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ATV vote-mongering 

Nova Scotia's childish four wheel scandal du jour has spread across the country.

Everyone's talking about the Nova Scotia government's ATV fiasco. I've heardabout it half a dozen times this week. And that's really saying something, because I'm writing this while on vacation in Ontario and Quebec.

Now, bulletins from Atlantic Canada don't much make news up here in the National Capital Region in any sort of on-the-street capacity (though, I admit, I've been doing my best to spread word of this most recent Tory government lunacy). But people are really greasing ears up here with this ATV thing. "Did you HEAR," they are saying, "what the Nova Scotia government did?They just shelled out a quarter of a million bucks to train six-year-olds on ATVs!" (Insert twirling index finger pointed at side of head here.)

The escalation of this story from plain old boilerplate crazy to full-on WTF?! outrage has followed the all-too-quick progression of a story up here.

Seven-year-old Jonathan Blais of Aylmer, Quebec died last Wednesday in hospital after crashing the child-sized ATV he was riding at his family home that morning.

Apparently, the boy always drove safely and never hopped on without his helmet and other safety equipment. Apparently he was regularly supervised. Apparently he had been driving this ATV for a year. And apparently he had ridden as an ATV passenger with his grandfather since he was quite young.

Apparently none of that did the trick; neighbours told the Ottawa Citizen the boy crashed into a tree outside the house. His head injuries were serious enough that the hospital in Gatineau rushed him to the better-equipped Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa. The seven-year-old died there that night.

In Quebec---where little Jonathan had his accident---the minimum age for adult-sized ATVs is 16, and helmets are mandatory. Younger riders aren't supposed to be on the machines at all.

In Nova Scotia, riders under 14 can only legally ride a child-sized ATV on a closed course, with protective equipment, direct adult supervision, safety training certification and a first aid responder on hand.

Back when he was still defending this ATV debacle and its $230,000 in untendered spending, Minister of Health Promotion and Protection Barry Barnet made his arguments on CBC Radio's Information Morning, defending the program like it was an admirable stab at harm prevention. Barnet, in a nutshell, said that kids were going to ride these things illegally anyway and that his department wanted to help keep them safe while doing so.

And I suppose Barnet's remarks would be backed up by the story of Jonathan Blais. It would seem that children will ride ATVs---and parents will let them ride ATVs, encourage them to ride ATVs---no matter the provincial regulations, no matter the number of pleas from physicians for full-on, under-16 bans and no matter the number of unnecessary deaths and injuries we read about in the news.

So does that mean Barnet was right?


This isn't harm reduction. This isn't providing clean needles to intravenous drug users. This is not addiction. This is a parent's choosing to shell out big bucks to let children engage in dangerous recreation, often in an illegal manner. It's not fucking rocket science; kids have to follow ATV rules. End of story.

Except it's not the end of this story.

ATVs and kids will continue to be news---here, there, everywhere---because weall know we'll hearit again.

The death of Jonathan Blais is heartrending and sadly familiar---a two-year-old boy in May in Taber, Alberta was thrown from an ATV and killed; a 12-year-old Edmonton boy was critically injured in April after being broadsided on his ATV by a pick-up going 100 kilometres an hour; back in 2006, a 13-year-old New Brunswick girl was killed when the ATV she was riding rolled on top of her; in 2005, two teenage girls near Shubenacadie died when the ATV they were passengers on flipped into a ravine; and, last week in Digby County, 15-year-old John-David Amero was killed when he drove an ATV into a cable stretched across a logging road.

And likewise, even though the province is spinning into complete dirt-kicking, engine-revving, full-speed reverse on its ATV disaster---with the premier stripping Barry Barnet of the file, scrambling to see who is going to buy out the contracts on those 66 small-scale machines (good luck on that one, Rodney) and meeting to scheme up a cash recovery plan---it's not like this isn't just another rural vote-buying scam we won't see again.

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