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Woman of the Week: Dr. Vicky Sharpe

Dr. Vicky Sharpe can claim something many professional women cannot: “I basically follow my passion.”

Sharpe sits on the following boards: QUEST (Quality Urban Energy Systems for Tomorrow), the Alberta Energy Corporation, Carbon Management Canada Inc., and the Temporal Power Ltd. She is also a director on the board of The Capital Markets Regulatory Authority. Sharpe’s goal is to use her background in microbiology and energy to help inspire sustainable practices and encourage funding and investment in clean technologies.

“Board work, in my view, is really rewarding — if you get on the board that is right for you. I wanted to try and create more change.”

Sharpe always had a passion for the outdoors, in particular for the microorganisms that connect it all. These “tiny little simple genetic organisms” could affect so much change. They could digest oils, or remove hydrogen from the air. It was this interest that led her down an impressive and fulfilling career path in sustainability and finance.

She began her career studying science in Bath, U.K. and took her PhD in microbiology, or more specifically surface chemistry as applied to water pollution, at Trent University in Nottingham. She originally moved to Canada because there were more opportunities for women in her field.

“It’s a male-dominated system. In the U.K., I took a higher degree, a PhD, because I knew if I wanted to compete with the men, I had to be more qualified. People forget how hard women worked at that time to be treated equally,” she says. “There were more opportunities for women [in Canada]. It’s more receptive.”

Sharpe began her illustrious career as VP of Ontario Hydro International Inc. She was responsible for a community-based conservation program that helped retrofit homes, commercial buildings, shopping centres, and hotels in a small town with energy efficient technologies. The idea was for Hydro to become as utility energy efficient as possible. “There was a 90 per cent uptake in people taking at least one product that would be beneficial,” she says. “That was the highest level of adoption by society of energy efficiency.”

While at Ontario Hydro, Sharpe was involved with Women in Science and Engineering (WISE). She would travel to schools and talk with kids between the ages of five and eight about careers in science and technology. She also informally mentors women and helps connect them to other decision-makers. “I actually have taken some heavy hits working to support employment equity,” she says. “At the time there was a lot of negativity about that [but] I integrate it into my life. I give them advice.  We all need help. I had great people who help me.”

One of Sharpe’s other big accomplishments is the founding of Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), an organization she helped run as CEO for 13 years. She describes the SDTC as an “unusual organization” that was created through an act of parliament as a response to the Canadian Climate Change Commitment in the late 1990s. Through this organization, she helped find and negotiate agreements with clean technology companies and start-ups. In total, she mobilized over $5 billion for clean tech companies in Canada.

“It’s so exciting to see these great Canadian companies growing and building, but now – I asked for this in 2006 — we need to get more capital to scale up these companies if we want to be world leading. We are still struggling with that. Investors tend to go with what they are used to.”

Throughout her experience and studies, Sharpe never had any formal training in terms of finances — yet now, she is one of the leading negotiators in the field. “I found I spend a large chunk of my life chasing money for these companies,” she says. “I just learnt it. If you are trying to persuade businesses to be more sustainable, they are designed to optimize financial returns. So if you are presenting opportunities, you have to take that into account.”

Sharpe has a variety of experience, but there is one commonality that drives her.  “I have to do something that does an impact,” she says.  She won the Purvis Memorial Award in 2016, which is given to those who have made a major contribution to development and strategies in Canadian industry or academia in the field of chemistry.

In the little free time she has, Sharpe does a lot of travelling. Sometimes it is to visit family in the U.K., and other times it’s to better understand a global issue or to use her skills as an amateur wildlife photographer. Travelling and reading helps her reconnect with her love of nature and the environment, and revitalizes her passion for the topic.

“Climate change is in the background and it’s a critical thing to deal with. It’s a threat. I … promote a better understanding of what this is and what it means to people’s lives, both business and personal, and try to influence it for the better because as a society. I don’t think we’ve embraced the positive angles of sustainability,” she says.

“But, when you want people to do stuff, you have to be able to help them do it. There are great Canadian technologies for those who want to build sustainability. They are carrying the torch.”

Why the term “fake news” is so dangerous

What is “fake news”? That’s a question a lot of people are asking these days. It’s also a question a certain President-Elect SHOULD be asking before he takes office; although, I’m sure he won’t.

As a journalist, this phrase makes me cringe. News, by its very definition, cannot be considered “fake”. It can be sensationalist, maybe sometimes biased, but not fake. “Fake News”, therefore, isn’t news at all. It’s just garbage on the Internet or the tabloids that way too many people are gullible enough to think is true.

The Internet is big. Anyone can create a free website and start to write, upload photos, and create video. They can even make their site look like that of a news organization. It’s not that difficult. This fact is an amazing thing, but it does create a few problems. Who do you trust? What information is real and what is, as we call it now, “fake news.”

This is where journalists and news organizations come in.

It is their job (and mine) to sift through all of the false claims, tall tales, and outlandish stories that exist on the Internet. A journalist will confirm facts with numerous, legitimate and reliable sources. Their work is then edited by a number of people, including fact-checkers. If, in some cases, those sources and fact-checkers are not available, a news organization may use the word “unverified” or “alleged” until such time where the facts can be confirmed. This ensures transparency. This does NOT mean the information is falsified by the media with a nefarious purpose.

Cue President-Elect, Donald Trump.

At a press conference on Jan 11, Trump refused to answer a question by CNN veteran reporter Jim Acosta.  This happened after CNN reported that intelligence officials briefed Trump on an unverified dossier alleging Russian officials had compromising information about Trump.

“Your organization is terrible,” he yelled when Acosta tried to ask him a question. “You are fake news.”

And that was it. The term was redefined.

Since then, Trump has used the term “fake news” to describe every story he’s had an issue with. Most recently, on Jan. 18, he tweeted a news story from NBC.

 

Essentially, the term “fake news,” once used to describe a false story on the Internet that suddenly started trending to the point of believability, is now used to label a media organization is wrong and untrustworthy.

What Trump hopes to do is perpetuate this myth that the media is out to get everyone — that they would do anything or say anything for a headline and a few clicks. This is outrageously insulting, not to mention a dangerous sentiment for the future President of the United States to make. The job of the media is to keep people of authority accountable; to inform the public about what is happening in the world; and to shed light on important issues that require attention.

Just because you don’t agree with a story, or you don’t like what it says, doesn’t make a story, or a news organization, “fake.” It also doesn’t mean it’s wrong — unless you can show the data and prove it.

To throw this phrase around haphazardly, without forethought or understanding, creates real problems for the media and destroys its essential purpose.  I’m guessing this is exactly what Trump wants — but the public should be wary.

It’s good to be critical. It’s smart to question whether something described as fact is, in actuality, true. However, it’s just as important to question the way politicians attack the press and the real message they are trying to send stop from spreading. The President-Elect’s use and abuse of “fake news” is another of his bullying tactic to deflect and suppress non-Trump generated news. The public should not allow this abuse to continue.

Freedom of the press is an essential part of a democracy. As Barack Obama, soon to be former President of the United States, said to the media in his last press conference Wednesday, “You’re not supposed to be sycophants, you’re supposed to be skeptics. You’re supposed to ask me tough questions.”

“Democracy doesn’t work if we don’t have a well-informed citizenry, and you are the conduit through which they receive the information about what’s taking place in the halls of power. So America needs you and our democracy needs you.”

The use of the term “fake news” to delegitimize the media is an affront to that very concept — and it’s up to every single citizen of North America to ensure politicians don’t take advantage of this term for their own gain.

What do you define as “fake news”? Let us know in the comments below.

“The Two of Us” and the importance of an unfinished ending

The connection between two people can be confirmed in a variety of relationships; mother and daughter, lovers, or a boss and employee. The dialogues and stories that result from the bonds people experience are individualistic and universal at the same time. The Two of Us by Kathy Page is a compilation of short stories that made the longlist for the Giller Prize. This set of stories reflects the commonality of all face-to-face relations between two people, and yet how astoundingly different the partnerships are depending on the role each individual plays in the given scenario.

Initially, it is difficult to find a common association between each of the stories and it appears they are inextricably disconnected.  After meditating on the various stories that Page writes, there is a theme that arises between the tales. Each of the stories is written in intense and vivid detail that hooks the reader in and then concludes before the climax of the story is revealed. “Pigs” is about a husband and wife and ends with the woman thinking about killing her husband, but we never find out what happens next. The setting of the story is carefully laid out and the characters are so well described they feel real, and yet the reader never finds out the concluding element in each of the relationships in the set of short stories.

The lack of a conclusion in the stories is initially maddening, but as they continue it becomes apparent how much these awkward in-between moments reflect reality. Oftentimes in the set-up of a story, it has a distinct beginning, middle and end — it is clear-cut. Life does not work like this, and abandoning the traditional set up of a story gives it more authenticity. My discomfort as a reader reflects my desire for the perfect ending. Instead, abandoning my longing for perfection to embrace the rhythm of Page’s set of stories deepens my acceptance of the never-finished stories in real life.

“The right thing to say” follows a couple who live in Canmore, AB, that are trying to have a baby. The mom-to-be is pregnant and they are having testing done to find out if the child has a genetic defect that would affect the health of the baby. This story hits close to home, and the descriptions of the setting are incredibly vivid. It almost feels as if the reader is sitting next to the worried couple in the hospital. This story reflects the various settings that Page uses, switching between England and Canada. It is interesting because Page is a British author who has resided on Vancouver Island for several years. The stories reflect her intimate familiarity with the two settings and helps the reader to really have confidence in in what is being described.

There is a futuristic element to a few of the stories as well. In “It is July Now”, the tale focuses on a character named Piret who is from Sweden and lives in a socialist society where almost nothing is owned privately. A middle-aged American woman comes to intern at the school and attempts to befriend Piret several times, though it is mostly unsuccessful. There is a stark contrast between the strict and stringent lifestyle of Piret and the American woman who is happier and more free with her money. The story between the two characters ends off without a distinct conclusion and it leaves the reader wondering whether the two women become better friends.

The concluding story of the anthology brings the set of stories together in a fascinating way. “Open Water” features a swim coach named Mitch and one of his swimmers, Tara who lives in Vancouver.  Mitch works with Tara for years on her swimming and when she has the opportunity to go to the Olympics, what happens next will leave the reader shocked.

Page does a very subtle and determined job at showing the reader that life is awkward and the unexpected happens, yet it becomes almost soothing in this series of stories. In one of the stories mentioned, the reader will find intimate commonality with their own life in The Two of Us, and walk away with a stronger understanding of the complexities of the unfinished ending in real life. The anthology comes highly recommended, and definitely a study of the most detailed and intimate way to describe a person and their life through the written word without giving everything away.

Dear Santa: We want MORE this year!

Dear Santa,

Here at Women’s Post, we’ve been mostly nice — hey, you can’t expect a girl not to be naughty for a whole 12 months, can you?

First of all, I hope Mrs. Claus is treating you well. I heard there was a sugar cookie shortage. What a scary thought! As always, I’m sure she calmed you down and rectified the situation.

Man, it’s been a hell of a year. So much has happened, and most of it was pretty depressing.  After a year like this, I think women around the world deserve a little something extra, don’t you? Here is our wish list Santa, and I hope you don’t mind we are being so forward:

1. Can you make our politicians listen to the female sex for once. This wish is particularly for the United States, but also applies right here in Canada. We want clean energy and an even cleaner earth. We want equal pay and equal rights. We want to be free from discrimination and free from harassment. These may seem like small things, trifles really, but I can assure you it will make all the difference. If “because it’s 2016” was the first step towards equality, let’s make “because it’s 2017” the final year for sexism.

2. Speaking of politicians, we need more women in power. Nothing is going to change until we get real women into politics and in boardrooms. This is a nearly impossible tasks, as the “old boys club” is hard to break through. We have profiled a number of women who have made it; who have worked hard to get their foot in the door, but it isn’t easy. In order to bring about change, ensure policy is made that encompasses all diverse sexes, races, and ethnicities, it’s important to have a diverse staff. That’s something most governments haven’t realized yet. Maybe you can sprinkle a bit of magic dust on Parliament Hill to help with the transformation?

3. The outfits trending this winter are dismal. It seems beiges, browns, and burgundies are in right now — if there is anything you can do to bring a bit more colour into next year’s wardrobe, that would be great!

4. And finally, can you do something about the poverty, hunger, and general depression that has taken over this place we call Earth? People are needlessly dying all over the world, being killed in fits of rage and political disruption. Refugees have no where to go and families are being separated. At Women’s Post, we dream of a world where families can be together for the holidays (no matter the religion), without fearing for their lives.

I know this wish list is a bit of a challenge — especially for the day before Christmas — but I know you will try your best. Love, respect, and family are the foundations of the holiday season, and too often that is forgotten. Ultimately Mr. C., we hope you have a safe trip Christmas Eve. Even though we’ve been a little naughty, I hope you can overlook it. I’m sure Mrs. Claus will make a case for us!

Best,

Women’s Post

 

P.S. If you want to throw in some shoes, dresses, headphones, and/or a new laptop for the office, feel free. We promise to have some really great cookies and vegan treats waiting for you — and maybe even a bottle of Pinot!

Viola Desmond to be on Canadian $10 bill

Civil rights activist Viola Desmond will be the first woman, other than the queen, to be featured on a Canadian bank note.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau and the Bank of Canada announced the decision on Dec. 8. Desmond was chosen from a list of five finalists, who were chosen from 461 candidates.

“Today is about recognizing the incalculable contribution that all women have had and continue to have in shaping Canada’s story. Viola Desmond’s own story reminds all of us that big change can start with moments of dignity and bravery,” said Minister Morneau in a statement. “She represents courage, strength and determination—qualities we should all aspire to every day.”

Viola Desmond is often described as Canada’s Rosa Parks. A thriving Nova Scotia businesswoman in the 1930s-40s, she travelled to Montreal, New York, and New Jersey so that she could get her diploma in beauty and hairdressing. She established the Desmond School of Beauty Culture, a school that brought students together from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Quebec.

One day, as she was travelling for work, her car broke down in New Glasgow. She decided to take in a movie at the Roseland Theatre while waiting for repairs. She took her ticket and then went to sit down on the main floor of the theatre; however, she was told her ticket only provided access to the balcony. When she went to exchange ticket, she was told that African-Canadians were only permitted to sit on the balcony — the main floor was reserved for white patrons.

She decided to sit on the main floor anyways. When asked to move, she refused. She was dragged out of the theatre by police and held overnight in jail without being advised of her rights. She was charged and convicted of defrauding the Government of Nova Scotia (tax for ground floor and balcony seats differed by one cent) She was also fined $20.

Desmond decided to fight the charges and raise awareness about segregation in Canada. Ultimately, she failed to have her conviction overturned, but she did set a fire under the Black community in Nova Scotia and became an inspiration for change across the country.

Desmond died in 1965. She received a posthumous pardon from the Nova Scotia government in April 2010. She was also featured in Canada’s Heritage Minutes.

Desmond is a wonderful choice for the $10 bank note — her courage and dedication to civil rights is something to be celebrated. And Women’s Post is equally ecstatic that this new face is a woman, AND a woman of colour at that!

This change is part of a broader attempt by the Bank of Canada to integrate themes of social justice into their notes. The next $5 bank note will feature a different Canadian, and Sir. John A Macdonald and Sir Wilfrid Laurier will be moved to the higher bills. The Queen will keep her $20 bill.

Other finalists included Mohawk poet Emily Pauline Johnson, Olympic gold medalist Bobbie Rosenfeld, journalist and suffragette Idola Saint-Jean, and Canada’s first female engineer Elsie MacGill.

The new bills will enter circulation in 2018.

What’s the best way to ask for a raise?

You’ve worked at a company for a few years, but nothing has changed. You’ve put in a lot of hard work, led very successful projects, and have done put in quite a bit of overtime. But, you are still living off of the same entry-level salary you were given when you started the job. Sometimes, it takes a while to receive more than verbal praise. It could be the crappy economy preventing your boss from handing out bonuses or giving annual raises, but if you don’t ask, you’ll never find out!

Asking for more money is daunting. And, for some reason, women just aren’t doing it. Women in Canada still make 72 cents to a man’s dollar, and that wage gap doesn’t appear to be dropping. I’m not sure if it’s because, as women, we are more calculative and respectful of our employers or if our employers are simply not giving women enough money. Either way, it sucks and it’s time to stand up and ask for that raise you’ve been thinking about for months.

Still worried? Don’t worry, Women’s Post has you covered. Here’s what you need to know:

Timing is everything: No, the right time to discuss salary is not when you are out to lunch with colleagues or riding an elevator with your boss. It’s important to make this request in a professional manner. Ask for a meeting with your boss and be honest about what the conversation is about. Say you want to sit down to discuss your salary and your future at the company. Also consider when raises are typically given at your company. Generally, employees are given a yearly review; however, by that point, it is often too late to ask for a raise as the books have been finalized. Try to meet with your boss a month or two beforehand.

Also, note whether your colleagues have been laid off or if there is a frugal atmosphere in the office. If your boss is always making comments about loss of revenue or client reductions, the company may not be in a place to give you a raise. Better to wait until the company is thriving.

Know why you deserve it: Just because you’ve been working at the same place for a year, it doesn’t entitle you to a raise. Come prepared with a list of your accomplishments and the new responsibilities you’ve taken on since you’ve started working with the company. Make sure to mention if business has gone up or if a project has been particularly successful. If you work in a large company, your boss may not actually realize you’ve been doing more than indicated in original job description.

Try not to compare your work to that of your colleagues. Remember that you are talking about yourself, and there is no need to say that you did more work than Mark on a project or absorbed some of his workload. Just be honest about your contributions and keep everyone else out of it.

Do your research: How much are you making right now and how much do you want to be making? These are important things to decide before heading into the office, just in case your boss throws it to you and asks what you have in mind. While it’s important to calculate your worth, it’s equally important not to overreach. Find out what others are making in similar positions in other companies, and what your new responsibilities mean. Are you doing the job of two employees? Are you doing the work of a manager rather than an entry-level employee? Make your “ask” reasonable, and be prepared to negotiate and compromise if your boss can’t accommodate your request.

Be polite and confident: Confidence is key. You need to make your boss believe you deserve this raise. Practice your pitch a few times in the mirror before the meeting, and make sure to make eye contact. Speak slowly and try not to let your voice waver (which I know can be difficult, as the issue of money naturally makes everyone nervous.) At the same time, don’t offer your boss an ultimatum, at least not unless he or she is being incredibly disrespectful. It’s important that you come across as a professional. If your boss does say no to a salary raise, ask why. It may just be an issue of funding. If that’s the case, ask if you can revisit the topic in six months time (or even the following year) to see if the situation has changed. This shows that you are willing to be accommodating to the needs of the company, but are not willing to just let the issue go. If the answer is a little more superficial, be prepared to come up with polite rebuttals about the time and effort you put into the job.

If the answer is still no, then take the loss — for now. And maybe start looking for a better place of employment.

What did you say to your boss when you asked for a raise? Let us know in the comments below!

Leonard Cohen through a millenial’s eyes

How do you encapsulate the life and career of a Canadian icon that defined generations of poetry and music lovers?

Pouring over years of interviews, poems, songs and cultural tidbits, the task of writing an ‘Ode to Leonard Cohen’ becomes overwhelming. As a millennial writer, how could I possibly do the poet and singer-songwriter justice? I struggle to find the proper words to express how culturally defining and life-changing Cohen was for aspiring Canadian writers and singers. But then again, once upon a time Cohen was a young man too before he captured the world with his magical words.

Cohen was a young aspiring writer who graduated from McGill with his B.A, just an aspiring poet, like so many I sat and dreamed with in my own poetry classes in university. He was a dreamer who had a gift — and he changed the world. Suddenly, the man behind the song ‘Hallelujah’, which has been performed by over 200 artists, doesn’t seem so difficult to write about after all.

Cohen approached the world with fearlessness, pursuing his writing career despite other paths he may have taken. His first book of poems, Let Us Compare Mythologies, was published one year after he graduated from university in 1956 and didn’t fare very well. He pursued studies at Columbia and a variety of temporary jobs until publishing The Spice Box of the Earth that was well-received. Cohen could’ve given up after his first attempts at being a successful writer, but persevered. Imagine a world where he would’ve chosen otherwise and the likes of his novel, Beautiful Losers, or the poems from Book of Longing may have never been produced.

Cohen was a Canadian icon because he continued despite all obstacles. Moreover, he was described countless times throughout the years as a humble man. To be humble and successful is definitive of a cultural genius in my mind, and this sets a fine example for millennial writers looking for an example to follow. When asked about his own work, Cohen famously said, “I never had a plan. I had a certain kind of faith…if the work was good enough or, more specifically, if the work was appropriate to move into the world, it would move into the world…”. His persistent conviction allowed Cohen to create freely without being bound to a sense of greed or power.

Many Cohen fans were surprised with his move into music, and he was even discouraged from pursuing a career as a singer because he was getting into his 30’s (noticeably older than other first-time performers of the time). Again, Cohen ignored criticisms and followed his passion for music, leading him to produce hits such as ‘Suzanne’, ‘Bird on a wire’ and ‘So Long, Marianne’. His singing career spanned 50 years beginning in 1966 with Songs of Leonard Cohen to his album You Want it Darker released before his death on November 7, 2016.

Cohen teaches Canadian millennial writers and musicians to never stop believing that your passions and dreams can come true. With dedication, focus, passion, persistence, and stamina, anyone can achieve greatness. Cohen came out of a generation where Canadian singers and songwriters were often pushed aside by American contemporaries, but he never let that stop him. Instead, he used his Canadian identity as an emblem of greatness and even had a brief love affair with Janis Joplin along the way.

Cohen described his love of Canada often, and he really led the way for other Canadian writers and musicians. “I do love Canada, just because it isn’t America and I have, I suppose, foolish dreams about Canada. I believe it could somehow avoid American mistakes, and it could really be that country that becomes a noble country, not a powerful country,” he said.

If you are ever stuck for inspiration in the creative process, I urge you to follow a series of simple steps. Grab any Cohen volume, plug in New Skin for the Old Ceremony on vinyl, make a cup of coffee and open your heart to the world through this rare man’s eyes. Cohen will be missed by many, but he truly lives on in the hearts and minds of young Canadian writers and music lovers everywhere.

Woman of the Week: Jennifer Flanagan

Jennifer Flanagan, co-founder and CEO of the non-profit Actua, was exposed to science and technology at a young age, more so than other young girls in her class. Her father and uncle were both engineers, and as she says, “kids that grow up with engineers or scientists as parents are typically the ones that pursue it themselves.”

Flanagan’s plan was to go to medical school, combine her love of science and her affinity for helping people into one career. But, all that changed when she saw a poster on the wall asking the following question: Do you want to start a science or engineering camp? Her answer was a resounding yes.

That small group of students started up a few camps locally, but soon the model spread nationally among engineering programs at different universities. As of 1994, the camps had a policy for gender parity, with an equal 50 per cent divide between girl and boy participants. “That was unheard of,” Flanagan said.  “It was controversial, amazing, and it worked.”

The programs became more popular, and eventually the students started to receive funding from university chairs and Industry Canada. And that’s how Actua was formed — a national charitable organization that engages young kids and marginalized communities in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). “We [engage] about 225,000 youth a year – that includes a huge focus on those underrepresented audiences, or the hardest to reach audience in Canada,” Flanagan explained. This includes a program called InSTEM, a customized, community-based educational program that engages First Nations, Metis, and Inuit youth, as well as a digital literacy program that transforms young people from passive consumers into real innovators capable of using and creating future technology.

Twenty-five years later, Flanagan is just as excited about her role in Actua as she was when she saw that poster on the wall. She says she has seen progress since the program went national.

“Big evidence of that progress is Actua,” she said. “When I first started doing this work, we had to convince people it was important. A summer camp was one thing, but no one saw the link to the future work force or economic development.”

More woman are getting involved in certain science, like medicine for example, but Flanagan says there is still a void in research and in technology-based industries. “Whether its health-based research that’s skewed because no women were involved — it affects research outcome. It’s really important to have those voices at the table. And so, that starts really early. Talking to girls – telling them that they can do science and we NEED them in science. We need to make sure women are designing the world of the future.”

Flanagan is working with a team on a special project meant to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary next year. Actua is building a “Maker Mobile”, a mobile workshop that will travel from one end of the country to the other in just over 18 months, stopping at schools and community centres along the way. “A maker space is a workshop that is filled with technology tools that allow you to build prototypes or allow you to build products,” Flanagan said. “We are celebrating past innovation by building skills for future innovation.”

The idea is to inspire young people to not only learn more about science and technology, but also to inspire them to innovate. The maker mobile will empower these young people and shift their attitudes. Too often, people tell kids to pay attention to math and science so they can do great things in the future, Flanagan explained. Instead, why not encourage them to do great things now?

“Today’s youth are incredible innovators already. They are amazing problem solvers and have natural abilities with science and technology.”

Flanagan’s passion often follows her outside of her work with Actua. She sits on the board of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, an organization that has a wide mandate, which includes empowering women, helping them escape violent situations, and ending poverty.

“The work with the Canadian Women’s Foundation is so fundamental — doing work that is creating the first generation of women free of violence requires more passion. The work that we do, engage girls in science and technology goes far beyond knowing there is enough female participation in these subjects. It’s about raising confidence.”

Flanagan is also a finalist for the Social Change Award for the 2016 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards. She is reading a newly released book called “Girl Positive”, which tells the story of hundreds of girls across North America and finds out what they need, something Flanagan says is critical reading for parents and policy makers.

 

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People with mental health continue to suffer in Toronto

Imagine yourself sitting in the house alone day after day, jumping at every noise and wincing at bright lights.  You finally get up the courage to step out the house and go to the hospital to ask for help. Getting there is painful. You have to deal with the crowds of people on the subway and the constant fear of being watched walking down the street. Finally, you get to the hospital and wait for several hours before seeing a physician. You are given a list of phone numbers and then asked to leave. Clutching the piece of paper, you retreat back to your home and close the door.

In Toronto, people are turned away every day at hospitals and health centres and sent home with a list of contacts to call, only to be forced to sort through the maze of mental health on their own, oftentimes ending up on long waitlists with no aid. The issue in part has to do with the history of mental health in Canada. In the 1980s, mental health reforms across the world deinstitutionalized people from mental hospitals and many countries failed to provide a strong alternative. Many sick people fell into chronic homelessness, and a lack of replacement funding was offered.

In Canada, this is certainly the case. Other countries worldwide did implement strong healthcare systems that work to this day. Trieste in Italy created a network of 24-hour mental health facilities with inpatient beds and group home facilities for people with mental health in need of housing support. Because of constant access to mental health care, Trieste is known worldwide as the example to follow in managing the mental health needs of a population adequately.

It is no longer acceptable to place mental health as a secondary concern in health care. In Canada, mental health is a leading disability and affects one in five Canadians annually. According to the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), by the time the average Canadian reaches 40, one in two having been diagnosed with a mental illness. Finally, mental illness burdens individuals 1.5 times higher than all cancers, and more then seven times of infectious diseases. This is due to the number of years living with mental illness and a higher rate of early death.

How is turning people away from receiving help for mental health issues a proper response to a severe medical concern? If someone can’t leave their house due to aggressive anxiety, or is so depressed they are contemplating suicide, how is it remotely appropriate to put people on a waitlist?

CAMH alone has an eight-to-ten-week processing time once a doctor referral is submitted.  If someone has a debilitating mental illness, it is left up to them alone to make a mental health plan. It often falls to families and friends to help strategize what to do, and finding resources and filling out forms for long waitlists is exhausting.How many people simply fall off the grid and never receive the help they need? If the person who needs mental health aid does not have anyone to support them, they have to shoulder to burden themselves with no help in sight.

The federal government has promised to make mental health a priority, but has come under criticism as of late for cutting the Canada Health Transfer annual increase from six per cent to three per cent. Health Minister Jane Philpott has said she is committed to supporting mental health help, but the federal government has yet to provide any specific amount of funding.

Mental health needs to be a primary concern in Canada. It is no longer a conversation to have in hushed tones in the corner, but a public discourse that needs to be dealt with in the immediate future. There is nothing shameful about living with a mental illness. Can you imagine a society where each person living in Toronto had access to free counselling in every neighbourhood? It could be the change our society needs, to put people’s mental health first and foremost in a world that definitely needs it.

Fact: The cosmetics you use are probably still being tested on animals

When you put on your make-up in the morning, do you ever wonder whether it was tested on an animal first? Do you ever wonder if the mascara on your eyelashes or the gloss on your kips caused the deaths of thousands of rabbits and guinea pigs? Though the winds are changing, animal testing is still happening and we need to know why.

Animal testing is becoming less popular in Canada (but is still legal), however, it remains a mandatory practice in China for international cosmetics products such as those provided by Estee Lauder and MAC. This is despite the fact that animal testing in cosmetics has long been known as an unnecessary practice. Fortunately, there are people who are fighting to get the practice banned in Canada and around the world.

#BeCrueltyFree is a campaign that was launched by the Humane Society International (HSI) in 2012. “It is important to be cruelty-free because animals are suffering. It’s unnecessary. There are so many safe ingredients to use for testing and animals don’t need to be used any longer,”#BeCrueltyFree Campaign Manager Aviva Vetter says. “When we are raising awareness to ban animal testing in Canada, the first thing people say is ‘I thought that was done 20 years ago. Isn’t that done already?’” The European Union banned animal testing in 2013 and since then 34 countries have done so. Isn’t it Canada’s turn now?

In December 2015, Canadian Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen introduced the Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act, also known as Bill S-214. The bill would “prohibit animal testing and the sale of cosmetics developed or manufactured using cosmetic animal testing” and is about to launch into its second reading. Bill S-214 would mean that cosmetics currently in stores would have to abolish animal testing in order to sell in Canada.

China is one of the countries that has mandatory laws to test imported cosmetics. “Companies [of imported cosmetics] are required to submit finished product samples to the government for testing in a CFDA-recognized laboratory,” U.K #BeCrueltyFree Campaign Director Claire Mansfield says. “Once approved for sale, provincial authorities also conduct post-market inspections of cosmetic products, which can include a further layer of animal testing.”

What does all of this mean?

It means that any large cosmetics company that imports to China is testing on animals. It also means that any small brand owned by a parent cosmetics company that sells to China may not actually be cruelty-free. Estee-lauder, Lacome, Revlon, Clinque, MAC, Covergirl, Victoria’s Secret, and Alamy are some of many large-scale cosmetics companies that are currently selling in China — and testing on animals in order to do so.

When I last bought Mascara at Shopper’s Drug Mart, I was told that Smashbox was cruelty-free. I excitedly purchased their make-up and, when presented with this article, contact them with high expectations. Instead of an interview, I was offered a written statement.

“Yes, we live for lipstick and are serious about primers — but we also love animals. That’s why we are cruelty-free. We don’t test on animals, only volunteers. Nor do we sell in any countries that require animal testing by law,” a Smashbox spokesperson wrote.

That’s when I found out they were owned by Estee Lauder. Spokesperson Alexandra Traber explained that Estee Lauder “may still conduct or require animal testing by law of cosmetic products or ingredients to demonstrate safety” in countries where regulatory authorities require it.

“For example, before we are able to import any of our products into China, the Chinese government requires all importers of cosmetics, including us, to pay for animal testing that is conducted by a government-mandated laboratory in China,” she said. “As a global company, we are committed to providing our products and services to our consumers where they live, and we must comply with all legal requirements in the countries where we do business.”

Smashbox does not sell their product in China, but refused to elaborate on the particulars of their policy, which I found confusing. Is this true cruelty-free advocacy? Needless to say, my Smashbox mascara landed in the trash the next day, just to be safe.

Instead, I turned to a smaller grassroots business. Many cosmetics companies in Canada are already using cruelty-free practices and choose to comply with a standard known as Leaping Bunny. This animal coalition is made up of seven animal protection agencies in Canada and the United States, and certifies companies to ensure they aren’t testing on animals. The coalition has grown over the last 20 years to encompass over 800 cosmetic companies. There is also no cost for a company to become certified.

“If we are working with ingredients that are synthetic and dangerous for the earth and our bodies, why are we animal testing? Two wrongs don’t make a right,”says Milena Lye, owner of Leaping Bunny certified cosmetics company Just the Goods. “I sought out Leaping Bunny personally. I went to their website, and found it is actually easier than I thought to become involved. You document all of your suppliers, assuring that they don’t test on animals. . It is a 2-3 year period, and companies are spot-checked. I found about 80 per cent of suppliers are willing to be cruelty-free, no reason for it to be tested anymore.”

By purchasing cruelty-free and taking part in the #BeCrueltyFree campaign, you are supporting positive change for the way people treat animals. With various in-vitro alternatives to animal testing already available (and cheaper as well), banning animal-testing in places like Canada and China seems to be the only option.

I’m going home to get rid of all of my animal-tested cosmetics, are you?