More Like Current A-Fears

This Halloween, don’t just read the news, BE the news.

by Paul Dechene

Looking for something to wear this Halloween? Why not rip your costume from Regina’s news headlines? It’s a great idea! You’ll become more engaged in your city, you’ll have something to talk about at Halloween parties and, most importantly, everyone will think you’re smart. Here are three suggestions.

1. THE TERROR THAT HAUNTS EVERY POLITICIAN

Here’s a great Halloween costume you can make yourself at home. All you need are some burlap sacks, white upholstery stuffing, several rolls of tinfoil and, voila, you’re a hot potato. Doesn’t sound very scary? Well, knock on the door of any Saskatchewan politician and tell them you’re the Housing Hot Potato! and they’ll turn white and run screaming, “Get that THING away from me!!!”

Yes. Unfortunately, elected officials have been running scared from the Housing Hot Potato for many, many years now even though every one of them acknowledges publicly that solving Regina’s affordable housing crisis requires a strong commitment to working together from all three levels of government.

But that has yet to happen in a productive way.

Now another report has come out recommending that very thing — a joint effort from the federal, provincial and municipal governments to solve Regina’s homelessness crisis.

The report is titled “Homelessness in Regina” and it was released by Carmichael Outreach on Oct. 10. It found that while Regina’s vacancy rate has recently improved by reaching 1.9 per cent, there are still 4,500 individuals using homeless shelters during the year. And, it says, that might just be the tip of the iceberg and the number of actual homeless may be two or three times that number.

It recommends the city come together with other partners to implement a 10-year plan to end homelessness through a housing-first model. That would put homeless people into housing regardless of their addiction or mental health issues and then, once they have the security of somewhere to live, find ways to help them with their physical and psychological problems.

It would require a significant investment in affordable housing, but the model has been used successfully in many other cities.

“If you’re putting somebody who is consistently accessing your judicial system or acute health care services into a stable home, the numbers reflect that their costs to those services is drastically reduced and that actually offsets the intervention cost of Housing First to generate a tax profit year over year,” says Tyler Gray, a housing support coordinator for Carmichael Outreach.

Beyond the financial benefits, though, there is the moral question of what kind of city we want Regina to become as it grows — one that treats its most vulnerable with compassion and dignity? Or one where the problem of homelessness and affordable housing continues to terrify politicians into apoplexy for generations to come?

2. HARPER’S TROGLODYTES

Want something to really terrify the trick-or-treaters? Dress up as one of the morlock underclass that Canada’s Conservative parties are hoping to breed into existence. Bulbous eyes that see in the dark. Big, gnarled hands fit for working underground in potash mines or shale oil plays. A coat of shaggy hair to protect you from the subterranean chill. And for added verisimilitude, you should wave around a report card with a big ol’ “F” in science on it.

When the trick-or-treaters arrive, you can jump out shouting, “If your parents keep electing Stephen Harper, this is what you’ll turn into!”

Watch the little buggers run!

Sadly, as far as we can tell, it’s true. By muzzling government scientists, cutting support for curiosity-driven research and by defunding world-class research projects such as the Experimental Lakes Area and the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory, the Harper government is pretty clearly trying to create a generation of children who are ignorant of and hostile towards science.

And in an increasingly science and technology driven world, those kids will in time only be fit for the most menial of subterranean tasks in the resource sector, their devolved, pre-human bodies eventually replacing expensive machinery. Meanwhile, a select few party-loyal science wizards will direct their work from gleaming golden towers in Fortress Calgary.

Fortunately, there are a few people in Canada who are trying to reverse Harper’s anti-science agenda. On Oct. 10, an Ottawa group, Evidence For Democracy, held a panel discussion that brought together scientists, science journalists and public policy experts to discuss the role of science and evidence in policy making, the need for free communication of science and the ways in which scarce funding should be allocated for science research.

According to Katie Gibbs, executive director of Evidence For Democracy, it was a very productive discussion.

“It wasn’t just the sound bites of, ‘Oh, government scientists are being muzzled.’ We actually talked about what should the communication look like,” says Gibbs.

“The idea is to provide more training for government scientists on how you can communicate with the media instead of what we’ve seen, which is just a complete wall put up between them and the media, which isn’t very helpful.”

Communicating up the chain of command will remain a challenge, though. Gibbs says there are conservatives who care about this issue and want to see a more friendly approach to science in this country, but the Harper government has shown itself to be unwilling to release its tight control over its communications.

It’s not even willing to release any government-produced research that might undermine its agenda — this is especially true with environmental science.

Evidence For Democracy will continue to host events, stage protests and promote a letter-writing campaign through the Science Uncensored website (scienceuncensored.ca), but considering how intractable the Conservatives have been throughout their reign, it looks like we’ll see the evolution of a morlock underclass before we see Harper reverse course on anything.

3. THE DREADED ASPHALT DREADNAUGHT PILOT

Looking for something a little more freeform in the costume department this year? Why not dress up as a bus driver? I know, doesn’t sound exactly monstrous at first. But consider: over 90 per cent of Regina has never used our public transit system, so a bus driver is basically a mythical creature as real to them as Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.

And that means you can dress any way you like — bat wings, fangs, top hat, a uniform made of chitin and wool — and say, “I’m a bus driver,” and nine out of 10 people will have no reason to doubt you.

And that’s too bad, because according to the one in 10 who have taken public transit, bus drivers aren’t monstrous at all.

For instance, Ward 3 councillor Shawn Fraser recently started a 10 Days of Transit challenge where he used the bus as his primary mode of transportation around town. He says he learned a lot from the experience.

“The bus drivers have universally been friendly and helpful,” he says.

“The administration people too have a fairly keen understanding of what works for transit and what doesn’t, just working within the budget they have. They seem to be smart, motivated people.”

On the negative side, Fraser had trouble planning his trips.

“I had a hard time navigating the planning stuff. So there’s Trip Planner and then TransitLive and both of them do well at a specific application, but I found that a little counterintuitive. I guess I’m a bit of a Luddite and I haven’t found that to be an easy process.”

Fraser’s 10 Days Of Transit ends Oct. 17, the day this paper hits newsstands, with a public engagement session starting at 7 p.m. at the Good Earth Café. He says he will post notes from that discussion on his website, shawnfraser.ca.

2013-10-17