Wildfires have wreaked devastation across Canada this summer. They have captured national attention as homes burned down, people were displaced and lives ruined. And rightly so, given the destruction and havoc they have caused.
But there are other fires burning across the country – people struggling with physical disabilities, mental health issues and poverty. These, though, are not natural disasters but are self-inflicted. We did it to ourselves through budget cuts and short sightedness. In fact, that is the root cause for each and every one of these “fires.”
In our safe country, we “react” to disasters like the forest fires or flooding in the Maritimes or the Derecho in Ottawa with exorbitant efforts and resources after the crises. But we also lose track of key commitments to civil society and human progress. Poverty, homelessness, hopelessness, mental health issues and the lack of meaningful employment all lead to desperation. No one wants to become addicted. No one wants to have mental health issues. But when there is no hope, no home, no food, no job, no use in society, one chooses what is offered by those who take advantage of others.
Drugs, violence, crime. We cause this!
We cut corners in things that matter. We reduced the number of teachers, nurses, personal support workers, family doctors, medical students, police officers, firefighters and so on. We lower salaries for those that improve others’ lives and give CEO’s more money to take advantage of markets. We sell away greenbelt lands to make developers rich. We do easy things now; fixing them is costlier and will be someone else’s problem later.
That is why we are all struggling now.
Policymakers think about now. Quick polling numbers. Talk about improving long-term care homes over the next 10 years instead of raising salaries for personal support workers now. Talk about fast-tracking international nurses into Canadian health care instead of paying working nurses their value now. Talk about building medical schools that will bring us a few hundred more family doctors in 10 years instead of tripling the $37 per patient seen or providing incentives to adopt the 6 million orphaned patients. Talk about binding arbitration with teachers for a three-year contract instead of increasing administrative support and salary for the high-value work they do now. Expecting most firefighters to be volunteers rather than paying them. Cheaping out on paramedics.
We cut corners in things that matter.
Every single one of these decisions shows short-sightedness and an intention to get a quick deal. To look like you care when you don’t. When policymakers make errors – and they do, as well as break rules and put their personal interests above those of the general population – they are unwilling to correct themselves.
No wonder there is another raging fire – that of public cynicism. Those that are there to think about the interests of all Ontarians, Canadians and humans seem to think about their party, their re -election, their popularity first.
But we can enforce change. We used to discuss policy at political conventions. We used to debate our short-, medium- and long-term values and goals in society, in schools, in universities, through various newspapers and even town halls. Though the world has become more polarized, we need to go back to listening, arguing and learning from each other.
And this works better when we have minority governments, when politicians are forced to make deals, collaborate, compromise and work things out.
It is time for all Canadians to re-engage with civil society, in civic participation with more dialogues, debates and town halls. We have the intelligence and awareness to find solutions that help everyone. But we need to increase voting numbers. We need to have more opinion editorials in balanced free speech journals like this one (outside of the echo chambers in social platforms). It will be hard work, but we cannot allow the fires of 2023 to keep burning.