Archive for February, 2011

Home on the range

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

On Monday, Louis Riel Day, our Manitoba winter, one day holiday, a large number of people came out to the Neepawa Winter Wonderland event. It’s actually a low key affair that seems to be mainly driven by a mid-winter desire to “do something”, a kind of antidote for cabin fever. With temperatures hovering near -25 degrees Celsius that morning, one would have to question the sanity of anybody wanting to be outside. But in true Manitoba fashion everyone proclaimed, “It’s not bad out here.” And it wasn’t. The sun shone, the wind stayed down and if you stood very still and turned your face just at the right angle to the sun, you could feel “strength” in the sunshine, a promise of a spring that’s surely coming.
Kids skated, horse drawn sleigh rides were staged, hot chocolate and hotdogs were served up. A good time was had by all. 
But there’s more to this story. I’m sure similar scenes were played out all across Manitoba and people went out for an hour or two or three to enjoy the sunshine. After a long hard winter, one that’s far from over, people have a lot of pent up energy that needs to be let out. Energy that needs a place to be burned up. Spring will be a very busy time and we may need all that energy very soon.
There’s almost no doubt that there will be flooding in many parts of Manitoba. With the snow levels we have now in place, there will likely be severe flooding. Farm lands, already fairly wet from last season, will likely be very wet this spring. Seeding may be delayed. Pastures will likely be delayed too, so feed supplies may be stretched to get cattle through to green grass. In short, there’s a lot of work to be done between now and summer time.
Speaking of work to be done, hopefully somebody somewhere is planning to build more housing. Across the Banner coverage area and in many other parts of south-western Manitoba, there’s a need for housing. In Neepawa, there’s only 35-40 units of housing actually being built or being firmly planned for 2011. That’s hardly enough to house the wave of immigrant workers, the long line of Canadians wanting housing in the area and plus the new wave of immigrant workers coming in the next 12 months.
Strangely enough, it was during the Winter Festival, while standing in the slightly warming sunshine, that it came to me again that we are on the wrong track with housing. It’s a recurring thought. Housing in cold climates can take two extremes. The Aboriginals and Inuit of olden days housed themselves in very primitive ways. They built igloos or tents, primitive shelters for sure, but they did survive. It was just as cold two or three hundred years ago as it is now and they survived. Fast forward to today and a family of two with a couple of kids think they need a $300,000 mansion to survive in this environment. Somewhere, there has to be a compromise in between mansions and tents. Primitive shelters don’t cut it, but do we have to spend as much money on housing as we do today?
One needs to understand that the first-time home owner’s needs could be filled with a much smaller home. Drive down any street in a small town or in Winnipeg and you will see some very small homes that were built in the 1940s and 50s. Homes as small as 550 square feet or even 700 square feet served families well in days gone by. There are houses still being lived in comfortably in Winnipeg that are only 500 sq. feet or less. We need to re-adjust our thinking.
Entry level housing needs to be smaller, more efficient and expandable. A home needs to have the structure and roof line that will allow expansion in the years ahead. Let’s face it, a 24’ x 24’ home allows for a 12’ x 12’ bedroom, a smaller second bedroom with a bathroom beside it and a 12’ x 24’ kitchen/dining living room area. Hundreds of older homes have space dimensions like that. And there’s good reason for it, they were affordable.
We need to look at many different housing options including size adjustments, having on-slab construction with no basements and other options.
Let’s face reality, if we were forced to be out on the tundra in a blizzard, an igloo would look pretty good. Our reality is that we can do a lot better than an igloo or a tent but we need to stop thinking in castle mode for at least a portion of our housing market.
Neepawa needs another 250 units of very affordable housing in the immediate future. We will either find a way to build them or we will lose a major opportunity. The same problem, to varying degrees, faces almost all rural towns. It’s been said, “Build it and they will come.” We are past that stage. “They”, meaning both immigrant and Canadian folks, are already here. If we don’t build it, they will leave.

Standout moments

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

As the rioting and demonstrations unfolded this past two weeks in Egypt, I was compelled to find up-to-date and accurate information. Our story this week about Bruce and Ellen Ford’s flight from Egypt certainly provides a small amount of insight as to what it was like to have to flee in the face of increasing violence. The Fords decided to seek the safety of Canada, much to their relief and the relief of their families
From the safety of my living room, I wanted to know more of what Egypt was doing, what the ordinary people were doing. Most newscasts were re-running two and three day old film clips and it was becoming increasingly apparent that the commentators knew little of what was really happening. I went on-line to the AlJazeera English television network. They had live coverage of Liberation Square in Cairo and you could see the crowds, the demonstrations, the army tanks and even some of the shooting that resulted in the deaths of dozens and dozens of people.
It was almost Biblical in proportion. One could imagine the cries of Moses when he approached Pharaoh and said “Let my people go.” In this case, instead of the Israelites making the plea, it’s the Egyptian people pleading with today’s “Pharaoh”, Hosni Mubaruk to go, to leave the president’s office and the country.
With 60 per cent of the people under 30 years of age and they having never known another president except Mubaruk, it’s no wonder that the young people want some changes. Many people live on $2 per day. Some on less. There’s starvation, poverty, overcrowded schools and a general lack of opportunity.
The great fear among western nations is that without a strongman like Mubaruk, Egypt will become a radical Muslim state. It may. But one scene from Liberation Square was very telling. At one of the many daily Muslim calls to prayer shown on TV, hundreds of men knelt to pray. At the same time, many thousands simply stood around and watched. The devout Muslims and the extreme Muslims are relatively few in number as made obvious by the split in the crowd.
Certainly devout Muslims are a factor in Egypt but they are far from the majority. It looks as if the majority want a democracy. With the demonstrators using the internet, Twitter, Facebook and traditional media coverage, they may get what they are asking for. Every day, the Egyptian government makes more concessions. The stream of concessions seem simple to us but they are likely very complicated to a government that has ruled for 30 years with an iron fist.
One of the best things that may come out of this demonstration of people power is that with all the different kinds communications we have today, it’s nearly impossible for a strong man regime to totally hide their sins from the people. Hitler rose to power because he controlled the media. In a dictator state, he who controls the media has the best chance to hold power. That’s why, in days gone by, rebels would seize the printing presses, the radio station and the TV stations.
In today’s electronic world, no one person can seize all the cell phones, the I-pods, the I-pads, the computers. They may be able to seize the some of the networks but they can’t shut down communications like the regimes of old could do.
Egypt’s revolution will go down in history as the electronic revolution or the cell phone revolution.
Another telling scene happened many times in Liberation Square. Men were holding a cell phone to their ear in one hand and throwing a rock with the other. Talk about bridging the centuries. In days gone back, all desperate men could hold was rocks, perhaps one in each hand. There’s little doubt which hand carries the most force today. It isn’t the one holding the rock.

Everyone wants to go forward

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Most people have heard the definition of insanity. “Insanity is doing the same old things in the same old way and expecting different results.”
The obvious side story to that definition is that “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.
In running an organization, a town or city, or a company there is a fine line between the steadfastness of doing things right over and over and doing things wrong over and over again.
How to tell the difference isn’t always easy but there should be few clues. If the results are the desired results, then wide spread change is questionable. However, if the results aren’t what we want, then change needs to be embraced. Change is inevitable. It’s a matter of who will control the change. For rural towns, municipalities and organizations, the change usually has been left to outside forces.
Faced with dwindling populations, rural areas have tended to let the slide go unchecked. Not needing as many farmers or perhaps not being able to support as many farmers as the decades go by, we have simply thrown up our hands and let it happen. Not having as many babies born into our midst and faced with declining birth rates we have simply let schools close, stores close, services dwindle and generally let the slide continue.
However, the slide is not inevitable if enough people put their heads together and decide there should be constructive change and growth. In spite of a “let it slide “ approach that has dominated the Neepawa area for years, enough people, some insiders and some new people, have applied enough pressure in the economy and the infrastructure to allow and encourage growth.
The key is more people. If enough people aren’t being born into an area then the area needs to look some place where there is population pressure and bring some people in. The Philippines is an obvious example. Other countries can be included in the list. Even within Canada, there’s population pressures that can be shifted from region to region
What is needed is a desire for change and a plan to manage change. Many years ago, the now highly successful City of Winkler observed that young people were leaving the community especially after graduating from high school. That wasn’t exactly rocket science. Every town in western Canada should have known that. The difference was that the Winkler town fathers decided that “if” a student wanted to stay there would be “a” job. The math is quite simple. Add up the number of retirements in a given year. Place that number against the number of grads and the difference gives you the number of new jobs you need.
Now Winkler never assumed that everybody would stay or even that everybody should stay. They simply put in place ways of creating jobs (and housing) so that a person could stay. Or that a person could come back home after a time away for education, training or employment experience. It’s a simple system. It has been adopted by Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos First Nation in B.C. Create the jobs, create the housing and some of your young people will stay or come back.The other jobs will be filled by those moving to the area from other parts of Canada or from off-shore. That is what happens when you plan for sustainable growth.
One of the things that needs to change in small towns is that the leaders of all the volunteer groups need to sit down and ask themselves where they want to go and what they really want to do. In a town, there are probably 30 organizations. All have a chairman, a vice chairman (maybe), a secretary, a treasurer, a bank account and so on. All have a yearly agenda. Few are thriving. Some are dying. They all need to take a serious look at amalgamation.
In the 1970s, Arden had a skating rink committee, a hall committee, a park committee and a curling rink committee. They all came together as the Lansdowne Recreation Commission. It’s still going today and, while there have been issues to solve over the years, the basic structure has resulted in a stronger community. There’s still a nice park, a very successful curling rink, an outdoor skating area and a successful mid-sized hall. There’s also a lot fewer meetings so people can spend time at work, with family or having fun instead of sitting in four times as many meetings. The point is that communities and organizations don’t just have to take what’s handed to them by demographic fate. They can chart their course, determine their future and make progress.
There’s a few more sayings that need to be looked at.
Management styles: “Lead follow or get of of the way” and learn which you are supposed to do in a given situation
Decision making: “If you sit in the middle of the road, you get run down by traffic going both directions.”
Achieving success: “He who hesitates is lost.”
And most important of all, may God bless us as we embrace the future. This is a Sunrize Group internet solution (204)226-2247