Those really were the days, my friends

Friday, May 23, 2008

How to know you’re really old: You read that Ted Kennedy has probably a year at best to live — and you cry.

Most of my co-workers probably don’t even know who he is.

Bobby? JFK?

Get out the history books.

I remember a co-worker many years ago who, when hearing some of us discussing Richard Nixon, complained that “some hearing” kept interrupting her favourite cartoon shows.

Some hearing. Watergate.

I should be this old.

But to know that Teddy has an inoperable, malignant brain tumour is somehow like finally nearing the end of a favourite book. You know the story. You’ve read it over and over again, never daring to finish that final chapter because, once you do, the story is done.

This is the Kennedy family to me.

As a child, I had a life-size poster of Bobby Kennedy hanging on my bedroom wall.

I had smaller ones of John, not because he was lesser in stature — after all, he was the president while Bobby was the senator/attorney-general/presidential wannabe — but because, for some reason, I always identified more with Bobby.

He was the one behind the headline maker. He was the one who cleaned up his big brother’s messes.

He was the one who many of us back then thought could truly fulfil the promise his big brother’s presidency began with, the promise that ended in one shot.

And, lest those of you 50-plus think the memory of Chappaquiddick is missing from my history vault, it’s not.

Teddy did wrong and got away with it, likely more because of his family’s name and the demands that placed upon him than anything else.

I’d like to think he learned from it and strengthened his resolve to do right. Who knows? Maybe he stayed a philanderer even to these days.

Hopefully, he didn’t.

That’s the key to those of us who are 50-plus, who lived through those years — hope, and how we lost it.

We remember where we were when the radio announcer interrupted some stupid disco song to announce JFK had been shot dead.

That Bobby had died on the floor of a hotel kitchen.

That Martin had been killed outside his motel room.

I was in elementary school for each of these announcements, yet still felt their gravity to my world.

Such was the lessons I learned at an early age at my parents’ knees — we are in this world to do good and, back then, the Kennedys and their friends did good.

I was blessed to meet Cesar Chavez at the height of the farmworkers’ boycott in the 1970s. One of my bosses at the paper I spent most of my life working gave me proper hell for going out on an assignment wearing a “Nixon eats lettuce” pin.

Those were good days. They are days our children will never experience. They’re growing up in a time of American Idol and Grand Theft Auto 4, of no one who really qualifies as a true hero, someone to look up to.

Name one person today who could fill that role. There are none on the Canadian national scene. My own bias would have me name Stephen Lewis but, even then, how many born after 1970 know of his many incomparable accomplishments?

It’s sad this is the legacy we’re leaving our children.

I feel dismay that, when my children are in their 50s, they won’t ever find themselves sitting in their homes grieving because someone they always thought was larger than life — who wanted to and many times did change the world we live in — was facing his own demise.

Because, behind all that grief is the realization that we, the often-maligned, much written about, baby boomers were privy to some incredible moments in the history of this world.

It’s too bad that, at the time, we didn’t realize it.

It’s only now, as these moments become pages in history books, that their true value becomes evident.

B.C. would do wise to follow Alberta’s ‘moral’ decision

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Several years ago, while attending a support-group meeting for families dealing with autism, I met a couple who had given their child up to the government.

The youngster was living hundreds of miles from the family home and these two incredible selfless parents made the trip as often as they could to visit their child.

They loved their child deeply and unconditionally — and knew the only way their child could be assured of receiving help from the provincial government to deal with his autism would be in foster care.

Imagine the courage that decision took. It’s beyond heart-breaking.

It’s incomprehensible.

Consider now the case of Suzana and Jeff Pekrul, who have made the equally tough decision to keep their severely disabled child, providing round-the-clock care for a youngster who can’t walk, talk or even breathe normally.

She’s the victim of severe microcephaly, which means her brain never developed the way it should have.

A government-paid helper is there during the day while Suzana is at her full-time job and Jeff is functioning on very little sleep, having worked a 10-hour night shift, going to sleep at about 2 a.m. and up again at 6 a.m. so his wife can leave.

All they wanted was what Community Living B.C. (CLBC) advertises on its website, to take advantage of the At Home Program providing respite care.

Of course, of the 14 sentences describing the program, there are two that are key: “Respite funding may not be available immediately. Families may be waitlisted for benefits.”

The Pekruls were approved for respite, giving them one night a week when they could try to relax, interact as husband and wife, perhaps visit with friends — do all those things the rest of us take for granted.

However, as all mothers know, leaving your ailing child at home with someone else is one of those decisions that floats in front of you throughout the “night of relaxation.”

Two months after being approved, however, the B.C. couple was put back on the waitlist, told there isn’t enough money in the budget for them.

The head of CLBC won’t discuss the Pekruls’ case specifically, but Rick Mowles did admit he knows his agency is not providing services to everyone who needs them, but he believes most parents are getting the respite they need.

Look next at the province to the east of us, and the way that government has responded to the needs of the Pare family.

Son Trevor Pare, one of only 13 in Canada born with a rare progressive neuromuscular disease, needs a unique drug he has been taking for four years as part of its manufacturer’s trials.

The trial — and the supply of the drug — was to end this month, leaving the Pare family facing an annual $775,000 cost to keep their son treated.

The provincial government has stepped up and will ensure Blue Cross will cover the drug’s cost.

Alberta’s health minister, Ron Liepert, explained the decision in words his counterparts in B.C. would be wise to listen to:

“It’s a very difficult decision because there are significant financial impacts to the health-care system.

“However, at the end of the day, this does not come down to a business-case decision.

“It comes down to a moral decision.”

His government is in the process of developing a policy to help all Albertans who require expensive drugs for rare disorders, Liepert said, something the Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders is calling for on a national basis.

Somehow, it doesn’t seem right that parents who choose the hard road of caring for their children, no matter what the diagnosis, have to go through so much hardship just to get what the government naturally provides for children in its wardship.

And, while stories like those of the Pekruls and the Pares are the kind reporters love to grab hold of and run with, it would be such a better world if parents didn’t have to bare their souls — and their families’ stories — to the media just to get some help.

Dickens deserves fellow trustees’ support

Sunday, May 11, 2008

It’s refreshing to discover at least one Howard Beale getting in the faces of Kamloops school board trustees.

The fact it is one of their own who is mad as hell and not going to take it anymore is laudatory.

Dick Dickens needs to know that, while his fellow trustees think he’s done nothing more than grandstand and seek out headlines in an election year, there are many parents who applaud him for stating the obvious: the provincial government has broken the education system and now expects school boards to fix it, without giving them all the parts to do so.

At this week’s school board meeting, trustee Annette Glover insisted she and her colleagues are not running a business, but are there to ensure students receive a quality education.


In the end, she and all trustees save Dickens behaved like good little business people and caved in to the heavy hand of the Gordon Campbell government.

This same group will, on Monday, approve a budget that does not reflect reality but rather conforms to a bad law.

They will likely take the opportunity at the special board meeting to chastise Dickens again for not agreeing to give the budget bylaw its required three readings.

He’ll sit there quietly while they dump on him, knowing he has stayed true to his beliefs and dared to point his finger at the provincial bullies.

All school boards are required to submit balanced budgets to the government or risk being placed in trusteeship, effectively stripping these elected representatives of their seats.

That’s a mighty big threat for people who like the political life.

And it means school boards never really tell the truth .

They never stand up and say “there isn’t enough money to do the things you are telling us we have to do. That means we aren’t providing the best education possible to our students.”

The budget includes all the money the provincial government agreed to pay school staff, negotiations in which school boards have no meaningful participation.

But then, the province doesn’t give the boards enough money to pay those wages ­— which means something has to give and, virtually every year, it’s supplies, teachers and support workers that face cutbacks.

As district superintendent Terry Sullivan noted at the meeting, there will be layoff notices issued next month but, once final funding is resolved by the province, many will be recalled.

Sounds like such a simple process, but for those who get those layoff notices, the weeks of waiting and wondering aren’t that simple.

Provincial officials will point to the fact the district received $115 million last year at a time when the district’s enrolment continued to decrease.

Predictions are there will be as many as 400 fewer students in school this September and perhaps 20 teaching positions will be gone because of this.

Statements like those simply confuse the issue.

The problems are simple.

The provincial government has all the control, all the money, doles it out in dribs and drabs throughout the year and taking some back when it applies calculations to show it has the right to take some back.

Trustees are told to ensure quality education is provided to every student, but they are not given the tools — or the cash — to do so.

And as long as trustees are willing to hide behind the “we-must-do-this” mantra, none can say they truly are sitting at that big table on Ninth Avenue for the students.

Dickens has dared to stand up against the provincial bully.

It’s time others join him in declaring they’re not taking it anymore.

Items that might someday grow up to be columns

Friday, May 2, 2008

A few years ago, our managing editor at the time, Gord Kurenoff, would write columns that didn’t have a single theme.

He’d call them things that bugged him that might eventually grow into big columns.

Today, in honour of Gord, things that have made me wonder what’s going on in our world today.

• First, Facebook.

In particular, how it has managed to become so addictive to just about everyone I know — including that face in my mirror every day. We don’t use e-mail anymore; we Facebook-message people.

Can’t remember when a friend’s birthday is? Don’t check your calendar. Log on to Facebook to see if it’s there on the right-hand side of your profile page.

I have friends supporting issues with pages on Facebook — and these same friends, who would comparison shop in a grocery store, don’t bother to check out the legitimacy of these causes.

But the final straw? Wednesday, I finally rolled chili and a bun.

And I pumped the air.

How sad is that? And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, consider yourself normal.

• We move on to Surrey and, in particular, Princess Margaret School, where 15 Sikh students were told they could not wear their T-shirts bearing the image of Sant Jarnail Bhindranwale, a militant in their homeland who sought creation of an independent Khalistan before he was killed by the Indian army in 1984.

What better way to get these students’ passion for this cause fuelled than to tell them their shirts are banned?

Anyone who has ever raised a child, or even spent time with one, knows the surest way to encourage defiance is to tell them they can’t do something. Let them wear the shirts and turn what is now a controversy into a teaching moment.

Isn’t that what schools are supposed to do?

• Anyone notice the amount of money being dropped off in Kamloops by our local provincial politicians these days? Thousands are being left behind as Claude Richmond and Kevin Krueger rush from photo-op to photo-op.

On Monday alone last week, they both remarked how hectic that day would be as they raced to a variety of non-profit agencies throughout the city.

For those of you who care to keep track, the next provincial election is in 375 days and counting — both money and headline-buying funding announcements.

And, while we’re on the topic of elections, is there anyone out there who still believes Stephen Harper and his Conservatives see Kamloops as a riding they can retain?

Kudos to Fred Bosman for putting his name forward but, with the lack of interest the local party riding association is showing in holding a nomination meeting — and the $600,000 that has somehow disappeared from Betty Hinton’s much-hyped airport extension funding announcement — it looks like Harper’s scratched us off his to-do list.

• Maybe, when we finally do have a federal election, we can put in a government that will get serious about our justice system, just as a public inquiry starts to wrap up on the murder of a mother, her son and parents were killed by her estranged husband.

Just weeks after Sunny Park tearfully was videotaped predicting what would eventually happen to her family following what police called a bizarre vehicle accident that saw Park’s husband drive into a hydro pole, crushing the side of the car Sunny was sitting in, the man who was told to stay away fro his family made his final visit.

More recently, in Prince George, police arrested a man who had assaulted his wife and threatened to shoot her — only to see him released on bail.

Innocent until proven guilty is a key underpinning of justice, but the innocents are the underpinning of our society – and they need to be protected.

• Finally, while on the subject of justice, a goodbye and good luck to our most recent police reporter, Cassidy Olivier.

A lot of young reporters have entered and exited through what we have sometimes joked is a revolving door into the editorial department, each one bringing their own qualities and, hopefully, leaving with a bit more knowledge about this wacky job of reporter.

For someone who started in this business many, many years before the young Cassidy learned to say his first word, having such an enthusiastic, dedicated and fearless young reporter around has been refreshing — and reassuring that those who predict the end of the newspaper business is nigh are quite simply wrong.