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A taste of real winter and Vancouver just can’t keep it together

Every few years or so, Vancouver gets to do something it does better than any other city in the country: embarrass itself.

This occurs when there is a snowfall. And when this happens, the rest of the country gets to laugh as the snowflakes that call Vancouver home melt into a puddle of tears and self-pity. Yet the hysteria that has greeted winter this year has set historic records for wailing and chuntering.

For those who haven't heard, Vancouver has been experiencing a few weeks of real, genuine, Canadian winter. They are conditions the rest of the country (and B.C.) greets with a yawn around this time of year. But in Vancouver, it has touched off near riots.

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There are now calls for an independent inquiry into how the city has managed the recent spate of snow and freezing rain. Yes, you read that correctly: an inquiry.

Look, I get that the city could have been better organized for the blast of winter it has received. It lost a gamble that the weather would warm, and the ice on the streets and sidewalks would melt. To be fair though, Vancouver is experiencing a weather reality it hasn't faced in three decades.

I'm not sure it would be in taxpayers' best interests to have a massive battalion of snow plows and warehouses full of salt at the ready for circumstances that occur once in a blue moon. But if that is what the citizens want, then they should also be prepared to tell the city fathers what they are prepared to do without – unless they are happy to see their taxes raised to pay for it.

I didn't think so.

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So, let's proceed on the basis that yes, the city could have handled aspects of these rare winter surroundings better. But then, you could also say the same about the citizens themselves.

For some reason, it seems to be okay for people to blast management for "not being prepared" when many of them weren't either. People drive in this city with no more thought of putting winter tires on than they would, say, stock up on a little salt for that one day they might need it.

Instead, they spin their wheels and complain that the city hasn't plowed their side street. Or they line up at fire stations waiting for free salt to be dispensed and when it arrives, act like maniacal, greedy shoppers at a Black Friday sale. Really, what kind of people almost start a brawl over free road salt?

And then there are the pictures of people hitting the beach with their buckets to steal sand. Honestly. I don't know, but when I consider the response to the current situation, some of the words and images that leap to mind include: pathetic, infantilization, wusses, fetal position, baby blanket, thumb sucking.

Now, I should say, there have been some who have embraced it all, turning their frozen streets into skating rinks. It has produced pictures from this winter of which people should be the proudest.

The fact is, the only ones living in Vancouver we should be concerned about right now are seniors, shut-ins and the disabled. They likely could use some assistance. There should be a hot line for them to call, and a vast army of volunteers at the ready to help them out. That's the kind of response you'd like to see. Not the humiliating display of victimhood we've been witnessing.

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Or maybe something along the lines of what the people of Parsonsfield, Me., did recently.

When Mother Nature dumped nearly 65 centimetres of snow on the town of less than 2,000, the task of clearing the streets was so daunting, the only snowplow driver quit. (By comparison, the worst snowfall Vancouver has seen on one day this winter was 20 cm).

Instead, of phoning the mayor, or lighting up the switchboard at municipal hall to complain about the lack of snowplow service, the people of Parsonsfield took matters into their own hands.

They started phoning one another and organizing shifts to go out and salt and plow the roads themselves. Others took responsibility for clearing sidewalks. Workers from a nearby town arrived to lend a hand. Within 48 hours, the roads were in good enough shape for the town to collect trash and recycling.

Doing instead of complaining: many people in Vancouver shudder at the thought.

Video: Skating on icy streets in Vancouver
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About the Author
National affairs columnist

Gary Mason began his journalism career in British Columbia in 1981, working as a summer intern for Canadian Press. More

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