Heather Conn Blogs

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In the wake of the passage of Bill C-38: “A moment of alchemy beckons”


Jamie Biggar and Julia Pope of Leadnow.ca address crowd in Sechelt last week

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is the best thing that ever happened to activism in Canada, says Leadnow.ca spokesperson Jamie Biggar.


“He’s over-reaching catastrophically for his own causes,” Biggar told about 100+ Sunshine Coasters at the Seaside Centre in Sechelt, BC last week. “He’s the greatest organizing opportunity. People understand this.”


But more about that later.


Today, I mourn the passage of federal Bill C-38 and all that it means to Canada’s democratic process, environmental future, and habitat protection. (I won’t recap these issues here, since media pundits have already thoroughly covered them.)


Last week, I joined dozens of concerned Sunshine Coasters to hear Leadnow.ca activists Jamie Biggar and Julia Pope ask: “What does YOUR Canada look like?” The visiting duo, rooted in a vision of hope, positive action, and collective organizing, asked the crowd to each write down a personal view of Canada, articulating the values and traditions that have made the nation special to our hearts. Biggar then urged us to mail these handwritten notes to our local MP John Weston and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.


I dutifully complied, easily stating the qualities that have made me proud of Canada, from its tradition of an open democratic process to freedom of speech and dissent. I mailed my letter to Weston the next day. Yet, it was obvious when reading Weston’s subsequent editorials in local media, in direct response to the correspondence that he had received, that he has neither truly listened to, nor respected, his constituency.


The paternalistic tone of his writings essentially insisted that Bill C-38 will help the environment. He did not once acknowledge the validity of any countering viewpoint; his opinion pieces, instead, held this implied thread: “Listen, you poor misguided souls: The sooner you realize that I know best and will move ahead regardless, the easier it will be for all of us.”

Biggar inspires an audience of multi-ages at Seaside Centre

At the Sechelt gathering full of activist spirits (with regular faces like George Smith, Rick O’Neill, Jack Stein, Caitlin Hicks and others) it was easy to feel hopeful about the power of group action and speaking out. Yet, what struck me visually as I sat on the aisle next to the audience’s microphone were the number of white-haired seniors in the audience. Indeed, they were the majority, embodied in the leadership of Jef Keighley, chair of the Sunshine Coast Senior Citizens.


These seniors weren’t radical naysayers and hippie extremists, as Weston likes to portray anyone who disagrees with his stance on the environment and other positions. Weston, this is what democracy looks like.


“The energy is out there,” said Biggar, who refered to online and on-site activist momentum as “a wave.” “We built a surfboard for that wave.”


Buoyed by Biggar’s praise – he said that the Sunshine Coast’s rally at Weston’s office the week before had been the best turnout (200 people) in the country, along with the Yukon’s, of 75 similar actions nation-wide – the group agreed to form an alliance of diverse activist groups on the Coast.


“You’re an inspiration for the rest of the country,” said Biggar.


I think that such action is essential and I applaud it. Yet, when I consider how patently Harper and Weston ignore the voices of grassroots democracy and public process and discourse – even in our highest political body, federal Parliament – I grieve for this country. As Canada’s current stance at the Rio+20 summit reinforces, at the political level of official decision-making, our nation is going backwards.


“There’s been a fundamental eruption in our democracy,” said Biggar. “It was a rupture, a wound. We’re trying to go back to that moment and heal that fabric of democracy.”


Today’s democratic protest movement needs more youthful energy, said many people at the Sechelt event. They’re the ones who are media and technology savvy and can easily use social media as communication and organizing tools. (A few students from Elphinstone Secondary were present.) That’s why groups like Leadnow.ca and visionary catalysts like Biggar need our support.


For next steps, Biggar offered his own suggestions and those he recapped after listening to speakers at the mike:

  • Make moveon.org a good model for action. This U.S. group built “democratic muscle” against the Iraq war, as one success story.
  • Use “unscripted opposition” (not protest form letters) because it’s more vigorous and can change political calculations.
  • Build a community of activists. Engage people face-to-face and integrate art and fun into public actions.
  • Ask young people what they care about.
  • “You need to ask for what you want and back it up with mobilization.”


Biggar reminded us: “Success looks like changing the national conversation.” He added: “We want you to be powerful. It is a moment of alchemy. It’s time to meet the anti-democratic with a groundswell of democratic revitalization.”


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June 21, 2012 at 6:34 pm Comments (0)

A baker’s dozen of Tory MPs can stop Bill C-38

                                                                                                — Jef Keighley photos

Day-of-Action participants at John Weston’s office in Sechelt

It used to be in Canada that if you had a black mark against your name, it meant that you were on the do-not-admit list. Not anymore. Now it means that you can run the country — and ignore core democratic principles like freedom of speech.


On this day of information blackouts by progressive media to protest Harper’s unscrupulous Bill C-38, I feel compelled to speak out. As we know by now, our prime minister is trying to ram through, at the highest level of this nation, a host of new regulations in his Blackmark Budget, with limited debate and discussion, that will fulfill his too-obvious agenda: to get the Northern Gateway pipeline built as quickly and easily as possible, and to silence the groups and individuals who disagree with this plan.

Bill Forst, past president of the Sunshine Coast Teachers’ Association, speaks to those in Sechelt gathered to protest Bill C-38

High-profile folk like activist David Suzuki, federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May, and Liberal leader Bob Rae have villified this 450-page omnibus budget Bill that takes aim at anyone who doesn’t fit the Conservative party agenda of economy and profit above all else.

The Bill is designed to weaken environmental protection and fisheries laws, make it easier to launch major natural resources projects, and eliminate the watchdog that monitors the activities of Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. It is also geared to zero in on, and stop, the political activities of non-profits (read environmental groups) that speak out against the Northern Gateway project and other earth-destructive projects. Basically, if you love the planet and this province, you’re Harper’s enemy.

Thankfully, Canadians have collectively spoken out against this outrageous abuse of their democratic freedoms. Two days ago (June 2), they gathered in a Day of Action at 75 locations across the country at Conservative MPs’ offices, in conjunction with Leadnow.ca.

Here on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast, about 200 people, including the region’s NDP MLA Nicholas Simons and Sechelt councillor Alice Lutes, rallied against Bill C-38 at the Sechelt constituency office of Conservative MP John Weston.

Local NDP MLA Nicholas Simons addresses the crowd

“Bill C-38 changes and/or eliminates some 70 pieces of federal legislation, the majority of which have nothing whatsoever to do with the budget,” says Jef Keighley, chair of the Sunshine Coast Senior Citizens and lead organizer of the Sunshine Coast protest.


This nation-wide stand against Bill C-38 had three purposes, says Keighley:


  • to make sure that Canadians are aware that the Bill contains a sweeping agenda to remake Canadian society that goes against most citizens’ interests and values;


  • to rally Canadians to stand against the Bill before it puts a black mark on our democracy


  • and to find 13 Conservative MPs who will represent their constituents and stop the Bill.


“It will take 13 Conservative MPs to make it impossible to pass the Bill without changes,” says Keighley. He and others are calling on a baker’s dozen of Tory MPs to divide the Bill into reasonable components and start over. That way, prior to the Bill’s third reading, the appropriate parliamentary committees can share reasoned discussion and debate, inviting Canadians to help them make laws that work better for all of us. That’s what democracy’s all about, right?

Roberts Creek activist Caitlin Hicks reaffirms the need to defend democracy in Canada

Our freedom of speech is on the line. As a Canadian citizen, you can help to ensure that our fundamental democratic laws, practices, and principles do not disappear under Stephen Harper’s efforts to squelch dissent. You can stop Bill C-38 and Harper’s “culture of bullying and intimidation,” to use Bob Rae’s words.


If you’re on the Sunshine Coast, write a letter (not an email) to John Weston and ask him to vote to divide up Bill C-38 so that our elected officials can debate and discuss its components separately. (Weston’s constituency office is 207 – 5760 Teredo Street, Trail Bay Centre, Sechelt, BC, V0N 3A0.) We deserve this kind of democratic representation – not Harper’s form of autocratic power.


Here’s a sample letter, written by Jef Keighley:

Dear _________:

Please Vote to Divide Bill C-38

I am writing you as a concerned Canadian who values and respects the traditions of our representative democracy and the processes of debate and decision of Canada’s Parliament.

Bill C38, the 450 page omnibus budget bill that is seeks to amend and/or eliminate some 70 pieces of federal legislation, the majority of which has precious little to do with budgetary matters, is the most sweeping set of changes in Canadian parliamentary history.  Many of us take issue with the content of the proposed changes, but we also take issue with the hurried process and limited debate.  It seems designed to ensure that the vast majority of MPs and Canadians will not know or understand the impact of those changes until after they are made law after the imposition of closure.

In 2005 Stephen Harper, then Opposition Leader, in response to the 120 page budget bill under Prime Minister Paul Martin said “How can members represent their constituents on those various areas when they are forced to vote on a block of such legislation?’  Harper was right to voice those sentiments then and the call of all of the opposition parties to divide C-38 into its component parts for debate by the appropriate parliamentary committees prior to third reading is the right and fair thing to do now.

As a constituent I am not asking you to express opposition to the content of Bill C-38, but I am asking that you respect our parliamentary traditions and vote to divide Bill C-38 so that MPs and Canadians can know the content and intention of the proposed changes prior to third reading.  Otherwise, MPs will be voting blind and Canadians will be kept in the dark, and that will truly make Bill C-38 a blackmark budget.

I look forward to your positive response.


For those on the Sunshine Coast, a gathering is planned on June 14 at 7 p.m. at the Seaside Centre in Sechelt, led by Lead now representative Jamie Biggar.


If you live elsewhere in Canada, speak out, stay informed, and write your local Conservative MP. Demand a change and return to participatory democracy. Check out the Lead now website.

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June 4, 2012 at 10:19 pm Comments (3)

Grief as revolution: Are you ready to be subversive?

“Not success. Not growth. Not happiness. The cradle of your love of life is death.”

—  Stephen Jenkinson


Can you read that phrase without wincing or wondering what it means? It challenges many beliefs and philosophies upheld in popular western culture.


In the hospice volunteer training that I’m currently taking, we received a handout with a list of statements about grief. The two comments that most tugged at me were “Grief is a way of knowing. It is not an affliction” and “The willingness to suffer out loud is a gift.”


That last one especially confronts most tenets of western society: Don’t cry.  Get over it and move on. Don’t be sad, and so on. How many of us truly have the courage to let grief envelop us and receive any gifts that it might share?


That is what we’re slowly learning to do as hospice volunteers. Stephen Jenkinson, the star of the National Film Board’s Griefwalker, is head of palliative care counselling at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital. He offers the notion of grief as revolution:


“What if grief is a skill, in the same way that love is a skill, something that must be learned and cultivated and taught? What if grief is the natural order of things, a way of loving life anyway?


“Though addicted to security, comfort and managing uncertainty, our culture could learn to honour, teach and live grief as a skill, as vital to our personal, community and spiritual life as the skill of loving. In a time like ours, grieving is a subversive act.”


I love that approach. Rather than face grief with shame, apology, and embarrassment, we could embrace it like a much-loved friend, as cherished as life itself.


An excellent book of inspiration in this area, which we’re using in our training, is Alan Wolfelt’s The Handbook for Companioning the Mourner (Companion Press, Colorado, 2009). Wolfelt, a doctor who serves as director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado, says: “Surrendering to the unknowable wilderness of grief is a courageous choice, an act of faith, a trust in God and in oneself.”


Decades ago, amidst tremendous trauma, I faced my own grief in its deepest and most despairing form. That experience, which lasted for months, enabled me to open and heal a part of myself that might otherwise have stayed frustrated and suppressed for years. As a result, I can now offer greater empathy and compassion to others who are grieving.


As a new hospice volunteer, I hope that I will be able to provide a loving and understanding presence for someone else to feel safe and trusting enough to open to raw, death-related sorrow. This is true soul work that heals us all.

My training is through the Sunshine Coast Hospice Society in Davis Bay, BC. If you’d like to volunteer at this centre, call 604-740-0475 or email coasthospice@gmail.com.

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June 1, 2012 at 11:07 am Comments (2)