Meaningful Work For Meaningful Pay

This story appears in the March 31, 2014 edition of the Saskatoon Express. I’m proud of it and everyone involved. I hope #yxecc and the Minister of Labour note the underlying message regarding the practice, supported by antiquated provincial legislation, of allowing certain non-profit agencies to work people with intellectual and physical disabilities without paying them. 

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It’s a typical morning at Saskatoon’s Motion Fitness gym. The cavernous, airy space echoes with the sound of treadmills whirring, weights clanging and the bass thumping of an upbeat tune. Upstairs, between the rows of heart-pumping cardio machines, 22-year-old Jordan Vassell doesn’t miss a beat as he strides purposefully between the elliptical trainers, busting a dance move to the Justin Timberlake song on the speakers.

Saskatoon's Jordan Vassell is proud of his victories.

Saskatoon’s Jordan Vassell is proud of his victories.

Armed with a spray bottle and a cleaning cloth, wearing protective rubber gloves and a pair of sturdy knee pads, Vassell works diligently and non-stop. His job is to ensure all of the equipment in the gym remains spotless and sanitized. He does exactly that, taking great pride in doing an impeccable job, as well as the hard-earned pay cheque that goes with it.

Vassell, who has an acquired brain injury and has been diagnosed with autism, is a Motion Fitness employee. He earns a competitive wage directly from the company, and has held his job with the gym for over three years. Vassell was introduced to his employer through the Saskatchewan Association for Community Living’s (SACL) Employment, Education and Transition program as part of a work experience opportunity offered when he was attending Saskatoon’s Holy Cross High School.

After benefiting from the training and proving himself invaluable to the gym’s operations, management at Motion Fitness opted to hire Vassell as a permanent employee.

SACL’s mission is to ensure that citizens of Saskatchewan with intellectual disabilities are valued and supported members of an inclusive society, with opportunities and choices in all aspects of life. “The whole point of work experience is to make it as reflective of work as possible,” said Sheila Anderson, Employment, Education and Transition Facilitator for SACL’s Saskatoon and East-Central Region. “It’s a really inclusive program, helping participants gain employment skills, learn expectations, work on their social skills, build stamina and really absorb what they need to know to hold meaningful employment.”

Motion Fitness in Stonebridge employees two staff members who were recruited through SACL: Charlotte, 26, and Jordan.

“Jordan’s main challenge is that he initially takes a bit longer to learn a task,” said Anderson. “However once he’s got a routine, he’s got it down pat. He’s extremely conscious about his safety, being safe on the job. He’s come so far when it comes to working alongside co-workers and gym members. Some of his social skills are a challenge; for example, he has different ways to self-regulate his thoughts and emotions.”

Saqib Khan, manager of Motion Fitness Stonebridge, is quick to jump in and emphasize just how much he has seen Vassell progress and learn since his early days with the work experience program. “In the beginning we could not talk to Jordan,” said Khan. “We could not ask him to do anything or leave him alone for five minutes. Concentration was a huge issue.” Khan explains that Vassell’s mother, Joana, along with Anderson and the support systems provided by SACL, assisted him in learning the necessary techniques to communicate with Jordan.

“His mom told me to take him by the hand, touch him on the arm and really emphasize what I was saying,” said Khan, who initially wasn’t comfortable with being hands on with Vassell, but who soon learned to communicate with him effectively after being encouraged by the young man’s mother and SACL support team. “Jordan has never been rude. If he is having difficulties communicating, you need to hold him by the hand and say “Jordan, please listen, this is important”.”

“Now, Jordan is on his own,” said Khan. “I sometimes only see him once a week, when he fills me in on what he’s been doing. He’s got a daily routine and he does it well.”

That routine includes a signature sign-off. “After Jordan is finished his shift, he says, “Goodbye Motion Fitness, I like you all, I’ll see you next time”,” smiles Khan. “Every single day he is going to tell you Motion Fitness is great.”

Jordan’s mother Joana Vassell has a firm set of values in place for raising her kids, and she raised her son no differently than his sisters. “Manners and respect, all my kids have been raised on that,” said Joana, a single mom of three (Jordan and his two sisters). “Manners and respect are what brought Jordan to where he is today.” Vassell explains that she specifically chose the Community Living program after a teacher at Holy Cross brought it up.

“I told him I wasn’t taking Jordan to Cosmo,” said Joana. “That’s when Sheila (Anderson) got involved and Jordan did his work training at (what was then) World Gym. He did so good that they hired him.” In addition to working at Motion Fitness, Jordan is an award winning track and field champion, a competitive swimmer, and a highly-skilled musician who taught himself to play the piano, guitar, violin and drums.

His teacher’s recommendation of SACL changed Jordan’s life, and Anderson wants to ensure that everyone is aware of the programming and planning the organization offers for people with disabilities. Employment placement and educational opportunities are available across Saskatoon in a variety of settings and sectors.

“A lot of the comments I hear are about transitional planning,” explained Anderson. “Parents ask me, “Why do we have to transitional plan? My son or daughter is going to live in a group home, and they’re going to go to Cosmo.””

“That may be so, but there are many options,” she continued. “For example, some people utilize both programs. Maybe they go to one in the morning and then to their job in the afternoon. SACL is not in competition with other programs for people with disabilities, instead our goal is to advocate for those individuals and build relationships.”

Khan wants to ensure that employers consider using the SACL program in their own businesses and organizations. He says he is approached regularly by members who see how hard both Jordan and Charlotte work and ask him questions about how to get their own workplaces involved. “I think people need to be open minded about it,” said Khan. “You cannot say this isn’t going to work, you need to try it out. It’s only positives, no negatives. In the beginning it may be difficult, but it will work out.”

Khan, Anderson, and both Jordan and his mom all agree – Jordan loves his job, his confidence level has increased significantly, as has his quality of life.

As for any interference his competitive wage might have with any social assistance he could qualify for, Joana Vassell is emphatic.

“I would rather see my kid work any day than go on social assistance.”

If you have a friend, family member or simply know someone with a disability, the Saskatchewan Association of Community Living wants you to know that they have options for providing that person with meaningful work for meaningful pay

 

 

Regina Non-Profit Sport Club Making Waves

Huge props to CTV Regina for busting open one heck of an exclusive story on Monday evening.

In the report, Regina mom Andrea MacMurray levels some startling allegations against the Regina Optimist Dolphin Swim Club (RODSC) and a member of the Regina Police Service.

Themother of two had been forking over $1000 a month so her kids could train and swim competitively with RODSC. That’s a lot of cash, and MacMurray started to ask questions of the non-profit’s volunteer board of directors because she felt the club’s financials weren’t transparent, or even up to date. MacMurray was not satisfied with what she says was a lack of response from the board, so she took the unusual step of sending an anonymous fax from a Regina shopping mall (the Cornwall Centre) detailing those concerns to the RODSC’s auditor (April 02/14 redacted – the auditor is Marcia Herback of Regina, not MNP).

Imagine MacMurray’s surprise when a few weeks later she is confronted by a RODSC director about the fax, and she and her two kids are promptly punted out of the swim club. How did the RODSC manage to identify her as the faxing whistleblower? They watched her send it, on a Cornwall Centre surveillance camera, which was allegedly obtained by a Regina Police Service member. MacMurray went to the Public Complaints Commission (PCC), a Saskatchewan Government regulated body whose job is to investigate complaints against law enforcement.

The PCC presented their findings to RPS Chief Troy Hagen, who didn’t make any of this public, and has yet to respond to any of it. Meanwhile the swim club appears to have punished a mom and her two kids for daring to question the board of directors.

I don’t think the story ends there, however. It seems as if the RODSC has been hurtling towards a public relations disaster for a while now, with roots going back to April of 2013 when a disturbing story surfaced about air quality issues at Regina’s 40-year-old Lawson Aquatic Centre. A swim meet had been held at the facility in March 2013, and participants got sick. Swim Saskatchewan, which governs the RODSC and sanctions swim meets, subsequently raised the issue with the City of Regina, suggesting that if things didn’t improve they would no longer use the pool.

“The feeling amongst the membership is that the city is not listening, that the city is not doing anything, they do not care and more importantly that they are putting our children at risk,” said the letter from Swim Saskatchewan to the City of Regina, who in turn heartily denied that there was a structural problem.

Karen Gasmo, director of facility and management services for the City of Regina said the outbreak of illness in March 2013 was isolated, placing the blame on a snow-blocked vent. The Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region (RQHR) supported the City, stating that there was “no reason” the pool shouldn’t be operating.

Yet, things did not get better.

On November 8, 2013 Swim Saskatchewan reportedly sent a letter to the City of Regina’s Chris Holden, indicating they would not sanction upcoming swim meets at the Lawson Aquatic Centre, including the swim portion of Saskatchewan’s upcoming Indigenous Games. That’s some big money lost for both the RODSC and the City of Regina.

In mid-November, 2013, RODSC parent Heather Dean (married to RODSC swim director Lee Dean) wrote a letter to Regina Mayor Michael Fougere. An excerpt, provided to me in part (I have not seen the original piece of correspondence):

“It has been shown that chronic exposure to chlorine and chloramines damages the respiratory epithelium, increasing the risk for pulmonary infection.[1]

This has been the case with the RODS athletes in the past year. In January 2013, a 17 year old male was diagnosed with pneumonia of the right lower lobe. In March, 2013, a 13 year old female was diagnosed with a collapsed left lung and pneumonia of the left lobe. In May, 2013, a 12 year old female was diagnosed with pneumonia and severe edema of the right lung. Two of these RODS swimmers were diagnosed with chest radiographs and treated with antibiotics. One swimmer was diagnosed upon medical examination and treated empirically with antibiotic therapy. All three took several months to fully recover.

Over the past 6 months, there have been many other cases of pulmonary infection among the RODS swimmers.”

Two weeks after these two rather damning letters were received, and eight months after that first sickly swim meet being written off as an isolated incident, the City of Regina and RQHR appear to have a change of heart.

Sort of.

On November 26, 2013 the RQHR said that it did ”not feel the city-run, indoor facility is unsafe”, but…

“there are “intermittent air quality” issues and multiple reports of people getting sick while doing strenuous activities.”

The RQHR advised “swimmers doing intensive physical activity or those with respiratory problems should not use the facility”

RODSC swimmers train at volumes ranging from twelve to twenty-plus hours per week . I’m going to go ahead and call that intensive physical activity.

That same day, RODSC President Nick Egarhos and Director of Swimming Lee Dean circulated an email to the club’s membership which according to numerous sources said: “Until further notice, all swimmers should continue attending practices at the Lawson as scheduled.”

So out of one side of their mouths, Egarhos and the board of directors were howling about the dangers, going as far as suggesting that “more than 100 swimmers at all levels” had gotten sick. On the other side, they were telling parents to keep bringing their kids.

Why would they do that? I really hope it’s not because directors were putting club revenue ahead of the health and safety of the club’s members, revenues that at that point, they likely knew were spiraling down into the red.

Two days later, on November 28, 2013, the City of Regina issued its own statement, which I’ll summarize as ‘everything is fine, nothing to see here, swim along.’

Reports from inside the RODSC’s membership point to an apparent serious rift in governance at this point, with some going as far as to state that the board of directors engaged in a campaign to ostracize members who loudly challenged the decision to stay in the pool.

Reportedly, a deep divide had also developed inside RODSC members themselves.

On one side sat parents unwilling to continue to support the club and its decision to remain at the Lawson facility. On the other, parents willing to take the health risk, stay on with the club and perhaps most importantly, continue to fund it.

Requests that the board of directors host a parent meeting to discuss concerns were allegedly denied. On Sunday December 1, 2013 club President Nick Eagarhos sent out a mass email to RODSC membership calling out parents who challenged and supposedly dissented against the club. An excerpt, as provided to me in part, reads:

“I would like to make it very clear that our board of directors is a voluntary board of club parents. These families have paid their dues and watched their swimmers train. They have the right to watch the results of their collective efforts and enjoy swim meets and weekends. Emails addressed to these individuals at all hours of the day, night and during meets will not be returned. Please be aware that they too are parents and respect that… this Board takes bullying very seriously, whether that be from swimmers or parents. Every single family deserves to be respected – board families included. Please keep this in mind and remember that membership is a privilege and not a right.”

Okay c’mon. Somebody call a Wahmbulance.

Undeterred, RODSC parents organized their own meeting with the RQHR, scheduled for early December. Then the RQHR backed out, stating that the meeting wouldn’t be productive if the RODSC board of directors wasn’t represented, and the board of directors had no plans on attending. Despite protestations from parents that the board of directors were welcome to attend, the RQHR refused to attend the meeting because they didn’t want to be perceived as inserting themselves into a conflict.

Really? Is peacekeeping the RQHR’s job, or is managing and educating the public on health issues their job?

At some point in here someone higher-up intervened, essentially instructing the RODSC’s board of directors and the RQHR to get their shit together.

Two weeks later, at a meeting of “swimmers groups and other interested parties”, City of Regina officials went as far as saying things at Lawson were improving. I would describe that as a reckless sentiment that would be overturned two months later.

According to sources, those “interested parties” at the December 2013 meeting included former RODSC parents, fed up and no longer willing to risk their children’s health. Some had already pulled their children entirely from the club, which refused to move practices out of the Lawson facility. A decision not made lightly, and one that has resulted in alot of tears, especially from children who have lost important friendships invested over years with the club.

Defecting to another swim club results in an immediate suspension of both the parents and children from the popular and competitive RODSC. Maybe this is another reason why some parents, despite the fact that training and competing at the Lawson Aquatic Centre is harming their children, continue to take them there.

Or maybe it’s because the notion of scholarships, bragging rights and maybe even Olympic gold for their future Michael Phelps is just to tantalizing to give up for over the potential of a little lung damage.

“Just keeping swimming, swimming, swimming.” – Dory, the fish who suffers from short term memory loss in Disney’s ‘Finding Nemo’.

In February 2014, almost one year after kids started getting sick, after months of the City of Regina and the RQHR insisting that nothing was seriously wrong, months after RODSC leadership states there are “hundreds” of kids who have fallen ill thanks to air quality issues, the City of Regina announces it’s going to act “immediately” on the recommendations of consultants and drop $1.5 million into the Lawson Aquatic Centre in order to improve air quality and bring the pool up to current standards.

Brutal.

Meanwhile, the RODSC has found new training space at the University of Regina pool for Gold National level swimmers – kids who have significant future college and competitive potential. All other kids continue to train at the Lawson Aquatic Centre.

Which brings us back to Andrea MacMurray, a Regina mom who went to great lengths to get some answers from the RODSC, which went to great lengths in return to identify and eject her and her children from the club. While this is a significant story in itself, to me it is also symptomatic of a non-profit organization that is in serious trouble.

Why does it matter? Let’s start with the money – the corporate sponsorship resources tapped, the monthly dues these parents are paying. Yes it’s a volunteer board, but volunteering does not give any director the right to govern in a manner that alienates or marginalizes their organization’s membership.

It matters because numerous indicators point to the fact that this is another case of competitive sport-parenting gone wild, and every opportunity must be grasped to shine a light on that insidious culture.

Regina and area kids are getting sick because they are being exposed to poisoned air at a civic facility. This premise has been validated by Swim Saskatchewan’s refusal to sanction future swim meets in the facility, the RQHR and numerous parents & swimmers, yet the RODSC itself does not have appeared to have taken any steps to remove the kids from the water. Neither have many parents.

Contradictory, to say the least.

The City of Regina must be held accountable for the management of this issue to date, and for the resolution. The RODSC – specifically its sponsors and members – must hold their board accountable for their stewardship, or lack thereof, over these kids. As for the parents… well, hopefully some time for this issue in the spotlight proves an opportunity to reflect on what matters.

If Nothing Else, Lean Has a Brand Management Problem

The following appears in the March 24, 2014 edition of the Saskatoon Express:

Lean management systems are a hot topic these days, with the provincial government committing $40 million over four years (03/25/2014 – sounds like maybe more) to American consultant John Black and his firm to implement his version of the program and its principles across the Saskatchewan health industry.

In fact, by all accounts it appears that the Saskatchewan government is all-in on Lean, with a website devoted to the concept (thinklean.gov.sk.ca) and designated Lean Leaders in every Ministry.

Fans of Lean are committed. Recently Dan Florizone, Saskatchewan’s Deputy Minister of Lean (yes, that’s for real) said on Twitter that Lean was his “calling.” On the other side are the naysayers and NDP Opposition, mocking the Japanese-based lingo that dominates Black’s program and slamming the spending as unnecessary.

The Saskatchewan NDP says they have heard lots of negative feedback.

The Saskatchewan government says they have heard lots of positive feedback.

The $40 million price tag represents less than half of a percent of the provincial government’s health budget. $40 million is also a lot of money, even for a consultant (full disclosure: I am a consultant)

(03/25/2014 – that $40mil doesn’t take into consideration things like the wages and honorariums paid to healthcare staff taking the timeout to learn this stuff).

A lot of people I know and respect are Lean-certified. They have used it and swear by it in their workplace. The philosophy of stripping away the excess and getting back to basics is immaculate. I’ve read 100s of pages on Lean (pros and cons) and am inspired to apply it in areas of my own life.

What disappoints me is not the choice to invest in Lean, it’s the fact that entire agencies and organizations actually have to pay someone to come in and teach these values all over again (I appreciate I just admitted I need to relearn some of them myself, but I used Google, which is considerably cheaper).

I can only assume that the need for that kind of intensity is a reflection of how deeply engrained the waste and inefficiency in our healthcare system has become.

Or, I could assume John Black is a really good salesperson.

The Saskatchewan Health Ministry’s return on investment won’t be known for years. Should they have taken the risk in the first place? I honestly don’t know. I don’t have the chutzpah, information or experience to make decisions like that. Which is why I only have a Twitter account and a column (03/25/2014 – and this blog, though I don’t use it enough).

What I do know for sure is that the biggest issue with Lean is not the program itself. It’s not even the price tag.

The problem with Lean is that it has a brutal brand management problem.

Some Lean consultants, like Black, swear by the Japanese method, based on the Toyota production system, and the terminology that goes with it.

Others certify themselves in Lean Six Sigma, a combination of Lean and Six Sigma, the latter of which involves mathematical assumptions so don’t ask me to explain it. Far more fun is the fact that training for Lean Six Sigma is provided through a karate-style belt based training system: white belts, yellow belts, green belts, and black belts.

There’s Lean Kaizen, which blends, um, Lean and Kaizen.

Over here is a Lean Agile consultancy.

You get the point – it’s all over the place. There is zero consistency, and about the same amount of consensus amongst Lean consultants on what Lean actually is. None of it can be trademarked, because you can’t trademark the word “lean”, a term that’s been around for longer than you have. So if I say I’m a Lean expert, I’m a Lean expert. (I’m not a Lean expert.)

The certification doesn’t matter, anyone can certify anyone – ultimately you either can, or you cannot. It’s not a degree, or any kind of educational diploma or license. It is a piece of paper given to you by the Lean consultants you paid to give it to you.

The Japanese buzzwords that Black and company claims will invigorate staff while simplifying communication will only work if staff are deeply ingrained. Otherwise they serve only to alienate those on the outside and further the claim that if you don’t understand Lean, you just don’t understand. Note that nary two Lean consultants agree on which words should be used, when and how.

Frankly, perhaps it’s time for Lean consultants to get together and Lean out their own industry.

An Association of Lean Professionals would be a good start, but one wonders if, given the fierce competition out there for lucrative consulting contracts and book deals, they could get along long enough to agree on some standards and brand management policies.

All things considered, it appears whoever has the best sales pitch, wins. John Black hooked the CEO and Chair of Virginia Mason during one plane trip where the two found themselves sitting side by side. That’s good selling. Real good.

I’d like to think that taking the leap of faith in Lean, whatever brand of the remedy we’re drinking, will roll-out beautifully, setting Saskatchewan as the high-standard for healthcare in North America.

If it doesn’t, well, we’ll always have Medicare.

Brad Wall, Cam Broten, Perry Bellegarde & A Curious 22 Days In Saskatchewan Politics

You know that game you played in elementary school, the one where you whispered in your friend’s ear, and then they whispered in the next person’s ear, and so on and so on, until the person at the end of the line announced what they were told, and you all laughed at how utterly different it was than what was said in the first place?

Telephone.

Well, it seems that Saskatchewan leaders have turned to Telephone as a way to communicate over weighty matters of state.

This notion, combined with a bizarre attempt to pass the buck on a stale piece of provincial legislation, comprises the crux of an issue that blew up out of nowhere on Monday morning.

Remarkably, the Sask Party Government, the NDP Opposition and the FSIN have been talking for almost three weeks about the potential sale of state-owned Casino Regina and Casino Moose Jaw, without anyone finding out (CPC, take note).

The story goes that on Tuesday January 21, 2014 (or, three weeks ago today) FSIN Chief Perry Bellegarde, flanked by his Vice-Chiefs, met with Premier Brad Wall to make the case for the potential sale of the two casinos to the FSIN and Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority (SIGA). Every other casino in the province is owned and operated by the FSIN/SIGA, who have proven themselves extremely adept at doing so, with record profits in 2013.

SIGA is more than ready and equipped to buy Casino Regina and Moose Jaw. The Saskatchewan government has absolutely no business in the gaming racket. The idea is long past due and should absolutely go ahead, with SIGA paying a fair-market price for the two casinos and getting on with it.

Surprise! It’s not that easy. Casino Regina and Moose Jaw are Saskatchewan Crown Corporations – otherwise known as hallowed ground to the provincial NDP. The narrative for this story began in 2003, when the NDP were on the cusp of losing an election to the fresh-faced Sask Party, led by the lovely but unfortunate Elwin Hermanson. Election polls indicated that Saskatchewan residents were ready to take a chance on the new kids with the Sask Party favored to win. Then, with one little sentence to reporters, Hermanson sent dicey voters scurrying back to their NDP comfort zones.

“Why wouldn’t we look at selling crown corporations?” said Hermanson, pulling the pin on his party’s chance winning the top spot.

The Sask Party promptly lost their momentum, and then the election. A year later, in 2004, the Sask NDP opted to rub salt in the wound, tabling a new piece of legislation called the Crown Corporation Public Ownership Act (CCPOA), which effectively restricted the sale (or, evil privatization) of a provincial Crown Corp, ever again.

Well, not without an extraordinary amount of Legislative red tape; even a citizen’s referendum. Let’s be clear – this was pure, unabashed politicking on the behalf of a cocky, rejuvinated Saskatchewan NDP. The whole point of the Act was to dangle the privatization bait again, to entice the Sask Party into digging themselves into a deeper, Hermanson-style hole.

The Sask Party wasn’t having any of it – every single one of them voted in favor of the Act, which passed unanimously.

In fact, they was so determined to erase the memory of Hermanson’s gaff and cleanse themselves of the privatization-taint, that they campaigned not only in 2007, but in 2011, on the promise that they would never, ever, never, never, ever sell a Saskatchewan Crown Corp. Ever.

Fast-forward to January 21, 2014, and Premier Brad Wall finds himself in a bit of a conundrum. On the table in front of him is a perfectly sensible deal to do exactly that – a deal that few in the voting public would oppose. It would eject a nice lump sum into the public purse, with future revenue still generated through taxes. Even better, the deal would channel increased dollars towards First Nations’ programming in the province, and further promote autonomy.

It was, and should be, another home run for Canada’s most popular Premier.

Or not.

In what was either one of the most obnoxious political moves this province has seen in a long time, or simply a completely inept leadership snafu, Wall passed the entire decision-making buck over to Cam Broten. Wall tells Bellegarde that while he’s all for the deal, he won’t move on it unless Broten indicates he and his weakened, marginal party support it as well. Broten and the NDP would have to agree, unanimously, to waive or amend provisions in the very Act their party strong-armed 10 years ago, while more or less urinating all over the state-ownership policy that had been entrenched in the NDP since the beginning of time.

Of course, Wall must have known there was a snowball’s chance in hell that was going to happen.

Undeterred and bolstered by the fact that he wasn’t completely shut down, a determined Bellegarde meets with Broten over breakfast three days later, on January 24, 2014. Over eggs, he details his proposal to the Opposition Leader, who presumably makes all the sympathetic and encouraging noises one makes when presented with a ambitious but complex, high-level proposition without any details.

Broten tells Bellegarde that he wouldn’t do anything to stand in the way of furthering the best interests of the aboriginal population in the province.

Of course he did. Politicians say shit like that in their sleep.

By all accounts (and I’ve read and listened to every word I can find on the issue) what happened next evokes the childhood game of Telephone, where everyone is talking, no one is listening, and the message changes rapidly and ridiculously. Bellegarde, who heard what he wanted to hear from Broten (or more importantly, didn’t hear – ‘no’), ran back to Wall’s office and declared Broten’s unwavering support.

Smashing, replied the Premier’s office. Let’s do it.

So Wall, who wouldn’t make this significant and historical Very Important Decision without the blessing of his adversary Broten… never actually talked to Broten.

According to Bellegarde, the MOU was then promptly (sketchily promptly) drafted, and he got the thumbs up from his people on February 3rd and 4th. He says Wall got the green light from his Cabinet on February 6th – the same day Broten says his office first heard of the issue again since his breakfast meeting with Bellegarde two weeks prior.

Broten says that on February 6th his office was presented with a 20-minute briefing on the MOU by staff from Wall’s office – no paperwork was left behind or materials to review. Broten says that his office was told the MOU with the FSIN was being released to the public on Monday, and the NDP could then react as they see fit.

Or in other words… game, set, match.

Broten was in a politically impossible position. If the Opposition leader agreed to any of the proposal – turning his own ideology on its ass with little to no time to consider any of the ramifications – he’d risk the scathing retribution of his own party, while looking like a massive pushover to them and everyone else.

If he shut it down, he’d be the bad guy blocking progress and denying Saskatchewan First Nations economic benefits.

Over the weekend, the stories get really wonky. At some point Bellegarde must have figured out that he needed to pick up more than what Broten was putting down if the deal was going to be done. According to both him and Wall, concerted efforts were made to reach Broten to provide him with a copy of the MOU and to try and meet to discuss the Monday announcement.

Broten begs to differ, stating he got a text from Bellegarde when he was sitting in church on Sunday morning. Wall also referenced this text on Gormley, when challenged on the communication.

It would seem that despite the fact that Wall still refuses to make this Very Important Decision without Cam Broten’s blessing, Wall has still never actually had a conversation with Broten about the Very Important Decision. Instead, Perry Bellegarde has been running back and forth – or texting – to keep everyone on the same page, share the message and evoke some unity.

The grownup equivalent of passing notes in grade school, to see if Brad likes Cam and vice versa.

Or, Telephone.

That brings us to yesterday (Monday), when Broten and the NDP issued a self-righteous, ill-advised news release breaking the story about the potential casino sale, which they deemed “rushed” and “secret”.

Someday, maybe, the Saskatchewan NDP will realize that this kind of rhetoric absolutely has not, does not, and never will work for them again. In fact, when they do trot out anything that suggests secretive behavior, they discredit themselves and whatever issue they’re decrying. Remember Sheep In Wolf’s Clothing? Yeah, that’s why. They’ve never been able to return from it. All this type of language does is evoke a is a vacuum in their audience.

Freebie advice, NDP communications: Stop It. You will never ever win with “Brad Wall is dishonest/shady/villainous”.

The news release went on to pontificate that “Casinos Regina and Moose Jaw belong to the people of Saskatchewan… they help fund health care, schools and community initiatives. As far as I’m concerned, they’re not for sale.”

In other words, the NDP chose to blamed ideology over what Broten eventually realized was the real argument – the fact that he wasn’t consulted properly and was essentially being asked to give the Sask Party permission to break their campaign promises. Nobody cares about NDP ideology – hello, 9 MLAs? But a politician asking his adversary for permission to do anything, nevermind break a promise, is ridiculous, and should have been easy pickings for Broten and his party.

Then, finally, the news release gets to the point that Broten was being asked to agree to something major that he had minimal information on, and oh, why the hell was it his job to make Brad Wall’s decision anyway?

Wall freely admitted that selling Casino Regina and Moose Jaw would mean breaking a major campaign promise his party made not once, but twice. That said, it would be completely within his jurisdiction to draw up an amendment to the CCPOA and present it in the spring, or even the fall, where it would pass handily by the massive majority that is the Sask Party government. Even Broten agrees with this, telling Gormley that “if Mr Wall believes this is the right thing to do, if he entered into honest negotiations with Mr Bellegarde, then there is a very very clear process in the Act. The government doesn’t need (the NDP’s) approval. They can choose to do it. It’s my role as Opposition leader to ensure proper scrutiny occurs.”

This morning on the John Gormley Live Show, all three gentleman joined Gormley, separately, to tell their stories. Wall reinforced the fact that he was not going to use his majority government to ink this deal, stubbornly insisting that if it fails, it is all Cam Broten’s fault for not giving him permission to break a campaign promise.

“We campaigned on not changing that particular Act,” Wall told Gormley. “Twice now in 2007 and 2011. I take the commitments we make very seriously.”

Seriously enough to completely deflect any responsibility and bizarrely attempt to make his party’s choices Cam Broten’s problem.

I love dirty politics – when all parties know they’re elbow-deep in dirty politics. This is different, however. It smacks of cheap shots and manipulation of a good-faith offer from SIGA.

Sure, forcing Broten into a corner he can’t get out of wins the political game. But First Nation’s people still lose.

Brad Wall must have known what the outcome of this stunt would be, yet still played fast and loose with Bellegarde’s FSIN leadership and earnest intentions to make economic gains.

The definitive moment of the whole soap opera came when Gormley asked Premier Wall if he’d “assert his leadership to ensure First Nation’s aspirations are met.”

“That’s a question for Mr Broten” Wall replied.

What? What!? 

Um no, that was a question for you.

As for his party’s ill-fated policy on Crowns, Wall hinted that a change of heart may be in the cards.

“I would expect the platform is going to be different for the next election.”

In the meantime, the Government is taking their ball and going home, because the other team won’t give them permission to cheat.

 

Wile E Coyote, Saskatchewan Inc.

Coyotes are big business in the province. Why else would a guy drive around with a truckload full of them?

I'll have a large double-double and a tiny bit of common sense - truckload of dead coyotes in Tim Horton's drive-thru

I’ll have a large double-double and a tiny bit of common sense – truckload of dead coyotes in #yxe Tim Horton’s drive-thru. (Tiffany Koback, Facebook)

With a story coming out in tomorrow’s Saskatoon Express on wild horses in Saskatchewan, I realize I’m at risk of being pegged as a resident animal activist. I’m not. I’m a meat-eating, leather-wearing city girl who has no problem with legal and humane hunting and trapping for sustenance, property protection or sport.

It’s not my fault that as I was researching the wild horse story, this picture kicked off a bit of a shitstorm. It’s at least the second time this carcass-laden truck has taken a leisurely drive through Saskatoon, stopping for refreshments on main drags.

So, back-to-back animal stories for me it is.

Seeing the grisly photo, my first reaction was disgust. Seriously, idiot, get a tarp. And no, I really wouldn’t want my 9-year-old to see that. He’s prone to nightmares and anxiety. I’d be dealing with it for weeks if he saw that truck. It’s just not cool.

I’m not alone in that sentiment.  Some of the most diehard right-wing pundits in the province declared it “immoral” and disgusting. They’re correct. It’s not about being anti-fur or anti-hunting, or being naive as to where one’s food or fashion comes from. It’s about having a modicum of common sense, while showing just a shred of respect and dignity towards wildlife. It’s about sending a message that we value every entity in this province, even after death. Oh, and not perpetuating the notion that we’re a bunch of rednecks.

Despite the strong public reaction, Ken Chevaldayoff, the Saskatchewan Minister responsible for the Environment, says he has no plans to instigate regulations, similar to Ontario’s, that mandates covering up your kill. He agrees that the images were disturbing, but says “you can’t legislate tact”. He’s right, echoing a similar sentiment that Premier Brad Wall expressed a few years ago about his inability to legislate common sense.

Coyotes aren’t in danger of extinction by any stretch. In 2009, they were such a nuisance that the Saskatchewan government issued a bounty on their paws.  The program culled an estimated 70,000 coyotes, paying out $1.4 million dollars (multiple sources have told me that up to a third of the coyote paws paid out were trucked in from Alberta, Manitoba or even North Dakota – there’s no way to prove that hunters only shopped in Saskatchewan). While the bounty program was dropped in 2012,  their numbers are still high. They’re even a growing concern in urban backyards.

Late last year, the Maidstone-area father and son duo of Erick and Jan Alsager learned their fate for shooting coyotes from a helicopter. Yes, from a helicopter. That’s not cheap. One can surmise they weren’t after the $20 per set of paws the bounty was bringing in (though as recently as 2009, that $20 bounty paid better than the coyote pelt price). No, the Alsager’s were more than likely going after the coyotes, en masse, because over the last few years Canadian coyote pelts skyrocketed as a hot commodity on garment racks, specifically coyote-fur trim. Yes, that’s real Canadian coyote-fur around the hood of your friend’s coveted Canada Goose parka.

The trend towards higher coyote prices started in 2012 and has stayed relatively up-and-down since then. At the Saskatchewan Trappers Association’s annual meeting in 2013, president re-elect Don Gordon was pretty pumped about coyote prices, which were hovering around $90 per pelt. Today, according to Fur Harvester, one of the largest fur auction houses in the world, the price of coyote is averaging $59.75 per pelt, topping out at $81.90. Just ask Gordon, he would know, being one of the leading coyote fur dealers in Saskatchewan.

So, that dude with the frozen dogs is hauling around a cargo worth anywhere from $1000 – $2000. I say “dude”, because there’s no way of knowing if he’s a legit trapper or not – you don’t actually need a trapper’s license to shoot a coyote in Saskatchewan – so that farmer who’s losing valuable livestock can go ahead and shoot as he sees fit. You do, however, need a trapper’s license to sell the pelts at auction or on the regulated free market. According to a source inside the trapping industry in Saskatchewan, this commonly leads to under-the-table cash deals between coyote hunters and dealers. Open season on coyotes runs annually from Oct 15 – March 15.

According to a report released in January 2014 by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment, approximately 28,500 coyote pelts went to market in 2012/13, with over 90% of those harvested in Southern Saskatchewan (I’m told primarily by one guy in Maple Creek, but who knows). Coyote pelt quantities come second to muskrat, but the value of coyote pelts blows everything else out of the water:

- of the $5.75 million in Saskatchewan fur that sold in 2012/2013, $2.3 million was coyote fur.

A multi-million dollar industry, and there isn’t anything wrong with that. Just ask the guy next to you in the Canada Goose.

Going back to the above photo, however, the guy I talked to from the Saskatchewan Trappers Association says that group isn’t impressed. He says the driver “probably already got a phone call”. He admitted that the STA already has it’s hands full with anti-fur activists, and don’t need that kind of behavior sparking further controversy.

As for Chevaldayoff, I suspect that part of his quick reaction shutting down any government interference in the ways of tactless, ignorant sportsmen has as much to do with not rocking the socially precarious but nicely profitable boat that is the Saskatchewan Fur Industry. He says he’d rather turn to “education” as a solution – and he’s in luck! Next week the Saskatchewan Trappers Association’s annual convention kicks off again in Humboldt. Chevy spoke last year, so here’s hoping he has the opportunity again this time around, and he uses it wisely – make your money, but for god’s sake, cover it up.

 

 

“We Still Look Kind Of Classy”

This is a great story from Global Saskatoon on stripping in small town Saskatchewan. Let’s be real – this still is really not “stripping”. There’s no nudity, in the full meaning of the word.

I don’t feel sorry for Kailie. She sounds like she’s smart, and fine with doing what she’s doing (though who knows, we don’t particularly get inside her head). Nick sounds a tad dodgy, in my mind. If I’m reading this right, the girls are only getting paid in tips, and only 60% of what they earn at that? It’s Codette, not Vegas. There were 20 people in the audience.

I also love the assertion that the stripping isn’t doing anything for the Town (village?) of Codette. Duh. Have you been there? It’s a blink and you’ll miss it kind of thing. The stripping is modestly lining Brian Baraniski’s pockets (he’s no money dummy, if I remember correctly).

Picture 354

Like I said, it’s not Vegas.

Bottom line — it’s a backwoods story that once again highlights how far Saskatchewan has to go to catch up with the rest of the Western world. I don’t think these laws are keeping the girls safe, however maybe there’s really not that much to be protected from. For now, anyway.

CODETTE, Sask – Nearly a month since strip tease became legal in Saskatchewan, the profession and form of entertainment remain polarizing issues in our province.

At home on Thursday morning, Kailie Curtis, a first year student at the University of Regina, is working hard to get through the textbook lesson. She’s attempting to maintain an academic average of 75 per cent or higher with a goal of getting her PhD in genetic science. It’s a long and expensive road so Curtis is a student by day and an exotic dancer by night.

“This isn’t going to be my ultimate career obviously in the end,” Curtis said. “Being 21 and living by myself is pretty cool. Most students don’t, they either live with their parents or with room-mates.”

Curtis’ first public performance in this province was in Codette, Sask. On Jan. 1, stripping in licenced public places became legal in the province. Clothes can come off but nipples must remain covered and full frontal nudity is still prohibited.

It’s the perfect balance according to Curtis.

“It’s enough nudity to get people excited but it’s also enough to be covered up to the point where we still look kind of classy,” she explained.

When the provincial government announced sweeping changes to its liquor legislation, including strip clubs, Bryan Baraniski seized the opportunity, purchasing the old hotel and bar in Codette.

“It’s only 5 miles from Nipawin, central between Tisdale and Carrot River” said Baraniski. “The new laws changed and we thought hey, this will work right in to it if we can jump on and maybe be the first ones doing it.”

Venues don’t have to apply to the province to add strip shows to their entertainment offerings, so neither the province nor the hotel and hospitality association know if any others have opened yet, but believe the hotel in Codette is the first and only at this time.

Codette is home to about 200 people. Prince Albert is 150 kilometres to the west and it’s the nearest city to the small village.

In its second week of strip shows, Baraniski says business is good. Vehicles begin pulling in to town around 5 o’clock for the 5:30 p.m. show. The audience of about 20 people is all male aside from one female patron and three female waitresses.

Most drive in on their own, a few come on snowmobiles and a couple catch a taxi cab from Nipawin. According to Baraniski, show days bring in nearly 10 times the amount of profit when compared to a regular day, but community folk see little benefit from the extra traffic. The only other amenity in Codette is Canada Post.

Robert LeBlanc was raised in Codette, moved to Alberta years ago and just recently moved back. His house is just two doors down from the bar. LeBlanc says the vehicles and snow mobiles zipping in and out of town for the shows are a nuisance but it’s more than that.

“Things like people coming out in the street to leave and using the bathroom out front,” he said. “You look out your kitchen window and see that.”

Those concerns are echoed by some neighbours.

“I mean little kids walk by here and they go down there to get on the bus right at the bar,” said one woman disgustedly.

It’s a situation both the City of Saskatoon and the City of Regina are trying desperately to avoid. The province legalized strip-tease, all municipalities can do to control it is alter zoning bylaws.

In Saskatooon, bylaws have been revised, only allowing strip clubs to locate in industrial areas, and they must be at least 160 meters from other establishments, homes, schools, and parks.

Some have argued that banishing the activity to commercial and industrial areas in Saskatoon and Regina is not safe, suggesting the women would be better protected in areas frequented by police officers.

The exotic dancers who perform in Codette are supplied by ReginaStrippers.com – a company that still also offers entertainment for occasions like bachelor parties. Baraniski says he paid ReginaStrippers.com $1,000 to have two women come in and dance on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Nick GK is on the other end of the deal – acting as the agent who arranges the work, takes the payment and transports the women from Regina to Codette.

“It’s a tip based business,” said GK in reference to the payment structure. “That’s where they make their real money.”

Curtis, who also dances in Alberta, says there she has made upwards of $1,200 an evening and she gets a set stage price in that province as well as tips. Meanwhile her deal in Saskatchewan with ReginaStrippers.com recognizes her as a sub-contractor, meaning she’s not covered by the labour standards act. Money made comes from tips only with a 30 per cent tip-out fee.

“Here they want to know every cent you make and they keep track of it,” said Curtis “That brings our money consumption down.”

The provincial Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety in Saskatchewan confirmed there is no set minimum wage for the exotic dancers in our province unless they are employees – similar to other contract/subcontract deals.

The dancer’s make their best money through personal performances in the VIP room – but it’s those closed door encounters that Curtis says give a bad impression unnecessarily. Curtis says it’s a ‘no contact’ policy.

“In the back room you give a five minute lap dance and that’s the end of it. If they want another one you can’t even take the money from them,” she explained. “They have to put it on the table and you take it from the table cause taking it from their hands would be considered contact.”

Exotic dancers want to establish what they call a very clear line between prostitution and stripping. Curtis says she feels a lot of prejudice, specifically in Saskatchewan.

“Every stripper I know so far, they’re all in university or already have degrees,” said Curtis. ”A lot of them are married and have children so I think people shouldn’t presume we live completely different altering lifestyles.”

Those in the industry hope the recently relaxed laws help peel back some of the misconceptions.

 

Blind Item – Saskatoon Mayoral Race Already Heating Up?

Which long-time civic and provincial politician has decided to throw their hat into Saskatoon’s 2015 Mayoral race? It’s a surprising move, and one that could threaten to divide the right-wing civic vote, opening the door for a strong lefty candidate. Fun!

Money, Bridges & Schools (the Total Package)

I’m three days into 2014, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not an entrepreneur. I don’t think, anyway. It’s either that, or I hire people to do everything I hate – money management, taxes, finances. Ugh.

Star Phoenix reporter Janet French dropped a hint on Twitter today that there’s another bombshell coming for the Ministry of Education tomorrow:

Picture 353

French has done some stellar work on the education file, including a pretty damning report on the disciplinary action against teachers, or lack thereof, inside the Saskatoon Public School Division. Should be interesting.

Longest. Winter. Ever.

The Saskatoon bridge-ramp story continues to floor me. Now, Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison is calling for slower speeds on bridges in the winter. Nevermind that Saskatoon Police Service has already made it clear that the driver’s speed wasn’t a factor in her going over the bridge. Atch is also calling for potential slower night speeds. Nevermind that the accident was at 1pm.

I really, really thought that Atch would come out and unequivocally apologize on this one. The fact is City crews created an incredibly unsafe situation, under his watch. Instead, he’s flippant and indirectly blaming the poor girl who escaped with her life under terrifying circumstances. Shame.

And people wonder why I had no problem managing Tom Wolf’s campaign (for cash).

Meanwhile, here’s a brilliant piece on the P3-school funding in Saskatchewan. Happy reading.

Happy New Year Saskatchewan!

Alright, here goes one of the New Year’s Resolutions.

This blog has been around for, what, almost three years now? Long enough that if I committed to it properly, it could be a hell of  a lot more popular than it is today.

So, blogging every day is on the list for 2014. Time is an issue, and I’m a bit wordy, so the challenge will be to keep it tight.

Further, I’m blogging for myself, as an outlet for the opinions, snark and other miscellaneous nonsense I seem to have a never ending supply of.

On the menu today:

Rob Ford is running for re-election as the Mayor of Toronto. The man knows how to work TO media like a boss, I’ll give him that. After the appropriate amount of time passes (to let the mocking and absurdity die down), one anticipates Olivia Chow or Bob Rae (or both?) will throw their hat into the three-ring-circus that will be that campaign.

This story infuriates me. Mismanagement of snow removal on city bridges to the point that someone ramps off the bridge and plunges into the icy river is NOT OKAY. I rarely play ‘what if’, but seriously, what if there had been little kids in that car? Right before the girl went overboard the City had apparently “decided” the North Bridge snow ramps needed to be removed, but not before the potentially deadly mishap. This according to Eric Quail, Saskatoon’s roadways manager and acting director of public works, who described the accident as “unfortunate”, stating that it “shed light” on the problem.

Really?? Someone barely escaping death should not “shed light” on what should be a basic, and safe, City service. Bullshit.

Well, this post has already eaten up too much of my time, so signing off.

 

The Adventures of Anna-Belle & Subie: Saskatoon Therapy Dogs

It’s lunchtime at Saskatoon’s Calder Centre. The smell of roast beef and vegetables wafts through the residential addictions treatment facility, which sits neat and inconspicuously on the corner of Taylor Street and Arlington Avenue. The hallways are quiet as clients enjoy their meal in the canteen.

Around the corner in the common area, Colleen Dell sits on the arm of a leather sofa, gripping her dog Subie’s leash tight as he pulls, spying a potential target for his wet kisses. Lunch is a little late today, and the brindle boxer, his St John’s Ambulance therapy dog bandana tied smartly around his neck, is eager to start socializing.

Subie, A Boxer & St John's Ambulance Therapy Dog

Subie, A Boxer & St John’s Ambulance Therapy Dog

Minutes later two teenaged boys come around the corner. One has a thick spike through his ear lobe, the other pulls his long hair into a ponytail, carefully avoiding his eyebrow piercings.

“Hi puppy,” says the ponytailed boy as he wraps gangly arms around Subie’s neck, who responds with slurps from his rather lengthy tongue. The other teen proudly launches into a story about his own dogs, who he says were rescued from a puppy-mill by his mom.

Another teenaged boy swaggers up the corridor, swigging a chalk-like substance out of a water bottle. Spying Subie he melts, dropping to his knees to give the dog a good rubdown. “His little tail is just going nuts,” says the boy as he tells the story of his own dogs, to no one in particular – in fact, it’s as if he and Subie are the only two beings in the room. “Oh my gosh this is the awesomest dog ever,” he sighs, dropping his milky water bottle to bury himself completely in Subie’s thick brown neck.

“There was one girl here here for two weeks who couldn’t hear or speak, and her sign language was in Dene,” whispers Dell, a University of Saskatchewan professor who holds a chair in addictions research. “I brought Subie to the Calder Centre as much as possible during her stay. We spent up to two hours a day with her, a non-communicative girl who had been using drugs to kill her feelings. This girl loved Subie so much. The joy – the feeling – this an animal brought her…there was no need for words.”

From the other side of the Calder Centre’s 12-bed youth wing bounces a young blond girl, beautifully styled from top to toe, including impeccable hair and makeup. She taps her long manicured fingers on the tiled floor to get Subie’s attention. “I get to go home today and see my puppy,” she croons, a big grin on her face as the boxer does his slobbery best to remove her makeup. She has completed her 28-day program and is in the midst of packing for home.

Saskatoon resident Colleen Dell has devoted her life to the research and treatment of Saskatchewan residents battling addiction. She spent five years facilitating equine (horse) therapy through the Sturgeon Lake First Nation, and is currently on a one-year sabbatical to study the question of what therapeutic impact domestic animals have on patients.

Colleen Dell, U of S Chair, Addictions Research & Subie

Colleen Dell, U of S Chair, Addictions Research & Subie

In addition to Subie the boxer, Dell has another St John’s certified therapy dog, a female bulldog named Anna-Belle, who spends much of her time visiting the residents at Saskatoon’s Brightwater Senior Living Centre, as well as with patients at other local facilities who are dealing with dementia. Anna-Belle is a bit of a doggie-celebrity, with her talent for riding a skateboard in high demand when she visits.

Anna-Belle the Bulldog Joins A Saskatoon Seniors' Residence In Beach Day Fun

Anna-Belle the Bulldog Joins A Saskatoon Seniors’ Residence In Beach Day Fun

“I’m hearing about the elevated moods of patients after the dogs and I leave, as well as the positive impact our visit has on the morale of healthcare providers,” said Dell, strolling down the hallway of the Calder Centre as Subie tugs her towards another room, where he senses more cuddles. “I’ve even brought the dogs into classes I taught at the U of S – you wouldn’t believe how it changed the energy in the room.”

It’s actually not that hard to believe at all.

Walking into adult-wing of the Calder Centre, the mood is distinctly less raucous than on the youth side. Entering a darkened room, two clients are flopped on separate couches, watching a DVD. Subie’s appearance brings both individuals immediately to life, as they sit up and lean forward for a pet. The middle-aged woman occupying one sofa laughs loudly as Subie showers her with his trademark affection. “Subie, Subie, so handsome,” she says.  The energy in the room has noticeably shifted to something that is much more alive.

Subie Dishes Out the Love At Saskatoon's Calder Centre

Subie Dishes Out the Love At Saskatoon’s Calder Centre

“I’m really interested in that energy,” Dell explained later that afternoon, after Subie’s visit was over. “Where else could you walk into a room and get that kind of instant, positive reaction? If I walked into a room to give a talk to Calder clients, or even brought other treats, you’re not going to get that reaction for me… but bring in the animal and everyone’s up.”

As she observes the interaction and bonding between the Calder Centre clients and Subie, Dell admits that she can only use her extensive background in research and addictions to attempt to interpret what is actually happening between them. “I probably get 5% of what’s actually going on,” she said.

Dell goes on to relate the story of another therapy dog used by the Saskatoon Health Region and a six-year-old girl who had witnessed a lot of violence in the home. No matter how hard the therapist tried, or what strategies or vocational tools she used, the child would not budge. So, one of the Health Region’s therapy dogs was introduced, which generated immediate results. “That little girl told the dog the entire story. She knew what she was supposed to do, and she was finally comfortable enough with the therapy dog to do it.”

Moving into another darkened room at the Calder Centre, another DVD plays on the flat screen television. Blackout blinds filter out the light, and the late-August heat, for the half a dozen clients slouched on the furniture. Once again, as Subie lunges into the the room, it comes to life.

“Subie, you remember me don’t you,” says a young male client. Subie begs to differ, breaking the rules and hopping up onto the sofa to lay on the man’s outstretched form. Again and again Subie repeats his ritual, moving around the room, generous with his attention and ensuring every client receives personal attention.

Subie Breaks the Rules - Stretching Out On A Calder Client's Legs

Subie Breaks the Rules – Stretching Out On A Calder Client’s Legs

“They take away some pain, and distract you from your day, especially if you’re having a bad one,” says a female Calder Centre client who has dropped her knitting to sit down on the floor and embrace Subie.

“They listen, and they don’t judge,” says another.

After his visit with Calder Centre clients is finished, Subie stretches out on the carpet of one of the Centre’s boardrooms, clearly ready for a nap.

“When the dogs get home, they’re exhausted. They give so much, so intuitively.” said Dell. “If you came to my house you’d see a different dog – he’d bowl you over at the door. It’s amazing how quickly he learned. Now, as soon as I put my St John’s shirt on and he hears my lanyard, he immediately switches into therapy dog mode.”

Dell wants people to understand the positive impact therapy dogs can have on people dealing with issues like addiction, but she also wants pet-owners to appreciate how therapeutic having a pet in their life can be, and to pay more attention to those benefits.

“I’ve learned so much from watching how the dogs interact. Often if you’re in a meeting or speaking at a conference the people you’re addressing are just looking around, not even acknowledging the person speaking. Watching Subie – he’s all about aone-on-one presence. Being with the therapy dogs has taught me to be more present, not judgmental. It’s taught me mindfulness. I really see it with Annabelle – she is fascinating. She methodically goes from person to person at the senior’s centre. No one is really calling out her, she just knows.”

Dell’s personal opinion on healing moves beyond vocational therapy. “I think one of the most important ways people heal is from their relationships.” She points out that clients at the Calder Centre are learning from their peers and from their therapists as living beings as much as they may be learning the coping skills. “They’re feeling love, joy, those basic human values. What’s going to heal you? If I’m in pain, it’s not going to be a program, it’s going to be my friends, family and yes, my pets, who are going to support me through that – all the normal stuff.”

Dell circles back to the teenaged boys at the beginning of the visit, telling the stories of their pets at home. “Everyone has a story about their dog. Seeing Subie is a connection, a reminder of who they were before they were in treatment, even before they were addicted. It’s about the normalcy – connecting with the real world again. That’s so important, because when you come in here, you’re sheltered.”

You don’t need to be a therapist to train and own a therapy dog. All the information is available on the St John’s Ambulance website (www.sja.ca). “The certification is free of charge,” explained Dell. “They’ll send you a DVD so you an watch what kind of training you have to do with your dog. If your dog doesn’t pass the first time, you can try again.”

Starting in September, Dell, along with Anna-Belle and Subie will pop up once a week in a different location on the University of Saskatchewan campus to entertain and comfort stressed out students. Dell also plans on continuing her work with the Calder Centre and seniors once she is off sabbatical. Her next challenge is measuring the results.

Meanwhile, you can follow the daily therapy dog adventures of Anna-Belle and Subie on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/AnnaBelleSubiesAdventures), which is managed from the point of view of the two dogs. “I started the Facebook page because everything is community-based research,” explained Dell. “I wanted to raise awareness, and to put ourselves in their shoes, because we are asking them to do these things. That said, I am without a doubt that both dogs love doing this.”