“Fifty Shades of Green”

Earlier this week the regina mom and her friend, Cherie Westmoreland, had a conversation about the prairie grasslands in anticipation of tonight’s talk, Grasslands in Peril, by Candace Savage*.  Cherie said that for her, the grasslands are “a quantity of grief that’s difficult to hold.”  And tonight, after having spent almost two hours listening to Candace’s presentation, “Fifty Shades of Green,” the regina mom has a deeper understanding of that grief.

Candace opened her lecture with a reference to her friend, Lille, who lives on a First Nations reserve south of Maple Creek.  Lille once told her that in order to get to know someone you ought to ask, “Who is your grandmother?” and “Who is your grandfather?”

When we talk about land on the prairies we are talking about the people… When we talk about people on the prairies we are talking about the land… The prairie land and people are part of the same thing.

Candace then offered us stories about her grandparents and the lands they “settled,” some of which, she said, should never have been turned. She cited Vernon Fowke and his assessment of the Dominion Lands Act, that being “a colossal failure of public policy.”

From there, she launched into details about the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA), established in 1935, in the midst of the Dirty Thirties, and given five years to address emergency water issues.  In 1937, the Act which established PFRA was amended to allow for the permanent management of lands.  The community pastures program, 85 federal pastures consisting of 2.3 million acres of lands  were set up across the prairie provinces as means to arrest soil drifting on the prairies.

Of these pastures, or public ranches, 60 exist in Saskatchewan.  That’s 1.8 million acres, 2,800 sections of land, an area larger than Prince Edward Island.  The vast majority of this land is ancient land which has never been tilled. It comprises part of the less than 20% of the original grasslands that once existed in North America.

The community pastures were established for management of local economies, i.e. to assist farmers and communities, as well as for conservation management, “to manage a productive, biodiverse rangeland.” The practices in the pastures are state-of-the-art and include considerations for “all the creatures that make a living prairie.”  But with the federal government pulling out its commitment, the living laboratories may be lost.  Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz has said that the job of PFRA is done, the community pastures have achieved their goal.

Candace Savage disagrees. She noted that for an eight million dollar investment the pasture program created $58 million in benefits to local rural communities, “a darn good deal.”  She also noted that despite all the community pasture program has achieved, the prairie ecosystem is dying all around us — plants, animals and birds special to our piece of the northern grasslands are dying off.  31 endangered and threatened species live on the community pastures.

Citing a national report, The State of Canada’s Birds, which draws on 40 years of research, Candace said that no one knows why these insectivore birds are dying off.  It could be because of climate change or the loss of grassland habitat.  She spoke of the whooping cranes that used to nest at Shallow Lake, near Luseland in RM 351 and RM 350, in what is now a community pasture.  The community wants to bring the cranes back but if the land is sold, “the whooping crane will not be re-introduced to the Luseland/Kerrobert area.”  The community needs the expertise of PFRA to do it.

Candace also noted some positive developments since the federal government’s announcement.  Communities of interest are coming together.  Protect the Prairie began a petition campaign which more than 8,500 individuals from Saskatchewan and beyond have signed. The provincial government has vowed to place conservation easements on the pastures if they are sold. A ranchers/stewards alliance has formed to create a new management team for the pastures in southwestern Saskatchewan.  The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) passed a resolution calling on the province to “retain ownership” of the pasture lands.

Still, it all seems too little to hold the grief.  As Candace concluded, “There is wonderful life all around us, and we are its last best hope.” the regina mom hopes we are up to the task.

Tomorrow, communities of interest are gathering at the Orr Centre, 4400 4th Ave in Regina from 8:30 to 4:30 pm to assess the situation and develop a plan of action. The event will be recorded and placed online. the regina mom will provide that link when it is available.

The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations also released an excellent backgrounder on the community pasture lands.

—-

Candace Savage is the best-selling author of Prairie: A Natural History and  the 2012 recipient of the Hilary Weston Writers Trust Prize for Nonfiction for her latest book, A Geography of Blood: Unearthing Memory in a Prairie Landscape.

With thanks to John Klein for his live-tweeting of the event which helped trm with this post.

Let us send you Ryan’s book!

As the regina mom‘s readers already know, she endorsed Dr. Ryan Meili in his bid for leadership of the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party.  The idea-sharing, hard work and comaraderie among the folks on the campaign team has instilled in her a renewed sense of commitment to building a better world.  Our creative campaign team came up with this great idea, just in time for holiday gift-giving! the regina mom invites you to be part of this historic time by supporting Ryan’s campaign. Check out the 50/50/7 deal:

Ryan Meili Leadership Campaign

Dear friends:

50 years ago, the Saskatchewan NDP took the bold step of introducing universal healthcare.

50 years ago, the Saskatoon Community Clinic, where Ryan works, was established to provide that care and defend the single-payer, publicly-funded system.

Today, Ryan’s campaign is building on that legacy of big ideas and shared struggle.

And we need your help.

In honour of the 50th anniversary of Medicare, we’re asking 50 people to make a donation of $50 to help us build this movement. And as a gesture of our gratitude, we’ll send you something important in return — read on for details.

We have been very encouraged by the generous support you’ve shown since Ryan launched his bid for the Sask NDP leadership. Your support has given our campaign huge momentum going into the holiday season.

But you know that campaigns cost money, and the bills don’t stop just because the holiday season is approaching. So instead of just asking for another donation, we wanted to offer something meaningful back to you.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Medicare, for the next week we’ll send a signed copy of Ryan’s book, A Healthy Society: How a Focus on Health Can Revive Canadian Democracy, to everyone who donates $50 or more in response to this appeal.A Healthy Society book cover

If you’re able to give $100, $150 or $500, you’ll be helping us cover the cost of sending books to people around the province and beyond, while still ensuring that we have the resources we need to run a winning campaign.

To meet upcoming campaign expenses, we need to reach at least 50 donors in the next 7 days. We hope you’ll sign on so we can send you Ryan’s book.

A Healthy Society proposes a new approach to politics, one that can help us put progressive ideas front-and-centre in addressing our shared challenges.

As Former Premier Lorne Calvert has said, “For those who seek the renewal of politics and public health in Canada, Dr. Meili has a vision for both. This work makes an important contribution to progressive dialogue in Canada.”

Lots of people have contacted us to say they want to learn more about Ryan’s vision for a healthy society. His book is the perfect resource for inspiring us all to work together to make it possible.

Help us celebrate the past 50 years, and shape the next 50 years, of progressive innovations in this province.

Please take a moment to make a donation today, either online through our secure server or by calling (306) 361-5755, so we can send you a copy of Ryan’s book.
With hope and gratitude,

Nicole, Jason, Rachel, Gavin, Erica, Dave, and the rest of the Meili campaign team

p.s. Remember: we need to reach at least 50 donors in the next week — please take a moment right now to respond, and then please pass the message on to your networks.

Post-conversation with Ray Boughen, MP for Palliser

the regina mom received a call from her Member of Parliament, Ray Boughen, this afternoon.  He said it was in response to her call about two University of Regina international students facing deportation but she had not, in fact, called.  She had emailed but didn’t press that fact with him.  In hindsight she suspects he must be feeling some heat over the issue since it hit the front page of the local daily.  When asked about his silence over it he said it is not his place to speak to that issue, that the Speaker, MP for Regina Qu’Appelle, Andrew Scheer, has spoken to it. He said he waits for his turn to speak and will be speaking on Aboriginal issues next week.

That led to a conversation about democratic process, the lack of political will for democratic process, followed by a tirade on trm‘s part.  She began with the lack of a national childcare strategy, filled the middle with the lack of support for single parent women and increased poverty in Canada and ended with a few stats on the increased numbers of people using food banks. That’s about when he accused trm of being a partisan and she defended herself claiming her feminist activism of more than 25 years and her being a mother of two young adults as the basis for her statements.  But still, he tried to dismiss her concerns as being partisan ones. trm suggested that he should read her blog.

When he attempted to blame the SK NDP government for the social problems she had mentioned, trm really let loose, informing him that yes, from time-to-time she has supported the NDP but did not support Roy and the boyz and their debt and deficit-cutting measures.  She also reminded him that she is a writer and as such, a researcher, one who bases her words on what she reads in books and on fact-based evidence.  His response was that we’re using different facts in our discussion.

So she switched her tune to the China-Canada FIPA and compared it to the FTA with the USA, mentioning how the former locks us in for 31 years and the latter allows us to give 6 months notice if we choose to break the agreement.

By that time he was really bumbling and went back to the earlier piece about democracy so trm mentioned Motion 312 about which he seemed to have no clue, suggesting it was a Bill, obviously not hearing what trm was saying. She reminded him that it was a Motion put forward by MP Stephen Woodworth as an attempt to reopen the abortion debate and noted that he supported it in spite of what his colleague, MP Gordon O’Connor, had said. He couldn’t recall what O’Connor had said so trm suggested he look it up on YouTube.  He said he didn’t have time so perhaps trm could tell him.  She did. Then he proceeded to parrot Woodsworth, saying that it wasn’t about reopening the abortion debate, blah-blah-blah. trm laughed and reminded him that he really needed to read her blog.

Seeing that she was on a bit of a role, trm then brought up the other F-word, fascism. She noted that even the right-wing Liberal, Michael Ignatieff, is using that word these days. He bumbled some more and wouldn’t listen, kept interrupting her and soon thereafter she told him this conversation was a waste of her time and his and hung up. As she pulled the receiver from her ear she could hear him saying another call was coming in and he had to go. A likely story. There were no phones ringing off the hook in the background; he said that to save face.

Though there’s much more that went on in the conversation, trm knows without a doubt that she has a useless excuse for a representative in Ottawa and maintains her adoption of MP for Churchill, Niki Ashton, as her MP.

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