Letter to my Ward’s Councillor

When it comes to political engagement, our attention is typically drawn to issues at the federal and provincial levels. That is where the majority of our conversations centre – big events, big policy, and big money. But when it comes to politics that affects us directly as citizens, we shouldn’t forget the third level: local municipal politics. Municipal politics works quietly in the background, appearing in local papers and managing the invisible supports that allows a community to flourish. As I gain experience in life, I’ve slowly narrowed my focus from the federal to the municipal, realizing how important this layer of governance is.

Last week, our county’s council voted on whether to implement a mandatory face covering bylaw for indoor spaces. While the province has been responsible for most of the implementation of emergency and health measures, some decisions have been left up to the municipalities to determine how best to move forward. Cities and counties around where I live have begun voting in favour of enacting face-covering bylaws, often with majority or unanimous support.

Which is why I was very disappointment by last week’s council meeting. They thankfully passed the bylaw into effect, though it came at a slim margin of 6-5. Some of the dissenting votes were the result of residents contacting their Ward’s representative to express a desire to vote down the measure. Other felt it was too paternalistic for a county council to make these decisions. Some mentioned that this shouldn’t be the responsibility of the municipality, while others wanted to trust that citizens are smart enough to decide what’s best for themselves. A few also took issue with the specificity (or lack thereof) of the language of the bylaw, though when the bylaw wording was amended they still voted against.

I was happy to see my Ward’s Councillor both speak in favour of masks and vote to support the measure. In an effort to be more engaged, I wrote an email to my Councillor to commend him on his performance at Council, and to show my support for a continuation of support for the bylaw, since the bylaw was only passed with a proviso that the bylaw will expire before each council meeting unless it is re-affirmed at each regular meeting moving forward. I sent him the letter below, and I wanted to share that here as an example of how one can engage with their local politics. My Councillor responded almost immediately to thank me for my show of support and to assure me that he’s working on plans should the bylaw not receive ongoing support at future meetings.

Subject: Regarding Mandatory Mask Bylaw

Councillor Laferriere,

I am writing to show my support and gratitude for your leadership during the council meeting this week.  I thought your comments were thoughtful, forward-looking, balanced, and compassionate, and you demonstrated good leadership for the Ward.  

I’m not sure what your personal emotions were during the meeting, but I doubt I would have held the same composure that you showed.  In reading the emails sent to the council, I’m saddened by some of the beliefs held by my fellow citizens, especially those who purport to have medical knowledge but claim that masks are harmful.

I hope, given the narrow margin that the vote passed, that the bylaw isn’t defeated in the next few meetings due to the grumblings of people who don’t care enough about all of us to be a little uncomfortable when out and about.  Please continue with your support of the Medical Officer’s direction to help keep us safe.

I hope you and your family are keeping well!


Provincial and Federal politics might be more glamorous, but remember that municipal politics affects us in many important ways.

Stay Awesome,


Policy vs. Guidance Pedagogy

During an ethics board meeting recently, we discussed ways of providing direction to faculty members who have student-based research in their courses.  For faculty who have research elements built into their courses, it can be a challenge to determine what counts as research, and whether said research is subject to the rules governing conducting research at an institution (specifically in our case, whether an ethics application would need to be submitted to the board).  Not every scholarly activity necessarily counts as research, and not every kind of research requires an approval from the institutional research ethics board.  Since this can be a bit of a murky area, we have been considering ways of providing direction.

The conversation abstracted away from the specifics of this case, and we discussed some of the issues concerning policy and guidance, which applies to education and pedagogy more generally.

The benefit of policy is that it spells out clear expectations of what is expected, what the division of responsibility looks like, and what consequences might be considered in the event of a policy breach.  Policy is designed to protect the institution through due diligence, and it focuses on expressing what rules need to be followed in order to not get into trouble.  Loopholes arise when the policies are not sufficiently rigorous the cover contingency cases and when policies are not harmonized laterally or vertically with other policies.  Policy documents focus on the “ends.”

On the other hand, guidance documents focus on the “means” by providing suggestions and best practices that could be followed.  Guidance documents typically do not include comprehensive rules unless it’s appropriate.  Instead, the purpose of the guidance document is to provide clarity in ambiguity without necessarily spelling things out.  They are deliberately left open because guidance documents are meant to supplement and add to ongoing conversations within a field or system.  While guidance documents also do not provide comprehensive options to contingent situations, the strength of the guidance document is that it’s educational in intent – it provides reasoning that helps the reader understand the position it takes, and paints a vision of what success looks like.

I realized in the meeting that this has a lot of crossover into considerations for teaching.  It’s is better, in my opinion, to teach students frameworks for thinking, rather than rules for success.  In the case of ethics, I would avoid teaching students what rules they need to follow, and what they need to do to avoid getting into trouble.  Instead, I would seek to build good practices and habits into the material I’m teaching so that I can model what success looks like and help them understand why.  This way of conceiving the material is forward-thinking.  It gets the students to envision what the end-step looks like, and allows them to work backwards to figure out how they want to arrive there.  By focusing on the principles you want the students to uphold (as opposed to rules to follow), the students learn to think for themselves and are able to justify the decisions they make.  This also has the benefit of avoiding the problem with prescriptive policies – students are prepared to reason through novel situations based on principles.


Stay Awesome,



Ongoing Education and Solving Problems

There is a general perception that going through the formal education process is sufficient for career success.  If you follow the standard formula of secondary school, followed by some form of post-secondary education, whether through trades, college, or through the university, you should have the necessary tools in order to enter the workforce and perform well in most situations.  While this might be true to some degree, I’m willing to bet that if you were to ask people of their thoughts on this process, you’d be met with a certain level of skepticism.  Yes, there are some critical problems with how we view and use higher education, but on the whole, I think the missing piece is this: the role of higher education should be to give students the ability to think and learn for themselves (often concurrent with learning some kind of job-market skill).

The value of higher education is the exposure to ideas and of ways of thinking about things.  By exposing students to ideas and problems they’ve never encountered, you are giving them experience that they can use to navigate life after the classroom.  I think most people get too hung up on the job-market skills and end up de-emphasizing the other stuff referred to as “the humanities” or “breadth electives.”  What is important is for students to be able to cross over the threshold of their vocational training and learn to navigate in systems of knowledge that they aren’t comfortable with so that they can learn to gather information, define problems, and test solutions for things that are applicable to them.

I have a small example of this in action for myself.  Recently, the provincial college system was brought to a halt during a labour dispute.  Once the teachers came back to work, everyone set to work on figuring out how to carry-on and salvage the remainder of the semester.  One of my tasks was to track student requests for accommodation once it was determined that the holiday break was being scaled back to allow students to complete the fall semester.  If students had made previous plans for travel, asking them to cancel their plans (which often was at a huge financial loss to the students) was something the college did not wish to do.  So, the goal is to see where we can find solutions for students missing class in the revised schedule.  My job is to track the requests from students and track the faculties responses.

I wanted a simple way of tracking the information electronically on spreadsheets, and avoid copying huge numbers of cells worth of information into emails.  My solution was to set up a database.  I’ve never created a database before (only used existing ones), so I turned to resources available for employees at my work to teach myself the skills.  I set up a simple database, laid a form over it to allow for a cleaner user experience, and created standardized Word documents with placeholder values that would automatically call information from the database into the document for me to email out streamlined messages to faculty and students.

I shared this database tool across the college, and have been receiving very positive feedback from people who are using it.  I even recorded a 30-minute tutorial video on how to use the database and manage the information, then hosted the video online for other employees to use at their discretion.

My educational background is in philosophy, which is quite different from data process management.  However, through philosophy I learned skills such as how to self-direct my learning, how to define problems, and how to test solutions.  These skills are what has allowed me to come up with a way of managing all the information coming at me, and how to teach that system to others for their own use.  Being able to help others, and sharing something that they value, makes me feel really good and engaged at work, and I’m happy to be able to help others do their jobs more easily.

I understand that students often don’t have the luxury to think broadly about how their skills fit in with a larger view of pedagogy, but I think it’s important to remember that the specific processes, tools, and systems we learn at school are the micro expressions of overall deeper ways that we live, understand, and view our lives.  Taking a narrow view of the value of education tends to miss the proverbial forest for the trees.  The point of higher education is not just about vocational training and preparing people to enter the economy, but instead it’s main purpose should be viewed as a way of preparing people to become better problem solvers.

Stay Awesome,


Cross-Domain Skills Sets

A few months back, I met with a career adviser at my alma mater to help me start planning out what my next steps should be for my career.  Having established myself, it’s time to think about where I want to go, and what I need to do/learn to get there.  One thing that stuck out to me at the session was that as she was reviewing my resume, she commented that she didn’t see my security (bouncing) experience listed.  I did not include it, figuring it wasn’t relevant enough to an office job, however she demanded I put it on there as it’s an important set of skills that I’ll need if I’m shooting for managerial roles.

Flash forward to last week, and I’m really starting to appreciate how much working as a door guy at a bar can help.

It’s the last weeks of the summer term for the college, which means that we are balancing the demands of the incoming semester with the final business of the outgoing semester, including students who fail courses.

In one of our programs, we had a number of student perform poorly on the final exam, which means they subsequently did poorly in the course.  Understandably upset, they are coming to us in the office seeking guidance or some way of redeeming themselves.  It’s a very delicate situation, which is proving a challenge as we try to give the students as much leeway as we can within the confines of our policies and procedures.

In some cases, the decisions we are making are not in the student’s favour, and they are, again, understandably upset by this.  They are really advocating for improving their situation, which is quite commendable, and I interacted with several of them almost every day lastweek.  When meeting with them, you need to strike the right balance of fairness, openness, but firm adherence to our policies and academic standards.

A few coworkers have commented on my tact and negotiation skills in talking with the students, even when there is nothing I can do to help them improve their marks, complementing me how smoothly the conversations are going with (sometimes) large groups of students in our office.

I gave a somewhat sarcastic response that dealing with the students is easy when I know they aren’t going to swing at me, as might happen at the bar on a security shift.  But in truth, the skills I have learned as a security guard are wholly translating to this situation.

As a security guard, to do my job well, I must be open-minded, calm, and patient when dealing with intoxicated or angry patrons.  The adage that “the customer is always right” is false, and when the rules and reality of the situation come to head with the patron’s expectations, it sometimes leads to raised tempers and hostile interactions.  My job requires me to step-back from my ego, not take anything personally, and use every tool at my disposal to de-escalate the situation and bring about as calm of a resolution as I can.  Most of the time, we are successful and the patron leaves on their own.  Sometimes, we have to drag them out kicking and screaming.

I’ve worked as a security guard for 5-years now, so I have a fair amount of experience, which I’m starting to appreciate how cross-domain it can be when dealing with students.  The ability to not be dismissive or authoritarian in communicating our decisions is critical for maintaining a good relationship and a healthy work environment.  Suffice to say, cross-domain skills sets that help me avoid getting decked in the face are awesome!

Stay Calm,


Problems with EMS Infrastructure and Technology

This episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver aired last week, but I thought it was worth sharing as an irreverent but also serious aside.  I am still early in my attempt to navigate the world of emergency medicine, so I am broadly exploring all sorts of topics.  While my aim is to become a paramedic, I also acknowledge that taking a silo’d approach often leaves gaps that harm people.  When there are serious issues with how a service gets deployed to help people, you end up with a lot of avoidable mistakes, like those highlighted in the video.  I hope you had a great long weekend!


Stay Awesome,


Pass the Salt – Public Health and Hidden Prophylaxis

At this stage of the game, almost everything I’m studying comes with “OH! That’s so cool!” moments.  For as weird and complex as things that we engineer are, they pale in comparison to just how marvelous our bodies are.  Through eons of evolution, our bodies have developed finely-tuned, complex systems to keep us going.  In general, our bodies are fairly robust and can tolerate a wide variety of environmental pressures because our bodies have adaptive mechanisms to bring the body into homeostasis, or physiological balance.  Without our conscious thought, our body will enact certain measures to protect us, such as breaking down bone matrix to release stored calcium, or shunting blood from the extremities during extreme cold to protect vital organs.  However, sometimes our bodies need some help.

Humans, in our marvelous capacity, migrated into all sorts of areas that we were not adapted to naturally.  Evolution selects for traits that best ensures reproductive survival in particular environmental conditions.  But evolution is slow in humans because we reproduce fairly slowly, so we often take a long time to develop protection against environmental changes.  To help mitigate harm, modern society has adopted many practices to ensure populations are protected from certain diseases and conditions.  Over time, we grow accustomed to the new norm and collectively forget what life was like before the intervention was introduced.  This is why I find public health so fascinating – there are so many systems built into western societies that we take for granted that were enacted to address specific diseases.



At the moment, I’m studying for my endocrinology chapter test, so I’m learning about the complex systems of glands and hormones our bodies use.  When I say it’s complex, I mean it’s COMPLEX!  Outside of the nervous system, the endocrine system is what is responsible for keeping our body functioning.  It finely tunes our internal conditions to preserve homeostasis.  It does its best, but sometimes it needs some support.

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can have dramatic impacts on our bodies.  One in particular is iodine deficiency.  In certain geographic areas, iodine is scarce in the food supply.  This problem doesn’t exist where diets are rich in seafood or foods grown in proximity to saltwater.  However, in the interior regions of North America, iodine is less common in the ground, so the nutrients are not absorbed into the local vegetation.  Humans need iodine in their diet for, among other things, healthy thyroid functioning.  The cells of the thyroid uses iodine in part of protein synthesis, so when iodine levels are low, protein synthesis is stalled and extra material accumulates in the tissues.  This leads to an enlarged thyroid, also known as a goiters.  This effect is so common among people with iodine-deficiency that large geographic populations exhibit similar physical characteristics.  In the United States, the phenomena was so common that the “goiter belt” was used to describe areas of the country where people commonly had the affliction.  In addition to physiological problems that arise from atypical thyroid functioning, iodine-deficiency also can result in impaired cognition.

As a public health measure, it was proposed that iodine be added to table salt, as was done in other countries like Switzerland.  Within a short amount of time, incidents of goiters declined and IQ scores were improved in goiter belts.  The practice is now common in developed nations, but according to estimates iodine-deficiency still afflicts some 2-billion people worldwide.

The funny irony with public health initiatives is that we often forget why the measures were enacted in the first place when we are no longer exposed to the diseases the prophylaxis was implemented to address.  This collective-forgetting of the harm our populations were once exposed to then leads to foolish rejections of those very policies that help keep us healthy, whether it’s rejection of vaccines or decrying fluoride in drinking water.  Legitimate questions of long-term exposure effects aside, knee-jerk reactions to chemicals and scientific illiteracy is reversing decades of public health initiatives that keep us healthy.  The hidden world of public health — when it works, you don’t even know it’s keeping you alive.

So, that’s why my table salt is iodized!  Cool!

Stay Awesome!