VICTORIA – The order in which stories are displayed on the front page of a newspaper signifies its importance, at least in theory.
What stared me in the face of my daily last Wednesday was the headline "Play ball," in huge, bold letters on top of the front page, above a picture of Chicago White Sox pinch hitter Norberto Martin, sliding past Toronto Blue Jays catcher Benito Santiago to home plate at opening day of the baseball season.
Just below was a headline in slightly smaller type: "Health-fee hikes blasted." The story was all about chiropractors, physiotherapists, massage therapists and other alternative health care providers complaining about fee increases in the new budget from $7.50 to $10 a visit.
At the bottom of the page was a story about a Vancouver mother who lay dead on her bathroom floor for six days while her 22-month-old son banged on her chest trying to wake her.
Little has changed since the ancient Roman got their kicks from watching Christians torn apart by lions. Sport still takes priority over the ills that afflict society. And anything setting the scene for confrontation with government is second on the list.
True, the baseball photo was a great shot, but it belonged on the sports page. And the chorus of irate health-care providers bitching about fee increases has been heard so often that the same story with different names could be run every time fees are hiked.
At least the story of Mavis Flanders was given front-page play, albeit at the bottom. It was the story that deserved a screaming headline, zipped across the top, a story that reminds us that not all is well in Beautiful British Columbia.
Flanders, 39, died of an apparent drug overdose. She and her son, Chabasco, were regular visitors at the Kiwassa Neighborhood House in East Vancouver and, according to Children and Families Ministry staff, the mother had successfully completed drug and alcohol counselling programs.
Now the ministry is frantically trying to determine how a woman who received that much attention, could end up dead on the floor, her little boy trying desperately to wake up his mom.
At least the opposition got its priorities straight. For several days, Liberal MLAs bombarded Penny Priddy, Minister for Children and Families, with questions about the horrid circumstances surrounding Flanders’ death.
They wanted to know why the ministry wasn’t wise to the danger that Flanders’ lifestyle posed to little Chabasco, who had apparently been apprehended twice before by the ministry.
They wanted to know why nobody checked on the woman’s home which, when she was found, resembled anything but a caring environment for a child. Liberal leader Gordon Campbell had this to say:
"The apartment I saw on television was not something you get to that state in a couple of days or ten days. We’ve got syringes there, we’ve got bottles of pills there, we’ve got rotten food there. It’s an absolute shambles in that apartment."
I’m sure Priddy feels as sick at heart as anyone, and no personal blame should be attached to her. There are no perfect people, just perfect intentions.
On the other hand, just what can we expect when society has unquestioningly bought into the bottom-line philosophy, once reserved for a minority on the right of the political spectrum?
As long as society deems the opening of the baseball season and balanced budgets worthy of greater attention than its ills, the solution to our most pressing problems will continue to elude us.