Wednesday, June 26, 2002

pringer the whale, the governor general and Ji-Won Park
By Paul Willcocks
VICTORIA - Whales are cute, noble, clever and all that.
But doesn't all the fuss over Springer the lonely Orca, the eagerness to come up with $750,000 to drag the animal back where it came from, strike you as bizarre and faintly obscene?
I've raised money for worthy causes and know how difficult it is. And I'm confident that if I launched a campaign to raise $750,000 to change the lives of 100 children, I'd have a much harder time then the whale folks will have.
Heck, this week in Victoria a superb program that taught street kids life-changing job skills lost its federal funding, an amount less than half the whale's fund. The Youth Employment Program fed the kids up, helped them find somewhere to stay and then taught them the skills to get a janitorial job. More than 200 young people went through the program, and 137 of them still had jobs a year later. Not great jobs, maybe, but they were in the game and had a chance.
That's $7,000 a kid that can't be found, but $750,000 for one whale.
And we know the employment program worked. We're just messing around with the whale.
Shiner is hanging around Puget Sound, with a nasty rash and worms. For some reason she's left her pod off northern Vancouver Island.
So scientists have caught her, lifted her on to a barge and taken her to a lab. Now she'll be tested, cleaned up, and then either taken her back to the pod, set free somewhere else or put in an aquarium.
That all sounds a little vague, with good reason. No one knows if Shiner wants to go back with the other whales in her pod, or whether they want her around, or whether she'll introduce some disease that will kill them all.
I like whales. And while Orcas aren't endangered - there are at least 180,000 of them in the Antarctic Ocean alone - their numbers are shrinking in the northwest, and we should be concerned about the causes.
But it seems ludicrous that instead of donating to a food bank, or a children's charity, or even to that sad-looking guy on the corner, people would rush to hand over money to a fund to save one slightly mangy whale from itself.
Which brings me, by a round-about way, to Governor General Adrienne Clarkson. She spent $2.6 million last year to run Rideau Hall, her posh home base in Ottawa.
It's an historic building, built in 1836, and she hosts many public events, and I wouldn't want to see it turn into a dump.
But Clarkson has launched a drive to restore the place's Victorian splendour, meaning painters and new upholstery and replanted gardens.
And $29,000 for a dining room rug and $44,000 for a Rose Garden seem a little excessive, especially when Ottawa can't come up with any help for B.C. forest communities hurt by the softwood lumber dispute.
Clarkson's plan to restore the mansion's historic character has meant a 25-per-cent spending increase over the amount required by her modest predecessor Romeo LeBlanc. That's $500,000 - again, more than enough to keep the Youth Employment Program going.
Which leads, finally, to Ji-Won Park, whose name is less familiar than Shiner the whale.
Park is the young Korean woman beaten into a coma in Stanley Park. She was here studying English, and had $20,000 worth of medical insurance. That's used up, and her bills are mounting at $2,000 a day. A fund-raising campaign for her is inching forward, but remains at under $50,000.
People can give their money as they see fit. And any generousity is welcome.
But our willingness to come up with $750,000 for a medical check-up for one animal - and our willingness to ignore so many other needs - says something important about our odd priorities.

Paul Willcocks can be reached at

No comments: