Month: March 2021

Patience: The Risks Remain High

Tough questions, tougher answers, and I begin to wonder if we have now been so battered around the clock and from every inhabited part of our planet with news of fresh or pending disasters that we have reached Rhett Butler’s breaking point in the classic movie “Gone With The Wind.”

Remember? Of course you do. Scarlett had just finished her latest recitation of how badly she felt treated by life and fate, and Rhett had snapped: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”… as the fog rolled in, the credits marched across the screen and those of us old enough to have spent three hours watching an epic movie walked home through a blacked-out world back to a real-world standing poised to explode.

It was 1939. My world was England. Safe, secure. A schoolboy well acquainted with maps, I was taught that half the world was painted pink – the British Empire. Invincible. Even father, a First World War veteran, said so. “They know what they’re doing,” he said.

It took some time for us to realize that the first casualty of war had always been “the truth.” And so it was when I was growing up, and Winston Churchill started to feed the people unpleasant facts. He fudged once in a while, sat on bad news occasionally, but by and large, all he offered was “blood, sweat, toil and tears” and the confident assurance “we shall pull through.”

Dr. Bonnie Henry, guiding light for public health affairs in BC, prefers gentler words. She asks critics to be kind – not “soft,” just “kind” – and always with the added Churchillian assurance that “we shall pull through.”

She reminds me of the poet Rev. Geoffrey Anketell Studdert-Kennedy (cct) I have long admired and quoted. He was nicknamed “Woodbine” Willy in the First World War because of his less than priestly habit when “to the men, I should have offered grace, I put off with a cigaret.” (Woodbine was a cigarette brand. It is estimated that the chaplain gave away 865,000 cigarettes at his own expense.)

I’m not suggesting Dr. Bonny wander hospital wards offering Woodbines to the dying; just that in her choice of words, she reflects the kindness and caring well earned by health care professionals since Florence Nightingale. Just a few days ago, in one of her weekly reports to the public, Dr. Bonny said: “We are immunizing more people every day, and in parallel slowly turning the dial on the restrictions we have in place. We must remember the risk for all of us remains high, particularly with indoor activities – whether for work or social reasons.

“As a result, to get through this storm and continue to protect our loved ones, we must all continue to use our safety layers and follow all of the public health restrictions we have in place.”

Readers could help her cause by learning those few words and reciting them to those among us, shedding crocodile tears for feeling democratically deprived of places to imbibe. For emphasis, they can quote Rhett Butler’s last words to Scarlett.

As a reminder, running alongside our COVID-19 pandemic on a separate track but demanding attention from “health care” workers is the number of deaths due to toxic illicit drugs. “It highlights the ongoing critical risk to public health and safety from the illicit drug market,” says Lisa Lapointe, BC’s chief coroner, in her latest public report.

“I extend my sincere sympathy to everyone who has lost a beloved family member or friend to substance use. The continued tragic and unprecedented rate of death in BC highlights the urgent need for a multi-faceted, evidence-based and accessible system of care for those experiencing problematic substance use.”

The total number of deaths is the largest ever recorded in the month of February and an increase of 107 percent over the total number of deaths recorded in February 2020. The average of 5.5 lives lost each day makes February the second consecutive month in which the average number of daily deaths was above five. The 1,724 deaths recorded in 2020 work out to an average of 4.7 deaths a day. (My emphasis)

Also of note; 15 percent of the lives lost in 2021 were people 60 years of age and older, and 40 percent were over age 50. These increasing numbers continue a trend that has been observed in older age cohorts over the last several years.

Just the Facts, Please!

“TWO WEEKS AWAY FROM A HUG” … this page-wide headline shouted out on my local newspaper on March 19. It topped a story on the launch of “mass immunization clinics” for seniors – a story to be read carefully, thoughtfully, as the world forms battle lines to combat the killer virus COVID-19.

It is a year, give or take a week or so, since the people of the planet Earth were mildly disturbed by rumbles from world health authorities that 2020’s flu season might be a little different than normal. There was a rumour that China was already engaged in a fight to keep a new strain of the flu under control, a rumour that quickly developed into a frightening truth and a confession that the new bug was no longer under laboratory control. It was free, roaming the world and rampant – a declared pandemic with no eye to pity, no arm to save.

No corner of the globe was spared. Nations with established universities and medical research laboratories of high repute stepped up front and centre seeking a cure or at least trying to find a way to halt the invasion of what was now named COVID-19.

World scientists estimated the fall of 2021 as an optimistic success date for a vaccine to possibly halt the rampage. And there was universal rejoicing in early spring when three, then four, major research companies were able to offer tested and approved vaccines months ahead of schedule.

Vaccination for those who seek it and a general return to what was once normal living is now slowly underway in BC, with early glitches being worked out at mass vaccination sites. Even though new COVID variants are emerging, there are those chanting “free at last” and banking on vaccine protection while checking opening times at a favourite bar.

Even Premier John Horgan seemed a little anxious about opening time. At least he sounded that way last Wednesday when he appeared to suggest it wouldn’t be long before Dr. Bonnie Henry looked kindly on relaxing a few rules in the form of benefits for the vaccinated.

Being a politician, he was careful to add, of course, any such decision would be hers, not his. True, and as such, it will be based on health care reasoning, which means being sure the new “infectious variants” in the virus can be controlled by the vaccines.

Which brings me full circle to my opening quote from my local newspaper suggesting its readers are now just “two weeks” from celebrating victory over Covid 19. The facts are that the promise of victory is there with celebratory “hugs” ready to be joyously given; but for now it remains just that a “ promise” not a fact..

Murphy’s law that “if anything can go wrong it will” still hovers and Yogi Berra’s reminder that “the game ain’t over ‘till its over” remains a truth.

So, readers all, be patient. Listen to the health experts not the politicians. And remind yourselves that your parents and grandparents had longer waits to survive famine, pestilence, war and a multitude of other man-made or nature created disasters.

“Will We Ever Learn?”

“What a disappointment the 20th Century has been. How terrible and melancholy is the long series of disastrous events that have darkened its first 20 years. We have seen in every country a dissolution, a weakening of bonds, a challenge to those principles, a decay of faith, an abridgement of hope upon which the structure and ultimate existence of civilized society depends.”

And the speaker was none other than our revered former leader, Winston Churchill, holding forth in 1921 on the terrible state of the world in the century that had opened with such great promise 21 years earlier. It would be another quarter century and a Second World War before Churchill, then prime minister could shake the nation he loved from the world-wide “terrible melancholy” wrought by the war to end all wars.

It wasn’t just at home in England, a once-proud sapphire of Empire set in a silver sea, that melancholy prevailed. In Russia, there was bloody revolution and five million dead from starvation. In Italy, the people were entranced with the military triumphs of a comic-opera caricature called Mussolini over impoverished small and economically deprived nations.

In Germany, Hitler was triumphantly uniting his First World War shattered country before leading it to destruction beyond belief. The end to his reign of terror was costly beyond reckoning in human life and money to every nation involved.

Amazingly, humanity made progress in seemingly every field of science, but little in the fields of tolerance and simple kindness.

The 20th Century marked 100 years of scientific marvels progressing to manned flights to the Moon and now surging beyond to check out Mars; and medical science, which can and does work miracles in holding at bay diseases that were once automatic death sentences.

There was a brief time when our young songwriters stirred our thinking, reminding us of our individual responsibilities to each other, but that too soon got swamped and drowned in the clash of pounding percussions.

Hard to believe that not too long ago, we sang songs about becoming bridges over troubled waters. We asked ourselves why we seemed happy to embark on another war every few years or so – but couldn’t find time to answer the now age-old question posed in the modern pop ballad “Wage War – Will We Ever Learn?” 

Maybe you can remember its opening lines of seeing things “face to face, but never eye to eye … all this vision but we’re going blind from all the emptiness we feel inside.”

Or the warning that “we hate what we don’t know, refusing to let go … we let it burn, we let it burn. Oh, will we ever learn?”

When “Brownouts” Were Routine

If you can remember when “brownouts” were a regular feature of life in British Columbia, then you are an aging westerner who lived in the era before W.A.C. Bennett shocked Canada from coast to coast with his “nationalization” of BC Electric, a private company he felt was standing in the way of economic progress.

That story is voluminously documented and well told by a multitude of sources. It makes fascinating reading of grand, touching on dictatorial, political decisions and the development of what would eventually become one of the great debate battlegrounds of the century – the development of hydroelectric power.

It was in 1961 that construction began on what would eventually be named the W.A.C. Bennett Dam, 186-metres high (610 feet) and boastfully proclaimed “one of the world’s largest earth-filled dams.” Seven years later, in 1968, the project was declared completed at $756 million with a flourish of announcements that it had all been achieved “on time and on budget.” There was a modest confession a little later that a draw from reserve funds had been required for building a storage reservoir in what was known as “the Trench.” 

The first great step toward the electrification of British Columbia had been taken, although the debate on final terms of the benefit-sharing agreement between BC and the USA continued for years. The passage of time muted bitter NDP opposition to what had become known as the Columbia River Treaty; more power became readily available, and “brownouts,” the frustrating regular fading of power at peak usage time, became rare.

The Bennett Dam and power plant development sparked angry environmental debate and cries of injustice from first nation people who had lived in the valley where their ancestral homes were now buried by the great lake created behind the new dam. A compensation formula was established, but it was far from a happy solution.

The wide-open spaces of British Columbia’s famed Peace River country with fabled rivers and virgin valleys became a centre of attention for BC Hydro and its next major power project. This massive development named Site C would fulfill BC power needs well into the 21st Century.

BC Hydro had already invested $1.5 billion in Site C, with another $4 billion committed through contracts and agreements in the then-estimated $8 billion project. At least, that’s what former Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett (no relation to the former premier) once told Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer.

Just a few days ago, New Democrat Premier John Horgan announced, with some regret, that he could not justify cancelling the massive project. Reluctantly, he said, his government could only watch and weep as billions of dollars flushed through the giant turbines on a wasted journey to the sea.

Could it be that Premier Horgan had earlier failed to grasp the possibility that Site C could, 15 or 20 years from conception, become the economic lifeline its supporters have always claimed it would be?

Just two weeks ago, BC took possession of two newly built electric-powered ferries. More will undoubtedly follow. The entire world is on the verge of abandoning fossil fuels for electric automobiles vehicles.

More modern houses and apartments are being constructed with built-in security systems; blinds and curtains that open and close at the touch of a button, and hand-held miracle gadgets that we have to ask the grade two nipper next door to show us how they work.

When WAC Bennett stormed ahead with his Columbia River Treaty and his first hydro projects, the criticism was fierce and unrelenting. But, the ultimate successes of BC Hydro saw an end to regular brownouts and the start of the era when it became hard to find even a remote cabin in BC where you couldn’t switch on an electric light.

I doubt if I’ll still be around in 2025, so I will miss any Horgan (or successor) announcement that BC Hydro’s Site “C” is “on-line. It will be a grand opening” – with Site “D” – in the planning phase.