Sunday, December 21, 2008

It's good news week

Even a doomsayer like me has to let up once in a while, and the Christmas season generally feels like the time to do it. Maybe it’s all those songs about peace and goodwill.
At any rate, I’ve dug up some nuggets of good news to share with you this festive season.
I admit, my initial instinct was to add a “but” to every one of them, because it seems that every upside has a downside in these problematic times. But for the sake of a holly, jolly column, I’m going to try to keep my gloomy inner voice in check for a change and tell you about what’s working.

The B.C. government is awakening to the problems of homelessness. Four of the six news releases on the Ministry of Housing and Social Development Web site this week detail actions being taken to house or shelter people living on B.C. streets.
Better still, work is underway on 19 old hotels in the Vancouver area to turn them into better housing for the impoverished people who already live there, plus add new units for some of the thousands still living on Vancouver’s streets. Sure, it’s probably because of the Olympics, but who cares?

Four “StrongStart” preschool programs launched this week in B.C. The new programs, available to any B.C. school district that wants to give them a try, are designed to help children get off to a better start when they begin kindergarten.
All the studies point to the importance of those early years in determining a child’s future well-being, so it’s great to hear that we’re paying more attention to that vital period of development. Parents and children attend the free drop-ins together.

We’re trying to be more effective at preventing youth crime. We’ve been talking about this issue like we meant it for a very long time. But what’s different about the latest initiative in B.C. is that it’s evidence-based.
In other words, researchers have actually evaluated the new strategies that will be piloted in six communities and deemed that they really do work when it comes to keeping kids away from a life of crime. The first pilot targets Vancouver children ages 10 to 15 who tend to take their first steps into crime after long hours hanging out with other youth at the city’s SkyTrain stations.
Too often, we tend to take people’s word for it when they seek public funding for “prevention” programs. We don’t ask whether the methods are actually effective, or require those running the programs to produce meaningful evidence that show their approach is working. If we really want to prevent B.C. children from getting involved in crime, that has to change.

Fewer Canadian children are going to jail. Credit the five-year-old Youth Criminal Justice Act for that positive change. Studies have repeatedly shown that jailing young people sets them up for criminal involvement as adults, but it wasn’t until revamped young-offender laws were enacted in 2003 that Canada’s courts started changing their sentencing patterns.
The number of youth doing jail sentences has dropped by 36 per cent since the act was passed into law. The past year alone saw a five per cent drop.

Almost half of Canadians are leading a “very” environmentally active lifestyle. Some 45 per cent of us routinely adhere to at least four of six indicators around good environmental practise, and another 45 per cent manage two or three. We’re turning down our thermostats, using low-flow toilets and showerheads, switching to fluorescent bulbs, composting and recycling.
Unfortunately, we’ve got ways to go. Canada’s household greenhouse gas emissions are up 13 per cent since 1990, with motor-fuel use alone contributing to almost a third of that increase. Oops.

Speaking of gas, it’s cheaper. These are happy days for drivers, if not for the environment. Gas prices in October were almost 12 per cent lower than they were in September, and they’ve fallen even more since then. Granted, energy costs are still 14 per cent higher than they were a year ago, but hey, enjoy the “savings” while you can.
Overall, it’s costing you 10.5 per cent more to run your car now than a year ago. But at least the cost of buying a new one is down nine per cent.
B.C. leads the nation in the growth of small business. Economic diversity is what minimizes the ravages of a downturn, so let’s be grateful for the more than 385,000 small businesses that together account for a third of B.C.’s gross domestic product. Show them that you care by doing business with them.

Merry Christmas, folks. May all your news be good.

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