I’m haunted by an online quip from CBC reporter Justin McElroy. He noted that there have been a lot of problems with the ferry system, but one of the biggest was simply that we have the same number of ferries and ferry terminals now, when there are about 5.5 million British Columbians, that we had back when there were 4.5 million British Columbians.
You can see how this would cause problems.
This is something that haunts all of our discussions about public services, but which is rarely voiced.
Do you know why we have ERs that are packed with too many people waiting to see too few doctors?
Because there’s more people now, but the ER is often the same size as it was 10, 20, 30 years ago, and so is the payroll for doctors in that hospital.
Why are the schools surrounded by portables?
Because there are tens of thousands more children in the Lower Mainland.
Why are the roads backed up, why aren’t there enough buses, why is housing so expensive, why are vacancies for rental housing so low, why is there such a long waiting list for camping sites?
It’s the same problem, and the same answer.
There’s more of us.
We knew there would be more of us. Politicians and businesspeople alike can count, whether it’s new babies or immigrant Canadians. In fact, they’re often pretty excited about growth! They wanted there to be more people, more businesses, more workers!
And now everyone acts shocked to find that, having done either A) nothing or B) the bare minimum to plan for the future, things are kind of bad.
As far as I can tell, this attitude goes back to the 1980s, when Reagan and Thatcher and Mulroney swept in promising low taxes and limited government. It’s not all them, though. Here in Canada, succeeding Liberal governments also asked us to tighten our belts, particularly under Jean Chretien, lest our national debt crush us to death.
We were told, over and over, to tighten our belts and reduce our expectations. Governments weren’t here to do stuff! They were here to manage what had already been built. No more grand projects, no more grand plans. New ferries? Nope, Glen Clark messed that up, so no one else was allowed to talk about that for another 20 years.
Somewhere during almost four decades of austerity and restraint and suspicion of government, we forget that you have to actually build stuff. If you want enough ERs and doctors, you have to build medical schools, you have to fund scholarships, you have to build nursing colleges, and you have to build whole hospitals! The same goes for houses and ferries and roads and schools and even provincial parks.
Treading water looks good from a distance, but eventually you drown.
It looks like things are turning around, albeit very slowly.
The health-care crisis and the housing crisis have proved so soul-crushing for people that governments are finally trying to actually do things again.