Government at Cross Purposes?
While on vacation in Costa Rica, our tour guide was quite candid while talking about government in his country. There were many things I found myself admiring as he spoke. I was also shocked with some of the problems he described they were having.
If my understanding is correct (all errors my own), they have a court that’s akin to our Supreme Court. When legislation is passed, affected people lodge complaints which are heard by this court. Unfortunately it sounded like much of the legislation was stalled and it was incredibly difficult to get laws enacted. The example he gave was an extreme hike in traffic fines. A traffic ticket was previously in the range of (using a very approximate number) $40. The government decided to raise fines significantly - probably for the same reasons they do the same thing here: putatively safer behaviour and raising more revenue. Fines were raised astronomically to $600 a ticket.
It went to the court where it was argued that $600 was more than a month’s salary for someone being paid minimum wage. The court rolled fines back to $20 - even lower than they were before. Our guide suggested the sensible solution was a much smaller raise in fines - perhaps from $40 to $60 and a points system against driver’s licenses similar to what we have here. What he said sounded imminently reasonable to me, raise fines to fix behaviours and create solutions to problems, try solutions which have already proven themselves to have worked out. It sounded to me that it was all rolled back regressively because of what appeared to be simple greed on behalf of the government. Dirty baby bathwater.
That’s futility in my mind. How can anything positive get accomplished when you have two segments of government working at such cross purposes with each other?
So I ask the question, why does our government in Alberta seem so bent on working at cross purposes with itself so often?
Why do we consolidate Health Regions to nine, then to one, then expand middle management because a single Health Region proved to be unwieldy and non-responsive? Why do we starve the medical system in the lean times then throw money at it hand over fist to solve problems once they hit critical mass?
Why do we scrimp our education system, nickel and diming parents with fees every step of the way but promise new schools and services every time an election rolls around?
How can we cut, cut, CUT the wages and gold-clad pension plans of our MLAs but sneak in committee pay and other perks and benefits when the public doesn’t appear to be looking?
To me, the root cause is an absence of planning and forethought. Not a complete absence, mind you. Different arms of government appear to have plans in place. Consolidating health regions makes sense when you’re looking at dozens if not hundreds of small, independent organizations that don’t work together well and can’t take advantage of bulk ordering. That consolidation does not make sense when it takes so much effort for the beast to lift itself off the ground that any savings get wasted in the process. Not building schools willy-nilly is a good thing, but refusing to replace a school that is so dilapidated that it costs more in repairs than to build anew is utter foolishness. Declaring a pay cut while backhandedly giving yourself a raise is simply deplorable. I cannot think of a single ethical occupation that allows its members to give themselves raises without oversight.
The solution to counter productive measures is open and transparent planning. The plans need to be discussed in wide forums, reaching as many people as possible. Each person affected deserves to be heard - how else can we judge what impacts we are exerting upon other Albertans? These are our neighbours, friends and family! We feel the impacts upon ourselves! Stop dumbing down every issue for the soundbyte and start planning complete solutions.
So the election is a week old and I’m catching up now. I feel a little gobsmacked so far.
Let me pose the question: Which part of the election have you been paying attention to so far? Which person was most offended by what someone else said? Which person is making the biggest promise that will benefit you the most personally?
Or are you listening to the conversations about solving the problems of Albertans? How to best ease the boom and bust cycles? How can we best live healthy, happy lives and how to best regain our health when we fall sick? How we can best raise our children to have the skills in the future to be the workers and leaders our society will need? How do we ensure that we use our resources wisely, at fair value, and without irreparably harming our environment? How do we ensure that our representatives will remain responsive to our needs and actually represent our wishes?
I will discuss views on specific points raised and topics of interest. I don’t plan to shy away from conversation, I welcome it.
But this is my line in the sand. My discussion is about solving problems Albertans experience, and our problems deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. It is true, we can dream bigger. We’ll be further ahead when we talk about what really matters to you and to me.
Tomorrow: Ralph Bucks 2, sequels suck.