Public Safety over Fiscal Responsibility isn’t Really Responsible

Home is where the heart is, home is where believe we are safe” – Terry Wiens (2019)

I love Calgary. Calgary is my home. I’ve left it many times, sometimes for career purposes and a few times just to go on a crazy adventure. However every time I leave I eventually find myself returning. And each time I return I see new cracks and fissure taking place in the fabric of what Calgary was. I am slowly coming to the realization that the Calgary I loved may not exist anymore. The question I keep asking myself is “Can it be turned around?”. Can it continue to grow while maintaining that vibrant sense of community which is what I have always loved about Calgary, that sense of community.

Turning on the lights 1953

I still have childhood memories of family picnics and romping through the wading pool at Riley park. Or the annual employees picnic and BBQ held yearly at Bowness Park. All of the adults gathered around the picnic shelters, men playing games like horseshoe while mothers kept the younger kids entertained (no electronics back then) and the older kids swam or canoed around the lagoon. No fecal issues then.

It was a very different City then and civic pride was strong. The City was more united while being determined to grew and prosper. The urban sprawl began and Calgary has been prospering for the past sixty years. Sure there have been a few up’s and down’s, every City has those periods but Calgary, overall, has done very well for itself. That’s what keeps me coming back.

What does concern me is that every time I return there appears to be a new fracture. I think you have to have been gone every now and then to notice, you see things differently when you are looking through refreshed eyes. A lot of that change occurs, in part, due to regulatory change. To really understand that one has to know the history of regulatory change, like the downloading of jurisdictional responsibilities.

A lot of this began in the late 80’s (a period I refer to as the dawning of the age of regulations ending the “Age of Aquarius“) and into the 90’s. The various levels of government used “fiscal management” as a way to dump the responsibility that goes with regulations. As an example the federal government couldn’t keep up with the cost of rising health care. In an attempt to maintain the “universality” guaranteed in the Charter they adjusted the federal transfer payments system. This meant giving provincial jurisdictions the authority to decide how healthcare could be administered and what would be covered. From that simple adjustment the concept of treatment by postal code was born. Many disabilities were treated differently based on what province you were in.

The ripple effect of this resulted in the provinces, as their own way to avoid costs, to begin downloading to the municipal level. It was only in the mid 90’s that the Ministry of Municipal Affairs got out of the inspection business. The inspections that use to be provided by the province were either transferred to local government or, in some cases, created “inspection authorities”, a form of privatization. What local government didn’t factor in was the cost of that “responsibility” which is why, in part, we are seeing such an erosion to our infrastructure. A number of those programs are now being reversed, an example of that is returning driver licence testing back to government from the private sector.

Now, in any attempt to cut cost, municipal governments are abandoning the responsibility of inspection services. I live in the Beltline and all you have to do is walk around the pathways to see how much deterioration has gone on. Without regular inspection erosion just gets worse. Being wheelchair dependent a well maintain walkway is important to me. All it takes is a small crack to come to an unexpected screeching halt and do an airborne out of a wheelchair if you are not paying attention.

I spend a week in the Rockyview Hospital this past February as a result of one of those wheelchair flying patterns due to a poorly maintained curb-cut. The City’s response (cut and pasted from the e-mail) “We were able to mill the road on the NE corner of 14th Ave and 7th St SW on Tuesday. However, after reviewing the location and the wheel chair ramp it needs more attention than what I was able to provide. I have forwarded this location to our Construction department and they have said they will look at it and will do their best to have the grade redone in the 2019 construction season so that the wheel chair ramp is not so steep.” Even the City’s Central District Manager, Roads Maintenance has no idea how bad the walkways are in the Beltline.

I have over 70 e-mails that I have send to the City describing or supplying pictures/videos of unmaintained sidewalks. We are paying the price for the City’s inability to inspect or maintain road safety in a very high density community. Meanwhile I pay the price with my body but most recently a major setback for my wheelchair.

Lightweight Titanium wheelchair

Now I’m facing a $6000 cost to replace a bend frame due to a pothole the size of a small volcano. This was during Stampede week and I was left on my ass with a bag of groceries strewn around me. Thanks to the kindness of strangers who helped me back into my chair and helped me rearrange my groceries things got resolved. I took the video, send it to the City and, on the trip home, realized my frame was bend. When all four wheels are no longer touching the ground you know something has happened to your chair (and my chair is Titanium so it doesn’t bend easily),

Calgary is subject to some pretty intense rain falls and small lakes are not uncommon around curbs. Had of that been the case here it wouldn’t have mattered if you were in a wheelchair or walking, you would have toppled.

As I have mentioned numerous times, I love Calgary so I can live with this. I contact the City regularly reporting bad walkway situations. I do that believing I am being a responsible citizen and trying to do my part to make Calgary the best City it can be. It would be nice if my elected Ward rep would return one of my notes but that never happens. Doesn’t matter, let’s just get the repairs done.

But this latest has pushed me beyond my limits. It is very personal to me and the City’s lack of regular inspections has the potential to create issues for many of our kids. When the City allows the public splash pool on Olympic Square to get to the point where the health authority makes them shut if down due to dangerous levels of fecal matter, that’s my limit.

As a polio survivor it’s personal to me because the polio virus lives in fecal matter. We are living in a time when people are avoiding vaccines, where international visitors are coming from countries that have NOT totally eliminated polio and the virus can live for a long time in a persons gut. How long do you have to go to get to a point where the coliform count can get that high. Calgary, I love you but you still have a level of responsibility to maintain. If the level of fecal matter can get to 7 times the acceptable level you have failed. There are budget cuts but that doesn’t justify increasing the level of danger that threatens our kids.

Colour me pissed off…

Polio Diaries, Episode 3

Polio unit
The numbers were so high they required dormitories.

1953 saw the last of the major polio epidemics in North America.  In Canada that resulted in almost 9000 cases with over 500 deaths.  That was an 18% mortality rate and that figure climbs as high as 30% for adults.  The mortality rate isn’t as high anymore where polio still exists but then medicine has come a long way and the development of  antibiotics has made a major contribution.

Many of the deaths in those days were attributed more to infection than the actual polio.  In todays society the mortality rate should be zero.  With the vaccine there is absolutely no excuse for people to have to suffer the loss of loved ones due to the devastating disease.

The 1953 polio epidemic happened in the early days of penicillin.  In June 1942 there was just enough US penicillin available to treat ten patients.  Although it had been around many years it wasn’t until 1945 that mass production was started for the use of the general public.  Sulpha drugs were the antibiotic of choice then and they created a wide range of other issues.

As I had indicated earlier the high number of polio cases required dormitories, not hospital wards.  The numbers were just to high.  The sudden jump in numbers put huge strains on limited resources and many people just didn’t get treated.  This was also before the time of socialized medicine in Canada so it was a user pay process.

Following my initial diagnosis I spend almost a year in the King George Hospital.  By the time my fourth birthday came around I had spend a quarter of my early life in a hospital.  By the time I turned 16 that percentage had doubled but that is a story for later.

I never experienced any surgery in Winnipeg, that didn’t begin until my family moved us to Calgary.  In fact the move to Calgary was because the Junior Red Cross Crippled Children’s Hospital (now evolved into the Alberta Children’s Hospital) was offering free treatment to child survivors of polio.  It was to obtain treatment for me that my parents decided to uproot the family in 1957 and head for Calgary.  Again a tale for another time.  I did experience the treatment of the day in Winnipeg.  That involved stretching out the affected limbs to keep the tendons from contracting.

You could spend six months or longer in these
You could spend six months or longer in polio splints

That was either done with splints, a body frame or casting.  It was all dependent on the severity of the contractions going on.  And that was related to how much of the virus they were able to drain off from the spinal tap.  In my case it started with casting.  I don’t remember the cast very well but I can still feel the acrid taste of the ether in the back of my throat.  I also remember the gauze mask and I am reminded of it every time I use a strainer with cheese cloth.  The was the anesthetic of the day and it wasn’t uncommon to be accompanied with vomit.  I only have one memory of that and it is mainly olfactory but very vivid.

My parents were able to take me home for Christmas that year but on an out-patient basis and with casts on both legs.  My mother was seven months pregnant at the time with who was to be the fifth addition to the family.  That brother would be almost three months old by the time I came home again.  My only memory of that Christmas was my father carrying me home from a function down the street and him being sick.  My mom recently told me that I had asked him if he was breathing that “terrible smell” but in reality is was too much Christmas cheer.

Following my three day Christmas vacation I was returned to the King George.  It was shortly after my return that the hospital began to slowly practice the Sister Kenny approach to polio rehabilitation.  This approach revolutionized the approach to treating polio.  It also contributed to my aversion to the smell of wet wool to this day.  I will save that topic for my next little entry.

Let me close this one with a couple of quick thoughts.  First, I DO NOT have polio.  I live with the results of polio.  Polio is a virus that runs its course and then it is finished.  As a polio survivor you deal with the consequences of the virus which can be very diverse (from walking with a limp to living in an iron lung).  Telling me I have polio is like telling someone with an acquired disability due to a car accident that they live with the car accident.  They don’t, they live with the results and it is called paraplegia.  And second, in 1994 the North and South America’s were declared polio free by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.  Twenty years later this is no longer true.

There is no reason for children or adults to have to live with the threat of this devastating disease again.  Not when such a simple approach, the polio vaccine, exists.  As a polio survivor I don’t ever want to see the rise of this disease again.  I realize the avoidance of vaccines is a growing movement however every time someone refuses to vaccinate their child, they don’t only threaten their child’s health but they threaten the health of every child in the community.

Just one man’s opinion!