Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Understanding the Early Years in Niagara

A breakfast forum was hosted by the Early Childhood Community Development Centre this morning in St. Catharines. Data was presented on the results of a survey of neighbourhoods in the Niagara Region. An instrument called the Early Development Instrument was developed to measure 'readiness to learn in school' and the results are based on an overall sample size of 3,014. Glory Ressler, Coordinator, Understanding the Early Years Niagara Region, and Tiffany Gartner, Data Analysis Coordinator, Ontario Early Years Niagara Region reviewed some fascinating results of the survey. The following conclusions were reviewed.
  • almost 1 in 4 Niagara children are not ready for learning
  • poor scores impact future success and, eventually, community health and prosperity
  • larger percentages of children living in poverty are vulnerable
  • the largest number of children at risk live in middle/upper income families
  • small changes for a large proportion of the population will have the most impact
  • neighbourhood makes a difference - not always in a predictable manner
  • access to resources also seems important
  • low scores, differences and surprises can inspire further study and action.
As with all good studies we have completed in Niagara, what counts now is what we do with the information. It's time for our individual communities to learn more about the local information and then decide how to work together to ensure that every child has the opportunity to develop his/her full potential. As Thomas D'Aquino, President of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives said "If Canada is to succeed in forging a creative economy, we cannot afford to waste the talents of a single Canadian."

In the photo from left to right: Heather Carter, Aaron Bell, Ojibway Storyteller, Glory Ressler, Coordinator, Understanding the Early Years Niagara Region and Dr. Robin Williams, Medical Officer of Health and Commissioner of Public Health.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Hon. Carolyn Bennett Celebrates 10 Years

The Hon. Carolyn Bennett celebrated her 10th Anniversary of being the Member of Parliament for St. Paul's riding in Toronto. Paying special tribute to Carolyn at was former MP of the riding Barry Campbell, Bob Rae, Candidate for Toronto Centre, Irwin Cotler, MP for Mount Royal, Ken Dryden, MP for York Centre and Sue Barnes, MP for London West. Carolyn is my mentor and I am so lucky! Everyone spoke about her enthusiasm, adherence to principled leadership, and promotion of building the party from the grassroots and democracy between elections.

NWG Women's Group Off to a Great Start

The first inaugural meeting of the NWG Women's Group took place today at The Gables in Grimsby. About forty women from all walks of life came together to discuss the possibility of becoming a Club registered with the Liberal Party's Women Commission. In the photo from left to right: Katherine Medcalf, Rhonda Michalovicz, Linda Henry, Britt Traynor, Heather Carter, Alison Grewal, Helen Wilson, VP Women's Commission, Elizabeth Elliott, and Selvum Pillay, VP Laurier Liberal Ladies. Lynne Steele, former Riding President of York-Simcoe is in the front row.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Walt Addresses Laurier Liberal Ladies

Walt Lastewka, MP from 1993 to 2006 and Federal Candidate for St. Catharines addressed the Laurier Liberal Ladies today. Walt delivered a fabulous speech to the group of about seventy at the Howard Johnson Hotel at noon. In the photo from left to right: Joyce Morocco, Niagara Falls, Walt Lastewka, Heather Carter and Lina Seniuk, President, Laurier Liberal Ladies.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Taking the Lead on Poverty Reduction

Today, I attended a great event at the Learning Enrichment Foundation Centre in Toronto. Our leader Stephane Dion took a courageous step in announcing an ambitious poverty strategy. What gives weight to the announcement is the targets set. Under liberal leadership during the next five years, there will be a reduction in the number of Canadians living in poverty by thirty percent and the number of children by fifty percent. Currently, 3.4 million Canadians live in poverty of which 788,000 are children.

The plan calls for the use of a broad range of public policy instruments to ensure the targets are met including changes to the Working Income Tax Benefit, the Canada Child Tax Benefit, and the Guaranteed Income Supplement.

This poverty reduction plan affirms the liberal progressive strategy for Canada and gives Canadians a clear alternative to the uninspired and regressive policies of Harper and the conservatives.

I will never forget the debate I was in during the last election at Saltfleet High School in Stoney Creek. Someone asked what I was going to do about poverty, given Hamilton's high poverty rate. I remember being shocked when the woman told the audience and candidates about the number of children, particularly, that were living in poverty in Hamilton. I decided that I better learn as much as I could about poverty and that this was an issue of national importance.

Today Dion called on the staff and board members of the LEF and all Canadians to hold his feet to the fire, indicating that unless one aims high, accomplishments are few. This was a welcome announcement - a big and bold plan at a time when Canadians are hungry for a grander vision. I am so proud.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Fundraising Training in Niagara

Adam Smith, Senior Manager of Grassroots Fundraising for the Liberal Party of Canada spent the day with a number of dedicated liberals from Niagara. Adam travelled from Ottawa yesterday and spent some extra time with our group from Niagara West-Glanbrook discussing fundraising ideas. What a valuable session it was! As you can see from the photo, we enjoy each other's company. From left to right: John Caron, Pat Butcher, Heather Carter, Adam Smith, Bill McFarland and Shirley Decaire.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Is Dean Listening?

Dean Allison, MP for Niagara West-Glanbrook is in Ottawa now, confident that he has a good understanding of the concerns of constituents in the riding. In a recent MP Report from Dean, he indicates during the summer months, he consulted with constituents and the three re-occurring themes were Afghanistan, justice and taxes.

During the same summer period, The Strategic Council* conducted a national survey. Canadians were asked “What is the most important issue facing Canada today – that is the one that you are most concerned about?” The results are interesting and, with the exception of the Afghanistan issue, highlight a different list of priorities. The biggest concern - at 23% of the respondents – was the environment, followed by healthcare at 16%, and terrorism (which includes all mentions of Afghanistan,) at 10%. The issue of taxes was way down the list – at 3% and crime/violence at 2%.

Like Dean, during September I manned a booth at the Smithville, Lincoln and Binbrook Fairs. We conducted a poll of attendees, asking them the question “What is the most important issue facing Canadians?” Our list was extensive with a total of 12 items; respondents were given one vote only and the opportunity for to write down other issues that did not appear on the list. The three priorities across all the Fairs were consistent. The number one issue was very clear: healthcare. The second priority was the environment, followed by education as the third issue. At the Smithville Fair, priorities number two and three switched places, with voters rating education slightly higher than the environment. It should be noted that the provincial issue of faith-based education funding was on people’s minds at the time and many individuals checked off “education” because they were either for or against funding of faith-based education. However, many individuals indicated that it was the cost of post-secondary education that was of concern when they chose the education issue as the most important issue.

If we are to take out the education choice because of the confusion over the faith-based funding issue, a provincial matter, we then look at the fourth issues down the list. At the Smithville Fair, the issue of taxes was a distant four at 5%. At Lincoln and Binbrook, crime came in fourth at only 8%. (In comparison, healthcare represented 45% and the environment 23% of the top five priorities.)

So what are we to make of the findings? First of all, there is a great amount of consistency between the national survey and the very informal survey done at our booths for the two top priorities. Healthcare and the environment share number one and two positions. Canadians and residents of Niagara West-Glanbrook are concerned about the state of our health care system and climate changes that are affecting our environment.

The results beg the question: Why didn’t Dean Allison identify the same top two issues during his consultation with constituents this summer? Did the issues not come up? When a constituent raised the issue of the healthcare crisis that we are facing, did he merely pass the buck to the province? What about the environment? Surely, Dean is receiving feedback that it is time for the government to act on the impending crisis and the climate changes we are witnessing.

The overriding characteristic of this government is its bulldozing ahead with its own agenda. And we have seen that Harper will stop at nothing to ensure that his minority government’s own priorities are given importance with little or no consultation with the other parties. During the last 18 months, MPs have been muzzled, parliamentary committees have been shut down by the Conservative Committee Chairs, and a Playbook manual has been distributed to all Conservatives outlining the ways to disrupt committee proceedings. Important priorities like the health of our citizens and the commitment to our environment are being ignored. I hope that you join me in urging Dean Allison, our representative of priorities in Niagara West-Glanbrook, to not fall prey to a narrow agenda that does not reflect the concerns of our residents. Although 36% of Canadians voted for the Conservatives during the last election, 100% of the people living in the communities across the riding expect that, in the democracy that we enjoy in Canada, Dean will listen to every voter’s concerns.

*The Strategic Counsel survey that tracks the concerns of Canadians from May 2005 to July 2007 can be found at

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Max Delivers Marketing Message

At NTAB's 10th Anniversary Celebration tonight, Max Valiquette delivered an entertaining and informative speech about marketing to youth. Some of the information he shared:
  • 60% of women work outside of the home
  • 44% of 20-29 year olds live at home
  • Full transition to adulthood is happening later
  • 25 years ago, average age of 25 for first marriage, now age 29
  • 25 years ago, average age of 25 for having first child, now age 29
  • Young people value relationships, communication, information, diversity and technology.
Max is the the founder and president of Youthography, Canada's leading youth marketing onslutancy, and the host of TVOntario's VoxTalk, a youth issues talk show. He was very entertaining and bears a little resemblance to Rick Mercer, don't you think?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Training in Barrie

Lynne Steele, Organizer Extraodinaire and Past President York-Simcoe Federal Liberal Riding Association arranged a training session for new candidates. I felt like an old pro, having been through one election! What an impressive group of candidates with varied backgrounds and solid experience in many different fields. Carolyn, as usual, was encouraging and humorous. In the photo from left to right: Hon. Carolyn Bennett, MP St. Paul's, Jamie McGarvey, Parry Sound-Muskoka, Andrea Matrosovs, Simcoe-Grey, Heather Carter, Rick Jones, Barrie, and Skid Crease, Dufferin-Caledon. Lynne Steele is seated in front.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

It's Time for Real Debate on Afghanistan

No matter what you think of the Canada’s mission in Afghanistan there are two undeniable facts: our current commitment ends in 2009 and by mid-next year we will have to decide what role we will take on in the future.

Canada has a duty to build a peaceful, secure and prosperous Afghanistan. This commitment started in 2001 when we first joined the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and was reinforced in 2006 when we supported the international Afghan Compact for the country's security and development. The experience of Somalia also tells us that leaving before the job is done will only lead to anarchy.

That said, there's a wide range of options between withdrawal and continuing the status quo, and the commitment to build a brighter future for Afghanistan should not blind Canadians to the fact we are bearing more than our fair share of the burden for the international mission in the country. While our 2,500 troops are engaging the Taliban on a daily basis in order to bring peace to the Kandahar region, Germany has placed its soldiers in the more stable Northern region and refuses to let them help Canadian troops, even when they encounter heavy Taliban resistance. The same goes for Italy, whose troops are based in the West. To make matters worse, most NATO countries haven't sent more than a token number of soldiers. Our European ally Austria has only deployed four.

While some argue that questioning our presence in Kandahar strengthens the Taliban, failing to explore other military missions within the country gives other NATO countries a free ride at our soldiers' expense. So far, there does not seem to be any valid reason why Canada shouldn’t have a tour of duty in a more stable region after 2009, while another country takes our place in the South. This kind of burden-sharing would allow our troops to rest, retrain and re-equip after the difficult mission they have endured, and in no way diminishes our commitment to the Afghan people.

That other NATO members are not stepping forward to share the burden of the Afghan mission raises serious concerns about the future and effectiveness of the Alliance - concerns that cannot be addressed unless we take the time to ask deep and challenging questions before agreeing to a new deployment. The need for this kind of thorough investigation is why Liberal leader Stephane Dion and Defence Critic Denis Coderre are calling on the government to holding an open and honest debate this fall on the future of our mission in Afghanistan. Doing otherwise may mean that Canadian soldiers will continue paying a price that our allies aren't willing to stomach.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Highlighting Niagara's Business Gems

Three of Niagara's brightest business stars were highlighted at the Annual General Meeting Luncheon of Niagara Economic Development Corporation: Dennis Parass of Handling Specialty Manufacturing Ltd., Denis Dyack of Silicon Knights Inc., and Tony Rodway, Aero-Safe Technologies Inc. The three business leaders provided some interesting information about their businesses, and insights into the secrets of their success.

To say that the video game industry is exploding is an understatement. Projected to reach $46.5 billion in sales in 2010, Silicon Knights is riding the wave. Some of the largest video game development studios in the world are in Canada and 71 are in Ontario. Silicon Knights is a growing St. Catharines enterprise, with over 140 employees and 7 games to its credit. The company is positioned for expansion within the next 6 months and beyond. Ninety per cent of the employees are graduates of college and university, mostly from Ontario. Denis has been working towards creating a centre for the development of an incubator for video game development and his goal is to develop a credited college/university program, hopefully here in Niagara. To be successful in having their games distributed around the world, the company has partnered with multinational publishers such as Nintendo, Sega, Microsoft and Sony. Denis believes that Niagara's future is in the knowledge-based economy and he left us with this quote by Richard Florida. "Creativity has replaced raw materials or natural harbours as the crucial wellspring of economic growth."

Aero-Safe Technologies was incorporated in 1981. There are three sub-companies: Aero-Technologies, focussing on CNC Manufacturing, Aero-Processing, focusing on metal finishing and processing and Aero-Devices, focussing on assembly, integration and testing. Tony has worked hard at finding his employees locally by “growing” them in the local schools and he really believes in creating a company that is part of the community. He has developed an impressive program of recruitment and training that benefits his business, students in local schools and Niagara College, and the community by providing local employment. Aero-Safe recruits from Fort Erie Secondary School and has developed a great program called “Classroom in the Workplace” This program has been running for 5 years, training 10 students at a time with a technical teacher. A co-op program is available for students after graduating from this program to continue their development. And then, Aero-Safe can offer the successful candidates part-time and even, full-time work. There is an in-house apprenticeship program, developed with Niagara College. The business is now involved in several different areas: aerospace, defence, life support, optical, sitcom and space. Their facilities are located on Pettit Road in Fort Erie.

Handling Speciality is involved in the automotive, advanced manufacturing and entertainment industries. They custom design and manufacture lifting equipment. By 1999, 75% of their sales were outside of Canada and in the automotive sector. They started looking for opportunities and now, only 15% of their business is from the automotive sector. Dennis Parass, owner and CEO says that they don’t build equipment; they build relationships. A big breakthrough into another market of entertainment came about when the company completed the lift for the underwater show “O” for Cirque de Soleil. This show has been running fro 8 years at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas

Dennis believes that his success rests on his goal of making his company professional. For him, this means excellence, education and a code of ethics. Companies need to pioneer into new areas of business opportunity and to focus on building relationships first and foremost.

There are some great lessons here from these three entrepreneurs. It was wonderful to hear about these Niagara companies and their local and global success.

In the photo, from left to right: Matt Cutler, NTAB Director, Bunny Alexander, NTAB Director, Angelo Nitsopoulos, Owner, Quality Parkway, Heather Carter, NTAB Director, Trudy Parsons, Executive Director, NTAB, Mike Gammon, President, Brock Office Automation and Sathya Gnaniah, Project Manager, Niagara Immigrant Employment Council.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Cuts to Summer Jobs Hurt Community and Business

Several community groups in Niagara West-Glanbrook learned last week that they will not be receiving funding under the repackaged Summer Jobs Program. The Summer Career Placement Program was put in place in the mid-nineties to help students throughout Canada obtain work to pay their way through university or college. The program was vital to many not-for-profit groups who were able to run special summer programs or get some extra assistance from a student during the summer months.

In September 2006, the Conservative government slashed $55 million in funding from the Summer Career Placement Program. Then they re-named it the Canada Summer Jobs Program, changed the policy criteria, but maintained the millions in cuts. Now community groups in our riding who traditionally receive funding to hire students are being told that under the new narrow criteria they are being left out, causing some to wonder if they can continue to offer summer employment. In many cases, it is small, not-for-profit agencies that are being turned down for grants, depriving their clients of the good work usually done by students.

Last week, we learned summer camps for autistic children were denied funding, thanks to the Harper government cuts. Thankfully, the provincial government stepped in to provide funding for the award-winning camps for autistic and low-income children.

The Conservatives claim that this cut was targeted at large corporations, which they claim do not need help to hire a student. But hundreds of organizations, not for profits, and community groups are being told they no longer qualify for summer job funding. Regardless of the type of organization applying for funding, this program is a win-win in so many ways. Not only do the employer and student win, but sectors like tourism are helped. In my view, most important is the role this program has played in providing opportunities for our young people here in Niagara. We know that most of our young people exit Niagara after obtaining their education. The Summer Carer Placement Program gave students the opportunity to work in Niagara. Some of those jobs turn into full-time positions. We are anticipating a tremendous labour market shortage in Niagara and this program helped.

If the Conservatives are serious about helping students find employment, they will restore the funding they cut. Re-branding the program will accomplish nothing and generate fewer jobs. All organizations – including small business, should have access to this program that, for 13 years under the Liberal government, worked very well.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Supply Management Under Attack

As an entrepreneur and advocate for business, I must admit that I had trouble understanding the system of supply management used in our agriculture sector. After all, this system, at first blush, goes against the core business principle that I hold near and dear: the ability of individual business owners to compete in a global market. Supply management imposes limits on how much each farmer can produce, who the farmer can market to, and how much each farmer obtains for his product. This is hardly free enterprise and looks like government interference and control of the worst kind!

I am not alone in having this initial reaction to this system of management. Supply management has been accused of being about subsidies and protectionism and the lack of free trade. It is not easily understood. And, in the last six months, the Canadian Wheat Board, perhaps the most prestigious marketing board in the world, has been under attack by the Conservatives. In its place, a dual market system is being proposed that looks like the best of free market economy. In this article, I will attempt to shed some light on supply management systems and single desk marketing boards, tell you why I am now a convert and why we need to fight for this important system.

First of all, here’s the big picture and sales pitch about why this system works. Supply management has to do with the food Canadians eat. You may believe as I do that the government needs to be involved in ensuring that the food we get is safe to eat. And, Canadians want to be able to choose “made in Canada” food while supporting stable incomes for their farmers. Supply management allows this to occur. It gives Canadian farmers the tools to participate as world leaders in issues such as food safety, animal care, emergency preparedness, research and quality.

The economic impact of supply management and marketing boards is significant across Canada. The number of supply managed farms varies from region to region and it is more significant in Atlantic and Central Canada than it is on the Prairies. A total of twenty per cent of Canadian agriculture is supply-managed agriculture: dairy, hatching egg, laying egg, chicken and turkey. The feather industry, which includes chicken, hatching egg, laying egg and turkey farmers produced half a billion dollars worth of live chicken in Ontario, and in Canada, $1.6 Billion. The chicken farming and processing industry employs close to 50,000 Canadians - not an insignificant industry. A recent PriceWaterhouseCoopers study described as "huge" the $1.6-billion annual economic impact of the Winnipeg-based Canadian Wheat Board, "with Western Canada as a major economic beneficiary."

One of the misconceptions of supply management is that the government subsidizes the farmers. This is not true. Individual farmers pay, not the government. The farmers pay levies on their production, which pays for the operation of the supply management coordination boards. Currently it is at .0125c per kilo for chicken in Ontario.

One accusation from folks that either don’t agree or don’t understand supply management is that it is about protectionism. It is true that Canada’s national government sets limits on supply-managed product imports through import tariffs and import restrictions. This is done to ensure that Canada’s first responsibility goes to supporting our Canadian farmers and buying safe food for Canadians. I personally don’t think that protecting our farmers is such a bad thing to do.

Another concern about supply management is related to the production restrictions placed on individual farmers. Supply-managed farmers are discouraged to produce more than their quota, thereby taking away some of the natural incentive in business to produce more and along with it, make more money. It is true that under supply management, quotas are enforced. Every year, farmers, processors and retailers jointly set production targets that will meet the estimates of consumer demand. Essentially, the goal is to match supply and demand through this balanced production management system. These targets are then passed down to provincial supply management boards and are translated into production allocations for individual farmers. It is a trade-off for farmers. They sacrifice their potential to grow their supply-managed commodity without restriction for a guarantee that their product will be bought at a fair price.

The Canadian Wheat Board was established in 1935 as a marketing system for wheat and barley. As with other supply management systems, the purpose of the Wheat Board is to act as a marketing board and create a level playing field for all farmers. For many years, the Board has been under attack by the Americans and a source of real friction in bilateral talks between Canada and the U.S. American producers continually complain that the CWB is a system of government subsidy. Ironically, Canadian farmers have almost no government subsidy while Americans and their European Union counterparts are heavily subsidized by their governments.

Since December 2006, we have seen that the enemy is no longer the Americans, it is our own government. Chuck Strahl, Minister of Agriculture, has worked towards the dismantling of the Wheat Board. This has included the replacement of government appointees to the Board of Directors in favour of individuals who oppose the Board's monopoly, a gag order on wheat Board staff, the firing of the pro-Board President of the Board, and intervention in the election of farmer elected members of the Board of Directors.

The dual market system being proposed by Strahl looks like a perfect compromise: those who want to take advantage of the marketing board can do so and those who wish to sell on their own outside of the board would be free to do that, too. However, there is ample evidence that the dual market system would effectively end the board's monopoly and any benefits that that monopoly may give to farmers. Agriculture minister, Chuck Strahl, says barley will be removed from the board's jurisdiction by August 1; a decision on wheat will follow.

Single desk selling, marketing boards and supply management systems work for Canadian farmers. In learning about these systems and thinking about them in reference to free enterprise, I have come to two conclusions. The system is like any other system where an individual business joins together with other similar businesses, for the betterment of the group and the industry. In supply management, the entire value chain benefits: the suppliers, the producers (farmers) the processors, the retailers and finally, the consumers. Canadians are the ultimate winners in this system, benefiting from the knowledge that our food demand will be met with safe, largely Canadian product, while at the same time, ensuring that our farmers are being supported by being paid a fair price, and our farmland preserved. And just as in business groups that you join to take advantage of collective purchasing power or joint selling opportunities, you can’t just bow out when it looks like you can do better on your own. It is the collective pooling of resources that gives the group the power. This power is tremendous and needs to be honoured and protected.

A free market approach does not work for all sectors, Far from socialism, protectionism or government subsidies, supply management and single desk marketing systems works for everyone. When it comes to readily available food to eat and the safety of its supply, fair prices and support for our farmers, and protection of our agricultural land, our federal government needs to take a lead role in defending our supply management system.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mother's Day - Time for Family

I visited my step-children and seven grand kids today. We don't have much time for each other, between their busy lives and ours. It's always great to see them. Natalie, my step-daughter pictured here, does an amazing job with the four boys in her life. Happy Mother's Day to Natalie, Marcy and mothers of all kinds and ages...adopted mothers, step mothers, grandmothers, and godmothers.

In this photo:
Owin, Natalie, Parker, Mike and Conner Hendsbee.

Creating Hope for Autism

A new organization called the Bursary of Hope for Autism held a Mother's Day Luncheon at the Chandelier Place in Hamilton today. Over 300 people attended this great luncheon that featured course after course of wholesome Italian food and countless door prizes.

Autism is the most common neurological disorder affecting children and one of the most common developmental disabilities affecting Canadians. A committee of dedicated volunteers organized this event that honoured mothers and raised money and awareness of autism.

In this photo from left to right: Cindy Bain, Madison Bono, Anne Bain (front row), Carla Bono, Anne Bono, Joyce LaTucca and Heather Carter (back row.)

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Raising Money and Awareness for Crohn's & Colitis

Today every M&M Meat Shop across Canada held a Charity BBQ to help raise $1.9 million for research into Crohn’s and Colitis Disease. This was the 19th Annual BBQ Charity Day for the Foundation. The Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of Canada (CCFC) is a national not-for-profit voluntary medical research Foundation, founded for the purpose of finding the cure for inflammatory bowel disease. To achieve its mission, the Foundation is committed to raising funds for medical research.

Education is also part of the organization's mandate. The web site is most informative. I found it interesting to note that the Honorary Patron of CCFC is the Right Honorable Michaelle Jean. At the Paramount location of M&M meat Shops in Hamilton today, I met Ryan Spears, the organization's representative for Hamilton. Ryan makes an ideal ambassador and I was most impressed with this young man who has just completed his first year studies of Science at McMaster.

Pictured here is: Ryan Sears, Doug MacPhie, Heather Carter, Tim MacPhie and Chris MacPhie (serving the hot dog.) Missing from the photo is Elaine MacPhie who was busy taking donations. The MacPhie family are friends of the owners of this M&M and have helped with this annual BBQ for the last several years.

One of the great things about being a candidate is the opportunity to meet people like Ryan Sears and the MacPhie's and to learn about organizations like the CCYC. Nice people who are donating their time and energy to find a cure for inflammatory bowel disease.

Articulate, Impressive and Young Liberals

Today, the South-Central Policy Parliament was hosted by the Mohawk Young Liberals in Hamilton. What an impressive group of engaged young minds. I arrived while the group was discussing a policy resolution regarding education and I was struck with their willingness to share their thoughts, ideas, and opinions.

The group welcomed Hon. Navdeep Bains, MP for Mississauga-Brampton South as keynote speaker. In March of this year, Mr. Bains was appointed youth caucus liaison to the Young Liberals of Canada. Good questions were asked by the group and Tyler Banham, candidate for Hamilton Mountain and I were asked to assist Mr. Bains in answering the questions.
Also in attendance were: Ted McMeekin, MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flanborough-Aldershot, Russ Powers, Former MP and Hamilton City Councillor for Ward 13, and Ivan Luksik, Nominee for Hamilton-Stoney Creek.

I always leave meetings with the young liberals inspired, knowing there is a next generation coming forward that is full of promise.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Zonta International Award Winners

Zonta International is a worldwide service organization of executives in business and the professions working together to advance the status of women. I had the privilege of judging this year's awards for the St. Catharines Club. I was so impressed with all of the candidates. They were all winners.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Raising Money for Scholarships and Bursaries

The 18th annual Seafood Gala took place tonight. Record attendance of more than 650 guests at Fallsview Casino Resort raised more than $115,000 in support of student scholarships and bursaries.

Under the Ontario Trust for Student Support program, the Government of Ontario will match and exceed that amount bringing the total funds generated $306,000 – a new record for this popular event.

More than 2,000 of Niagara College’s 6,300 students received financial support in 2006 thanks in large measure to those who support events like the Seafood Gala which generate funds for student scholarships and bursaries.

As a Director of Niagara College's Foundation Board, I am so proud to be part of this great event.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Niagara/Hamilton Churches Walk the Talk

My church was looking for volunteers for an annual event: serving dinner to the people at the Wesley Centre in Hamilton. The Wesley Centre is a 24hr/7 day a week Drop-in Centre / Shelter for men and women in need of shelter, sanctuary and the opportunity to socialize. I decided to go and bring my 10 year old grandaughter, Kendra Lee. I wasn't sure initially that it was a good idea to bring her and a few people said I may want to wait a couple of years until she is a little older. But I know this much about my grandaughter - she has a big heart, loves to care for others and likes to go to new places with her granny.

We went to the church service first on the second floor of the Centre. My pastor and a pastor from the Centre delivered the service together and we all took part in acting out the story of Palm Sunday (Luke 19:28-40). It was a memorable service because of everyone's involvment and because of the two ministers' sensitivity in delivery.

After the service, we went down to the kitchen, past a great crowd in the entrance that were lined up, ready for their meal. It smelled wonderful and the kitchen was packed with our church members. I was assigned the task of serving the meals along with about four others. Kendra Lee worked in the kitchen and had the job of moving the trays along the food line, in readiness for serving. She did an amazing job as I knew she would.

We served meals to about 200 people. A couple of volunteers served coffee and tea. There was a birthday cake that appeared from somewhere, and we sang Happy Birthday to the three clients who were celebrating their special day.
As people finished their meals, they brought their trays and cutlery up to the collection area and many made a special point of thanking us for the meal.

When I pick up Kendra Lee (she is the eldest of seven grandchildren) her Mom never knows where I am going to take her. There are many events in the various communities and most days, it is a matter of choosing between several places within the riding. When I arrived home with Kendra Lee that evening, she was so excited to tell her Mom about our adventure. She explained that we served a meal to people who were poor and I could tell that she felt very proud of the contribution that she had made.

Poverty affects one in six in this great country of ours. We all need to do our part and governments at every level need to work together to take care of our most vulnerable. It is the right thing to do. My church knows that, as do 51 other churches in the Niagara/Hamilton area that make sure that the poor in Hamilton are offered a hot meal every Sunday.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Laurier Liberal Ladies Learn About Niagara Escarpment

Today Don Alexander spoke to the St. Catharines Laurier Liberal Ladies about the Niagara Escarpment. In the 1970s Don was a member of the Niagara Region planning and development committee at a time when the Niagara Escarpment Commission was formed and when urban boundaries were established. Don delivered a very informative talk about the escarpment and has a special feel for the escarpment having lived in both the Bruce and Niagara Peninsulas. Don referred to the escarpment as being a "sacred space" and explained that the word sacred does not necessarily mean religious, but means outside of the ordinary.

The escarpment is 725 kilometres long, extends from here to Tobermoray and includes 120 parks. The Niagara Escarpment Plan was completed in 1973 and was developed through a public consultation process. There are 3 areas outlined in the plan: the natural area or the scarp itself which is protected from being built on, a protection area which is a buffer zone, and a rural area which recognizes that agriculture has a real role and is not just a holding area for development. In addition, it is recognized that the escarpment includes mineral resource areas and has a recreation designation.

The Niagara Escarpment is part of a world biosphere, a world wide network of important areas. Brock University has the unique reputation of having its totality of lands in a world's biosphere.

Don gave all of us a better understanding of the treasure we have in the Niagara escarpment.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Niagara College's Foundation Board Expanding

Our Foundation Board welcomed four new members today. For a change, we met at the Welland Campus at the SAC building. We went on a tour of two of the oldest buildings on campus, the Black Walnut and Mackenzie buildings. Both were built as temporary structures 40 years ago and it was clear, after seeing the buildings and hearing about the cost of upgrading and maintaining them, that it is time for some new structures. Just what the new structures will look like is still being decided. But the Foundation Board will be ready to raise money for this next phase of Niagara College's expansion. I am so proud to be part of this dynamic group and educational institution in Niagara.

Social Justice in Welland

Over the last couple of months, our Business Advisory Committee at the Hope Centre has morphed into the Social Justice Committee and some great events are planned to move the community to action. I met three young students from Notre Dame today who, along with their teacher, Paul Turner, are serious about ending poverty in the Welland community. Alyson Coons, Colton Hrcak and Angela Tilk are planning a Homelessness Awareness Night in April that will have them sleep outside in boxes and go hungry for a night. Alyson, Colton and Angela have been talking to the other schools in the area, in the hopes that more will join in their efforts on April 20th to raise awareness of the needs of our most vulnerable in the Welland/Pelham area.

Under the awesome leadership of the Executive Director, Sylvia Berkhout, there are exciting things happening at the Centre. Some badly needed renovations to the building are well underway and the Hope Centre continues to provide food, shelter and hope to those in our community that need it the most.

Impressed with West Niagara Partners

Once every quarter, Cheryl Scott at West Niagara Community Care hosts a luncheon networking meeting for community partners to come together to share information. The food is always interesting, usually made by one of the volunteers. And the information sharing and networking is always valuable.

There were about a dozen of us at the meeting today and we went around the table, announcing our affiliation and special events, news and needs of our organizations. I was so impressed with the women there. All were so passionate about their work, whether it be with young offenders, abused women, or seniors needing palliative care.

I was there as the Chair of the West Niagara WrapAround Initiative and I talked about the progress we have made so far. We have had a fundraiser and so we have some startup money in the bank. We have a dedicated committee and two partnering organizations that meet regularly (except in the last month.) And we have started to work with a family in the community.

Many of the women spoke about the growth in services over the last several years but also the challenges and continuing need in the growing communities in West Niagara.

At Home with Entrepreneurs

This morning I spoke to about 60 inspiring women entrepreneurs, all members of the Niagara Area Women's Network (NABWN). It felt like going home being surrounded by all of that enterprising, positive, creative, (and female) energy. The event started off with breakfast at the St. Catharines Golf and Country Club and I sat with a group of eight vibrant women who were eager to network with each other and tell me about their businesses. I recognized many of the women from my work at Niagara College's Business Development Centre. It felt so good to see them there thriving in their business success.

When I was introduced and took the podium, I spoke about taking networking one step beyond and encouraged them to establish personal advisory groups. I told them about my success in business that I attribute to the "consultants" who were part of my Small Business Resource Group in Toronto, and the model of the Personal Advisory Group employed by the Canadian Association of Family Enterprise (CAFE). There were lots of good questions and comments.

At the end of the meeting, each woman stood up and introduced themselves and their businesses. Some of them delivered "raves," testimonials about fellow NABWN friends. After the meeting, the room got very busy with women chatting it up and handing out their business cards. The networking really seems to work at NABWN.

It was a wonderful way to start the day and I hope they invite me back. I love that entrepreneurial energy and it fed my soul.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Acts of Kindness Create Community

Tonight I visited a member of the Liberal Party, to renew her membership. I have only met this woman a handful of times but we always hit it off. She has a dog of a breed (Shih Tzu) similar to mine (Lhasa Apso) and we chat about our dogs, our families, and of course, politics. It doesn't take long to figure out that this woman has a heart of gold and she talks about the friends she visits that are dying and how she focusses on all the positive things when she visits them, to cheer them. She has several grandchildren and she has embroidered them tablecloths, made them quilts and knitted them sweaters, socks, scarves and mitts.

Everytime I have visited her, she is knitting. I asked her tonight if she ever got tired of it and she said "Never." I asked her about the sweater she was knitting and I learned that indeed, she has a heart of gold. The sweater, she explained, was being made for next Christmas. For years, this woman has been knitting clothing for "the less fortunate" and every year, just before Christmas, her son puts all of her knitting in boxes and delivers them anonymously to a local charity.

Her friends find her the wool for her craft and she took great delight in telling me how one of her friends came over with her small car filled to the brim with all kinds of lovely brand new wool. Apparently, her friend was at a flea market, and when she told the seller about this woman's generosity and apparent mission in life to give anonymously, the seller gave her the wool.

Isn't is amazing how acts of kindness are contagious? Through this one woman's selfless giving, she has inspired others to do the same - her friend to look for wool, and the seller of the wool to donate it, and me to write about it. I left her home thinking about the many countless act of kindness that go on in our world that make it a better place.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Nomination Meeting Today

Today at 9 am in Grimsby, the Nomination Meeting took place for the riding of Niagara West-Glanbrook. This was the first Liberal Party Nomination Meeting to be held in Ontario! Despite the snow and treacherous roads, a surprising number of supporters came out to the meeting. I was acclaimed as the candidate and I am so proud to be the Liberal representative for NWG in this next election.

Our leader, Stephane Dion, dropped by to congratulate me and address our members and guests. It was such an honour to have him there and I was once again inspired by his vision and sincerity. I will never forget this day.

Thank you to all volunteers, members and guests who came out this morning, some from the far corners of the riding (and other ridings.) I really appreciated the effort you made to show your support for the riding, the democratic process, the Liberal Party and for me!

It is my great honour to be your Candidate.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Martha Hall Findlay Listening to Canadians

The four ridings in Niagara held a Policy Summit today in Welland. Martha Hall Findlay and John Maloney, MP for Welland, joined us for a good part of the day. Martha has been travelling across the country, listening to Canadians and learning about what is important to them. It is great to know that the party is building from the grassroots up. It was a really good day with lots of fabulous ideas and the participants excited and engaged.....what democracy should be.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

I Think He Protests Too Much

You have to wonder, if Stephane Dion is not threatening to Stephen Harper, why would the Conservatives launch this unprecedented attack ad campaign before Dion and his team has had an opportunity to show themselves as the Opposition? There is only one reason: Harper and his Ministers are scared. And so they should be. Just before Christmas, the polls showed that the environment was the key issue for over 70% of Canadians. Harper’s “Clean Air Act” was an embarrassment to Canadians. The polls showed support for the Conservatives dropping and support for Dion and the Liberals on the rise.

As is typical of Harper, the poll numbers caused a swift response. In this case, it precipitated a sudden conversion and immediate reaction. “The so-called climate change” became important. Over the holidays, Ambrose was fired, John Baird was hired to replace her and all of a sudden, the Conservatives, acting like born-again environmentalists, launched a green agenda.

Harper campaigned on 5 priorities. Canadians are beginning to see that, in reality, he has only one: to get re-elected. And he will use any means he needs to get there. The question now is whether Canadians will see this latest ploy to bolster support and this negative attempt to discredit Dion as over-the-top. The ads are significant in what they do not say: Dion has the Conservatives running scared. By attacking Dion out of the start-gate, their mantra of “We’re not afraid of Dion, We’re not afraid of Dion” speaks volumes. By insisting so passionately that Dion is not a good leader, Canadians will suspect the opposite it true. As they should. Liberals at the Leadership Convention opted for a man of integrity. Precisely what Harper is not. I think he protests too much.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Scientists Shed Light on Berm in Pelham

Tonight I introduced a panel of expert scientists to the STOP group of Pelham, the group opposed to the berm erected on a property on Church Street in Pelham this summer. The panel was comprised on Dr. Andy Laursen, Ryerson University, Dr. Lynda McCarthy, Ryerson University, Dr. Mohammed Dore, Brock University and Dr. Sophia Dore, CRA World. It was helpful for the STOP group to hear from an objective group about the science. There was lots of exchange, questions posed and answered, and plans to move ahead with a report to be sent to various government contacts. Mayor Dave was there along with about 40 people from the community.