Day Eight – Neither Fair nor Fowl

 

 

F1D09496-95E9-4572-9689-6C0201A95738

Is my town like yours?

My town, London, Ontario, has a population of about 400,000 people who politically either lean right or left depending on the mood. We have a river that runs through our town. We have a hockey arena downtown and a sort of chic market. Our main branch of the library is pretty cool but resides in a failed mall. We do not have a particularly inspired set of political leaders. They go from the petty and corrupt to the genuinely caring and engaged. Our wealthier neighbourhoods are hotbeds of NIMBYISM where they will drop a few bucks in the Sally Anne kettle at Christmas, but you try building something in, or at the edges, of one of their neighbourhoods to help the neediest in our city and you can expect an avalanche of opposition. Charity and helping people is all well and fine but keep it out of our sight seems to be the message.

Our city has 20% of our children living in poverty and a Food Bank that grows and grows and grows in response to the demand from our citizens. We do not have a very strong local arts scene. We have some amazing visual artists in London, for which we a have a world-class history, but generally, we import our talent, and almost all of our young artists go elsewhere to train and live.

Our transit system was the focus of a 3-year battle that really was a proxy war for two different political tribes in our community—the Progressive and Conservative. The result was one of the most brutal arguments, filled with lies and deception, that resulted in a kind of kludged solution that will ultimately serve no one, especially those that need transit the most. It was likely the most divisive political event to happen in our community in more than a decade that was full of sound and fury ultimately creating nothing.

Our town has a history of serial killing.

No, really it does. London, Ontario was at one time the serial killer capital of Canada. Weird eh?

We have, at times, an incredibly generous response from Londoners to emergencies. Like the time the whole town came together when a drunk driver rammed into a house that caused a fire and almost destroyed an entire neighbourhood. Hundreds of people came together to offer food and comfort and their own homes as a place to stay. We also volunteer almost more than anywhere else in Canada. We are the longtime champs of volunteerism as a matter of fact.

Parts of our town are so pretty they take your breath away. We have some of the most gorgeous neighbourhoods in the whole of our country, and the Thames Valley Pathway System is and treasure that needs to be protected and enhanced. We have these collections of natural parks and sites that are unique, and the neighbourhoods that surround them are stalwart wardens for them. They have driven off many a developer. And our downtown recently went through a transformation that was both inspired and will lead to a more robust downtown.

My town is ultimately directionless when it comes to longterm thinking. Its political seasons are filled with arguments for or against taxes. Candidates and incumbents jostling for position and advantage but rarely talk about big ideas and bold visions that chart a course to economic and community growth. When those people come along and propose a bold vision or clear path, there is inevitable a feeding frenzy on local radio, or from former reporters, that shoot it down. Not a good place to have an idea and stick up your hand, London Ontario, lest it is chopped off and shot down.

In the end, my town is neither fair nor fowl but a directionless beige that doesn’t dare to be something more but can still show flashes of brilliance now and then. It is a place of the middle. A place that is and is not.

Is my town like yours?

Day Seven – Economics you Don’t Know

audience auditorium bleachers chairs

Photo by Tuur Tisseghem on Pexels.com

Many have a sort of bi-polar view of the life of an artist. On the one hand, they think they are starting in foreign garrets, serving tables, doing menial jobs, yet, on the other hand, they believe they live a jet-set glamourous life. People also have a bi-polar view of the arts as a sector. On the one side, we shouldn’t pay for it form tax dollars and on the other that it’s nice to have around. There is then the bi-polar view of those that attend the arts. On the one hand, they’re rich, snobby one-percenters on the other weird druggies dancing to thumping music at 4 in the morning. None of these descriptions is accurate. None of them tells a story of being an artist, being an arts supporter, or the benefits we get as a country when we invest in it.

To be a professional artist, you have had to study with the intensity of an engineering student while allowing yourself and your work to be criticized in class and in public daily. When you’ve finished studying, formally or informally, then you have to be an entrepreneur and sell a commission or land a gig. Landing the gig will often mean surveying a series of predatory, humiliating, and distracting people who know what’s best for your career but will lead you down a path of pain and woe.

In order to make a professional arts organization work, you have to be continually applying for funding, engaging the public, trying not to offend the politicians, competing against the other acts orgs in your own, and keeping the lights with an overhead cost of less than 6%. Not something a so-called “real business”. could do. And then you will always be facing the kinds of questions from funders that many other non-profits don’t have to face. So you’re expected to have answered to a faceless bureaucracy to a level of detail most non-profits never have to.

Then there is the funding itself and the views of the politicians and their woefully uninformed opinions. Using there limited understand they then engage in decisions that have life-changing consequences on individuals and an industry they have not even the remotest understanding of. As opposed to what many politicians say, that the arts are a luxury, The Ontario Arts Council shares that “Ontario’s arts and culture sector represents $26.7 billion or 3.5% of the province’s GDP and almost 300,378 jobs. This “industry perspective” measures all of the culture sector’s output – including both culture and non-culture products (e.g. a theatre company may generate GDP from both ticket sales – a culture activity – and food and beverage services – a non-culture activity).” 

Further, they do us the favour of comparing this to other major industries and, in what will be a surprise to many, the Arts outperforms numerous Ontario economic sectors. For example “Ontario’s culture GDP is larger than that of the accommodation and food services industry ($16.2 billion), the utilities industry ($14.6 billion), the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting industries combined ($7.4 billion) and mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction ($6.9 billion).”. In my home town, our local Arts Council created a report and shared that culture generates “$540 million per annum”. So lets put to rest the ridiculous notion that the arts are a luxury but is, in fact, an economic engine in Ontario.

Yet during this pandemic where is the support for the Arts and its vital economic and community contribution to Ontario. Our government gave some money to the most significant arts org in our town, one by the way that has its own foundation, but there was not a penny for the small and medium orgs. Not a penny from a Federal Government for the ongoing support of artists who will not qualify for unemployment benefits. Nor supports for all those professional Arts teachers at the post-secondary and community level who do not qualify for EI. No support from any level of government anywhere I can see that steps into the breach and supports the cultural industry during this time of pandemic in the same way other economic sectors are. 

No, there is a double standard for to the arts; be it from politicians or arts funders or you the public. Artists add more than so many other parts of our economy in terms of real dollar for dollar impact, but that doesn’t matter does it?

No. 

After all the Arts is a nice to have not a need to have. 

Isn’t it? 

Day 6 – Saturday Virus Coffee Special

close up photo of coffee on table

Photo by Vova Krasilnikov on Pexels.com

Gotta say I am thrilled my daughter is not in school anymore. The thought of her going into those school hallways and classrooms would have had me feeling very anxious. But I don’t have to make that choice though sadly many of you do. Our governments have made this a lot easier, have they? Across Canada, there is a variety of approaches, none of which particularly install confidence.

Here in my adopted Ontario, Doug Ford has come out with a plan that has been roundly criticized by the Toronto School Board and by Sick Kids Hospital. Not a great signs of a winning strategy. Also, the need to open up the rest of the economy seems to be precipitous. I’m not convinced we’re through the first danger far enough yet to start opening everything back up, and yes I know that our economy has been brutalized. Still, I’d rather see a closed business than a life lost.

Add to all this the misinformation that comes out every day from that trusted news source Facebook friends. It’s no wonder people are confused and feeling uncertain. Yesterday someone who was in high school with me, who you would think would know better, sent me a private message with a news story insisting that the WHO had changed its mind about Carona Virus and it wasn’t contagious at all ! And now the WHO was being muzzled from telling the truth.

REALLY?

REALLY?

What I don’t understand is why so many people buy this kind of deliberate misinformation. With just 5 minutes using the goole, you will find the story debunked, verifiable sources for true information, and a host of stories about how this kind of pernicious mistelling of the truth damages our democracy. Yet there’s an old high school classmate blithely serving up a great big serving of self-delusion and misinformation.

Look the thing is I can be both cynical, in terms of school and business opening, and be for factual and accurate information. I don’t have to go over to crackpot theories to feel vindicated in my thinking. You don’t have to either. We should be able to hold two simultaneous points of view from slightly different perspectives.

In the end, what I say, and really what you say, matters not a wit. The government will do what they feel is best and everyone else will, or will not, obey safe distancing and mask-wearing. There will be decent people believing conspiracies and misinformation. Me? I’m going to enjoy the tomatoes growing in my back yard, wear a mask when in public, and cynically look at the information that comes my way. The only other choice is to listen to the conspiracists, and that does not serve my time or focus.

So onward and outward (inward?) friends. Saturday awaits, and so does my morning coffee. But you know did hear that the coffee plantations are using aliens to……….

Day Five – Hearth and Home

bed bedroom blanket clean

Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

I woke this morning anxious. Many of you may how woken up the same way. Anxious about our children, anxious about our finances, anxious about friends and family, and anxious about the state of the world. I awoke this morning anxious. What I was not anxious about this morning was that tonight I would not have a roof over my head and a bed to sleep in.

But for many in Ontario this week that was not the case. Ontario’s Ford government decided that they no longer needed to use their power to protect people who were economically devastated by the Covid pandemic. Decided that landlord could now evict those people who had no way to pay their rents. Decided that despite the worst economic hit to our country since the great depression, the people in Ontario who couldn’t pay their rent could be kicked out onto the street.

Last night I wondered how do you respond rationally to a leader who allows this to happen? How do you give a party which marches in lockstep with that leader a fair hearing? How do you not see them as indifferent and callous? How do you not see the Ontario Conservative Party, Or the Republican Party in the United States, as a moral threat to Human Decency? I don’t know.

We here in the little berg of London, Ontario, see homelessness every day. We also have our share of indifference to homeless people as evidenced by the crackdowns our city governments have had on homeless camps. We don’t have a solution to housing in our town either. But as much as I disagree with our Major and a number of our Councillors, they did not actively create a law to make it easier to evict people onto the streets. Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario, did just that. And in our town, and your town as well, we will be left to inadequately pick up the pieces of Mr.Ford and The Conservative Party in the desperate form of more homeless people.

In a month or two, you’ll likely forget about this issue, but those people who were evicted will still be without a home. And so we go on. And so this cycle continues; A cycle of politicians, emboldened by the people who elected them, cutting services and protections for the most vulnerable in our community while the rest of shake our heads and wag our fingers for the prescribed amount of virtue signalling before moving on.

I woke up Anxious this morning, but I did not wake up homeless. This week thousands of Ontarian’s will and you and I allowed it to happen.

To say shame on us somehow feels pathetically inadequate, but it is all I have.

Shame on us.

Day Three – Left To Our Own Devices

 

black metal framed glass window

In the town where I live, I am often very lonely. I don’t have a lot of friends here and don’t see the ones I do have very often. There are some very concrete reasons for my absenting myself from friends and why I am often lonely. This town encourages loneliness, and many, many, many people have told me how difficult they find it making friends here. But this loneliness is not only about my town but also about your town ans the fact that loneliness not only happens here but happens everywhere in such massive numbers that I think it will effect our near and long term future.

I am sure you’ve read about the plague of loneliness that has gripped the western world. I am sure you’re aware of how exasperated that is with the arrival of this virus. It further strips people of any connections they have to other people, and the result is more isolation without any hope of connections to other people. I had read somewhere recently that there has been a huge increase over the last 5 years to help lines and that the volunteers who work those lines have regulars who call every day because that is the only connection to the world they have. Did you know that loneliness can lead to an increase of 30% in early death? I didn’t, but it makes sense to me. So those people who are calling helplines as their only source of social connection are more likely to die because of how alone in the world they are. Doesn’t that break your heart?

In Japan, the lonely and self-isolating are called Hikikomori. Japan has an official number of 1.15 million Hikikomori but experts tell us that this number is more likely 10 million. These people purposely withdraw from society. They are so hurt or bewildered by the world around them that they withdraw from all contact. Shutting themselves up in their apartments, never leaving. Many times they only come out when neighbours complain of smells and authorities investigate finding these poor individuals have died. I think I understand some of the reasons people become Hikikomori. The depths of their pain and hurt must be so extreme that they would rather not see anyone. Ever.

Why I am sharing all this with you? Well because I don’t think about this issue very often and am sure many of you never give it much thought either. More importantly, I want you to consider how we got to the point where people have to call helplines in order not to feel lonely. How did it come to pass that there is such an epidemic of loneliness that it is reported in the planets major newspapers as a substantial public health issue..

I believe that this global loneliness is also linked with the rise in bullying, loss of civility, our inability to see past our own point of view, and growing seeming indifference to one another. We humans are changing friends. We seem to be more lonely, less able to see opportunities for understanding and collaboration, and hardened and indifferent to the suffering that is growing around us.

I am not sure we can change the course we are on, and I would like to leave you with a typically hopeful ending to this kind of blog, but I am not sure I can. I know I am lonely, and I know you are likely alone as well. Both of us knowing this, we don’t seem to be able to connect and change the course of that isolation. So will we become a world of Hikikomori? This may be how many people end up. Unable to cope with the shattered world around them. I hope not, but I am unsure if we collectively have a heart big enough to overcome this and the rest of our problems.

I will look out my window, watch, and see what happens.

Day Two – The Activist

 

climate sign outside blur

I know some people who think that Activist is a derogatory term. That an Activist is someone that cannot be worked with. That an Activist is a person or persons blocking progress to community-wide goals. So are activists really a problem when trying to solve big problems like food, or housing, or addictions? Yes, Activists can be part of the problem but as equally to blame are often the local Governments, Nonprofits, and Funders. But it’s easier to blame those without power than those with.

The Activist in our community is there to make you feel uncomfortable. Is there to make you recognize there is a problem you have been ignoring. Is there to force an issue, long-buried, into the light of public awareness. They are the persistent voice prodding at us again and again. Prodding at those in power and in the public that there is a serious problem that needs addressing. Activists are an inconvenient pressure that something is wrong.

As I said, I know a number of those in power, and with access to power, who find the Activist a roadblock to solving community problems. I have been told that they are unwilling to work collectively. Unwilling to work with institutions and governments. Unwilling to look at any solution but their own.

I think there is a lot of truth to this. I have known activist leaders who will not work with anyone with power or at the very least distrust those with power to do what they say they will do. I have to say though I have been lied to, or been disappointed by, those in power more often than by activists.

Activists or institutions though aren’t the real problem. No, the real problem is power. Those that have it, or have access to it, don’t want to give it up and those without want it. The result is those community problems that could have been fixed end up in disputes and bad feelings that degenerate into no solutions at all.

Someone told me recently that they thought that the Activists should publicly apologize to those with power in order to resolve the rifts of the past and get to the solutions that could help our community. What I found ironic and troubling about that statement is that there was never a mention of those with, and who have access to, power doing the same thing.

I, unlike some, want the activists in our community That have infuriated me at times. Still, they are there, day in and day out, insistently raising their voice and demanding that the decision-makers, influencers, and the public do something about the serious problems we have. After all wasn’t it the insistent voices that created the civil rights movement, women the vote, and freed India from colonial rule?

They may be inconvenient and as intractable as those with power, but I say bless the Activist. Long may they continue to be an irritant to the powerful and the comfortable. Long may they continue in their underappreciated but critical roles to our communities and long may they be recognized for what they are. The persistent voice of our collective conscious.

My Friend Steve (In Memoriam)

EAC43E35-4A4B-44F6-BDB5-0368C2A239DF

There are some people you meet in your life that become a kind of reference for the place you live, the times you have, and the triumphs and failures you go through. My friend Steve was one of these people for me.

I had come in contact with Steve before I moved to London. In 1999 my brother and I were talking in that kind of half serious/half joking way of creating an internet service provider company. So when moving to London became a fast reality I reached out to The London Economic Development Corporation ( LEDC) and it was Steve who replied. 

Frankly I didn’t know what the hell I was doing or what I was talking about, but with the bravura that comes with being in my 20’s, I bulled ahead. When I arrived in London in December of 1999, Steve, with his usual grace and charm, invited my wife and I over for diner. Fortunately for us Steve, his wife Sharon, and his brilliant son Jeff had some people in common with us. The Longstaff’s. Kip and her sons, Nic and Michael, had a long standing relationship with The Glickman’s and on that December evening my wife and I arrived and began an 18 year relationship with the Glickman’s.

Jeff and I created plays together, had serious long talks about art, and I have had the joy of being a part of his work as a film maker. Sharon has always been generous with her time and expertise in design, and my wife Heather always made sure Sharon got our year end newsletter. But then there is Steve. My reference for my time in London.

Steve was there during the struggles and triumphs we’ve had with our daughter Erynn. Steve was there when , with my gifted friend Jennifer Wigmore, we created the Theatre Arts program at Fanshawe – Steve sat on the first advisory committee. Steve was there to see some of the plays i directed and preformed in. Steve was there during my time with Emerging Leaders, always encouraging me and always supportive. Steve was there with Sharon when we bought our home and quietly suggested i needed a good stereo and helped me choose one at his business, London Audio. 

Steve was there with thoughtful advise on the many times I fell flat on my face and had few friends. Steve was there. That’s the point. Steve was there to introduce me to London, to make a family from out west feel welcome in a new town, to show me the good places to eat in town, to introduce me around, to offer his wisdom and insight, to share his sharp and riotous wit when we sat together, and …well …to be Steve.

About a year ago I received an email from Sharon. Steve wasn’t doing to well and things were difficult, but Sharon was very grateful for our year-end newsletter and wanted to let me know how Steve was doing. Steve had Alzheimer’s. 

I asked if i could come and spend time with my old friend and over the course of the next year I was blessed by the time I had with him. 

Steve was born and grew up and married in Montreal. He went to University there and like many others decided his new family needed to leave that city and find opportunities elsewhere. London is where he came, and with his family, created London Audio. Steve served on many Boards in our community including Kings and at The Grand Theatre. He gave back to his community again and again and in so doing quietly added to the tensile strength of our forested city.

During this last year he memorialized his life in Montreal and London with me. He would tell me again and again of the accomplishments of his sons and how deeply proud he was of them. He told me of his childhood on the streets of Montreal and of his early married life with a brilliant young wife. He would share with me his philosophies of business – you must make sure the customer always gets what’s right for them. He shared his thoughts on politics and religion and the deep admiration and fondness he had for his friends and colleagues. 

My most cherished memory of this past year though is sitting quietly, no words needing to be spoken, and listening to music. We would sit for a few hours and listen to his favourite album, K.D. Langs Songs Of The 49th Parallel. Sometimes I would play my ukulele and sing for him and sometimes we would sit and talk. It was…..so very good. 

In his last week of life we was hospitalized and I would go and visit him to spell off Sharon or Jeff for a short time. I would sit and play K.D. Lang and just be with him. I was with there the day he died. Jeff and Sharon had left for a quick bite and so I sat and played his favourite music and offered what comfort I could. We spent two hours together . Me holding his hand and him, eyes closed, listening to his music. I left at around 4:30 p.m. that day. Picked up my wife from work, went home and ate some supper. It was 90 minutes later that Sharon let me know he had died with Jeff and her next to him. 

His funeral was a triumph of a life well lived. His three sons lionized their father with humour, honesty, and deep love. London came out and marked the passing of someone who made a difference to our little city, not with flash and spectacle, but with quiet service and dignity. And his friends, those of years, and those of his life in business , came and shared the grief of his passing. 

For me Steve’s funeral marked something else though. It marked my time in this city and pointed to a way of being and engaging – a way I have often failed at. It pointed to the loyalty of friendships long developed, it pointed to the strength of serving community, and it pointed to the pleasure of living a life well.

It was a privilege to know Steve. From my first moments in this city to his last moments among us. It was an honour to spend time with him in his last year. It was a joy to hear him telling me the stories of his life and it was with pride I watched his family, friends, and community honour his life. Thank you Steve for your generosity of spirit, your warm and joyful wit, and for allowing me to be a small part of your life for the last 18 years. I have been marked by our time together and will carry your examples with me in my heart.

Thank you dear friend

Rest In Peace.

 

Ward 5 – The Choice

election scrabble

Let’s talk about the Ward 5 race ‘cause that’s where I live, and I have a vested interest. In the ward is the incumbent, Maureen Cassidy, who has served the last term on Council as our representative for Ward 5. Running against her in the election are some people. Notably Randy Warden, who ran and lost n the last election, Charles Knott and Shane Clarke.  What has marked this election across the city, and here in Ward 5, is misinformation, sign wrecking, and anonymous attacks through websites and signs.

Sadly this seems to becoming a norm in London, and I don’t think the media pay enough attention to the trumpifying of our local elections. That said I want to talk about these candidates and who I feel should choice for Ward 5.

For a majority of candidates in Ward 5, there is little difference between the anti-BRT candidates. They oppose BRT without a lot of details. Most say we need to reconsider BRT because of cost, the need for “better” consolation, or that it won’t fit our future needs. Again their clams are light on details and strong on ten-word opinions. The problem though is that Ward 5 residents need the next ten words to understand exactly what their plans are beyond “further discussions or consultations” or “ preparing us for autonomous vehicles” that may or may not ease traffic.

The problem is with these claims, and others that include safe consumption and development is that they don’t have any credible alternatives and are so sparse on details that we could be another decade waiting for any response to growing congestion in London while they discuss and consult. We need action now, not in 2029, on our severe infrastructure and congestion issues. If you want some thoughts on BRT from some leaders with some credibility and experience, then I suggest you read our former mayors ( and outstanding past Ward 5 councillor)  Joni Baechler and Jane Bigelow here on the facts of BRT

About some of the candidates:

Randy Warden is an outstanding volunteer in our community, especially with St.Johns Ambulance and The Canada 150 celebrations. He has given a lot of his time, and his efforts to London should be applauded for this. That does not make his sparse platform and his views on serious issues affecting London very detailed. On his platform page Randy has two lines on job creation, two lines on BRT, two lines on making life easier for families, and two lines on making life easier for families. If you watch the Ward 5 debates you see the same pattern of sparse answers and hardly any details. Randy’s campaign tagline is “leadership you can trust” but it’s tough to do that when there is little substance to his campaign. Randy is a nice guy and a great community volunteer but we need leadership, and a significant part of leadership is clearly articulating a vision and plan for where we are and what we should do. Randy doesn’t do this.

Charles Knott:  I haven’t been able to find much out about Charles other than his campaign website and Linkedin profile. He’s lived in London for some time and went to The London School of Economics to complete masters degree in science. He worked for a bread company and a motor company in customer service, has created a flooring business that supplies Mixed Martial Arts( MMA) companies, and is a manager of a sports clinic. I haven’t found anything about community service or volunteering. Charles has many of the same views as Randy does, though with more words that describe essentially the same viewpoint. You can read his platform here. Again my complaint is the same as I had for Randy – lots of declarations but few details backing up his clams. Charles talks a lot about job creation, and rightly so, but anyone who has spent any time on economic development will tell you that City Councils have little control of job creation. They can create small incentives through development but Councils are severely limited by law on what they can do to attract business to a city. The industrial land development was an effective way Council did this in the last two terms. But it is also important to understand that according to LEDC ( London Economic Development Corporation), who is charged with attracting business to London, says there are 1500 jobs available right now to at great companies. Our problem is we can’t attract and retain the talent we need to fill those jobs. We have a talent attraction and training gap problem in London, not a business attraction problem. How do you attract young professionals to our city? Well, there’s a lot of research on that, and googling Richard Florida is an excellent place to start as is looking at the CityLab website.  I don’t find Charles to be a credible candidate – claims and assertions are fine, but they need facts and details to be believable.

Shane Clarke: I have a lot of time for Shane Clark as he works on issues that are close to my heart. Poverty, mental illness, addictions, and the serious crisis we have in this city when it comes to our most vulnerable fellow Londoners. Shane has only three issues on his platform. Addictions, affordable housing, and snow removal.  I really respect Shane’s commitment to working and advocating with those who are most in need of our attention and focus. Think Shane also has an outstanding character and his care for his fellow Londoners is evident in his work and his volunteering. If my first choice for Ward 5 wasn’t elected, then Shane has the humility to listen and the strength to stand up for his values and our Ward. Check out Shane here

Maureen Cassidy: Maureen has been a long time advocate and volunteer in London especially when it comes to development issues in our ward. Joni Bachelor endorsed her 4 years ago as her choice to replace her, and again this election, and I believe she has done an outstanding job advocating for our ward and major issues across our city. Fiscally she was a part of the Council team that brought in multi-year budgeting and lowered our city debt by 10%. Maureen has advocated and works on issues from poverty, to indigenous issues, to very complex development issues. Throughout she has been consistent, and I believe very effective as a Ward 5 Councillor. I have had my disagreements with Maureen on some big issues, but she has always taken the time to hear me out and at times modify her views if she thought mine were valid.  Have seen her do this with fellow Ward 5 residents as well. She is not afraid to face tough issues and never takes a position for the sake of an easy political win.  I know her to be steadfast, very competent, and above all someone whom you can trust to work for the best interests of Ward 5. Here’s another reason why I support Maureen. She has details to her platforms and facts to back them up. Unlike Randy or Charles, she has more than ten-word answers. I respect that a lot and appreciate the time and thought that went into it. Here is Maureen’s platform and importantly here is the endorsement of some people who are leaders in Ward 5 and London.  I encourage you to vote for Maureen’s re-election as our Ward 5 city councillor because she has shown courage and commitment in the face of adversity and more importantly stood up for Ward 5 while facing it.

It’s a little confusing right now: Provincial Election

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.

An Edmontonians view of London and the Fringe – guest Blog by Kenneth Brown

In the face of some recent economic hardship, London is trying to remake itself as a civilized city of the 21st Century.  During the festival, I was a guest of Sean Quigley and his family, who live a quietly sane life in a comfortable, inauspicious condo in the northern part of the city.  Because Sean lent me a bike for the duration of the festival, most of my transportation around London was by pedal, and I thoroughly enjoyed my early morning and late night rides through elm and maple-canopied streets.  I like the way the sidewalks all seem to have wheelchair-access ramps, and I like the way that no one objects to sharing the sidewalk with bicycles.

Londoners are very typically Canadian.  They are polite, they use irony in many economic exchanges, and they are neighbourly in a way that people from my oil-booming home town of Edmonton have forgotten.  On three occasions, strangers pursued me down the street to restore something that I had left or dropped.  Twice, it was because money had fallen out of my pockets.  The guy I bought a bus ticket out of town from cracked a really funny political joke about how my bus ticket would be used to profile me.  People still say “I’m sorry” a lot, like proper Canadians do when they mean “let’s pass each other without getting in each others’ personal space.”

The physical beauty of London is, to someone used to the utter industrial utilitarianism of Edmonton, a pleasure for senses.  Massive trees, dignified brick and stone buildings, old churches, a kind of attention to attractive detail make this Westerner envious.  Yes, I did pass grotesque, aesthetically-controlled (that is to say impoverished) mass suburbs under construction in the outlying reaches of the town.  I pity the people who are trading the aesthetics of the old town for that extra thousand feet of space and the three-car garage where they can store their internal combustion engines.

Our Edmonton contingent, comprised of three different theatre companies with crossover membership, brought five very divergent kinds of shows:  a small-cast new American classic, a satirical one-man show, a raucus collective creation that a friend of mine once described as “rock and roll theatre”, a drama about aging, and a very delicate and sensitive one-woman show about a Bosnian refugee.  Having all decided to apply for the London fringe (on the strength of the relative success of last year’s Letters In Wartime), we all had high hopes that these shows would find an audience that would more than pay for the expenses of traveling three thousand kilometers.

We were greeted and welcomed graciously by everyone.  Our London Fringe organizers and hosts could not have been kinder or more helpful.  Joe Belanger, of the London Free Press wrote a huge preview article that was focused on me and my collegues.  Our technicians at the two venues we used were excellent; I can’t say enough kind words about Stephen Mitchell at the McManus Studio; he was simply wonderful, helpful, and good humoured.   We placed posters in all the strategic places we could find, we tried to find opportunities to get the word out, we put the shows up, and waited for the audiences to appear.

To say they didn’t would be unfair.  There was a dedicated core of Fringe-goers who attended several shows.  Joe Belanger did yeoman work coming out to as many shows as he could in order to get the word out in the Free Press.  The volunteers not only served their time in lineups and ticket booths, they made a real point of coming into the theatre to see the shows that their labour was supporting.  But the critical mass of ticket-buying customers willing to lay down ten bucks (a very modest outlay, in 2013) and be taken to some imaginary world for an hour or so never materialized. Only one single performance of one of our five offerings put enough people in the theatre that they became, not a collection of individuals, but that vitally different entity, an audience.  That is to say, a group of people who breathe, respond, imagine with group consciousness.  Anyone who makes theatre for a living knows how important that critical mass is.  There is an energy in the room that is unique to theatre.  The full house differs from the sporadic audience in an exponential way.

And then there’s the problem of money.  And yes, it does boil down to money, sad to say.  “It’s Just The Fringe” is a phrase that doesn’t make sense to one who has spent as much of their life as I have making my summer’s living producing Fringe plays. Fringe is not an opportunity to indulge myself in a little theatre.  It is my way of making a living by my wits for four months of the year.  The hard fact is that, where amateurs (and I use that word in its strictly economic sense) can AFFORD to do Fringe for love, I do it, as I have for over forty years, for money.  Not much money, but enough to pay the bills.  So I wont be bringing work like this summer’s back to the London Fringe; I simply can’t afford it.  So although Anatolia Speaks was so generously received by Londoners, I won’t be taking that risk again.  Even with the honours it was done by the London public, as our most successful play this year, it just barely paid its expenses while we lost money on the other shows we presented.

This has happened to me only once in 30 years of fringing at a dozen festivals in Canada and the USA (in Toronto, of course, where I took the first episode of a trilogy about a Canadian Spitfire pilot, and resolved thereafter never to bother with that festival again). It’s a bit of a shock to the system.  My unfragile ego took a little correction.  The main point, however, isn’t about how one theatre artist feels.  The main point is that the London Fringe as an entity will have more trouble attracting artists from far afield to share their vision of the country, the world, or the human psyche.  I believe I share the whole Edmonton contingent’s feelings.  Great people, lovely city, economically unviable theatre-making.

I truly hope that London comes to embrace the Fringe, that young people in this city come to see theatre as something as sexy, as important, as stimulating as a blockbuster movie or a night at the pub.  It’s certainly no more expensive.  I hope that the brilliant Jason MacDonald continues to work his subversive theatre magic (he is, by the way, a real star on the Western fringe circuit). I hope the Fringe finds that central gathering area where you can put up a beer tent, and get people together chatting and arguing the merits of plays.  I truly believe the city would be a better place for it.  Close the damn screen and get out amongst your fellow citizens.  That’s what theatre is good for.

Maybe next year Sean Quigley and I will write a show together and we can have an excuse to visit, hang out, blather absurd Gaelic humour at one another on stage.  And hope to pay for Fringe fee and the airline ticket.  After 31 years, I’ll be back to being an amateur.

Kenneth Brown, June 2013