CAROLAN: Christmas wishes and worries

As we near Christmas, it's been a queer old year in the political barnyard.

Yet if wise men or women remain in critically short supply among our political leaders, some pocket-sized truths have still emerged.

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Gambling, alas, is back on the North Shore agenda. Since they've given it the nod out in bible-belt Chilliwack, and with our North Shore retired seniors looking like cash cows to those who'd be happy to help redirect that wealth, it was a matter of time before the old oily vice slithered forth. So City of North Vancouver council is considering a pitch for its waterfront and have requested a staff report so they can more deeply study the issue. They'll be looking closely at what a percentage share of gambling revenues and new "gaming centre" development costs would be worth financially.

Christmas cheers to Couns. Pam Bookham and Rod Clark for speaking out early against bringing gambling here.

Let's hope the city's report cuts the bull and gets down to the pitiful truth. Professional criminologists tell us that gambling is the hardest addiction to break. How many of us haven't heard of families broken up since casino gambling hit the Lower Mainland? You didn't get that when church bingo was the rage and Las Vegas and Reno were just about far enough away for the social vices associated with casino action. Admittedly, the proposal brought to city council isn't of that stripe. It's forwarded as a slot-machine operation. These places are part of the official gambling system that B.C. Lottery Corporation's 2012/13 service plan indicates is worth $807 million annually. Typically they run from 10 in the morning to about 1 a.m. It sounds harmless enough up front. Research papers at the university where I teach, however, caught my attention a couple of weeks ago with the news of how deeply seniors are attracted to these operations. Apparently, it's not uncommon for them to visit three times a week spending up to $100 a pop. There's the fun involved, the lights, the company. As in Petula Clark's hit song, "Downtown," the gaming centre or casino can be a place for the elderly to go and just not feel alone. But do the math. While not overlooking those from other age or ethnic groups attracted to the chance of having a costly flutter, there's an especially unpleasant rub about lower-income seniors being attracted to these operations. A recent TD Bank study shows that debt accumulation among Canadians 65 and older has risen by 15 per cent since 2012. Shouldn't these folks' finances be heading the other way? As a Christmas wish, let's hope Mayor Darrell Mussatto and council show they understand what moral decency is and demonstrate it by directing the gaming operators elsewhere.

Speaking of hustles that benefit the few and impact the lives of many, have you thought about how those huge towers now under construction at Seylynn will change the mindset of North Vancouverites about big growth? The status quo changed around these parts this past year. Like gambling, selling big zoning to property developers is an easy fast-buck deal. The fun and the quick revenues come first, then the longterm costs of servicing an increasing population kick in - forever. Expect to see more of the big stuff starting in Lynn Valley. These changes slipped through as quietly as the Agricultural Land Reserve is being stripped away under the B.C. Liberals for more population sprawl out in the Fraser Valley and south of the Fraser River to the U.S. border. It's a sheepish population that allows it to happen. But a citizenry that's too detached from political and economic issues that affect them personally is a bad situation.

Over in Burnaby, they're actually talking about 71-storey towers in the Brentwood Mall area. As I've written before, these things metastasize.

Since plenty of the North Vancouver seniors I speak with would love a small, independent retirement home on a compact, low maintenance lot, whatever happened to "small is beautiful" thinking? Now there's a Christmas wish a few of us could get behind. Talk to home builders: municipalities are still hung up on minimum square footage in new building regulations. That keeps things needlessly big and overpriced. Other communities manage compact new homes for the young or those downsizing. Why not around here? We're short a few talented creative arts graduates in North Shore planning departments.

Farther up the slope in Lynn Valley there's a sensible end-of-year idea at last in the fractious debate over mountain biking around Mount Fromme's trails. Hikers know what becomes of a decent trail when the ninja-turtle wannabees in gladiator bike duds start up. Last month a request came to district council for increased parking and heated washrooms in the area. Purportedly, this would alleviate resident concerns about riders that have for years been seen changing their clothes on the adjacent boulevards and frightening the last few horses nearby. At the Nov. 18 council meeting, in a rare gesture to low-growth, Coun. Roger Bassam - last heard of lobbying to increase the Seylynn super tower from 28 to 32 storeys - noted that with prohibitive costs, amenities like heated change rooms aren't likely forthcoming. To the relief of some in Upper Lynn, Coun. Alan Nixon has proposed a legitimately independent review to reassess the ecological health of the trails and forest. It's an overdue idea. In a recent letter, acting parks manager Susan Rogers acknowledged that such a review is now under discussion.

Meanwhile, news that North Vancouver's Seaspan may be too busy to compete for building three new vessels for B.C. Ferries points to some deeper issues. It's great for our economy that the shipyard is constructing Arctic service non-combat ships, but there's a reason for that. Estimates from the 2008 U.S. Geological Survey gauge that up to 13 per cent of the planet's untapped oil resources may be located under the vast Arctic Ocean. Not good news for the walrus or polar bears. With a global biosphere that's already in crisis, through our use of plastic, cars, asphalt and clingy wrap for our sandwiches, we're all part of the system that's devouring the natural world. Now another environmental challenge for Canadians. We'll also get the dubious pleasure of jousting in the Arctic periodically with Vladimir Putin, or his shadow. Ask the two Canucks who were part of the Greenpeace Arctic 30 activists that just spent jail time in Russia how our touchy Arctic neighbour sees things up there.

At holiday time dare one even mention public transit funding problems? Those tolls, parking fees and "road pricing" charges that TransLink head Mayor Richard Walton of the district and his colleagues have proposed look more like mafia extortion. The referendum Premier Christie Clark has promised on all this for next fall should be a slugfest.

But let's give peace a chance, eh? A happy and holy Christmas to all, and a blessing on those who care for our elderly and ill in hospitals and care homes.

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