Pure movement. Pure energy. Pure Penticton.

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Fitness, nutrition and retreat are altogether the triumvirate of modern day healthy living.  This trinity is not mastered by the glow of our iPhones, the bloop icons in our message box, the anxious roaring of our car engine, nor the noise of pop culture charging from our TV or magazine cover.  Instead, the careful crafting of healthy living is found in the portage of heart, body and mind.  A return to the simplicities of our rustic nature.  When we say goodbye to the corporate machine of consumer culture, and hello to a renewed power of individual, conscious, unfettered living.   Riverside Fitness and Health in Penticton B.C., has always been an advocate for healthy living, encouraging the power of the individual through fitness and nutrition.  Now Riverside endeavors to create something both novel and necessary for the patrons and visitors of the South Okanagan wine country.  In partnership with the Penticton Lakeside Resort, Riverside Fitness and Health will be transforming into Pure – fitness + nutrition + retreats in the summer of 2015.  The larger space offered at the Lakeside Resort will capacitate new classes, while expanding on pre-existing programs and core services with an unique focus on modern day healthy living.

Pure’s ethos derives from the belief that the migration of healthy living does not need to reinvent the wheel.  We all remember fad diets, the two week work out programs and those terrifying self-help books with bright yellow jacket covers that looked strikingly similar to a safety vest or floatation device.  They all promised impossible results with the magic blue pill of delusional utopia.  Yes, many of us, at some point, (by the rouge of our checks) recall the glutton intoxication of a whole lot of crazy.  But we’re smarter now, and we’re all grown up.  We know the miracle pill is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and the trappings of those absurd quick fixes, buttress the same mechanism that got us here in the first place: the culture of instant gratification.  This is where Pure comes in.

Pure – fitness + nutrition + retreats will be ushering a new era of health and wellness to Penticton.  They assure us the journey does not begin with backbreaking ritual, fad diets or impossible promises, rather with a gentle nod.  This is the power of retreat.  The proof is in the pudding, and in this case, in the name.  Pure offers a return to the authentic.  An unrefined, unrestrained transparency that works in tandem with all faculties.  Nothing more but a small, quiet acknowledgement of the intrinsic core.  This is the Pure foundation where the brand takes its vocation, offering group classes, health and wellness coaching and nutrition counseling, with a “Golden” age series and brand new style of spin classes, all promising to keep you motivated, balanced and energized.  The re-branding of Riverside Fitness and Health encompasses not just the idea of health, but the reality of its constitution, reminding us of our quality and the value we hold in simply being.  It’s leadership in the exodus of everyday humdrum, assures a renewal of self-love by the gradual glory of our own shape.  Pure – fitness + nutrition + retreats offers up this trinity not as a daily chore or activity, but as a magnificent way of life in movement and beauty.

Wellness retreats, aimed at kick starting a healthy lifestyle by assisting in recharging and unplugging, will endeavor to recognize emotional and mental pressure points.  Renewing the intimate relationship with ourselves that we loose in the brouhaha of prosaic living, these wellness retreats will get you off the grid and in-tune with your essentials. In partnership with the Penticton Lakeside Resort, 3,5 and 7 night stays will include chef-inspired meals, lake view suites with access to lakeside walking and biking trails, on-site resort venues and facilities, spa treatments, daily group fitness, cooking classes and workshops.  Designed to massage the internal reality that gives rise to the external, Pure’s wellness retreats offers transformation and renewal by the glow of gentle and intensive detoxification and cleansing.  With an emphasis on healthy living and eating, Pure’s raw juice and smoothie bar will also offer patrons the immeasurable benefits of live foods, chalked full of enzymes that provide incredible energy, improved sleep and increased mental clarity, while promoting regularity and encouraging environmentalism via less packaging, lower carbon-foot print and a great connection to the earth.  In addition to the raw juice bar, Pure will also offer organic house-made snacks to fuel the quiet unfettered mind or your high performance lifestyle; a surefire way to cultivate and nourish.

With Pure, the journey goes hand-in-hand.  We can ditch the quick fixes and that little blue pill, watching with quiet smugness, the days of fad diets and impossible work-outs fade like a wisp by the blandishing wind, eventually whisked away back into the meringue of air.  And we smile, because above us, the blue endless dome of possibilities.  Looking skyward, our attention turns from mundane concerns, to the still small voice inside us.  With peaceful whispers it praises.  Pure movement.  Pure energy.  Pure Penticton.

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Salmon: Our Survival

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 2.32.53 PMYou probably wouldn’t think it, but sockeye salmon are an integral force to the well being and survival of our western interior and Pacific coastal communities and ecosystems.  I know, I know.  You’re probably thinking – what, fish?  Really?   Yes really.  This is not some dubious fear-mongering conspiracy theory brewed up by a few red nosed quacks in lab coats.  But don’t take our word for it.  Just lend an open ear to the voice of countless dedicated men and women who have studied the fundamental structure, health and importance of salmon in our Pacific coastal and interior ecosystems for the past several decades.  Their committed, decisive science labors to root out determining factors, variables and contingencies of the environment’s ultimate survival; the survival of which symbiotically effects the continuance of our own species, the illustrious homo sapien sapien.  In nature, we know everything is interconnected.  We know this because the term, interconnected has become a bit of a semantic cliche.  Something we are slightly weary of hearing.  Especially in this post-Al Gore era (too bad David Suzuki).
During the last decade, the environment has catapulted from a, “who cares” vacuum of social consciousness, into ultra celebrity status quo.  It’s trendy now to recycle.  Hybrids and electrics are all the rage.  Vintage is vogue and what’s hip is hemp.  But the environment is not a new thing.   Neither is conservation. (Remember those crafty cartoonish diagrams depicting water cloud and rain you so eagerly wanted to draw all over with your cherry-smelling marker in grade school?)  In fact, the conservation movement goes far beyond your early education years, traced back to John Evelyn’s Sylva in 1662.  It may also come as a bit of a shock to learn that salmon and their environment have been around for nearly 6 million years, (that’s only roughly 5.8 million years on us).  So maybe there’s some stock in this whole interconnection thing that warrants a deeper look.  If our lungs depend on trees to breath, our stomachs on the working of bees, our brains, the ocean and our skin and organs on bacteria, it’s reasonable to assume a sneeze or a wiggle of the feet would intrinsically affect the entire organism.  And that works both ways.  So what about the salmon?  Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 2.33.12 PM
Coastal watersheds and estuaries where salmon migrate and spawn, are among the most productive biological communities on earth.  Home to marine mammals such as seals, terrestrial fauna and resident and migratory birds, these watersheds produce food and fiber for the people of the Pacific Rim with large runs of salmon, trout and char, and plumes of commercially profitable shellfish and fish.  Coastal watersheds are also responsible for sustaining the temperate rain forests of the Pacific Northwest, which produce more standing biomass than any terrestrial ecosystem on the planet.  (Brings a whole new appreciation to those boardwalks under the canopy of cedar that float over a blanket of skunk cabbage and fern, doesn’t it?)  Salmon alone are one of the best species indicators of coastal and estuary ecosystem health.  Salmon runs function as giant pumps, injecting vast amounts of marine nutrients upstream to the headwaters of rivers that maintain relatively low productivity.  Salmon carcasses are the primary food for aquatic invertebrates and fish, as well as terrestrial fauna, (from marine mammals to birds to terrestrial mammals, particularly bears and humans).  Historically, few animals have been as integral to the human experience as salmon. But this exciting, integrating outlook and back story on salmon may be somewhat overshadowed by the inconvenient truth of present day salmon decline.

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 2.33.49 PMUnited States sockeye salmon populations are currently listed under both the US Endangered Species Act and threatened species lists by the National Marine Fisheries Service in Idaho, Oregon and Washington areas.  Canada is also not immune.  In the past, we have experienced similar decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser and Okanagan Rivers.  Due to the impact of environmental changes, marine ecology, (ocean acidifcation), aquaculture, predators, diseases and parasites, (including farmed salmon hatchery diseases), contaminants, water temperature and governmental management of the productivity of salmon runs, the ability of the sockeye salmon to reach traditional spawning grounds or the ocean has been inhibited.  Proposed legislative efforts, such as the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act however, attempt at establishing protective measures in the headwaters of the sockeye salmon by preventing industrial development in road-less areas.  Now, as of June 2012, record numbers of a once-waning population of sockeye salmon have been returning to the Northwest’s Columbia Basin, proving that these kinds of legislation actually work.  And this is where interconnection comes into play.  The causal affect.  This year’s fishing season saw the largest return of sustainable sockeye salmon in British Columbia in almost 80 years.  That’s right.  Since 1938, when the salmon count first began.  The bountiful return beset Osoyoos Lake, (a gem of a water basin, abutting the Osoyoos Desert and buffeting the borders of Canada and the United States).  This is truly a miraculous feat, especially when considering the ominous waning of salmon numbers in the mid 1990s.  A true testament to the hard work and dedication of the Okanagan Nation Alliance Fisheries Department, who labored tirelessly on restoration projects, information was collected based on tagging studies and  the number of salmon that went over Wells Damn.  Estimates ran into the 300,000 range.  Consequently, The Department of Fisheries and Oceans opened the season for the sport fishing community to angle these wild pink fish from August 19th until Sept 2nd, requiring naught but a fishing license and the purchasing of salmon tags.  This new stock supply proved great momentum for tourism too.  Attracting anglers and sport fishermen from all across the Pacific North West, to fill resorts and hotels, cheer up cafes and restaurants and communicate an economic insurgence throughout the localities.  Roadside stands selling the catch of the day were also setup by Nk’mip Resort, catering to an eagerly revolving door of wine visitors, campers, recreational tourists, locals and passers-through, all of whom are spreading the word.  Although salmon fishing still remains small-scale, it may one day serve to compliment the vivacious wine tourism industry.  With salmon making its way into Skaha and eventually Okanagan lakes, the future appears bright.

However, before you go off hop, skipping into the sunset, let’s be clear about one thing: just because we’ve seen a return of salmon to the Okanagan Valley, doesn’t mean all our troubles are over, (or at the very least, prolonged).  The wound runs deep, the likes of which will not heal or medicate with just a band-aid.  What we need is more awareness and involvement in environmental conservation and protection.  To educate our children and cultivate greater insight into the interconnected workings of the natural world, so that they will in turn be at the vanguard of saving our planet.  Salmon conservation is not just a good start, it is an excellent start.  But it is only the start.  Just like the salmon run – the perilous struggle, hardship and determination – the onus of the rest of the journey is on all of us.

North America’s Number One Wine Destination

Screen Shot 2014-08-29 at 1.58.42 PMCanada’s wine country is the embodiment of subtle beauty.  The poignant landscapes of the Okanagan Valley, found cradled the heart of British Columbia’s southern interior are nothing short of majestic.  It’s not difficult to see why people from all around the world are flocking to partake in the Okanagan experience.  It has, up until quite recently, been the great north’s well kept secret.
    A mix of sand, gravel and clay form the foundation of the Okanagan’s extending vineyards, where vintners work a gentle hand upon the landscape, refurnishing with accents of Pinot, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Gewürztraminer.  10,000 acres of planted grapes, cultivated by a slew of international and local award winning wineries, bedeck the internal and external landscapes with insight and sophistication.  Many wineries such as Tinhorn Creek, Quail’s Gate and Mission Hill contribute to the cultural pulse of the Okanagan, bringing in world renowned musicians, artists, and performances to entertain the summer twilight.  Paired with world class cuisine and wine, the experience transcends perfection, moving into the unforgettable.  But it’s not just the majesty of wine country that captivates and inspires.  The Okanagan is also home to world class restaurants, resorts and retreats, catering to a host of seasonal agendas encouraged by a surplus of recreation activities and attractions. 
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Despite this incredible scene, the region remains small-scale and rather underdeveloped by international standards.  After all, when compared to the big whigs of France, Australia, Spain and Italy, Canada is nothing but a blip on the radar.  However, when USA Today named the Okanagan Valley as the world’s second best wine region to visit amongst a list of ten worldwide wine destinations, heads began to turn.  The ranking, compiled by votes from its readers as part of the newspaper’s Reader’s Choice 2014 Awards, saw the Okanagan bested only by Alentejo in south-central area of Portugal, making it the number one destination in North America.  No dScreen Shot 2014-08-29 at 1.58.55 PMoubt the Okanagan wine region deserves all the global accolades.  In fact, it’s a miracle the recognition hasn’t come sooner.  Vantage points are found anywhere and everywhere in the Okanagan: along the water, at the boundary of a tumbling bluff or from a roosting mountaintop.  Essence of bolsom root, and sage bloom, while the call of the osprey and loon offers up a song of creation, keeping this little piece of heaven in orbit.  And it truly is a piece of heaven.  It’s resplendent beauty appears frozen in time, kept pristine by the careful hands of its keeper.  The Okanagan Valley truly is in a league of its own.  And forget the juggernaut’s of the wine industry. Exchanging overpopulated, overworked, exhausting landscapes of commercial virility, for intimate, rustic, homespun charm is nothing short of common sense.   And while we can’t help but think that the region is just about to be launched into the fog of fame and exploit, much like the trending Croatian Adriatic coast as the new French Riveria, the region remains, for the time being, self-effacing and small-scale: all the reasons we love to love it.  After all, it’s not just our Okanagan.  It’s the world’s Okanagan.  To experience, what anyone who has been there will recognize as, its subtle beauty.

 

Boonstock Deconstructed

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 10.29.10 AMBoonstock Penticton.  A summertime zenith of hipsters, pop fans, instagram addicts and exhibitionists.  An assessment of trail-and-error.  A disruption of social harmony.  When it comes to music festival culture, controversy is always the principal headliner.  A clash of generations, emblematic of pop culture and diverging philosophies, the social experiment of Boonstock raises questions about law, politics, community, public relations and economy.  Figuratively, the Boonstock anecdote reflects youth culture – contingent upon neoteric channels of modern day communication to feed its frenzy and promote its message.  Stories scandalously appear in all facets of social media, littering Twitter and Facebook and other online commentary feeds and threads where the wildfire of “likes” and “dislikes” reposts, hashtags and tweets spread with reckless abandon.  Amidst the haze of personal interpretation and opinion, a collective synthesis emerges.  Most agree, Boonstock Penticton was, in its own way, a kind of revolution.  Its maiden voyage set out to do and be what appeared at first, quite the impossible. Going up against well-established music festivals across North America, such as Coachella, Arise, Lollapalooza, Sasquatch, Electric Daisy,  Squamish, Shambhala, and Pemberton, Boonstock’s David and Goliath narrative proved early on, it had a lot to live up to.  The proceedings were not without their fair share of melodrama.  Struggling verily against the boomerang of local political rhetoric, issues concerning public safety and security, the potential consequences of an influx of a large external population, and the breakdown of conventionalism in the form of wild heathenism, (i.e. reaching for the lasers, dancing until the crescent sunrise, and existing in a dust bowl of empty beverage containers pursuing an army of squatting tents), Boonstock organizers and sponsors remained, (until the very last minute) locked in an uphill battle. The decision to host the event in Penticton British Columbia, was by far, one of the festival’s greatest attainments. A renowned summer mecca for wine-lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, sports fans, snowbirds and holiday makers, the town boasts of some of the world’s most breathtaking scenery.

Located in the heart of the South Okanagan Valley, the semi-arid climate situated at the tip of the Osoyoos Desert, makes sunshine a constant companion.  Refuge can be taken in the mountains, along the waterfront or anywhere in between, with an array of activities, attractions and amenities that cater to all.  The site for Boonstock was a calculated arrangement.  Access to water was a necessity, (adjacent to Skaha Lake via a private path through a sanguine sandy beach) as well as tree’d and shaded retreats for overheated and zealous festivalgoers.  Check.  But then came the issue of security.  Weeks before the event was scheduled to kick off, organizers of the festival announced they were seeking a new security company for the event following a termination of their agreement with International Crowd Management, who cited health and safety concerns with the Boonstock safety plan.  However proponents were confident that the new company, 24/7 Security Ltd.. were ready to work with local event and security professionals, and were confident that Penticton, renowned as a festival city, boasts some of the finest water safety, event security and medical experts in B.C.  This may be true.  Penticton plays host to an array of highly-anticipated festivals and sporting events throughout the year which sees hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world.  If there ever was an ideal place to present a high profile outdoor summer music festival, it would be Penticton B.C..  Check.  Two for two.  But local politicians and townsfolk were quick to incite hysteria.  Look at what happened in Gibbons, Alberta, the former home of Boonstock for the past nine years.  A home invasion, an arrest involving a drug trade and a handgun, traffic troubles and safety deficiencies all contributed to the stockpile of Boonstock degeneration, prompting its move from Gibbons to Penticton.  Drawing crowds in upwards of 8,000 spectators and festivalgoers a day, it seems likely that some anarchistic discrepancies would be observed.  But surely it is a splinter group.  For most of us in the 8,000-strong fold heralding from across B.C. and Alberta, we enjoy the delights of this transient, abbreviated community strung together by a collective of music, movement and the kind of visceral euphoria one gets from being apart of something. Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 10.34.13 AM

In truth, music festival culture is in high-demand worldwide and has helped to create some of the most iconic events and places in modern history, putting more obscure towns like Nelson, Pemberton and Squamish on the global map.  In doing so, music festival culture has labored to create its own kind of economy, injecting capital into tourism, hospitality, food and beverage and retail that reap the benefit of both short and long term returns.  A well-established tourist destination, Penticton has the infrastructure to support and contribute to prolific events such as Boonstock, providing festivalgoers the full gambit of summertime activities and amentities outside the festival grounds, which will in turn, see them as repeating customers in the future.  An opportunity to create something prototypical for the small gem-of-a-town in the heart of B.C.’s southern interior, Boonstock may just be the golden ticket.  But then the dark cloud.  Drug overdoses.  80 hospitalized and 1 unfortunate and terrible loss.  A serious stain on the Boonstock image and a sobering admonition into the inherent dangers of drugs and alcohol.  The backlash floods.  Fingers point to deficiencies in security and police presence.  Others blame the heat and the lack of free or cheap bottled water.  But the real concern lies within the nature of the attendees themselves.  How far are they willing to go?  Just last month, the death of a 21-year old engineering student at Pemberton Music Festival sent a shiver through music festival enthusiasts, while two more deaths at the Veld Music Festival in Toronto over August long typified arguments against the entire culture.  Penticton Council member, Katie Robinson was one of the first to speak out against the festival quoted saying, “I’m not a head-banging druggie, so I wasn’t interested in it whatsoever,” only later to revoke her remark in an open letter apology.   But we all can’t help but wonder, are these individual mistakes representative?  Is the music festival scene synonymous with drug and alcohol abuse?  While it may be easy to point fingers in way of the organizers and the town itself, the truth is, no amount of security could reasonably stop young people from doing drugs or abusing alcohol.  In fact, it may be argued that while Boonstock was denied its liquor license due to “unaddressed safety concerns” this subsequently lead festivalgoers to use more drugs than usual.  The loss of alcohol revenue, may have also set a higher price on bottled water, contributing to possible dehydration in the 35+degree Celsius heat.

The truth is, most of us in that 8000-strong crowd believe in the community of Boonstock and in the carol of festival culture that takes root in a deep love for connection in music and people.  And it’s here where our stories emerge.  Most of them teetering on the unforgettable.  A marked experience. A prodigious time.  And we can’t wait until next year to do it all over again, bonded by an impartial boundless experience that will shape who and what we are tomorrow.  The Mayor of Penticton, Gary Litke is now calling for provincial guidelines to be set for large-scale summer festivals, others insist in a direct liaison between festival organizers and city council members.  Most agree that changes will have to be made.  A liquor license should be reconsidered for next year’s event in the face of efficiently planned security that is adequately communicated, and while profit margins are a driving force, essential services such a water and first aid tents should be provided.  In light of recent events, organizers at this past weekend’s Squamish Music Festival prepared a detailed security plan with free water provided at misting stations and bottled water at medical tents. However despite all these precautionary measures, the real responsibility lies within the attendees.  Taking care to stay hydrated, to not over-indulge or abuse certain substances, and remain healthy, will only help to contribute to an overall positive music festival scene.  In the end, the real message is of love and community – to share the passion we all feel for music and movement.  That, above all, should be the real driving force behind such events.  Why do we do it?  To bring people together and propagate ideas for change.  What is it good for?  To create unrivaled experiences with positive impacts that mold the social, political landscapes of our time.  So let’s be smart and do it right.

 

Big Box Business Takedown & The Consumer Revolution

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The North American ethic takes root in a noble spur of personal freedom and liberty.  Entrenched in an ambitious history that chronicles the break from Old World mentalities, the maple leaf encompasses within it, all the social, political and intellectual transformations of our past.  Ideally, Canada is observed worldwide as a place of refuge for the individual thinker – a retreat of hope and equanimity, whereby ideas of liberalism and classlessness herald wide-open spaces that can afford the kind of lebensraum Europeans could only dream of.  Yet this palatial outreach of New World thinking that once forged our nation’s Charter and the United States Declaration of Independence has since become a house of cards.  So what happened to the great idea that was North America?  Perhaps it was simply a case of: too fast too soon.

The hegemony of America’s 21st century corporate capitalism, (birthed from the ashes of the Second World War), gave rise to a new kind of social movement that now threatens the very necessity of Westernmost culture.  Landscaping the hearts and minds of its citizens with empty billboards, ad campaigns, parking lots and shopping malls, the Western Hemisphere has since entered the age of multinational conglomerates and big box businesses.  In the name of all things Americana, these commercial giants have displaced the true spirit of liberalism.  Indoctrinated by the multibillion-dollar crusades that now run our daily lives, (from the cars that we drive, to the clothes we wear, to the food we eat), we, the individual, are no longer our own, rather an extension of the omnipresent brain of corporate commercialism.  In a twisted turn of events, our strife for liberty has seen laissez-fair economics mutate into Frankenstein politics.  In hindsight, it’s hard not to yearn for the simplicity of a life long since passed, a life that curated Old World austerities.

Ironically, it was the very interconnectedness and fundamental community ethics that made European and pilgrim society so successful.  Farmers, shopkeepers and tradesmen, were in direct contact with customers, (often as friends and neighbors), while communal streets lined with small cafes and independent businesses supported complex social structures, reinforced by a collective belief in the value and worth of a commonwealth.  This traditional school of thought promoted the notion that existing with less meant the enjoyment of more.  With priority centered on family, friends, community, philosophy and nature, (the vanguard voices of our humanity), people therefore lived much more deeply, mindfully and joyfully.  Despite the recent dislodgment of the European model by way of modern globalization, there yet remains an Old World sensibility in Europe that Canadians could greatly benefit from.  Having abandoned holistic priorities for a consumer-based precedence of plastics and disposable goods, we, the North American consumer, no longer thinks of what we can do, rather, what can we get – appreciating and understanding the world only by what the world can offer us.

The reality of big box business does not concern the consumer.  The consumer cares little for community and is unaware and apathetic to the impact individual choice and opinion has on the internal and external landscapes of our cities and towns, (which, unbeknownst to the consumer, directly reflects the inner quality of our lives).  Lower pricing, convenience, greater variety, and larger quantities, is what drives the consumer, armed with the conviction that, more is more and bigger is better.  However this misplaced confidence is one of the greatest oversights of the modern age.  In fact, subservience to the big box business model has done nothing but create a deep kind of suffering in the lack of true substance and human connection.   Mistakably, we the consumer, believe that because corporate chains like Target, Walmart and Superstore offer consistency when it comes to experience and environment, as well as more competitive price points and variety, we are in better control of our own lives, able to ascertain the best (perceived) deals.  However in reality, when we adhere to big box businesses, we perpetuate our own cycle of internal, (communal) suffering, giving more power over to the oligarchy of corporate commercialism that ultimately destroys our communities, runs our governments, influences legislation and dictates our lives to the benefit of their own personal bank accounts.  In Truth, there is nothing more enslaving than a self-serving corporate agenda that cares little for democracy and even less for the people.   On the other hand, real empowerment comes from true ownership of our own lives by way of our communities and ourselves.

Consciously choosing to shop local and support smaller, independent business, sees a renewed sense of personal freedom.  Communal integration, customer service and knowledge, reflect our most basic intuitions.  While big box businesses work hard to convince us of their job-creation, economic stimulus and community investment, by lifting the lid to expose the underbelly of the true reality, we immediately observe how the corporate agenda transforms our parks into parking lots, drives wages downward (perpetuating family poverty), marginalizes local shops out of business by displaced sales and places encumbering municipal costs on local government.  All the while culture gives way to endless suburban sprawl where the pulse of the community is ultimately lost.   Conversely, key studies conducted in August 2012 by Civic Economics in Salt Lake City Utah, found that locally owned stores create a wider range of benefits for the local economy and that small businesses donate roughly twice as much per employee to charitable organizations than their large business counterparts.  Furthermore the studies also revealed that big box business reduces a community’s level of social capital, (as measured by voter turnout and the amount of active community organizations). Not to mention the plethora of ethical issues concerning outsourcing overseas, whose big box business factories see underpaid workers laboring for long hours in poor conditions, handling hazardous chemicals without appropriate protection, many of whom are children, twelve years and younger.  But that’s a whole other ball of wax.

In conclusion, the need to sustain and support our communities as a life source for our ultimate peace and happiness is absolutely vital.  In doing so, we are spurred into action – championing a new kind of social movement that calls for the return of our food, our clothes, our bodies and mind.  Amidst the fray, we realign ourselves with fresh priorities and ethics that support social welfare by endorsing the rights and freedoms of the individual rather than the rights and freedoms of the multinationals.  So let’s bring back the culture of the depanneur that celebrates social interaction, empathy and compassion within the orbit of a thriving community.  Let’s opt for quality over quantity and spend a little bit more time and money to cultivate our wellbeing.  Already we are seeing the effects of this impetus.  The rising demand for natural, organic, fair-trade and local products demonstrates a shift in our collective thinking that will in turn, shape the social and political landscapes of tomorrow.    Although big-box stores have their unfortunate place in consumerism, we are reminded of the reality of their presence, and the worth and value in small retailers and local shops.  It is up to us, not just as consumers, but as providers and champions of freedom, to provide our communities with the kind of support they need to survive.  Sometimes we just have to look a little more deeply, to find where the real bargain truly is.

- Elizabeth Cucnik

BC General Election, Tuesday, May 14th!!

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In case you haven’t heard, a BC general election is right around the corner, and it’s begging your immediate attention.  Every election by nature is a social and political call to action – a grassroots movement that manifests the democratic process to resonate our very own rights and freedoms.  By casting our voting ballot this Tuesday, May 14th we Canadians and British Columbians will be exercising autonomy in the changing, affecting and casting of our present and future.  Understanding the true power of the people within a democratic culture is about a deep understanding of collective consciousness and the realization of individual choice and personal freedom.  The 40th British Columbia general election will welcome 85 elected members to the BC Legislative Assembly, with potential for profound political and social change depending on the election outcome.  The tightening race for provincial leadership sees two major parties battling it out in a last ditch effort to convince voters of their respective platform and as people begin parking their votes, we see NDP Party currently leading with a 43% rating in the polls, with the Liberals narrowing the gap at 37%.  So just who are the Liberals and NDP anyway and what exactly do they want from us?

If you look carefully at the two frontrunners, you will notice some distinct differences between the 2013 campaign platforms, reflecting the internal dialogue and inner philosophy of the respective parties.  At the forefront we have our current premier, Christy Clark, whose leadership vanguards the BC Liberal campaign under the slogan, “Strong Economy, Secure Tomorrow.”  A basic continuation of the administration’s current strategy, (with the main emphasis focused on debt reduction via taxes), the Liberals have been quick to take aim at the “socialist” NDP opposition, peppering the public with reminders of past NDP failings from decades ago.  If nothing else, it has made for a more exciting campaign, reminding us of Stephen Harper’s 2011 federal campaign platform that focused much of its efforts taking aim against Liberal Michael Ignatieff.  And then, out of left field, came Jack Layton and the NDP.  So what can we expect this time?  Heralding the triumvirate of Liberal catchphrases: Families First, B.C. Jobs Plan, and the professed Balanced Budget, the Liberal’s 90-page plan dangles a glowing forecast for BC’s Liquefied Natural Gas, while dedicating certain strategies in effort to reduce provincial debt and deficit spending.   Orbiting the debt reduction centrepiece are proposals, (which critics have coined as “gimmicks,”) that include a five year freeze on personal income tax, children and teacher tax credits, reduction in corporate and small business tax rates, a promise to train more doctors and increase hospice space, as well as a proposed referendum on transit funding, film incentive policies, and annual forest industry missions to Asia.  However opponents criticize the plan’s lack of content as a reservoir of fatigued ideas buffered by an inexhaustible amount of publicity photos conveying a smiling Clark amidst the blooms of spring.   However many argue that the most entertaining and perhaps revealing publicity stunt came last Friday, when the Liberals took out a full-page ad in a local newspaper, advocating the clear environmental views of Green Party Leader Jane Sterk.  This tactic in apportioning the vote, and diluting the polls, characteristically brings to mind a divide and conquer mentality, which some critics have deemed as, the Liberal’s Trojan horse.

On the other side of the court we have the New Democratic Leader, Adrian Dix, who, despite scrutiny over his past political shortcomings, has revealed a seemingly fresh platform that appears to bring energy to BC’s tired political landscape.  Focusing on the environment, women equality and child poverty, the NDP platform also advocates three consecutive deficit budgets that promise to help BC climb out of the red.  Additionally, the NDP plan guarantees reviews or audits of Community Living B.C., BC Ferries, fracking, B.C.’s liquor laws and independent power projects.  With discussions over the possible sale of BC Place and the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre, (which would release the province of a debt-plagued BC Pavilion Corporation), it seems the Liberal’s bid to paint the NDP as an oppressive “socialist” force may prove to be fundamentally misleading.  However, dissimilar to the Liberals, it seems unlikely an NDP government would support the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, following recent statements made my Dix insisting the party will never support Vancouver as a major oil export port.

In brief, during the next few days proceeding Tuesday’s election, its important that we, the voters, really take the time to review exactly who these people are and what they stand for – asking the more difficult introspective questions: what do they want from us, and more importantly, what we want from them?  In dedicating time to understanding our democratic process, we in turn, dedicate time to understanding ourselves – respecting the culture and community in which we live and thrive.   Whether Liberal, NDP, Green or Conservative, the only real change comes from your hands alone.

-Elizabeth Cucnik

You can go to elections bc for all your voting information:

www.elections.bc.ca

 

 

 

 

Is It Wise To Bring Back Extinct Species?

Last month, National Geographic sponsored a TEDx conference in Washington DC centered on the possibility and implications of reviving extinct species.  The platform transcended principle and theory, submerging its panel into the murky waters of morality.  Capable of resurrecting something that no longer exists back into existence seems like a charlatan parlor trick, and yet it is far from quackery.  Plucked straight from realm of the incredible, new age technologies now make it possible to pursue ideas of “de-extinction.”  In light of this recent development in genetic science, appositions and contradictions emerge.  Rethinking the covenants between God and man, the relevance of nature and evolution, and the rights, responsibilities and considerations of humanity, a worthy idiom comes to mind – if you play with fire, you get burned.

Of course, human hubris has been the principle cause for many species extinctions since the Neolithic conception of civilization.  Some such species include the Carolina parakeet, the moa, the quagga, the dodo, the thylacine, the passenger pigeon, the Pyrenean ibex, the baiji river dolphin and the huia.  Annihilated by over hunting and disruption of natural habitats, with the latest extinction on the list, (the baiji river dolphin) having occurred as recently as 2006.  However, some of the other species on the hot seat, up for de-extinction consideration are the wooly mammoth, the wooly rhinoceros, the saber-toothed cat, the ground sloth and the Irish elk.  Unlike their short-term extinct counterparts, these prehistoric animals vanished 4 -11,000 years ago during the Quaternary extinction event of the Mesolithic epoch.  It was at this time, that the eradication of many ice age megafauna across Eurasia and North America took place.

Naturally, the practical criteria for “de-extinction” directly depends on access to tissue with good quality DNA samples and/or germ cells in order to reproduce the species.  However, other deliberations over species reintegration focus on speculation over successful therapy and rehabilitation programs, as well as considerations over ecological function.  From this, certain fundamental questions arise.  What are the ramifications of reviving an extinct species?  Are we testing fate by playing God’s hand with the state of nature?  Is it our responsibility to revive and restore a certain species regardless if we had a hand in their demise?  Proponents argue that while extinct species and those endangered are both a part of the same continuum, studying them will therefore help preservation efforts in biodiversity, restoring diminished ecosystems and advancing the science of preventing further extinctions.  Moreover, by reintroducing the wooly mammoth and rhinoceros, the European auroch, and the passenger pigeon for example, carbon-fixing grass, as well as reducing greenhouse-gas-releasing tundra and bio-diverse meadows may be reintroduced.  Others argue that reviving extinct species has the potential to create a less complacent and more compassionate outlook on the global ecosystem, inspiring the protection of whole regions.
However, as noble as these intentions may appear, intuitively something just doesn’t feel right.  Maybe it’s the uncanny images conjured by Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, or the provocative Jurassic Park franchise, or the metaphorical understandings of Mary Shelly’s, Frankenstein that evoke a visceral apprehension.  After all, they connote a common principal: actions have consequences.   Firstly, one must consider the long list of endangered species that are currently occupying our rapidly disappearing natural habitats – habitats that are in desperate need of vast monetary contribution and support for conservation and sustainability.  Why bring back the wooly mammoth when we can’t even support the dwindling demographic of our African elephants?  Furthermore, it may very well be that de-extinction serves to create more complacency rather compassion for the critical state of our global ecosystem by trivializing the impact of extinction.  Why should we care if the polar bear goes extinct when we can simply revive the species in the future?  While resurrecting those species that have only recently become extinct may, in some ways, prove to be beneficial to our current global ecosystem, bringing back prehistoric extinctions however would not be so practical or advantageous.  The cyclic nature of our planet has bore whiteness to the rise and fall of millions of species throughout the ages as the world has shifted, shuddered and shed its skin again and again and again.  Reviving a species that no longer has a place or meaning in the world today would only create confusion, distortion and misplacement, disrupting that natural cycle upon which all things depend.

Apart from the fact that reviving extinct species will be a costly, difficult enterprise that will take decades to complete, questions of ethics and morality dominate the think tank.  An extension of our expedient culture, de-extinction should, in all realness, be perceived as a manifestation of our social conscience.  As we play the Modern Prometheus, de-extinction sees humankind flexing the muscles of our relentless curiosity in an audacious display of, look-what-I-can-do-simply-because-I-can.  In this sense, we, the human, assume autocracy and god-like superiority over all things, living and dead, without a care for the inevitable consequences. Considering humankind’s nature, it seems likely some of these extinct species might soon be seeing the glowing effervescence of a stark, impassive 21st century medical laboratory.  However there is some sense to be found amidst all this senselessness.  At the end of the day, human beings are simply animals ourselves – the homo sapien sapien, struggling within our own orbit of existence that is apart of a greater whole.  Regardless of how disruptive and albeit, unnatural our thoughts and actions may appear at times, the truth holds: collectively, everything that defines us is an expression of naturalism itself.  Paper or plastic. Buildings or mountains.  Mammoth or elephant.  So we ask ourselves, why?  And the answer may very well be, why the heck not?  Does it really truly matter, when in the course of time, we all end up in the same place anyway.

-Elizabeth Cucnik

 

 

 

 

Reality Through A Different Lens

As we make our morning coffee, pay our bills, greet our co-workers, send emails and texts, pick our kids up from school, and catch the tail end of a late night movie, it’s easy to forget such humdrum is not the totality of existence nor the sum of reality.  Just beyond our blue borders, an ostensible infinite of planets, galaxies, stars, matter and energy disturbs and distorts, prompting our own insignificance.  At the edge of the abyss our beloved earth, home and heart, remains nothing more but a spectrum of trifling consciousness, entertaining a momentary outburst of cosmic expression… In truth, reality here on earth and in the infinite space beyond, exists by immeasurable forms.  Successions of interpretive information, reality is therefore incumbent upon perception – that is, how its intelligence is received and processed.  And while there are a vast number of receptors able to receive reality beyond our own consciousness, (be it a virus, a simple or complex biotic organism, or matter and energy) totality of existence by way of reality is therefore extremely volatile, subjective and indefinite.  There is no better way of deconstructing reality than the study of astronomy, astrophysics and quantum mechanics.  Journeys into the universe via science and technology have revealed time and space to be relative and superfluous, reality, indistinguishable, and the tangible, mere abstractions.   So what do we make of this overwhelming infinite impossibility?

For millennia, fascination of the starlit unknown has driven the appetite of humanity.  Studying the cosmos by analyzing light emitted from stars, gas clouds and galaxies, human beings have thrived for thousands of years within budding interpretations, contradicting philosophies and juxtaposing realities that have since propelled our own social and technological evolutions.  However, the most prominent developments in our understanding of the universe have only truly been realized within the last two decades.  New complex and advanced technologies now deliver the kind of support needed to interpret forms of electromagnetic radiation. These radio waves, X-rays, infrared radiation and gamma rays, provide information on imperceptible areas of the universe, thus shedding light on what was once darkness.   One of the most prominent places for studying such marvels is the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory at White Lake.  Just a short distance from Penticton, British Columbia, the observatory was first established in 1959 to advance the field of astrophysics in Canada by exploring the universe using radio techniques. The radio astronomy observatory, under the National Research Council of Canada’s Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, is Canada’s largest and most prominent, situated within a carefully secluded and federally protected area, free from interference of man-made radio signals.  To date, much of the research conducted at the observatory has corresponded to the study of hydrogen, the most abundant chemical element found in the universe.  By studying the distribution of this cosmic building block in the Milky Way, astronomers have since been able to partly reveal the structure of our galaxy and universe.  Other studies conducted at the observatory have also observed solar activity and charted other radio sources, (such as quasars and distant galaxies) as well as a large portion of the Milky Way itself.  However the most remarkable innovation to take place at DRAO is essentially, a time-travel machine.  Of course it won’t be humans travelling through time and space, rather a cutting-edge, highly advanced radio telescope, which will receive information emitted billions of years ago from our early universe in order to better understand its history and future.

10308573The $11-million Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Experiment, (CHIME) will be the first telescope built in the country in over 30 years, and will be Canada’s largest radio telescope to date.  Funded in part by a $4.6 million investment from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, renowned astrophysicists from University of British Columbia, McGill University, the University of Toronto as well as the DRAO will all be collaborating on the project.  Dr. Mark Halpern, UBC astrophysicist and projected leader said, “Canada has been very, very effective in astronomical research but this is a standalone, entirely important Canadian experiment and we’re proud of that.”  While a mystified scientific community continues to grapple with the fact that our universe is expanding at an accelerating rate, accosting preconceived notions of gravity and cosmic composition, newfound hopes have been placed on the success of this innovative telescope in order to provide greater insight and answers into the why’s, what’s, where’s and how’s.  The radio telescope will listen for cosmic sound waves and analyze electromagnetic radiation, using components from the cellphone industry to digitally collect and interpret signals nearly one billion times per second in order to map the distribution of hydrogen and synthesize a three-dimensional image of one quarter of the observable universe.  Radiation coming from the most far-off galaxies will allow researchers to observe billions of years into the past to deduce how the universe first expanded.  While scientists believe the thrust of this expansion is derived from an energy density known as ‘dark energy’, (that is, an unperceivable object that does not give off light), information from the new telescope will potentially reveal more about its composition, (which is said to make up nearly 70 per cent of the known universe).  “It’s almost like time travel,” said Kris Sigurdson, an astrophysicist from UBC and co-investigator on the project. “It’s looking back into the past and how the universe was at that time and it’s just amazing.”

The CHIME telescope is set to be the most sensitive instrument in the world for this kind of research.  With no moving parts, the full size telescope will feature a 100 meter by 100 meter mesh that will entertain 10,000 square meters of ‘collecting area’, (larger than six NHL hockey rinks) filled with 2,560 low-noise receivers.  Collectively, these receivers will scan half of the sky every day, gathering the electromagnetic radiation in the form of radio waves.  The data will then be submitted and analyzed in partner labs at UBC, McGill University and the University of Toronto.  However, as a measure of trial and error, work is only now underway to build a smaller “pathfinder” test telescope, about one tenth of the size of the real-deal, scheduled to be operational in April.  This smaller version will enable scientists to confirm the success of all components in the environment before the equipment for the larger telescope is ordered.  If the smaller version works as planned, construction on the full-scale model will proceed in late 2014.

So as we make our way about this little planet, day in and day out, to perceive reality and light and time and space in our own way, it is important to remind ourselves of the greater picture: the superior home and heart to which we belong and the infinite totality of existence in which we are an expression.  Innovations such as CHIME are beacons in that darkness, a chance for us to reach out and grasp at our beginnings and our ends, to make sense of a senseless place that might only be understood by a fleeting illumination born in the innermost seed of being – the fundamental of existence and non-existence.  So what do we make of the universe knocking at our door?  We embrace it with arms wide open.  We surrender and bloom.  We thrive in our own unknowing, and we love all that is and all that is not.   This is only the beginning.

-Elizabeth Cucnik

 

 

The Inconvenient Truth About Cats

When we think about our pets, the majority of us think companionship, friendship and domestication.  Cats, much like their canine counterparts, have co-existed alongside humanity throughout millennia, and have entertained various roles in human civilization for nearly 10,000 years.  The subject of legend and deities, sacred symbolism and the occult, cats have enjoyed a predominate manifestation of worldwide culture.  The most widely accepted theory for the domestication of cats dictates that over time, cats diverged from their wild African ancestors through natural selection, and while tolerated by humans, easily adapted to hunting vermin in and around human settlements.  It wasn’t until the late 15th century however, that migrants from Europe introduced the common house cat to North America.  The domestic feline has since retained a presence in the Western Hemisphere, effecting not only society, but also the delicate coexistence between man and nature.

The issue of cat control is not a simple one.  Deriving from the complex of animal management, the argument over owned ‘outdoor’ cats, as well as the crusade to save or discourage feral populations, not only polarizes, but also transcends public opinion.  Having become something of an institutional belief, the debate over cat control has paved the way for a grassroots advocacy.  The debate over feral populations and household cats, involves a multilateral approach that includes meta-analysis study and cross-disciplinary methodology. Considerations over the history and nature of the domestic cat, as well as the environmental impacts and risk factors associated with ‘free-roaming’ felines, are measured against an anthropogenic effect on the entire global ecosystem.  These types of studies provide us with a thorough illustration demonstrating the cause and effects of pet-ownership as well as outline possible solutions to the damages that follow pet owner negligence.

A recent breakthrough study conducted by the University of Georgia and National Geographic offers a stunning in-depth look into the lives and behaviors of domestic cats.  Researchers attached individual micro video cameras to sixty outdoor house cats in Athens, Georgia, whereby scientists were able to visually examine the lives of these study cats throughout the four seasons.  Staggeringly, the report revealed these cats averaged roughly one kill for every 17 hours spent outside, which translates into 2.1 kills per week.  Of these kills, only 25 percent made it back to the home.  This astonishing discovery challenges previous mortality rates of birds and animals by outdoor house cats that were formerly estimated at around one billion per year.  Now experts agree that outdoor cats kill up to 4 billion animals a year, (that includes birds, lizards, mice, voles, chipmunks, shrews, frogs and snakes, all of which are key components to a balanced ecosystem).  The study however, did not incorporate the impact of the estimated 60 million feral or stray cats that roam the United States alone, which, as previous research suggests, contributes equally, (if not more) to the mortality rates of North American wildlife.  If we take into consideration these wayward populations, we are thus looking at a dramatic increase in such numbers, whereby we face an astounding ecological disorder.  The findings of a recently published peer-reviewed study, lead by a team of research scientists from the Smithsonian Conservations Biology Institute of Migratory Birds, estimates that 2.4 billion birds and between 6.9 billion to 20.7 billion mammals are killed annually in the United States by both feral and house cats that are allowed to roam free.  However, the environmental impact of outdoor cats may not be the only thing that will have cat owners second-guessing their free-roaming felines.  The University of Georgia and National Geographic study also revealed that those study cats engaged in risky activity, whereby 45 percent crossed roads, 20 percent entered storm drains and crawlspaces, and 25 percent interacted with unfamiliar cats, increasing the potential for fights or disease transmission.

In Dennis Turner’s book, The Domestic Cat, Turner defines the house cat as a creature of interdependence, which, unlike dogs, predisposes them to wander and hunt at will.  In other words, our furry little friends lead a sort of double life – half familial, half wild, a little bit of nature, and a little bit of culture.  John Bradshaw, author of, The Behaviour of the Domestic Cat, concurs, stating that, “in behavioural terms, domestication has probably had less effect on the cat than on any other domestic animal. Association with man has little altered the cat’s wild behavior patterns.” According to Bradshaw, domestic cats have therefore preserved a gamut of fully functional predatory behaviors that are practiced from an early age by kittens and used to a substantial degree by adults.  This understanding of the domestic cat heralds the visceral notion that our feline friends are not meant to be kept indoors because they are inherently wild.   However there are several problems with this theory.  As both Turner and Bradshaw illustrate, household cats are not in fact wild animals, rather they are domesticated creatures that display certain dominant, instinctual behaviors.  Nevertheless having incorporated cats into our human way of life for the past several thousand years, we cannot realistically assume that cats can thus be left to their own devices.  Moreover, while cats are not native predators to the Western Hemisphere, nesting North American birds like the quail, have no natural defenses to offset any attack from such agile predators.  It is an inconvenient truth for cat lovers everywhere – that cats disturb wildlife, and if left unchecked, wildlife may not continue to persist in the manner that it does today.   Of course, cats alone are not wholly to blame for the deteriorating state of our present ecosystem; while pollution, habit destruction, climate change and anthropogenic threat all contribute to species decline.  However, cats are nevertheless a catalytic factor that society at large can no longer ignore.
Many cities and countries worldwide are revisiting the complex issue of cat predation, domestic control and feral populations.  In Duluth, Minnesota, for example, the city reinforces a leash law, making it illegal for any cat to roam freely, (even in one’s own yard), without proper supervision.  As of January 1rst 2011, Oakville, Ontario, has joined neighboring communities of Milton, Burlington and Hamilton in the prohibition of free roaming cats, while a countrywide ban on all outdoor cats has recently been proposed in New Zealand by renowned environmentalist, Gareth Morgan.  Morgan, who has gained worldwide notoriety for the said proposal, advocates that cats should be kept indoors, and that cat owners should be forced to invest in outdoor cat-proof enclosures.  For many pet owners, Morgan’s proposal may seem exceedingly far-fetched, unethical or even unconstitutional, however, in reality, the prohibition of outdoor house cats, actually favors the cat lover.  Based on the University of Georgia and National Geographic study, we now know that life for an outdoor cat is anything but ideal.  Death and injury from vehicles, dogs, coyotes, and other wildlife, as well as the potential to contract fatal diseases such as rabies, feline distemper, and the feline immunodeficiency virus, as well as the number of lost, stolen or poisoned cats, makes an outdoor lifestyle for this domestic pet, inherently dangerous.  It is a known fact that outdoor cats on average, lead significantly shorter lives than their indoor counterparts, not to mention the health threat free-roaming and feral cats pose to humans populations through the spread of diseases like rabies and toxoplasmosis.  Hence the push to remove outdoor cats from our culture supports both cat lovers and bird and animal conservationists alike.   The solution should therefore appear straightforward.  Cat owners must keep their cats indoors, whereby organizations, coalitions and conservation groups should lobby local government to pass animal bylaws prohibiting free-roaming cats, (just as they do dogs and other domesticated pets).  Secondly, the public, alongside pet-owners and policy makers, should be educated by veterinarians, the SPCA and local animal groups on how to provide the ideal indoor lifestyle/environment for their cats, which includes at least one litter box per cat (cleaned daily), something to scratch, resting areas, perches, toys and places for refuge.  Additionally, properly enclosed and supervised outdoor areas for cats should be considered, as well as training leashes and bell collars.

The solution for the feral cat populations on the other hand, is slightly less definitive.  While some argue that a Trap Neuter Release program may help to reduce the number of feral cats, opponents argue that the practice is far too difficult to administer, time consuming, costly and ultimately ineffective, (especially while those cats released back into the communities still continue the carnage of destroying wildlife).  Many conservationists, researchers and scientists propose that these cats be kept either in supervised enclosures, trapped and adopted out to loving homes or euthanized.  Maureen Palmer, producer of the documentary, Cat Crazed, spoke out about her experiences during filming, where she witnessed the sterilization of feral cats at a volunteer spay-neuter clinic in Los Angeles.  Palmer describes the incident as “heart-breaking,” while most of the feral cats observed had infections that would never heal, broken bones, and large abscesses around their teeth and mange.  Palmer’s horrific detail supports the SPCA’s proposal of euthanizing those cats that are sick and present a health hazard to the general public.  So while the jury is still out on how communities and local governments should deal with feral populations, one thing remains absolutely clear – the real antagonist is not the outdoor house cat or the feral cat; it is rather the irresponsible pet owner who is part and parcel of a culture of cat autonomy.   Any initiative to stop the support of feral cat populations by banning public feeding and cracking down on pet negligence, as well as decreasing the amount of outdoor house cats through public awareness and the implementation of animal bylaws, will help to support the recovery of our native bird and animal species.  In doing so, we would also be investing in our future by providing some restorative measures to help sustain the delicate balance of our ecosystem.  In order to reduce the impact of cats, scientifically sound protection; public awareness and policy intervention is needed.   The cat control debate is therefore not a call to fight, but rather a call to action, one that everyone worldwide must answer.

- Elizabeth Cucnik

 

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