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Powerless against propane

August 12, 2008 1 comment

In Toronto, Mayor David Miller and his officials have set citizens’ heads to shaking with their claim that they had no way of preventing the construction, three years ago, of an incendiary propane plant situated smack between a Jewish cemetary and a densely-populated residential area. The plant of Sunrise Propane blew up on Sunday, killing two, demolishing a dozen or so houses, and sending thousands of residents fleeing.

But, by God, they’re going to put a stop to scavengers scoring wine bottles out of your garbage.

This tells you a couple of things about our society in general, and the “cover my ass” attitude of certain politicians, in particular.

In the wake of the inferno, Miller and his crew went before the TV cameras to make nicey-nice about how well the residents are dealing with the disaster. But the Mayor spent most of his time finger pointing. He was at pains to explain that the City of Toronto had no way of stopping the plant from being built where it was because the Province of Ontario  prevented it from changing its bylaws back in the days of the Mike Harris Tory government. Now, the Mayor says, he’s ordered a review of the city’s zoning laws to prevent a similar future disaster. If they couldn’t prevent Sunday’s blow-up, how are they going to forestall something like this from happening again?

Stopping the Bottle Scavengers

Meanwhie, the Mayor and his Council are hell-bent to stop scavengers from rustling wine bottles and other deposit-returnables out of your garbage before the City can get to them. (Of course, you’re not supposed to put them there in the first place.) They’re robbing the City of valuable revenue to be gained from recycling, says the head of the garbage department. Once you put your garbage out, it’s City property, and only the City can touch it.

The Mayor has made a great fuss about his compassion and concern for the homeless. The fact that many if not most of the bottle scavengers are homeless doesn’t appear to count for much. Their initiative in crawling around our back alleys in the middle of the night is not something we’re supposed to appreciate.

Some of the folks who are beating the City out of bottle refunds and recycling revenue are said to be professionals who make a tidy profit out of getting there first. There’s a simple way to deal with this – turn a blind eye to individual collectors going their rounds, but crack down on the pros. Canadians take this approach to many laws — we prosecute the serious offender (like marijuana traffickers) but usually turn a blind eye to the kid with a toke in his backpack.

There’s an interesting untold side of the Sunrise Propane story. Other than a statement by the company’s lawyer that Sunrise was conforming with all by-laws and rules (and I’m sure they were), I haven’t seen a line or heard a word about what this means to the company. Are they fully insured? What’s happening to the workers? How does the owner feel about this catastrophe? Who IS the owner? Not a word.

I went to the Sunrise Propane web site and here’s the first thing I found: “Sunrise Propane and its employees take great pride in being able to deliver very competitively priced propane and industrial gases with exceptional service to all customers. Satisfied customers are the foundation upon which Sunrise Propane was built.”

I noticed a link to “Risk Management” and clicked on it, expecting to find something about safety precautions. This was not the type of risk Propane talks about. Their Risk Management “is a set of tools that help limit exposure to price swings.” And here I thought risk was all about saving your neck, not just your wallet!

The brouhaha about the illegal bottle collectors is a reminder that we still express little concern for the underclass in our economy. Not a lot has changed from the Hungry Thirties, as I was reminded this week in re-reading Hugh Garner’s great 1950 novel, Cabbagetown. It tells the story of young Ken Tilling, from his frustrating days at tech school, living with an alcoholic mother, holding down mind-numbing jobs (when he could get one), in love with a girl who becomes a whore, and ending with his joining the International Brigade to fight the fascists in the Spanish Civil War.

Garner’s book, most now agree, was a largely autobiographical stream of consciousness, with Tilling’s path paralleling his own life, including his volunteering to go to Spain. By present-day standards, it’s overwritten and could use a good edit. But get it from your library. And let me know if you don’t think much of what Garner writes about in terms of social injustice and economic explotation isn’t still going on.

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