Local Vocal

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.