Friday, December 29, 2017

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HOCKEY AS A WINTER SURVIVAL STRATEGY


The dead of a Peterborough winter. Snow, slush, grey, wet, bitter cold; all these are the benchmarks of our short days and long nights. Underfoot, gravel, filthy ice, cigarette butts, and frozen dog shit in sedimentary layers pave our buckling sidewalks. Spring sunlight and greenery are all too remote to be imagined. So we retreat to our screens, our friends, our families, and to whatever sustenance we can find in music. Is it not a glorious accident that ReFrame, Peterborough’s brilliant documentary film festival, always falls at exactly the midpoint of winter? If we can make it to ReFrame at the end of January, we can make it through the gloomy season.
I’ve tried all these coping strategies; they all help. But none of these distractions come close to my drug of choice: I watch NHL hockey. Even more incriminating, I am an unrepentant Habs fan.
Back in the day, such a hockey confession would be like blurting out that I couldn’t wait for the next WWE Smackdown during a seminar on Shakespeare’s sonnets. In my university days, hockey was seen as very uncool; a guarantee of permanent, woebegone celibacy. Only the seedy regulars in dingy bars watched hockey. Everyone else had better things to do on a winter evening.
Then, sometime around the millennium, the heavenly constellations shifted. Rule changes made the game faster. Better refereeing eliminated the tedious clutch-and-grab play. And the pros began playing beautiful hockey again, albeit sporadically. Who can forget Canada—5 USA—2, at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics?
While there is still much to loathe about the NHL, in Peterborough, as in the rest of Canada, hockey is many things.
First, hockey is a business. The bulbous salaries of the players are obscene. Tickets to games in top-market cities like Toronto require a bank loan. The schedule is far too long: hockey in April, OK, but not hockey in June. There are too many trades. The fact that cities like Anaheim, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and now Las Vegas have NHL hockey teams while Regina, St. John’s, Quebec City, and Halifax do not speaks to the power of the dollar to control who sees the game. Given the speed and size of the players, the rinks are too small. But larger rinks are not built because of costs.
Hockey is a reflection of our national culture, warts and all. The crowd cheers for the crushing checks and fights. The game is far too gladiatorial; there are too many malicious hits to the head. Rough play too often stifles skilled, smaller players. The ethos of today’s hockey promotes dubious cultural linkages with a faux nationalism that, in the rants of Don Cherry, gives voice to a jingoistic celebration of so-called Canadian values that is truly cringe-worthy. Occasionally, Coaches Corner on Hockey Night in Canada is indistinguishable from Fox News. Of course, Cherry is free to indulge in his right-wing advocacy from his TV pulpit, but could he focus more on the performance of the right-wing (and other) players on the ice and less on the right-wing politicians he loves to promote?
NHL hockey is environmentally unsustainable. Hockey used to be played outdoors on natural ice. That was before global warming changed the rules. Now, the environmental footprint of the NHL is atrocious. Flying around North America to play hockey on artificial ice in cities with palm trees in winter is ludicrous.
Hockey is about drama. If there is compelling storyline between two evenly matched teams, as during a playoff elimination game, then a hockey game can transcend all our expectations. Such a game can produce a dramatic moment that even Shakespeare cannot touch. We watch a play for the performance, despite the fact we know the ending. But we don’t know the ending of a decisive hockey game between two great teams. On September 28, 1972, the iconic William Hutt was performing a matinee of King Lear at Stratford, when he turned to his audience after the storm scene on the heath and brought the house down with these simple words: “Ladies and gentlemen, Canada has just defeated Russia, 6 to 5.” Hutt later said that it was the largest round of applause he had ever heard in a theatre.
But most of all, hockey was be the game of our childhoods. Our nostalgia for the hockey we knew as children gets roughed up by the realities of the hockey we know as adults. Adult cynicism trumps childhood wonder.
Still, when I remember growing up in Montreal, hockey was my religion. The last organized, league team I played for was the Montreal West Central Pee-Wees back in the 50s. Someone’s father knew someone high up at Molson, which meant that my team—privileged anglo kids from the suburbs, oblivious to the gifts of class—got to play its final playoff game early one Sunday morning at the Montreal Forum, the Temple Mount of hockey for a kid.
After the game, we wandered around the cavernous old building unsupervised. I felt as if I had broken into a cathedral. Complete silence. Down one corridor we saw a bright room open with all the lights on. A salty smell in the air. We walked in. The sweaters from the previous night’s game were hanging up to dry, names and numbers facing out: Olmstead 15, Bouchard 3, Lach 16, Plante 1, Harvey 2 and Richard 9…. We had stumbled into the Canadiens’ dressing room. This was the Holiest of Holies. I remember seeing the quote from John McCrae’s Flanders Fields painted on the wall above the sweaters: “To you from failing hands we throw / The torch; be yours to hold it high.”
We touched nothing; we told no one.
Does hockey still matter? Probably not. Its time has passed. Or has it? Would a ten-year-old today feel the same way about seeing the Habs’ or Leafs’ dressing room? My reverence for the game may be dated. But the idealized mythology of hockey still exists on an organic level—despite the big business, digital swirl, and politics of hockey. It’s just that today’s fan culture uses different codes. The lyricism of the game is still there. Magic can still happen on the ice if only we let ourselves see it.


Friday, August 11, 2017

PETERBOROUGH’S USUAL SUSPECTS?

Why we need to break out from the Hunter Street Bubble


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Sitting on the patio at the Only on Hunter Street on a warm summer evening, cold drink in hand, indie tunes wafting across Jackson Creek from the Garnet, and a gallery of friendly faces in the crowd, you may be forgiven for concluding that Peterborough is the best small city in Ontario: all around you, you see people having an awesome time; they look stylish, interesting, and in love with life. An intriguing mist of evanescent pheromones hangs in air, like subtle perfume. Beware! You are falling prey to the seductions of the Hunter Street Bubble.
When you are in the Bubble, especially at the Only, all of Peterborough is cool and hip.
The craft beer you are quaffing is a gateway drug for this delusion. Hunter Street is the home turf of the alleged Usual Suspects. This alluring hipster paradise is particularly dangerous to aspiring election candidates; Peterborough is far more than the Hunter Street Bubble. I learned this the hard way when I ran for council in 2014.
If you watch City Council meetings, you have heard the Usual Suspects making presentations; these are the advocates for an array of good causes: progressive urban planning, better cycling infrastructure, and more action on poverty, to name a few. Some City Hall politicians believe that there are only about 50 activists in town who stand in the way of getting things done. An accurate view or a manipulative dismissal?
Now it is time to pay your tab, sober up, and head to the suburbs.
You will soon find other bubbles of which you are not a member. That’s fine, because you may not like them. What you may not know is how much they don’t like you. Fans of the Hunter Street Bubble tend to live downtown, be anarchists or at least left-of-centre, and be suspicious of unrestrained economic growth.
But the Usual Suspects aren’t a coordinated resistance to all the growth projects being planned by the business community and their allies at City Hall. There is only convenient stereotyping that some use to polarize debates and obfuscate issues. All sides play this game.
Resistance to mainstream policies has deep, partisan roots in Peterborough’s downtown political culture: the Save PDI campaign, the battle to stop the Parkway, the No Casino debate, the fight to save PCVS, the three Monsef campaigns, and the most recent provincial, federal, and particularly municipal elections. Advocates of growth see these resisters as idealistic fools, as tree-huggers with no understanding of how the real world works, and as professional citizens big on criticism but short on positive solutions.
In fact, many of the Usual Suspects who speak up at City Hall own homes, have careers, and hold investment portfolios. They favour smart growth, not growth to the exclusion of everything else. But they have short fuses for backroom deals that benefit those in high places. They are quick to accuse councillors of perceived conflicts of interest before researching all the facts.
The Usual Suspects are maligned, and not always unfairly, as being unduly partisan.
Some local media reporters pounce on this adversarial tendency. Other journalists take a more nuanced approach; they point out the inconsistencies on all sides over controversial issues while at the same time being careful not to annoy City Hall. The advocates of growth are correct in pointing out that the Hunter Street Bubble activists can be horrifically elitist. How often do the hipsters on the patio at the Only have conversations with the homeless on George Street before advocating on their behalf?
So are the Usual Suspects just a metaphor, an identity for a group that doesn’t exist? Whether you consider yourself an activist or not, all you can really control is how your thinking shapes your actions. Those activists inside the Hunter Street Bubble do not do themselves any favours with their stereotyping of the politicians and business leaders they dislike. And they can be intensely exclusionary. How often do known Conservatives drop by the Only? Hardly ever. Why? Ask them.
The 2014 Municipal Election taught us that elections are more about personality and neighbourhood credibility than they are about policies. Sure, policy statements matter. As a candidate, I developed policy statements that were part of my campaign in Northcrest. One of these policies was No Parkway. A mistake? Policies, at least at the municipal level, pale in importance when compared to personal profile, community service, and the strength of community relationships. Relationships, particularly relationships based on trust built up over years of community service, matter far more than policies. Northcrest, as it turned out, wanted the Parkway. I was a downtowner running in the ‘burbs. An unknown. An outsider. I lost.
How well do the Usual Suspects manage their relationships with other groups, like the business community?
Not very well. As citizens, we can choose to perpetuate this animosity, or not. Sure, let’s all work hard to elect a better City Council next year. But can we do this while turning down our contempt for the other side? This year’s Official Plan Review will be another opportunity to reach out to those we don’t agree with and together paint a compelling picture of an aspirational Peterborough of the future. These arch enemies in politics may be our customers, our employers, our students, our neighbours, and members of our families. Together we have to make this community work.
Bill Templeman is a facilitator, career counselor and staff development consultant; he also delivers seminars on teamwork. Bill has lived in town since 2000. In 2014 he ran for City Council in Northcrest.

Drumlins, delusions and Good Samaritans: Cycling 100 km in Peterborough County



Never underestimate the power of the ego to inflict suffering, exhaustion and athletic humiliation upon its host. Last Sunday, I did the Shimano Route 2 bike ride, the 100 km. My first-century ride of the season. Today, I am still stiff, lethargic and oozing in profound reverence of my own stupidity. This ride goes north through Lakefield to Stoney Lake, east to Crowes Landing, south on Road 40, then west on Webster Road, then back to Peterborough. On a map, the route looks like a compressed square with a few short sides and one long side, the slog back home.

I thought I was ready. I had done a dozen 30 km rides. I had replaced the drive train on my elderly touring bike and had put on new tires. Like me, my bike's best days are now past, but I can still keep up with slow group rides. As a lifelong weekend warrior, I usually muddle through.

The countryside east of here is a drumlin plain; retreating glaciers left long hummocks of gravel. Cycling on a north-south axis through a drumlin plain, you ride a series of long gentle inclines, long summit plateaus then gradual declines on which you can fly downhill in top gear, feeling much fitter than you really are. When you cross a drumlin plain on an east-west axis, there are many more steep inclines and declines, albeit shorter. This was the long side of my route back home. Here is where I committed the Ultimate Cycling Sin: I walked up a few of these hills, only to fly down the other side and have to trudge up the next one. But I was alone. No saw this shameful cowardice.

My map told me there were many "towns" along my route. But I assumed that the towns on the map, places like Galesburg, Gilchrist Bay, Clarina, Centre Dummer, Cottesloe and Guerin had at least a corner store. No. Many were just a few houses. It was odd to be biking through un"‹-populated mixed bush or farmland and not see any public land. The frequent NO TRESPASSING/PRIVATE LAND signs meant I had two options: stop on the shoulder to rest, or keep cycling.

At the 70 kilometer point, my bike began to feel like a torturer's rack. My neck was stiff, my hands ached, my tail bones stung, and my thighs burned."‹And I had run out of water. "‹Had I had taken on a ride I wasn't ready for?

I thought about stopping at a farmhouse for water, but I kept thinking that the next town would surely have a store. Wrong. Eventually, I stopped in the shade to lie down. A Good Samaritan stopped her car and asked if I was all right. After all, there I was, sprawled out at the side of the road like a flaccid jellyfish beached at high tide, helmet off, my bike flat on the ground. I said I was fine; then confessed that I was out of water but that I was close to Peterborough. She said I was still half an hour away; then she mercifully thrust a bottle of water on me. I thanked her profusely but did not think to pay her. She drove off. Only later did I think of taking a picture to somehow thank her.

Memo to self: Next year, before trying another 100-km ride, do a dozen or so 30 km rides, then do a few 50s, then a few 60s, then an 80-km ride or two. Or rest on my laurels, the last refuge of aging weekend warriors everywhere.

Bill Templeman is a local writer, and consultant; he is still in denial about the passage of time upon his fading athletic prowess.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

My Commencement Address to the Graduating Class of 2017

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Bill Templeman, June 3, 2017
Each year at this time the rich and famous are called upon to bestow a little wisdom to the new flock of graduates who are about to be ejected, utterly unprepared, into the trench warfare of life. As Margaret Atwood said in a commencement address she gave years ago: "Even in the best of times, it (graduating) is more or less like being pushed over a cliff, and these are not the best of times."
Oh, for the sweet chance to dispense a bit of free advice to this captive audience! If only I could give a commencement address....
But I am neither famous nor rich. So, in spite of my decades of diligent service at becoming who I am today, fame has successfully eluded me. I will never be called upon to give a commencement address.
Too bad. Faced with the gap between my pent-up urge to be a commencement speaker and the continued lack of demand for my services, I will have to be content with this address in absentia.
Herewith is my address to the Graduating Class of 2017:
Dear Graduates, Family Members, and Friends:
Beware of fossils like me who are too eager to dispense free advice. Don't listen to what they say about the tangibles -- careers, money and technology. But stay open what they may say about the intangibles -- love, birth, death, the passage of time, taking risks, making decisions and living life on purpose. Remember that you are not the first person in the universe to be young and to face the decision of what to do with your life.
Look in a mirror. What do you see? Whatever you see, know that this is the probably the best message a mirror will ever send you. From here on, gravity will begin to charge hefty interest. Make no mistake about it. This is your finest hour. It won't last.
Keep staring at that mirror. Now that I have told you that you won't be young forever, consider your priorities. Do things soon that the young do best. Like traveling abroad on the cheap. Or living on Kraft Dinner in a garret as you learn your art, master your field or pursue your dreams. Or climbing high mountains. Or saving the world. Get your adventure juices going and do not postpone them. If you have wanderlust, then now is the time to wander. So do the young things now. Your career can wait.
Remember what I just said about putting your career on hold? Maybe I'm wrong. You can only put your life on hold for so long. Every college town has a scattering of lost souls who never left. They delayed life's decisions for as long as they could until they ran out of time. It's really cool to be in limbo at 23. It's not so cool at 45. Some of the important things to do when you are young- like graduate school or starting a career that needs to be started young, are also things that may restrict your ability to enjoy your youth. Does this contradict what I said earlier?
Absolutely!
Living with contradiction is a life-skill you better cultivate in a hurry.
Do not worship other people. They are not you. You have come into this existence with a unique set of gifts. Your challenge is to discover these gifts, explore them with passion and share them with the world. You are not here to fit into others' expectations of what you should be or mold yourself in their image. You are here to become you. Get on with it!
Right now you are on your way up and you believe the world had better make room for you. If only it was true. In fact, the world doesn't give a stinking toot about you.
You will have to make your own breaks. You alone are responsible for your own progress.
Another thing: Though no one else will do this for you, you can't do this alone. You will need your friends. Friendship is like oxygen. You can't see it, but it keeps you alive at all times. Cheat on sleep but do not cheat on your friends. Treasure them. In the end, they will be like a prudent government bond fund. Nothing flashy, but immensely sustaining over the long-term
Question your own assumptions. If you believe a 9-to-5 job is not for you, find out why. You may be right. Or you may be kidding yourself
Beware of ideology posing as reason. Learn how to tell the difference and do not trust those who would counsel you not to do your own thinking.
Regarding politics and saving the world: You will probably have no effect on the unfolding of reality or the Big Picture of History. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try. However, while you may not be able to alter reality, you can alter your attitude towards it. Paradoxically, this alters reality. Try it and see.
Take smart risks. Risk getting to know what you really want to do then risk going for it. Don't compromise your dreams. Ever.
Bill Templeman "skipped his graduation ceremonies, opting to receive his degrees by mail.

Peterborough Deserves Better Civic Engagement


I approach the speaker’s podium. A hush spreads over the hall. “Please state your name and your address.” I comply. “Thank you. You have seven minutes; you will be given a warning when you have one minute left.” I am about to take part in a ritual that is at once sacred and meaningless: I am about to make a citizen delegation—a presentation—to Peterborough’s City Council.

Why sacred? Civic engagement is one of the pillars of municipal democracy. A moment of silence is observed before these meetings. Flags are on display. The National Anthem is sung. These ceremonies send a message: “What we do here matters. Respect us and respect our rules. This is sacred space.”

Why meaningless? These delegations frequently happen after council members have decided how they are going to vote. Delegations from the public are often heard directly before a final discussion and the vote in council. The councillors are merely going through the motions to satisfy a procedural requirement of local and provincial law. The decision in question likely has already been made.

“Thank you for your presentation. Any questions for our presenter?” (a brief pause as the chairperson’s eye sweeps the council) “Seeing none, I thank you.” I shuffle back to my seat, chuffed to have spoken up, but angry. I know none of this matters. At all.

Why is civic engagement in such a dismal state in Peterborough?

How can all of us, the City and its citizens, move beyond the current tone of mistrust and divisive partisanship? How can we make these rituals come alive again? How can we make civic engagement matter? We have a representative democracy; our councillors make decisions on our behalf. While they listen to us, in the end, they decide, not the citizens. If we don’t like their decisions, every fourth year we can elect different councillors. Direct democracy, as practiced in ancient Athens, had citizens making all the decisions. Given the pace of modern life, most of us do not have the time, interest, or ability to study all the issues. We need to embrace the best of representative democracy, then open the windows and let the fresh air and sunshine in. We need open democracy. Here are some practical, low-cost steps City Council could take to really improve the way the City engages with its citizens:

Release key reports issues 10 days prior to the meeting at which delegations are to be heard and a vote held.

Frequently these reports are released only four days before an issue is voted upon, not enough time for citizens to prepare for effective delegations.

Invite citizens into the decision-making process much earlier by welcoming delegations or convening discussions at the outset of deliberations, instead of right before the final vote.

In the campaigns over issues such as the Casino, the Parkway, and PDI, many talented volunteers with substantial experience spoke up. Why not let City Council take advantage of this free expertise?

Redesign the City’s website and enhance its social media posts so that the public knows when decisions are being made and what the opportunities are for citizen input.

Right now, from a civic engagement perspective, the City’s website is a labyrinth of daunting complexity. The site should be thoroughly searchable via keywords, not just report numbers.

Allow real, two-way conversations between citizens and council members.

Delegations are one-way. A citizen can present, councillors can then ask questions, but there’s no dialogue. These conversations need to be between large numbers of citizens and all councillors, not one citizen at a time, standing like a condemned prisoner before a firing squad. Trained city staff or citizen groups like Reimagine Peterborough could facilitate these large conversations. A broader use of citizen advisors, as described in the 
Planning Act’s newly mandated role for citizens on committees, could improve civic engagement.

Augment the content of staff reports to include the concerns of a broader range of citizens.

Currently, all staff reports address financial implications. How about including standard sections on implications for environmental and community resilience?

Set up a way for citizens with a specific interest or area of concern to register with City Hall.That way, they could receive all notices and reports related to their area of concern by email.

Better civic engagement would make for better decisions and ultimately more effective governance. The Parkway Extension is now stalled because civic engagement was seen as a nuisance. Defiant citizens responded accordingly and petitioned the government to intervene. Now that project is in limbo, perhaps never to be implemented; a lack of positive civic engagement has costs.

The City has learned from this mistake; the public consultations held prior to the PDI vote were far more robust. City staff and PDI executives were on hand to answer questions. Consultants were hired to survey citizens. While these PDI consultation sessions were also, like the Parkway consultations, largely sales promotions, nonetheless attempts were made to at least acknowledge the importance of civic engagement.

Peterborough deserves better civic engagement. Right now, citizens and councillors talk past each other, not questioning, not listening, and not understanding the other side. We need to have real conversations, not staged confrontations. We need to tell our councillors we want more open civic engagement. Enhanced civic engagement must become an issue in the 2018 election.