Alberta


ewoks defeat empire tweetIt’s been an interesting week. Unless you happened to be sitting in the Alberta legislature and then it was – to quote Thomas Lukaszuk, MLA for Edmonton Castle Downs, a “week from hell”.

This trip to the hellmouth came courtesy of our new Premier’s attempt to slay a vexing dragon that has menaced conservatives in both his party, the Progressive-Conservatives, and their rivals and opposition, the Wildrose Party.

Both parties have problems with a small religious and socially conservative driven base, continually seeking assurances that Alberta will stay as rooted in the 1960’s on certain social issues as is possible given the fact that it’s now the 21st century.

There are a number of things that send this base into a frenzy but two things in particular give them panic attacks.

The first is the fear that as parents they won’t have control over every aspect of their children’s education. Specifically (though probably not exclusively) anything pertaining to sex.

What passes for sexual education, generally, has me shaking my head most of the time and grateful for the fact that I have been instructing my daughter in the basics since she first noted the concept of gender and the differences between them.

The misinformation and bias I’ve observed in teachers, and in the provincial curriculum, is fodder for another day (and frankly, was something I ran into frequently when I taught in the United States too), but I have countered it with fact and honest, even-handed discussions. I am not too worried that some random teacher’s poor delivery method is going to ruin my child.

But there is a subset of Albertan parents who are determined to keep facts from their children even if they have to keep facts from my child to achieve this end.

And that is where Bill10 enters our story.

But please indulge a little back story.

The province of Alberta has a long history of not being keen about granting rights to LGBTQs in most instances and about same-sex marriage in particular. While the rest of the provinces came to the realization that legally it was simply impossible to deny this basic right, Alberta’s premier, Ralph Klein, pitched a fit.

However, Canada became the fourth country in the world to recognize that access to marriage was a right for all in 2005.

This would be the end of the story but for the fact that Alberta’s socially conservative still grumble (despite the fact that the world hasn’t cracked in half and the four horsemen aren’t roaming the earth in the wake of civil marriage) and not so subtly find ways to make their displeasure known.

One of the ways was to not allow sexual orientation to be named explicitly in the Alberta Bill of Rights Act (which as an aside is the province’s way of reminding Canada that they never did like Pierre Trudeau or his Charter of Rights and Freedoms) and to eventually grant the wish of a minority of parents in Alberta by allowing them to demand notification from teachers every single time that sexual orientation came up in the classroom.

The first thing is just mean-spirited and sore loser-ish. It can’t be explained any other way.

But the second was simple control-freak paranoia based on the outdated idea that people are taught to be lesbian or gay or transgender or bisexual or queer.

Speaking as someone who spent two decades teaching junior and senior high, let me reassure everyone that no one taught your son or daughter his/her sexual orientation. They showed up at the door pre-programmed.

Not once was I ever surprised to learn, years after I taught someone in grade seven, that he or she was gay. Not. Once. Because I knew it even if it took them a few more years to figure it out.

So, Bill10.

The Alberta Liberal Party tried, unsuccessfully, to fix the aforementioned issues. Valiant attempts. But as they had been all but crushed as a viable opposition party in the province, these attempts failed.

Recently though a Liberal MLA named Laurie Blakemen tried again with a private member’s bill, Bill202.

It was simplicity itself. Corrected the injustice and laid to rest the idiocy and could be summed up in three sentences. How can you not love legislation that you don’t need a lawyer to interpret for you to actually understand it?

Blakemen presented her private member’s bill. People liked it. There was much rejoicing!

bill202

And then Premier Prentice decided he wanted to be the one who presented a bill that righted wrongs (’cause that’s how he rolls) because rejoicing isn’t okay unless the PC’s are facilitating it.

Bill 202 went through a first reading. The government responded with “yeah, but we have a bill of our own, which will do all of these things and probably fly and shoot rainbows out its bum too and we will tell you all about it … just as soon as we write it down.”

Premier Prentice then disappeared in a puff of smoke like Cinderella’s godmother because more important work pertaining to pipelines and bitumen was waiting for him in Quebec, and so his faithful front-line minions were left to write and present the new and improved bill to the legislature.

Which they did.

And everyone went “meh?”

Because Bill10 was not really new – it borrowed heavily from Bill202, so much so that if the legislature was a university and MLAs were students words like plagiarism might have been tossed about and people would be failing and possibly even expelled.

So they tried again.

And everyone went “wtf?!”

contrast 202 and 10

Bill 10 had gone from a bad pirating effort to quasi-apartheid aimed squarely at LGBTQ children, who just wanted to be allowed to form GSA’s (gay straight alliance clubs) in their schools so they could cope with the normal transition stuff that teens face in a safe place, free from bullying and full of warmth, understanding, and friendship.

Why, when it’s usually the most tired refrain in the political universe, was no one “thinking of the children?”

But the PC government dug in even as some of their own – brave and eloquent souls like Thomas Lukaszuk and Doug Griffiths – stood up and said, “this isn’t right”.

The tiny undermanned opposition parties (for a welcome change) banded together in an impressive showing of rebuttal and take down and common sense.

And the small but semi-vigilant Alberta media and social media had the opposition’s back. Publishing news articles, op-ed and tweeting like frenzied Shakespearian chorus.

Citizens took to the airwaves. They petitioned. They shared heart-rending personal stories about the isolation and discrimination.

Truly it was the Evil Empire versus the plucky Ewoks. If by “evil” you mean “misguided and misinformed” and by “plucky” you mean “relentlessly mocking”.

And Ewoks, in case anyone has forgotten, are wee, furry fluffballs that chitter like Alvin and the Chipmunks. And they have wicked sharp teeth.

While the rest of Canada – as it usually does unless it is wagging fingers about climate change that their first world lifestyles apparently don’t contribute to at all – ignored Alberta, Albertans stood up and said, “Um, no. We are not a gaggle of inbred hillbillies. Bill10 simply isn’t right. Scrap it and come up with something better. Maybe like Bill202.”

When Canada finally did notice, it was over.

At the height of civilian dissension, Premier Prentice tersely told the media (in Ontario) that “Rights are not absolute.”

Yes, he did.

Not exactly the words most citizens dream of hearing from the mouth of the guy who basically rules over them with virtually no checks on his authority.

But upon returning to the legislature – just in time to fire up the Christmas decor – Prentice had regained his sanity, re-girded his political loins and shelved Bill10.

What’s next? Maybe nothing. Shelved bills have a habit of disappearing into the bowels of government like the Ark of the Covenant in a US military warehouse. But maybe this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship between the socially progressive in the Alberta legislature and Alberta politics in general. Perhaps that day has finally arrived.

Regardless, the real issue is still unresolved. Our kids can’t start GSAs in many of the rural schools or in any of the Catholic ones. There is still bullying and marginalization during a time in their lives when just growing up – physically, emotionally and academically – is hard enough work.

We are failing our kids and by “we”, I mean all of us.

Two weeks have been wasted by adults more interested in political points than in doing their damn jobs. When does this end? Who is going to man up and take the first step towards making things right?


Alberta Legislature

Alberta Legislature (Photo credit: Jeff_Werner)

… but I did anyway. Fretted through the day yesterday as I waited impatiently for the election results. Unlike the elections in the United States, which are parsed and predicted throughout election day via exit polling and punditry, here in Alberta, they don’t start all that until the polls actually close.

A 28 day election cycle AND no exit polling or newscasting hysteria. Seriously, America really needs to look into this. It’s civilized and it feels quite grown up.

When I talked to Rob in the afternoon, he related that the lunch time crowd at his polling station was light, but it apparently had been quite heavy in the morning.

“I filled in my ballot, folded it and dropped it in the bucket,” he said.

“You dropped a piece of paper in a bucket?”

“Yes,” he said. “How did you think I would do it?”

“A bucket?”

“Yes,” he said again. “How did you do it back in Iowa?”

“I would fill in the ballot and place it in the electronic counter.”

“Ah, I see. Well, here we don’t take chances with fraud like that.”

“Folded paper in a bucket is safer?” I am clearly confused now.

“There can be tampering with machines,” he replied and it sounds a bit smug.

“Yeah, well, there’s been a lot more tampering with paper and buckets in the U.S,.” I said. “JFK owed his presidency to a lot of paper chicanery in Chicago.”

“Hanging chads,” he countered.

Check and mate.

The actual reveal of the winner was rather anti-climatic. They called it a bit more than an hour after the results started coming in.

It’s a winner take all in the ridings and as soon as a candidate had a certain percentage of the vote … it was his/hers. As soon as the PC’s hit the magic majority number of 44, they win the government.

Despite the optimism of the Wildrose and to the chagrin of pundits, the PC’s pulled off a comfortable majority. Probably no one was more stunned than the Wildrose than the rest of the provinces, who have Albertans pegged as redneck racists without class or common sense.

And I say “HA” to both of you.

The Alberta I know is not really Texas but colder (though I may joke otherwise). The people are caring, thoughtful and not all wrapped up in themselves and their stuff.

And yes, there are those other kinds of Albertans. Read some of the comments at the Globe and Mail if you want to see what Wildrose supporters think, but in and around Edmonton and in the north and center, people really aren’t all that conservative. They feel that social issues like same-sex marriage, equality, human rights and abortion access are issues that are settled. They don’t believe that the infrastructure should be neglected. They want new schools and health care centres. They don’t think that rebates are more important than putting money into rainy day and the Heritage Fund. They aren’t reactionary enough to blame a brand new premier for the mistakes of her predecessors. And they are interested in the future and not just more of the status quo past. And they do think that Alberta should be a leader on the national stage. It’s time.

Congratulations, Alberta. You did good and deserve that leader position in Canada’s future and you are going to make a difference.


English: Wind Swept Trees in Winter

Wind swept trees

On the prairie, a shifting wind signals change.  The wilder the wind, the most significant the change and direction counts too. Typically, the biggest change is in temperature, but the wind gusts, bellows and batters regardless of the highs or lows it is carrying.

During the night, the wind picked up and began rattling this old house again. The first indication that Not Winter was about to be booted was a gust that swept the idle snow shovel off the back deck, resulting in an unsettling crash that sent Rob in search of the source. A noise has to be disturbing on an emotional level to rouse him to investigate. Throughout the wee hours, the wind gathered fury. Windows rattled. Timbers creaked.

Sleeping as we do on the upper level imparts the false impression that we are at the mercy of the elements. The wind is especially good at reminding us that no structure is really all that impervious.

Winter and Not Winter (I haven’t decided if it’s Fall who hasn’t left or Spring that wants to come early) have locked horns again. Back in Iowa, this is the time of year when Spring will try to push her way past Winter’s defenses. She may even set up residence for a while, thumb her pretty nose at Winter’s ruddy one, but she never outlasts him. Here, January thaws have not been much in evidence since we moved up from the States. Winter comes. It stays. And Spring loses battle after battle from March til early May when Winter simply can’t cope with the warming of the earth and the persistence of the sun anymore. Even then, Spring is a cool creature, whose idea of the season is decidedly out of character with this Midwestern girl’s recollections of her.

Thus far, there has been little snow and much more ice than northern Canadians are accustomed to encountering. The lack of snow suits me fine. It will snow the first week of May, mark my words, so the longer it holds off, the less depressed I will be about it.  But chilly and ice and damp wet, I can live quite nicely without. All it brings is ripe conditions for disease and allergies. It makes it impossible to wear my most comfy Ugg boats, causes my fingers and toes to ache and too rapidly depletes the washer fluid as I battle the big rigs that clog the main thoroughfares in town.

Twenty something below tonight, they say. It will warm a bit and then plummet even further next week. The extended forecast is a flurry of flakes and bitter temps. This is January though. This is Winter. Not the mild-mannered impostor we’ve been entertaining since before the holiday.

It’s fifty something (and that’s fahrenheit not our celsius) in Iowa today. Which is not unusual. It was nearly that in celsius here over the weekend. And that is odd, but not in a four horsemen kind of way.

I prefer my slice of Alberta dry – for breathing related reasons –  and if it comes with a side of really cold, so be it. With May not as far away as it was in November, I am ready for winter. Probably.


A local radio station has a Facebook page where they post a daily topic and invite listeners to post their two cents. Today’s topic was a tired old retreading of the false divorce stats that conservatives and ultra religious types love to trot out to support their somewhat punitive ideas about relationships and marriage.

The gist of their query was soliciting relationship advice from the listeners.

What Do You Do To Keep Your Marriage From Ending Up a Divorce Statistic?

From the predictable to the not funny came the replies, but the red herring stats fired me up enough to go and google up something resembling actual numbers and here is what I found:

  • The percentage of marriages in a given year that will end in divorce before their 30th wedding anniversary has increased slightly from 36.1 per cent in 1998 to 37.9 per cent in 2004. [3]

 

  • In 2003, the risk of divorce decreased slowly the longer a couple stayed married beyond three years. [4]

 

  • The divorce rate for first marriages is likely lower; “first marriages have a 67% chance of lasting a lifetime.” [5]

 

So while Canadians marry at fairly low rates per capita (with Alberta’s number being the highest, which is a reflection of the economy here more than anything), getting hitched is not a death knell for a relationship. In fact, statistically, you have a greater chance of splitting up if you just live together than you do if you marry the object of your affection.

Rob and I have been discussing the “living together” versus “marriage” thing recently. Apparently one of his sisters-in-law suggested to him – a month before we married – that he and I simply try living together first to “make sure it will work out”.

The worst advice you can offer a young couple is “live together for a while” because “trial marriages” actually have the worst statistical survival rates. The only non-legal arrangements that fare worse are those of couples who move in together to “save money” on rent or other bills. The only really good reason to live with someone before marrying them is love. Going into a co-habitation without love, and a commitment to a future together, is just asking for the privilege to someday argue furiously over who gets the cat or the flat screen tv.

But marriage advice. I don’t know that I’ve spent enough of my adult life married to qualify as an expert but here goes:

Shower together.

Yes, that’s it. Shower. Together. Every night if at all possible.

Okay, sure, open communication. Putting the other’s needs at the top of your to do list daily. Common interests, value systems and goals. And being able to have discussions on a wider range than simply the grocery list and the children. All important. As is, according to new studies, just being consistently kind to each other.

Showering together? Key.

Why?

Good question because I certainly didn’t shower with the late husband. But with Rob, we discovered very early that the most surefire way to touch base, in a manner of speaking, every day without fail was to take our nightly shower together. You can’t avoid conversation, eye contact and a certainly amount of physicality in a shower – just ask anyone in prison, if you don’t believe me.

With a small child, the shower became the logical “get away” when we were on holiday and cramped together in a single hotel room, and it has always been a good way to reconnect at the end of long days when other contact was limited.

I’d like to add that it’s a good way to conserve water and soap, but that just hasn’t been a side benefit.

 

 


Mosquito

Image by Gravitywave via Flickr

If it’s not birds, it’s mosquitoes. The near constant rain has resurrected a long dormant type for double teaming duty with the regular bloodsuckers we normally have. The new variety though isn’t nocturnal. It likes sunshine too making it impossible to avoid being bitten.

The Fort’s soccer fields and playgrounds practically pulsate with them. Dee and I have been swarmed twice in the last week and it makes me wonder how people coped back in yore without pesticide deterrents.

By “swarmed” I mean literally covered. Remember those commercials where the guy sticks his arm into an aquarium filled with the little pests and it disappears under the creatures. That kind of swarmed.

I don’t even have to be bitten to itch. For some reason, just contact sets my skin aflame with intense itching that last for about 10 or so minutes after.

And with West Nile and encephalitis being a mosquito carried threat anymore, it’s hard to shrug the plague off as just a summer side-effect to be endured. It also makes me feel a bit guilty leaving Dee to fend at soccer camp this week, slowly eaten by mosquitoes all day.

Summer in Alberta is not as awesome as years past.


Minneapolis

Image via Wikipedia

At some point, coming or going, where a trip to Iowa is concerned, Minneapolis looms large and essentially unavoidable. A metropolitan area that all but defines the term “urban sprawl”, we found ourselves once again attempting to circumnavigate it with as much expediency as possible on our return trip to Canada last week.

Coming up I-35 and entering the interstate labyrinth from the southern edge, it can easily take well over an hour to break free. Compounding this was Rob’s quest for another two bar stools for our new kitchen breakfast nook. The pricing on everything under the sun hovering just below insanely cheap in the States, we’d found two chairs at the Pier 1 in Dubuque and determined that another two could be secured in another store in Michelle Bachmann territory.

Dee is an extraordinarily intrepid traveler for her age. Broken to the backseat during her 5th year and first in Canada by the vast expanse that is Alberta specifically but Canada generally, she can ride six to seven hours with nary an “are we there yet?” But a week of intense spoiling by her grandmother softened her a bit and the endless city of Minneapolis quickly mushroomed into a Groundhog’s Day experience.

“Where are we?” she asked.

“Minneapolis,” Rob said.

30 minutes later her attention wandered back to the seemingly unchanged landscape.

“Where are we now?”

“Minneapolis,” I told her.

And 30 minutes after that?

“Are we still in Minneapolis?”

“Yes, we are,” Rob said.

“Well, I don’t know why they call it Minneapolis,” she announced a little while later. “There is nothing ‘mini’ about it.”

“Minne is a native word,” Rob said.

“It probably doesn’t mean small,” I added.

“Probably not,” Dee agreed.


gm_13005 Shining Bank Snow, Alberta 1977

Image by CanadaGood via Flickr

With a second “snow event” in as many weeks behind us, I pondered the piles which have turned our yard, front and back, into a white labyrinth and thought about the phone conversation I had yesterday with my husband.

“The boss dropped by, ” he told me, “looking for anyone who might be interested in a possible project down on the Gulf Coast. I told him that I might be but it wasn’t a decision I could make* without consulting you. The probability of the project is based on a U.S. economic recovery, which isn’t all that likely, but how would you feel about it?”

He was talking about the Texas coast. Texas being only slightly less objectionable than say Alabama, whose governor recently admitted that he has no Christian charity to extend to anyone who isn’t Christian and was once such a bastion of seething racism that blacks forced to travel through it packed their own porta potties and carried an extra gas can for refueling in the trunks of their cars.

“Baby, this is the 7th day without sun and it’s been snowing non-stop since last Wednesday,” I said. “This probably isn’t the best day to ask if I’d like to move south.”

Of course, the southern states in the U.S. are harbingers of the level of bat-shit crazy that will fan out over the rest of the country like the four horsemen once the next election cycle kicks into full propaganda mode this coming fall, so I am lukewarm (though not literally) about the prospect of a front row seat. Monitoring the shenanigans from Canada is enough adventure for me.

But the prospect of warmth, sun and no snow does tempt.

Everyone is escaping to Mexico. I listen to the travel tales filled with bouts of uncontrollable diarrhea and Federales with  machine guns escorting bus loads of pale northern tourists to the insulated resorts with a minimum of envy and a lot of wonder.

I read too much to consider Mexico even the slightest bit safe for someone pale and unable to speak the language beyond the ability to ask for a beer or for directions to the nearest washroom.

Silly white tourists. My student roster when I taught drop out prevention flowed over with Mexicans, who are ingratiating and smile a lot but who also see Americans (we are all Americans to them) as marks to relieve of the heavy burden of our bourgeois bounty.

The boys would regale me with stories of their tourist trap homes and cajole me to visit.

“I have a cousin (uncle or auntie) who can set you up cheap! It’s warm and more beautiful than anyplace you have ever been.”

“Is it safe?” I would ask.

Sheepish grins before a serious look would replace the huckster, “I wouldn’t send you anywhere that wasn’t. My family (friends) would look out for someone who I send.”

I’ve never been to Mexico. Rob and I thought about marrying down there, but the whole translation of documents plus the logistics of getting everyone there proved to be a significant deterrent.

Normally, it’s Rob who funks out early in the winter. He blames it on the lack of sunshine, but statistically, Alberta is one of the sunniest places in Canada.

I am fine until mid-April and it’s still snowing. It’s not the lack of sunshine; it’s the absence of spring. We simply don’t have spring here. It’s cold until it’s not. It snows until it’s meteorologically impossible for it to do so anymore. This could be early April or it could be June.

In Iowa, winters are a bitch, but spring – hot sometimes and lush due to the rain and snow melt – arrives with gusto in late March or early April. That is what my body is used to and I do miss it.

But there are feet of snow in the yard, along the roadsides and piling like small mountain ranges in the parking lots. And it’s still January.

Everywhere I go, people marvel and say, “I have never seen it snow this much before.”

Even Rob remarked, “It’s never snowed this much in the fifteen years I have lived here.”

To be a part of such an historic snowpocalypse hasn’t been a life’s goal and I am unlikely to look back fondly on it.

People talk about “climate change” and “global warming” and I read about scientists who are concluding that the earth is nearing one of the ends of its infrequent warm periods and preparing for the next ice age. The earth’s natural state, after all, is “ice ball”. Whatever the reason, it sucks and I have reached literal saturation.

*Rob unilaterally made the decision to move the family to Kansas back in the early 90’s and was informed by his late wife that he did not have the authority to ever do something like that again.