Local Vocal

From the DECEMBER 15, 2017, Edition

Year end is tough.

Just ask your local Jasper town council, members of which have been grinding it out on budget detail for the last two months. The amount of information to take in, numbers to analyze and priorities to juggle is fairly daunting from a casual observer’s point of view, so I can only imagine what kind of focus it requires to have to process all that data and then spit out a series of thoughtful decisions that affect your neighbours and fellow residents. After going through the public documents, it must be said: Kudos to staff for presenting their budgets in a way that is easily understood and kudos to councillors for giving this important assignment their all.

We here at The Jasper Local haven’t combed through every line item, so we don’t have too many suggestions at this point on how to generate extra revenue or mitigate unnecessary expenses.

Oh wait, we do have one. Here’s a hint: it’s a slippery slope—and it’s not the $40,000 earmarked to fix the tobogganing at Snapes Hill.

Of course we’re talking about the $600,000 quote for a new waterslide at the Jasper Fitness and Aquatic Centre. While I understand this amenity is a pretty sweet ride for pool rats, and having it certainly helps make the aquatic centre seem like a more attractive option for visitors who might otherwise skip their dip, spending the equivalent of a three bedroom bungalow on what essentially amounts to a toy seems…well, it seems wet behind the ears.

Perhaps there will be an armada of corkscrew crusaders who will come out, waterproof petitions in hand, to demand that the municipality replace their favourite pelagic plaything. If that proves to be the case, I’ll stick to my guns: this is an asset from which Jasper should swim away. It’s been swell, but such an splashy expense is not a good place to sink our limited tax dollars.

It kind of reminds me of the new concession program at the Activity Centre, where Glenda MacDowell has been cooking up healthy dishes and using compostable cutlery. The kids complained when there were no more chicken nuggets on the menu and no more candy on the countertop, but it’s not like there isn’t anything else delicious to eat. Parents, meanwhile, have clawed back a bit of control over their sour soother-stipulating striplings. The number of meltdowns after mom or dad says “no more candy” has dropped off because look: there’s no more candy.

What would a world without a waterslide in Jasper be like? Don’t fret, pool rats. Particularly if Snapes Hill gets fixed, it’ll be easy sledding.


From the DECEMBER 1, 2017, Edition

A former boss once told me that at the end of the day, the only thing you can expect from a hard day’s work is a paycheque and the experience of having put in a hard day’s work.

For the last 18 months, many of Jasper National Park’s employees have only been able to rely on the latter. And experience doesn’t pay the bills.

This would be laughable if it wasn’t so devastating. And so ongoing. What other employer could possibly get away with such egregious malpractice? 

Canada’s auditor general has weighed in on the Phoenix disaster and it is now clear that the fix is still a long way off. Employees here will have to continue to monitor their pay, cross reference their pay stubs with their time sheets and either chase down payments they’re owed or ensure they don’t overspend if the system overcompensates them. For most of us who don’t have bookkeeping training or the extra time in our days to keep track of such things, the cumulative effect of this ongoing fiasco would be very stressful indeed.

And it has been. We spoke to families who are feeling the weight of not knowing if they are being paid properly. It’s a huge burden. Occupants of the part time, contract and seasonal positions that are most vulnerable to payroll mistakes aren’t typically in income brackets where there’s a ton of latitude around revenue and expenses. Miss a paycheque and the creditors come calling. That’s terrifying.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the folks we talked to are feeling totally isolated by local management. It would be one thing if your pay gets screwed up, but when your superiors fail to exhibit any empathy for your situation, going to work becomes downright depressing. Even if payroll errors are out of management’s hands, the human thing to do would be to show some compassion.

Unfortunately, this business-first trend has been the MO at Parks Canada as of late. Beginning with the cuts of 2012, seemingly, and culminating with the termination of a local senior scientist in 2015, the nickel-and-diming, muzzling and intimidating has noticeably affected staff morale. That’s usually a hard thing to measure, but right now it’s as plain as day.

As they say in the restaurant industry: good food will never make up for poor service, but great service can definitely make up for bad food.  In this case, a little moral support would go a long way.

Because, if at the end of a hard day’s work you’re not getting a paycheque, and your boss doesn’t seem to care, what kind of day are you going to be inspired to put in tomorrow?

From the November 15, 2017, Edition

The Jasper Heritage Rodeo has been told it’s too loud,
too inconvenient and basically, too out-of-step with the visitor experience in Jasper National Park to be allowed to continue in its present location.

As a small town Alberta boy, I grew up in rodeo country. You’d think this would make me a huge fan, but in reality I recoil a bit from all the bucking and roping and all the stepping in all of the droppings.

But an aversion to saddle sores and tight-crotched jeans is my own issue. Fact is, I respect the hell out of those cowboys and cowgirls. The athletic talent on display is world class. There is a synergy between man and beast that must be seen to be believed. And the history of outfitting and mountain exploration, which the rodeo pays tribute to, is as rich in Jasper National Park as anywhere.

I suppose that’s the reason I felt chaffed when I learned that Parks Canada was giving the rodeo one more year to buck off out of JNP. Like the steady erosion of the warden service which has taken place over the last two decades, the cancellation of this element of Rocky Mountain heritage is another turn of the screw which will help erase the collective memory of what earned Jasper National Park its spurs in the first place: mountain folk introducing visitors to the wilderness.

What also gets my goat is the reason for the rodeo’s shortened leash. If we’re talking about noise pollution, let’s remember that din coming from the makeshift pavement plant on Hwy 93 that you could hear clearly from Wabasso Campground all summer long in 2016. Or how about the sound of fireworks echoing off the Pyramid bench every Canada Day and closing weekend of Jasper in January? Does the sound barrier-shattering fly-over by military aircraft on July 1 fit into the “best possible visitor experience” for people coming to JNP?

If it does, I would argue that the Jasper Heritage Rodeo should be in the mix, too. These are events that make this park unique, events which allow us to give a tip of the hat to the human history which predates the sanitized, giftshop version of national parks. You know, the brand that we spoon feed to new Canadians whom we hope will take a selfie in a red Adirondack chair?

The Jasper Heritage Rodeo isn’t for everyone. But neither are hot spring pools, fat biking trails or glass-floored platforms. Until there’s a better reason to cancel this historic event for four days out of the year, I say, giddy up!

From the October 15, 2017, Edition

Every summer, Jasper likes to pat itself on the back while snapping photos of the annual powwow and Indigenous dancers on Aboriginal Day.

However, based on the viral vitriol which besmirched the comments section on social media this month, it would appear that this sense of openness and acceptance is, in many cases, only skin deep.

Perhaps Parks Canada could have rolled this news out in a way which would have better promoted education about Aboriginal treaty rights and the constitutional protection thereof, but one would hope there would be a better understanding as a whole of the idea that the national park narrative, with its tenets of ecological integrity and wildlife protection, is but a blip in terms of the larger historical context, i.e., First Nations people were booted from their home lands after living and hunting in this area for at least 10,000 years.

Dismayingly, it has been quite the opposite. “Move on,” some particularly loud and hostile voices said. “It’s in the past.” “We can’t change what our grandfathers did so let’s all just get over it.”

Yet how could we expect anyone to “move on” when those people are living with the consequences of being evicted from their home every day? It’s difficult to maintain a sense of connection with the land if your community is mired in poverty. Moreover, with every youth that “moves on,” and forgets what tied their forefathers to the places from which they came, it becomes that much harder for the community to maintain a sense of identity. For most descendants of Europeans (remember how young our settler history is in the west), this is a perspective that can only be realized if we make a conscious effort.

Some folks were indignant that Parks Canada’s efforts towards reconciliation by supporting a harvest on a tiny portion of the Shuswap Nation’s traditional territory was unfair to other Canadians who would also like to hunt in a normally-protected place. This privileged outlook is quickly taken down by a simple sketch showing three people attempting to watch a sporting event over a fence. In the first panel, person A’s tall stature allows him to adequately view the event; the second person is shorter and therefore has to stand on his tip-toes to see the game; the third person is too small to see anything over the wall.

In the second panel, two of the individuals are given different stools. Person A doesn’t need a boost; person B gets a small support; while person C needs the most help.

Being treated equally, the caption reads, means it is assumed everyone is benefitting from the same supports. Being treated with equity, on the other hand, ensures it is possible for all to have equal access to the game. In an ideal world, of course, the cause of the inequity would be addressed and the systemic barrier (the fence) would be removed altogether.

But we don’t live in an ideal world. As much as we might like to think that our images of spinning headdresses and colourful dancers represent the day to day lives of First Peoples, the reality is dire. We live in a world where general health indicators for Indigenous and Aboriginal people in Canada—poverty levels, suicide rates, life expectancy and infant mortality rates, for example—are at critical levels. We live in a world where this sickness inhibits First Nation People’s ability to act as stewards of their traditional territories.

And so what can we do? The simplest thing: be empathetic. Try to understand. Learn some history (it’s pretty darn fascinating).

Mostly, before you tell someone to move on or forget about the past, check your privilege at the door.

From the SEPTEMEBER 15, 2017, Edition

The race for town council is nearly upon us. It’s an exciting time, and once those Jasperites who think they’re cut out for public office throw their hats into the ring, the political promises and campaign commitments are sure to follow.

In a small town like Jasper, election season is when most folks who normally couldn’t care less about the minutia of local government all of a sudden have opinions to sling and bones to pick. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but there is a danger of a municipal election turning into a popularity contest rather than a healthy, democratic exercise wherein constituents select the folks they think will best represent their values, concerns and hopes. What we at The Jasper Local are hoping for on September 18 is a slate of nominees that represents the diverse make-up of this community. Imagine if we saw a cast of candidates that variously spoke for our francophone community, local women in business, young entrepreneurs, Jasper’s Filipino families, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ crowd, renters, seniors and immigrants, to take a few examples. No offence to the white, male, homeowning baby boomers among us, but you guys have had your time in the sun. There are a wider range of voices that deserve a seat at the table. Of course that can’t happen if there’s no one coming up the backstretch. A lack of time to give holds many people of diverse social groups from considering public service. Career demands and family commitments are intensified when the career and family in question are young. But in some respects, a community is like a career—and even like a family. What one puts into it, one will get back. Councillors will tell you that although the meetings are long and the pressure can be acute, the rewards of moving their community forward are genuine. While The Jasper Local wants to gently prod Jasperites of all stripes to consider running for office, we also want to remind whomever is elected—old white guys included—that they’ll best serve the community by bringing residents together. That means accommodating a diverse set of interests. This October 16, let’s think about our common goals while ensuring our community’s diversity is represented.

From the SEPTEMEBER 1, 2017, Edition

If a tree falls on a paved bike path, does anybody hear about it?

Last week, I was carrying my bike along Jasper’s trails the day after a massive wind storm ripped through the park. As I was hurdling a hip-high widow-maker for the dozenth time, I couldn’t help but imagine how hard the chore would be if I were on a touring bike with a day’s worth of my family’s camping gear tucked inside the bike panniers. Only 90 kilometres to go, kids!

If I were trying to enjoy an “environmentally-friendly recreational trail that meets the needs of a range of users, particularly families with children who wish to leave their cars and explore the park,” you’re darn right someone would hear about those trees that had fallen in the forest. Maybe not that day (no cell service, oops!), but watch out for my one star review on Trip Advisor! (Working title: “No one told us it would snow in June!”)

Recently, Parks Canada extended the deadline for Indigenous consultation on the proposed project’s detailed input analysis. If I were to speculate, I’d say that’s government bafflegab for “these historically marginalized communities don’t care about our $86 million bike path, but if we ram this thing though without getting token approval for slapping down 116 football fields worth of blacktop over cultural areas of significance and critical wildlife habitat, our doe-eyed PM is going to look insensitive.”

Disillusionment with the consultation process aside, downed trees aren’t the only part of this proposed project that haven’t been taken into account because the authors of the idea apparently don’t spend any actual time riding their bikes through a mountain landscape. There’s the isolation factor, which is actually a big deal, especially when you’re trying to suggest this will be anything like the Legacy Trail between Banff and Canmore. That strip of pavement is less than 30 kilometres long, has achievable end points (without building more parking lots) and doesn’t necessarily require a family to drive all of their bike gear into the park before setting off on their “emissions-free” adventure. I’ve heard it argued that any time a cycling tourist replaces a motorized tourist, it’s a win for the environment. That may be true in places where you spend your vacation peddling, but suggesting that folks are going to get here without the help on an internal combustion engine is pure fabrication.

To me, that’s the real bane of this project—its fabrication. Why has it been cooked up? Who—outside of a handful of bike enthusiasts who’d find plenty of ways to get their jollies regardless—is asking for it?

As consultations move forward, let’s hope Parks Canada can see the forest through the inevitably fallen trees.

From the August 15, 2017, edition

Do you qualify to live here?

That would be a strange, intrusive inquiry in any other place in Canada. Not so in Jasper National Park, where a federal realty office exists, the employees of which are required to ensure citizens meet the requirements of residency. How invasive, awkward and personal is that?
Like most rules, eligible residency requirements were put in place for a reason. Broadly, they ensure community housing is available exclusively for community use, rather than let Johnny Oil Patch or Vinnie Vacation Home take up valuable real estate in an air-tight housing market.
And in many ways the Need to Reside clause, as it’s known locally, works pretty well. We don’t have “Canmore Syndrome,” wherein second homes sit empty for most of the year while their owners burn the candle in some distant city so they can afford to go skiing a few times a year. In theory, the clause enables Jasper to have a more cohesive community and helps businesses retain much-needed staff.

The problem is when the rule is enforced so rigidly that folks who are fully engaged in the community’s affairs—and its economy—are squeezed out because their circumstances don’t fit the stringent guidelines. The hope is that discretion, intelligence and common sense will prevail when those whose job it is to manage those systems come upon situations which have not been foreseen.
The digital age has swept in many changes, not the least of which is how our economies operate. Not only do jobs exist today which only 10 years ago were unheard of (eg. social media manager, app designer, data miner), but many of the vocations which at one time required a brick and mortar presence can now operate remotely (RIP, bookstores).
Jasper is not immune to these changes. Today, home-based photography businesses, accounting firms, computer technician companies and even newspapers (gulp) all contribute to the local economy while their employees and their employees’ families add to the community tableau; yet an argument can be made that many of these enterprises would not be viable by moving into a commercial space as per park guidelines.

In the example we feature in these pages (page B2), common sense does win the day. However, it’s troubling that such a resolution feels so precarious. Our hope is that a wider lens—one which accommodates community cohesiveness and rewards local, sustainable enterprise—will be applied when assessing future eligible residency requirements. That way, things don’t have to get so invasive, awkward and personal.

From the July 1, 2017, edition

Not all heroes wear capes.

In Jasper, many of them wear polyester collared shirts affixed with plastic name tags.

Sure, it’s hard to see them behind the crush of tourists buying cases of bottled water, angel food cakes, 24 packs of wieners and giant boxes of disposable plates, but they’re there. They have to be, otherwise the lines would never end, the shelves would never get restocked and the black forest ham would never get sliced.

I’m talking of course, of Jasper’s most courageous front line workers: the supermarket staffers.

Recently I overheard a local complaining about the grocery store experience. He was incensed at the lineups, the confusion, the utter mayhem. He was upset that people were walking the opposite way down the aisle, that his preferred brand of bread had run out and that shoppers’ carts were bouncing off his shoes. Yet he was there for less than 30 minutes of one week! Did he not have a shred of empathy for the staff who have to deal with that gong show full time?

Look, Grumpy Guses, we all have to eat, even folks on vacation! Not all of those folks are going to know innately to pick up a basket rather than push a cart. Not all of them are going to know to enter and exit through the left door, rather than the right. Not all of them will have the correct change (or currency).

The point is, your twice weekly dash for sustenance is peanuts compared to the summer of slam that our valiant grocery store staffers are staring down. My advice? If you really must brave the crowds during peak bat-poop, instead of boiling over at the bottlenecks, bring a book. Instead of getting bent that the bread got bought up, bake your own. Instead of whining about the price of potatoes, plant a garden.

It should go without saying to never, ever shop on an empty stomach—not because you’ll impulsively purchase a family sized box of Cap’n Crunch, but because your mood will go from hangry to homicidal. Finally, show a little understanding for the folks who have to answer the same silly customer questions hour after hour, all the while remembering the PLU codes for every obscure vegetable in the building, bagging your weird groceries and doing it all with a smile on their face.

Supermarket staff, you really are super. From the bottom of our hearts (and stomachs), we salute you.
One more thing: please don’t quit.


From the Jun 15, 2017, edition

It happened again.

Another member of the public safety community took his own life.
The tragedy took place in Revelstoke, B.C., but the mountain rescue circle is a small one. Many people throughout the first responder community—including those in Jasper—are feeling the heavy loss.
Suicide is incredibly complex. We know that people who experience suicidal thoughts are suffering with tremendous emotional pain, yet suicide cannot be attributed to any one single cause.
Suicide is not about a moral weakness or a character flaw. Suicide isn’t necessarily about mental illness or depression, either. Suicide is the result of actions taken to deal with intolerable mental pain. People who consider suicide feel as though their pain will never end, that suicide is the only way to stop the suffering.
If this all sounds despairing, that’s because it is. Suicide is devastating. Suicide shatters communities. But on the other side of despair is hope. And hope is central to suicide prevention.
According to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, the majority of suicides can be prevented. This same organization tells us that only a small number of suicides happen without warning. When we realize those two things, we become empowered to take action.
“We” means everyone: individuals, organizations and people at all levels of our community. Because that’s another key component to suicide prevention: everyone getting on board. Talking about suicide as a community is the only way we’re going to eliminate the stigma surrounding it. Talking about suicide as a community is the only way to increase awareness of what to do when you or someone you know experiences thoughts associated with suicide. Talking about suicide as a community is the only way we’re going to be able to spread the knowledge on how to identify those at risk.
Of course it’s not easy to talk about. Particularly in the wake of tragedy, it’s difficult to sort out our feelings. After a suicide, we experience the shock of the news but aren’t able to express the depth and complexity of our emotions. Most people push those emotions down.
But it’s time to let them out.
Where do we start? We can start by celebrating the lives of those who passed from suicide and grieving our loss. From there, we can get equipped: we can find out how to talk about suicide in a non-judgemental way; we can learn how to create a suicide-safer workplace and learning environment; we can share with friends, family members and colleagues important suicide prevention information. CASP is a great place to start.
Suicide is despairing. But on the other side of despair is hope. As long as suicide prevention is the responsibility of the whole community, there will be plenty of hope in Jasper and throughout our connected circles.

From the March 15, 2017, edition

Jasper’s been hurting lately.

Bullying is something that all generations of kids have had to deal with. However, with the advent of social media and the power wielded in a smartphone, cyber-bullying in 2017 has the potential to be more hurtful than ever.

When used inappropriately, the tools we live with every day can do serious harm. The technology which is intended to bring us together can easily be used to abuse, ostracize and shame.

A generation ago, parents could limit their child’s computer time if they suspected they were behaving inappropriately online. Today, it’s very difficult to maintain that sense of control. Young people, having never known a world without the internet, are constantly surfing in and out of the digital space. Their phones are always on, the channels of communication endlessly evolving.

Cyberbullying can penetrate any wall; there is often no safe space for kids being abused. It is relentless, aggressive and often anonymous. Compounding the problem, cyberbullies often don’t see the consequences of their actions, which otherwise might promote empathy for the pain they have caused. And kids who witness cyberbullying often don’t consider themselves as being part of the problem.

These changes in how we communicate is a lot for a family, a school, a community and a society to make sense of. But what hasn’t changed is that kids are still kids, and that kids still make mistakes. Being young is still a time for learning. Sometimes we forget that.

We also tend to forget that kids are watching their parents, and that how those parents behave will shape how that child develops as a human being. It’s understandable to have an emotional reaction when our kids are threatened. But we don’t have to have an emotional action.

Hurling blame is not the answer. Judging another’s parenting skills serves no purpose. Screaming on social media won’t help.

What we can do is admit we have a problem—as a community. Then we can go to work on that problem. The more heads to solve it, the better. We need leadership and mentoring to develop the appropriate response, not vigilante justice.

Youth will make mistakes. Our job—with the wisdom of the community—is to help them move forward and learn from those mistakes.

Only then, will the hurt begin to heal.