Ronald Reagan used to get big laughs with his line about “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.” But alas the joke’s on the Gipper, because 37 years later far too many people are convinced only the state can do anything worthwhile even though they routinely cackle, or moan, about all the evidence pointing the other way. Including Canadians, out of politeness, gullibility or both.
Here let me mention a couple of items that are noteworthy, as so often, because they are nothing special. Meaning they’re not some deliberate, went-out-of-my-way confirmation bias examples I hunted down with diligent effort. They just showed up in the morning paper on August 31.
First, the federal and Ontario provincial governments were falling over themselves congratulating one another, and themselves, for having provided high-speed rural broadband to fully 66,000 rural Ontario households at a mere $219 million. And I could quibble that in an economy as advanced as our own it’s no boast that they finally did something about a situation that should not exist, to a significant degree did not exist, and that insofar as it did exist they caused.
Canadians infamously pay very high prices for internet, and cell service, and a major reason why is government regulation that protects providers at the expense of consumers. But it’s just possible that this outcome reflects low cunning rather than ineptitude, because of “bureaucratic capture” of regulators by their targets, who have a far more concentrated interest in the policy than its victims.
The real reason for my bringing it up as a ghastly example of smug incompetence is that, as Tristin Hopper pointed out in the National Post, “If those same households were simply to be given satellite internet, meanwhile, the whole project could probably be completed for less than a quarter of its final price tag.”
That’s right. The politicians, and their vast highly paid civil service, found a way to do it badly and quadruple the cost. And then these windbags went into mutual admiration society mode, more proof that another very scary word in English is “non-partisan”. The parties should be fighting each other for our applause, not fighting us for one another’s. It’s why we have them.
Oh, by the way, Hopper also notes that “According to figures released in 2021 by Statistics Canada, just six per cent of Canadians lacked access to a fixed broadband internet connection. When Canadians without internet were polled as to why, 63 per cent reported that they ‘had no need or interest in a home internet connection.’” So to bring in another language, Nikita Khrushchev once said “Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river.”
And another thing. The same day, in the same newspaper, another story started “Two different federal infrastructure programs have provided funding for more than 43,000 electric vehicle chargers since 2016, but fewer than one in five of them are actually operational, new data show.” So naturally they charged ahead: “The information provided by Natural Resources Canada came as Energy Minister Jonathan Wilkinson visited Quebec City Wednesday to announce another $25 million to fund 1,500 EV chargers in Quebec.”
Governments are good at spending money, of course. Including handing out subsidies for EV battery plants whose total value is now double the annual output of the car industry in Canada. Sorry, not value. Cost. The value is liable to be roughly zero based on the history of industrial subsidies in Canada. Yet no amount of bitter experience with their efforts to “pick winners”, and no amount of politicians swearing off the attempt in disgust, seems able to stop them from doing it, because the companies love it and are happy to give the politicians a platform from which to bloviate.
These examples all share the “squirrel” tendency of politicians to get lunge at shiny high-tech trendy things, and at your wallet to strew cash about on them. But why do we put up with it? Like light rail, which seems high-tech, environmentally and socially conscious and in keeping with hipster urban theory. But almost invariably disappoints. Including because, in Ottawa, they bought European trains not suited to the restraining rails on the U.S. track they also bought… or for our winters. No, really. They were from the government, and here to help, and so full of themselves there was no room for due diligence.
So that was just one day. If we’re willing to consider an entire week, a long time in politics, and again I’m citing Tristin Hopper, the Canadian government forced us all to adopt paper straws for the sake of “the environment” without bothering to check. I don’t mean they got it wrong. I mean, quoting Hopper, “Ottawa has also done little to no research on the environmental impacts or the potential unintended consequences of finding alternatives to single-use plastics. A Government of Canada report on alternatives to plastic straws and checkout bags simply advises retailers to find products that won’t be ‘problematic.’”
Again no due diligence. But maybe science is hard, especially for people who always claim to be following it as they thrash around keeping up with trendy ideas on masks, lockdowns, “climate breakdown” or transgenderism. But here’s one that should be easy: trees.
Back in 2022, in his habitual oh-so-pleased-with-me way, Justin Trudeau praised himself for a 2019 commitment to plant two billion trees. Which shouldn’t have been hard in a country that is basically a giant forest anyway, with about 362 million hectares of forest out of 998.5 million hectares total containing an estimated 300 billion or so of the things which practically plant themselves, but was actually already badly off track.
Since we are a metric country I don’t have to tell you a hectare is 1/100th of a square kilometre, do I? It’s also 2.47 acres. But I do have to tell some people that in 2023 Jonathan Wilkinson, formerly Environment Minister and apparently still thinking he holds that job, suddenly tweeted that actually they were way ahead of their target, prompting Paul Wells to observe that “This triumphant announcement was reported pretty much as great news in most of the country’s news outlets. Here I intend no criticism of my friends in the older news organizations: they were having a busy day” with the Trudeaus’ separation.
Whereupon Wells rubbished his former colleagues because what they all missed, other than Boris Proulx at Le Devoir and thus in French so the rest of them missed it too, was that the Liberals simply added some other trees from another program to the total and claimed it was in the program that couldn’t plant a tree in a forest. Which you really wouldn’t think was hard or, especially in Canada, a novel challenge as rural broadband just might be if it also were not.
It should not need to be added that our various governments are also making a total mess of health care, immigration, housing, inflation and just about everything else. But since I’m on a Tristin Hopper binge today, I will quote his tweet that “Every once in a while, I try to think of a file that hasn’t gotten decisively worse under the Trudeau government. I usually settle on Parks Canada. If they were anything like the other federal agencies, Banff National Park would be overrun by cocaine-addled grizzlies.”
If it’s better with your provincial or municipal government, I’m surprised and jealous. But as soon as I read that tweet I thought the next thing we’re going to hear of is some policy disaster involving Parks Canada. Like where they changed their logo slightly, removing the cross-hatching from the beaver’s tail, after a $99,100 survey found that 75% of Canadians didn’t know what their logo was, but wouldn’t tell us what the change cost.
Now speaking of Russian, someone once claimed that the three scariest words in that language were “Oh, that’s weird.” As one imagines was said at Chernobyl in 1986 as the safety readings went all wonky. But I think they only said “Russian” because they happened to speak it; the point is universal.
That politicians would hold a high opinion of themselves is not surprising given the temptations of pride and our tendency to reward it. But I certainly think oh, that’s weird when Canadians retain their faith in “government” even as they lose faith in politicians and bureaucrats. I guess Reagan would find it funny.
P.S. While I’m on the subject, or rather subjects of government incompetence, public transit and citizen gullibility, Sabrina Maddeaux recently complained, also in the Post, about Toronto city officials telling obvious lies about streetcar noise, just one example among many of brazen obfuscation that somehow doesn’t make us flinch when governments seek power to curtail the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to fight “misinformation”.