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Painting the Berlin Wall and coming full circle

December 17th, 2014

By Randy McMillan

I arrived in Berlin in late 1977. The city ended up enchanting me and changed my life.

Berlin was in the grip of the Red Army Faction, a group of German terrorist cells who killed and kidnapped, and sprang captives from Europe’s biggest jail, Moabit Prison. Walking through the ‘tiergarten’ on a misty fall evening, one came upon silhouettes of police with machine guns at various Western sights: the Reichstag, embassies, the American library. The atmosphere dripped of melancholy and dark foreboding. The Berlin Wall as a backdrop was pure ‘Third Man’ film noir. The Wall itself was neutral, smooth, unbroken concrete – not nearly as foreboding as what was behind it: landmines, barbwire, and watchtowers.

The East German propaganda designers had neutralised its death trap truth, in big lie fashion. It seemed no more deadly than a highway sound wall. I enjoyed the lunacy of it, but was angered by its murderous intent and inhumanity. Graffiti at the time was not a formalized art form and the Wall was bare of any paint or comment. When John Lennon was murdered, I was outraged and decided to do something positive to fight my disillusion with humanity. The idea of painting an image of a ladder on the Wall came to mind. Someone had painted a section at the Potsdammerplatz black, advertising a punk group called Interzone. This was the most exposed area to drive-by traffic. Someone else scrawled the names of two other punk groups – Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. These were the only markings on the 100-kilometre scar dissecting the city.

My German girlfriend (now my wife) and I decided to make an art attack under cover of darkness. With our worn-out VW beetle, step ladder on the roof, we drove to the Wall. We worked quickly, with her acting as lookout. After I finished, we split back to our apartment. The next morning, we went back to check out our work. It looked like a well planned work of art, despite being spontaneous. To finish it off, we launched helium balloons and videoed them blowing over the Wall.

The piece inspired others, and soon the spray cans came out and people freely expressed themselves. Postcards were made, prints were sold. No cash passed through my fingers, but I enjoyed anonymous fame. Flash forward to 1989, and I was there the night the Wall fell. A friend who worked for state television came to the Brandenburg Gate to check out the media frenzy and filmed me painting another ladder on the Wall. The West German police appeared and forbade me to continue. With streams of East Germans walking to the western side of the city, I felt my work had been done anyway.

Randy McMillan is a resident of Wakefield. His wife, Agnes McMillan, circulation manager for the Low Down, was a willing accomplice in the Berlin Wall art attack.


Austerity reckoning is upon us

December 10th, 2014

By Steve Connolly

For years, economic experts have stated that Quebec is the highest taxed entity in North America. They have predicted that it would only be a matter of time before a severe reckoning would be foisted upon all Quebec citizens because of poor government at all three levels.

With Couillard’s leadership, the reckoning may have commenced. MRCs and mayors have had plenty of opportunity to get their act in order, but have ignored the warnings. The province is broke; the premier has no choice but to cut expenses and services. This was entirely predictable. The size of our bloated government has been increasing far faster than private industry.

The MRC will now have to directly manage the previously separate functions of Tourisme Vallée Gatineau (TVG) and Centre for Local Development (CLD), with less money. A report I prepared earlier this year indicated that 26 of 27 businesses in Low consider the Tourist Bureau to be a joke – unhelpful and a waste of taxpayer money. Yet it has been allowed to continue with no changes.

The CLD purports to have created 82 full-time and 35 part-time jobs. $363K was granted to create jobs worth $5.5 million in new employment income. But that $363K is nowhere close to the full cost. Taxpayers cover the grant as well as the budget of the CLD – likely over $1 million annually. CLD doesn’t report on businesses that it has helped over the years, but that have failed. CLD fails to reveal the loss of employment data. CLD does not disclose net information because it would show that it is not making a positive difference.

How many new businesses would have started without CLD help? Why not do away with the CLD and simply divide up the $1,363K among the 17 municipalities for their use? If the CLD has been creating the jobs as has been reported each year, then why have businesses and employment declined in our MRC? In Low, the Atlas Enterprise lumber mill has gone from over 100 employees down to seven – a disaster caused by government and failure of the CLD.

The Quebec government must cut $1.3 billion from municipal funding. Most likely, taxpayers are going to see high tax increases for 2015 that will be attributed to Couillard’s austerity program. The MRC, and its mayors, will say, “Sorry, we could do nothing about it.” No wonder the premier has been forced, even if imperfectly, to clean up the mess.

Steve Connolly is a resident, and former councillor for the Municipality of Low.


Ditch the mainstream

December 3rd, 2014

By Michelle Hernandez

A couple years ago, I would’ve gotten really excited when a teacher or bus driver would turn on the radio. I would recognize every song that was being played.

When I started high school, I began to really listen to what these artists were saying. Not only were the tunes and beats similar, but so were the words. The artists filled the empty spaces in their music with ‘ohs’ and ‘nas’ and the occasional ‘yeah’, causing the song to get stuck in your head. Simplistic and meaningless lyrics are often remembered and recognizable.

For the most part, these songs don’t even have a meaning; they’re usually about money, partying, fame, or a woman’s body and what she should and shouldn’t do with it.

I no longer enjoyed this music. I would no longer get excited over the radio being on; in fact, I’d get annoyed, because the music no longer made me feel the passion I had once felt. I’d get frustrated with the messages they were trying to get across because, for the most part, these were not things young people should be listening to.

I didn’t want to keep making untalented people famous, so I began to look up solo artists and bands who were unrecognized or underrated. These artists are the ones who put real passion into their work – they’re doing what they do because they truly love it. Not to make the top one hundred, not to make the most money, not to please anyone but themselves. Because they enjoy it. Because it makes them happy.

The music industry is like a competition. Everyone is trying to come up with the simplest tune and the catchiest lyrics so that their fame can grow. It’s unfair to the consumer.

It may seem hipster of me to say this, but I honestly despise mainstream music. In my opinion, it’s repetitive and over-played.

Since I stopped listening to ‘popular’ music, my point of view has changed. I’ve become a deeper thinker, more conscious of people’s feelings, more in touch with my own thoughts.

When a song means a lot to you, you find comfort in the lyrics. It can influence your mood. How would one find comfort in a song that doesn’t really serve a purpose?

Michelle Hernandez is a journalism student at Philemon Wright


Park protection should be a priority in Parliament

November 26th, 2014

By Jay Morrison

Name the biggest attraction in the Gatineau Hills. Of course, it’s Gatineau Park. Famous for skiing, hiking, biking, swimming, and canoeing, the park is critical to the local economy. It is home to over 100 species-at-risk in Canada or Quebec – and isn’t it the wildness of the park that we value most?

But Gatineau Park is not really a park at all. It is not protected by the National Parks Act nor is it regulated by Quebec. Its lands can be sold without the approval of any elected body. Private property development continues inside the park. To be fair, the National Capital Commission has purchased over 30 properties in the past few years, but does not have the budget to acquire all that come onto the market. Private members’ bills to give the park greater protection have been debated in Parliament, but without government support, they have gone nowhere. The federal government has promised legislation to amend the National Capital Act, but so far . . . nothing.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is a national conservation organization that has worked with governments, local communities, and First Nations for over 50 years, taking a lead role in the creation of more than two thirds of Canada’s parks and protected areas that comprise over half a million square kilometres. CPAWS-Ottawa Valley works in both Quebec and Ontario throughout the Ottawa River watershed (bigger than New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and PEI combined) and has more than 5,000 supporters. In addition to creating new protected areas, one of the priorities for CPAWS-Ottawa Valley is legal protection for Gatineau Park. We think that a large majority of local residents agree that Gatineau Park should have the same level of protection as all national parks.

While we believe that private property inside the Park is not compatible with maintaining and restoring the Park’s ecological integrity, CPAWS does not call for expropriation of private property. Instead, the NCC should be fully funded to buy properties as they become available. It’s our contention that the greatest threat to the park is the surrounding net of roads and development that chokes the movement and renewal of its nearly 2,000 species of plants and animals. CPAWS advocates maintaining and developing ecological connections that link the park with other natural areas and we aim to work with all communities and the NCC to ensure the park’s future.

Gatineau Park will get full legal protection and continue to be enjoyed by everyone only if Canadians demand it. Visit HYPERLINK “” or call 613-232-7297 for more information on how to get involved.

Jay Morrison is president of CPAWS-OV and lives in Wakefield.



Reporters need facts, and other lessons for La Pêche

November 21st, 2014

By Gary Martin

Thanks to Tyler Dawson for his charmingly parochial coverage of the Oct. 26 Climate Change Info Fair and Round Table at the Wakefield Centre (Low Down, Oct. 29). The article’s headline and terrible photo of Jill Rick added levity to our topic. Heaven forbid that we take ourselves too seriously! But I suspect that Mr. Dawson’s preoccupation with long hair on men, gasping fish, and cow farts distracted him from important elements of the event.

Mr. Dawson refers to “an emphatic presenter’s man bun”. That ‘presenter’ was Greg Searle, the innovative sustainable communities consultant now working with Windmill Developments on the Domtar redevelopment project, a Canadian game-changer. Further, of our four speakers, Mr. Dawson names only “Scott Findlay, a University of Ottawa researcher”, neglecting even the most basic of Dr. Findlay’s remarkable credentials. Mr. Dawson then obliquely refers to a long-haired man stacking rocks outside, which appears as an irrelevant detail until the reader combines it with references to “small cars with fair trade bumper stickers” and a subsequent juxtaposition of “cycling and public transit” with “dying fish and flatulent cows”. In my opinion, Mr. Dawson’s article misrepresented our speakers and our audience as flakey new-agers, which would be much more insulting if we didn’t so love flakey new-agers in the Hills.

Mr. Dawson introduces me as “the organizer”, which is only partially correct. My distinguished co-organizer was Dr. Mari Wesche, retired professor and Co-Lead of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby regional chapter. Dr. Wesche and MP Mathieu Ravignat were the main sparks behind the enormous effort required to stage this event.

Flippantly decontextualizing Dr. Findlay’s statement that ‘fish need oxygen’ neglects the many impacts of climate change about which Dr. Findlay spoke when he catalogued damages to terrestrial and aquatic systems in our region that have occurred and are expected to accelerate. Mr. Dawson also chose to emphasize Dr. Findlay’s statement that “northern climes [are] becom[ing] more habitable”; but allow me to dispel a common misconception: climate change may result in some benefits for the Hills, but it is negligent and probably dangerous to assume that benefits will outweigh negative impacts.

I get it that unless it’s a spectacular storm (like the record-breakers in 1998 and 2012), climate change is hard for humans to “see”. I also get it that we tend towards scepticism and fear when faced with systemic changes to our world. And our current prime minister, in stark contrast with the rest of the world, adds to the scepticism by using tax dollars to promote the tar sands while trying to convince us that we will all be safe if we just keep shopping.

Kidding aside, there are lessons to be learned: organizers, provide detailed clarifications; and reporters and editors, perform due diligence or look silly.

Gary Martin, PhD, is with the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Carleton University



Building bridges between seniors and youth

November 19th, 2014

By Gordon Cousineau

As people age, their quality of life is increasingly determined by their ability to maintain autonomy and independence. Most will agree that diet and exercise are critical factors of good health and quality of life. But international studies show that social cohesion also plays a role. It is widely believed that encouraging seniors to increase their level of social interaction is apt to raise their confidence level and self-esteem, which in turn leads to healthier lifestyle choices.

In Canada, it is projected that by 2021, 19 per cent of the population will be over the age of 65. The country is currently experiencing a marked acceleration in the number and proportion of seniors. Canada’s per capita health care expenditures are rising – more than 50 per cent of a person’s lifetime health care expenses occur after the age of 65.

An increasing seniors’ population begs for new approaches to maintain the quality of life of Canada’s population, particularly when it comes to the most vulnerable seniors. In the wake of rising public debt, provincial and municipal governments are facing hard choices when it comes to health and social programs.

In 2012, the Seniors’ Roundtable of the Des Collines Regional County Municipality was created to address the needs of seniors in seven municipalities: Cantley, Chelsea, l’Ange-Gardien, La Pêche, Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette, Val-des-Monts, and Pontiac. This non-profit organization is engaged in activities that maximize our seniors’ quality of life in the context of their culture and value system, and in relation to their individual capacities, expectations, and concerns. The Roundtable advocates an intergenerational approach, which is why it funded and coordinated ‘Between Generations: An Intergenerational Media Project’, a series of videos featuring local youth and seniors who share their knowledge, experience, and vision of life. The project was conceived to educate people about ageism and to promote the positive contributions of every citizen, regardless of age.

An aging population affords our local communities an abundant pool of seniors who can be called upon as mentors to youth. Leveraging social activities between seniors and youth can help fill the gaps left behind by declining budgets and reduce prejudicial attitudes based on age.

To view the videos, join the Table autonome des aînés des Collines on Facebook, or visit the Table de concertation des aînés de l’Outaouais (TCARO) at

To find out more on how to leverage the activity of seniors within your organization or local community, contact Marie-Pierre Drolet, Director of the Des Collines Seniors’ Roundtable at 819-457-2121, extension 241 or at

Gordon Cousineau is a resident of Chelsea, Qc



November 12th, 2014

By Claude Cousineau

A quick look at a map of Chelsea reveals two things: a) the presence of Gatineau Park, which occupies two thirds of the territory; and b) the existence of the Gatineau River, which constitutes nearly 50 per cent of the perimeter of Chelsea. Chelsea is a waterfront municipality, but this reality is not in the subconscious of its citizens, its community leaders, and its elected representatives.

There are only a few hundred privileged residents who, because of their proximity to the river, can enjoy it. For the majority of Chelsea citizens, the river and its shore have become inaccessible and forgotten – out of sight, out of mind.

Chelsea needs to recognize the potential socio-economic benefits of this 15 km waterfront that follows the railway corridor. With the strong probability that the train will permanently cease operation, it is now strategically crucial that the municipality should embark on a visionary plan of action to democratize access to this natural resource.

Such a plan would identify public access points and parking, facilities such as a paved pathway, benches, and picnic tables, and interpretative panels illustrating the story of the river. What is so enviable about Chelsea is that it already owns the railway corridor along the shore, which represents nearly three quarters of the shoreline between Gatineau and Wakefield. This asset is zoned as ‘récréo-touristique’ – recreational or touristic facilities are permitted and citizens would not have to endure a long and tiresome process of referenda if a few amenities were added.

Some waterfront landowners have already expressed their opposition to any form of recreation improvements on this municipal corridor. They fear being invaded, loosing their privacy, or being subjected to vandalism. However, the experience of similar recreation corridors, throughout Quebec and elsewhere, has demonstrated that these fears are unfounded. Proximity to such a trail increases the value of a property. Real estate agents love to list a property located near a bike path.

Hydro Quebec owns nearly one fifth of the Chelsea shoreline and operates a large hydroelectric station half a kilometre long by 34 metres high. This industrial complex is the largest and the most spectacular site in Chelsea but, unlike many other hydro generating stations, residents and visitors do not have access to view it. Connecting to the abandoned railway corridor, a simple fenced trail with a lookout area and other safety measures would provide the chance to admire this hidden attraction and learn about the history of Gatineau River.

Chelsea-sur-mer? Chelsea will never have a view of the ocean, but it could easily create a window overlooking the Gatineau River. With a bit of vision, our community could become Chelsea-sur-la-Gatineau.

Claude Cousineau is a resident of Chelsea



Let’s not be driven by fear following Ottawa shooting

October 29th, 2014

What a day to remember.

It started out to be an average sort of day, being a Wednesday, a work day, and typical in just about every other way. I am one of the many people in our community who work in the federal public service. I felt happy, I thought about my day ahead, and was glad to be alive at fifty-five. But then at about 10:30, one of my colleagues yelled out, “There’s a gunman on Parliament Hill!” And then everything changed.

Everybody was on their computers, on their phones, listening to the radio, making calls, texting, cramming the boardroom to watch the television there, and looking out of the windows across the water onto Parliament Hill. (My office is in Hull, just across the river from the Parliament buildings on Wellington Street). As the story unfolded, we began to worry – for everyone’s safety, of course, but also for what this event might mean for us, as a society.

Our building, like all federal government buildings in the region, was on lock-down. If you had to leave to go to an appointment or pick up your kids, you would not be able to exit the building – even though security authorities stated over the PA system that Place du Portage was not considered to be under threat.

The tragic events of the day are going to spark some changes. In a sense, those changes are already happening in our heads; we thought we knew what Canada was all about, and what it means to be living in a free and democratic, just and caring society. But I think some rules are going to change.

More stringent laws may be enacted in the name of safety and security, and greater measures might be taken to punish and condemn. Who knows how this will affect our basic rights and freedoms? More importantly, I wonder how this is going to affect our way of seeing things. Will we be more willing to give some of them up in the name of ‘the fight against terror’?

I can only hope that we do not let fear rule us, or allow the powers that be to keep us fearful. A society that lives in fear can become very dark. I’m not advocating that we close our eyes to what’s going on around us. I propose that, instead, we become even more determined to communicate to understand, and to seek out and bring more love and light into this world.

Jody Nassr is a resident of Chelsea, Qc



With health care cuts, we best take care of ourselves

September 24th, 2014

By Charles Dickson and Kate Aley

John Petty is a bit of a legend around these parts. He’s a co-organizer of the local Terry Fox run, a major annual fundraiser for cancer research. So his views, reported in last week’s Equity, about doing whatever possible to avoid developing disease in the first place carry a certain credibility.

Unsurprisingly, this former Philemon Wright High School phys. ed. teacher leads an active life; certainly for the pleasures inherent in such a way of living, but also for the long-term benefits of good health and disease avoidance. We think he is onto something.

Doctors tell us that the majority of ailments they treat are traceable to cigarettes, alcohol, and poor diet. An individual’s susceptibility – or genetic predisposition – to cancer and other diseases helps pack an already loaded gun, but our exposure to toxins in our diets and the environment is often what pulls the trigger. Ultimately, we are responsible for our own health.

We can educate ourselves. We can make choices. We can avoid the pitfalls that come with not taking care of ourselves by being conscious and pro-active on all fronts, from food to fresh air to fitness.

The Montfort hospital recently launched a campaign to dissuade people from the Quebec side of the river from seeking medical care at that hospital. (Apparently, residents of the Outaouais show up in droves because we cannot get the services we need here.)

The Province of Quebec is again cutting back on its health care budget, the consequences of which will be felt here at hospitals and at CLSCs throughout the region. While we may not be able to control decisions about who can access what services at our medical institutions, surely we can control our own lifestyle decisions.

We trust our health care services to do everything within their power – and budget – to help us in ill health. Let’s do everything within ours to stay well.

Charles Dickson and Kate Aley are editors at the Shawville Equity



Let’s think big

September 17th, 2014

By John E. Trent

The three proposed projects for getting the steam train back on the tracks (Gatineau urban train, Montebello run, Wakefield circuit) are small – very small. They have nothing to do with the Hull, Chelsea, Wakefield steam train that built our region’s international tourist reputation.

The problem is that such proposals stop us from thinking big. The steam train has proven itself as a regional icon and tourist attraction. Everyone in the region agrees the best train run is from Gatineau to Wakefield.

Our objective should be to use the steam train as a lever to make of the Outaouais a world centre for historic trains. We need a new station and adequate parking on Montcalm Street. And why not a new hotel there, too? At the same time, we have to help the people of Papineau buy a train that is interesting but a little more modern and sturdy to make the run from Hull to Montebello. Why not make Chelsea village the home of the train and its garage and undertake new planning for the train to be more profitable for Wakefield businesses? We should also work with Ottawa to reopen the Prince of Wales Bridge to train traffic.

With these basic ideas in mind, we must then negotiate with the federal government to move the Museum of Science and Technology, with its outstanding train collection, to Hull. Eventually, we will also have to think about using our magnificent rail lines for commuter traffic between Buckingham, Wakefield, and Ottawa. There are hundreds of model train builders in our region. We should think of the creation of a model train centre. And we could become the home of a North American association of track motor cars.

We must build one step at a time. People should not throw out the whole idea just because they don’t like one aspect. What is important is to have a strategic, long term objective and a step-by-step plan of attack. To do this, the CRÉO (Conférence Régionale des Elus de l’Outaouais) should provide the CCFO (La compagnie de chemin de fer de l’Ouaouais) with a professional managing director and a team of voluntary entrepreneur planners.

How much will this cost? We do not know. That’s why we need a team of entrepreneur planners. But two things are certain. It will cost much less that one thinks. Once the train is back in operation, its profits can go towards its own rebuilding. Moreover, as a development project, the experience of the last 15 years with the Hull Chelsea Wakefield steam train shows us that it will bring us much more than we think in the way of jobs and sales to the region’s cash registers.

John Trent is a Senior Fellow with the Centre on Governance at the University of Ottawa.



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