- Hi, my name is Andrew.
- This is
Today, CBC’s acting director of digital news announced comments on stories about indigenous people will be closed until at least mid-January. In the post, Brodie Fenton writes (emphasis mine):
“We’ve noticed over many months that these stories draw a disproportionate number of comments that cross the line and violate our guidelines. Some of the violations are obvious, some not so obvious; some comments are clearly hateful and vitriolic, some are simply ignorant. And some appear to be hate disguised as ignorance (i.e., racist sentiments expressed in benign language).
“This comes at the same time CBC News has made a concerted effort to connect with indigenous communities in order to improve our journalism and better reflect these communities to a national audience. The success of our Aboriginal unit and our investigative journalism around missing and murdered indigenous women are just two examples of that commitment.
“We don’t want violations of our guidelines by a small minority of our commenters to derail our good work or alienate our audience. So we’re taking a pause to see if we can put some structure around this. We will reopen comments as soon as possible.”
I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about comments, and recently put my own, loosey-goosey policy into place about which sort of comments would get deleted on my Facebook page. One of the things I didn’t really get into with my explanation, but which was top of mind, is a desire for people who are marginalized to feel comfortable being present in my online space, even if it means cracking down on people who are less sensitive to those sorts of situations.
It’s all about what sort of space you want to make – is it a shouting match where anyone can say anything, or is it a civil discussion where people of different backgrounds can speak up and feel a sense of belonging and respect?
* * *
Earlier this year the city of Prince George decided to rename a city park in such a way that it recognized the indigenous people who originally called that space home (and many of whom still do). The online debate was, at times, heated and in some cases boiled over to the point of implicit and explicit racism.
Some sites allowed this debate to stand. The Facebook page for a local radio station wound up deleting a post about it after the discussion veered outside of what they deemed good taste, and then they posted about that decision. They were not the only one to delete stories.
There is a popular Facebook page in Prince George for posting good news stories about the city. It has created an amazing community of people who want to celebrate the city, connected people needing help, and quite literally changed lives for the better. And the job of keeping that page a place of positivity is not easy. I’ve seen some of messages the admins receive – all volunteers mind you- and they are virulent, hateful, expletive-filled, and not something I would wish on my worst enemy. In order to prevent these messages from polluting the public-facing parts of this community, the admins have had to make some difficult decisions about what is and isn’t allowed. Controversy is not.
The world is full of spaces for people to argue. This page is not one of those spaces. It is a space to share good-news stories and feel good doing it. So one of the rules is, basically, if a post starts to generate controversy, it gets deleted. One time I posted a story about stairs being painted a new colour, and people didn’t like the change, so the story got deleted. I shrugged and moved on.
I think, however, this decision-making gets a little more complicated if you are dealing with stories affecting marginalized groups. Because while for some people the renaming of this park was something to complain about, for a great many others it was something to celebrate. For the Lheidli T’enneh people, it was a moment of acknowledgement of their past and present in this city. It was a moment of reconciliation. It was a good news story.
And so they did what many other people in this city do when they want to celebrate – they posted the story in this very popular Facebook page for sharing good news. And then the negative comments would start, and the story would get deleted.
The metaphor I came up with was to think of the Facebook page as a popular pub where people go to celebrate. In this instance, people came in to celebrate the renaming of the park. Some people at the other table didn’t like it. So the people celebrating were asked to quiet down or leave.
I don’t think for a second this was the message the admins of the page want to send. They have a tough job (that isn’t actually a job), and they are keeping things civil as best they can. I know for certain I’ve clammed up or tried to change the subject when a conversation gets uncomfortable, simply because I want to move on and keep the peace. I know that isn’t always the best decision, and yet I continue to do it. So I’m not going to fault anyone for how this played out.
There are large media organizations with dedicated comments manager who still struggle to keep discussion respectful– see CBC’s decision to shut the comments down as they consider ways to fix this. Rather than kicking people out of the pub, they are shutting the pub down while figuring out their next move.
But I also think the reasons for doing this are worth paying attention to. There is a desire to keep the comments open, but open to people of all backgrounds, rather than letting the baser elements control the conversation. I’m not sure how that will be accomplished, but it will be worth following. At the core of this, for anyone with an online community, is the process of thinking about what sort of community you are aiming to create, how you do that, and who might get left out in the process. Who do you want to be allowed in your pub?
“The vast majority of the charts draw upon the same few concepts, deriving from the same few traditions, borne of the same few sensibilities. Touchy-feely reportage. Public radio two-ways. Public radio science-y shows. Shows about music. Comedians talking with comedians. People talking with people like themselves. Celebrities talking celebrity things. Conversationals. True crime true crime true crime.”
Sounds about right.
I live in the same neighbourhood I grew up in. A few blocks away from both my childhood home and current home, there is a small business plaza.
When I was a kid it had1 :
- a convenience store
- a pub
- a bakery
- a deli
- a pizza place
- a dentist
The bakery, deli, dentist, and pub have all shut down.
Some of the businesses that have opened and subsequently shut in the intervening years include:
- a coffee shop
- two video stores
- a craft supply store
- a women’s-only gym
- a laundromat
- a Chinese restaurant
Today it has:
- a liquor store
- a new dentist
- a different Chinese restaurant
- two pharmacies
Only the pizza place, as far as I know, is under the same ownership. The convenience store is also still there, but it has changed hands once or twice.
I feel like there’s some sort of story about demographic and cultural shifts in there.
If people from a cultural group say a costume is offensive, I just won’t wear it.
There is no costume that is so important to me that it is worth making a group of people feel excluded or belittled, regardless of my own thoughts on the subject.
And that’s my hot take on cultural appropriation and Hallowe’en.
My relationship to Facebook is kind of dumb. I like it, in that it connects me to people and provides a platform for conversation, but I hate it in that I think it’s a poorly designed platform for conversation and I would happily abandon it except it’s where a lot of people I like hang out.
I often post things I write there, and a lot of the time it’s fun because other people read it and give me feedback, which I enjoy. But there is also a downside, which is that if a thing gets popular it starts to get shared and show up in the feeds of total strangers who think the things I have to say are stupid and would like to say so, and they do, in the form of comments. It’s not always as simple as “this is dumb” but they disagree with me to a certain degree and would like to say so.
Now, disagreement is completely fine, and yes my posts are public so they are basically sitting there for people to comment on, but the reality is, it is still my space. If I go to my Facebook page, I would like to see things that make me happy and I would also like the people who are, by whatever definition, my friends, to be happy upon seeing one of my posts. And I’ve noticed that the more I take a laissez-faire approach to what people can say on my posts, the more likely it is that I and others will not be happy with what comes out, to the point that it has at times spilled over into real life negativity.
Look, it’s not like I’m saying I am infallible and incapable of error so dissent will not be tolerated. But I guess I kind of think of it like this: if a person writes a book, what sense would it make for them to put negative reviews on the back jacket so that every time they saw this thing they created, they would see the words of people who think they did a bad job or who fundamentally disagree with their worldview? Those people are entitled to hold those opinions and even post them, but I am not required to let my space be a place for them to express those views. In a weird way I view my posts as a body of work, and every comment on that work actually becomes a part of my piece because it is inextricably linked to the original text and given essentially the same amount of visibility. So if I write something I like and someone comments “this is stupid” below, the words “this is stupid” are appended to my original writing and become a part of it. This is the part of Facebook’s design that I hate.
This becomes especially true if those views are expressed in a way that is less than respectful to myself or others. As a matter of fact, I am far more comfortable with critiques of me than critiques of other people involved in the discussion, sort of like it’s not super to have two people come into your home and then get into a shouting match – you feel a certain amount of responsibility to step in, and that is not something I have always been the best at. Especially when it comes to sensitive issues like race and gender it is sad to me when I write something with the intention of bringing people together and it devolves into ad hominem attacks.
So with that in mind, here is a partial and ever-evolving list of reasons I *might* delete your comment:
- it is rude, racist, sexist, or discriminatory (by my standards, which may not be perfect, but again, this is my space)
- it is off-topic
- it misses the point of what I have written (again, by my standards)
- the comment started on point, but then more commenters, maybe even me, got involved, and now we’re off on a completely different point and I think it looks stupid to have a giant off-topic thread sitting there on my page because have I mentioned I hate Facebook’s aesthetics?
- I’m an arbitrary human with complete control over what the world can discuss hahahahahahaha
My hope isn’t to limit to discussion, but to make that discussion productive rather than combative, which online discussion too often is. If you feel strongly that you want to get into a debate about the existence of white privilege or sexism or xenophobia or whatever, then feel free to write your own post outlining your views and invite me to participate.
This is adapted from a comment in a Facebook thread about white privilege.
So let’s look at the NBA. It is not easy to get to the NBA. Lots of people from around the world try to get to the NBA and fail. Only the most dedicated, most skilled players, the ones who sacrifice a lot, will join that elite group. Most people do not have what it takes.
But the people who make it to the NBA almost all have another thing in common. They are at least six feet tall.
In fact, only 24 people under 6 feet have ever made it to the NBA.
If you are under 6 feet, you are probably not going to make it to the NBA, no matter how much drive you have.
That’s not to say it’s impossible. It’s just that there are people who have a natural advantage over you: they are taller. It’s not their fault they were born taller. And being tall does not guarantee them access to the NBA. The vast majority of people over six feet never play in the NBA.
But still: being six feet tall or more helps you get into the NBA.
People over six feet have an advantage over people under six feet. They didn’t invent the rules of the game, they may not be able to change the rules, but they benefit from them.
That is white privilege. You can’t just sit back and be successful because you were born white. But being white gives you a natural advantage over those who aren’t because those are the rules of the game we’re playing.
There are countless statistics indicating the existence of white privilege. The number of white people vs non-white people in high-level leadership positions, elite schools, and jails point to a disparity of outcomes. Put a white person and a non-white person in the same socio-economic space to start and, generally speaking, the white person is more likely to advance, for a whole variety of near-invisible cultural reasons which you can educate yourself about with just a bit of googling.
If you are white and deny the existence white privilege, imagine having this conversation with your average 6’7″ NBA player:
YOU: “Man, sometimes I wish I had been born taller, maybe I could have played in the NBA.”
THEM: “What are you talking about? You think just because I’m tall this was easy for me?”
YOU: “No, I just mean… you being tall helps. I’m short- it’s a bit of a disadvantage…”
THEM: “I got up every day of my life in high school and college to run laps. I gave up evenings. I gave up weekends. I didn’t have a girlfriend until I was 23”
YOU: “No, no, it’s not that – it’s just – I mean, I could have done that, but I’m 5’6″. I wouldn’t have made it…”
THEM: “Look at Muggsy Bogues. He was 5’3″ and he played 15 seasons.”
YOU: “I know, I know, but he’s an exception. Being tall helps.”
THEM: “My parents looked after themselves! They were healthy… they made sure I got good nutrition. You’re going to hold it against me that my parents were both tall and looked after me so I would be tall?”
YOU: “I’m not saying that.”
THEM: “I saw a homeless guy the other day. 6’5″. Being tall really helped him, huh? Looks like being tall is a REAL advantage in life. I prefer to judge people on their skill, not their genetics.”
“You’ve earned your cynicism if you’re a woman and have watched men in power try to trample on your rights, or if you’re aboriginal and you’ve been ignored for eons, or if you’re a Muslim woman whose existence suddenly became politicized. You’ve earned it if you’re trans and have seen government after government barely acknowledge that your suicide rates are out of control.
“You’ve earned it for decades through things that happened in this country long before you got here, to your ancestors, your community, your neighbours. You get to be cynical because elections are nothing if not cynical events. One day, the Liberals will likely fail you (they did before) and another party will rise to power. No party deserves your allegiance immediately after an election. They actually have to work for that.”
Even though the Liberal candidates in Prince George lost in both ridings last night, they made huge gains for the party- taking it to levels of support not seen since 1974. My analysis is here.
So the forty-second federal election is over.
During the past 78 days, I saw a lot of people expressing shock- SHOCK!- at some of the racist and xenophobic sentiments being expressed by people during the campaign. You could see it in the Twitter feeds and comments sections on stories about immigrants, Muslims, and Canada’s indigenous people.
Here’s the thing: THOSE SENTIMENTS STILL EXIST. They aren’t Conservative or Bloc or NDP or Liberal. They are Canadian.
They exist outside of politics. They are part of Canada. You just didn’t know about it. And they aren’t gone. You don’t vote for someone and then racism ends. It’s much, much harder than that.
It’s on every level of our society. It’s in our bones. Nobody “won”. A woman in a niqab was still attacked. Indigenous people are still underrepresented. This is everywhere. This wasn’t on the party in power. It’s on ALL of us. We are all in a society that is inherently, structurally, discriminatory. We have to work to address that every day.
We can do better Canada. The party in power has nothing to do with it. WE have to do better.
UPDATED WITH INFORMATION FOR IF ELECTIONS CANADA WEBSITE ISN’T WORKING
Here we are, the end of the longest election campaign in modern history. Look, I’ll level with you: sometimes, it feels like your vote doesn’t matter, especially here in northern B.C. Usually, we know who’s going to form government by the time we’re done with Quebec and Ontario, so the results can feel like something of an afterthought.
Why voting matters this time
But this time, it’s different. First of all, we have a real three-way race nationally and it’s impossible to guess how that will play out. There’s a whole ton of different configurations based on majorities, strong minorities, weak minorities, and coalitions. And so it’s quite possible no deals will be made until the votes are counted out west. And secondly, Prince George is in play. Whereas in the past it’s been pretty easy to predict what was going to happen come election day, this time all the major parties have been running strong campaigns, getting their candidates out to events, going door-to-door, talking to media, and generally making it more likely that someone will vote for them. So as much as it’s a cliché to say this time, truly, every vote counts.
But hey, you’ve been busy, and aren’t quite sure how to go about voting. Well, here’s a handy guide.
Where do I vote?/Which riding am I in?
UPDATE: Elections.ca is experiencing issues. If the below isn’t working, you can go directly to the postal code page here. If THAT doesn’t work, some of the major federal parties have tools to find your voting station as well, so head to the party website of your choice.
If you head to elections.ca it’s pretty easy to find out. Here, let me show you.
First, type in your postal code and hit “Go.”
Then you’ll be taken to a page with the name of your riding (either Cariboo-Prince George or Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies). That’s your riding!
Now click on the “Where Do I Vote?” option.
Then you’ll be given a page that shows you where you should be voting, including a link to Google Maps so you can get directions.
That’s too far to walk and I don’t have a car
Lucky for you, the city of Prince George is providing free transit today so you can vote. And the PG transit system was recently updated to work with Google Maps. So you can just type in where you are and where you need to go, and the power of the internet will tell you how to get there, for free! Check it out, you can get from downtown to my voting station in half-an-hour, but you’ll actually be able to find something much closer.
Sorry, I have to work
Cool fact: you are required, by law, to be given three consecutive hours to vote. The polls open at 7 am and they close at 7 pm. So let’s say your job is 9-5. That gives you only two hours prior to your shift and two hours at the end. That means your employer is federally mandated to either let you come in an hour late or leave an hour early in order to go vote (and still be paid for a full day’s work). If you aren’t given this time, your employer could be fined $2,000 or sent to jail for three months.
I don’t have a driver’s licence/voting card/whatever
First of all, you do not need a photo ID. A photo ID is useful because if you have it, you don’t need anything else. But if you don’t have photo ID, you can still vote. There are a literally dozens of things you can use to prove your identity, including debit and credit cards, mail with your name on it, the label of a prescription container – find the whole list here (or, if elections.ca is down, find the whole list here or here!). And if you don’t have anything with your current address, you can take an oath.
I’m not registered to vote
No worries! You can register when you go to vote. Just bring that stuff from the last question, and they’ll help you out. More information here.
Will I miss the Jays game?
The polls open at 7 am and the first pitch is at 5 pm and it’s easy to get around this city so honestly, this shouldn’t be a problem.
Who should I vote for?
No comment on this one, but you can get informed. Here are some resources.
About the parties
CBC Vote Compass
Maclean’s Policy Face Off Machine
Riding profile: Cariboo-Prince George
About the candidates
CBC candidate interviews and stories (Cariboo-Prince George)
CBC candidate interviews and stories (Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies)
Prince George Citizen candidate profiles
Prince George Citizen election stories
CFUR candidate interviews
video of Prince George Public library debate
live twitter coverage of Prince George Citizen/CKPG/UNBC debate part one | part two
live twitter coverage of Prince George Native Friendship Centre debate
I have other questions
Well, Elections Canada has a whole ton of answers, especially in their Frequently Asked Questions section. But if that doesn’t work, feel free to reach out to me and I can try to find the answer – I’m on Twitter @akurjata.
Could a traditional Conservative safe seat in B.C.’s interior swing left?
I’ve been talking to various candidates in this campaign from the start, been to multiple debates, and did a few more interviews this past week. Here is a final look at the Cariboo-Prince George riding’s shift from safe seat to potential battleground, and the people hoping to bring change to Ottawa on election day. I hope you enjoy it.
So I’ma go ahead and criticize Rick Mercer here in his rant on national vision, or lack thereof, from our current leaders.
“Is he the kind of guy who would’ve said ‘let’s build a national railway?'” Mercer asks of Harper. “Nation building is for everyone.”
But was it? Take a look at the historical record on the national railway.
Macdonald largely-ahem- railroaded the building of a national railway which led to massive debt, political scandal, and his eventual resignation.
And that controversy was just among the dominant class (white, male, land-owning voters) of the time. What of everyone else?
Well, there were the Chinese, who were paid $1 for every $1.50 white workers earned, and were assigned the most dangerous + often fatal jobs. And there were the First Nations people, forced off their land, in some cases starved into submission, to make room for the railway. There’s even a whole book on this.
So I think it’s pretty disingenuous to try and criticize ANY politician of today for not having more of Macdonald’s vision, because there was a pretty dark side to this so-called “big tent nation-building,” one that is still left out of our official historic narratives.
It’s not that there’s nothing to the rant, but it loses a lot of power when you simultaneously decry the debate over the niqab as small-minded whilst at the same time pining for a time when leaders steamrolled over First Nations rights while building an unpopular project on the backs of straight-up structural racism.
Yesterday, Zunera Ishaq did what the law of this country told her she is allowed to do: she went to a private area, identified herself to officials, then wore a niqab to a public ceremony to become a Canadian citizen.
The media was there, and took some pictures. And in some of those pictures was her husband. And do you know what her husband did?
He didn’t smile every single second.
This might not seem like a big deal, but this is Canada in 2015 and if you haven’t heard, we have to be on the constant lookout for barbaric cultural practices.
We’ve been promised a tip line we can call if we suspect someone of engaging in those practices, and we’ve also been told repeatedly that the niqab is a symptom of those practices. So really what we get here is a snapshot of that mindset in action.
What follows is all screenshots of actual tweets from actual people who would actually be able to call a tip line if it existed.
Check it out:
Because he’s wearing a grey suit? He has a beard? What are we supposed to be looking at? What just happened here?
Think twice if you look like that guy. If you don’t smile, you’re suspect.
Of course. One look at this picture and you can tell he forced her to marry him under threat of death!
PROBABLY UNDERAGE, TOO.
This, by the way, is what Ishaq herself had to say about her husband’s role in her decision to wear the niqab (which she started doing as a teenager, against her parents wishes):
“She was also asked on The Current whether her husband was in favour of her wearing it.
“‘No, not exactly,’ she said. He wanted to know how it might affect her ability to ‘move around’ in Canada. ‘But I told him I will figure it out,’ and later, she found her community to be ‘very welcoming.’
“Ishaq’s husband also urged her to think about whether she could remove the niqab for the citizenship ceremony and be willing to take on the legal fight.”
So all the evidence we have is of a husband who encouraged his wife to wear what she wanted, even when he wasn’t sure it was the best idea.
But buddy simply exists in the background of a picture and a bunch of people are ready to say he’s a violent abuser.
Based. On. How. He. Looks.
Again, let’s be perfectly clear:
He is being accused of what Canadian legislation now defines as Barbaric Cultural Practices because of what he looks like and people are uncomfortable with the clothes his wife chooses to wear.
This isn’t partisanship. Vote for whoever you want.
But do not judge another human being because he isn’t smiling while being brown.
And think deeply about how we got here.
I understand why people are supportive of the Conservatives targeting of “barbaric cultural practices.” What’s not to support? No one likes rape, murder or any other form of violence against women and children. And yes, you could get into a discussion around the word “barbaric” because of its past misuse to refer to non-white cultures, including First Nations, but sure call them “barbaric” as in “terrible”, “cruel”, “brutal.” They are.
It’s the “cultural” part that’s a problem.
Because I hate to break it to you but rape, murder, violence: those ain’t exactly limited to one culture.
And guess what? They’re already illegal in Canada. And have been for a long, long time.
So the new part is the culture.
The implication is it’s not enough to be diligent against individuals who would rape and murder. There’s a whole “culture” to beware of.
And which culture, exactly, are you talking about?
It’s reminiscent, I think, of the arguments against decriminalizing or legalizing homosexuality back in the day.
Once upon a time, homosexuality wasn’t viewed as simply being attracted to other men. It was, in the minds of many, pedophilia.
So when people would try to defend homosexuality, many people heard someone trying to defend pedophilia.
And you can see that in this whole discussion. The niqab isn’t just the niqab. The niqab is rape and murder.
Look at the online discussions around this. If someone defends the right to wear the niqab, someone else jumps in asking why they support ISIS, the subjugation of murder, and forced marriages. They simply don’t see them as two different things.
Just like people couldn’t separate homosexuality from pedophilia. They were simply intertwined in the minds of people who didn’t understand. And felt nervousness and fear as a result.
And it doesn’t stop at the niqab.
That fear extends to Muslims as a whole.
Here’s a Liberal campaign sign defaced with the words “More Muslims + Taxes”.
Here’s another that reads “Arab Scum.”
There is no subtly here. This isn’t “I disagree with the practice of covering a woman’s face.”
It’s Muslims = bad. Arabs = bad.
This isn’t about one particular manifestation of Islam.
It’s about all Muslims. And all Arabs. And anyone who looks like they might be Muslim are Arabic.
They are suspect.
Because there’s a culture out there. A culture that is incompatible with Canada.
A culture the Conservatives are so worried about they’re promising to set up a special tip line so you can call on your neighbours if you suspect them of being a part of that culture.
Again, the practices they are referring to are bad: rape, murder, etc.
But again, those were already illegal.
And we already have 911.
So why do we need this new tip line?
Why isn’t it simply called a “child and woman abuse tip line?”
A brown man who says he’s a Muslim rapes a woman.
A white man who says he’s an Atheist or a Christian rapes a woman.
But only one of them needs a tip line. And “rape” isn’t the key word.
What does that do to your views of Muslims generally? Of brown people generally?
So if you see no problem with the terminology of the barbaric cultural practices tip line, ask yourself this…
When you hear the phrase barbaric cultural practices, which culture comes to your mind?
What colour is the skin of the person who you’re going to be more diligent about watching with suspicion, just to make sure they aren’t up to anything bad?
Then say it out honestly and see how it feels.
So yes, I’m headed to Turkey for a two-week vacation that will take us to three cites: Istanbul, Goreme, and Kas. Though I’m sure I’ll be tempted to Tweet and Instagram the whole way through, I’m going to try and contain myself to simply taking pictures, and then posting a single daily update. This will allow me to spend more time actually being there rather than on my phone, which I’m sure my wife will appreciate, and, hopefully, not annoy people on social networks as much, either. If you care to follow along, you can find it here (I’ll probably post a highlights post back here when I’m done, too).
Earlier this week, the body of a three-year-old boy washed up on the shores of Turkey.
His mother and brother also died in those waters, as have countless others seeking a better life after being forced out of their own homes and homelands.
This family, in particular, had been trying to get from Turkey to Canada. They had left their home in Syria, and in desperation paid a human smuggler in the hopes of joining their family in Vancouver. They will never make it.
Later today, I will get on a plane to Vancouver. I will then fly to Toronto and on to Istanbul.
It’s a vacation we’ve been planning for a while, putting a bit of money aside here and there so we could see a country rich with human history and natural beauty. I’m looking forward to it.
For the price of a few paycheques and a few hours, I will travel the distance that this family never will. Then I will come back to Canada, a country that is mine by default alone. I didn’t earn my birth here. I didn’t make some grand decision that I would become a citizen of this country, though I certainly would if given the choice. It is pure luck that I have been given the opportunities I have, the right parents in the right place and the right time. People don’t choose to be born into privilege, and they don’t choose to be born into desperation. You are simply born, and wherever you happen to be when that happens sets your life on wildly different courses.
When I was three, I never clung to my father’s hand as the waters ripped us apart.
Soon, I will sit in a cushioned seat and fly across the water that took that child’s life.
* * *
This isn’t meant to be a “woe is me” post, or a “holy cow, I’m just waking up to these problems and so should you!” one, either. There is so much wrong with the world that it can be overwhelming trying to keep track of it all, or trying to decide how best to help. Everyone just do what you think is best, I respect that.
But this intersect, of the differences between my fortune and this family’s tragedy, has made a distant situation feel less distant and much more personal.
It’s not guilt at my privilege. It’s a stark awareness of it.
I will take my vacation, and I will enjoy my family and marvel at how amazing the world is, and how interconnected we are. And then I will come home and think of how lucky I am to be able to do so, and how I should never take it for granted, though I inevitably will. And I’ll try to help, a little more, with the efforts underway to give more people a safe home and family and a life that isn’t lost in the waters in an attempt to have just a little of what I have. I’ll still be privileged, and I still won’t do all that I could possibly do, and I’ll still spend money on frivolous things while other people struggle. I’m not trying to scold myself for anything and I’m not trying to absolve myself, either. It is what it is what it is. I’m lucky to be where I am in the world today. I wish more people could be so lucky.
Tonight in Prince George, city council will vote on whether or not to ask staff to prepare a report on how best to come up with some new rules aimed at making it so bike lanes are left clear for bikes. At the moment there are no such rules, so oftentimes bike lanes are full of parked cars, causing bikers to have to have to ride on the road between the parked cars and traffic.
In the ever-reliable comments sections, there are a number of people saying this is pointless because of the lack of people they see riding bikes in the city. For example:
“Bottom line is that all day long as I drive around Prince George I see very few bikers. So where are they.???”
“Why pander to less than 1% of vehicle traffic? Why not do a count of how much the bike lanes are used before wasting so much money?”
“I personally do not see a big need for bike lanes to begin with. I see very few bike riders utilizing these bike lanes.”
The problem with all of these is they assume the current number of people riding their bikes is the maximum number of people who would ever ride their bikes, or at least close to it.
I can tell you right now that is not a fair assumption, because of the number of people I’ve had tell me they would like to ride their bike around town, but don’t feel safe doing so because of the lack of infrastructure.
Here’s the thing: many of this city’s main roads still don’t have bike lanes. Those that do often have parked cars, garbage cans, or a buildup of gravel in them. There are very few routes in this city where you can spend your entire time riding in a bike lane or bike-friendly roads. There are many places where you are just inches from traffic. For the most part, we don’t have bike lanes in the sense of lanes you can bike to and from places in, we have a random series of disconnected spaces where bike lanes may or may not exist, depending on whether people are parking in them.
If you REALLY wanted to measure the demand for bike lanes, here’s what you might to do: shut down all the roads. Choose just a few of them that cars are allowed to use – not direct routes, but roundabout side roads. All the rest belong to bikes. If cars want to use those roads, they have to wait for bikers to go by first. Or they can drive along train tracks where the trains may or may not stop for them. After a few years of this, see how many people are still driving cars, and there’s your demand for car-friendly roads versus bike-friendly ones.
Of course, it would be absurd to artificially decrease demand for roads that cars can use this way. But that’s basically what we’re doing with bikes if we think the current use of bike lanes represents how much use a properly designed bike system would have.
Note: this is “thinking-out-loud” post – if you think I’ve missed something, let me know
One thing I’ve been curious about for a while is how important it is for federal candidates to win the city of Prince George if they want to become a Member of Parliament. Even though Prince George is the largest city in the north, it’s divided into two for purposes of electoral boundaries. That means the roughly 71,000 people here are thrown into a pot with a bunch of other towns and cities, giving the city as a whole less weight than you might expect.
2015 is going to be the first election with the newly distributed ridings, so I decided to take a look at how it adds up.
Prince George – Peace River – Northern Rockies
The big change here is the addition of the Northern Rockies (ie Valemount and the Robson Valley) alongside the rest of B.C.’s northeast (Fort St John, Dawson Creek, Tumbler Ridge, Fort Nelson, etc). It is described on the federal electoral district page as:
- (a) the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality;
- (b) the Peace River Regional District; and
- (c) those parts of the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George comprised of:
- (i) that part of the City of Prince George lying northerly and easterly of a line described as follows: commencing at the intersection of the westerly limit of said city with the Nechako River; thence generally southeasterly along said river to the Cariboo Highway (Highway No. 97); thence southerly along said highway to Massey Drive; thence northeasterly along said drive and Winnipeg Street to 15th Avenue; thence easterly along said avenue and Patricia Boulevard to the Queensway; thence southerly along the Queensway to Patricia Boulevard; thence generally easterly along said boulevard and its production to Yellowhead Highway (Highway No. 16); thence southeasterly along said highway to the Fraser River; thence generally southerly along said river to the southerly limit of said city;
- (ii) the District Municipality of Mackenzie;
- (iii) the villages of McBride and Valemount;
- (iv) subdivisions A, D, F, G and H;
- (v) Fort George (Shelly) Indian Reserve No. 2.
The overall population given for the riding is 107,382.
If the whole of Prince George were in here, it would be the majority. But it isn’t – just the north part of it. I’m honestly not sure how to figure out what the population of just that part of the city is (if you have an idea let me know), but I can start adding up the rest of the region and take a guess.
Using numbers from the 2011 census I can start adding this up. There’s a lot, so I’m only going to count the places with over 100 people.
Northern Rockies Regional District: 5,290 (revised count)
Fort Nelson 2: 457
Peace River C: 6,398
Peace River B: 5,552
Peace River D: 5,479
Peace River E: 2,764
Fort St John: 18,609
Dawson Creek: 11,583
Tumbler Ridge: 2,710
Hudson’s Hope: 970
Pouce Coupe: 738
At this point we have 54,168 – over fifty percent of the riding. That’s even before adding Valemount’s 1,020, McBride’s 586, Mackenzie’s 3,507, and the various parts of the regional district of Fraser-Fort George. The city of Prince George represents somewhere in the realm of 40-45 percent of the riding, depending on how you’d like to characterize “the city”.
This riding consists of 108,252 people, divided up like so:
- (a) those parts of the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George comprised of:
- (i) that part of the City of Prince George lying southerly and westerly of a line described as follows: commencing at the intersection of the westerly limit of said city with the Nechako River; thence generally southeasterly along said river to the Cariboo Highway (Highway No. 97); thence southerly along said highway to Massey Drive; thence northeasterly along said drive and Winnipeg Street to 15th Avenue; thence easterly along said avenue and Patricia Boulevard to the Queensway; thence southerly along the Queensway to Patricia Boulevard; thence generally easterly along said boulevard and its production to Yellowhead Highway (Highway No. 16); thence southeasterly along said highway to the Fraser River; thence generally southerly along said river to the southerly limit of said city;
- (ii) subdivisions C and E;
- (b) that part of the Bulkley-Nechako Regional District comprised of: Subdivision F; the District Municipality of Vanderhoof; and
- (c) Cariboo Regional District, excepting: subdivisions G, H and L; the District Municipality of 100 Mile House.
So once again, let’s start adding it up:
Williams Lake: 10,832
Cariboo A: 6,250
Cariboo B: 4,006
Cariboo C: 1,225
Cariboo D: 2,988
Cariboo E: 4,129
Cariboo F: 4,564
Cariboo I: 1,511
Cariboo J: 600
Cariboo K: 494
Bulkley-Nechako F: 3,702
This is 55,033, just enough to tip us over the 50 percent mark. Unlike the Peace River regional district, where the north alone is enough to overwhelm Prince George without even throwing in the east, this one requires both the south and west to do it. Still, the city of Prince George itself once again consists of less than 50 percent of the overall riding.
What does it mean?
Probably not a lot – I don’t think you’re going to see a candidate campaign on an explicitly anti-Prince George campaign to win over all the voters in the rest of the riding. You still need to appeal to people in northern B.C.’s capital if you want to win northern B.C.
But that’s not enough. Unlike more metropolitan ridings where you can focus on a single city or area in your attempt to win, I can’t imagine a successful candidate taking the risk of focusing solely on Prince George without paying a few visits to the rest of the region.
This is particularly pronounced in the Peace. While Prince George acts as a service centre for Quesnel and much of the Cariboo, the bulk of the population in the Peace River-Northern Rockies riding is focused in the northeast – the cluster of communities surrounding Dawson Creek and Fort St John. If you were to focus on one part of the riding in an attempt to win, it would be the northeast over Prince George.
In practice, this situation has already played out a few times. For the bulk of the nineties and the 2000s, the rep for Prince George-Peace River was Jay Hill of Fort St John. When he stepped down, the race to replace him in the Conservative party was between Cameron Stolz, a businessman and city councillour in Prince George, and Bob Zimmer, a shop teacher in Fort St John. Despite having no previous electoral record and no real connections to Prince George, Zimmer won. Similarly, when Dick Harris said he would be leaving his post as the Conservative rep in the Cariboo, Shari Green- who had already won one term on Prince George council and then defeated an incumbent to become mayor – failed to win support of the party base. And just this past week, another previous city councillour, Deborah Munoz, lost her bid to represent the NDP to Trent Derrick. This despite the fact that Munoz had bested Derrick twice in the number of votes received in their runs for council in Prince George.
There are far too many other factors at play to draw simplistic lessons from this, but the one thing I take away is electoral success in Prince George does not translate to success on the federal level, and the relative weight of Prince George compared to the rest of the riding may have something to do with that.
Maybe it was the winter games. Maybe it’s the centennial. Maybe it’s the fact that the Cougars have a new set of owners. I don’t know what it is exactly, but somehow it feels like the city of Prince George has changed this year.
For whatever reason, there seems to be a general sense of “yeah, we got this” going on. Last night I went to an art opening that was devoted to exploring Prince George’s visual identity. And it was packed! People were interested in the city’s culture. Then after that I went to Nancy-O’s and it was packed, too! And it was a Thursday!
I think that’s a big part of it. Just a few years ago, event organizers were always lamenting how Prince George was a “last-minute town”, meaning that you could never tell if something was going to be successful until the day of because people were so unwilling to commit to actually going to anything.
That is no longer the case. When the Kiwanis Club decided to hold an AleFest, tickets sold out months in advance. Judy Russell’s production of “The Sound of Music” was so popular they added extra shows, and they sold out, too. I got the last two tickets to a Saturday matinee of a musical in the middle of the summer – and I bought them a week early. It’s a hard thing to get your head around, if you’re from here – people are enthusiastically going out and supporting things to the point that “sold out” and “packed” seems to be more of a norm than an exception. The idea that you could hold two successful artistic endeavours in a single night was basically unheard of. Now it’s just another Thursday.
And it’s not just that. I’ve been working downtown for about five years now. Used to be I would go for a walk on a break and see virtually nobody. Now it doesn’t matter where I head, there are people there. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like we’re in Toronto or something, but the city streets aren’t lifeless. People are eating on patios. The revamped Canada Games Plaza more often than not has kids playing there, or someone sitting on a bench reading a book or sketching. There’s public space, downtown, and it’s being used.
If I had to put a word to it, I’d say there’s a sense of maturity. In various things – the name change of the park being the most prominent – it seems like a critical mass of the city’s populace has moved to a certain level of thoughtfulness about what kind of place we want to be and what it will take to get there. It’s an acknowledgement of flaws while still agreeing that there is good reason to be here and the solution is not to complain or abandon the city, but adapt it.
This image from last night’s Hometown Project captures what I’m trying to say:
For better or worse, the defining characteristic of Prince George to the outside world remains the smell associated with the local industry. There has been a long and at times heated battle between people who’ve wanted to improve the air quality and the people who are more concerned with the jobs that might cost. “That’s the smell of money” was a shorthand way of dismissing the debate – to the people saying it, a sense of “what ya gonna do?” To the people hearing it, a roadblock thrown in front of their hoped-for improvements. And to the outside world, the smell is a shorthand way of dismissing the city as a whole.
This image captures all that. It acknowledges the smell and the associated problems, but also embraces it as something that makes here here. It’s not against getting rid of the smell, but it’s not against the smell, either, if that makes any sense (there’s a reason why I’m not an art critic). The point is: this image showcases a love of the city by exploring one of its major flaws. And it’s fun, too.
* * *
I mean, I’m sure this has always been here, to an extent. Probably the critical mass that I’m feeling has been felt before. And, no doubt, there are people who think I’m completely out to lunch and this place is terrible.
But I don’t know. I’ve always liked it here. But this year, for whatever reason, I like it better than ever.
I’ve been riding the Carly Rae Jepsen bandwagon pretty hard, and this review by Tom Breihan on Stereogum is the best explanation of why:
“There’s this new narrative in which would-be pop stars find their voices by venturing outside the studio system, working with indie auteurs and finding themselves whole new audiences on the festival circuit. And that setup has produced some truly great music, like Solange’s True and Sky Ferreira’s Night Time, My Time. But E•MO•TION isn’t that. From a distance, it seems like it should be that. Jepsen worked with Dev Hynes and Ariel Rechtshaid on the shimmery, quick-dissolve ballad “All That” and with Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij on the burbling “Warm Blood.” But E•MO•TION doesn’t play like critic-bait — or, for that matter, like festival-bait. Instead, it plays like gleaming mall-pop turned way up past 11.”
I’ve listened to the Japanese leak of this album pretty consistently since it came out and unless something dramatic happens (like Kanye West) this is going to be my album of the year. Highly recommend.