If I had a million dollars … or how about $60 million?

It’s hard (at least for me) to hear the question “what would you do if you suddenly had a million dollars?” without thinking of the Barenaked Ladies perennial favourite, “If I Had $1,000,000”. And if you don’t know it (gasp) or haven’t heard it for some time, try listening to this YouTube recording; I guarantee you will be humming it for days afterwards. Try it and see if you don’t succumb!

Legend has it that the Barenaked Ladies, one of Canada’s most beloved of bands, came up with this very Canadian ditty back in 1988, asking themselves the same question many Canadians were asking themselves, captivated by the possibility of winning Lottery 6/49, which started in 1982. Sure, there had always been lotteries of one kind of another, but now Canadians were (and still are) actually encouraged to buy lotteries from government-sponsored agencies on a weekly (and then twice a week) basis. All those chances to win a million dollars simply by buying a $1 (and eventually $3) lottery ticket, choosing your own favourite 6 numbers. And, gosh, even if you didn’t win you were still contributing to sports, culture, and other government programs. How can you lose?!

I will admit to being a weekly 6/49 devotee. My husband and I have bought tickets for both Wednesday and Friday draws for years now. After all, once you have used the same 6 numbers for a long time, how can you stop? How would you feel if your numbers came up right after you stopped buying your ticket?! And so, naturally, we have played the remarkably engaging game of “what would you do if you won the lottery” several times. What would you do if you suddenly had an unexpected $1,000,000? To be honest, we usually only play that game when the pot has grown to an unusually high number. Just so you can see what I mean, what if you suddenly found yourself accepting a cheque for $17,000,000? Tax-free. One humungous tax-free cheque. One million is spendable. Depending on your time of life and circumstance, you can pay off your mortgage and car, help out others in your family, go on a few fancy trips, and then you’re pretty well done. Maybe you can slip in some university tuition and braces for kids or grandchildren, but that’s about it. Scary, eh? If you live in an expensive place like Toronto or Vancouver, just paying off your mortgage may or may not be doable with $1 million. But $17 million or more, which does indeed show up in the 6/49 every once in a while, is a different story.

We happen to be in the so-called golden years of life, and we are in the fortunate position of no longer having a mortgage or car payments. So when playing the lottery game, we keep $1 million for future nursing home expenses (hoping we never need this, but still …), give $1 million to each of our two kids (this is just a game, kids), give healthy sums to each of our 5 siblings (once again, just a game, siblings and families), and then we still have an enormous wad left. And this is where I’m really heading. If you have an opportunity to donate a significant sum of money to one or more worthy causes, what do you give to? How do you decide? How do you ensure that your donations are having maximum impact in areas that you think are most deserving?

When we’ve played this game, we have given ourselves a theoretical $5 million each to distribute according to our own individual preferences. And, although we are committed to several charities, neither of us have come up with definitive plans for how we would distribute our theoretical largesse to best advantage. Post-secondary education support for needy students, for indigenous students, support for the environment, specific programs dealing with poverty, health, our community, the arts; there’s no end of deserving entities. It’s not as easy as it may first seem to decide how to distribute philanthropy responsibly. Who knew? But at least we have a leg up on all of you who haven’t even thought about it. When we win big, we at least know that making these decisions will be difficult. Fun and rewarding, but difficult.

Now, what if you had $60 million tax-free dollars, over and above any outstanding debts, to use to make a difference in the world? What would you do? As a matter of fact, Canada’s Lottery 6/49 has had two winning pots in excess of $60 million, including a $64 million win in 2015 that was won by one individual, so it’s a real possibility! I don’t know how all that money was used by those winners, but just this past week there was a news article about a Vancouver couple who gave away $60 million dollars.  They donated the $60 million, basically their entire fortune, to the Arctic Inspiration Prize. Their story and their reasons for having established this prize in the first place are fascinating and compelling. Both immigrants, he from Switzerland and she from Iran, they clearly have done very well economically in Canada. But the important part for me was reading of their love and enormous respect for the Arctic and in particular for the peoples of the Arctic. I share their feelings, although I have most definitely not skied to the North Pole as he has! The understanding and respect they have for the challenges facing the proud and resourceful Inuit of the Canadian Arctic is heartwarming. The Inuit, who have lived in the most severe imaginable living conditions for thousands of years (including several months each year in total darkness), had their lives disrupted profoundly as a result of colonializing decisions enforced on their way of life. Repressive and aggressive government policies through many decades have resulted in assaults on their language, culture, and the well-being of their families. As well, climate change, caused by practices adopted by people far away from the Arctic, has had a far more dramatic and rapid impact on the Arctic (and Antarctic) regions than on areas away from the poles, and this significantly threatens their way of life. It’s not just the polar bears, folks.

Pond Inlet, Nunavut (CBC image)

And so, my admiration for this philanthropic couple, Arnold Witzig and Sima Sharifi, knows no bounds. The idea of the Arctic Inspiration Prize is to provide researchers with funding to undertake projects specifically to aid the people of the Arctic. As described in the Globe and Mail:

‘Sima Sharifi and husband Arnold Witzig announced Wednesday that they will give $60-million to the Arctic Inspiration Prize (AIP). The couple, in their 60s, founded the prize in 2012 after falling in love with Canada’s North and have since financed annual awards – which now total $3-million a year – that support teams of Arctic researchers. Their new donation ensures the sustainability of the prize long into the future.

“We wanted to inspire, enable and somehow celebrate all these achievements of the people in the North,” Mr. Witzig said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

“Without having grassroots and youth really participate and come forward with their own ideas, you can try as much as you want as a government, it won’t work. Here, we thought the prize could step in and really contribute.”

The prize gives groups of Arctic researchers financial support to study opportunities or challenges for the Canadian Arctic, including educational, health, environmental and economic issues. The prize, which awards multiple teams from $100,000 to $1-million, was established in 2012 by Mr. Witzig and Ms. Sharifi. The 2018 laureates were recognized Wednesday night at an AIP awards ceremony in Ottawa, where the organization also unveiled its new $60-million donation.

Kevin Kablutsiak, a 2013 laureate who is now executive director of the AIP, said the evolution of the prize over only a matter of years is “tremendous.”

“From my own perspective, being Inuk from Canada, from the Arctic, and seeing Arnold and Sima being so generous and giving of everything they have to the Arctic, it’s really hard to fully say and express the gratitude that I feel and that many of us feel,” said Mr. Kablutsiak.

“Some of these projects that have won would normally never get any kind of money that they get from AIP from elsewhere.”’

This couple has played the “what would you do if you won the lottery” game and has come up a winner. They have been able to contribute generously to a cause that is dear to their hearts. In doing so, they are making a truly significant difference to a people that have been struggling to adapt to the modern world in an extreme environment without the independence to make their own decisions. This Arctic research will hopefully also contribute to our understanding of the frightening damage being done to the Arctic region through the lack of attention to the perils of climate change, which cannot help but benefit both northerners and southerners.

And now for the question of the day: what would you do if you won the lottery – one of the big ones?!

 

Image credit: Kathy Liu, Barenaked Ladies YouTube video

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19 Responses to If I had a million dollars … or how about $60 million?

  1. Pingback: Top posts of 2018 – and top countries for readership | Robby Robin's Journey

  2. Jean says:

    Stop working. Put it in bank and think about it..while go on vacation which will include visit of family where I would give some money to each close family members. Meaning my birth family. Buy a 2nd home …in Canada because my family is spread out in 2 other provinces. We live in a beautiful country.
    No I wouldn’t buy car. I don’t drive.

    A certain portion to non-profit with some conditions placed on it, to have annual performance events and conference on Asian-Canadian arts. The rest need to think about it. 🙂

    • Jean says:

      I’ve only won $30.00 in a employee raffle/lottery. Oh yea, I won $400.00 worth of cooking pots and pans via national grocery chain contest and of course, Tim Horton’s roll up the rim, a coffee which I made sure it was x-large.
      A work colleague won a Lexus car via a local hospital fundraiser. He traded the car for car value of $70,000. Used partially to pay off mortgage and …to buy a used car.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Boy, you’ve given this a lot of thought. Excellent priorities. Thx for your input.

  3. jane tims says:

    I have heard the ‘If I had a Million Dollars’ song about three times this week. My husband and I laugh over our ‘ifs’ all the time. I would like to be free of debt but I really have all I want. I would be afraid that a lot of money would change my priorities in a way that would use up all my lovely time!!!! Jane

    • Jane Fritz says:

      So we’re not the only one who plays that game! I think we’re lucky to live in a part of the world where materialism isn’t king. Still, it is fun to think about what causes you’d like to support big-time if the occasion arose!

  4. Manuela says:

    I actually have given this some thought just like you have. I find it odd that not everyone has actually. I personally wouldn’t give to a charity, the CEO’s of those charities are already making their own millions which I find rather disgusting. I’d set something up on my own to help people with mental illness. When they fled Riverview hospital here in Vancouver (I have heard they will no be re-opening it, thank goodness), many mentally ill people found themselves without a home and on the streets. This was not only dangerous for them, but also for the general public. My goal then, if I won the lottery was to re-open Riverview. Now my goal would be to open up another place like that. I would ask for help from professionals of course, and try to set programs in place for people with mental health challenges including our youth. And most importantly, try to find a way to carry it on for years to come after all my money runs out.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      I love this – and agree with everything you say. I wouldn’t give to a charity either, for the same reasons, unless it was for something quite specific within the charity and with details clearly defined. I’m just not dead sure on which area of need I’d focus my “wealth”. Fortunately, I seem to still have time to think about it! Thanks for sharing.

      • Manuela says:

        I play with a group at work and we never win either. A free play here and there and so many times I thought of stopping but like you, what of my numbers come out after I stop? Such a sucker I am 😂

  5. Your post is so timely. Especially with the winner of the half-billion US lottery now fighting in the courts to keep her identity hidden.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Yes, $500M makes $60M seem like pocket change! Still, $10M, $60M, or $50M, once one has taken out what’s needed to keep the wolf from the door, I love the exercise of thinking about the ability to make a truly meaningful difference to some aspect of society. How to choose? Maybe PTSD research? Feeding the starving victims of civil strife in Southern Sudan? Setting up full scholarships for disadvantaged youth? 🙂

      • I think you’ve got me pegged, Jane! My answer is a version of all of the above. I would pay any and all bills, help my relatives and friends who are in need, help disadvantaged youth too many end up in trouble), help fund a program for people with PTSD (many commit suicide, lacking proper services to treat or help them cope), help young and elderly people with disabilities (among the most vulnerable in our society), and help starving people in some part of the world. Yup — I could put that money to great use!
        And lest I forget: I would like to live in a warm-ish country during the winter months. One mustn’t get too unselfish, right?

  6. Roy McCarthy says:

    Certainly I wouldn’t hoard it. And there’s nothing much I want or need. So, worthy causes. I have high regard for philanthropists and we have, and have had, a few here in Jersey. It would be a tough job deciding on causes though. But I would like to know I’d made a difference.

  7. Wow Jane this is a really good article that certainly leaves me wondering and maybe pondering a little. Is it ok to share this?

  8. DM says:

    I am definitely going to give this some thought and get back to you…

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Great. I’ll be looking forward to your thoughts. Maybe you could raise the money for your charity of choice through your 1-mile-without-stopping fund-raising event! 😉

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