All fancied up

The University of Saskatchewan’s retirement banquet was on the other night. A great evening. Here we are with the Acting President Dr. Gordon Barnhart (next to Jim) and our neighbour, Dr. Peter Stoicheff, Dean of Arts and Science.


A nice turn out; all retirees were given what we initially thought might be fruitcakes, but thankfully turned out to be engraved desk clocks.


Rick and Dr. Vipen Sawhney (don’t know if they intended to seat the Master Teachers together) had Grandpa Wars, duelling with iphones to find out who has the cutest grandchild. I think they called it a draw.


Summer Saskatoon HOME out now

Another issue of the fabulous Saskatoon HOME magazine is out. My fabulous photographer friend Heather Fritz and I teamed up again on yet another cover story! Why do I write the word ‘fabulous’ but rarely say it out loud? hmmm. Pick up your issue or browse on line. I always get my copy at Sobey’s. This cover article features the dynamic duo of Dave Viminitz and Katie Penn and showcases their wonderful City Park home. I love writing for this magazine! And I’m happy to say Saskatoon’s ‘small town feel’ is alive and well. Turns out Dave taught at SIAST with Ann, an old friend of mine (‘old’ as in we met working on farms in New Zealand in 1979!) and Katie knows another “old” friend, Jane, with whom I worked at the Commentator newspaper here in the early 80s. You never know what or who you’ll discover in each issue.


Hey, remember the 70s?

Look who I hung out with today? Well, okay, that’s stretching it but still fun! Candace Savage (left) and I did a spot on CTV’s Noon Show about the NatureCity Festival and while we were waiting to go in to the studio, we chatted with these guys who were also waiting for their turn with Jeff Rogstad. We figured if the one guy was wearing sunglasses inside they’re either mafia or musicians. Turns out it was Ralph Cole, Paul Hoffert and Dan Clancy of Lighthouse, remember that band from the 70s? Good songs! Of course, I was a mere child in junior high then…


Go wild in Saskatoon

The NatureCity Festival (click on the calendar!) begins on Saturday with a warm up at the Farmers’ Market, then a full week of activities, wildlife exhibits, info booths, keynote speakers, musicians, face-painting, animal, bird and butterfly walks, tours of the northeast swale, art exhibitions, agricultural tours, beekeeping sessions, river paddles, owl close encounters, stargazing at the observatory, and heaps more. All organized for the second year  by Wild About Saskatoon. Come on out and celebrate nature in the city.


Wild About Saskatoon’s NatureCity Festival coming up!

I’m proud to be volunteering with this group for the Second Annual NatureCity Festival. Heaps to enjoy, learn and experience May 25-31. Great opportunities to learn more about the wild, natural places in and around the city. Below you’ll see the what keynotes we have in store, but there are tons of nature walks, animal encounters, educational sessions, musical events, nature photography sessions, outdoor shows, river cleanups, you name it. Have a look here and plan to take in a few of the events!


Thanks, Jim… and Al

Our pal Al Etmanski is one of the brilliant creators of the Registered Disability Savings Plan, an investment in the futures of so many people with disabilities. A champion of the RDSP was Jim Flaherty, and our family, for one, is grateful to both of these men for their vision and commitment. When our son Jim gets his statement and runs his figure over the balance, we think of Al and Jim and all the others who initiated this fantastic savings plan. Al wrote something of a eulogy for the Globe and Mail.

Thanks to Jim Flaherty, Disabled Canadians Can Fulfill Their Dreams

April 16th, 2014

By Al Etmanski
Contributed to The Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Apr. 16 2014, 10:09 AM EDT
Last updated Wednesday, Apr. 16 2014, 10:12 AM EDT


Among Jim Flaherty’s many proficiencies I would add poverty fighter. No one knew this better than Canadians with disabilities and their families. Next to social isolation, poverty is their biggest handicap. There are many reasons for this. A big one is that government resources are invested in rehabilitation programs that people with disabilities have no control over. It’s true that programs and services are needed. However the net result is that people with disabilities are program rich and cash poor – even though they are better judges than service providers of what to spend their money on.

Jim Flaherty knew that, and he did something about it. He created the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP), a tool to fight poverty that puts money directly in the bank accounts of Canadians with disabilities. It also them to control expenditures. In just a few years, 75,000 Canadians with disabilities have accumulated more than $1-billion dollars in assets. In five years, those totals will triple.

To give you an idea of how the RDSP works, imagine investing the daily equivalent of a Tim Horton’s ‘double double’ and doughnut for twenty years in an RDSP for a baby born with Down syndrome. By the time she turns 30, her RDSP will be worth at least $350,000. This is thanks to the federal government’s matching Disability Savings Grant and Bond plus the power of compound interest. It’s also thanks to Jim Flaherty.

He understood what poverty activists around the world understand – the path out of poverty begins when you can accumulate assets. Unfortunately, government funded disability programs and benefits prohibit asset accumulation, thus perpetuating a vicious cycle of dependency.

If you look ‘under the hood’ of the RDSP you will notice three spanners in the works of the disability welfare system: One, it removes the asset limits, which determine eligibility for welfare; two, it eliminates claw-back and all the disincentives to earning your way out of poverty; and three, it challenges provincial and territorial governments to eliminate the costs of administering the disability welfare system. This last point bears further reflection.

Jim Flaherty designed the RDSP with elegant simplicity. Of course you had to prove your disability was prolonged and serious. After that he let the existing tax system handle RDSP withdrawals rather than creating yet another welfare bureaucracy. In effect, Jim Flaherty is the first Canadian politician to say, ‘I trust people with disabilities to make the right decisions with their money.’ He was right. Whenever I speak to Canadians with disability about the RDSP, they talk about saving for retirement, investing in a condo, taking courses that will qualify for a job. They speak with pride. Of fulfilling their dreams. Of making a bigger contribution to society.

Jim Flaherty understood because he was the father of a son with a disability. I believe this fuelled his determination to leap over out-of-date mentalities toward people with disabilities. I watched him enlist financial institutions to become the providers of the RDSP and encourage provincial governments to change their welfare rules to maximize RDSP benefits. I also witnessed his quest to constantly improve the RDSP. He was making it better up until his last budget.

On a broader level, Mr. Flaherty also understood that despite an annual expenditure of $150-billion by federal and provincial governments we are losing our battle with poverty. The same old, same old isn’t working. The RDSP points to a new approach. This is a Jim Flaherty lesson other countries are paying attention to. There is a now a bill before the U.S. Congress to establish tax-advantaged savings accounts for people with disabilities and their families. The new disability insurance scheme in Australia was similarly inspired. In fact with his announced retirement, I was hoping he would accompany me to Brazil where families, government and bankers want to adapt the RDSP to Brazilian circumstances.

This is a sad time for Canadians with disabilities and their families. We’ve lost one of our own. Jim Flaherty was a shining example that whatever your talent, it is always enlightened by love.


Al Etmanski is co-founder of Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network. He worked closely with Jim Flaherty on the development and implementation of the RDSP.

baseball and sunshine

While it was still snowing in Saskatoon, we’ve been basking in the glory of watching Xander, the grandboy, play baseball.

A family week in San Diego. Two baseball games, a birthday party for Jim (he’ll soon be 40!), a play at the Old Globe Theatre, an artichoke binge in daughter Erin’s backyard, beach walks with son Benjamin and daughter-in-law Julia in Laguna Beach, and kite flying with Xander. Even a visit to the Del Coronado where we all got hitched in 1986. A wonderful week. And, well sated, we go home to plus temps instead of minus in Saskatoon!