Friday, December 30, 2011

Big life changes and a wish for the new year

I’ve been urging the same New Year’s resolution in columns for 10 years now. Which means it’s great, or I’m unimaginative.
I’m living the resolution right now, and lean toward the former explanation.
We’re heading to Honduras for a year or two in the coming weeks, and who knows where after that, which means quitting my job, getting rid of almost all our stuff and taking a leap into a new and somewhat scary world.
All of which forces me to pay attention, the resolution I’ve been suggesting every year in columns since 2001. 
We worry, we dream, we plan, and life flies by without really paying attention to what matters, the people we love, even ourselves. We miss a lot while we’re worrying about past mistakes or future opportunities.
But leaving behind a life, like a snake shedding its skin, forces you to pay attention to so many things.
In the summer, my partner and I applied for Cuso International postings. She was offered a place in Honduras, I was offered one in Ghana. For a variety of reasons, we picked Honduras.
It’s been interesting, and unexpected. We’ve been through an assessment day to judge if we were good candidates. We’ve spent a week in Ottawa, with an interesting group of people bound for postings in Africa and Latin and South America, in a great orientation course.
And we’ve been getting ready. We rent, so that’s one less complication. But we’ve been sorting and dumping stuff, a painful process, at least for me. Those old maps could be the start of an art project. The TransCanada Airline plates might be valuable. The Celestion 33 speakers are classics. I spent a fortune on art supplies. What if I need a good suit someday?
Mostly though, after a painful process, I’ve let go of things. Someone else can use the art supplies, and I can buy a new suit if I want one.
It helps that a lot of the stuff is junk. Junk I love, sometimes, but not worth anything. The desk/art table I’m writing on was declared surplus in a newspaper some 50 years ago. It’s oak, heavy, austere. Perfect for writing morning pages in south Oak Bay, or making prints in Gordon Head. I won’t find another like it.
But I’ll find some other table I like when I need one. A card table, a door on sawhorses. Who knows?
All the things that matter have associations with people I’ve cared about. That’s adds stress when it comes to shedding them, but it has been good to think about all those who have touched my life in a way that is important many years later. And it’s a reminder that whatever comes next will be linked to people I love.
My partner in life, and this adventure, Jody Paterson, has had an easier time. She’s better at paying attention now, and not worrying about what was or might be.
Despite all the stress, and the occasional crisis, it’s been good. I’ve paid attention. Change does that.
But you can choose to pay attention even if you aren’t making big life changes.
Ten years ago, here’s what I wrote.
“Today, pay attention. Pay attention to the way your lover or friend or reflection looks this evening, to the way your child holds her head as she listens to the story that will ultimately stop too soon. Pay attention to the small yellow light from a candle warming your living room and the cold, bright light from a handful of stars in the clear night sky. Pay attention to what you have, and what you long for.
“So today, and the next day and the day after that, open your eyes.
“Making this world a little better is within our individual grasps. We are fundamentally decent, I believe that. When we finally see the problems of those around us, we will act.
“This year, simply pay attention.”
It’s good advice, I think, and not a hard resolution to adopt. Give it a try in the new year.
Footnote: For more on our plans, check out the link “Heading to Honduras” on the upper right.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Progress Board gives Liberal decade a middling grade

The Progress Board, set up by Gordon Campbell in 2002 to report on how the government is doing and killed by Christy Clark last year, went out with a bang.
The board’s final report this month compared B.C.’s performance on key indicators with its standing in 2000.
It wasn’t a flattering report card for the Liberal government. The province actually slid backward in its economic ranking over the decade, and remained mired in ninth place for social conditions.
The Progress Board was a noble effort. Campbell set up the independent panel to devise measurable standards that could be used to monitor the province’s progress each year. They looked at ways of assessing B.C.’s performance on the economy, health outcomes, environment and social conditions and prepared special reports on key issues.
And the board set goals. It concluded that B.C. should aim to stay in first place for environmental quality and health outcomes — where it was in 2000 — and to rise to first or second place in the other categories by 2010.
It was an ambitious target, but the Liberals embraced it.
The performance has fallen well short of the lofty goals.
B.C. remains in first place among provinces for health outcomes and environmental measurements. (Which, considering all the criticism of the Liberals’ environmental policies, should hearten them.)
But it was ranked fourth for the strength of its economy in 2000; now it has slid a place to rank fifth.
British Columbians had the third⊇highest personal income in 2000; the province had slipped to fourth place by 2010.
The province ranked fifth for employment in 2000; it had fallen two places to seventh by 2010.
And it remained the second worst jurisdiction in Canada for social conditions. B.C. has the highest proportion of its citizens living in poverty, or at least below StatsCan’s low-income cutoff level. When the Liberals took over, the province was in sixth place.
That doesn’t mean that the economy or employment hadn’t grown, or that there had been no improvement in social conditions. Other provinces have just improved at the same rate, or faster, so B.C. lost ground.
Still, the goal was to rise to first or second place in these categories by 2010. Instead, the economic rankings worsened.
The point of using rankings, rather than absolute measures, was to get some idea how the government and B.C. were doing relative to other provinces.
The goal wasn’t to be an average government, but to manage in a way that produced better results here than in other provinces. That hasn’t happened. In fact, B.C. went backward in some key measures.
It’s unfortunate Clark has killed the Progress Board, replacing it with something called the Jobs and Investment Board. It’s unclear if the new body will continue monitoring performance using the same broad range of publicly available measures. Its focus is narrower, with no obvious interest in health, the environment or social conditions.
The results in its final report certainly don’t paint a glowing picture of a province being managed more competently than any other. There’s nothing wrong with being average, but it’s not much to boast about.
That’s a problem for the Liberals, who have been trying to contrast their record with the “decade of decline” under the NDP in the 1990s.
The New Democrat government of the late 1990s was remarkably inept, with a series of largely empty announcements substituting for any coherent, consistent policy direction.
The Progress Board report, though, confirms that the Liberals haven’t been any great shakes at managing the province either, based on the actual results during their tenure. (Partly, that may confirm that government actions are much less significant than they like to claim.)
Political parties often like to run on their opponents’ records. It’s a lower standard to meet — we might not be good, they say, but the other guys are worse. We’ll be hearing a lot of such talk over the next 16 months.
But the reality is that neither of the main parties can claim any great success. Perhaps that will encourage them to quit living in the past, and talk about what they would do if elected.