January 10, 2010

CANADA: Ignoring tomorrow, governing for today

. OTTAWA, Ontario / The Ottawa Citizen / Life / January 10, 2010 By Janice Kennedy, Citizen Special There are many disturbing, frightening, depressing things about the report just released by the Alzheimer Society of Canada. Factoring in the impact of the aging boomer demographic, Rising Tide: The Impact of Dementia on Canadian Society predicts appalling outcomes unless action is taken. As it stands, the number of people with dementia will more than double over the next 30 years. And the economic impact of that, in health and social-welfare costs, will be more than 10 times what it is now. Read earlier news about the Alzheimer's Society report Easing the anguish But the most disturbing, frightening and indisputably depressing thing about the report's dire predictions is this: they are doomed to fall on ears that are stone deaf. The Alzheimer Society has released its report as a call to action, citing the progressive moves made by other countries and challenging governments here to do the same. But in this Canada of 2010, led by a federal government that can't see beyond the pragmatic expediencies of its own re-election, don't count on anything happening. The reason is simple. Government action generally means government spending. And government spending, in the Stephen Harper regime, generally means directing dollars to a narrow ideological agenda and to immediate vote-winning areas. The terrible outcomes predicted in Rising Tide are too far off to be politically engaging now. In Canada these days, we live in a time of small, cribbed minds. Of goals that extend no farther than the next election. Of short-sighted decision-makers and visionless leaders. If there were any doubt, the Harper crowd has made it crystal clear, once again, with its nonchalant disinclination to really govern, combined with its equally obvious passion for holding on to power. How else can you characterize a government that imperiously shuts down Parliament and the democratic business of the country for no better reason than a partisan whim (despite the Official PMO Line, in the Official PMO Talking Points script, that it's for "recalibration," a process apparently impossible to undertake with the House in session and resonating with pesky Opposition questions)? In short, don't expect this bunch to shape a better Canadian future. If dementia ravages twice as many people over the next three decades, that's no skin off their noses -- even if (it's statistically reasonable to predict) some of their own members eventually end up afflicted themselves. This is a government filled with minds dedicated to the principle of short-term gain in areas that suit its agenda, and long-term pain -- because, well, they won't be around to blame. Since the distant future does not buy them present-day support, it is simply not part of their political lexicon, no matter how many thoughtful warnings about looming crises reach their ears. For instance, with the effects of climate change and increasing worldwide water shortages, we know about the looming environmental crisis. (We know about it despite the strident fictions of those lunatic deniers who have turned their cranky delusions into gospel for the far right, and who seem to have found a natural home among the Harper crowd. While they are not serious people, the distraction of their incessant ramblings represents a danger to all of us.) And yet what is our federal government, with its powerful support from the home of the oil sands, doing? I mean, apart from turning Canada into an international environmental villain? Nothing meaningful. We know about the looming crisis in poverty in Canada. A comprehensive Senate report tabled last month offers a bleak picture of the country's poor trapped in a cycle, suggests the economic folly of ignoring the problem, points out the difference between spending and spending wisely, and recommends national initiatives as an investment in "human empowerment." But don't hold your breath. There is a looming crisis, we know, for a healthcare system facing the prospect of 33 per cent more deaths by 2020. Groups like the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association keep hoping for increased funding for a national strategy to meet it -- instead of program cuts. We know, too, about the looming pension crisis (ask Nortel's retirees, who have been canaries in this particular coal mine) and the coming strains on the country's social services. But instead of hope on the horizon, the only thing we've seen is yet more distracting rhetoric. The fact is, there are looming crises in all kinds of vital areas. But if the crisis doesn't loom within the Harperites' shelf life, it's no crisis to them. That perspective characterizes their approach to everything, from social programs to the national soul. If it doesn't wear a military uniform or a hockey sweater -- our prime minister is, after all, a passionate hockey scholar -- it's not worth this government's attention. The official contempt for a national portrait gallery, now junked, is emblematic. So is the systematic indifference to, and even dismantling of, Canada's international humanitarian reputation. Aptly enough, the Alzheimer Society calls its alarming new dementia report Rising Tide. But the reality is, we're on the verge of being engulfed by all kinds of catastrophic tides. And the tsunamis are coming because, baldly put, there's no short-term political gain in doing the right things now to stop them. In 30 years, when today's puny-minded politicos are nothing more than a distant, dusty memory, Canadians will be living with the legacy of their lack of vision. And it will not be pretty. [rc] Janice Kennedy E-mail: 4janicekennedy@gmail.com © Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen