Cape Breton in Munich

Uli Schaarschmidt is an artist who visits Cape Breton every so often to paint sunshiney portraits of fishermen, miners, musicians and wild horses. Some of his Cape Breton paintings were recently featured at this gallery in his hometown Munich.

Here’s what Onni Nordman says about Uli’s work:

“To round out the Expressionist century, Uli Schaarschmidt arrives in Cape Breton from Munich with his emotionally charged gestural art. He takes the things of the world, the things of the mind, and the things of heaven — which are also the things of Cape Breton Island — and he makes of these things bold pictorial fireworks of emotional depth and power.”

Uli’s own website has more images, including a photo gallery titled “Celtic Colours” which includes some images from his 2008 show at the CBU Art Gallery. (Plus one of Uli with us.)

While in Cape Breton, he also spoke at a philosophy cafe where Uli described the events leading up to his arrest, and subsequent 5-year prison term, for his role in the East Germany 1968/69 uprising which was crushed by the Soviet Army.

Mabou Gardens

Remember those “Think Cape Breton First” signs? Well, their essence is distilled in these words from the new Mabou Gardens website:

“We are passionate about a few things: our family, living in Cape Breton, growing the best quality plants we can, and providing the best service to our customers. We live in and around the communities we serve. We have the privilege of being able to meet and talk directly to our customers. We can get to know what they want and need.”

I made this website a while ago, but…

“Like most things we tackle, it has taken a lot of time (and by that I mean procrastination), and effort. Gee, that sounds a lot like gardening!”

Two owners, five kids, three stores, gardening tips, weekly specials, festive wreaths, spring, summer, autumn, winter. Happy gardening.

Bras d’Or Lake: Canada’s Newest Biosphere Reserve

From the Canadian Commission for UNESCO‘s official announcement yesterday:

Canada welcomes its 16th Biosphere Reserve, as Bras d’Or Lake, Nova Scotia, is designated a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

Biosphere Reserves are living laboratories of sustainable development, where local communities choose to take the challenge to protect biodiversity while fostering economic and social development. The World Network of Biosphere Reserves now numbers 580 sites in 114 countries.

This new Biosphere Reserve includes the complete watershed of Bras d’Or Lake, a salt-water estuary that constitutes a true inland sea. This estuary has unique oceanographic and biological characteristics as it contains both species typical of Arctic waters and of warm subtropical oceans, living within a few hundred meters of one another.

UNESCO’s designation of this site is the result of a highly collaborative process that started in 2005, involving First Nation representatives, provincial and federal government agencies, academics, and the nearly 14 000 citizens of the region. This process led to the development of a comprehensive management plan for the lake, to the creation of new jobs and encouraging business opportunities, while respecting the principles of sustainable development.

More at the Bras d’Or Lake Biosphere Reserve Association website

Bras d’Or CEPI

The Bras d’Or CEPI (Collaborative Environmental Planning Initiative) arose in 2003 in response to the First Nation Chiefs in Cape Breton requesting the development of an overall management plan for the Bras d’Or Lake and watershed lands, to addresses the key environmental issues of forestry, water, land use, invasive marine species, and declining fish stocks.

A fundamental part of CEPI’s process is the concept of ‘Two-Eyed Seeing’, the practice of approaching from Indigenous and Western Scientific perspectives without privileging one over the other.

Indigenous Science emphasizes reciprocity and relationship, reverence and ritual, responsibility and respect (and apparently alliteration). The Western Scientific Method is about making and testing hypotheses, collecting and analyzing data, and constructing explanatory and predictive models and theories.

A defining difference between the two world views is that Aboriginal peoples believe their ancestors were right on most things (hence an emphasis on tradition), whereas Westerners believe their ancestors were either mostly wrong or their ideas can always be improved upon (hence an emphasis on testing and falsifiability). But the point of ‘Two-Eyed Seeing’ seems to be that practitioners themselves benefit by weaving the two perspectives together (a distinctly Indigenous concept) rather than that one perspective is improved by incorporating elements from the other (which would constitute a Eurocentric privileging of “progress” over tradition).

While there are obvious differences in the two belief systems — such as whether land and knowledge is held in trust for future generations or can be owned and exploited for personal gain — there are equally obvious points of consensus. Both knowledge systems start with observations of the natural world (pattern recognition) and are expressed in the stories we tell about our interactions with and within that world. (More on ‘Two-Eyed Seeing’, including a presentation by Albert Marshall of the Eskasoni Mi’kmaq First Nation and Dr. Cheryl Bartlett of CBU)

Right Some Good

Right Some Good? Think Celtic Colours but for foodies. This “10-day foodie adventure” brings ten world-class chefs to Cape Breton, teams each of them up with a local chef and an aspiring student chef, and asks them to create a unique twist on traditional Cape Breton cuisine, with an emphasis on seasonal and sustainable ingredients.

Tickets for the event go on sale June 20, and each event takes place at a different location on the island — from Fortress Louisbourg to the Glennora Distillery, from the Gaelic College to the Miners’ Museum.

The website I made features some pretty stunning photography: scenery shots, culture shots, and of course food shots, of both traditional and “high-tech” fare. I don’t even know what that yellow thing is in the screenshot.

The “non-vote vote”

In one of his recent “rants”, comedian Rick Mercer encouraged Canadian youth to “do what young people all over the world are dying to do: vote.”

Spurred (or shamed) to action, young people across the country have responded by forming Vote Mobs: groups of youth that take to the streets to perform “spontaneous” acts of awareness-raising, like singing the national anthem at the mall.

The movement is officially “non-partisan”, but let’s be serious. The whole point is to VOTE FOR CHANGE. And nothing threatens the status quo more than the untapped youth vote.

It’s a common complaint that those in power ignore the concerns of young people: youth feel alienated, so they refrain from voting (63% of 18-24 year olds didn’t vote in the last election), and ultimately end up disenfranchised. Big surprise.

But the solution isn’t as clear cut as Mercer and the Vote Mobs make it out to be. After all, it’s pretty easy to feel like your vote doesn’t count WHEN IT DOESN’T.

Consider for example the almost one million Canadians whose ballots were essentially thrown in the garbage (or the recycling bin) after they voted Green in the last election. The NDP, with twice as many votes as The Bloc Quebecois, got half as many seats. As Andrew Coyne put it recently in Maclean’s, “one BQ vote was worth two NDP votes.”

It’s a pretty safe bet that the youth vote lands disproportionately on the centre-left of the political spectrum, so given these numbers, we can assume that many young people voted and were still disenfranchised.

What’s more, a million fewer votes were cast in 2008 than in 2006, suggesting that it’s not just young people feeling either that they have no choice or else that their choice doesn’t matter. Again, no surprise, since Canada’s “first past the post” electoral system is winner take all: everyone else on the ballot goes home empty handed, meaning everyone who voted for the losers might as well have stayed home. Here’s the thing: most of us voted for the losers. Only a third of voters voted for the Conservatives (and only half of eligible voters even turned up). In other words, two-thirds of voters voted for the losers (and half of the electorate stayed home altogether). One-third of half took the prize.

The system rewards regional parties whose support tends to concentrate around electoral districts (Bloc, Conservatives), and punishes parties with a broad vision for the country — and the world — whose votes are spread out across the country (NDP, Green), resulting in a disproportionate votes-to-seats ratio. Here’s a graphical representation of the difference between popular vote and seats won.

Coyne again:

The result is a highly distorted picture of the country. To look at Parliament, you would think there were no Liberals in Alberta, no Conservatives in Toronto—and that federalists were the minority in Quebec. Add to this the phenomenon of vote-splitting, which further limits voter choices: rather than simply vote for the party they like, they are forever being told they must vote against the party they dislike.

Alternatively, the ‘single transferrable vote’ system would, as Coyne describes it, allow voters to rank their choices. Their second and third choices would get redistributed, and seats won would be more proportional to votes received.

We’ve heard about the senior vote, the ethnic vote, the rural vote, the mom vote, etc., and now, thanks to Mercer, we’re hearing about the youth vote. But the youth vote is truly the “non-voter vote”, not because youth are stupid, lazy or apathetic. Though they are all those things, sometimes, too, it’s also that youth rightly perceive the system to be flawed; indeed, the system fails them. And it will continue to do so until they vote en masse, a bloc jeunesse.

So the best way to disrupt the status quo is not by nudging votes from one side of the spectrum toward the other; it’s by getting out the “non-vote vote”, which is what the Vote Mobs will do if they’re successful. Obama knew this in 2009, when he moved people, mainly young people and black people, who hadn’t voted in the previous election — or any election —  to come out and make history (i.e., not repeat history).

Here’s my idea: instead of activating the youth vote with appeals to patriotism (unlikely to move the cynical and apathetic anyway), let’s try a little reverse psychology. Every young person who doesn’t intend to vote should change their Facebook profile pic to something like “Me no vote.”

Youth who intend to vote can leave their Fb profile alone, or I guess maybe change it to something like “Me Vote!” Seeing the no-vote logos accumulating in their Newsfeed, young people would all at once get a sense of what 2 million votes looks like. For starters, it equals approximately the number of votes in 2008 separating the Conservatives from the Liberals; the NDP from the Greens; or the Bloc from the Marijuana Party! (Newsflash: NO ONE’S vote “matters” by itself, unless you live in a dictatorship. Let’s try to avoid that, OK?)

Social media campaigns and publicity stunts like VoteMob might help, especially if other campaigns like those for online voting are successful. All this and more is necessary before electoral reform can become a serious topic of debate, let alone a reality. But if and once electoral reform happens, the House of Commons might begin to reflect the diversity of Canadian political sentiment. And all voters, not just youth, will feel less alienated, ignored, and ultimately disenfranchised. Which in turn will make Canadian voters less apathetic, ignorant, and ultimately disengaged from politics.

But of course… in order for it to unfold this way, it must first happen in reverse.

CBVoteMob on YouTube
CBVoteMob on Twitter: @cbvotemob
CBVoteMob on Facebook:
About CBVoteMob in The Cape Breton Post

Who Owns This Town? Responses to New Dawn’s Public Meeting

When the money was announced for the harbour dredge I tweeted the following:

1965. (Today is the beginning of the closure of the container terminal.)

Referring of course to the year that marked the beginning of the end for the steel plant. I figure forty-odd years from now we’ll look back on the container terminal as just another relic from the fossil-fuel age. (A friend replied that since we’re living in a more environmentally friendly era, we’re bound not to make the same mistakes. I refer you to Alberta’s tar sands.)

I’ve already stated my ambivalence about the actual form any port development will take. But here’s the thing: however the port gets developed, the community should have the final say, and the community should be the primary beneficiary. For better or for worse, the community will have to deal with the consequences.

New Dawn — at an open community meeting last night — just goes that one step further and reminds us that self-determination is not a gift. It is a responsibility. If our right to self-determination is withheld, it must be taken back. But this is not to repeat the familiar refrain of victimhood. What we truly lack is not self-determination, but self-confidence.

For anyone who continues to doubt the community’s ability to determine its own future, have some faith: capacity, if and where it’s lacking, will come. But it requires us owning our resources — rather than having them liquidated — and then reinvesting the capital. In what? How about a diversified local economy? Imagine Creative Economies in arts & culture; Knowledge Economies in innovation and technology; Green-Collar Economies in agriculture and energy. Now we’re talking capacity.

No matter what happens, some of us won’t be happy with the results. That’s life. But we’re adults. We’ll deal. The distinguishing feature of an adult conversation is not that it resolves every contradiction, but that it contains them.

Below are some commentaries from friends who attended last night’s meeting.

Centre for International Studies

When I designed, I put accessibility at the top of the list of priorities. Because of the Centre’s mandate to promote internationalization and global awareness at CBU and in the community, the website is likely to be viewed by people all over the world. This means varying levels of computer hardware, browser software, and internet accessibility. The goal was to build a website that is mostly just text (so it loads faster), but that is still highly functional and nice to look at.

The Centre’s flagship event is the Annual Social Justice Forum (formerly Human Security Forum):

A participatory forum challenging our conventional concepts of crime and punishment in the 21st century. With a view to promoting social justice and cultural integrity around the world, the forum will explore international human rights, structural violence, and race, class and gender dimensions of crime and punishment.

In addition to the annual forum, the Centre encourages the internationalization of the curriculum; coordinates educational activities on the themes of development, the environment, human rights, social justice, and peace, and more. (I’m an advisory board member.)

New Dawn Holdings

Cape Bretoners invest a hundred million dollars every year in RRSPs but less than 1% stays in Cape Breton. As New Dawn president Rankin MacSween puts it, first we send our money to Toronto, then we send our children.

What would happen if, instead, more of that money stayed in Cape Breton, to be invested in local projects, businesses, and community development initiatives?

New Dawn Holdings is trying to answer that question, by raising capital through an RRSP-eligible Community Economic Development Investment Fund (CEDIF) and investing in the community, continuing its legacy of helping to create “a self-reliant people in a vibrant community”.

Check out the new website, which includes this video starring Bette MacDonald and Maynard Morrison, produced by Shot On Site Media.

Disaster Songs!

Many web designers have started down the path toward “website that looks like an old newspaper”. But, finding it too cheesy, too tricky, or simply a poor match of form and function, have had to turn back. With, making a website that looked like an old newspaper made perfect sense. (And based on user feedback, others agree. Phew!)

Three academic researchers, including Dr. Heather Sparling from CBU, have mined the Canadian disaster song tradition and come up with almost 300 pieces. They’ve begun publishing their results, starting with songs about Mining Disasters, with Ocean Disasters, Airline Disasters, Lumbering Disasters, and Railway Disasters to follow.

The last underground mines in Eastern Canada closed in the 1990s, bringing an end to a way of life that had been a part of the region for over two centuries. Nova Scotia’s coal deposits in particular were among the deepest underground in the world, some extending far under the ocean, making them among the most dangerous to mine. Flooding, asphyxiation, spontaneous combustion, falling rocks, and “bumps” (underground earthquake-like events that resulted from the removal of coal and the lack of replacement support) killed 2500 miners over the years, maiming and seriously injuring so many more. This in addition to those who died from chronic illness including lung infection.

While major disasters were transformational and dramatic, the commonplace occurrence of injury or death in the normal conduct of mining was equally palpable for miners and their families…

The communities that grew around the mines were unlike most communities. The manner of exploiting coal required lots of community support in order to reproduce the daily labour of the thousands of men and boys underground. The dangers associated with the industry produced a close knit and interdependent community.

But dealing with death and injury on a regular basis also produced a wide variety of coping mechanisms; something necessary if men were to keep going into the pits in spite of accidents. Songs were a part of a coping-process, just as were various other forms of commemoration and memorialization of workers who lost their lives. Annual commemorative occasions, museums, commemorative plaques, statues to fallen miners, etc. abound throughout the region as a way of signifying the breadth and depth of the sacrifices made.