One of the most frustrating characteristics of the Harper government is that it announces that it intends to take big steps forward on various issues of national importance, then takes furtive steps backward when nobody is looking. This promise-and-retreat routine has stricken our country's capacity to prepare for -- and respond to -- national emergencies, like the recent floods in Alberta and the train wreck in Lac-Mégantic.
Ever since I was a small boy I remember visiting many flea markets and antique dealers throughout my life. I've always gotten a kick out of seeing the unique, the strange and practical things that people like to buy and sell. I grew up in a house that always had slightly used things and have had parents that appreciate the history stored in objects. Collecting has always seemed like an urban treasure hunt.
Last month parts of Alberta were struck with a devastating flood. As we watched the horrific images of beloved Canadian cities immersed in water, Canadians felt connected like never before to its thriving midwest. I arrived in Calgary the day after the flood had devastated most of Calgary's vibrant downtown and surrounding cities.
I read recently that many people experience post-traumatic growth rather than post-traumatic stress after being impacted by traumatic events. I had heard of post-traumatic stress but post-traumatic growth was a new term to me. Apparently research has shown that this growth is not a result of the traumatic event itself, but the struggle of dealing with the realities of the trauma.
It's been just over three weeks since raging floods wiped out countless homes and caused massive devastation here in Calgary and in Southern Alberta. It is nothing short of heartbreaking to consider what so many people are enduring, and what they have lost. The worst of it is that many of those losses can never be restored, replaced or rebuilt. But in the face of the worst disaster ever to hit this city, or indeed, this part of Alberta, our mayor, Naheed Nenshi, has been the voice of reason and reassurance.
On Wednesday July 10th, I decided to head back to Morley, the First Nation community, 30 kms west from where I live in Cochrane, Alberta. I had checked their Facebook page and saw that help was still needed. Having parked at the Morley Community School, I walked around to the back of the building, where I met Hyron. He said he was the school cook and now, with the flooding, he was given the task of cooking for all the families who were having to take refugee in the school. Hyron has lived in Morley all his life and has five children.
When the flooding began in Canmore on the night of June 19th, nobody expected that the next few days would become such a nightmare for Southern Alberta. When the water finally began to recede, people transitioned from survival to recovery. Now, we're all learning to live with it. The financial devastation is going to be incredibly difficult for many to handle. Even for those who have policies with insurance companies who are covering some of their damage, the floods have obliterated any budget planning and savings for a lot of families. We've been told for years that many Canadians are carrying too much debt. Something like this increases the burden of that weight and some may break under it.
The sun came through the clouds in the city of Calgary. Like the citizens of "WHOVILLE" in the movie "The GRINCH," Calgarians dusted themselves off, stood shoulder to shoulder and reclaimed the pride and dignity of their spectacular city. Leading the charge, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. Rarely have I seen flood reports on the news accompanied by reports that the local Mayor hasn't slept in 43 hours.
The 2013 flooding in the Province of Alberta, which resulted from excessive rainfall from June 19 to June 25 and the subsequent overflow of water tables across the region, was officially declared to be the "largest in provincial history" by Premier Allison Redford. In fact, it was so bad that it now has its own Wikepedia entry.
High River is just over an hour's drive South East of Cochrane and, as I entered the town, I noticed the first signs of damage. The railway tracks had been twisted like pretzels and sleepers stood up like fence posts. In the silt-covered Co-op parking lot, I spotted a gentleman wearing a Rotary cap. It was Bob, from the Rotary Club of High River. He partnered me up with Alan, from the Rotary Club of Stettler, and asked us to go to an address on 3rd Street West and find Harvie.
Like the floods recently seen in Alberta, many causes of debt disasters are not foreseeable and enact considerable emotional and financial devastation. Their onset can be rapid and quickly overwhelming, with the damage permanent or requiring years to repair.
On Monday, November 5th 2012, I was packing food hampers at Saint Jacobi Lutheran Church in Brooklyn, New York. Hurricane Sandy had caused widespread destruction a few days before and my reason for being in the city, the New York Marathon, had, understandably, been cancelled. It seemed only natural to respond to a request for volunteers.
The Alberta floods have washed away homes, lives, hopes and dreams. They came quickly and did away with places we loved, mementos and our sense of safety. But just as quickly, neighbours came to the rescue and strangers became life savers.
We are stoking the heat ourselves, with the colossal pressure and encouragement of all the corporations that make billions in return for our dependency on fossil fuel, funneling a pittance in revenue to our governments, all the while decaying our democracy. Dumbing down its citizens with the toys offered in return.
Sitting thousands of kilometres from my home province of Alberta watching floods wash over memories, friends and family I was numb. Over years of working to raise the alarm on climate change I watched hundreds of extreme weather events wreck coasts, communities and lives around the world, but now it was literally striking my home, and I was paralyzed.
I've heard it said that a person's true personality comes out in a crisis. If that's true, then thousands of people may well have fallen (further) in love with Calgary's own Mayor Nenshi these past few days. When Nenshi ran for mayor three years ago, he wasn't a serious contender according to the pollsters. Still, my husband and I put a sign on our lawn, believing that this Harvard-educated, articulate, and worldly young Calgarian was the future we wanted for our city.