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Kaeleigh Phillips

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Gender equity budget tool is a win for women’s rights in Toronto

Last weekend, the world watched in awe as women around the globe marched in support of gender equality.

But, change begins on a local level, and requires leaders, real decision-makers and politicians, to step up. Cue: Ward 23 Councillor Wong-Tam. She recently led a motion that was passed at Toronto city council to embrace gender equity perspective tools in their budget process. Wong-Tam also contributed to educating women at a gender equity town hall last week, and spoke at the Women’s March in Toronto on Saturday, attended by over 50,000 women.

“The march was much larger than anyone anticipated and it was very peaceful,” Wong-Tam says. “I thought the focus was going to be on the U.S., but clearly Canadian women wanted to be heard and seen here as well.” Wong-Tam spoke up on Saturday about how $91 million worth of budget cuts have impacted women specifically in Toronto, ranging from shelters to childcare subsidies.

With 18,000 women and children currently sitting on the housing waitlist, Wong-Tam points out that women are disproportionately affected by the annual budget process when it comes to transit, housing, and daycare subsidies. “We already have women’s shelters at capacity, not just in Toronto but across the country,” Wong-Tam says. “Women and children that are trying to flee violent households are turned away. Where are they going to go?”

Luckily, a gender equity perspective as a part of the annual budget-making process would help ensure that women received more support and protection. “The proposition to create a gender responsive budget is not to create a separate budget for women, but to create a budget that has equal benefit to men and women,” Wong-Tam says. “We achieve that by creating a set of questions that policymakers would use.”

Creating a gender responsive budget is a concept that is already being used by over 150 cities around the world. According to Wong-Tam, creating a gender equity tool in Toronto would begin by developing a complex series of questions for policymakers. “We need to start off by compiling aggregated data to understand who uses what services and budget allocations,” Wong-Tam says. “We would then ask service users if their needs are being met. If most are women using that particular service, we then recognize that.”

Creating a gender equity tool for the budget process is a dynamic solution to include people with various intersecting identities. “Women also come from a range of groups and vulnerable populations facing equity issues of their own, including racialized women, women with disabilities, women who are seniors,” Wong-Tam says. “The intersectional lens allows us to look at the full picture. We want to create a single budget that encompasses everyone.”

Toronto city staff is not prepared to enact gender equity tools within the 2017 budget, but Wong-Tam has hope for the following year. The councillor has created a task force full of service providers and female economists to help financial city staff create a gender equity tool for 2018 — and she vows to make it happen.

“I’m encouraged because there are so many young women who were energized around this issue. What I want to say to them is that we need to find a path from protest to power. The march on Washington has been ongoing asking and demanding for certain rights. The energy that I personally witnessed can fizzle out if we don’t keep organizing. We can be active around protests, but the only way to change the system is to hold the government accountable and keep organizing.”

Wong-Tam believes the way to finding equality for women is to act, and Women’s Post agrees. Vote for women, vote for gender equity, and fight for women’s rights using the power of the law and political will. If anything, the women’s march on Saturday showed that the world is on the precipice of change, so engage! Follow Councillor Wong-Tam’s lead and make Toronto a better place for future women and girls.

How to teach kids to care for planet earth

The future of the earth ultimately lies in the hands of our children, which is why teaching them to love and respect nature is so critical.

This type of education helps foster a connection between our urban environment and the natural one that surrounds us. However, for a lot of young children, they just don’t want to hear it. Talking about nature can get boring pretty quickly. However, there are some fun and interactive ways to transform kids into little environmentalists.

First of all, take your kids out into nature. This isn’t something you can teach while indoors. Going outside for a nature walk or hike will show kids that the outdoors is beautiful and irreplaceable. Most Canadian cities are replete with natural destinations and parks (one of the best parts of living in the Great White North), and it is easy to include a walk in your weekend activities. Make sure to bring snacks and a re-usable bag to collect any nature items you may find. When you get home, make a collage with what you collected. To make the nature walk more exciting, turn it into a simple nature scavenger hunt. There are easy pdf print-offs or simply write a few items down for them to check off as you walk. Can your child spot a bird? How about a birch tree or a pinecone?

Another fun idea is to get kids to do a quick litter clean-up while doing a nature walk. Kids might not like this idea right away, but turning it into a game will make it fantastically fun. ‘Race to Recycle’ is a game where you separate kids into two groups and get them to race to see how many litter items they can collect on their nature walk. Whichever group has more pieces of recycling by the end of the walk wins. A picnic to celebrate is always an enjoyable past-time as well.

Environmental crafts are another teaching tool that can be used to help kids learn about the planet and how significant it is to care about green initiatives. An easy art project is to collect as many recyclables as possible and place them into a pile for kids to use for an art project of their choice. The kids could also work together and build a statue out of the recyclables to make something beautiful. After the project is complete, explain how up-cycling recycled items can create new and fun projects and it isn’t necessary to buy new things when you can re-use the old.

Don’t have access to a lot of recyclable materials? Try this simple project! Take a paper plate (made out of recyclables) and paint it blue. Glue pieces of green construction paper to it and make the planet earth. Get the kids to write their favourite things about nature along the edges of the paper plate, which will get the children talking about everything they love about the outdoors. Place the plates on the floor and get the children to take pieces of recycling and dump it on top of the ‘earth’ plates. Explain to the children that by covering the earth in garbage, it can ruin it. Then, take out labelled containers with cardboard-metals-plastics and get the kids to put their recycling into them. Now that their ‘earth’ plates are uncovered, get the kids to talk about how important recycling is to save the planet.

Lastly, gardening and composting with kids teaches them how to dig in the dirt and understand how special it feels when things grow. Throughout the wintertime, you can grow pea shoots and other easy-to-care-for plants in used orange juice cartons and then plant them outside in the spring. Starting a compost when the weather warms also helps create amazing soil quality and shows kids how food is not garbage and can also be re-used.

Making nature fun for kids will help them love it as they grow up. Some of the best memories children can make are outside hiking in the forest with their families or learning how to pull weeds in the garden. By using informative games to teach kids that they have the ability to change the world and care, it will help them go green and hopefully save the planet for future generations to come.

TTC focuses on customer service — and people are noticing

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has been working tirelessly to create and grow the transit system in Toronto, no easy feat when considering delays, traffic, and a constant stream of people trying to go from place to place.

Lately, TTC has been emphasizing their dedication to customer service — and guess what? Women’s Post is one of the groups noticing! It started with the little things, telling customers over the PA system to ‘have a nice day’ and giving consistent updates if there is a delay. Their efforts make the end-of-day commute just a little bit better. By communicating why a delay is happening and providing updates when the train suddenly stops or is slow, it lowers the rate of frustration for everyone and makes the commute much easier. Customer service is clearly a priority for the TTC and it makes a big difference when riding on the subway, or taking a bus or streetcar.

The positivity on the part of TTC staff could be, in part, due to the fact that the transit union was recognized with an award as one of Greater Toronto’s top employers. TTC CEO Andy Byford accepted the award, which was well-deserved. What makes the TTC such a great employer it their focus on service as their core objectives of their five-year plan. This service concentrates on their 14,000 employees, as well as their customers. Being part of the TTC union is one of the better jobs to have in Toronto and it is positive to see the transit company awarded for their efforts.

The TTC is moving ahead with construction plans to build more transit in as part of their five-year plan and has almost completed the Spadina extension. Amidst City of Toronto budget cuts, TTC works very hard to avoid being seriously affected by the reductions and continues to pursue their plan to make a better transit system in Toronto. It is not easy to maintain the current subway system, continue construction on various transit projects in the city, and keep the trains running smoothly — all the while being asked to reduce their budget by 2.6 per cent. The TTC achieves this goal though with careful planning and strong communication with their customer base. The Relief Line project is in its planning stages and officials are working hard to manage a host of public complaints while pushing forward to get to the next stages of actually building the downtown line. This project has been on the back-burner for several years and it is hopeful to see the TTC pushing through the red tape and working to get the blueprints approved for future construction.

Despite dealing with daily complaints, the TTC does achieve a lot of difficult goals and is on its way to building an efficient and intricate transit network in Toronto. Next time you want to whine about how slow the streetcar or bus is, remember those times when it is extremely cold and snowing heavily, yet the bus and subway still manages to deliver you home safely. Instead, why not try being grateful for how hard the TTC is working to make sure Toronto gets the transit system it deserves!

Ontario protects water with new proposed fee on bottlers

In the wake of climate change impacts, Ontario is beginning to take more stringent steps to ensure that fresh water resources are protected. The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change has proposed a new fee for water bottlers that use groundwater.

Water bottle companies such as Nestle pay $3.71 for one million litres of fresh groundwater. Yes, that’s just under four dollars for a million litres of water — a natural resource that is slowly dissipating. The Wednesday announcement will propose that these companies pay a mandatory minimum fee of $500 for one million litres, something that is being widely celebrated by environmentalists across the province. Though critics may consider the fee high, it would cover the costs of managing the groundwater taken by the water bottlers, as well as scientific research, policies and outreach to further protect the resource.

Other amendments that Ontario is proposing include new procedural and technical requirements to make water bottling more transparent in the public eye and to increase scientific requirements when testing the water. The proposed changes are open to public consultation until March 20, 2017 and is available on the Environmental Registry.

Ontario has been actively working towards protecting the fresh water resources in the province, finalizing a two-year moratorium on new or expanded permits for water bottlers to take fresh groundwater resources. The limitation on permits also changed from 10 years to five years. The proposal was approved on Dec. 16, 2016 after public consultations came to an end.

In the wake of climate change, fresh groundwater resources are becoming more valuable as water shortages could easily become a reality. After it was discovered earlier in 2016 that Nestle was taking more than one million litres of water a day with an expired permit, the government and its citizens began to seriously consider whether this was appropriate. This ultimately led to the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change taking the threat of water shortages seriously and is proposing courageous and sweeping changes to how water bottling is currently managed in the province. Women’s Post will be following this issue with great interest.

Woman of the Week: Jen Aitchison

One of the best ways to effect change is to make it happen from the inside out — instead of waiting for the world to change, why not do it yourself? Jen Aitchison, Vice President of Sustainable Energy Insurance at Jones Brown Inc., embraces this concept, offering risk management solutions for companies invested in renewable energy, giving green technology a competitive edge in the business world.

Upon meeting Aitchison, she exudes a strong, confident demeanour. Hanging around her neck is a pendant that says, ‘Fearless’. The necklace was given to her by a family member, and is one of Aitchison’s life mantras. “When I first started down this route, I was terrified of walking into a room full of people and shaking their hands. The best thing I can tell women is eat the fear,” Aitchison says. “Shaking one person’s hand at that event is a success because you can build on it and you realize it isn’t scary.”

Aitchison is one of the first insurance brokers in Toronto to start a sustainable energy insurance practice, and over the last eight years she has helped several companies in solar and wind energy navigate their way through the complexities of risk management solutions in an emerging industry where no standard existed before. Aitchison initially brought the idea of sustainable energy insurance to Jones Brown as a side project. “I asked myself how can I use my eight years of experience in the insurance industry and couple that with my environment and sustainability passions? Maybe there is a way to work from the inside out, this being a bit of a capitalistic environment and a bit of an old boys club here,” Aitchison says. “When I first pitched the guys, they were like that is so cute. They said that I could pursue that pet project on the side, but also asked that I don’t let my normal day job slip.”

Aitchison began researching sustainable energy insurance and visiting various renewables companies. She quickly discovered there was a large gap in the renewables industries when it came to insurance and over the course of six years, worked hard to create a sustainable energy insurance practice. Within the practice, she focuses largely on product development of integral financial instruments such as performance guarantees, educating industry members on risk management specifics for renewables and an annual sales budget exceeding $150,000. After being promoted to partner at Jones Brown six years ago, Aitchison is one of the leaders of insurance for renewables and a leader for women and the environment in the insurance sector.

“That’s how I made insurance not suck, for a lack of a better term. I ended up working both sides, teaching insurance companies what some of the emerging technologies were, what challenges were being faced and what some of the solutions we needed,” Aitchison says. “At the same time, I was teaching the renewable energy sector about insurance and some of the things they should consider when setting up their projects.”

Though Aitchison has achieved great success at Jones Brown, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Being a woman with an environmental agenda in the insurance industry had its struggles and Aitchison had to fight for pay equity as recently as 2015. “I didn’t get pay equity until November of last year and it was a 30 per cent difference. I threatened to leave,” Aitchison recalls. “It was shocking. It is important to talk about that still happening.”

Alongside becoming one of leading environmentalists sporting an insurance portfolio and fighting for her rights as a woman in a leading role, Aitchison also won the 2015 Canadian Solar Industry Association President’s award because of her work as the Fire Safety Committee Chair for the Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA). Aitchison helped create a PV Fire Safety handbook to keep firefighters safe in case they encounter electrified solar panels during a fire.

Aitchison is also a founding committee member of Women in Renewable Energy (WiRE), a group that brings women together across various renewables industries. Aitchison is in charge of field trips to various renewables companies, support on networking and awards, and overall direction of the group with the other committee members. WiRE began in 2013 when the initial founding members met at Women of Wind Energy (WoWE), a group supporting women invested in wind energy. “We were talking about being from different backgrounds and that there wasn’t a group that encompassed all types of renewable energy,” she says. “We were frustrated that wind and solar were all fighting for the same piece of the pie. We didn’t want that and wanted to break those barriers down. That’s the type of women we are at WiRE. We see barriers, and we rip them down.”

She also emphasizes it was important to the committee that WiRE was not a ‘hen’s club’ or ‘a clique’ and is a very opening group of women professionals. There is also a mentorship aspect to the group that brings young women and professionals  together to collaborate and network. “In the WiRE environment, we connect women with women,” She says. “We also run a speed mentoring event. It is so great to see them succeed and get out of their shell.”

Aitchison is a single mom of two kids, ages 11 and 17, and manages to balance her work life while being an inspiring parent as well. She is currently reading “Bet on Me: Leading and Succeeding in Business and in Life” by Annette Verschuren. In her rare spare time, she likes to play guitar, cycle, draw, snowboard, hike and kayak with her kids. She also builds shelves and other odds and ends on the side, confessing “I’m a bit of a junkie for making things out of nothing.”

Aitchison is a born mentor; she is fierce, empowered, kind-hearted and patient. Her own passions and experience have given her a credibility in the renewables sector that cannot be ignored and yet she is modest and sincere about her successes. If more women like Aitchison join the fight to change the world to a more environmental one from the outside in, sustainability and women leadership will certainly stand a chance to rise out on top.

 

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Self-automated vehicles: progressive or downright creepy?

Self-automated cars are one of the most exciting developments in the automotive industry, perhaps since the invention of the car itself. Imagine a vehicle that drives itself, and the once autonomous driver becomes simply the passenger?

The positive and negative aspects of self-driving cars are being hotly debated, but car manufacturers are plowing ahead fearlessly despite any criticism. The idea of a car driving itself is just too tempting for inventive and forward thinking companies such as Tesla, a company that has arguably made some of the best electric cars on the market. All of the vehicles sold from Tesla since October 2016 are already equipped with self-automation, though it is running in shadow mode until further notice.

The self-driving cars from Google are a huge competitor for Tesla. They have been testing their vehicles for over a year now and is hoping to release the vehicle in 2018. The best part? The Google Car looks like an adorable marshmallow bot (see image above). It has a maximum speed of 50 km per hour and is made for moderate distant driving rather than large roadways. This vehicle has been a favourite in the auto-world so far and is set to become the most popular self-automated driving option once it hits market.

Self-automated cars will become widespread in the next few years, but is the world necessarily ready for such a change? Most countries haven’t even started the process of changing legislation to include self-automated cars. On the other hand, the government of the United States has a different agenda. The U.S. Federal Department of Transportation has embraced the future of self-automated cars and has started taking steps to create a series of regulations surrounding the new technology. They recently released the “The Federal Automated Vehicles Policy”, which listed rules such as securing the vehicles from cyber-attacks and that the cars must adapt to local laws.

The Ontario government recently approved the testing of three self-automated vehicles in November 2016, which is exciting. The University of Waterloo is testing on the aptly named ‘the Autonomoose’; the Erwin Hymer Group, an international automaker, is testing a Mercedez-Benz Sprinter Van; and, Blackberry will test a 2017 Lincoln. It’s great to see the Ontario government taking such a keen interest in self-automated cars.

One of the more high-tech and outlandish versions of the self-driving car is the Volkswagen Bus, proving that these cars can be made for multiple demographics. Volkswagen is coming out with a self-automated hippie van, which is due to be released in 2025. The vehicle will include a self-automation option and includes swivel front seats that allow the driver and passenger seat to turn around while driving so that they can hang out with their friends. The VW Bus also includes a touchscreen instead of a steering wheel and will control a number of functions, including ambient lighting and sound for ultimate enjoyment. Is this a good idea or a creepy futuristic play on the classic hippie van of the 1960’s?

The self-automated element of the car evolution goes even further with the Honda NeuV, a self-driving car that will use an AI system called Yui to control the vehicle and feel the driver’s mood and preferences. It includes mood lighting, massage beads in the seats and with eye-tracking sensors, would be able to adjust music depending on the person’s perceived mood. It appears the future of the robot takeover is imminent ladies and gentlemen.

On one hand, self-automated cars would lower the rate of accidents caused by human error. They would also allow for greater efficiency of travel of roads. Alternatively, there are many kinks in this type of technology, including the threat of cyber-hacking, the risk of technological malfunctions, and the question of ethics. It is has been suggested that self-automated cars wouldn’t react in an ethical manner if a child were crossing the road for example, and without being able to swerve may hit the small human. The vehicle may be able to stop more quickly if it is programmed for the child, but it is probable that the vehicle wouldn’t swerve out of the way to avoid the accident. Tesla also reported a fatality that occurred in early 2016 when a self-automated car crashed into a white lorry crossing the street, failing to differentiate its white colour from the bright sky above.

The self-automated car is a fascinating example of the future of the vehicle. It would allow for more shared use of vehicles (the vehicle could act as an Uber or taxi while you work) and it eradicates the rate of human error on the road. There still remains something uncomfortable about these vehicles though. It seems the future is drawing closer to technological dependence when considering self-driving vehicles and smartphones. There is also something beautiful about driving standard, hand on the stick with complete control over a roaring machine (electric though of course is preferred, environmental concerns must be considered a first priority!). What happens next with automated cars remains to be seen, but it appears we have entered into the futuristic world. What does that mean for us measly humans? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Meditation: the best way to relax with your kids

Children are often overstimulated with too much screen use, too many weekly recreational activities, and too much interaction with the busy urban world that surrounds them. Teaching children how to meditate gives them a stress coping strategy that will be last the duration of their lives. Using the power of breath in any given moment has limitless positive effects on a person’s ability to focus, calm down, and lead happier and more fulfilling lives.

Every night before going to sleep, my five-year daughter and I meditate together. She is often overtired when it gets close to bedtime and is also hyper from the many activities and social interactions of her school day. Meditating for 15 minutes helps both of us to relax and transition into the quieter part of our evening together. When I tell people I meditate regularly with a five-year-old, people often respond with disbelief. “How is it possible to meditate with a young child who constantly has the case of the wiggles,” they ask.

First off, don’t expect a young child to meditate for longer than 10-15 minutes. It is difficult for the little people to stay still and asking a child to remain in a meditative state any longer than a quarter of an hour is unreasonable. Children won’t stay completely still when meditating either, but it will be a positive experience as long as their eyes are closed and they are engaged.  My daughter and I use various online videos that are made specifically for children. They are free and a wide variety is offered. There are also a variety of free apps to download on your phone if preferred.

The main difference I’ve noticed between regular meditation recordings and alternatives made for kids is the way the information is presented. Kids’ meditations often include a storyline relating to a candy mountain or a princess castle that gives them something to imagine while they lie still.

At age five, children have spectacular imaginations and it is ingenious to use their ability to create fantasy worlds in order to get them to meditate. My daughter is so enthralled with the recordings and visiting these imaginative places in her head that she will actually ‘shush’ me if I ask her a question or interrupt. She takes meditating very seriously and it must be silent for the whole 15 minutes (very shocking and hilarious to hear my child asking me to be quiet).

Within the visualizations at candy mountain or the princess castle, the fundamentals of meditation are embedded into the storyline. When you get to cinnamon bun square, you must ‘breathe in deeply’ and ‘stretch your toes’ after you wake up in your princess bed. It works like a charm and is very relaxing. I recommend finding a children’s meditation that also includes motivational messaging alongside the breathing exercises. Our favourites also include messages that say ‘you are a great person’, ‘you are very smart’ and ‘think of all the people who you love and love you’. Motivational messaging and self-love meditations are incredibly healing and help give kids a sense of confidence and security.

Another important element when meditating with kids is a space to do it in. My daughter and I use specific pillows and lay down in our living room. If you have the extra room, create a permanent space meant specifically for meditating. It helps young children connect that space with relaxing and quiet time. I also allow my daughter to have her stuffed animals meditate with us too. Making meditation too serious will make it unenjoyable, and that isn’t very relaxing. Laying down in your meditative space and dimming the lights will also set the mood and helps kids to calm down faster.

Meditation has helped my daughter to fall asleep more easily and is fantastic bonding time for both of us. It also forces busy moms like myself to lay down and set a good example by relaxing for 15 minutes of the crazy day! I have noticed it also helps when coping with tantrums and emotional moments. My daughter will take deep breaths if asked and is slowly developing a life-long coping strategy for stress. In the midst of baseball, swimming, girl guides and work, it is important to slow down and enjoy your kids. Meditation allows for this time and space, and is an invaluable experience.

How do you meditate with your kids? Let Women’s Post know in the comments below.

4 things to swap for a healthier kitchen

Even though it can be a bit of an annoyance, making your food from scratch is always healthier than purchasing pre-made processed meals. But, what ingredients are you putting into your household goodies? Your first tip — the days of using lard and bleached white flour to bake homemade cakes are behind us. Let Women’s Post stock your kitchen with ingredients full of nutrients and vitamins that will make your dishes taste delicious and healthy!

The first thing you should do is rid the kitchen of white flour. It has very little nutritional value, is full of high fructose corn syrup, and is easy to replace with a healthier alternative. Whole wheat flour is a reliable option, but even go a step further and opt for a blended flour with flax seeds and other nutritional elements. Brown rice flour, coconut flour, and amaranth flour are all high-protein flours and also happen to be gluten-free. The best part is when you swap out your flour for a healthier selection, it will make your baked goods taste even better and more full-bodied.

Coconut oil

Another item to get out of the kitchen is canola oil. It is a genetically-modified product and is hydrogenated, filling it with false chemicals that are refined, bleached and degummed. Instead, go for a more natural option for your cooking and baking needs. Swap it for coconut oil. This superfood can be used in place of any oil, butter, or vegetable shortening. It is pure magic. Other healthy oils include avocado oil, grape seed oil, pistachio oil, and hemp oil.

Chia Seeds

The addition of seeds or nuts to a meal will automatically add extra nutritional value. My suggestion: always have ground flax seed on hand and add a spoonful into almost everything you make. It is virtually tasteless and adds a much-needed dose of fiber to meals and treats. It is especially delicious in smoothies. Chia seeds are beneficial to add into salads, baked goods, and smoothies as well. They are full of fiber, omega-3 fats, protein, calcium and vitamin A, B, E, and D, as well as other antioxidants.

Maple syrup

One of the most addictive, delicious, yet unhealthy ingredients found in the cupboard is refined sugar. This ingredient causes a host of issues including diabetes, bad teeth, heart disease, and issues with the liver. I can’t stress this enough! Get rid of sugar! Once the kitchen is purged of the toxin, the other options will make you feel better and are healthier for your body by a long shot. Alternatives to sugar are honey, maple syrup, cane sugar, and brown rice syrup. Molasses is rich in nutrients including calcium, zinc and is strong source of iron. Brown rice syrup is one of the only sweeteners that doesn’t have fructose, but all of the alternatives are going to be a better option that regular sugar.

Replacing key ingredients in the kitchen is one of the simplest ways to bake healthy, homemade foods. It will make your meals taste better and will increase nutrients with very little effort needed. Being a responsible consumer and purchasing healthy ingredients instead of processed foods will lead to a healthier and happier life. So get to the kitchen, and begin your healthy eating kitchen swap. The change will definitely not be regretted.

Woman of the Week: Ingrid Thompson

Ingrid Thompson combines the practical love of science with passion for the environment. As the newly anointed Chief Executive Officer at Pollution Probe, one of the oldest environmental charities in Canada, she brings over 20 years of real-world experience into the boardroom.

“One of my quirks is I have a certain amount of appreciation for the geekiness of science and the complexity of information,” Thompson says. “Energy is very important for building the type of societies we want, but if you sacrifice the environmental part, we aren’t getting very far ahead.”

Thompson began her career as press secretary to the Minister of the Environment, Norm Sterling, in 1996. She briefly left to take on a role as a Senior Consultant for National Public Relations and returned in 2000 as Chief of Staff for the new Minister of the Environment, Dan Newman. During her tenure with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, she had to deal with the Walkerton E-Coli outbreak, one of the biggest environmental crises in Ontario’s history.

“It was one of the bigger crisis experiences.  On the May long weekend, a bunch of people showed up at doctor’s offices complaining of intestinal issues,” Thompson says. “They were noticing that there was a cluster of sick people and that it could be an E.coli infection. Eventually it became clear that the water was the source of the infection. Six people died and thousands got seriously sick.”

Thompson was very involved with the Walkerton Crisis, calling water supply companies to bring clean water to residents and attending town hall meetings in Walkerton, among other things. She also helped the environmental minister reconfigure the water administration. Thompson said the experience was a test for the minister and his staff, who were elected into cabinet barely two months before the Walkerton catastrophe struck.

After 2001, Thompson became the Director of Communications and Marketing for a government relations group invested in energy, the environment and infrastructure law practice, and was a subsidiary of the law firm, CMS Cameron McKenna. From there, Thompson played a leading role in a cellphone company called Vodafone in Prague, and moved back to Canada briefly to do environmental consulting.

“I met a Dutch marine on the beach and that screwed up everything. I met my fiancé and decided to hit a reset button on my career.” Thompson took a job across the ocean as an Independent Consultant at Thompson Marcom in the Netherlands for the next six years. In October 2016, she returned to Canada and accepted the role as the Chief Executive Officer for Pollution Probe.

Thompson emphasizes that Pollution Probe takes a unique approach to environmentalism and works with oil companies and not against them. “We are a pragmatic, science-based company. We don’t take the view of putting all oil and gas companies in an automatic black hat and we choose not to do that,” Thompson says. “If you work directly for an environmental solution, we would rather work with companies than fight them. We work with a lot of companies, including Shell. They are pushing for the decarbonisation of the economy.”

After 20 years in the environmental and energy sectors and amassing an extensive amount of job experience, what does Thompson believe is the single most pressing environmental problem affecting the world today?

She didn’t skip a beat before responding, “Climate change.” Thompson explains it is imperative greenhouse gases be managed by finding credible and reasonable solutions through networking.

Supporting women in the environmental and energy sectors is also an issue close to Thompson’s heart. “Twenty years ago when I was a young consultant at a PR firm, I used to bring an older vice president along with meetings with me because my clients were unfortunately middle-aged white guys,” she says. “In order for me to be comfortable, I felt I needed to bring a ‘beard’ to my meetings. It is important to make a point of supporting strong smart women and connecting with them.”

Recently, the Pollution Probe Annual Gala  ‘Generation Now’, focused on youth engagement and innovation in the environmental sector. The event also included awards that were given to two young women named , Eden Full Goh for creating a solar panel from a gravity powered clock, and Nivatha Balendra, for discovering a bacteria that can digest oil spills. “I was so thrilled to be able to support our awards program because it happened to result in two young women being the ones selected for incredibly impressive accomplishments,” Thompson says. “They were both incredibly intelligent and as women tend to do, they also had a sense of humility.”

In her spare time, Thompson enjoys knitting and scuba diving — things she finds to be meditative and peaceful. Pollution Probe has a bright future with the energy and environmental veteran who is leading the way towards the hopeful decarbonisation of the Canadian economy.

Be a rebel: don’t try to change yourself in the New Year

So many people set unattainable goals for New Years. I often hear ‘I’m going to lose x-amount of weight and go to the gym every day’ or ‘I will obtain my dream job and become rich and famous’. Most people tend to pigeon-hole ourselves into unattainable goals carefully concealed as ‘New Year’s Resolutions’. Instead, why not abandon ship on the resolution boat to hell and commit to loving yourself just as you are?

The constant need for change and validation is a long-time tradition that goes back to the days of early capitalism. We can thank our early 1950’s grandparents for our deeply rooted love of the newest and shiniest next-best-thing. Whether it was buying a new car or working towards getting the bigger house, we were taught as western children to always strive for great material happiness. With the social media craze that has erupted and overtaken our lives, society has fortunately strayed from the material obsession with houses and cars, but a darker horse has emerged.  In the present day, the newest cool shiny thing is the commodity of a person’s identity and how they present themselves on a daily basis in our tech-dependant world.

On Facebook and Instagram, do you have enough photos with friends in them? Where are your yummy food photos that must be taken at hip restaurants (make sure to use a rateable app on your smartphone)? Do not forget your cute puppy photos, preferably with a pug sitting on your sexy boyfriend’s six pack.

Back to New Year’s resolutions. Due to the fact that we are literally commodifying our identities on a variety of intensely open social media outlets, New Year’s resolutions are no longer only a cute suggestion. Instead, they have become necessary in order to publically demonstrate that you are always striving to be better (with the hope of getting more ‘likes’ of course). So with that knowledge in mind, I say screw it! Abandon that four point agenda on how you will find your dream job, husband, dog, and white picket fence in the span of 12 months (when you really know four of those months will be spend crying (in private of course) over having failed to find any of the above). It is time to abandon your self-hating commitment to loss a ton of weight and dedicate yourself solely to exercising at the expense of all other pleasures.

On New Year’s Day, in an effort to be a rebel and abandon all New Year’s resolutions I vow to wake up (hungover no doubt) and look myself in the mirror to say, ‘hey, I love you girl’. Once we set aside our false expectations and fake online identities, it becomes apparent that we are all works in progress. I kind of suck sometimes. I fail to get to the gym on my lazy days, I have been caught eating more than one cookie after midnight and clothes do end up on my bedroom floor. But at the end of the day, I remember to commend myself for getting up and brushing my teeth earlier that day. I am growing and so are you. Love all the idiotic moments we will inextricably find ourselves in along the way.

New Year’s resolutions or not, I will continue to be somewhere between my very best and worst, living my life to the fullest and with my camera phone tucked away.