Do we demand too much from our governments today, expecting impossible dreams? We want them to solve our employment issues. We want them to build schools, libraries, hospitals, and roads. We expect them to make our society safe and free. All of this is to be done without encumbering us with debt, without restrictions to our freedoms, without the imposition of the state upon our lives. We seem to want it all, but do we ask enough of ourselves?
When our governments took on more social responsibilities in the 1960’s, we saw a new phase in statism, in which governments ever increasingly took on more influence over our lives. Before that, Canadians were relatively more self-sufficient, but more so, we were more compassionate and willing to help build our own communities. This took place over decades, over two generations, and the end result was greater expectations from our governments.
When this social model collapsed in the 1990’s, when Canada entered its phase of neo-liberalism, we saw a shift in the governments’ thinking as both federal and provincial governments tried to extricate themselves from these expectations. But we continued to make demands, which politicians, knowing their political fate lay in appeasing us, continued to placate us with empty promises, which they failed to deliver on. But that was okay, because municipal governments took on some of those responsibilities. These promises, however, incurred costs, which now required increased taxes and the need for increased revenue sources. And these have led to increased levels of household debt, which Canadians are now beginning to collapse under. Can we stop this trend, and if so, how?
There is still a need and a role for governments, but it should be to facilitate and coordinate our efforts to build our communities. Historically, our cities and towns were built through ‘noblesse oblige’, but even in more modern times, it was citizens and not government administrations that helped build our cities, and a shining example of this is our own city hall, built by the many service clubs in St. Albert. This created a positive value for our community, something that we could all be proud of. So, why can we not do this again?
Name a community project, something of a public good that we can all agree upon, and maybe we can work together to help build it. A most recent example, which has created a slight rift in our community, is that of a library extension. Most of the arguments have been for this venture, but it has been the fear of increased costs to many households that have scuttled it. Taxation levees, and debt are no longer an acceptable means to generate revenues for such goals, so let us look to ourselves to find alternative means to meet our public goods. Government does not have to do everything, and we can be the ones to shape our community.
John Kennair is an international consultant and doctor of laws who lives in St. Albert.