Cam the Treasurer Saves the Yearbook!

By Cam Mather

So I was using Facebook to cruise for old girlfriends again. That’s what it’s for, right? Michelle set up my account on Facebook, so it’s not like it’s a surprise to her. I don’t go on Facebook very often but when I do I notice the “Find Your Friends” headline at the side and I am amazed at the people that I find there. I see the names of friends, friends of friends, friends of mutual friends … it’s quite amazing how many people you know who are linked. And it is quite exceptional to be able to easily find people that previous generations could only have tracked down by hiring private investigators.

I recently found my friend Kim who was on the Student Council with me at M.M.Robinson High School in 1978. Cathy Pawson was president, Kim was vice-president and I was treasurer. I was going to run for President but my friend Evan Adelman, our high school’s political rainmaker, told me I’d have a better shot if I went for treasurer. Just before the school year began I went in to talk to the business manager about the student council’s finances. She sat me down and said “Cam, you have a $7,000 debt and you will NOT be having a yearbook this year unless you pay it off.” WTF! It turned out that the Student Council had been running a deficit for years but they finally decided to shut it down on my watch. Thanks.

Today $7,000 doesn’t sound like much, probably a typical balance on one of the numerous credit cards a North American carries, but in 1978 it was huge. It’s like $107,000 dollars today. No. Probably more like one million seven thousand today! That’s it. The U.S. money supply was about a trillion dollars in 1978 and at last count, after Alan Greenspan figured out how to crank up the printing press it’s over 12 trillion now, not that they report the M3 anymore.

What a pain. So rather than just organizing dances and school spirit stuff we spent the whole year trying to raise money to pay off the debt. I was unimpressed with the previous councils and the school for letting it go on for as long as it did. It seemed like my entire final year of high school was consumed with making money. I sure didn’t want to be part of the Student Council who wasn’t able to produce a yearbook. That’s not a nice legacy.

One of the neatest things we did to raise funds was have a paper drive. It’s hard to imagine today, but in 1978, before the internet, most people read newspapers, and everyone threw them in the garbage after reading them. So we got students to drag their newspapers to school and we found a local company that would buy them from us. This Yearbook picture shows the members of the Student Council perched on top of the newspapers that we collected and stored in a spare room. I shudder to think of what a fire hazard it was. Then we had to organize a long line of students to pass the newspapers from person to person to fill up a dump truck parked outside. I think we made about $500. This was the story of the year. Here’s comes that Mather again, I’ll bet he wants money. The students were getting pretty sick of pancake breakfast fundraisers.

Trying to raise money to pay off the debt indirectly caused one of my most (ie there were many) embarrassing high school gaffs. I organized a fundraising skateboard competition and first prize was “Steve Miller” concert tickets. So I asked one of the technically inclined students to help me make a 30-second spot promoting the contest during the school’s morning announcements. But of course I was pretty nervous and the sound quality of PA systems was not Dolby 5.1 in those days and I crammed about a minute and half’s worth of information into 30 seconds. I sounded like “Vince the Sham-Wow Guy” on steroids. The end result was unintelligible. I had no idea I knew so many people at my high school, until about 300 of them came up to me that day and said “What the hell were you rambling on about on the announcement today?” A red-letter day for my budding radio broadcasting career.

It wasn’t all hell though. I was the only male on the Student Council. I learned how to work with strong smart females. And I learned that I could clean up other irresponsible people’s messes and I learned to live within my means. I’m sure this is one of the reasons we got our mortgage paid off so early and why we don’t have any consumer debt. If we don’t have the money, we don’t buy stuff.

My senior year of high school also taught me that the people who govern us and don’t live within their means should be turfed out and we should find someone who will. My provincial government is running a per-capita deficit much worse than California. Our prime minister, minority “conservative” leader Stephen Harper, took a budget surplus passed to him by the “tax and spend” Liberals and is running the largest deficit in Canadian history. If this is what the “fiscally conservative” party of the country calls running the country responsibly then we’re really cooked. They just can’t seem to spend money fast enough. Crime rate down? … Then let’s spend billions of dollars on new prisons. Huh? Our role in the world has traditionally been peace keeping and fighting ground wars. So let’s spend tens of billions on new fighter jets. Really? Run a deficit, cut the GST, cut corporate taxes. Spend more, tax less. Are you serious? What school of economics does this follow?

George Bush took office with a surplus passed from “tax and spend” democrat Bill Clinton and left office with the biggest deficit in history and the legendary taxpayer-funded bailout of Wall Street. Obama hired the same cast that got them into the mess and has continued the same deficit madness. Iceland and Greece and Ireland have been smacked down for their irresponsibility. You don’t think that can happen to us?

This reckless disregard for fiscal responsibility is going to end in tears – ours. It can’t go on forever and when it ends, it’s going to be ugly. You cannot run your household like this, yet governments get so insanely focused on staying in power at any cost that they ignore basic logic and keep spending like the party will never end. And they pass the debt on to their kids, which, frankly, I think is immoral. In Grade 13 I was on the receiving end of that kind of bullshit, and it sucks.

But I guess the most irresponsible thing we’re all engaged in today is this environmental deficit we’re passing onto the next generation. It’s carbon we’re emitting into the atmosphere rather than a financial deficit, but it’s an unpaid bill we’re foisting off on them none-the-less. And they should be pissed. We know what we’re doing but we continue to plunder on.

We have long since passed the logical carrying capacity of this planet but that doesn’t stop us as a species from driving the train at an ever-increasing pace towards the cliff. It’s kind of ironic to see a country like Australia whose government for years was one of the most vocal climate change deniers, and who are one of largest exporters of coal, go from a 10 year drought to an epic 100 year flood. Well we can’t be surprised; this is what the climate change models predicted would happen. This is what happens when you burn coal to make electricity and pump that carbon into the atmosphere. Cause and effect.

Michelle and I live simply and will not be passing a large financial legacy on to our daughters. But we also won’t be leaving them any debt. We’re obsessed about not leaving them an environmental debt either. We do not fly. We eat locally and grow an increasing amount of our own food. We do not emit any additional carbon to the atmosphere to heat our home. We emit a minimal amount of carbon to heat our hot water in the late fall. We power our home completely with renewable energy. Our daughters will not be able to say we left them a $7,000 carbon debt that prevented them from filling their personal yearbook with possibilities. I won’t do it. It’s reprehensible.

When I took over the debt from previous Student Councils they had long since left with their yearbooks that they never really paid for. But I was too distracted to track them down and tell them what I thought of their antics. But I know who the scoundrels are today. Now I’ve got to figure out how I’m going to get elected to Ottawa to throw the bums out that are bankrupting the country before they leave some future treasurer a balance sheet full of red ink and a mess they may not be able to clean up.

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2 Responses to “Cam the Treasurer Saves the Yearbook!”

  • Ward:

    I agree with you entirely. There needs to be a change in the way our government is run, but unfortunately, with the way that politics are funded, the corporations seem to be making the rules, and they favor the status quo. Stephan Dion tried to make some changes with his Green Shift plan, that would have moved some of the tax base from income taxes to carbon taxes, but the negative campaign ads by the conservatives totally drowned out the message. All people heard was that they were going to pay more for fuel, not that their income taxes were going down as well.

    As for parties that could make a difference, what ever happend to the Green party and Elizabeth May? They seem to have fallen completely off the radar.

  • Hi Cam

    We’re the couple that came to visit you last summer to pick your brain and see Sunflower Farm. I’ve been reading your blog faithfully. I enjoyed your treasurer experience very much and agree with your extrapolations. It is not sustainable when our governments, both federal and provincial spend the way they do. And it will end badly, something for which your book Thriving in Challenging Times tries to prepare us. I enjoyed the book and reviewed it on my new website, through which I try to blog about what I’m learning about sustainable living as we work towards our own piece of land. Please give mine and Antoinette’s best regards to Michelle. Keep up the good work; you’re an inspiration to us all.


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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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