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Young Geoffrey

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[Mar. 11th, 2011|10:24 am]
Young Geoffrey
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Some informal remarks in praise of taxation

Ottawa got a sad bit of news this past Sunday: skating on the Rideau Canal is done for the season.

Had I been the better blogger I promised to be back in December, you all would know that Raven and I have been making use of this, most wonderful, public amenity, the nearly eight kilometre path of pleasure that is the Rideau Canal in winter.

Though Raven was born and raised in a warm clime off the coast of southern China, she has taken to winter like the proverbial Esquimaux, and has thus allowed me the great of introducing her to the joys of ice-skating.

We started off only a day or three after the canal opened for the season, back in early January. I hauled out my hockey skates and we went down the canal and rented a not-too-good pair of figure skates for Raven.

She quickly decided that the pics on the end of such skates are just face-plants waiting to happen and the next time we went out she had on a pair of hockey skates. (Which, I've noted, now seem to be the skates of choice for probably a majority of the women I've seen skating out there; when I was a kid the sight of a woman or girl wearing anything but figure skates would have been shocking.)

I'll spare you tyhe blow-by-blow account of our progress, but suffice it to say that she began as a terrified, arm-clinging newbie, to a relatively confident skater who, last time we went out, soloed for more 400 metres.

We froze on cold days, and sweated through the warm ones, but we made good use of a marvellous public amenity. And Gentle Readers, there were days Raven and I were out there with what must have been thousands of our fellow citizens, making making joy of the hardship of winter on "the world's largest skating rink"."

At no out-of-pocket expense to anyone but those hungering for hot chocolate or Ottawa's famous beaver-tails (the greasy pleasures of which, I am ridiculously pleased to say, I have yet to sample).

And naturally, I'll turn a private joy (and a public one, which is the point) into some consideration of things political. (Sorry about that.)

Ten minutes or so with Google haven't seen me located any official numbers, but blog post quoting an article from the Montreal Gazette suggests the National Capital Commission spent around $1 million anually "for skating purposes".

Though I can imagine — and am sure examples are online for the having — a neo-conservative (or neo-liberal, if you want to wax historically pedantic) argument for the abolition of this "waste" of tax-payers' money, it is precisely this kind of un-quantifiable and, indeed, arbitrarily-defined, public "good" that civilization is for.

I'm sure there are arguments to sell off the canal — or rather, to sell off the right to turn the canal into a skating rink and make a profit in so doing — though I suspect most proposals would leave the canal itself in government hands — a 19th century national defence transportation system is unlikely to be fully profitable in the 21st.

A million bucks might sound like a lot of money — and it is by most individual measures — but it is a very small price to pay for vastly improving the quality of life for a great many of Ottawa's citizens. Human beings are not just economic animals, as some would have it. If we are any one kind of animal at all, we are social animals, and if the benefits of public parks are not easy to quantify only a fool would deny they exist.

So here's to "wasteful" spending of tax-payers' dollars and all the joy it can bring. (And yes, that is me coming to an awkward halt in the video.)

Cross-posted from my blog at Edifice Rex Online.

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