A bucketful of charitable considerations

In case you missed it, Yukon MP Ryan Leef dove into the Arctic Ocean this week to raise money for a good cause. Then he dragged your newspaper editor in along with him.

In case you missed it, Yukon MP Ryan Leef dove into the Arctic Ocean this week to raise money for a good cause. Then he dragged your newspaper editor in along with him.

That’s a figure of speech – this ink-stained wretch was parked behind his desk while Leef was part of the prime minister’s retinue traipsing across Canada’s North. Rather, Leef was participating in a campaign that’s generated plenty of online buzz, called the Ice Bucket Challenge. It aims to raise money to research amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The campaign has proven to be a wild success, with social media now awash with videos of celebrities pouring buckets of ice water over their heads. Each participant pays $10 and dunks (or waives the dunking and pays a $100), then challenges three others. Think of the phenomenon as a weird viral Ponzi scheme for charity. Or a sort of exhibitionistic, altruistic blackmail. Once challenged, you have 24 hours to respond.


RELATED: Watch the video of John Thompson getting doused.


The Yukon News reporters seemed a little too enthusiastic about the prospect of turning the guy who mangles their prose into a sopping wet and shivering mess, and they quickly pulled together the necessary materials. The publisher, Mike Thomas, offered his own assurance that a filthy looking bucket he found in the basement – marked “photo chemicals only” – was well-scrubbed, although a mischievous glint in his eye didn’t seem totally reassuring, either.

Your editor, meanwhile, was having second thoughts. While not the sort of guy to back down from your typical stupid wager, such a theatrical stunt was a bit beyond the comfort zone of someone who prefers to hide behind the safety of his computer keyboard most of the work week.

What’s more, digging into the commentary on the Ice Bucket Challenge revealed no shortage of criticism. Should charitable donations really be driven by silly Internet videos, rather than by a more cool-headed assessment of what causes need money the most, and can do the most with it?

Nobody disputes that ALS is a terrible disease. Those afflicted with the neurological disorder slowly lose control over their bodies and waste away, while their minds remain intact.

Mercifully, ALS is rare. Between 2,500 to 3,000 Canadians have the disease. About 700 Canadians will be diagnosed each year, with just as many perishing to the illness. As Scott Gilmore at Maclean’s magazine notes, that’s just a tiny fraction of the number of Canadians felled by cancer, heart disease and other big causes of death. And there are no shortage of other, pressing global problems.

Slate’s Felix Salmon, meanwhile, argues ALS charities are already well-funded, thanks to the campaign’s wild popularity. Any awareness created by the campaign is of limited value, he says, because nobody knows how to actually prevent the disease, and any cure seems a long way off. Salmon also worries the campaign will eat into donations that would otherwise be given to other, more urgent, causes.

Yet maybe all this hand-wringing is overdone. If a modest donation and a well-publicized dunking makes the suffering caused by ALS a little less obscure, why not? And besides, who wants to take any guff from Leef? With the clock ticking toward the 24-hour deadline, our MP’s challenge was reluctantly accepted.

It was, as you would expect, cold, and a drenched button-up and khakis were soon traded for some baggy surfer clothes donated by our sports editor. Then the video was uploaded to the Yukon News website and Facebook page so everyone could enjoy the soaking. Later, of course, we donated.

There was also the matter of who else to challenge. We settled on Premier Darrell Pasloski, Whitehorse mayor Dan Curtis, and Whitehorse Star editor Jim Butler. Then the clock started for them to respond.

Butler got back to us first. In his thoughtful missive, he parried the challenge with a donation to the UNICEF Water Project, noting that Guatemala announced that day it was facing a drought bad enough to declare a state of emergency.

The mayor responded next. He accepted, using his video to plug an ALS fundraising walk, scheduled to start at noon on Sunday, Sept. 28 at Shipyard’s Park, and called on all residents to participate.

Then a fireman declared, “This is going to hurt you more than us,” climbed up a fire truck in the background, and dumped a five-gallon pail of ice water over Curtis’s head.

That left Pasloski, who, by deadline, hadn’t issued any response. A day later, he tweeted that he had accepted – presumably, he had been held up during his travels to Charlottetown, P.E.I., for some chin-wagging with other Canadian premiers. As we went to press for this edition, we were still waiting to see his video, but we take his word that it’s coming.

While some of the campaign’s criticisms seem overdone, it’s true enough that we should all think hard about how our charitable donations are spent. There are no shortage of big problems in the world – and a few of them close at home.

That’s why this editor’s family makes monthly contributions to the Whitehorse Food Bank. The need is undeniable, given the number of hungry families that depend on the bank every month. Making monthly contributions offers the food bank a dependable cash flow, versus giving a lump sum at the end of year. And providing money, rather than castaway canned goods, provides a better bang-for-buck, since the food bank can purchase food at bulk discounts.

It’s a smart way to donate. No ice bucket required.

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