What goes on?

Op-ed

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Over-burdened healthcare system. Overcrowded emergency rooms. Housing shortages. Lack of affordable housing. Exorbitant rents. High cost of gas and food. Cost of living crisis. Don’t all of these sound all too familiar? It is easy, at times like these, to hit out at whoever we think is responsible for the mess we’re in. We demand that governments, at whatever level, do something, anything, to solve the problems. Opposition politicians happily lay all the blame on the policies of whoever’s in power. Whatever the government does, it’s never enough, doesn’t go far enough, is too late, and a host of other clubs with which to bash the heads of the ruling elite.

Here’s the thing, though. I’ve spent the past few weeks back in Ireland (it’s a hard life, I know), and I’ve been grocery shopping, reading the newspapers, driving a car, and generally living an average Irish person’s life. (I should note that I’m living in the family home, and not in a tourist bubble.) What strikes me, forcibly, is that all the issues listed above are common to Ireland, the United Kingdom, and many other European nations. Perhaps the problems, and therefore the solutions, are not merely local or national after all.

Last week, a 16-year old girl died in a hospital emergency room of meningitis after waiting, untreated, for two days because the ER had 190 people waiting to be seen. She could have been saved with a dose of antibiotics. It underlined a crisis in getting access to emergency care across Ireland, and the UK is even worse. Not enough medical staff, not enough in-patient beds, too much stress and not enough money.

Homelessness in Dublin is so bad that the local government have supplied tents to those sleeping rough, as the shelters are overflowing and unsafe. Buying a house is almost out of reach for all but the most affluent couples. The average price for a 3-bedroom duplex house in 2024 is around $876,000. Detached houses of around 1,500 square feet will cost you over $1.8m. Rents are extremely expensive, assuming you can find somewhere to rent in the first place.

Ireland is now officially one of the two wealthiest countries in Europe, an incredible reversal of historical reality. But that doesn’t mean that everything is wonderful. Wealth, as always, is very unequally divid (as Dubliners would say). Average salaries in Ireland range from around $92,000 in Dublin to $53,00 in Waterford. If you feel the cost of living is bad in North Grenville, and it is, take a look at some of these stats from Ireland. Gas (petrol here, as Irish people don’t call a liquid “gas”) costs between $2.57 and $2.68 per litre. I notice that gas stations don’t all charge the same rate, there is actually competition between them.

Food is reasonably priced, depending on its source. A litre of milk can be had for $1.46, as can a large Greek style yogurt. A 540g bottle of Heinz ketchup costs around $6.75. In general, food and clothing are better value in Ireland than in Canada.

But the question is: why are so many countries, whatever their standard of living, suffering the same social and economic blights? The UK is definitely suffering, at least in part, because of Brexit, an economic self-inflicted wound. Entire studies, competing economists, academic theorists, as well as governments across the world, are wrestling with this question, and busily trying to come up with solutions. It is a complex situation that seems to exist regardless of political ideology, economic policies, or local conditions.

In North Grenville, many of the same topics are being argued over and endured. But the global situation seems to imply that there is no local answer that will, on its own, resolve the situation. Over the years, downloading of responsibilities (and therefore, costs) from federal to provincial to municipal levels has added to the complexities and made passing the buck a national political pastime.

One thing that becomes clear is that simplistic charges thrown by one party against the other are irrelevant; that no matter which side is in power, the same challenges are faced and the old policies don’t work. Blaming one party, or even one Prime Minister, on problems that plague most developed nations, is both petty, uninformed, or deliberately misleading. The Canadian system needs to change radically in order to include more voices, more expertise, more options, beyond the traditional two-party (2½ party) bubble. Proportional Representation, Citizen Assemblies, and so many other ways of maximising a nation’s potential need to be brought in. But that will depend on the decision of those who benefit most from the current outdated system. What are the chances of that?

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