A Tale of Two Papers

 

Note: a modification of this article first appeared in

JustSayinCaledon.com

***

Like the classic Dickens’ novel begins:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.…”

Charles Dickens was talking about 1780’s Paris and London, but he could just as easily have included my little home town of Caledon. The best of times are when I meet some of the most intelligent, empathetic, talented people in the country right here in my own community. The worst of times are when I encounter the misogynist, racist, ignorant “good old boys” club ranting in a family restaurant (see my blog stories).

Recently, it was the best of times when the Town’s Integrity Commissioner handed down his ruling on the behaviour and actions of a certain Councillor. It was accepted by Council along with the necessary consequences. That should have been the end of the story. But then we were reminded about the worst of times, when a local newspaper pulled the scab off a wound that was just starting to heal.

We should be looking to an intelligent press to bring us valid community news, educate us ethically on critical issues of importance, and keep us informed of opportunities for public input into community matters that concern us. I would ask our citizens to judge the level of commitment to these goals as seen clearly this past week in the two local newspapers that serve our community.

To be fair, both community newspapers regularly give us advance notice of public meetings, by-law changes, and all notices distributed by the Town. Beyond that, they are as different as night and day. Take the April 20, 2017 issues for example.

One paper’s front page features a group of children taking part in an Easter egg hunt, with the cover story about a school closing; the other paper headlines: “Councillor docked pay in breach of Code complaints”, with that as the front page story. The difference in our two community papers couldn’t be clearer – one is “share and ahhh”; the other is “shock and awe.” As a Star reporter once told me when I challenged why there weren’t more good news stories on the front page, he answered, “It’s not our job to report every safe landing at Pearson.”

Our Easter Egg newspaper, let’s call it Paper One, seems to highlight good news, albeit still publishing a far right wing column by Claire Hoy, once dubbed “Bill O’Reilly north.”  The other paper, we’ll call it Paper Two, seems to have taken a more sensational approach to the news, and a more confrontational stand against the Town and our public servants.

For example, after the last public Town Council meeting, when the Integrity Commissioner handed down his ruling on the misbehaviour of a Town Councillor, prescribing pecuniary costs and a requirement for retraining, Paper Two asked the totally irrelevant and way past its due date for freshness question: “Do you think Coun. Shaughnessy is guilty of violating the Code of Conduct?” and for its readers to respond at editorial@caledonenterprise.com

WTF! Hold the Presses! The Report of the Integrity Commissioner is final. The Council has received the report. This is not up for discussion or a public commentary! Whether the generally uninformed public thinks the good Councillor is guilty or not is irrelevant. She has been judged and found wanting. Period. Move on.

Normally, asking the public to participate in any information gathering of the community pulse is a fine idea. But what happens when the question asked is both irrelevant and past its due date?

For example, “Do you think that the Archangel Lucifer was guilty of rebelling against God?” or “Do you think that Prometheus was guilty of stealing fire from the Olympian Gods?” or “Do you think that Donald Smith got drunk after he hammered the last spike to complete the Canadian Pacific Railway?”

Seriously, none of us were there and it was all a long time ago. Some days we’re in heaven, other days are hell, we have fire, and a railway runs coast to coast. Irrelevant and past due date. Move on.

What possible community good could be served by asking such a question of the Paper Two’s readership?  OK, if you have read the complete Report by the Integrity Commissioner, and if you fully understand the role of the Integrity Commissioner and the Ontario Ombudsman,  and if you have read every public document related to this case, and if you are aware that on April 30, 2015 the same Councillor was disciplined by Peel Region for similar misbehaviour and publically apologized (all on record with the Peel Region clerk), and if you were in attendance on the day the Report was handed down and received by Council, then maybe you can cast a legitimate YES or NO … but still irrelevant.

The Councillor has been found in violation of the Code of Conduct, and has been given the appropriate sanctions; she now has the choice to change behaviour or face more onerous repercussions.

Whether the newspaper survey thinks she is guilty or not doesn’t matter in the slightest. We deserve intelligent questions that are relevant and current. Otherwise we get garbage in, garbage out.

We deserve better!

***

Skid Crease, Caledon

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Preserve, Conserve, Renew

 

The year was 1969. I was in my second year of teaching in Canada when an American environmentalist named John McConnell proposed a global holiday to celebrate peace, justice and the integrity of creation. It was named, simply, Earth Day.  In October, 1969, at the National UNESCO Conference in San Francisco, McConnell announced his intention to organize a worldwide awareness campaign to honour the diversity of life on Earth.

The organizers selected March 21, the vernal equinox, the return of the light and a renewal of life in our little corner of the Northern Hemisphere. That day, in the city of San Francisco, McConnell made the first Earth Day Proclamation about the need to preserve, conserve, and renew the threatened ecosystems upon which all life on Earth depends.

Those were heady days for the emerging environmental movement in North America. Acid rain, oil spills, topsoil erosion, groundwater depletion, contamination of the oceans, and air pollution dominated the headlines. The passion for change was thick in the air as we demanded social justice, nuclear disarmament, and environmental literacy. They truly were the days of peace, love, and groovy. I missed Woodstock, but my Grade Five class added their voices to that first Earth Day Proclamation, still celebrated today on March 21 by the United Nations.

At the same time that McConnell was organizing, a young American law student named Denis Hayes was conscripted by Senator Gaylord Nelson to organize the first Earth Day marches in the United States on April 22 to coordinate with Arbor Day.

“The objective was to get a nationwide demonstration of concern for the environment so large that it would shake the political establishment out of its lethargy,” Senator Nelson said, “and, finally, force this issue permanently onto the national political agenda.” It succeeded beyond his expectations, Millions joined in celebratory marches across the U.S.A. and Canada, my class included, to demand an end to unsustainable exponential economic growth.

It was the beginning of massive arbor day tree plantings, garbage-less lunch campaigns, recycling programs, and resource conservation projects from classrooms to business offices.

In June 1970 McConnell created the Earth Day Proclamation for worldwide use and awareness. The Earth Day Proclamation declared the principles and responsibilities the signers undertook to care for the Earth. It was signed by 36 world leaders, including UN Secretary General U Thant, Margaret Mead, John Gardner and others. The last signature by Mikhail Gorbachev was added in 2000.

Earth Day indeed had increased environmental awareness in America, and in December 2, 1970 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established by special executive order to regulate and enforce national pollution legislation. On April 22, 1990, the 20th anniversary of Arbor Earth Day, more than 200 million people in 141 countries participated in celebrations.

Few remember though, that it was the partnership of John F. Kennedy and Rachel Carson that tilled the soil that would become our Earth Days. When Kennedy championed Silent Spring and defended Carson against the rage of the chemical industry, it began to stir an awareness across North America that it was time to get informed, stand up and speak out for the defense of our Home Planet. In 1963, Congress passed the Clean Air Act to deal with cross-border pollution from the Ohio valley into the Great Lakes and Canada. The war on acid rain had begun in earnest, and Big Coal was not happy.

On, November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Barely six months later, on April 14, 1964, Rachel Carson died of cancer. The seeds of our modern environmental awareness had been planted and they germinated in 1970 with our two Earth Day celebrations. Perhaps these two days are as much a tribute to Kennedy and Carson as to Earth. They serve as a constant reminder that greater love hath no one than this.

These Earth Days should remind us of the sacrifices made by women and men  around the world, like the legendary Gaura Devi of India’s Chipko (tree-hugging) movement, or Wangari Maathai of Kenya sowing seeds of hope across Africa, or Lois Gibbs of Niagara Falls, New York, who exposed the toxic wastes of the Love Canal, or Jacques Cousteau and Sam Labudde and Rob Stewart who fought for the sanctity of our ocean ecosystems, or Jeton Anjain of the Marshall Islands, sick to death with cancer, fighting to expose the dangers of nuclear waste and nuclear war.

This is what our Earth Days are about. It’s a lot more than planting one little sapling that may not make it through the summer, but looks good in a political photo-op with smiling children. It’s about speaking truth to power. It’s about campaigning for the security of the EPA, The same EPA that brought us the Clean Air Act and is now threatened with castration by Donald Trump and Scott Pruit. It’s about making certain that Kevin O’Leary never becomes a candidate for political leadership in Canada. It’s about standing up to hate speech and hateful actions that bring fear and division into our lives and thoughts. It’s about supporting the building of sustainable communities, of learning how to live elegantly with less, of realizing at last that, as E.F. Schumacher tried to teach us years ago, that “Small is Beautiful” in home and national budgets.

Earth Days are a celebration of participatory democracy, honouring the responsibility of a people to protect their families, their communities, their environment. A wise mentor once told me, “You know, we have no rights without responsibilities first. I do not have the right to clean water unless I make sure I’m not putting any pollutants into the global chain. I don’t have the right to breathe clean air if I leave my SUV idling to keep my winter heat up, or my summer air conditioning on.”

Game on. Time to accept our individual and collective responsibilities and truly celebrate the miraculous beauty of our Home Planet in words and deeds and responsible political actions.

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Defending the Indefensible

This article first appeared in:

http://JustSayinCaledon.com

***

Unless we have been on a long spiritual walkabout, what has preoccupied most of our black mirror moments these past few months, to paraphrase Nero, has been watching America churn while Donald tweeted. The best shows on screen right now are the newscasts covering the untruths, alternative truths, spins and outright lies of the enablers of the megalomaniac man-child on the throne to our south.

As a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists, I take my fact-checking and reporting very seriously. Without honesty in words there can be no truth among people. So it grieved me greatly, while sitting behind the media desk at the April 18/17 Council meeting in my little Town of Caledon, to see a public delegation try to spin the clear violations of the council’s Code of Conduct by one of our Councillors as if they were appropriate, even admirable, behaviours. Listening to the words of the delegations was like listening to Sean Spicer try to defend Donald Trump.  When you do so, you lose all credibility, as did the public delegations at Council that day.

Now, a little background is necessary here. Rurban municipal councils can be fractious at times. We have the country mouse sparring with the city mouse over development and growth issues, over the Greenbelt versus the Whitebelt, over agricultural lands versus employment lands versus residential infilling. One thing I can say for certain about Caledon is that we do not want it to look like Brampton or Mississauga. Hazel McCallion paved paradise and put up a parking lot. (You were right, Joni.)

In Town Councils, as issues become complex and perspectives collide, discussions can get heated. The mice begin to spar and tempers can rise, so we have a Code of Conduct to govern their behaviour. Every new Councillor gets the Code when they take office. Some read it, comprehend it, and apply it. Some don’t. Every new Councillor also attends a training day learning about procedures and policies that govern municipalities from the Municipal Act on down. Some get it. Some don’t.

So if a Councillor is belligerent, temperamental, uses abusive language, issues racial slurs, is intimidating to Town staff, and appears to be ill-informed at Council meetings it raises flags of concern. And if that same Councillor is described by friends as rude, offensive, aggressive and behaving like a bull in a china shop, it sets off the alarm bells.

Unfortunately, on Caledon Town Council, such a situation developed. Following all of the proper procedures, concerned staff made their complaints to the Town’s Integrity Commissioner who did the appropriate investigation and prepared a report. At the Council meeting for the Town of Caledon on April 18, 2017, the Councillor in question was the subject of the Town’s Integrity Commissioner’s Report.

The Report from the Integrity Commissioner was submitted and accepted by Council that day. It prescribed pecuniary punishment and further disciplinary action should the behaviours of the Councillor in question not improve. Unfortunately, after the meeting, the Councillor defiantly stated in a press release that the behavior would not change. Hmmm … let me see … if I keep driving 80 km/h in a 40 km/h school zone, do you think I’ll get another speeding ticket?  OMG – no, you’ll get the Good Citizen of the Year Award!

Look, it’s like the old cautionary tale about arriving at a party more than a little tipsy. When the first person you bump into says, “You’re drunk. Take a taxi home,” you might be able to laugh it off. When the second person you bump into says, “You’re drunk. Take a taxi home,” you might be able to laugh that off too. But when the third person you bump into says, “You’re drunk. Take a taxi home,” … you’re drunk. Take a taxi home.

When a multitude of Councillors and Town staff are making the same observations about the negative behaviours of another member of their team, that member is clearly out of line. Apologize, change your behaviours, and become a positive member of the team.

The other thing that disheartened me for the future of an intelligent productive democracy were the appeals of the delegations to the qualities of the Councillor in question. They were classic nuggets:

“Defender of the taxpayer!” “Asks the tough questions!” “Champion of the little guy!”

Whoa … I’m getting that populist el-toro-pooh-pooh glow right now. Taking a trip to overseas conferences on the taxpayer’s dime and months later still not reporting back to colleagues or community on the learnings that apply to Peel Region and Caledon is not “defending the taxpayer.” Asking questions that are not informed or relevant is indeed tough … yes, tough to understand. Real champions do their homework, train hard, come to the game prepared to play respectfully, and fully support their team.

When a delegation blames the CAO, the Integrity Commissioner, and the other Councillors for their misfortune, it reminds me of Trump blaming his debate losses on the microphone, the moderator, and the other candidate being better prepared. Yes – he lost because the other candidate was better prepared! WTF! It’s like a student I once knew who complained bitterly during a graduation ceremony, “How come all the smart kids get the awards?”

The public delegations in themselves were redundant for one simple reason. The report of the Integrity Commissioner is final. Their attempts to praise the councillor in question, and blame everyone else for the violations of the Council Code of Conduct were absurd in the extreme. And the public delegations would not even have been on the agenda had not another Councillor, forgetting that you get known by the company you keep, held up the automatic acceptance of the Report, thus permitting the delegations to Spicer up the Council meeting.

There is a term to use when you get into trouble and blame everyone else and don’t accept personal responsibility – it’s called “narcissistic personality disorder”. It’s like those bully-boy pick-up truck drivers who park diagonally across two Accessible Parking spots, leaving the truck running on a hot summer day, so they can run into the variety store to pick up a copy of the Sun and some cigarettes. I’m so special. Yes, but the Accessible Parking spots are for the physically challenged

We deserve better behaviour from our citizens and our elected officials.

Like the old Trail Master used to say when the Conestoga wagons got stuck in the mud:   “Either get out and push, or get out.”

***

Skid Crease, Caledon

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Earth Days 2017 … in the beginning

The year was 1969. I was in my second year of teaching in Canada when an American environmentalist named John McConnell proposed a global holiday to celebrate peace, justice and the integrity of creation. It was named, simply, Earth Day.  In October, 1969, at the National UNESCO Conference in San Francisco, McConnell announced his intention to organize a worldwide awareness campaign to honour the diversity of life on Earth.

The organizers selected March 21, the vernal equinox, the return of the light and a renewal of life in our little corner of the Northern Hemisphere. That day, in the city of San Francisco, McConnell made the first Earth Day Proclamation about the need to preserve, conserve, and renew the threatened ecosystems upon which all life on Earth depends.

Those were heady days for the emerging environmental movement in North America. Acid rain, oil spills, topsoil erosion, groundwater depletion, contamination of the oceans, and air pollution dominated the headlines. The passion for change was thick in the air as we demanded social justice, nuclear disarmament, and environmental literacy. They truly were the days of peace, love, and groovy. I missed Woodstock, but my Grade Five class added their voices to that first Earth Day Proclamation, still celebrated today on March 21 by the United Nations.

At the same time that McConnell was organizing, a young American law student named Denis Hayes was conscripted by Senator Gaylord Nelson to organize the first Earth Day marches in the United States on April 22 to coordinate with Arbor Day.

“The objective was to get a nationwide demonstration of concern for the environment so large that it would shake the political establishment out of its lethargy,” Senator Nelson said, “and, finally, force this issue permanently onto the national political agenda.” It succeeded beyond his expectations, Millions joined in celebratory marches across the U.S.A. and Canada, my class included, to demand an end to unsustainable exponential economic growth.

It was the beginning of massive arbor day tree plantings, garbage-less lunch campaigns, recycling programs, and resource conservation projects from classrooms to business offices.

In June 1970 McConnell created the Earth Day Proclamation for worldwide use and awareness. The Earth Day Proclamation declared the principles and responsibilities the signers undertook to care for the Earth. It was signed by 36 world leaders, including UN Secretary General U Thant, Margaret Mead, John Gardner and others. The last signature by Mikhail Gorbachev was added in 2000.

Earth Day indeed had increased environmental awareness in America, and in December 2, 1970 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established by special executive order to regulate and enforce national pollution legislation. On April 22, 1990, the 20th anniversary of Arbor Earth Day, more than 200 million people in 141 countries participated in celebrations.

Few remember though, that it was the partnership of John F. Kennedy and Rachel Carson that tilled the soil that would become our Earth Days. When Kennedy championed Silent Spring and defended Carson against the rage of the chemical industry, it began to stir an awareness across North America that it was time to get informed, stand up and speak out for the defense of our Home Planet. In 1963, Congress passed the Clean Air Act to deal with cross-border pollution from the Ohio valley into the Great Lakes and Canada. The war on acid rain had begun in earnest, and Big Coal was not happy.

On, November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Barely six months later, on April 14, 1964, Rachel Carson died of cancer. The seeds of our modern environmental awareness had been planted and they germinated in 1970 with our two Earth Day celebrations. Perhaps these two days are as much a tribute to Kennedy and Carson as to Earth. They serve as a constant reminder that greater love hath no one than this.

These Earth Days should remind us of the sacrifices made by women and men  around the world, like the legendary Gaura Devi of India’s Chipko (tree-hugging) movement, or Wangari Maathai of Kenya sowing seeds of hope across Africa, or Lois Gibbs of Niagara Falls, New York, who exposed the toxic wastes of the Love Canal, or Jacques Cousteau (France) and Sam Labudde (U.S.A.) and Rob Stewart (Canada) who fought for the sanctity of our ocean ecosystems, or Jeton Anjain of the Marshall Islands, sick to death with cancer, fighting to expose the dangers of nuclear waste and nuclear war.

This is what our Earth Days are about. It’s a lot more than planting one little sapling that may not make it through the summer, but looks good in a political photo-op with smiling children. It’s about speaking truth to power. It’s about campaigning for the security of the EPA, the same EPA that brought us the Clean Air Act and is now threatened with castration by Donald Trump and Scott Pruit. It’s about making certain that Kevin O’Leary never becomes a candidate for political leadership in Canada. It’s about standing up to hate speech and hateful actions that bring fear and division into our lives and thoughts. It’s about supporting the building of sustainable communities, of learning how to live elegantly with less, of realizing at last that, as E.F. Schumacher tried to teach us years ago, that “Small is Beautiful” in home and national budgets.

Earth Days are a celebration of participatory democracy, honouring the responsibility of a people to protect their families, their communities, their environment. A wise mentor once told me, “You know, we have no rights without responsibilities first. I do not have the right to clean water unless I make sure I’m not putting any pollutants into the global watershed. I don’t have the right to breathe clean air if I leave my SUV idling to defrost the winter cold, or air condition away the summer heat.”

Like the bumper sticker says, “A good planet these days is hard to find.”  Let’s try our best to leave this one in good shape for generations of living things yet to come. Happy Earth Days.

***

Skid Crease is an accredited member of the Canadian Association of Journalists, an author, and a lifelong educator currently living in Caledon, Ontario.

 

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Singing in the Rain

This past weekend, at Springwater Provincial park near Barrie, Ontario, I had the privilege of guiding children and teachers into the miracle of creation – this natural world that exists outside of our cell phones and black mirrors.

I had the  opportunity to learn from Jacob, with his seeds of hope message, and a practical way to teach the next generation, and the current. about the life and heart connection between these tiny seeds and the sustainability of life on Earth.

I  met Caitlin, a graduate student of the wonderful Outdoor Education program at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Here was a young woman, skills in every outdoor pursuit imaginable, just waiting for the chance to teach. Waiting for an education system to catch up

I got to teach once again with  my “crazy” Bonnie  who I have worked with for over thirty years, who has never lost her enthusiasm or passion for teaching outdoors. Here is an educator who wears  her heart on her sleeve and lets her enthusiasm come out for wonder in every word. It made my heart heal.

When will we realize that it is punishment to put thirty healthy young bodies sitting on plastic chairs, behind plastic desks, reading from colonial history in textbooks for 190 days   a year for six hours a day.  And we call it “education“. Then, on their seventeenth birthday we “graduate” them,  and say, “Good Luck!. Good luck finding a job. Good luck finding partner for life, Good luck managing your finances for retirement. We didn’t teach you any of these things, although we had a dozen years to do so, but Good Luck!”

And then we hand them the steering wheel, and say, “You know, we never really taught you how to drive, but … good luck.”

Perhaps,  with School Boards taking the initiative from leaders like Superintendent Paula Murphy and staff like Sandy Clee and her team that support Outdoor and Experiential Education, perhaps we can nurture our children. Perhaps they will learn how to drive safely into the next generation.

Hope springs eternal, as it did at Springwater Provincial Park with a full generation “Singing in The Rain.”

****

Skid Crease, Caledon

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