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My First Visit to Prague was January 2007…I’ve had many returns

I moved to Europe in January 2007 to attend a semester abroad at Memorial University’s campus at Harlow in the United Kingdom. This was a big step for me – I was a 21 year old rural Newfoundlander who had spent some short family vacations in the Atlantic provinces and a week in Ottawa was as far west I had ventured. It was a decision that forever changed my life!

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After trekking the streets of London and a group trip to Berlin, Germany I choose to visit Prague in the Czech Republic with Elizabeth and Meg. I will have to admit that it wasn’t love at first sight given a number of unfortunate circumstances we encountered when it came to trains, trams, poor weather, getting lost, adapting to a foreign language and so much more.The first night proved to be quite a nightmare. All was not negative though and as time passed, our lows became highs as we truly experienced the beauty of the the Old Town, Astronomical Clock, Castle, Charles Bridge, famous Czech beer, music and many other sights and sounds.

I never knew after that visit that I would end up travelling back to Prague for many returns. As time passed throughout the winter semester at Harlow, I would visit France, Norway, Ireland, Sweden, Italy, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia, Portugal, Spain, Austria and other parts of Europe. I learned a lot about culture, society and various life skills that had me interested in continuing my education abroad. I applied for an exchange as part of the my Bachelor of Commerce with Prague, Czech Republic being my number one choice, Uppsala, Sweden as number two and Mexico as my third choice.

I received a letter of acceptance to Prague to attend the University of Economics and I was ecstatic. I was eager to experience more of this city as after my visit in January, I knew I would be back and this place would have a special piece of my heart.

After accepting the exchange and making arrangements, I was also offered a job to work for London Offshore Consultants, an international marine and engineering consultancy. This meant I spent the whole year in Europe and fulfilling a dream of visiting Egypt. I spent my Fall of 2007 in Prague where I truly experienced the rich culture, history and made memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.

I’ve returned to Prague again in January 2010 and also in September 2012. I’ve had my friends I met in Prague visit Canada in 2008, 2009 and 2011 and visited them in Europe every year since 2009. I could certainly write a book or two about my many “Random Travel Adventures”. These travel experiences have helped shaped who I am as a person and does provide a different perspective when I look at the opportunities and challenges that exist in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

I would encourage anyone to study, work or travel abroad (and it can be done on a shoestring). Today, I am a little nostalgic given an 8 year anniversary since my first visit to this magical city. I love reflecting and returning, because each time offers something new and a stronger connection to this special place. I always look forward to my next return.

Rural Newfoundland & Labrador and the Great Northern Peninsula has a similar impact on people. Once you experience the landscapes, architecture, heritage, history and other unique aspects of our culture, you too will want to have many returns.

Live Rural NL –

Christopher Mitchelmore, MHA (The Straits-White Bay North)

Burnt Cape Ecological Reserve needs Interpretation restored.

Budget 2013 saw the ax fall on Burnt Cape Ecological Reserve, Raleigh with the Minister of Environment & Conservation showing no remorse for not ensuring both the protection and education of the Province’s newest ecological reserve. The loss of two interpretation positions, left the site without any staff to provide educational tours and be visible on site daily. It is quite a contradiction to the Government sign posted en route to the site, as they clearly do not see the importance of protection, preserving and educating others about our natural treasures:

Burnt Cape is one of the most important botanical sites in the Province. Its unique landscape, cold climatic conditions, and calcium rich soil allow northern plant species to grow in a rich and rare variety. The reserve is home to more than 300 species of plants, over 30 of which are rare.

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The Department of Environment & Conservation is failing to live up to ensuring the protection, preservation and education of this site, evident from lack of maintenance on the gravel road, no signage directing to the Reserve once in the Town of Raleigh, lack of restroom facilities and refuge containers. I have been actively reaching out to groups, organizations and individuals to help this cause and press Government to reverse this decision.

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NDP Leader Lorraine Michael and I (MHA, The Straits-White Bay North) visited the site. It is with regret that interpretative tours were not restored, as this was not deemed a priority from the Minister of Environment & Conservation. Despite a barrage of emails with compelling arguments that were sent to him, the Premier, Minister of Tourism and myself calling for the reinstatement of these knowledgeable guides. They have ignored the call from Nature Conservancies, Environmental Awareness Groups, Ph. D holders, experts and concerned citizens from Newfoundland & Labrador, other parts of Canada and the United States of America. This only tarnishes our reputation of preservation, protection and education with the international community.

There has been much irreparable damage done already to the site, with vehicles unknowingly parked on rare plants like the Longs and Fernalds  braya, to more direct movements of rocks and tire tracks that clearly illustrate a vehicle has driven over a protected area. In addition, visitors to the region are losing out on the experience of what Burnt Cape offers and some are opting not to even bother. The lack of interpretative tours leaves very important details and information of such a provincial treasure. Unless you are an expert in botany, this reserve has lost much of its meaning to the general populace with an interest to explore, learn and understand the uniqueness of this protected area on the Great Northern Peninsula.

The Minister noted about 500 people visited the site annually. It is clear there are many vehicles and people visiting the site on this Sunday afternoon. I believe the stat of visitors to the site is likely understated. Nevertheless, these well-trained guides should never have seen their jobs eliminated.

The Raleigh Historical Society Inc. has applied for permits to have its staff and vehicle bring people to the site during the season. They have stepped up, although it will be a reduced service without the knowledge of trained guides.

Government must also step up. I encourage you to email: Minister Tom Hedderson, Environment & Conservation (thedderson@gov.nl.ca) and myself, Christopher Mitchelmore, MHA (cmitchelmore@gov.nl.ca). We must continue to voice our discontent of this decision that is leading to the destruction of a geological, botanical and pale-ontological treasure.

Thank you for any support you can provide.

Live Rural NL –

Christopher Mitchelmore, MHA
The Straits-White Bay North

Canadian Learning Passport – Liberal Election Announcement

For more than a year I worked with volunteers and also delivered Junior Achievement programs to local high school students to facilitate the “Economics for Success” program. It teaches grade nine students many lifelong lessons. They consider their skills, talents, values; dream careers; budget; practise interview skills and even get a job with a salary. They certainly learn the value of a post-secondary education from the occupations provided as the incomes are much higher than entry-level positions.

I grew up in a rural community, wanting to pursue opportunities that were not available to my parents. I always dreamed of working in Europe and exploring parts unknown. Little did I know that in 2007 these dreams would become a reality as I lived and worked in Europe, travelling to 25 countries. My parents supported my sister and I. They believed that they should do all they could to assist us through a post-secondary education. At the age of 13 I lost my father (the breadwinner), this left my mother with  a significant challenge of being a single parent without meaningful employment, yet still wanting to provide for her child. 

I graduated high school like many students, faced with a tough decisions of whether to enter the workforce, obtain a post-secondary education, or neither. I was terrified of the high debt load I would accumulate having to move away from my rural community to live in the city, pay rent, utilities, groceries, tuition, books and other living costs. It is a scary reality. Many of my peers also choose this route, while others did not – a limiting factor could be the debt burden upon graduation. Five years in the workplace, gives them valuable work experience, seniority and income without the debt. This sounds wonderful, but most of these individuals have to move away from their friends and family.

How can a student graduating with $50,000 in debt after 5 years of post-secondary get ahead? Students are crippled with debt repayment that could range in $400-600 a month for a period of 9 years. How can one afford a car? rent? a home? or support a family? I opted to work part-time jobs throughout the school year and work multiple jobs during the four-month summer break.

Post-secondary education costs must be reduced to ensure that Canadian debt load is more affordable. The Provincial Government of Newfoundland & Labrador has made great strides in making education more affordable. They have continued a tuition freeze. Memorial University has the second-lowest tuition in the country, with some universities in Quebec posting nominally lower rates. Moreover, the provincial government has implemented up-front grants as part of the Students Loan Program, reduces the NL portion of the  student loan debt for those completing their program within the appropriate timeframe and eliminating the interest on the NL portion of the student loan. The Provincial Government should be commended for investing in our education.

It is time for the Canadian Government to take a similar approach – wake up and smell the coffee. It appears that Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff‘s election announcement of the Canadian Learning Passport is a step in the right direction to make post-secondary education more affordable for all Canadians which promised $1,000 per year for up to 4 years for all Canadians and $1,500 for individuals from low-income families (up to $6,000). The program is estimated to invest $1 billion annually in the future generations. This investment will have tremendous long-term benefits for all Canada.

The Canadian economy needs to continue to produce educated and innovative individuals to further stimulate new economic growth for the future. I would like to be informed of the stance relating to education policy from other major political parties.

I have paid the price of a post-secondary education, and regard the education as worth every penny.  I certainly encourage more youth to choose to obtain a post-secondary education and to also get out and vote. The 18-29 demographic, historically yields low-voter turnout. We need to stand up and be connected and have a stronger voice for matters that affect Canadian families.

 Live Rural NL 0

Christopher Mitchelmore

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