Something Very Special

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Andria Spindel, Hon LLD, giving her convocation speech

Life is full of surprises and when they are good surprises, like birthday parties, new babies, chocolate gifts, kindness in unexpected places, or a bright day after days of rain, one really welcomes them and wants to share them. How do I share the wonderful surprise that awaited me when I returned from a vacation,  when it was a letter from the President of the University of Guelph, advising I had been nominated for an Honorary Doctorate of Law? All I could say was “Wow, really?”  I couldn’t even imagine where the nomination had come from nor why. I was to learn that a board member of Ontario March of Dimes Non Profit Housing Corporation had recommended my nomination, supported by several other people. I was invited to give the Convocation address at the graduation of the Business and Psychology students at Guelph Humber on June 17th and would I accept?

The recognition was exquisite, making me feel very honoured indeed. The task of addressing 500 students was awesome and challenging. How does one add inspiration to an event that is generally inspiring in its ceremony, in the presence of many gowned elite and educated, exceptional individuals and how does one speak to the graduands of 2013? I think the fact I was asked to do this was the honour itself, for it assumed I have something important or significant to share. I wanted this to be very special, for them, as much as for me. I suddenly felt I had been granted a unique opportunity, and hoped I could make a difference in the day, and in the memory of the day for the students who would be in attendance on June 17th at 1:00pm. I knew there would be a week of convocation exercises, and those assigned this time slot were to be my special audience and I there special guest.

I pondered many topics and listened to other speeches by notables like J.K. Rowland who addressed the class of 2013 at Harvard. I reflected on what had impressed me at my BA graduation in 1968 when Maurice Strong addressed U of C grads at the Jubilee Auditorium in Calgary. I had been impressed then, though today I don’t remember his precise words, but I remember sitting in the audience, his name being called and his address, inflection, his very presence causing me pause, and making me think about my future. I went to Africa shortly thereafter, and I wonder how much he moved me to think about serving others.

So, whether my words will be remembered, or whether I am expressing too much ego, I will provide a link here to my written address and a link to the video excerpt of my presenting it at the convocation, when they are available, then you may consider if my message says something of value to you.

I wish everyone a very special day when you too feel appreciated, even made to feel like royalty. It was truly a wonderful experience.  Since I acknowledge my children in my message, let me add another lesson they taught me and it is that  “everyone is special.”

Click here to watch my speech, or read the transcript here: Andria Spindel Convocation Speech Transcript

Time flies when one is having a good time!

Since December, I have not written in my blog but I have been capturing stories and giving a lot of thought to what I would like to share. To start I want to tell everyone about my amazing volunteer experience, taken during my vacation in the month of January, when I packed medical supplies along with 28 other volunteers, aged 17-82, from 6 countries. We know the supplies will be used not only to keep the country’s nationals alive if injured, but will also be used around the world to help people affected by natural disasters and emergency situations. We were given valuable lessons in teamwork and fellowship, as well as culture and military roles and responsibilities, international affairs, and local politics.

In February, I returned to a full schedule of events and activities, including budget preparation, completion of a Five-Year Strategic Plan, planning a March break weekend for kids in Nova Scotia featuring Conductive Education, participating at the Voluntary Sector Reporting Awards Luncheon, and a meeting of the Canada California Business Council. This was followed in March by the Celebrity Golf Tournament in Palm Springs, California, selection of the 2012 Jonas Salk Award recipients, and planning for the 2013 Ability and Beyond Gala, as well as implementing the March Break camp in Nova Scotia, working with students from George  Brown College who conducted a research project on a business concept for March of Dimes, planning and executing the March Board of Directors Meeting, and planning more events for both fundraising and programs. In April, 2013, we launched a new transitions program for young people with disabilities who are seeking support from the adult service sector as they navigate their way to greater independence.

In March, we began a conversation with Holland Bloorview Childrens’ Rehab Centre on a model of supportive housing for long term residents who are youth aged 18-30, needing to move to a community-based setting. The solution was possible through a new partnership that March of Dimes has with Reena, a community agency serving people with intellectual disabilities. Reena has developed a gorgeous new, fully accessible, rent geared to income, apartment building in the town of Richmond Hill. March of Dimes has arranged to serve people with physical disabilities in the building who require attendant care.  Also in March, we hosted a delegation from Gansu Disabled Persons’ Federation, representing the entire province of Gansu in China, who came to us to discuss programs and policies that facilitate independence for people with disabilities. I also put in my six-hour shift at our booth at the annual National Home Show in Toronto and spent a day in London, Ontario speaking at a conference we delivered called “Living With a Disability”,  followed that evening by Rock for Dimes London, a signature battle of the bands fundraising event. The latter was a great success.

All to say that a month in my position carries with it great opportunities to work in all aspects of the organization, from coast-to-coast, in fundraising, programs, governance, administration, public relations, and more.

The lessons learned and results achieved over these few first months of 2013 include:

Volunteering at any age is a great way to see the world, and make a difference. My volunteering in the Israel Defence Force confirmed that this army serves many humanitarian causes world wide, and shares its medical knowledge and conviction that human life is sacred.

The Annual budget and Five-Year Strategic Plan rededicates March of Dimes to the “Lifespan of Community Living for People with Physical Disabilities”. The Plan was adopted by the Board and will now be shared across the organization with all staff, and a summary will be produced and posted for all readers and supporters. Budget 2013-14 is the first year of the Plan. Check back  later to read the Five-Year plan.

March of Dimes Canada won the Voluntary Sector Reporting Award for financial transparency for a large Canadian organization, headquartered in Ontario. Read the story.

The Canada California Business Council organized its third annual Celebrity Golf Tournament. March of Dimes Canada, through our American affiliate was one of the designated charity beneficiaries. We were partnered this year with procon.org which is a unique American charity that teaches critical thinking on major issues of the day. This new tri-partnership means we will also benefit from a new tournament to be held in Los Angeles on October 21st, 2013. Read about the 2nd annual CCBC Celebrity Golf Tournament.

March Break Conductive Education Camp was a huge success for the nine kids who attended and a unique photo publication was produced documenting the activities of the kids. Parents and funders are all excited about the program and it is expected to be repeated and perhaps replicated in other communities.

Two award recipients were chosen this year for the Jonas Salk Award for Scientific Excellence, and both will be celebrated at the upcoming Ability and Beyond Gala Dinner, June 13, 2013, at the InterContinental Centre. Tickets are available online and are already 50% sold. The event is sponsored by Bell Canada and features comedian, actor and author, Alan Thicke. For more information go to www.marchofdimes.ca/gala

The business feasibility study completed by George Brown College students will not result in a new business but in an ongoing relationship with the College which expects to place more students with us this fall as we actively pursue other revenue generating ideas. The Centre for Business is interested in our entrepreneurial spirit.

The new transitions program in Toronto, called L.I.F.E. was successfully launched with private funding from TD Bank. It embraces a new formal relationship with Outward Bound and March of Dimes. Follow this link for more information or to register.

A partnership with Reena and Bloorview Kids Rehab, along with support from two Local Health Integration Networks, the Community Care Access Center and West Park Hospital, has resulted in a plan to move at least three long-term severely disabled young people to a new home in the community where we anticipate they will enjoy living outside the hospital environment, using community services, making new friends, and learning new skills. We will continue to work in this collaboration as we consider other models of care for people who have more complex needs. Watch for more stories when we move tenants to this residence.

Our dialogue with Gansu Federation representatives was lively and enlightening. The problems that a very populous country faces which is just beginning to grapple with disability as a social construct, as an area for social policy, as a reason to design new environments and to use new technologies, is awesome. We were thrilled to learn of the eagerness of the local and regional, government supported Federation to address issues, in this otherwise, poorly resourced part of the country. You can see photos of our new Chinese friends on our Gansu Disabled Persons’ Federation Visit Facebook photo album.

Our booth at the annual National Home Show in Toronto was sponsored by our partner, HME Mobility Services and featured many wonderful pieces of equipment that they can provide to make a home accessible. Organized by our Marketing and Communications Department, the 10 day event brings out many head office staff and a few volunteers to speak with a large public gathering interested in home design, appliances, gadgets and home improvement programs. Among others, we feature our Home and Vehicle Modification Program. See images of the show on our MODC National Home Show Facebook photo album.

Living with a Disability Day is now a modular program that we can bring to any community in Canada, and have done so in Peterborough, Calgary, Vancouver, Saskatoon, Fredericton, and Moncton to name a few. There will be many more this calendar year so visit our Events page often for updates. If you or someone you know was recently disabled, consider registering for the event when we come to your city. Learn about resources available, ways to cope, government benefits and entitlements, groups to join and much more. These seminars are sponsored by local companies and feature local “stars”. If you wish to sponsor one, contact Gemma Woticky, Education and Health Promoter, March of Dimes Canada, at gwoticky@marchofdimes.ca.

Last, but not least, we held a very financially successful, and fun Rock for Dimes London, and photos can be seen on our Pennzoil Presents Rock for Dimes London Facebook Photo Album. This event is presented nationally by Pennzoil and co-sponsored by Long and McQuade and AMG Medical. Local sponsors are being sought for upcoming Rock for Dimes events already scheduled, so for the one nearest you, go to www.rockfordimes.ca.

The Rock for Dimes fundraisers, along with Walk ‘n’ Roll, Ability & Beyond Gala, and many more activities help support our vital and innovative programs for people with disabilities. We are always available to speak about new ideas and to partner with established organizations or corporations that want to add value to their events.

The list of initiatives and activities for the next few months is as long as the above, so I will defer writing any more for now, and wish you all a  Happy Spring.

Andria

Culture and Tradition–My Bat Mitzvah

“Today I am a woman,” was once the opening phrase spoken by many 13 year old Jewish girls at their coming of age ceremony, a Bat Mitzvah.  For centuries, the phrase was more gender biased as only young men participated in this rite of passage, known for boys as a Bar Mitzvah. The joke among my contemporaries who reached puberty in the 50s or 60s, was that the first lines of  a nervous young man’s speech  to friends and family might come out as,  “Today I am a fountain pen,” in acknowledging the traditional bar mitzvah gifts, and forgetting the solemnity of the rite of passage itself.  Today the idiomatic mistake might sound like this: “Today I am  an iPod, an x-box, an investment bond,” but it all amounts to the same thing—today I am grateful for the gifts I have been given. But what of the “coming of age” event itself?

Perhaps it is because I was 51 years late in having a Bat Mitzvah that the spiritual aspect of this ancient tradition was so profound for me. Though rather long passed the age of adulthood, the ceremony in which I participated with 17 other mature Jewish adults  on December 8, 2012, meant so much more to me than I suspect it would have had I completed it at age 13. At my age, the preparation itself held deep meaning and I was able to consider what and how I would participate, without parental expectations. Only I had expectations for my role and I was able to surpass them due to the loving support I received from my classmates.

I hadn’t felt I’d  missed anything when at age 13 I knew I was  not having a Bat Mitzvah because it was not part of the tradition in which I was raised.  I even equated the idea of a girl participating in the ceremony as merely being competitive with the boys, not progressive and enlightened. It seemed those that had a bar or bat mitzvah ceremony in a synagogue, then had huge indulgent parties to celebrate.  Little did I then believe that any child of 13 was truly an adult man or woman, but the party aspect was very real and compelling.

However, I came to the decision about 15 years ago that one day I would like to have a Bat Mitzvah as I saw the learning opportunity that it provided my 3 children, and I yearned for them embrace the traditions of my ancient people, and our customs and beliefs. It began to mean something more with each stage of the children’s lives, and the idea grew within me that they should come to love what I cherish and to understand and pass on values that have come to me from past generations. How to transmit values and culture is perhaps the greatest challenge of parenting.

Each of my three children did learn the necessary, if minimal amount of Hebrew scripture, chanted from the Torah, write and delivered a teaching or sermon, and publicly thanked friends and family for the gifts. I felt their experience replicated what I knew, but could not assure me that my children felt as I do about being Jewish. I didn’t in fact know what it should feel like or what their learning had been.

At age 63  I had the opportunity to join with a group of adult learners who wished to experience a Bar or Bat Mitzvah and so began the year’s journey with 15 women and 2 men, aged 34-72, born Jews, Jews by choice, some with Jewish school education, and some with little or no prior formal Jewish education. We were all thirsty for the learning, the comraderie, the mysteries of the sacred service of Bar or Bat Mitzvah. We expressed different reasons for enrolling in the program, but we all seemed to share the desire to complete something special, crossing a threshold to Judaism, to becoming more Jewish, a better Jew or “joining the ranks” of the Jews.

I think it means all of these things and more. Rites of passage generally come with certain life cycle events, and this one is identified with youth and the transition to adulthood, to responsibilities, to commitments, to lifelong learning, and to the passing on of a culture. For the adult learners, it was the fulfillment of a dream, a purpose, a vision. We too were agreeing that we were taking on new responsibilities and but of a different order. We were soul mates, classmates, and even room mates when we shared a weekend at a spiritual retreat. We learned songs together, practiced our Hebrew chanting, studied one small portion of a Biblical reading that would bind us together forever, as it was the one linked to the date of our special event, our communal B’nei Mitzvah.

In class we were reminded of what we already knew, we raised questions, found new meanings in small rituals, learned new rituals with significant meanings, and collectively planned the event we would celebrate with our most immediate families at our collective rite of passage. We planned and prepared and, parsed texts and probed ways to get the most from the experience, ways to support one another, ways to enrich the day, and ways to avoid conflicts and problems.  Imagine planning a birthday party for 18 people who share a date, but have very divergent interests, talents,  and norms about how things are to be done. Yet all wanted a meaningful, participatory experience, in which each person would be special, the whole would be wonderful and the event perfect.

All of this I share in writing, not because I am a Jew celebrating a common Jewish ritual, something performed by every girl and boy, but to share the lessons learned from this experience. There are many, and I will encapsulate only a few for I now know that over the remainder of my life, I will interpret and re-interpret the many lessons learned from my Bat Mitzvah and most of all, I will be sustained by the experience at age 64 that I could not have imagined at age 13, would have been so deeply rewarding. Here is what I learned:

Life’s transitions are enabled by being demarcated and celebrated.

Friendship is the best support one can have on any journey.

A journey is to be treasured for the lessons learned, as much as for the end goal.

A common purpose enriches any event.

Sharing learning is a blessing and one that means different things to different people, so listen to the views being expressed.

Becoming an adult is a process that continues throughout one’s life, not at a moment in time.

Taking up a challenging new task or learning is very rewarding and one is truly never too old.

So, though each of us has our own path, our familial and cultural practices and beliefs, we can all find value in traditions, in community, in challenging ourselves. Age is no barrier to learning.

Have a Happy and Healthy 2013 and cherish your loved ones, hold them near and dear!

 

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Thanks to 2012 Readers–Happy 2013!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 4,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 7 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Bicycles, Summer exploration, Autumn colours, Thanksgiving, People-to-people relations

What do all the above concepts have in common? Possibly nothing except they are all topics about which I have felt like sharing and blogging. I hesitate and another week passes, and then I think of a new topic but the former stays with me. So, today I am challenged to at least address one of these topics and over a few weeks, perhaps I can connect them.

The most obvious connection hit me on Monday, October 08, 2012 as its appropriate on Thanksgiving to speak of “gratitude.” I am indeed grateful and give thanks for each of the above, and for the every day joys of family, friends, good health, opportunities, and challenges. I think each morning about what I might do and say with gratitude in my heart. Here is one of my experiences that might inspire someone else to enjoy life’s pleasures.

I spent a week of my summer vacation in Quebec, and for the first time in almost a decade I rode a bike, and for the first time ever I went on a bike tour, and surprise! I didn’t fall off, feel left behind, nor did I ache all over after the 7 hours and many kilometers on a bike.  In fact, I had 3 days on a bike, once comfortable with the new technology associated with biking. I loved it!!!

I now recommend everyone try seeing a city on a bike, but particularly Montreal which has bike lanes everywhere, and they are safe, generally in protected lanes, and always respected by drivers, pedestrians and other cyclists. It is positively stunning to see how many people, of all ages and stages of life are on a bike. It is possible for a modern city, with tons of traffic, to incorporate a bicycle culture within its business, tourist, cultural and residential districts. It works! And more importantly to me was that my own legs worked and I enjoyed the company of a dozen cyclists who toured the Plateau of Montreal, including the old Portugese and Jewish neighborhoods. My tour companion was convinced we could do this, but she smartly determined we would not do a 5 day road tour on our (my) first excursion on a bike. We did however, tour the old city and the islands of Montreal on our own during the second day of vacation and then did about 40km in Granby in the Eastern townships on another day as Granby has a wonderful,  relatively flat trail through parkland.

I had never before even sat on a bike with more than 10 speeds, and had no idea what to do with 21. I was comforted by the guide who not only showed me how to properly fit a bike helmet, but also how to use only 3 speeds.

Most important to me was that biking reminded me of an old puzzle question my late father, David Spindel, once posed to me when I was a child and it has stayed fresh for me forever. He asked what was the greatest invention of mankind, it could be used by all ages, maintained or restored health, provided inexpensive transportation,  adventure and recreation, could be used in employment, had universal appeal and came in many sizes and colours?  It was of course the bicycle! I have often quoted my father as I see our city clogged, the air polluted, people struggling with weight and health problems, transportation prices rising, and a general population removed from the ground level of life.

So, try a bike ride, and enjoy the many pleasures that it brings. Take care to have physical activity in your life to remain strong and healthy, have adventures in your life to stay engaged and inspired, and have friends along with you to feel connected and happy.

“..and a Time for Every Purpose Under the Heaven.”

This proverb introduces the many ways in which humans need to be reconciled to the paradoxes of the world, and accept the facts of  our own life cycle which includes loses and new beginnings. As we begin 2012, let’s consider how best to live with purpose and meaning, and to give this season the very best that is in each of us.

I cherish the fact that employees and volunteers at March of Dimes give so much of themselves, generally doing more than the job description, more than the duties required. Finding meaning in one’s job comes from giving generously to others, meeting the needs of clients, working collaboratively with colleagues, and creatively and with integrity responding to every situation and opportunity. Feeling fulfilled comes from within oneself and is more genuine I believe, than just feeling good from receiving praise. Each of us knows when we are working well or putting in time. Each of us knows when we do something worthy for someone who requires our assistance, or contribute to the overall goals of the team or the entire organization. Many don’t have to be asked to contribute, but each person deserves the opportunity to make his or her contribution, and to share in the common purpose.

While our hearts and minds are open to “goodwill” among our fellows at this holiday season, we should capture and hold this spirit close, drawing on it throughout the year. We can nurture this in each other, because every kindness deserves another kindness. If we recognize and cultivate our own purpose and acknowledge the contributions of others we have a richer society, a workforce fulfilled and a community of caring, supporting individuals. People with disabilities bring their purpose and goodwill to us as well so let’s think about sharing our truly common goal of a better society, inclusive of everyone.

At March of Dimes, we are dedicated to Solutions for Independence. We can achieve this with the alignment of purpose of our employees and volunteers, our donors and funders, and agency partners, and we hope to attract more Canadians to our common vision. January is March of Dimes month. Be a part of this purposeful, meaningful vision of full inclusion, and give something of yourself, and if you are able, make a donation by going to www.mymod.ca, and/or bring your friends and relatives to this site also.

May you be inspired for another year and may it be a happy and fulfilling one.

In Every Season….

 

When Fall comes, school begins, Thanksgiving, Remembrance Day and suddenly it is Christmas. In between we have also enjoyed various other faith festivals and events, all bringing us closer to the winter solstice. What is everyone concerned about as the leaves change colour, the first frost numbs our gardens and we drag out our winterwear?

At March of Dimes it is the season of reflection, requiring us to produce mid year results reports, forecasts, strategic plans. We evaluate everything we have accomplished in the first half of the fiscal year. We celebrated at our Annual General Meeting, all the accomplishments of the last fiscal year, and by September we  completed a round of performance reviews, reports and analyses. In this way, we measure our outcomes and manage our resources. There are never enough funds to meet all the needs of people with disabilities who come to us. There are never enough staff to complete all the projects we dream of. There are not enough hours in the day to allow us to do everything and also reflect fully on how we are doing.

Yet, we do continue to do amazing work, creatively and with limited resources due to our committed and dedicated staff. We are experiencing significant financial  and structural challenges this year due to funding changes in Employment Services and the changing nature of the work. Our Independent Living Services will expand with a few new projects, and our Programs Dept has established several new initiatives while operating in new territory in Western andEastern Canada. The Fund Development Dept is eager to share the good news that donations have met or exceeded expectations at this time of the year, and our Accessibility Advantage proprietary activity and Non Profit Housing Corporation are both doing extremely well in meeting their goals.

These are unsettling times due to global, national and local economic constraints, regional conflicts, and significant unrest from an activist population throughout the world that wants to see significant improvements in the delivery of fair and equitable services and resources, and humane and just treatment of all people. These are big issues that hit home at the neighborhood level as well as internationally. Our vision too is of a society that is inclusive, where every person has an equal opportunity and is valued for their unique contribution.

May this season be one of goodwill, good cheer, good health for everyone, in peace and friendship.

Happy New Year to All.

A Festival of Learning, Sharing and Building Bridges

Staying healthy, lively, and independent; isn’t that what we want for ourselves and our loved ones? And when we consider that the people whom we are here to serve, people with physical disabilities, are now living longer, we want to help them live well and into their old age. Having grown up with a disabled mother, injured from a fall down the basement stairs (while recovering from a brain tumour operation) leaving her permanently disabled, I can remember the angst I experienced all of my youth, the fear that my Mom would die young, missing great parts of my life. People with spinal cord injuries were not expected to survive the normal life expectancy. When I began work in the disability field in 1977, the oldest then living quad was a great guy in BC, who was 64!!

Today, with modern health care, miracles of medicine and science, and rehabilitation, family support, and healthy lifestyles, people are growing old with a disability, while in our aging population there is a growing segment that is aging into disability. Oddly, the treatment and support of older people has been through a parallel system to that of people with  disabilities. I believe that is because the people we helped 20 or 30 years ago in the disability sector were young, and were opposed to being lumped in with older people and the frailty of age was not considered a disability. So, two social services, health care, housing, transportation and legal/advocacy streams of knowledge and interventions developed.

At the Festival of international Conferences on Caregiving, Disability, Aging and Technology, co-Hosted by March of Dimes Canada and Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, June 5-8th, 2011, we explored all the dimensions of the nexus between the two systems: the latest and greatest technology, the advances in neuroscience keeping people alive and active, the contributions of biological and medical  engineers, and the lastest on universal design which benefits everyone, as well as the issues of Caregivers in the 21st century. While the program was massive and interesting, the exchanges at a personal level were extraordinarily satisfying. People from 42 countries were present, many presenting in one or more  of the 6 concurrent conferences, and post conference symposium, or exhibiting at one of 93 booths which were packed with information. Many presentations were via poster, many in plenary or panel, and some in workshops. This cornucopia of expert knowledge was actively being transferred to practitioners, policy makers, consumers and advocates for seniors and people with disabilities.

What is the sum total of 1100 delegates, exhibitors and sponsors exchanging information and socializing? At the Festival Opening Reception, I spoke about increasing the relationships we need to address current realities, projected problems, and the extensive opportunities for collaboration. Building friendships, cross culturally, cross disciplinary, cross sectorally goes a long way to getting solutions on the table, and actions on the road. Building knowledge, building trust, building a common research agenda, new practice models and new policy paradigms is what we look forward to as outcomes of FICCDAT 2011.

In the next few weeks  we will survey delegates to provide feedback on FICCDAT, and will post hundreds of photos. Please visit the site www.ficcdat.ca . Feel free to review the posted program and contact us to add your name to the ongoing e-mail list for future updates. And most importantly, build the bridges to better help people, “living longer, living better.”

Please accept my thanks if you were among our donors, sponsors, volunteers, Steering Committee, Program Committees or any of our Operational Committees, our exhibitors or presenters or our amazingly talented performers. Congrats to all who contributed to this wonderful Festival!

Vote Monday, May 2nd–Others are Dying To

We have more than a unique opportunity to influence the future of  our country and the welfare of its people. We have a responsibility to do so, and in some countries, there is a penalty if one does not vote. In other countries there is a total farce when it comes to voting, and in not just a few countries the whole experience of voting is fought with fraud, deception  and the illusion of democracy.  So, as imperfect as our system of government may be, as tired as you might be from too many federal elections in too few years, do get up, get out and vote!

Neither I personally nor March of Dimes will advise on which party you should support or which individual to favour. It is only important in the life of a free country, that citizens cherish their freedom and exercise their vote. No people’s freedom came without a struggle and only vigilance, participation and a commitment to this freedom, will keep us free. An informed ,  active voter is one who can honestly claim to be defending our liberty.  We take too much forgranted, but when you look at the struggles of the hundreds of thousands, even millions in Asia, Africa and the Middle East who are not only fighting, but are dying for their belief in freedom, their right to democracy, their desire to Vote, one has to think carefully as to why one would not vote. Is it cynicism, ignorance or just laziness? None is a good excuse.

What issues matter to you? Some party or candidate is talking about those issues. What values do you want to see upheld? At least one party will identify with your values. What future do you want for this country, your family, yourself?  Thoughtful questioning  will lead you to the person or party with a shared vision. No one is perfect. No party has al lthe answers and in my view, no party is all worthy or all wrong. The great thing about this great society, is that the diverse views all matter and the parties do share a lot. I remain very influenced by Dalton Camp, former head of the Conservative party of Canada, who spoke at an academic meeting I attended on social policy over 30 years ago. He said, ” The closer one gets to power in Canada, the more the parties are the same.” I really do believe that. I think any party elected knows it has to serve all the people, not just the segment from which it drew the most votes.  All the parties have to work within the strictures of existing laws and institutions so can’ t always deliver on their platforms. It might take years before they can change things they perceive to improve life in Canada, but in the meantime, they will learn what works, what doesn’t and maybe even come to new conclusions. It is ever  thus. I have seen Liberals with significant social justice agendas, bring in conservative fiscal policies, Conservatives with  reductionist fiscal agendas, spend more than prior Liberal regimes on government expansion. No party is all red, blue or green.

All our rights were hard won. Defend them. Women did not always have the vote.People with disabilities did not always have legal protection.  Figure out what is important to you and take a stand for it. Count your blessings on May 2nd, and then VOTE.

For an analysis on the caregiver commitments of the 3 major parties, see MODC website at

http://www.marchofdimes.ca/EN/advocacy/2011elections/Pages/ElectionPlatforms.aspx