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Would you treat your kids like this? - Michael Atkins (09/05)

The challenge in life is to figure out what is important. Trite, I know, but a place to start. If you are lucky, your family will pound the essentials into you at a young age and the rest will more or less play out reasonably.

The challenge in life is to figure out what is important. Trite, I know, but a place to start. If you are lucky, your family will pound the essentials into you at a young age and the rest will more or less play out reasonably. That doesn’t account for bad luck or the injustice fate throws our way, but it does account for how we face these challenges.

If you are less lucky, you will be denied the youthful pounding but you will meet a friend, a lover, a classmate, a teacher, or someone else who impresses you sufficiently to change your direction.

If you are even less lucky, you will find none of the above, make numerous wrong choices, run off the road any number of times with considerable damage to yourself and others then with your last act of foolishness finally figure out what is important.

If you are plain damn unlucky, you will never figure out what is important and live most of your life careening out of control, not making much difference to anyone or anything (or in the alternative creating a considerable amount of havoc) and will die wondering why you were here in the first place.

To me, what is important, is to be conscious and accountable. Obviously, that leads to a wider discussion about principles and values but let’s leave that for another day.

The purpose here is drawing a parallel between personal development and community development.

A conscious parent wants their children to be prepared to take responsibility for themselves, to make a mark in their chosen field if possible, and with luck, lead a purposeful and engaged life.

Personally, I don’t think there is much difference between what you would wish for your children and what you would wish for the community you live in.

For many years, (at least 30) I have felt my community (Northern Ontario) has received very bad parenting. Mum and Dad, being the province and federal governments, have frequently been neglectful but, far more importantly, have never tried or encouraged us to be conscious and accountable. In fact, the system, such as it is, is specifically designed to keep us unconscious and unaccountable.

It is so bad I think we are at the stage where we are careening off the road for the last time. The only question is whether this time we hit that tree and call it a day, or just miss it and change the way we do our business.

The disaster is not the mismanagement and short-sightedness of the forestry industry in Northern Ontario, although it is painful and no doubt terminal for some communities. The disaster is not the loss of our young people, which is terrible or the depopulation, which makes it difficult to run cost-effective municipalities, nor is it the debilitating impact of the soft wood lumber fight, or the crippling cost of energy.

The disaster is that we are still not conscious and accountable.

To be conscious you must have the capacity to study, to research, to analyze, to propose alternatives and to executive around reasoned priorities.

To be conscious is to know your circumstance and understand what action will provide the outcomes you desire. There is almost no capacity in Northern Ontario for us to think about what is important to us. There are no think tanks, research groups, co-coordinating bodies or legislative capacity to do anything. We are headless. In short, we are unconscious.

Additionally, we are not accountable. We are in charge of not much of anything. What we get we beg, borrow or steal from other levels of government. Sometimes we win. Sometimes we lose. We are never, ever accountable.

I made a speech to FONOM (Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities) this past spring on just this topic. Of the 200 or so politicians in the room at the time I have heard nothing and seen nothing.

This week I found out I wasn’t entirely alone. Gerry Lougheed Jr., an extraordinary community activist in Sudbury picks up the theme eloquently on page 15. David Robinson has been driving Rick Bartolucci crazy for months on these topics and yesterday, I spoke with Liveo Di Matteo, a professor in the department of economics at Lakehead University who is a fully subscribed member of the Conscious movement. Without me knowing, Liveo has been calling for a regional government for Northern Ontario for a number of years.

And so I am not alone. Just in a very small group.

Anyone else out there think we ought to be conscious and accountable?

Drop me a line.

Michael Atkins is the president of Northern Ontario Business. He can be reached