Slight upturn on its way
Bill Hubbard - Jan 13, 2020 - Columnists

Photo: The Canadian Press

When we compare the statistics of 2019 to 2018 it tells the story we have been telling you all year: The market has been in a soft correction.

Inventory is up in the Okanagan Shuswap. Absorption, prices and sales are down slightly compared to 2018. When we separate the three zones, the north has been doing slightly better than the Shuswap and the central, but basically it has been a pretty balanced market or a slight downturn.

However, when we compare the second half of 2019 to the second half of 2018 the trend is upwards. What does that mean?

It means that about half way through 2019 the market started to shift from a very slight correction (down market) to a very slight recovery (up market). If you remember, half way through 2019  there were some positive forces coming into the market that should make a difference in 2020. These positive forces reflect the introduction of the first-time buyer program from CMHC, interest rates at record lows again and Vancouver and Toronto—our two biggest economies—are in recovery again.

As expected, these forces are making a difference, and we are starting to see the difference showing up in the stats. History will show 2019 was a relatively balanced year in the Okanagan Shuswap, with a slight downturn. It appears 2020 will be a relatively balanced year with a slight upturn.

Bill Hubbard is a real estate broker and the owner and broker of a four-office real estate firm in the Okanagan-Shuswap. He has been in real estate for 28 years and has been an owner and broker in Vernon for 20 years. At almost 60 years old he is just as passionate about real estate as the day he started.

Don’t look at big picture
Bill Hubbard - Jan 10, 2020 - Columnists

Photo: The Canadian Press

We recently received a notice that said Canadian real estate is on the rise again. Although those statistics are true, they are irrelevant because of a basic premise of real estate.

Real estate is incredibly local. A good example of this is that within the Okanagan Shuswap there are multiple markets. Salmon Arm is different than Sicamous, Vernon is different than Kelowna and so on. These centres are all doing very well, but it would be inaccurate to make a blanket statement about them all together.

What it is really saying is that Vancouver and Toronto are doing well again. Approximately 70% of the sales in Canada are in Vancouver and Toronto. Therefore, if Vancouver and Toronto are going into recovery, the statistics will say all of Canada are going into recovery, which is just not true.

This becomes more ridiculous when people think their house is worth more because the news is saying that Canadian real estate is rising. Even though statistics may be true, that does not make them relevant.

The reality is that the Okanagan Shuswap real estate market is balanced and doing fine.

Bill Hubbard is a real estate broker and the owner and broker of a four-office real estate firm in the Okanagan-Shuswap. He has been in real estate for 28 years and has been an owner and broker in Vernon for 20 years. At almost 60 years old he is just as passionate about real estate as the day he started.

Faces of #OKGNtech
Accelerate Okanagan - Jan 08, 2020 - Columnists

Image: Contributed

A strong community can promote new ideas and ensure accountability. It can also act as motivation, support and even provide a little friendly competition. The power of community is undeniable, and the Okanagan tech community is no exception.

Our community is strong and growing with record speed, and maintaining connections through a period of growth like this can be a challenge. Nobody panic. We’ve got a plan.

Introducing “The Faces of #OKGNtech,” a showcase of Okanagan tech entrepreneurs, partners, supporters and cheerleaders designed to fuel more connection, more growth and more excitement. Follow along on the blog and on Instagram at @OKGNtech to learn more about our growing community and what makes them awesome.

Meet Tasha. Tasha Da Silva is the founder and CEO of Infuse I.T. Inc. When she isn’t reimagining the subscriptions and point-of-sale experience, you’ll find Da Silva reupholstering furniture or cheering on her daughter, Olivia, at her basketball game.

How were you first introduced to the OKGNtech community?

I’m such a social person and working from home was killing me. That’s when I found the OKGNtech community. I joined CoLab, got my first desk, and everything changed. I met my first business partner, our dev team and Accelerate Okanagan. Having so many companies under one roof is why I still love working in an OKGN Works shared space.

What’s something you love about the OKGNtech community?

I love OKGNtech because whether you’re a developer or a CEO everyone is positive, approachable and willing to help. Even as I was putting my stuff together for the OKGN Angel Summit, other entrepreneurs were offering to review my pitch deck, my old business partner was recommending what should be included, and Scott McFarlane (an executive-in-residence with Accelerate Okanagan) was even offering to help! You don’t see that anywhere else.

Where do you work in the Okanagan?

I work for Infuse I.T. Inc., a one-stop-shop for several software solutions aimed at helping small businesses grow. At first, the focus was on being a Lightspeed POS consultant. Then, once I incorporated, we built VinStream—a membership solution software applicable to any company that has subscriptions, membership or other recurring payments.

How did you get into this kind of work?

I was working for the Pan Pacific hotel when I found out I was having a miniature one. I realized I needed a new career to support my baby. My brother, Dax, thought Lightspeed POS would be a good fit for me. After I had Olivia, my dad and my brother offered to support me for six months while I got Infuse I.T. Inc. off the ground. I’ve been very blessed to have a supportive family.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

What I enjoy most is working with different companies. I get to come in and identify what they’re struggling with (inventory, scheduling, managing employees), and then give them the tools they need to grow and mature. Businesses, especially wineries, need to be able to get out of the fragmented tech and back into the vineyard or back to engaging with customers.

Is solving that problem why you started Infuse I.T. Inc.?

It’s the reason we built VinStream. Wineries would reach out to me wanting to use Lightspeed POS, and I had have to tell them that it couldn’t handle what they needed. No one seemed to be addressing all of the membership needs in one system. Deciding that I was going to be the one to build that solution was the smartest choice I ever made.

What’s next for VinStream?

VinStream was built for wine, but it works for any subscription, memberships or recurring billing based platform. At the moment, it’s still built on Lightspeed, but this next update will allow us to plug into other POS software as well. Getting fresh takes and feedback from our beta testers has been a great way for us to find those areas of improvement.

What advice would you give to someone interested in a job like yours?

When it’s your passion, there is no giving up. Even when you want to leave, something deep down won’t let you. You wake up the next day, go to work, and you celebrate the next small win. It brings the passion back.

Is there something you want to be remembered for?

I want to be remembered as somebody who does what she does in order to make a difference. Whether it’s in people’s businesses or in their personal lives, the end-all-be-all was never a dollar amount. It’s what the people I interact with get out of it.

Get ready for higher taxes
Troy Media - Jan 06, 2020 - Columnists

By Alex Whalen and Jake Fuss

Just before the holidays, the federal government released its fall economic update. It revealed that Canada’s federal debt-to-gross-domestic-product ratio increased in 2019, meaning Canada’s debt has grown faster than the economy.

This is particularly important because the government chose the debt-to-GDP ratio to guide federal fiscal policy. The ratio is the government’s fiscal anchor, meant to impose discipline on its decisions regarding spending, taxes and borrowing.

Upon entering office in 2015, the current Liberal government committed to balancing the budget by 2019-20. It then quickly shifted its primary fiscal goal to shrinking Canada’s debt-to-GDP ratio, a measure that indicates the country’s ability to pay back its debt.

However, according to the December fiscal update, the federal debt-to-GDP ratio increased from 30.8 per cent last year to 31.0 per cent now, and is expected to remain at that level through the end of 2021.

By increasing the ratio this year, the government appears to have broken its own fiscal anchor so it can continue to increase spending, grow the deficit and rack up more debt.

More debt means more interest costs, paid for by taxpayers. And likely higher taxes in the future.

This isn’t a trifle development. Fiscal anchors help guide policy on government spending, taxes and borrowing. For example, the 1990s Liberal government of Jean Chrétien chose the reduction of nominal debt as its fiscal anchor. That required significantly more fiscal discipline than the current government’s goal of reducing the debt-to-GDP ratio—a goal it’s now failing to achieve.

Moreover, the fiscal update indicates that government spending will continue to grow, even above prior projections. Consequently, the federal deficit is projected to reach $26.6 billion this year, $6.8 billion higher than expected in March 2019. And, of course, chronic deficits are adding to Canada’s federal debt, which is now projected to reach nearly $810 billion by 2024-25.

Looking forward, there are more reasons for concern.

First, the government has firmly established its willingness to ditch the anchor whenever convenient, essentially admitting there’s no particular fiscal discipline or rules governing federal spending, taxes and borrowing.

Without a fiscal anchor, the government lacks a guiding mechanism to demonstrate restraint and is making up the rules on the fly. This is not a recipe for successful management of our government finances.

Second, this time the debt-to-GDP ratio increased while the economy is still growing and unemployment is comparatively low. A weakened economy going forward will spur significant increases in the deficit and debt, and further increases to the ratio.

There’s also reason to believe the government is being exceedingly optimistic in its economic growth projections and doesn’t anticipate a recession in the near future.

But Canada’s major banks are preparing for an economic slowdown and recently set aside more money for loan losses. We’ve also recently seen waning business investment in Canada, rising trade tensions between key trading partners and a softening U.S. economy. Clearly, storm clouds are forming on the horizon.

In a borderline reckless move, the federal government has violated its fiscal anchor while the economy is growing (albeit slowly). If the economy weakens, as many predict, the debt-to-GDP ratio will increase even more.

The federal government must begin to take fiscal policy, including its fiscal anchor, seriously. Otherwise, the deficit and debt burden, shouldered by Canadians, will continue to grow.

Alex Whalen and Jake Fuss are analysts at the Fraser Institute.

Economy should slow in 2020
Troy Media - Dec 30, 2019 - Columnists

Photo: Contributed

By Jock Finlayson

As the clock winds down on 2019, it’s time to ponder what the coming year may have in store for the Canadian economy.

To provide some context, 2019 hasn’t been a great year for the economy, with inflation-adjusted gross domestic product (GDP) expanding by around 1.6 per cent. This was less than growth in both 2018 (two per cent) and 2017 (three per cent).

But job creation has been surprisingly robust given rather tepid economic growth. On an average annual basis, 2019 should see a solid 2.2 per cent jump in the number of jobs.

Looking at the composition of GDP growth, the data shows that consumer outlays, housing and government spending have been driving the bus. Business investment has been sluggish, while small gains in Canada’s exports have been offset by rising imports, meaning that little growth is coming from net trade.

The next two years will probably bring similarly feeble increases in GDP, in line with 2019’s uninspiring performance. Job creation is likely to decelerate amid tight labour markets (fewer jobless workers are available to fill vacant positions) and escalating labour costs.

An unexpected development in 2019 was the return to a period of falling interest rates. When the year began, most forecasters were expecting both the Bank of Canada’s policy rate and market-based interest rates to continue creeping higher on the heels of earlier rate increases in 2018. But that didn’t happen. Instead, interest rates dropped over much of 2019—not just in Canada but in the U.S., too.

As 2020 approaches, there’s little evidence that interest rates are poised to climb in the near future. That’s good news for the millions of Canadians shouldering record debts.

In its Dec. 4 update, the Bank of Canada signalled a steady-as-she goes stance. The central bank sees a somewhat fragile Canadian economy that faces risks due to evolving international trade conflicts, weak global growth and heavily indebted domestic households.

However, economic activity in Canada is being underpinned by pockets of strength, notably a rebound in housing markets and surging immigration. At this point, the best bet is that interest rates for savers and borrowers will remain fairly close to current levels over the next 12 months.

As for business investment (which excludes housing), the picture is mixed. Escalating government-imposed costs, waning competitiveness, infrastructure bottlenecks and challenging commodity market conditions are significant headwinds for the natural resource-based industries that supply more than half of Canada’s merchandise exports—and almost 80 per cent of exports from the four Western provinces combined.

Other than the massive investment planned by LNG Canada in B.C., capital spending is likely to remain subdued across most segments of the natural resource economy.

The outlook is brighter in some other industries, including technology, tourism, scientific and technical services, business services, and the rapidly expanding digital sector. In aggregate, real business investment probably won’t make much headway in Canada in the next two years.

Housing is a complicated story. Many housing market indicators have revived in recent months, fuelled by lower mortgage rates and record levels of immigration. Going forward, the demand for housing should remain brisk in the major cities where most new immigrants settle, notably greater Toronto and metro Vancouver. Nationally, housing starts in 2020-21 are likely to closely track the 210,000 starts projected for 2019.

Finally, let’s look at international trade. In recent years, Canada has been losing ground in surveys of global competitiveness. At the same time, most of our export-oriented industries are losing market share in the foreign countries that Canada sells into.

When these sobering trends are added to a slowdown in the U.S. and a soggy global economy, it is difficult to summon up optimism about Canada’s export prospects, certainly in the near-term.

For 2020-21, net exports are unlikely to contribute much to economic growth. While real exports are expected to increase modestly, in part due to higher oil shipments, this will be largely offset by a rising volume of imports.

Jock Finlayson is executive vice-president of the Business Council of British Columbia.

Image: Contributed

Be wary of foreclosures
Bill Hubbard - Dec 23, 2019 - Columnists

Photo: Thinkstock.com

Did you know that foreclosures are not all they are stacked up to be?

In recent years in the Okanagan, Shuswap real estate market foreclosures have become increasingly popular. However, they can be a buyer’s nightmare.

There is a concept called “as is, where is” that is built into a foreclosure. This means that you get what you get. If there was a fridge and stove in the house when you saw it, there is no guarantee that it will be there when you take possession. Nothing is guaranteed—not even the light fixtures or the door knobs.

But what about the price? Are foreclosures not always a great deal? Absolutely not. Many times there are multiple people, when the foreclosure goes to court, who believe the property is underpriced just because it is a foreclosure. These people are now in a bidding war, and very often the sale price is above the list price and often above what the house is worth.

The court’s job is to get the highest price possible for the house. They do this by creating competition.

Bill Hubbard is a real estate broker and the owner and broker of a four-office real estate firm in the Okanagan-Shuswap. He has been in real estate for 28 years and has been an owner and broker in Vernon for 20 years. At almost 60 years old he is just as passionate about real estate as the day he started.

Looking ahead to 2020
Bill Hubbard - Dec 19, 2019 - Columnists

Photo: The Canadian Press

Home prices in 2019 inched up a bit in the Shuswap and the North Okanagan, and were down slightly in the Central Okanagan.

Also, as predicted, buyers had more to look at as inventory increased slightly. That happened in all three zones. Inventory is up five to 10 per cent, depending on the zone.

Sales were predicted to be flat as well, and that was the case. Sales were up very slightly in the North Okanagan and down slightly in the Shuswap and in the Central Okanagan. The absorption rate—the percentage of total residential inventory that sells on a monthly basis—decreased slightly in all three zones as well.

As the aforementioned statistics indicate, the market has been flat, with a very slight downturn in some categories and a slight upturn in others.

So what will happen in 2020? Basically, we will see more of the same with one slight change. The forces driving the market are changing slightly. There is uncertainty in the U.S. government, the Canadian government and the B.C. government that is keeping consumer confidence down.

However, the banks are counteracting that negativity. Interest rates are historically low again. The first time buyer program that was rolled out in September is being used aggressively, and Toronto and Vancouver have gone into the recovery leg of their cycle. We are still influenced by the increased buyer activity from the failing Alberta market and people cashing in from the West Coast.

We will see a relatively flat market in 2020, but instead of summarizing it as a soft correction, it should be summarized as a soft recovery. Prices, absorption and sales will rise slightly, and inventory will remain relatively constant.

It will be a good market, but nothing spectacular.

Bill Hubbard is a real estate broker and the owner and broker of a four-office real estate firm in the Okanagan-Shuswap. He has been in real estate for 28 years and has been an owner and broker in Vernon for 20 years. At almost 60 years old he is just as passionate about real estate as the day he started.

Park’s stories cut them up
Tom Kernaghan - Dec 18, 2019 - Columnists

Photo: Contributed

I started by reading his “Last Chapter” blog post, which is about his own death. When I found myself bursting into laughter, I knew I was in.

I could see that Layton Park is a natural storyteller who knows good storytelling is about the writer’s relationship with the reader, one’s self and the roads of life. Park, a lover of motorcycles, hotrods and horses, has certainly travelled many literal and figurative roads at full throttle. And he has the playful, quirky, insightful wit of a man who knows how to live and how to get plenty of guffaws while delivering important messages.

Park started in architecture, running his own firm for 25 years until he sold it to a competitor, after which he began pursuing another love: behavioural psychology. Jumping into this field, he received certifications in professional behaviour analysis, professional values analysis and hypnosis, later founding the Canadian Hypnosis Institute. He has helped dozens of companies improve their career training, communicate successfully and overcome limiting beliefs in their sales teams to make better connections.

Park’s own story is a wild one, involving the murder an ancestor in the United States, a body full of titanium from a motorcycle accident and anything else that moves him to write. A blogger and the author of fun books that aim to teach, inspire and create positive change, Park can find the story in both the odd and the ordinary. For him no place or person is too small to inspire a great tale. And that’s saying something, as Park, a physically large man, once quipped that everyone under six feet tall seems really short to him.

Today he encourages and helps others to share their stories. Park is currently writing a book on how to write your memoirs. No doubt it will involve some humour. He once wrote, “What excuses are you using not to influence or make someone else smile?” Having seen him hold and delight a crowd at BalAnce’s Storytelling Tuesday, I was thrilled at the chance to learn more about him and his craft and to smile some more.

We share a love, and that love is sharing stories. I can’t imagine life without them. When did you first feel the power of storytelling to connect people?

For as long as I can remember I have loved to tell stories, especially if I could make people laugh. Most my stories are about true events as seen through my twisted eyes. That is to say, I tend to see humour in everything, and for years I wrote my experiences down and then used them later to write humour columns. Today there are numerous sales courses that focus on the power of stories when making a presentation. Most of them go back to the theories of Joseph Campbell.

I was intrigued by one review of your work that describes your ability to connect what is on the inside to the external world. What does it mean to you, and why is it important to share our stories?

There is an old saying: “So within, so without.” To me that relates to our ability to tell interesting stories as we bring out our thoughts and how they create, or relate to, our external reality. More simply put, what we think about comes about.

Sharing stories is important to me because they matter. In the end our lives are often summed up in three lines on our headstones — name, dates of birth and death, and some nice statement about being a great parent or spouse. Our stories can get buried with us.

I feel we all owe it to our community and future family members to let them know about our time in this world. I’m planning to hold courses on the subject this winter. And there is no better gift to those you love than to leave a record of the important things that happened in your life in an interesting story.

Your latest book, Kola, is a historical novel that takes on strong and difficult subject matters: race, war, economic disparity and two countries. What moved you to tell this story now?   

I began researching this story 14 years ago, and, in fact, it was my first published story, in the RCMP quarterly. They requested it after I approached them looking for a misplaced autopsy of a Chinese head tax collector who was murdered here in the Okanagan Valley. After writing it over the years I felt it had very similar ties to what is happening today, and the story should be told. There were some missing pieces, so I used fictional characters to flesh it out and give it layered context involving both sides of the border.

In Canada we take great pride in the fact we are not a prejudiced country, yet in searching stories I was shocked at how brutally we treated the Chinese immigrants; the part of the story where two drunks tied two Chinese men back to back by their queues (pigtails) then threw them in the harbour and bet on how long they could swim before drowning; the law of the day made them pay the shipping company for the cost of bringing them here to sell as workers, but there was no penalty for their lives as they were ONLY Chinese.

Also, the civil war was brutal and bloody, pitting teenagers against each other. Their armies taught them to kill, rob banks and trains, and demoralize the other side by burning down their towns, and worse. One particular army was especially efficient at this, so when the war ended its members were to be hunted down and hanged. Not tried, but hanged. This left these young men with no option but to continue moving, robbing, killing and in large part creating the Wild West. Today America has been at war for generations, teaching many of the same skills and wondering why there is so much more violence in their country than in other countries. Not only does the country have more guns, but they have trained most young men how to use them without any feelings of guilt.

You inspire others to tell their stories. Can you recall a particularly difficult barrier to writing that you encountered in yourself or someone else? And how did you break through it? 

I believe if I have a problem, most people probably have the same problem. Therefore, I think most of us lack confidence in our ability to write something others will find interesting.

I keep reminding myself and others that the best authors are not the best English graduates, just as the best-known and successful singers are not the best singers. The country is full of singers who can sing better than Willie Nelson or Bob Dylan, but it is Nelson’s and Dylan’s uniqueness and creativity in coming up with a good story—not their perfect pitch—that people are drawn to. The same thing applies to writing. If you have a great story and good voice you can hire great editor to fix the English.

You’ve written about the open road and home life. Many would see these as two very different spaces. In your experience, is there a common narrative thread that connects them?

I have always thought that home is wherever you are. I am comfortable travelling and love meeting and being with other people. Some people are afraid to venture into strange places, but I love it.

Your stories are filled with fun, quirky and unexpected twists. Is there something else about you many would not expect?

Although I like to speak in public and tell stories, I am in fact very shy and not a good self-promoter. But once I get started and get a few laughs there is no stopping me.

I also love to learn and know a ton of useless trivia.

This column was submitted as part of BWB Wednesdays.

Come tell your story
Tom Kernaghan - Dec 11, 2019 - Columnists

This column was originally written in 2016.

Photo: Marcos Luiz, Unsplash

You never really know someone’s story—that is, until they have the courage to stand in a room of strangers, wrestle with fear and turn the visceral into the verbal.

Such is the remarkable human spirit I witnessed when I recently attended Storytelling Tuesday (STT), hosted by Balance Well-Being Centre Inc. (BWB), a Kelowna organization of passionate individuals deeply committed, as the name suggests, to balance among four of life’s pillars of well-being: financial, social, mind and body.

These are touched upon throughout the evening, as everyone from artists to athletes to entrepreneurs take the stage and, through laughter, tears and some fantastic storytelling, deliver personal stories of fortitude in the face of harrowing experiences most wouldn’t share with friends, let alone the public. At the very lightest, the tales explore life’s embarrassments and the challenges to one’s sense of self. In the words of one such storyteller, each performance is nothing less than a brave “struggle to be yourself” in the world, free of fear, guilt and judgment.

“There is a raw vulnerability in sharing these stories, so much so, I believe, that the mere notion or hint of sharing them has us typically recoil from even the thought,” BWB board member and storytelling leader Murray McEachern said. “It’s because we know we’re really laying ourselves out there, putting ourselves in a position to be judged, ridiculed, misperceived, rejected or, worse, humiliated. These are very strong headwinds when deciding if we’re going to share any of the array of safe stories we easily have at our disposal or, quite conversely, crack open the safe that houses those stories of our lives that are most tender to us.”

The feeling I had during these performances was unlike any I had experienced, and it changed me. Much more than a night out, the event introduced me to a new way of understanding and relating to people around me. As the storytellers brought me into their worlds of loss, pain, struggle and, ultimately, triumph, I realized that even the most esoteric of experiences can strike universal chords when told with such bold sincerity and unabashed candour.

“I believe that first one needs to see the value in being authentic, understand that our stories connect us, and trust that when we share from the heart the right words will come,” BWB board member and storytelling leader Laurie Bartley said. “To be willing to take a step outside our typical comfort zone, and have faith that our story holds meaning for many, I see it as an act of loving service.”

The message of meaningful connection through authenticity is shared by McEachern.

“What are we each but the sum of the stories of our lives?” McEachern said. “I believe that, innately, all of us yearn for deep connections with our fellow humans, and it is the authentic sharing of our stories that binds us closest together in this way.”

The effect is magical, powerful and inspiring, revealing a local world of such breadth and depth that I was also left with a greater appreciation of the people here in the Central Okanagan. Fittingly, the tagline for Storytelling Tuesday is “Experiencing Your Community Through Inspirational Stories.” So the impact the performances have on the audience is no accident. The focus on the community is at the heart of BWB’s long-term vision.

“I saw a need to connect the amazing well-being companies locally with individuals in the community where we live who need to improve their well-being,” BWB CEO and Storytelling Tuesday creator Shawna McCrea said. “I wanted to create a platform to make that happen, to support well-being companies and help them develop and grow, ultimately building a well-being community. I was very inspired by Accelerate Okanagan and the Film Factory, both community building organizations.”

McCrea points out that Storytelling Tuesday is just one event in the BWB events series, which also includes a variety of skill-building workshops, lunch and learns, and coffee collaborations.

Maggie Reigh runs communication skills workshops at BWB, and she saw the possibilities right away when she attended the first STT event.

“Everyone I talked to had a great time and plans to attend next month,” Reigh said in a Facebook post. “You truly have your finger on the pulse of our community, Shawna. This IS what we’ve been looking for!”

The BWB philosophy of community connectedness embraced me immediately when I first felt it.

Having moved to Kelowna from Toronto only six months ago to start a new life of decreased stress, meaning, positivity and hope, I can attest to the fact that there is something remarkable about this part of the world, and Storytelling Tuesday is the concentrated manifestation of the spirit of exploration, discovery and adventure I have come to love in so many kindred spirits I have met here in the Okanagan Valley. The team at BWB have created a very special space where you can be yourself.

All dreams are valid here. This is how I described Kelowna to a good friend back in Toronto when he called me this past winter to see how I was making out in my new home. As we spoke, this same friend quipped cheekily that everyone who comes here to the Okanagan seems to be escaping from something. I rather see it as people moving toward themselves and searching for likeminded individuals who understand that quest.

In the STT world, publicly embracing the essence of who you are requires not only courage but also faith in the process and in the community spirit that BWB is cultivating.

“Enter a safe space, enter genuine interest, enter a spirit of wholesome support,” McEachern said. “Enter a community oriented environment where the highest intention is to facilitate individual self expression. Enter an environment in which individuals come to sense, with growing confidence, that they are going to be upheld, that they are valued for who they really are, that they are and will be honoured for the stories that have carved out their character, that they are held safe to share of themselves more personally, (and) that they have this opportunity before them to participate in a collective that exemplifies generosity of spirit of which they come to be an integral part.”

In many cases, this necessary safe space has been a long time coming, as the storyteller may have been carrying an unshared truth around for many years.

“I chose to share a story that I had never told anyone about, not even my husband or family,” Bartley said. “For some reason, the lesson of it resonated deeply with me and I clearly heard the message that it was to be shared. When ‘that’ voice speaks, I take action. I found it cathartic, having released something that had been inside me for some time.”

The result of having participated in the storytelling—from either side of the microphone—is something to behold. Expressions of rapt attention and engagement throughout the audience are matched only by the beaming glow of deep gratitude and acceptance on the speakers’ faces as they are warmly congratulated by Bartley and McEachern. And while not all the stories deal with tragedy, they all deal with transformation.

“Some stories touch us deeply; others bring humour, laughter, and delight,” Bartley said. “The culture of respectful listening and engagement from the audience has supported and inspired many to come forward with interest. The guidance and support of Murray and I with each storyteller helps them trust the process and BWB community to challenge themselves, step onstage, and share a piece of themselves. We all matter. By simply sharing a part of themselves, Storytellers give others permission to do the same.”

McCrea is looking to the future with the hope that the BWB community will continue to connect with the local community through Storytelling Tuesday.

“We have definitely been learning and adjusting as we go, but our original format has definitely held the test,” she said. “I love that Laurie and Murray work closely as a team to welcome storytellers and guide their experience. I hear rave reviews from all those involved. So many people have come forward to be storytellers, and we love giving them the opportunity to share. The ultimate hope is for people to connect differently. We have all faced challenges and we should be proud of them, not ashamed, and hearing others’ stories lets us feel connected.”

Maybe the room beyond the microphone isn’t filled with strangers after all.

Storytelling Tuesday takes place on the second Tuesday of every month. You can find more information and purchase tickets here.

This column was submitted as part of BWB Wednesdays.

Faces of #OKGNtech
Accelerate Okanagan - Dec 11, 2019 - Columnists

Image: Contributed

A strong community can promote new ideas and ensure accountability. It can also act as motivation, support and even provide a little friendly competition. The power of community is undeniable, and the Okanagan tech community is no exception.

Our community is strong and growing with record speed, and maintaining connections through a period of growth like this can be a challenge. Nobody panic. We’ve got a plan.

Introducing “The Faces of #OKGNtech,” a showcase of Okanagan tech entrepreneurs, partners, supporters and cheerleaders designed to fuel more connection, more growth and more excitement. Follow along on the blog and on Instagram at @OKGNtech to learn more about our growing community and what makes them awesome.

Meet Simon. Simon Hason is the owner of SHD Games. When he isn’t building the newest first-person mobile shooter game, you’ll find Hason doing some serious “market research” playing the newest Modern Warfare.

Where do you work in the Okanagan?

I work for SHD Games as an indie mobile game developer, mostly FPS games (first-person shooter). Those are my favourite games to play—I enjoy shooting guns in real life, so I apply that passion in my game design. Two of our big past releases were LONEWOLF and SIERRA 7. Right now, the cycle is just too long—SIERRA 7 took three and a half years to make. You learn so much during that time that you need to upgrade earlier work to your current skill level.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

The thing I like most about my job is that it feels authentic. No one is telling me what to do or what games to make. I see myself as more of an artist than a business. Instead of a company with a bunch of hands in the pie, it’s just me thinking, what kind of game would I want to play? Then I just make it.

What advice would you give to someone interested in a job like yours?

If you’re interested in game design, research what other game developers are talking about. It’s a brutally tough industry. Competition is crazy. Understand that game development is going to be hard. It’s going to take a long time. You need to have a real passion for it. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I know that I would still be making games.

What do you enjoy about the OKGNtech community?

I really enjoy talking with other app developers, Jason Bernhardt (Levity) is a good friend of mine. To have someone that’s in that same kind of world helps. You end up having conversations with other companies and developers, and getting these golden nuggets of advice. People are really open. They want you to succeed. It feels like a community.

Do you think there is anything missing from the community here?

More game developers. They’re probably out there, I just haven’t found them yet. There are more indie developers in Vancouver, but it can be expensive and difficult to get help. I hope that they see the Okanagan as an alternative where they can escape that.

How do you like to give back or add value to the community?

I really admire people who give advice and help out. I’d really like to do that. If a brand new developer started here, I’d say: Let’s go sit down for hours, and I’ll tell you everything. I want to be in a position where I can help the community and the community is helping me. A rising tide lifts all boats, I think is the saying.

The best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

“Always be authentic,” I think is the best piece of advice I can share. When you’re being authentic, you never question whether it’s the right or wrong decision—your instincts guide you. There can be a lot of noise in the world, sometimes you just need to calm yourself and listen.

Who inspires you?

Hideo Kojima. He created the Metal Gear Solid series. He was working for a huge publisher and was fired for sticking to his vision. He didn’t care about being this big celebrity. He just stayed true to his vision and got the right people working on with him.

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