Research and Development ($250).

The grassroots spin to the party's statement may have seemed the way to go in light of the New York Times article, but when donations under $100 account for less than 3.7 per cent of the party's haul and 14 donors nearly 20 per cent, you're not really left with a warm and fuzzy grassroots feeling.

– Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.



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