Why the culture of cronyism and patronage hurts all of us

I’ve been working on some very intriguing followups to two stories from earlier this year, the kind that will have you shaking your head in disgust… but neither will surprise  those of you who have followed the way things work in this province.

The first will come likely Friday, Monday at the latest, and the second shortly thereafter.

Until then… ;)

 

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This weeks column for 24Hrs Vancouver: Mega-city unsuitable for region.

This week’s topic: Should the Lower Mainland become a mega-city like Toronto with one election for the entire region?

Brent is right on the money when he states: “What an election!” For politicos, there’s no bigger rush than election night – watching the polls come in to see what direction voters will take their cities. This year’s civic elections did not disappoint. They were riveting.

The big winner in this year’s civic elections is democracy, as many cities saw significantly higher voter turnouts. Regardless of the outcomes, increasing voter turnout is a positive sign that many voters are perhaps beginning to understand the power of their vote at the municipal level.

While it’s accurate to state that many issues facing our civic leaders are regional in nature, it’s simplistic to think that amalgamation is the cure for what ails us. Transportation issues in Vancouver such as transit are in no way comparable to cities like Surrey or Langley – it’s apples and oranges. You really don’t need a car in Vancouver, whereas in Surrey it’s a costly necessity for most. The same goes for the environment or development – while both are top of the list in both Vancouver and Surrey, it’s for different reasons.

Read Brent Stafford’s column here.

Supporters of amalgamation always resort to using cost-savings and more efficient service delivery as the biggest reasons for doing so. One city hall instead of five or six, fewer mayors, less waste, centralized administration, blah, blah, blah.

Sounds great until you actually take the time to see how it’s worked out for the other regions or cities that have done so in Canada. It hasn’t always been a success and, at times, it has been considered a failure…

 

READ the rest of this weeks column in response to Brent’s argument, comment and vote, HERE: http://vancouver.24hrs.ca/2014/11/16/mega-city-unsuitable-for-region

Posted in 24 hours Vancouver The Duel, BC Liberals, BC NDP, BC Politics, Laila Yuile | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

November sun turns everything to ice cold gold…

There is time enough to write of election politics, and tomorrow I’ll post my 24Hrs column, but late this afternoon the brilliant November sun beckoned and so was the need to escape the city for a bit. One of the most magnificent places to be at this time of the year, on a day like this, is the George C. Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Ladner. There are many places to be alone with ones thoughts,decompress and simply be present in the moment. Thousands of snow geese are in the surrounding fields and can fill the air with a din unlike anything you’ve ever heard and hundreds of varieties of migrating birds are sure to delight the eyes.

Forget politics for a bit. Head on out there while the sun shines.

“…Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
― Mary Oliver

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Countdown to Surrey Votes 2014: “The only people truly bound by campaign promises are the voters who believe them.” ― Christopher Hitchens

I admit it, I’m more than a bit cynical when it comes to elections in general. Why? Because while countries overseas will riot,march by thousands in the streets and overthrow governments simply to have a free election and exercise the right to a free vote, here in Canada many can’t even be bothered to make time for that right.

It drives me nuts. It really does! People will make time to get a DVD from the Red Box, sit and get their nails done, watch a hockey game… all on voting day… but they ‘don’t have time to vote.’  Having a busy schedule was a reason cited on Stats Canada 2011 report. No kidding! Well guess what. If you are too busy to vote, I am too busy to listen to your whining about the results of the election. Don’t talk to me. Same goes for those of you who don’t like the choices and spoil your ballot, or again, refuse to vote. Guess what? Your non-vote just made someone else’s vote more powerful.

As long time readers know,I’ve been a Surrey resident for over a decade and have been blogging about life here for a good portion of that time. I’ve seen some good changes in some neighbourhoods and some not so good changes in others. I’ve been challenged on many stories by developers and others whose interest in the city is less altruistic and more profit driven. In a city with one of the largest land areas that is yet to be developed, there is a lot at stake here. We are on the cusp of transition on an unprecedented level, but with that transition comes challenges and issues,many of which have simply been moved from one area to another.

While Newton and Whalley, aka City Centre have gained much of the pre-election press- and deservedly so – what has emerged in media coverage by our local press in their neighbourhoods series, is that these two communities are not alone in feeling under-appreciated or neglected. The strategy of the city has been to focus on one town centre of a time, whereas a cohesive strategy of small gains in every town centre simultaneously is what residents are asking for, and deserve.

Unlike many pundits and commentators who have openly endorsed slates or recommended who they will vote for, other than the prior post on the under-recognized independents, I don’t feel it’s right to tell you who to vote for. In fact, I feel so strongly about this that although I was asked to join the Surrey Citizen Leaders group, I declined because I felt it was inappropriate given some members had already publicly endorsed mayoral candidates.

That might seem at odds with pushing for change on council, which I think is desperately needed. It’s been ruled by one slate for so long, the record of votes of each current council member is public, and at times has been at odds with the cities own policies.

I will tell you that my votes will go to candidates who have a proven community track record and who I feel will represent every area of Surrey with as much dedication and equality, in the areas of crime, development, ALR protection,sustainability and employment. There can be no favourites. Newton has suffered long enough. So has Whalley.

Many voters tend to be single issue voters – whichever candidates successfully address that issue is who they tend to vote for. It might crime, which is a very big reality in many areas, not just a perception as some incumbents continue to claim.  It might be sustainable development as clear-cuts devastate many neighbourhoods in favour of high density housing. It might be the inability to commute due to lack of or limited transit. It might be the slowing disappearing farmland, or food security.

Whatever your issues are, I strongly feel every resident in this city knows what hasn’t been working, and what has, along with who on the current council is engaged with residents from across the city, and who isn’t. That was starkly clear during this campaign when one Mayoral Candidate,Linda Hepner, failed to attend 4 separate resident hosted candidate events in different areas. Doug McCallum failed to attend one, held in Strawberry Hill by Newton residents.

I do not encourage people to vote by slates, in fact if I could, I would abolish the putting of slates besides candidates names on the ballot. Without that slate name, voters would be more likely to research and find out about the candidates than they do with it. Slates make it easy for lazy voters to vote, and allow candidates who shouldn’t be elected, to slide through based on connection.

There are several mayoral candidates and a large group of contenders for council:many have both a strong track record of service and engagement in the community along with business experience, some do not. But regardless of who you vote for, the entire community will  live with the consequences for the next 4 years since the term for service has been extended by one year. Look not at just your own neighbourhood,but what has happened to others, and in others. Next time, it could be yours.

Voters often forget about the school trustees as well, and if you are a parent with children in school, or soon to enter school, you need to do your research. There are vastly different groups of candidates running that are diametrically opposed in terms of inclusiveness and diversity-one candidate has still refused to answer my question asked on twitter,as to whether he supported or opposed the strict anti-homophobia policy the Surrey School board has instituted. This matters to me, that school is a safe place for every single student, free of bullying or discrimination. Ask questions. Be informed. This particular vote will impact your childrens school directly.

Take a half hour to do your research, mark the names down and make sure you have your identification when you go and vote.

We are at a crossroads in this city, and we need to get this right. Voting is the easiest way for you to directly impact what happens in the next 4 years, and I am hoping for a change that brings some sunshine to everyone living in Surrey, rich,poor or in between.

Here are some links to candidate and voting information:

City of Surrey candidate informationhttp://www.surrey.ca/election2014/candidates.aspx

Vancouver Sun candidate surveys ( not many participated!!http://www.vancouversun.com/news/municipal-election/candidatesurvey.html?appSession=017480892246981

Voting locations: http://www.surrey.ca/election2014/how-to-vote/where-to-vote.aspx

Good luck and hopefully by tomorrow night we are walking into a future that shines.

policy

 

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Countdown to Surrey Votes 2014: The Independents.

Shirley Chisholm, a former American politician really wrapped it all up when she said:

‘There is little place in the political scheme of things for an independent, creative personality, for a fighter. Anyone who takes that role must pay a price.’

Indeed, they do pay a price. While many consider the three slates dominating both the media and conversation in Surrey to be coalitions of independents,in reality it’s hardly independent when every candidate adheres to the platform of the slate.

As in every election there are a number of true independents who are running on their own, and as most independents do, on low budget campaigns. For this reason they are immediately disqualified as  serious contenders because clearly anyone wanting to win an election must spend upwards of a million dollars… right? Wrong. In fact it’s rather revealing to see how media impacts democracy in action, when candidates like these are left out of important debates because they ‘aren’t credible’.

There are a few independent candidates this year that in my opinion, stand out and have been receiving rave reviews from residents who’ve seen then in debates,but haven’t gained the media’s attention. It’s sad because between them, they bring a lot of experience, passion and on the ground community dedication and service.

Grant Rice, mayoral candidate: 
grantriceGrant Rice is the man to go to for all things Surrey. In fact, residents who’ve seen him in the candidates meetings are so impressed that they often ask why he hasn’t run before! In fact, he has….but his light wasn’t able to shine the way it should have in previous elections. A north Surrey resident, Grant is an accomplished man, with a diverse and pertinent resume befitting public service.  He understands sustainable development and urban planning,something the city of Surrey could really benefit from. And, he knows where all the skeletons are in Surrey city hall – few know the state of finances in the city like Grant does, so this man is definitely worth a second look:) http://www.grantrice.ca/

Martin Rooney, council candidate:

MartinMartin is a man who has gained the support of a very diverse group of residents, businesses and politicians in Surrey already, largely as a result of his extensive advocacy and support work in the community here and elsewhere. A Whalley resident, his interest in representing the people of Surrey is evident in the focus and passion with which he engages residents and issues alike. Martin has a proven track record of creating alliances and working with others to achieve great results -one of which was overturning the travel ban imposed on people with HIV travelling into the US when he was refused entry – and his work on HIV awareness and testing is award-winning. Martin is one of the few candidates to address the issues of homelessness and poverty in the city, and is committed to a safe,successful community for all.

 I can’t even pretend to be unbiased when it comes to Martin. We just met in the early stages of this years election campaign and while the warmth of his Irish charm drew me in, it was the passion for change and service that won my respect. He really cares, and he understands what life is like for those living on low incomes. Check him out at http://www.martinrooney.ca/

John Edwards, mayoral candidate 

John EdwardsJohn is yet another candidate whose charisma and warmth immediately engages people and perhaps comes as a result of his background in Rotary and healthcare. Another candidate with a proven track record of on the ground service in our community, he has served in a number of roles in Rotary, including past president. A Newton resident, he strongly feels the city has failed on a number of fronts,including public safety. One of his ideas that caught my eye is the creation of a Citizens Police Advisory Committee, but you can check out his entire platform at http://www.edwardsforsurreymayor.com/#!platform/c1flq

Stephen Gammer council candidate 

gammerStephen Gammer kind of came out of left field and appeared with Brenda Locke, running together as Team Surrey. This came as a surprise to many who had seen Brenda doing the events rounds with Barinder Rasode over the summer as speculation thought Brenda might run as a member of Rasode’s slate. Nevertheless, Team Surrey has taken the leading role in bringing attention to the cities most forgotten citizens, our homeless, mentally ill and addicted street residents.

Stephen again has a strong record of community involvement with our communities less fortunate and a strong business background as well.  He also lives in ‘city centre’ aka the heart of Whalley. He get’s it,he’s a get it done kind of  guy and he’s not afraid to address these kind of difficult issues head on, and with compassion. Check him out at http://www.surrey.ca/election2014/candidates/476.aspx

Consider an independent voice on council, and check back later on for one final post to wrap up my thoughts on this years election!

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Countdown to Surrey Votes 2014

Nothing gets the blood pumping like the last couple of days leading up to any election, and this years vote in Surrey is no exception.

A wise man once said if someone promises you the moon, you better ask to see the ladder. Never was this more true than in this years election where promises are being made faster than the Conservatives pass those always controversial omnibus bills.

Cuts to operating budgets, dismantling of city owned development corporations, new soccer fields, a new ice rink, new field hockey facilities, new kabbadi fields, more cops, less cops, more bylaw officers, less spending.

Phew.

Even a seasoned Surrey-ite like myself has a hard time keeping tabs on all the different promises that are cropping up left,right and centre, but the appearance of new campaign signs recently for Surrey First brought one promise right to the front and left me with my mouth wide open,parked along King George Boulevard.

SurreyfirstLRTpromise

Light Rail Transit complete by 2018?

Consider this- even the rather optimistically written press release by the city of Surrey spells out how tenuous this all is – the application for review is in the most preliminary stages, and no commitments for funding have been made by any level of government.

Furthermore, a business case for LRT has not been made and the city states that getting public support for the transit referendum will be central to the success of a LRT line! http://www.surrey.ca/city-government/16107.aspx

lrt

So how is it that mayoral candidate Linda Hepner can commit to completion in 2018?

According to this CTV interview, even though she says the line is dependent on a yes result in the transit referendum, she is going to build the LRT regardless of what the transit referendum result is anyways, as her plan B. So even though you might get a choice, she doesn’t care what you say regardless.( Here is where I note she has not attended any of the 4 resident hosted mayoral/candidates debates held in the city,so not really a surprise to hear this statement)

http://bc.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=487940

First,unless someone knows something the rest of us don’t, that is a promise that can’t be kept. Funding would already have to be secured, designs complete, and ground breaking tomorrow. Not happening unless Hepner has a magic wand.
Even the Translink timeline if… and that is a big if… the business case can be made, is years out from 2018. Without cash-strapped Translink being able to support an LRT line with expanded bus services at destinations, it won’t happen. Currently it’s not even possible to get to many neighbourhoods out of Newton Exchange past 9pm on a weeknight, and out of those same neighbourhoods without a long ride that requires a transfer, on weekends. This alone is a huge reason so many young adults leave the city-unless you live on a main route, or have a car, commuting is a nightmare.

This is why Surrey is such a car dependent community,and will continue to be this way as the city builds out in areas that won’t be served by transit for years – with limited funds on hand, the next mayor and council of Surrey will be faced with more frustrated residents as bus service will undoubtedly be a higher priority for many than LRT.

Like I said above, if someone promises you the moon, you better ask to see the ladder. Do your research on each candidates promises. You might just be surprised what you find out.

Stay tuned for the next Surrey Votes post on the most overlooked candidates of this election, and why you should check them out.

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“Remember, Honour, Teach.”

Honour

On my honour, we will stand at the place where you rest
and remember you.

On my honour, we will pick up the torch of freedom
and carry it for you.

On my honour, you will not be a silent memory,
we will speak of you often
so the world will know what you have done.

On my honour, as you reach the gates of heaven
you will hear the voices of a grateful nation rise up
and we will honour you.

By Kathleen Mills

 

poppies

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This weeks column for 24Hrs Vancouver: Donors wield too much influence.

This week’s topic: Should we move to public financing for municipal election campaigns?

I never thought I would see the day that any big municipal campaign would open its books and disclose whose pocket they were in prior to the actual vote – yet it’s happened in this year’s municipal election in Vancouver. For the most part, both Vision Vancouver and the NPA’s contributions are out on the table and it isn’t a pretty sight – at least not from my perspective.

Big business is in bed with big unions. Corporate friends are perhaps paving the way for easier business dealings and it’s just one big happy family – except if you are a voter. Why? Because the party and candidate you thought you were voting for suddenly looks different when you see who is contributing the vast amounts of money required to fund these glamorous campaigns. It’s in the millions in Vancouver and it needs to stop.

Municipal voters deserve to know who is funding candidates before they vote, and they need to be assured that those contributions won’t impact future policy creation, contract awards and planning decisions once elected.

It’s a sad state of affairs repeated all over the province that often ends with the biggest funders wielding great influence in municipal business.

Read Brent Stafford’s column here.

Currently, many people are calling for outright bans on union or corporate donations, and limits on individual contributions. It sounds great in theory, but is easily bypassed by filtering out funds through many individuals and maxing out their contribution. And neither does this method prevent “dark money” from being spent by other organizations, like third-party advertisers that aren’t directly associated with a campaign, or contributions amassed between elections.

That’s why we need to consider a move towards public financing for municipal campaigns…

 

READ the rest of this weeks column, comment and vote HERE: http://vancouver.24hrs.ca/2014/11/09/donors-wield-too-much-influence

Posted in 24 hours Vancouver The Duel, BC Liberals, BC NDP, BC Politics, Federal politics, Laila Yuile | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

“Elections determine who is in power, but they do not determine how power is used.” ― Paul Collier

It’s been the worst luck – or the best depending on your perspective – that the lingering  night cough and laryngitis from the cold I had in the end of October, has kept me from actively blogging as much as I would like to about the election this year. Depending on what day you catch me, I might sound like anything from a squeaky mouse to an 80 year old smoker, or reduced to a complete whisper. It’s tiring, and my phone has been a God-send while resting, but is not conducive to writing full posts here on the blog.

However, the ongoing election antics in this years municipal election rival anything I’ve seen,anywhere, in past years. In a city that has an ongoing record of low voter turnout, it’s incredibly problematic because the last thing we need is to disengage already cynical and suspicious voters with stunts that detract from serious issues.

A tent was set up outside a polling station, and food and drinks were handed out,within the designated guidelines prohibited by Elections BC. In speaking with several voters who had gone to vote, it is clear that RCMP ultimately had to attend with officials to shut the tent down.

Several voters and opposing candidates have made unproven allegations that this tent was set up either by supporters of the Safe Surrey coalition or the coalition themselves – that team has as of the time of this post, remained silent on those allegations made. Several photos have been posted of RCMP attending the tent on social media sites by both opposing slate Surrey First and a candidate running with One Surrey.

The candidates guide issued by Elections BC makes it very clear on page 24, that vote-buying/influencing and campaigning near a voting place are offences and carry stiff penalties of both fines and or jail time. Ultimately I believe that regardless of what occurred, complete denials of knowledge of this tent and a distancing from any supporters who might have done this, is what we are going to hear. Or they simply might say nothing at all and ignore the entire issue.

Either way, it’s unethical and shows a complete lack of respect of the rules governing the election process when supporters of any candidates, brazenly flaunt them.

That wasn’t the only foul-up yesterday, as another candidate reported that the voting machines stopped working at one voting location yesterday:

votingmachinenotworking

So we’ve had the incorrectly printed ballots voting snafu, and now voting machine issues. This occurred in the last election as well on the evening of voting day and I’m concerned that it has come up again this election in an advance vote. Regardless if the votes collected are held in accordance of the law, questions as to why these voting machines seem to have ongoing issues need to be asked. Voters deserve to have the full assurance that all due process is being followed and that votes are being held securely at all times if the machines stop working.

Personally, if the machine stopped working and I was asked to put my ballot elsewhere, I would refuse and hold onto to it until officials determined what the issue was and how it was going to be handled.

Advance voter turnout has been strong this year, much like it was in the last election and residents are eagerly predicting that this means a record turnout overall in next weekends vote.

While I would love for this to be true, let me remind you of the 2011 election where advance voting shattered records…. and then we still ended up with a mere 70,253 votes being cast- a horrific turnout considering there were 279,051 registered voters. Lets not even discuss that our population is nearing or at the half million mark. Sadly, the civic BC info link with the 2011 voting turnout results has turned into an Error 404 link- if you have a copy, please send it along.  http://www.civicinfo.bc.ca/Library/Elections/BC_Voter_Turnout%20–%20Elections%20BC%20–2011.pdf

Long story short, every vote counts and engaging new voters matters.Consider the implication now that candidates elected will serve the public for 4 years, instead of three – that’s a long time.

Voter malaise is fed and nurtured by politicians,candidates and supporters who engage in dirty politics. Hearing promises that can’t be filled, seeing stunts like this and the behavior of some politicians during debates is more likely to turn voters off then turn them on.

And for some reason, I can’t help think that’s exactly what some politicians would prefer.

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Pop-up Soup Kitchen spurs Blankets of Love: A donation drive to provide Surrey Homeless with winter survival essentials.

A wise man once said there is a big difference between pity and compassion. Pity feels sorry for something. Compassion does something about it.

This was, and continues to be the biggest motivation behind Erin Schulte and the Pop Up Soup Kitchen initiative she and her friends started to feed the homeless and poverty stricken in Whalley. She and her crew are compassion embodied.

Without judgement and without condemnation, everyone is fed,clothed if there are donations to do so, and offered blankets cut by volunteers from donations received by a textiles company in Richmond. They have been the subject of attention by the city of Surreys bylaws officers,and Fraser Health. As hard as it is to imagine, it is not permissible to cook good,nutritious food to serve to the homeless in your own kitchen. Talk about over regulation – these rules need to change in light of the overwhelming number of Canadians looking to food banks and finding their way into poverty,homelessness and lack of housing.

During the last couple of food services I’ve joined the Pop-up Soup Kitchen ladies,I’ve spent a lot of time talking to the homeless and their stories are both compelling and heart-wrenching. Yes, there are many stories of addiction, but there are just as many stories of accidents and injuries that left people disabled or unable to work.

Al

This is Al. His story is one of many, and he considers himself a lucky person because after a long struggle of  battling a necrotic infection in his leg as a result of an injury from a dumpster, he said he will finally have some housing lined up for end of November. A gentle soul, he is loved by the volunteers and looks forward to every other Sunday when they arrive because it isn’t just about the food, it’s about the company, the caring, the hug and conversations. He loves them too.

homeless2Others are not so lucky when it comes to housing.

For the second year in a row, the city of Surrey has been unable to make a decision for the location of a winter shelter. The homeless are everywhere in Whalley, mainly around the area of 135A street.It’s been an issue that has received considerable attention in the media and from personally talking to the people coming to the soup kitchen, it’s an issue that needs to be resolved immediately.

Along with others,we’ve been pushing the city to re-visit this situation as soon as possible and work to find a solution to housing these people during our wet and cold winter weather. It’s tragic that the business community who complains about homeless seeking shelter in overhangs and stairwells, don’t see that a winter shelter will,without fail, help to eliminate many of these issues. Where are they supposed to go?

Small Paul

In the interim, it’s clear that people are going to be suffering on the streets and if we can’t find them housing we can the best we can to keep them dry,which will help keep them healthy.

This is Small Paul, who is toughing it out in the puddles. Stephen Gammer, a Whalley resident and council candidate,let me use his photos from his daily runs in the area.

At the soup kitchen held last Sunday, every single fleece blanket was graciously taken and people were asking if there were more when they quickly ran out. It’s not a long term solution, but providing warmth is a short term survival necessity.

homeless3With the help of long time Whalley resident and council candidate Martin Rooney, who has volunteered with social service agencies including the Surrey Urban Misson, I’m starting a donation drive to hopefully get enough blankets for the approximately 150 people coming to the the Pop Up Soup Kitchen every other Sunday, and if there are more that come in, they can be distributed through local agencies as well.

Because those sleeping on the street most often have to carry their belongings with them, blankets that can be easily folder smaller or rolled are best, fleece is great because it seems to shed the water easier and can be shaken out well to dry fast. Or, donations of bolts of fleece would be great too, because they can easily be cut to size!!

The ultimate combination would be a pairing of an outer survival blanket to reflect heat and provide a water-proof barrier ( the kind taken along for emergencies when hiking/camping),with a fleece liner for additional warmth. Big duvets and comforters soak up a lot of water,and aren’t easily carried around.

Also desperately needed are clean dry socks in mens and womens sizes- dry socks are a luxury and one man actually showed me the condition of his feet as a result of being in wet socks and shoes consistently. The Soup kitchen is also collecting clean and gently used winter coats,rain gear and gloves/touques, also desperately needed in weather conditions like we’ve experienced overnight, and those can be dropped off at Jolly Mac’s pub attn Faith.

So there you have it, let’s take ownership of this issue and make a difference. If you have a donation of a blankets or can assist in any way, please contact me at lailayuile@live.com! We’ll arrange to get the donation and distribute via  The next Pop up Soup Kitchen. Thank you for the consideration. :)

progress

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