Friday, February 19, 2010

Is this really how the premier wants us to remember him?

By the time you’re premier of B.C., you’re probably wrapped pretty tight in people who tell you what you want to hear.
So I got to thinking a while back about Gordon Campbell, and how he might not even know how small and mean his government is looking these days out here in the larger world. It’s not like he gets much opportunity to check in with the common folk and see what’s up.
But if I were him, I’d be making that happen very soon. Once the Olympics party wraps, I hope he takes some time to touch base with the people whose lives he governs.
Campbell will be B.C.’s premier for at least 12 years, possibly longer if he and his government hang in for another term after the 2013 election. What legacy does he want to leave from his time in office?
I’m sure the Olympics are a major piece, as is the sprucing up of B.C.’s economy (well, up until the economy tanked). Campbell can also take credit for making B.C. a friendlier place to do business, and bringing rapid transit to Vancouver International Airport.
But surely the man wouldn’t want to be remembered for picking on people who were barely hanging on to begin with. Yet that’s what sticks in my mind from his time in government so far, and I’m wondering if he really understands that. And that I’m not the only one.
Campbell’s government has been elected for three terms in a row, so we’ll have to presume that most British Columbians support his way of thinking. But not everything has come up roses under the Liberals, and after 12 years it’s definitely starting to show.
Campbell wants government to function more like business. Good business smarts definitely are important for effective governance, because much of government at the ground level is about attending to the very same things that any business needs to attend to in order to stay in operation.
But there are some big differences between the goals of business and government. Most notably: A business operates for the benefit of its owners and shareholders. A government, at least in a democracy, operates for the good of society. They’re very different things.
Being fiscally astute means a heck of a lot to business. And it needs to mean a lot to a provincial government as well, because the cost of debt goes on and on.
But balancing the books certainly isn’t the only consideration for a government. Businesses don’t need to worry about figuring things out for all the poor, weak, old, young, sick, out-of-work or challenged people in their communities. Governments do.
I’m not against the Olympics. But I can completely understand why people might get incensed at governments sparing no expense to fly piles of snow from one mountain to another via helicopter, while at that very moment the province is announcing $15 million in cuts to services for non-aboriginal B.C. youth and families. I mean, that’s just plain wrong.
Nobody can fault Campbell for believing way back when that trickle-down economics and tough new “hand up, not hand out” programs would take care of British Columbians’ problems. Who’s to say until you try?
But a dozen years in, what’s resulted is an entrenched, growing sub-class of people with bigger problems, poorer health, less education and fewer prospects for well-paid, consistent work and stable housing. They are so close to the edge that the tiniest push sends them head over heels into the abyss. Is that really what Campbell wants?
A small example: If you ran B.C., would you opt to provide $6 a day for Meals on Wheels and a small alarm system to help maintain the independence of a man living with Parkinson’s disease, or deny him that and instead fork out $3,000 or so a month for the long-term care bill he’ll soon be ringing up?
It’s a pretty obvious choice, and I bet Campbell would make the smart one if I could ask him. But his government and the insulated yes-men running B.C.’s health authorities consistently make the wrong one - in that particular case and in many similar situations. Small, stupid cruelties like that happen all the time in the lives of thousands of British Columbians down on their luck.
Mr. Premier, time for a reality check. You don’t strike me as a small-minded, mean man. Don’t let your government be remembered as one.

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