Personal responsibility (and political correctness, too)

As I was driving to work the other morning, I was listening to the CBC, and the on-air fundraiser they were having for Winnipeg Harvest.  It always makes me sad to hear things such as “If we brought 100 children in here, 32 of them would be hungry.  If we brought 100 children in here from a Northern Reserve, 63 of them would be hungry.”  I may not have remembered the numbers above exactly, but they would be close enough to what was stated to be indicative of the current level of child hunger in our society.

The question is, with the level of social entitlements we have in society, and even supplemental family programs (such as Heathy Child that offer free milk to families), why do we still have rampant child hunger?

The answer to this question, like so many other similar questions, is personal accountability.  As a society, we have forgotten how to take responsibility for ourselves, or hold each other accountable.  The convenient response when we are unhappy about the status of something in our society is “the Government should do something about it”.

Unfortunately, this has become so commonplace in our society that I believe a large cohort of Canadians have a belief that government can cure all ills that befall our society.  Listen to CBC Radio One, and pay close attention to how many times their guests or their hosts state that “Government should……”  Read the Winnipeg Free Press, or other online mainstream media, and pay close attention to how many times any article dealing with a societal issue states that “Government should” solve the issue.

The point is, the government can launch any program they choose, or throw as much money as they want at an issue.  However, if individuals in our society refuse to take accountability for themselves, the program will be ineffective and the resources will be wasted.

As long as members of our society refuse to take accountability for themselves and their lives, and continue to remain victims of their circumstances, then their lives will truly not improve.  And if government continues to indulge them with even larger social entitlements and programs, where does this leave all those who have been responsible, and are now picking up the tab for others.

Let us consider a recent phenomenon in Canadian politics – the cry for provincial pension plans.  To some, they are a way to ensure all residents of a Province retire with adequate income.  To myself, this looks like another tax on working folks and employers, and yet another case where those who have not saved or planned are now being bailed out by a rapidly shrinking pool of taxpayers.

So, like individuals I know and have known, a PPP gives them yet another reason not to save for retirement, yet another reason to not be responsible with their money.  And again, those that are responsible with their money, and those who sacrifice now to save for later are those who end up footing the bill.

Of course, if you were to ask advocates of a PPP why they need it, you will likely get answers that place the blame for their need on someone else, or government.  They will be victims of their circumstances, powerless to make their lives better, and unsupported by a government that didn’t do more for them.

Very seldom will they mention making sacrifices to seek further education.  Very seldom will they discuss the financial sacrifices they made to be able to save and live at the same time.  Very seldom will they discuss how everyday life choices they make, in many cases poor choices, have affected their ability to save or improve their life.  Instead, we will hear how they are victims, and how government didn’t do enough for them.

But it is difficult for us to have frank conversations about this as a society, as in our desire to be more inclusive over the last thirty years, we have now allowed political correctness to control the direction of conversation.  This fear of being labeled a “poor basher” or “racist” or “misogynist” prevents us from having honest conversation about issues.  In this era of political correctness, there becomes no solution except to throw money at problems.

Let us look at some specific issues, and tell me how these could be approached in a manner that does not cause the individual discussing them to be labelled something unsavory:

  • Substance abuse issues (alcohol, tobacco, drugs) in low income households
  • The state of housing on Reserves in Canada
  • The number of unwed and single mothers in society, and the absentee bio-fathers of the children
  • Intergenerational poverty, and normalization of being on assistance
  • Addiction issues (substance and gaming) in Northern and isolated rural communities
  • Official bilingualism
  • The failure of specifically targeted groups to take advantage of educational opportunities
  • The state of public subsidized housing in Canada
  • Child and Family Services, and their effect on families

Just reviewing the above list, one can easily see a large number of political landmines that a person could easily step in on attempting to discuss these issues.  But they need to be discussed.  Throwing money at problems is what we’ve done until now, but the issues seem to be getting worse, not better.

If we discuss issues in a forthright manner, and discuss the role of the individual and their responsibilities  in helping solve these challenges, it would be an important first step.

It can’t be anti-poverty activists who carry the discussion.  It can’t be government that carries the discussion.  It has to be the people whose lives are affected, and who are willing to step up and take accountability and ownership for their lives.  These people deserve all help necessary to improve their lives.

For those who refuse to take accountability for their lives, and who choose to make poor life choice after poor life choice, there is very little we can do for them.  Improving entitlements for this cohort is a waste of taxpayer’s money.

As a society, we have a responsibility to take care of the vulnerable and those who cannot care for themselves.  But until our government has the will to place personal accountability on individuals, and develop the will to discuss and solve politically sensitive issues, we will never solve the underlying problems that have generational impact in Canadian society.

Like child poverty and hunger.

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