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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

 

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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 www.tcaro.org.

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 tabledesaines@gmail.com.

Gordon Cousineau is a resident of Chelsea, Qc

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Chelsea-sur-Mer?

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

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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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Humans Exploding Stuff

September 10th, 2014

By Gary Martin

It’s amazing how much work we humans can do because we figured out how to burn really volatile stuff in internal combustion engines without blowing ourselves up (most of the time). But there are consequences from those countless explosions every day.

I have a weakness for popcorn with lots of butter. I know that after two or three handfuls, the fat is going straight to my hips. I also understand that, like one more piece of buttered popcorn, each explosion is exactly as important as the one before. Every time I explode gasoline to get somewhere in my car, my exhaust joins all the other exhaust in the air to change the weather on my planet.

Relatively speaking, we humans are changing Earth’s atmosphere in the time it takes me to say “bang!” Also relatively speaking, I am a member of a juvenile species. I am still metaphorically on the plains searching for (a) food, and (b) predators. If something bad happens ‘over there’, I feel a smidgen of uncomfortable sympathy, then go back to grubbing around and watching for hyenas. Unless I get whacked by weather, it’s tempting to be sceptical about uncertainty and risk, especially when earth scientists are just learning how to scale down global climate predictions to regional weather predictions. I’m inclined to dawdle while the academic eggheads fiddle with hundreds of social and geographical variables in climate models. But I have a hunch that if the climate is disrupted ‘over there,’ it will be disrupted here, too. How much and when? I can’t say for sure, but I have another hunch that dawdling in response to climate disruption is dumb.

The good news is that we humans organize ourselves into communities in part to deal with environmental benefits and risks (and in part to share popcorn). In the Hills, each of us as neighbours can play a part because local action is arguably the most efficient way to make decisions and grasp opportunities. And there are clear, smart choices to make at the local level that will help us cut our carbon footprint, cut risks from weather events, and tie us together into a tighter community. So while you may want to scan the global climate picture, the biggest bang for your buck is to zoom in on how we respond to climate challenges here at home.

Please set aside the afternoon of Oct. 26 to join your neighbours, climate experts, and public officials at the Wakefield Community Centre as we all talk about weather and your neighbourhood.

Now where did Irene hide the popcorn? I need just one or two more handfuls.

Gary Martin is a geographer at Carleton, and mixes metaphors at every opportunity.

 

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A teaching moment

September 3rd, 2014

By Phil Gibson

 

Yesterday we took the long way back, down a West Quebec country road where the vistas remind me of my childhood, much of which was spent around farms. We were urban dwellers, but we retained a connection to relations whose lives were still rooted in an agrarian existence.

With seven decades behind me, I continue to have flashbacks to those times. They are fond memories of places like Thistle Ha’ and Maple Shade – both homesteaded in the early 1800s along rolling countryside roads east of Toronto. Stately stone and brick structures now stand where log homes once did. Thistle Ha’, built in 1855, was named after the stubborn crop of weeds that sprang up every spring, a reference to the settlers’ Scottish heritage. The property was declared a historic site in 1979, representative of an era still distinguished by the civility of close-knit communities, Calvinist doctrine, and Victorian values.

During our drive, my companion and I talked about living. I led him to think about choices: how you get more out of life by investing in experiences than you do from possessions. At the next turn, an opportunity occurred to press the message home. My companion, now nine, was enjoying the experience until we pulled up in front of the red brick church that has stood beside Martindale Road since it was erected in 1892. The Saint Martin de Tours Parish was established in 1858, with a church being built later. The parish shared its name with Martin O’Malley, donor of the land on which the church sits to this today. Coincidentally, O’Malley’s grandson of the same name and I were colleagues a hundred years later, on the Citizen’s Forum for Canada’s Future. The boy listened to me describe the lifestyle of families who settled the area – and others like it in the countryside wherever you came from.

I explained how churches were the center of community living for families that only ventured off the farm for trips to the village to sell surplus produce and buy supplies. I sensed that he flinched when I urged him to join me in a stroll through the cemetery across the road. Lively and outgoing in most respects, this boy has had a reluctance to face his private fears almost since infancy. He’s sometimes spooked by storms. Being alone in the dark can still frighten him. Upon landing from a vacation trip to Costa Rica, he declared he was never going to fly again. Looming over the horizon, the cemetery seemed to present another barrier. So I drove him to the top of the hill and persuaded him to get out through the passenger door he had just locked. For five minutes, he indulged me as we ambled among the tombstones, some of them moss-covered and more than a century old. He inhaled sharply when I lay down to read the inscription on the stone that told the whole life story of a four-month-old.

“I don’t like to walk on them,” he said instructively, as I got up off the ground. Then I watched as his curiosity took over and he found the courage to wander off to read inscriptions on his own. Minutes later, I saw him standing at ease, his hands folded in his lap, in silence for the stranger who lay buried there. It’s at moments like this that I know he understands respect. I also know he’s reachable. I want to make the most of times like this while I still can.

 

Phil Gibson is a resident of Lac-Sainte-Marie. This story first appeared in ‘La Voix de Chez Nous’. Reprinted with permission.

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H 2 uh oh

August 27th, 2014

By Kate Aley

“You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” Sage words from Joni Mitchell.

We don’t treasure and yearn for fresh flowing water until there isn’t any. It’s a familiar circumstance for anyone whose water comes from a well with an electric-powered pump. When the power’s cut for a few hours – a not uncommon occurrence in this part of the country – we are granted a slight inkling of what it feels like not to be able to get water on demand.

Now you do not flush the toilet. Now you do not rinse a dish. Now you dole out a miserly amount of precious H20 into a small cup, brush your teeth with it, then rinse your mouth with it, then rinse your brush with it, then rinse out the basin with that last precious, minute drop. This is how half this planet is obliged to consider their elusive, unpredictable supply of potable water.

Of course, the power here is usually back up in an hour, or a day, and we quickly forget all about this momentary deprivation and go back to taking our precious water for granted. There is a finite amount of water on Earth. In Canada, we are fortunate to possess some 20 per cent of the world’s fresh water supply. An Environmental Indicators study shows Canada uses 1,600 cubic metres of water per person per year. Meanwhile, according to the UN, 780 million people worldwide – over one tenth of the planet’s population – do not have access to clean water.

With so many lakes and streams at our doorstep, it’s easy not to give the health and security of the enormous, fast running, and seemingly invincible Ottawa River a second thought. Just a couple of weeks ago, a tractor trailer tipped over on the east side of Ottawa, and up to 200 litres of diesel fuel crept into the mighty watercourse.

The Ottawa Riverkeeper organization was founded in 2001, and its principles include communities taking responsibility, acting as stewards, and actively participating in water course protection. Volunteer help – being a ‘water watcher’ –is always being sought. Everything from algae bloom to river bank erosion to cattle standing in or too close to the waterways must be faithfully guarded against.

We need water to live, and Canadians are blessed to have lots of it; in fact, way more than our share. We certainly use way more of it per person than almost anyone else on the planet. This blessed bounty brings with it an implicit responsibility to be good stewards. What a mistake it would be for us to neglect, abuse, and waste our fresh water just because there always seems to be plenty.

Kate Aley is assistant editor at the Shawville Equity

 

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Bitter pill to swallow when it comes to research

August 20th, 2014

By Charles Dickson

A Harvard researcher who suspects that a chemical called salicylic acid – derived from willow trees and found in ordinary Aspirin – could play a role in reducing the death rate from breast cancer by half. Her suspicions have not been tested and there appears to be no funding available to conduct clinical trials.

The cancer-beating potential of this abundant, inexpensive, and universally available compound remains untested and unknown. Why? The answer, apparently, is that it is precisely because the compound is abundant, inexpensive, and universally available.

Pharmaceutical companies that could conduct the necessary research are not interested in investing $10 million because there is little prospect of them achieving a return on that investment. For them, it would be money out the window. Fair enough. That’s the way the private sector operates. The quest for profit drives the private sector to do some amazing things – to innovate, to take risks, and to invest. As long as medical research is on track to produce a profitable medication, and there is a readily available clientele with enough money to pay for it, big pharma is virtually unstoppable in the race to be the first to get a product to market.

But if any of those factors are not present, then the certainty of low profitability guarantees that private sector entrepreneurs will not get involved. Should that mean that there is no method by which desperately needed research can be conducted? Perhaps we should look to the government to help fill the gap.

Unfortunately, the trend is not to focus on social need. Something seems to be terribly wrong with this picture. Look at what is happening with the Ebola epidemic in western Africa: the World Health Organization has now labelled it an international public health emergency. But if the people who need the medication – at the moment, still largely Africans – can’t afford to pay for it at a price that would generate profits, then the business community is going to avoid it.

And so the world still finds itself without a proven vaccine. We are all entitled to our differing views on the role of government. A view to which we could subscribe is the common Canadian view of government as taking on roles that respond to the kind of public needs that the private sector is either incapable or unwilling to fulfill. Medical research is one such area. If there is a drug in most medicine cabinets that could reduce deaths from breast cancer by 50 per cent, as the Harvard researcher believes, wouldn’t it be good to know about it? And wouldn’t it make sense for governments to support the research if the private sector won’t, if not to reduce the human loss and anguish associated with cancer, perhaps to save millions of dollars in health care costs? Now that would be a high return on investment. Either way, we are all paying the price.

Charles Dickson is the editor of the Shawville Equity

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