Most municipalities make sidewalk snow clearing the responsibility of the adjacent owner or occupant.

BC VIEWS: Vancouver’s ice follies entertain us

Winter of ice and salt shortage takes Vancouver by storm, sparks debate about personal responsibility for snow clearing

Folks around B.C. had one warming experience as they began the new year with cold winter weather.

That was the slapstick comedy of Vancouver, centre of the B.C. media universe, where people swarmed out of their million-dollar homes to scoop up “free” salt and sand offered by harried city officials after the community’s collective failure to clear its sidewalks and driveways.

There were reports of early birds hoarding the precious salt mix, perhaps to sell. While he was in Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics, U.S. comedian Stephen Colbert coined a term that fits: “iceholes.”

Mayor Gregor Robertson was nowhere to be seen, enjoying a sunny vacation of similar duration to his climate-crusading buddy Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. A chastened city bureaucrat stood before TV cameras to explain how salt supplies had run out.

Critics posted photos to social media of Vancouver’s famous bike lanes, carefully cleared of snow while sidewalks were left to turn to ice.

Beyond our bumbling biggest city, communities like Chilliwack dealt with far more snow, and local governments received mixed reviews. The further from Vancouver one gets, the more realistic and self-reliant people become about winter.

In Hope, the local council went into the holiday season discussing whether the district should take over sidewalk snow clearing, rather than leave it to property owners as is the standard bylaw approach.

I posted a Hope Standard news report on the deliberations to my Facebook page, and a lively debate ensued.

A few people suggested municipal contractors could be hired to clear sidewalks, while others warned that the shift of liability from individual property owners to the local government would be an expensive mistake.

My contribution was a bit sarcastic: “Forget personal responsibility, neighbour helping neighbour, all those old 20th Century concepts. Let’s just discuss the terms of our surrender to the Nanny State. And who needs exercise anyway? We have free health care.”

But that’s the thing about our urbanizing, aging society. Neighbours don’t take care of neighbours as much as they used to, just as more and more people reach an age of needing help.

One suggestion was that municipalities should only clean sidewalks for the elderly. Great, now all we need is an Inspector of Elderliness for each community, and a database of seniors that will need to be updated quarterly….

I don’t mean to minimize the struggles of people with disabilities and age-related mobility issues. But the fact is they are better off in high-density urban areas, even with interrupted access to services that no one had a generation ago.

The end of el Nino ocean current events like that of 2016 is frequently followed by cold winters. It created an upsurge in “global cooling” speculation, even as media continued to focus on isolated high temperatures at the North Pole while ignoring the intense cold all around it.

University of Toronto geologists Nick Eyles and Andrew Miall wrote a book in 2010 called Canada Rocks – The Geologic Journey. They later concluded that science and media “seemingly stagger from one widely proclaimed crisis to another,” apparently on the assumption that everything since 1940 is human caused.

“The past climate record suggests that for much of the Earth’s surface, future cooling is the norm,” they wrote in 2014. “Without natural climate change, Canada would be buried under ice three km thick; that is the normal state for most of the last 2.5 million years, with 100,000-years-long ice ages alternating with brief, short-lived interglacials such as the present, which is close to its end.”

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: Twitter: @tomfletcherbc


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