October 11, 2015

8 ways to get informed and involved in Canada's 2015 federal election

Men spray-painting Vote all over wall

The last nine years of Harper rule have seen a strategic dismantling of environmental protections, an increase in surveillance, muzzling of scientists, laws designed to limit our ability to protest our government, and contempt for democracy itself. (It doesn't end there: see The Tyee's compilation of "70 Harper government assaults on democracy and the law".)

It's time to fix that in what may be the most important election Canada has ever seen. Let's not just get Canada back — let's make it better (as my friend Faisal Moola says). I believe the most important thing we Canadians can do is get out and vote en masse. With 61.1% of eligible voters casting a ballot in 2011 and the Conservatives winning a majority with the support of only about a quarter of eligible voters, we have major room for improvement. Less than 40% of 18- to 24-year-olds voted. If you have friends, neighbours or family who don't vote, especially if they're between 18 and 30, please encourage them (gently, non-judgementally, and non-partisanally) to vote on October 19th. Let's vote in a government that can restore our Canadian pride!

Here are some great organizations and some sources of data to help you get out the vote, get informed and help others find reliable information.


Victoria, BC-based Dogwood Initiative has a great resource to help British Columbians identify candidates in their riding who share their values. Candidates in all ridings were sent a ten-question survey around issues like oil pipeline expansion, Bill C-51 and the current state of democracy in our country. Responses from candidates who obliged are online. VoteBC.ca also includes current polling data.

Want to get involved? Calling Dogwood supporters is key to getting voters to the polls. You can help out by joining a phone banking party or canvassing. (I've been volunteering with Dogwood Initiative since summer 2014.)


"Leadnow's Vote Together campaign connects the millions of people who want change on October 19th with the information and tools they need to defeat the Harper Conservatives.” The Vote Together website offers at-a-glance information about party policies on issues Leadnow's community cares about, including democratic reform, a fair economy and a clean environment. Enter your postal code to see how your candidates are performing in local polls. Don’t forget to sign the pledge to Vote Together.

Want to get involved? There are plenty of ways to volunteer until the election.


OpenMedia.ca created a crowd-sourced platform for digital rights in Canada, covering privacy, access and free expression. Pledge to vote for "affordable access, free expression, and a surveillance-free Internet” and encourage your candidate to sign up to be a pro-Internet candidate. OpenMedia’s policies, informed by real Canadians, is also outlined on the website.

Promote the Vote

Promote the Vote encourages and empowers Canadians to increase voter turnout and engagement by having conversations with their friends and family about voting. Promote the Vote offers resources and engagement leadership workshops on dialogue. Check out the website for upcoming events in the Metro Vancouver area. (Workshops ahead of the election have now finished.)

Join Promote the Vote and Reel Causes for a screening of The Price We Pay on October 14th in Vancouver. By donation, with proceeds to Promote the Vote (non-partisan, not-for-profit).

David Suzuki Foundation's election pledge

Tell our federal leaders you’re voting for bold leadership on the environment and climate change. Take the pledge.

Vote Compass

"Vote Compass shows you how your views align with those of the candidates running for election." It is "an educational tool developed by political scientists designed to help you explore how you fit in Canada's political landscape." I found the results of this one really interesting when I used it before the previous election. (May require some patience loading.)

Polling data

threehundredeight.com polling data is visualized on the poll tracker at CBC.ca.

Make a social media profile photo

Use this easy tool at VoteNation.ca to let your friends know you're voting.

Are you registered to vote? Make sure you are: visit Elections Canada's website or call 1-800-463-6868.

June 15, 2015

9 ways to green your home office

Office chalkboard

I'm very pleased to announce that in addition to my home office, my website is now bullfrogpowered® with 100% green electricity thanks to Ethical Host. It's just one of many ways I walk the talk. To help you make a difference at work, here are nine tips to make your home office more earth-friendly.*

1. Use a chalkboard for ideas, to-dos and notes instead of paper. I like having my to-do list or projects list in front of my face, but I grew tired of managing scrap paper and rewriting notes when they got messy. I also wanted some motivational quotes nearby that I could change at will. Paint a chalkboard wall or board with VOC-free latex paint — available from Benjamin Moore in any colour — and use real chalk, not chalk pens. Wipe it off with an old sponge or a rag, rather than paper towels. Chalkboards are great for being non-committal. Get different colours of chalk to colour-code projects on a hand-made calendar, which could be a temporary or permanent feature.

2. Bullfrogpower your pad (if you know how much energy you use) and use energy-efficient lighting (LEDs or compact fluorescents). My monthly Bullfrogpower fee is less than $2, or about 10% of my electricity bill, but all of us together really adds up to a big positive impact! If you can, position your desk to take advantage of natural light. If you can see out a window, even better, so your eyes can get a break.

March 16, 2015

8 reasons why I'm voting YES in the transit referendum

Car Free Day 2009

I get around everywhere by bike, public transit and on foot. So when my mayor presented the Mayors’ Council plan during a HUB committee meeting, I was super excited. More SeaBus? B-Lines in my neighbourhood? Bike lanes? YES!

All this and more needs to be funded somehow. There’s a lot of fact-slinging, grumbling and even partying happening, so I thought I’d offer my own personal reasons for supporting the plan. And some info along with it.

Here’s why I’m voting YES:

1. Safe cycling paths are the best!

More safe cycling paths means cyclists like myself — and those usually less comfortable riding in the city — can get to their destinations more easily. 2700 more kilometres of bike paths will encourage more people to take up cycling as a convenient, fast, safe and fun way to get around. Check out my 6+ reasons why bikes are good for Vancouver.

Erika lifting bike I'm this excited. (Photo by Pia Massie)

2. 50% more SeaBus service, woo!

10-minute SeaBus service at peak times at 15-minute service otherwise will literally change my life. It’s so stressful to miss — or almost miss — one, especially when buses in my neighbourhood often fail to make this critical connection at rush hour. More frequent SeaBus means more freedom in our schedules. I’d hardly need to look at the time. Leave when you want, and you won’t have to wait long. I think this will be a huge draw for people who currently deal with backed-up bridge traffic. Speaking of which...

February 5, 2015

11 phases to a successful website design

Fair Share BC

Websites can be complex beasts. So the common question, "how much does a website cost?" is pretty similar to "how much does a house cost?" The simple answer is, it depends. There are so many factors that determine a website's cost or time to build — as with a house — that there is no single answer. But with enough information, an estimate can be made for yours.

Websites, like anything else one designs, don't appear magically — they're the end result of a thoughtful and collaborative process that takes time. To take some of the sticker shock out of the price tag of websites, here's what a typical successful website design process looks like, along with some tips:


How do you describe the character of your organization? What are your website goals? Who are your current and desired audiences? I could go on, but the quality of this first phase determines the outcome. The more accurate the answers are, the fewer revisions and mistakes will occur down the road. This is a good time to tell your designer* if your audience is, for example, over 75 or if they're mostly in a rural area. Different audiences' needs are different. Be as specific as you can.

"Poor user experiences inevitably come from poorly informed design teams." — Jared M. Spool, founder of User Interface Engineering


I'm giving this its own phase, though research is also included in other phases such as discovery and usability testing. I'm by no means an expert on all the types of research, so I'll point you to Erika Hall's Just Enough Research for a great overview (and more). Responding to a common objection of "we don't have time" to do research, she says: "You don't have time to be wrong about your assumptions."

September 17, 2014

Eat dinner together, change the world

FeastVancouverI've been reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Barbara Kingsolver) this summer, which puts great emphasis on how food — specifically local in the case of this book — brings people together, in celebration and as part of their culture. With that in mind, I'm pleased to tell you about an upcoming, worldwide event that uses the occasion of dinner toward making positive change. (Two of my favourite things in one — how could I resist?)

The Feast Worldwide Vancouver
Saturday, October 18th
Groundswell Cafe & Learning Space

The Feast Worldwide is a day of global dinner parties in 40+ cities across 6 continents. The goal? To spark collaboration that drives local entrepreneurs and social initiatives forward.

On October 18, we're inviting Vancouver to explore the global theme of progression through food and sharing. Join us in envisioning, "A world where growing and eating healthy food connects people."

The idea is simple. Come for an interactive dinner that explores connections between food, community, technology, sustainability, business, health, design, and more! We're inviting incredible entrepreneurs to share their work to inspire greater discovery and ideas. Let's sit together over dinner — and instead of talking about problems, talk about ways to support each other, collaborate, and make things work better.

Register at Eventbrite and follow the Feast on Facebook for updates.

June 12, 2014

What's a fair share for BC of Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline?

I'm really excited to share with you a website I designed for Dogwood Initiative, which launched this week. Fair Share BC asks a simple but vital question: What's a fair share of economic benefits for BC of Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline? Whether you're against the proposed pipeline — as are about three quarters of British Columbians — or for it, or agnostic/undecided, we'd like to hear your opinion.

Understanding that many of us would never put a price on our coast, the main purpose of the site is two-fold: to enable the people to decide what a fair share looks like, and to help conversations happen between folks with different view points. (Maybe Uncle Bob wants more permanent jobs for BC, but thinks we'd get a lot more than we would in reality?) I'd consider myself well-informed, and was surprised by the actual numbers. (Go take the short quiz to find out. Over 2,000 people already have!)

Prime Minister Harper's decision on the Northern Gateway project is anticipated soon. If he gives it the green light, it's then up to Christy Clark to stand up for BC. But her "fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits" condition in the pipeline's way is vague — what's fair by her standards? Dogwood Initiative will collect the public's Fair Share BC quiz answers to put some hard, public-powered numbers behind that. I want to make it clear that thinking about what a fair share looks like doesn't mean we can be bought if we got what we asked for — the reality is that we won't, so this is an exercise in making it clear that Christy Clark's fifth condition cannot be met.

I worked closely with Kai Nagata, Energy and Democracy Director. Dogwood Initiative's Karl Hardin and Joshua W provided technical heavy lifting for which I am grateful.

Additional ways to take action

Join over 16,000 people to send a message to the "Enbridge 21" — BC's Conservative MPs who stand to lose a lot if the federal government approves the project. Encourage them to support BC instead of Enbridge.

Pledge to support a referendum on the future of pipelines and oil tankers in BC. If you have time, please consider volunteering in your community.

Send Christy Clark a message to stand strong for BC.

May 26, 2014

We have emotionally challenging jobs

NoTankers rally in Vancouver, May 10, 2014

I still remember the staff meeting at the David Suzuki Foundation where I was on the verge of tears. I don't remember what the sad news was, but the fourth person to speak was David, by phone from South America I think. It was such a devastating stack of news that maintaining composure was a challenge. It was on par with listening to Tsleil-Waututh elder Amy George speak about the Healing Walk and what has happened to their land in the last 150 years — land on which I grew up, too. Her words brought me to or very close to tears twice in one week.

This past Saturday, I spent the entire day with my non-profit friends, some of whom I have the sincerest pleasure of working with. We attended a conference called CanRoots, which was generally uplifting and closed with a standing ovation for two women from Kitimat's Douglas Channel Watch. The feeling in the room and in my heart was extraordinary: all of us, united in our shared joy and passion, applauding and cheering for a small group of committed citizens who fought a Goliath and won. This is, I thought, a morsel of what it will feel like when British Columbians win.

When your work is to fight hard for something you care deeply about, your job is going to be full of emotion. It's difficult to hear bad news — ice sheets melting, sea stars dying en masse, another pipeline approval, another loss for democracy. And it's pure joy to celebrate our successes. But I know that some of my friends have a hard time with the slog. At the end of the day, though, I wouldn't be doing anything else. I do this work, and I try so damn hard in my personal life as well, because I care so f*&%ing much. Our government calls us radicals and extremists, and we respond by standing taller and stronger. It would, though, be considerably easier to stop pipelines, curb runaway climate change, prevent our water from being destroyed in mining operations, and save the salmon if our provincial and federal governments cared like we do and understood what's at stake. What we do to the planet, we do to ourselves.

So I'm going to keep throwing my heart and soul at this work. At a fairer democracy, at sustainable alternatives, at stopping new oil pipelines and LNG plants. I'm not a radical. I'm a human.

Want to join me? I just signed up as volunteer organizer for what I think is the best shot we've got at saving British Columbia from Enbridge. Sign the pledge to push for a fair, province-wide vote on oil pipeline and tanker traffic expansion in BC. And if you care like I do, I'd love for you to join me in collecting pledges in your community. Will you stand up for BC with me?




Erika photo

I am a communication designer in Vancouver, BC. Most of my writing and community activism are in the interconnected issues of public transit, local eating and food security, politics, health, environment, and sustainability in general. At heart, I'm a geek and a total treehugger. Nature, tea, good food and great company make me happy.

Currently reading:
The Oil Man and the Sea
Arno Kopecky

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