Monday, 30 November 2015

Find a charity that's right for you

Are you planning to make a charitable donation this holiday season? I hope so. According to Imagine Canada, 60% of Canadians will give $5 billion between now and the end of the near. Given that Canadians give $13 billion annually to charities and non-profits, that means that 40% of Canadian charitable giving will occur in the last six weeks of the year.

I hope you will make your charitable donation for the right reasons. Imagine Canada has offered five key strategies to maximize the impact of your charitable giving. Yes, your giving, your philanthropy, can make a huge difference.

First, align your gift with your passion. Ask yourself what kind of a world you want and find a charitable organization that meets your vision. If world of community hunger concerns you, a food charity might be something to support. If a family member has dementia, a health-related charity might be what you are looking for. Do some research and find out more. Engage the charity. See if it matches your vision and make your gift.

Second, model giving for your children and peers. This matters. Children learn to give, not because they make a decision for themselves but because their parents modelled it for them. If you want your children to be generous, model generosity. Talk about giving over a meal. Let them know that you support a cause and invite them to join you in giving.

Third, focus on impact, not overhead. There has been a lot of talk in our community, about the overhead of charitable organizations. But this bottom line thinking is the wrong way to look at things. If a charitable organization takes a percentage of donations (and make no mistake, all charities do) to fund their work, ask what else they do. Is their work more effective because they can do more? Are those fees returned to the community? Does it enhance their mission as an organization?

Fourth, be flexible in your donation. All of us have limitations in our giving, but I believe what really limits us is our thinking. We can’t give to every request, but we can support what we believe in, no matter what the amount is. And those amounts can change over the years. There may be times in our lives when we can make a big donation. Sometimes it may only be a dollar or two. Or we might give time to a cause, instead. It is the act of giving, not the size of the gift that matters.

Finally, leadership matters. If a charitable organization is well led and well managed, has good governance practices and is transparent and accountable, it is worthy of support. Look for things like audited financial statements, properly filed T3010 returns with Canada Revenue and a willingness to openly answer your questions.

When you make that charitable donation this Christmas, make it with confidence. Know your gift is doing what you want it to do. Ask questions. Model generosity and philanthropy. And know that in your charitable giving, your gift is making our community and the world a better place.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Things to know about us

I understand some Americans are thinking of moving to Canada if the US allows Syrian refugees into their country. In light of that, I have some words for them.

My dear American friends:

If you are serious about moving to Canada because your government is planning to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into your country by the end of 2016, you might want to know that our government is bringing in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015.  Housing for immigrants, then, will be at a premium. And it is our intention to welcome them. You may have to wait in line. Sorry.

You won't qualify for our taxpayer funded health care system for a while; at least until you become a Permanent Resident. Marry a Canadian. Let them sponsor you as an immigrant. Allow a couple of years for paperwork. You could try applying for refugee status, but unless you face capital punishment in your own country, it would be a very long shot. Again, sorry about that.

Leave your guns at home. And don't even think once about "open carry" It's illegal and the police are quite strict about it. It's a Canadian thing and something we aren't sorry about.

Canada is a bilingual country. That's English and French. Your Spanish may be helpful, but if you speak Chinese, Hindi, Urdu, Korean, Arabic, Tigre, Afar or Tagalog you will be at a decided advantage.

Do speak slowly as we become accustomed to your American accent. When you start ending your sentences with "eh?", you will be well on your way to becoming one of us.

Yes, we play baseball, football and, of course, hockey. Our baseball team, the Blue Jays, is quite good. If the baseball gods agree, they could be a World Series contender. We live in hope.

Learn the basics of hockey. You may not like the game, but it beats the hell out of invading other countries, taking down governments and then basing your army there. We invited the Russians here during the Cold War and beat them. We have beaten your hockey team in Olympic competition. It is our game and we are quite good at it. Sorry for the prideful moment.

You will hear of something called the Maple Leafs. They are, allegedly, a hockey team in the NHL. I say "allegedly", because there are an awful lot of Canadians who believe they are not a hockey team but a perpetual excuse for charging high ticket prices to see bad hockey in Toronto. But their fans live in hope, too.

Our football is also different. The field is bigger and our players are, by and large, not quite the NFL, but they play a good entertaining game with some rule differences. Learn them.

There are many other things you will have to become accustomed to. Poutine is an acquired taste, but worth it. Our beer is stronger than what you are used to, so be careful. Do pick up your litter and enjoy the weather. Put snow tires on your car. It will save you money on insurance and could save your life.

Welcome to Canada. We like it. We hope you do, too.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Overjoyed at being wrong

I love it when I am proved wrong. I love it even more when the people of Grey Bruce step up and challenge the government and institutions of the day and say “We can do better.” 

In a September column I said, “Bringing a refugee family or families calls for great thought, prayer and consideration. I hope those who want to do the hard work will talk to those with experience, first. And perhaps what we can do best is to support the work of others with better access to supportive community and resources.” 

Boy, was my suggestion ignored. 

Very shortly after that column was published I heard that some of “old hands” at refugee and immigration sponsorship had called a public meeting to talk about what people could do. They were overwhelmed by the support. It turned out that there were many people in Grey Bruce, some from the most unlikely places, who wanted to find out more and do something positive to help refugees get a new start in Canada. 

The people who had been through refugee sponsorship shared their knowledge and experience. People found out about other groups. Bridges were built. Communication was established. Outreach into the community was made.  

Today, here is what I know. St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church has a family of 5 from Eritrea coming from a refugee camp in Ethiopia very shortly. The Lutheran Church in Owen Sound is moving forward. The Roman Catholic Diocese is providing leadership for the Catholic parishes' efforts. There is a group of five citizens in Georgian Bluffs who are hoping to sponsor a family. Conversation is under way among St. George's Anglican Church, Georgian Shores United Church and the local Muslim Association. There are also groups I have heard of in North Bruce Peninsula, Saugeen Shores and Meaford.  

A community meeting will be held Wednesday, November 18th at 7p.m. at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church to share information and to develop links and plans further.  

My own denomination has put more money into their refugee support program. In September, Toronto Conference committed $250,000 in $5,000 grants to United Church congregations who were planning refugee sponsorship. Within two weeks all of the money had been allocated to fifty groups across Canada and twenty one were on a waiting list. In early November the conference added $150,000 to remove any churches from the waiting list and then added $100,000 more, bringing the total to half a million dollars. 

I am very pleased to see people are stepping up with their time and talent and willing to live out the universal call to have love and care for their neighbour.  

I am pleased that the people of Grey Bruce are not intimidated by fearmongering, partisan politics and the fear of others or of someone different.  

I am pleased that Canadians are willing to do what we have always done; offer our best so that others can enjoy what we already have.  

And I am very, very pleased, Grey Bruce, that you have proved me wrong.  

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.


Monday, 9 November 2015

Hydro One rates rise again

Here we go again. Effective November 1, Hydro One power rates went up again. On peak rates went up 25% and off peak rates went up 7.8%. This also means other charges in your hydro bill also went up.

The line I find most difficult to understand is the amount marked Delivery. Oh, there is a lot of fine print at the bottom of your bill what explains it, but after squinting to try and read the fine print, I still have discovered that delivery charges are one third to two thirds of the bill’s bottom line.

That’s outrageous.

On the Hydro One web page, buried deep in the section called “Understand My Bill” is an even longer and more dense section on all the charges found on your bill under section marked “Delivery”. It includes preventing outages, customer service, administration, information technology, responding to outages and upgrading the system. Sounds like they are doing something, right?

The way this is charged is a flat distribution charge, an additional distribution charge of so many cents per kilowatt hour and an amount depending on how much electricity you actually used.

Still following me? I admit that I’m lost, myself.

Then there is a charge of 79 cents for the privilege of having a smart meter (which I have discovered should really be called a dumb meter) . There is also an adjustment for power lost in transmission (an additional charge). Wow. Hydro One has discovered a way to make money from basic physics.

That last amount may matter to you. Hydro One hired a consultant to do a study of power line loss and adjusted the rate for losses so that it will be lower in urban areas but (and I am sure you guessed this) higher in rural areas.

The bottom line for all of this is that the average customer’s bill, including changes in delivery charges and rate increases will be $5.71 a month. Plus HST. Or $6.45 a month. That is $77.40 per year.

Hydro One can do it again, because every regulated item has to be approved by the Ontario Energy Board. The OEB requires every item to be justified. The public an intervene, but I doubt anyone would. How do you argue with a consultant with a PhD? The public is at a huge disadvantage here.

On the bright side, Hydro One has announced a new program to assist people on low income with the cost of their hydro bills. It comes in the form of a billing credit, as opposed to the one time LEAP payment of last winter. It takes effect January , 2016 and will last up to five years. It is funded by a small billing assessment on all Hydro One customers. Call 211 for more information.

I don’t like Hydro One’s attitude on rates. They can justify all they want, but we are all trapped as consumers. They just keep grinding out our money from us and we have no options.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Remembering the Jervis Bay

If you drive the wrong way up 1st Ave West in Owen Sound, you will come to a small park. Even in the height of summer it sits in deep shade. It is the HMS Jervis Bay park, one of three memorial parks in the city.

The HMS Jervis Bay park commemorates a naval battle seventy five years ago this week. A naval battle that occurred in the cold North Atlantic. A battle connected to this city by one single casualty, Stoker A.M. “Jimmie” Johnson, RCNR.

On November 5, 1040, British convoy HX-84 came under attack from the German Admiral Scheer. Protected only by an armed merchant cruiser, a civilian colony ship called the Jervis Bay, converted and armed with Boer War naval cannons, the convoy was ordered to scatter and make its own way to England.

The Captain of the Jervis Bay, Fogarty Fegen, then turned towards the attacking German ship and with a combination of gunfire and smoke floats, distracted the attacker from the rest of the ships in the convoy, allowing them to escape. In the end, all but five ships made it safely to England. The HMS Jervis Bay, however, was sunk with 190 of her crew, including her Captain, perishing in the cold North Atlantic.

The death of Jimmie Johnson must have hit this city hard. All of a sudden war was very, very real. This was no longer some great patriotic battle. War and death came home and the city must have mourned.

In response, the city named a small park across from the cenotaph and the library after the Jervis Bay. Dedicated in 1941, the one existing photo shows a bright, sunny green space with pillars and benches.

Over the years, the park and the ship it honoured and the connection to this city has been forgotten. The park was overgrown with trees. Various light displays were placed in it, including purple dinosaurs, aircraft and soldiers. But that has begun to change.

This past summer, the city has kept the park tidier and neater than I recall it being in the past. The flower bed was moved forward, closer to the road, and planted in the pattern of the Naval Ensign, the battle flag of the HMS Jervis Bay. Other changes are promised.

For myself, the sinking of the Jervis Bay and what happened afterwards is a symbol of what we often do with important stories.

We forget.

We forget that there was a local connection to the Jervis Bay. We forget that Captain Fegen was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery in action, a medal of valour shared by all who served on the Jervis bay.

In this seventy fifth anniversary year, I intend to go to the park at 2:00 PM on Saturday November 7th and remember. Anyone is welcome to join me. I wish it could be on November 5th, but I will be out of town, unfortunately.

The HMS Jervis Bay and her story is our story. All we can do is to remind ourselves of the words of the poet Lawrence Binyon; “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”

Yes. We will remember them.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.