I would like to share the work of Evangeline Downey. She's working on an issue in the Prestons that I've followed since I was a kid growing up on the other side of the Waverley Game Sanctuary. Land Title is the problem. You can help.
For more than 200 years, many African Nova Scotians have been living on land passed down by their ancestors without clear land title. Without clear title, they can’t get a mortgage, bequeath or sell their land, or access housing grants.
Though you may not have heard about this local issue, here's a BBC article about it.
In 2016 the government announced there's a Land Title Initiative 'in the works'. It's been in the works since the 1800's. I've written about it many times and shared the news each time it comes up.
It could get settled permanently this year.
The community has been pushing for the government to re-examine the problem. In some cases, a property has been in the hands of a family for two centuries, but they don't legally own it. Dwight Adams, who has studied the story, believes that about one third of the properties in North Preston are not properly deeded. It is impossible to overstate the undermining effect this has on a community, on families, and on people who’ve worked their whole lives on this issue and have nothing ever come of it.
One more disheartening detail. The 'initiative' was originally overseen by Liberal MLA Lloyd Hines. The man theoretically responsible for Nova Scotia's ferry fiasco and other such mess. You might be interested in his wikipedia page or this astonishing clip of him behaving like a fool.
This Title issue should have been settled long ago. Once this program was announced it should have been settled immediately. Now it's dragging on and causing more fear, uncertainty, and trouble than ever. Look at the pace of change we’ve seen in the last months when government really believed something was important. Look at the way they’ve approached things when they really believed people might be left wanting or in danger. That’s the pace of change that should be applied to the Land Title Initiative.
Every file should be closed, at no expense or trouble to the land owner, before the summer ends.
Yesterday President Barrack Obama wrote that to make this moment a turning point for real change we need to be specific – to make specific demands. Nothing is easier than for the government, police, and politicians to agree with you when you say Black Lives Matter. And nothing is more easily forgotten. Being specific, saying exactly what you want, what you want changed, and when, is crucial.
Why should you get involved?
For the last 12 years or so I’ve been working on a personal Citizenship project. It’s simply the notion that a good everyday citizen gets informed and musters the time and the courage to speak out. It started in February 2008. I heard late one evening on the radio coming home from a gig that then candidate Barrack Obama was going to speak the next day at the Bangor Auditorium. I went home, packed the kids and a couple bags into the car and drove all night, arriving at the Paul Bunyan statue early in the day but late for the event. The line to get in stretched hundreds of metres. But as we got talking to people in line some of the organizers heard how far we’d come for the event and arranged some wonderful front row seats for us. A front row to see American history in the making. Obama’s speech, like the best of Churchill, didn’t pull punches. He laid out what he believed America’s problems were and his plan for change. With about 7,000 people in the room it was a surprisingly intimate event. When he finished he took questions. A woman, moved by the whole experience asked simply, “what can I do?” I braced myself. I’ve been to many political speeches. I thought he would say, “Get out there and vote!” He didn’t. He paused for thought. And then he said,
“The most important thing a citizen can do is get informed and find the courage to speak out.”
By now everyone knows the way he speaks, in slow purposeful headline sentences followed by rapid delivery of detail. He said you had to do the work for yourself to get informed. He said citizens had the most impact when they were acting outside their self-interest and not behaving with anger.
I came home with two fundamentally transformed children and, transformed myself, a brand new plan. I would try to be a good citizen. We weren't the only ones. Obama became president, but his lasting legacy, I believe, is the number of people he inspired with this message of hope.
Here’s what I learned in the 12 years of working on the good political citizen plan.
Government, police and bureaucrats are expert, absolute professionals, at dealing with people who are self-interested and angry. They do it all day long and they’ve been doing it forever. They know what to do. There is no way for an angry or self-interested person to have an impact.
It’s astonishing but in whole lifetimes, past, present and future most people will only interact with politicians, bureaucrats, and police when they are angry, self-interested, or both. It’s a position of extreme weakness and seldom achieves the desired result.
But there’s another way. I learned it in the TV business in which I work. Though people watch an astonishing amount of TV (people in Canada watch TV on various platforms 29.9 hours a week on average) the broadcasters rarely hear from them. It’s like the radio DJ shouting out across the airwaves but never really hearing much back from her imagined audience. So when the TV broadcaster gets a letter, or the DJ gets a call, that single voice, unperturbed and disinterested, is extrapolated to represent the thoughts of tens of thousands. When a citizen, not angry, not self-interested in the outcome of an issue, engages with government or a politician their voice is amplified thousands of times. People just don’t generally get involved. Frank speech is discouraged in our culture. People don’t speak out. “Normal” people have stuff to do. When a political person hears from a regular everyday citizen, behaving reasonably, with a specific actionable request, they take it very, very seriously. Astonishingly so. They want to know more. They want to do something. They want to help. They’re absolutely interested. This. This is why the politician got involved in the first place. This is how the policeman will do his duty to serve and protect. This is how the public servant will serve.
The bottom line is you, as a disinterested citizen, can always help a citizen in a jam more than they can help themselves.
If you, as a disinterested everyday citizen, pick up the phone or write with a specific, informed, actionable request that the government wrap up all the Preston’s Land Title Initiative files by Labour Day, you will get heard. Your voice will ring with the sound of a thousand voices. Your reasonable, informed, disinterested voice will be heard where the angry, impatient, desperate voices of those directly involved will not be. It doesn’t have to be the Land Title issue. It’s the same for any issue. Self-interested people can’t even effectively speak out for things that are impacting their lives directly in their back yard. They’re immediately dismissed as “NIMBY’s” (Nova Scotia even gets a shout out in the Wikipedisa page about it). It's derisive term that means ‘not in my backyard’ people. People easily dismissed by the powers that me. Other phrases you'll hear are Naysayer and something about not really loving your community and wanting it to die. But you as the disinterested citizen won't get that.
Unfortunately, after 12 years I’ve also discovered that this power to be heard is a waning resource. A new community voice is welcomed, encouraged and heard at first. They’re genuinely excited to see you and hear what you have to say. But if you’re consistent. If you keep it up. Well, familiarity breeds contempt. You’re a complainer. An activist. A loudmouth. A contrarian. Or worse, you’re after their jobs. You’re thinking of running for office. You’re the competition. In this way citizen activism runs its course quickly.
So there you are. You’ve got... say about... three solid kicks at the can. Three wishes if you will. Three strikes. Choose wisely. Get informed. Swing for the fences. Know your own story. Find the courage and the time - both truly difficult for everyday citizens - and speak out specifically and with an actionable, time bounded demand.
A couple of quick tips.
- Make sure you are talking to the right level or government, department, or supervisor. There are three levels of government for a reason. It’s a shell game. They want to be able to say it’s xxx issue, not theirs.
- Get it in writing. Politicians are notoriously two-faced. They’ll say anything to you on the doorstep if they think no one else is listening.
- Don’t talk to or align yourself with the opposing parties if you want immediate action. The opposition would LOVE to hear from you and commiserate to transform your problem into a vote, a story, a policy, or a dig at the other team. It's a big distraction. If you want, and can reasonably expect, immediate action go to the people in power.
- Make a friend. If possible, before demanding anything, make a friend. Know their name and their background. Connect with the person. Ask them questions and follow up their answers until you’ve genuinely found a common interest, connection, or acquaintance. It is not very hard. It’s not like meeting someone in a bar. All these powerful people are in public service for a reason. They want to be connected.
- Finally, follow up. Don’t wait. Tell them when you’ll follow up and do it. Tell them your friend is also interested and get the friend to actually follow up. Time is the main weapon of the bureaucrat or politician. They’re paid professionally to devote themselves fulltime. You’re an amateur. They know from experience that most of the time you’ll be distracted by your work, family, and troubles of life. If you’re not distracted you will distract them. Sometimes winning is mostly about just showing up.
I hope you’ll get informed about the Nova Scotia Land Title Initiative or any other issue. Good luck with your three swings. If I knew more about baseball I’d continue the metaphor. But simply… put them to good use.
Office of the Premier
You can also talk to your local MLA if they are in the governing party
Or the Minister, deputy and people in the department responsible
Writing about life, citizenship, and Nova Scotia.