(This column was published in the North Shore News on Jan. 9, 2002)
Governments must get priorities straight
By Leo Knight
IT seems every year the Holiday Season, which used to be called Christmas as I recall, comes with its own set of tragedies to dull the celebrations.
This year was certainly no exception with all the arsons and fire deaths to go along with the traffic fatalities.
Indeed, this festive season was all the less so for yours truly, having to cope with surgery on a rather delicate, southern portion of my anatomy, just three days before Christmas. It wasn't the worst Christmas Day I'd ever spent. No, I think that was in 1981 when as a police officer, my day started with a drunken, violent family dispute and ended 12 hours later with a drunken, violent family dispute, distinguished from the earlier one only in that it resulted in homicide charges. In between we also dealt with two, less than festive, suicides.
But this year's Christmas Day was certainly second in that category. Whatever my trials and tribulations, they paled in significance to the Kelowna couple who killed themselves and their severely disabled 34-year-old son in a gut-wrenching murder-suicide. And all because, we are told, they couldn't get a $500 monthly stipend from the government to help them look after their son.
Ironically, according to more recent media reports, the current provincial government was about to approve funding for just this very type of situation not allowed by the former government.
What this is really about is government priorities. Do they spend taxpayer resources on health care or on fountains in the Shawinigan River, for example? Should they build another school or give more money to the teacher's union and claim they are funding education?
It is all about priorities.
For years cops and government investigators tried to convince a succession of NDP ministers, including, I might add, the current leader of the would-be opposition, that welfare fraud was running at an astonishing 50 per cent level. Eliminating it would have been fairly simple and would have provided in excess of $1 billion extra for things like health care. You know, like MRIs for people in need, and more money for real health care practitioners instead of highly paid mop jockeys.
These numbers have been floating around Victoria for at least a decade that I know about. There is no magic formula to Gordon Campbell's government announcing they are going to reduce the welfare budget by half without eliminating service for those in real need. Ba-da-bing! Eliminate the fraud and suddenly there's a lot more money. In fact, 50 per cent more.
Now why couldn't the NDP figure that one out? Must be those pesky priorities again.
The federal Liberals are no better. In fact, I would argue they are much worse. The only difference is they are better at covering it up and deflecting criticism. Which, I suppose, is nothing to be proud of. Years of experience must surely teach you something. One only needs to examine the so-called "Shawinigate" scandal and the way the Chretien Liberals mounted the parapets to defend a beleaguered prime minister to understand how it works.
So let's get back to priorities. Because this is the genesis of all other discussions of satisfaction or, as is more often the case, dissatisfaction with governments of all levels.
Does it make sense to allow a family to wipe themselves out because they cannot get a measly $500 a month to assist them in dealing with a mature child who requires 24/7 care? Of course not. Especially when there is no end of available dollars to any so-called charity organization with the acronym A-I-D-S somewhere in its name.
Does it make sense to have experienced registered nurses leave the province or even their chosen profession because we cannot afford to pay them what they are worth? Of course not. Especially when we are paying janitors, laundry staff, cafeteria cashiers and security guards $17-$25 per hour to do a job worth less than half that.
Oh, the Hospital Employees Union has its arguments down pat. "They are an integral part of the health care team." "They deserve more because they are specially trained to handle bio-medical waste." (One wonders if they are talking about the janitors or the cafeteria cooks?)
They complain they are being compared to hotel cleaning staff unfairly. As if a hotel maid has never had to clean up vomit or blood?
Integral part of the health care team, my (sore) butt! They are nothing more than a drain on scarce health care dollars. Last week while in Lions Gate Hospital post-op, being tended by the oh-so incredibly pleasant and efficient Louise, and overhearing one RN ask another about the disgusting state of the floor, the other nurse remarked she hadn't seen the cleaner all day. "Who is on?" asked the first nurse. "Oh, you know, that one with the (embarrassing remark deleted)," remarked her colleague.
Apparently, in reality, they not exactly a big part of the team. But God knows, they are a huge part of the budget.
It's all about priorities. Gordon Campbell's provincial Liberals have, for the most part, made all the right moves so far. But clearly there is much to be done. And let's hope their priorities are more in line with yours and mine. This means telling the BCTF, the HEU, the BCGEU, the CEU, CUPE, and all the rest of the leeches on the public purse to take their extortion rackets and go away.
It's all about priorities.