Tuesday, July 28, 2009


I found this art collection in Victoria's Inner Harbour. Turns out, my parents know the artist, Peter Robertson, and we purchased two of the pop culture/rock pieces that he created. Each piece takes him 150-200 hours to produce with his black pen. Furthermore, all the content has some sort of relevance to each picture's quasi-theme which is explained in the write-up that goes along with each print.

*To check out more of his work, follow the "imagine" link in the blog title. To see the rest of this specific collection head to the "t-shirt" part of his website.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Ok kids, let's learn about changes in EI

Life can throw a curve ball at anyone. Jobs are lost, sickness befalls or we decide to have children and parental leave is required. When such events occur, Canadians expect there to be a safety net. Unemployment Insurance was first introduced in Canada in 1935 to provide some relief during the Great Depression. However, this complicated piece of legislation did not become amended by the Constitution until 1940.[1] Since then, Unemployment, or Employment Insurance, has been amended many times over due to changing social values, economic trends and federal leadership. With EI qualifications becoming stricter, now more than ever we see disproportionate age and gender discrimination in Canada and fewer EI benefiters.

The turning point came in 1990 with the passing of Bill C-21. The government decided to stop all federal contribution to EI by 1993 and increase the minimum entrance requirements depending on unemployment rates in each region. “This bill collapsed the three-phase benefit structure (i.e. initial, labour force extended and regionally extended benefits) to a single phase. This modification reduced the maximum duration of benefit entitlement in all instances, except for claimants with long employment spells residing in very high unemployment regions of the country.”[2] Furthermore, they combined maternity, parental and sick benefits only allowing a maximum of 30 weeks assistance for all benefits rather than individual benefit terms. While this bill did include that either parent was allowed to take leave when a new child was born or adopted, it brought the number of EI qualifiers down from 80% to 74%. This number was further reduced by 1993’s Bill C-113 which only covered 57% of the population.[3]

After that, things did not get any easier. 1994’s Bill C-17 set up 1996’s EI reforms by manipulating the 1994 budget. At this time, coverage dropped to 51%.[4] EI legislation was further amended by the Employment Insurance Act of 1996 which drastically cut entrance requirements. The major change with this act was a shift to looking at the hours one works a year instead of the weeks in order to qualify. This is also when the Liberals decided that “Employment Insurance” is a more positive term than “Unemployment Insurance.” In 1996 Canadians saw a reduction in the duration of benefits and higher penalties for false statements. Insurance requirements now dropped to 42% in 1996 and would hit a staggering 39% by 2001.

According to the Status of Women in Canada, now approximately 32% of women and 40% of men qualify for EI. The main cause for eligibility decrease came with the transfer from “weeks” to “hours.” To qualify workers must have “between 420 and 700 hours of work, depending on the local unemployment rate.”[5] Because some women enrol in part-time employment so they can devote more family time, they have difficulty collecting the hours they need to qualify. The government fails to realize the different work patterns between men and women and accommodate each gender. Since Bill C-12 the number of hours has quadrupled for part-time workers.

Changes in EI have made it more difficult for women to achieve parity with men. For example, “in 2006-7, the average benefit for women was $298 per week compared to $360 for men.” [6] Furthermore, “in the first five years of EI, from 1996-2001, the gap in insurance protection between men and women more than doubled.”[7] Women are almost equally participating in the workforce alongside with men yet there is still a drastic difference when it comes to their qualifications and benefits. In 2003, Canadians saw some relief with the Budget Implementation Act which introduced compassionate care benefits so Canadians could take 6 weeks leave to care for a family member who is dying or very ill.

Kamloops has been facing its own challenges during the recession. On April 10, 2009, the Daily News stated that unemployment in the Thompson-Okanagan rose to 9.1% in March 2009 from only 5.9% last year. This has caused people and families to need EI more than ever before. According to Statistics Canada, that means that 24 900 workers are unemployed in and around the city. In order to qualify for EI, Kamloops workers would be required to work 560 hours in the last 52 weeks to get assistance.

With the last budget, Prime Minister Harper’s government increased the period one can collect benefits from 14 to 19 weeks. While this action is good, it has not fixed a system that is so crucial to stimulating the economy and keeping Canadians afloat during the recession. Since 1990 EI has gone through major changes but reform still needs to repair the system and make it more accessible, especially to all of those who see EI premiums deducted from their paycheques.

Labour reformers, such as the Canadian Labour Congress, are pressuring the government to “adopt a far more comprehensive approach, including the following specific reforms: provide regular benefits on the basis of 360 hours of work no matter where workers live and work in Canada; raise benefits to 60% of earnings calculated on a worker’s best 12 weeks; increase the period for which benefits can be collected to a maximum of 50 weeks from the current 41-week maximum; raise minimum wages and tax credits for low-income workers; expand support and funding for work-sharing arrangements under EI to reduce layoffs and build links to training programs, and invest part of the EI surplus in training and labour adjustment programs.”[8] The surplus that the CLC refers to is the $54 billion that the federal government has stopped investing in EI since 1993.

For some Canadians, receiving EI is the difference of not becoming homeless or taking their families to eat at food banks. Before cuts were made in the 1990s, over 70% of women and 80% of men qualified for benefits.[9] While some may criticize that reformers such as Pierre Trudeau were far too generous before the 1990s, the strict qualifications that workers struggle with now do not benefit Canadians, especially during the recession. The future of EI will continue to be reworked, re-improved and re-implemented with the advocacy and persistence of labour reformers.

[1] S. Lavender, 2009 Annotated Employment Insurance Statutes
[2] K. Kerr, http://dsp-psd.tpsgc.gc.ca/Collection-R/LoPBdP/EB/prb994-e.htm, November 1999
[3] Canadian Labour Congress, Falling Unemployment Insurance Protection for Canada’s Unemployed, March 2003
[4] Canadian Labour Congress, March 2003
[5] Canadian Labour Congress, Statement to the House of Commons Standing Committee Regarding the Status of Women Study on Consequences and Effects the Current Employment Insurance (EI) Programs Have on Women, March 2009
[6] Canadian Labour Congress, March 2009
[7] Canadian Labour Congress, March 2003
[8] Guardian, Volume 27, Number 1, Spring 2009
[9] Canadian Labour Congress, March 2009

Sunday, July 26, 2009


This, house, loves.
Pink pedals and waltzing lyrics. Loyal pets and that signature Barnhartvale aroma of sagebrush and tired mudrooms—the same smell as Kelsey’s basement. But what makes this house—the house in which I will be spending the next three days—is the photographs. Pictures may speak louder than words; and in this case, I struggle to convey the love that this house has sheltered.
While it is a house of love, it is also mourning. Bleeding evidence of two lovers that were separated long before they were ready to say goodbye.
However, she has not forgotten him. Snapshots of this couple who were more than just married, but the best of friends and even each other’s muse, carefully watch over the home that they built together. His handsome smile surrounds her: by their CD collection, above the kitchen table, living room, hallways and of course, in their bedroom.
But for me to truly experience someone, I head to their CD player. I flip on the power, push play and a sultry male voice greets me. Together we drift through house as I become acquainted with the different rooms, smells and furniture. The CD is pleasant but best saved for a rainy day when I’m wearing slippers.
Disc 2 is ABBA. Now, normally, I detest ABBA. But for some reason, in Wendy’s house, ABBA is perfectly suited. It’s not an extravagant house, but it’s certainly zestful—like Wendy herself. She reminds me of Meryl Streep from that ABBA film Mama Mia that my mom overplayed the soundtrack to. She’s alone but ceasing the reins of life and stepping out to fully experience whatever she encounters. It is this energy that makes me proud to be trusted in her home.
Houses tell such wonderful stories and through my time here, I hope to learn who Wendy is as told by the items she possesses.
I saw a box when I was flipping on the stereo. It’s a shoebox with “Memories of Jim” scrawled in marker across the front. Right now, I don’t feel any desire to look inside because these people are still strangers. I wonder if she’s wept in this very chair I sit in? Its aged wood the only thing supporting her at her kitchen table across from a collage of family photos.
This house is human. It’s lived in and seen the best and worst. The walls do tell stories, so do the floors and the nicks on the counter tops. It’s a tapestry of a great love story.
Being here by myself without anyone special to spend the night with, I’ve learned how Wendy keeps company. Lucy is such a loving companion. I deeply miss having a dog. She’s already so protective and caring, even though we were just formally introduced a few hours ago. And, although before 11:30 tonight I would have hated myself for saying this, ABBA and I are getting along just fine. Actually, better than fine...how strange.

With a small glass of white wine to my left hand I return to the kitchen table, my right leg crossed. My pale knee peaks out from under my black dress and I’m comfortable and relaxed in my long black cardigan. Am I lonely? No, not entirely. I’m eager to have my own kitchen table and living room. To write whenever I want, however late I want. Staying up later than the dog and cats with the stereo singing, because I can.
However, as usual, I’m caught in a dichotomy. I love being alone but I’m not exceptional at it. I love people far too much. I also want to see the world and make some kind of difference. I remember a line from “Waking Life” that said something to the extent of “being in a constant state of coming and going.” That’s how I feel most of the time. I want to have a partner and a house and romance and consistency but at the same time I want to live out of freakin suitcase and see the world.
All we need is love, right?
Someone special described my staying here like “observing a movie set.” While a director pays careful attention to set design, actually living in someone else’s home provides the most genuine, outstanding detail to character that sparks imagination. As a writer, or an overly curious human being, being permitted access into another life—another world—is an exhilarating experience. I’m inspired.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


What is it about modern romance that I find so damn frustrating? Perhaps I should stop reading.
Yesterday I spent a decent part of my afternoon reading a short story by Doris Lessing: a fantastically, classic woman who understands the world. I immediately identify with her protagonist. The woman’s casual demeanour, her refusal to be submissive, an obligation to do the best for others but an overwhelming desire to just be, apart from all commitments, alone.
Her relationship with her husband was casual yet exciting, giving yet taking and demanding yet forgiving. But I could tell they were only married because they happened to be who the other was dating in their late 20s. Each of them was fine in their independent lives, but love had to get in the way and of course, fucked the woman over.
So they get hitched, and I’m sure the sex was great. They were both attractive and quite fond of each other; however, they both shared too many similarities. Both of them were far too sensible and far too intelligent. GREAT! Now love is not a problem, their major vice is sensibility and intelligence.
Everyone knows intelligence and romance do not get along.
This couple is so intelligent, well-educated and realistic, that they know that the probability of both of them remaining faithful until “death do them part.” It’s preposterous. She’s forgiving when he strays. He proposes a foursome when she lies that she’s having an affair. Umm....ok?
They both laugh at how other people try to fight the natural tides of marriage and because they are aware of this, they are superior. However, their lack of emotional attachment has geared them onto autopilot for so long that all real feeling and expression is absent.
They’re so sensible that they learn to accommodate each other. They giggle and hold each other before they fall asleep and don’t feel any desire to interfere or mingle in the other’s life. Is that what marriage is about? Shouldn’t you ask your partner, at least out of concern, if she randomly disappears 5 days a week into a despicably filthy hotel room for 7 hours—what she is up to?
But they both are sensible people too concerned about suffocating each other because they know the divorce rate in their country. Is suffocation worse than complete ignorance?
The woman gives up her career (for the minions they spawn), they go to school, she doesn’t know what to do with herself anymore. This kills her because I know that she swore to never become one of “those” women. And she is now the poster girl.
She is no longer an individual but just a wife and mother who has signed her life over for others and has gone past the point of ever reclaiming happy, peaceful independence. So there’s nothing left to do but go insane.
If I didn’t identify with the woman so strongly at the beginning, if I didn’t see myself having a marriage like that, if I didn’t...if I didn’t...
Here I was reading a story about a woman caged in her own home, who could not find a piece of mind unless she was completely anonymous and all I saw were my fears laying out in front of me (written with brilliant diction and creative structure nonetheless.) So why was I so pissed off when she committed suicide at the end?
Maybe I wasn’t prepared because I know I would never get to that point. But seriously, this was the most depressing example of a woman being conditioned by her social, and physical, environment in order to appease the ideal life. She ultimately went fucking insane trying to reclaim that person she once knew and swore she would visit again when her kids grew up. Except, she couldn’t find her.
While I see people my age starting to tie the knot and I get all tingly about the romance, I know that I have a lot of living to do. I could only be with someone who knew how to live and was ready for adventure. My dear friend has a blog called Terminal Romance named after a great album, and that word terminal...TERMINAL paired with the word ROMANCE scares the living shit out of me.
Now don't get me wrong, of course I want to be swept off my feet. I'm a woman...HELLO!
Consistency is reassuring, and perhaps I need someone like that in my life. However, I strongly believe that people can grow (and explore) while still staying together. Two people who will uproot their lives for the other when necessary (as long as there’s give and take) and two people who let their hearts think just as loud as their heads. Hmmm...
Did I also mention I’m reading Pride and Prejudice? At least Jane Austen can write a love story where a smart protagonist ends up happily in love instead of committing suicide. Although, I guess we never learn how Elizabeth Bennett ultimately ends up.

I wish the best kind of love for all of you.