Thursday, June 23, 2011

on taxing matters

When the mail starts to move again, we'll get to vote on whether to keep the HST here in BC, or go back to the old convoluted system of GST & PST. Yes, that's a biased statement. I don't like paying taxes any more than anyone else (I'm as selfish as anyone else) but I do like being able to go to the hospital, to drive on the roads, to hop on a bus, so I expect to pay them. I think it's simpler and there's less waste in paying one set of civil servants instead of two. I don't believe in job creation when it just involves job duplication, which is what I think going back would be.

Saw law student Chris Thompson
on Global News the other night.
His is an independent view: (And yes, I suffer
from confirmation bias, too.)
The argument against the HST vs the old GST & PST is an emotional one. And I'll be the first to admit that my initial response to the Stop HST folks was a very strong feeling that something was fishy, because Bill Vander Zalm was involved. I remember when he was Premier of this province and I remember how he left office. (I didn't vote for him then, and no, I won't vote for him now.)

The main gist of the Fight HST folks, or so it seems to me, is class war, which is funny coming from a not-unwealthy capitalist like Vander Zalm, but explains why the left has jumped on his bandwagon. Poor people against the rich. Who is poor and who is rich is of course very subjective, and it shifts depending on the topic. Labour, for instance, is downtrodden normally, but when demanding higher wages, it slips over to fat cat side. Especially if it's tax money that pays.

Anarchist or opportunist?
Definitely not a tax payer.
Last week's looters were initially pegged as anarchists, which would explain why they thought it was okay to help themselves after the glass was smashed. Someone else can pay! Then it turns out they may be the coddled youngsters of the middle class, therefore just opportunists, with a confused sense of entitlement. Someone else will pay! The anti-HST discussion seems kind of similar to me. Don't expect me to pay! (Fight the Man! Burn the police car!)

It's this self-interest, every person for themselves, that the anti-HST folks are pandering to. Every time people clamour against taxes, they are saying someone else should pay. The success in this kind of thinking is evident in the not-so-admirable side of us that lets us walk away from our garbage after any public event, leaving city workers to sweep up the rubble. (And listen to us squawk when they want an increase themselves. It'll raise our taxes! Who do these fat cats think they are!)

And speaking of fat cats: While there is always nonsense about 'big business' as somehow inherently evil, and not the source of most people's paycheques, google Jimmy Pattison donations, and then say thank you to his public spirit. I did when I visited my father during his stay on the 14th floor of the tower at VGH.

Personally, I think there is no economy without big (and small) business ( small business, good; big business bad: when does one morph into the other? I digress.) I think going backwards to the old tax regime is potentially destructive to that economy. In fact, it's cost us a bundle already, with the time given over to dealing with the anti-HST fight. It's not like we're going to stop paying taxes, after the dust settles. Likely we'll pay more, to clean up the damage, whatever result we get from the referendum.

Here's a different idea. Paying taxes is actually a socialist act. An act for the greater good. There are things we all need, and taxes pay for them collectively. If you are poor, you are better looked after in such a system.

Here's another idea. If you think that 'rich' people are feeling the HST less than the poor, remember that they pay a lot more HST on their Mercedes or BMW than you do on your Kia or Hyundai. And if you can't afford a car, guess what? You don't pay any. Yet you still get to buy bus tickets (which are subsidized one way or another through taxes, though we complain bitterly).

We all pay income tax if we have an income. It doesn't matter whether we have lots left over after paying our mortgage in Prince George, or none because we pay our mortgage in Vancouver. Income tax doesn't care. But if we live here in Vancouver, then we make the choice to do without some things in order to afford to live here. And we don't pay any HST on those things we don't buy.

Our system is based on a lot of trust. Trust that there are more good people out there than bad. That the good people will come out the morning after and sweep up the broken glass. And they do.

The fight against HST is based on distrust. The belief that no matter what someone says, once they are in government they are lying and tricking us. So we shoot ourselves, to spite them. That's what I think.

Friday, June 17, 2011

party crashers

They rise up out of their parents' basements, tank up on booze, and look for a fight. The word goes out that some hapless kid is having a party because the folks are out, and they swarm the place, destroy and steal things, and fight. The police are called. People end up traumatized, people end up in hospital. It happens all the time. It's a micro example of the macro event that happened to Vancouver the night that Boston won the Stanley Cup.

The scene outside my window.
It was not about the hockey. Hockey's a game. It was not about the Canucks losing. Every team lost, except Boston. The Canucks just got to play longer. They were fabulous this season, and gave the city a tremendous lift in spirit, and it was great, but it wasn't the end of the world that they lost to a better team. They'll be playing again next year, working hard to be the best team. And we'll all be cheering them on next year. But get real; the team may play in Vancouver, but the players are hired to do a job. That's why the only 'real' Vancouver player, Killarney boy Lucic, was playing for Boston. We can cheer that. The Stanley Cup will come to Vancouver! Brought by an actual Vancouverite! But it's fun to pretend, and it's fun to cheer for 'our team' to win. Face it. You win some, you lose some, but it doesn't necessarily make you losers.

No, the losers are the poor saps who decided, in a strangely twisted way of (not) thinking, that they would crash the party.

In behind those building? The scenes of the crimes.
Hard to believe.
They rode into town on ferries, skytrains, buses (no concept that a lot of hard work and expense went into those systems, whatever, who cares). Maybe they even drove, parking well away from the 'fan zone.' They were excited to use the excuse of a hockey game to attack the city that somehow offends them. A lot of guys brought tools for the job. They certainly weren't coming for the hockey game. Lots of them, I'm sure, will be 'known to police.' More troubling are the huge numbers swept up in the excitement, part of a hyena pack, clueless to the harm they were causing, or worse, not caring, just glad to be able to join in smashing and stealing things. Empathy sadly lacking. It's almost like the mob (non)brain is a force of nature; there's no stopping the flood. It's mindless and it's extremely dangerous.

I felt the same despair watching as one young woman I saw on the news. She was trying to stop people from destroying a car on Seymour Street. "What's wrong with you people?" There is no answer to that. Nothing. Everything.

It's a common story in Wild West stories, the thin veneer of civilization on the frontier. The mild-mannered townspeople are always totally gobsmacked by the gang of thugs riding into town to destroy things, and there are never enough sheriffs or enough citizens brave enough to get in the way, though there are always some, as there were here. What we did see here was young people behaving incredibly badly, with some kind of utterly lame-brained sense of entitlement to just help themselves to other peoples' things. And the taunting/hatred of the police as if they are the enemy? Earth to the rioters: you are the enemy. You are why we have a police force.

The route out of Dodge. The
game has just ended, and smart
fans are crossing the bridge.
This is an expensive city. I don't think we actually have enough young people living here to get that many drunken louts downtown. No, we invited the neighbours to a party, and the word got out. Then the crashers assaulted us. The fault doesn't lie with the people who held the party, it lies with those who wrecked it. Unfortunately though, even if we manage to toss them all into jail, it's us that gets to pay to keep them there.

I've heard them called idiots, bullies, hooligans, yahoos, fools, scum, psychopaths, thugs, and it's hard to disagree. A lot of the faces I've seen in images are very young. Some of them might even be bright, who knows? But they seem to have missed that we're all in this together, that their stupid and completely criminal actions will cost our city an unimaginable amount of money, in repairs, in tourism, in insurance, in court costs, in the inevitable studies and reports. I hope they will be ashamed of themselves. I also hope they enjoy the crowded remand centres when they get arrested, as the money is now a bit more stretched.

I came upon a "pity party"
 (their phrase), laughing on
the street.
I could hear the helicopters buzzing over downtown, never a good sign. So I thought I'd go for a walk, and see how my part of the city felt, while the mob slouched through our downtown. There was a sense of letdown out here in normal-land, but it was in perspective; we lost the game, oh well, isn't it a beautiful night?

So yeah, the trash trashed us, and we're all feeling the bafflement and pain, and yes, wariness, after falling victim to an utterly senseless assault. It'll take some time to get over, but it won't keep us out of the downtown, and we may still have parties. Carefully.

Just please don't tell me I'm responsible for my black eye. I didn't punch myself in the face.
False Creek, looking northwest, as the sun goes down.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

traffic mayhem

city skyline: ain't it pretty?
I was going to talk about the Canucks, but on Friday before the game, I went on a day-long journey that took my mind off hockey for awhile. I had offered to make a few deliveries for the Writers' Festival. I've done this before, taken stuff out to the various school boards in the Fraser Valley, as enticement for their teachers to plan field trips come the next October. I had five packages to deliver, and I entertained myself mapping out a route. I like road trips, and think of this one as a simulated road trip, that ends up at home.

I like to find new roads, rubberneck routes I haven't been on, not just follow major highways. I might call them the routes less traveled, but that's not precisely correct. They are the routes less traveled by me. And may stay that way now.

When I read Neuromancer, by William Gibson, many years back now, one of the things that struck me (out of many) was his term for the place his character lived: the Sprawl. The name conjured up an image of endless city, lots of smoke, dust and mayhem. I never pictured it as being anything like our lovely city by the sea.

I started out aiming for New Westminster, headed out along Marine Way, actually knowing the route I was following. It changes though, every time I go. Originally kind of a bypass to the city it's grown into a major route, full of traffic and trucks, with all kinds of construction and a massive mall along the way. This used to be a nice drive through the country, past myriad market gardens. You can read about it in the Swamp Angel by Ethel Wilson, as Marine Drive is the route the main character takes to get out of town, on her escape from her marriage. Out of the soulless city, into a lush, green verdant landscape stretching south to the river.

not this bad...yet
Well, part of Marine Drive still exists, and still has a few farms on it. But just south of it is the roar of Marine Way blocking that stretch to the river. Now most of this fantastic delta land, rich river deposit, is covering over with development, hidden under the cacophony of truck engines.

Coming into New Westminster this way it gets particularly hectic, as the sedate route that was (oh, my, I'm getting old) has given over to impressive interchanges and caravans of rumbling trucks and cars, a major route to Surrey. There are so many people constantly on the move, it boggles.

I know New Westminster well enough that I picked the fewer-trucks route to get past the Trans Canada and through to Coquitlam to find that school board office. It wasn't that bad a journey; there are long stretches of pleasant-valley kind of suburban housing, and still, lots of trees. From Coquitlam's school board I figured out how to cross over to the Barnett Highway and out to Maple Ridge. The route my mind keeps remembering as farmland stretching from Coquitlam/Port Moody all the way to Haney, where my mother grew up. Alas, no one even knows where Haney is anymore, as it's been long absorbed into Maple Ridge. Maybe they notice the Haney bypass, that doesn't bypass much, anymore.

seen from Mission, Abbotsford
is hidden behind the greenery
My memories proved trustworthy though as I took the further drive out to Mission, a drive that I absolutely love, the valley is so lush this time of year. I took the bridge across to Abbotsford, one more delivery to make. The route into Abbotsford is still farmland, a peaceful reminder of the Fraser Valley that was. Then I thought I would swoop through to Langley, make my last drop-off, and head home, following the old highway one, Fraser Highway, which to my mind should meander through farmland before it ran into the suburban sprawl of Surrey.

What was I thinking? First of all, there is no longer a country break on that drive from Abbotsford to Langley. There are a gazillion people have moved out into the valley, to get away from the city, ironic as that is, or quite likely because they can't afford the absurd price of living in Vancouver. But what a penalty they are charged! There are still plenty of trees out there, but it's hard to spot them through the dust of road construction, and the glaze your eyes take on, as you inch forward in first gear. The Fraser Highway is being widened, because it is a constant bottleneck. The Trans Canada is also being widened through Langley and Surrey, to connect with the new larger bridge crossing the river. The old one is hopeless, there is so much traffic.

going west towards the city
the Fraser highway actually
narrows into one lane
I lost my desire for the scenic route and headed for that major highway, but found that it too requires first gear, occasionally second. Once in a while I put the car in neutral and just rolled. It took me about an hour and a half longer than I figured it would, delayed as I was, and now sucked into traveling in "rush" hour. And I was traveling into the city, the direction that is supposed to be against the traffic. Hah. What's it like for the majority heading out?

I just kept wondering, how do people do this every day? I was a wreck when I finally got out of my car. And how can our government think that after all the years of subjecting all these people who live east of the "most liveable city," that the bridge that is supposed to alleviate some of this nonsense, should be a toll bridge? And don't suggest people use transit. There is no transit worth mentioning out there; Sky Train barely makes it across the river, and there's certainly no overabundance of buses either. I did see some kids in Canucks jerseys hitch-hiking at a bus stop on the Fraser Highway, with some feeble hope of getting somewhere before the game started. Lots of people waiting. But the buses can't get out of first gear either, so it hardly helps to get on one. Anyway, I saw maybe two buses in the couple hours it took me to get back onto Vancouver city streets.

Ah well, at the end of the day, I got to watch the Canucks redeem themselves, and win one more hockey game, which went to easing the pain a bit. It at least gives people something to cheer about, as they are stuck in their cars, trying to get somewhere to watch the game, at a time of day that is set for the convenience of other places. But I guess people get used to that.