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Death, taxes and #ableg.

“There are only two certainties in life, death and taxes.”

This quote is commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin from a letter he wrote in 1789, although it originally appeared in Daniel Defoe’s The Political History of the Devil in 1726. Regardless the source, the certainty of taxes has been around an awfully long time.

Except if you happen to be a corporation in Alberta, of course.

The “Prentice Team” has introduced 59 new sources of taxation and fees for Albertan’s this coming year…yet somehow failed to move the needle, even slightly, on the lowest corporate tax rate in Canada.

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 9.10.52 PMThe argument being, of course, that businesses will have to lay off workers because of a “job killing corporate tax”. As opposed to laying everyone off when the price of oil drops.

Interestingly enough, The Prentice Team sent me some propoganda campaign literature in the mail the other day. One of the claims that caught my eye was the “1% Increase to Corporate Tax = 8900 Jobs Lost”, courtesy of Jack Mintz (an economist from the U of C). Of course, he just happens to be on the board of directors for Imperial Oil. Don’t read anything into that, I’m sure there’s no corporate bias going on here.

Of course, you could look to our neighbours to the west, good old British Columbia. They raised their corporate tax rate from 10% to 11% in 2013. And then led the nation in economic growth in 2014, and are forecasted to do the same in 2015. Shit. There goes that theory.

Seriously though, how can the Alberta citizen believe a single word that comes out of the Progressive Conservative party, particularly related to anything that has a number attached to it? In the same propaganda leaflet, they’re pledging to “Double the Heritage Fund” because Alberta’s energy resources are the birthright of all Albertans – present and future.

Riiiiiiggggghhhhtttttt…..which is why we’ve been giving them away for the last 40 years.

I encourage you to read the full plan at PCalberta.com. And then get the actual facts (available at the internet nearest you, but start here) and vote appropriately.

 

There’s something wrong with charitable giving. It’s not the #ALSIceBucketChallenge.

If, like myself, you’ve been fascinated by the viral marketing sensation that is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge…you might also have some wonderings about whether it’s good, bad or neutral for the charitable sector. Having spent a fair bit of time thinking about these kinds of issues, I’m going to offer some thoughts.

First, if you haven’t read this article from Maclean’s, I recommend it. The Cole’s notes are that the author makes some great points about why we should rationally allocate our limited charitable dollars to the causes that have the greatest needs, where our dollars can do the most good, and for what is most urgent. Hard points to argue with. Of course we want to act rationally, which is why you can buy a 700 horsepower Dodge Challenger. The free market caters to the rational.

Why shouldn’t someone donate based on emotion? Or having a bit of fun? Or because a friend or family member challenged them? The simple reality is that the entire charitable sector, when you think about the enormity of the challenges they’re facing, is pitifully underfunded. The issue at hand isn’t whether heart disease is gathering 90$/patient vs. ALS pulling in 3000$. The issue is that neither of those numbers are big enough to solve the respective problem. Instead of lamenting that the small pie isn’t being sliced in the most rational way…why the hell aren’t we trying to make the pie bigger?

Fundamentally, the author (and other “small pie” thinkers) are correct. In a world with fixed levels of charitable giving, the best approach would be a rational one. I don’t believe that we live in that world (both rational and one of fixed giving potential). A good place to start might be a 20% luxury tax on things like 700 horsepower muscle cars, a tax that went directly to charitable organizations. That might even help some people make more rational decisions in general.

Incidentally, the author of the Maclean’s article works hard to help build free markets in developing countries through his nonprofit organization Building Markets. One of the fundamental tenets of a free market? Driving purchasing decisions through emotion-based advertising. Which is why, in 2010, internet and tv advertising was a 76 billion (that’s billion with a b) dollar industry. How, then, is the charitable sector going to compete with that?

How about a couple of viral slacktavist challenges and celebrity videos…obviously not the ultimate solution to a small-pie problem, but not the end of the fundraising world as some would make it out to be.

Is there something wrong with how much money society allocates to solving poverty? Cancer? Environmental decline? Yes. Does the #ALSIceBucketChallenge make that problem worse? I’d say doubtful.

 

 

 

 

Time to Vote.

Well, it’s getting to that season in Cochrane. Voting season. Time to establish a new council and mayor into the role of steering this dynamic and growing community. In an effort to help people access relevant information on all the candidates, I’ve compiled them here (with links to their websites/Facebook pages where possible). And yes, another long blog post, with lots of words.

And because I’m not a newspaper, I do get to make endorsements. Keep in mind these are my opinions and as such don’t represent anyone else.

Let’s start with the candidates for Mayor.

Keep in mind that although I’m ranking them, they ALL have a shared love for this community and would in all likelihood do well in the job.

My Pick: Joann Churchill. Solid track record on council, very engaged citizen, strong view of a sustainable Cochrane. A few miss-steps over the years on a couple of issues, but she’s learnt from them and carried on well.

Close second: David Smith. A bit of a dark horse coming into this election, he’s got a great platform, a solid support base and a view of the town and issues that seems to align well with reality. He’s talking about some issues that no one else has, and he wants to expand the Cochrane Sustainability Plan to include targets on sewer and energy reduction for transportation. Awesome stuff.

Third: Ivan Brooker. Having served two terms as a councillor, Ivan certainly has the experience on council to contend for the Mayor’s job. I’ve found myself disagreeing with numerous ways that he’s voted on some key issues, so from a policy perspective I have a difficult time supporting him.

And the Councillor’s

There are 13 PEOPLE vying to be on council this term. Crazy. Similarly to the Mayoral candidates, it seems that people have a lot of passion for the community, which is great. My picks are going to be based on a balanced council, track records in the community, and platforms. The following 6 candidates are my pick;

Ross Watson. Thoughtful, articulate, genuine and informed. A top pick for sure.

Tara McFadden. Of all the current members of council, Tara has consistently done the best job of communicating what’s happening up at the RancheHouse. She’s active on social media platforms and sends out a great e-news update on council meetings (subscribe if you haven’t already). Another top pick.

Gaynor Levisky. She’s got a good platform focused on Environment, Parks and Rec and Protection/Safety. She also seems to be well grounded in the issues facing families, a large segment of the Cochrane population.

Jeff Toews. I know what you’re thinking…haven’t you blogged a lot about disagreeing with Jeff Toews on a lot of issues? Yes. I have. And I’ll probably continue to disagree with him on a number of issues. But this election isn’t about MY view of Cochrane, it’s about OUR view of Cochrane. And Jeff brings a different perspective to the table, and I feel that he’s done a lot of learning about the complexities of the issues over the past term, and he’ll continue to learn and grow in the role.

Steve Grossick. I don’t actually know Steve, but he’s got a Code of Ethics on his website. And experience with politics, business and volunteering in the community (including being the current President of the Cochrane and Area Victim Services Society). A solid choice.

And unfortunately that only leaves one more seat in my “slate”. And there are several candidates worthy of the spot, but my vote is for Kaitee Del Pra. Born and raised in Cochrane, and only 23 years old, what she might lack in political experience is made up for by the sheer fact that she’s running for council. I think she’d bring a much needed perspective to the table.

Of course, that leaves out some worthy people, and I’ll outline them here.

Jamie Kleinstuber. Active community member, strong environmental ethic. Supports transit. It’s actually really hard to see him not on my list above. Maybe we can have 7 councillors this time around?

Shana Bruder. A long time Cochrane resident, Shana’s also been actively involved in the community (including the Cochrane Foundation, the Community Awards and Light Up committees).

Morgan Nagel. Another representative from the “youth” division, Morgan has some strong political experience and a firm focus on the “small town, family feel”.

Dan Cunin. Has a comprehensive platform that includes some great initiatives. And he came out of the gate and announced his candidacy in JANUARY. Eager and passionate.

Marty Lee. All I could find this morning was his Facebook feed, and will admit to not knowing much about his platform and how it might differ from the rest of the candidates. Has been in Cochrane for 14 years, and seems to have been reasonably well involved throughout.

Mary Lou Davis. A Google search turned up no campaign information, so I wonder if she’s doing it the old fashioned way (door-knocking and coffee drinking). Not that there’s anything wrong with that, just makes it hard to pin down her stance on things when you’re writing a blog post. She did serve on council during a pretty controversial period of time (2004-07), where a lot of development decisions were being made that we’re just now feeling the repercussions of.

Jim Uffelmann. Jim has been a champion for increased public engagement on a variety of issues (namely transit and the dog park). He appears to be running on a “keep taxes low” platform. I’ve had numerous Facebook conversations with Jim where I ended up leaving the conversation due to the negative tone of it. That said, he’s running for council and is obviously passionate about a couple of community issues.

And there it is…my thoughts on the 16 people running for Town Council this go-around in Cochrane. Agree with me or not, get the heck out there and vote!

Advance polls: Cochrane RancheHouse. TODAY from 4-8pm, Friday from 4-8pm and Saturday from 10-4pm. Election day is Monday, October 21st and polls are open at various stations from 7AM to 8PM. Info here: http://www.cochrane.ca/election

Paleo Basics

Every day for the past couple of weeks I’ve been having at least one conversation with coworkers, friends, family (and sometimes brand new acquaintances) about the ins and outs of the paleo diet. And I’m meeting more and more people who are transitioning in that direction, usually as a result of going wheat free.

So…for all those folks who’ve been thinking about or dabbling with going paleo, this workshop is for you.

Join me on the evening of October 17th in Cochrane for a workshop called “Paleo Basics”. More info and online registration available here.

We’re going to take a practical look at the paleo diet, and why (and how) it’s helped me control diabetes, lose weight, lower my cholesterol and generally improve my all-around health and wellness. We’ll talk about how going gluten free isn’t nearly enough, and how you can experience your best health on the “original human diet”.

And if you’re curious about the fees, all proceeds are being split between supporting Givyup (a social business venture) and my 2-year old son’s RESP’s. Because the world needs more awesome, and my son needs an education (eventually).

What’s your intention?

I just enjoyed a two day trip up to the Enviros Shunda Creek program with the leadership team at Base Camp. The Shunda Creek program is a residential addictions treatment center for young men, with a focus on wilderness and experiential therapy.

What I found most intriguing throughout our visit was the distinction that they make between having goals versus having intentions.

Too often we focus on achieving goals (new job, more money, new house, getting clean from our addiction), and we forget all about our intentions (being happy, giving back to the world, being healthy, living a fulfilling life, etc.). What if everything we did was driven by our intentions? What if goals weren’t an outcome, but a part of our process towards fulfilling our intentions?

As David Irvine recently wrote, normal success is what we usually chase. Winning games, breaking records, getting promotions. He calls this outer success, and it only lasts until the next game, or the record gets broken, or the new job becomes stale.

Success beyond success, what he calls “spiritual” success, is much more sustainable, long lasting, and inspiring.

The purpose of a goal of outer success is to inspire yourself to become the kind of person it takes to achieve it. Then, whether you achieve outer success or not, you can still have inner success, or success beyond success.

I particularly like that idea, as it fits well with the “Shunda Way” of focusing on our intentions, and using them to create goals and drive our actions.

So…what’s your intention? And do your goals line up with that?

A deafening response to a quiet crisis

Alberta was recently hit with the worst flooding in anyone’s memory. Much has been written (and much will be written) about the obvious things, the bridges that were washed out, the hippo’s at the zoo, the firefighter with the big smile and the “keep calm and Nenshi on” T-shirts (one of which I need to acquire).

Benchlands home destroyed in flood

What I thought would slip through the gaps are the quiet crises. The people living in lower Benchlands on Hwy. 40 that experienced utter destruction. The people on the Stoney Nakoda reserve that, although didn’t have the spectacular flooding, were cut off from their community when roads washed away, as the sewers backed up. Thankfully I was wrong.

Although it took a couple of days, Saturday night a tweet came out from Morley that caught the attention of a local CBC reporter. She tweeted it out and we started talking about organizing supplies coming out of Cochrane, at 10PM in the evening.

Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 9.17.08 PMScreen Shot 2013-06-25 at 9.17.19 PMScreen Shot 2013-06-25 at 9.18.06 PMSo by 11PM on Saturday night, we had at least my truck and Base Camp’s trailer lined up to take supplies to Morley the next morning…assuming that we could fill it. The word went out via Facebook and Twitter, and Carla lined up her Dad and horse trailer to help. I woke up to a tweet from my favorite local coffee shop, offering up the first donation!Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 9.46.42 PM

The incredible outpouring of support from the Cochrane & Calgary community the next day was inspiring. So too was the level of interconnectedness (and the awesomeness of twitter!). Miss Night is actually renting our condo in Calgary, and Buzz Bishop’s son is in her kindergarten class. Absolutely wild that these connections turned into actual donations on the ground, overnight.

Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 9.26.26 PM

I returned to Morley today with staff and clients from Base Camp. We shuttled a couple of loads from Cochrane, and then spent the day helping to sort through the massive piles of donations, build hampers, hand out dog food, run lunches to the elder’s lodge…generally being as useful as possible. The level of support that I witnessed, and the amount of donations that had arrived between leaving Sunday afternoon and arriving Tuesday morning was jaw-dropping.

Screen Shot 2013-06-24 at 9.21.10 AM

A few short months ago I wrote a post about the Newtown shootings, and how what’s wrong with the world is what’s wrong with us. That day my son was tucked into his bed sleeping soundly while I wrote of an unthinkable tragedy. Today, he’s also tucked into his bed…but I’m glad to be writing about the opposite. I’m glad to be writing about our blessings and our support for our neighbors; family, friends and strangers.

Today, what’s right with the world is all of you, and your deafening response to these quiet crises.

I’m not a tragedy blogger. Thoughts on Boston.

And yet, sometimes I feel compelled to use the space created by a tragedy to discuss important topics. It seems that the only time these topics come up is in response to tragic events. My post on the Connecticut shooting is still the most popular post on this blog, many months later. Which disheartens me a little bit, because I’ve written on a lot of other things, some equally or more important.

I got into it a little bit today on Twitter with someone on the topic of Justin Trudeau’s initial comments, of the need to examine “root causes” behind these kinds of tragedies, be they terror attacks or lone school gunmen. Apparently a lot of people (government’s included) are content to offer condolences to the victims, condemnation of the perpetrators, and move on as quickly as possible.

I firmly believe that there are no acts of violence, aggression or “evil” without first there being oppression. Whether this oppression is intentional or consequential, it has to be present in these kinds of circumstances. Why else would someone kill another human being? What drives that? The opposite view on this would be that evil is simply inherent in the world, and that some people are going to do crazy, evil and inhumane things for no reason.

Believing the latter is incredibly convenient, for it lets society off the hook. It couldn’t have been something I did (or didn’t do). Be it foreign policy, religious persecution, child abuse, neglect, or marginalizing mental illness (or a host of other oppressive acts)….pretending that there are people in the world that aren’t oppressed, and don’t react to that oppression, is misguided and perpetuates cycles of oppression and reaction.

I’m not suggesting all of our tragedies are a result of racism, but this definition does a nice job of capturing “systemized oppression”.

A common response to questions around “root causes” is that it then justifies the actions of the perpetrator. As if understanding and justifying are synonymous. As if having the real information, the kind of information that can lead to better systems that are less oppressive, is a bad thing.

Unquestionably we need to console the victims, and condemn the acts. But that can’t be the end of the conversation. We can’t shrug our shoulders and say “geez, wish there was something we could have done” and walk on. What if there was? What if there is?

Of course we don’t want to ask questions about root causes of oppression. We might not like the answers.

Transit and Windmills and NIMBY’s (oh my!)

It’s been awhile since I weighed in on Cochrane’s controversial topics (currently transit and windmills). Let’s start with windmills.

Recently, there’s been a lot of chatter in the local papers about plans for a 5kW wind turbine that’s proposed for the Cochrane High School. For those that aren’t familiar with this school, they’ve been on the leading edge of sustainable development since 2000. A group of their students beat me out of an Alberta Emerald Award a few years ago (much deserved!). I’m not going to dive into the details of this ongoing drama, preferring instead to comment on a couple of things that come to mind.

First, there was a recent motion (by the mayor) at Town Council to develop an alternative energy framework for projects such as this. I think this is a splendid idea…so long as it’s sole focus isn’t on some minority groups definition of “unsightly”. There’s also talk of asking the high school to put their windmill project on hold until this framework is completed. I think that’s a terrible idea….unless we’re halting all development projects until the appropriate “framework” is in place. Trying to establish this framework at this time is going to encourage the NIMBY’s No Turbine’s in Town Coalition (NTTC) to direct their pent-up rage towards a document that is going to be around for a long time. The project should go in front of the Alberta Utilities Board for consideration, as the next step in due process for these students.

Diversifying our aging electricity grid with sustainable local energy production is critical.

Next up: Transit. Oh god. The issue that seemingly won’t go away, prompted in large part by one of the local papers. On page 2 of the Cochrane Eagle this week was a column with no fewer than 17 questions, disguised loosely as an editorial.

Is it a convenience for the few paid for by the many? Does it make sense for taxpayers to subsidize a bus service taking shoppers to another city?

I have a feeling those questions aren’t being asked out of curiosity.

Having followed the transit discussion for some time, it’s intriguing to me that the town is catching such flack over the issue (then again, I’m regularly intrigued by what get’s published sometimes…). Sure, they jumped out of the gate pretty hard off the bat, but since then they’ve taken feedback, slowed down the process, listened to people’s concerns and come back to the table with 3 very reasonable and affordable approaches to phasing in transit (an identified community need). What seems to be the issue at hand comes back to some very vocal people who disagree with the finding’s of a variety of robust Ipsos Reid polls and surveys, which concluded that there is general support of transit in the community.

Disagreeing with something doesn’t make it any less true….whether it’s a windmill or a bus.

A New Year’s Goal: Focus on Lifeworth

Full disclosure: The author’s of this book are respectively my Dad (Dana) and uncle (Hal). They published it about a year ago, and it’s been selling like hot-cakes ever since. And no, I don’t get a commission. Although maybe I should?

Buzz Bishop just wrote a post about setting a New Year’s Goal, instead of a resolution. It makes a lot of sense, and fits with my strengths-based approach to life. There’s always going to be some negative stuff in our life that we want to change (the normal focus of New Year’s resolutions…losing weight this year anyone?). Focusing on it doesn’t necessarily make it go away. Setting some positive intentions and working towards some goals is often a much better use of our time and energy.

Lifeworth Cover

If you haven’t read Lifeworth: Finding Fulfillment beyond Networth yet, it’s probably the perfect way to kick-start a 2013 goal setting session.

If you’re anything like me, you sometimes find yourself trapped on a bit of a hamster wheel, always trying to grow your “networth”, and forgetting all about your “lifeworth”.  You figure that one day, someday, you’ll be happy, relaxed and fulfilled. You just have to work a little harder, make a little more money, pay off the mortgage….

Of course, we never get there. We constantly compare what we have with everyone around us, or ads on the TV, and so we rush out to buy the newest thing, thinking that it’ll be the final and missing piece to the void in our life, a void built by an endless fixation on materialism in our culture.

Thankfully, Dana and Hal set out to find people living for a purpose, and with passion. People like Alan Hobson, who survived cancer and climbed everest. People like John Davidson, who pushed his son in a wheelchair across Ontario to raise money for Duschenes Muscular Dystrophy. People like Katy Hutchinson, who has turned her husband’s murder into a gift of forgiveness and love unlike anything you’ll read. People who weren’t content to ride the “eat, sleep, work” merry-go-round their whole life.

If you’ve ever asked yourself “is this all there is?” or “am I living the life I want to live?”, then this book definitely needs to be on your reading list.

And for 2013, try and focus on what makes your life worth living.  Hint: it’s probably not an extra couple of hours at the office, or a 2% gain in your stock portfolio. 

Hyper-Individualism and the loss of Empathy

I threw these two ideas out there in the last post (There’s no such thing as a senseless shooting). Empathy is what we need….individualism on overdrive seems to be what we’re getting.

What’s empathy? And why is it so important?

Empathy is defined in many different ways, but the common definition is “the capacity to recognize feelings that are being experienced by another being”. Being empathetic is not the same as being nice. It’s not sympathy. It’s not compassion (although to be compassionate, you need to have empathy). It’s simply the ability to place yourself in another person’s shoes, and understand (and feel) their emotional state.

I believe that empathy is a critical component of a healthy and functioning society. Thankfully it’s rooted in our biology. Children as young as two years old display empathy, and “children between the ages of 7 and 12 appear to be naturally inclined to feel empathy for others in pain”. What happens to our natural empathic tendencies?

We become individuals. And not in the rugged, western movie-star kind of way. We start playing video games. And surfing the internet. And going home after school to an empty house. We no longer live in a village, or even a town. We live in suburbs full of high fences, surrounded by neighbours that we never meet, let alone invite over for dinner. We teach our kids to fear strangers, and our schools practice lockdowns as often as fire drills. We sit in restaurants with our friends and spend the evening texting or tweeting everyone else. We have our natural empathic tendencies repressed by the systems we’ve created, systems created under the false assumption that we’re all endlessly materialistic, narcissistic and pleasure-seeking people.

We’re actively creating hyper-individuals, all the while lamenting the loss of our communities.

Of course, this isn’t a universal truth. There are people actively engaged in community building, in driving forward an empathic civilization. Online and offline, people are gathering together, in small groups and large, in a beautifully unstructured and chaotic movement towards a society built on empathy and love.

Here’s one of my favorite animated talks from the Royal Society for the Arts;

As I wrote this post, my Dad forwarded me an email. A rant, really, about creating the future we want. In it was a line that caught me.

Our humanity is our power.

It’s probably time to use it.