Commonly uncommon

Op-ed 

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Would it be fair to say that some policies being rolled out by our provincial government have been far from popular lately? Not all such policies of course, but certainly the ones that have turned heads and made headlines. The Greenbelt scandal immediately comes to mind, as does the push toward privatized healthcare, and the recent reaffirmation by the Court of Appeal that Bill 124 (which capped public sector wage increases at 1% per year for 3 years beginning in 2019) was unconstitutional. 

Probably the most concerning of all the above for many people is the healthcare crisis in this province. I never remember a hospital visit being “fast”, even as a kid, but 10-12 hours being the norm just to see a doctor in a hospital is absolutely unacceptable. Many will say that in the US – where healthcare is privatized – a person would never fathom waiting even a fraction of that time. But private and public healthcare are two different systems, both of which can function smoothly when run correctly. Our healthcare in Ontario is not “free” – high taxes pay for it, and so it should be able to provide an acceptable and efficient level of service.

What concerns me is what health care wait times have done to our mentality. As I type this, my right arm is – for lack of a more elegant term – messed up. I’m not a doctor so I won’t pretend to know what’s wrong with it, but it feels twisted and mangled. It has zero strength and hurts even just to squeeze my fingers. I would like to see a doctor, maybe have some tests run, but who has the time and patience for that anymore? My family doctor is 40 minutes away and usually overbooked. And there is no way I am spending over half of my Saturday in an emergency room. 

My younger son was in a similar boat when he banged his head at school last week. He was worried he might have a concussion, but the usual knee-jerk reminder from dad kicked in: “If we go to the hospital, we won’t be home until bed time”. I had forgotten that my kids are lucky enough to have a local, highly respected doctor right in Winchester who will usually take same day or next day appointments (this seems like an Ontario rarity), but thankfully it was moot – some rest at home and my son soon felt right as rain. 

Complain as I may, I also like to be fair. What inspired this editorial was learning of two things recently that I feel Doug Ford’s Ontario government has actually done right. One is a regulation that will take effect in the fall of 2024, severely restricting student cellphone use in schools. For students in kindergarten to grade 6, their phones will need to be kept on silent and out of sight for the entire school day. For students in grades 7 to 12, their phones must not be used during class time (i.e. they can only be used during breaks and free periods). 

I can already hear the outcry from parents who have safety concerns. Many parents pay a cellphone bill for their child specifically so that their child has a communication device in emergencies. My wife and I are included in this demographic. But no one is saying that your child is going to be searched and have their cellphone locked in a drawer upon arriving at school. “Out of sight” can easily translate to “in your pocket” or at worst, “in your bag”. And “on silent” does not mean “off”. In other words, your child will still have a fully functional communication device, accessible and ready in an emergency, if you so choose. Even in a non-emergency, there would be little to stop your child from texting or calling you secretly from the bathroom. 

What this new policy does accomplish relates to something I have been pointing out for months – kids can’t focus anymore. In fact, neither can many adults. Are screens to blame? It seems likely, and there’s no sense in denying it anymore. Kids and adults alike are having their brains constantly overstimulated, and then act like drug addicts awaiting their next fix when they are expected to sit and pay attention to something without the same stimulatory capacity (prime example – a teacher talking at the front of the room). This new policy on restricting cellphone presence in schools is refreshing. It takes a stance in a way that will actually help students – perhaps in a tremendous way in terms of both quality of education and brain development – without making the educators out to be the “bad guys” since they can “blame” the provincial regulation. 

The other new provincial government policy that I support is the increase of speed limits on an increasing number of 400-series highway sections throughout Ontario. This includes the entire stretch of the 416. The speed limit will permanently increase to 110 km/h in July. This is a true example of a “for the people” decision. Ontario’s 400-series highways are designed to accommodate higher speeds, and higher limits improve efficiency and simply makes commuters’ lives easier. The province only stands to lose from the higher speed limits, in the sense that less speeding fines will be issued if drivers continue going “status quo” speeds. But this decision was not made with tax revenue in mind, it seems to have been made as an answer to the simple question “what makes sense?” 

Common sense is commonly uncommon when it comes to government decision making. The provincial government has certainly made some bad and some good decisions lately. Perhaps the recent good decisions should be a lesson for all levels of government: everybody wins when common sense prevails. 

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