Taking The Family Out Of Family Day: Rethinking B.C.’s Newest Stat Holiday

The initiation of B.C. Family Day as a statutory holiday represents, for many, a personal and historical triumph.  For others however, it is simply more weight added to an already cumbersome load. If politics can guarantee us anything, it might be that policymaking never fails to polarize public opinion.  Between divided schools of thought, legislation has a tendency to fall into a, “he-said-she-said” table tennis of political forum, making something as seemingly innocuous as Family Day, become the main thrust of incendiary debate.

Part and parcel of premier Christy Clark’s, “Families First” agenda, (a political platform focused on creating policies to ease the burden of B.C. families), the new stat holiday pays homage to the prior two decades of multiple failed legislation attempts, aimed at establishing a statutory holiday for B.C. families.  Following Clark’s successful election however, on October 3, 2011, it was announced that as a primary measure, a new stat holiday would be introduced to celebrate families across the province.  After a 31,000 strong public poll, the date was adopted for the second Monday of the second month of the New Year, and on February 11th, British Columbia observed its first ever, inaugural B.C. Family Day.

As the general public moves to adopt the new bill with little apparent trepidation, political charades continue to line the coat pockets of public opinion.  In reality, Family Day is more pomp and circumstance than political idealism, and (notwithstanding the nature of politics) it might be reasonable to assume that a strategically concocted pre-election initiative, (like Family Day) may very well prove beneficial for the Liberals when it comes to the voting ballot in May.  Of course let us not forget that Family Day arrives late to British Columbia, having already been well established as a provincial statutory holiday in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, P.E.I. and Saskatchewan.

Proponents of the new bill proclaim that Family Day is not only fiscally advantageous for the province but also essential to the well being of our society.  Balance might well be the operative word here.  If we type into Google the reasons for why people take holidays, several common factors emerge.  Fitness, mind and body, relaxation, inspiration, reconnection, discovery, sleep, family, health, productivity and kindness… These are what contribute to a life well balanced and well lived.  With this in mind, many concede that compensations like Family Day, are representative of our government’s newfound commitment to general well being.  Marianne Drew-Pennington from BC Council for Families concurs, stating, “setting aside an annual holiday in B.C. that values parenting and the role of families in raising children and building communities demonstrates appreciation for these unsung heroes.”  But before we blow our own horn, let us not forget the many other presiding issues on the docket that plague political morality, such as, lower childcare costs, affordable daycare, (at present childcare costs in BC are anywhere from between $9,000 to $14,000 per year per child), demand for more licensed childcare facilities, and pediatric care.  Therefore, another stat holiday linking New Years and Easter seems to falls short of other, more pressing political issues.

Christy Clark, alongside Margaret MacDiarmid, Minister of Labour, Citizens’ Services and Open Government, have proudly advocated that the statutory holiday is intended not only to celebrate B.C. families, but also to support local economies by encouraging its citizens to utilize their communities’ resources, programs and special events.  Clark claims that B.C. Family Day will therefore see a subsequent (albeit 2-3 day spike) in public spending during the off-season, when economies and businesses tend to flounder.  Both Chris Dadson, president of Kootenay Rockies, and Tourism Minister Pat Bell, have defended Clark’s sentiment, arguing that the holiday will provide a significant boost to the B.C. tourism sector.   Working hand-in-hand with a variety of partners (including B.C. Parks, municipalities, regional tourism associations, the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association, the Canada West Ski Areas Association and the private sector) the province has labored to create affordable opportunities for families to enjoy the special day together.  In Vancouver for example, there were concerts featuring local Juno award winners, as well as street entertainment, face painting, a hockey shoot out, local artists and more.  Ian Tostenson, president of the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association concurs, saying, “B.C. Restaurant Week February 11 to 17 coincides with Family Day and showcases the incredible innovation and value of our industry…We encourage everyone to get together with their loved ones on Family Day and support the many people who own and operate restaurant and food establishments in B.C. and continue that celebration throughout the week.”  This statement was echoed by David Lynn, president and CEO of Canada’s West Ski Areas Association, who said, “We are very pleased with the outcome and we are confident that this decision will drive significant benefits for the tourism industry, the provincial economy and the people of British Columbia.”

Apart from all the praising proclamations made by our politicians and chairmen, criticism of the bill continues to plague its advocates.  Many small business owners reject the onus of Family Day, which places unnecessary financial strain by forcing them to pay staff for an extra day.  In response to the censure, Christy Clark stated, “a lot of other economies across Canada have gotten used to Family Day, including Saskatchewan, which is one of the fastest growing now.”  While this is true, we must take into account B.C.’s modest economic growth forecasted for the coming years.  Comparing our economy to Saskatchewan’s is not necessary representative.  It is a well-known fact that our prairie brethren lead the nation not by political idealism, but by potash, oil and gas. B.C. might well reap the benefits of its own liquefied natural gas project in the coming months, (if the premier gets her way) however the bulk of our GDP still relies heavily on foresting and mining, which cannot altogether realistically compete with the economies of Alberta and Saskatchewan.  And while B.C. continues to reel from the grips of a harrowing recession, we begin to emerge within a shrewder consciousness that echoes the sentiment nothing in life is free.  So without the stars in our eyes, we start to wonder… who is footing the bill?

British Columbians already enjoy nine statutory holidays per year, with a minimum two-week vacation entitlement (presaged in B.C.’s Employment Standards Act) as well as an additional one-week vacation extension after five years of employment, and five days of entitled unpaid family leave.  Critics of Family Day argue that adding another statutory holiday is therefore not only unnecessary, but also costly.  Businesses that close for the holiday lose an entire production day, while their wage costs remains the same, (since workers must be paid an average day’s pay). With no offsetting reduction costs and lower revenues, owners, employees and consumers therefore end up footing the bill.  Although higher prices may conceivably compensate for the loss, increasingly competitive markets for most goods and services make this option ultimately unviable.  Notwithstanding the recession and our slow growing economy, the HST/PST debacle, and the minimum wage increase, (recently imposed by the Clark government) the Canadian Federation of Independent Business estimates that BC Family Day will cost small and medium businesses roughly $42 million.  This of course, does not take into account the added cost of any larger businesses.  And let us not us forget about the average B.C. family, for whom this particular stat holiday is supposedly intended.  As an illustration, Canadian taxpayers will subsidize tens of millions of dollars to provide the additional (paid) day off for the 359,000 provincial and municipal public sector workers, (or the two and a half times standard pay if they work the stat).  And while Clark and those in her camp, claim that the holiday will rather improve the economy, (as families are expected to spend money on entertainment and recreational activities) any increase in demand for goods and services will be offset by the increased wage costs businesses will have to bear.  However additional concerns over the nexus effects of the bill, have many British Columbians worried.  Increased spending by families on their day off may potentially contribute to less spending at other times throughout the year, while the obligatory onus on local businesses to provide free services or reduced rates to promote Family Day will not only see a loss of revenue, but will also increase total annual expenditure, as they will have to sustain the increased wage costs.  Lastly, there is no guarantee that a day off for British Columbians will provide B.C. with the kind of economic stimulus that has been projected.  Many use long weekends to travel southward or east to Alberta, (such is evident with Alberta’s Family Day which conversely sees a modest commercial boost to B.C.’s economy during the third week of February).

Family Day may seem like a noble gesture by the Clark government to provide support for B.C. Families and stimulate local economies, however, we as the taxpayer, must call a spade a spade.  The bottom line is, statutory holidays are not free. Taxpayers, workers, and business end up paying, which is why it is important that we understand fully the implications of such policies.  There are indeed many benefits that coincide with the implementation of Family Day, primarily the opportunity to disengage from the rigorous (albeit sometimes tedious) routine of daily life, and we can all agree that balance in order to promote general well being should never be undervalued.  However, like all things political, policy presents polarization, and in the end, divides society along diverging beliefs and interests.  Therefore, to form a holistic opinion on any political policy, it is imperative that we, the people and taxpayers, educate ourselves on the full intention, implication, cause and effect of each government policy, so we too can make decisions based on our own welfare and understanding.

- Elizabeth Cucnik

 

 

 

Bill C-45: Redefining Canada’s Idea of Democracy

Canada’s Conservative government has made many promises over the years, some of which have simply slid into the slipstream of political darkness, while others have conveniently been cut up into bite-size, chewable pieces that our politicians can easily swallow.  Of course, when it comes to the world of the shrewd, we shouldn’t expect anything less.  If we were completely honest with ourselves, we would assume that the realization of any political promise (especially those sprinkled lavishly along the campaign trail) does not reality make.  This year however, the Conservative government seems to be tackling some of its pre-election campaign pledges to strengthen the Canadian economy by reassessing the federal budget.  Even if, (surprise surprise) the effectiveness goes hand-in-hand with other, less favorable legislations… (But hey, we’ll take whatever we can get, right?)  While Canada struggles to wriggle free from the clasp of a worldwide recession, all things fiscal continue to dominate the political arena and, albeit, public discernment.  At the forefront of Canadian concern, we see the economy affecting all aspects of society.  The reality of budget balancing, fiscal management, federal spending and taxes, is therefore not only imperative but also fundamental, (as it speaks directly to our democratic consciousness).  However, while the dream of Canadian equality appears to be dwindling in the face of our increasingly stratified culture, redemption by the Conservatives seems like a tall order to fill.

Wrapped up lavishly in a 443-page federal budget omnibus bill, 64 pieces of legislation, (touching on everything from environmental rules, to business tax breaks, to judge’s salaries and employees’ take-home pay) reveals the more demure, democratic side of parliament (perhaps a consequence of public pressure from media, nonprofits and other government-regulating groups).  Pension reform has been the thrust of that impetus, which, if carried out successfully, will consequently save our government over $2.6 billion.  So just how does it do it?  Well, firstly by removing some of the financial onus off of the crestfallen taxpayer’s shoulders. This means making those platinum-plated retirement plans for federal employees far less generous.

The move to self-regulate, disperse, change and equalize comes at a ripe hour.  Many Canadians have no pensions whatsoever, while the rest of us can only dream of receiving such hefty sums upon retirement, (which, by the way, the Conservatives have increased by two years). The Canadian Taxpayers Federation was recently quoted saying that Canada’s MPs have the best pension fund “on the planet,” the bulk of which is contributed by the taxpayer, albeit padded lavishly by kush legislation that ensures maximum growth and protection.  Currently, our government subsidizes the majority of government pensions, dishing out six times the amount paid by MPs into the plan.  However statistics released last June by the CTF tallied an even greater cost disparity between the taxpayer and the MP, tipping the scales at a staggering 24:1 ratio.

If we were to break it all down into laymen’s terms, the reality of government expenditure on things like federal employee pension plans would come as a dreadful surprise.  Presently each MP makes just under $158,000 a year and, following the current legislation, after only six years of sitting in the House, at 55 years of age, each MP qualifies for a pension based on the average of his or her best five years of salary.  This means Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be eligible to collect a pension of at least $223,500 per year by 2015, while Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae, (if he continues as party leader) can collect a pension of at least $71,400 per annum.   NDP MP Pierre-Luc Dusseault on the other hand, who was elected last year at the age of 19, can collect a pension of $40,000 per year if he retires at the age of 27, while twenty more MPs will be able to collect over $100,000 a year if they retire or lose after the following election.  This of course, is not taking into account the guaranteed 10.4 per cent interest rate, which, (by the way) outperforms the Canada Pension Plan by 60 per cent over the last 10 years.  Based on the interest rate return, taxpayers are therefore paying an additional $248,668 into the fund, per MP.  If we combine dollar contribution and the guaranteed interest rate, we see that our input into these funds, amounts to a staggering $102 million a year.  Yes, we may not know it, but we are indeed making those deep politician pockets, even deeper.  Without a doubt, this sham is an exploitation of magnanimously epic proportions, highlighting a severely misplaced trust in our hallowed conviction of all things “democratic.”  So while our government doth protests that it is attempting to make the necessary changes, one has to wonder, what other undemocratic elements plague this administration?

Looking at the upside of Bill C-45, Canadians can be somewhat pleased that parliamentarians will soon share the cost of their pension contributions on a 50-50 basis with taxpayers, (which means that Harper himself would be giving up at least $70,000 a year in eventual pension payments). However, despite the progressions, there is an undercurrent of dubiousness that seems to mock Bill-C45, calling into question the very democratic nature of our own government.  For example, it is uncertain how much MP’s and senator’s salaries might increase to compensate for the proposed pension contribution requirements, while those already serving will not have to worry about any pension eligibility change.  Yet critics argue that some of the other major changes presented in the bill are also inherently inequitable, such as the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the elimination of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission, the removal of the federal board for Employment Insurance premium rates, and the Merchant Seamen Compensation Board.  And while the word, “undemocratic” seems almost offensive to Canadians, it may very well be because we live, for the most part, under a veil of political ignorance and apathy.  The truth is, governments are like businesses, predominately ruled by personal gain, self-interest and profit and ours is no different.  This is why it is more important than ever for Canadians to speak out and have a voice in local and federal government.  We must understand and appreciate the power of collective knowledge, activity, awareness and engagement that can ultimately affect  the very landscape of our own political future.

-Elizabeth Cucnik

 

 

Is Gun Control Necessary or Not?



Throughout the world, firearm ownership and gun control remains a point of contention among politicians, activists and civilians alike.   A manifold complex of various interconnected issues, the debate over the role of guns in society, works to polarize and divide based on fundamental values and belief systems that are, for the most part, carved in stone.

The penultimate need for survival and dominance (through belief systems and social and political structures) has always reigned supreme, shaping the landscapes of social evolution throughout millennia.  A manifestation of our most basic thoughts and needs, the history of firearms and the role of guns in modern society therefore reflect the constituents of our nature, (and by default, the less elevated aspects of our cognizance).  Inevitably changing the projection of human development, the conception and use of firearms, (beginning in 12th century China and rapidly spreading Westward) witnessed the rise of “gunpowder empires.”  These great powers, which saw the vast takeover of large territories and people across Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East from the 15th to the 18th centuries, (the most well known and successful being the Turks) created highly developed, centralized governments that could carry out the procurement, maintenance and instruction of firearms.  Guns and gunpowder were therefore reserved for the all-mighty and powerful, conceived and used for one purpose and one purpose only: warfare.   Although war is an integral part to understanding our historical social consciousness, and continues to be emblematic in the 21rst century, warfare has never been and never will be a desirable proponent of human nature.   Our blood lust, stemming from our most basic, animalistic instinct, is the primal need to facilitate control and ensure our own survival at all costs. The methods of human warfare therefore, by way of firearms and firearm technology, cannot be separated from our primal nature.  In this respect, all sense of elevated consciousness, empirical thought and humanity disappears with the pull of a trigger.  So where does that leave us?

Unfortunately when it comes to the debate over guns in modern day society, the bounty of biased statistical evidence, which labors to support either side of the argument, makes gun ownership and gun control a moot point.  Definitively, the real issue is not necessarily gun control but gun ownership.  Where there is fire, one is sure to get burned.  But eliminating all guns from the world is not a reality.  So what do we do?  Governments become the negotiating parent.  Placing conditions to restrict and control, they do as much or as little as they can to convince them of their own authority.  But despite federal action, the arms race, like a tyrannical teenager, persists in its own way, forging sovereignty that is independent of Big Brother.  Yes, we are damned if do and damned if we don’t.  However, giving up entirely to leave society to its own devices may prove to be just as disastrous.

While media, multinationals, lobbyists and lawmakers alike, have, to a greater degree, collectively enabled a dependent, unthinking society, the individual is no longer independent of popular culture and its welfare state.  We must be told what we think, what we do and how we feel.  In this sense, most of us are incapable of understanding the boundaries of self-control and self-regulation and without comprehensive thought; our ability to judge people and situations correctly, is next to nil.  As a result, we see a rise in worldwide obesity and addictions rates, domestic and street violence, drug trafficking and arms dealing, persistent civil unrest and crime, substance and behavioral abuse, international warfare, and a plethora of psychological and psychiatric illnesses.  So how can we realistically embrace a laissez-faire mentality when it comes to firearm ownership, when the culture itself doesn’t even know how to eat and sleep without being prescribed something?  (Talk about a loaded gun!)

A large roadblock for pro-gun control groups in America is the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, which serves to protect “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”  Right wing lobbyist groups like, the National Rifle Association and the Gun Owners of America are quick to quote it in defense of their anti-gun control program, which supports the removal of all bans on semiautomatic weapons, armor piercing ammunition and handguns.  However the question remains: is there a difference between the right to bear arms and the right to control the conditions of that right?  In the wake of the Connecticut school shooting last month, (which saw twenty children and seven adults murdered), the echoes of thirteen other mass shootings of 2012 in the United States alone call for a mass mobilization against the gun lobby.  In a statement last Wednesday, President Barack Obama said, “What’s more important, doing whatever it takes to get an A grade from the gun lobby that funds our campaigns or giving parents some peace of mind when they drop their child off for first grade?” However notable Republicans such as Florida Senator, Marco Rubio, are quick to challenge Obama’s proposals to ban assault weapons and impose a 10-round limit on ammunition magazines, while many Democrats concur that gun control programs remain a difficult sell to lawmakers.  Yet of all industrialized nations, America continues to be the nation with the weakest gun laws and the highest gun-related deaths, (killing around 10,000 Americans a year), the backwash of which inevitably permeates our northern borders.  Canada is therefore not immune to the system, and the system itself is evidently off-kilter.  While there is no single solution to the complex issue of gun violence, the notion that governments are not responsible for universal background checks, and should not ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines is, without a doubt, deeply counterintuitive and asinine.

Looking to our European counterparts, we see a very different picture. In Britain for instance, handguns and automatic weapons have effectively been banned, and while it is still possible to own shotguns, and rifles, (if you can prove to the police that you have a good reason to own one) the firearms-ownership rules are arduous, involving hours of bureaucracy, in which extensive background checks, interviews and surveys are conducted.  According to British police and British parliament, many gang-related shootings in Britain are no longer fatal, due to the simple inaccessibility of ammunition.  In this respect, gangs are resorting to making their own bullets, the likes of which are not as effective as the real-deal, and even those hardboiled criminals willing to pay for a handgun are often acquiring only an illegally modified starter’s pistol turned into a single-shot weapon.  If statistics are anything to go by, than one might be crude enough to say that fewer guns mean fewer gun-related crimes, (a belief that is greatly supported by both the Handgun Control Inc. and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence groups of America).  In 2008-2009, there were 39 fatal injuries from crimes involving firearms in England and Wales, with a population about one sixth the size of America’s, compared to 12,000 gun-related homicides in America during that same year.  Based on the models of Japan and Britain, it seems that strict gun laws involve having no guns at all.

Surveys show that twenty-nine per cent of Canadian homes possess an estimated total of nine million firearms. The UN has ranked Canada third in the civilian ownership of firearms among developed western countries, (right behind the United States and Norway).  As the arms race goes, once other people have guns, it becomes reasonable for you to want one too and while significant number of guns in circulation seems to make any specific controls on things like automatic weapons or large magazines superfluous, there are therefore, no definitive solutions to the gun debate.  The choice lies solely within the people: whether popular culture supports gun mentality or not and whether we, as a society, choose to forge a community based on weapon supremacy or intellectual sovereignty.   So, while the power ultimately rests with the individual, society at large can only pray that the individual appeals to rational thought and self-control and not the full metal jacket of 21st century anarchy.

- Elizabeth Cucnik

 

 

Are We Simply Spinning The Human Hamster Wheel of Time?

 

The all-too-familiar idiom, “time flies,” or its less common Latin counterpart, Tempus Fugit, is not just a fanciful way of describing the passing of time, whereby one can envisage time as a sort of number or clock that seemingly floats around on a pair of cartoonish, cherub wings.  The reality is far less provincial.  “Time flies,” is more a euphemism for FUBAR – the final hooray of man’s inability to comprehend the mystery that is life.   Of course we all love to imagine our existence as some sweeping romantic caricature, with oversimplified gestures of meaning and purpose.  This makes our heads hurt a little less.  But unfortunately, life does not afford us such simplicities.   So we go back to drawing board.  What do we make of something we can’t reasonably understand?  Maybe there’s something to be said for Osho’s laughter for prayer – why be so serious when the confounding thrust of life comes straight out of the realm of the laughable?  Time, being the principle component of life’s basic conundrum, eludes even the most astute and aware, stockpiling our need to shrink wrap and stamp it with a cliché we can all artificially accept, (at least for the time being).  As we shuffle awkwardly into a new calendric year, beleaguered by those unavoidable backward glances to past dates and decades that have all but disappeared into obscurity, we are confronted once again with a basic proponent of being: time.  So what do we do with it?  What is our relationship with time?  What is our philosophy of time?  How does time fit into our lives and how do we use it?

The idea that time is relative, stems from the experience of time itself: how one ideally interprets the time one spends.   Some seek life experience at all cost – pushing the boundaries and challenging the senses, while others opt for a more classical education, making all the necessary stops along the way by fulfilling their cultural rites of passage.  Then there are those mavericks of society, who enjoy the anything in everything: silence of contemplation, din of human tenacity, complex of nature, reckless abandon, unquenchable quest of knowledge, and so forth.  Despite how, why or what propels certain peoples to seek certain ways of living, the premise is simple: whichever life portfolio one chooses, dictates the way time is experienced and reflected.  The question of New Year’s resolutions therefore inherently lies in the question of diversification.  If we choose to diversify our lives by seeking new experiences, new wisdoms, new networks, new adventures and new schools of thought, the rejuvenation of a new calendric year will simply hallmark that invigorating process.  If, however, we choose not to diversify, enjoying the sedation of regular routine and the shelter of repetitive action, we are, in a way, creating a slipstream of time, in which all memories merge into one continuous torrent of consciousness, whereby time is felt as “flying” or fleeting rather than fulfilling.  Of course this is all easier said than done, while most of us have, what is known as, “responsibilities” – the giants of our lives that tower in the face of self-realization, (remember healthcare? Care insurance?  Mortgage payments?)

Unfortunately responsibility has gained a rather notorious reputation in the Western hemisphere, particularly in North America, where an emphasis on materialism and capital gain, have made us inherently weak, feeble-minded and perpetually broke.  As a result, we self-medicate through reality TV, talk shows, social media, online gambling, YouTube and so forth, all of which we collectively mistake as real-time or real-life.  In this sense, the Internet has made us false gods and pseudo rock stars – an illusion that may very well be the greatest crime of the modern age.  In all actuality, responsibility has never been a burden to mankind; it has, rather continuously served as a sail for reason, a bridge for spiritual gain, a gift of consciousness, a boundary of hope, and a home for personal meaning.  Rather than a debt we must pay, responsibility is respect for life itself, for the processes we choose and for the time we spend.  Equally as gratifying and diversifying as an encyclopedia of all-things new, it seems responsibility is the bloodline of humanity.   So where did we go wrong?  How did we become so lost in our responsibilities, that we in turn, lost sight of its true significance, of its deeds and indeed, of our own diversification?

While it may seem impossible to have a diverse life profile amidst all that responsibility, there is, in fact, another way around it.  Firstly, by accepting that work, money, payments, bills, and so forth are all part of life’s journey, (which essentially leads us to greater wisdoms and causes), our anxieties will evidently ebb away.  Secondly, it is important to consider the multifaceted nature of diversification.  If we want to spend time in real-time, in present-time, where time moves as time should – with equal measure and substance, then we must seek conscious expansion through all levels of being, (that is, spiritual, physical, mental, emotional).  Like the spark of a kindling flame, we create friction for energy.  This means: proceeding with passion and re-establishing equilibrium of benevolence, honesty and empathy; engaging in activities not just for the sake of being active, but to motivate and inspire; removing ourselves from the mundane routines by travel and experience; and forging new alliances and pathways that can lead us to different schools of thought.  In this sense, deeper meaning comes from the present consciousness of one’s time, rather than the idea of something else, past or future.

So why not embrace the diversification of life’s portfolio this New Year?  If we diversify the way we meet new people, the way we think, the way we creatively construct and the way we conduct our day-to-day, we will no longer need New Year’s resolutions, because we will ultimately be resolved.  If we continue to change the landscapes of our lives, time itself will slow to a steady rhythm that we can dance to, sing to, make love to, and rejoice within.  If… we might finally be able to leave the idioms of time behind, the past and the future, to revel in a newfound prolonging of the joyful and resounding present.

- Elizabeth Cucnik

 

 

The Better Gift To Give This Holiday Season…

Tis the season!  In light of the Christmas spirit, we thought we’d share in a few gift-giving alternatives that you can mull over while you sit fireside with your cup of hot coco in hand.  Of course, these are not in any way, new ideas or trends.  Here’s the catchphrase: Christmas is not about the gifts.  Yes, we have all heard this little jingle time and time again – in the Christmas hymns and carols we sing, in the films we watch and the books we read.  Yet many of us continue to imbibe the obligations of gift giving rather than rejoice in the delight of its true significance.

The real heart of the season is driven by the generous spirit, a need to assist, to empathize, and to find compassion and care, even for those whom may not deserve it or even appreciate it.  These principles of charitable essence can be found in the small and few, rather than the big and plentiful, and they are what the spirit of Christmas is all about.  Chronicling your family history by collecting and showcasing old photographs, letters and documents is a great way to involve your family in the homespun efforts of the past that make our present.  You can frame meaningful photographs, give away a basket of home-baked goodies, donate to a charity in the name of a loved one, or create a unique experience through a joint family activity or trip.  Then of course there are those kinds of gifts that are slightly more incorporeal.  These gifts are the kind that make us human, the stuff of legend and the fibre of divinity.  Potted flowers or herbs left anonymously on a friend or neighbour’s doorstep…cleaning up the house or bedroom without having been asked to do so; calling an estranged friend or relative or writing a letter to someone you haven’t seen in years, (or just simply writing a real old-fashion, pen-to-paper-to-post letter without texting, emailing or Facebook!)   Why not give away the last great book you enjoyed to someone with like interest, or shovel snow for an elderly neighbour?  Every small yet significant gift of love is the butterfly effect for a greater, universal peace that reverberates and transcends.

As we sit in custody by the giant of Western consumerism, our hands need not be tied behind our backs.  Gift giving does not have to feel like a duty or onus, rather it is a genuine opportunity to love somebody else.   Of course, while most of us are spellbound by commercial capitalism, it’s far too easy to lose sight of the giving over the getting.  So instead of asking our children what they want for Christmas this year, why not start by asking them what they want to give?  By giving our children the opportunity to experience the fundamentals of the season, we are in turn, teaching them the essence of giving as a language of love.  So in your quest to find that perfect gift, lest you not forget that the greatest gifts one can give might well be those that do not adorn fancy price-tags or name-tags or shiny red and green gift-wrap.  After all, aren’t those the better gifts to give?  For they are the ones that come directly from us.

-Elizabeth Cucnik

December 21st 2012: The End Of The World?

 

Based on the ancient Mayan calendar, the world is going to end on December 21, of this year.  At least that is what many cyber-circulating headlines tell us.  Despite prevailing logic, one cannot help but feel a twinge of horror and a flicker of doubt that eclipses the mind’s eye for a brief nanosecond of delirium.  Could it be true?  Is there any possibility…?  That is, until we return to our good sense and then it’s all poppycock and witty humor.  But if there’s one thing that doomsday predictions tells us about ourselves, it is that human beings are unrelentingly naïve in our quest for magic and mystery.  We need transcendence as much as we need air to breath.  A cynic would say that society is simply blinded by this obsession with the unknown, continually compromising reason and logic for a foolhardy notion of sublime possibilities.  A cautious optimistic rather, might consider these foolhardy notions to be a collective expression of faith in a higher existence, or in a well-endowed consciousness of the universe.  Regardless of which spectrum you fall under – the cynic or the optimist – there is no denying that magic and mystery remain the two foremost elemental components of the human experience.

Apocalyptic prophecies are not a new phenomenon.  In fact, failed predictions of doomsday have circulated throughout the ages, casting shadow and doubt amongst the rise and fall of civilizations and their societies.  The Romans, for example, believed that the mystical number revealed to Romulus, (mythical co-founder of Rome) represented the number of days in a year, therefore they had expected Rome to be destroyed around 365 AUC, (389 BCE).  Similarly, Gregory of Tours, (a Gallo-Roman historian) had calculated the End occurring between 799 and 806 AD.   John of Toledo on the other hand, (an English Dean of the College of Cardinals) predicted the end of the world based on the alignment of planets during 1186.  Likewise, many interpreted the black plague, which swept across Europe in the 14th century, as a sign of the end of days.  Predictions like these continue almost every year from the Roman period through to present day.  Deductive logic therefore tells us that modernity has, in no way, any bearing on the mystical tendencies of human nature, which are as perennial and prevailing as the stars and moon and revolutions of our planet around the sun.  Our pursuit of the enigmatic is our true distinction – much like the universe examining its hands and feet – we live for wonderment of the world, without which, we might as well be as boring and predictable as a B-rated romance flick.  However, the question is: how far do we allow ourselves to take it?
Believing in something, or entertaining the idea of something that goes against our intuitive knowledge and experience simply because it is dramatically enthralling, is what psychologists like to call, “cognitive dissonance”; that is, the feeling of discomfort whilst simultaneously holding two or more conflicting beliefs, ideas, values or emotional reactions.  Most of us know that the mechanism of our mass extinction will not be from a collision with a rogue planet called Nibiru, or a super black hole at the centre of the universe, or a sudden world-wide flash flood, yet we allow ourselves from time to time, to be drawn into the drama of it all, excited by the conspiracy of the unknown.  So before you go ahead with the building plans of your prospective arks, take note of a few, tiny, minute considerations.  Many believe that our year is not in fact 2012, but, due to miscalculation, is rather a different date entirely.  Similarly, according to the phantom time hypothesis, (a theory developed by Heribert Illig in 1991), periods of history, precisely that of Europe during the Early Middle Ages, may not have actually existed, which would make our current date grossly outdated.  On the other hand, Wakatel Utiw, leader of the National Council of Elders Mayas, has been quoted saying that the end of the Maya calendar has nothing to do with the end of the world; rather it is the beginning of a new cycle and the ushering in of a fresh calendric era that supposes certain changes in human consciousness.

Of course Western commercialism has done little in the way of kyboshing apocalyptic conspiracy theories.  Consider the 2009 disaster film, 2012 for example, or the more recent movie, Take Shelter.  Not to mention foreboding TV documentaries and alarmist websites that have gone “viral,” sparking worldwide activity by way of doomsday kits, exoduses, and government action.  Regardless, the end of days seems synonymous with man’s eternal quest for mortal meaning and purpose, which is the reason prophecies like those of Nostradamus are still widely circulated, having rarely been out of print since initial publication some 550 years ago.  Prophecy is like a beacon in the abyss of which we exist, a light that orientates and familiarizes.  So for the same reasons we tell our children that Santa Clause is the real deal, so too do we indulge in the irrational, quixotic aspect of our nature, drawing conclusions for anchorage amidst an endless thrashing sea of unknowns.  Rather than reacting negatively to the hoopla of this current doomsday prediction, let us rejoice that we, as human beings, continue to be inspired by the mysticism of life, and that we have not yet grown dull and weary of its exploits.

-Elizabeth Cucnik

 

 

 

So What’s All This Fuss About Christmas Anyway?

So what’s all the fuss about Christmas anyway?  For some, the holidays simply mean an over-indulgence in decadent foods, the giving and receiving of presents, and a twinkling of lights red and green. To others it connotes a laborious session of cooking and cleanup, maxed out credit cards and several blown fuses.  But whether you empathize a Cratchit or plot cynically as a Scrooge, one thing is certain: the kind of Christmas Dickens’ would doth protest, is not in fact a kind of Christmas at all!  It is rather a carnal reuse, or in other words, a joke that invokes gluttony and/or involves toil – a prank we have shamelessly played on ourselves all these years passed.

Truth be told, true Noel escaped the perils of industrial capitalism and the cynicisms of our modern making long ago.  Having taken refuge in the intangible realm of spirited thought, transcendental surrender, unconditional benevolence and love, Christmas remains beyond the grip of our social anxieties.  Yonder commercial hills, it is made whole by the images we loved as children: the kitsch and the common, the festive display of garland and the twinkling merriment of homespun goodies, a moonlit melee upon the snow, the warm glow of an open fire, and the majesty of Madonna with child.  In this regard, Christmas isn’t the thing or the display; it’s the festiveness itself, just as Christmas is the twinkle, the sparkle, the glow and the holy revelation of all that is joyful and true.

Despite having drifted so far from the thrust of its original intent and purpose, the spirit of the season continues to reside within us all, churning our charities, tweaking our philanthropic twinges, and breathing benevolence into our angers and annoyances.  Tis’ a gift we should truly be grateful for! Have you not wondered why the sight of a cold wintery landscape can invoke a swell of amorousness? Or why the ringing of silver bells and the sound of holiday hymns fills you with a desire for hugs and kisses and handholding and shoulder squeezing?  These are the incorporeal deities of the Christmas spirit, a movement that moves through us all, bounding like a westerly wind, to remind us of what and who we are.

So this year, let us take pause to reflect on what makes Christmas, Christmas.  Admit the movement of the season to refurbish our thoughts and replenish our spirits by way of winter walks, wafts of spices, chimes and rhymes and hymns and hums, merriment making and buttery baking.  In the words of Charles Dickens, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

-Elizabeth Cucnik

 

 

The Scourge of Getting Old

Aging, though a marked process of accumulative change, is as overwhelmingly abstract and impossible as our own mortality and the measurement of time itself.  There is no denying that aging and time are a union of one profound reality, forming the foundational fundamentals of human experience – a reality we don’t quite understand.  It is true that most of us do not look forward to getting old, and dealing with many of the associated ailments of old age.  Sure we can increase or maintain physical activity, eat a healthy diet, manage stress, stop smoking, get adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D, avoid substance abuse, and stay mentally active, however the reality of aging is not something we can wholly circumvent by any means.  It is rather a constant in the cycle that is life.  Nevertheless many of us tend to overlook aging and its vital, necessary and even joyful affects on all human societies.

Throughout history, many traditional, non-literate and restricted societies respected and cherished the elderly, whose accumulative wealth of knowledge, skills, wisdom and mastery of the local technologies were renowned for their necessitating factors in subsistence.  In this respect, the death of a prominent elder meant the loss of resource and access to education.  However modern society presents an inversion to the traditional structure.  No longer bound by the limited accessibility of knowledge, application and technologies, our youth now possess, in many cases, a greater skill set and knowledge base than their parents and grandparents.  This is partly due to the increased cultural importance on cognitive function associated with the information age of computers and global communications.  Modern society, in many respects, has made old age irrelevant, compounded by the contemporary emphasis on autonomy, self-control, beauty and the ability to be productive and reproductive.  Aging is thus viewed as a redundancy that must be obscured – something less valuable, less meaningful and ultimately undesirable.  If we take a look at the mechanisms of our modern culture, such as journalism, advertisement, the internet, education, commercialism, politics and social media, we see a trend in the idolization of youth, whereby each of these factions labor to serve an 18-54 demographic.  So what happens when you reach the outskirts of this exclusive youth club?  Society tells us – nothing, because you no longer matter.  However interestingly enough, most of the prominent players in society are those actually over 54.  But let’s face it: aging is unpopular in North America and in most other industrialized countries.

In keeping with our need to stay young, the crusade for the Holy Grail of longevity has yielded some incredible scientific discoveries to include the successful rejuvenation and extending lifespan of model animals.  For those of us who wish to live longer looking younger, this is good news.  There are several drugs and food supplements on the market, which have been shown to retard or reverse the biological effects of aging in some animals, such as resveratrol, (a chemical found in red grapes), acetyl-L-carnitine and alpha-lipoic acid, the drug, MK-677 and rapamycin.  Studies based on and around these external factors are the first convincing evidence that the aging process can be slowed and that lifespan can be extended through drug therapy.  During this past year, longevity political parties have cropped up in Russia, the USA, Israel and the Netherlands, with the aim at providing political support to anti-aging and radical life extension research and technologies.  The general consensus within these lobbyist groups, political organizations and scientific communities, is to provide necessary funding and research that will make radical life extension and life without aging accessible to currently living people.

Despite recent scientific discovery and research into the fountain of youth, the cumbersome idea of aging continues to burden the youth psychology of today.  Contrary to popular belief however, aging is not necessarily an ultimate demise; rather it is, in many ways, delayed gratification.  In fact, studies have shown that people grow happier not grumpier, as they get older and tend to be more optimistic rather than cynical.  Ironically cynicism, is this respect, is reserved for the younger generations, who tend to dwell more on the negative aspects and associations of daily life as a result of a lack in coping mechanisms that accumulate with age.  Research shows that older people, for the most part, accept life as it is with less expectation than their younger counterparts. Psychologically speaking, the less we expect from life, the happier we will be, albeit by mitigating disappointment.  Despite the decline of the physical quality of life after middle age, brain-scanning and psychological studies have proved an increase in mental satisfaction among aging demographics, as well as identified internal mechanisms that allow the elderly to better cope with hardship or negative circumstances.  This research simply reveals that our elderly experience greater positivity and optimism, which may be related to the way the brain processes emotional contents.  Still not convinced aging is the thing for you?  Well, here are a few other things you can look forward to in the coming years: more awake time, the benefits of grandchildren and being grandparents, accumulative knowledge or wisdom, and surprisingly, a rewarding sex life.  Aging is indeed a hallmark of biology and albeit, a true reflection of the cultural and societal conventions of the industrialized world.  Notwithstanding great skepticism and cynicism, aging continues as a momentous procession of the human experience – a true privilege.  In the words of Robert Browning, “Grow old along with me!  The best is yet to be.”

-Elizabeth Cucnik

 

 

 

 

 

Climate Change Affects Us All, and Yes, That Means You Too Penticton!

“We are upsetting the atmosphere upon which all life depends. In the late 80s when I began to take climate change seriously, we referred to global warming as a ‘slow motion catastrophe’ one we expected to kick in perhaps generations later. Instead, the signs of change have accelerated alarmingly.” – David Suzuki

Ecologically speaking, the world as we know it will never be the same as it is now, in fact, the world hasn’t been the same for quite some time.  Some of the disturbing affects of global warming and climate change can be seen and felt right in our own backyard.  The devastation of BC forests by the parasitic pine beetle, summer droughts, more precipitation in the form of rain during the winter months, and glacial melting are only a precursor of what is to come.  However for many of us, climate change is still an abstraction, an intangible theory that excites the pages of diagnostic books, plays and movies that seemingly border science fiction.  Even though we may not see or feel the daily climatic change that is affecting our planet, while we continue to enjoy the warmth of our homes during fearsome winter storms, building snowmen in our gardens and taking chilly walks during frost season, climate change is nevertheless an existent, authentic, real-time process that will irrefutably reshape the social, economic, political and environmental landscapes of our planet in the not-so-distant future.

The harmonious functioning of our ecosystem, like all orders of life, is contingent and affecting.  It exists the way it does, because something else exists the way it does, and something else exists the way it does, because our eco system exists the way it does.  Although many contemporary theorists believe that the earth is undergoing its own natural cycle of climate change, as it has done since its accretion 4.54 billion years ago, the catalytic green house gas effect is exponentially speeding up the process, causing unnecessary damage to adaptation, the natural process of evolution and natural selection, global environments, natural resources, weather patterns, seasonal disturbances and more.  In laymen’s terms, climate change is not just a sleeping giant.  It is a waking, rousing, yawning, angry goliath, who’s ready to fee-fi-fo-fum its way to an ecological breakdown.

Here in British Columbia, the impact of climate change is just as real as it is anywhere else.  In the Okanagan Valley for instance, mean winter temperatures are increasing alongside extreme minimum temperatures during our winter months, and we have seen a decline in snowpacks throughout the Okanagan and Similkameen over the past several decades.  Even though average temperatures of our growing season and dormant season are only expected to experience modest change by 2100, the success of the agrifood industry impinges on many factors that include temperature, moisture, secure export markets and low-wage labor, all of which will be affected by future climate change.  And while water resources in the Okanagan River Basin are undergoing continuous stress due to intensive regulation for irrigation and urban water supply, recent trends in climate change may see prolonged periods of drought and diminishing water resources.  While warmer temperatures may seem attractive at the get-go, it’s important to understand that even the minutest changes in climate can have substantial ecological, social and economic consequences.  Provincial regulations on greenhouse gas emission (GHG) reductions are now being adopted by new legislation that commits our region and other regional districts to identify GHG emissions reduction strategies.  The projected target of these reduction strategies is for British Columbia to reduce emissions by 33% below the 2007 levels by 2020, and 80% below the 2007 levels by 2050.  Land use, infrastructure, transportation and construction, all have major impacts on regional energy consumption and related GHG emissions.   Communities like Penticton and those throughout the Okanagan and British Columbia must identify clear strategic paths where growth and development can occur, while encouraging sustainable options and protection of natural resources.

In order to postulate multiple scenarios of BC’s future climate change and the subsequent impact on our lives, we must first look to our historic environmental past.   It is a fact that British Columbia’s climate has indeed changed over the last century. Our average annual temperature has warmed by 0.6 degrees C at the coast, 1.1°C in the interior and 1.7°C in the north between 1895 and 1995; precipitation increased in southern B.C. by 2 to 4 per cent per decade (between 1929 and 1998); sea surface temperature increased by 0.9 to 1.8°C between 1914 and 2001; snow depth and snow water content decreased in some parts of British Columbia between 1935 and 2000; and lakes and rivers throughout B.C. became free of ice earlier in the spring between 1945 and 1993.  The expediency of these changes demonstrates a speeding up of the warming process, whereby the projected rate of global warming for the 21st century becomes significantly faster than observed vicissitudes during the 20th century and likely faster than at any time during the last 10,000 years.  However, the actual rate of warming depends on how fast greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere and how our environment responds.  Significant evidence suggests that the affects of climate change in BC throughout the 21st century will involve a 2-5°C increase in average annual temperature, an increase in river flood risks in the spring and coastal flooding associated with storm surges; shifts in the geographical range of vegetation, (which includes economically vital forest species); reduced winter snow pack and earlier snowmelt, (affecting summer water supply); glacial retreat in the south; greater stress on species at risk; increased river temperatures traumatizing salmon breeding grounds, and reduced summer soil moisture, which will subsequently increase risk of forest fires.  Whether we like to admit it or not, climate change does not mean a more warmer days basking in the sun with margaritas in hand.  Climate change will inevitably impact our water, fish, forests and other natural resources, alongside our communities and ecosystems that invariably depend on them.

It would be nice to posit an, ‘in conclusion,’ to this very catastrophic viewpoint, but unfortunately there is no such conclusion to the epidemic that is global warming.  At least no yet.  Climate change is one of the most urgent issues affecting society today and it something we cannot continue to ignore.  However apathy and ignorance among our populations mitigates the sense of urgency and stifles any immediate action in both the private and political sectors.  The goal is to communicate the impact of our climate change to those whom climate science often fails to reach, and provoke our government into providing clear choices for feasible actions for all factions of society, not just as the national or global level, but also at the local level.   We need to lobby our local government and its agencies into making the right choices that provide support for greener, more sustainable opportunities.  We need to talk more about global climate change, and take the time to learn about our beautiful planet.  The more we know the more we’ll care, and the more we care, the more we can make a difference.

-Elizabeth Cucnik

 

 

Canada In the Line of Fire? How Will The U.S. Election Outcome Affect Our Sovereign Nation?


“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors and laugh at them in our turn?” In the words of 18th century novelist Jane Austen, comes the thrust behind Canadian and U.S. relations.  Joining the popular crowds of the Western world, Canada takes aim at the theatrical display of 21rst century gladiatorial campaigning that is American politics.  While the U.S. election crusades continues to draw audience like a dark satirical comedy, Canadians watch on, mesmerized by the sucker-punch politics, the heavy-handed propaganda campaigns, and the skyrocketing expenditures that plague Uncle Sam.  It is perfect fodder for Canadian censure, and albeit Canadian phlegmatic resolve, despite the secret desire to import some of that U.S. political drama to our own political monotony.  And while American dollars continue to pour over the presidential elections from the drains of its dripping economy, Canadians continue to point a sanctimonious finger, veiled by the ‘sucker-to-saint effect’ by which we do not suffer fools gladly.  But whether envy or hubris, the irony lies in the fact that the joke is really on us.  No matter how ridiculous the U.S. political scene may seem at times, there is nothing laughable about the militate affect its thereafter has on our own.

So just how will the US election results affect Canada? Well first let’s have a look at the policies and positions of our current conservative Harper government and cross compare those with both the democratic and republican agendas.  Despite Canada’s sometimes-haughty opinion over its neighbor, Canadians must understand the interdependent nature of Canada’s relationship with the United States, (in which case, burning down our neighbor’s house will only make ours look worse!) To put it into perspective, no other economy comes close to the American weight in our trade flows, with more than 70 per cent of our exports bound for the U.S. market.  And it doesn’t stop there.  So just what is on the table?  Both parties have distinctive approaches when it comes to mitigating America’s national debt and high unemployment rates.  Obama’s tactic is simple: cut military expenditure and put a greater tax burden on the country’s biggest businesses and wealthiest citizens. Romney’s plan on the other hand, mirrors more closely the Canadian program, which emphasizes tax cuts for big business in an attempt to boost job creation and investment.  So while the U.S. economy directly impacts the performance and growth plans of a substantial number of Canadian businesses, both plans therefore have far-reaching ramifications for Canada.  Slashing the U.S. corporate tax rate will directly affect Canada’s ability to attract foreign investment and further republican cuts to government funding could likewise result in less work for Canadian companies that have benefited from American government contracts in recent years.  However the democrat’s plan to maintain government spending and re-invest in infrastructure may mean more opportunities for Canadian companies.

While energy and environment issues continue to plague our politicians, the big headline thundering across Canadian media of late has been the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline, the outcome of which will be reflected by the outcome of the U.S. election. A means of weaning U.S. dependency on foreign oil by carrying Alberta crude more than 2500 kilometers south to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico, the jury is still out.  And while both Obama and Romney may in fact approve the pipeline proposal, they each have very different views on securing U.S. energy, decisions that influence Canada’s own energy industry.  With the copycat Harper government imitating U.S. environmental policies, a more environmentally relaxed republican administration may mean less emission-reduction targets for Canada in the coming years.  Likewise the fate of the U.S. healthcare system, which has notoriously been at the epicenter of much global criticism and controversy over the years, (albeit something to really laugh about), will also perturb the Canadian medical sector.  Commonly known by the colloquial moniker Obamacare, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is expected to result in 32 million more Americans having access to health care, which will in turn, result in a shortage of 63,000 doctors by 2015.  This will inadvertently see a southward flow of Canadian doctors and nurses that will pull at the fibers of our own distressed healthcare system.

Amidst the political fray, let us not forget the figureheads behind these campaigns. Over the years, we have seen Stephen Harper construct a good working relationship with President Obama, however critics are quick to point out the similarities between the two conservative mouthpieces, which may result in a much closer relationship between Canada and the United States.  And while Obama’s wariness over free trade has helped Harper drive home his free-trade agenda to maintain a competitive advantage over the European and Indian markets, a Romney presidency may see a renewed commitment to fast-tracking talks and concluding agreements, resulting in a more competitive trade environment for Canada.

In conclusion, our schadenfreude, or moral triumph over the U.S. economic decline, and our holier-than-thou humor over American political outplay is ultimately misplaced.  Whether we like it or not, Canada can no longer consider itself partisan or independently thinking from its southern neighbor, especially while we share clothes and bank accounts.  In the end, whether Mitt Romney or Barack Obama resume the presidency, Canada can be certain, the outcome either way will be incumbent upon Canada’s geopolitical, economical, environmental and social landscapes.

-Elizabeth Cucnik