Tag

feature

Browsing

Sarah’s journal: September 11, 2018

My family and I are now living in Barbados. We are getting used to the heat, and after a few weeks we’ve started to settle in, waking every morning at 5:30 with the sun. The whistling frogs that start calling at dusk fade out as the sun comes up and the birds start to sing. Our house is high up on a ridge that looks over the west coast. We have a fantastic view of the Caribbean and the sunsets are spectacular. In the early mornings you can hear the roosters crow and the monkeys out in the garden playing. There is life all around us and, as my son says, it’s hard to sleep through all the noise.

I’m discovering that the ocean and sky are a lot bigger here than in Toronto. The sea is constantly changing, this morning it is still, looking like glass reflecting the blue sky above. A goat bleats from the farm below and a rooster calls from a tree in the park down in Speightstown. We’re expecting Hurricane Isaac to pass by Barbados in a few days, but you wouldn’t know it, like the sea today the people are calm. The cars on the main road below give a double beep that is more a cheerful salutation than the angry horn blasts that seem to fill the streets in Toronto.

The first couple of weeks here have been a whirlwind of activity. From mistakenly not realizing our kids needed student visas (yes even if it is a private secondary school) and being detained when we landed — to finding the local (less expensive) hardware and grocery stores. The price of food seems staggering because it’s easy to forget that the Barbadian (Bajan) dollar is worth 2/3rds of a Canadian dollar. After paying $28 Bajan for some scoop nacho chips, I’ve inspired my family to eat more local foods, with the caveat that I’ll bake fresh bread at least once a week. So far my home-made bagels are a success.

In the past two weeks I’ve driven all over the island. I’ve learned to give a happy toot when going around a tight blind corner (the sugar cane grows too high to see over). Yesterday I discovered a shortcut that took me north along the western ridge of the island. I could see the coastline with fields of sugar cane rolling down to the sea. I turned west taking a road that suddenly dipped into a gully and found myself in a cool dense jungle that seemed almost magical. At this time of year, the flamboyant trees are all in bloom and the island seems painted with colourful orange and red blossoms.

There is a natural beauty here that I’m just beginning to understand. The people are gentle but also passionate — like the island itself.

I began thinking about moving to the Caribbean a few years ago when I realized that my actions could actually have a positive impact on the world. Keeping active and finding a way to contribute by building something drives me forward every day.

A few years ago, I started researching tourism in the Caribbean. While it has brought positive economic growth, it has also had some negative side effects. Local agriculture and manufacturing have dwindled to the point where most of the islands import most of their food and supplies. This makes living on the islands extremely expensive and feeds into the cycle of poverty that tourism was supposed to eliminate. I began thinking about ways to inspire local communities to become more self-sufficient and found that the self-sufficiency of a community relies on creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship. I studied ways to inspire entrepreneurs. Government and community support play a large role, but so too do the level of arts and culture available in the society. Coming from a family of artists, this opportunity intrigued me, and as I did more research, I found that most of the islands lack what communities in Canada all seem to have — arts and cultural centres. Instead, the islands have theatres and art galleries designed to cater to tourists, but nothing geared at educating local communities.

This discovery shocked me and sparked the idea of creating arts and cultural centres across the Caribbean. But then the real challenge arose — how do we sustain them?

As I did more research, I discovered a unique anomaly in the hospitality industry. Affluent travellers were changing their habits, looking for more ‘experiential’ type of vacations rather than the all-inclusive gated resorts that once attracted them. Although the all-inclusive type of resort still attracts tourists looking for great deals, affluent millennials and baby boomers want to experience the local culture more intimately, and they support environmental initiatives.

Combine this discovery with the goal of building arts and cultural centres across the Caribbean and our business model for Canvas and Cave was born. I’m living in Barbados now to steer the development of our first unique arts and culture centre fused with an environmental resort. It will cater to affluent travellers, offer a gorgeous view of the Caribbean, with an organic garden to supply our restaurant, and an arts centre where local communities and affluent travellers can connect, create, and share ideas.

Greg and I have developed the habit of sitting out on the deck to watch the sun set and the stars come out. We’ve found the planets, and this time of year Venus sits bright in the western sky. A sliver of a moon is just setting and the whistling frogs at dusk signal that the end of the day. I find that I can hardly wait for what the next day will bring.

Toronto’s affordable housing scandal

 

What do you get when you hold housing development back, add millions of dollars in development charges, and layers of red tape to the development process? A housing shortage.

It isn’t rocket science, and yet city planners and politicians keep blaming “greedy” developers for housing affordability issues rather than evaluate their own flawed systems. The truth is that Toronto’s urban planning department has expanded their power and authority and in doing so they have added so much complexity to the project approval process that instead of taking the regulated nine month timeframe, development projects often don’t even get looked at for at least a year, and the entire approval process from start to finish can take between 4 to 6 years.

Toronto is just seeing the beginning of the housing crisis. With such a bloated approval process and no certainty on the costs associated with development, home builders have become wary of building in Toronto.

The fact that the city has more than doubled development charges over the past few years has added huge costs to the underlying price of housing. Take for example the square foot cost of building a condo. Add the cost of the land, construction, development charges the city imposes as well as the cost to borrow money to pay for construction, and developers could reasonably estimate the square foot cost they needed to charge their customers. However, Toronto refuses to standardize development charges to the point where one building might be required to pay much more than another directly beside it.

In other cities like Ottawa the development charges are posted so that every builder knows what they need to budget for in order to develop a project. In Toronto the development charges are not advertized because the city is constantly adding new ones, with the most recent addition in May of a transit development charge that has yet to be specified. Constantly adding fees every few months to development charges doesn’t allow a developer to know what their costs are going into a project, which in turn significantly increases the risk for investors and for home buyers – with many learning the condo they put money down on a year ago is no longer being built. This uncertainty has a cost and all costs get added to the initial price of a home. Yet the city Toronto refuses to come up with published rates for development charges that developers can rely on when costing their projects.

The fact that Toronto’s development approval process has bloated from nine-months to six years is good news for current homeowners as the shortage of housing will see home values increase significantly, but over the long term property taxes will need to increase dramatically to cover the operating cost of a large city and push middle class families out of the city.

There are a few quick fixes the City of Toronto must make in order to encourage housing affordability.

First reduce the amount of red tape involved in the development approval process.

Next stop city planners from pretending to be architects. They should not be deciding the design of a building (or the colour of a wall!) those aspects of design should be handled by educated designers and architects – they belong in the private sector. The job of Toronto’s city planners must be curtailed to encompass safeguarding that buildings meet the building code and the official plan. It’s time to focus on the fact that glass is falling out of buildings because city staff were sidetracked by more prestigious ambitions and not doing their job of safeguarding the public. The less design work city staff do, the more efficient the planning and building departments will be. As things now stand, city staff have grabbed far too much power and our taxes are paying planners to play at being architects and designers. It’s a waste of time and money that is distracting them from doing their job.

The leadership at Toronto planning over the past five years was a grab for power. Now that former chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat has set her sites on bigger ambitions it is time for the city to get planning staff back to focusing on their core job of being wardens over the designs brought to them.

An uber movement: Women share their journeys

 

Share Her Journey’ is a five-year TIFF initiative, which aims at reversing the current situation of underrepresentation of women in the film industry through a mix of concerted advocacy and fundraising efforts to achieve gender parity in film both on screen and behind the camera.

Last year’s data show that of the top 250 films, only 18 percent employed women directors, writers, producers and editors. In the same year, of the top 250 films 30 percent employed women in technical jobs behind the scenes.

Yesterday, I attended the ‘Share Her Journey’ rally where a few thousand people gathered on King Street to hear a panel of well-respected women in film speak in the name of all the women in the industry to advocate for gender parity and diversity. According to one of the speakers on the panel, Geena Davis, who looked out from the stage, the crowd was full of men, which is significant evidence that change is actually happening. Men are listening and perhaps rethinking behaviours that may not have not violated basic rules of consent, decency, and respect, but were still a reflection of gender inequality.

Geena Davis delivered a very inspiring speech which can be summarized by her statement “no more missed opportunities.” Since 2009, Geena has devoted herself advocating for more gender equality on screen through the Geena Davis Institute for Gender in Media. She said that in order to move forward and in the right direction, the leaders in the industry need to shift from an “unconscious gender bias” to a more “conscious gender bias”. The gender imbalance issue can be solved very quickly almost instantly by changing male first names into female first names in scripts, turning male characters into female characters, “If a script says ‘a crowd gathered’, add comma, ‘half of which is female’.”

Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Founder and Director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, took the stage later “to depress” the crowd with some more stats that confirm a lack of inclusion and diversity in the entertainment industry. Stacey describes the steps that she feels need to be taken in order to move forward. The first step is accountability: “Companies need to set inclusion goals, and the public needs to hold those companies accountable.”; second is community: She has worked with the Geena Davis Institute for a number of years and she knows that connection is empowering. The third step is tenacity: in other words, never give up. “We must feel that our voices and our stories matter” Stacey said.

Other speakers on the panel included director Nandita Das who shared her experience as a “female director”. She explains that after years of taking offense about being addressed as a female director, she started to own it.

Mia Kirshner, Canadian actor and co-founder of the #AfterMeToo movement, talked about the lack of resources available to survivors of sexual harassment.

Amma Asante relays her experience as a director of colour being told that her project to make a film about World War I was too big for her.

Actress Amanda Brugel brought in the perspective of a mother and the necessity to teach young boys the proper way to behave so that they will not have to unlearn later on in life. She calls herself a “male mobilizer” as opposed to a “male sympathizer”. She urged everyone to call out inappropriate behavior, not to support the work of people who have been found guilty with sexually-related charges, and to support the work of women.

Finally, another accomplished woman took to stage, Cathy Schulman, film producer and winner of an Academy Award for Crash in 2004. Cathy urged artists to create art that makes a difference and executives running companies, to hire people who reflect diversity.

Sharing ideas and stories with others on social media has helped to create powerful movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp which have forced everyone to rethink, refocus, regroup, reframe, and relearn. In other words, let’s keep talking about it, let’s make some noise and let’s share the journey.

Jordan Peterson: Irritatingly impressive

 

When I first encountered Dr. Jordan Peterson, I was put off by him almost immediately—he appeared a cold, cynical, even angry figure. I thought he misunderstood many of the concepts that, while I was critical of them myself, I was fascinated by. And I felt, in a way, like he was attacking my own stance; therefore, (in my arrogance) I reckoned his research must have missed something!

But the more I listened, the more I was convinced that he knew what he was talking about. He spoke about issues from various perspectives, and with a nuanced understanding. There remains a number of significant topics that I disagree with him on; however, his influence on today’s zeitgeist is significant enough that I believe he is worth talking about.

Peterson’s rise to fame/infamy began in September 2016, when he posted a series of YouTube videos criticising Bill C-16—a law passed which added gender expression and gender identity as protected grounds under the Canadian Human Rights Code. He claimed that the bill was an infringement of free speech, and that it would become a cause of compelled speech.

His upsurge has received mixed reviews. While he has amassed an enormous online following, and sold millions of copies of his new book, 12 Rules For Life, there remains a substantial number of people who disagree with his views on Marxist philosophies, postmodernism, religion, and (of course) who don’t share his opinions on gender. Instead of embracing the ‘progressive’ notions, which promote gender fluidity and non-binary gender, Peterson argues that gender is limited by biological truths, which Bill C-16 ignores. During a presentation on ‘The Rising Tide of Compelled Speech in Canada‘ at Queen’s University, Ontario, he criticised the bill’s use of the term ‘gender spectrum’: “I don’t know what that means, and I don’t believe the people who wrote it know what that means either.” At one point during the event, two protestors—quite perfectly summarising the opposition to Peterson’s alleged defence of free speech—came on stage holding a sign that read: “Freedom to smash bigotry.”

Peterson has attracted the acclaim of many people, as evidenced by his book sales. His audience, however, is observed as being mostly young men, and there is an accusation of Peterson that his stance encourages alt-right, Neo-Nazi thought. In a scathing article on Macleans.ca, Peterson was described as being “The Stupid Man’s Smart Person.”

Personally, though, I feel like there is a misunderstanding between Peterson and his critics. This was well demonstrated in an interview he had on Channel 4 with Cathy Newman, which now has more than 10 million views on YouTube. There was a theme in this interview where Peterson’s words were twisted to paint a picture of him that was quite inaccurate.

Moreover, the article I referenced on Macleans.ca seems to misrepresent his message, while bringing attention to factors that are out of his control (such as the people who listen to him).

Peterson’s message is a very basic, almost cliché encouragement. His 12 Rules could be summarised, in my reading, by one simple expression: “Buck up, bucko!”

It’s hardly a radical or original message. But his book does dress that message up in an impressively academic way; thereby it acts as a kind of self-help book for intellectuals. There are many other factors (less noble factors, too) that the book is celebrating success—Peterson is by no means a messiah! Criticism of him, though, has so far lacked genuine substance, or reference to his actual words. I think that is a shame.

One thing that is worth praising Peterson for is his success in attracting people with polarized views, and from different ends of the political spectrum, into the same discussion. His presence is known, one way or another, by both radical Feminists and Neo-Nazis (as well as everywhere in between). I think it’s rare that people from these two opposite poles meet, and I believe that a civilized dialogue between them (as unlikely as that seems) would be enormously beneficial to human consciousness.

In the name of progress, it is important to remember that humanity will not progress without the so-called alt-right, nor will it progress without the so-called ‘Social Justice Warriors’. Humanity can only progress in unity with itself. In such a crucial time, evolutionarily speaking, it is more important than ever that people talk openly, honestly, and reach some sort of understanding. The reluctance to accept each other’s differences—even those that are misled – and to work towards a logical compromise could have devastating results.

I would love to see Peterson debate thinkers along the lines of Peter Joseph or Roxanne Meadows, whose futuristic and technological points of view he seems not to have considered so deeply. Perhaps a meeting with leftists such as Abby Martin, or even an academic behemoth such as Noam Chomsky, would yield interesting results—maybe these debates would challenge Peterson in such a way that hasn’t really happened yet.

But what is true of Peterson, in my opinion, is that he has built a platform on which people can express their thoughts honestly and unashamedly. Whatever your view of Peterson may be, you can’t deny that there’s something impressive—even decent about what he has achieved.

Oman: Travel off the path

 

I had the opportunity to enjoy some leisure time this afternoon and all I could think of was surf through the photos on my computer. Halfway through the clutter, I found some amazing photos taken during my time in Oman a couple of years ago. So, here I have some photos to share and a story to tell.

To tell the truth, I had never really thought of Oman as a travel destination until my visit. Even with the golden sand, and rocky mountains, the place looked immensely beautiful. The capital city, Muscat, was full to the brim with palatial malls, tiny shops, souks (marketplace), and glorious mosques with a faint smell of frankincense lingering in the air.

My first stop was at the Muttrah Corniche, which was sandwiched between a vast stretch of azure sea and the Muttrah Souk. Muttrah Souk was a place that truly left me gaping due to its portrayal of a typically chaotic Arab market despite being put together under modern timber roofing. The place sells almost every Omani and Indian artifact from traditional jewellery and clothing, to antiques.

I found the traditional coffeehouse at the entrance to be the meeting point of local elderly men who sat sipping on a glass of qahwa (Arabic coffee). Getting lost in the souk was something that I found to be funny and equally thrilling. After finding my way out of the souk, I headed over to see dhows (traditional sailing vessels) being built by hand at Sur—a town nestled along the Gulf of Oman. Dhow building wasn’t just a job here, rather a way of life, culture, and tradition.

When in Oman, I had the privilege to meet and greet some Omanis whom I found to be friendly. The evenings were spent in one of my Omani friend’s house where they served qahwa, dates, and various other sweet confections.

Every city in Oman has a fort for visitors to explore, but the one that I found most interesting  is the Bahla Fort, which is also the oldest fort. Oman’s regional dishes are less spicy and equally delicious. Being a picky eater, I found kabsa (rice dish), Omani halwa (sweet confections), and kebabs to be worthy enough to enter my list of favourite dishes.

My last stop in the country was at Salalah, the southernmost city. Exploring Salalah was a completely different experience as it looked nothing like the other cities in Oman. The landscape transformed from brown deserts into emerald green valleys and fields. There is plenty of vegetation here even during the peak of summer. The long narrow ranges of streets and bazaars are home to shops that sell spices, traditional garments, and incense. Bargaining was my favourite activity here.

The eastern part of the city took half my day as I sauntered through the Taqah Castle, Khor Rori archaeological site, and the beautiful blue lagoon named Mughsayl with a pile of birds including flamingos scattered on its banks. I boarded my flight back to India the next day with a camera full of memories by my side.

Icy hot: Time to end the pain of climate change

 

Living in Toronto, it can be easy to tune out climate change because it still has not affected us nearly as much as it has other parts of the world, like the islands in the Pacific, which are literally sinking because of rising sea levels. Toronto does not have a hurricane season that has proven to be coming back worse and worse each year. However, the lack of an extreme weather event does not mean that the city is not affected. The first September long weekend being the most recent example with its record-breaking high temperatures.  It is important to realize that these severe and unpredictable weather events happening elsewhere will be on the city’s doorstep eventually. Turning a blind eye to the weather events caused around the world by climate change will only serve to harm Toronto.

Torontonians can look forward to much hotter and longer summers as well as more flooding. The city is already known for its at times unbearable humidity that makes 27 degrees Celsius feel like 35. The humidity will only continue to increase according to a climate change study done by SENES Consultants Limited. Every summer will get hotter and wetter. Torontonians are already used to a couple of heat waves during the summer, but eventually this will just become one long heat wave. Climate change is not just about increasing temperatures, hence the reason the term has evolved from global warming into climate change. Toronto will be affected in a number of ways beyond increasingly hotter and longer summers.

In the beginning of August, Toronto had some very dramatic rainfall, which in turn led to really bad flooding that even caused a power outage. This will become a much more regular occurrence according to the same climate change study predicting that Toronto will be getting hotter. Not only does flooding cause massive delays, it also does extensive damage to the city’s infrastructure, which ultimately means that climate change is going to be a very expensive problem falling on the taxpayers. There needs to be viable long-term solutions to the issue that the city is facing. Fewer cars and more bikes on the road would be a great place to start.

It is not only Toronto’s summers that are going to get worse. Even though the city’s winters are getting milder, the climate change study predicts that ice storms like the one in December 2013, which left half the city without power for days, will also increase. Ice storms are extremely damaging and scary, and anyone who experienced the one in 2013 in Toronto knows that well. The weight of climate change on the city and its resources is only going to get heavier. Erratic weather events will make it harder to lead normal lives. A severe ice storm  puts everything at a standstill and the city has to pour enormous resourses into mitigating the situation.

This past summer has provided direct empirical evidence of the damaging effects of climate change. From the record-breaking high temperatures to the flooding, there can be no denial that while Toronto is not suffering as much as other nations under the weight of climate change, the city is affected. Climate change is going to be a very expensive problem for the city to solve. The more  people are aware of how it will directly affect their lives, perhaps the more willing they will be in trying to do their own part to minimize their carbon footprint. In a city of almost three million people, everyone doing just a little bit would translate into a lot. What kind of city do the citizens of Toronto want to leave to future generations, a hot, smoggy, flooded one?

Woman of the Week: Sarah Landstreet

 

From working a radio telescope on the summit of a Hawaiian volcano, to opening the first cupcake bakery in Northern Ireland, and now, mastering the art of packaging right here in Canada, Sarah Landstreet is the human equivalent of a Swiss army knife—equipped with the tools for success and ready for whatever the world throws her way.

Sarah is the founder and CEO of Georgette Packaging, a homegrown Canadian company that helps businesses navigate the design, manufacturing and marketing of customized packaging. Their goal is to keep customers educated and environmentally conscious, while also encouraging them to have fun and, quite literally, think outside of the box.

Fuelled by a curious mind, Sarah’s journey to the printing press is decorated with her explorations in a variety of industries. By training, she’s a mechanical engineer and has worked with the California Institute of Technology, as well as with two environmental consulting companies in the UK, where she was responsible for lessening the carbon footprint of new and refurbished building projects. But, despite her success, Sarah’s career was lacking the on-site experience and face-to-face interactions that she so often craved. So, noticing the booming trend of American cupcake bakeries in the UK at the time, she quit her job and, on a whim, opened a bakery of her own in 2008.

“I was really interested in the business side and the marketing aspects of it … baking was the one small thing I had to figure out how to do in order to run this bakery business,” she says with a laugh.

Baking, believe it or not, was the easy part. The hard part was an unexpected hurdle and a growing frustration for bakery owners everywhere: packaging.

“It was really easy to get things like branded business cards, a website, a logo, branded stickers, but packaging was still this aspect of the food business that, although clearly so incredibly vital, people would ask, ‘Where do I go? Do I have to call China? Do I need to get one million units?’” she says. “No one seemed to have a clear idea. So there was a ton of very similar, unbranded packaging, and as the market became more and more competitive, it was impossible to differentiate.”

Cue the inception of Georgette Packaging, which was Sarah’s way, as she says, to connect the old-school, opaque packaging industry with the hoards of rapidly growing food businesses.

Although now a team of seven people, Georgette was a solo endeavour for the first year and a half of operation. Sarah split her time between sales and manufacturing, learning all facets of the biz, from negotiating with suppliers to (wo)manning the print machines.

“About 70 percent of disposable packaging is made for the food industry,” Sarah says, so that is who she initially targeted—bakeries, cafes and specialty shops that were keen on distinguishing themselves from the pack. Now, she’s expanded to work with hotels, athletic brands, and cannabis companies, among others. Regardless of their background, however, the first step is educating her customers on their options, with the primary goal of staying as environmentally friendly as possible.

“Disposable packaging is a huge problem, we know that,” Sarah says. “It has positives because it helps businesses grow, but on the flipside, it is disposable, so there’s a lot of energy being used for something that’s just being thrown away. We feel, as a player within the industry, that we have a much bigger responsibility to try to help people make more thoughtful choices.”

In terms of choices, there really are only a few when it comes to material—two of them being the standard white or kraft (brown) cardboard boxes. “What you might not know is that, while the two of them may seem like regular cardboard boxes—white versus kraft—the white box actually takes seven times more energy to manufacture than an equivalent kraft box,” she says. “Another thing you might not know is that if the boxes come from China, they often have this very thin plastic lamination that goes on the outside of the box … You can’t really tell it’s there, but it makes the box non-recyclable.”

As there is no current regulation for how these materials are labelled, many people mistakenly throw plastic-lined boxes into their blue bins, essentially contaminating the recycling system. So, educating her customers is a task that reaches even beyond choosing materials to ensuring that businesses are also considering their package labels and their on-site waste facilities. Georgette is also in the process of launching new initiatives for greener options, such as a carbon neutral program and garden-compostable bagasse packaging.

In a way, Georgette Packaging has pulled together Sarah’s diverse set of interests in engineering, entrepreneurship, food, and most importantly, sustainability. Now a master of many trades, her success is a testament to taking risks and exploring the unfamiliar.

“When an industry is set up in such a traditional way that they’ve always had the same types of people running it and they’ve always run it in the same type of way, there are a lot of opportunities there for fresh eyes, questions, and new ideas,” she concludes. “Show up, own it and always be yourself.”

Turning over a new leaf: Cannabis lights up the comedy scene

 

With the legalization of recreational cannabis coming up on October 17, the Cannabis Comedy Festival is a timely event to prepare the community for what it may well be the most anticipated and yet the most feared piece of legislation in Canadian politics. The Cannabis Comedy Festival took place in August at the Regent Theatre in Toronto. The choice of a mainstream and a smoking-free venue reflects the intention to open the event to everyone, stoners and not.

The impending legalization is surely generating a well of discussions within the cannabis users’ community as well as outside. The implications for  the day-to-day life of Canadians are so numerous that, whether consumers or not, it is giving everyone some food for thought as to the pros and cons of legal recreational marijuana.

As I explore the topic, I learn that Toronto is full of cannabis comedy lounges where people can enjoy a joint as well as a comedy show. Ronen Geisler, Producer of the festival says, “Toronto has a large cannabis comedy community. There are cannabis lounges all over the city that host cannabis comedy shows on a nightly basis. We believe that both cannabis and laughter are the best medicine one can have.” Ronen hopes that the festival will grow and spread to other cities and provinces throughout Canada. In the meantime, a major cannabis comedy show is in the planning for October 17.

Since these clubs have been operating mostly underground, their status is currently in a grey area. Their future is also uncertain as the by-laws that regulate cannabis might change in the future. However, it’s not hard to predict that they will likely multiply in this day and age when they are no longer ruled by prohibition.

Cannabis lounges have been very popular in Toronto for the past ten years offering a platform to comedians to practice their art and a positive and non-judgmental space for cannabis users. These weed lounges have played a big part in the stand-up community in Toronto. There are many long running shows, among these, Jeff Paul’s “Dopen Mic”, Puff Mama’s Underground Comedy Club, Amanda Day’s, “Stoned up comedy” at Kensington Market’s Hot Box, and Brian O’Gorman’s and Mike Rita’s show at Vapour Central. Regardless of whether comedians are 420 friendly or not, these venues are inclusive, supportive, playing a key part in the development of many stand-up comedians.

I was in the audience that night, pushed by the curiosity to attend a show that constitutes a genre of its own, the cannabis comedy festival was a lot of fun. I am not a cannabis user, but I believe that it’s time to remove the outdated stigma that weed carries, especially given the science-based benefits of medical marijuana. I laughed at some of the jokes and didn’t at others, but that is normal with comedy; after all, making people laugh is a tough trade. One of the performers, Lianne Mauladin, a stand-up comedian for ten years, comments “It’s an exciting time to be in comedy! Comedy shows and festivals, targeting different groups of people, are popping up everywhere.”

Lianne runs her own show Merry Jane of Comedy which features the best in female stand-up comics. She continues, “The show has become a rite of passage for women in the community and a fantastic way to network with comedians.” Lianne does not define herself a “cannabis comedian”. “I have like one joke about an anti-drug ad. I think it’s my hippie vibe and my Canadian with a hint of ‘surfer’ accent that gets me booked on these things.”

Certainly, a discussion around cannabis and its implications in the life of users and the people around them is underway. The Cannabis Comedy Festival was an original way to introduce weed-inspired humour to a wider audience. What’s more, cannabis and comedy as a subgenre is likely to leave the fringe and enter the mainstream as of October 17.

6 Benefits of learning a second language

Ten people are sitting at the boardroom in their Montreal office discussing their day-to-day business. As I am sitting there attending for the first time, I immediately become aware that everyone is juggling between English and French with ease. One moment the conversation is in French, the next it switches to English for no apparent reason other than any given idea or topic may be better said or comes more easily to mind in one language as opposed to the other. I better get used to the way this meeting is going right away. Both official languages are used equally and interchangeably and find it so fascinating to be speaking Frenglish.

A linguist by background and speaker of three languages, I am used to being surrounded by other multilingual speakers, who whether by birth, studies or time spent abroad, have come to appreciate the resourcefulness that comes with multilingualism. Over the years, through reading on the topic and swapping notes with other polyglots, I’ve enjoyed the immediate benefits of multilingualism as a traveller—I can order a cerveza at the bar of a Cuban resort, I can ask and receive directions to la Tour Eiffel, I understood why the waiter in Italy laughed when my husband mistakenly asked for cane (dog) on his pizza rather than carne (meat). However, to know that there are many science-based benefits to speaking more than one language, fills me with a renewed pride. Let’s explore what they are:

  1. Improves perception: According to a research of the Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, speaking a foreign language changes the perception of the world. Speakers of more than one language view the world and think differently. In other words, the perception of the world is determined by the wealth of vocabulary one has in store: the more words, the better the perception.
  2. Makes you better at multi-tasking: This is something that really speaks to me. In fact, I’m a professional juggler. The ability to switch between different vocabularies mirrors the ability to juggle multiple tasks. Bilinguals seem to be more adaptable and flexible when it comes to shifting their attention on to a different task and refocus. In the corporate world, this skill is considered a sign of adaptability and flexibility.
  3. Improves your native language: This is not an obvious benefit when you think of it. English speakers rarely stop to think why we say things like “The dinner is on me”. This idiom immediately evokes the image of a clumsy waiter pouring chicken noodle soup all over you. If a speaker of another language asked you why you say that, when you mean you’re going to pay for dinner, you’d probably just say “because this is the way it is.”  In other words, you take what you know for granted. However, the moment you start dipping your toes into the unknown waters of a foreign language, you may find yourself pondering on grammar rules.
  4. Improves memory: A research from the Wallenberg Academy Fellow Umea University, states that being bilingual improves working memory. Multingual speakers often consciously inhibit words that are not relevant to the language they use in any given conversation. They draw from different vocabularies to make selections. I can say dog, chien, cane, and perro to mean a member of the canine family. It’s like getting a workout for the brain. That is to say, treat your brain like a muscle to keep your working memory alive.
  5. Helps make better decisions: This is in my opinion the most fascinating fact. A research has shown that people tend to make better decisions when they think in their second language; reason being is the native language is loaded of emotional content; therefore, decisions do not come from a place of rational thinking. I’ve always thought that I am more rational in English. Emotions like upset or fear suddenly bring me back to my roots in the Bel Paese. Research conducted by the University of Trento in Italy and the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom suggests this is because the part of the brain that processes the native language is more intuitive while the part of the brain that processes other languages is more rational.
  6. Experience later onset of Alzheimer and dementia: This one gives me hope. Research conducted at the bilingualism centre at Edinburgh University shows that being bilingual staves off dementia and Alzheimer by four or five years. If that is true, and I still get Alzheimers, what excuses would I have?

So there is more to bilingualism than being able to order a beer in another language and quench your thirst.

Woman of the week: Sue Britton

 

Innovation is a very popular concept for today’s global businesses. Change, supported by technology, is occurring at an accelerated and unprecedented rate. Businesses all over the world are looking for tools to perform their transactions in a more innovative and efficient manner. Sue Britton, Founder and CEO of Fintech Growth Syndicate Inc. (FGS) describes herself as “passionate about innovation.” Founded in 2016, FGS helps banks, insurance companies, and other financial institutions realize the changes that they want to make. Their clients can either outsource the whole project to them, or leverage from their experience, knowledge, and contacts. FGS, a 15-people technology firm, is deeply embedded in Canada’s fintech ecosystem.

As I talk to Sue, it is clear that she is very proud of her accomplishment—who would not be! And what’s more, she proves that it’s never too late to change career and start something from the ground up. Reflecting on her professional life, Sue says, “I’m turning 50 this year. I came to a point in my life where after a long career I felt like starting a new one late in my life. This is the first time I am doing something I love.” She holds a degree in commerce, worked for the Four Seasons for many years, then moved on to work for one of Canada’s leading financial technology firms before setting up her own business.

In a sector that is largely male-dominated, to find a woman who is a senior executive and owns her own firm is rare to say the least. Women are so underrepresented in the technology sector, even more so as executives of technology companies, that profiling Sue is an important and unique opportunity.

Mother and wife, Sue is quick to credit her husband for allowing her to pursue her career while he stayed home raising their three now grown children. She says, “It wasn’t the most popular thing to do at the time, but it worked for us.” After 25 years of experience in the corporate world, 47 years young, and driven by ambition, she felt frustrated with being limited in her professional life. She knew she was passionate about innovation. This passion led her to start her own company. Sue admits that setting up shop wasn’t as an easy enterprise to undertake as doing innovation within a company. However, “being an entrepreneur is an extremely rewarding experience.” Sue continues, “It’s what gets me up in the morning, solving problems that seem opportunities and making those opportunities in the financial services space happen faster.”

When addressing the issue of gender imbalance in the technology sector, Sue firmly believes that men and women need to be to committed to ensure that both genders are equally represented in public forums. Women have historically been off-stage more than on-stage. Sue believes that it is long overdue for that dynamic to change. Sue says, “When I am asked to speak at conferences, I will not entertain speaking if the female representation I’m with is less than 50 percent.”

Although, she is a living example that women can find their space in technology, there is still a long and winding road ahead. Her company tracks all the Canadian start-ups in the fintech industry. Out of thousands of them, female CEOs and founders can be counted on two hands. This is less a reflection of a dearth of women who have the right skills, as of the fact that women are doing other things and not working in the technology-oriented spaces. Men need to be part of the solution, and women must not be afraid of calling out on certain behaviours that perpetrate gender inequality.

That’s why her advice to women who want to pursue a career in technology is to behave as though they are equal to men and not to settle for a job that is not fulfilling. Also, Sue strongly recommends to reach out to the start-up community which is ”made up by a generous bunch of people” congregating online and offline in various meetup groups. There is even a Facebook group called StartupNorth whose members are heads of VC companies and entrepreneurs among others. Incubators and accelerators are also a good place to go, to talk to people who can make the right introduction.