November 11th 2018

“This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it.  It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by war” – Prologue, All Quiet on The Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque

remembrance day

November 11th 2018 ought to be worthy of wider celebration.

It represents 100 years since Western Civilisation was given one last chance to redeem itself.

Most importantly, collectively we’ve survived 100 years since the end of the great war.  There have been some close calls in that time, and we ought to celebrate that we’ve arrived.

We didn’t learn the lessons of the Great War and within 20 years even worse fighting had broken out again.

It was by no means guaranteed that civilisation would last even until now.  Looking ahead to the next 100 years it’s hard to know what awaits us.

The observant among us know that a new age is coming.

 

******

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The armistice of 100 years passed indeed happened almost by chance.  It’s clear that the war could have gone on much longer, and with worse effect.  In the end it was the people that rebelled, finally broken by the strains inflicted upon them.

The Great Wars of 1914-1918 ushered in the modern age.  It also destroyed the imperial culture which preceded it.  It was a cataclysm that heretofore couldn’t have been imagined in even the darkest nightmares.

Trench warfare was truly hell on earth.  It consumed a generation of young men, and irreparably scarred the rest.  It changed society at its very foundations and wiped away all that came before.  Perhaps most importantly it set the stage for the second cataclysm: the war in which humanity nearly lost its soul altogether.

The second war could never have taken place without the stage being set by the first.  Total war, totalitarianism, the military industrial compact, and all that entails, are things that require practice.

 

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Mueller August Heinrich 1924 or 25, age 26

The life of August Heinrich Muller was emblematic of his generation.  He was conscripted into the Austrian military at the youngest possible age for WW1 and fought in the alpine wars of the Italian campaign.  At the end of the war his country of birth had ceased to exist.

He was then a POW in Italy until late 1919 when he was released.  Conditions in the camps had completely rotted his teeth out and destroyed his health by age 21. He returned to Romania, a new country to him, and was promptly conscripted again into their new army.

By running away to Vienna, he avoided army service.  However, in 1940 he was conscripted again, this time into the German army.  He fought in the ‘continuation war’, in divisions helping Finns against the Soviets.

He avoided further military service by becoming a teacher of math and sciences in the military academy.  In 1944 all remaining draft age men were conscripted, with August among them.  His daughter recalled “The mood became sombre when we got the draft letter, like a cloud had descended on the house.  We walked him to the train station in his uniform New Years Day 1945.”  He disappeared into history.

August Muller was assigned to a Festungbatallion in Czechoslovakia and killed in fierce fighting against the Red Army in April 1945.

 

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How far have we really come since this horrible way of life and utterly regrettable times?

100 years is nothing but a heartbeat in the pulse of civilisations.

Have we learned the lessons of the past 100 years?

Will we be up to the trials required of us in the next 100 years?

At times like this we must take stock of our history and look to the future.

In these times it’s up to us.

 

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“To you from failing hands we throw

    The torch; be yours to hold it high.

    If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

        In Flanders fields”

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4 Years on Council…

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Dear friends, supporters and colleagues: today I am announcing that I will not be seeking a second term on Sechelt Council.

This was a very difficult decision that took many months to make, and I did not make it lightly or in passing.

I sought feedback from the community, and consulted with my family, friends and trusted advisors.

In the end it was my choice alone to make, and I have now made it.

I want to thank my supporters, the first of which was my partner Georgia, who provided the vessel with which I could do this work.  Also, to Council, staff, and the community for making this work a success.  I have immense gratitude for the collective experience over this past 4 years.

I love my community, and that is what made this decision so difficult.  I know that in the view of many in this community, I’m needed on Council.

I’ve seen it myself many times, and I do not dispute the impact I have personally had by holding public office in Sechelt.

In order to better explain my decision, we will need to go back to the beginning of how I got started in my run for public office.

I started politically engaging in 2013 as a part of the ‘U-turn generation’ movement of leaders in my generation that are seeking to address the foundational issues in our society that are eroding the basis of sustainability for future generations.

The very lives of our children, and your grandchildren, are at stake unless we get to the root of our collective dysfunctions and address them.

This isn’t a game, and there are no re-runs.

*****

I began as an activist, and quickly moved towards organized politics, and then on to government.

Along the way, many have tried to leverage my energy to their own ends, and I have always refused to become someone else’s adjunct.

I came of my own volition and have always spoken for my understanding of what is right and wrong.

I’m now 5 years down this path and am still moving rapidly with clear intentions.  That much will not change, although the venue may.

All the time I have been seeking to learn what the issues are, and how in the future my generation will be addressing them.

Never at any time have I been swayed from my path by trinkets, accolades or offers of influence.

I wanted to see these issues from inside government and understand what is going on.

One thing has always remained clear: it will be left to my generation to undo years of careless neglect of our environment, public institutions and society at large.

It’s our world to create and create we must.

This will require both creation and destruction to achieve.

The truth is that the next words in this poem cannot be spoken by the voice of government.

The changes that are now required of us are so fundamental that government will never be the originator.  This needs to come from the grassroots, through ground-breaking societal change.

In today’s world currently, we’re divided by politics.  That much is abundantly clear, and that’s at the heart of what’s wrong.

It’s been more than a generation since we’ve been united in common cause on anything, and that needs to change, with politics along with it.

More than anything else now, we need to move towards unity.

There’s a storm coming, and we’re going to need all the help we can get.

In the coming months, and years, you are still going to see me doing important political work in this community.

My intention is to focus on things less political, and more foundational.  I hope you will join me in that work.

Along with that, I will be focussing on synthesizing what I have learned towards producing lasting solutions that are both national and international in scale.

You will get another chance to vote for me in the future.

In closing I would like to offer these thoughts:

The political spirit of my generation has so far neither been explained nor understood.

The time has come for us to renew our commitment to a better future and join together in creating it.

We are not destined to some depleted future, unless we choose to accept that.

We’ve faced worse, and come out on top, time and time again.

We have all the tools we need to produce the world we want to leave our children; we just need to use them.

I will continue this path with the utmost dedication and commitment, and all my energy, until I perish in the pursuit of a better future.

Thank you for your continued support.

-Noel

Promises and Deliveries

*Actual proofs of my handout, delivered to ~1000 Sechelt homes as part of my canvas campaign fall 2014

 

I want to reflect a little on what I campaigned on, and what has come to fruition out of that.

I haven’t achieved everything I set out to, of course – it has been a challenging term – but,  I’ve also achieved things that weren’t part of the original plan. I was a brash and inexperienced candidate in 2014, and that was certainly reflected in some of my promises then.

However, I made some key assertions that still stand today.  To me they represent a fair delivery on my key messages.

Learning the business of government

The single most common question I faced in the 2014 campaign was: why do you want to be on Council? Why are you doing this?

I answered this question 100 times a day and my response was always the same: we need the next generation to step up and start learning the business of government.

I’d been to various community meetings and seen with clarity that my generation was almost totally unrepresented.  It was a change that I could affect as an individual, simply by being there and engaging.

Knowing that governance is a specialized skill set that is vital to the smooth functioning of society, I set out to learn this business the best I could. After 4 years on the job, and with multiple advancements and accolades from my peers, I feel I have adequately learned this skill set.

I’m a journeyman of local government now, however, not a master by any stretch.

Working with Sechelt’s Council

The second most common question I was asked was: who do you want to be mayor?  Who do you want to work with on council?

My response was: it’s not up to me to pick the mayor and council.  That’s up to Sechelt, and I am prepared to work with whatever mayor and council was chosen, to the very best of my ability.

I have lived up to that.

There have been challenging times for this council, no question.  But, we have consistently maintained our working relationship and not let our differences devolve into something unworkable.

I would like to thank this mayor and council for working with me as well.  They’ve supported me to learn my role and engage the system, when they could have attempted to stifle and control my input. I think all members of this council will agree that we’ve maintained a level of respect and fairness for each other.

I’m proud of that accomplishment and worked hard to achieve it along with my colleagues.

The 4 points

All of my campaign materials featured 4 key points: Fiscal Responsibility, Green Values, Transparency, Fresh Perspective.

Here’s how I think I fared with each of these:

  • Fiscal Responsibility

This is the area I’ve achieved the most in.  It is a misnomer to think that fiscal responsibility can simply be equated with low taxes.  It is a combination of measures taken together to implement overall corporate financial health.  I have written at length about my work regarding the structural deficit, but the highlights are that Sechelt now has adequate DCC’s to fund growth related infrastructure and a financial sustainability plan – including an asset renewal fund.  There is still more work to be done shifting our operations towards greater efficiency, however, the bulk of the work of pushing Sechelt towards better financial stability has already been completed.

 

  • Green Values

I inherited a plethora of planning documents and bylaws, all of which speak to sustainability as a core intent.  It has been relatively easy to speak to these documents to implement change.  A revival of the existing Tree Protection Bylaw has restricted large-scale logging operations within the district.  It is now commonplace to see a tree protection plan associated with every major, new development.  I have written in other places about my external work related to oil spill response in the Salish Sea, which has been very successful.  Sechelt World Oceans Day is another initiative that will work to bring a cultural focus back to the preservation of Sechelt’s waterfront.

 

  • Transparency

The work of this council has been done in a fully transparent manner and that’s been with my expressed support.  On a day-today basis I have sought to provide clear rational on my views of all key council decisions.  I make a regular statement at the adoption of every budget, as well as at 2nd or 3rd reading of every major development application.  In these ways my views are recorded in a permanent way for reference and discussion by those who may be impacted.  I may have missed a few opportunities, but for the most part, my views are regularly recorded on the DOS Youtube channel here.  Another aspect of my transparency commitment was communicating through my blog.  I have admitted that my blog has been spottier than I would have liked.  I found it very challenging to write my blog mid-term as we were ‘neck deep’ in our most difficult period as a council.  I struggled to communicate anything of this that the wider community would have been interested in.  In retrospect, I could have done better in this regard.

 

  • Fresh Perspective

When I came to Sechelt Council it was common practice to perform accounting magic, and ‘add back’ amortisation of our capital assets within the capital budget to reach a net-zero position at the end of the day.  We were thus recording falsely balanced budgets, without understanding the clear consequences inherent in that.  I refused this way of doing business outright, and consequently, staff and council’s understanding of this key issue has evolved.  My other main contribution has been to help re-focus our administration on the many key planning documents that already exist and have been agreed upon.  In both cases these issues were low-hanging fruit, and a new perspective provided the catalyst for significant change in these areas.

 

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I wanted to touch on Youth Engagement, because it was an area many in the community were looking to me to improve.  This is admittedly the weakest area of my delivery, as I have no specific initiatives to report.  As well, there is no visual change at town hall meetings regarding demographic composition.

I have spent a fair amount of time discussing my work with my cohort.  They’ve also watched me go through this process and are making their own conclusions about what that means for them.  Altogether, my work in this area has only been in passing, and I would have liked to be able to deliver more in this area.

 

-Noel

My window onto the creation of a government….

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One problem I have had writing from the voice of government is how to relate something that might be  remotely interesting to read.  Much of what we do is far too boring, albeit, entirely necessary towards the smooth functioning of our society.

Rarely does a story of political action live up to anything of wider interest.  Truthfully, it takes a lot of art behind the scenes to create any ‘political moments’ at all, let alone interesting ones.

By some amazing luck, I actually have had a few moments that are worth writing about.

Here’s one that I think is…

 

AVICC 2015…

 

In April of 2015 I was freshly elected, bright eyed and idealistic.  I was looking to make an impact in the political milieu after my promising electoral start in fall of 2014.

The Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC) Convention provided that first opportunity to meet my provincial counterparts and leave an impression.

The Wednesday before the conference, disaster struck English Bay in the form of the Marathassa Oil spill, capturing headlines and provoking public outrage.

The stage was set for action, and I jumped to it right away.  I researched and wrote an emergency resolution on the way over to Courtenay on the ferry and shared it with my Council via email looking for input.

We convened that evening, by then we had our CAO in support, and a workable draft.  Council enacted an emergency meeting at a local restaurant and unanimously supported including this wording as an emergency resolution for AVICC:

Whereas the oil spill event of April 8, 2015 into English Bay and the Salish Sea, demonstrated a clear lack of capacity to respond to oil spill events in British Columbia;

And, Whereas the long-term viability and economies of BC coastal communities are dependent, in part, upon the protection and preservation of the local marine environment;

Therefore, Be It Resolved that the AVICC request that the Province of British
Columbia order an independent audit of the current state of oil spill preparedness in BC.

As soon as the conference began, I hit the ground running, looking for support from potential allies.  I found them everywhere I looked.  Apparently, we had touched a nerve.

I walked outside to a protest rally being lead by City of Victoria Councillors and Elizabeth May.  Victoria Councillor Ben Isitt thrust the microphone in my hand and told me to get on stage to go promote my resolution….it all became a blur, because of course I wasn’t at all prepared to give a speech.

Only in hindsight was it clear: the moment had arrived.

 

Enter John Horgan….

 

The next night I attended a Young Elected Officials caucus before the traditional conference banquet.

While we waited for our rides to the banquet hall, out walked newly minted NDP leader John Horgan with his assistant.  Seeing that we were headed to the same place, he offered a ride, and I graciously accepted.

Once in the car, I jokingly broke the news to him that I was a former Provincial Council member for the chiding BC Green Party, and that it might be a tense ride.

I had lots I wanted to talk about with John, and it was my one shot to make my pitch.

I had already grown tired of the perennial partisan bludgeoning between the Green and Orange.  I thought things could be done differently, and much more effectively.

I made the case that I think we all want the same thing: a better BC government for the citizens.  A shared love for BC could unite the parties in cooperation, and ought to be the focus of both our parties’ leadership.

He took the long route, and our talk continued.

It was a very energized exchange, and we concluded feeling like something had been accomplished.  We walked into that banquet hall together as what felt like friends.  I introduced him to our Council and walked around introducing him to others.

 

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At his delegate address, John assumed the stage to deliver his first impression as NDP leader to the AVICC membership.  Already in campaign mode, it was an election speech made by a veteran political leader.

I stood by the wall, near the stage and watched.  I was stunned when midway he pointed to me and stated: “I’m with Noel, this isn’t about flag-waving to me, this is about the people of BC and the Province we call home.”  We need to do better was his underlying message, and it clearly resonated.

He finished to thunderous applause, and I walked away feeling like we had climbed a mountain.

 

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At UBCM 2016 I sought to further implore the leaders of the BC Green and NDP to work together in the best interests of BC.

In the context of the 2017 general election, with evident public disappointment in the BC Liberals, I felt this was too good an opportunity for BC to pass up.

I arranged a meeting with John in his office at the legislature to restate my case.

Additionally, I spoke with Andrew Weaver and his campaign chair at a BCGP function regarding this potential.

In both cases I was rejected outright.  After 2 years of difficult work in the legislature, mistrust and criticism of the other held sway.

Nevertheless, I made sure to drive home my point: cooperation was likely to lead to government.

 

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The rest, as they say is history.

The electoral result of 2017 set the stage for cooperation like it never had before.

I wasn’t any part of the eventual agreement that got signed, but of course, I remained overjoyed at the outcome.

In 2017, I managed to meet John again at a UBCM banquet.  This time I waited in a long line of well wishers to see our new Premier face to face.  I was unexpectedly quite emotional.

What Weaver and Horgan did by cooperating truly satisfied me to my core.  It got me to believe in our public institutions again.  It proved that we don’t have to live in a partisan bloodbath if we don’t want to.

They can’t be congratulated enough for what they did.

We do in fact need to work together, not just in politics, but in all aspects of our lives.  Above all, we need that reflected in our political leadership.

When I approached John and shook his hand, he turned to the gathered mayors and ministers and said:

“This is Noel from Sechelt! He and I came up with the idea for a coalition government together two years ago in a car ride at AVICC!”

We chatted for about 10 minutes until he was pulled away to another function.  I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm.  I felt like hugging him, and I think I might have (see my firm grip on the Premier pictured above).

I know the part I played in all this was small, but it’s something that I’m going to cherish for the rest of my life.

My window onto the creation of a government.

Noel

Achievements

 

IMG_2023I don’t ever forget that I was elected with the most votes in Sechelt history.  It’s something that I think about every week as I do my Council work.  That show of support has made me work harder than I ever have before.

Looking back over the last 3.5 years, I’m reflecting upon this legacy of work and I’m unabashedly proud of it.

In that time frame I have put in on average 10-20 hours a week of Council work, as well as 30-45 hours of paid work in residential construction.  I’ve provided for my family, as well as been able to do important work for the community.  I’ve worked on 10 houses to completion, and still managed to be a partner, a father, a Councillor, and have some fun along the way.

I live for my work, and because of that, this gruelling schedule hasn’t fatigued me in the slightest.  In fact, I’m ending this term much more experienced and dedicated than I was in 2014.

Here’s a little of what has been accomplished since that time:

 

Finances

I’ve said it many times throughout my term that Sechelt is facing some very tough choices financially in the coming years.  That continues to be the case, as I’ve written and spoke about in detail.

We simply haven’t spent enough on the upkeep or replacement of our capital assets.  A cornerstone of good financial planning is recouping the depreciation on your critical infrastructure (in our case: roads, pipes and buildings), to spend on future replacements or maintenance.

Sechelt, along with many, many other municipalities, has not put aside anything to replace aging infrastructure.  In our case this depreciation represents around 25% of the annual budget, so it’s a massive amount that goes unfunded each year.

Starting this year, we’re going to begin correcting this structural imbalance.

We’ve started a capital renewal reserve which will be the focus of regular funding increases gradually over the next 20 years until the underlying situation is fully corrected.

 

Infrastructure

Development Cost Charges (DCCs) are, in a nutshell, what it costs to service a lot with municipal services, e.g. roads, parks, pipes, garbage collection, sewer etc.  As new lots are created through development, that service fee is then charged at the time of subdivision.

For years Sechelt had DCCs that didn’t reflect the true costs to the municipality of providing infrastructure for growth.  We have asked our staff to make sure we are adequately charging for what it actually costs taxpayers for these services.

We’ve since changed our DCCs to reflect this and have added $40 million in capital funding over the next 25 years.  That’s over 6 pages of planned community projects, listed here (scroll down to the last 6 pages).

Additionally, these funds can be used to partner Federally and Provincially, and further multiply that funding for community projects, potentially up to $100 million total.

This is watershed change for our community that will be felt over the next 20 years.

 

Planning

I have spent much more time on planning than any other file during my term as Councillor.  This is reflected in the decision by the Mayor to appoint me to Chair of the Planning and Development Committee last year.

In our term we have been dealing with an unprecedented construction boom in Sechelt.  We have around 2000 units proposed, that could add 1/3 to our population, and change the face of Sechelt forever.

I’m very thankful that we have such thorough and well drafted core planning documents to guide us through this, such as the OCP and Sechelt Vision.

Take some time yourself to look through Sechelt’s plan for a sustainable and livable future.  It was put together by our most prominent community minded citizens, and still presents the clearest agreed upon view of our community will.

We take that very seriously as a Council and are working to reflect this will on behalf of the community.

 

External

Sechelt shares many interests with its partners in the SCRD, by far the most crucial being water.

I am proud to have written the resolution that assigned our representatives the pointed task of securing an expanded supply to meet Sechelt’s growing needs of potable water.

Currently the SCRD board remains deadlocked on this issue, despite the clear leadership and political will shown by Sechelt Council.  We will need the public’s dedicated support to remove this deadlock in the years ahead.

I have also been working to reflect Sechelt’s interests to partnering governments at a higher level at every opportunity that has presented itself.

I consider that we have many important Federal issues due to our proximity and dependence upon the ocean, which is their jurisdiction, but also embodies many interests of Sechelt residents.

We’ve been very successful at raising oil spill awareness on behalf of our citizens.  In 2015, I personally drafted and backstopped the AVICC emergency resolution to the English Bay Oil Spill to its eventual unanimous support by that body.

Then in 2016, in the wake of the Nathan Stewart Tug spill near Bella Bella, Sechelt Council asked Western Marine Resources Corporation to present their current spill response capacity to AVICC members at our AGM.  The result was a thorough rebuke of current response capacity and a unified voice calling for greater response measures on behalf of coastal municipalities.

In 2017 the Canadian Federal Government launched their Oceans Protection Plan seeking to improve spill protections.

In 2018 the BC Provincial government launched their process for enhanced spill protection as a further response.

 

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This is a small sampling of my political adventures on Sechelt Council to date, and I’ll be writing more in the coming months.

I will also be sure to include a thorough treatment of our challenges and missed opportunities.

I wholeheartedly thank the people of Sechelt for their continued support.

 

Noel

Dedicated to victory, destroyed by war, urging of peace – The Muller refugee story

Offered as a contribution to the Canada 150 Project, documenting the many contributions made by Canadians of all walks of life to the project that is Canada.  

Inscription on the Siegestor, Munich DE reads: “Dedicated to victory, destroyed by war, urging of peace”

The enduring memory I have of my grandparents is of their resourcefulness and their toughness.

In their late 40’s they fled as refugees from war-torn Austria to Canada and built a rich life for themselves and their family.  They rebuilt their life savings and became wealthy property owners, starting from scratch in a new land where they did not know the language.

They wanted to leave their past behind them and never talked about their experiences in the old country.  Only recently did a clear picture emerge of what they had endured to get to Canada.

(Christoph and Maria Muller refugee photo -1950 Austria)

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May 8th 1945 marked the end of WW2 in Europe.  The largest military machine ever assembled had come to bear on Nazi Germany.  Caught in the middle were millions of guiltless people of all nationalities: this war did not provide mercy for the innocent.

As the world celebrated victory, in the aftermath, everyday people struggled to create new lives for themselves in an apocalyptic landscape.

My grandmother was then living on the street in Austria with my uncle, an infant of 4 months, and also pregnant with my father.  She had been bombed out of her house three times in the recent year.  Her first husband had been killed earlier in the war and she had a teenage son from that marriage.  Her new husband, and father of her infant children, had been ordered to the front and she had no knowledge if he had survived.

She was taken in then by a ‘good Samaritan’ that allowed the family to live in the corner of their kitchen.  She welcomed my father into the world in these conditions.  One night, months later, she heard a familiar voice by the window; my grandfather had been released from Allied custody and came to find his young family.  He had been directed to the house by neighbors who found him searching the bombed out ruins of their most recent home.  They stayed up all night recounting their luck and sharing stories.  The long walk to a better future together could now begin.

The Muller family was forever changed by the events of WW2, an impact that continues to this day.  The family was painfully scattered across the world from Romania to Germany, Austria to Canada.  In the bitter struggle for existence whole families were dislocated and scattered across the continents.  One cousin recounted: “my father was so haunted by the families split after the war that he was working on uniting them, and neglected his own children.  I had to overcome that as an adult”

My paternal grandfather and grandmother were both born in modern day Romania.  The Muller family then consisted of the parents Karl and Margarethe, and 13 sons and daughters, and assorted extended families.  They were fixtures in the local German community at both church and school, where Karl was a teacher.

(Muller Family Photo – 1904, Galicia (modern day Ukraine))

Karl Margarete Mueller 1904

 

The Hapsberg Empire had created a multi-cultural landscape across the region that included Germans, Jews, Poles, Hungarians etc all living relatively peacefully as neighbors.  The colossal struggle that followed between the Soviet and NAZI states extinguished this vibrant world from existence forever.

The Muller family – 1934 Bukhovina, Romania

Mueller Family 34

In 1940, the Soviet-Axis non-aggression pact assigned ‘spheres of influence’ in Romania to the Soviets.  Some areas had high numbers of German population, specifically Bukhovina, Galicia and Besserabia.  In advance of Soviets moving in, the German army rounded up ethnic Germans and transported them to Germany for their own safety.  They were promised farms and good conditions if they returned home to the Reich.  It was well known what would happen to any that remained.

The Muller family, along with 90,000 other Romanian Germans, were transported to camps in Germany.  These were ‘concentration camp’ conditions with over 20 people per room.  Movement was restricted except for labour, no cooking was allowed and most able bodied men were conscripted.  One survivor recounted “now the full realization dawned on us that we had been promised the skies but were in fact in the grips of a powerful dictatorship”.

At this point, the re-settlers were either conscripted into the military (the men) or agricultural work (the women), or some other essential occupation for the war effort (This is a familiar pattern, almost exactly the same happened in WW1).  My grandfather was a railroad mechanic and thus (luckily) escaped the draft as an ‘essential worker’.   Others that escaped the draft were teachers and preachers in the family.

Although working in an ‘essential occupation’, most of the family remained in ‘Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDP) camps in Germany or Austria.   Some of the family was lucky and resettled in Poland.  Life was very difficult and lacked basic comforts and freedoms.  Orders from the authorities could not be refused or protested, especially if one had resettled from the east.  Although part of the German community, these were second class citizens, often not able to work or hold jobs.

My grandmother complained bitterly of the camp conditions, crammed into barracks with open frame walls and no insulation.  The food was terrible, and the camps were infested with all manners of vermin: bedbugs, fleas, lice.

(The family ‘Personnel Card’ – Internal Displaced Persons Archive – Linz, Austria )

Camp doc Muller 1

As the war became desperate, housing became scarce and refugees continued to pour in with no place to go.  All able bodied men were ordered to the front in October 1944, with my grandfather among them.

Later on, those Mullers that had been settled on farms in Poland endured a 6 week walk in winter from Silesia to another camp outside Berlin.  Along the way they could see the countryside burning behind them as the Red Army rampaged across the Prussian plain.  Some were lucky enough to survive the Dresden bombings; while others watched the town go up in that infamous ablaze from afar.  “Those were unforgettable times”.

Civilian bombing further depleted the housing stock.  My grandmother recalled in her memoirs “I suffered for years after the war from the air raids”.  Their camp was nearby the Linz nitrogen factory, which was a regular focus of allied bombing.

The family remained in IDP camps until the end of the war, and for many years after as well.  This became a permanent situation after the war as most refugees from the east were still not granted citizenship rights.  In order to leave the camps, you first had to prove to authorities that you had somewhere else to go.  “We tried to leave, and each time ended up back in the bug infested ‘kazern’ (translated – barracks).  When there is nothing else, you get used to it”.  It goes without saying that they could not return to their home countries in the east.  In some cases re-settlers remained in closed camp conditions on food rations, even as late as 1958.

The desperate camp situation caused many to seek emigration to anywhere that would take them.  Emigration was easier for those with technical skills, or those that had family or church sponsors.  In 1952 the Mullers left Austria for Cranbrook BC, with the help of the Lutheran church and distant family members whom they had never met.

Some members of the Muller family stayed in Germany and attained citizenship, both in East and West Germany where life began to normalize.  Others that fought on the Eastern front either perished or were incarcerated in Russia and not released until 1951.  Some attempted to return to Romania and subsequently disappeared.  Others emigrated to the US, but most settled in Canada.  Christoph and Maria Muller successfully emigrated to BC in 1952, with their family.  In subsequent years they would help more of the 13 siblings come to Canada.

Christoph and Maria settled in Nelson B.C.   Chris worked for many years helping modernize the CPR railway, and was a handpicked technician for that task.  Also, they ran a construction company, a dressmaking shop, owned rental buildings, and other properties, generally prospering in their new land.

I remember them as the very hardest workers imaginable, and true characters of determination and dedication.  They wasted nothing, saved everything, and prospered through some of the most difficult experiences imaginable.

I think of them often when faced with modern life’s many insignificant challenges.

Christoph and Maria Muller ’85 – Nelson BC

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Planning for Sechelt’s Future

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I’m very pleased to be writing my first blog post in nearly a year.

Admittedly, I have found it difficult to know what to write about in the interim for one primary reason: I made a commitment that this would be a constructive blog.

I didn’t embark on this project to take shots at people, or advance my own individual interests.  It’s about sharing information and keeping people part of a constructive dialogue.  This year I’ve been practicing the golden rule, and that’s why communication through this channel has been scarce.

At times this year I have been deeply frustrated with many aspects of my role (something that is obvious to anyone who has met me in this time).  The reasons for this are primarily because I am dedicated to delivering the very best for Sechelt, and at times that has been very challenging.

At many times my expectations have not been met, and ultimately the responsibility falls to myself and Council.

As difficult as this past year has been, I’ve come out of it with a renewed sense of dedication to my role, Sechelt’s residents and our collective future.

True leadership isn’t easy: it takes daily dedication to the task at hand.  One must also be prepared to take personal risks, and go above and beyond basic politics to truly deliver.

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Sechelt’s new Senior Management Team

 

The work I’m most proud of this year is the hiring of Sechelt’s new Senior Management Team (SMT).  This work was done by a personnel committee, consisting of Councillor Doug Wright, myself and Interim CAO Tim Palmer.  The results of that work were that Doug Stewart has been hired as our new Director of Finance, Nikki Hoglund as Director of Public Works and Engineering, Andre Isakov as Director of Planning and Development services.

Even at these early stages we are seeing a general improvement of work in all departments due to the leadership these individuals are showing in their respective positions.

One of the key outcomes of Sechelt’s Organisational Review was the recommendation of a SMT model going forward.  With these hires, that work is largely complete, although replacement for CAO Tim Palmer is currently underway; which will further augment the team.

Council and the new SMT were quick to engage a strategic planning session in which to chart Council’s wishes for the future.  Council provided staff with general goals, and the SMT came back with a strategy to achieve those goals.

Staff recommended that Council adopt a three pronged strategy to get back on track with our long-term planning and vision.  These three components are: the execution of Financial Sustainability Plan (FSP), an Integrated Community Sustainability Plan (ICSP), and an update to our Liquid Waste Management Plan (LWMP).

I am in complete agreement with the general concept as proposed: Sechelt does need to get back on track with our long-term planning.  Not only will that allow us to chart a more rational course through the years ahead, but it will also allow us to use our scarce resources towards greatest impact.  Additionally, there are synchronicities between the three plans that will lead to watershed improvements in all of our areas of core operation.

I am very pleased to say that Council has adopted this strategy for the years ahead.

 

Financial Sustainability Plan

 

I have written extensively about what I see are large-scale threats to Sechelt’s financial future.  I have primarily focussed on the risks associated with the structural deficit and related asset management issues.  Additionally, I have written about the need to improve value creation in all areas of our organisation.

In my role as a Councillor I am able to understand the threats, and talk about the threats: but I need to be clear that I don’t have all the skills to fix them.

Sechelt needs a dedicated financial professional such as Doug Stewart to provide the solutions that will change our current picture.  In the initial discussions about the FSP, it’s clear that Mr. Stewart has a handle on the many issues, and has good ideas about how to move ahead.

As the FSP process unfolds, watchful observers will see the common outward aspects of financial integrity such as rigorous budget processes, asset management and risk management.  Some changes to taxation may occur to get us on a better general financial footing.

Behind the scenes, perhaps hidden from view, there will be a better financial grounding of decision making across the entire organization.  Most importantly, Sechelt will be able to better understand the long-term impacts of their financial decisions regarding other key projects, specifically the ICSP and LWMP.

Please stay tuned for more on the FSP in the near future.

 

Integrated Community Sustainability Plan

 

The Integrated Community Sustainability Plan (ICSP) is a synthesis of many intersecting themes in a community’s planning, specifically: social, cultural, environmental and economic.  The overarching aim is towards a community’s long-term health and general well being.

Sechelt is in need of an ICSP for many reasons.  Firstly, Vision Sechelt (2007) and Sechelt OCP (2011) both indicate many community objectives that we so far have yet to deliver.  There are a multitude of lofty environmental and social components that will require specific attention to succeed.   As we are required to meet those objectives in some way, the ICSP will provide the tools to make those goals a reality.

Additionally, it is a stated aim of this Council to better examine Sechelt’s identity, and make long-term plans to facilitate that identity.  These features will be used for planning, form and character and amenities.  The ICSP will help facilitate that conversation.

 

Liquid Waste Management Plan

 

The Liquid Waste Management Plan (LWMP) is the capital plan for all aspects of Sechelt’s sewer collection and treatment.  It is an important component of capital planning and development support, as well as the obvious environmental attributes.

LWMP are generally done for the long-term planning horizon, around 20 years.  It is for this reason that a regular, up to date LWMP will be a critical for Sechelt’s growth throughout this period.  The conversation around what areas are going to be serviced and how is a crucial conversation our community needs to have as we grow.  Are we going to focus on hooking up existing properties, or focus on new developments?  Are we going to upgrade the Water Resource Center, and when?  Are we going to employ satellite plants?  Our District is large, with specific geographical challenges with regards to wastewater.  By having a clearly laid out plan that is predictable we will be able to provide an appropriate response to these challenges.

Additionally, the LWMP will inform the two other plans listed above, moving us towards a holistic understanding of our capital and financial needs moving forward.

-Noel Muller

Why the COP21 “Paris Agreement” Matters

(Audio of my introduction of this topic at Sechelt Regular Council Meeting Dec 16 2015)

From Nov 30- Dec 12 2015, 195 Delegate countries met in Paris at COP21 to attempt a multi-lateral solution to the world’s largest and most complex emerging issue: anthropogenic climate change.

The ‘Paris Agreement’ (full text) coming out of the COP21 Summit has been hailed both as a stunning victory for the climate change movement, and also a disaster that will ensure world calamity in the years ahead.

Renowned climate scientist James Hansen has denounced the outcome as “a fraud” and “just worthless words”.

Global climate activists Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben have chastised the outcome, in attempts to double-down on COP21 targets, and hasten the resolve of global climate mitigation.

Alternatively, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has hailed the agreement as “a monumental triumph for people and our planet”.

US President Barack Obama agrees, calling the agreement “the best chance we have to save the one planet we’ve got”.

Amidst overflowing rooms of joyous and tearful delegates, the UNFCC Executive-Secretary Christiana Figueres declared “we did it!” to thunderous applause and an outpouring of emotion.

I tend to agree with that sentiment.

 

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Upon reviewing the text, I’m prepared to accept the ‘Paris Agreement’ as a watershed moment for humanity and life on earth.

Seen from a viewpoint of physics, ecology or even climate science, I can understand how an argument can be made that Paris was an abject failure.

The ‘action’ commitments made by participating countries, in advance of Paris, do not in fact add up to an aversion of the worst climate impacts by limiting global temperature increases to 2C.  So why am I hopeful?

I’m looking at the ‘Paris Agreement’ through the lens of international diplomacy and multi-lateral relations.  From that viewpoint, COP21 exceeded all expectations.

Effective international diplomacy has been the key missing ingredient in the global climate struggle to date.

At Paris, world leaders finally showed that they understand the severity of our collective situation, and the need to work together to address it.

Without this collective understanding, we didn’t have anything to work with.  With it, we begin to have something that may evolve into a solution.

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It’s a common saying among diplomats at the cafeteria at UN HQ: “the devil is in the details”.

What this really means is that it’s the language that matters; in multi lateral negotiations the language is the most difficult part.  What words are used and how?  What is the overall interpretation?  How does this wording affect other commitments that have been made at a national and international level?

In order to understand the magnitude of the ‘Paris Agreement’ I feel it’s important to compare the language contained in two other key, multi-lateral agreements: the Kyoto Protocol and the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

Firstly, the Kyoto Protocol, the world’s best attempt at a climate agreement pre-Paris, is a document largely devoid of any urgency.  It is a flat and administrative document that, although acknowledging climate change as an issue, lacks the overall seriousness of the Paris wording.

Kyoto was, in hindsight, clearly not a document that adequately addressed the severity of the climate situation by its very language.

To understand what language is fitting for the severe situation we now face, we need to look to the most serious situation the international community has ever faced, which is WW2.

In the wake of nearly 100 million people dying and ten years of global war, the UN adopted the Declaration of Human Rights as its founding instrument.

The language of this watershed document, although very strong by the standards of international diplomacy, would not have impressed all human rights activists today, or then.  It is in fact the strongest and most widely reaching of any multi-lateral agreement to date.

International agreements are imperfect, and will always be open to criticism: what matters most is the collective national intent behind them.  These are not documents developed in a haphazard or ad-hoc manner.  Each word is meticulously picked apart and agreed upon by all parties (that’s why it takes so long).

 

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Wording signals intent.

By this measure, Paris has achieved high levels of agreement on intent among many disparate global nations to work together to tackle climate change.

This language, as I read it, shows that global leaders have a new understanding of the severity of our current situation, and that may be all that matters.

In response to the critics like James Hansen, the issues around solving climate change are largely political and economic (not to do with an understanding of natural science).  After Paris, it is clear that we now have these people on board in a serious way.

Widespread structural changes to the economy, of the scale required by this undertaking, have never been attempted before.  The closest parallel we have is the re-tooling of large-scale economies for arms production in WW2.

Although agreements happen at an international level, the rubber hits the road through national policies, enacted by the government houses of each signatory nation.

This undertaking is going to require massive amounts of political will, at a national level, to make major structural reforms to both society and the economy.

 

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In the months ahead I’ll be watching for a smooth ratification process in key countries, and domestic action plans aimed at meeting the requirements of the ‘Paris Agreement’.

Although I acknowledge that COP21 is an imperfect document, to me it shows the upper envelope of the cooperation that is possible in a multi-lateral system.

For me, it has lived up to the billing.

We need to celebrate it for what it is, and get to work at a national level to see our commitments through.

– Noel Muller

One Year Reflections….

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It’s coming up to the first anniversary of Sechelt’s current Council taking office.

I’m taking the time to reflect on our momentous first year, and offer a model for the years ahead.

I have collected my perspectives and condensed them into an offering for our 2016 Strategic Plan and Budget. (Currently under negotiation)

I am happy to report that I have found an eager willingness on behalf of the current Council to entertain a long-term approach to reducing our infrastructure investment shortfalls.  This spirit is now embodied within our strategic plan.

I continue to believe that Council has the authority to aggressively combat our current levels of structural deficit, and furthermore, that this can be shown by targeting the levels of any single budget item, and introducing structural reforms if necessary.

I continue to believe that addressing the infrastructure and structural deficit is the key objective to ensuring financial sustainability of District operations long into the future.

The Challenges

 My introduction to our local government over the past year has been a case study of the challenges of abruptly changing direction in a medium sized municipality.

The election brought with it an immediate shift in the very philosophy of our local government.

It is well known that adapting organizational practices produces less instant outcomes than do election results.  Many of the issues we’ve encountered this year are emblematic of a foundational shift in culture and approach at the District as adaptation occurs.

The key challenges of this administration are to, concurrently: overcome our structural deficit and to also address the consequences of inadequate long-term planning.

One key long-term issue identified over this year has been a history of inadequate Human Resources oversight, exemplified within the results of our 2015 Organizational Review.

The impacts of this long-term deficiency are also clearly evident in Sechelt’s 2015 AGLG Report; where multiple projects were presented as difficulties from the perspective of ‘best practices in capital procurement’.

Taken together, both of these documents point towards an organization showing signs of stress and challenge in key areas of administration and oversight.

I will offer some examples that communicate the magnitude of the long-term challenges we are currently facing at the District:

  • Our current structural deficit is 21% of our annual operating budget, or $3.5 million/year
  • Sechelt is ‘debt saturated’ and will require a public referendum to authorise any borrowing above $1 million
  • McElhanney Report (2015) recommending $8 million of road investments this year, and $20 million over the upcoming decade to provide basic road maintenance and repair
  • Despite the investment of $24 million for a new Waste Water Treatment Plant, the majority of District Residents still have no access to sewer services
  • Major system upgrades required to regional potable water supply

Additionally, it is worth considering that we inherited a 2015 draft budget and work plan that would have had us allocate:

  • $10.7 million dollars to deliver an Airport expansion, along with untold staff resources
  • $4-6 million dollars to construct water re-use infrastructure

Both of the aforementioned projects were to be embarked upon without a business case or a clear understanding of the long-term opportunity cost/benefit to Sechelt’s residents.

It has taken us the full year to extricate the most prudent projects from the many that we inherited.  This process was further hampered by the reality that staff where unfamiliar with the new Council requirement of business cases.  This was addressed with additional training, but implementation is taking time.

Misallocated capital investments are the single largest stumbling block to the effective administration of municipalities.  They enshrine inappropriate decisions into the lives of citizens for generations, and directly impact the long-term financial stability of municipal service delivery in profound ways.

It’s fair to say that we are feeling that impact in Sechelt now.

 The Core Opportunity

 The core opportunity for the District of Sechelt is to complete a seamless transition towards a new administrative path that Council can seek to maintain for the years ahead.

Current Council has the potential to work together to provide Sechelt with long-term planning and vision, and launch an action plan aimed at alleviating the current infrastructure challenges we face.

The key features of this new administrative path will be:

  • effective long-term asset management plan
  • synergy among a newly recruited management team
  • investments in core service delivery, and a ‘customer service’ focus
  • civic infrastructure I.e. sewer, roads, amenities

Currently, the personnel committee is hard at work recruiting our new management team.  These managers, once in place, will provide the core staff capacity required to successfully chart a 10 year capital plan aimed at relieving our pressing infrastructure challenges.

Thankfully our infrastructure challenges, for the most part, have already been identified.  Now we simply need to respond to what we already know, and manage our financial resources effectively towards those ends.

Ancillary Opportunities

I feel excellent work has been done in Sechelt’s Official Community Plan (OCP) towards informing an appropriate path forward for our District.

Not only has it outlined many core infrastructure projects, it has also provided a planning overview which is both rigorous and workable.

By working through even a few of the key objectives defined in the OCP; we can provide Sechelt with tangible movement in a direction that has already been agreed upon and achieved a level of community support.

Here are a few that stood out to me, and I feel take priority:

  • Clearly define Sechelt’s identity – 30th Anniversary
  • Sechelt has long been lacking a clear identity and identifiers, hence branding/placing has been weak; unable to clearly differentiate from other coastal BC towns
  • Enhanced commercial node in West Sechelt
  • West Sechelt is a burgeoning residential area, but lacks basic neighbourhood amenities. We are able to easily add value to this neighbourhood by allowing well placed retail to occur
  • 1000 new residents in Downtown core
  • The easiest way to produce a thriving downtown, with healthy retail and cultural amenities, is to have more residents living within walking distance of our downtown core, and pedestrian waterfront
  • Visual identifiers – enhanced public spaces (Combined with #1, #4)
  • Sechelt must produce visual/physical identifiers that enhance its identity, amenities, and natural features
  • Prime opportunities are the expansion of our public piers, including commercial public, and social venture uses

These items are some of what I consider priorities to focus on. I hope the other members of Council will also present their priorities, so we can work together to clarify a vision for the years ahead.

By having a clearly laid out plan that is straightforward and achieves general agreement, both staff and community can be clear of Council’s intent, and work towards those ends.

We have an excellent opportunity to promote a positive direction within our community, and that begins like any other endeavour: by defining a path forward.

I look forward to the productive years ahead.

-Noel Muller

The death of a ‘value based’ democracy….

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In the 2015 Canadian General Election we are witnessing the end of ‘values based’ politics in our country.

As a nation, we’ve somehow made the #1 issue in this election, by far and away: the latest voter preference poll.  This is an unprecedented development for a G8 democracy.

Nothing best exposes this more than the recent abandonment of the Green Party by a plethora of prominent environmental entities and activists.

They did this on the eve of the election, with Trudeau headed for a majority government, the NDP campaign flagging nationwide, and the conservatives all but collapsing.  This context is made even more interesting by the fact the Greens are surging in support across BC, and challenging in many many ridings.

Apparently the Green message has legs.

One such activist, Ben West, who is publically associated with ‘The Great Climate Race’, and a ‘Tanker-Free BC’, has decided to openly support parties that have no credible plan to address climate change, and who won’t take a clear stand on either pipelines or tankers.

This, even as the Green Party of Canada has produced the most comprehensive environmental platform Canada has ever seen: a platform that states it will ban all new heavy oil pipelines to BC and make a complete reckoning of climate change domestically by 2050.

Why did they do that?  Well, the polls told them to do that.

Canadians everywhere are being told to park their values and vote based on the most recent poll.

Polls have now become the fill-in where principles, platforms and issues once reigned.

We’ve become a democracy that no longer cares about these things; we want to know what the score is, rather than be part of the game.

And that, fellow Canadians, spells the end of our ‘values based’ democratic tradition.

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It’s not as if there aren’t a great many extremely important issues to form our values around in this election.

It is, after all, the eve of the onset of catastrophic climate change, something that we’ve seen coming for 35 years.

And a time when our entire country has faced unprecedented wildfires, drought, floods, and other climate change related maladies,

When our commodities industries are on the brink of total failure,

When we’re about to enter the most difficult demographic transition in living memory,

When household debt is at an all time high,

When we’re in a technical recession,

When our dollar is on a steady decline,

When we have the lowest interest rates possible, and no growth to report,

When we’re about to hand over our very sovereignty to foreign business interests in the Trans-Pacific Partnership,

When there are over 1200 missing and murdered aboriginal women, and steadily rising.

We’ve now somehow handed our entire political process over to notoriously unreliable voter preference polls, looking to the likes of Dogwood, LeadNow and VoteTogether as our new political intelligentsia.

Even more exceptional, we’ve managed to do this, for months upon months, in an election that has featured between 20-30% undecided voters.

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It’s really been amazing to watch this all unfold as both an insider and an informed observer.

Anyone who has been involved in even a few elections knows that the ‘strategic vote’ campaign is now the regular feature of both Liberal and NDP campaigning.  They’ve been doing this for years and the pattern is crystal clear.

Both the NDP and Libs are guilty of electioneering of the highest degree, and this is now one of their main tactics.  The other chief tactic is refusing to electorally cooperate, which has turned our elections into some sick parallel of the Prometheus story.

On the progressive left, we grow our vital organs back every election, before they are ripped out once more by the unified and ‘value-driven’ Conservatives.  I feel your anger: it’s ridiculous to watch this.

What’s been even more amazing is watching the NDP slip from the lead and change, overnight, their  tactic from a full-charge strategic vote, to a ‘vote for what you want!’, ‘don’t abandon your values now!’ strategy.  It’s worthy of ridicule.

Honestly, if this election was only about strategic voting, we could have saved the $350 million and just handed this contest to Justin in the wake of his Bill C-51 debacle: because that’s the logical outcome of strategic voting if we accept it as our political ‘raison d’etre’.

I’ve been canvassing and campaigning in a variety of locations this election, I still haven’t been able to find even a handful of people that actually want to vote for either the party, platform or the leader they feel strategic voting compels them to.

They’re doing it simply out of fear of the other, and that my friends, is no way to pick a Prime Minister.

But Harper is going to win, right?

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How does Harper win, anyways?

Everybody on your social media seems to hate him, so where do all these voters come from at election time?

In a nutshell, Harper panders to the largest ‘value based’ voter base still left in Canada: Conservative Canadians.  That seems a very powerful thing to do.

Conservative voters will simply NOT abandon their vote because it’s based in a deep-rooted sense of shared values that have nothing to do with polls.

While on the progressive left we’re rapidly refreshing our poll websites to find out where our vote should go next; Conservatives are charting a 30 year trajectory through the political wilderness, unified by a common destiny.

I can’t begin to tell you how inadequate the ‘progressive’ approach has been in comparison.

We don’t know what philosophy we’re even following anymore; we just know we’re against the other guys.

Are you Green, NDP or Liberal?  Can you articulate what the differences are, or what this means for your vote?  Do you know what’s in the platforms and do you understand the character of the leaders?

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We desperately need to start to understand just how much damage ‘fear politics’ has done to our great nation.

We’ve fallen from global respect and dignity, to the laughing stock of the G8, and worldwide climate villain.

Scroll back to the top, and have a look at the condition we currently find ourselves in: that’s a terrible confluence of factors for any civil society to find itself.

When I visited the Canadian Mission to the UN in 2005, we were the most respected country in the world and held in the very highest regard in the General Assembly.

We had so many people appointed to key global positions that we were characteristically embarrassed about it.

Fast forward to 2015 and we’ve become a pariah in the very same house; exemplified by the vote that saw Canada rejected a seat on the Security Council by our GA partners.

Along the way our politics have become hi-jacked by electioneers, we’ve abandoned our values, and our democratic traditions.

We have only ourselves to blame for this precipitous decline.

As a nation we’ve become obsessed with fear politics and it shows.