If you open a newspaper these days, which some people still do, you find two sorts of items commonly wedged in wherever the COVID stories leave space. One tells you of the exciting new ambitions some politician has to transform your shoddy life in to something vaguely worthwhile at last, while the other exposes some pathetic failure of government to accomplish basic tasks. Surely the latter cast doubt on the former.
Take this item from Monday’s National Post… please. “Four years after a devastating auditor general report detailing serious issues with the Canada Revenue Agency’s call centre service, the taxpayers’ ombudsperson says that ‘most’ of those problems still exist despite millions of dollars of investments to improve the service.” And while you might think it a more serious indictment of government if they had laughed off the report, I think it especially revealing that they did their best to fix it and failed.
As with the Phoenix pay system, which seems to have descended into the ashes rather than rising from them, it is a stunning indication of basic incapacity that seems to make very little impact on them, or us. You know it is. When you get one of those incomprehensible notices from Bob Hamilton, CRA Commissioner, that invites you to call if you have questions, you shudder because you know it will take hours, possibly days, and may not work at all.
I am not criticizing the agents, by the way. I suspect that the situation is even more dismal from the other end. Imagine working in such a place. But then imagine trusting it. Which we apparently do.
In the face of this evidence we continue to call for national strategies on everything, to demand that governments remake capitalism so it finally works as well as socialism did, then to move on to reshaping our customs, habits, societies and personalities. Which surely invites us to quote Roy O’Bannon/Wyatt Earp’s indignant question to Chon Wang in Shanghai Noon “What in our history together makes you think I’m capable of something like that?”
Seriously. Consider also that business where the government was going to plant two billion trees by 2030 to improve the weather and only managed 8.5 million in the first two years. The CBC actually managed to depict it as a triumph, including quoting former Environment and new Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson that “I think that’s important for Canadians to understand that the program is on track.” But to where? At 4.25 million a year it will take 470 years. Yet we still believe governments can improve the weather.
Now you may think I’m cherry-picking or, in this case, pinecone-picking. After all, governments have got many things right, at least to hear them tell it. Including “Minister concludes successful visit to Freedonia” press releases that it manages to plant in truly impressive numbers. And the one about balancing the budget.
If you’re thinking at least they got COVID right, or at least I’m getting a break from COVID stories, think again. Pharmaceutical companies pulled off a miracle in developing and delivering vaccines, although governments apparently oversold the vaccines. But pharmaceutical companies are not governmental outfits. Except in, say, the Soviet Union, where their signal drug breakthrough was shooting dissidents full of mind-bending chemicals in public asylums.
As for our own governments, several of my National Post columnists just pointed out as Omicron throws us back to what Rupa Subramanya called “square one” that almost everything they did including thrashing about on what “experts say” to not getting rapid home tests to bungling the rollout of the next wave of booster shots to stumbling back to severe restrictions like those of spring 2020 was actually incompetent including in its incoherence. Even after two years of giving it all they’ve got.
Sabrina Maddeux kicked off her Wednesday piece “It’s OK to be furious right now. In fact, you should be. It becomes clearer by the day just how badly everyone from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) to provincial premiers and public health officials bungled our pandemic response just when something resembling an end to this madness and tragedy was in sight. It didn’t have to be this way.”
Rupa Subramanya ended hers on Thursday “At least the politicians can be booted out of office every few years. Experts who have no skin in the game are never held accountable for the poor policy choices that stem from their models — which seem to wrong almost as often as they are right.” But the experts who say do not, in fact, present a united front, nor impose their views. It is the politicians who manufacture then enforce a consensus and mangle it. Again.
The great mystery is why we fall for it every time. Don’t we read newspapers?