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Maxed Out: One step forward…

'And we ain’t seen nothing yet.'
RV max july 2022
With issues both at Whistler’s municipal hall and further abroad, it’s one step forward, two (or more) steps backwards these days, writes G.D. Maxwell.

One step forward, two steps back, or so the saying goes. Unfortunately, I’m not seeing a lot of forward steps these days. But in the spirit of trying to be positive, I’ll start with a step forward, or at least the expectation of a step forward, this column having been written early Tuesday before the Resort Municipality of Whistler council meeting scheduled later in the day.

Prominent on the agenda is a staff report—nothing prominent about that in itself—recommending council cancel the White Gold beautification project because, surprise, the current cost-to-complete budget has taken off like a rocket. 

For those with limited memory about this project, a slim majority of White Gold residents voted in favour of burying the cat’s cradle of power and phone lines adorning the subdivision’s streets like so much unwanted, tarnished tinsel, under something called a local area service petition. Under that provincial policy, it only takes a slim majority—and local government approval—to burden everyone in a neighbourhood with costs nearly half don’t want and/or would have trouble paying for. I believe we’ve discussed the Tyranny of the Majority previously.

The initial 2020 “budget”—in this case shorthand for wild-ass guess—was just over $5.5 million, funded, if approved, by an RMOW loan from the Municipal Finance Authority and payable by all property owners by either a lump sum of $34,500 or annual payments of $1,526 yearly for 30 years.

Council approved going forward with the project partly because some councillors mistakenly believed they had to approve it as long as it met the slim majority test. Whether this was a failure of councillors or staff to understand the options available to council under this policy or their belief it was a good idea to get into a project with unknown costs is somewhat akin to choosing which finger you’re going to hit with the hammer. Props to the councillors who voted against this at the beginning.

While there are still some $814,000 of “estimated” costs, that amount can be treated as an irrelevant unknown. While it strains the imagination of most of us to consider $800k an irrelevant amount, it is when the total budget has ballooned to nearly $9.2 million, an increase of 67 per cent. Approval would saddle homeowners with a charge of $57,486 each or $3,479 yearly for those 30 years.

As the staff report says, with the current budget having exceeded the initial budget by more than five per cent, staff recommend council cancel the project.

One step forward... assuming council follows the recommendation. (Editor’s Note: They did.)

In the two-steps-back department, far more numerous than forward steps, is a report by J.D. Power Canada, funded by Transport Canada, that found 59 per cent of people responding believe popular driver-assist technologies—for example, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping warnings and the like—make the car able to drive itself without their control. Not sure the role they play, since so many people already drive as though something else was in control.

I first heard of this bizarre misunderstanding from the customer service manager at a Vancouver dealership I patronize. He was telling me about a lawsuit threatened by the family of a driver who had sideswiped someone in the lane on his right when he decided he wanted to be in that lane at the same time. He was under the belief the lane-changing technology would override his efforts to change lanes and crash into the other car. No, he hadn’t checked his driver’s side mirror and it wouldn’t have done any good since it was incorrectly adjusted to begin with. Perhaps more scary, that man votes. And reproduces.

Self-driving cars aside—a dream still far away—the arc of technology has already made driving more distracted and dumbed down the overall skill level of drivers to the point getting behind the wheel is more dangerous and rage-inspiring than ever. Worse, these so-called drive-assist technologies have not only contributed to a reduction of skill, but fostered a laissez-faire understanding of what a complex ballet driving actually is in real-world conditions. 

Personally, I still believe would-be drivers should have to spend their first 18 months on a motorcycle. If they survive, they’ll be better drivers, more aware of traffic around them, less distracted by trivialities, far more observant of road conditions and very, very defensive. 

Some of the worst drivers out there are highballing an RV down the road. Sales of RVs shot up during the pandemic when staying in hotels became less attractive and travel was pretty much limited to in-country trips. Suddenly, people with no experience driving anything bigger than their SUV or pickup were hauling 24-plus feet of trailer behind them and driving like they didn’t know it was there or anyone else was on the road. In many cases, they might not have, since they didn’t bother to get side mirrors capable of seeing around their home away from home. 

If there is a step forward here, it’s the high price of fuel this summer. Coupled with wallet-busting inflation and rising interest rates, many of those RVs—but not nearly enough—are parked... or for sale. 

But two steps back, more people are flying again. Or trying to fly. As more people try, fewer succeed. People who used to think their job on the frontlines at airports, or chucking baggage, or serving double-doubles in the food court sucked, got the chance to see what was available elsewhere when they were laid off during the no-fly pandemic. Many have chosen to not come back. Nonetheless, people try to fly.

This week’s award for the dumbest suggestion to alleviate the problem goes to the president of the Customs and Immigration Union. In a self-serving statement, Mark Weber suggested, among other things, the ArriveCan app, implemented for incoming travellers to prove their vaccination status and quarantine plan, was part of the problem.

Given this arguably outdated requirement only impacts incoming, international travellers, it’s hard to see exactly how ditching it is going to get more people on flights that have been cancelled because of staffing, baggage handling, and AWOL flight crews. I’m surprised he doesn’t think self-driving cars are part of the solution... or problem.

And let’s not even contemplate the kilometres of backward steps taken recently by the formerly respected U.S. Supreme Court. Abortion, gun control, and Environmental Protection Agency regulations to fight climate change have all been shot down by the cabal of conservative judges who want to Make America Great Again, the way it was when women were barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, everyone was packin’ and old king coal was belching out power for air conditioners.

And we ain’t seen nothing yet.