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What the Canada Games got right (and what we should do with that information)

March 2 2015 |


Alright, I just got back from the final performance in the Canada Games Plaza, after seventeen days of sports, music, and fireworks. I’m sure in the weeks ahead there will be plenty of discussion of the good, bad, and ugly of the past two-and-a-half weeks but here, in the aftermathy buzz of excitement, are some things that I think went right with the Games and what we, the people of Prince George, should do with that information:

1. Showcase local talent

The Games far exceeded my expectations on this one. I really expected the musical offerings to be lower-level top 40 CanCon. There’s nothing wrong with lower-level top 40 CanCon per se, but having night after night of critically acclaimed Canadian musicians was way better. And the cherry on top was the huge showcase given to local and regional musicians. Bright City Heights of Prince George, Rosewood’s Diary of Vanderhoof, Jerusha White of Fort St James, King Crow and the Ladies from Hell of Terrace, Doug Koyama of Quesnel… all names familiar to people keyed into the local festival circuits but unknowns for the vast majority of people in this city and virtually everyone visiting from out of town.

The Games (in conjunction with the Coldsnap Music Festival) took their massive platform and opened it up to these relative unknowns, exposing them to new audiences and, in turn, audiences to new listening experiences hidden right in their own backyard. It would have been really easy to just get Hedley to play the opening ceremonies, but the Games went with Black Spruce Bog and it made everything that much more special. Future event organizers, take note: you don’t need to import great talent.

2. Put the Lheidi T’enneh front and centre

We’ve already established that when a bunch of kids sang “Oh Canada” in Dakelh I got tears in my eyes. But man, has it been great seeing the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation be such a big part of this. Prior to 1913, the entirety of downtown Prince George was Lheidli reserve land, just before their village was burned and they were moved out to Shelley. For decades afterwards, there was almost no visible reminders of this. But thanks partially to the Games, that’s been changing. The Civic Canada Games Plaza now has columns welcoming people to Prince George in English, French and Dakelh, along with pictures depicting the four clans of the Lheidli T’enneh. In the centre is a sculpture depicting a traditional Lheidli drum, full of stones to be used in prayer rituals. Every night, entertainment moved over the to the Lheidli T’enneh pavilion. It was more than acknowledging that we are the traditional territory of the Lheidli T’enneh, it was embracing it. Let’s keep that up.

3. Turning the Civic Plaza into an actual civic plaza

Honestly, I was kind of cynical about the Civic Plaza in front of the library being renamed the Canada Games Plaza, but two-and-a-half weeks later I think that name’s been earned. I mean, holy cow. Prior to this, I had never envisioned the plaza as much of civic gathering place largely because it is almost always empty. But the redesign, adding art and history and benches and lighting where there was once just basically empty concrete, coupled with the nightly mainstage shows has completely reimagined what this space can be.

Time and time again I heard people say how great it was having the main gathering place be here, and I completely agree. It makes sense: you have the library, art gallery, civic centre, and swimming pool right there, you’re near city hall, and you’re on the corner of downtown with it’s shops and restaurants. Why shouldn’t it be the gathering place? I mean, obviously that was sort of the plan since it was the “civic plaza” and all, but this seems like the first time the idea actually came to fruition. Let’s figure out how to make sure it isn’t the last.

4. We don’t need the Canada Winter Games to have a great party

This is not a slight on the Games, by any means. But I would like to dispel any ideas you may have that none of this would be possible without the Games. Last night, I was at a show at the ArtSpace. At one point the band asked how many people were athletes. No one cheered. Athlete parents? Silence. From another province? No one. How many from Prince George? Almost everyone clapped.

This was a full house, with a line to get in, and it was almost all locals- there was no need for a big tourist event to make it happen. Oh, and just before that I had been at a packed show at the main stage and again, the loudest yell went out for B.C. and Prince George. Having the people from out of town was nice, but the bulk of people taking in the entertainment were living right here. The audience exists- the Games demonstrated that very clearly, but now they’re done and we shouldn’t think it can’t happen again. Put on something good, and this city will support it.

Let’s do this.

Filed under: Prince George

This is why the Prime Minister didn’t attend the Canada Winter Games in Prince George

February 26 2015 |

As Prince George was gearing up to host the Canada Winter Games this year, there was widespread anticipation that Prime Minister Stephen Harper would be attending. After all, he’s attended every other Canada Games since he became Prime Minister: winter in Whitehorse and Halifax, and summer in Summerside/Charlottetown and Sherbrooke.

But no, despite making a trip to southern British Columbia for Lunar New Year and an LNG announcement, Harper couldn’t make time for the one-hour flight north to drop in on the Games in Prince George. This is keeping with an old tradition of Prime Ministers not visiting the city.1

I decided to ask the Prime Minister’s Office why Harper wasn’t able to make the trip. After calling the media line, I was asked to email my request, which I have cut-and-paste below.


“There are a number of questions being asked about Mr. Harper and the Canada Winter Games in Prince George that I hope you can address:


  1. Why was Stephen Harper not a part of the opening ceremonies of the Canada Winter Games in Prince George?

  2. Why was Mr. Harper not at the Games despite attending the opening of all previous Canada Games during his tenure as Prime Minister?

  3. Why is Mr. Harper able to attend Lunar New Year events in the Lower Mainland but not make a visit to Prince George during the Games?

  4. Why has Mr. Harper not visited Prince George during his tenure as Prime Minister despite strong support for the Conservative Party in the region and its proximity to his home riding of Calgary (a one hour direct flight)?

  5. Are there plans in place for Mr. Harper to visit Prince George or any part of northern British Columbia in the coming months?

  6. Why has the Governor General not been a part of the Games, also breaking with tradition?2

  7. Will the Governor General be a part of the closing ceremonies of the Canada Winter Games?”

This was sent to Pierre-Luc Jean in the PMO. He added his colleague Carl Vallée to the chain, and Vallée sent me this response:

“Hey Andrew.

“Our government was represented at the Canada Winter Games by its Minister of Sport Bal Gosal.

“As for your question on the PM’s presence in your region, during this mandate, the PM has in fact been in Northern BC: both in Fort St John and Dawson Creek.


I responded:

“As you are no doubt aware, Dawson Creek and Fort St John are some distance away from Prince George.

“I would also appreciate an answer as to why Prince George is the first host city of the Canada Games the PM has not visited.

“Thank you.”

This was seven days ago. I have yet to receive further correspondence.3

  1. As best I can tell, Trudeau is the last one to do so while still in office. 

  2. The Governor General will, in fact, be a part of the closing ceremonies, but I never received an answer about that from the PMO. It came out later as part of a general release. 

  3. Several people have commented that while the title of this says “this is why” it doesn’t actually answer the question. I’m aware of that. It’s an ironic title, since I very clearly asked the PMO for an answer and was given a classic political non-answer. By the way, politicians give non-answers all the time. 

Beyond Hope and proud of it → 

February 26 2015 |

And on the subject of Neil Godbout, here’s his editorial on Prince George continuously seeking- and failing to get- validation from Vancouver media and citizens:

“Prince George residents in general and members of the area business community in particular are desperate – bordering on teenage girl obsessed with the captain of the football team – to be recognized by the denizens of Greater Vancouver.”

“In fact, Prince George doesn’t need a damn thing from Vancouver.

“The sooner this city realizes it and acts accordingly, the better off it’ll be.”

I whole-heartedly agree with this whole thing. If you live in Prince George, please read it.

Table stakes → 

February 26 2015 |

Neil Godbout did his own analysis of election spending in Prince George:

“On the surface, it looks like Lyn Hall blew away the notion that elected office is earned, not bought, with his mayoral win.

“Many people, including many would-be politicians, desperately want to believe that money can’t buy a seat at the table. Sadly, Hall’s victory goes against recent results.”

He goes on to point out that the majority of the time the winning mayor and councillours are those who spent the most money on their campaign.

Of course, this goes against my own analysis of election spending, titled “Does money buy votes? Not in northern B.C.” (indeed, Godbout’s editorial is titled “Cash counts at ballot box”. But I think our conclusions are not as different as the titles would suggest. When I said money doesn’t buy votes I meant that money alone doesn’t buy it- you can outspend and still lose. Godbout says the same, pointing to Hall, Skakun, and Frizzell as examples of hard work and the right candidate overcoming a bigger budget.

I think the better way to think about the need for election spending is table stakes. Zero-dollar campaigns do not do well1. So while a $40,000 dollar mayor’s campaign might beat an $80,000, you still need $40,000. On council, you might win with $6,000 but the bulk of evidence suggests you still need $6,000. Skill, messaging, and hard work may let you beat someone with more money. But if you want to win, you need to pay the table stakes.

  1. I’m talking about Prince George, smaller cities have the occasional successful cost-free campaign 

Does money buy votes? Not in northern B.C.

February 24 2015 |

Yesterday, Elections B.C. released the campaign financing disclosure forms from the 2014 municipal elections. The forms tells us how much politicians spent and received in their bid to get elected. I decided to explore some of the numbers.

listen to ‘Does money buy votes? Some numbers from the northern B.C. municipal elections’ on audioBoom

To get this out of the way, in northern B.C. cities1  spending more money didn’t necessarily result in more votes. In Prince George, Don Zurowski spent $72,249.29 on his campaign, while winner Lyn Hall spent just $39,911.332. In Quesnel, incumbent Mary Sjostrom spent more than twice as much as Bob Simpson in the mayor’s race:  $18,446.12 vs $7327.35. Still, Simpson more than doubled Sjostrom’s votes, winning 2128 to 884. More cash did not mean more support.

In Terrace, winner Carol Leclerc did outspend runner-up Bruce Bidgood, but the difference in spending was small: just over five hundred dollars. And in Prince Rupert, winner Lee Brain did have the most expensive campaign, but runner-up Jack Mussalum came second, despite spending the least of all four candidates for mayor.

Diving a bit more into the Prince George numbers, six of the eight people to be elected to council were in the top eight spenders – only Brian Skakun and Garth Frizzell didn’t have the biggest budgets. That didn’t stop them from doing well, though- Skakun finished first and Frizzell third.

The most expensive northern campaign was easily Don Zurowski’s failed bid for mayor of Prince George. In fact, he spent more than the combined totals of all six mayoral candidates in Terrace and Prince Rupert combined. It still wasn’t enough to match Shari Green’s $81,000 campaign in 2011, though.

The cheapest mayor’s race was Dawson Creek, where Dale Bumstead faced zero challengers and spent zero dollars. Fort St John mayor Lori Ackerman could also have a run a zero-dollar campaign, but she spent nearly seventeen-hundred dollars upgrading her website before finding out she would be standing unopposed.

Zero dollar campaigns worked out alright for Nelson Kinney of Prince Rupert and Terry McFayden of Dawson Creek, who managed to get ont o council without any expenditures, but in Prince George, everyone who spent zero dollars finished in the bottom half of the race.

So let’s say you want to run an election campaign in one of B.C.’s northern cities… what’s it going to cost?

Prince George, as the biggest and most expensive city, skews the numbers, especially with Zurowski’s outlying budget. The average budge tof a winning campaign in Dawson Creek, Fort St John, Terrace, Prince Rupert, and Quesnel is between two-and-three thousand dollars3. The price of winning a council seat in Prince George is more than eight times that: $17,701.21. And for mayor, the minimum winning bid across the last decade in Prince George is about $40,000. For comparison’s sake, the minimum down payment on the average house in Prince George is $13,000.

Start saving.

  1. Prince George, Quesnel, Fort St John, Dawson Creek, Terrace, and Prince Rupert are the six jurisdictions defined as a “city” in B.C.’s north 

  2. For the money spent, I am using “total expenditures” minus “surplus funds” 

  3. Since Dale Bumstead and Lori Ackerman had no challengers and therefore spent less than if there were a race, I exluded them from this calculation 

The Tyranny of the Talking Point → 

February 24 2015 |

Sean Holman:

“I know that your role, as a so-called communications professional, is to put the best spin on what the government is or isn’t doing.

“That means you often don’t respond the questions I ask, you help elected officials do the same thing and you won’t let me talk to those who actually have the answers.

“While this may work out very well for you, it doesn’t work out so well for my audience who, by the way, are taxpayers, voters and citizens.

“So your refusal to provide me with information is actually a refusal to provide the public with information.

“And if the public doesn’t know what their government is actually doing, it can continue doing things the public wouldn’t want it to do.”

It’s gotten to the point where I ask for answers from government not because I expect answers, but because it’s a force of habit. There has to be a fight back against this.

The value of the Games

February 21 2015 |


So is it worth it?

It’s a question I’m pondering as I see people wandering the Canada Games Plaza, cheering for ringette athletes and indie bands alike.

Remember, back in 2011 the city increased our taxes by about two percent to raise $1.3 million for the Games. Additional funding is coming from federal and provincial governments, regional district, and various bodies that get at least some of their money from taxes.

The payoff, of course, is supposed to be a projected $70-90 million of economic investment in the city as a result of the 2015 Canada Winter Games.

So the question on many people’s minds: is that $70-90 million actually on its way?

There’s definitely more money going into the Tim Hortons beside my office. Day and night, there is no question the lines are longer and more frequent.

So let’s talk about local businesses. A post-Halifax games survey found 37% of businesses reported increase business, 31% saw decrease, 31% stayed the same. The accommodation industry saw the most impact, restaurants saw the second-most, and shopping/retail third.

Another key find was that businesses that created special product or went “the extra mile” to attract new customers saw the biggest increase.

In Prince George that seems to be true. The White Goose Bistro is being held up as an example of a restaurant doing well. As the Citizen reports, in addition to the restaurant, the owner hired extra people to run a catering business for special events.

I was at Ohh Chocolat the other day. They have all sorts of signs welcoming visitors, are making special soups based on each of Canada’s provinces and territories, and have put out a guest book for visitors to sign. They are also doing well.

However, it’s also worth mentioning that Ohh Chocolat is well located, right on the walking path between the Ramada Hotel and Wood Innovation building (both of which are main games headquarters) and the athlete’s village/Games Plaza.

A good illustration of the importance of location is Tim Hortons. While the downtown location has taken on extra staff, the owner says that her other locations are basically holding steady.

So what happens for a place like Kelly O’Bryan’s, on the outskirts of the main downtown/Canada Games core?

My colleague Audrey McKinnon spoke to Darryl Colley, the general manager of Kelly O’Bryan’s over on 2nd Ave. He told her that he had high expectations for the games. He brought in extra food, and stopped taking reservations to make room for walk-in traffic.

And then… crickets.

So he took action. Staff members went out in kilts to advertise themselves to visitors who might not otherwise know about the restaurant, and things have picked up. He agrees with the Halifax findings, that businesses have to make an extra effort to cash in.

“The Games worked really hard to promote the city, to promote business… and I just think there’s some people that just really need to work harder to promote themselves, now.”

listen to ‘Canada Winter Games not having the impact some businesses hoped.’ on audioBoom

This story of super-high expectations not being met is a common one in the service industry. On the Canada Games website it says “currently all of the accommodations within Prince George are reserved during the dates of the event for the athletes, coaches, officials and media from over 800 communities across the nation who will be participating in the 2015 Canada Winter Games.”

The reality is we called multiple hotels – including the Ramada and the Coast downtown – and would have been able to get rooms this weekend. Only two or three were available, but they were available. Going out to the Treasure Cove and the Sandman Signature along the highway, and I was told over twenty and thirty rooms were available through until Wednesday. Some homestays are being rented, but others are not. It’s busy, but it’s not “no room at the inn” busy as advertised.

It’s also not hard to find Facebook posts from people in the service industry saying they were hired on for extra shifts pre-games, and then lost them once owners discovered things weren’t quite as busy as expected. Hotels with athletes, for example, may even need less support staff because they are putting competitors in sleeping bags and so rooms don’t need sheet changes, etc. Another interesting anecdote from the Copper Pig is that while coaches and parents are regular customers, athletes are being fed elsewhere and are not contributing to sales.

Overall, the picture painted is businesses prepared for a flood, and only got a storm. Sales are up, but maybe not as much as expected/hoped for. And the type of business and where you are is a factor.

Again, there will be no final answers until after this is done, with an official assessment contracted by the the Games and surveys from the Chamber of Commerce and possibly the DBIA.

There’s also more to economic impact than businesses – there could be other spinoff that we won’t see until further down the line, such as future tournaments or athletes returning to study at UNBC or CNC. On Twitter and Yik Yak there are posts from athletes saying, essentially “this was the best week of my life… thanks PG,” and “I didn’t want to come here, now I don’t want to leave.” Down the line that could amount to nothing, or it could amount to a long-term word-of-mouth advertising campaign that pays dividends in attracting visitors and tourists. We can also start talking about the fact that there’s more locals going downtown to check out the Games and discovering maybe downtown isn’t so bad and then maybe returning…

One secret about these things is that there’s a million different ways you can calculate their value. Was the tax increase on my property worth the cost of seeing a bunch of locals and visitors crammed into the Canada Games plaza on a February night to watch a local band play songs about life in the north? Was it worth having a bunch of young adults have the best week of their lives, and look back on Prince George as a pivotal moment in their athletic careers? Was it worth having people who live here see their city in a new light, and see what might be possible rather than what is? Or should we have just paved more roads and started investing in a performing arts centre?

Value, man. It’s tricky.

Filed under: Prince George

Here’s (some of) what you just saw at the Canada Winter Games Opening Ceremonies

February 13 2015 |

I just finished watching the opening ceremonies of the Canada Winter Games. I liked it! I mean, as a rule there will be speeches from politicians but honestly that’s just something you kind of expect between the entertainment.

As a proud Prince George-er I loved seeing local talent showcased on a national stage. Good on the organizing committee for making that choice. It would have been really easy (and expected) to import some bigger names from out of town, but instead they chose to use the opportunity to expose the country to some hidden talents.

Seriously GOOD ON YOU @2015CanadaGames for showcasing local talent at the opening ceremony. #cityofpg #2015CanGames

— Andrew Kurjata (@akurjata) February 14, 2015

Here’s a quick recap of some of what you saw:

1. Pretty pictures of Prince George


The current rainy, slushy weather is doing its best to hide it, but Prince George is really a beautiful city. Spots from Move Up Prince George and Tourism PG helped prove it.

2. Local bands (and dancers)

The first PG band to take the stage was Bright City Heights. The song they played was “Aurora”. You can download it here.


The second local group to play was Black Spruce Bog. The song they played was “Tete Jaune Road.” You can download it here. They’ll be playing Sunday in the Canada Games Plaza, as well, opening for Alan Doyle.

The dancers in the Bright City Heights segment were all local, and the interpretive dancer Tristan Ghostkeeper, also of Prince George.  

3. Lheidli T’enneh Culture

This was my favourite thing. For the first time ever, the Canada Games has an official host First Nation in the form of the Lheidli T’enneh, and they were front and centre of this whole thing. At one point, a canoe was put on the stage, one of two dugouts carved by University of Northern British Columbia students under the guidance of elder Robert Frederick. It was the first time a canoe had been made in the traditional Lheidli style in decades. You can learn more about that story below:

The best part, though, was when all those kids got on stage and started singing “Oh Canada” in Dakelh, the Lheidli language, the first time this has ever happened. Last week I spoke to the elder who helped translate the song. She told me she always spoke Dakelh with her grandmother, but eventually people stopped speaking it. She paused. They took us to the schools, she said. Going from there to this moment is incredibly meaningful.

NOT GOING TO LIE “Oh Canada” sung by Lheidli kids in Dakelh is made me tear up at the national anthem for the first time ever #2015CanGames — Andrew Kurjata (@akurjata) February 14, 2015

But the joy she had talking about the coming weeks and the prominence of the Lheidli T’enneh in the whole thing- it was incredible. I’ve spoken to another of Lheidli in the lead up to this and I cannot understate how meaningful this is for them. This is Prince George’s 100th Anniversary… but part of what led to the creation of the city was the burning of the Lheidli village near downtown Prince George and the removal of the people to a reserve.

As much as this is a showcase for Prince George to Canada, this is also a showcase of the Lheidli to Prince George. A few years ago, there was hardly any visible First Nations presence downtown. Now, thanks in part to the Games, we have welcome signs in Dakelh, the Lheidli T’enneh flag flying high and the acknowledgement that we are on traditional Lheidli T’enneh going out on national television. This is absolutely what this city and country should be doing: embracing the reality of where we are.

There was a lot more but I’ll just leave it at good job to all involved. Made me proud.

PS There is only one thing I feel like was missing:


— Andrew Kurjata (@akurjata) February 14, 2015

Ask Me About PG

February 12 2015 |


Whenever someone visits me in Prince George, and we walk anywhere, I find myself giving them all sorts of pointless trivia about the city. With thousands of people coming over the course of the next few weeks (Canada Winter Games) I’ve decided to extend that to anyone with a question. Here’s what we’ve got so far:

PG 100 → 

February 6 2015 |

Busy times. Next week, Prince George starts hosting the Canada Winter Games, one of the largest events in the country and the biggest to ever come to Prince George. At the same time, Prince Rupert is hosting the All-Native Basketball Tournament, an important event for the region. Our office is doing special coverage for both, and on top of it all we’re just one month away from Prince George’s 100th Anniversary, another event I’m hoping to give good coverage to. In fact, we’re planning on doing a series called “100 Years, 100 Stories“, and have been digging through various archives to find old sounds and stories that people may have forgotten about. My colleague Rafferty Baker put this preview together to help get us ready:


Vocal Fry → 

February 3 2015 |

As a follow-up to my piece on people reacting negatively to voices that don’t fall into the authoritative white male category, here’s a This American Life segment on the same thing:

“Listeners have always complained about young women reporting on our show. They used to complain about reporters using the word like and about upspeak, which is when you put a question mark at the end of a sentence and talk like this. But we don’t get many emails like that anymore. People who don’t like listening to young women on the radio have moved on to vocal fry.”

The most telling moment is when Ira Glass points out that he, too, has vocal fry, but:

“I get criticized for a lot of things in the emails to the show. No one has ever pointed this out.”

Only the women.


On Voice

January 31 2015 |

“You have presence in your ideas and presence in your body, but your voice is sort of right in-between those two things.”

- Ray Fenwick

Are the voices on public radio too white?

This is the debate happening amongst public radio enthusiasts in the United States this week, thanks to a piece written by Chenjerai Kumanyika on Transom.org. In it, he discusses his experience as an African-American radio producer subconsciously changing the way he spoke to emulate white people:

“The voice I was hearing and gradually beginning to imitate was something in between the voice of Roman Mars and Sarah Koenig. Those two very different voices have many complex and wonderful qualities. They also sound like white people. My natural voice — the voice that I most use when I am most comfortable — doesn’t sound like that.”

“Challenging the whiteness of public radio”

One of the things I like about radio over TV is the lack of baggage it brings to the table. On TV we’re used to seeing people in proper makeup, wearing expensive clothes, in studio environments. We make all sorts of pre-judgements about a person based solely on how they look that it limits our ability to hear from “real people” without subconsciously making assumptions about them.

Radio has less of that, but it’s still there, and it’s largely in the way people speak. For most of its history, radio has been the domain of white men with deep voices. That’s opening up, but people are still more likely to react positively to a traditional radio voice and, conversely, react negatively to someone without one.

Having read listener feedback on radio hosts male and female, I can say with confidence that people are far more likely to write in complaining about a woman’s natural voice. It’s alternately shrill, ditzy, or just too darn high, and can not be listened to/taken seriously.

I don’t think that the people writing in are being deliberately sexist, either. It’s just that for years we’ve been trained that the intelligent, authoritative voice is that of the baritone male who speaks in “proper” English.

And the issue of race isn’t limited to the United States, either. This past week, CBC Radio welcomed Shad as a guest host of Q. Shad is a bilingual, award-winning musician who earned a master’s degree at the same time he was becoming one of the most successful rappers in the country. He also used the word “dope” on the radio. 

Again, I don’t think this Tweet is deliberately racist (indeed, the person who wrote it says he has no idea what race Shad is). But it is making a judgement call on what the “correct” linguistic patterns are on public radio. People who use words like “dope” do not belong in these upper echelons or, if they do, they must silence that part of themselves to be more acceptable. And more often than not, those are going to people who aren’t white.

This conversation doesn’t just affect hosts, either. It’s something that happens to guests. More than once, I’ve been part of a debate about whether someone’s accent would be understandable to the average radio listener and, therefore, whether we should have them on. Again, an accent is not necessarily a race-based thing. At the same time, it’s worth noting that the people who have these accents are usually not white.

We’ve also had intelligent, passionate people with brain injuries or hearing loss that cause their pattern of speech to be slower than what we’re used to, and it represents a conundrum as to how to fairly present them and their views without risking alienating the listener. One method is to pretape the interview, and then edit out the pauses or difficult to understand passages. It works, but I question sometimes whether we’re being fair to the subjects themselves by altering their voice in this way. That point is presented powerfully in this piece, in which a man who stutters uses the power of radio editing to clean up his own voice, only to reject the artificiality of it at the end.

The last point I’d throw in there for consideration in Canada is the subject of First Nations speech patterns. From here I’ll turn it over to the Reporting in Indigenous Communities website, a resource for helping journalists understand how to cover indigenous issues fairly and holistically, in particular this passage on speaking with elders:

“Interviewing elders can be a frustrating and puzzling experience. Traditional Aboriginal storytelling is elliptical and sometimes, it’s difficult to pry specific information out of an elder. “How do you feel about XYZ?” may result in a half-hour tale about a childhood experience. If you’re only looking for a 10-second clip, or a short quote, explain the conventions of your medium – at least that person is forewarned that you plan to reduce their teachings to a sound-byte.”

In my experience, this method of speaking isn’t just elders, either- there are a number of First Nations people across the north who speak more deliberately, who pause for a longer-than-expected amount of time before delivering an answer. There is nothing wrong with talking like this – in fact, there are many advantages – but it doesn’t fit in to what we are used to hearing on the radio. How do we bring more of those voices into the conversation without erasing their cultural nuances?

Again, no answers from me here, on any of these fronts, except that I agree with Kumanyika when he says “the sound of public radio and podcasts must reflect… diversity if we are serious about social justice and encouraging active, constructive participation.” That’s true in the United States, and it’s true in Canada.

Keep talking.

Further reading/listening:

Challenging the whiteness of public radio” by Chenjerai Kumanyika (audio version via NPR)

How Code-Switching Explains the World” by Gene Demby

Is There a #PubRadioVoice That Sounds like America?” by Kenya Downs

Special Effects” by Kevin Murphy

Aboriginal Customs and Protocols” by Reporting in Indigenous Communities

Opening quote by Ray Fenwick

Childhood Busters

January 29 2015 |


So Ghostbusters is being remade with an all-female cast and there are a number of people who feel this will ruin their childhood.1

My childhood was in the late 80s/early 90s. I remember playing with friends in my neighbourhood, pretending we were characters in our favourite TV shows.

We would divvy up the parts: Huey, Dewey and Louie. Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Donatello. Superman, Batman, Spiderman.

The common thread? Boys were the protagonists.

If my sister played with us she usually had one choice, if any: Daisy. April O’Neil. If there was more than one girl, there was often no other female character for them to take on.

We didn’t do this out of deliberate sexism. We were six years old. We were emulating behaviour learned from pop culture: boys are the heros. The girl (rarely girls, plural) were sidekicks, at best.

Do I want to eradicate all the male characters I enjoyed as a child? No. I think it’s great that boys like me were able to imagine ourselves as the heroes of different narratives, stopping crimes, defending the world.

But I’m not overly concerned that anyone’s childhood is going to “ruined” by an all-female cast of the Ghostbusters.

Instead I’m hopeful that it will let little girls the opportunity to have a childhood similar to mine. One where I was able to pretend to be a Ninja Turtle or superhero or Ghostbuster and not have anyone tell me it’s not my part to play because of my gender.


  1. There are also people arguing that the all-female casting is gimmicky and indicative that the film won’t be good. I will leave it to you to parse the idea that casting women in the lead role of an action-comedy, in 2015, is “gimmicky”. 


January 17 2015 |

Eleven years ago, two major things were going on in my life: the first is that I was turning nineteen. The second is I had met a girl.

Flash forward to today and that girl is my wife, and I am hours away from entering my thirties.

Somehow, this doesn’t feel like much of a milestone. I take that as a good thing, because it means I’m generally happy with the direction my life is going. But it does make me pause and reflect a little on how I went from there to here so that I can be as happy with the next decade of my life as I am with the last one.

I realize at the top of that list is people. Everything I am most grateful for is the direct result of someone else helping me, guiding me, pushing me or generally being there to move me along.

Last year at about this time, I got a phone call from a friend asking if I could ski. When I said yes, he told me we were signing up for the Prince George Iceman, a race I’ve thought about doing for years but never had. Even though cold weather cancelled last year’s even, we went out and did it just to do it, and we’ll be competing again next week. If it weren’t for that phone call, I probably wouldn’t be.

My wife is currently taking the steps to plan a trip to Turkey. I love travel, but she’s been the motivating force behind our trips, including a six-month experience in China that I talked about doing but probably wouldn’t have had she not actually figured out the logistics.

This past week, I helped our UNBC intern create a documentary about a Prince George man who has been helping fight Ebola. It’s a great piece, and it’s been picked up for airplay across the country. And it was almost five years ago to the day that I was being shown how to create my own audio piece about “International Soufflé Day,” a Prince George-made holiday that had been taking off a little. The piece was also picked up nationally and I credit it with helping secure my place with CBC.

Speaking of that piece, last week was the tenth anniversary of Soufflé Day and we were invited to the home of the event’s founders. Their tradition is to have people they don’t know very well come over, so it was basically dinner with strangers- and it was great.

I could go on- family, friends, mentors, co-workers, and even loose acquaintances who have positively affected my life every step of the way.

So what made my twenties work? Two things. The first is the relationships I already had that continued to grow. The second is the new people I’ve met who have also become important parts of my life.

So that’s my goal for the next decade: cultivate relationships, old and new. Friendships, mentorships, family. If I’ve learned anything over thirty years it’s that so long as you have the right people around you, it’s tough to go wrong.

Thanks for everything.

Filed under: personal

Life After Death (of Your iPod) → 

January 14 2015 |

Hazel Cills:

“Beyond just people moving towards streaming rather than buying music (old news), the discontinuation of the iPod Classic and future mp3 devices presents a whole other problem: a lack of devices and applications that are for music listening only. There is no right or wrong way to listen to music, but there is admittedly a stark contrast between listening to music on your iPhone and listening to music on an iPod that does not connect to the Internet. The benefits of an iPod are the ability to literally contain your entire music library and just a lack of notifications in general, to enjoy it without the temptation to blindly scroll through Instagram or tweets while you do so. “

Ever since everything on my iPod had to be deleted, I’ve moved to listening to almost all my music via streaming services. Mostly Rdio, but also Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Hype Machine and CBC Music. It works, for the most part, but I do sometimes miss the act of scrolling through my library, my music that I’ve selected, as opposed to the global music archive. Also, there are some situations – a long road trip, for example – where it was far easier to just grab my 160 GB library with all the music I could want rather than having to choose which few albums I want to sync to my phone ahead of time.

I think there is some reason for concern, but then again if the minidisc can come back, maybe the iPod classic will be the stuff of revival, too.

Freedom from speech

January 10 2015 |

I’ve only ever received one death threat. It was from someone I didn’t know, but who clearly lived in the same city as me. They took to Twitter early one morning while I was on air, saying they were going to kill me and others, insinuating they knew where we lived and what we drove.

The police officer called in said they would go check this person out, but in the meantime was there any way we could “not look at it?”

My experience on the internet has largely been a positive one. But I recall this incident as a reminder that it can turn ugly, fast, the world is not always welcoming, and words can be used to make you feel unsafe, even when outside observers suggest the solution is to just ignore them.

Odds are, if I were a woman I would be reminded of this more often. Here’s a nice little video summarizing the sorts of comments women get for being online (short version: harassment and solicitations). And in case you think this is just what it’s like to be on the internet, here’s a piece on what happens when a black woman changes her Twitter avatar to a white man (spoiler: she gets harassed less).

So women and minorities are harassed more online. What to do about it? In Twitter’s case, they are working with an organization called Women, Action, and the Media to create a tool to report harassment. This, in the eyes of some, is an attack on freedom of speech.

I’m a pretty big fan of freedom of speech. But I’ve been wrestling with what exactly that means.

If every time a woman speaks she is told by anonymous dudes to “make me a sandwich” and “nice tits”, does she really have freedom of speech? Or more to the point, is she being given the same opportunity to exercise that freedom that a man is? Sure, nobody is STOPPING her from saying anything. “Make me a sandwich” and “nice tits” are not illegal or necessarily threatening. But it’s pretty easy to see how dealing with that would make someone more hesitant to speak up. And that’s before we get into the rape comments and death threats.

So yeah, I’m for freedom of speech. But perhaps in a platform like Twitter there’s an argument to be made in favour of cracking down on or discouraging one type of speech in order to encourage other, more inclusive ones. Maybe it’s worth temporarily banning someone from the service for saying “make me a sandwich, bitch” if it means more women feel safe speaking about, well, whatever.

I bring this up because in the wake of the Charlie Hedbo killings, a number of cultural commentators have resumed railing against what they see as a problematic form of self-censorship taking hold in North America.

Let’s take, for example, the debate about whether to republish those cartoons or not (to be clear, I’m speaking for myself here and I have no decision-making over whether or not these cartoons are show in any media outlet). One argument in favour of publishing them is that one must do so in order to show their commitment to freedom of speech. In not doing so, we are either bowing to the extremists out of fear or self-censoring because we put Islam on a pedestal (or both).

But let’s take this to it’s logical extreme (and I’m well aware that I’m creating a strawman argument here). Let’s say a group of neonazis were killed because some activists objected to their publication of documents arguing for racial purity and the supremacy of whites. If one believes in freedom of speech, are media outlets around the world then obligated to publish those documents in solidarity? If they had racist cartoons, should newspapers around the world start publishing them?

I’m not saying the Charlie Hebdo cartoons were necessarily racist (I’ve seen arguments from both sides and my conclusion is I lack enough understanding of French language and culture to fully evaluate this). What I am saying is there’s clearly people who do find the cartoons insensitive and wouldn’t have published them before the killings on those grounds. I don’t see why disagreeing with the killings means you have to publish something else you disagree with. You can think something should be allowed to exist while simultaneously not wanting to hang it on your wall.

Let’s circle back to women on the internet and self-censorship now. As a general rule, I’m in favour of freedom of speech– to the point I believe things I find absolutely reprehensible should be allowed to be written and said. But I also don’t think freedom of speech = freedom to say whatever you want, anywhere. I think people should be allowed to spew racist, sexist nonsense, but I don’t think they should be given free space in the newspaper to do so, or handed the mic between the second and third periods at hockey games.

It gets more complicated in places like Facebook and Twitter. Are these publishers or utilities? If they are utilities, anything goes. But if they are publishers, well, then they can exercise some editorial control about what is and isn’t acceptable. That’s what traditional media does. It’s also what universities, folk festivals, book stores, and any number of semi-public spaces and organizations do.

As time goes on, more people are recognizing the way language can be used to reinforce stereotypes, to silence minorities. Language can be used to belittle women, to make Aboriginal people feel small, and to drive a wedge between Muslims and the rest of society. Freedom of speech is important, yes, but that doesn’t automatically mean that the use of language is always a net good. It can be hateful, hurtful, and deeply damaging. It’s not always obvious when you are part of the majority. But when you aren’t – when you’re already an outsider – “freedom of speech” can easily translate to “freedom to reinforce the status quo,” or straight-up bullying. It’s not a matter of rolling with the punches or just not looking at it – it’s there, and it hurts.

This isn’t a post where I’m leading to some grand conclusion. I don’t have an answer. I believe in freedom of speech but I also believe in a world where people can go wherever they choose without being subjected to harassing, hateful language. I’m not always sure how to reconcile the two. The only thing I feel certain about in this whole thing is that no one deserves to die for what they say or draw or write, no matter what. But everything else? It’s complicated.

Filed under: media, misc

I believe…

January 8 2015 |

I believe in freedom of speech.

I believe in being sensitive to how using that freedom can affect others.

I believe even those who aren’t sensitive to using that freedom should be allowed to speak.

I believe we should be allowed to ignore them.

I believe we should be allowed to condemn them.

I believe it is tough to agree with freedom of speech when it results in terrible things being said.

I believe there is real danger in allowing terrible things to be said.

I believe words can bring us together, skewer hypocrisy, and be a beacon of freedom.

I believe words can tear us apart, incite atrocities, and feed hatred.

I believe it’s all pretty complicated.

I believe in freedom of speech.


Filed under: misc

The Future Of Meat Is Plant-Based Burgers → 

January 7 2015 |

Rowan Jacobson:

“Considering the speed of change, the money and smarts being thrown at the problem, and the desperate need, it seems likely that sometime in the next decade, Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods or another rival will perfect vegetarian beef, chicken, and pork that is tastier, healthier, and cheaper than the fast-food versions of the real thing. It will be a textbook case of disruptive technology: overnight, meat will become the coal of 2025—dirty, uncompetitive, outcast. Our grandchildren will look back on our practice of using caged animals to assemble proteins with the same incredulousness that we apply to our ancestors’ habit of slaughtering whales to light their homes.”

At this point, eating meat is like a dirty habit I can’t quit. I do it all the time, but I increasingly wish I didn’t. Learning to use eggplant, portabellos, and tofu properly has helped, but this would be huge.

British Columbia’s unofficial boundaries → 

January 4 2015 |

Global BC:

“Last week we asked you in a survey where Vancouver ends, where northern B.C. begins, and everything else in between. Thousands responded.

“Here’s what we found.”

Interesting to learn how differently people define these regional boundaries that divide up our province. The Kootenays, in particular, mean wildly different things to different people.

Also, as a follow-up to this discussion: most people think of Prince George as part of northern B.C., and not the interior.

Three great songs from previous years I discovered in 2014

January 4 2015 |

Every year, I put together a list of my favourite songs of the past twelve months. This is obviously subjective, because it’s impossible to hear every single piece of music released in a year.

So what to do when you come across a great new song that’s not actually new? For me, it’s share them here in the first annual “Great Songs From Previous Years I Missed the First Time Around.”

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Two more days...oh right the Two Rivers Gallery has this piece of art based on winter cyclists #takeonPGCORRECTYOU'RE FREAKING WELCOME PRINCE GEORGE.@raffertybaker's mom doesn't miss him on-air at all @daybreaknorthOne last @2015canadagames party courtesy @kingcrowmusic and @coldsnapfest #cityofPGKing Crow and the Ladies From Hell on at the ArtSpace @coldsnapfest #cityofPG