Many Thanks

There are so many things I have not had the time to mention here (hello Historian Laureate adventures!), but I am too blissed out not to share this news:

My latest show at CJSR – All That Matters – just won a national award and a listener-voted award back in Edmonton!

Corine Demas, Marie Fontaine and I accepting CJSR's Best News Show award for 2016.
Corine Demas, Marie Fontaine and I from the All That Matters team accepting CJSR’s Best News Show award for 2016.

It’s been a really fun and creatively challenging show to make since it launched in January 2015. It’s an Alberta-focused arts and culture show. The idea is that with each episode, we try to take small bites out of a big question. We’ve put together stories about big ideas like whether anything we make is permanent, what “good behaviour” means, what the Art Gallery of Alberta could do to turn its attendance around, and what makes a diva (one of my favourite episodes).

ncra award
Our NCRA award for Special Programming.

In June, we won a Special Programming award from the National Campus and Community Radio Association (NCRA) for a 2-part documentary we made called Boot Camp Poets. It was really exciting to get to be in Ottawa to receive it in person. And a big surprise!

In Boot Camp Poets, we told the stories of 8 men who were part of a group sharing their poetry and rap with each other while serving as inmates at the Edmonton Remand Centre. We used the two parts of the documentary to share their songs, stories, and poems, and offer context for the issues they faced. We interviewed someone from the John Howard Society who helps men transition back into regular life after jail, and we spoke to The Inside Circle author Patti Laboucane-Benson about why Indigenous people are so over-represented in Canada’s prison system.

This was one of the most challenging radio projects I’ve worked on so far. It was definitely nerve-wracking getting up the courage to go into the Remand Centre for the first time with my two collaborators on the doc, Sara Khembo Alfazema and Joe Hartfeil. It took a lot of guts for those men to share their stories with us too.

Here are the two parts, in case you want to have a listen:

And we were very touched to win the CJSR award for Best News Show this year at the annual CJSR volunteer awards. This is a listener-voted award, so it means a huge amount to know people out there have been loving the show as much as we’ve loved making it.

Community radio is such an important platform to share under-represented stories, and nurture talent. Hanging out with radio folks from across Canada (like these lovely dweebs below from CJSR, CJSW in Calgary and CKXU in Lethbridge) reminded me how innovative and talented this sector is. These awards are a nice bonus for the privilege of being in that world.

alberta radio peeps

Streetcars, Satan, and other successes

This has been a bit of an action-packed week, so I just wanted to reflect on some recent successes and thank the people who’ve contributed to them.

First is that thanks to you guys, we reached our fundraising goal on indiegogo to send An Evening With Satan on tour! On behalf of everyone at Punctuate! Theatre, thank you to everyone who chipped in. For a new, small theatre company, $1000 is a great boon to our performers, and will definitely make life easier this week as they bring the show to the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

Second, last weekend’s Shareable Neighbourhood walk on Streetcars had far and away the best turnout so far. It was really inspiring to see so many people with such zeal for learning more about Old Strathcona, especially on a chilly Saturday morning. This time it was led by Earl Grotzki, a local history buff who’s been volunteering with the Edmonton Radial Railway Society for about a decade. You can check out the pictures on the Facebook group.

One of the Shareable Neighbourhood walkers takes a picture of me taking a picture of him on the streetcar
We had some comedians in the crowd for the streetcar ride with last weekend’s Shareable Neighbourhood.

Did you know that when the North Saskatchewan River flooded in 1915, they put a train on the Low Level Bridge to keep it from being torn away by the current? I do now.

Third, Terra Informa has just been picked up on a new station in BC: Kootenay Co-op Radio on CJLY 93.5 FM in Nelson. Sure, it’s just one more slot on one community radio station, but I take it as a big vote of confidence for the show. Not only is Kootenay Co-op Radio the station that produced the highly listenable Deconstructing Dinner, Terra Informa has gone through some dramatic transitions lately.

Relentlessly positive long-time producer Steve Andersen left this summer, as did a bevy of other great interviewers, so Kathryn Lennon, Matt Hirji and I have stepped in to take on some of his work in cultivating new voices for the show. Every week, I go back and listen to stories from the old team to understand how they made thoughtful, engaging radio out of everything from garbage sorting to the worst coal plants in the world. It’s a testament to the hard work of the new contributors like Annie Banks, Morgana Folkmann and Hamdi Assawi that a station like Kootenay Co-op has added us to their lineup.

Last but not least, I’ve been scooped up as the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s new communications officer. I’ve been a fan of ACGC for many years (and were a fan of mine earlier this year with the Top 30 Under 30 profile). Starting at the office today, I was even more excited to see that they take international development and cooperation as seriously and critically as Trent University does.

So from a rich new intellectual environment to the efforts of my colleagues being recognized, this has been a pretty good week. Thanks to everyone who’s made these things possible.

Orbinski: Refuse government funding being used to quell dissent

James Orbinski looks into the camera at a conference table in the Jubilee Auditorium
Dr James Orbinski spoke at the Jubilee Auditorium on June 13, 2012.

Last week, I had a chance to interview Dr James Orbinski for The CJSR Edition, our freshly-minted local news show. The former international head of Médecins Sans Frontières/ Doctors Without Borders was at the University of Alberta to accept an honourary degree. I met a few folks who saw his convocation speech, and they seemed kind of shell-shocked at how persuasively he had convinced them to do the hard thing and take some responsibility to make things better.

What struck me when we spoke was this comment about whether vocal civil society groups should risk taking federal funding or charitable status these days:

“The most important and powerful tool that any citizen has is his or her voice. The free and public expression using that voice is very much in my view a duty and a responsibility of citizenship. And if government — in this particular case, the Harper government — chooses to use tools of government, funding for example, in an effort to quell expression, and voice, and public engagement and public criticism, then citizens and citizen organizations should just simply refuse that funding.”

You can listen to the full interview below.

Alberta Election 2012: Parties barely competing for votes on the environment

Laurie Blakeman writes on the schedule dominating the wall of her campaign office in Edmonton
Liberal candidate Laurie Blakeman had some strong opinions to share with Terra Informa on carbon emissions and reclaiming land in the oil sands.

With a week to go until the provincial election, every other conversation I have these days is about the latest polls or what to think about the rising fortunes of the Wildrose Party. There’s plenty to scrutinize about their candidates’ “fiery” (ahem) opinions on sexual orientation, abortion rights, and launching a wider inquiry into doctor intimidation.

If you’re like me though, you probably watched that whole televised debate last week wondering when any of the four major parties would mention the environment. Sadly Liberal leader Raj Sherman couldn’t come up with a slogan about shale-bed methane as catchy as “fudge-it budget.”

Fortunately for you, the team at Terra Informa did the hard work and put together a story on the environmental platforms from the PCs, NDP, Liberals and Wildrose. For the sake of time, we couldn’t get to the Alberta Party or EverGreen for this segment. Our questions mainly targeted what to do about our dependence on coal-fired generation for electricity in the province, and the shoddy job oil sands developers have been doing replacing wetlands.

I will admit to taking a small amount of pleasure interrupting Alison Redford for this story to correct her about coal. She was trying to suggest we’re not still building coal plants in this province. Incredible as it is, we absolutely are.

Edit: Almost forgot: if you’re in Edmonton Tuesday night, you might want to check out Candi{date}, a meet-your-candidates event that Next Gen and InterVivos are hosting. It promises to be very shmoozy. I’ll add it to the Community section.

Destroy the environment before it destroys us

Caption: Positive effects of environmental degradation. Man in clear-cut forest smiles, "Hey, my allergies are gone!"This week’s episode of Terra Informa was a labour of love and the most fun I’ve had helping produce the show so far. We decided to use April Fool’s Day as an opportunity to make fun of our usual earnest environmental news reporting. We call it Terra MisInforma.

You can download the podcast on iTunes, stream it online or listen live in Edmonton tomorrow at 5 on CJSR 88.5 FM. Hear how the federal government passed up a huge opportunity for a parking lot with the new Rouge Valley National Park, the Top 5 Environmental Threats to Our Security and Freedom, and the Ezra Levant Award for Excellence in Excellence in Journalism.

I’ve also updated the Community section with a new Lawrence Hill lecture coming up, details about the Pride Centre re-opening, and a link to the bike lane consultations happening around Edmonton right now. The headlines might be all election all the time, but there’s still plenty of other stuff happening around town.

Fighting for environmental health in Durban

Desmond D'Sa, coordinator for the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance
Desmond D'Sa, coordinator for the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (Photo credit: idex.org)

It’s hard to miss the major UN climate conference going on in Durban, South Africa right now (this one’s better known as COP 17), if only for the almost-daily embarrassments from Canada’s Environment Minister Peter Kent. He’s really good at sticking to his talking points about wanting major emitters like China and India included in any binding global agreement to lower carbon emissions. He seems unwilling to admit the uncomfortable fact that in a cumulative sense Canada is also a major emitter, because we’ve run an industrialized economy on fossil fuels for well over a century.

We were throwing ideas around at Terra Informa on how to cover what’s been happening in Durban, and decided an interesting approach might be to see what kind of work environmental organizations in the city have been up to. As it turns out, this is a big story. Fellow Terra Informer Kathryn Lennon and I tracked down a man named Desmond D’Sa who’s been working for over 15 years in South Durban to protect the health of locals from pollution in the area.

Des helped start an organization called the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance when he was part of a household survey that noticed diseases like asthma and cancers were much more common in their part of the city than elsewhere. Through research and environmental monitoring, they’ve been able to connect that to the industrial sites like oil refineries and paper mills that are concentrated in the poorer neighbourhoods in the south of the city. And as you can imagine, he had a lot to say about fossil fuel industries and the UN talks.

Listen to the interview online here.