Around the world and back again

The past couple weeks have relentlessly drawn our attention to the world outside our Kootenay valley. Phenomenal political change (Egypt), horrific resistance to change (Libya), and then on the other side of the world, the disasters in Japan.

The past couple weeks have relentlessly drawn our attention to the world outside our Kootenay valley. Phenomenal political change (Egypt), horrific resistance to change (Libya), and then on the other side of the world, the disasters in Japan.

The events in Japan have touched many families in Nelson who’ve enjoyed close contacts with Japanese families over many years. Homestay parents, exchange students, host families — all kinds of threads connect us with Japan.

One that I quickly thought of is former mayor Gerald Rotering, now living in Calgary. He was key in bringing the Canadian International College to Nelson (at what is now Selkirk College) where many Japanese students experienced a “soft landing” into Canadian life. He was also involved in getting the Nelson-Shuzenji (now Izushi) sister city relationship solidified. Gerald has travelled to Japan, both as mayor and more recently as a visitor.

Here’s part of an email I received from Gerald:

“My emotional reaction to the Japanese disaster has been focused because I went to Sendai, Ishinomaki, and Onagawa Bay 22 or so years ago for a memorial for Nelson’s WWII Victoria Cross posthumous recipient Hampton Gray… even saw the now-destroyed atomic power plant from a slow local train as it rolled out of Ishinomaki towards the hills and Onagawa town. That line is likely one of those hit by the ocean as it rushed inland. Yes, we count our blessing every day.”

I think we’re all at a loss for words to describe or comprehend what is happening in Japan. I also think most of want to help in some way, and interesting ideas are coming forward from the community.

I like the approach that Castlegar mayor Lawrence Chernoff and his council took. They’re giving $1 for every man, woman and child in Castlegar to the Red Cross, for emergency relief in Japan. And their donation has sparked a large donation from the corporate sector.

By the time you read this, I hope Nelson council will have agreed to do the same. Certainly we struggled with our budget this year, and made some difficult decisions, but our challenges pale a million times compared to those of the Japanese. World events clearly provide perspective on our own situation.

Still, our efforts to build a safe and healthy community must continue. Next week council will spend a couple days setting priorities for the rest of our term (elections coming in November!). We’ve done a lot of planning over the past few years, and we’ve begun to implement some of the plans.

But there’s much more to be done. We now have an affordable housing strategy, a sustainability plan and a GHG/energy reduction plan for city operations. The downtown/waterfront master plan and the community energy and emissions plan will be completed soon.

All those plans were based on extensive public input and they set important directions for our future. But we can’t do everything at once, so council will be considering need, urgency, regulatory requirements, short vs. long-term benefits, and the resources needed and available to carry out the plans.

With seven months to go, carefully setting our priorities is critical.

Donna Macdonald is a Nelson city councillor who shares this space with her colleagues around the table.