Appeared in North Shore News – September 17, 2010
Let’s get serious. Our family grocery bill for August was $1,091.25.
My wife was shocked when she added up the figures. We have never budgeted. I always considered budgeting beneath the dignity of West Vancouver residents.
Little levity there. But I genuinely can’t figure out how a lot of “average” Canadians are making ends meet these days. I cite our own grocery bills only because they are handy and embarrass no one but my unembarrassable self.
To be sure, the $1,100-odd includes the bill for spirituous liquors and wine ($136.99), which I consider part of a healthy person’s proper diet.
But it excludes some cash outlays, like for fresh produce at the one-man farmer’s market off West Vancouver’s 31st Street near Marine Drive. And our supermarket purchases don’t involve expensive cuts of meat. We are quasi-vegetarians, in recent months becoming more quasi, guiltily slipping from our principles.
The final figure, excluding a couple of restaurant meals, is somewhere north of $1,200.
Some readers will retort that we’re living enviably high off the hog.
Others, who buy deliriously expensive cheeses, not Safeway’s excellent-value white cheddar ($1.79 per hundred grams) like us, and consider $25 wines their everyday plonk, derisive of the four-litre boxes we buy, might feel so sorry for us that they’ll quietly leave a donation at our door. (A friend warmly advocated a new brand of gin costing “only pennies more” than the Gordon’s, Beefeater, Gilbey’s I buy. It turned out to be almost twice as expensive as those common gins.)
The media report on “the economy” and use terms like “the recession” and quote the official “inflation rate” — a figure so patently bogus, so ridiculously selective (real estate, for good example, excluded), that a government that’s supposed to be open and democratic should be ashamed of it. It’s as cooked as statistics from dictatorships. Ottawa has a hard-eyed interest in keeping the numbers artificially low, partly to restrain indexed pensions and other outlays.
Those stuffy phrases, solemn talking-heads on TV, radio interviews, business-page stories and op-ed page pieces don’t reveal the subjective truth for many Canadians — the truth of the kitchen, you might say.
Behind closed doors, even on the affluent North Shore, there has surely been a lot of pulling in of belts, perhaps literally, since the “recession” (another stiff-lipped word) struck a couple of years ago and hasn’t departed for many people. There’s a story behind every old woman or man picking out coins from a change purse for a few small items at the supermarket checkout.
I went through our own costs.
First, the family census is like an accordion, membership expanding and contracting irregularly. The core members are two people, two dogs, a cat, and two birds, the latter apparently aiming for the Guinness book’s longevity record. (Pets are awesomely expensive. A woman walking her tiny poopsie at Ambleside Beach the other day casually mentioned that she paid $87 a month for pet health insurance.)
In August, we had all three of our young-adult children at home, raising the usual grocery bill. One bunked in to take a two-week professional course — alarmingly expensive: In my youth it could have paid almost the entire four-year undergraduate tuition for all three children.
The finance ministers, the chief economists for the banks, the experts of the Conference Board of Canada and the C. D. Howe Institute (named for a politician who once famously sneered “What’s a million?” — which now seems remarkably prophetic) are still largely insulated from the storm, like wealthy journalists such as me.
But there are a lot of anxious faces out there, especially outside of anomalous Vancouver — people living pension/paycheque to pension/paycheque. That’s to say nothing of the educated young, many under-employed if they’re employed at all. My young financial adviser suggests investing in Chinese bonds. Can you believe?
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Last week I gently invited the North Shore’s four Liberals MLAs — much-liked Ralph Sultan, mediocrity Joan McIntyre, nice newcomer Naomi Yamamoto, and already baggage-laden Jane Thornthwaite — to state their views on the leadership of the premier. No responses so far. None likely after the most recent turn of events.
If they weren’t done like dinner before, Gordon Campbell and the B.C. Liberals he’s dragging with him are toast for the next election — to mix culinary metaphors.
Campbell’s lackeys’ decision to submit the Harmonized Sales Tax issue to a $30-million referendum rather than face up to a free vote in the legislature is — I never dreamt I’d write this — more disgraceful than anything the New Democrats did in power. An informed public debate and submitting the HST to the legislature initially would have settled the matter. A whole year of confusion and tax-influenced strategies, not to mention an expanding pay-cash-no-tax marketplace, lies ahead.
In the next election, the Liberals — notwithstanding their many good earlier initiatives — deserve to drop somewhere behind the Radical Vegetarian Party.
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A reader scolds me for the item knocking the RCMP for shrugging off a dangerous Squamish reserve crack house as a problem for the natives to deal with.
“While I certainly sympathize with the natives living near this crack house with the inherent low-lifes and criminals that frequent it,” he writes, “it must be pointed out that for decades the native reserves have been pushing the white man’s enforcement and punishment out of their communities, and have been implementing their own ‘healing’ processes. The natives cannot expect to have their cake and eat it, too.”
A well-taken point and heartily conceded, allowing that it isn’t just them. Every group, every human being who treads the earth wants to have their cake and eat it too, and make bread pudding out of the crumbs.
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What a good idea — creating a 3-D image of a child playing ball on the road approaching Ecole Pauline Johnson, startling drivers with a sober slow-down message.
It’s amusing that this brought more attention to West Vancouver, including coverage by CNN in the U.S., than much weightier matters.
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As governments age they become stupider — unlike old journalists, who just keep getting smarter. Why Stephen Harper chose to drop the compulsory long-census form, and stubbornly won’t back up, would baffle the best minds. Months have passed and the issue won’t go away.
Worse, the government was caught out in falsely claiming that making the long form voluntary was Statistics Canada’s proposal. The angry, principled resignation of chief statistician Munir Sheikh sank the government narrative.
What no one seems to have noticed is the human factor. Some people like telling all about themselves. They’re flattered. Workplace analysts long ago learned that employees feel a rise in esteem when they see their work is important enough to be studied. It’s like the thrill of seeing your name in print, though I can’t see the magic of it myself.
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Extra, extra, read all about it! West Vancouver sports writer makes history!
Jim Taylor, already in three sports halls of fame and with an earlier national lifetime achievement award, becomes the first sports writer to receive the coveted Bruce Hutchison Award for his life’s toil in what its denizens cynically call “the toy department.” In fact some of the best journalists began, and some stayed, in sports.
Coincidentally, Taylor’s 14th book, And to Think I Got in Free! Highlights from Fifty Years on the Sports Beat (Harbour Publishing), soon will appear at bookstores near you.
Little inside joke in the first para. CKNW lavishly reported Taylor’s triumph. No ink at all at this writing in the two downtown dailies, where Taylor wrote for a total of 30 years.
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Speculation in legal circles is hot at this writing about who should head the Pickton inquiry. Here’s a suggestion: If she’s available, retired B.C. Appeal Court Justice Mary Southin.
© Trevor Lautens, 2010