News / Halifax

Tristan Cleveland: Shovel your damn sidewalks, Haligonians

Metro's Halifax columnist is frustrated that we pay so much for (ineffective) snow clearing, but just because you pay taxes doesn't mean you can't help out.

Two women brave a snow-covered downtown sidewalk after this week's blizzard.

Jeff Harper / Metro

Two women brave a snow-covered downtown sidewalk after this week's blizzard.

I was a real jerk in Grade 7. A teacher asked me to clean up a mess I had made in the cafeteria, and I said, “But that’s the janitor’s job.”

Well, the teacher told me what was what and I never made that mistake again. Good riddance, right? And yet, this is what I hear Haligonians say about shovelling the sidewalk: “That’s the city’s job. I pay taxes so they will clear it.”

Like everyone, it frustrates me that we pay so much for snow clearing yet it is still so ineffective. But which matters more: The fact that the city “should” clear the sidewalks? Or that elderly and disabled people are trapped inside their homes right now?

No amount of paying taxes abrogates our duty as citizens to chip in when our city needs us.

It’s the school’s job to educate our kids, but when they get home, we still have to help them with their homework. It’s the hospital’s job to keep us healthy, but it’s still up to us to us to eat a few greens and walk once in awhile.

If everyone’s contribution started and ended with a tax payment in April, our city would suck. Taxes provide some support for sports, music, dance, community space and gardens, but it is only because volunteers take that support and run much further with it that exciting things happen here.

When fundraising or looking for volunteers, it doesn’t seem right to me that you often have to talk to people like they are saints just to get a small contribution. Each of us only enjoy great festivals and culture because other people work their butts off without pay. For those who are able, giving $20 or a few free hours is actually the least you can do.

People who volunteer have been found to be, on average, happier, and shovelling snow in the morning gives me insight on why that is. It’s the only time I can consistently chat with my neighbours and feel like we share a neighbourhood. Worthwhile work is a source of joy.

In all this, secular people (like myself) have something to learn from church-goers. While the rest of us talk about our rights and conveniently forget to mention responsibilities, religious leaders have the ability to tell their congregation that they are expected to contribute. As a result, religious people have much higher rates of volunteerism—and they are better off for it.

Let’s not forget what the poster said in 1917: “We Shall Never Rebuild Halifax Unless Everybody Works.” That’s our history, our culture.

So get out there and help your city. You can start with a snow shovel. 

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