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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Thursday 26 November 2015

How #WelcomeHomeTO can help avoid this

If you live in Toronto and are interested in supporting the sponsorship and settlement of Syrian Refugees, you might be interested in this presentation by the Arab Community Centre of Toronto  (ACCT) happening December 2nd between 7:45 and 9:45 pm.

Of course, you might be interested in attending this presentation on the Syrian Refugee Crisis: Policy Options & Implications for Canada.  It's also happening December 2nd, between 7pm and 9pm.

You obviously can't do both though; they're happening at different places in town at the same time.

Competition is all well and good, but when we're looking at a national project, you want to maximize the opportunities, information and capacity for collaboration everywhere you can.  Having two related events happening at the same time is something that can and ideally should be avoided.

Did the two organizing teams know they were looking at the same time and space, and would end up competing for each other's attention?  I imagine not.

Could they have been?  Could whoever booked second have found out there was another related event happening at the same time on the same day and potentially picked a different time to book their event?

Can the people attending both events proactively share input and thoughts through a shared platform - or different platforms, but still have everything aggregated in one place?

You can see why something like the WelcomeHomeTO page at Shape My City could be useful.

Trudeau's quote

Far be it for a bafflegap like me to interpret the Prime Minister, but here's what I get from this:

The way to make good policy in Canada is to ensure it reflects the values, hopes and concerns we share as Canadians - in aggregate, which is what happens in a democracy, but also with respect to local concerns and realities.

If Team Trudeau makes all its policy choices in the same vein as they tackled the commitment to brining Syrian Refugees to Canada, we are going to see policy that better reflects Canadians as a nation and as communities.

Which is what "getting it right" looks like.

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Why I'm not fond of #WelcomeRefugees

I've spent a lot of time thinking about this, so please bear with me.

Canada welcomes countless New Canadians every year.  They are mothers and fathers, entrepreneurs and tradepeople, Muslims, Hindus, people of different sexual orientations and heights and political orientations and all the rest of it.

But they are never just one of these things.  No one ever is.

It's convenient for us to think about people this way - you're either of us, or not of us - but it's not accurate.

When we use simple phrasing like this, we unconsciously tend to view people through one lens, rather than seeing them as complex human beings with multiple facets.

If a person is something we are not - a Muslim, a Refugee, a Missing/Murdered Aboriginal Woman, a Mentally Ill Person - it becomes very easy to see them as a caricature of a person and romanticize who and what they actually are, as human beings.

This concept of viewing people as more than a label has really been driven home to me of late through Stories of Ours, a one-of-a-kind story telling series founded and run by the amazing Erin Kang.

Every story teller can be labelled as one "thing" - an immigrant, a refugee, a black man, a Korean-Canadian woman - but each story paints a picture of a complex human being that experiences life through every aspect of who they are and not just through what we opt to see them as.

Many of the stories are heartbreaking.  Some of them are inspiring.  Each of them uncovers the facets of an individual and, in doing so, reveals a new thread in the human tapestry.

I love the idea of welcoming Syrian refugees to Canada, and refugees from everywhere.  To me, Canada is a global Rivendell, a place where everyone can belong, thrive and contribute.  We don't evade problems - we turn them into opportunities.

Rest assured, many of the refugees who will soon be calling Canada home have incredible gifts to share, ideas to nurture and innovations to hustle.  They may open your next favourite restaurant, or develop your next favourite digital platform, or be your next Minister of Democratic Institutions.

I believe it's important to dig deep into the hardships these individuals have experienced, but also to not look at them as pity cases.  

They are refugees now, but what they will be moving forward is neighbours, partners, friends, family.

Which is why I picked the name #WelcomeHomeTO for my community support aggregation project

This isn't just about them coming here - it's about us welcoming them, as well.  Like a new family member.  Some day, they will be doing the same thing for other new Canadians.  It's what we've always done.

There's what we offer, there's what they offer, then there's what we build together - like a potluck, with Canada being the common ground for making the soup that's more than the sum of its ingredients.

I understand the intent behind #WelcomeRefugees but really, it's about more than refugees, and it's about more than the government's plan.

It's about people.  It's about stories.

That's what Canada has always had the potential to be, and only embraces when we recognize the individual and build the country collaboratively - not the toughest or wealthiest nation, but one that demonstrates what humanity can be at its best.

Take that into consideration when reading this:

The Russian people are smart.  They don't want to be taken as rubes by anyone - not NATO, not Putin.

There will be spin, rhetoric, baiting and switching.  Don't buy it.

Now, more than ever, it's time to hold your government to account for Russia's interests, not their own egos and ambitions.

Is it a "moral crusade" to take on insurgents in someone else's civil war - and in support of a regime that might be friendly, but openly hostile to its own people?

Monday 23 November 2015

Who said this?

Harper's Appointments: Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

And yet the outgoing Harper government made dozens of appointments in the dying days of their administration, some of which won't even go into effect until the just elected government's mandate is over.

Some people are really upset by this.

True, it's a pretty cynical play by former Team Harper; the goal is to extend their reach beyond their electoral mandate and to hamstring the new Trudeau administration some.  Perhaps they think that, by securing the positions of these appointees, they are owed something.

It doesn't really matter.  Here's why.

Team Harper's policy made it abundantly clear how they view people - fixed-in-stone, responsive only to threatening sticks or periodically, enticing carrots.  Tough on crime was all about locking up bad people, because bad is what they were and reform (ironically) isn't possible.  Harper's steadily increasing refusal to work with anyone not answerable to him reinforced this - compromise, persuasive arguments and inspiration simply weren't in his playbook.

To him and his inner circle, these appointments are his people, and will be expected to play to his tune.

Man, they're in for a big disappointment.

Trudeau's mandate letters to his Ministers - which, consistent with the culture of open he promised, were made public - make it clear that respect for the civil service is integral to their role.

Harper was top dog, the head of the fish - and as the saying goes, il pesce puzza dalla testa.

Trudeau so far isn't about being the head - he's about being the empower-er in chief.  He doesn't want to control from the top down, he wants to grow from the grassroots up - including from within the civil service.

Harper had his strategy and is relying on his appointments to serve his interests.

Trudeau is creating a culture of respect, trusting the civil service and inspiring them with vision.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast; altruism is selfishness that plans ahead.

Too bad for Harper he never learned that lesson.  His successor will have to.

Such is the nature of social evolution, isn't it?

Sunday 22 November 2015

World War III: Through a Mirror Darkly?

For the Ottoman front, with its Asian battlefields and global soldiers, turned Europe’s Great War into the First World War. 

A century from now, will history books (or links) talk about World War III as the summarizing title for the conflicts of our age, as the First World War was?

If so - how ironic is it that the spread of a Middle Eastern conflict into the West should be what justifies the title?

Especially considering the role the reverse played in leading to where we stand now?

So tell me - what's the difference between being a strong nation or history's actor if in the long game, we're simply stirring the pot or carrying on the same play?  That's not strength, that's short-sightedness.

The ISIL Cancer


ISIL is like a cancer - killing countless good people and causing structural harm to the entire body of humanity.  It has to be eliminated.

Having said that - ISIL is not a tumour that can be cut out and tossed away.  ISIL isn't a band of people, though people are its form - ISIL is an idea.

It's a bit like the Dark Side - you might slide into it for reasons that make somewhat rational sense and still be a semi-decent person, but what ISIL does to its members is corrupt them, dehumanize them, turn them into puppets.  And not of Allah, nor any force for good.

ISIL is the worst of humanity as described by Conrad in Heart of Darkness or Malan's My Traitor's Heart.

And, of course, ISIL exists in a landscape and context without which it would not be possible.

In 2009, Don Bolt compared Bashar al Assad to Michael Corleone - the kid from a bad family who had the potential for a good life, only was being sucked in.  Except of course, Assad has none of Corleone's guilty conscience.  He's a textbook psychopath.  

But he's also a piece in other state's games, ranging from Russia to Saudi Arabia and of course, the West.

Bashar is a dictator - one of many in the troubled history of the Middle East.  He sees the people as pawns to be manipulated for selfish gains and power as the ultimate win.  Kinda like what Europe did with the Sykes-Picot Agreement.  Two functionaries deciding the fate of a people they could care less about, for the good of their own team.

The threats in the Middle East seem to keep escalating in their reach, yet how many of them tie back to foreign intervention?  Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden provide two examples.  Time and again the West (and America in particular) has viewed itself as history's actors with places like the Middle East being the stage.  The First World, Second World and Third World frames were all about the good, the bad, and the manipulable.

Why are people from the West opting to join ISIL?  With this frame, it's easy to put all the blame strictly on the individual - they are bad people making bad choices, etc.  What it also does, though, is emasculate the state and the people.  Instead, we should ask what makes ours the best nation in the world to live, work and play?  Why do people actively want to be part of our society and accept the social rules by which we all live?

It's a bit like committing sociology, but committing sociology is a bit like preventative healthcare; it saves you a hell of a lot of trouble down the road and, ultimately, is cheaper too.

There are also the human beings suffering under the sadistic cruelty of the ISIL's stupid thugs.  These aren't one-note Muslim others, the extras in the movie that the good guy saves from the bad guy; these are people with education, lived experience, personal interests, aspirations, just like any people anywhere.  

They are our neighbours.  They have always been our neighbours.  

Would you suffer your neighbour to be taken from their home and subjected to torture for nothing other than the colour of their skin or for their religious beliefs?  Would you?

It's happened before.  It happens now, though we tell ourselves that black youth, or aboriginal women aren't quite like us, for if they were they wouldn't have the challenges they face.

ISIL is the worst of humanity - they believe in an end-game, which means whatever they do to get to that point is justified.  

They are cruel - they look at the people they kill and torture as playings, lesser-thans who exist on earth for their purposes.

They want a fight.  They are proactively picking fights that serve their purposes.

And they don't care about anything that rests outside their very narrow ideology.  You are either with them or against them; structural issues don't matter, ecological sustainability doesn't matter, the mental health of children, the physical health of the whole, none of that matters.  They are strong, we are weak, they will prevail, all they need to do is provoke us into a fight on their turf, on their terms.

The irony of course is that ISIL is writ large all the excesses they purport to be disgusted by in Western society.

We have seen ISIL before - in Rwanda, in the former Yugoslavia, in the Rape of Nanking and in Western colonization, in the Reign of Terror and in the Inquisition.

ISIL is merely the current name of the darkness within that has been with us since the beginning.

The actual body that is ISIL must be stopped, which is a much more complex process than containment and elimination.  History has taught us this, though we have yet to learn.

Ultimately, though, ISIL is a reminder of why we must always be vigilant, considerate of consequence and empathetic to our neighbours.

We are at our best when we stand together, becoming more than the sum of our parts.

Divide and conquer is the opposite of that.  Ignoring your neighbour is the opposite of that.

Until we internalize this lesson, ISIL - by whatever name it takes - will always be with us.