by Meryl Duprey
Being a taxi driver, I have a view of the ground-level unavailable to (or unwanted by) those making government policy in Canada right now. My little section of that ground level–a small town in British Columbia called Williams Lake–seems from this humble vantage point to be in a state of concern just now, and for good reason. Other than the usual verities of the cultural underbelly I get to savour as a hack–my latest pet peeve is cocaine dealers who think they’re starring in an episode of The Sopranos–I’ve noticed a few more telling symptoms of social unrest, most of them stemming from the far-flung beast simply known to we Interiorites as "The Tariff," a 19 percent surcharge on Canadian softwood lumber imposed by the Bush administration last summer on the grounds that B.C.’s stumpage rates give Canadian forest companies an unfair advantage over America’s lumber producers.
While not yet having a practical effect on our local economy (no forest barons have jumped out of 2-storey buildings thus far) the Tariff has definitely chilled an otherwise pleasant winter of global warming. In Williams Lake, sympathy for 09/11 was somewhat dampened as news that Dubya had set an additional 12.57% anti-dumping duty hit the streets. Our labour market had already suffered enough blows, thanks to corporate greed and a Forest Practices Code so convoluted even Jean Chretien had to admire the dark poetry of the thing.
Post-Tariff, nobody in the forest industry jokes about flippin’ burgers. Not that logging had been much fun anyway since the tree-huggers started pining for the plight of the faerie-folk. But at least it was still profitable. Nowadays, there’s more money in hugging trees than cutting them down. Just the mention of a pine beetle epidemic here can send the unemployment rate into the black. I learned this the hard way during my time as an independent newspaper publisher. Oh sure, baby-boomers are more than willing to part with their life-savings in exchange for advertising space, just like the econ-dev guy told me at the seminar I was forced to attend before the city would hand over my business license. What he didn’t mention though was how they had to be either drunk, insane or directly related to me. I managed to find enough of these to stave off bankruptcy for a couple of years.
The town council has grasped at various straws in order to keep us distracted from our impending starvation, most important being the nestling of big-box stores that can’t compete with Wal-Mart. We can get our blue jeans for $1.50 now without having to visit the Sally Ann, but most of us proles aren’t celebrating. What good is a bargain bin when you can’t scratch together enough savings to rent the latest Jim Carrey video? Which brings us to Plan B, otherwise known as gambling.
There was supposedly such a controversy about building a casino in Williams Lake they had to send the idea to referendum. The Christians led the fight against, claiming that gambling is unholy. I always thought giving ten percent of your income to God was a form of speculation, based on the rate of return promised by scripture, but what do I know? The heavenly host was aligned uncomfortably with the socialists, who argued that sensual pleasure is addictive. On the other side, the "for" group consisted of all the people guaranteed employment if the casino became a reality. Needless to say, the "for"s came out on top.
Personally, I think there are more lucrative vices to shore up our failing infrastructure with. Take escort services, for example. As a chauffeur for the local call-girl, I’ve got tons of anecdotal information supporting the profitability of her enterprise. With overhead consisting of cheap cocaine and Mozza Burgers, "Evangeline" (not her real name) can boast a 90% profit margin. That sure beats the hell out of Wal-Mart.
Alas, no-one listens to a lowly public transportation employee. Most people barely notice that I’m driving the taxi. (Being invisible is one of the first survival skills you learn as a hack. A friend of mine theorizes that Osama bin Laden has been driving taxi in Vancouver since Operation Infinite Wisdom was initiated. Personally, I think he’s snuck into the back-bench of the BC Liberal Party.)
Here’s the clincher, though. I’ve noticed an increase in the number of Christmas lights this year. In the past, this has correlated directly with white male depression in Williams Lake. By the way the place is glowing, we could be headed for, say, Jonestown (without the cohesive leadership), or maybe even Toronto after losing the Olympics bid.
December 14, 2001 783 w.