Silly and abstruse headline, I know. But some days are better than others. What the title is supposed to lead toward is a comment about the pervasiveness of “the place is collapsing, but I’m OK”-ness going on everywhere. The opportunities to find this run from gated communities in high crime areas to happy economic sectors (even in Greece) among what is not unduly described as utter ruin. For my part, the next few paragraphs will be about levels of government.
As a citizen of Canada, living in the province of Ontario, subject to the municipal responsibility of the city of Ottawa, and as a non-entirely daft observer, I’ve become troubled by the pathological, ideology-driven finger-pointing among levels of government in these times. What are “these times?” Well, for the sake of simplicity, they are a fatigued economy marked by many years of excessive living beyond our societal means despite a negligent awareness and inactivity toward a coming glut of economically-draining seniors and an absence of supporting youth, never mind a wickedly hollowed out working class. In short and in the words of Bob Dylan, “A hard rain’s a gonna fall,” and we’re without a viable umbrella.
Through all this, since 2009, the federal government (Conservative) did what was responsible and supported the economy with government (deficit) spending. Today it is in the throws of breaking its arm patting itself on the back about how well it did and how much faster than even anticipated the federal government would be back on track, having corrected the financial hole of the past few years. Here’s one example: Ottawa narrows budget deficit faster than expected.
At the same time, the provincial government (Liberal) is at war with its teacher and Lord knows who else because, after spending a term in government trying to correct the terrible condition of education in the province (which it inherited), the corrective action turned itself into a progressive entitlement. That there was no material systemic improvement to education in Ontario gained by the corrective action should make all of us wonder about its value, but I digress. In any case, the province has the right to raise taxes but receives transfer payments for national demands made on it for programs that the federal government insists upon but does not manage. Read, “health care.” Bottom line: the ballooning cost of health care is only one of the provincial obligations that is presently unsustainable without additional revenue. (At another time we can explore the crack-addict mentality of the provincial gambling business strategy.) That, excluding provincial gambling, usually means taxes of some form. The provinces, except maybe Alberta, are under pressure. So, to the fullest extent possible they do the reasonable thing and lay it off on…
The municipalities are where politics is knee to knee and toe to toe. Federal and, to a lesser degree, provincial politicians get more money and have a higher profile, but at the end of the day, the ones that have to deal with constituents on things that matter most, most often and closest to home are the mayor and aldermen and reeves and councillors of the municipal governments. And they get the shaft. Mostly this is because they have their own obligations but also increasingly get downloaded on them less transfer from the provincial tax revenues but more spending (read: infrastructure). And, let’s face it, they wouldn’t be politicians if they didn’t promise and commit to no tax increases. We are all taxed to death and property taxes are among the most obvious and, for some reason, hurtful. But who’s going to fix the roads, keep the bridges safe, maintain the water works, get rid of the waste, and all the other (ideally) invisible costs of living in an urban society. It’s not the feds or province. So, slowly, the municipalities do less and less and ask for more and more from its ratepayers (higher parking costs, higher transfer and filing fees, fewer books in and shorter hours for the libraries, fewer firefighters and police on the beat…).
What prompted all this was that in the midst of the good news from the federal government about its financial acumen came this bit of news from Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page: Ottawa doing well but provinces in trouble budget watchdog says. And he didn’t even go so far (beyond his mandate) as the local government level of Canada’s major 100 municipalities. It would be a worse tale. What bothers me, and undoubtedly depresses too many to do anything about it, is why we aren’t more clear about the TOTALITY of our woes. It’s not like each of these levels of government has entirely distinct constituents or draws on entirely separate tax bases. I, like everyone else, fork out the dough for the needs of each of these levels of government to satisfy my obligation to society. It should bother all of us that it is so detached and incoherent that the state of vast swathes of my (and your) social well-being is not only hidden and opaque but unconnected and so inefficient that the costs of living in our society demands (for all but the so-called 1%, and even for them as I officially belong to that group but sure don’t feel like it) the lion’s share of our productivity, leaving only the bitter end for anything else.
Where am I going with all this? I’m not sure and I’m not going to get to the end in this post. I think it points toward a need for a massive overhaul in the administration of government. And, by “government,” I mean ALL administration of this nation’s society from the national interest on a global scale right down to what imbecile thinks that leaving garbage outside for two weeks between pickups isn’t going to increase the incidence of urban rats (the little furry kind), causing an entirely new problem. Technology and the nature of our society today are both dramatically different and have dramatically different demands than when Canada was effectively constituted nearly a century-and-a-half ago. It’s time for a rethink and an overhaul; and I’m not talking about lipstick for this pig. It’s time to cook a little bacon.