Friday, June 8, 2007

Sarnia rejects funding to protect buses from terrorists

I wonder if anyone has done an analysis of this type of funding in terms of its opportunity costs? It is interesting the Quebeckers oppose Charest's tax cuts. The whole idea of tax cuts as I see it is just to make it difficult if not impossible to expand government social services.

Take it or they will come
>by Rick Salutin
June 8, 2007
On Monday, the city council of Sarnia, an Ontario border city of 80,000 with some oil refineries, voted 6-3 not to take $120,000 from the Harper government to fund a counterterrorism plan for their buses. Mayor Mike Bradley came out against the idea last Friday, calling it ludicrous. Sarnia's bridges and refineries are secured; this was just for the buses. Still, it was “tricky,” he says, since no one wants to look unvigilant on terror. It was a one-day story with a bounce, maybe another half a day. But like everything, it connects to everything.

For me, it resonated because I recalled that a Sarnia native, 37-year-old Corporal Brent Poland, died in Afghanistan in April, and a Sarnia councillor had said, “I guess we've really learned the price of freedom.” I wondered then what he could mean, or have thought he meant.

On Tuesday, CBC Radio's Carol Off, on As It Happens, asked the mayor if he'd have taken the money if it weren't for $40,000 that Sarnia would have had to kick in. He said no, because there was no way to “justify” it. Was that just fast footwork on his part? I don't think so. “Have you seen Bowling for Columbine? ” he asked on the phone yesterday. It turns out he's the Canadian mayor in Michael Moore's film about how U.S. gun violence is rooted in a culture of fear. “Those things were linked even in 2002, ” when the film was made, he says. “It's the same climate of fear.”

The way you fight fear, he thinks, is by striking at its real sources in people's lives, such as deprivation and inequality. You do that through social policies. Then he cites Bruce Springsteen—“no one wins unless everyone wins, ” as he had in the film. Springsteen is huge for him. He has served 19 years as mayor, he says, with Springsteen as “the soundtrack. ” When he met Toronto Mayor David Miller, he said it was like meeting a rock star. Mayor Miller asked which one, and he charitably answered, The Boss.

It's about taxes, too, he says, and using them intelligently. Last week, Quebec Premier Jean Charest voiced shock that Quebeckers massively oppose his plan to take almost $1-billion in federal money and give it back to them in tax breaks. They want it used for education and health care, instead. Only in Quebec, he moaned, as if his people are uniquely stunted. Yet, clearly for them, taxes aren't something you just want back; they're a resource to use for things you can't acquire individually— like Quebec's public, affordable child-care program, which is a role model for how to spend public money smartly. Anti-terror planning for small-town bus routes is not.

(Lethbridge Mayor Bob Tarleck, on the other hand, took the Harper bus money and told the CBC that any city that didn't do so has issued an “open invitation” to terrorists. Take It Or They Will Come. “If any terrorist is listening,” he said, “I'd discourage them from coming to Lethbridge.”).

But is there also a link between the death of Cpl. Poland (and of another local soldier last year in Afghanistan) and rejecting the bus money? Mayor Bradley says not. And the Poland family explicitly said they don't want his death to undermine the Canadian military mission there. So I'm the one making this link, which is, as the mayor might say, tricky.

Yet, I can't help wondering if people in Sarnia and elsewhere might start to ask whether they and their children are really paying the price of freedom, or rather of a whipped-up and ludicrous hysteria that contributes to and even creates what it fears most. We send our troops there, who mean well but seem to inevitably kill civilians and innocents, creating rage and rancour that lead to more Canadian deaths there and possibly here, too, as some think: Those Westerners will only leave us in peace if the terror reaches them at home. Was voting down the bus money an indirect (or unconscious) way to raise that delicate issue and avoid further Canadian deaths?

Originally published in The Globe and Mail, Rick Salutin's column usually appears every Friday.

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