Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

Einstein got it right


Not only brilliant but wise, Albert Einstein was an active humanitarian with a reputation for compassion. When he was living in Princeton, working at the Institute of Advanced Study, people from around the world wrote to him asking for advice about their personal problems. (If he was around today, TV producers would probably hound him to host a talk show called something like “Dr. Al” or maybe just “Albert.”)


A rabbi wrote to Einstein,  saying that he could not console his 19-year-old daughter after her sixteen-year-old sister died. Einsteen sent him this reply:


“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “the Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.


“Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation, and a foundation for inner security.”


I don’t know if the rabbi found these words comforting, but I love them. I’ve had this quote  on my bulletin board for probably 20 years. It’s easy to grow preoccupied with our own daily struggles, forgetting that we are all part of a whole far more vast than our sense of “I.” It makes me think of the phrase “the One and the many,” a term used in SoulCollage, a process that I facilitate in creative workshops. Find out more on my website www.sunshinecoastsoulcollage.ca.

December 26, 2009 at 7:39 pm Comments (0)

Stephen Harper: ceding Canada’s sovereignty to the U.S.?!

In a different context and another country, some could call it treason. In his final address at the Copenhagen climate conference,  Prime Minister Stephen Harper abandoned any notion of Canadian sovereignty by announcing that our country’s climate-change-related policies and laws lie in the hands of the U.S. Talk about ceding responsibility for Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions and environmental future!


Harper’s  mention of a “harmonization” of Canada-U.S. policy tied his future decision-making as leader of an independent nation to a U.S. political process over which Canada has no influence whatsoever. It’s unlikely that he even consulted Obama before making this it’s-out-of-my-hands claim.


 Harper’s blithe tone and delivery, presented with an offhand smile, conveyed no sense of personal conviction or commitment to Canadian-defined initiatives that address global warming. He still doesn’t even embrace the scientific case for climate change.  


During the conference, Harper let his petro-bag man, Jim Prentice, Canada’s so-called Minister of Environment, represent our nation to the media and world. Harper, unable to fulfill the role of a true leader, was probably afraid that if he joined discussions, too many of his favourite words would spill out and spoil the atmosphere: Enbridge, Tar Sands, Exxon, Shell, and so on.


 Harper is probably betting that the U.S. Congress will decimate any bill that requires a reduction of emissions. That way, he can continue not only to steer his dear Tar Sands on their present course, but expand them. And hey, that would work so well with having a new Enbridge pipeline through north-central B.C.


Why have our media voices remained silent on this issue of ceding sovereignty? As my husband, a U.S. citizen, says: “If Obama had made a similar remark in Congress, there’d probably already be a move for impeachment.” Are we Canadians that passive?


Canada currently stands as the top foreign provider of oil to the U.S. In the future, we’re going to be the Saudi Arabia of water, expected to provide fresh-water resources to the United States and many nations without it. We can’t afford to have a leader who’s too willing to give up independent decision-making and sovereign power. We need someone who’ll protect our environment, national interests and Canada’s resources, not someone who likes to woo the oil and gas industry. Who will it be? Certainly no forceful contenders at the moment. Sigh.

December 19, 2009 at 1:13 pm Comments (0)

Season’s greetings


                                                     — Rae Ellingham photo

December 18, 2009 at 1:58 pm Comments (0)

A cat in good company


From feral to favorite . . . She’s gone from sleeping on a shelf in our garage to lounging on the couch at the Royal Canadian Legion in Roberts Creek.  Nina, the Legion’s adopted cat, now looks on with calm contentedness as members play pool or cribbage, watch hockey games, sing community Christmas carols, slurp beer, eat one of Tony’s delicious salmon burgers, and gossip with the locals from a bar stool.  Maybe she’ll forget how to chase rats.


My guess is she’ll never forget her wild roots.  My husband and I first encountered her as a feral cat in full stalking mode in our yard. She would not let us come near her. After she had a litter of kittens, the Happy Cat Haven in Gibsons somehow managed to round her up and have her spayed, bless ’em. Nevertheless, she continued to hang out in our garage and yard and still does. Sleeping under our wooden deck is one of her favorite spots.


We’re delighted that Nina now has an adoptive parent: Gail, the barkeep at the Creek Legion. She managed to woo Nina indoors with coos and a bowl of milk. Kudos to her.

December 18, 2009 at 12:47 pm Comments (0)

Canada: a global embarrassment at Copenhagen conference

I feel embarrassed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his poor showing for Canada at the world climate talks in Copenhagen. He didn’t even bother showing up to hear the speeches made by other world leaders expressing their concern about climate change. He clearly has no interest in threatening Alberta’s oil and gas industries or taking the Kyoto treaty seriously.


I’m glad that President Obama officially snubbed Harper at the conference. The U.S. President left him off his guest list for an emergency meeting with 19 other world leaders at the conference. This publicly acknowledges that Obama doesn’t view Harper as a serious decision-maker in the climate change debate. Now our prime minister won’t get to strategize with global players like Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd; British Prime Minister Gordon Brown; French President Nicolas Sarkozy; German Chancellor Angela Merkel; Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei; and Brazilian President Luiz Lula da Silva.


Go back to your sandbox, Harper. The big boys don’t want you in the game.


 Thanks to Harper, Canada deserves the Fossil of the Year award, presented in a mock ceremony at the Copenhagen conference by the activist group Avaaz. Because of his lack of action, Canada also deserves the two consecutive “fossil” awards from the Climate Action Network, which “honor’  the countries deemed to have done the least to control their greenhouse gas emissions.

What can we do? Vote him out of office. Stay informed. Write to your MP. Support environmental and advocacy groups that work to stop initiatives like the proposed Enbridge pipeline through northern B.C. and serve as watchdogs for Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. There are many climate-concerned organizations out there, from the David Suzuki Foundation and Climate Action Network to Pacific Wild and Forest Ethics.

December 18, 2009 at 11:36 am Comments (0)

Will Vancouver embarrass itself to the world?




                                                                                                                       — Heather Conn photos

Protesters in San Francisco demonstrate against Beijing’s 2008 Summer Olympics
and torch relay (April 2008)


With glossy new sports venues and millions of dollars’ worth of ads and merchandising, Vancouver looks poised to make the 2010 Winter Olympic Games a global success. But as the city prepares to host this mega-event, are Canada’s democratic traditions and ethics under threat? How do Olympic spending and initiatives relate to free expression, free assembly and democratic rights?


Any Vancouverite or visitor who publicly expresses anti-Olympic sentiment has faced, or will encounter, these chilling realities: censorship of anti-Olympic art; targeting for special policing and border control, and free speech limited to designated safe assembly areas  and protest pens. (See the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) website for more details.)


VANOC officials have received unofficial deputized powers to order the removal of visual materials that displease them or compete with the commercial interests of the Olympics’ corporate sponsors. Whether it’s the RCMP, Vancouver police or federal government officials at the Canada-U.S. border, authorities have created an oppressive atmosphere that tells us all: You have only as many civil liberties as we’re willing to grant you. We’ll tell you where and when and how you can voice discontent.


I find this extremely disturbing. Before or during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler, if someone dares hold up an anti-Olympics placard (as shown above) and they’re outside the so-called “free speech zones” will they be arrested? It appears so.


The BCCLA recommends the abolition of so-called “‘safe assembly areas” for anti-Olympic protesters and that undercover police be prohibited from inciting wrongful acts and from infiltrating and leading in the planning of protests. (Click here to see recommendations regarding the Olympics and protest made by the Civil Liberties Advisory Committee.)


Last year, thousands of protesters and Tibetans from across North America converged on San Francisco streets in April to protest the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing and the event’s torch relay through Tibet. Many bore placards of anti-Olympic sentiment, complete with images of the Olympic rings converted to tank wheels, handcuffs, and bloodied bodies. These powerful images symbolized China’s human rights abuses and its ongoing torture of Tibetans. The New York Times even published a series of images of such placards.


When it comes to human rights, freedom of assembly and free expression, do Vancouver and Canada have more in common with China than with other democratic nations and cities? What a shameful Olympic legacy.

December 15, 2009 at 8:58 pm Comment (1)

Hurray for local silliness — and practical pranks


Bus stop comfort?

Why stand at a bus stop when you can wait beside it in comfort, lounging on a couch or even sipping wine from a table with your sweetie? That seems to be the theory behind a year of practical pranks in Roberts Creek, BC, Canada and elsewhere on the Lower Sunshine Coast.


At many bus stops on the Sunshine Coast Highway between Gibsons and Sechelt  (a retirement haven for thousands of seniors), thoughtful residents have added a chair or two of their own for waiting passengers. These seats are no Antiques Roadshow specimens; they’re a delightfully eclectic collection, from your basic, boring white-plastic ones with hard backs to classy-looking, canvas chaise-lounges and even a few with padded fabric seats that almost look too good to give away.


Some people consider them eyesores, like the ugly couch above that appeared one morning by a Lower Road bus stop in the Creek . I heard about a table and two chairs with a bottle of wine added to one bus stop, but never saw them.


I like this whimsical addition to otherwise impersonal bus stops. It shows initiative and a flair for fun and gives character and comfort to the experience of waiting for a bus. Some local artists and photographers have even generated mugs and merchandising depicting some of these quirky seats. Hurray for these funky community chairs — maybe they’re a more inert form of public performance art.


I heard months ago that the Sunshine Coast Regional District wanted to remove them all. An official wooden bus stop seat with a protective overhang in our area supposedly costs $500. Keep the money. Let local residents provide seat support in their own ingenious way.

December 15, 2009 at 6:57 pm Comment (1)

What’s happened to free speech in Vancouver?

Excerpt from a B.C. Civil Liberties Association letter sent to Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and his city council:

“[W]e are losing confidence in your political will to ensure that all voices are heard during the Olympic period, despite your repeated assertions to the contrary.”


Freedom of speech is a fundamental right for all, but you’d never know it these days in Vancouver, BC, Canada. The city recently shut down a public art space, which has operated uninterrupted since 2003 in the downtown eastside, after an artist displayed an anti-Olympic painting deemed “graffiti.”


Jesse Corcoran, a downtown-eastside artist, hung his art on a horizontal, wooden board outside the Crying Room studio gallery at 157 East Cordova Street, part of the urban area known as “Canada’s poorest postal code.” It showed the five Olympic rings; four contained a sad face and one showed a smiling face.


Although the art was not painted directly onto the exterior brick wall, the city of Vancouver forced its removal on Dec. 11, calling the art “graffiti.” It had been hanging there since September.


“There needs to be freedom to critique the Olympics,” Corcoran told The Vancouver Sun. He thinks the graffiti excuse is “a convenient way to silence this social criticism.” I agree.


Corcoran, a community-care worker, said that his art symbolized the many people who will suffer as a result of the Olympics; only a few will benefit. The homeless have been displaced by the closure of popular Oppenheimer Park in east Vancouver.  Pigeon Park on East Hastings Street is fenced off for repainting and beautification. There are reports of city representatives rounding up the homeless, giving them tickets to board a bus, then driving them to suburban areas like Chilliwack and dumping them off. Whether that’s urban myth or not, it’s disgraceful.


Although Mayor Robertson has made shelter for the homelessness one of his priorities,  the city seems more interested in casting Vancouver during the Olympics as a beautiful haven with no ” taint” of panhandlers, people with mental-health issues or substance-use issues. This oceanfront city is  just a prosperous place with glossy new venues and thousands of happy, smiling people, right?


I think it’s ironic that Vancouver and VANOC have touted artists and their projects from around the world as part of this upcoming global event. They want to showcase the city as a great patron of culture and the arts, yet grassroots artistic self-expression such as Jesse’s gets quashed.


This sets a dangerous precedent against freedom of expression. As David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, has said: “This [removal of anti-Olympic art] is an excellent example of our worst fears.”


Meanwhile, Canada Customs officials at the B.C. border recently detained and grilled U.S. journalist Amy Goodman, accusing her of fomenting anti-Olympics sentiment. Find out the details on my blog; it’s the second item under Media.

December 14, 2009 at 1:15 pm Comments (3)

Are we doomed?: warnings from a 90-year-old

Remember James Lovelock? He’s the scientist-inventor who published Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth in 1969. Back then, he was a major voice in identifying Earth as a self-regulating organism. Well, now he’s 90 and this year, has published The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning. In it, he predicts that 80 per cent of the human population and most life on Earth won’t last out the century. That’s dire stuff.


By 2020, Lovelock predicts extreme heat — he prefers the term “global heating” to “climate change” — and widespread drought. He envisions cities left uninhabitable due to floods and desertification. He thinks that hundreds of millions of climate refugees will make mass migrations to colder areas like Scandinavia, Siberia, Canada’s north — and even the North Pole. (I envision a few skinny polar bears and huddles of frost-bitten people battling for the last ice floes.) In Lovelock’s view, resulting tensions and armed conflict will result in survivalist-style communities.


Lovelock thinks that rather than put so much effort into trying to stop climate change, we should be preparing for our possibly ugly circumstances in the future. His suggestions:

  • Put huge sun shades into space to prevent some sun from reaching Earth;
  • Use aerosol droplets into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight back into space;
  • Convert carbon-containing agricultural waste into charcoal and bury it underground. This would reportedly drastically cut down carbon dioxide emissions.

Many scientists pooh-pooh Lovelock’s ideas and consider his solutions unrealistic. He recognizes that, but thinks such geo-engineering solutions might help delay impending disaster. Whether he’s wacky or wise, at least he’s taking the threat of “global heating” seriously. To find out more, see the November/December issue of Ode magazine, a publication I recommend.


No more gloom and doom

I certainly accept the grim realities of climate change and its projected impact on our planet. Yet, that doesn’t mean we have to mire ourselves in depression and numb hopelessness.  I like the perspective of Jason Robinson, the CEO and founder of Sustainability Television (STV), an environmental web portal based in Vancouver, BC. He likes to promote progressive, supportive individuals, organizations and communities that focus on positive thought and sustainable solutions. He thinks that too many of our environmental stories perpetuate fear, negativity, and criticism. Sure, he acknowledges the severity of global warming, but doesn’t think that it should immobilize us.


Through Sustainability Television, Robinson wants to make messages of sustainable thought and practice available to all. He has created an accessible and vibrant online network that allows people to upload their own sustainability-minded videos or download STV material. Forget about media monopolies and limited broadcasting access. Teams of grassroots filmmakers, including Robinson, go out and shoot their own material and post it on the site.


Today’s youth are one of Robinson’s favored audiences. After all, they’re the next generation that will inherit our environment mess. This year, he has offered a youth media contest to encourage young filmmakers and writers to share how their community has created sustainable solutions, from starting a ban on plastic bags to collective composting. What are you and your community doing?


Check out the site at the link above. Become a member and discover like-minded, sustainable thinkers in your community. In the interest of full disclosure: I’m an STV member and I write for them.

December 10, 2009 at 1:14 pm Comments (0)

Buy local food in B.C.


                                                                                                                       — Heather Conn photo

Oh, that lawless lettuce and suberversive zucchini. Those red apple rebels. Did you know that new regulations in British Columbia, Canada strike at the heart of local farming and produce markets? They are taking the small-scale producer out of the province’s food-production system, leaving room for agribusiness and government slaughterhouses to dominate the market. So much for supporting the 100-mile diet.


The B.C. government now requires vendors at farmers’ markets  to submit applications, recipes, and completed lab tests before they can sell their food at market. Essentially, this makes anyone who peddles produce from their garden, whether it’s organic or not, an outlaw.


The province’s Meat Inspection Regulations (MIR), effective since Sept. 30, 2007, stipulate that only meat slaughtered in provincially or federally licensed facilities can be sold for human consumption. In other words, all B.C. farmers who raise cattle, chicken or sheep destined for family dinner tables, and sell such livestock from their property, do so illegally. That’s outrageous.


Even though I don’t support the mass slaughter of animals for human food and don’t eat such meat, I still believe that farmers have a right to sell directly what they produce. I come from several generations of dairy and produce farmers in Ontario. My sister and her husband raised and sold beef cattle in Quebec for years until it no longer remained financially viable.


British Columbia’s regulations have resulted in long-standing, high-quality meat producers in the province losing their farm status and suffering dramatic losses in revenue. Suddenly, their related equipment is useless. One former sheep producer says:


“I had 110 ewes in Langley and maintained 58 ewes in Kelowna since 1999. I sold all my lambs locally and could have sold more if I  had them. 

“In the fall of 2005, I sold off all my sheep as there was no way I could operate under the draconian and ridiculous new meat regulations introduced by our Provincial government. There are no qualifying slaughter houses in our area and it is not economical to transport the lambs to the Fraser Valley.”


The B.C. regulations are supposed to protect consumer health, presumably following the hysteria over mad cow disease and subsequent efforts to prevent the sale of affected meat and cattle. Yet, small, organic framers who raise free-range animals without antibiotics — the more healthy choice for buyers — cannot sell their meat under these new laws.


Today’s eco-savvy consumers want to eat low-stress, humanely treated animals. They want to buy fresh, organic produce from outdoor markets in their neighbourhood. But B.C.’s regulations now ensure that more animals than ever will die in huge slaughterhouses, with animals mixed from different farms. There w ill now be more people handling this meat, risking greater chance of disease transfer. Any meat recalls will now involve tons of meat, rather than the mere pounds that might have resulted from a small-scale producer.


The implementation of the MIR regulations stands in total contradiction to the provincial government’s own policies of climate-change initiatives, green and sustainable communities, and reduced vehicle emissions. This new system demands the transportation of livestock and produce over greater distances and increases concerns over food security.


What happened to those “Buy local” campaigns? A B.C. medical health officer said in a 2005 annual report:


“Buying locally produced food also makes it easier for consumers to trace exactly where their food comes from and how it is produced, improving confidence in the safety of the food system.”


At the federal level, the Codex Alimentarius is an attempt at similar but vastly more far-reaching regulations, which would make local vitamins illegal, for instance. Currently, Codex covers most of the food consumed in Canada; we’re one of 176 countries, including the U.S., under its domain.


In theory, Codex food safety guidelines aim to protect consumers. In reality, they serve to boost the profits of, and further entrench and legitimize, corporate products made by the pharmaceutical, pesticide, biotechnology, and chemical industries. Find out more at www.codexalimentarius.net and www.saveournaturalhealthproducts.ca.



Many thanks to the Farm Food Freedom Fighters on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast for providing the core of this information. One member, an earnest senior, told me that their group had difficulty registering the URL for their website because the web provider thought they were terrorists.


How can you help?

  • Write your local MLA.
  • Write to Premier Gordon Campbell: premier@gov.bc.ca or Room 156, Parliament Buildings, Victoria, V8V 1X4
  • Write to provincial Health Minister Hon. George Abbott: hlth.health@gov.bc.ca
  • Write to federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, minister_ministre@hc-sc.gc.ca 
  • Buy from local farmers at neighbourhood markets.

To find out how people in the U.S. are fighting back against similar regulations, please visit www.healthfreedomusa.org



December 5, 2009 at 5:49 pm Comments (0)

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