Open Letter To Our Teenage Sons

As I watch you develop and grow, and I think back to my childhood, I’m amazed at what you are accomplishing in life.  Whether it’s school, sports, guitar, cooking, your ease with technology, or simply just who you are becoming as exceptional people, I’m often in awe.  But I’m also concerned.  I’m concerned because, well, frankly, you have advantages in life that I didn’t have. And, yes, that concerns me.

Let me start by saying that this is not about being happy.  Happy is the most important, but it’s a bigger topic for a different day.  Today is about earning your way in life.  That’s one element of being happy, but it’s just that – one element. Let’s be clear, I’m not saying that our life is easy, but it is privileged. You kind of came along after much of the adversity was behind us. That concerns me, because I’ve come to believe that adversity is important.  It’s how we develop and grow.  It prepares us for the variance that is life. It doesn’t seem like it at the time, but the struggle is what makes us successful.  It’s what makes life good.

And our life is pretty good.   So I think it’s important that I offer you some advice. I’ve been waiting a while to say this — until you were old enough to understand.  Now is that time. So here it goes.

Have you noticed that we’re rich? Not rich rich, but rich enough that we have a nice house, nice cars and we generally we have a nice lifestyle.  We go to Hawaii, or somewhere nice, every year. Life is good. But here’s the thing. We’re not all rich. Put another way, your mom and I are rich, but you’re not.

Now, that’s not surprising, as you’re just 12 and 15, but it is important that you understand that you’re not rich. Sure, it seems like you’re rich, as you live in the same house as your mother and I do, ride in the same cars and vacation wherever we go. But that’s our lifestyle. You enjoy it because you’re living with us, but after you move out, after school, once you start working, you will most definitely realize that you’re not rich. So I’m offering this advice to give you a head start.

Sure, when the time comes you’ll get a job, or start a business, and you’ll have money for rent, food, an iphone and who knows what, but that’s not “inner city house paid for” money, not luxury car money, not Hawaii money.  If you want that — if you want that lifestyle — you need to achieve that on your own. You need to earn that.

That means more than getting good grades just because you can, choosing what’s easy over what challenges you and much more than believing that good, is good enough.

You need to work hard, really hard, at whatever you do. Sure, you get to play video games, watch TV and relax, but that should be the break from the hard. Good at math? Be great. Good at cooking “for your age” — be great for your age, be great period. Guitar, football, whatever you choose to invest your time in, go all out.  Be curious and don’t be put off. Speak up and care about whatever you’re doing.

Look, I don’t know what you’ll be passionate about when you’re older, and I’m sure you don’t yet either, so just be open to every opportunity and work to be great at whatever you do. Do that and one day you’ll wake up to discover that your dreams are coming true.

Then you’ll be rich. Probably not rich rich — but then again you never know.

Posted in parenting, Personal Development | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Is It Time To Talk Seriously About Whether To Unite The Right?

The last couple of years have not been kind to Alberta. Natural gas prices have remained low for 8 years now on a sustained basis. Oil prices followed suit and started to collapse in June of 2014, after averaging roughly $110 a barrel for more than 3 years. By late 2015 prices had dipped below $30 a barrel.

This has led to deep cuts in the oil patch, including sweeping layoffs. It also caused significant reductions in royalty and land sale revenue which, combined with the new government’s commitment to an ideological approach to governing, has resulted in a record deficit. Estimated cumulative deficits over the course of the NDP’s current 4 year mandate now top $56 billion. Those are the Government’s own estimates. Alberta was debt free just a few years ago.

In some quarters the status quo is leading increasingly to desperation. The NDP have to go – for the good of humanity. OK, that may be overstating it, but in a poll released last week by Lethbridge College’s Citizen Society Research Lab just under 20% stated an intention to vote NDP. Put another way, 80% would vote for another party if the election were held today. That’s pretty conclusive.

The rest of the poll results are also important. The PC Party is in first with 38.4% and the Wildrose Party (WRP) is 12.7% behind at 25.7%. The more interesting question  was whether Albertans favour “uniting the right” in time for the 2019 election. Turns out that two thirds of Albertans are in favour of uniting the right.

Predictably, the PC’s now claim that the WRP has stalled and that the PC’s are the Party to beat the NDP. Equally predictably, Jason Kenney argues (and Faron Ellis, the lead pollster, seems to agree) that the PC Party has surged ahead on the strength of Kenney’s candidacy and his promise to unite the right.

So, the solution is simple. Unite the right. Right? PC and WRP support combined is 64.1%. The NDP is has fallen to 19.7%. Problem solved.

But what if it’s not that simple? What if “uniting the right” means different things to different people? Perhaps we should figure that out.

Just after the 2015 election I blogged on the topic of funky math and tribalism here:

https://calgaryrob.wordpress.com/2015/05/12/if-you-build-it-they-will-come/

The problem, in a nutshell, is that when you combine the WRP with the PC Party, you may discover that the resulting “Party” is appealing to neither base, instead of both. Then what happens? Who wins the election if the united right turns out different than what the electorate wants?

That was in part what happened in the lead up to the 2015 election. The WRP leadership moved en masse to the PC’s, and the public reaction was very negative. The focus on deals and backroom politics, instead of, for example, the economy, went over like a lead balloon. The PC’s were decimated in the ensuing election, leading to the province’s first ever NDP government.

The problem with combining parties is most easily illustrated by WRP leader Brian Jean’s recent comments on the topic, as reported in last week’s Herald article by James Wood:

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, speaking to the Rotary Club of Calgary Tuesday, said he is in favour of consolidating conservatives but that over the last decade he’s seen little “that would suggest the PCs are actually conservative.”

In other words, he’s happy to merge the WRP with those few PC’s who occupy the same place on the spectrum as the existing WRP base. To be fair, the approach of many PC’s is the mirror image of that. They argue that the elected WRP MLA’s, and the base that elected them, are unacceptably intolerant and that their views don’t reflect the majority of Albertans. In other words, they’re happy to merge with those few WRP members who are actually PC’s.

So what would a combined Party represent? What policies would find favour with enough of both bases that you could build an electoral coalition with a stable foundation? Equally important, what policies would have to be avoided at all costs, lest they drive large blocks of voters, on the right or in the centre, out of the combined Party and into the arms of the other political movements on offer?

Those aren’t just interesting questions, those are the key questions. Because if defeating the NDP is the only common goal, and if the two bases don’t share a common policy bent or a common value system, then “uniting the right” will be little more than a spectacular sham. A PR exercise designed to euthanize the existing leadership of two parties and then magically unite two disparate bases into one Party. A Party that stands for..…. what exactly?

And that brings us back to the recent poll. I believe that many of those Albertans in favour of “uniting the right”, favour it because they believe that’s synonymous with defeating the NDP.  That’s what they are being told by various opinion leaders, including Jason Kenny and those promoting his campaign. But what if it is actually the opposite? What if the NDP’s best chance of winning the next election is if the PC’s are folded in favour of a new “Conservative” Party? What if once the PC Party base gets a good look at a new Party that is “conservative enough” to satisfy the WRP base, a large chunk of the, larger, PC Party base starts migrating to a moderate option? Isn’t that really what happened in 2015? Didn’t enough of the traditional PC Party base either stay home or vote NDP? They may not admit it today, but that’s how the NDP won the first time.

Be clear, the whole “unite the right” equation rests on the premise that the PC base and the WRP base are ideological equivalents, or at least fellow travelers. But they’re not, and we don’t need Brian Jean to tell us that. We just need to look at how the 2015 election played out after the WRP leadership crossed the floor to the PC’s. Their base wouldn’t follow. There’s no reason to think the PC base will follow Jason Kenney to the WRP, even if they brand it the Conservative Party. In fact every other declared PC leadership candidate is currently opposing a merger.

So long as the discussion continues to be about how the Parties can win power, expect Albertans to tune out and walk away. Lougheed had it right. He focused on how he could make the province work better. On character. On hard work. On earning trust. His approach was pragmatic, not ideological. He led by example and his focus was on improving people’s lives.

That’s what most Albertans want, and the leader that gives them that kind of pragmatic focused leadership will win the next election. And they won’t have to make a deal with anyone to pull it off.

Posted in Character, Politics | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Will the Next Leader, Be a Leader?

Would you like to lead the Conservative Party of Canada? There is a vacancy. Prime Minister Steven Harper stepped down as leader following the 2015 federal election. The race to replace him is now underway.

If you’re actually interested, you’ll ask the question that everyone asks before they run. Can you win? That’s a mistake. The better question is: “should” you win? Put another way, do you have what it takes to lead? If so, and if you want it, then run. Let fate decide if you can win.

Having been involved in politics off and on for 44 years, a number of friends and fellow travellers have asked me who I’m supporting in the pending leadership races. Usually the question is “Who do you like”? Or, “Who do you think will win?” I suppose those are fair questions, but, really, I don’t know. I do, however, have fairly definite opinions about who “should” win.

It all starts with identifying the qualities of great leaders. I’ll suggest there are three that dwarf the others. Each quality is necessary. Missing one? Then you should really give it a pass. So consider this carefully.

Given that each is absolutely necessary the order doesn’t matter, so here it goes.

You have to be competent. This may seem trite, but it’s not. And don’t confuse this with education, experience, intelligence or other similar sub-qualities. It can be argued that those are necessary, or at least important, attributes for a leader to be competent, and there is some weight to that argument. But however you develop it, you must be fundamentally competent to lead. If you are not, why are you running? And be clear, I don’t mean you have to appear competent, I mean you have to actually be competent. Usually, but not always, this involves having a track record of accomplishment.

You have to be open minded: Again, don’t confuse this with being tolerant. Tolerance may be an asset, but I’m referring to having an open mind on every issue. Generally, this means that you make decisions based on information, expert advice, vigorous debate and thoughtful reflection, rather than a pre-existing ideology. Left, right, it really doesn’t matter. Ideologically driven decisions are often bad decisions. I’ve written on this before https://calgaryrob.wordpress.com/2015/06/06/even-good-ideology-makes-for-bad-government/. And while we’re talking about ideology, be clear that having an open mind is a sign of strength, not weakness. Are you committed to approaching every challenge you’ll encounter in office without a pre-determined course of action? If not, you’ll head down the wrong path more often than not.

You have to have character: This encompasses many sub-qualities as well. It starts with uncompromising honesty, but it is more than that. Are you committed to doing the right thing and putting the interests of others before your own? Do you have a prodigious work ethic? Do you seek power so that you can make life better for everyone? Are you willing to make difficult decisions? This is character. But be clear, I’m not suggesting that you promise these things to others. Promise them to yourself. And follow through. This means being honest all the time, not when it is convenient. It means doing what’s right, even when it is unpopular. Doing what is best for others, despite the cost. Ask yourself, have you spent your life working tirelessly even when you’d rather not? These are but some of the attributes of character. The list is endless, but honesty, working harder than anyone else, doing the right thing and putting others first is a great start.

And that’s it. That’s who you have to be.

But what about being a good public speaker? Coming from the right region? Having the support of some key demographic? Is it time for a woman? Time for a man? Are you bilingual? Do you have a great story? Did you work on a fishing boat to put your siblings through college? Doesn’t this matter?

Frankly, none of this matters, other than perhaps being bilingual due to the unique nature of Canada. Most of this is superficial, or spin or worse. Otherwise these are just talents or circumstances, not fundamental traits. When these “key” factors fail to make a difference, as they do, the pundits rush to explain why they didn’t matter “in this case”. Perhaps they just don’t matter.

But what about policy? Surely policy is important? It’s really not. And it is less important today than ever before (though don’t confuse policy promises to win elections, with sound policy decisions when you govern – the latter matters). The sad reality is that promises no longer matter, because no one believes politicians anymore. Credibility is at an all time low in modern history.

Promises just don’t get you elected anymore. At least not as much as they used to. Be a great leader. That will make you a great candidate. People will trust you to address whatever comes, and make the right decision. Voters today assess what they believe you will do, and what you may promise to do doesn’t factor much into their analysis.

This is really the crux of it, and it goes a long way towards explaining the Donald Trump phenomenon. Forget what he is promising. A 40 foot wall from the Pacific to the Caribbean, that Mexico will pay for? Barrels of ink have been spilled on why this will never happen. But people are voting for him anyway. So it’s not because of what he is promising. They are voting for him because of who he is, or at least who they believe he is.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s weird. After making so many absurd and obviously untrue statements, you would think that Trump wouldn’t be able to gather a dozen votes in his home state of New York. But the voters believe. They believe he hates the establishment. They believe he’ll blow it up. They believe he’ll be tough on illegal immigrants. They believe that he hates what they hate. That makes him authentic to them, at least on one level. And that’s why Donald Trump is winning – for now.

Do I think he “should” win? Of course not. He may be a competent land developer, but I’m aware of nothing to suggest he’d be a competent President. His character attributes are, by any objective standard, non-existent. I do actually believe he is open-minded, despite the ideological rhetoric he was peddling to win the Republican base during the primaries, but that’s not nearly enough. One out of three doesn’t do it for me. That said, he could win. Time will tell if he can overcome Clinton’s early lead in the polls.

Hopefully we’ll have much better options in Canada, and maybe you’ll be one of them. If you are not running, we can start talking about who “should” win. Who should be the next leader in Ottawa – or Edmonton, if you’re more provincially inclined? Who has character, competence and the open-mind necessary to lead effectively? That’s not yet clear to me, but we should all try hard to determine who has these qualities.

I’ve got to be frank though. If someone like that does run, I’ll be even more interested in discovering whether we have the good sense to elect them.

Posted in Character, Politics | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

It Is What It Is

It’s no secret that being a lawyer is demanding. A lot of what we have to do in a day is inherently stressful. It may involve conflict. The stakes are often high and invariably important to our clients. We are usually working to a deadline. Routinely we work with incomplete or, worse, inaccurate information.

Add in who we are as lawyers and it gets worse. Getting into law school requires skills and abilities that are more often found in high achievers. Competitive, aggressive, goal-oriented and pressure driven. Many of us feel more comfortable when we’re in control. The profession has a high percentage of type “A” personalities.

Put the job and the type together, and you have a recipe for stress. It seems inevitable, and to some degree it is. But life is rarely governed by absolutes. The question isn’t whether the task is stressful, or whether you have character traits that predispose you to create stress for yourself. The question is: what do you do about it?

If you take nothing else from this article, take this: all stress is self-generated. All of it. Stress doesn’t arise from what happens; rather we experience stress from how we perceive what happens or what we believe may happen. It is this narrative in our head that generates stress.

I’ve had a long life with many troubles, most of which never happened…
— Mark Twain (perhaps…)

Consider a simple example. Getting fired is often perceived as stressful, but if you were thinking about quitting anyway and instead you get fired and given a severance package, your perception may be quite different.

The stress is created entirely by your reaction to the event. Different thoughts about the same event lead to different stress levels. One person believes they’ll never find another job. It’s a disaster. High stress. The second person believes it’s fate, and that they’ll find an even better job. This turn of events is exciting. Low stress.

The key here is that whether the second belief system is realistic simply doesn’t matter. Stress is created, or not, only by how you perceive what is occurring.

There is more advice on this topic than you could read in a lifetime – much of it good. The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle; The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, by Robin Sharma; Co-Dependent No More: How To Stop Controlling Others And Start Caring For Yourself, by Melody Beattie. You could read them all, and many others. But most focus on a few universal truths.

  • Live in the present; dwelling on the past, or anticipating the future, creates stress;
  • Striving to control anything other than your own actions creates stress;
  • Beliefs powered by “should” create stress; and, the good news,
  • Your ability to change your life is far greater than you think.

It starts with this thought – “it is what it is”. Accept what happens. Stop judging every occurrence in your day. That will free up energy you can use to start changing your life. Energy you can use to make each day more the way you’d like it to be.

And that’s a goal worth pursuing, especially for us type A’s.

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We Better Get Used To Prime Minister Trudeau

In the political machinations business it’s commonly accepted wisdom that the ‘ballot box question’ is the single biggest factor in determining the outcome of the election. The ballot box question, to make sure we’re all on the same page, is the question the voter is asking himself/herself in deciding how to cast their ballot.

In this race the Conservatives would love for the question to be: which party will keep me the safest (either physically or economically)? The opposition parties are depending on the question being, ‘how do I best get rid of Stephen Harper?’ Note that this second ballot box question, by definition, is not one that the Conservatives can win the day on (of course they might win if the anti-vote splits evenly in the right ridings, but the question itself is an inherent loser for the Conservatives) – which brings me to my favourite theory of what elections are about in Canada today.

Did you see the movie Marathon Man in the 1970’s? If not, I think the limitations on spoiler alerts has run, so here is the synopsis. Dustin Hoffman plays the brother of a government agent. Hoffman’s brother is involved in some shady doings with Nazi war criminals and ends up getting murdered as a result. Laurence Olivier is a Nazi war criminal, who concludes, wrongly, that Hoffman knows whether it is safe for him to go to a bank in Switzerland and retrieve some diamonds that are stashed there.

Olivier then kidnaps Hoffman, straps him into a dental chair and asks him “Is it safe?” He asks the same question, over and over. “Is it safe?” Hoffman has no idea what Olivier is talking about and therefore can’t stop the interrogation. Olivier doesn’t elaborate, and Hoffman remains in the dark. Olivier then starts drilling into Hoffman’s teeth as a crude form of torture, to extract the information Hoffman doesn’t actually have. Gruesome stuff.

That is politics in Canada today. In recent elections in BC and Ontario, the electorate were more or less done with the governing party, but the ballot box question became: is it safe? Is it safe to vote for the alternative (NDP in BC and Conservative in Ontario)? By and large the electorate concluded that it wasn’t and they turned away at the last minute, giving the governing Liberals another mandate.

Similarly, in Alberta in 2012 the electorate was tired of the PC’s, but last minute gaffes by the Wildrose convinced enough voters that it wasn’t safe to put them in office. Alberta in 2015 had a different result. The ballot box question was: how do I get rid of the PC’s. Full stop. I wrote about that here: https://calgaryrob.wordpress.com/2015/05/12/if-you-build-it-they-will-come/. The NDP won a crushing victory.

The same dynamic has been operational for years federally. Just ask Dion and Ignatieff who were each judged by the electorate as being “not safe”. Today it is fairly obvious that a strong majority of the electorate would like to see the Conservatives replaced. In a plethora of recent polls 68-70% would vote for someone other than the Conservatives. But the ballot box question is not yet set. It is firming up, but there is still 2 ½ weeks to go. Anything can happen.

Which brings me to my prediction. About 6 weeks ago I began predicting a Liberal minority. At that time the Liberals were in third place, and dropping, so it seemed a bold pick. Less so today – but my prediction hasn’t changed.

I see the Liberals winning because while the ballot box question isn’t yet set, if something doesn’t happen it will be ‘How do I best get rid of the Conservatives?’ This is because no other ‘real’ issue has displaced what is essentially a popularity question. And outside his base, Harper is not popular. The economy isn’t great, but we’re not going off a cliff (except in Alberta). National unity issues are at a low ebb. Trade issues, international security, crime, citizenship, privacy – none of these issues has risen to the top to dominate, beyond short bursts.

If any basket of issues seem to have traction, they are the ethical and democracy issues. The scandals. There have been enough of them, and the Duffy trial has placed them onto the front page repeatedly. For many they are top of mind, and motivating. This is particularly true for those who want to replace Harper, no matter the cost. That doesn’t bode well for the Conservatives.

If that doesn’t change, the real question is whether the NDP or the Liberals come out on top, or whether vote splitting allows a Conservative victory despite the ballot box question. The Conservatives are exceptionally skilled at focusing on the right ridings, with the right message, so don’t count them and their considerable war chest out. But my sense is that the Liberals are going to bury the NDP. Here’s why.

As a starting point, provinces that have had an NDP government provincially have very limited upside for the NDP, because the economy of those provinces suffered as a result of ideological decisions (Manitoba is the exception). The electorate had that experience first-hand, and many anti-Harper votes simply aren’t available to the NDP. Essentially, the NDP won’t fare well if the question is ‘is it safe?’

Secondly, those who don’t want Harper for non-policy reasons (his perceived style, angry persona, ruthless, autocratic) won’t be any happier with Mulcair, whereas Trudeau offers something completely different in virtually every respect (which is both good and bad).

Thirdly, beyond the CPC’s hard-core base, the main reason to continue voting Conservative is fear over what an NDP or Liberal government might do to the economy. This is the “is it safe?” ballot question the Conservatives would like to put in our minds before voting day. In Trudeau’s case enough voters will be able to suspend that fear on the rationale that the Liberal establishment will support Trudeau and offer government that may not be ideal, but won’t be a disaster. This is bolstered by the fact that Trudeau may not have won the debates, but he out-performed expectations. My sense is that the mood to replace Harper is strong enough that many swing voters will accept the risk that comes with Trudeau.

Finally, and critically, as it becomes more clear that Trudeau is the choice if you want to replace Harper, the NDP soft vote will migrate to the Liberals, similarly to what occurred in Alberta when the electorate just wanted to get rid of the PC’s in 2015.

On that final point, there are scenarios where the Liberals do better than a minority. If the NDP vote suffers a partial collapse, it doesn’t take much for the Liberals to eke out a majority if the Conservatives remain at 30-32%.

Of course the Conservatives could still pull it out, but with each point the NDP drops in the polls I believe that becomes increasingly unlikely.

In the end, you get the final say. So vote – but just make sure that you practice safe voting.

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Is Having A Baby Really Supposed To Be Fun?

Labour, objectively speaking, is a messy business. But it is also funny – because everything in life is funny, if that’s how you approach each day.

My wife Susan and I have two wonderful boys: Andrew, just turned 16, and our son Michael, born 13 years ago. At Andrew’s birth our Doula took pictures and notes and presented my wife and me with a lovely, detailed, account of the birth experience. For Michael’s birth our Doula was on vacation, so Susan, with high expectations, urged me to take lots of notes and pictures.

Of course, that was before I wrote this story about the blessed event….

Mid-August and following, 2002

Susan threatens repeatedly to go into labour. Our due date is August 30, 2002. Susan mentions on numerous occasions that Andrew came two weeks early, and that she doubts that number two will be any different.

Susan tries to conserve her strength for the big day by stopping all housework. She does, however, have enough energy to participate in her full social schedule, my mother’s birthday dinner, my mother’s surprise party, Andrew’s birthday parties (yes, plural), shopping with my sister, shopping with Andrew, shopping by herself, etc.

August 30, 2002

Mid afternoon – My mother’s surprise party, organized by Susan and my sister; a full English tea for all my mother’s friends. What a pity I wasn’t invited.

11:28 PM – Susan starts experiencing episodes of “sharp pain”. After a short bout of denial, she concedes that she ‘might’ be in labour. “Hold on”, I reply, “I’m just about done the chapter”. Susan gets up to ‘walk it off’.

11:40 – Labour starts just as we had planned; the bags are not packed; we do not know where the unpacked items are; Andrew is awake; the Doula is out of the country; our stand-in Doula, Katie, a massage therapist and Susan’s best friend, lives 30 miles away; the Tonight Show has just started and Jay has good guests tonight.

August 31, 2002

12:15 AM – Susan finally admits she’s in labour and calls her mother Pat to come take care of Andrew. Pat, ever the trooper, says she’s on her way.

12:18 – Susan calls Katie. Katie would love to come to the hospital, but her husband isn’t home yet to take care of their four-year-old. She promises to come as soon as possible. Susan appears to have an uncontrollable urge to make phone calls at this point. This confuses me, as I can’t understand her need to call for help when the Tonight Show is just about over.

12:20 – Susan’s water breaks. It would appear that she’s not kidding. Later the hospital would confirm that her water didn’t really break, it just ‘leaked’. I have since learned that this is a common ploy by women in labour to get their husbands to turn off the TV. It works.

12:30 – Pat arrives. This is a big relief, as leaving our three-year-old home alone after midnight seemed somewhat irresponsible. Pat is, shall we say, ‘excitable’. Apparently Susan and I are not moving with the urgency that Pat has determined is required by the circumstances. Turns out, Pat has also not figured out that the ‘water breaking thing’ was just a ruse on Susan’s part to move matters along.

12:35 – Pat threatens to call an ambulance if I don’t pack the bags faster. We head out the door to Andrew’s excited exhortation to, “Get going Mom!” Susan and I jump in the car (actually, that doesn’t really describe how Susan got in, but I digress), and head off to the hospital. Susan is a model of tranquility and strength. I am relieved that I’ll have someone to lean on to get through this.

12:40 – We arrive at the hospital. I park illegally and walk Susan in. The nurses in the maternity intake Ward don’t seem to understand the urgency of the situation. “SUSAN IS HAVING A BABY”. No, I was not hysterical.

12:45 – As I leave to re-park the car I realize I have forgotten my book – great, now what am I going to do for the next few hours?

12:55 – Susan is 3 cm dilated, and her cervix is thin. The nurses seem very happy with this. Susan doesn’t hear as she focuses on breathing through a contraction. I try, unsuccessfully, to recall the birthing classes three years earlier before Andrew was born – I make a mental note to ask someone what a cervix is before the night is through.

1:05 – Susan is transferred to birthing room #8 – a room overlooking the roof heating and air-conditioning units. I mention to the nurse that last time we got a lovely room overlooking the reservoir and the mountains, and ask if they have any of those available? For some reason she thinks I’m kidding.

1:10 – Susan is holding up like the star that she is, but the birth is much faster this time and the pain seems more intense. We have a temporary nurse until ours gets back from break. She offers Susan something for the pain. Susan declines and continues to manage her pain by squeezing my hand. I ask the nurse for something – unsuccessfully.

1:40 – Contractions have been coming closer together and they are increasing in intensity. It’s rough sledding at this point. There is barely time to rest between the contractions and the pain is intense. We call Katie and discover she’s on the way!

1:43 – Our regular nurse, Alyson, arrives on the scene. She’s terrific and immediately sets about getting Susan and the room ready for the impending miracle. I offer to help. Alyson suggests maybe I could stand “over there”.

1:45 – We call my parents and leave a message that Susan is in labour. They’re sleeping. Apparently, despite their offers of support, we’re not “all in this together”.

1:46 – Contractions are coming every 3 minutes. They seem to last 3 1/2 minutes.

Most of the next hour is without record. I was distracted by an uncharitable discussion about how all of this is my fault – at least that’s how I recall it. I’ll try to reconstruct.

  • Susan was experiencing very intense contractions and was quickly getting exhausted. I pulled out the homeopathics and set about trying to figure out which one to administer. They all appeared to speed up labor or assist in the early stages. Whoops. Maybe next time.
  • Katie arrived after 2 AM, which boosted Susan’s morale a lot. Katie started periodic massage that, to the uneducated observer, appeared to be just what I was doing. Evidently not, as Susan instantly relaxes visibly.
  • As the contractions increase in intensity, Susan moans, “I just can’t do this”. I refrain from making a joke at this point and instead reassure Susan that not only can she do it, but that she’s doing an extraordinary job. We’re still married as a result.

2:38 – Another contraction. I lean in, “Breathe, breathe, you’re doing great, just terrific, you‘re doing so good sweetheart…!” Susan motions me closer.

“What can I get you?” I asked lovingly.
“Breath mint”, she replies.
“You want a breath mint?” I offer.
“No. You”.

For the record, my breath wasn’t that bad.

2:45 – Susan is dilated 10 cm. This seems to please everyone present. And the doctor….ah, the doctor – oh, yes, there is no doctor.

“Is this a problem?” I inquire.
“No”, replies the nurse, casually checking her watch. She’s either timing contractions or has another appointment somewhere.
“Should we wait?” I suggest.
Everyone ignores me.

As an aside, I asked the nurse why they use centimeters instead of inches. She informed me that 10 cm equals 4 inches and asked if I really thought that 4 inches sounded big enough to push a baby out. In response I turn to Susan and gush, “You’re dilated 10 centimeters!”

2:49 – Susan starts pushing. This is really the best part. It’s far better for Susan to be able to push. And apparently scream. Loudly. As Susan squeezes my hand again I scream with her.

2:50 – The baby’s head is visible for the first time. There really is a baby in there!

2:57 – Susan asks for a cold cloth, “now, Now, NOW, NOW!” Does it seem like I’m the only one doing anything around here?

3:03 – It’s a boy! Michael William Hawkes comes into the world! Susan is a glowing! Dad is exhausted.

3:14 – Michael pees on me for the first time.

And we are all living happily ever after…

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Open Letter To Our Teenage Sons — Part Two

I’m hopeful that after reading the Open Letter To My Teenage Sons, the two of you realize that you’re not rich. Hopeful, although perhaps not confident. But before we move on to more important things — like health and happiness — I thought it might be time to pass on some wisdom given to me by your grandfather when I was even younger than you are today. Pay attention.

Before I get to the point, I need to tell you that your grandfather is a great man. I feel the need to tell you that, because the man you know so well is a shadow of his former self. So understand that before he was visited frequently by the ravages of time — and before Alzheimers altered his being forever — your grandfather had a number of extraordinary chapters to his life.

You never really got to know the man who raised me. A man whose drive and passion allowed him to accomplish great things. So I have to tell you that for most of his life Jim Hawkes was a big deal.

I suppose it started with him helping to support his mom and three younger brothers at age 16 after his dad died suddenly in a work accident. From true poverty he went on to earn his doctorate — despite being the first person in our family to even attend university.

Dad was also an all Canadian university basketball star, started a couple of successful businesses, became a full tenured University Professor, ran a successful national Leadership Campaign, was the Program Coordinator for the Leader of the Opposition in Ottawa, got himself elected as a Member of Parliament, was Parliamentary Secretary to the Deputy Prime Minister and spent 5 years as Chief Government Whip. And while he was doing all that, he was universally respected and well-liked by just about everyone that knew him.

But to me, he was just Dad. He taught me to swim. Taught me right from wrong. Coached my basketball team (I was horrible, but he put in the time nonetheless). Led by example. Worked his tail off. Loved us all. He wasn’t perfect, but he was a great dad.

From a young age he talked to me. He was a social scientist and had an enduring passion for learning and helping others develop their full potential. As a father, that meant he spoke to me and my sister like we were adults. He taught us how to think, knowing that that was the true life skill. The skill that would allow us to handle whatever life dealt up. It was an extraordinary gift.

So when I tell you your grandfather passed on some wisdom, please give it the weight that you should. What he told me has changed my life. It’s a lesson that most people never seem to learn. And I remember it clearly, even today.

When I was 7 or 8, we were living in Fort Collins, Colorado. I wasn’t doing well in school and putting in less than my best effort. Dad had left the University early one day to retrieve me from school, following some transgression which I thankfully can’t recall. We had stopped for ice cream, which seemed odd at the time as I knew he was ticked. And as we sat there each with our own thoughts, he turned to me, looked me in the eye and asked, “Do you know what money is?” Taken aback by such an odd question, I think all I could manage was something like, “It’s what you need to buy stuff?” I knew that answer was correct, in a technical sense, but I also knew that wasn’t what he was looking for.

“Money is freedom”, he continued, “That’s exactly what it is. It’s no more, or less, than that. But freedom is everything, and that’s why money is so valuable”.

Of course at the time I really didn’t understand what he was talking about. I do recall that I asked some questions and he explained further, but I was too young to appreciate what he was telling me.

As time went on I understood more and more what he was trying to teach me. Today, so many years later, I believe it is one of life’s simple truths.

If you have “enough” money, you can do whatever you want. That’s freedom. By “enough”, I don’t mean lots. I mean enough. If you don’t have enough, for rent, food, whatever, then you have to work. There is no other practical choice. My father went to work to support the family at age 16 because he had to. He didn’t question it, but he lost a lot of his freedom in those years because he (and my grandmother) didn’t have enough money.

“Enough” is the key. Enough that you get to choose how to spend your time. It means having the money you need to do what you want to do in life. Do you want to travel through Europe after high school? Go to university? Get married? Have kids? Join the Peace Corps and build low income housing in Central America? Whatever you want to do, you need a sum of money that will allow you to do it. You need enough. That amount is different in each case, but once you figure it out you then know what you have to do to earn the ability to spend your time the way you want to. Money is freedom.

A couple of equally important truths readily present themselves.

The first is that trading money for “stuff” is often a very bad idea. Some stuff can be used to enhance our lives (a reliable car, great books, a computer, music — all jump to mind, they can enhance your life and increase your freedom and abilities), but more often money spent on stuff is wasted. The initial thrill of ownership is short lived and more often than not possessions can drain our time and attention. At the very least they drain our resources, limiting our freedom to spend our time as we prefer each day.

The second is that “enough” means just that. If you have enough money (or have developed the opportunities and abilities to earn enough on a go forward basis), it may well be a mistake to seek more. At that point, investing more of your time to amass more than “enough” money, robs you of freedom. It takes from you the very thing you are working for in the first place. Your time and energy.

So when you buy a video game, or junk food, or Apps that “solve” a problem you don’t actually have, you are not trading money for those possessions. You are trading the freedom that money represents. To travel, to read, to spend time not working, to save for university (or the opportunity to attend the university of your choice), the list is endless.

But be clear, I’m not telling you to refrain from buying that game, those chips or the inventive App. I’m telling you to understand what it means when you spend your money. Understand the difference between spending for experiences, investing in opportunities, saving for future experiences/opportunities or spending to acquire stuff. Understand the choice you are making. And act on it.

Knowledge lets you make an informed decision, which will ultimately lead to better choices and allow you to build the life you really want.

If you make those choices and your dreams come true, make sure to give your grandfather a call every so often to say “thanks”.

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Early Election Call May Define NDP Fortunes

A fair bit has been written over the last week, analyzing why the federal Conservatives called the election so early. The issue arises because by law we now have fixed election dates in Canada, but the law allows the government to call the election sooner than the required minimum period before election day (the writ must be dropped to allow for at least a 36 day campaign before voting day). In this case the Prime Minister asked the Governor General to dissolve the House of Commons 77 days before voting day — October 19, 2015.

The common narrative is that the Conservatives called the election so early because they have considerably more money than their opponents and they can therefore take advantage of the situation by outspending the opposition. The opportunity to do so arises because Canadian election spending limits are determined using a formula that allows a certain amount of additional spending for each day of the writ period. Put simply, the Conservatives have the money needed to spend the limits. The opposition aren’t even close.

This narrative is correct.  That is almost certainly one of the key reasons for the early election call. But it’s not the entire story.  There is another, equally compelling, reason for starting this election in early August.

I’ll start with what is a now well-known political axiom: if a politician fails to define his or herself, then they leave that opportunity to their opponent.  The best, and most recent, example of that was the Conservative’s early and consistent campaign (advertising, statements by the PM and his Ministers, conservative spinners and commentators, and so on) to define Justin Trudeau.  The messaging, in various forms, was that Trudeau isn’t up to the job. It started right after he was elected and was very aggressive for a number of months.  It dissipated in intensity, but has continued up to the present, becoming more pointed again leading up to the election.

The Liberals did little to counteract the campaign.  Their main thrust was to complain publicly about the Conservative’s negative campaigning, but they largely ceded the ground to the Conservative campaign. There are differing views on whether it has worked, but I believe that it has and that Trudeau has an uphill battle in trying to define his image more advantageously.

The target was Trudeau, as Trudeau was the leader who could replace Harper as Prime Minister. Of course the NDP had Mulcair, but few seriously entertained that the next Prime Minister wouldn’t be Liberal or Conservative, as every Prime Minister has been one or the other stretching back to the 1800’s.

But things changed recently, when the NDP defeated the PC’s in Alberta to form the provincial government. Shortly thereafter the polls shifted significantly federally as well and the NDP surged, moving from third place and 10 points back in early May, to a tie for first by the beginning of June. Since then the NDP have slipped into the lead by a small margin. The NDP winning in Alberta was quite the shock, given Alberta’s “conservative nature”, raising as a legitimate possibility that they might win government nationally.

As the Liberals have slipped into third place Mulcair, naturally, has leapfrogged Trudeau in importance, creating a very interesting situation.  Mulcair, has been around for a long time.  He served as a Member of the National Assembly in Quebec for 13 years, and was a cabinet minister for many of those years until he and Charest had a falling out.  He was then elected as a Member of Parliament in 2007 and followed Jack Layton as leader in the spring of 2012.

Yet despite 21 years of almost uninterrupted public service and despite having led the NDP federally for more than 3 years, I don’t believe that Mulcair is defined yet.  To be clear, I do believe his image is well-developed in Quebec, but the NDP have been so marginal federally for such a long time, that in the rest of Canada I just don’t believe that voters have paid enough attention to him, to have a sense of who he is.  Remarkably, that creates the opportunity to define Mulcair as the Conservatives would like to define him. Such are the realities of politics.

The second reality is that the power to decide when the election will be called offers a huge advantage.  Because the Conservatives, and the Conservatives alone, knew when they were going to drop the writ, they could time their arrangements accordingly: when to start the leases for the campaign plane and buses (and when the artwork and execution had to be done), campaign office leases across the country, sign and stationary purchases, staff contracts, and the list goes on and on. Further, the Conservatives could plan the first few weeks of the campaign, rallies, tour, etc., knowing that it would happen.  These advantages are significant and add up.

But as important as all of this is, the real advantage was the opportunity to define Mulcair. You see the most effective tool for getting your message out is TV advertising.There are a bunch of reasons for that, but trust me — TV is king.  What is less well-known is how TV is booked and purchased.  I would explain that, if I could, but I don’t really understand the process either. What I do know is that TV takes time. Not the time to produce the ads, (you’d have to expect that the Liberals and NDP had content ready to go in anticipation of the election, and TV ads can be produced overnight), but the lead time to book TV. You can’t book TV overnight. More to the point, it takes time to book TV ad slots on the right programs (again, an interesting topic for another day), being programs that your target audience is more likely to be watching.

Boiled down, I’m saying that the Conservatives, by knowing when the election would start, could book a week or perhaps two of prime placement TV advertising, without a single NDP (or Liberal) ad airing in response.  Being so effective, TV advertising allows the Conservatives to take their shot at defining Mulcair and reinforcing their earlier defining of Trudeau.

This week the Mulcair ads paint Mulcair as a career politician that we just “can’t afford”. Trudeau continues to be “not up to the job”. Whether these ads will be effective, remains to be seen. It is the middle of summer and TV  is watched less this time of year than at any other.  Public interest in the election is also at an all time low.  It still doesn’t seem real, and typically the public only dials in during the last couple of weeks.

But the ads will have some effect.  Even if it is only 2 or 3 points, those could be critical points. In a tight three-way race, everyone is looking for an advantage. I believe the Conservatives found one.

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