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Writer-s-Bloc

Now's not the time for blame about damage from historic flooding

Dig out before digging in

Before blame must come gratitude.

One would think British Columbia would be ready for rain more than anything else. But nothing in anyone’s memory has struck like the rain – and then the wind – in recent days.

How on earth can there be blame? You couldn’t possibly have been prepared for so many roads to close or collapse under the weight of water, for bridges to wash out and cut communities from each other, for trains to topple and bolt-cut the already precious supply chain, for a barge to beach, and for cars and trucks and their waylaid inhabitants to be stuck in the mud.

A severed Coquihalla, a subsumed Malahat, an awash Abbotsford, a saturated Merritt and Princeton, search-and-rescue missions in Agassiz. Traffic choked, cities cornered, the province isolated. It feels like it's. . .everywhere.

Gratitude, then. At least four died near Lillooet. Let’s hope it was no more.

Thousands have rolled up sleeves to help, some of them fearless rescue units and many of them just plugging themselves in where they could be useful. A mayor directing traffic, a pizza place dropping off food to stranded travellers, helicopters to hoist the highway marooned, transport trucks bringing animals to higher ground, neighbours bringing neighbours to evacuation centres or relatives’ homes out of harm’s way.

Countless small and large gestures, evidence of community everywhere.

That innate kindness and selflessness was tapped constantly in the pandemic through the lockdowns, through the horrid discovery of residential school graves, through the forest fires, through the heat dome, through the losses at Lytton, and now through the flooding.

It isn’t as if British Columbia is learning anything new, only applying what it knew all along about empathy and support.

In each case, though, and in due course, a sensible consequence is to explore how institutions responded to ensure anything that faltered might not be repeated. There are bound to be questions about why the weekend went by and there was not in British Columbia the same alarm rung that there was in adjacent Alberta and Washington.

Might more people have had adequate time to arrange themselves to leave their homes, particularly if expert advice would be warning of what appeared ahead? Might fewer people have taken routine trips that would send their lives into chaos and fear? Might there have been rail lines and highways closed to wait out the effects instead of wading into them?

Clearly some municipalities have not kept pace with infrastructural needs or in a couple of cases situated crucial facilities where they wouldn’t be ineffectual in disaster. Even the wisest engineers and prescient politicians don’t often plan for the worst-case scenario.

The economic effects will knock on for a long time from this long weekend of precipitation, whether it’s another layer of inflation, another bout of insurance premium hikes or another raft of empty supermarket shelves or escalating prices at the pumps.

These one-in-a-100-year events have landed with the coincidence of a slot machine jackpot upon us (we haven't had the big earthquake, yet) and just as the pandemic created a new abnormal, so does climate change. There are already clamours for communities to more seriously address the climate emergency, but these global issues can’t be contended with at a municipal level. Senior government with big money spread across a nation offers the most intelligent scale to tackle the challenge. Mind you, even the greatest effort won’t roll back the clock, so we ought to expect more atmospheric rivers, heat domes, fierce winds, frigid storms, too much and too little water within weeks of each other.

But that’s for another day. Today is for appreciation. Let's dig out before digging in. It’s not called Beautiful British Columbia only for the scenery.

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.



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Theft from grocery stores is a growing, and troubling , problem

Grocery store theft

Shoplifting has been on the rise in Canadian supermarkets in recent months. And that ultimately costs us all.

Concrete data on theft in grocery stores is difficult to get since incidents are typically underreported. Managers tend to take matters into their own hands. But with the increasing number of reports of theft, and security guards stationed inside and outside grocery stores, things are likely more complicated than we’re aware of.

Speaking with various retailers in Montreal, Halifax, Toronto and Vancouver – even those in the heart of neighbourhoods where crime rates are typically lower than average – thefts are a new cause for concern.

According to anecdotal estimates, the number of thefts has increased by 25 to 40 per cent in just the last six months. A mid-sized grocery store can easily catch 10 to 12 shoplifters a week.

The cost of living and the price of food are enticing some people to find other ways to obtain supplies.

The most coveted items in supermarkets include meat, such as ground beef, steaks, sausages and roasts, as well as cheeses, spices and over-the-counter medicines. Energy drinks and alcohol are also targets in provinces where beer, wine and spirits are sold in grocery stores.

Some people can steal up to $300 worth of products from multiple locations in a single day.

In addition, some employees may act as accomplices in internal thefts, either in the warehouse or at the back of the store before the products are even put out on the shelves.

On average, in Canada, every grocery store loses $3,000 to $4,000 worth in stolen groceries per week. For every 500 supermarkets that open their doors every morning in Canada, the food in the equivalent of nine will be free that day due to theft. That’s a lot of food, and the associated costs are a huge problem for retailers.

Some merchants go to great lengths to prevent theft. Aside from the addition of security cameras and door people, hiring security guards also seems to pay off. Plainclothes mystery shoppers roam the aisles to catch thieves in the act. Although expensive, this strategy works well.

These offenders don’t have a typical profile – they come from all age groups and backgrounds. That makes catching them more difficult.

In Canada, according to some crime experts, about half of all those charged have no criminal record. First offenders are often well-educated, come from well-off families, hold stable positions and enjoy a good reputation. Many are just down on their luck.

Obviously, self-service checkouts can facilitate theft. It should therefore come as no surprise that surveillance has been added around these areas. With profit margins declining to nearly one per cent, the profitability of stores depends a great deal on increased surveillance to minimize theft.

The great majority who follow the rules must pay extra for food due to shoplifting. For merchants to cover their costs, all consumers pay a premium of approximately about 2.5 per cent for shoplifting and internal theft. However, online shopping makes theft impossible.

Since the start of the pandemic, e-commerce for food has exploded. Canadians now buy more than $5 billion in food a year online. These sales are obviously safe from any temptation to take products and leave without paying. Grocers know this and want to encourage online shopping to lower their risk.

Meanwhile, food inflation is providing unpredictable shocks in stores, and the situation could deteriorate in coming months. That means merchants will have to double their vigilance.

It should come as no surprise that some retailers are using new methods to deter in-store delinquency.

The very first self-service grocery store opened in 1916 in Memphis, Tenn., under the name Piggly Wiggly. Previously, customers presented their shopping lists to employees, who collected the merchandise from the store shelves. Then the Piggly Wiggly founder had a revolutionary idea: allow customers to serve themselves.

Since then, we’ve been able to visit stores, see the products and place them in our basket. For the sake of our grocers, this privilege shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.



Diabetes-related complications have increased during the pandemic

Managing diabetes

Nearly one-third (31%) of British Columbians live with diabetes or prediabetes.

November is Diabetes Awareness Month, a time to build awareness about diabetes and its impact, diabetes management and the risk factors that come with improperly managing diabetes.

Concerningly, diabetes-related complications and prescriptions have increased since the start of the pandemic. New data from Shoppers Drug Mart shows a 17 per cent increase in new patients filling diabetes prescriptions compared to 2019 to 2021, underscoring the importance of access to care for patients with diabetes.

As a pharmacist, I’m here to support you and am qualified to help you manage your diabetes. Whether you are newly diagnosed or have been living with diabetes for many years, I’ve put together some tips and services to consider when it comes to diabetes management.

• Make lifestyle adjustments: Nutrition and exercise are two important aspects of diabetes management. Including at least 30 minutes of activity a day can help bring down blood sugar, prevent heart disease, and manage stress. When it comes to nutrition, working with a registered dietitian to understand what your body needs can have a major impact on overall health.

• Manage stress levels: While it is easier said than done, managing stress is very important when it comes to diabetes management. When stress levels are up, blood sugar levels may also increase. You may also find that it can be more challenging to manage diabetes when you are stressed. Routines like getting exercise, eating healthy and taking diabetes medications may be harder to complete. Consider finding ways to relieve stress that work for you, such as meditation, yoga or taking a long walk.

• Smoking cessation: When left unmanaged, the excess sugar in blood that causes diabetes can eventually lead to serious health complications, including heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, limb amputation, and anxiety or depression. If you smoke, your risk of health complications increases. Smoking can also make it more challenging to exercise – an important part of diabetes management. If you’d like to quit, your local pharmacist is an excellent resource.

• Ask for help: Managing diabetes or pre-diabetes can be a lifelong challenge, but it is not something you have to face on your own. Together, we can review your medications, conduct an A1C test to measure your average blood sugar level over a three-month period, and teach you about your blood glucose monitor. We can also explore if there are additional technologies that can help make tracking easier.

For more information on diabetes and how you can best manage it, speak with your local pharmacist.

Nathan Klaassen is the pharmacist and owner the Shoppers Drug Mart in Kamloops.



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Throwing money at world hunger problem is not the sole solution

'Solving' world hunger

A recent Twitter conversation between United Nations World Food Program (WFP) executive director David Beasley and one of the world’s richest people, Elon Musk, turned a lot of heads.

Beasley invited Musk to give two per cent of his wealth to help WFP save 42 million people from almost certain starvation and death in the next year.

The Tesla magnate replied by stating he’s willing to sell off US$6 billion worth of Telsa shares if a comprehensive plan is provided to “solve world hunger.” Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder, chimed in with a US$2-billion proposition.

Beasley replied that world hunger can never be “solved” but it can be controlled through the much-needed support of others to help as many people as possible, especially in times of crisis.

There’s obviously some truth to Beasley’s remarks. Famines are almost always generated by climate change and/or geopolitical unrest. To think that one or both will end would be nothing short of a fantasy, especially now.

Hunger and famine will never really disappear, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing anything about it. Global co-ordination to execute and deliver programs to help is almost always required.

Over the years, WFP has done wonders to alleviate world hunger. In fact, last year it won the Nobel Peace Prize for its work. As the world’s largest humanitarian organization, it has done a great deal to save lives and build a more egalitarian global society. Created in 1961, it’s one of the most respected charities in the world.

Last year alone, WFP received almost US$10 billion in funding, allowing it to help about 116 million people in more than 80 countries. This year, given the pandemic, it’s trying to raise at least US$18 billion in funding.

COVID-19 has complicated our world food surety landscape in more ways than one. According to WFP, the number of people worldwide facing famine increased by 56 per cent from 27 million in 2019.

The organization also says that 40 million people were forced to flee their homes in 2020 due to extreme weather patterns or socio-political conflicts.

But WFP has received its fair share of criticism over the years from skeptics who wonder if the work can be done more efficiently.

One key criticism is related to food-aid dependence and capacity building. Food aid from abroad depressed the prices of local commodities produced by impoverished farmers, undercutting their income. Local production will often be discouraged.

WFP has made some limited inroads in enticing local farmers to grow more food domestically, according to some analysts. Food-aid programs will often disproportionally hurt rural communities and create problems that include corruption, reliance and limitations on exports. Many have argued that rebuilding an economy becomes more challenging when you know that food aid is available.

Musk’s message to WFP clearly had an undertone of both doubt and suspicion. Without saying it, Musk likely believes WFP’s design and approach have reached a critical point and the organization is limited by virtue of its imposing bureaucracy.

His message is likely less about how we can support WFP in its quest to alleviate world hunger than how we look at new models backed by a different way of thinking.

Before the pandemic, fewer people suffered from hunger than just ten years ago. But with the pandemic and climate change combined, we expect numbers to go up significantly.

Musk, Bezos and others would likely focus on economic development and capacity building domestically to ensure hunger-stricken regions see the end of their starvation cycles. Building infrastructure while fostering research for new technologies will be critical.

In turn, of course, more wealth in certain challenged regions will develop new markets. This is very much what Musk did with the electric car, a technology most gave no hope to less than a decade ago. And think of Amazon’s distribution genius – one of our Canadian North’s best food suppliers right now is Amazon.

For those who don’t believe global food security can be privatized, here’s one daring example. For many years, many believed space exploration and travel required the involvement of nations and government. Science-intensive projects like aeronautics warrant a sober scheme, free of profits and risk-taking gambles.

But with the Apollos, Challenger and Columbia disasters, public authorities started to pay more attention to private enterprises. And now? We just saw Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, Canadian actor William Shatner, go into orbit. Space travel is being privatized right under our noses, and our march toward a more democratic path to the unknown is led by a group of billionaires.

Privatizing global food security is likely achievable and it can happen within a decade. But food aid needs to be seen as a business and an opportunity that shouldn’t be left to charities exclusively.

It’s the same situation as with space travel and governments, which has resulted in quite the paradigm shift.

Whether you agree with it or not, what’s becoming quite clear is that WFP and other charities need all the help they can get. And since over 700 million people around the world suffer from hunger, it’s worth a try.

Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.



More Writer's Bloc articles

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About the Author

Welcome to Writer’s Bloc, an opinion column for guest writers to share their experiences and viewpoints with our readers.

Do you have something to say that is timely? of local interest? controversial? inspiring? foodie? entertaining? educational?

Drop a line. [email protected]

Opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of Castanet. They are not news stories reported by our staff.



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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