Rotary Club of White Rock at the conference, Past President Gordy Sanga introduced Premier David Ebby, 20+ year Rotary Pioneers were honoured, David Suzuki on Climate Change, tipping the light fanastic, Past Prsident Joan Apel introduced Stephanie Cadieux, 32 Ford "Miss Vicky" rides to end polio.
Report on Rotary District Conference – May 5, 6 & 7, 2023
Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel, Surrey, BC
Scribe: George Garrett
The theme of the Conference: “Imagine A Peaceful and Inclusive World” was followed by inclusion of a number of outstanding speakers. The conference added a third theme: Accessibility for those with physical disabilities such as being confined to a wheelchair.
Conference Chair Jack Rae reported there were many challenges in organizing the event, partially because District Governor Raj Rajagopal was stranded in India for several months by the COVID Pandemic.
Nonetheless an outstanding group of speakers was arranged and registration rose to 180 delegates from District 5050 including .Rotary Clubs in Washington State and the BC Rotary Clubs.
On a stage decorated with dozens of flags from many nations and two scarlet-coated Mounties flanking the podium, Premier David Eby opened the convention with a speech in which he acknowledged the friendship and cooperation between British Columbia and Washington State. The premier revealed he plans to take on an international role in a forthcoming trip to Japan, Korea and Singapore. He said it will be more than a trade mission. Premier Eby plans to talk to his hosts about a sustainable environment.
Keynote Speaker Doctor Keith Carlson opened proceedings on the second day (Saturday). Dr. Carlson is a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Indigenous and Community Engaged Research at the University of the Fraser Valley, Director of the Peace and Reconciliation Centre and an instructor in the History Department at UFV.
Doctor Carlson spoke of settler colonialism which affected the lives of 29 different Indigenous nations. He said white settlers were pioneers, people who were never satiated. He said they were innocent immigrants acquiring land from Indigenous people but Treaties were negotiated only recently.  He said people of white privilege believed that Indigenous people would disappear but he said Indigenous people have been here for seven generations. When they think of the future they think of the next seven generations. He said, “We need to understand each other. We must shift from sympathy to empathy. If we do, all kinds of doors will open up.”
Guest speaker Al Jublitz of Portland, Oregon was introduced by District Governor Raj on the topic of “Imagine a Peaceful Inclusive World.”
Mr. Jublitz said he was inspired by the Imagine theme created by Jennifer Jones, a Canadian and President of Rotary International.
He said he talked to Jennifer about the arms race and how we still have the armaments that are the equivalent to 1800 World War II’s. Rotary’s goal, he said is a deliberate attempt to make peace. We have close to 150 peace parks around the world. Mr. Jublitz referred to the importance of Rotary Peace Fellowships, noting we have had 8,000 years of warfare but only 200 years of peace. He said, “We know how to make peace through NGO’s (non-government organizations) who know how to solve problems while telling governments to get out of the way.”
He said Rotary is the largest humanitarian organization in the world. He concluded, “Imagine a world beyond built by Rotarians. May Peace prevail on earth.”
Mr. Jubitz then participated in a panel discussion with Diane Paul and  Doctor Keith Carlson. Diane said she was just an ordinary person whose father was killed in the Viet Nam War. She was emotionally destroyed but realized it was her whole country’s experience as well. She said many American soldiers killed civilians, noting 90 per cent of war’s victims are civilians. She said soldiers moralized their actions in war but brought their moral injury home with them. Many took their own lives, unable to cope. Diane also spoke of the plight of Palestinians whom she said are living in trauma, enduring a form of Apartheid imposed by Israel. Diane has taken on governments all over the world, including Bosnia. She said, “You cannot be a bystander.”
Fellow panelist Dr. Keith Carlson said intergenerational trauma exists in the Indigenous community. He calls them ‘cycles of trauma.”
Panelist Al Jublitiz said early childhood education is necessary if we are going to talk peace. He said, “If you love the earth, you love people.”
Our speaker on environment was Hillary Franz, Commissioner of Public Lands, one of only five Land Commissioners in the United States.
Among her many challenges is the struggle to save salmon through removing obstacles such as culverts and dams that block the passage of fish.
Another issue is the pollution caused by the smoke from forest fires. She said the key is forest protection and how to conserve forest land but at the same time recognize that wood is needed for housing.
Commissioner Franz recognized the Nooksak River causes flooding in the Abbotsford area during flooding but said we have to learn how to cooperate with the help of Trival Nations to develop a mindset for what has been our biggest threat. She said, “Our trees are the lungs of the community and we must work with the Tribal Nations. We must get away from fighting about forests to fighting for forests.”
 In the past there had been enormous decisions about the environment and trees that have affected Indigenous people. She said, “There is an enormous amount of anger and hurt. Generational poverty resulting in alcoholism.”
I had the honour of sitting next to David Suzuki, famed author, broadcaster and early environmentalist. We had a chat about our age. I am 88, he is 87. He told me of the struggles his family went through when they were forced to move to the Interior, leaving their possessions behind on the Lower Mainland. He said it was particularly difficult for his late father. Doctor Suzuki was perhaps best known as the host of the Nature of Things on the CBC and had written 50 books.
He holds Honourary Degrees from several universities.
In retirement he says his role is to be an Elder for his grandchildren. He says he can speak the truth about how governments are not properly dealing with the environment. He said, “We are unable to manage our air, water and soil.”
Doctor Suzuki said DNA leads us back 150,000 years when grasslands covered the earth, animals were in abundance and two-legged apes roamed freely. He said, “That was us.” He said the human brain was a great gift. We have incredible memory. We can affect our future. We have the foresight and ability to look ahead. Computers have enhanced that ability. However, Doctor Suzuki believes humans are on a collision course because many practices put us at risk. He said we need fundamental changes in the way we deal with the environment, fish, water and soil. He worries about overpopulation with the world’s population now at 8 billion. He also worries about climate change.
When governments claim to be reducing temperature gains to net zero by 2050, his comment is “Give me a break.”
Doctor Suzuki had a distinct message that could apply to the BC Government. “Stop logging old growth forests.”
The theme of our three day Rotary District Conference was “Imagine A Peaceful and Inclusive World. Our last speaker Stephanie Cadieux added a new dimension: Accessibility. Stephanie is a former BC MLA and Cabinet Minister who left provincial politics to become the First Chief Accessibility Officer in the Federal Government. Still based in BC, Stephanie travels often to Ottawa and other parts of Canada to spread the word about the plight of people with disabilities, such as using a wheelchair as she has done since being injured in a car accident near Bellingham when she was only 18. She was elected an MLA at age 34 and served 13 years in the BC legislature. The Accessibility Canada Act was passed in 2019 but Stephanie doubts it was even needed since the Charter of 1972 guaranteed fundamental rights to all Canadians. It was supposed to protect the rights of people with disabilities but as all disabled people have found they have to fight to seek a remedy. Systems need to change. Barriers have to be removed. Stephanie said organizations must prepare a plan to design buildings and sidewalks that take into account problems that could be avoided for disabled people. Stephanie is getting many responses from disabled people in various groups across the country. They want change. Stephanie cited one example. There are 645,000 people who are disabled. 50% have a University education but 22% can’t get a job. Stephanie recognizes that she has a big job to do on behalf of disabled people but she says frankly, “We are not getting there.” Although she works for a Federal Ministry Stephanie is willing to challenge the government. She said, “We have to change the things that are not working.”
Our final speaker on Sunday morning was RI Director Drew Kessler. He had spoken the previous night in New Jersey, caught a red-eye flight to Vancouver and was leaving after his speech for Chicago.
Drew said he joined Rotary at age 20. He advanced rapidly through the ranks from president of his own club to district governor and then as an international director by age 42.
Drew said Rotary has had 118 years of amazing history but we must become more inclusive, more accessible. He said Rotary offers so much but we should move forward with events that are partner friendly and family friendly. While there is some resistance to change, Drew said we should remember that the feeling of being wanted is important. He asks that all members embrace change for the good of Rotary.
Drew told the story of his son Jackson, a student in the third grade who organized a Rotaract Club in his elementary school. He made himself president and his younger brother vice-president!
Speaking without notes, Drew made an impressive presentation saying, “We have a gift to give to Rotary. We have the power to change lives and change the world.”
Near the close of the convention Rotary honoured those who have passed away in the past year. Four members of our Rotary Club of White Rock were honoured: Myra Ford; Rose Dyck; Alison Smith and Pyaro Panjawani. As names were read out a Rotary bell sounded and a beautiful white rose was placed in a vase. Music played in the background. The lyrics were “I’ll Walk Beside You To The Land Of Your Dreams.”
The convention was a great success.
Entertainment, including Wild Mocassins...a pair of impressive Indigenous dancers was presented along with entertainment in a separate House of Friendship Room. Behind the Friendship Room was a display of a Shelter Box – a tent that is custom designed to serve as a shelter for families left homeless after an earthquake or flood or some other disaster. Rotary sends Shelter Boxes to devastated people all over the world.
One final note: A tip of the hat to Chairman Jack Rae and District Governor Raj for an outstanding District Convention. And a big thank you to our own James Strachan who worked tirelessly all three days assisting the sound engineer, setting up and taking down things and generally a handyman.
Here’s a joke an undertaker told that James may wish to use.
“Will glass caskets ever be successful? It remains to be seen.”