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People with disabilities would be hurt by Vancouver straw ban, say advocates

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VANCOUVER—Disability advocates are concerned city council’s unanimous approval of a plan to get rid of single-use, disposable items in Vancouver by 2020 could negatively affect people with dexterity issues.

Jane Dyson, executive director of Disability Alliance B.C., told StarMetro her organization recognizes the environmental impact plastic items have on the environment.

Disability advocates are raising concerns about city council’s approval on Wednesday of a motion to phase out use of single-use items in the City of Vancouver in coming years. An outright prohibtion on such items, they say, would effectively exclude people with dexterity issues from dining establishments.  (Jennifer Gauthier / StarMetro)

But a wholesale ban on plastic straws could leave people with disabilities unable to enjoy drinks outside the home, she said, especially if they run out of their own supply of straws, or failed to bring their own supply with them.

“I’m hoping a sensible compromise could be implemented where the default is to not provide straws,” Dyson said in an earlier interview, “but if a person with disability ask for straws, they could be provided with one.”

The ban on plastic straws would come into effect on Nov. 1, 2019, as part of the single-use item reduction strategy.

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But city staff said they will consult concerned groups before the extent of the ban goes to a future vote. Roughly 57 million plastic straws are tossed into the garbage every day in Canada, according to city statistics.

Cathy Browne, co-chair of the city’s People with Disabilities Advisory Committee (PDAC), told StarMetro she wished to see Vancouver’s use of plastics reduced by leaps and bounds.

She argued that should not happen at the expense of people with disabilities being able to eat and drink at restaurants and cafes.

Browne said asking people who could not pick up or grasp a glass to carry a plastic straw with them wherever they went could be an additional cost that would unfairly target vulnerable communities.

“Disabled people and seniors are among the poorest people in the city,” she said, adding she hoped city council would consult with the people she represented more comprehensively before considering an outright prohibition on straws.

A ban on straws would amount to an exclusion of people with disabilities from dining establishments across the city, Laura Mackenrot, vice-chair of the city committee, told StarMetro on Wednesday.

“That’s discrimination as far as I’m concerned,” said Mackenrot, who is blind and was born with arthritis. Her arthritis leaves her unable to raise a glass, making straws a necessary tool for the consumption of liquids.

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She said straws, for people like herself, are not a privilege, but rather a vital utensil.

“Would you take away a fork?” she asked. “Would you take away a knife or a spoon?”

Aaron Leung, chair of the city’s Children, Youth and Families Advisory Committee, told city council that body — whose members range from ages seven to 75 — had questions about how a straw ban might affect older and younger Vancouverites.

“I echo the concerns of the PDAC,” he said, pointing to difficulty many seniors had with grasping heavy objects like a glass.

Representatives from Canadian plastics manufacturers and food service businesses also voiced concern about a ban on single-use items, though their unease centred primarily around the economic impact a plastics prohibition might have on retailers and manufacturers.

While council voted in principle to prohibit plastic straws, city staff were directed to consult with community groups, businesses and civic agencies on how to responsibly roll out the ban ahead of a final council vote, to be held some time next year.

But for Mackenrot, there is another solution that’s both simple and environmentally friendly.

“What we’re asking is you have a couple of packages on hand,” she said. “For those that really need it.”

Perrin Grauer is a Vancouver-based reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @perringrauer

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New Zealand economist says foreign buyer ban unlikely to curb housing prices

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While New Zealand's just-passed foreign buyer ban is getting a positive reception from some in B.C., an economist in the southern hemisphere is calling it misguided.

On Wednesday, New Zealand banned most foreigners from buying most types of housing in that country, where affordability has become a struggle.

B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver wants the province to look at a similar ban, but Auckland, New Zealand-based economist Shamubeel Eaqub calls it "a rushed bit of policy, and not very good."

"Be very careful what you wish for because public policy quite often is complicated and has unintended consequences," Eaqub told On The Coast host Gloria Macarenko.

"Getting rid of the foreigners is not going to make housing more affordable. The way that the legislation has been written… it's probably going to make it harder for overseas investors to supply new housing in New Zealand."

Eaqub says the policy is weak in several regards.

First, foreigners are still allowed to buy apartments in new developments.

Second, it still allows Australians and Singaporeans to buy property in New Zealand because of existing free trade deals. Australians alone, he said, account for about 30 per cent of foreign buyers in the New Zealand market.

But, he also said the ban is a solution in search of a problem.

In Auckland at least, which is the largest urban area of the country, foreigners make up less than 10 per cent of all buyers. "We are trying to deal with something that is very much at the margin."

Home prices are increasing all over New Zealand, he said, not just where foreign buyers are active. There are also widespread supply issues and construction comes at a slow place.

He believes there are better solutions to housing problems in his country: renting could be made more affordable and have more secure rules; social housing supply could be increased; and policies and planning could be improved to encourage affordable housing.

Listen to the full interview:

While New Zealand's just-passed foreign buyer ban is getting a positive reception from some in B.C., an economist in the southern hemisphere is calling it misguided. 9:30

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast

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Donors have stepped up, but urgent need for blood hasn't gone away

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Canadian Blood Services issued a call for donors and though Londoners have largely stepped up to help, there remains a pressing need as the Labour Day weekend draws near. 

Kendall O'Neill of Canadian Blood Services says the clinic on Wharncliffe Road South has been busy since a call for donations was issued last week, highlighting a need for 22,000 donors nationally ahead of the weekend.

"The response has been incredible," said O'Neill. 

When CBC News visited the clinic Friday, every donation chair, the waiting area and the post-donation reception area was full of clients there to donate whole blood, platelets and plasma. 

And while it's a welcome response, O'Neill says more donors are still needed to re-stock supply heading into the long weekend. For example, the London clinic needs 50 donors to fill up booking spots for Monday, Sept. 3.

She said getting donors to show up for the Labour Day weekend is a annual challenge. 

"People are on vacation," she said. "They're doing stuff with their families, but it is still important to come out and donate." 

Canadian Blood Services is trying new ways to get younger people to donate, through pop-up donation clinics at schools, including Western and Fanshawe, and an app that will issue a text alert when your donated blood is used.

 There wasn't an app available when 66-year-old Alex, who spoke to CBC Friday at the London donation clinic, began donating as an 18-year-old.

Since then he's donated more than 120 times. 

"I think it's the best gift one human being can give to another," he said. 

Other than free drinks and snacks afterward, donors in Canada aren't compensated. Alex says he's fine with that. 

"It's a natural high," he said. "I feel good after I walk out of here."

For information about how to become a donor visit blood.ca or call 1-888-236-6283.

Blood donation facts

  • The need for Type O-negative blood is always pressing because it's the only type compatible with all other blood types. In an emergency when there's no time to check for blood type, patients receive O-negative.
     
  • Only four per cent of people eligible to donate blood actually donate. O'Neill said  some people falsely believe they aren't eligible to donate when they actually are. "The criteria is alway changing," she said. "It's always good to go on Blood.ca to check availability to make sure you can actually donate."  
     
  • A common misconception is that blood donations are only used in emergency situations. "That's not usually the case," said O'Neill. She said blood is needed for everything from treating cancer patients to surgeries like hip replacements.
     
  • Blood donated in London is taken to a screening facility in Brampton. Then it comes back to be used in the community where it was donated. Most blood units are used within five days of donation.

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Trump administration reverses decades of policy, says conserving oil no longer an economic imperative

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Conserving oil is no longer an economic imperative for the U.S., the Trump administration declares in a major new policy statement that threatens to undermine decades of government campaigns for gas-thrifty cars and other conservation programs.

The position was outlined in a memo released last month in support of the administration’s proposal to relax fuel mileage standards. The government released the memo online this month without fanfare.

Growth of natural gas and other alternatives to petroleum has reduced the need for imported oil, which “in turn affects the need of the nation to conserve energy,” the Energy Department said. It also cites the now decade-old fracking revolution that has unlocked U.S. shale oil reserves, giving “the United States more flexibility than in the past to use our oil resources with less concern.”

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With the memo, the administration is formally challenging old justifications for conservation — even congressionally prescribed ones, as with the mileage standards. The memo made no mention of climate change. Transportation is the single largest source of climate-changing emissions.

President Donald Trump has questioned the existence of climate change, embraced the notion of “energy dominance” as a national goal, and called for easing what he calls burdensome regulation of oil, gas and coal, including repealing the Obama Clean Power Plan.

Despite the increased oil supplies, the administration continues to believe in the need to “use energy wisely,” the Energy Department said, without elaboration. Department spokesmen did not respond Friday to questions about that statement.

Reaction was quick.

“It’s like saying, ‘I’m a big old fat guy, and food prices have dropped — it’s time to start eating again,“’ said Tom Kloza, longtime oil analyst with the Maryland-based Oil Price Information Service.

“If you look at it from the other end, if you do believe that fossil fuels do some sort of damage to the atmosphere … you come up with a different viewpoint,” Kloza said. “There’s a downside to living large.”

Climate change is a “clear and present and increasing danger,” said Sean Donahue, a lawyer for the Environmental Defence Fund.

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In a big way, the Energy Department statement just acknowledges the world’s vastly changed reality when it comes to oil.

Just 10 years ago, in summer 2008, oil prices were peaking at $147 a barrel and pummeling the global economy. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries was enjoying a massive transfer of wealth, from countries dependent on imported oil. Prices now are about $65.

Today, the U.S. is vying with Russia for the title of top world oil producer. U.S. oil production hit an all-time high this summer, aided by the technological leaps of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

How much the U.S. economy is hooked up to the gas pump, and vice versa, plays into any number of policy considerations, not just economic or environmental ones, but military and geopolitical ones, said John Graham, a former official in the George W. Bush administration, now dean of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University.

“Our ability to play that role as a leader in the world is stronger when we are the strongest producer of oil and gas,” Graham said. “But there are still reasons to want to reduce the amount we consume.”

Current administration proposals include one that would freeze mileage standards for cars and light trucks after 2020, instead of continuing to make them tougher.

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The proposal eventually would increase U.S. oil consumption by 500,000 barrels a day, the administration says. While Trump officials say the freeze would improve highway safety, documents released this month showed senior Environmental Protection Agency staffers calculate the administration’s move would actually increase highway deaths.

“American businesses, consumers and our environment are all the losers under his plan,” said Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat. “The only clear winner is the oil industry. It’s not hard to see whose side President Trump is on.”

Administration support has been tepid to null on some other long-running government programs for alternatives to gas-powered cars.

Bill Wehrum, assistant administration of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, spoke dismissively of electric cars — a young industry supported financially by the federal government and many states — this month in a call with reporters announcing the mileage freeze proposal.

“People just don’t want to buy them,” the EPA official said.

Oil and gas interests are campaigning for changes in government conservation efforts on mileage standards, biofuels and electric cars.

In June, for instance, the American Petroleum Institute and other industries wrote eight governors, promoting the dominance of the internal-combustion engine and questioning their states’ incentives to consumers for electric cars.

Surging U.S. and gas production has brought on “energy security and abundance,” Frank Macchiarola, a group director of the American Petroleum Institute trade association, told reporters this week, in a telephone call dedicated to urging scrapping or overhauling of one U.S. program for biofuels.

Fears of oil scarcity used to be a driver of U.S. energy policy, Macchiarola said.

Thanks partly to increased production, “that pillar has really been rendered essentially moot,” he said.

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