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nanny state

I don’t really like the term “nanny state”…

… but it is very much appropriate here!

Why is it that whenever there is a hot button issue that seems to fall under the rubric as counter to the  “public good” or “public health”, an immediate response is to “ban” the substance or the activity in question.

Here in Ottawa, smoking has effectively been banned almost everywhere except for your own home. This was the end result of a concerted campaign by Ottawa public health to convince Ottawa Council that smoking – anywhere where non-smokers could be exposed to the evil fumes – should be banned from any place where the City has authority to do so. This in spite of the fact that data show the rate of smoking on the decline and it had been so for several years.

But this wasn’t enough.

I am not a Libertarian but sometimes I can see where they are coming from. Does an otherwise legal activity need to be banned in order to meet some defined goal for the public good? Why not try education programs first? It obviously worked for smoking.  Rates were declining before the ban.

So what’s next? Milkshakes? Chips? Poutine? Popsicles? How about legislating exercise? Make Net-linked pedometers mandatory and fine or deny medical assistance to those who don’t burn a prescribed number of calories per day?

How far is too far?


Bottled water – No Evian here!

So, by the end of April, it won’t be possible to pick up a bottle of Evian at Carleton U. in Ottawa.

There has been a bit of a backlash against bottled water over the past few years. Bottled water companies and water filter firms have tried to portray themselves as the safe alternative to municipal water supplies – sometimes using controversial ads to get their point across. – à la the ad that aired here in Canada that showed a toilet flushing juxtaposed with a water jugs filling (I can’t find a link to the ad).

The fact is that in most parts of Canada, tap water is pure, healthy and safe. We are fortunate to have in this country a sophisticated series of water treatment networks that draw from our abundant supplies in our lakes, rivers and aquifers, and treat it to ensure it is of the highest quality. I drink it. My kids drink it. And I have absolutely no concerns. Here in Ottawa, it is quite tasty.

The bottled water industry has grown into a behemoth and they are losing market share big-time, so the ads in some shape or form will continue. This is a big business that has exploited unfounded fears about the safety of our municipal supply and deserve some comeuppance.

So, the ban is good, right?

I’m not convinced.

Yes, from an environmental point of view, the costs of

  • withdrawing the water
  • processing it
  • manufacturing the bottles and caps
  • filling the bottles
  • shipping the goods and finally,
  • the end disposal of the plastic waste

… are significant. And I and my family rarely use plastic bottles. “Rarely” because there are times when, when one is out and about and the stainless steel MEC bottle was forgotten at home, that we buy a bottle or two. Dehydrating your kids is a bit more immoral than buying the water – IMHO.

But should Carleton actually ban the sale of these goods. These are legal products, after all. I’m sure lots of “illegal” products can be found on Campus, eh? What about cigarettes? Are they sold on Campus? I don’t know, maybe not.

And what about other products that are found on Campus that may pose a threat to the environment? What about them? Are the lawns mowed with manual lawn mowers. Are pesticides banned? Does the University have a thorough and policed waste management policy? How about the banning of plastic sandwich bags – some elementary schools ban them! How about:

  • the cleaning products used in the pubs – are they “green”? No? Ban ’em!
  • the lighting – is Carleton 100% CFL? And do they dispose of the bulbs properly after they burn out?
  • the toilets – are they all low-flush?
  • the heating systems? Are they the most energy-efficient that money can buy? No? Replace them!

Look, all I am saying is that the University is well within their rights to ban something from Campus, be it bottled water or inefficient dryers… but they are guilty of cherry-picking here…

Besides, aren’t University students the supposed to be fairly bright and concerned about the environment? Then why resort to the Nanny-State notion of banning the things! Surely they are responsible enough – with the aid of a Student Union education program, to voluntarily not buy the water? The Campus stores would soon drop them from the shelves if no one was buying the stuff. Right? Market forces and all that…

Banning things like, um, assault weapon, PCBs, gaudy suits, and clowns (I hate clowns) from Campus – sure – makes sense. But Evian? Not so sure.