Stories

One step forward, two steps back for freedom

Paul Bunner
October 11, 2017
When he wasn’t kayaking on or swimming in the North Saskatchewan River near his home in Edmonton, C2C Journal editor Paul Bunner spent some of his summer fighting two battles for little freedoms in his local community. He won one and lost one. Although he’s a veteran political activist at the federal and provincial level, Bunner contends that the lifeblood of democracy must be nurtured at the foundations of society if it is to flourish at the top.
Stories

One step forward, two steps back for freedom

Paul Bunner
October 11, 2017
When he wasn’t kayaking on or swimming in the North Saskatchewan River near his home in Edmonton, C2C Journal editor Paul Bunner spent some of his summer fighting two battles for little freedoms in his local community. He won one and lost one. Although he’s a veteran political activist at the federal and provincial level, Bunner contends that the lifeblood of democracy must be nurtured at the foundations of society if it is to flourish at the top.
Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter

On the North Saskatchewan River flats in downtown Edmonton where I live, an international consortium of engineering and construction firms are building a light rail transit tunnel, bridge, elevated trackway and station. This is all part of the 13-kilometre, $1.8 billion Valley Line from downtown to the southeast quadrant of the City. It’s a noisy, dusty, traffic-disrupting, and earth-shaking infrastructure megaproject, slashing through the heart of Edmonton’s bucolic downtown river valley parklands, and it’s going to take five years to build.

I almost went postal a couple of times this spring when crews were installing caisson piles and cofferdams for the giant concrete piers the bridge and trackway will sit on. The loud, unrelenting drilling and hammering impaired concentration and conversation, and the soft clay of the valley transmitted the vibrations to the china in our cupboards and the pictures on our walls.

One day in late spring I strolled down to the river bank for a closer look at the cacophonous mess and discovered, to my amazement, that a big, beautiful sand beach had appeared out of nowhere, immediately downstream from a massive stone jetty built partway into the river to support a huge construction crane.  I later learned that the jetty had created the beach by slowing the velocity of the current and allowing fine sand to drop out of the water below it.

For a river swimmer and beach bum like me, this was pretty significant compensation for the construction trauma. I thereafter spent many joyful hours on the beach with relatives, friends and neighbours, cooling off by swimming in the jetty-protected shallows on hot days, working out by paddling my kayak against the current in the narrowed channel, and building sand castles with kids.

The beach grew over the course of the summer, eventually stretching the length of five full city blocks. Its popularity grew too, especially after the Edmonton Journal published a front page story in mid-August quoting me and others as suggesting the City ought to consider how, or if, the “Accidental Beach” could be made permanent.

Within days the number of beachgoers grew into the hundreds. On a few hot days, thousands came. It was completely ad hoc and unregulated. Somebody tied a rope to a tree to help people rappel down the steep bank. Others created rock pathways across rivulets. The City scrambled to provide parking and traffic control, garbage barrels and portable washrooms.

Conventional and social media lit up with a lively debate between beach lovers and haters. The former seemed to greatly outnumber the latter, with the haters mainly comprised of three groups: local NIMBYists, public safety worrywarts, and green protectionists. Despite their shrill warnings about uncivilized behaviour on the beach, bacteria in the water, and downtown “wilderness” despoliation, the crowds kept coming. Amazingly diverse crowds, disproportionately comprised of new Canadians with young families, but lots of preening young adults too. One eyewitness claimed he saw a topless female sunbather not far from another young woman in a burkini.

The beach was also a hot topic at a local civic election debate this fall, and almost all the candidates expressed some support for making it permanent. In an age when development of almost any kind is suffocated by regulation, and when public safety trumps personal risk and responsibility at almost every turn, the apparent public and political support for the Accidental Beach was a small win for freedom – a spontaneous popular vote for liberty and against meddlesome killjoys.

Alas, freedom also suffered a minor setback this fall, at least in my little universe. Earlier in the year, the nanny statists who dominate Edmonton City Council voted to lower the speed limit around 425 parks and playgrounds to 30 kilometres per hour. As a result my tiny downtown river valley neighbourhood (pop. about 930), which is built around a huge park, was suddenly blighted with 16 shiny new road signs announcing the new, photo radar-enforced speed limit.

In the hundred-year history of my neighbourhood, there have never been speed signs. Nor, as far as anyone can recall, has there ever been a serious – certainly not fatal – vehicle-pedestrian accident. Moreover, the natural, safe speed limit on our narrow, leafy streets is about 40 kph, yet among the new signs there are three announcing that the speed limit beyond the park zone perimeter is 50kph.

So at the annual general meeting of my community league in September, I introduced a motion calling on the City to remove all or most of the signs. After a sadly one-sided debate where I was pilloried as a reckless idiot which ended with a community member saying he would prefer 16 speed signs to a single fatality sign, my motion was defeated by a 2-1 margin.

I maintain the streets of our community will be more dangerous, not less, as a result of these signs. But what troubles me even more is that my friends and neighbours, the vast majority of whom are rational, reasonable, civilized people, were so easily persuaded to vote against freedom and personal responsibility.

These local stories may seem trivial to some readers who expect C2C Journal writers to tackle big national and international stories and enduring cultural and philosophical questions. Sure it’s a matter of greater import and urgency whether U.S. President Donald Trump is going to make good on his cryptic threats to drop the big one on Pyongyang. And sure Canada’s economic future is increasingly imperilled by regressive progressive assaults on resource development and our competitiveness as a nation.

But freedom, the essence of healthy democracy which constrains the excesses of government left or right, lives or dies at the foundations of society. If we don’t champion it at the bottom, it will not prevail at the top. Which is a very roundabout way of urging readers who care about freedom and democracy to get involved in local politics, as advised by Edmund Burke:

“To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country and to mankind.”

Love C2C Journal? Here's how you can help us grow.

More for you

One Flew Over the Kangaroo Court, Part II: The System Invents its Own Jurisprudence

An encounter with a nearly incomprehensible, seemingly absurd and coldly indifferent judicial body offering no apparent hope of resolution would surely cause most citizens to give up in disgust. Gleb Lisikh is made of different stuff; being patronized and rebuffed only makes him dig harder. In this continuation of his now three-year-long legal Odyssey (Part I can be read here), Lisikh provides a firsthand account of the worsening dysfunction of Canada’s court system – and makes the startling discovery that activist human rights adjudicators are attempting to exclude millions of Ontarians from the protection of the human rights code.

Conservatism’s Greatest Canadian Teacher: What we can Learn from George Grant

Most everyone would agree the political movement led by Pierre Poilievre is not your parents’ Conservative Party. Then again, neither arguably was the government of Stephen Harper. Did the 50s-era populist John Diefenbaker embody “real” conservatism? For that matter, did Sir John A. Macdonald? One man who spent his life struggling to define Canadian conservatism and determine who measured up – and who fell short – was political philosopher George Grant. For Grant, conservatism was rooted in the pushback against the interconnected forces of liberalism, technology and the American superstate. Now, a group of (mostly young) conservatives have taken up the challenge of evaluating whether Grant himself knew what he was talking about, and how his ideas might be applied today. Barry Cooper examines their work.

Malign Neglect: What Calgary’s Water-Main Break Reveals about the Failure of City Government

The rupture of Calgary’s biggest water main revealed more than the problems of aging infrastructure. It showed a civic bureaucracy unable to provide basic services or fix things when they break, and a mayor eager to blame others and scold citizens for their selfishness in wanting city services in return for their tax dollars. Above all, it laid bare the increasing tendency of governments to neglect their core responsibilities in favour of social policy fetishes, and to sidestep accountability when things go wrong. Clear, competent, mission-focused public servants are a vanishing breed, writes George Koch, and governing a city is now mainly about keeping city workers, senior officials and elected politicians happy.

More from this author

Good News From C2C Journal

C2C Journal is pleased to announce that thanks to the loyal and generous support of our readers, contributors and donors, the Journal is immediately increasing volume and frequency of original stories and essays, expanding staff, unveiling a redesigned website, and launching a sustained social media marketing push on multi-media platforms. Editor Paul Bunner has the details.

The Last Front Page

The rapidly shrinking newspaper business raises all kinds of questions. What will we wrap fish guts in? How will we light backyard fires? And where will we get reasonably accurate and important stories about what’s going on in our community, our country, and the world? The internet? Where global editor-bots decide what’s news? Where politicians can lie with impunity? Where fake news outsells real news? The short answer is yes. The longer and more encouraging answer is in the Spring edition of C2C Journal, which launches today with editor Paul Bunner’s lead editorial and career newspaperman Paul Stanway’s lament for the ink-stained wretches of yesterday’s news.

Situational sexism: Lock her up vs a punch in the face

At an anti-carbon tax rally at the Alberta Legislature in November, the crowd briefly mocked NDP Premier Rachel Notley with the “lock her up” chant that erupted at an Donald Trump campaign rallies whenever he attacked Hillary Clinton. It became a huge story, hailed as evidence that Trumpian sexism was spilling across the border. Last weekend, a young male demonstrator at anti-Trump “Women’s March” rally at the same location punched a female reporter for the right-wing Rebel Media in the face. The media response? Crickets at first, then skepticism. C2C editor Paul Bunner ponders the double standard.

Share This Story

Donate

Subscribe to the C2C Weekly
It's Free!

* indicates required
Interests
By providing your email you consent to receive news and updates from C2C Journal. You may unsubscribe at any time.