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Occupy movement comes to B.C

If the recent Occupy protests sent any kind of message, it is this: Canada is a much more comfortable and safer place to be than most any other country.

If the recent Occupy protests sent any kind of message, it is this: Canada is a much more comfortable and safer place to be than most any other country.

The protest organizers are ecstatic that several thousand people showed up at the Occupy protest in Vancouver. As protests go, that is not a lot of people.

I was one of 60,000 people who marched around the Hotel Vancouver in 1983, protesting the restraint program of the Social Credit government of the day. I was also among 30,000 people who gathered in the old Empire Stadium that year for a similar protest.

In Victoria, several hundred people "occupied" the front lawn of the legislature and about 1,000 marched through the streets. That barely qualifies as a protest there, given that as many as 20,000 have showed up on occasions to blast whatever government happens to be in power that day.

The mild response to the Occupy movement in Canada stands in stark contrast to the reaction to the same movement in such places as the United States and some European countries.

The reason for Canada's lukewarm participation in the Occupy movement reflects the fact that, compared to the U.S. and countries like Greece, Portugal and Italy, this country is not mired in an economic crisis.

Those countries have high unemployment levels and for the most part we do not. In the U.S., thousands of families lost their homes in the subprime mortgage fiasco that did not occur here.

Some regions in that country remain economic basket cases, not having come anywhere close to recovering from the 2008 recession.

The U.S. banking system is seen as corrupt and greedy. By comparison, Canada's stable banking system is the envy of the world and saved this country a lot of pain during the last recession.

In the U.S., public services are slowly being strangled by that country's refusal to adopt any kind of coherent and fair taxation system. In Canada, governments are struggling to maintain a high quality of public services, but they have not been eroded anywhere near what has occurred south of the border.

Some of the Occupy protest movement's organizers say their aim is to dismantle the current monetary system. Yet, the protesters themselves list a smorgasbord of wrongs as reasons for their participation.

Everything from animal research to drug laws to forest practices to smart meters to greedy corporations were the subject of protest signs at the Occupy events. The movement is deliberately disorganized and decentralized and, for now, completely leaderless.

Given that lack of focus and given the fact this country is not teetering on the edge of collapse (as some European countries appear to be), where does this movement go from here?

The Vancouver protesters say they'll maintain that small tent city on the front lawn of the art gallery "as long as it takes."

We'll see.

But there's one caveat to all the skepticism directed at the Occupy movement in this country: the role of young people in the protests.

The current social economic reality is skewed for younger folks.

Since the 1930s, there has been an almost constant progression that each generation is better off than the one before, but I'm not so sure that trend will continue.

The baby boomers' children - those younger than 30 - may be the first generation in a long time who face fewer traditional opportunities for success than their parents.

Most young people have trouble finding jobs, or at least meaningful employment beyond minimum-wage entry positions. University tuition is prohibitively expensive for many.

So if the Occupy movement succeeds beyond its initial modest success, it will be because the younger generation seizes the lead and finds a way to effectively force change.

But they will first have to articulate what specific change they think is required, and offer concrete solutions for reaching those goals. Chanting protests can only take you so far.

And the real push will have to come from the U.S., where the Occupy movement physically was born.

Canada is simply too small a place, and a much too comfortable place for it to offer anything more than tepid support for such change.

In the meantime, as Occupy organizers insist they're happy with the numbers attending their protest, there's another number that may speak more about where people are at right now: Apple says it sold more than four million of its new iPhone 4S in its first three days on the market (which coincided with the Occupy rallies).

Now, that's an example of a lot of people being occupied!

Keith Baldrey is chief political correspondent for Global B.C.