post

Knock, Knock

Well, ’tis the season once again. Three times in one week, we’ve had a knock at the door from canvassers. It’s been kind of quiet at the front door for the last year-and-a-half, other than the odd package arriving, so the sudden “deluge” surprised me.

Two of the door knockers were looking for donations for their organizations. The other was from a political party regarding the upcoming Federal election. As soon as I answered the door the first time, I thought “Doh! Should have hidden in the bathroom.” Instead I was stuck there listening to the spiel.

I try to look polite and patient, but I’m sure they can see the “Oh my lord, can we get this over with?” haze in my eyes. I was a canvasser for a political party many, many years ago so I know that disengaged look well.

As soon as you open the door and realize who’s in front of you, there’s a momentary panic. What do I do? How do I end this? A couple of times in past when I’ve been in a particularly bad state, I’ve just cut a canvasser off with a quick “Not interested,” and closed the door. But then I feel bad.

Most of the time, I let them finish their pitch and, as politely as I can, tell them I’d rather not contribute.

Occasionally, I actually do hide in the bathroom.

Two of the canvassers last week were young women, intelligent, well spoken and sincere. They had their speeches down pat from having to repeat it many times. But as soon as I see one of those electronic credit card units in their hands, I know they’re trying to lock me into a lifetime of financial commitment to their cause.

I mean, they would be most happy if we all pledged monthly donations for the rest of eternity to the organizations they are so passionate about. I get that.

The reality is that none of us can support absolutely every cause and every emergency that comes up. Well, maybe 1% can.

I made the decision years ago to pick the organizations I wanted to support, and then set up a regular financial contribution to them. And when I have my wits about me, I remember to tell the canvassers that before things progress too much. But I’m out of practice.

I also feel for political party canvassers, especially now. It’s always been difficult to be out there knocking on the doors of people who clearly can’t stand your politics. But these days, there’s even more nastiness out there than usual, and an election just gives some people another excuse to bicker, bellow and blame.

I’m trying to make myself remember that first part of Dr. Bonnie Henry’s motto: be kind.

Oh, and speaking of the election, here’s one for you:

Knock, knock!

Who’s there?

Gladys.

Gladys who?

Gladys Almostover.

post

Hot Pot Politics

I don’t think I could handle being a politician. In fact, I’d guess that the majority of us couldn’t handle it. And wouldn’t want to.

All you have to do is peruse the “letters to the editor” page in any paper, or scroll through Twitter and news feeds, and you immediately see why. Many people despise politicians, and no matter what mayors or premiers or prime ministers try to do, somebody’s going to be in a rage.

These days, that vitriol seems even more intense. Some of it, I’m sure, is because we are living through an exceptionally stressful time and leaders of any sort are an easy target for that pent up frustration.

Some of it, though, is because these days it seems we have been given permission to be hateful.

Those of us who live here in Victoria, the provincial capital, are pretty close to the political action when it fires up. Many of my students and friends over the years have been government employees in one capacity or another, so I’ve heard lots of stories, good and bad, about the people who run our government.

I became involved in a campaign many years ago when someone talked me into volunteering for a political party during a provincial election. I was pretty young and naïve, and I thought it would be kind of exciting. Well, it certainly was an eye opener.

One of my first jobs was canvassing, which meant going to a designated area within the riding and knocking on every door in the neighbourhood. A lot of volunteers didn’t like canvassing, for reasons I was about to find out. But I was game.

To be fair, many people whose doorbells I rang were polite and took the leaflet I handed them with a smile. But there were others who called me every name in the book, some even slamming the door in my face. It was humiliating. And here I was, thinking I was doing something positive and helpful.

I was supposed to canvass the whole area three times during the course of the campaign, but I think I probably only managed one cycle. That was enough for me.

I also worked the telephones at campaign headquarters. One day, our candidate walked in to meet with all of the office workers and volunteers. He made the time to come up and sit by my desk, chit chat a little, and thank me for volunteering. I immediately liked him and was suddenly filled with that sense of purpose I’d been seeking. Our little chat was the best thing about the whole campaign for me.

Years later, that candidate became the Premier of B.C.

There are many good people out there who truly want to make a difference in their community, province or country. They work hard and they put in long hours, often against all odds, to effect change. They are the ones who are passionate about their work, who try to reach across the aisle and find compromise. They’re the ones who will sit down at the desk of a lowly campaign worker and sincerely thank them for their efforts.

But as sincere and as passionate as these people might be, even if they succeed at getting something done, sometimes they just can’t win. Somebody’s always going to be seething.

Maybe we should consider being a little kinder to them. We can certainly disagree, but don’t make it personal.

Oh, I know there are the bad apples too: those with a sense of entitlement who care more about themselves and their rise to the top than they do their constituents. But that will always be true, in any career.

What I really hope for is that there will be enough younger people interested in fulfilling those important rolls in the future, because we really do need them. Experience is one thing. A fresh, new outlook is another. And hopefully, they’ll have a thicker skin than I did when they go out on their first round of canvassing.

The only constituents I have to deal with these days are the members of my household. We disagree on a lot of things sometimes, but when it comes to Sunday dinner, this is an autocracy. I hold all the power.

post

Your Call Is Important To Us

We’ve all had to do it; sit on the phone while listening to distorted, often depressing music, waiting for someone on the other end to finally answer our question or fix our problem.

And when you do get to talk to someone, they rush through their rehearsed jibber jabber, mumble jumble, assuming that you understand every word. Never mind that the quality of calls on cellphones has taken a very steep dive in the last few years.

Remember when phones were phones, and call quality was everything? Now it’s more about how many apps you can stuff on your device, and how good the camera is.

But I digress.

Around mid-January this year, I found out that my 2019 taxes had been reassessed and the CRA determined that I now owed them gobs of money. It was my mistake. I had declared some income I made in the wrong box on my income tax form. It was simply in the wrong box, I didn’t really owe money. But it made a mess of things.

After a number of attempts at calling the CRA, I finally got in the queue. And then it was another 5 hours of listening to that distorted, over-modulated classical music, before I actually got to speak with a real person. After some back and forth, I was given instructions as to how to mail all of my documents to a CRA office in Winnipeg to clear it up.

So last week when I got an email that there was a message in my CRA account, I assumed it was a response, and hopefully a resolution, to that issue.

Nope. It turned out to be another problem. Sigh.

This time, it took 19 calls over several days to even get in the queue. You go through the rigmarole of different menus and long, automated instructions before you finally get the dreaded “All of our agents are busy and the queues are full. Please call back later” thing.

This year’s tax season is turning out to be like no other in recent history for the CRA. They have been hiring thousands of extra agents for what they consider to be a very complicated tax season, with CERB and other benefits payouts being only part of the story.

Many users were locked out of their online accounts as a precautionary measure when it was thought some of their information could potentially be compromised. And the CRA website is only half working, with lots of pages unavailable due to “Technical Difficulties”. It’s a real mess.

On my 19th call, I finally got through to a real person. It was a surprise when the wait was only about 10 or 15 minutes this time. The agent was really apologetic and very helpful. I fixed my issue in about an hour.

I really feel for the agents who have to deal with an awful lot of people who are already in a bad mood because…well, let’s face it, how many of us are NOT in a bad mood these days? Especially when you’ve been waiting in the call queue for hours.

How do you get anything else done? How do you eat lunch? How do you, um, how shall I say, deal with nature’s call? I mean, we all take our phones with us to the bathroom anyway (don’t we?), but what if the agent comes on the phone just at that very inopportune time?

And I think maybe they should reconsider the distorted classical music and find something else. Rock or repetitive pop music might fire people up even more, so forget that. I’d like some jazz, myself. But I think the best choice would be some spa music. Chill while you’re waiting, and imagine having a nice massage, or a sea salt scrub, or a body wrap…ye-a-a-ah….

Hello? Hello? Click…

post

Canada Day – A Different Way

Last week, I asked a few of my students what their plans were for Canada Day. Usually, that’s just a casual question you ask when a holiday is on the horizon. This year, however, the responses were decidedly different.

They would stop for a second, stare off somewhere, maybe chuckle, and shrug their shoulders.

Some had definite plans. “We’re going fishing,” one said. That seems safe enough. “Off to our cabin for a couple of days,” said another.

But most had no plans at all. No picnics or barbeques, no street parties, no fireworks or live shows to watch. Not even the usual Canada Day show from a stage set up somewhere in Ottawa, with all the Canadian stars and politicians in attendance.

Oh, there were other shows. Some live streaming and some on TV. But we’re getting used to those new formats now, aren’t we? They’re either live from their living rooms or some kind of “virtual” celebration. Or ninety-three people singing Oh Canada on Zoom.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We’ve come up with a lot of wonderfully creative ways to celebrate special occasions lately, from solitary graduations to drive-by birthdays and weddings, and holiday car or bicycle parades. Where there’s a will, there’s a way to celebrate, and we Canadians love to do that. Especially on Canada’s birthday.

Normally, our family would either go down to the lawns of the legislature and be a part of the living flag, or maybe over to Fort Rodd Hill to celebrate our nation’s birthday there. At night, from our back deck, we always hear the fireworks going off. And the inevitable screech of seagulls flying above as they escape Armageddon.

My husband and I decided that this Canada Day it was time to see and be with our friends. In person. We have a great group of four couples who golf together, spend Christmases and birthdays together, and have done so for many years. It’s very unusual for us to go any longer than a month or two without seeing each other in person, but the last time we had been together as a group was last Christmas. That’s more than six months.

So we decided to host a back yard get together at our home on the afternoon of Canada Day, where everyone would bring their own appetizers and beverages, and we’d all sit an appropriate distance apart and just spend some time together. And it was great. It was wonderful to laugh together again, to share our COVID stories and experiences, to catch up on each other’s news and views. It lasted about 3 hours and it was perfect.

Three years ago, on Canada’s 150th birthday, I wrote a blog about having recently returned from Europe on our first big vacation there. I remember, very vividly, seeing Labrador through the plane’s window on the flight back, marveling at how massive Canada is and how little I’ve seen of it. It was a wonderful European vacation, but it was an especially warm feeling to come back home.

But this year, on Canada’s 153rd birthday, to be honest, I was really just happy to be here. Weren’t you?

We Canadians might have our disagreements. Okay, who am I kidding? We have lots of disagreements. We are certainly not perfect and still have a lot to work out for ourselves. But in spite of our differences, I think most of us would agree that we are darn lucky to live in this great country. And that has become so much more evident in the last few months as we’ve negotiated this strange new and frightening pandemic.

One very important reason for our luck is that we’ve had some well educated and intelligent people leading us through it all. And our humanity has been brought to the surface; instead of fighting each other, we’ve come together to help each other. We’ve learned to follow the protocols, listened to those who know what they’re talking about, and put up with new, uncomfortable rules. It’s been rough on a lot of us, and we’ve still got a long way to go.

But, Oh, Canada! I’ve never been prouder to stand on guard for thee.

post

Hit The Road, Jack

So, hey! Where are you heading off to this summer? I hope you didn’t make any big travel plans that you had to cancel. We were supposed to go on our very first cruise to Alaska in August. Nope.

A cruise would be about the last thing I’d want to take right now. A flight comes in second to last. I know people are out there flying, but not me. The most we’ll do is a road trip somewhere.

Come to think of it, I really enjoy car-cations. I’ve driven all over BC, across to Alberta, and even down the Oregon coast to California a couple of times. One of my favourite road trips was a drive with my daughter through wine country in the Okanagan in a rented Mustang convertible, listening to 40’s jazz music. Perfect.

And I love driving through the Rockies, something I’ve done several times. Nothing beats that.

A couple of people I know have driven most of the way across Canada. That is a massive feat. When you fly across this country, you realize just how enormous it is and how impossible it would be to see it all. But this year especially, a lot of us will be spending more vacation time within our own borders and back yards. I think that’s a great thing.

(Article continues below)

A couple of years back, my husband and I decided that we would drive all the way up the east coast of Vancouver Island where we've never ventured in all of our years living here. Someone told us "Well, you know, past Campbell River you only see trees and mountains." Well, what's wrong with that?? I love trees and mountains. Isn't that what the wet coast is about? It turned out to be a great adventure and we loved Campbell River and places like Telegraph Cove and Port Hardy.

BC has lots of great places to visit. I prefer to drive through the smaller towns with funny names for streets, or silly town mascots. Like mascot Potato Jack in Pemberton, for instance. Or Peter Pine in Princeton. Apparently, Peter is of mixed race; his father was a pine, his mother a fir/spruce. And then there's Mr. PG in Prince George. He turns 60 this year!

Believe it or not, Saskatchewan is on my bucket list. I want to stand somewhere where I can look around 360 degrees and see forever. Some people think that's boring. Not me. And who wouldn't want to drive through little towns like Goodsoil or Choice Land...obviously good places to grow things.

Or Esterhazy. I wonder what they grow there?

Then again, maybe we'll end up being tourists in our own town. Sometimes you forget how many great things there are to see and do right where you live. There will be some protocols in place, of course, but we can handle that.

And we have our mascots here in Victoria too. There's Marty the Marmot and Harvey the HarbourCat, both always fun to see.

Which reminds me. Has anyone seen Mr. Floatie lately?

Maybe he's just social distancing.