Thinkers' Conference 2013


For the last two days, I've had the pleasure of covering the Thinkers' Conference 2013 at the University of Winnipeg for The Projector.

A fantastic line-up of guest speakers from Winnipeg and across North America presented at the conference including, Jack Calhoun, senior consultant to U.S. President Barack Obama and Shulamith Koenig, the 2003 UN Prize recipient for Human Rights.

Tomorrow is the last day of the conference and will get started with Shulamith Koenig and Vice-Principal of St. John's High School, Cathy Sherraz,  discussing Human Rights education. Topics covered later in the day include environment, Manitoba's water issues, and climate change.

Tickets to tomorrow's sesssions can still be purchased online at or in-person at 515 Portage Avenue, Winnipeg. 

From left: Jack Calhoun, Bernice Cyr, Damon Johnson, Danny Smyth, and Liz Wolff

Mental Health Awareness Makes it Big


If you haven’t struggled with a mental illness yourself, someone in your life has, even if you don’t know it.

The Canadian Mental Health Association reports that 20% of Canadians will be personally affected by mental illness at some point in their lives. So how come we don’t talk more about mental illness?

Well, it looks we’re starting to.

On Tuesday, Bell's Bell Let's Talk campaign got people across Canada talking about mental health. The company's pledge to donate 5 cents for every text message and long distance phone call made by Bell customers, and every Facebook share of the Bell Let’s Talk image and tweet using #BellLetsTalk got a whopping $96,266,266 people to join the conversation about mental health! This translates into $4,813,313.30 more funds that Bell will donate this year to mental health initiaves across Canada. 

The Bell Let's Talk campaign could not have come at a better time for myself this year. I’m in the middle of planning the proposal stage of my independent professional project (IPP) for school, and finally settled on the idea of planning an event in support of mental health. Seeing so many Canadians express their support for Bell Let's Talk has got me really excited about being a part of the mental health awareness movement, and even more motivated to get to work planning my event.

February 12, 2014 is even starting to look like a great day for my event, so save the date everyone :) 

Manitoba Earthship


This past Sunday, I travelled about an hour north of Winnipeg to St. Andrews where I interviewed the most interesting couple I have ever met.

Kris Plantz and Nicole Bennett appear to be your average young married couple. They work, are thinking about starting a family, and are currently building a house — except their new home will be nothing like the average Manitoba home. 

Eight years ago, Kris and Nicole were spending hours in their downtown Winnipeg apartment watching documentaries about about people living off the grid. They found the idea of growing their own food and living in a house made of tires and pop cans exciting, but totally unrealistic, right? Wrong. It wasn't long before they started planning how they would take the first steps toward a self-sustaining life. In 2011, they finally started building their dream home with the help of family, friends, and volunteers from as far away as Australia. They call it the Manitoba Earthship.

I spent Sunday afternoon in Kris and Nicole's 1,200 square foot Earthship that is still a long way from being finished, but provided plenty of shelter from the wind and freezing temperatures outside. First, they took me on a tour of the Earthship, showing me the future greenhouse and where the three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and kitchen will eventually go. I also got to see the walls up close — I still can't get over the fact they are made out of concrete, dirt, pop cans, and recycled tires! Kris insisted that "pop cans provide incredible insulation."

I interviewed Kris and Nicole partly because I'm writing a feature article about them for a school project, and partly because I was intrigued by their story after I heard them on CBC Radio a few weeks ago. I think it's incredible that they are willing to take such a risk and be so open about it.

Thank you Kris and Nicole for the amazing tour! Best of luck with the build!

The Waiting Room


Have you spent hours waiting in an emergency room at a hospital in Canada? I can honestly say that I have not. Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but when I fell off the monkey bars at age 6 and broke my arm, I was in and out of Foothills Medical Centre’s emergency room and back home with with my arm in a cast within a couple of hours.

Several years later, my coordination skills abandoned me yet again when I went flying into the boards in the arena where I used to figure skate, and sliced open my arm. My parents had dropped me off for my skating lessons earlier that morning, so unfortunately for my friend’s Dad, he had to drive me to the emergency room. He called my mom on the way to the hospital to tell her what happened and she promised she would be there as fast as she could drive back across the city.

45 minutes later she arrived, just as the doctor thread one last stitch across the gash in my arm. I was so happy to see her, but of course as soon as she walked in, I burst into tears all over again. A few painkillers and popsicles later and we were on our way — without paying so much as a cent. 

How patients pay for medical services is the fundamental difference between Canada’s publicly-funded Medicare system and America’s mostly private healthcare system. According to the Government of Canada’s website, residents of Canada who visit a hospital are prepaid for basic medical services like X-rays, blood tests, disease screenings, drugs, and treatment of injuries. However, people who live in the United States and don’t have any health insurance coverage are responsible for paying their hospital bill on their own.

Most private health insurance coverage in the United States is provided through an employer, and so for people who are unemployed, underemployed, sick, disabled, and/or impoverished, obtaining adequate health insurance coverage is a real challenge. As a result, 48.6 million people in America had no health insurance coverage in 2011.

The Waiting Room is a documentary about the healthcare system in the United States and follows the lives of people waiting in the emergency room at Highland Hospital in Oakland, California over the course of 24 hours. I watched the documentary on Jan. 26 at Cinematheque theatre in Winnipeg. The film saddened, moved, and inspired me, all at the same time.

The majority of the uninsured people who appear in the film are experiencing hardships like a recent job loss and financial trouble, in addition to their health problems. One man describes how he has worked laying carpet for over twenty years, but was recently forced to take a salary cut because his employer discovered he could hire foreign workers for less money. As this man’s story unfolds we learn he has been struggling to make his mortgage payments and has come to Highland Hospital in a desperate attempt to find relief from back pain caused by bone spurs, even though he’s not sure how he will pay his medical bill afterwards. His story is deeply disturbing and not uncommon in the U.S., where millions of people cannot afford healthcare.

Following the film, a panel of medical experts comprised of Joel Kettner, an urgent care and emergency physician, Anne Durcan, a family physician, Robert Chernomas, a Professor of Economics at the University of Manitoba, and Arthur Schafer, Director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba discussed the similarities and differences between the healthcare systems in Canada and the U.S. The general consensus among the panel was that while Canada’s current system is superior to the healthcare system in the U.S. in terms of providing a higher quality of care and people’s ability to afford healthcare, if Canada continues voting in a Conservative Government our healthcare system could start to look more like the system in the United States. 

Another interesting point raised by the panel was how some people in Canada don’t feel welcome, comfortable, or respected when accessing the medical system, and they often don’t bother. Whether it’s because of language barriers, cultural differences, or colonization, the medical system is structured in a way that excludes Aboriginals, immigrants, and visible minorities from accessing the system. Increasing inclusion of these groups through special programming, education, and discussion was recommended by the panel. 

Overall, I think The Waiting Room is a successful documentary because it is objective and informative. From a technical standpoint, I think the audio and picture quality looked professional and the editing was smooth and interesting. I also thought the storytelling was very compelling. Despite the many obstacles people in the film face, the director, Peter Nicks manages to tell a story about hope by also showcasing beautiful moments shared between family members, strangers, and between the patients and staff at Highland Hospital. The film examines an important and complicated topic while peeking into the lives of real people, adding a human element and lighter touch to a subject that would otherwise be simply bleak.

Check out The Waiting Room trailer below. I would really encourage you all to see the film and please feel free to share your comments on my blog.


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