House in Surrey damaged by falling tree in late-August windstorm.

House in Surrey damaged by falling tree in late-August windstorm.

Urban society slides into helplessness

Emergency dispatchers flooded with calls for instant answers, some demand freezer compensation, fresh food deliveries

Of all the immature, ignorant whining that came out of the recent power failure in the Lower Mainland, one example summed up the decline of our urban culture for me.

It wasn’t the people who flooded 9-1-1 with calls demanding to know when their power would be restored, or complaining about their freezers. It wasn’t those on Twitter insisting BC Hydro pay for food that went bad. It was another social media moment.

With part of his community without electricity for a third day, Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart went to his Facebook page, which has a wide following. There he pleaded with residents to stop phoning city hall to demand that a local big-box supermarket provide milk and eggs.

Power had been restored at the store only a few hours before, in the dead of night, and it’s safe to assume that all stores were working flat out to restock perishables.

Where do people get the notion that city hall, or whatever all-powerful nanny state they imagine, controls grocery stores? How do they conclude that in the midst of the worst electrical grid failure on record, BC Hydro is going to address their personal situation above all others?

Vancouver broadcast media weren’t much better. Their big focus was that BC Hydro’s website crashed, so people couldn’t call it up on their smartphones and find out instantly when their power would be back on.

Some even questioned why wireless power meters didn’t help. Perhaps these were the same journalists who fed the tinfoil-hat superstition about their signals.

The facts should be known by now. After an extremely dry spring and summer, a high wind shattered trees and took down more wires and poles than BC Hydro had ever coped with before. Further damage was done within areas that were already blacked out, leaving overtaxed technicians unable to accurately assess the full extent of it.

In Coquitlam and elsewhere, poles were down in areas too rain-saturated for heavy repair trucks to reach. Yes, there were some too-optimistic repair estimates given out, in response to the constant screeching for instant answers.

About 15 years ago I experienced my worst power outage in the Fraser Valley. In a semi-rural area with little backup grid capacity (since greatly improved), my family went three days without power. This was in winter, due to wind and freezing rain followed by snow and cold.

Trickles of water kept pipes from freezing, and the gas stove provided a bit of heat. I heard no complaints about the crews struggling around the clock with the dangerous job of repair. Media coverage was mostly adult supervised.

Megastorm madness isn’t an isolated case. A couple of weeks before that, a temporary construction bump on the Lion’s Gate Bridge deck caused panic and rage.

Aggravated by a couple of accidents on the alternate route, and fed by hysterical media, drivers of West Van luxury cars were white-knuckled. Traffic choked the region that recently declined to pay a bit more for road improvements.

In both cases, people outside Lotus Land were muttering: Welcome to our world.

This is pertinent to the federal election. Are you competent to save for your retirement with RRSPs and a tax-free savings account, or do you need the government to do it for you, by force?

Are you capable of managing your own child care, or should the nanny state create a hugely subsidized system, which has already failed in Quebec, from coast to coast?

Are you ready for the day when the machine stops?

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

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