There are solutions to the daily degrade of our society, to the continuing pollution of our world, the increasing poverty, poor public services, terrorism, loss of civil liberties. What stand in the way of implementing them? In one word: stupidity.
Some simple examples support this crude statement.
In Nova Scotia there is a shortage of teachers. Few things are more predictable that school population. You make a child and bingo, six years later he is at the school door. Six years is a time long enough not only to train a teacher but a nuclear scientist. Well the government of Nova Scotia did not see it coming.
Aging population. Since the fifties we have been told we will live longer. My child grandparents lived on average 76 years. Now we are told there want be any money for the elderly (they may live up to 87). Again nothing was more foreseeable than people would not conveniently depart one or two years after retirement. In fact it is history. But probably not old enough history to cross the forehead of our leaders.
America invades Iraq to secure oil supplies. Really, was it too difficult to pay for it, with the usual bribe to the local boss(es)?
And a charming last touch, Premier Hamm of Nova Scotia has added a levy of 11 cents on every phone bill to cover the cost of … calling 911. And here I thought the first reason for having a shaman, a chieftain, a king, a state was personal security!
Stupidity is strengthened by greed, as we will see.
The result of too much stupidity in public life (diligently transmitted and reinforced by the media) is sad and dangerous: people give up on democracy, on participation in public life and worse of all, on civilized social behavior.
The hot air blown by Paul Martin gets presented as meaningful, profound statements. Unfortunately the new PM has not recognized or mentioned the real problems of Canada. The poor man thinks that a bit of house cleaning in Ottawa, some dollops of money here and there will do. Martin (and the media with him) have missed the critical point: the system is rotten.
The fatuous Mulroney government, followed by the disenchanted Chretien years have left us poorer, dependent on the good will of a doubtful neighbor, with our elites calling for a merger with the South and with the structure of our state and society in tatters.
What needs to be done? Too much for a short article, but we can certainly look at some “critical” issues.
Democracy. We live in a democracy, nicht wahr? In Nova Scotia the present Government has received less than 30% of the cast votes. 40% of the potential voters did not bother. So, the Hamm government has been chosen by less than 20% of Nova Scotia’s voters. 40% voted against Mr. Hamm. 40% said “the hell with you all”. Is it democratic to have a tiny minority run the commonwealth?
Solution. A corrected proportional system (like the German one; please no need to invent the wheel). By the way the Nova Scotia situation is not unique. It applies(ed) to Ottawa, Ontario, the UK, … Please do not mention stability. First of all Germany may be even too stable. Second, stability is a virtue, but destruction of democracy is too much a price to pay for it.
The Health System. Our system has become a health hazard. Waiting eight weeks to see a doctor and four months to start a cancer treatment is a not a political issue, it is a matter of life or death. I think we could have our leaders incriminated and condemned for accessory to murder if we would have the guts to take action. What has been the reaction of the system? Actually there have been two: ask for money and create a commission. Who having completed talking to the managers of the health system did … ask for money.
A study in Quebec concluded that 30% of the health money went in administration. I do not have a figure for Nova Scotia – and, anyhow, I would not trust it – but I now that the “system” is managed by the 250 employees of Medical Services Insurance, a private company who – since the birth of public health care – has managed the system never once having had to win a public tender. Ad what does this valuable institution do: provides health cards (very useful as the system is open to all Nova Scotians who have wallet full of social insurance cards, driving licenses, …) ; it also checks the fees submitted by the 800 doctors of Nova Scotia. The math is interesting: with 250 working days 5 people could spend a day in each doctor’ office with a generous reserve of some 400 inspection days!
But MSI is the smallest problem. Doctors spend hours filling SMI forms, their secretary do almost nothing else but trying to satisfy the system. Add the hospital administration staff and the Health Department staff (actually two of them: we are blessed in Canada with a federal system). Do you still wonder that we do not have money to pay for doctors, nurses, cleaners, etc.?
What is the solution? Actually there are many. The simplest one, the democratic one, is to let the patient pay the doctors or the hospital and promptly refund the money spent. Dangerous isn’t’ it? Huge number of frauds? Well remember we got our five inspectors waiting to jump in the fray. Plus a head inspector and 6 secretaries.
You don’t like it? Pick up a Bank, make a deal with them. Let the doctors send their bills to the Bank. And get 10 inspectors to inspect these dangerous doctors.
Please just do not ask for more money!
The Federal System. A federal system of government is probably the best. Ours was designed when it took weeks to go from Halifax to Ottawa. And people did not even consider having to go to Vancouver. And it shows.
We have 10 provinces – forget the territories for now. Some have million of inhabitants, one has 150,000 people. All have one vote on constitutional matters and one vote in federal-provincial meetings. Then we have polities of 1- 3- 4 million people who do not politically exist. PEI can block a constitutional amendment (New Foundland and Saskatchewan did) but Greater Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver have no voice. Really, how can I take such a federation seriously? Nova Scotia with 850,000 – the size of a small city – has provincial government complete of head of state, parliament, … , plus hundreds of municipalities, towns, counties, school boards, … A normal 850,000 city does do with a mayor, and a staff of 4,000.
Wonder why the “people” are fed up? Maybe they cannot articulate the fine points, but they know the system is rotten.
The solution? There are many, but let me just indicate the barebones of one.
As clearly our Constitution impedes changes the Federal Government as to invoke residual and emergency powers, propose a restructuring of the federal system and submit it to the people through referendum.
The new federation could be composed of one Atlantic Province (New Foundland, PEI, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, with some 2 million people), Quebec (without Montreal), Montreal, Ontario (without Toronto), the Prairies (Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta), Calgary, Vancouver and British Columbia.
An alternative is to split Ontario and Quebec in viable, logical parts like Northern Ontario, the South, the West and split Quebec along similar lines (la Gaspesie, le Nord, …).
Basically we can choose between a system of few, largish provinces, or a more “close to the people” solution, with however a population floor of not less than 1 million inhabitants. This new Provinces would than be restructured in viable local polities doing away with the mini-towns which can only live from provincial handouts. Radical, sure but do we want to live with carrying the cost of a useless system?
Don’t we need money for education, pension …? Do we want to pay more taxes to supports useless bureaucracies?
A critical part of a restructuring of our federal system is to reallocate responsibilities to avoid duplications. More money saved.
The above are “macro” issues, issues that seem remote from everyday life. Structural issues always are: we hardly bother about our vital systems – heart, lung, bowels, …- until they kill us. But we spend a lot of time worrying about pimples, muscle pain, …
Well, let us look at more close-to-everyday-life issues.
Canada has been a lucky Country due to the compact between the government and the citizens. By and large the system has been honest. The citizens money has been well spent, civil liberties have been guaranteed, the citizen’s needs largely satisfied.
Unfortunately during the past 20 years the compact has been broken. Government does no longer protect the citizens, government now believes in the magic “hidden hand of the market”, that tragically misunderstood words of Adam Smith (…he meant them sarcastically).
So private companies can now impose their own rules, and make our life impossible.
Take the telephone system and with it the access to Internet. People in rural areas have become second-class citizens: no access to fast Internet, old switching equipment. For me this means that I cannot send my clients pictures of my design, as the normal dial-up system will spend the day attempting to transmit a large file. But the telephone company rightly says that it is not economical for them to provide the service. Well they use public land to run their wires; they are operating under federal and provincial jurisdiction, so why do the governments not force them to provide the same quality service to all residents? It used to be so. But now … “we are looking into it” was the answer of the CRTC. Thanks.
Insurance companies are becoming “stricter” to protect us. A wood stove has become the equivalent of nuclear plant. It has to satisfy so many requirements that in some cases there can be nothing else in the room but the stove. And ideally it should emanate no heat. So the risk is minimized. We have a building code, which specifies how a wood stove has to be installed. No, insurance companies have their own rules. And the same applies to certain cars (older than 20 years).
Tragically our justice system is floundering as well. A guy in Ontario took my money (2,900 dollars) and disappeared. Fraud, a criminal action. The police finally caught up with him, twelve months later. The Crown Prosecutor then calls me and advises me to settle, get my money back and withdraw the charges.
Why? It is too expensive for the Crown to prosecute and the guy will probably just get a reprimand. I have still not seen the money.
I could get on and on with examples of where our state is failing us, but I am sure every reader has his own list. The point is that we are run by undemocratic government (even Saddam Hussein had more supporters that Mr. Hamm) and a state machine that has run out of steam. The once – rightly – proud Canadian civil service has been reduced to the level of that of a banana republic minus the corruption. But don’t fret, corruption will unavoidably arrive. We already see the telling signs in the avoidance of GST payments, the black market economy, corruption in the police forces, … a few more years and we will be right there, with Egypt, Mexico, etc. Minus the good weather.
And to complete the picture our civil liberties are eroded. In Toronto I was asked for a document – with photo please – to register in a Hotel. Never done it before. But now we have terrorism. Kiddos we always had terrorism! Have you ever heard of the IRA or the Mafia?
Do you know we loose more people in car accidents in one year that in all the terrorist acts of the last ten years?
Misinformed, betrayed by our leader, poorly served by our public servants, not protected by our police, … and people wonder why Canadian have given up on voting!
Can we get out of it? Probably not, except if somehow some leader whould manage to galvanize the masses of disgruntled citizens.
The alternative? Give up indeed, start from scratch. Participate actively in local politic, set up small credit unions, mutual insurance, and our own communication systems. Rebuild from the bottom up, and … refuse to pay taxes.
A tax revolt might get some action The first step: a representative, democratic voting system. But it may be too late.