We cling to the tenuous idea that decisions and changes we make lead to progress. But given the dissatisfaction, dysfunction and confusion which reigns in so many areas of government, business and society, perhaps a look at where we have come and where we are headed is in order.
This pandemic has pointed to the importance of supporting local, in terms of business, shopping and organizations and the endeavours of volunteers. In the meantime, we continue to labour under four different school boards. Far from being local, these large bureaucracies employ competing experts and struggle to offer services sufficient to serve local needs. Few local people are involved in decision-making, and provincial guidelines dictate many of decisions made by our school boards, which makes one wonder what makes one board different from the other?
Isn’t it time to examine how this is working for students and for their parents? Perhaps we are afraid to find out that local, smaller school boards could serve and answer to communities better, while hiring local suppliers and services. Given the data management services and technology systems at our disposal, certain elements could be centralized, while placing more control in the hands of local citizens. Centralization of such an important part of our communities only creates distance between citizens and the schools.
Similarly, permitting the elderly to age in place (in their own homes) is something that deserves to be examined by local citizens. Who better than those who live here to evaluate the local situation, examine the services which already exist and determine what is needed to help seniors stay in their own homes? The expense of having the elderly live in institutions which many cannot even afford and a staffing and cost crunch which, for example, limits the number of minutes a personal support worker can assist a resident with various tasks need to be examined. Local people are rarely involved in seniors’ living circumstances unless they have a loved one living in an institution.
In Germany and in The Netherlands, a system of cash benefits has been set up which enables seniors to hire family members and provides options for those who want to age in place. The loss of local awareness is just part of the problem. We need to look beyond our borders to success stories and implement ideas that work.
Community-based responsibilities have gradually been removed and now, when services are inadequate or insufficient, we feel we have no recourse or knowledge when it comes to large bureaucracies. While we are on the topic of responsibility, let’s mention liability. Insurance issues are another reason that it is often safer, for example, to allow an ensured municipality and its staff to plant trees, create flower beds or do other community improvements. Individuals just aren’t authorized or insured to do things on their own. As we have reported many times in this newspaper, community groups, volunteer groups and others need liability insurance do organize events or do good works in their communities.
What has to change? Is it citizens who must apply pressure to take back some of the controls? Have centralization, government controls and large bureaucracies made our lives better?
Somewhere, there is a balance to be found. It is well-known that bureaucracies can seldom examine or change themselves. Most changes must come from outside enmeshed systems. The challenge is simple, but difficult. We need to ensure local involvement in decision-making, we need to fix what isn’t working and make changes that improve our quality of life and the services paid for by our taxes.