Canadian Cold and Canadian Taxes

Posted 01.26.11

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | If anyone wants to know why our city's costs are higher than, say, Savanna, Georgia, or any other US or western Canadian city of comparable size -- and before launching into a rant about "trimming government fat" -- we should all take a deep breath, then look out the window.

The recent cold spells (minus 27 on our back porch) and the earlier snowstorms say it all: Our city costs are dominated by our climate.

That link is so tight that it virtually makes us, and other areas with our climate and geography, different societies entirely. Different from the American South, for sure.

Since we can do little about the climate itself, we have to compensate by doing more with ourselves and our reactions to these challenges. Realizing that complaining is a waste of time, there's a start.

Realizing that we have to be as smart as possible in our city planning, that's another. We can't just pull out a rulebook from the States. Besides paying our planners well and hiring enough of them, they have to be free to push their creativity to the limit. It was a Canadian who developed the snowmobile; he pushed his creativity to the limit -- within a problem that surrounded him.

Innovations in heating large buildings, in moving energy, in monitoring atmospheric conditions -- they come from the north. The counter argument is that we'll never have an automobile with a windshield that works in radical temperature shifts until we have a Canadian-designed vehicle.

What do Japanese auto makers know about the realities of the road at minus 30? Or operating in the spray of a slushy, greasy roadway? Foreign designers are very intelligent, but they don't live our realities.

Nor do a lot of people. And that's why we should pay more attention to the particularities of our own situation before we rush off embracing policies, subsidies, and visions of others. Let them build according to their specs; let us do the same.

Invariably ours will be more costly -- measured by their parameters. Garbage costs will be cheaper there because they do not need insulated buildings for sorting and storage; they are not running trucks in sub-zero conditions. This tells us we shouldn't be using their measuring sticks at all.

The test of a public service should not be only its cost, but its effectiveness. Its respectfulness, too. Some will ridicule this approach, thinking it is based in very primitive economics -- the economics of a whole community. They are right. Not right to ridicule, but because this is the only way we'll be comfortable and challenged in this biggest infrastructure of all, our whole society.

Savanna, Georgia, or an Arizona retirement colony won't offer us an outdoor rink, free and cleaned (and maybe with a loo) -- so get out and use it. Be different. Stop complaining about the cold and taxes. Leave that to me.

Copyright © 2011 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/01.11