Another thing that troubles me about current events on the northern side of the US-Canadian border (once the longest undefended border in the world — thanks Homeland Security) is how obsessed governments and institutions have become with buildings.
Our local county government has been building a fully serviced industrial park with our tax dollars. They are just doing it, no ‘voter’ got a say as to whether this kind of gambling was a good use of taxpayer dollars. (Oh, I am sure the argument is that they must invest in local facilities to make it attractive to potential employers — wonder what the risk is and who benefited?) The local paper was talking about the grandiose aquatic center that Kingston wants to build — which will require $10/person access fees and a 1.5% increase in taxes to pay for. And in the same breath the new stadium they built continues to loose money at the predicted rate of $500,000/year. And yet the hospital where my wife works is crumbling (patient rooms have been closed because of mould due to a leaking roof that no one wants to repair), their staff has been cut back so many times and the old timers are just being worked into the ground with excess overtime. The people who pay for this don’t get to have a say — there seems to be no recall mechanism in Canadian politics. The guys who are in stay in largely until they get bored and loose confidence of their fellow politicians. I don’t really understand how any of this can work.
There was a book I read many years ago that talked of the tendency of bureaucracies to expand their staff and build ever grander facilities for themselves while becoming ever more distant from real work — I think it was called ‘Parkinsons Law’. The example I believe was the British Admiralty (if my aging memory is accurate).
No one wants to look at metrics about real work because it’s painful and unpleasant. But new buildings — wow! The interesting thing about the construction of the new and grander hospital is that the taxpayer is funding the building, but the hospital must pass the hat in the community to fit it out. An interesting approach. If one were measuring patient outcomes, I wonder what the returns would be on just maintaining the existing facilities and providing adequate staff?
Unlike the US, where voters can in the end have a recall or impeach a sitting politician, Canadians don’t really have much to say about the government once it gets elected. So they can spend wildly and enrich their friends while increasing taxes and cutting services and everyone just takes it. Oh, one can petition the government just like in the US, but the government is perfectly capable of telling the petitioners to just bugger off. This has happened a lot over the deployment of wind farms in bird areas. I guess the rule of follow the money is still valid — how much did the birds contribute to the last campaign? And relative to this, Canada has a Freedom of Information act — but the government is under no obligation to respond to requests. As one bureaucrat told the Globe&Mail, ‘we have things the way we like it, and you are not going to mess it up by poking into OUR business’ — I think this is more or less the essence of what was reported, but it has been a while since this particular discussion floated across my awareness.
I guess the miracle is that anything works at all. The company I worked for years ago shipped the lot of us from Kentucky to Ontario back in 1984. The phrase ‘your job is now in Canada’ is an interesting one to hear in the middle of a nasty divorce. But watching the healthcare debate in the US has been interesting and reflective of how much better life is without the concern for how to provide dependent coverage. Or running a small business without the mind-numbing complexity of US regulations. Guess the real secret is that in a feudal society, if one is not a lord then the next best way is to be ignored and just stay out of the way of the lords as they rampage across the country. I wonder if at the end of all this there will be a new ‘Magna Carta’?