An Open Letter to PDD about the Community Conversation on SIS

A while ago I received in the mail a fat and heavy package of papers from the Alberta Government agency known as “PDD”.  Thinking this had something to do with our recent encouragingly positive experience with “ICE”, I opened it quickly only to disappointingly discover that in fact the package was an invitation to share my thoughts on “SIS”.

After a few days’ thought, I RSVPed that I would not be attending and shared a few of my thoughts.

Herewith, I make that email an open letter to PDD.

Ms. ******:

I received in the mail an invitation to attend a “community conversation” (I think that means “meeting”) about my experience with SIS and the PDD program.  I’ll have to decline that invitation as the Ellerslie Rugby club is a quite remarkable distance away and I have an almost 21 year old developmentally delayed daughter to care for.  I did begin my “conversation” with PDD when my daughter turned 18 but we have yet to receive any actual “supports”.  Perhaps such supports might have freed me up for the “community conversation”, but, frankly, I don’t suspect I would then want to be bothered getting to Ellerslie for the meeting rather than just having a bit of a quiet time with a good book.

More recently there seems to have been a little progress on my daughter’s file, coincidentally, perhaps, with my going public with our absolutely depressing experience with PDD.  Please have a look: “One Family’s Experience”

Since (finally) being connected with ICE (love the acronyms, by the way.  They really get the obfuscation to a high level) I’ve been feeling a little better.  They not only return phone calls, they phone  frequently (weekly) with updates.

As for my “experience” with SIS, I’m not sure when I’ve actually encountered it, except that it seems to have been a way to keep PDD workers well away from PDD clients for a number of years.  I’m sure that this time spent training for and instituting SIS rather than, for example, responding to client phone calls in a timely manner, being in the office at any time over a six month period, or handing a client’s file off to a worker who will actually be around — I’m sure all this has encouraged more than one family to shuffle their adult children off to group homes in absolute frustration.  Whatever the good intentions of importing some package of American-made questionnaires, from what I can tell, the effect of the implementation of SIS has been to divert PDD’s “Human Resources” away from clients.  The workers at this point are serving the system, not the *people* they were intended to serve.

I feel very fortunate that our family is in a financial situation which allows us to manage without the “supports” PDD offers (but, as yet, has largely failed to provide). I worry very much for families who have to cope with developmental disabilities without the private resources we enjoy, both financially and in our unusually close neighbourhood community.  It must be simply hell for them, and trying to deal with PDD in that situation must be impossible.

Again, I don’t really know what SIS is, I really don’t understand why SIS is so important that it has apparently diverted resources from the clients of PDD, and I really don’t think I would have anything to contribute to the “community conversation” in the deep south of the city.  And, while I have been comfortable with my dealings with ICE so far, if I win the lottery one day, I’ll just cut through the PDD crap and privately hire whatever “supports” I feel necessary or simply convenient.  If I hit a big enough jackpot, maybe I’ll help a few other families out of the PDD mess.

On a final note: that was a very pretty, glossy, heavy package of (limited) information PDD mailed out about the upcoming “community conversation”.  I wonder how much the whole shindig is costing.  Certainly the mailout could have been produced at much less expense to the people of Alberta.

Best wishes, etc.


A bit of AE (Acronym Elucidation):

“SIS” = “Supports Intensity Scale” – not much clearer than the acronym.

“PDD” = “Persons with Developmental Disabilities” – the Alberta Government agency mandated to disburse funding to provide for the special needs of adult Albertans with developmental disabilities.

“ICE” = “Independent Counselling Enterprises Inc. – One of many private businesses who are paid by the government to do the work of providing for the special needs of adult Albertans with developmental disabilities.

The Unbearable Whiteness of Being Rex Murphy

Rex Murphy, Canada’s indefatigable slayer of straw men, has done it again.  In a column titled “Check Your Bigotry”, Murphy has taken on the “anti-racism movement” which Murphy warns is imposing the “bigotry” of the “White Privilege” label on unfortunate White students at our institutions of higher learning.  I’ll be honest, I left the ivory tower thirty years ago.  I don’t know what the situation is in the Groves of Academe these days.  Of course, its been almost half a century since Murphy left the halls of Oxford (without a degree).  I don’t think it out of line to mention that Murphy sculled his dory on the Thames with his chums on a bit of a free ride, tuition and living allowance courtesy of Rhodesia’s colonial founder’s blood diamond fortune.  Certainly, a Rhodes Scholarship is no mean achievement – the closest I ever got was reading the application form.  For a smart, hard-working boy from Carbonear, Newfoundland, a Rhodes Scholarship is a remarkable personal achievement.  I think it safe to say that if Murphy had been a smart, hard-working boy from Attawapiskat that Rhodes scholarship would be so remarkable as to be fiction. And women weren’t considered at all for the privilege of a Rhodes Scholarship until 1977, shortly before I didn’t even come close to getting one.

When Murphy went off to Oxford in 1968, he had already done some great work for his fellow students at Memorial University, convincing (bullying?) the provincial government not only into granting free tuition to undergraduates but also getting them government cash for room and board.  What a privilege it must have been to be a government paid student at Memorial!  And then Oxford for Murphy on the same sort of ticket!  An achievement and a privilege at the same time!

Now, in 1968, when Murphy packed his books and afro-pick for Oxford, someone else was working hard on their life goals down in Southern Africa where Cecil Rhodes made the fortune (and his own personal Rhodesia) which funded Murphy’s Oxford gravy train.  Nelson Mandela was breaking limestone  on Robbin Island in 1968.  Maybe Murphy’s right: that brown South African fellow, despite his lack of privilege, through his own efforts, later became President of his country and a symbol of freedom and hope for racial reconciliation and equality around the world.  White-skinned Murphy, on the other hand, didn’t manage to get an Oxford degree and now rents his barbed wit out to various outlets to help them increase their hit counts.  Surely, if White Privilege were a Thing, Murphy would be Prime Minister by now (ran three times for two parties and never won a seat) and Mandela would have come off that Island in a box.

I’m certain that Murphy is a bright guy.  I think he knows full well that Mandela rose to the heights in spite of the barriers put in front of him. And I’m also sure that Murphy knows deep down that he’s just a freelance scribbler in spite of the doors opened to him because he’s a White man in a society built by White men for the benefit of White men.

But Murphy writes:

To read the student newspapers of some campuses, it would seem the hearty days of the KKK are just a tick of the clock away from returning. They seem especially convinced that every white person is a bundle of unearned advantages, owns a place purely because of his/her skin colour, and wanders through life with a Free For Me Pass simply because daddy and mommy, and their daddy and mommy, were white.

It’s astonishing. Could there be a better definition of racism, a better example of a purely racist concept, than this, the holding that all a person does and is springs from the colour of his skin?

The entire notion is called “white privilege.”

Well, I don’t know which or how many campuses are the “some campuses” Murphy means. He never specifies.  Instead, he throws out a lot of straw loosely held together at the multiple “seems” and the straw man is there for us all to be horrified by. It even wears a nice Murphy-supplied name-tag.  If Murphy’s straw man really is bestriding the campuses of our nation, than it’s a bit of a problem – probably not more of a problem than the absurd continued existence of fraternities – but a problem.

I’m sure that as some point Murphy was taught that a description of a factual situation is neither racism nor bigotry.  Acknowledging that Western society has historically been constructed by white people for the benefit of White people is no more racist than to acknowledge that most of the people of Sub-Saharan Africa have more melanin in their skin than does pasty old Rex.  The difference between those two examples, however, is that one is a description of a social fact and the other is a description of a genetic fact.  And this is where Murphy plays his nastiest card, trying to twist the discussion of a social fact into some sort of genetic claim.  I can’t imagine anyone claims, as Murphy suggests they do, that White people are genetically privileged.  The claim – and the fact – is that due to historical facts the playing field remains uneven.  Murphy ignores that fact and tries to obfuscate it by shouting “Racism!”

But in these days of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, of British Columbia’s impending apology for its anti-Chinese history, in this centenary year of the Komagata Maru tragedy, and in the light of Murphy’s previous bilge spewing about Elsipotog, I don’t for a moment believe that Murphy is worried about rampant “political correctness” on the campuses of the nation. I suspect Murphy privately would acknowledge not only the social fact of White Privilege but is fully aware of how he has himself benefited from that Privilege.

No.  I suspect Murphy is just crassly playing the Old White Curmudgeon that his audience enjoys.  He’s found a hot button to push that will get outraged traffic to his column and advertising dollars into the coffers of those who pay him.

What I would have enjoyed from Murphy would have been a nuanced high road.  He could have said that to dwell on very real White Privilege at the individual level, denying the value of White individuals achievements, is not a state of affairs to be desired.  Whether that state of affairs exists anywhere apart from Murphy’s imagination I can’t say.  I would have enjoyed a strong statement of the importance of White individuals acknowledging to themselves that they started the race a little closer to the finish line than their neighbours of colour.  I would have liked Murphy to rant about it being more important to strive for an equal world by bringing advantage to the disadvantaged than by handicapping the privileged.

But that wouldn’t stir outrage on Twitter, would it?

Unlike Murphy, I (and many others) openly acknowledge my privilege. I have benefited from Colonialism.  It is easier to live life as a White male in the Western world (just as it is easier, by the way, to live as a Japanese male in Japan or an Arab man on the Arabian Peninsula.)  Being a member of the dominant social group in any society is a privileged position.  Saying so is not bigotry or racism. It is simply a fact.  If we truly are hoping to build a more equal society, we must acknowledge that the playing field is still not level, however well or badly individuals do at the game.

Yes, Mr. Murphy, your achievements are laudable.  The other closest I ever got to a Rhodes Scholarship was being accepted for a year of study at St. Andrews University in Scotland.  (I couldn’t afford to go as no money came along with that acceptance.) You worked hard to get your Rhodes Scholarship, maybe as hard as the nameless South African and Rhodesian Blacks who dug those diamonds out of the ground to pay your tuition.  I wonder how many of them even learned to read.  I wonder if any of them, if given the chance, could have stood up to Joey Smallwood and won free tuition and a living allowance for Memorial University students.  Is hard work really all that gets us up the ladder?  Did you, Mr. Murphy, really never get a hand up, a door opened, or a palm greased by the simple fact that you are a White man in a society built by and for White men?

Of course you did.

I wouldn’t demand that you publicly “check your privilege” Mr. Murphy.  But I must tell you that your public denial of your privilege is a remarkably ugly thing to watch.

Update, May 16, 2015: Yesterday, a year almost to the day after “Check Your Bigotry” appeared,  Rex Murphy published a “new” column titled “‘White Privilege’ on the march” in which the privileged Mr. Murphy again expounded on how modern society is a level playing field for all born or immigrating into it, and that suggesting otherwise is inherently racist.  I wonder: does Mr. Murphy have only a year’s worth of columns? Does he recycle them over and over on an annual basis, only changing the titles?  Or has his memory simply shortened so much that not only does he forget the blood money that gave him the privilege of dropping out of Oxford in the Sixties, but he now also forgets 2014?  I’ll be watching next May to see whether he once again attacks the existence of privilege.

Eric Rice’s “Starless” at the Walterdale Playhouse

Edmonton’s Walterdale Theatre, now in its 55th year, continues the important by largely forgotten tradition of the Little Theatre Movement, which took as its mandate the engagement of communities and live theatre in each other.  The Walterdale has, like other community theatres, nurtured amateur theatre workers – playwrights, actors, directors and technicians and thereby seeded successive generations of professionals.  The Walterdale has also engaged the community around it both through the writing and production of powerful drama and, perhaps more importantly, by putting up on the stage our friends, our neighbours, and, in the end, ourselves.  The latest product of the Walterdale’s “Cradle to Stage program, Eric Rice’s Starless movingly shows off all the best things of community theatre.

Rice’s drama, a day in the life of Ralph and Mary, a homeless couple, is firmly rooted in the geography known so well to both the audience and the players.  The Park where Ralph and Mary spend their nights is next to the Walterdale Playhouse.  The Church is a few doors north on 104th Street, past the Library where young Paul searches internet to help his friends.  The coffee shop where Ralph nibbles a muffin and meets the blogger, Amanda is a block south, on Whyte Avenue.  The audience knows, with some dread, that across the street from the Park is a funeral home, never mentioned in the play, but looming unnamed throughout.

The concrete rooting in the community reminds me of the way Brad Fraser unselfconsciously made Edmonton the uneraseable seting of Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love — even Denys Arcand couldn’t erase Rose Bowl Pizza, Flashbacks and CFRN from his cinematic version.  And, further afield although identical in toponym, I think of how Elizabethan villages north of London are the necessary geography of the sadly underknown play, The Merry Devil of Edmonton.  By so closely marking out the geography of Ralph and Mary’s kingdom as the familiar few blocks at the heart of Old Strathcona, Rice tells his audience that Ralph and Mary, although not portrayals of actual individuals, are not simply types, not Platonic homeless people in som sort of abstracted theatre space.  Ralph and Mary are inhabiting *our* space, and we are inhabiting *their* space, and that space is quite simply daily life.  All the world is *this* stage.

This is, of course, amateur theatre, so there are rough edges.  Most polished is Rice’s script, having been rolled about in the nine months of Cradle to Stage.  The set is happily minimal: a wall or two, a park bench in the centre, a church door upstage centre, beside the Walterdale Tree.  Set and props assist the script, nothing more.  And no more is needed.

The performances, are varied, but on the whole a big cut above what one might expect from amateur theatre.  These actors are only amateur in that they aren’t being paid tonight.  Mark Anderako’s Ralph is flawless and quirkily mannered — I imagined Lear played by the most eccentric form of Nicol Williamson — oh to have seen Williamson’s Lear in Wales in 2001!

I digress.

Dave Wolkowski’s Constable and his smaller role as the Landlord have a certain Steinbeckian bombast which for me spoke to the characters meaning as something other than simply Cop or Slumlord.  Wolkowski’s characters represent all the forces of social order — forced social order — which so terrify Ralph.

Monica Maddaford’s Mary is suitably warm and maternal, the strong but terribly vulnerable centre of the play.  There is no question why Ralph seeks her so desperately.

Stephanie O’Neill’s Amanda, the blogger/journalist out to change the world/get her story is painfully blinkered and defensive, and a painfully sympathetic character.  Amanda is what everyone with privilege wants to be, and she shows us the dangers of our desires to “fix” things for people.

Jim Zalcik simply *is* the artist who chats with Ralph and Mary, and, in other scenes, the Priest who gently wants to help them.

Everyone in the play wants to help Ralph and Mary, but it is only young Paul, played by equally young Carter Kockley, who actually listens to them, who asks questions and listens to their answers, who asks what they want, who does what they want — who actually helps them, however futilely in the end.  Hockley is comfortable and at ease on stage, doing a more than creditable job as Paul.  Like many young actors, Hockley sometimes delivers his lines hastily, but that is a minor quibble .

Something I would like to especially note is how nicely the production worked the title theme of stars into the evening.  From the artist’s revisioning of Van Gogh’s Starry Night in black and white, through the description of night skies, both starless, light polluted urban ones and aurora-filled nights of the North, to the ingenious choice of Don McLean’s Vincent as the music leading us into the intermission.  In fact, Starless is Star Filled on so many levels.

Eric Rice’s Starless is a play I can see going places.  What the play desperately needs is to be given more time with audiences — this week long run is far less than it deserves.  A run at the Fringe would certainly be worthwhile, but, to be honest, I dream of a run of Starless on a Gazebo Park-filled, decidedly Edmonton stage in Toronto, Montreal or Halifax.

Starless runs at the Walterdale Playhouse in Old Strathcona only until May 17, so get down there!


(For another pretty much completely positive take on Starless, have a look at  “Starless Shows Us Another Side of the Interactions Right In Front of Us” from After the House Lights.)