I am tired of all this unchartered territory: The resilient coronavirus, the rickety supply chain breakdown, the freakish frequency of climate episodes and the humungous financial commitment to decarbonization.
I am annoyed to again experience my earlier-life economic problems: Galloping inflation, desperate interest rate increases, tech devaluation sinking the markets. I had hoped never to see them return, and their revisitation is enervating.
I am confronted by reckonings: that our health-care system is inefficient and undeserving of anything approaching smugness, that our housing is unaffordable and will not ever not be so, that our federation is amassing debt without building productivity and growth and that there is so much work ahead to reconcile nation to nation, include and diversify.
And I am worried by the leadership vacuum: Our premier is passing the torch, our prime minister appears to be holding it at the lit end, our response to an invasion of an ally is proving an embarrassment.
Look to the south and the court is successfully turning back the clock and posing a second round of 2016-19 tumult. Look overseas and a passel of leaders are running their course as founded and faulty. Nowhere is there either inspiration or hope.
Never can I recall so many significant pressures on our institutions and systems and so many impractical initiatives to lead them back. The arrival of social media, like the arrival of the internet itself, posed such extraordinary opportunities yet has been corrupted; in many ways it has deepened the divides in society, carved us into tribal communication and diminished instead of enhanced our capacity for discourse. It has, in turn, blemished conventional media’s best efforts and engendered record distrust. We are all “the media,” unfortunately.
The new normal has also reshaped into a less connected workplace, in part a radical if logical response to this last generation of work that misused technology to enable, then expect, all-hours access, when optimally it might have spared us time. Not surprisingly, many have used the pandemic to take that time back for themselves and for other pursuits than being on the work grid incessantly. Neither that initial mistake nor its correction are ultimately sustainable if we want to grow as an economy and finance the programs to support society, but I regret that we will see over the long-term how corrosive the detachment from the critical mass of a workplace is on productivity.
Nor can I recall such abject disinterest of our leadership, not only on productivity but on the economic consequences of public spending without concurrent innovation and growth. Public spending isn’t sustainable, yet senior and many junior governments alike have abused the pandemic window to pad their ranks and foment with the public the illusion that they can spend today and not pay tomorrow.
While it is true that many initiatives under way are long due – child care, climate action, subsidized housing, narrowing inequity through benefits and tax shifts – the phenomenal spending has not been accompanied by phenomenal ideas to build prosperity. A new orthodoxy has emerged that one is possible without the other. The result is that this era of over-taxation and underservice will only worsen.
True, the pandemic required improvisation and the science was never going to be as absolute in combatting the coronavirus as many leaders led us to believe. But the failure of leadership had an unintended outcome of dividing communities and families. As soon as our prime minister spoke of unvaccinated Canadians with derision, we were cooked.
The pandemic has illuminated the fault lines in our preparedness for an aging demography of expensive, expansive extension of life. The latest meeting of premiers last week was an object lesson in the dysfunctional dialogue between senior governments about how to finance our well-being. If we are in agreement that we don’t have the resources for the job, we can’t reach a more solvable pact on how to use the resources we have less wastefully. As long as neither level budges – whether it’s the provinces agreeing to direct some federal transfers to specific sectors of health care, or the federal government redrafting the formula or providing tax points to wield less authority in some areas – we are heading into a dark tunnel with more wait times, more shortages of professionals and more victims.
I’m sure we will look back at the pre-pandemic period and wish we’d made more of it. The lengthy offering of near-free capital was a golden opportunity more squandered than not, and it is gone likely in our lifetimes. Meantime we are tagged with truly momentous challenges and only modest leadership competence. •
Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of BIV and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.