What Are We To Think?
What are we to think when our government tells us that government is the problem, that notwithstanding a decade of tax cuts, we pay too much taxes, that we should be concerned that our government has private information about us, that our government has ulterior motives for its firearms registry? What are we to think?
What are we to think when our government tells us that the problem with the country is Toronto elites, that reliable information for policy and accountability is a luxury, that the police chiefs are not to be believed about the benefits of the firearms registry?
What are we to think when our government stokes our anger and fears about refugees and immigrants? When it pits urban and rural citizens against each other rather than seeking common ground? When it promotes questionable and costly crime measures even though rates of crime and violence continue their thirty year decline based on more balanced policies? When the government picks and chooses which citizens deserve to have their rights respected and which not?
I suppose many of us will simply become increasingly fearful and cynical and angry at government certainly, at one another probably, at immigrants and refugees increasingly. But how will anybody benefit from any of this? How will any of this make us safer, more prosperous, healthier? How will any of this help us address the challenges of an aging population, deepening inequality and poverty, climate change and environmental degradation, a widening productivity gap? Feeding and feeding off anger and distrust is easy but just where does it take us?
I just came back from a conference at Central Michigan University on public management in the global economy where academics and practitioners from Canada, the U.S. and Europe talked about how to reverse the decline in public institutions. The consensus was clear: we cannot govern as we have in the past, but government is no less important if we are to help people manage the changes and challenges we all face. While it may be popular to pretend that government is unnecessary or irrelevant, this is no more than pretending. Just look at the suffering in those countries where governments are truly incompetent and corrupt.
One constant theme was the need to rebuild trust, not blind trust of course, not even deference, but enough trust to enable cooperation and collective action when these are clearly in our interests. Of course, this means reinventing government, closing the gap between civil society and government, developing private-public partnerships, focusing on those things that only governments can do and encouraging non-governmental solutions where possible. In the past, governments have been able to reinvent themselves to suit the times. But how can any of this happen in a climate of anger, cynicism and distrust? How can any of this happen when government doesn’t want it to happen? What are we to think?