Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Sunday, September 29, 2019

Leadership conference lacks leadership

It was billed as the biggest, most important, leadership conference ever held in this area -- the Level Up Executive Leadership Conference -- 10 hours with eight great leaders -- yesterday.

            If you bought tickets ranging in price up to $1600, plus tax, you got to hear about leadership from two former prime ministers of Canada: Jean Chretien and Stephen Harper.

            The term “former” applies to several other speakers too.

            Darren Hardy is the former publisher /editor of Success Magazine.

            Walter Bond is a former star in the National Basketball Association.

            Omar Johnson is the former CEO of Beats by Dre, the premium headphone company.

            Lane Merrifield is the former owner of Penguin Club, sold to Disney for $350 million.

            Three of the other speakers are not “former” somethings. They’re current corporate founders, CEOs, or presidents.


Not enviable records

            I tried to think back to Jean Chretien’s years as prime minister. Only two things spring to mind -- his attempt to strangle a man who objected his policies, and his long-standing feud with Paul Martin that split the Liberal Party and led to its humiliation in the 2011 federal election.

            If that’s leadership, count me out.

            I remember much more about Stephen Harper’s leadership.

·      He destroyed the national census conducted by Statistics Canada. By making participation voluntary, he invalidated the only accurate long-term study of Canadian demographics.

·      He cancelled the Experimental Lakes Project, aborting a research program on freshwater lakes that provided data valued worldwide.

·      He fired the head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission over safety concerns at the Chalk River nuclear plant.

·      He gagged scientists, requiring them to submit their research to his public relations hacks before publication.

·      His cabinet was held in contempt of parliament.

·      He prorogued parliament twice -- once to evade a potential non-confidence vote, the second time for economic reasons.

·      He cut foreign aid to Africa by $700 million, and reduced defence spending to 1% of Canadian GDP.

·      He pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol on reducing global warming, the first signatory in the world to withdraw from that agreement.

·      He shut down programs to monitor emissions, food inspections, oil spills, and water quality. He closed a number of government libraries, rendering the information they had stored inaccessible for research.

            Again I say, if that’s leadership, count me out.


Predictable messages

            Obviously, I didn’t put up $1600 to attend the Level Up Convention. And I was not offered advance transcripts of the speeches. So I cannot know what the speakers actually said.

            But as I look at the list of speakers, I see no one concerned with anything beyond making money. And more money.

            A possible exception might be Gorman Bros. CEO Nick Arkle. As a forestry company, I understand, Gormans rank above the norm in environmental responsibility.

            But I feel confident that none of the other “leaders” will advocate a carbon tax. None will challenge our addiction to fossil fuels. None will offer an economic vision that isn’t based on endless growth.

            Rather, they will argue that the economy cannot afford to devote money to saving the planet from the effects of climate change.

            I’m reminded of a political cartoon where a corporate tycoon blusters, “But what if we spend all this money making a better world, and it doesn’t end after all?”


“How dare you…”

            I wonder what Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, would say to the participants at the Level Up Executive Leadership Conference.

            Wait a minute -- I don’t have to wonder. She already said it last week. To the U.N. General Assembly:

            “People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!

            “For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you're doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight?

            “How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just ‘business as usual’ and some technical solutions?

            “You are failing us. But young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.”


Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

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My main point in last week’s column was the idea what we have crossed a metaphoric watershed in our attitudes to people who seem to be different from us -- “us” being the privilege allotted to white males. A few letters picked up that theme.


Bob Rollwagen wrote, “I think it is safe to say that the racist boy learned from his parents. Statistical surveys put Canada right behind the USA when it comes to racism, bigotry, and sexism. Fortunately, they don't have the same access to guns as they do in the USA.

            “I agree that we have passed a watershed moment in a number of ways in Canada. Our next election will be a good measure of this. Is it a creek, a river, or just the run off of a recent rain storm? Whatever, it is moving slowly in the right direction.”


And Larry Smith agreed: “I believe your watershed term is right on the mark. Having the Prime Minister of Canada’s [blackface] outed, to the delight of the Conservatives, will propel this issue along faster than it has ever moved before. What I don’t like is the direction our politics is taking, with this form of muck-raking!”


Cliff Boldt agreed about the watershed idea, but wasn’t necessarily optimistic: “The western democracies have crossed a watershed for sure, and authoritarianism is appearing as a logical and acceptable alternative to the old-fashioned liberal democracy. Many of our generation are living in a world we really don’t understand anymore.”


Tom Watson commented, “I keep hoping for the day when the colour of a person's skin makes no difference at all.”


But most of the letters focussed on the experience of being a victim.


This writer didn’t want to be identified: “I too, as a child, was tormented in school. As a parent I believe it behooves one to teach their children that the potential for racism, sexism, homophobia etc. is out there, but it doesn't have to change your aspirations or how you see yourself. Your granddaughter should have an ally in the school system who could talk to the offender and find out what is going on in his/her life that makes him/her need to belittle others. Secure, confident children don't bully.

            “As to the child in Vancouver, I hope you don't feel the police were remiss in their handling of this situation. I don't know exactly what the content of this video was, but I'm fairly certain there is a wide range of stuff that is obscene and disgusting that fails to cross the threshold into illegal. That said, it's too bad a trained specialist couldn't talk to this young man to discover and possibly eradicate the source of his hatred.”


John Shaffer remembered, “When I was in high school, I had to deal with a particularly difficult bully. I never solved the problem. Fortunately, I was able to practice avoidance most of the time. He was a top athlete and son of the mayor. I survived, but the experience left some scars. When teachers and administrators refuse to get involved, for whatever reason, life in high school can be very lonely.”


Laurna Tallman noted that she had “largely forgotten the list of things for which I was ostracized or bullied at school.

            “Another child almost killed me in Grade 2 by stuffing snow in my mouth until I was suffocating. An older child happened to come along, dug the snow out of my mouth, and helped me to get home.

            “Overall, the greatest opposition was to my Christian faith. I became a Christian when I was seven. My size or shape came a close second and I became a yo-yo dieter until my early 30s.

            “Would all of this have been better or worse if my skin were a different colour from white? Hard to say. I have had close friends in racially mixed marriages. There are civilized communities in some Canadian cities.

            “I'm not sure we improve standards of equality and inclusivity and community by belaboring the categories of people's ugliness towards one another. ‘Racism’ is just another pathetically stupid, ignorant, unloving, nasty way one person can treat another. It literally is a form of insanity.”


Betty Robbins thought about her own reactions: “I hope I am one among many to express sadness and dismay towards the use of racist slurs. I had hoped these sorts of comments would not still be an issue in 2019 in Canada.

            “A nursery rhyme with which we are all so familiar says: Sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you. I'm sure many of us were told to ignore insults and name calling etc. and that the perpetrator would grow tired of behaving in such a way.

            “I have often thought about how I react to comments. If I get nine complimentary comments, I gladly accept those but I don't let them go to my head. Then I get one disparaging comment and it shatters my self-confidence. I should be able to go with the flow and not let that one negative comment tear me down but it often does. So I know that words certainly can hurt.

            “I am so sorry to hear that your granddaughter is being subjected to racist comments. This is not acceptable in this day and age and in this country.”


Steve Roney questioned my own prejudices: “You worry that if your granddaughter moves to LA or Atlanta, she risks being shot by some white supremacist. But statistics say a black person has a far higher risk of being shot by another black person than by a white. Being shot by a white supremacist is just about the least of your granddaughter’s worries; to single it out is anti-white racism.”






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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think some of these  links are spam.)

                       Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on YouTube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8

                       Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. The website for this project has closed but you can continue to order the DVDs by writing info@woodlake,com

                       Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.

                       I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures.

                       Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)



                       The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns.



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