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Maxed Out: What, me cynical?

'I try. I really try.'
a-MAX june 2022
"What, me cynical? Hey, if you’re not cynical you’re not paying attention."

I try. I really try. When I was young I didn’t set out to grow up and be cynical. I mean, when I was young, I didn’t know what cynicism was. 

It was probably sometime around puberty I began to sense the nascent rumblings of cynicism. But I was still too distracted by the elegance of higher math to pay much attention. Or maybe I was just a late bloomer.

Cynicism dropped like a bomb in the 1960s. Presidential assassination, Vietnam, Bobby Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Martin Luther King, Watts, and Detroit all pointed to a crumbling society with philosophical principles as solid as quicksand. 

What glimmers of hope were provided by an enlightened U.S. Supreme Court, the women’s movement, good music, the Summer of Love and the sexual revolution were kicked in the gut by Watergate, Nixon’s pardon, OPEC, the insipid cars of the 1970s and the emergence of disco. 

Reagan, Mulroney, Thatcher, greed, SUVs, monster homes and what I came to understand as the real Generation of Swine—boomers... of which I was one, albeit a perpetual outsider—twisted the reality of cynicism into my DNA.

And now?

A number of elections ago, when MLA Jordan Sturdy first ran, he answered a question I asked by saying he favoured smaller government, pretty much a pat answer for a BC Liberal candidate. I told him I didn’t care what size government was; I was in favour of good government, better government than what we’d been getting for most of my life; government that understood what it meant to govern and stopped wasting time and money on things government shouldn’t be interested in. Big, small, didn’t matter as long as it was good.

I’m still waiting. Cynical I’ll live long enough to ever see it... at any level. Fleeting glimpses, perhaps.

Last year was devastating in British Columbia. Estimates of the cost of the autumn’s flooding exceed $7.5 billion alone. One estimate puts the cost of rebuilding at more than $9 billion. Of course, there is no talk about the wisdom of rebuilding the inappropriately-named Sumas Prairie—more aptly described as the Sumas floodplain—instead of letting nature reclaim the rich, albeit tenuous, agricultural land created by former governments.

The costs of last year’s wildfires are unknown. The cost of fighting them alone exceeded $600 million. Clearly that is just a drop in the bucket. Add the cost of rebuilding Lytton, the economic disruption of the thousands of people evacuated from their homes, the property destroyed, the forests destroyed, jobs lost. It all becomes staggering.

So is there any good news on the horizon?

On Monday, the government of B.C. released its climate adaptation strategy, its investment in climate-resilience projects, wildfire prevention, floodplain mapping, heat preparedness and other mitigation strategies. In other words, the government’s plan to try and avoid or lessen the impact of inevitable, future climate disasters.

Sounds good, eh? Yes, our government is going to commit nearly $500 million to protect the province and its residents against those billion-dollar floods and fires. But less than half that, $221 million, this year... while a good portion of the province is currently under flood watch due to June’s relentless rains, record snowpack and delayed freshet.

If this sounds, shall we say, parsimonious, insignificant, laughable, yeah, cynical, it has to be read in the light of other government expenditures. For example, the nearly $1 billion they want to spend to upgrade the provincial museum. Or the nearly $300 million dollars the three levels of government—B.C., Vancouver and federal—want to give private, for-profit FIFA to host five (5) World Cup soccer games in Vancouver in 2026. Five others will be held in Toronto for a similar price tag.

Or the $5.3 billion per year a 2020 study by the Insurance Bureau of Canada says must be spent to avoid the worst impacts of climate change countrywide.

What, me cynical? Hey, if you’re not cynical you’re not paying attention.

But when the world seems big and the problems seem bigger, a tried-and-true strategy is to pull in and focus locally. Surely there must be a respite from cynicism if I just pretend the larger world outside of Tiny Town doesn’t exist.

Well... while our eagerly awaited Balance Model delivered a Sun Rises In the East conclusion last week—Flash: Whistler is expected to continue to grow rapidly—we shall continue to eagerly await Phase III: Strategies and Actions for Visions, to see what our local leaders believe should be done to mitigate the undesirable effects of continued rapid growth. How will we balance the environment, our sense of place, our community and our tourism economy to be, well, balanced?

I wouldn’t put too much hope on the pie-in-the-sky, 15-per-cent increase in labour force efficiency—productivity—to eliminate the projected workforce shortages noted in the model. Canada’s workforce as a whole has rarely surpassed a three-per-cent annual increase in productivity, and that includes many jobs where automation presumably plays a role. Tourism tends to be a high-touch, not high-tech, undertaking, and until we see robotic servers and front-line salespeople I’d stop mentioning a 15-per-cent increase in efficiency. That’s math, not reality. 

But let’s see where Phase III leads. For now, should we need any fuel to propel cynicism about local government, we need only look to the cheerleading around the proposal for The Olympics: Redux. Whistler, to hear his worship talk about it, is four-square behind the 2030 bid to bring the circus back to town.

The new, improved bid for 2030 would expand the Games’ footprint to Sun Peaks. Yes, that Sun Peaks, the one that’s a six-plus hour drive from Vancouver, assuming good weather and no accidents—a rare combination during February.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of including Sun Peaks. Not because it would involve yet a third athletes’ village being built or because it would alleviate the hilarity of trying to hold Olympic snow events in Vancouver. I’m in favour of it because it’s probably the Achilles heel of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s bid. 

The Olympics runs on money. The money comes from host countries, television rights and whatever slips into plain, brown bags. The world’s major networks are unlikely to be enamoured at the added expense of yet a third location near the middle of nowhere. Sorry, Sun Peaks. 

Adding to the already deep pool of cynicism the Olympics engender is the fatuous notion—and I’m not making this up—the International Outlaw, er, Olympic Committee has mandated the 2030 Games to achieve net-zero emissions. I can only assume the emissions to which they refer have to do with truth. Or transparency. Or reality.

Oh, how I try.