Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Good column this morning from TC writer Paul Willcocks, who notes the correlation with income levels in the HST vote. It really is unsettling to see what has happened in B.C. - having grown up on the Island, I too share a memory of young people of my generation having much more of a chance of finding a decent-paying job, buying a house and having a "good" life.
I got married for the first time when I was 17, a fact that might signal a life on welfare in this day and age. Happily, my husband had a great job at the Campbell River mill. We had two cars, a cabin that we owned on the beach (!) in Royston, and within a couple of years had moved up to a new house in a nearby subdivision.
My two oldest kids have managed to buy into the housing market in the Comox Valley, but they're 37 and 34, so of a previous generation themselves. And it has certainly stretched them to be homeowners regardless.
My youngest child, in her mid-20s and living in Victoria, doesn't stand a chance of buying here. The ratio between an average British Columbian's income and housing prices has lost all proportion.
It's so discouraging, to be of the generation that did this.

Monday, August 29, 2011

This study from the Canadian Centre for Police Alternatives puts some figures to a trend that many of us have already figured out - the tax burden has shifted significantly in B.C. in the last 10 years in ways that leave high earners paying less and the poorest paying more. Not too surprising that voters defeated the HST given that reality.
When taxes decrease for people with higher incomes, it also has a disproportionate effect on the tax base. A one or two per cent tax reduction on an income of, say, $300,000 is significantly more of a loss than can ever be made up through a corresponding one or two per cent increase for the province's lowest earners.
What does it mean for the rest of us? Less money for government-funded services, the risk of rising social disorder, government spending at the most expensive end of the scale due to the savings of today morphing into the ballooning costs of tomorrow.
With reduced investment in preventive services and strategies due to sinking tax revenues,  future generations can expect to spend much more covering the increased costs for health care, courts, police and jails once all those people who aren't getting the help they need now run into major problems down the line.
Yeah, yeah - heard it all a million times before. But only because it's true. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A different take on the issue of human trafficking - which, as this professor points out, is a phrase that tends to bring out emotional prose, gigantic numbers and no real evidence that it really is the major problem everyone says it is.
I'd hate to be considered pro-trafficking, because that would be just plain weird, but I do think it's one of those issues we use to justify throwing money into initiatives that sound good until you realize they're not actually helping anyone other than the people paid to do them.
Yes, there are vulnerable people out there trapped in horrible situations. But maybe we should be figuring out how to help them instead of chasing ghosts. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

I know everyone's posting this wonderful letter from the late Jack Layton, but what the heck - I want it on my blog, too. It's just a lovely sentiment to keep close. Bye, Jack. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Be careful what you wish for around gaming grants

When the New Democrats first turned aggressive about gambling in the mid-1990s, they knew they had to tread lightly.
The public was nervous, as were B.C. charities. With their long history of running bingos, special-event casinos, poker nights and raffles to fund community services, they were worried about government’s plans to turn gambling into a new provincial revenue stream.
The charities put up quite a fight in the late 1990s. But despite those valiant efforts, it’s pretty obvious in 2011 who has won this battle.
When a group of the charities formed the B.C. Association of Charitable Gambling and signed a memorandum of understanding with the province in 1999, charities were guaranteed a third of the pot for distribution as grants to non-profits doing good community work.
That lasted about as long as it took for the government of the day and every government since then to forget that there ever was such an arrangement. Twelve years later, just 12 per cent of net revenues are distributed as grants, and earnings from charity-run gaming events are down more than 60 per cent.
Gaming grossed a record $2 billion in the last fiscal year. Just $159 million went to non-profits, the smallest dollar amount in 10 years.
There’s a review of the community gaming grant process underway in B.C. right now, led by former Kwantlen College president Skip Triplett. He’s looking to hear from people on how they think gaming revenue should be used, and what kinds of non-profit groups should get priority. 
It’s not going to be one of those things that will catch much public attention. But I know of at least 6,000 B.C. non-profits that will be riveted. Gaming has become the go-to funding source for community groups in this decade of social famine. They rely heavily on those year-to-year grants for thousands of community services, from food banks and youth outreach services to sports camps for kids with disabilities.
Flipping through the years of gaming data on the Public Safety and Solicitor General’s Web site, I don’t know what to hope for from Triplett’s report, due Oct. 31.
Should we root for a larger share of gaming revenue to go to non-profits? That sounds like a good thing, until you get to thinking about how that could play out.
The province might, for instance, take that to mean that all other avenues of government funding to community groups could be reduced now that charitable groups were being given a larger share of gaming dollars. The current government has been particularly bloody-minded when it comes to cutting the legs out from under community services.
Equally disturbing is the prospect of charities growing so dependent on gaming revenue that they get excited about ways to “grow the business” so they can earn even more.
That’s the position municipalities now find themselves in after government cleverly started cutting them into the profits as a bribe for allowing a casino within their borders.
For community groups, that level of hypocrisy just might be too much. Some are far too familiar with the impact of problem gambling on people’s lives, a not-uncommon scenario on the front lines of B.C.’s social problems.
That’s the thing about gambling as a government revenue stream. We tell ourselves it’s all about happy tourists flooding into our towns and cities for a weekend of fun gambling, but most gambling dollars come straight out of the pockets of British Columbians, many of whom can’t afford to give them up.
Or Triplett could decide after his 14-community tour of B.C. that non-profits shouldn’t have any claim on gaming funds, and that all the money should go into - health care, say, or debt reduction.
Alas, that would be disastrous in a whole other way. Our community services have been left too long to fill in program gaps with gambling revenue to be able to take a hit like that. Gaming grants are the threads holding together an increasingly frayed social safety net.
Triplett wants to hear from British Columbians about their priorities for gambling revenue. I hope he knows what a loaded question that is.
Community groups are already being pitted against each other in a struggle for most-worthy status for the purpose of gaming grants. If there were ever “frill” programs in the mix, they’re long gone.
We’re now talking services for foster kids versus elementary-school sports groups. Parent Advisory Committees against community theatre. Disabled youth against impoverished women. Good luck, Mr. Triplett.
Please take this rare opportunity to share your opinion on community gaming grants. If we have to have government-run gambling, let’s at least help government put more thought into how we use the money. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Not too surprised to see the Farewell Foundation lost its first attempt to get Canada's assisted-suicide laws struck down. The group clearly has passion for the issue, but the judge made it clear they'll need more than that if they want to proceed - they'll need someone with a terminal illness willing to be their modern-day Sue Rodriguez.
Keep an eye on Joe Arvay's case coming up in November, though. That second assisted-suicide case is much more similar to the Rodriguez one, involving  a B.C. woman dying of ALS trying to do the same thing Rodriguez tried in 1993 - to die with dignity when the time comes. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Thank you, thank you, Warren Buffet, our go-to guy when we need sane comment from the super-rich. It hadn't escaped my attention that sacrifice and belt-tightening are words governments direct only at the lower income classes.
Sure, the rich will be able to afford bigger compounds and better weapons when it all goes sideways for good, but I can't believe they're any happier than the rest of us at where things are going. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

It's rough out there, but don't turn away

I made my way through the grim headlines flooding in from all sources this week, feeling anxious at the sheer abundance of bad news. The unanswered questions leaped out in every direction - no shortage of column fodder. But could I really bear to know more about any of it?
It’s a big question. There are days when it would be so appealing to just shut the door on trying to understand anything about anything.
Why the Air France pilots didn’t hear the “stall” alarm. What it means that the U.S. is falling apart. Why London is beset by violent riots. Why people are starving to death, struggling, hurting each other.
There are cheerier things to think about, so why wouldn’t we? But then I get to thinking about what would happen if we genuinely quit concerning ourselves with the problems of our world.
A lot of people seem to find that an appealing option. I just read about a mega-wealthy U.S. woman noted for the staggering amounts of fans she has attracted with her blog about cowboy life on her mega-ranch, with a spouse she calls the Marlboro Man.
She sells a fantasy, not this gritty, messy and unpredictable thing we call reality. She’s all country living, home-schooling and good food for your man. You won’t find any images of cadaverous Somali toddlers on a blog like that.
Over here in Reality Land, things aren’t so sunny. We live in a fast-flowing tide of world events, fed to us in real time through all the electronic gadgetry that now connects us to the events of this stressed-out, troubled world.
And with all that news comes a feeling: Wouldn’t my life be better if I didn’t know about all of this?
No wonder people check out. I regularly talk to friends who I once considered informed, but who now don’t have a clue about what’s going on outside of their immediate circles. They’re not paying attention at any level unless it directly involves them or their family.
Like I say, I can see the draw of that sometimes. Ignorance really can be bliss, at least until disaster strikes.
But what will happen if too many of us turn away from the pressing issues of the day? Who will be left to solve the problems?
Consider the case of the Air France jet crash, for instance. The inquiry going on right now into that fatal crash in 2009 has the feel of one of those distant stories from a land far away - a tragic event with little relevance to most of our lives.
Except that vast numbers of us rely on jet travel all the time. We put our lives directly into the hands of men just like those poor befuddled souls in the cockpit of Flight AF447. Whatever happened in the cockpit that day, every air traveller in the world has a personal stake in understanding it.
Good-news proponents would point to all the flights that never crashed that day as a better story. And they’ve got a point. Most planes don’t crash.
But this one did. And because the world’s information gatherers jumped on the inquiry as a story, we know much more about what went wrong - with how the pilots were prepared for the unthinkable, the way the stall alarm sounded, the confusion around communications and decision-making in those frightening final moments.
It’s an anxiety-inducing story. You can’t fault any frequent flyer for thinking that news about planeloads of relaxed passengers landing uneventfully would be preferable.
Unfortunately, focusing on what’s going right doesn’t change what’s going wrong. Bad news might be a downer, but it’s how we identify and address problems.  
There’s definitely such a thing as too much bad news, mind you.
Crime has been on the decline for years in Canada, particularly among youth. But one-off stories of individual crimes around the world still dominate the news.
The result: We waste our time electing governments that pander to our fears with promises of getting “tough on crime.” Not surprisingly, that just gets us more jails - and none of the social programs of 15 and 20 years ago that actually brought about the current drop in crime.
If you need a break from the gloom, by all means take one. Even cowgirls get the blues.
But please come back when you’re feeling better. The world needs you.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Here's a strongly worded comment piece from the Guardian on the London riots. It will really be quite a tragedy if government genuinely can't see the role that spending cuts and social policy played on creating the perfect climate for these riots.
Are they so married to their dogma that they'd rather see the riots as a random outburst of criminality among their young citizens - which truly would be a frightening development - instead of the highly predictable, preventable outcome of poverty, disenfranchisement and the absence of hope that it actually was? Now that's sad. 

Monday, August 08, 2011

Could willpower be the missing link in why some succeed and others don't? Check out this intriguing read on the subject. And wouldn't you know it - it's all about those preschool years, and how your genetics combines with your upbringing. But all is not lost if that period of your life wasn't so great, as they've done an experiment briefly detailed here that shows that a couple weeks of brushing your teeth with the wrong hand can kick-start a little willpower.
My partner's singing "Lady Willpower" now due to reading over my shoulder. Alas, that song's just about Gary Puckett and the Union Gap's seeming obsession with songs about trying to guilt young women into making out with him/them. 

Friday, August 05, 2011

The long wait for an easier death

“No consensus can be found in favour of the decriminalization of assisted suicide. To the extent that there is a consensus, it is that human life must be respected.”
With those words, Supreme Court Justice John Sopinka ended any hope Sue Rodriguez had of using her own death to change Canadian laws around assisted suicide. She got the word on Sept. 29, 1993, and less than five months later ended her life the old-fashioned way - illegally, helped along by a doctor who has never been publicly identified.
And for the most part, that has been that. A few criminal cases alleging assisted suicide pop up in the media from time to time, but little has changed. Imagine what the courageous Rodriguez might have to say if she’d lived long enough to see that we’d still be paralyzed over assisted suicide 18 years later.
But suddenly the issue is back in the news, with two different proponents now preparing to push challenges through Canada’s court system.
Lawyer Joe Arvay, acting on behalf of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, is representing Gloria Taylor. Like Rodriguez, the B.C. woman has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and wants the right to have someone assist her with her death when the time comes.
 Meanwhile, the Farewell Foundation for the Right to Die - a New Westminster group headed by a veteran of the right-to-die movement - is using its failed attempt to become a non-profit as reason for a constitutional challenge.
Foundation director and B.C. criminologist Russel Ogden has been in the media off and on for years as an advocate of assisted suicide, pursuing the issue with such intensity that it sometimes lands him in trouble with his college and university bosses. He’s got a clip on YouTube demonstrating how to kill yourself with helium.
He and Arvay both contend that much has changed since Rodriguez’s case, and that a legal challenge will have more traction this time around.
I’m not so sure.  Canadians still haven’t had a real conversation about the right to die.
Yes, more countries have changed their laws in the years since Rodriguez’s court fight. Their experiences have demonstrated that legalizing assisted suicide need not tear a society apart.  Oregon legalized assisted suicide the same year Rodriguez died, and in almost two decades only a scant 400 Oregonians - mostly older people with cancer - have chosen that option.
But if the incredibly affecting Rodriguez wasn’t enough to galvanize a country, I don’t know what the odds are for a challenge built around non-profit status. Perhaps Arvay will have more luck, although his goal of seeing Taylor’s challenge settled by November seems out of reach.
The Farewell Foundation was denied non-profit status in March by the B.C. Registrar of Companies, which noted in its decision that no organization whose purpose is criminal - in this case, assisting people to die - can be incorporated under the Society Act.
The foundation is leveraging that rejection into a larger fight about the constitutionality of the assisted-suicide laws. Its case in a nutshell: The activities of the Farewell Foundation are in fact lawful because the laws related to assisted suicide are themselves “unlawful.” 
(And if that doesn’t work, the foundation also filed a civil suit against the Attorney General of Canada challenging the constitutionality of the assisted-suicide prohibition.)
I watched old CBC footage of Rodriguez this week in news clips from the months before her death. I’d forgotten what an amazing advocate she was - so open and well-spoken, lighting up the screen with her big smile even in the late stages of a disease that was slowly taking away her every function.
If charisma had anything to do with whether justice prevailed, Rodriguez would have won her case hands down. The Farewell Foundation is taking things in a different direction, with an approach that will be a tougher sell with a public that still hasn’t sorted out its feelings around the right to die.
It could be that the concept of dying with dignity will find more traction this time around. The politically powerful baby boomer generation was perhaps too young during Rodriguez’s time to care much about the issues she was raising. That’s no longer the case.
A 2010 poll confirmed what other polls over the years have repeatedly found: That a majority of Canadians want assisted suicide legalized. But the missed opportunity of 1993 still hangs over us, and it seems we never quite want it enough.    

Thursday, August 04, 2011

No disrespect intended to Times Colonist reporter Katie DeRosa, but what exactly has B.C.'s human-trafficking office been doing with its $500,000 annual budget, anyway?
What got me the most about this agency back in the days when I was at PEERS (and am again, so maybe that's why I'm so het up) was that it was ostensibly fighting the great scourge of human trafficking in B.C. even while the far greater risk was to the garden-variety outdoor sex workers on B.C.'s strolls and working invisibly in a thousand different venues around the province.
We spent $2.25 million on this office in the last four years, apparently to help 100 people. It kills me to think how that money could have been used for real needs rather than for chasing ghosts.
You'd think that with all the sex workers I'd met over the years in B.C., I might have met one who'd been trafficked at some point in her life. Nope.
Hey, maybe it's just coincidence. Or maybe it just seemed easier to fund an office of civil servants than to actually help vulnerable people, who rarely present as the perfect victims that we conjure when we hear the term "human trafficking."
Don't get me wrong - human trafficking is a terrible thing. But if you've got $500,000 a year to spend on helping vulnerable people in B.C., would this be it? Now we just have to hope the savings from this cut get redirected to helping the many vulnerable people in our province. 

Monday, August 01, 2011

The latest survey from AskMen seems to prove the old adage about how the more things change, the more they stay the same. But really, who would actually expect basic behaviours and attitudes around sex and relationships to have changed that much?
Yes, I suppose it's a little disappointing to see that the men who would consider having office affairs would do so only if the woman was in a lower work position than they were, but were you to ask the same question of women, I suspect they'd mostly be aiming up. Is that better?