Fancy diving too
|By Bram Lebo - Publisher | February 13, 2014
This being an election year, we can expect to hear from the perennial pool lobby, a group of earnest would-be swimmers who have been trying to get a recreation centre built in our community. Late last year, the committee published a study commissioned to determine if a pool would be economically viable.
Common sense would tell us it isn’t. Not enough people. And even if many of us say we’ll pay membership dues and attend a recreation centre regularly, as the survey suggests, anyone who’s ever made a new year’s resolution knows that’s not the same as actually doing it. Tellingly, the report noted how few people were engaged in fitness activities now, which may be a better indicator of where the line between intentions and reality actually lies because for those who look, there are places to exercise.
Even so, the pool committee should continue their efforts. They just need to stop trying to answer the wrong question.
The committee, like so many of us, have accepted the line that public services need to pay for themselves. This notion, possibly concocted in the 1980s by a confused bureaucrat with a head full of red tape, comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of government: that it is somehow supposed to operate like a business and pay for itself instead of, you know, deliver government services. By trying to demonstrate a pool’s economic viability, the committee is implicitly accepting this philosophy, or at least attempting to humour its proponents.
With respect and admiration for their determination, members of the committee are operating under rules of engagement designed to make them fail. The fact is, we live in a rich province in a rich country. We are 17,000 people living relatively isolated from many types of recreational opportunities who, as a right of citizenship, should have a recreation centre that includes a pool. That is where the argument should begin and end.
Whether we – the 17,000 we as opposed to the 12 million we in Ontario – can afford it is irrelevant, a cruel distraction designed to put the responsibilities of governing on those with the fewest resources.
A recreation centre is not an extravagance. The health and social benefits and the resulting net benefit to our healthcare system are well-documented. To look only at the cost side of the equation is ridiculous and panders to the clueless mandarins who wouldn’t know a business plan from a three-piece suit.
Once a society has fed and sheltered its population, it builds higher-level facilities for learning, amusement, recreation, interaction and contributing back. Libraries, schools, roads and public artworks aren’t supposed to make money, but we all understand on some level that they’re part of being civilized and that they do have immense value, even if it doesn’t show up on a balance sheet. When societies fail to build elements of higher civilization, they start to fall apart. We may think we’re saving money by cutting after-school programs, for example, but the pregnancies and drug use that can result from a lack of structured activity can end up costing much more.
It’s no different with seniors. If the province’s ageing at home strategy is anything more than the usual rhetoric, it has to go beyond the notion that middle-aged children will take care of their parents if we just toughen admission criteria to long term care homes (another false economy when the lost income of those children is considered). It means giving seniors access to recreational opportunities, and making those activities part of our entire adult lives.
The committee’s study asked respondents how much they’d be willing to pay for a monthly membership, and I’d suggest a round figure: nothing. Perhaps – and I’m going out on a limb here – the province could just step up and pay for it, yearly operational costs and all, because that’s what civilized societies do. If our tax dollars can go towards new hospital wings in our provincial capital, surely a fraction could come back to support our health too.
Our county politicians might consider taking the baton from the pool committee directly to Queen’s Park to demand exactly that.
If we don’t, we’re colluding in propagating the essentially nihilistic philosophy that governments have no role in service delivery, no role in building and sustaining the communities that support them in return. Our nation was built on the opposite sentiment: that we become a great society by building for ourselves the things that create a great society.
Let’s get on with that.
The pool committee will be presenting the results of their study to County Council on February 19 at 9 a.m. in council chambers, 11 Newcastle Street, Minden. Those who would like to show their support for a pool and recreation centre are invited to attend this public meeting. More information is available at ourpool.ca.
BRAM LEBO is the publisher of The Highlander and prefersDysart to his hometown of North York. In the spare time he doesn’t really have,he enjoys reading, fishing, DIY projects, and cooking big batches of stuff. Talkto him about politics, architecture and design, fishing, his nieces andnephews, and his worrisome love for his coffee machine.