Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Quilters With Big Hearts

The Quilters from Albright Manor in Beamsville hosted a luncheon today at the Friendship Centre. This group of women create beautiful quilts to give to those in need in our community. Many have been given to cancer patients and last week, five were given to the new patients at McNally House. Each quilt is created with love and before it is given, the women gather to say a prayer for the recipient. One member of the group spoke about the fact that she knew nothing about quilting when she joined the group. Now she is one of their most prolific quilters.

It was an honour to be among these women with big hearts. I hope that they raised a lot of money from today's lunch and that they can continue to cover our community with the special kind of warmth from their beautiful quilts.

In the photo, from left to right sitting are: Kathy Kirby-Smith, Bev Rennie, Margaret Oliver and standing are: Clare Minarcik, Heather Carter and Carol Holmes.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Great Day Planning in NWG

I have had the great privilege of working with some fabulous women. These are some of the best. They are interested and interesting. Today, they, along with one male supporter, took the time - on a Saturday morning in Spring - to talk about campaign strategy. Our facilitator, Lynne Steele, did a great job of balancing our talk about policy and ideas with our plans for winning the next election. How lucky I am to work with such interesting, committed and talented people!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Taking Time for Inspiration

Larry Bitner and I meet regularly for coffee. We worked together for years at Niagara College Business Development Centre. I have fond memories of our work together on various projects. There are some people that you just click with. Larry is one of those people for me.

We're both Certified Business Counsellors and through the years we have discussed and counselled thousands of entrepreneurs. Larry continues to provide guidance to businesses in the Niagara region and lucky are those entrepreneurs who have Larry as their Business Coach. With years of experience in advertising, marketing, sales, coaching (sports and business), teaching, curriculum development, speaking and writing, Larry is a real find for any business owner.

Although we have parted professional ways, we always find so much to talk about. And I am always fascinated with Larry's newest ideas and successes. Lately when we meet we talk about his famous Blog. On October 18, 2007 Larry's website won the 2007 eNiagara WebAward in the category of “Best Blog." It is an amazing, creative, inspiring piece of work...quite typical of Larry! Check it out at You'll find lots on it to inspire you and apply to your life, whether you have a business or are aiming to be the best in whatever you do.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Coming In From The Cold

What a weekend! Most of eastern Ontario received a weather wallop that started Friday afternoon and ended Sunday morning. In Hamilton/Niagara, there was a quite a mix of conditions – high winds, blowing and drifting snow, thunder, lightning, freezing rain and up to 50 centimetres of the white stuff. And that was on top of the freezing rain mix that fell on Thursday.

My husband and I spent Friday night and Saturday digging out. Rather than tempting fate, I decided to forego all of the pre-planned events (including some celebrating International Women’s Day), heed the weather alerts and stay home, safe and warm in my Fonthill home. I decided to do some old-fashioned shovelling to get some exercise and break the monotony of being housebound for most of the weekend.

Each time that I would come inside after another session of shovelling, my coat was covered in snow and I found myself chilled to the bone. However, it didn’t take long to warm up. Home-made chilli, muffins, tea, a warm bath and a fire took the edge off the chill in a hurry. I felt so fortunate to be dry, safe and warm and in a home that I can count on to shield me from the elements.

As I comforted myself in the shelter and warmth of my home, I couldn’t help but think about those less fortunate. Looking out on the snow and hearing the thunder and wind starting to howl, I wondered what it would be like to be out there, stranded. It’s hard for me to imagine.

Homelessness is more prevalent than we wish to think about. And if you live in a suburb or in a rural area, you are not hit with the realities often. You don’t typically see the homeless like you do if you live in a city.

The statistics are disturbing and it hasn’t taken long to figure out that the homeless are not a priority in the Harper government.

  • A few months ago, the Conservative candidate in Toronto Centre, Mark Warner, was turfed by Harper because he dared list homelessness as part of his campaign platform.
  • Approximately 200,000 Canadians are homeless, lacking a fundamental human right according to Article 25(1) of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
  • In February 2008 the Federal Minister responsible for Housing failed to show up at the first national housing summit with Provincial and Territorial Housing Ministers. It’s the first time in a decade the federal Minster has boycotted a national meeting. This snub was despite the fact there is a growing crisis in affordable housing and homelessness in Canada.
  • There is speculation that the Conservatives may privatize CMHC. The word is that this federal agency that plays a valuable role in providing affordable housing to Canadians would be transformed into an organization that benefits only a select few.
  • Canada is the only major industrialized country without a National Housing Strategy.

It’s not easy for me to imagine what it is like to be homeless, but I do have some experience working with the unfortunate and underprivileged. It is a matter of circumstance that people find themselves in situations that we can’t imagine. And for some of us, at some point during our lifetime, we will find ourselves in need and welcoming the hand of a stranger. If it weren’t for a number of our community organizations like Glanbrook/Stoney Creek/Caledonia and District Community Food Banks, Hamilton Food Share, Good Shepherd Centre, The Salvation Army, Mission Services of Hamilton, Neighbour to Neighbour, St. Matthews’s House, The Living Rock, Wesley Urban Ministries, Welcome Inn, Community Care of West Niagara, Grimsby Benevolent Fund, West Niagara Second Stage Housing, Pelham Cares, The Hope Centre, St. Kevin’s Food Bank, Open Arms Mission, Women’s Place and Welland Multicultural and Heritage Centre, (to name a few) many of our less fortunate would go hungry and homeless.

My Mom used to say to me “There, but for the grace of God, go you or I.” This weekend was a time for me to count my blessings, reflect on my good fortune and the values that I hold most dear. My Canada provides for all Canadians, regardless of socioeconomic or cultural backgrounds. My Canada provides the opportunity for all Canadians to live in warm, safe homes that provide for happier, healthier and safer lives. And my Canada provides the opportunity for every Canadian to have a roof over their heads because it is a fundamental right and one that Canadians deserve.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Body Image is Not Black and White

I met artist Cheryl-Ann Webster tonight at the opening of the Beautiful Women Project at the Downtown Art Centre in Hamilton. The exhibit, displaying the clay torsos of 120 real women, aged nineteen to ninety-one, is incredible. Each torso is a piece of art, reflecting the uniqueness of each woman. Accompanying each torso is a story about the woman with wonderful bits of wisdom and insight. "Our bodies tell our life story. They are portraits of our journeys and experiences. Knowing that our body is beautiful just as it exists is a message more people need to see and hear." says Cheryl Ann.

The Project is a teaching and healing tool for everyone and is designed to raise awareness about the link between self-worth, self-identity and physical appearance.

The show is presented by the YWCA Hamilton and runs until April 19th. What a great way to kick off International Women's Week!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Canvassing in Toronto Centre

We went into Toronto Centre to help Bob Rae today. It was a great day, starting at St. Lawrence Market and ending at a home in CabbageTown with CPAC in tow. From the numbers at the rally this afternoon at Campaign Headquarters, Bob should take this one easily. It was a pleasure to learn from a pro like Bob today. He has wonderful people skills and handles questions as only someone with his 30 years experience can do. It will be great to have him in the House of Commons after his ByElection win on March 17th.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Getting Smart on Crime

During the recent visit of the Hon. Marlene Jennings, Justice Critic, I listened to the views of community members, those employed in organizations working with youth, and experts – those who study youth justice matters at our colleges and universities. During three roundtables held in the three corners of this riding which attracted over 120 participants, a great discussion ensued focussing on the root causes of crime, funding for youth programs, and proposed changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

So, it was with great interest that I read about MP Dean Allison’s announcement about the Conservative Government’s funding of some youth based crime prevention initiatives here in Niagara. I completely support the announcement to fund the Youth Options for Success initiative for four years, particularly in light of the fact that Mr. Allison’s party is usually reticent to support long-term support of crime prevention programs. Only 8 of 27 applications for funding for youth crime prevention programs between January 2006 and September 2007 were funded for more than 12 months. This is no way to help our troubled youth in our communities and it is great to see that Mr. Allison has chosen to make Niagara an exception to the Conservative short-term funding rule.

It is troubling, however to read of Allison’s call for the government to “follow through with our promise to look at changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.” When Minister Nicholson tabled Bill C-25 last fall, he cited a recent Royal Commission by Justice Merlin Nunn. Justice Nunn says “The Youth Criminal Justice Act is legislation that provides an intelligent, modern, and advanced approach to dealing with youths involved in criminal activities. Canada is now far ahead of other countries in its treatment of youth in conflict with the law.” Unfortunately, Mr. Allison and the Conservatives seem to ignore this assessment when they condemn the Act for being “too soft” on youth.

The Nunn report calls for changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act in the areas of pre-trial detention and sentencing principles. Justice Nunn called for more ability to detain young offenders awaiting trial in order to prevent committal of further offences and to allow judges more discretion in sentencing by considering what is in the interest of public protection. These are measures that the Liberal Party supports. He does not, however, endorse the very tired Conservative language about getting “tough on crime” nor the principles of denunciation and deterrence being proposed. He refers specifically to this line of thinking in his report: “Many critics believe that jail is the answer: there they’ll learn the error of their ways. These critics pay little attention to contrary evidence, nor do they understand that with young persons, jail for the terms they recommend does not correct or rehabilitate, but rather often turns out a person whose behaviour is much worse than it was.”

Funding youth programs like the Youth Options for Success on a long-term basis is the right thing to do. I wonder if Mr. Allison has read the Nunn Report, or has considered some of the deeper causes of crime – poverty, lack of housing and viable alternatives – that his government so blatantly ignores when it comes to getting smart on crime.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Power of a Few

On Friday, the Mayor of Pelham announced that the controversial berm in Fenwick will be removed. A group of concerned citizens has been tireless in their efforts to get this result. Their success is a testament to the power of a few and the importance of citizen engagement to our democracy.

The group organized as the truckloads of paper fibre biosolids (PFBs) and mineral soil began unloading on a Church Street site in the Spring of 2006. They began meeting and talking. They started monitoring the situation by taking photographs and tracking the number of trucks dumping the material on the site. They began sending letters to the Ministry of Environment. They requested meetings with all levels of government. Most importantly, the group exercised a stance that is critical to this kind of grassroots activism: they were open to meeting with anyone from any organization or political stripe.

I toured the berm and asked if I could help by involving the expertise of environmental consultants and university professors, Dr. Mohammed Dore, Dr. Andrew Laursen, Dr. Lynda McCarthy, and Dr. Sophia Dore. We met with the citizens group in an open meeting in Fenwick on February 1, 2007. After the meeting, the four scientists guided the group in the requests for testing and finally, in the compilation of a comprehensive report that was sent to all parties involved.

The ups and downs of the group were many. After two years and a fight that never stopped, the group was successful in getting their message across. According to the Press Release issued January 25, the berm will begin dismantling as early as this week.

I wish to extend my greatest congratulations to Carolyn Botari who championed the cause. My thanks to the group of scientists who led the group through the process and provided technical expertise and guidance. Thanks to the Town Council and Mayor of Pelham, Dave Augustyn, the Mayor of Thorold, Henry D’Angelo, Abitibi Consolidated, Greenland Greenhouses Inc. and the Ministry of the Environment. Most importantly, thank you to all the citizens who took part in this grassroots movement. You are proof positive that your voice matters.

It was a privilege for me to work with this group of engaged citizens prepared to fight to the end for a cause in which they believed. "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it;s the only thing that ever does." (Margaret Mead, anthropologist)