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Maxed Out

Exorcising democracy

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By G.D. Maxwell

Between William Shakespeare and Mark Twain I sometimes think all the good lines have already been written. "Lies, damn lies and statistics," generally attributed to the latter to explain sometimes baffling arguments supported by dubious numbers, has been rattling around my stuffy head most of the week.

Blame Vancouver. Or rather, my very incomplete understanding of exactly what Vancouver is.

When I moved to Canada 24 years ago, I woke up one morning and found myself in Montreal. Montreal was a very cool city. Très cosmopolitan. It seemed to me more like a foreign country than probably any place in Canada outside of outport Newfoundland or Goa Haven possibly could. Not understanding the language helped, as did not understanding why in the world anyone would want to live in a town where the temperature was -40º, as it was my first week in Montreal. Days before, I’d left high 70s Fahrenheit and a minor sunburn behind in southern New Mexico.

But as much as I enjoyed discovering the unique pleasures of La Belle Province, my gaze was cast westward. I really wanted to move to Vancouver. The mountains had been ripped from my soul. As nice as sailing on Lake Champlain between the Green and White Mountains in glorious autumnal foliage was, they weren’t what a Rockies kind of guy could comfortably call mountains.

The nine years of a possible life sentence I spent in Toronto is best forgotten entirely. Needless to say my longing for Vancouver during that period was intense.

Vancouver never materialized; Whistler intervened. My gain; your loss.

And Vancouver remains a mist-shrouded mystery to me. I make it down valley a couple of times a year, less frequently as time passes and my tolerance for all things urban lessens. My mental map of the city is mostly terra incognito, sprinkled with random familiar bits.

As an outsider, Vancouver always seemed to start where the highway widened, traffic increased, blood pressure began to rise and drivers ramped up their rage. I could never figure where it ended travelling east on the Trans Canada and it seemed pretty much to nuzzle up to the US border on the south. Only water clearly defined its western edge.

But watching the results of Saturday’s Olympic plebiscite roll in, something didn’t seem right. I wasn’t sure what though. I was simply warmed by this little island of democracy poking up in a sea of provincial paternalism. Good turnout – 46 per cent – solid result, not some wishy-washy, Quebec referendum 50.1 per cent kind of split. 64 per cent in an increasingly polarized society was far more conclusive than any election result in recent memory.

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