Appeared in North Shore News – January 7, 2011
The year 2010 had countless stories, a cast of billions in walk-on parts, and a few people in starring roles. Among them:
AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DISASTERS
Great minds are unsure — lesser minds are more confident — whether planet Earth is really being buffeted by more earthquakes, drought, floods, freakish storms and other natural disasters, omens of approaching environmental planetary death, or if they’re just being reported with lightning speed and pictures that don’t need developing in the old-technology darkroom. They’re in your face before the six o’clock news, and the print edition of daily newspapers are becoming mere flyers tipping readers to the blogs and ever-changing digital news on smaller and smaller screens.
So are things getting worse, or just better reported? News of the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 took months to spread. Some people still haven’t heard of it. The Darwin Times missed the big story when the first bit of primal ooze crept ashore and, through the magic of natural selection, eventually became Lady Gaga. Earth has had a rocky history, as any archaeologist can tell you.
A PENNY AND A HALF FOR YOUR THOUGHTS
A poll suggests that 55 per cent of Canadians want to get rid of the penny. It is reported that our penny costs about a cent and a half to make.
Some open-line callers claim pennies are a nuisance. They just throw them away. I suspect these are precisely the same financial morons who blow their money on stupid toys and stupider pursuits, live credit-card-payment-to-credit-card-payment, and can’t save a nickel — the natural prey of banks and other roving carnivores.
The penny of course is just the canary in the mine. Next, the nickel the morons can’t save either. Then the dime etc., all eaten up by the inflation and political interference that eventually destroy every currency. Remember the French franc, the German mark?
I most remember the Italian lira. In 1954 the lira traded at about 1,100 to the dollar. I bought my first pizza ever in Naples — 35 lira. I was astonished to learn that lira meant pound. The British pound was then worth $3. A single lira had been so hammered almost into worthlessness that only the American Express and banks actually gave you lira coins when you cashed a cheque. Stores gave you a couple of matches or tiny candies instead of change.
I stand by my long-held prediction: It will all end badly.
THE REAL GOLD RUSH
Speaking of copper: Never mind the rise in the price of gold, a continuing 2010 story. Where was my broker when huge B.C. copper producer Teck Resources dived to the $5 range in the 2008-09 distress? It’s since taken wing to $60. A twelvefold rise. How many saw a great opportunity to buy into a solid company? Coulda, woulda, shoulda.
THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG-DISTANCE DEFICIT
Olympics impresario John Furlong announced, with characteristic modesty, that Vancouver-Whistler’s big show of 2010 was no Big Owe, Montreal-style — it broke even on its $1.9 billion operating budget. Applause! Furlong for premier! Furlong for God!
Er, but the operating budget of course didn’t include federal and provincial taxpayers’ multi-billions for security and to build the venues, the Canada Line rapid transit, and the Sea-to-Sky upgrade.
The bill also doesn’t cover the hide of the pale pachyderm of the Olympic Village that left Millennium Development Corp. and Vancouver taxpayers equally on the ropes for its apparently vastly overpriced condos. That teetering project backed up into default proceedings against West Vancouver-based Millennium’s Evelyn Living project on Taylor Way. (“Told you so!” shrewd West Van political and financial chap Neil McIver cried, in so many words.)
Earlier figures showed that Winter Olympics 2010 drew more B.C. and fewer offshore visitors than projected, and also that only a small knot of downtown Vancouver businesses enjoyed a solid uptick. Most suburbs — nada.
Swell party, though.
THE LONG ARM AND SMALL BRAIN OF THE LAW
This one features the Port Coquitlam bylaw officer who shut down a 12-year-old boy’s lemonade stand. Has his promotion come through yet?
Actually not a snafu — an act of appalling deliberation. Mary Elizabeth Bale became pin-up for Most Hated Woman in Britain and what the CBC called “an international villain” when caught on video dropping a live cat in a trash bin and walking away. If she hasn’t done so, I’d advise her to change her name and address and acquire dark glasses and a beard.
SHIP OF FOOLS
Yet another rusty boatload of queue-jumping Asians supposedly fleeing persecution. It is to be hoped that these Sri Lankans are now feeling enough pain to send the message that Canada is ceasing to be a soft touch for their ilk.
REVENGE IS BEST EATEN COLD
Late in 2009, news anchor Tony Parsons abruptly departed from long-time employer CTV, possibly on the grounds of maturity. He was a young sprout of 70. As smooth as his TV persona, last year Parsons seamlessly moved to the CBC and Victoria’s CHEK. Ha, ha! I rejoice when a well-seasoned media person gracefully moves on to further paid employment with the opposition, a silent rebuke to the bean-counters and calendar-watchers.
Nobody on West Vancouver staff is anywhere near that pay, but the collective bill is about 80 per cent of the budget, and there are scores of municipal employees in the $80,000 range. In 2009, chief administrative officer Grant McRadu was paid $22,000 more than the premier, not uncommon at that level.
Monday’s council meeting on the budget is likely to be more gesture than real. Inflexible fact: West Van is saddled with Metro-wide union contracts providing a four per cent wage rise. Naturally non-union staff strive to keep pace.
Municipal costs are hair-raising. The chairman of the Vancouver parks board casually mentioned in an interview that the city’s parks budget is $100 million. The city of Toronto has a $10 billion budget — bigger than six Canadian provinces’.
Former West Van councillor Victor Durman phoned, none too pleased with my usual thoughtful, closely reasoned column last month on the 2011 budget. He jeered at those demanding a zero per cent rise in the budget.
“These people (demanding budget and tax freezes) have been around for 20 years,” Durman declared. The oft-raised stereotype of the cash-strapped old widow? He scoffed. “I know of a woman who complained she was burning milk cartons for her heat. She was living in a $2- million house!”
No pity for the property-rich — who, of course, have the option to defer taxes, sell or get a reverse mortgage. I reminded Durman of the wit who said that such mortgages “are for people who hate their children.”
Status has its layers. West Vancouverites range from the merely privileged, to the super-privileged, to the stinkin’ rich. The latter pay stunning municipal taxes and usually have nice federal-provincial tax write-offs, but usually are willing to pay more to maintain West Vancouver’s cachet as one of Canada’s very wealthiest towns.
Direction is everything: Wealth rising, optimist; wealth falling, scared. The scared include many older, fixed-income residents. That’s the friction point between two defensible points of view.
Tough choices, council. But nobody twisted your arms to get you to run for thankless, underpaid municipal office.
GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS
Geoff Jopson bore little resemblance to the shy schoolmaster of the 1939 film, but he was quietly capable and widely liked as West Vancouver school superintendent, succeeding hackle-raising but innovative Doug Player.
Not that the retiring Jopson had a cakewalk. His tenure included a police lockdown at Rockridge, and a threat to kill “12 people” followed by an actual stabbing at West Vancouver secondary. These days, this isn’t your mother’s little red schoolhouse.
A NIGHT AT THE LEGISLATURE OPERA
I refuse to touch Victoria’s 2010 fun house until further notice. The Marx Brothers couldn’t do justice to the material — it would take far more than four clowns for this cast.
© Trevor Lautens, 2011