There’s cause, and then there’s effect. The two are intrinsically linked, however carefully governments and self-serving citizens want to ignore the fact.
Right now in Canada, we’re chugging along through a huge series of federal budget cuts to everything from food inspection to search and rescue to different kinds of medical costs.
The government mantra is that in order to pander to big business, taxes have to be cut on corporate profits, and government costs have to be cut — and that cutting those costs will have no effect whatsoever on services to Canadians.
That is, of course, bullshit, but it’s comforting bullshit for those who think of their own wallets first and the greater good second.
That staggering lie about there being no effect from the cuts brings me to the trees — it’s a little tangly, so bear with me.
Five years ago, New York City used to budget $4.7 million a year to prune trees and remove dead or dying trees and branches. Now, the city pays just $1.45 million, and has far fewer inspections of the city’s
2.5 million trees.
The inspectors, according to the New York Times, now have much broader jobs. As reported on Monday, tree inspectors often have no formal training:
“Workers without special training look for dead limbs and other obvious risks as part of a 16-point inspection program that also requires them to evaluate play equipment, benches and fences; make sure animal waste and condoms are discarded; and check lawns and ornamental plantings. The parks department’s forestry division often sends trained arborists only after problems have been noted by the untrained employees.”
The problem is, reduced tree inspections have meant an increasing number of deaths and injuries caused by falling trees and branches — two deaths, and 31 reported injuries in just five years, many of which were the result of clearly diseased or dead trees. It’s a staggering amount of preventable human injury and suffering. (For those among us who don’t count preventing human suffering as having any value, there’s also the financial impact. The resulting lawsuits are costing New York millions upon millions of dollars — $5.6 million last year, as much as the original cost of properly caring for the trees.)
That kind of thinking — the kind that doesn’t consider how a stitch in time can save nine — can easily be seen in the Harper government’s priorities.
For example, when the National Post recently carried a story about cuts to medical services for refugees, federal Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney pointed out the move would take away “an incentive from people who may be considering filing an unfounded refugee claim in Canada.” The move would also save around $100 million.
But would it?
One of the things it would do is limit care for some refugee claimants to care that would “prevent or treat a disease posing a risk to the public health or a condition of public safety concern.”
As Dr. Mark Tyndall, the Ottawa Hospital’s director of infectious diseases pointed out, “If we are only allowed to offer care to someone when they are spitting up blood in the emergency room, they will most certainly have already infected others (with tuberculosis.)”
The website comments section, as it often is, was downright brutal: the general tenor was that providing basic public health care was giving hard-earned money away to freeloading immigrants.
Forget the fact that most people in this country are immigrants or come from immigrant stock, and forget the fact that basic public health actually benefits us all in the long term — just think what limiting public health spending for the poor did for, say, the spread of the black plague.
While you’re at it, why not forget that real, living human beings will suffer needlessly from medical conditions that can be easily treated in a First World country with massive advantages and a high standard of living: why worry about trees when you can save a few dollars?
It’s shortsighted — save money now, and pay out more later. And that’s even before the fact that, as Canadians, we’re agreeing to continued medical misery for some of the poorest of refugees.
Charity begins at home? Apparently, it ends there, too.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s
editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.