A little ragged

Posted: July 2, 2014 in My Life

There are places we inhabit again and again and things we do again and again in a kind of dervish dance to distract ourselves from the the tempo of our lives. We do this  when no one is looking. Happens all the time. How many times do you watch a five minute, or less, video? Or, like a crack addicted marmoset, cheek your phone in a frenzied feedback loop to assure yourself that you matter, feel connected, and in the know. 

Anybody?

The result for me is a kind of intellectual tiredness. So much so that it feels often like I am literally throwing a switch so that I can engage. So I can be creative. 

The problem  in doing is that his I feel like I am depleting a resource that is finite. A resource that I really need. So in order to conserve, I inhabit the routine of checking in and in so doing end up checking out. And you know when your reach the checkout you have to pay for what you bought.

So I go back in to the store and argue in nanosecond narratives on places that no one will remember in 10 or 5 or even 1 year. It’s a kind of addictive distraction routine that i feel I must do in order to feel contacted to others. Bu that place is a discordant echo chamber where not one person knows how to sing in four part harmony.

You can, if you’re so inclined, turn it all off or inhabit the moment or be present or…..well you get the idea. But for me those are as false as the place I currently inhabit because they are about distracting yourself in whole new ways. It’s also a little about feeling just a smidge superior to those who don’t.  So what to do?

And there it is. It’s because I feel I must be doing something of substance. Something meaningful, Something that will leave a mark or let people know I am here and would love a minute of your time to mix with a minute of my time. But who are we kidding? It isn’t even a minute. We’d be lucky to get 30 uninterrupted seconds before something else popped up and become yours and my focus.

I’m not sure we were made to inhabit this current state. I think that we came about from a much slower process than that we have today. And because of that we’ve ended up in a kind on spiritual, emotional, and material cup de sac. Going faster and faster without seeming to get anywhere, and what’s really sad is that we know this is the case but don’t have any way of doing something about it on a scale that allows us to feel all together. We’ve gotten quite a bit worse at not being able to do something about it.

Now i hear some of you saying “we need to get back to community the way it used to be. To belong to clubs and organizations so you can feel a part of it all”. But i’m not so sure that’s the case anymore. I feel this way because those places ,where in times past, we felt we could belong were an organic thing. They came out of the values of those times. Churches are a great example of this.

It used to be that most people went to church, whether you believed in God or not, because that was a place we had in common. It was a place where everyone knew where to go to and what we were supposed to do together. Today however our own cynicism in institutions precludes us from even walking in the door. Politics is another great example. It is no accident that we turn up to the polling station in fewer and fewer numbers to add our voice to the collective. Is it any wonder that this experience is so coated in cynicism, media, and disappointment that it becomes a worthless endeavour to so many of us before even the thought of casting a ballot enters our head? No . It seems a perfectly logical choice at the end of a distracted chain of events.

All of this bellyflops us into an ocean that’s a millennia wide and an inch deep. 

So again what to do?

I don’t know friends. But I do know that this is grownup work and that it requires serious, serious thought and then even more serious effort. We won’t turn off the millisecond distractions of our lives but there is a growing desire for the authenticity while we continue to manufacture its very opposite. This desire feels to me like an ever-increasing rumble in our collective consciousness that we will sooner or later be forced to recognize and act on. I’m actually very confident that we will. But until then I am tired, distracted, unsure, and my creative well is in danger of running a little dry. So i’ll write this and hand it off to someone else for a little while before it’s passed back and I pass it on to someone else and it gets passed back again like some kind of communal version of a hot potato. Don’t think I am giving up here or am not optimistic for our chances. I am very optimistic and have no plans of tossing in any towels. But I am a little ragged around the edges so I hope you won’t mind me going home, sitting a spell, and maybe pull out the scissors and do a little trimming.

In the mean time have you seen this great video on…..but of course you have,

It was an epic week on a number of levels. We held an election as a province, Our mayor was sentenced, I saw King Lear, my daughter voted for the first time, and it’s now fathers day.

The election campaign was difficult and great all at the same time. Difficult because the level of hyperbole and warning of dire consequences if this or that party were or weren’t elected seemed to be at an all time high. On our local AM radio station there were warnings that London would be the new Detroit if the Liberals got in and that the Conservative/NDP/Freedom/Green party was our only hope. You can understand this happening in a campaign but this time it felt really over the top. Also as a part of the campaign we saw the call for people to reject their ballots. I don’t agree with this strategy but understand the frustration that would lead to this choice.In the end the Liberal Party got a majority, something no one was expecting, and the world didn’t come crashing to a halt. The fact that we elected the first openly gay woman Premiere of Ontario ,and that this never became an issue in the campaign, filled my with a lot of pride for our province and the people who share it with me.

In my own riding there were four outstanding people running. Kevin Labonte, Nancy Branscombe, Judy Bryant, and Deb Matthews. I know all four and was really proud of them for putting their names forward to serve my neighbours. If this is the quality we can expect in London, along with others like Jeff Bennet, Peggy Stadler, Theresa Armstrong, Nick Steinburg, then we’re going to be fine as a province.A lot will happen in the next four years though so lets pay attention and make sure London gets some much-needed attention.

The night of the election went to see King Lear, a thoughtful gift from my wife – thanks honey, at the Stratford Festival. This play is about a King who is filled with arrogance and pride and decides in his last years to divide his kingdom amongst his daughters if they can tell him why they love him best. Two daughters do this but the youngest sees this for what it is and refuses to play along. For this she is banished. This is a powerful play because not only do we see the horrible games of manipulation played upon Lear by his daughters and court but we see the head long rush of a King as he descends into madness and loss fuelled by his own arrogance and pride. After the results of the Mayor Fontana’s trail friday I couldn’t help but find myself drawing parallels between the play and the trail.

Our Mayor was convicted on all three charges brought against him my the R.C.M.P.. These were breach of trust by a public official, fraud and uttering forged documents. Quickly our local leaders chimed in on radio,TV and via social media. There were howls of glee from some and real sadness from others. But in all of this there can be no doubt now that our Mayor committed some very serious acts for which he will face the consequences both personally and politically. I found it hard to watch frankly. The Mayor and I do not see eye to eye on many issues, especially around development and taxes, but I genuinely felt bad that this fathers day he will be faced with considering his next years will be ,at the worst behind bars, and at the best an object of ridicule and shame. Not an easy place to be. Same thing happens to King Lear.

Lear, after giving away his Kingdom, is lessened and finally losses all his power to be driven out into the howling storm and rages in his madness. “ Blow wind and crack your cheeks. Rage. Blow.”. Fairly sure Joe Fontana feels like that now. I’m not saying The Mayor does not deserve to be punished for his crimes. he absolutely does deserve this for his actions in breaching our trust, but my question to you all is need we take delight in it? Could we not say “ justice was served let’s move on” and recognize the tremendous pain he and his family now face ? Could those in the background considering a run for Mayor now that Joe is done not pause and think of him and our city rather than their own political fortunes? Aren’t we better than this? I hope so because something else monumental happened this week. My daughter voted for the first time.

So for the last year our family has been talking about the fact the Erynn can vote. Frankly at first she was not that interested. But as we kept talking and discussing it she became more interested until we sat down together and watched the leaders debate. She quickly formed opinions on who she was likely to vote for but i kept poking at her assumptions until finally she said “well tell me who you’d chose”. Oh it was so tempting friends to walk her to the candid I supported but my better angels served me and I said “ No, you have to decide for yourself”. So back at it we went until she finally had a choice and last Thursday my daughter, Erynn Sion Quigley, voted of the very first time. I could not have been prouder. She bucked the trend of younger voters and stepped up and exercised her right to have her voice heard. Wow – what an amazing thing to do. 

All of this from Lear to elections to our Mayor to my daughter voting is important separately but taken all together maybe point to something larger than the singularity of the I. In the end Lear begins to come out of his madness to late and loses the most precious thing he has. His youngest daughter. In the same way we need to look to our daughters and sons and notice what they’re learning from us as we go through these times of change. The stakes are high friends. Very , very, very high. How we act , during elections and trials, informs and teaches our sons and daughters how they may act tomorrow. Let the conviction of Joe Fontana be a lesson on what not to do if you serve and what not to do if someone is caught. Let the election of 2014 be a lesson that anyone can serve regardless of background or belief or preference. Let the vote  of my daughter be a sign to us that perhaps the future will be alright after all. Let our collective action in the weeks and months ahead serve as an example of how a city can move forward without the need of finger-pointing and acrimony. Let this time be about creating something that is larger than all of us. A something called London.

It was with alarm that I became aware of an article by London Free Press reporter Jonathon Sher about Bethesda House, LHSC, and mental illness where Mr. Sher made some broad assumptions about not only those who have a mental illness, but about how we, as citizens of London should feel about them and the places where they are treated. The fact is that 1 in 5 of us has, or will have in the course of our lives, a mental illness. My personal  experience has been documented in other posts here, here, and here. I also have direct experience with advocating at all levels for the need for increased support for those with a mental illness.

Our own parliament defines mental health as:Mental health is defined as the capacity to feel, think and act in ways that enhance one’s ability to enjoy life and deal with challenges. 

Mental illness is defined by the Public Health Agency of Canada as: “Mental illnesses are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood or behaviour associated with significant distress and impaired functioning.”

The Canadian Psychiatric Association quite rightly points our the dangers of how we define mental illness saying, “Mental illness and mental disorder are not easy to define. Misunderstandings lead to misuse and abuse of the terms, reinforce myths, and even prevent people from getting help when it is really needed.

The media has shaped many of the ways we think of people with mental illness through movies and TV like Psycho, American and Dexter, watching the real-life drama of Charlie Sheen and Bi-Polar/Bi-winning, or the sensational news stories of murderous rampages. We often don’t think  of people with mental health issues as having a medical and treatable illness. Mental illness makes many people very uncomfortable and since it is an “invisible” illness, it’s hard for us to understand the circumstances of a person with a mental illness in the same way we might if a person had cancer or a serious physical disability.

In the article published by the Free Press, of which there are two versions (version one and version two), there is an implication that some possibly dangerous people will be moving into the recently acquired Bethesda House and that the public need to be informed. The title of the article on May 15th was “London Health Sciences Centre’s secret: Program for psychotic disorders could move to former Bethesda Centre” and it opened with the following sentence, “London’s largest hospital is considering moving a program for adolescents and young adults with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders into a residential neighbourhood.“ The headline and first sentence are written in a way as to sensationalize this issue by implying that LHSC intentionally kept the move a “secret” because they feared the community’s response. Mr. Sher is perpetuating a stereotype that people with mental illnesses should be feared.  

Emphasizing  this point at the end of the first sentence Sher says, “a possibility officials didn’t acknowledge until pressed repeatedly by The Free Press.”  So not only is a threat moving into residential neighbourhoods, but it’s being hidden by our local hospital. The article goes on to say, “London Health Sciences Centre announced Wednesday what appeared to be unambiguous good news for the London neighbourhood tucked behind the Children’s Museum .“ So now we not only is there danger and a cover up, but Mr. Sher has made sure to let us know that it will be close to a children’s play facility. All of this in the first 57 words of his article. 

The article goes on to to explain that at first it was supposed to be only an eating disorders program moving to Bethesda but, “It was only after The Free Press insisted on a response that the head of the hospital acknowledged Thursday that PEPP might be moved.” What is PEPP? PEPP stands for the Prevention and Early Intervention Program for Psychoses which, according to the website for the program is, “a community-focused mental health program which provides prompt assessment and comprehensive, phase-specific medical and psychosocial treatment for individuals experiencing their first episode of psychosis. The program is structured around a modified assertive case management model. The intensity of the treatment is guided by the patient’s needs, the family’s needs and the stage of illness.” This program is designed to provide an early intervention to help teens and young adults in preventing serious mental illness. I worry however that these young people may stay away after the way these articles have framed them as a potential danger. Young adults are self-conscious enough about how they are viewed and as a result of these articles they may never go to PEPP to get the help they need.

The article, with help from an anonymous source inside the PEPP program, goes on to say  “We all find it odd that our clinic (PEPP) was left off of the letter. I think residents in the area should know just what kind of clinic is moving into their area,” and further states “There’s such a stigma in mental health and not including PEPP on the announcement isn’t helping matters,” a staff member wrote in an e-mail to The Free Press.”   What is troubling here is the seemingly incongruous statements of “I think area residents should know just what kind of clinic is moving into the area” and then to discuss stigma “There’s such a stigma in mental health and not including PEPP on the announcement isn’t helping matters.” So we have a statement that residents should be warned and then a statement about the stigma for those with mental illnesses. A warning on the one hand and then the pointing to the damage of stigma on the other. 

The second article, which uses the same website address as the first, is headlined with “Neighbours cry foul at LHSC’s handling of possible move of psychoses program to residential area“ and again starts with the alarmist opening sentence, “A London hospital might move a program for those with schizophrenia and other psychoses into a residential neighbourhood.”  Very much like the first article, Mr.Sher has linked mental illness with the inference of danger moving into a residential neighbourhood. Much of the next several paragraphs are the same as the first article then we have the response from neighbours, “The lack of disclosure upset neighbours, who received notices from the hospital that made no mention of the psychoses program. Again the inference of some cover up of danger by not sharing this information with the neighbours. 

Both articles imply that mental illness is dangerous and the hospital is trying to cover up the move of PEPP and at the end of each article, the following poll appears. “Would you be upset if a program for people with psychotic disorders moved into your neighbourhood? “ I’m not sure The London Free Press could be any less ambiguous about the linking of those with a mental illness to causing disruption and danger to a neighbourhood. This insensitivity to those with mental illness leads to increased stigma and prejudice and is being amplified by the very large reach of our local newspaper.

I have no argument that LHSC should have been much more thoughtful about the potential move of these programs. They seem to have dropped the ball and it also seems to me that in this case there are some employees with an axe to grind about the program’s move and because they had that axe to grind they contacted The London Free Press. Fair enough, and so they should, but to then create the kind of connections the article did between implied danger and young adults with serious mental health issues is sensational, insensitive and unfeeling. If a diabetes program were to move into the neighbourhood would Mr. Sher be as compelled to shine the light of journalism on this issue? If the hospital hid plans to move a geriatric specialist  into the neighbourhood should we not also be worried?  All those old people are coming from somewhere and they’re coming to your neighbourhood! No, of course not, but in these articles this medical and physical illness is being ostracized for reasons I am having trouble understanding.

The lives of people with mental illnesses are hard enough without articles like these coming out and re-instilling false fears. We don’t need to be worried about the mentally ill living amongst us for indeed they already are and have always done so. Mr. Sher’s article has made it just that much harder for people with a mental illness, including those I love, to be accepted for who they are. I’m not sure why Mr. Sher reported this story with this slant but perhaps next time he covers mental health he could be a little less cavalier about linking mental illness with danger and perhaps a little more thoughtful about the impact this kind of writing has on our fellow Londoners with a mental illness. We could all learn a lesson here and exposing stigma and prejudice about mental illness is not only for Mental Health Day, in my house and in our community, it should be everyday. 

Our newspaper should better serve our community and not resort to this kind of sensational reporting. Most of the time it does this, but in the case of these two articles there is a lot of room for improvement. I hope that happens and I hope Mr. Sher pauses next time before increasing the prejudice and stigma of mental illness by linking it to cover ups and implied danger. Those with a mental illness and their families have enough of a burden already without the added weight of this kind of sensational reporting.

 

 

I was going to write this eventing about something else but something came up that shook me. 

London Food Bank Director Glen Pearson wrote an important article in last weekends London Free Press titled Social Media, Bigot’s Arena.  He related the story about his daughters reaction to the racist hatred spewed at Montreal Canadians player P.K. Subban on twitter and social media after his double OT goal to win a game last week. Glen and his wife Jane adopted their three children from Sudan and Abuk, his daughter, was effected by this hatred on social media toward someone that looked like her.

In the article Glen makes a strong and important point that we allow this kind of hatred to happen on social media without any consequences to those doing it and that behaviour that is racist, or sexist, or homophobic, or venomous would not be tolerated in the work place or in a public setting but we don’t do a thing about it on social media.

So I was shaken by an article that an anonymous racist note was slipped under the door at the London Community Foundation, where Glen is on the Board of Directors, and that as a consequence a police investigation was launched. 

Glen is an individual of extraordinary character. He and his wife Jane founded The London Foodbank, He was a liberal MP for London, he and Jane freed slaves in Sudan, they created a charity that helps those effected by the terrible effects of poverty in that country, and he and Jane were there for the creation of the worlds newest country, South Sudan. Glen also helped to found the London Poverty Research Centre and is active in a number of community organizations and efforts. So by all measures a man of great character who is dedicated to his community and the world. Yet this hatred was hurled at him in an effort to hurt him and his family. But sadly this is not the first time or the only way this has happened.

I have an important friendship with Glen and we often get together and talk about the issues in our community from poverty to economics to politics and he has told me other stories of racist hatred spewed at him. But also because he was in politics he often get the ugliest accusations hurled at him by those with a political axe to grind in emails, social media, and through anonymous notes. All you have to do is spend five minutes digging and you will see many who have said ugly things about him, his motives, and his family. I often come out swinging when I see this and have been forceful in defending him. But there is more to this than me reacting to seeing my friend hurt by the accusations and hatred of ugly cowardice on social media.

This is actually about the things we let slide. The comments that we do not stand up against. The passive acceptance of racism or of venomous behaviour. Just today someone I work with told me the story of how someone made a comment that was racist in a store in which she works and people watched it happen and let it slide. We, by our lack of calling this out, allow  these behaviours we would not accept in our work places or in public to continue unabated. We allow hateful, misogynistic, comments to occur. Read the comments London Free Press website  and you see ugly hatred and bigotry. Even as I write this the following is happening on Twitter about the article in the free press :

“Ali Chahbar 

I agree police should be called in Glen Pearson note affair, but why publicize it? Gives bigot a platform for mass circulation? #ldnont”

“Timothy Rylett

@AliChahbar It was awful, when press showed the racist tweets about Subban during Boston-Montreal series,”

“Ali Chahbar

@TimothyPRylett I agree that it’s utterly despicable & proper to call police to investigate, but why call the media?”

 “Mike Sloan

@AliChahbar @TimothyPRylett It’s quite simple. Glen Pearson loves publicity, and the  @LFPress is only too happy to give it to him.”

“@AliChahbar @akaratedad I’ll say it again.  It’s not about being prudent, or doing the right thing.  It’s about a drive for publicity.”

Mike Sloan is one of the people who is bent on ascribing the worst to Glen but even here he takes this horrible incident of racism and ascribes it to an attempt to get publicity. This is the kind of spite that poisons the public space in London and creates the conditions where it becomes harder and harder to have meaningful conversations.  And yet there are many prominent Londoners on social media; candidates for office, professors, media personalities, business owners, who will not say anything to Mr.Sloan, or others like him, when they behave this way. They happily go on talking to him, and others like him, as if nothing has happened. They continue to give them a pass. They let it slide. They passively watch from the side lines. And these people are our leaders? How can this be?

In the end this is not about Glen Pearson but is about us. About what behaviour we are willing to tolerate in our community and whether we have the character to call it out or not. I am not innocent in this . I have often let fly and have my own culpability in degenerating the public space and feel ashamed about some of the things I have said on social media. But we must change this, and unless we do, the opportunity for a better and more accepting community where opinions can be argued without invective will never happen. We have to do this or we will be left with a smoking ruin of a community whose only currency is who can be the most vicious

playing with fire

In the debate about whether we should build a performing arts centre or not, there are some questions that need to be asked about its need and its purpose that seem to be glossed over. Before we go there, I need to fill you in a little about my background. I am here to confess that i worked as an arts professional for 17 years. Yes, it’s true friends, there is no denying that I was an artist. I have been a director, artistic director, theatre company founder and educator at the post secondary level. I have worked in opera, touring shows, music and I have given talks and performances for money. So I have some experience and an informed point of view about the power and perils of the arts.

Let’s start with the fact that in 2012 Culture brought in more than $500 million in GDP to London. Culture includes digital, libraries, education, sports, visual arts, written arts, radio, television, film, heritage, arts and heritage administrators and of course, the traditional performing arts. According to the Canada Council for the Arts there are “609,000 people, or 3.3% of the active population of Canada” employed as culture workers in Canada. A measly 257,000 people are employed by Canadian banks. In Ontario, according to a study by Hill Strategies Research, based upon the 2006 census, “With 56,900 artists, Ontario has nearly twice as many artists as any other province.” According to the Cultural Profile for London in 2011, there were 7,703 cultural jobs in the City of London. So culture is a powerful force for economic, social and cultural development in our country and province. So why then would I have questions about a performing arts centre with all this as proof about the benefit of investing in the arts?

Well friends, in order to understand my concerns we need to look around us and understand the lay of the land. We are two hours from Toronto with its wealth of big venue arts offerings. We are 40 minutes from one of the finest theatre festivals in the world in Stratford. We are two hours away from another world-class big venue theatre festival – The Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Also, when we look at our friends in Kitchener-Waterloo, Mississauga and other Ontario municipalities, we see many performing arts centres, each one costing those municipalities millions. So are we investing in this huge project because we need to keep up with the Joneses? Are we feeling inferior to Stratford or Toronto or Niagara and want to build this centre because “we’re as good as those places?”

In listening to the presentation by Murray Faulkner to the Investment and Economic Prosperity Committee, he talked almost exclusively about music and little about any of the other performing arts. He talked about creating a hot-desking /co-working space. He talked about creating a black box space for dance and music as well as for community meetings. But in this presentation, and in all the talk about creating this performing arts centre, there are some key things that are not talked about that need to be. Like how can a community group afford to rent this space? How do new and emerging talents access use of this space? Isn’t this space, in building hot desks,  competing with other proposed or existing spaces like The Shared Space for Social Innovation or Hackerstudios or Kowork? Why does the only focus seem to be music? Aren’t there other performing arts like dance and theatre? How exactly are they to be included?

So you have some idea of the current costs of renting space for performance space, The McManus Theatre, the small theatre with 150 seats in the lower level of the Grand, charges $450/day for commercial use and $125/day for non-profits plus fees of about $20/hr for the technician. The main stage at the Grand costs $2,000/day. So how exactly are community organizations supposed to afford to use this proposed new performing arts space? 

The City of London’s current culture funding is $3 million for 2014. This includes everything from Museums to historical sites, Orchestra London, The Grand , The London Public Library, festivals and  a tiny part for individual artists. London receives $2,470 per assessed property as its portion of the municipal property tax and of this culture receives $20.31. Of note, the City of Windsor, which has had a harder time economically than London, in 2011 spent $3.86 per capita on culture as opposed to London’s $3.41 and Kitchener-Waterloo’s $4.75. So we could afford to invest more in culture in London given the benefits it brings in talent attraction and rotations, economic development and the return on investment. But it’s where we spend that I have a few suggestions and they do not include a new performing arts centre.

Large arts organizations are primarily programming for an older audience nationally, provincially and locally. This is unsustainable and in order for culture to be relevant to a new demographic we have to have a conversation that develops programming that is relevant to Gen X and Gen Y. In order to do that, we must create opportunities for emerging artists and culture workers to develop their craft and the spaces in which to do this. I suggest that if we want to seriously invest in culture in London, we should invest in the following:

  1. A cultural conversation with the Gen X and Gen Y demographic to asses their interests and subsequent programming that meets that interest
  2. Affordable performance space – space that seats between 40 and 150 people in multiple locations
  3. Affordable studio space – space that is very inexpensive for digital and visual artists to rent
  4. Affordable multi-use rehearsal space – space that is very inexpensive and can meet the needs of multiple disciplines to rehearse.
  5. More funding for small arts organizations and individual artists – $200,000/year for five years
  6. Sustainable funding for The London Fringe Festival – many new works are developed and presented here as well as at the Nuit Blanche Festival.
  7. Funding for current large culture institutions that allows for lower cost access for new and emerging artists
  8. Investment in developing cultural management talent
  9. Investment  in and easy access to public outdoor space use in downtown – squares and public spaces with programmed arts
  10. Further investment in the London Artist in Residence program – this places artists in schools as a resource for teaching every subject
  11. Investment in heritage programming and awareness
  12. Increased staff funding for London Arts and Heritage Councils

If you took half of the proposed ask for the performing arts centre and used it in these areas, the result for London culture would be transformative and lasting and would be a huge boost to attracting and retaining talent and increasing opportunities for economic development. We  should be concerned about creating venues and spaces like Toronto, Stratford, Shaw, or Kitchener-Waterloo, until we create the infrastructure to support and develop our local cultural talent here in London. 

So no, I do not want to see spending on a huge performing arts centre. i want to see it spent on new and emerging talent and on the institutions that can support their growth and development.  Any city can build a building, but not many are committed to creating a new, dynamic and growing culture scene. If Council is serious about modelling ourselves on places like Austin and South by South West then this is where we need to spend. Not on another outdated and overextended idea of what culture used to be in the 70s.

Well the wondering and prognosticating is finally over friends. We’re going to an election on June 12th and while some may have made up their minds as to who they’re voting for my suspicion is most have not. How can this be you ask? Aren’t the Liberals scandal ridden? Well lets look at that and look at our own culpability in this confusing time.

Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath have, on the surface at least, decided not to support Kathleen Wynne’s government because of principle. They can not longer in good faith work with a minority government that is mired in scandal ( code for gas plant,Orange, E-health, Herb Grey Parkway ) and support a government is covering up important information ( code for gas plant) . Now our friend Tim Hudak would tell you that he wants to hang an open for business sign on Ontario ( code for tax cuts for corporation ) and to get our spending under control ( code for cutting social programs ) . Andrea Howarth would have you believe that she can no longer let this Government continue on because Ontarians have lost faith in them and the Liberals plans are unattainable. But Andrea Howrath did sit in Queens Park and held her nose while two budgets went sailing by despite the scandals she keeps referring too.

We can’t deny however that Dalton McGuinty left a huge mess behind and we did as a province lose a billion dollars on the gas plants and lets not forget E-Health or Orange either. Both left a sour taste in the mouths of us all. So where does this leave us when it comes to Kathleen Wynne? Were any of these scandal her fault? Was she involved at all? Well it would be difficult to believe a Cabinet Minister had no knowledge of any of these issues but it’s not really clear what her involvement was. So we’re left with a lot of murky water right now around our new Premiere.

If you believe AM radio then the Liberal ( or NDP or Green (or any “lefty”)) are not to be believed and that if we do then you’re a fool. Listening to CBC radio however on the drive up to Kingston on Friday there we’re as many NDP as there were Liberals as there were Conservatives who called in and the vast majority said they didn’t know who they were going to vote for. Many said they wish that these parties could work together to get Ontario back on track. I think both of these are on the minds of Ontarian’s right now and given the lack of cooperation, or even civility,it’s a confusing picture and  people don’t know which way to vote.

I’ll be honest friends I have never been a fan of the austerity agenda of the conservatives. It’s never made much sense to cut spending on the one hand and to then cut taxes for large corporations, or the wealthy, as well. This is like saying if i owned a business and i wanted to increase profit I would give a bigger discount while cutting the costs to the maintenance and advertising for my business. Makes no sense. The current form of Thatcher/Reagan conservative thinking is so old and so dated and limited that until we see a reinvention of the conservative movement it holds no water. I hope that reinvention happens.

The NDP and the Liberals are at least saying we need to invest in education, transportation, health and these things cost money. Want high-speed trains? You’ll pay more in taxes. Want more money for the disadvantaged? You’ll pay more in taxes. Want more youth job funding? You’ll pay more in taxes. I like that. Like being told that we need to invest and that investment will cost and won’t suddenly appear at the end of the rainbow. It makes sense.

Locally we have some great people running for all four parties. Deb Matthews, Nancy Branscombe, Judy Bryant, Jeff Bennet, Peggy Sattler, Gary Brown, Teresa Armstrong. All great Londoners who you should all take sometime to talk to. But they will all be swept up in this election and the orders of the party. You see local candidates don’t have much to say on platform or even if they agree with the whole platform. If the party says you don’t do debate then you don’t do debates. If the party says start attacking the leader and the candidate then you start attacking. You become the local labourer for the bossman/woman of the party. You do but you don’t get to say much tat is your own. This is also too bad.

All the parties will attack while promising you they are the only choice and that if you want a prosperous future then you have to vote for them. But as I said earlier I believe many in this province are looking for more cooperation, much more civility. honesty in what we need to pay for, and most importantly we don’t want to be wined and dined during the election to be left wondering a week after  why they never call.

In the end though we need to examine our own culpability in all this and the way we do politics in Ontario. After all our current political climate would not be the way it is if we told politicians they couldn’t behave this way. That we will not stand for the vicious partisanship of party politics. That we will not stand for crass behaviour from those that lead us. That we will not stand for the lack of cooperation at Queens Park. But we won’t do this. We won’t do this and we will see another election come and go and the same dance begin again.

So in this confusing time of confusing choice take some time, do the best you can, vote, and try to at least say to your candidates to be civil, try to cooperate, so we can build a better Ontario. In the meantime let’s do that for each other as well.

Mind the Gap

Posted: March 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

There are times in our lives when we look up and notice a space has suddenly appeared in the group of people that surround us. In these moments, we feel the gap that has been left and the emptiness of what is missing. So it was for some friends this week who lost a family member who took his own life. A hole was torn in their lives and they feel keenly the emotional and physical absence that is now a part of their lives.

It may be easy to say, “that would never happen to me” or that, “I would never do that,” but all too often this happens, and all too often those who feel the unbearable pain of their lives decide they can no longer face the hurdles life throws at them and they leave us. It would also be easy to nod our heads and make sympathetic noises, but this is not enough given the pain felt by those who attempt or succeed in taking their lives or by those who are left behind to continue on without that precious soul to journey with them.

Mental health is undeniably one of the largest challenges we face as a society and we have made some progress in recent years in trying to address this. Groups have formed, individuals have advocated, and finally we have a national Mental Health Commission but this is not enough, not nearly enough. Amongst adults, mental illness affects 1 in 4. In youth, of that 1 in 4 only 20% receive any treatment. Economically there are estimates that mental illness costs our economy $50 million dollars per year. And, according to The Canadian Mental Health Association, 15 people die of suicide for every 100,000 deaths.

Let’s think about that number. In London, our population is about 352,395. So this means that there is a potential of us losing about 52 empty holes of loss in our community every year to suicide. If we take this further and look at every 5 years we have lost 260 people in our community. This leaves me asking – are we doing enough? Are we assigning an appropriate amount of our resources and time to ensuring we don’t lose the equivalent of a plane load of citizens every 5 years to the unbearable pain and loss of suicide. I don’t think so.

Even beyond the loss of life, the pain and suffering we allow to go on in our communities cannot be seen as anything other than unconscionable. Waiting lists, under-resourced staffing, our inability to build a system of mental wellness from the bright spring of early years through the deep autumn at the end of our lives speaks to our leaders and our own lack of thought and care.

Right now, right this very second, there are thousands upon thousands of people in our community that are in pain and do not have access to the resources needed to move through their illness and into wellness. From the most vulnerable and homeless to the middle class worker in a company, the time it takes from recognizing a problem to receiving treatment and support is much too long. In many cases I have personally witnessed adults and youth wait more than a year from the time they seek help.

Despite this, we have the recent good news of the formation of CMHA Middlesex and it’s new CEO Don Seymour. This organization and this leader are deeply committed to meeting the challenges of, and overcoming the lack of, resources in London and area. Also the recent appointment of Louise Petrie as Executive Director at Family Services Thames Valley is another sign of hope. FSTV provides counselling and support in London – a kind of mental health for the rest of us.

But my friend’s family, who lost a part of itself this week, are now left to mourn their loss and try to continue on without someone they loved. For them there is no remedy but to be taken in the arms of each other and their community to try and heal and move forward. What you don’t know about this family is that they have been mental health advocates for many years and have worked tirelessly for improved mental health services for all of us. Yet despite this, they find themselves faced by this most tragic and devastating of circumstances.

Reading this, you might feel the need to help and take some action. I hope so, and if this is the case, there are things you can do to move our community forward and build upon the work already being done. Donate to CMHA Middlesex or Family Services Thames Valley. Go to the CMHA website and learn more about mental health and mental illness. Understand the resources that are available in our community for yourself and for those you know who may need help. In your workplace, begin a conversation about mental health and ask your employer about what resources are available. If there are none, then do some research and help your employer get them. At our schools and community, understand the needs of child and youth mental health and the often fractured and bewildering obstacles to getting care and speak up about it to your school boards and local leaders. Demand of our leaders at all levels that they support and fund mental wellness and health. And finally, remember this family and thousands of others that have dealt with, and are dealing with, the struggle with mental illness and the astronomical cost it inflicts on them.

Our community, and every other, needs to come to grips with mental health and our inability to deal with it. We have a responsibility to one another to do this and to take action. I have said to some that I refuse to live in a city where we leave people behind. Sadly this week we did, and the responsibly for this is one we all should share and take action on.