Canadian Social Research Links

Michael Goldberg Accepts
Weiler Award for 2005

June 17, 2005

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Michael Goldberg accepts Weiler Award
Fredericton, New Brunswick
June 17, 2005

Michael Goldberg:

Oh my: I didn’t realize that so much of my life would be exposed at this lunch. Thank you Gayle for your comments.

I want to begin by thanking the people who nominated me for this award: Nancy Henderson the Executive Director at SPARC BC (Social Planning and Research Council of BC) and Ruth Annis, Steve Kerstetter and Deborah Kraus who wrote letters of support. And of course I want to thank Gweneth, David, Gayle and the members of the Weiler Award Trust Committee for selecting me.

I have received many emails and phone calls since the award was announced in that lovely release written by Gail Dugas. In the process I have learned more about Dick Weiler and his deep and abiding passion for social justice. I also learned that the circle of connection has become smaller – the person we recently hired as the coordinator for First Call was mentored by Dick when she worked at the Crime Prevention Council.

Now, I could not pass up this great opportunity to do a bit of mobilizing. On your tables there are the white wrist bands for MAKE POVERTY HISTORY. I urge all of you to wear the band, to go on to web site, to write the Prime Minister and your MP. The next major white band day is on July 1st. Please wear your bands on that day especially and please let others know about the MAKE POVERTY HISTORY campaign.

As you may know, the campaign has three international goals: cancelling the debt of poor countries; increasing foreign aid to the promised 0.7% of GNI; and fair trade. Each country has also chosen a national issue and in Canada the committee selected the end to child poverty as the local national goal, an endeavour close to my heart. Some small progress has already been made with the finance ministers from the G8 countries agreeing to help by forgiving $40 billion in debt from 18 of the poorest countries in the world. But the work of the campaign has just begun and we need to keep the pressure on.

Some 15 years ago I was at a meeting where Bob Blair, founder of the NOVA Corporation (a very large petro chemical firm in Alberta) was speaking about the so-called debt and deficit crisis in Canada. He was mad because Ralph Klein had cut funding for kindergarten classes in Alberta. Blair wanted wealthy people like himself to each donate a half million dollars to help reduce Canada’s debt.

Following his presentation, someone in the audience asked Blair what he felt accounted for his success and he identified three factors. Those three factors came to my mind when Gweneth told me that I could subject you to some comments.

Blair said that his success was due to hard work and risk taking, a highly skilled labour force, and luck. Upon reflection, these three factors seemed to be at play when people heard about the award and asked me a similar question. My sense of how these factors came into play, however, differed somewhat from the way that Bob Blair spoke about them.

In terms of hard work and risk taking – virtually everyone I have ever worked with, whether in government or the community sector, or as people who struggle daily with inadequate incomes, works hard. This is not to say that there aren’t the very occasional persons who get carried along, but they are the rare exception. The overwhelming majority of the people I meet work hard. And those who take risks are, for the most part in my experience, those who are secure; who know that they aren’t risking everything for themselves and their families whenever they try something new.

In terms of a skilled labour force, for me it has been having a chance to work with amazing colleagues. In the last 18 years it began with Michael Clague, who hired me at SPARC BC, and Lucinda “Red Pen” Flavelle, the most ruthless editor I have ever met, who made all of us at SPARC BC humble but better writers. It was the volunteers (like Jane Pulkingham and Steve Kerstetter), staff (like Andrea and Nick - who are here today), the many consultants on projects, and presenters I have had the privilege to hear at nine of these social welfare policy conferences – all of whom have taught me so much in our shared work together.

And finally there is luck, and have I ever had my share. The young band that performed last night played a song by Buffalo Springfield, and that reminded me that as a political refugee from the United States, I was welcomed to this country Canada, and as fate or luck would have it, I ended up settling in Vancouver. My greatest piece of luck was meeting Dianne, my political soul mate and life time partner. Dianne who said it was OK to take risks and to follow dreams, who, while our children were still young, agreed to sell the house and to follow my dream of studying in England. Dianne, the person who for the past 38 years has put up with the quirky hours, the pacing while on a deadline, and my snoring.

My sense of luck was a bit different from Bob Blair’s. For Blair, luck was all about being in the right place at the right time and seizing the moment.

I asked Bob Blair what proportion of his success he would attribute to each of the three factors he identified. His response surprised me. He said that 10% was due to his hard work and risk taking, that 40% was due to having a skilled labour force, and that 50% was due to luck. I asked, if that is the case, then wouldn’t it be true that anywhere from a minimum of 40% and up to 90% of his wealth should be returned to the State, depending on how one sees the sharing of luck.

I cannot tell you how moved I am to be the recipient of the Dick Weiler award. For those of us in the field, this is THE AWARD that means the most to us. I thank you for this great honour. For me, luck is to be shared and in my heart I share it with all the people in my life that contributed to my being here.

Thank you.

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