Social Justice is a vague term that gets bantered around in every facet of life and politics today. But like most theoretical political word salad, rarely do the people who like to use the term actually present any meat and potatoes ideas as to how to achieve it. The concept of equity is simple: a short, a medium and a tall person want to watch a baseball game over a fence. They all have one milk crate to stand on. They have “equal” resources so-to-speak, yet the short person cannot see over the fence, the medium height person can only half see over the fence, while the tall person is half a body over the fence. The solution? Simple communism: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”. So somebody (presumably the state), re-allocates the resources, short guy gets two crates, medium guy gets one, tall guy gets no crate, and all get to watch the game.

I will leave out the bigger questions. Were they poaching the game by refusing to pay fare for a seat in the stands? What happens when the short person has an advantage? There are good arguments that people should specialize in what they are good at instead of accommodating everyone to be mediocre at everything equally.

But when it comes to public health, arguments for equity seem to be a no-brainer. Not only am I morally my social brother’s keeper, it is in my interests to proactively keep him out of the same hospital beds my own family kin may need to use. How does this relate to wood smoke? Well last week the Editor offered a solution to Valemount’s air quality issue. While the solution she offered is a solution, it is a very expensive solution that, in my opinion, is not executable in any reasonable time frame. Further, from an environmental and social-access perspective, there are many arguments in favour of utilizing existing housing stock instead of building new. So what should we do about the prevalence of low-quality wood stoves in this town?

Here is a radical idea. Instead of subsidizing the construction of brand new high end housing, why not just give away highly efficient wood stoves for free? We spent over four million dollars building 13 luxury apartments for “low income subsidized” individuals. There are only 600 dwellings in Valemount. At a few thousands per unit, brand new wood or pellet stoves do not even come close to comparing. The subsidy program in place does not work. For one thing, even at fifty percent, you still need to front two thousand dollars. Anybody who can front two grand does not need a subsidy to start with. And this is the general failure of equity programs. They are never done completely. They are always a compromise that achieves the worse of all worlds. The vast majority of small businesses who qualified for Covid relief were the businesses that did not really need it. So while encouraging better housing stock and efficiency rebates is also a good idea, if we are serious about fixing the air quality problem, let’s get real and address the real cause tomorrow. In the words of an architect guru I follow on Youtube… “I never convince a client to install expensive windows by selling the environmental benefits, I convince them that the cost is worth not feeling a draft on your back while eating dinner.” The sad reality is that the people who can afford high efficiency windows or ten thousands dollar wood stoves, are the same people who install driveway heating. In this town, these are the same people taking advantage of the wood stove rebate program.

Let’s get one hundred high efficiency stoves and pass them out like Valemountain Days candy. And get the people making twenty grand a year out of the low-equilibrium trap they are stuck in. We just spent billions giving thousands away to individuals with no questions asked. Time to get real and use government programs for what they were intended for in the first place….actually fixing social problems to the benefit of all, for good.

Joseph Nusse
Valemount, BC