hard times: we are ruled by banks, corporations, and the governments that enable them. it doesn't have to be this way.

In Canada this year, food bank usage hit an all-time high. In March 2022, there were almost 1.5 million visits to food banks -- 15% more than there were one year ago, and a whopping 35% more visits than in March 2019, pre-pandemic.

Food prices have ballooned at the highest rate in four decadesThe Consumer Price Index, which approximates a cost of living barometer, has risen 6.9% since this time last year, which was already 5.9% higher than the previous year. At times over this past year, food prices had gone up more than 10%.

The price of gasoline is 13.2% higher than it was the previous year -- down from an eye-popping 22% increase a few months earlier. Most Canadians must drive in order to work; in most areas of the country, public transit is minimal. In urban areas, 17% of Canadians take public transit to work. In non-urban areas, a scant 2% do so. 

This is usually attributed to Russia's war on Ukraine, and supply chain interruption. Why would a faraway war impact the price of food in North America? Because everything, including basic survival, is subject to the irrational, mysterious ways of the market. The good old invisible hand of capitalism, causing good times and bad. And supposedly there's nothing we can do about it. Too bad, so sad. 

But there is something we can do. We can build a better system -- a rational system that privileges the needs of many over profits for a few.

It doesn't have to be this way

But in response to this crippling inflation, the Bank of Canada has raised interest rates, which harms people, and benefits banks. Raising interest rates to combat inflation has been shown to fail 100% of the time

That's worth repeating. The Bank of Canada is following a policy with a zero percent success rate. Unless your goal is helping banks, in which case it's spectacularly successful.

As Economist David MacDonald puts it:
History tells us that the Bank of Canada has a 0% success rate in fighting inflation by quickly raising interest rates. If a pilot told me that they'd only ever attempted a particular landing three times in the past 60 years with a 0% success rate, that's not a plane I'd want to be on. Unfortunately, that looks like the plane all Canadians are on now.

Free-market rationale says that rising interest rates will discourage borrowing and encourage savings. This seems little more than fantasy.

(1), mortgages are already borrowed, we can't un-borrow them, so increasing interest just increases the housing costs of real people. (2), the price of food and fuel continues to climb, so therefore, (3), ordinary people have even less money to save, if indeed they ever had any.

These rising interest rates and higher mortgage payments occur are occuring in a country where housing has become increasingly unaffordable. Rising interest rates are bad news for everyone -- except banks.


Exxon Mobil and Chevron raked in a mountain of profit this year. The net income for the world's oil and natural gas producers is set to double in 2022 from 2021, to a new high of $4 trillion. World Energy Outlook calls it "an unprecedented windfall for producers".

Loblaw, the corporate food giant, tried to package a routine holiday practice -- freezing prices on their store brand for a few months -- as noblesse oblige. Who do they think they're fooling? In the first quarter of this year, Loblaw enjoyed a 40% increase in profits compared with the previous year. 


Nearly a quarter of Canadians have been forced to cut back on purchasing food.

Whose government is this?

The Liberal Government defends interest rate hikes, even though this has squeezed many Canadians in a fight for survival, and pushes many into food insecurity or outright hunger. 

The Conservative Party criticizes the rate hikes, but that's just partisanship. History is quite clear on this point: if the Conservatives were in power, they would also support the Bank's moves, too.

Only Jagmeet Singh and the New Democrat Party speak out against this insanity.

But there's little enough that any party can do, as our laws are written to support big business and minimize government input. The NDP can call for investigations and strategies, but the fact is, a remedy would require an entire re-thinking of government's role in business. 

It would require a government that protects people from predatory businesses, rather than enabling their voracious greed.

All this could change. Laws are not found in nature. They are written by people. 

If the government governed for us, there would be laws against price gouging, there would be a "Robin Hood" tax, there would be caps on profits for essential goods. There would be a human right to food and shelter, and laws that supported those rights. 

Instead, the laws of the land are designed to maximize the profits of the few, not the needs of the many.

We must ask, who does the Government represent? If Trudeau's Liberals support policies that are killing Canadians, how can they credibly say they are representing the people who elected them?  

I am fed up

I am fed up -- I am way beyond fed up -- with governments that represent Loblaw, Suncor, and RBC. For the millions of Canadians who will only vote Liberal or Conservative, I ask, How's that been working out for you? 

In the US, there is no viable third option. That has enabled the march to the extreme right. In Canada, where there is a developed third party, the majority are afraid to vote for it -- even those who claim to support its platforms. Supposedly progressive people routinely advise and pressure others to not vote NDP. 

Obviously voting NDP will not magically fix these problems. But it would be a start. With Liberals and Conservatives, things will continue along the current path, which will only lead to greater wealth concentrated in the hands of fewer people. Then Canada will be well positioned for the desperation that allows fearmongers to incite scapegoating, violence, and all manner of repression. 

I have no illusions about the NDP. They are a political party, and therefore subject to the same pitfalls as any other. But if all the partisan politics are equal, only the NDP speaks for ordinary Canadians. 

Isn't it time to try something different? 

Further reading

David Macdonald, quoted above, is the senior economist for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a progressive think tank that I am proud to support. You can read Macdonald's analysis here

Paul Krugman is also a good read on this topic. See his "wonking out" columns.

Here are three good stories on food insecurity in Canada -- all published pre-pandemic. Since that, it has gotten so much worse.

Wealth is health: The Reality of Food Insecurity in Canada

People Across Canada Are Struggling with Food Insecurity

More Canadians are food insecure than ever before – and the problem is only getting worse

Imagine something different.

What Would a Socialist Food Industry Look Like?

Capitalism and food: Hunger amidst plenty

Socialism for the bankers, capitalism for the rest of us -- so it goes


community meetings: what we heard about the library

As I mentioned some weeks ago, our library system is in the midst of the strategic planning process, crafting a roadmap for the next five years. Part of the process is community engagement -- hearing directly from library users and local partners about the library's mission, its place in the community, and what kind of library services they want.

Through quirks of geography and staffing models, I ended up doing the most engagement sessions of any librarian in the system, as a team with one of my staff. We facilitated five public meetings, one in each of the communities we serve, plus we conducted one in-depth interview, and I co-facilitated a focus group on literacy.

All the materials were provided to us, and there was extensive training in the process. And thank dog for that, because even with all the support, it was a huge amount of work. 

In these sessions, we presented a set of guided questions and activities, intended to elicit input on the library's values, mission, and direction. 

In each community, between five and ten people spent an evening with us. This turnout seemed reasonable to us, given the size of our communities -- until we learned that even in much larger branches, participation was usually fewer than ten people. Seen as a percentage of population, participation was actually higher in our towns than in larger, more populous areas. This reflects what I already know: small communities love and cherish their libraries.

*  *  *  * 

In the past few years, open hours and staffing has greatly expanded at two of the five branches that I manage. One was the result of a new branch for a tiny (population under 200), isolated community -- promised for many years, and finally delivered at the end of 2019. The other is in Port Hardy, the largest community I serve (2021 population approximately 4,000). That, I am proud to say, is the result of my advocacy. These changes have had a huge impact on the communities.

That leaves three other communities in our region still stuck with very limited staffing and open hours, and in two of those, also grossly inadequate physical space. I have a proposal for how to remedy this -- a simple and affordable plan, and a bargain in light of the impact it would have on these communities. I believe this will happen eventually; the question is how long communities will have to wait.

When it comes to providing service to rural and remote communities, the approach of most library systems is backwards. It's thought that these little towns don't need many open hours; after all, there aren't many people. But in remote communities, there is such a dearth of resources, so few options, that people depend heavily on the library -- more so than people do in populous areas where there are more options. 

Thus, in our community engagement sessions, it was no surprise that the two things we heard the most was more hours and more space. Our staff works very hard, and partnerships with local agencies extend our reach, but despite heroic efforts, the towns are under-served.

* * * *

This feedback was not at all surprising; it was what I expected. What I didn't expect was the outpouring of ideas. 

The upcoming strategic plan will have four pillars: Reconciliation (relationships with Indigenous communities), accessibility, services to communities without a physical library, and increased access to technology and tech learning. Meeting participants were interested in all four, and offered a wealth of ideas. 

And every idea was built on one idea: the library as community hub. On a list of phrases for a new mission statement, the phrases that resonated the most were the heart of the community, lifelong learning, knowledge sharing, and sparking curiosity and imagination


a remedy for my blogging funk: interspecies love

I had a wildly busy -- and interesting and fun -- October, and no time to blog. Now I have time, and plenty to write about, and can't seem to string together words in any coherent order. This is typical for me when I haven't written anything in a while. I believe -- quite literally -- that I have forgotten how to write.

Luckily, some pretend blogging tends to re-boot my writing brain. Interspecies love to the rescue!

Here's a very unusual friendship: a man plays fetch with a beautiful beluga whale.

I'm not sure if this is love, but the puppy clearly thinks they're a rabbit, too.

Why would a butterfly want to play with a puppy?

This tiny kitten isn't sure about her pittie brother -- at first.

This Golden Retriever and deer have been best friends for 11 years. Here's a time lapse view of their friendship.

And finally, a dog with too much energy and his bestie, a rescued raccoon.

You're welcome!


north island book tour and community meetings: what i'm up to at the library

Inside the Port Hardy Library
September and October have been a whirlwind for me at the library. 

In September, we hosted a locally famous author. Yvonne Maximchuk lives on a remote island in the Broughton Archipelago, and writes about the people who live in these tiny coastal communities. She has friends all over the North Island, and there's a lot of local interest in her work. 

I needed a special event for Port Hardy (my largest branch) in September, and at the same time was planning Customer Appreciation Days at two smaller branches -- and the whole thing just came together. 

I ended up organizing a five-community book tour. In two of those stops, Maximchuk was the featured guest at a big party. For the kids, there was face-paining, balloon animals, music, and games. For the adults, there was food from local bakers, and many prize draws -- an autographed copy of the book, original art by local artists, gift cards for local businesses.

Our smallest branches rarely host special programs like this -- and of course there was no in-person programming for a long time, because of covid -- so both the staff and the communities were thrilled. The author also had a wonderful experience, and she was a joy to work with. Attendance at the parties exceeded all our expectations.

Here's a story about one event from a local newspaper.

In October, I'm facilitating public meetings in each of the five communities my branches serve. 

Our library system is currently creating a new strategic plan for the next five years. Part of that process is gathering ideas and priorities from the community. In addition to the in-person community meetings, there are interviews, surveys, online meetings, and focus groups. 

So far we've hosted two meetings, with three more planned. We had special training in the facilitation process, and it's an interesting challenge. We're there to capture what is said, but not to discuss or debate -- or even agree or disagree. We also have to adhere to a fairly strict format and timeline. One staff member is working with me for all five meetings. We're enjoying the process, and we'll be glad when it's over.


"they thought they were doing the right thing at the time": harmful denialism that we must challenge

They thought they were doing the right thing. They thought they were helping children. Now we know better.
I recently heard this from a library customer. They were referring to the residential "schools", the accepted euphemism for the system of concentration camps that was used to destroy Indigenous families, communities, and cultures in Canada.

Image by Kent Monkman
I was taken aback, but fortunately not so much that I didn't respond. I said, "I don't think they thought they were doing the right thing. They knew it was harmful, and they didn't care."

From the way the customer talked over my response, I realized this was a ready-made statement, a justification they've picked up (likely online) in the current discourse about the residential "school" system in Canada.

I later related this exchange to my partner, who does a lot historical research. He suggested, "You could ask what evidence they have to support that claim." I'm going to use this in the future. It's an excellent response to so many denialist views, parroted as facts, but with no basis in reality.

I'm willing to bet I've read and watched more about the "schools" than the person who made that denialist statement. And I've encountered nothing to support the conclusion that the creators of that system thought they were doing the right thing for children. To do so would mean they cared about the children that they were rounding up and imprisoning. And I see no evidence of that.

* * * *

In the summer of 2021, mass graves -- the remains of thousands of children's skeletons -- were discovered at the sites of former residential "schools". The revelations rocked Canada and sent the country into a period of mourning. Many non-Indigenous Canadians were shocked and profoundly saddened. Many Indigenous people were re-traumatized. The revelations about the graves catapulted the country into a different place in the Truth and Reconciliation process.

At that time, I encountered this knee-jerk response:
Many of those children would have died anyway. There were more children deaths in those days. 
I only saw this online. I don't know anyone with these repugnant views who is either brave or foolish enough to say them aloud, in public. Which tells you something.

Mass graves. Of children. And there's a but

Fortunately someone always replies: Did your grade school need a cemetery? Have mass graves been found at the site of any schools that settler kids attended?

* * * *

The stated purpose of this system was forced assimilation, and the destruction of Indigenous cultures and families. Those goals existed for the benefit of the colonizers and the world they wanted to build. 

The Indigenous presence on the land claimed by the settlers was an annoyance, an irritant, an impediment. Indigenous people and cultures were a problem, and this was a solution. A final solution, one could say. 

Through the residential "school" system, the colonizers tried to create a captive labour force -- normally called slaves, but here called students. Girls were forced to do laundry, scrub floors, and other domestic work. Boys were forced into manual labour. Typical of a slave society, few resources were expended on the workers, so children were chronically malnourished and denied healthcare. Also typical of a slave society, the children were abused -- emotionally, physically, sexually, psychically, and spiritually.

These systems can only exist when the dominant group regards the subjugated people as less than human

Had the colonizers viewed Indigenous people as fully human this system would never have existed. Need proof? Was this done to white, Christian families? To families of immigrants from European countries? Case closed.

Slavery, genocide, apartheid, concentration camps. The specific justifications of these horrors vary with context, but the fundamental conditions are always the same: viewing the "other" as subhuman. 

* * * *

From summer 2021: