Canadians have never gone in for the flag waving patriotism of their friends to the south; it’s just not our way (except at hockey games, but that’s a religious cult). However that does not mean we are not proud of our country. Unfortunately, the things that I used to take most pride in seem to have gone the way of the dodo.
Canada was once known for its compassion, its sense of justice, and the ability to assist those in need without passing judgement. By no means an ideal country, but at least one that made an effort when it came to ensuring the well-being of its citizens. Now, it’s hard to recognize it as the same country.
For the past twenty years, there has been a steady erosion of the safety net. School boards are declaring bankruptcy, hospitals are being closed, homelessness is on the increase, and the prisons are filling. How did this happen?
In the mid 1990s, it became popular in certain political circles to tell people they were paying too many taxes. These same pundits also predicted doom and gloom because governments were spending far too much money. Vote for us they said, and we will lower your taxes and eliminate deficits.
Now there’s nothing like talk about taxes to inspire passion among the voting public. None of us like paying them. Canadians were still trying to adjust to a new federally imposed sales tax, the goods and services tax (G. S. T.) that had recently been implemented.
The problem, we were told, is that too much money is being spent on needless government programs. Too much duplication of services, many of the things that government now did could be handled by private business equally well and not cost the taxpayers a dime.
Of course, there are also those people who are leeches on society. Money that could be in your pocket is ending up in theirs because they are just too shiftless to go out and get a job. Welfare recipients, single moms, the disabled, and other unfortunates were singled out for blame.
In an interesting bit of sleight of hand, they turned the whole of society on its head. Those who had been the victims became the villains, while those who had been villains became victims. Cuts in spending on social benefits to allow for cuts in taxes to society’s largest earners were now justifiable.
Health care was their biggest concern. It was sick, they said, and needed fixing. It needed to become more efficient in the delivery of its services. To this end half the hospitals in Ontario were closed; a thousand nurses were laid off; non-essential health care procedures like annual Pap smears for women were no longer covered by public health insurance; and duplication of services offered was eliminated (if two hospitals performed the same cardiac procedure, one of them stopped).
Instead of publicly run laboratories, which provided such needless services as developing diagnostic tests, private testing-only units were established. Why waste money on developing tests for something that may or may not happen? That two of the tests under development that were shelved by this could have been used to detect S.A.R.S. and West Nile is only a small part of this policy’s legacy.
One of the sneakier ways of eliminating costs from your budget is to pass the buck down to a lower level of government. It was decided that this should be done with water purity testing for all municipalities. Instead of having a standard for across-province testing, each town and city, no matter what their resources, would now have to monitor and maintain their own water supply.
The flaws in this system became apparent when the people of Walkerton, Ontario started dying from E-coli bacteria poisoning. Run-off from a farmer’s field had polluted one of the town’s wells, and, through a series of human errors, was never detected. The simple fact of the matter was that the people who were responsible had no idea how to do the job.
After nine years of complaining about this kind of government, the people of Ontario finally voted them out of office. However, they had no one to blame but themselves. There had never been any effort to hide what was going to happen. It had been spelled out in black and white for everybody to read. Still they voted for this type of government twice.
Governments are still addicted to the whole idea of slashing budgets. Like some sort of demented economic mantra, “balanced budget” and “zero deficits” are repeated as an endless loop. Maybe they hope that by repeating it often enough someone, somewhere, is going to believe it.
Supposedly, governments are here to serve us, the people. I know that at different points in the political spectrum, people have different ideas on the role of government. One thing we all have in common is that we would like them to be more responsive to how we feel. The other thing we have in common is that we all complain about the way they do their job.
In nine years of government cutbacks that were supposed to save us all on our tax bill, the only physical evidence most of us saw was one $200 tax rebate check. For this we gave them our permission to gut the hospitals, ravage the schools, and turn thousands of poor people out into the streets.
We stood by as they dumped on welfare recipients, nurses and teachers, unions, environmentalists, and the sick. We allowed those either less fortunate than ourselves, or those who stick up for the rights of others, to be scapegoats for all the ills of society. It’s embarrassing to think how cheaply we sold ourselves.
Isn’t about time we all stopped complaining and looking for someone else to blame for our troubles? A government is a reflection of its people. Tell them you don’t like what you see in the mirror.
Tell them you think public health care is more important than corporate tax cuts. That everybody should be able to afford a post-secondary education if they want it; the poor don’t deserve to be punished, but need to be helped instead; and that you don’t want to worry whether your water is safe to drink and your air to is safe to breathe.
They say that if we spend money we are stealing it from the future. If we don’t spend money, we are stealing the future, period. If we don’t start to reinvest in our society what kind of dividends will it pay out in twenty years time?