Saturday, August 1, 2020

Time Has Come Today

The 25 land-locked Inuit communities of Nunavut have a number of problems in common including, high food costs, a shortage of housing, and a reliance on diesel generators for power. Solving these problems would greatly improve their living conditions. If we could do it with a made-in-Canada solution that would be even better because it would allow us to demonstrate technological expertise that could be exported elsewhere. Fortunately we have this opportunity.

The first thing lacking in these northern communities is a way of growing fresh vegetables and, as a result, they have to pay exorbitant prices to have everything flown in. One obvious solution would be to build greenhouses and take advantage of the latest in hydroponic technology. With 24 hour sunlight in the summer months the crops could be growing day and night and in winter grow lights could be used instead. Mastering the challenges of operating a greenhouse in the north would also offer employment to its residents. A greenhouse in every community should be a priority.

A greenhouse also requires heat to operate and here is where reverse refrigeration/heat pumps come in. Instead of using warm air to cool a room you use cool air to heat it. These air-source heat pumps are already in use throughout Canadian homes and now there are also geothermal heat pumps that operate on the same principle by drawing heat from the ground. The extra cold air of these northern communities will put a strain on conventional heat pumps but refining this technology is where the opportunity lies for Canada. Refined heat pump technology could also be used to provide better heating for the homes of these residents who are suffering from poor ventilation and the effects of fuel oil and propane heating issues.

Even more serious than a lack of fresh produce is the lack of housing in the north where 36% of the population is waiting for housing, 34% of the housing is in need of major repairs, and more than 50% are living in overcrowded conditions which are contributing to shocking levels of tuberculosis. Yes it costs more to build in the north and there may be a lack of skilled trades so the most obvious solution would be to use pre-fabricated homes that could be constructed elsewhere and simply shipped to these communities for installation. Any time a mining company wants to set up an operation that's exactly what they do so why can't the government simply coordinate things? Each of these communities is accessible by ship during the summer when the ice breaks up so it isn't that difficult to deliver these pre-fab homes and there are numerous Canadian companies who already have the experience of building them. 

Energy use in the north is very different from the rest of the country in that it is completely dependent on refined oil that has to be imported from provinces in the south. 100% of the communities in Nunavut have to use diesel powered plants to generate their electricity. While some renewable options are being reviewed the biggest breakthrough for meeting its energy needs could come from nuclear power, specifically the new technology referred to as Small Modular Reactors or SMRs. Small enough to fit on the back of a truck or in a shipping container, and using new technologies that incorporate liquid salt or helium for cooling and passive built-in safety features, these nuclear reactors produce between 5 - 100 megawatts of electricity which is easily enough to power any of these communities that average only 2,000 inhabitants. 

Micro Modular Reactor Energy System

A partnership between Global First Power, an energy provider specializing in the project development of small nuclear power plants, Ultra Safe Nuclear, a company that has developed the Micro Modular Reactor technology, and Ontario Power Generation, a Crown corporation which produces half the power Ontario uses and operates both the Pickering and Darlington nuclear generating stations, is preparing to build a demonstration plant at an Atomic Energy Canada site. Nuclear energy is a clean, reliable, energy source and a key component to reducing greenhouse gas, something the environmental movement is finally starting to realize. Canada has long been a leader in this field and, with all the challenges in the North that SMRs could solve, this could be our opportunity to demonstrate leadership in an exciting new technology.

With the railway to Churchill now repaired and operating again and the Port re-opened, this strategically positioned city is perfectly positioned to be the delivery gateway to all these northern communities. Pre-fab housing, greenhouses, and SMRs could all be assembled and stored in Churchill during the winter and spring months and then loaded onto ships for delivery during the summer break-up. With global warming adding to the number of ice-free days in Hudson Bay and the Arctic Ocean it becomes even more cost effective. Solving the critical issues of the North offers so much potential for the people living there and the rest of Canada. The time has come today, let's seize the opportunity.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Pity The Poor Immigrant

COVID has certainly shown how dependent we are on all the recent immigrants and would-be immigrants in this country but whether or not we wish to show our gratitude towards them is a completely different story. Usually employed in the low-paying jobs that most Canadians shy away from, little thought is ever given to how we would manage without them until suddenly they aren't there any longer. And instead of trying to make things a little easier for these folks doing all these thankless tasks, we come up with rules and procedures that make their lives even harder. 

Take for example the medical workers. All those nurses aides struggling to earn a living and having to juggle part-time work at a variety of nursing homes and hospitals because they couldn't get a permanent position which would also have provided them with benefits we all take for granted. We're happy to let these people wipe our bums, bathe and feed us and otherwise put our lives in their hands but we don't want to pay them one penny over minimum wage. And this doesn't even begin to address the issue of qualified doctors and nurses who have emigrated here only to find out we won't recognize their qualifications or the restrictions we put on nannies and aides who aren't allowed to bring in their husbands and children. 

Then there are the poor temporary farm workers. Housed in disgusting, overcrowded bunkhouses with substandard communal washroom conditions and separated from their families for months at a time while they work long hours planting, tilling, and harvesting the food essential to our existence. Once again this is a group doing it for minimum wage or less while still having to feed and clothe their families back home. We don't offer these hard working folks an opportunity to emigrate here even though it's clear they aren't taking away jobs from anyone. There isn't a Canadian prepared to do this work even for the $2,000.00 monthly Emergency Response Benefit and yet we let the unemployed just sit at home.

And then we have the grocery store folks, especially the ones at the checkout. Here they are putting themselves in the most dangerous position of all by potentially breathing in everyone's germs as we cough, sneeze, and chatter away without wearing any face masks ourselves. Immigrants again, working for minimum wage to ensure we get all the food and toiletries we need. 

Of course the reason we are paying these essential workers such a low wage is because we don't want to pay anything other than the lowest possible price for our health care and groceries even though there is really nothing more important.  By turning a blind eye to the mistreatment of these people we have been able to live in splendid ignorance but, thanks to COVID, we now have to acknowledge it's time to make some changes. As another Canada Day rolls around better wages, working & living conditions, and a clear path to becoming a Canadian citizen are the minimum we can do. Rather than pity them we need to welcome the poor immigrant with a more generous spirit that recognizes how important they are to this country.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Looking Out My Back Door

Stanley Park
One of the unexpected benefits of the Covid lock-down is having the chance to really get acquainted with your own backyard. In my case, living on the edge of English Bay, I'm particularly fortunate as I can go for my morning swim in the ocean and then later go for a hike in my backyard, otherwise known as Stanley Park. The jewel of Vancouver, this 1,000 acre peninsula bordering the downtown and surrounded by the waters of English Bay and Burrard Inlet, is home to an amazingly diverse collection of attractions offering something for everyone.

In spite of countless walks along the seawall, visits to the Aquarium, attending concerts & plays at Malkin Bowl, dining at the various restaurants, watching cricket and rugby games at Brockton Oval, riding the miniature train, going on photo expeditions in Lost Lagoon and Beaver Lake, playing tennis and golf, swimming at 2nd Beach Pool, and being a member of the Vancouver Rowing Club, I had never seriously explored the more than 27 km of beautifully groomed trails running through the Park but now I had the perfect opportunity.

The original skid roads for the selective logging that took place in the Park in the 1860's-1880's later formed the basis of the trail system in use today. While the Park is still densely forested with a mixture of Douglas fir, hemlock, and cedar trees, there is plenty of evidence of trees that were cut down with the old hand logging methods using springboards that were notched into what is now the stump of the tree. The ghosts of these mighty trees can be found throughout the Park.

The Park supports a wide range of creatures including elusive coyotes and beavers, fearsome squirrels, and mysterious lions. Canada geese that don't seem to fly north or south, various species of ducks, owls and bald eagles, and one of the largest colonies of blue herons in North America are some of the birds that also make the Park their home. There's even room for horses. And, like parks everywhere, it also provides shelter for various homeless individuals.

Beaver lodge in Beaver Lake
Fearsome Gray Squirrel - photo by Junie Quiroga

Mysterious Stanley Park Lion

Blue Heron - photo by Junie Quiroga

Homeless Crib
From the beautifully appointed rose garden, to water lilies and other plants around Beaver Lake, and the rhododendron garden on the edge of Lost Lagoon, it's the flowers that make it for some while, for others, its just the cool shaded ferns and trees in the forest.

When the City of Vancouver was incorporated in 1886 the first order of business was to secure the park from the dominion government (who had been using it as a military reserve) and in 1888 it was officially named Stanley Park after Lord Stanley, the country's governor general, who also donated the Stanley Cup that was later given to the NHL. In 1938 the Lions Gate Bridge, a suspension bridge connecting Vancouver to the North Shore through the middle of Stanley Park, was opened and included a pair of cast concrete lions in reference to the pair of north shore mountain peaks known as The Lions. A trail to the start of the bridge enables one to get up close and personal with the lions, get their autograph, and even go underneath the bridge itself to get to the other side.

Nelson and The Lions
Lions Gate Lion

The trails not only offer good exercise and a cardio workout as you climb in elevation from Lost Lagoon to Prospect Point they also provide stunning views of the ocean and other natural attractions like Siwash Rock. According to various coastal first nations legends a man was transformed into the rock either as punishment for some evil deed or as a reward for unselfishness. 

Of course after all that exercise the first thing that comes to mind is a nice cold beer and something to eat. While the pubs and restaurants in the City are all closed at least the newly opened Stanley Park Brewpub is offering takeout which can then be discreetly consumed on a nearby bench.

Mark & Nelson
And even if the swimming pools are closed, the ocean is always open and all you need is a wetsuit to be able to enjoy a pleasant morning swim in English Bay. Stanley Park has allowed me to keep fit and stay active no matter what is going on in the world and, thanks to this temporary health crisis, I've had the opportunity to appreciate and explore things I've never seen before. All I had to do was take a look out my own back door.

Ian, Peter & Nelson

Friday, May 1, 2020

Don't Fear The Reaper

The one thing for sure the Covid virus has highlighted for everyone is death, particularly among the elderly, and especially those living in care homes.  But, in spite of the inevitability of death, it remains something we are always in denial of. We don't want to think about it or plan for it. Unfortunately this "head in the sand" approach to death can often lead to a death that is more stressful and painful than it needs to be. With a little advance planning things could be reasonably pleasant and less fearful.

A will that puts your affairs in good order and a living will that ensures you don't receive painful and unnecessary medical procedures can go a long way towards acceptance of our fate and reduce the burden that would otherwise would fall on our loved ones and the State. Even though the average life expectancy has increased we shouldn't be surprised when people die in their 80's as it has to happen eventually. The Covid virus attacks the respiratory system much like pneumonia and not so long ago pneumonia was called the old person's friend because it was an easier and much preferable death to so many other diseases.

The trouble now is the usual killers, like heart disease, have been so successfully treated with preventative measures that the primary killer is cancer, a much nastier fate and one there will not be a cure for, despite all the well-meaning efforts of fund-raisers. In the face of terminal illness a better solution might be medical assistance in dying, or MAID as it is called. Prolonging life with mechanical interventions of any kind when there is no possibility of a return to a normal state is simply pointless and a waste of hospital resources. Much better to die on your own terms rather than someone else's.

We start dying from the minute we are born but, the end date is never fixed and, in the meantime, we need to make the most of it with an individual experience that is filled with knowledge and is as rich and rewarding as possible. To do this we need to accept the cards we've been dealt, live with purpose, and enjoy what life has to offer. It's what makes life meaningful, and to do otherwise is simply a waste. But, each one of us also needs to take responsibility for our own mortality, and that includes keeping fit and healthy while we're alive, and accepting of death when it beckons. If we do all of these things we will be at peace and there won't be any reason to fear the Reaper.