Sunday, July 30, 2006

Joys of exercise
July 29, 2006

I’ve been sitting in front of the keyboard for more than half an hour now, trying to come up with a way to talk about physical activity that conveys - without sounding preachy - what a fine, fine thing it is to have in your life. It’s not easy.
Exercise has had the misfortune of being linked in a beneficial way to so many health issues that it’s now one of those “healthy life choices” like quitting smoking, losing weight, and eating sufficient vegetables. Exercise is good for you - reason enough to deter anyone who has grown weary and resentful of the lengthening list of things to feel guilty for not doing.
But forget all that health business for a moment, and consider exercise for the truly joyful thing that it is. Sure, it’s good for you, but it would be something I’d be hooked on even if it wasn’t. What bothers me most about the fact that millions of Canadians are inactive isn’t that they’re making an unhealthy lifestyle choice, but that they don’t know what they’re missing.
Of all the people who have altered the course of my life over the years, I owe special thanks to the Courtenay Elementary teacher (name lost to time, unfortunately) who inadvertently got me into life-long exercise by organizing a ski day for my Grade 7 class.
Would I have ever have discovered exercise otherwise? Possibly - my parents were physically active, particularly my mother, and my young sub-conscious surely made note of that. But the ski trip was still the first time I recall reveling in the feeling of my body competently at work in the beautiful outdoors. Up until then, I’d always felt like a lump of a kid who couldn’t do much of anything sports-wise.
The ski trip didn’t change me over night. I was asthmatic as a child and continued to work that to the max in getting out of phys-ed classes during my school years. I never did warm up to team sports, and to this day continue to shun softball, volleyball, or any sport in which I stand a chance of letting the team down.
But as luck would have it in terms of early habits, my friends and I did a lot of walking in our teen years - the unexpected benefit of a small town with no other means of getting around. When 10-speed racers became an option, we rode to get places faster, and pretty soon were riding just for the fun of it.
Gradually, exercise became less of a chance event and more of a planned activity in my day. By my late 20s, it was part of the fabric of my life, like eating. I moved through aerobics to weight-lifting to yoga to running, and am lately considering drumming and dance. I suppose it’s kept me healthier, but I know for certain that it has kept me sane.
My years in journalism provided me with some amazing opportunities to put my body to work. I’ve learned that physical activity also helps me think better, and I came to love journalistic pursuits that combined writing and exercise.
The first such journey was the VisionQuest canoe trip from Hazelton to Victoria in 1997, which I joined for the final two weeks from Port Hardy to Victoria. The following year, an environmental boat tour of B.C.’s wild central coast introduced me to river hikes and old-growth exploration. The 1,000-kilometre Tour de Rock cancer fundraiser in 2001 was not only a powerful experience in its own right, but clarified for me the sport that I think I love best: Cycling.
But that’s just the splashy stuff. Walking up the hill to the Dominion Observatory on a bright summer evening is a rush all on its own. So is swimming Thetis Lake from one end to another. And on just about any morning - even a grey, rainy one - you can’t help but feel a little better for a walk down the Gorge waterway.
It’s not about being “athletic.” Believe me: It’s definitely not about that. It’s just about putting one foot ahead of the other and doing something that gets your body working. For me, it’s also about doing it outside, because there’s nothing like being out in the world for at least an hour every day.
So maybe you start out exercising because you think you have to. That’s certainly how I felt in the runup to the Grade 7 ski day. But soon you’re doing it because everything about it is great. You see new sights, breathe new air, get a big rush of endorphins AND it’s good for you.
Sure, it’s a healthy lifestyle choice. But don’t let that put you off. Anything that feels this good deserves to catch on.
July 22, 2006

The latest survey on the habits of street-level injection drug users in the Capital Region is a grim little reminder of all the things we don’t yet get about addiction.
Since the last assessment in 2003, the only bright spot in the most recent survey is a two per cent decrease in the HIV rate. Virtually all other indicators - rates of hepatitis-C, amount of needle-sharing, condom use - have gone in the wrong direction.
As is our wont, we’ve talked and talked for years about addiction and drug use. If words were all it took, we’d be living in a drug-free paradise by now.
But we’re not. The Vancouver Island Health Authority’s newly released report on needle users in the downtown is most definitely proof of that.
Almost three-quarters of the 250 needle users surveyed by VIHA at two downtown social agencies last year tested positive for hepatitis-C, an increase of more than five per cent from the 2003 survey. Forty-two per cent reported sharing needles, also a five per cent increase.
Meanwhile, the number of needle users who had sex in the previous month without using a condom jumped 10 per cent between 2003 and 2005, to 65 per cent. The news gets even worse for the sex partners of those surveyed: almost a quarter of users with HIV or hepatitis-C hadn’t known they were infected prior to being tested as part of the VIHA study.
All of this is unfolding in a region that gives the appearance of working hard to combat the ravages of addiction. We’ve provided free access to clean needles and condoms for many years, and launched countless high-profile campaigns aimed at reducing risk behaviours.
More recently, we’ve sent the mayor to Europe to check out safe-injection sites, and debated in council meetings whether to install drop boxes around the city for users to dump their dirty needles. If ever there was a time and a place to attempt to be a “safe” and responsible needle user, here and now in the Capital Region is pretty much as good as it gets anywhere in Canada.
And such efforts are laudable. Consider how the stats might look by now had we continued to do nothing at all. As bad as things are among street-level needle users, they’d be significantly worse at this point if not for needle exchanges and other harm-reduction strategies. Ninety-two per cent of those surveyed in the VIHA report ( use local needle exchanges, and most said they’d frequent a safe injection site as well if the region had one.
But the problems of addiction won’t be dealt with as simply as making it easier and safer to use drugs. Addiction is what happens when hurting people with susceptible genetics discover something that takes the pain away. Drug use at that level is a complex behaviour far removed from the act that it appears to be on the surface.
On the streets, where the only “good times” are the brief moments before and after injecting, sharing needles can be the way people express friendship and trust. It can also be the way they express self-loathing, something of which they’re all very familiar with.
For one young needle user I know, it’s all about getting the drugs into her body as quickly as possible, before she has to think about it. If that means sharing a needle, or shooting herself up in the neck or straight through her filthy pant leg despite having been cautioned against both acts dozens of times, so be it.
There are ways to help her, and others as well. But they don’t exist in the Capital Region. Small wonder, then, that problems are worsening.
Clean needles and safe places to use drugs are just one piece of the puzzle. If we’re ever to get a handle on addiction, we need to rethink our entire strategy.
Family support. A place to live. A sense of belonging. Sober and happy pregnancies. Drug treatment. Mental-health care. Hope for the future. It all matters.
The VIHA report, done in conjunction with the Public Health Agency of Canada, barely scratches the surface around the full impact of substance abuse.
With surveys conducted only at Streetlink and the downtown needle exchange, any of the region’s 1,500 to 2,000 injection drug users who don’t use street services were automatically excluded. Women were also underrepresented, again because of the survey sites (most of Streetlink’s clients are male).
So as troubling as the VIHA survey is, it’s still just a partial picture. There’s a firestorm coming, and somebody’s going to have to do something about that.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Stephen Hawking solution
July 14, 2006

Deep thinker Stephen Hawking has gone looking for answers to how we will save our troubled world, and more than 22,000 people have weighed in so far. Their answers are at times sweet and at other times alarming, as you might expect from a random sampling of on-line opinion.
“In a world that is in chaos politically, socially and environmentally,” asked Hawking last week on the Yahoo Answers Web site, “how can the human race sustain another 100 years?” (Yes, notes the site, this is the “real” Stephen Hawking, recruited by Yahoo to post the question after touching on the same topic recently in Hong Kong.)
Hawking is something of a star recruit on a Web site that is striving to be seen as harvesting the collective wisdom of the world through its questions. He’s an astrophysicist and a mathematician with a decidedly philosophical bent, and maintains a global schedule of speech-making despite being almost fully paralyzed. Who wouldn’t be honoured to have a guy like that single you out for posting the best answer?
From my brief foray into the answers, I’d say that the viewpoints divvy up fairly equally between cheery optimism and end-of-the-world pessimism, with quite a number of doomed-but-hopefuls rounding out the mix.
“The only solace is that every generation has thought the same things,” noted one posting in response to Hawking’s question.
Hawking’s own answer, as delivered June 13 in that Hong Kong speech, falls solidly into the pessimistic camp. He believes the survival of the human race depends on its ability to relocate elsewhere in the universe. If humans can manage to avoid killing themselves off entirely over the next century, said Hawking, their big challenge will be to find new homes on space settlements independent of Earth.
His solution resonates among some of the answerers, who agree that the only hope for the future will be to abandon Earth and start over. “We might have to find a way to expand to another solar planet,” offers one.
Others put forward thoughts that at their best are sincere and caring, and at their worst are warm and fuzzy to the point of being completely unhelpful in terms of actually doing anything. “The Human spirit will overcome,” posted one such writer. “It’s within us, dude - we’re fighters and survivors.”
I place myself in the doomed-but-hopeful category - not nearly so gloomy as to think that we’ll be writing off the planet within a century, but still damn worried. With the lives of my children and grandchildren to consider, however, I have to hope for the best.
To me, the key to saving our world is to act. Take the neglected neighbour kid to a movie once in a while. Join one of a couple hundred service clubs that are dying for lack of new members and raise money for something terrific. Learn about the impact from some distant war, and do whatever is within your reach to do.
And keep doing it. “In truth, one step at a time is not too difficult,” noted the late pop philosopher Og Mandino.
As a “solution,” I admit my strategy for saving the world smacks of mom and apple pie. But is that wrong? Sure, we owe a great deal to the big men with big plans who got us to this point in our history, but it’s going to take a more delicate hand at the wheel to guide us through the current turbulence. A lot more mom and apple pie strikes me as exactly what’s needed.
In the Yahoo poll, count me in with the cryptically named URez2Read, a 32-year-old from parts unknown who sums up the good and bad of the human condition.
“Our future is what we make of it,” posts URez. “The question is: Will we make the effort to guarantee the survival of our species, or will we be at the top of the endangered species list?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Women and the glass ceiling
June 30, 2006

If the goal is to do what men do, then women still have a long way to go. We are creeping toward gender equality - at least the kind measured by big jobs and big money - at a glacial pace, and even losing ground on some fronts.
Perhaps it’s not too surprising given the findings of an international survey on the subject this month. The study by Catalyst - a U.S. non-profit that keeps an eye on women’s progress in the corporate world - found that around the world, people believe that women are better at “taking care” and men at “taking charge.”
Even countries approaching gender equity - socially minded places like Sweden and Finland - held that belief, Catalyst found. The findings provide at least one reason why women don’t make it to the top jobs: The world continues to think that men do those jobs better.
We all know women who have done exceptionally well in business and politics, of course, and men who are community-minded and nurturing. But I’ve come to think there’s some truth to women being a certain way and men being another. It could be argued that female workers are concentrated in the taking-care professions because they’re good at it. And what’s so bad about being good at “taking care”?
Probably nothing if all things were equal. But they’re not.
Being the type who takes care can, for instance, translate in the real world into looking after people for free: Your hard-charging partner; your children; somebody else’s children; eventually your aging parents - in most cases, nobody’s going to pay you for any of that. The ability to take care is a treasured societal value, but there’s no treasure attached.
If this were a world where money didn’t matter, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to be the gender perceived as being better at “taking care.” If your fella is better at loping across the veldt in search of tomorrow’s supper and you’re better at maintaining the homefires and community connections, what’s to worry? If both roles are equally valued and rewarded, no problem.
Unfortunately, they aren’t. One path at least has the potential to lead to wealth and status. The other will barely keep you in pocket change.
Jobs that involve “taking care” don’t pay nearly as well as take-charge jobs, and are at the most risk of being cut in a downturn of government funding. Take-care types are rarely sought to run governments or chair major initiatives. That cuts them out of public policy and other decision-making.
On the home front, take-care work - raising your children, caring for a brother with a mental handicap, looking after your elderly mom in her final years - doesn’t pay a dime. In many cases, there’s even a financial penalty for doing the work, should the caregiver end up having to subsidize the cost of services for a family member in addition to providing free care.
The sticking points, then, are money and power. If being the gender that takes care paid just as well as if we’d taken charge, and garnered equal respect, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to just give into it. Maybe we could leave men to be men and women to be women - different but equal, and equally rewarded and valued for the work they do.
But knowing that the real world is nothing like that, you can understand why women’s organizations like Catalyst keep talking about the need to push more of us through the glass ceiling. Being classified as the gender that’s better at taking care than taking charge shuts women out of both the money and the decision-making.
What’s the value of a good mother? What is it worth to a society to have their old people cared for at home by family members? There’s an amount there somewhere, a dollar value for the work that’s being done. Past studies have tried to calculate bits and pieces of the complex cost issue, but no one has yet come close to establishing the worth of unpaid labour in our communities, most of it done by women.
Money talks. Perhaps this business of who takes care and who takes charge in our world needs to come down to costing out the actual worth of of the service, which would at least give us a starting point for discussions around tax breaks, wage programs and innovative strategies for the kind of work women do.
Sure, everybody talks a good game about being thankful for those who are good at taking care. What would take-charge types do without them?
But gratitude doesn’t pay the bills. If the world thinks women are good at caring, then we need to set a price to that work that puts it on par with the take-charge work of men. As long as everything’s equal, there’s nothing wrong with being different.
Aboriginal realities
June 26, 2006

Well, well. Aboriginal children are dying at higher rates than their non-aboriginal peers. I don’t suppose anyone could be surprised at that.
What will we do about it? If past behavior is any indicator, not much. We’ve been telling each other stories of aboriginal disaster on any number of fronts for decades now, but doing very little. The result: Things just keep getting worse for Canada’s aboriginals.
Being aboriginal in Canada is now very much like being black in the United States. Just belonging to either of those racial backgrounds is now a risk factor all on its own for things like youth suicide, drug addiction and diabetes, not to mention a predictor of future income and level of education.
Our country’s aboriginals are three times more likely to be the victims of violent crime. Aboriginal youth are at higher risk of suicide, addiction and obesity. Diabetes is near-epidemic. HIV infections are rising sharply.
The dropout rate for aboriginals is an unbelievable 70 per cent. Almost half of the 10,000 children in the B.C. government’s care at any given point are aboriginal. That distinction adds a whole new set of risk factors to their troubled lives, as being a government ward is very nearly as bad as being an aboriginal in terms of the pall it casts over how well your life will turn out.
My recollection is of much hand-wringing in the past 20 years as to what could be done about such terrible revelations. But it’s clear that little of it had an effect. Case in point: School attendance for aboriginals actually fell between 1981 and 2001 in B.C., even while debates were raging on all fronts in that period around the importance of improving high-school graduation rates. The province’s rates were among the worst in Canada.
Fortunately, all is not lost. I attended the Victoria Native Friendship Center’s grand opening this week in the former Hampton Elementary, and felt the power of good ideas at work in the many busy rooms of the friendship centre.
A destitute and ruined aboriginal population need not be a Canadian certainty. People know what needs to be done, and it’s as fundamental as mom-and-tot groups and a place for kids heading into trouble to hang out. No magic involved - just thoughtful and sustained effort, led by people who know how to make good things happen.
If we’d gotten started all those years ago when we first identified a disaster in the making, we’d be a long way down that road by now. But talking about aboriginals almost always slides into a furious debate around whether they even deserve help and empowerment. Sure, some mistakes were made around aboriginals, the argument goes: cultural genocide; child kidnappings; forcing aboriginals to use a different door at B.C. beer parlours, to name a few from the last 50 years. Get over it.
But the terrible history of Canada’s aboriginals is exactly why everything is so wrong for them today. It was a war of sorts, and the damage has accumulated through the generations. And as the stats reveal, the situation worsens for every year we do nothing.
Where will we start? At the beginning, of course. The world will be saved through happy, healthy families connected to vibrant communities.
Making that happen on the ground means paying attention to everything from child mortality rates and levels of community involvement to the impact of opening another mall on the far side of town. Everything matters. Equally importantly, we need to act on the information. The importance of studies notwithstanding, it’s action that moves things forward in this world.
Seeing Victoria’s native friendship centre in its sprawling new digs - kids bouncing on the playground equipment outside, moms pushing strollers along the wide hallways - was heartening evidence of just such action. Families are being reborn at the centre. And that will be the way that Canada will ultimately combat the discouraging statistics around aboriginal health and well-being - one friendship centre at a time.
The lessons from a country that was unable to rouse itself to action around such issues are as close as our southern border. U.S. inaction around social policy has fueled widespread urban decay, and the dramatic growth of a poorly educated and hostile underclass operating outside the strictures of mainstream culture. In Canadian communities like Saskatoon and Winnipeg, the number of aboriginal gang members is on the rise, setting the stage for a similar disconnect.
Terry Smith, B.C.’s chief coroner, commented in Vancouver this week on his report, a review of 640 child deaths since 2003. He said his report’s findings will “save lives.”
And if the report sparks action to prevent aboriginal kids from dying young and in violent circumstance, it just might. But for as long as it sits on the shelf, it’s just more words.
Impact of television
June 24, 2006

Television’s power can be harnessed for great good, as the New Yorker magazine notes in an article about a socially minded style of Mexican soap opera that has been working its magic for three decades. More than 100 countries now air versions of Miguel Sabido’s soaps, which manage to be entertaining while also acting as agents for social change.
The story lines are as intricate and dramatic as any soap, reflecting the drama in the lives of their real-world viewers: HIV, an abusive spouse, too many kids, a secret abortion, discrimination. The social messages are subtle, woven inobtrusively into a broader story. Still, the messages come across loud and clear, as evidenced by the things that happen after a particular show airs. Viewers not only like what they see in Sabido-style telenovelas, but take action based on watching them.
From the very earliest days in the mid-1970s, Sabido’s soaps have underscored the awesome reach and potential of television as an agent for change.
One of the early episodes in 1974 featured a story line about visiting the Mexico City headquarters of the government literacy program. The day after the show aired, an unprecedented stampede of 12,000 people showed up at those same headquarters to see for themselves. Almost a million people signed up for literacy classes as a result of the show.
A story line about the search for birth-control alternatives by a stressed-out mother of three led to a 23 per cent increase in sales of over-the-counter contraceptives in Mexico. In India, a village enthralled by the story line of a young girl’s fight to be educated went on to petition government for a day-care centre in their own community, so that young girls could attend school rather than be left at home to babysit younger siblings.
Without the power of television, how would such sea changes be accomplished?
The average Canadian devotes a month and a half to television in any given year. Our youngsters watch at least 13 hours of TV a week - almost a month’s worth over the course of a year. A typical senior spends almost five hours a day watching TV, the equivalent of two and a half months annually. More than a third of Canadian households have at least three televisions.
And when TV is good, it’s very good, as the Sabido experience makes clear. But what about when it’s bad? .
What about when it crashes and bashes around with barely a thought to whether it’s having any impact at all? What about round-the-clock exposure to sex, drugs, violence and inexcusable behaviour, often on hundreds of channels? Where will it end - and will we be happy with where it takes us?
The power of Sabido’s telenovelas to affect change underlines our failure in Canada and the U.S. to harness television for anything resembling public good. But it also serves as a grim reminder that television left to follow its own random course could be having an equally dramatic impact on viewers, and not necessarily for the good.
“All television is educational,” former U.S. Federal Communications commissioner Nicholas Johnson once said. “The question is, what does it teach?”
Consider, for instance, the U.S. finding that 15- to 26-year-olds drink more for every alcohol ad they see on TV or at the movies in a month. By the time a kid hits 14 in the U.S., they’ve seen the equivalent of eight hours of alcohol consumption play out on the screen. And if you’re feeling smug because you’re Canadian, keep in mind that almost 65 per cent of the TV we watch originates in the U.S.
New Zealand found a direct link between hours of TV watched as a child or teenager, and lower levels of formal education. Children who watched more than two hours a day were less likely to get a university degree as adults; adolescents who watched that much TV were more likely to drop out. A 2004 study published in Pediatrics, the magazine of the American Academy of Pediatricians, found that every hour of TV that preschoolers watched daily increased their chances of being diagnosed with attention deficit by 10 per cent.
And even when the content doesn’t harm us, just sitting still for all those hours of TV is a danger.
The British medical journal The Lancet reported in 2004 that higher rates of obesity and smoking had been found among those watching more than two hours of TV a day (Canadians on average watch three). Longer hours in front of the television ended up being at the root of almost a fifth of all problems among the 1,000 people studied related to overweight, high cholesterol, cigarette smoking and poor fitness levels.
Sabido’s dramas remind us that it doesn’t have to be that way. But until North American television fare gets the rethink that it so badly needs, that’s how it is.
Gay marriage
June 17, 2006

So let me get this straight. Iraq’s a disaster. Afghanistan’s going sideways. Terrorists are emerging with made-in-Canada credentials, and people are going hungry and homeless in virtually every town in North America.
And our leaders have nothing better to do than try to stop people in love from getting married?
Some people don’t like the idea of gays and lesbians getting married. Then again, some people didn’t like the idea of black Americans riding at the front of the bus, either. It’s all a question of civil rights.
Equality under the law is one of the underpinnings of a just society. Personally, I don’t take that to mean that the law can be used arbitrarily to deny certain groups equality, but that’s how the Bush government, Canada’s Conservatives and 45 individual states interpret the concept in terms of gay marriage. They want marriage laws that deliberately create inequality.
The hard-won right to marry regardless of sexual orientation has been law in Canada for barely a year now. Already, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced his government will revisit the law this fall and put it to a vote in the House of Commons.
In the U.S., gay marriage is still illegal, and the battle to keep it that way is intensifying. Forty-five states have either banned gay marriages outright or are in the process of it. For now, President George Bush’s pitch for a constitutional amendment reserving marriage solely for heterosexuals was stalled Thursday when the U.S. Senate voted it down, but he’ll no doubt take another run at it.
“Ages of experience have taught us that the commitment of a husband and a wife to love and to serve one another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society,” said Bush in recent media reports.
Bush may truly believe that, in which case there are still many more things to worry about than gay marriage.
Forty-four per cent of married U.S. couples don’t make it to their 30th wedding anniversary. In Canada, the breakdown rate is 38 per cent. More than a quarter of our marriages fail in the first three years.
Not only do we divorce five times more often than we did in the 1960s, fewer of us even bother with marriage. In the last 25 years, the number of common-law couples in Canada grew from six per cent of all couples to 14 per cent.
If Bush and Harper see the marriage of a man and woman as the backbone of our society, any of those stats ought to really alarm them. Those trends will have an impact on marriage far greater than anything gay couples could ever provoke. And if not that, then any number of ongoing and looming disasters - war, pestilence, plague, the usual.
But no. We’re still talking about stopping gay people from marrying. Harper is actually putting Canada into the position of considering whether to roll back civil rights. That’s scary.
In Canada, we infringe on people’s rights only for the common good. But where is the harm to society from gay marriage? Marriage is a battered institution, and if anything stands only to be strengthened from gays and lesbians embracing it.
We prevent 14-year-olds from driving and 16-year-olds from drinking, because we know for a fact that young people can wreak havoc without some societal restraints. We curtail rights in thousands of other ways for young and old alike. You can’t park where you want, live where you want or dicker over whether to give the government a share of your income. You can’t call yourself a doctor if you aren’t one.
But there’s a reason for each of those laws. There’s somebody in an office somewhere who can explain to you exactly why a law was created, and at the root of all of them is an intent to protect the common good.
Marriage has rules, too. But they were developed for clear reasons - in many cases, to prevent families from marrying each other. Perfectly good biological explanations for laws like that.
The case for prohibiting gay marriage isn’t nearly so clear. Where are the stats around societal harm? What’s the concern? What’s the compelling case for infringing on people’s civil rights?
So far, the debate seems to centre solely on whether “marriage” is a term that only heterosexuals can lay claim to. If that’s the only question, then there’s only one answer. We can’t tolerate laws that encroach on civil rights for no valid and quantifiable societal reason.
Conservative movements in both the U.S. and Canada have affirmed that strong families matter. Loving, supported couples raising happy, connected children will change the world.
And how wonderful that a brand-new population is coming forward to remind us of the power of marriage in creating those families. May they find the secrets that too often elude the modern-day heterosexual.
In the meantime, let’s move on. We’ve got much bigger things to worry about than love.
Sewage treatment
June 2, 2006

Scientific evidence is anything but absolute, as we’ve learned the hard way over the decades. Science certainly got radiation wrong the first time out, and most recently has failed us utterly around the safety of prescription drugs. Only one thing is for certain: Nothing’s for certain.
So when talk turns to sewage treatment - as it’s bound to every now and then in a community that pumps 47 billion litres of raw sewage into the surrounding ocean every year - you don’t want to be trusting everything to “science.” You just never know.
Sewage treatment was a hot topic when I moved here in 1989. A study (oh, you don’t want to THINK about the studies we’ve paid for) was just wrapping up, and people were talking about whether it might be time to move forward on treatment. While there did seem to be something different about local waters in terms of their ability to rapidly whisk away sewage, public distaste for dumping raw sewage was growing.
That was 17 years ago. Then as now, we are awaiting the findings of a scientific study - the most recent one costing $600,000 and due in July - on the pros and cons of treatment. We’ve come exactly nowhere in the intervening years, and spent a small fortune doing it.
Scientific evidence still prevails as the argument for doing nothing. Those with only a gut feeling that it has to be wrong to dump that much sewage into the ocean have obviously not been enough of a political force to register on anyone’s political radar, because sewage treatment is rarely raised as an issue.
I was horrified when I first learned that my new town dumped its sewage raw into the ocean. I wrote about it furiously for a while in my days of reporting on the Capital Regional District, but eventually moved on. Like almost everybody else, I soon forgot that I was once outraged.
But Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to town last week promising money for sewage treatment, and praise be to Victoria and Langford mayors Alan Lowe and Stew Young for making it clear that they’d like to talk.
“You might as well jump at it when money is available,” Lowe told local media after Harper’s visit. “Even if some people believe what we’re doing right now works, it’s still not going to be good enough for the future.”
He’s right - one of these days, we’re going to have treatment. So what are we waiting for? The price will always seem unbearable, but we’ll live. And at least it will be spent on action, not more study.
Fierce debate is inevitable whenever we talk sewage treatment, of course. Those versed in current scientific evidence around the special churning action of our waters are passionate and well-informed, as evidenced by numerous heated exchanges on this issue over the years.
But science doesn’t explain everything. Nor does it always get things right. Ever seen that old footage of the poor sots at the first nuclear-test sites in the U.S., mugging for the camera while brushing radiation dust off themselves with brooms?
No doubt it’s true that our ocean currents disperse raw sewage really well. But that’s not to say that our dumping habits aren’t having an impact. Forty-seven billion litres of untreated human waste a year simply has to have an impact.
As Chamber of Commerce chairman Robin Adair noted last week, “The optics outweigh any other consideration.” There’s an economic price to being one of the last cities in Canada still dumping raw sewage into the ocean. We don’t need that kind of reputation, especially not in a wealthy and fabulously beautiful region that can actually afford to treat its sewage.
In 1993, former federal cabinet minister David Anderson described sewage treatment for Greater Victoria as a “sheer waste of money and an exercise in woolly, soggy-minded thinking.” He said he’d be surprised if the federal government would ever lend an inch of land, an hour of time or “a dollar of our money” to the cause.
Times have changed, and so should we. What was right yesterday - a garbage scow dumping local waste into the ocean, for instance - isn’t necessarily right forever. And if the goal is to tread lightly on this earth, 47 billion litres of raw sewage is surely over the line.
Money needn’t be the stumbling block. Treatment won’t break the bank if all levels of government ante up, and it seems as though the stars may be aligning on that point. As Alan Lowe pointed out, the time is now.
More than 400 articles and letters on sewage treatment have run in the Times-Colonist in the last 15 years. But few cut to the chase better than the letter from a young West Langley Elementary student to the region back in 1993: “I think your idea of throwing raw sewage in the ocean is horrible.”
Mental health
May 26, 2006

The executive summary alone is 112 pages, so you can imagine how much the authors of this week’s national mental-health report had to say in full about the state of Canada’s system of care. But the essence of the standing Senate committee’s tens of thousands of informed words on the subject can really be boiled down to just two key ones: Do something.
Like so many other significant reports that have gone before it, the final report of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology is a heartfelt, wise read. After hearing from more than 2,000 people whose lives are directly affected by mental-health problems, the committee came to see the issue as one of the great travesties of our health system, and one in desperate need of transformation.
The report’s authors - senators Michael Kirby and Wilbert Keon - clearly developed a passion for the subject in the course of their three years of study. Their recommendations ought to elicit rousing cheers of approval from mental-health advocates when it comes to the vision the report sets out for dramatic reform. Whether our nation will be capable of putting the report into action - well, I’ve seen too many grand visions die on the shelf to make any assumptions on that point. But surely we have to try.
“Mental illness, even today,” notes the Canadian Mental Health Association in a quote featured in the report, “is all too often considered a crime to be punished, a sin to be expiated, a possessing demon to be exorcised, a disgrace to be hushed up, a personality weakness to be deplored, or a welfare problem to be handled as cheaply as possible.”
So true, and all the more discouraging because the CMHA quote dates back almost 50 years. Our culture understands physical illness, to the point of spending almost any sum to ensure people get cutting-edge treatment as rapidly as possible. But mental illness bedevils us still, as demonstrated very clearly by our ragtag, inadequate mental-health system and endless tragic stories from families affected by mental illness.
The fix is both incredibly simple and immensely complicated.
On the one hand, improving the way we manage mental illness is as simple as providing the services that people need.
Nobody tries to tell someone with cancer that there’s nothing out there for him; they just figure out what’s needed and provide it. Whatever criticisms a person might have about the continuum of services for physical illness, at least there IS a continuum: From the family doctor to the specialist, from the radiologist to the oncologist, and to any number of helpful services in between. Why can’t the same be true for mental illness?
On the other, anything grand our country undertakes seems to run a serious risk of bureaucratic paralysis and staggeringly high, poorly executed expenditures. So while there’s obvious merit in the report’s recommendation to create a national mental health commission to oversee the transformation of the system, I shudder at the thought of how much time, effort and money could be lost in the course of bringing such an entity to life. People currently living with mental illness need action, not the makings of another federal sinkhole.
Oversight is important, of course. If we hope to one day to treat mental health on par with physical health in terms of range and timeliness of service, we’ll need national leadership to ensure standards are established and provinces’ feet are held to the fire if they stray from the plan.
But we needn’t begin with administrative structure. Service agencies and families in every community across Canada know what’s needed to improve the lives of people with mental illness. They don’t need a mental-health commission to get things going - just a designated pot of money and an invitation to put their ideas forward for funding.
The senate committee’s report notes the importance of outcomes in monitoring the effectiveness of services. Absolutely. If we’re spending money on something, we deserve to know that it’s having a positive impact.
But those working on the front lines - or living in a family affected by mental illness - are well aware of what works and what doesn’t. Proving effectiveness of services isn’t the problem. The real problem is a lack of consistent, adequate funding over the long term to provide those services, which run the gamut from crisis intervention and medication to housing, addiction treatment and support for an exhausted caregiver.
As noted by Keon and Kirby in media reports this week, we needn’t look far afield for a better model to follow. In the ‘80s and ‘90s when other Canadian communities were fumbling the closures of their large psychiatric hospitals, things were going right in Brandon, Man. At every level, the city identified potential problems in the way it managed mental health and corrected course as needed. It now has the best community-based system of care in the country.
We asked all the questions, and know all the answers. Now it’s time to act.
Looking on the sunny side
May 19, 2006

One of the perks of working in the non-profit sector are regular gatherings where you get the chance to talk about how to improve our community. It’s a difficult discussion sometimes, and tough as hell to put into action. But at least people are talking.
At one such gathering this week - this time at the request of the Victoria Foundation, a major funder in our community - I took to heart the central message of the day’s keynote speaker, Gordon Hogg.
The former minister of children and families cited some mighty depressing statistics about the speed at which we’re disengaging as communities. But he noted that the challenge is to focus on what we’re doing right rather than only to lament what’s going wrong.
Putting too much of a Pollyanna spin on the issue would be a disservice to everyone, because real hardship is going on out there. Still, things do indeed go mostly right in our communities day after day.
Off the top of my head, then, an incomplete and randomly ordered list of things we’re doing right in our region, all of them proof that the issues that bedevil us now can also be sorted out if we put our minds to it:
*We have social services. Demand most definitely outweighs supply in the Capital Region, but our area is still significantly better off than any number of smaller B.C. communities. At least we’ve GOT a shelter.
*Mostly, people are nice. I’m struck by this frequently, in this region and anywhere I’ve travelled. There are days when it can feel like everything is going wrong all over the world when you take in the news. But in fact, most people on any given day are just going about their business, no harm done.
A stranger passes too close on a crowded street, a driver speeds up to a pedestrian in a crosswalk - the opportunities to do bad things to each other are endless. But for the most part, nobody does.
*Our downtown is still terrific. While no stranger to strife and disappointment these days, Victoria’s downtown nonetheless remains gorgeous. Sometimes I catch the sparkly eyes of a tourist taking in the spectacle of sun and water and fine old buildings, and I’m reminded once more of how beautiful the city is.
Seeing lower Johnson Street really springing to life again is exciting, especially for those of us who love browsing around a great downtown. The downtown will always need our attention, as the social problems of the entire Island tend to accumulate in it. But all efforts are worthwhile, because it’s just too pretty to give up on.
*Violent crime is dropping. The good news is, we’ve seen 10 per cent less violent crime in Canada than a decade ago. Youth crime is also in decline, down four per cent in the most recent year. That’s a welcome change from the escalating crime rates of the early 1990s.
Unfortunately, the bad news is that while there’s less violent crime than there was a few years ago, there’s still 35 per cent more than there was two decades ago. We’re on the right side of the trend now, but there’s still a lot of ground to regain.
*We know how to plant a garden. Thank God for ungated communities, because I’d sure miss the experience of wandering through local neighbourhoods admiring other people’s gardens. We live in a region where gardens that would command a hefty admission fee almost anywhere else are free for the viewing.
The University of Victoria, the Horticultural Centre, Beach Drive, the fabulous floral boulevards put together by Saanich municipality - in virtually every neighbourhood throughout the region, somebody’s growing flowers for other people to enjoy. The “garden city” moniker can seem a little overused, but we really do grow a mean flower garden, and with such public spirit.
*We’ve got the Goose. Having a flat, well-maintained trail that runs from north of Sooke all the way to Sidney is a wonder in itself, but having it set aside as a regional park is truly miraculous. The Galloping Goose and Lochside trail systems are daily joys for countless dog-walkers, bicycle commuters, young parents and meandering couples, and former New Democrat MLA Andrew Petter shall always sit kindly on my mind for his role in making it happen.
*We’re still talking. No problem is beyond our ability to address if we just keep the lines of communication open. OK, maybe we get a bit bogged down in all the talking sometimes, but keeping our community moving forward won’t happen without those conversations.
To that end, mark June 2 on your calendar and make a point to attend the free day-long Voices of Substance community forum at the Ambrosia Centre, which will look at the impact of substance use in our region. Life’s good in our town, but that’s not to say it couldn’t be better.
Teen pregnancy
May 10, 2006

When I think back to my own years as a teenage mom - pregnant at 16, and completely unprepared for the rigours of child-raising - I still can’t explain why it happened that way. I knew all about birth control, and had a mother who had no problem talking frankly about such matters. But I got pregnant all the same.
We can count it as a victory that Canada’s teen pregnancy rate has dropped significantly since then. While I’ve never doubted the decision to give birth to my dear son, who’s coming 32 in June, I don’t recommend teenage pregnancy as a matter of course.
In 1974 - the year my son was born - Stats Canada recorded a pregnancy rate of 58 per 1,000 in girls ages 15 to 19. By 1997, that had fallen to 43 per 1,000, and then to 31 as of 2004. Good on us for doing something right, because the U.S. rate of 100 per 1,000 in 1974 remains stubbornly the same more than three decades later, and in fact spiked all the way to 120 in the early 1990s.
But there’s an untold story about the differences between yesterday and today for Canadian girls, and the news isn’t nearly as good.
For one, Canadian teenagers are now more likely to have abortions than they are to give birth. Ninety-six per cent of them are single girls when they arrive for the procedure. Years into the so-called sexual revolution, the sad legacy of unexpected pregnancy is still a girl’s problem to sort out.
Nor has life gotten easier for the girls who do choose to have their babies. I know from my own experience that in fact, things have gotten considerably worse, largely because boys and men are no longer held to any standard of responsibility around pregnancy. If you didn’t know better, you’d think single mothers reproduced single-handedly.
People who hear that I had the first of my three children at the age of 17 often assume that it was tougher being a pregnant teenager in 1974 than it is in 2006. Not a chance.
When I was a teenage mother, I had a husband who worked at the mill in Campbell River while I stayed home and looked after the kids. We had two vehicles, a great house, and at least one holiday a year. I had no idea how to be a mother and a wife, but at least I had a guy who understood that being the father meant something.
These days, four-fifths of Canada’s single-parent families are headed by single mothers. More than a third of them live below the federal low-income cutoff. That’s an improvement over 10 years ago, when 58 per cent of them did. But it’s no 1974.
And while it’s great that fewer single mothers and their families are living in poverty, 36 per cent of them still are. Compare that to just two per cent of seniors, and seven per cent of two-parent families. Being a single mom in our country is a serious ticket to poverty.
Girls sometimes get pregnant for reasons that have nothing to do with knowledge of birth control methods, a point I proved in my own life 32 years ago. But that’s not to diminish the importance of keeping girls informed about birth control and sexuality. Avoiding unwanted pregnancy in the first place ought to always be the ultimate goal.
But once children are born, much of what ails Canada’s single moms could be solved through a drastic refit of the country’s family policies. A single mother of average circumstance simply isn’t going to be as financially comfortable as a double-income family, and will pay out a vastly higher percentage of her household income on childcare costs. She ought to be eligible for any number of tax breaks, job-related daycare benefits and temporary allowances to correct for that imbalance.
She’d be even better off if the father of her child stuck around more often. I mean no disrespect to single fathers and other fine dads, of which there are many. But the tough circumstances facing a significant number of teenage and single moms in Canada these days is all about fathers who have abdicated their responsibility.
In 1974, that really wasn’t an option. The term “shotgun wedding” was still heard from time to time, and there was a general expectation in the community that when a guy got a girl pregnant, he married her. Twice divorced, I’m in no position to tout a return of old-fashioned values. But when exactly did we decide that it was OK for our young men to walk away from their responsibility as fathers?
Life goes on even for teenage mothers, and sometimes it doesn’t turn out half-bad. But the lot of a young mom shouldn’t have to be this tough, nor fathers free to go missing in action.
Do something
May 5, 2006

Some of my family members think I write too much about street issues. Maybe. But somebody has to.
One of these days, our children’s children will be struggling to get out from under the social disaster in their city centres, and they’ll order up a royal commission that will lead straight back to us, making one mistake after another in the final years of the 21st century.
I just want to my part to get us thinking about that while there’s still hope of changing things.
Were this a roadway falling apart beneath our feet, we would act quickly and decisively. We’d argue about the costs of the fixup and put off repairs as long as we could - that seems to be human nature - but we’d never let things deteriorate too far. Nobody likes a bumpy, dangerous road.
But bad roads are easier to think about than people whose lives are falling apart. Even though both represent a major problem, the forward thinking and common wisdom that keeps our roads in good repair have yet to become guiding principles of our social endeavours. We’ve been appallingly bad at having social policy of any kind, and even worse at doing any of it consistently. We’ve been adding fuel to the fire for more than 20 years now, so no small wonder that a firestorm is building on the horizon.
Every now and then, you still hear people reminisce of a time when a person could leave their front door unlocked without concern. When downtown visitors didn’t have to worry about someone trying to sell them drugs as they passed by.. When things were “different.”
What has changed since those kinder, gentler times? Us. Everything. The food we eat. The places where our goods come from. The kind of work we do. The world we see on television, and on-line. The number of children we have. The number of times we marry.
Even if we’d been paying attention these last few decades as to what all that change was doing to people, we’d still have had our work cut out for us just to keep up. But in fact, we weren’t paying attention. We weren’t doing anything for long enough to know if it worked, and mostly we weren’t doing anything at all. With the exception of short bursts of doing the right thing - the late-1980s Victoria Health Project comes to mind - we have done virtually nothing for years on numerous social fronts.
If you haven’t been to Streetlink, I recommend that you go. Volunteer. Talk to the people. Spend a few months taking in the environment, and get a sense of what’s going on among the people who frequent the place.
There was a time when a number of them would have been housed in institutions. That’s all over, wiped out back in the 1980s and never really replaced. You can argue the right and wrong of having institutions, but there’s no arguing that the people who used to go to such places now routinely land on the street.
We’ve slashed housing budgets and ignored aboriginal issues. We’ve cut welfare, and stumbled over our child-welfare policies to the point of inadvertently destroying untold thousands of lives by setting in motion a series of disastrous events. We’ve left people to stew in their tragic, debilitating addictions.
Our “hand up” is now a meager, mean one, and the lot of a single parent on assistance is increasingly grim. With that single act, we open the door for another generation that will struggle to thrive, and widen the chasm a little further between rich and poor. We’ve spent great wads of cash and talked up a storm even while barely figuring a single thing out, even while the problems have been multiplying right before our eyes.
We’re neck deep in potholes. And we’re still standing around blaming it all on Streetlink.
We can always pin it on government if we want. It’s so much easier than coming to grips with our collective inertia. I wish it was the government’ fault, too, because then I could still believe in elections as a cure for what ails us.
But really, it’s us. We’ve failed to see the utter disaster of our ways. We got so caught up in our own concerns that we forgot to apply even a fraction of the stewardship given to environmental causes to the vital work of sustaining our people.
Were we to start doing things right tomorrow, my grandchildren’s generation just might be looking back at this one with gratitude for the positive changes we set in motion for them. Some changes would come quickly, but well-managed social policy needs to be looking at least 20 years ahead. We can be the generation that changes the world.
Or we can continue to wait for somebody else to do something about that, and leave it to future generations to pay the steep price. Some legacy.
It's not the milk
April 29, 2006

Don’t get me wrong - I enjoy milk products as much as the next person. I’m very fond of cheese and butter, and cream in my morning coffee.
But the dairy industry’s relentless drive to convince us that milk is essential to human life really does get to be a bit much sometimes. Like this week, when the news was full of stories that not drinking enough milk during pregnancy was tantamount to smoking in terms of its impact on birth weight.
In fairness, CTV did mention that the study - published this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal - was partially funded by the Dairy Farmers of Canada. But most news outlets didn’t note that detail. An average reader would likely conclude from the overall coverage that any pregnant woman who really cared about her child should be drinking plenty of milk.
In fact, sufficient Vitamin D was actually what made the difference in birth weight in the study of 279 pregnant women. The study, however, looked only at milk, noting slightly lower birthweights among the women who drank less than a cup a day.
“This is an important finding, because increasing numbers of women are restricting milk consumption during pregnancy,” noted the researchers, professors from Calgary and McGill universities.
Fears of weight gain, “self-diagnosed lactose intolerance,” and a belief that allergies in children may be linked to a woman’s pre-natal milk consumption are putting people off milk, say the researchers. They called for Canadian doctors to emphasize the importance of milk to their pregnant patients.
Indeed, fewer than 15 per cent of Canadian women drink cow’s milk. Milk sales across Western Canada are in decline. Were cow’s milk really the elixir of life, we’d be heading for a health crisis.
Fortunately, it isn’t. Milk has healthy properties, sure, and a lot of people love the taste of it. But you don’t have to be a biology genius to grasp that no species would evolve to be dependent on the breast milk of another species. We might like milk, but we don’t need it.
I admit to a certain bias, having not consumed more than 10 glasses of milk - and even then, all of them probably chocolate-flavoured - since emerging from my milk-mandatory childhood. “I always made you drink milk!” my mother often reminds me, and I remind her in turn that my compliance didn’t mean that I actually liked the stuff.
To each her own, however. Like I said, I eat plenty of other kinds of dairy products. But a study that clearly sets out to scare pregnant women into drinking more milk - well, that’s just wrong.
Research funded by industry interests is nothing new in Canada. Almost all research these days, including that done at universities, is funded at least in part by somebody with a business interest in the outcome.
So no surprises that the milk study concluded that the way to ensure a better birthweight for infants was for pregnant women to drink more milk - an extra cup a day. Wouldn’t that turn out to be a most perfect development for an industry with a major product line in decline? If every pregnant woman could be convinced that a lack of milk was virtually as harmful as smoking to her unborn child, milk markets would boom around the world.
What are the unbiased facts around Vitamin D? That turns out to be a tough question to answer, what with the Vitamin D supplement industry also hard at work these days spinning the health benefits of higher doses.
Once upon a time, the amount of sunshine we got in a day was all we needed. Our bodies produce Vitamin D in abundance when our skin is exposed to sunlight for at least 15 minutes daily. We’d have to drink more than 110 glasses of milk a day to get the same hit of Vitamin D that a little bit of sunshine can deliver.
But these days, sunshine is the enemy, and sunscreen the norm. People living in northern countries such as Canada generally don’t see enough sunny days anyway, particularly in the winter. Obesity is also thought to be interfering with people’s Vitamin D production, likely due to fat stores below the skin soaking up the vitamin before it can make it in to the rest of the body. Some researchers suspect that more than half of North Americans are Vitamin-D deficient.
Then again, none of that is a sure thing either.
“The reality is that we do not know what the Vitamin D requirement during pregnancy is,” noted independent researchers Bruce Hollis and Carol Wagner, of the Medical University of South Carolina, in their review of the milk study. “For that matter, we do not know the requirement for the general population, either.”
In the meantime, keep drinking your milk. Just don’t let them tell you that you have to.
April 25, 2006

We don’t devote too much time in our daily lives to caring for our democracy, in Canada or anywhere else in the world. Maybe we think we don’t have to.
But with the news this month that only a third of Canadians believe they’re being governed by “the will of the people” - well, that’s a pretty strong sign that we do. And it’s not just Canada. The figures weren’t much different in several other long-time democracies elsewhere in the world whose citizens were asked the same questions. All over the world, people are feeling disconnected from their governments.
The questions about democracy were part of a much larger global poll that Gallup International conducted a year ago in 68 countries, news of which broke this month with the release of a book on the findings: Voices of the People 2006. Almost 54,000 citizens took part in the poll - the largest in history.
Around the world, almost 80 per cent of those polled said democracy is the best governance system. In Canada, 85 per cent of us affirmed our support for “rule by the people.”
But only 30 per cent of respondents thought that they were actually reaping the benefits of democracy, or being ruled by the will of the people. In Canada, barely a third of us believed that the will of the people was guiding our goverments.
Germany came in at a truly disturbing 18 per cent. The French rated the state of their country’s democracy almost as dismally, at 26 per cent. Mexicans (20 per cent) and Russians (18 per cent) weren’t any happier. Even in the countries that scored the highest on that question - Israel and Kosovo - fully half of the population still didn’t believe they were governed by the will of the people.
A third of Canadians disagreed when asked if Canada had free and fair elections. So did almost that many in France and Israel. In the U.S., almost half said their elections didn’t meet that test.
That’s not good. We appear to love democratic principles, but are clearly becoming convinced that our countries are no longer governing themselves in ways that adhere to those principles. Democracy is on the ropes.
“The gap between those two perceptions. . . leads us to the hypothesis that many mature democracies in the world are undergoing a deep disillusionment about the ability of democracy to deliver rule by the will of the people,” said Marc Leger, the Canadian who supervised the global poll.
The original intent of the Greeks who invented it as a form of governance was that every man (women and slaves were excluded) would participate directly in all decision-making. The Greeks took the literal meaning of “democracy” seriously in governing their ancient city-states.
Other nations would follow the Greeks’ lead, but often with significant modifications. The men who created the United States stopped short of full-on “rule of the people,” and chose instead to elect representatives to run their country. Canada went with the party system, in which whatever political party wins the popular vote gets to declare their leader prime minister.
On the one hand, the voting processes of democracy have never in history been as inclusive as they are now. More of us have the right to vote than ever before , and discriminatory practices against women, ethnic minorities and other disenfranchised groups have largely ended. In terms of providing the most number of people with the opportunity to vote, we’re doing a lot better than the Greeks.
But on the other hand, very little is democratic about our governments beyond that brief casting of votes every four or five years. Royal commissions, inquiries and legislative committees come to town to ask our opinions every now and then, but government rarely acts on our advice. Big money is spent and major decisions made, and the public by and large has no idea about any of it. We have abdicated.
At the time of the Gallup poll last year, Canadians were coping with the grim revelations that were surfacing daily during the Gomery inquiry. Given that time frame, what’s most surprising is that the Gallup pollsters found anybody at all in those terrible weeks who still believed that the will of the people governed our decision-makers.
That’s not to say that all is lost. Less fortunate countries would go to war for a chance at the democratic rights that Canadians enjoy. We’re still a really great country for the majority of the world.
But we can’t go on dreaming idealistically about democracies while our actual governance drifts further and further from the people. We’ve got to seek change. We’ve got to revitalize this most vital of systems. We owe it to all the people who will come behind us as the centuries unfold.
History has shown us in clear and devastating terms the price that nations pay for hubris. Canada won’t be any different. Our only hold on democracy is the will of the people not to let it go.
Measuring schools
April 14, 2006

The Fraser Institute and I often differ in our views, but I can’t argue with the think tank’s comments this week that the institute’s annual “best of show” ranking measures only academic performance at B.C. secondary schools, not overall school success.
“The rankings certainly don’t tell the whole story of a school, no question,” said Peter Cowley, who helped put together this week’s report and is director of school performance studies at the Fraser Institute.
The academic performance of a school’s students is obviously an important measure of a successful school, said Cowley, but just one part. And it’s even less of a meaningful measure in terms of knowing whether we’re teaching our students to be good citizens. Scoring well on tests is all well and good, but it takes a lot more than that to build a healthy community.
Are our students growing into good human beings? Are they voting? Healthy? Earning a decent income and sharing their good fortune through fair taxation? Raising their kids to be peaceful, responsible citizens? Connected to community? Surely those are the questions that we need to ask.
But as Cowley pointed out, nobody is measuring for such outcomes. The challenge, then, is to rethink this mild obsession we’ve developed with high-school marks and figure out other ways to gauge whether our schools are successful.
Many of the schools topping the Fraser Institute’s list would probably top a number of other lists, too; they’re just excellent schools, on all fronts. But others would surge ahead in different ways - perhaps as bastions of tolerance and diversity, or of critical thinking and engagement.
Such ideals sound somewhat la-la even to my own ear, but why should that be? Such successes are much more relevant to the ongoing progress of our world than test scores and sports prowess among teenagers, but we cling to those measurements in our schools as if they tell us everything we need to know.
A kid who gets straight As and a scholarship to McMaster’s clearly knows how to perform in school, it’s true. But how are we doing at preparing young people for the world? Are they going to be able to rise to the challenges of their adult years with grace, strength, goodwill and wisdom? Those are big questions to leave to chance. Societies change quickly when their citizens forget to keep an eye on things.
Yes, high-school test scores are part of that, but really quite a small part. Nobody asks you about your high-school grades once you’re out of school. We work ourselves into a lather over the ability of our schools to churn out kids who do well on tests, even though tests of the kind you do at high school are probably never going to be a factor in your life again in adulthood.
Perhaps parents are assumed to be managing the big job of raising good people single-handedly. But schools are powerful socializing forces - our children attend them daily for 13 or more years. A family’s role in raising good human beings can’t be overstated, but we still learn the shape of the world through the schools we attend.
For better or worse, our schools have a powerful influence on the shape of tomorrow’s citizens. Their halls are the incubator for coming generations of leaders, thinkers, criminal minds and immensely troubled people. The lessons we learn in our school years inform us in how we shape our communities, and very little of that will be revealed through our schools’ test scores alone.
Cowley issues an interesting challenge: If B.C. really wants to know which of its schools are successful on fronts beyond test scores, then somebody needs to be asking different questions. I didn’t get the impression it was going to be him - the Fraser Institute has a distinct point of view, and that limits the kinds of statistics it gathers. But other groups and agencies can gather what we need to know. We just need to come up with the questions.
Some of the work is already underway, through community-mapping projects that pair up health and social indicators to measure the overall “wellness” of a particular neighbourhood. To properly gauge school success, we’d need census-style follow-ups of B.C. secondary students that went on for years - school by school, even class by class. We’d end up with a genuinely broad understanding of the impact our schools are having on our young people, in far more detail than the “good grades” model allows for.
Schools that know how to push kids to the top of their academic game deserve recognition for their accomplishments. Excelling academically takes a great deal of effort and focus.
But great schools don’t always have high test scores. Good human beings don’t always get good grades. Academic performance counts, but not for everything.
Sex trade
March 10, 2006

These days, I drive along Rock Bay Avenue more often than I used to. I think it has something to do with my job as executive director of a non-profit that supports sex workers, PEERS. When your work life is tied to whatever’s going on in the city’s sex trade, detouring along the outdoor prostitution stroll just becomes kind of a habit.
The street is gentrifying: a new brick facade for one building, a paint job for another. Were it not for my PEERS-altered perspective, I would applaud the improvements as a positive change for our community. Everybody likes a street refit.
But when it’s Rock Bay, I drive past thinking about what the changes mean for the outdoor sex trade. In that world, a street’s gentrification signals the beginning of the end. Once a street looks good, it’s a matter of months before businesses and residents start thinking about how much nicer things could be if they could also dump the commercial sex scene going on outside their doors.
So what a street refit more often than not means for outdoor sex workers is increased police presence, more trouble, and eventually a relocation to some new street in a darker part of town. The businesses along Rock Bay have been much better than most about tolerating the visible face of sex work in the region, and supportive of PEERS’ efforts as well. But sooner or later, the pressure’s on.
I listened with interest to Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean in Victoria this week denouncing violence against women. She’s familiar with the issue both personally and professionally, having grown up in an abusive family and gone on to develop a network of women’s shelters in Quebec. But what she and most of Canada may not grasp is that vicious assaults and rapes occur constantly on the outdoor prostitution strolls in our communities, and nobody does a damn thing about it.
I don’t blame the police; the Victoria Police understand the issues of the local stroll far better than most. I think fault rests with Canadians overall. We’d rather tolerate laws that tacitly create the most dangerous workplace in the world rather than admit that people in their communities want to buy sex.
“In the name of ideology, they are harassed, assaulted, beaten, raped and murdered,” said Jean in her speech at Government House. She was referring to women from distant lands and cultures, but could have just as easily been speaking about outdoor sex workers right here in Victoria. Our poorly articulated and uninformed ideology around prostitution has led to a most terrible situation.
A local woman was knocked unconscious two weeks ago by a man wielding a two-by-four, then raped anally with a traffic cone. Can a country that sets up a whole class of women to endure such acts - not even as anomalies, but regular occurrences - consider itself to be tackling the issue of violence against women? Hardly.
The critics could argue that the laws are already in place for redress. A working girl can report her assault to the police, can’t she? And access all the services any victim of crime can?
But that’s not really true for outdoor sex workers, who in fact are breaking the law just by talking to their customers. With addiction rates at nearly 100 per cent on the local stroll, an outdoor sex worker most likely has an illegal drug or two in her possession as well. She may have warrants out for her arrest. Or she may just be terrified of anyone in authority finding out she’s a sex worker, having learned through hard experience that things usually go badly after that.
The larger point, though, is that sex workers shouldn’t have to endure a violent workplace in the first place. What other job features beatings and rapes on a regular basis? What other Canadian workplace exists with virtually no regulation or oversight? An estimated 850 workers are in the industry in this region alone, including at least 85 working the violent outdoor stroll. Who’s looking out for them?
Until we figure out why men drive around looking for people to buy sex from, I’m not counting on an end to outdoor prostitution. But that’s not to say we couldn’t improve. We certainly couldn’t do too much worse.
That woman knocked out with a two-by-four: she had no idea the guy would turn out to be a violent “trick.” You and I won’t recognize him, either. He could be sitting across from you at the board table - or lying in your bed - and you none the wiser. As long as violence against sex workers remains in the shadows, so does he.
I wish Rock Bay well in its gentrification, and hope they keep trying to be tolerant. It can’t be easy to be grappling with your street being Ground Zero for a 10,000-year-old social problem.
But I’d understand if one day they got sick of the whole thing. Me too.
March 3, 2006

Godspeed to the Victoria Crystal Meth Society, and to any other community group trying to do their part to shake us awake before things get any worse. We need it.
But I do sometimes fear that yet again, we risk losing the opportunity to talk about addiction overall by getting distracted by the latest “most terrible” drug. As awful as crystal meth may be, we’ll never get around to tackling the larger problems of a truly terrible health disaster if we keep up this flavour-of-the-month approach.
Those of you who are old enough to remember the 1960s film Reefer Madness will know what I mean. After that came LSD as the worst drug ever, and later PCP. Crack cocaine had a good run throughout the 1990s. These days, it’s crystal meth.
If only it really was as simple as wiping out a certain drug. Put some really heavy enforcement into something like that and it might even be possible to squelch a particular drug right out of existence.
But for someone who was addicted, it would make no difference whatsoever. They’d just find something else to use. The problem isn’t the drug, it’s addiction.
Putting all our efforts into eradicating a specific drug unfortunately doesn’t get us any further toward dealing with the beast that is addiction. One drug less? A dozen more in waiting.
Or, as happened in Iowa recently when that state cracked down very successfully on sales of ingredients for crystal meth, a new way emerges of finding the drug in question. In that case, the meth started coming up from Mexico, at a higher cost. The result: Meth-related crime rates in Iowa went up.
There’s a poem by Portia Nelson, Autobiography in 5 Short Chapters, that beautifully explains the five stages human beings go through when making change in their life. The process starts at the point where you don’t even know you have to change - that’s stage one. As Nelson so nicely puts it:
“I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost...I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.”
As the poet slowly makes her way down the same potholed street while the stages of change unfold, she eventually starts walking around the hole, and then down another street entirely. The change is complete.
It’s a process that’s particularly apt for people with addictions, and for the people trying to develop services to suit the various stages. But it strikes me that B.C. overall - and really, all of Canada - is stuck in Stage 1 of the progression, failing to see that deep hole in the sidewalk and tripping time and again into one more fruitless crusade against some drug of the moment.
The issue is not drugs; virtually all of us use drugs. The issue is that terrible confluence of genetics, environment and life circumstance that sets a person up for addiction. The studies I’ve seen have put the magic figure at around 13 to 15 per cent of all drug users. Of course, they have no idea on the way in how very hard it’s going to be to get out, or that many will die without ever making it.
If addiction was being seen for what it is - a mental and physical health problem of heartbreaking proportion - then maybe something would have happened by this point. Maybe there wouldn’t be a terrified young Victoria woman holed up with her family in Chilliwack right now wondering how she’s going to keep her addiction at bay for almost three more months while she waits for a publicly funded treatment bed somewhere in B.C.
Instead, we just keep falling into that hole on the street, and looking around for some new drug to blame it on. The truth of it is that we’re barely doing anything about addiction, and certainly nothing that looks like a long-term strategy. Thousands of British Columbians are mired in a miserable, stigmatized existence because there are simply no services for them.
Inhumane, yes. But it’s also costing us dearly in terms of emergency-health spending, court costs, policing and deteriorating community standards. Sick people with no help and little hope don’t always make the best of parents, either, and their children - and theirs in turn - are at risk of becoming the next generation of lost souls.
From all accounts I’ve heard, crystal meth is indeed a terrible drug, most particularly because you don’t have to use it for very long before you’re addicted. But it’s just the latest symptom of a disease that we’ve been refusing to do anything about for nigh on 60 years now, when the first B.C. studies started popping up urging action.
We’ve been falling in this same old hole for long enough. It’s our fault, and we really do need to find a better road.
Children in care
Feb. 23, 2006

Few things focus a government’s attention better than the death of a child in its care, so it’s not surprising that Finance Minister Carole Taylor this week described the coming year’s budget as being about “the little ones.” The tragic circumstances of two-year-old Sherry Charlie’s death have been almost as exhaustively chronicled as those of Matthew Vaudreuil, the little boy whose killing 14 years sparked similar angst in the government of the day
Taylor came bearing gifts for the Ministry of Children and Family Development in Tuesday’s budget. More social workers, more money for supporting families. That’s along the lines of what the New Democrats promised back in 1995, not long after the unbearably sad inquiry into Matthew’s death, suffocated at age five by his abusive mother. Ten years earlier, the Socreds made similar promises after three-year-old Michael Jack was killed by his father.
All three children were deeply enmeshed in the child-welfare system at the time of their death. But in each case, good intentions went badly awry. The sequence of events in each of the deaths unfolds in eerily similar fashion, each disaster more or less a carbon copy of the previous one.
The media coverage starts out small: Another sad story of a child killed by a raging, mentally ill or otherwise dysfunctional caregiver. But then the official inquiry starts a year or two later, the horrific details of which always seem to come down to a lack of resources, uncertainty, and a fatal underestimation of the amount of danger a child is actually facing.
Months of public outcry and soul-searching follow as we cast around for an explanation - and someone to blame - for yet another dead child.
One death every 10 years or so is perhaps not such a bad record for government, but the death of a child in care always seems to have greater resonance. And that’s how it should be: We want a child-protection system where deaths are so rare that each one of them catches us by surprise.
But at the same time, we do need to recognize a pattern in these three deaths. Each death begets an inquiry, which in turn begets rueful promises by all involved to do better next time. Money flows freely for a guilty couple of years, and a few areas see considerable improvement. Governments and voters alike tend to lose interest within four or five years, though, and the layoffs and budget cuts follow. Next thing you know, there’s another dead baby, and we’re doing it all over again.
“People are overworked, under-resourced, and cannot comply to doing the quality work they are committed to doing,” former B.C. Government Employees and Services Union president John Shields said 11 years ago as Matthew Vaudreuil’s inquiry got underway.
Shields blamed the previous Socred government for deciding to lay off 600 social workers, which the four-year-old New Democrat government had not yet gotten around to replacing. That all changed after the Matthew Vaudreuil inquiry.
But time marched on, and another government with a different public mandate came to power. Layoffs and budget cuts ensued. And then this, Sherry Charlie - more sad evidence, right on schedule, that we have not yet got it right.
That this week’s budget is one for the “little ones” is good news, then, because the restoration of social services to B.C.’s children and families is desperately needed. Saving children’s lives isn’t all about more money, but more money would definitely go a long way toward addressing many of the problems. Social workers need to have small enough caseloads that they can get to know the families they’re working with, and the supports needed for families to raise their children to feel safe and loved. Hiring more social workers is an excellent move.
What’s equally vital, however, is consistency of vision. B.C.’s child-welfare policies should transcend the lines of party politics and be firmed up into a set of standards and practices that functions outside of the whims of elected government. Shifting political winds should not be able to influence the way we manage our child-protection functions. Certain things ought to be beyond politics.
We’ve established that in theory. No political ideology in the Western world would dare to argue that children should just be left to sink or swim no matter what might be going on within their family.
So now we just have to commit the resources that we know are needed for the task at hand, and go forward. If our child-welfare policies were guided by the realities of the work rather than wishful thinking, we might have settled on the answers two decades ago rather than still be stumbling into the same old problems time and again.
Mistakes happen. But the deaths of Michael, Matthew and Sherry were so much more than that. We can do better.
David Emerson
Feb. 17, 2006

The funny thing is, I’m feeling a bit sorry for David Emerson.
Not that I wouldn’t be spitting furious at the man had I been a Liberal voter in his Vancouver riding. But his genuinely shell-shocked response in the days since he crossed the floor to become a Conservative cabinet minister has nonetheless been painful to watch.
Sometimes, political parties are so similar in their platforms that a defection from one to the other is be news.
But there are significant differences between Canada’s Liberal and Conservative parties these days. If you voted for the guy whose party was supportive of gay marriage and social programs and then watched him morph into exactly the political rep you didn’t want - if you heard him promise to be “Stephen Harper’s worst nightmare” if elected - you’d have every right to be apoplectic right about now, especially with it all playing out just two weeks after you voted for the guy. And imagine how angry Conservative voters must be.
Still, you have to feel just a little for a guy who clearly never even saw it coming. Emerson appears to have had no idea that people were going to be outraged at his transforming into a Tory mere days after they voted him in as a Liberal. He was, as my elderly ex-pat Scots uncle might say, gob-smacked.
It’s no defence, of course. But Emerson being gob-smacked by the public reaction to his defection is the really interesting part of the story. How could a smart guy like him not know what would happen to a man who was elected on a platform of hating Conservatives, only to become one himself two weeks later?
It would all be quite unbelievable, were it not for the fact that Emerson barely has a whit of actual political experience. His background is in the background - as a deputy minister, and then a well-regarded businessman. The possibility of being voted off the island isn’t something he’s had to consider.
And so Emerson fell on his face, and in grand fashion. He may function well in his own world, but that wasn’t where he was operating. So when Prime Minister Stephen Harper asked him to dump his newfound Liberal friends and be a Conservative cabinet minister instead, Emerson appears to have given nary a thought to the tremendous political price he would pay for his indifferent betrayal of voters.
Finding the middle ground between running the business of Canada while still respecting a democratic process isn’t easy. Governments have a great deal to learn from people whose skills lie outside of politics, and a guy like Emerson is an obvious choice for cabinet if you’re looking for someone who knows how to run things.
But Canada isn’t the corner office. The voter ultimately chooses.
In this case, they did choose Emerson, but as a Liberal. Did he think the political principles he was espousing during the election campaign were nothing more than words from his mouth? In a way, both parties perhaps encouraged that in him, because first one and then the other recruited him with little concern for whether his political beliefs - and really, what ARE his political beliefs? - were genuinely aligned with theirs.
And now here we are, probably heading into a Vancouver byelection if the momentum keeps building. Emerson is sweating it out every day in the headlines, each new story citing somebody else who’s really, really mad at him. He’ll certainly never underestimate the power of political displeasure again.
No one wants to see democracy threatened by political parties too arrogant to play by the rules. But at the same time, it’s unfortunate that our political system leaves us to be governed by whoever wins the popularity contest, because we sure could use some business smarts in the way we run our country. Running this business of Canada requires vision, wisdom and heart, and that may come down to being able to bring in fresh talent like Emerson without having to ensure he also passes muster politically.
But if Emerson’s skills are needed at the federal cabinet table, that’s a problem to be solved by Canadians addressing it directly. A tweak here, a tweak there - we’d be able to figure out how to do things differently. Bring it on.
Disenfranchising thousands of voters, on the other hand, is exactly how not to do it.
And that is what will linger about the defection. Whatever his intention, Emerson’s astounding inability to consider the wrath of his voters - and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s disregard for his party faithful - speaks to the great gulf that has developed between the government and Canadians.
The leaders of our country went ahead with their carefully laid plans as if Canadians’ opinions on any of it mattered not at all. Surely they have to know why we might be mad about that.
Offensive cartoons
Feb. 9, 2006

Nobody deserves to die over an editorial cartoon. However disturbing a cartoon may be, the fallout should never include riots, police killings and self-immolation.
Still, it’s just as outrageous to categorize the disastrous turn of events this month unleashed by a Danish newspaper as being about freedom of expression.
Such an important right requires an equal measure of responsibility. Any newspaper that thinks it’s OK in this day and age to run a spread of humiliating editorial cartoons about the Muslim prophet Muhammad has clearly forgotten how to strike the balance.
There’s the finest of lines separating freedom of expression from hatred, and a civil society ought to always be paying mind to it. Restrict freedom of expression and a country loses its ability to challenge its own systems and values. Loosen the reins completely and some really offensive stuff gets through under the guise of free speech.
My partner and I have agreed to disagree on this point, because he believes in virtually absolute freedom of expression. You’ll know that argument by the loathsome nature of the cases that set precedent - they always seem to be about unpleasant subjects like yesterday’s war criminals, or people trying to get Nazism going again. Or pornography. For freedom-of-expression diehards, it’s all or nothing.
Me, I view the issue a little differently. Yes, a civil society ought to grant all of us the right to speak out about what’s on our mind. But that’s not to say that the speaker is excused from having to act responsibly. With world temperaments being what they are at the moment, it’s just plain irresponsible to set out to mock the Muslim prophet. Freedom of expression is no defence.
Muhammad was portrayed in one of the Danish cartoon series as having a bomb in his turban, and in another as humorously panicking over the shortage of virgins given the rush of suicide bombers making their way toward a blissful afterlife.
Is that fair comment? Or is it hateful?
We’re not exactly the protester type here in Canada, so I won’t for a minute speculate as to whether any editorial cartoon could ever rouse us to burst from our houses in vast numbers to protest. But I think that’s partly because we’ve already put some voluntary restrictions around freedom of expression in Canada.
Try, for instance, to conjure up any editorial cartoon in your lifetime mocking Jesus in some really mean and humiliating way. Could be that it proves nothing at all, of course, other than Jesus not being a popular cartooning subject. Or maybe a contemptuous collection of Jesus cartoons is an example of the outer limit - the place where it’s not OK for a newspaper to go.
Consider this cartoon scenario if you will: Jesus, provocatively leading a boy up the stairs. His cartoon face is turned to humorously catch the eye of a new priest witnessing the scene. “Remember your vow of chastity!” the cutline might read.
Accompanying the cartoon, 11 more of similar flavour. And all of them in a newspaper with a history already for mixing it up with Christians.
I could see cartoons like that turning people upside down, just like the Muhammad ones are doing now in Muslim nations. I can’t think of a Canadian newspaper of any repute that would even consider publishing such cartoons on their editorial pages. Yes, they’ve got the right to do it if they want to, but they choose not to - which is exactly how it should be in a society that accepts both the rights and responsibilities of something as powerful as freedom of expression.
The hateful writings of the late Doug Collins, a North Vancouver columnist, were always being seized upon by “freedom” groups arguing the importance of freedom of expression. The columns were nasty, spiteful little diatribes against Jews, ethnic minorities, women and gays, and Collins slowly poisoned the well for years with them.
My own opinions aside, you can’t ban a writer like Collins, because the right to say ugly things really is important. But that still leaves newspapers free to choose whether to run those columns, or to give a guy like Collins a forum for his bitter musings. Just because a person’s got something to say doesn’t mean it’s worth listening to.
True, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten couldn’t have known quite how crazy things would go, or that 20 newspapers around the world would feed the fire by republishing the same cartoons. Still, here we are, caught up in a truly global predicament because a right-of-centre newspaper has fed the world hatred masquerading as free speech.
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” said French philosopher Voltaire.
Most definitely. But best to keep one eye on that very thin line.
Jan. 28, 2006

It would take much more than a mere 800 words to muse on what causes a person to look at the world a certain way, while another looks at it completely differently. Wars are fought over just such a thing, and human history is littered with the debris of the various solitudes bashing into one another.
But it’s certainly the great tragedy of the human condition. Our differences are always getting in the way. Whatever size the stage - a neighbourhood zoning dispute, a global crisis - each of us sees the world so differently as to find it inexplicable that others might see it otherwise.
Even when we agree long enough to actually solve problems, we seek reasons to disagree over the answers. Case in point: the news this week that British Columbians’ measurable health is the best in Canada, even while many of us believe that our health system is serving us poorly. Is the problem a disconnect between those who set health-care policy and their subjects? Or is it merely just more evidence of the contrarianism that defines our species?
The trouble is, the indecision is making a real hash of things. Not surprisingly, a fractious bunch of people with disparate views and short attention spans don’t do so well at the hard and painstaking work of building nations. So world events unfold as if fated, when in fact they’re merely the result of sloppy planning and a lack of consensus.
It’s the reason we’re still talking about whether people should be given the right to manage their own deaths - 20 years after Sue Rodriguez gave the last years of her life to an ultimately fruitless attempt to move the cause forward. And it’s why women in our own communities still have to work outside in the dark, where they can continue to be killed and beaten at breathtaking pace.
It’s why people are piling up on our streets despite more than two decades of talking about the need to act, and why most of the health reforms of the late 1980s targeting the region’s seniors fell apart a few years later. In a system where governments move in and out on waves of political favour and entrenched world views, no effort on any front can be sustained long enough for genuine systemic change.
As we learned during the federal election, even vital rights reforms like gay marriage can be shelved at any time in a country like ours. We congratulate ourselves for one step forward, but the possibility of two steps back is always close at hand.
Standing on such shifting sands makes me fear the futility of trying to make the world a better place, because there’s nothing saying that any of it will survive past a few years of earnest but unsustainable effort. On the other hand, to stop believing that dramatic reform is forever is too unsettling to contemplate.
I continue to wait for the revolution, and am discouraged that it seems to be nowhere in sight. I used to think women were going to be the ones to lead the charge, but the wind went out of that sail pretty fast, for reasons probably having to do with a generation of good feminists growing older, getting happy, and just not having the mojo anymore for a fight that the larger women’s community never showed much interest in.
Disparate views divide women as well, of course. We’re no better than men at reaching long-term consensus. We take up positions as rigidly as any man, and fight just as bitterly to stop those who don’t share our views. Even if we’d figured out by now how to rule the world, I suspect we’d still be hampered in our efforts by the collision of a number of strongly held female viewpoints out there as to how things ought to be done.
What’s a country to do? To begin with, acknowledge it. People think differently, even in a country as relatively cohesive as Canada. The reason the guy down the street drives you crazy is exactly the same reason why you drive him crazy: You disagree. He sees black and you see white, and each of you are baffled by the other.
We lose too much time to that bafflement. That and futile attempts to convince others to share our beliefs eat up years that would be much better spent in solving whatever problem has us worried.
We can wring our hands about Iran’s nuclear capability, or we can find our way to a new global agreement that recognizes how much every one of us has at stake on this issue. We can entrench ourselves a little deeper over the roots of homelessness, or we can get over it and start working on thoughtful, long-term policies that might actually address the problem.
Maybe we’ll never agree. But for the sake of the world, we do have to act.