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July 1, 1994, Halifax Herald

Citizens, governments share blame for financial mess

It seems all and sundry are trying to identify a scapegoat for the financial mess our federal and provincial governments are in. Some point the finger at governments themselves, others at labour unions, our social safety net, and so on. The answer, of course is very simple: we are the problem.

We the people, are alone the architects of the financial morass we know today. We created our mess by convincing ourselves, for a period which lasted the better part of three decades, that there was a money tree producing endless funds from which we could harvest without ever knowing a day of reckoning. We all lined up, taking, taking, and taking.

This statement recalls to memory a conversation I had in the early 1970s with Wayne Googoo, the late Chief of the Whycocomagh Band. The Department of Indian Affairs had just invented one more of their useless economic development programs for the First Nations of Canada and I, as Economic Development Officer, had been sent on the road to preach its non-existent virtues. After clearing up the business end of my trip with the Band office, Wayne and I headed out to Lake Anslie to discuss some private business development plans he had in mind.

After Wayne's personal concerns had been taken care of, our conversation turned to the fiscal craziness that was going on in Canada. I should mention that Chief Googoo, although having a very limited formal education, was a man who had an natural-born aptitude for financial matters.

We discussed the give-away programs being sponsored by both federal and provincial levels of government and the false standard of living they were creating. With tongue in cheek, I'll give this as an example of the irresponsible manner in which our finances were then being handled: At the time, it was more than possible to get a government grant to determine the cause of why a toe-nail was growing crooked. So-called free money was everywhere and everyone was taking advantage of it. Federal, provincial and municipal government bureaucracies were expanding and their salary rates were reaching unbelievable levels. No thought was being given by anyone to future accountability.

After a lengthy discussion, Wayne and I agreed, as the old saying goes, "Its nice to dance but you have to keep in mind that somewhere along the line you have to pay the Fiddler." I predicted that the "Fiddler" would begin to demand payment for his music by the mid-1980s; Wayne agreed, but further predicted that the pain of paying would not become acute until the 1990s. In retrospect it seems uncanny how close we were to the mark in our predictions.

Barring the discovery of vast reserves of oil or other precious natural resources, the road to the return of fiscal solvency for our country will be long and arduous. There is no easy way. Government will have to be scaled back to realistic levels and many programs will have to fall by the wayside.

Perhaps the starting point should be the constituting of a panel of experts to determine for all time what a country with a small population and vast land mass, such as ours, can afford in the way of social services. The only sacred items should be essential things such as food, clothing, shelter, basic education, health care, and care for the sick, infirm and the aged. All other items should be laid out for full evaluation and, if deemed expendable, abolished.

Can we find our way out of our financial mess? Sure we can, but not without a lot of pain and sacrifice. Name-calling and finger pointing will not solve the problem. What we need in this time of financial crises is acceptance, by citizens and elected representatives alike, of a share of responsibility for the errors of the past. I'm sure, after laying aside acrimonious debate and resolving to accept joint responsibility, we will find that long-term viable solutions for our fiscal problems are within grasp.

Daniel N. Paul

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