Effective Letterwriting

Effective Letter Writing

Is there something that really gets up your nose, something that needs changing in our broader world?  Quite probably, but what can you do?  One option would be to write a letter to a politician.  Here, my guest, Fred Douglas, lays out a few tips he uses when promoting the interesting idea of a ‘Basic Income.’  So pick up your Parker and give it a go.


“The primary source of evil is inequality.”  –Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Write an Effective Letter for Your Cause
Fred Douglas, Member, Basic Income Edmonton

The cause here is the assured or universal basic income; it is a solution to the evil of gross income inequality in Canada. A guaranteed, decent annual income would provide a measure of income security for those trying to live on too-low incomes in this country of astounding abundance. Information is included for those who want to know exactly what a basic income is, and for those who want to know more about it. However, if you have a different social cause or concern, the following points can be used to suit your purpose. Take what you want.

1. A good letter is a simple letter–one that covers the essentials. A focused letter can have an impact, especially if it contains a new interpretation of the injustice, or highlights critical aspects of it. The letter goes to your elected public servants, the ones charged with governing for the public good.

2. Important decisions are made at the very top of the governing pyramid. So, the original letter should go to the highest authority in the land, namely the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, PC, MP. His address is: House of Commons, Wellington St, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6. Letters to federal politicians are postage-free, and good ones are often passed on to colleagues and other officials.

3. A one-page letter, preferably handwritten, is best. Handwriting is better than e-mail because it attracts attention. Form letters and postcards are not effective. You are trying to get an original reply and not a form letter response.

4. The first paragraph should identify your purpose in writing. It should be a clear, concise statement of your position on income inequality. Inequality will become a big political issue when the authorities accept the reality of this “evil.” Putting “Income Inequality in Canada” in a search box yielded the websites below–and the necessity of doing something about it.

A. http://www.broadbentinstitute.ca/income_inequality
B. http://edmontonjournal.com/news/local-news/income-inequality-equation-in-canada-whos-gaining-whos-lagging-and-why

5. Be polite. Snide and overly critical comments only weaken your stance. Use a personal tone and deal with your main concern first in the letter. Mention any personal experience or expertise you have.

6. Write why you feel the way you do. If applicable, tell about your personal situation/experience living on a low income, and also provide a reason or reasons for your big-picture position. Give an example of how you personally may be affected.

7. Subtle flattery helps. Tell the politician that you are sure that s/he knows about his/her duty to the sovereign public. Refer to previous statements that the addressee has made, or government approaches, if any, with which you agree. (See websites in no. 7 below.)

8. In your conclusion, be direct and precise about what you want. Recommend that government(s) institute a policy of significant equality by way of an assured annual income. Ask for a reply. Request a meeting with a high government official to discuss the subject in more detail.

9. A copy of your letter should go to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development. This is the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, PC, MP at: House of Commons, Wellington St, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6. When the ball gets rolling on a guaranteed basic income initiative, he will be the first minister to be involved. For current government thinking on a basic income see:

C. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/guaranteed-income-has-merit-as-a-national-policy-minister-says/article28588670/
D. https://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2016/02/11/the-stage-is-now-set-for-a-basic-income-for-all.html

10. Keep influential others in the loop. Copy opposition political party leaders, your MP, Premier, MLA and Mayor. Find the addresses of these by putting their names into a search box. Get the names of their key staffers for correspondence and for follow-up. Ask them to arrange a meeting with the highest government official available with whom you can discuss the issue in person.

11. The proper salutations are: “Dear Prime Minister Trudeau” and “Dear Minister Duclos.” Mail or fax your letter to them. Copy the various media.

NB: Real democracy is what people do and not who they watch. When you do something big or small for a cause, you will no longer feel so overwhelmed and useless in a heartless system. You’ll feel empowered and find meaning. And, your friends will be impressed/inspired. (Your group could also make a letter, and have it signed by each member before mailing it.)

More Resources: New Internationalist magazine reports on the Universal Basic Income:

E. https://newint.org/sections/argument/2014/04/01/should-there-be-a-basic-income/
F. https://newint.org/blog/2016/06/07/universal-basic-income-an-idea-to-embrace/

A Touchy Duchy

If you want real confusion, cross the pond to listen to our English friends. They are very big on systems, the English. Take their spelling, for example. They have a wonderful set of rules to help you spell a whole variety of words. Then they have exceptions, so many that the rules they set up in the first place are pretty much meaningless.

Alternatively, take the road numbering system which neatly divides the map of England into convenient pie slices. In theory, if you know what number the road begins with you can tell which slice of pie you are in. In practice, of course, this is a nonsense. Roads wiggle their way across two or three segments. So many roads cross from one pie slice to another that the system can be thought of as not a system at all.

Or take the word ‘county’. It is used in the USA and in Canada with little confusion, but in the UK the word has all sorts of nuances. There are a few different kinds of counties starting with the historic ones that go way back in history. Most of these are still around although some have been chopped around a bit or exist only as folk memories. Huntingdonshire got sucked into Cambridgeshire over 40 years ago, but people will still proudly tell you they live there. Middlesex hasn’t been a county since the mid 60’s yet you can get an education at Middlesex University. There is also a Middlesex County Cricket Club. It’s all rather bizarre.

That’s not the end of it, though. There are also administrative counties such as Cleveland. Rutland disappeared in the 1970s but re-emerged in the 1990s. The post office, Royal Mail, has a mind all of its own. It uses pretty much the same county names, but the boundaries are different. In short a map of postal counties does not coincide with any other form of a county.

In Canada, we have Lieutenant Governors whenever we need someone to wear a sash and a jacket with shiny buttons. A similar function is performed by a Lord Lieutenant in England. These popinjays represent ceremonial areas, which of course don’t coincide with any other system of counties.

Finally, that brings us to Cornwall. That’s the bit in the south-west corner of England that points out over the sea vaguely towards the Caribbean. Don’t ever call Cornwall a county because the Cornish gets more than a bit peeved. It’s not really a county at all, it’s a Duchy; a touchy Duchy, in fact.

I am indebted to Bill Bryson for inspiration, information and much more.  Please do the Google thing, I think it will be well worth the effort.

Boaty McBoatface

I have had not much more than a cup of coffee in Britain for the past twenty years so I don’t usually comment on anything happening there.  If you are looking for insightful thoughts on whether Britain should stay in the European Union, I am the wrong guy.  I have nothing to say on the Prime Minister’s connection to the so-called Panama Papers.  I am even going to remain silent on the rise of Leicester City.  


The problem is I just can’t resist the Boaty McBoatface story.  In case you missed it, the British Government held an online poll complete with a ‘write-in’ option to pick a name for a new polar research vessel.  When the poll closed, the winning name was Boaty McBoatface.  Previous vessels have been named after explorers and many expected the latest to honour Ernest Shackleton.

So now the Government has a dilemma.  Does it ignore the apparent will of the people or does it accept the name chosen in the poll?  Already the proposed name has generated a lot of interest and I am in favour of anything that gets people thinking about science, the arts or anything for that matter.


I say call the ship Boaty McBoatface.  Just think of the opportunities.  It could well become the most famous vessel since the Titanic.  I can imagine Lego construction kits, soft toys, computer games, cartoons, souvenir tee shirts and all manner of other merchandise.  Whenever it is in port, I envision tourists lining up to take selfies alongside and buy themed coffee mugs from a nearby store.


The British should market the heck out of this opportunity and the Boaty McBoatface will likely become the most profitable research ship in history.


Food For Thought

The meaning of words has been bothering me lately.  To be more accurate, I mean the usage of words.

For example, I used to understand the words ‘restaurant’ and ‘cafe’ or I thought I did.  Now I have no idea.  In a cafe, I went to a counter and asked for my meal from a menu written on a blackboard.  Whatever I ordered, it came with a mug of tea.  I would then put my meal and drink on a tray and take it to a table covered with a red checkered vinyl tablecloth.  Each of the four chairs at the table would rock to different degrees.  On the table would be a sugar bowl and a selection of condiments.  Salt and pepper, of course, would sit next to malt vinegar and sauce, one bottle of each, red and brown.

Restaurants are less familiar, but I do remember being served at a table.  A waiter or waitress would come over and take my order and at the end of the meal would clear the table and give me a bill.

Then along came a fast food outlet marked by a pair of giant yellow arches.  The chain describes each venue as a ‘restaurant,’  yet there is no table service or any service at all that I can discern.   In the past, you would go to counter to  order your food and then hang around looking lost until a 17-year-old shouted out your order.  Now you have to line up at a machine to place your order and then line up again at the counter to get your burger.  

The rickety chairs have gone, but so too have the brightly coloured table cloths.  Worst of all, so have the condiments.  The restaurant knows just how much salt, or seasoning as it seems to be called these days, you want on your food.  It is just as bad in fine dining establishments or, at least, the only one I have visited.  No one trusts you to put salt on your food, certainly not chefs who insist on deciding for the poor punter just how salty their latest fusion concoction should be.

This brings me to ‘chefs’ and ‘cooks.’  A chef used to be quite a rare character.  He or she had been to college for three or four years and was well versed in classic cuisine.  A cook, on the other hand, learned the skills over a much longer period at the apron strings of an older relative, usually a mother or grandmother.  Chefs worked in restaurants and cooks worked in cafes.  Today the two words seem to be interchangeable.  In fact, I saw a reality show which labelled an eleven-year-old as a chef.

I guess the solution is to stay home and cook my own food.  At least, it will be my hand on the salt pot.


Keep The Faith


Is Northern Soul simply another retro fad or is there more to it than that?  The story begins in the mid-sixties when northern soccer fans visiting London for away games would spend the night in Soho dance clubs before returning home the following morning.  They would take with them a love of the music being played in London venues.  Soul music had always been a part of the mod subculture but as that faded, the music continued to thrive in the North and Midlands, particularly Manchester.



Around this time, a 15-year-old Edmonton singer sets off for Hollywood and stardom.  Mary Saxton would cut 2 singles with a producer best known for the novelty hit “Monster Mash”.  Today, those 2 singles are among the most prized by Northern Soul record collectors.



Northern soul quickly evolved into an underground subculture centred on music, clothing style,  drugs and especially dance.  Providing the heartbeat is the music, a form of black American soul based on a heavy beat, a fast tempo and a yearning vocal style.  Early influences included the Tamla Motown sound, but the movement generally favoured B sides and music that found little commercial success.




By 1970, the subculture had the name ‘Northern Soul’.  A London journalist owned an import record store that was popular with visiting soccer fans.  He told his staff to play the music favoured by northerners whenever they came in the store and the name just stuck.  Although the movement was originally centred in the North of England, particularly the Northwest, elements can be found in cities around the world.  In the UK, Stoke played a prominent role in the early development.  Bristol in the West and Peterborough in the East both have a scene.



London always seems to have a fetish for the new and as soul music evolved into funk, it was clubs outside of the capital that kept the soul flame alive.  As the UK had strong alcohol licensing laws, no liquor could be served at the all nighters that emerged as integral to the scene.  Instead, to fuel the energetic dance style, amphetamines became the drug of choice.  By 1973, the major venues had been shut down with the availability of drugs being quoted as a reason.


In addition, the initial supply of records was starting to dry up.  To meet this challenge one or two DJs started to visit the USA to find floorfillers for the now underground Northern Soul venues.  One DJ is said to have bought up 4000 records from Goodwill stores during a 9 day holiday. It takes quite a while to sort through so many records, so it was around 1975 when the 2 singles cut by Mary Saxton were rediscovered.  If you want to buy an original copy today expect to part with $750 or more.



In 1982, the movement went international when a DJ moved to Australia and started broadcasting what is thought to be the world’s oldest soul based radio programme.  Although the 90s were a bit of a low point in terms of the UK scene, things were developing elsewhere.  Today, Sweden, Japan and several other countries have underground scenes.  The music has even been exported back to the USA, to San Francisco in particular.

As the scene geographically diversified, it also fragmented.  New artists tried to produce material in the old style and this sometimes led to differences in the playlists of the various DJs.  In fact, the DJs had become stars in their own right.  Each had a following based on the records they played.  The dance aesthetic also became influential, predating breakdancing and hip hop.


Thousands of miles away from the north of England, Northern Soul continues to be played in a couple of downtown Edmonton clubs.  It seems fitting that the home of Mary Saxton should be a centre for Northern Soul.


“Keep The Faith.”



Forever Young

Some of Bob Dylan’s songs seem completely impenetrable to me.  I am not even sure that he had a clear vision in his mind at the time he put his Parker on the paper.  The songs themselves change from night to night in his often criticised concerts.  Yet I find beauty in some of his simpler songs, however.  


One of my favourites is ‘Forever Young’ from 1974’s album ‘Planet Waves’.  At first, the song seemed so trivial that I dismissed it as mere filler, but as the years have past, it appears to have hidden depths.  There are three verses to this beautiful song with each one directed by the narrator to the same person.  


The first verse starts by making it clear that this is a prayer.


May God Bless and keep you always


My view is that the narrator is praying for a baby.  He/she continues.


May your wishes all come true

May you always do for others

And let others do for you


Here the narrator say love others, but also allow yourself to be loved.  The next two lines may be among the best in any popular song.


May you build a ladder to the stars

And climb on every rung


He/she wants the baby to achieve great success, but as the child becomes an adult, he/she needs to get to the top by learning the lessons gained only by stepping on each tread along the way.  Getting to the top in one leap is not enough, lessons must be learned with each step.


Verse two, I think is addressed to an older child, perhaps a teenager, probably the same person as the first verse, but at a different stage in their life.  The narrator prays that the child has the characteristics he/she has or wishes they had or merely just admires in others.  


May you grow up to be righteous

May you grow up to be true

May you always know the truth

And see the lights surrounding you

May you always be courageous

Stand upright and be strong


The last verse, I think is told by an older person to a young adult.  The narrator is not a young adult praying for a baby anymore.  In fact, the prayer element seems to shift into a gentle set of instructions to a young adult rather than a request to God.  


May your hands always be busy


The message here is that you should have a good work ethic.


May your feet always be swift


You need to be nimble to deal with life’s twists and turns.  Whatever life throws at you need to act quickly to keep ahead of the game.


May you have a strong foundation

When the winds of changes shift


At the same time, you need to hold onto your beliefs, your faith, your family or whatever it is that keeps you strong.  This especially important when change inevitably comes into your life.

That ends the narrator’s brief old fart lecture.  The big finish says I think, whatever you do in life enjoy it and if you have something to say, say it.


May your heart always be joyful

And may your song always be sung


The final chorus has the same words as the others, but here they are instructions, not a wish or a prayer.


May you stay forever young


As we go forward into a new year, my prayer, My wish, my challenge for you is that you also stay forever young.  I like this particularly sensitive interpretation of the song.  If you have read this far, I think you will enjoy this.



I am entering a new year with a spirit of optimism.  There seems to be a new mood in Canada despite our economic challenges.  Of course, we have our differences, but there seems to be more willingness to try to find some common ground.  Canadians and First Nations people appear to be edging closer to forgiveness and understanding.  In the wider world, Canada has an opportunity to fully participate in international efforts to build bridges between nations and disparate groups.  Whatever our differences, we share one world and it’s environment.  Working together might not just be desirable, but essential.


My family and friends are positioned to show how its done.  I am fortunate to part of a large multicultural extended family.  By multicultural, I mean that each of us has cultural traditions from different parts of the world acting on us.  In my own little nuclear family, we have influences in the expressions we use, the food we eat, the attitudes we adopt from 5 different countries.


Our friends too come from a variety of backgrounds.  One morning a group of us threw towels on the armchairs in the YMCA locker room and chatted about events in the news.   There was a Glasgow Catholic, an Ethiopian Jew, a Ugandan Muslim, another Scot, this one a Presbyterian and me, with an English background.  Although we all had different opinions, some held very strongly, we were able to find common values while still respecting each other’s views.


Yet differences and tensions remain.  I see our large group of family and friends breaking up into smaller groups.  Perhaps this is inevitable as our Canadian family grows with both newcomers to our country, marriages and children.  Perhaps we should not accept it as inevitable.


We are blessed to be able to stay connected with each other and the world through the internet.  Yet the very thing that helps bring us together can be a vehicle to divide us.  We see words or images on a screen, but we cannot see behind the posting.  We do not know how someone else is feeling.  Maybe they have just had a really bad day at work,  maybe things have not gone well at the grocery store, maybe they are not feeling too well or maybe they have simply had a couple of glasses of wine.  When we see a message on popular social media sites, something is missing, context.


Going forward, I ask two things.  Firstly, please think about how your post might be received by people who have differing views or are simply having a bad day.  Secondly, I want you to read posts with a light heart.  Try not to take the posts of others too seriously.  Others may have different perspectives, but common values are both larger and stronger.  


Sometimes families are a bit like those internet software agreements.  We do not agree with everything, we don’t understand huge chunks of it, but if we want to move forward we just have to click ‘accept’.  For my part, I will try to reach out to those I haven’t spoken to in a while.  I want you to know that we share so much more than what keeps us apart.