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Stanley Park syndrome grips B.C.
Health care is so 2006, according to the latest conventional wisdom. The next federal election will be all about the environment and whats (not) being done to combat global warming.
As this is being written, another window-rattling windstorm is making its way across Vancouver Island, so its not surprising that atmospheric matters are top of mind this winter.
But the over-the-top reaction to the recent blowdown of trees in Stanley Park shows how fickle and flighty urban public opinion has become. Fundraising drives have sprung up to restore the Stanley Park trees, because Vancouver can afford to finance Canadas only precious hand-wringing elected park commissioners, but cant manage the replacement of 3,000 trees that would eventually sprout on their own anyway. The Globe and Mail has been running full-page ads touting its donation of 10 trees to the restoration effort, raising the awkward possibility that more than 10 trees may be sacrificed to deliver their self-congratulatory message.
Meanwhile, a couple of kilometers around Point Grey at Pacific Spirit Regional Park, the wind damage is just as bad, but no telethons have sprung up to aid the regional government there. Theres a shortage of nudists to protest at this time of year, but the steep trail down to Wreck Beach must be an awful mess.
And in the Interior, people surrounded by millions of beetle-killed pine trees must have been scratching their heads at the tree hysteria in the big city. As Kamloops This Week put it in a recent editorial, that citys residents are having to deal with 30,000 dead or dying trees, and Forest Minister Rich Coleman says theyre responsible for trees on their property.
Meanwhile, the paper notes, a few trees are left teetering in West Vancouver following a windstorm and residents in the richest postal code in Canada are afforded helicopter logging, with the province footing the bill. And one wonders why residents of the Interior might feel they truly are beyond Hope.
As everyone whos seen Al Gores movie keeps assuring me, greenhouse gases are obviously to blame for all this extreme weather. Never mind that the keepers of weather stats say this isnt the worst on record, just like the 2003 B.C. forest fire season wasnt the worst. If it feels like the truth, thats close enough these days.
Is all this concern about the environment genuine? As mentioned here a couple of weeks ago, were in for a loud argument this year over two (possibly three) coal-fired power plants proposed in B.C. In China theyre planning hundreds of coal-fired plants, and buying up B.C. coal to feed to them.
The plants proposed for Princeton and Tumbler Ridge dont make a pinch of difference to the planet, and for that matter all of Canadas emissions are a tiny fraction of the whole picture. Its developing countries where the big emission increases are going to be coming from.
An inconvenient truth, to borrow Gores phrase, is that with health care as with the environment, its not bold new laws but day-to-day choices by individuals that matter most.
My thermostats been set at 18 degrees for about 20 years now. My last bathroom renovation, more than a decade ago, included not only a water-saving toilet but one of those low-flow shower heads that you have to run around underneath to get wet. My four-cylinder, AirCared vehicle is currently gassed up about once a month.
If you cant say the same, maybe you should go sit through Gores lecture on global warming at the local cinema. Ill put on a sweater and stay home.
Why not child care?
If we must have another federal election, voters would be better served by a vigorous discussion about child care than grandiose posturing over climate change.
The end of federal subsidies to child care means B.C. rates are going up by $2 a day starting in July, for those who use licensed daycare. Opponents will argue that this is wanton slashing of social programs by the heartless Harper Conservatives, when in fact the switch to the $100-a-month Universal Child Care Benefit represents a major increase in federal spending.
Those parents lucky enough to have licensed daycare will pay only half their federal benefit to cover the increase, leaving them an extra $40 a month to spend on a trip to the museum with the kids, or beer and popcorn.
The change in federal child care policy also reduces the provincial subsidy available for building new daycare spaces. With a strong job market in B.C., and parents getting a monthly federal cheque for each child under six years old, could it possibly be that market demand for licensed daycare will increase enough to make up for the lost subsidy? Or must Quebec-style subsidized state daycare be the goal for all of Canada?
As Mark Steyn points out in his new book, America Alone, now is not an ideal time for Canada or any developed country to launch an expensive new social program. Our birthrate has fallen to below replacement level, which means the expensive social programs we already have are in serious jeopardy.
School enrolment will keep dropping for the next decade. In some rural B.C. districts the schools are already half empty, due to a combination of lower birth rate and migration to urban centres. Daycare space, anyone?
Tom Fletcher is B.C. bureau reporter for Black Press newspapers.