Here’s an idea: cut the programs that offend our intelligence

Our gravy-conscious government should pay more attention to which belts they’re tightening

How to live an idiot-proofed life

Peter Cade/Getty Images

The verdict is in: governments far and wide must “tighten their belts,” “cut the fat,” “purge the gravy” and “stop the insanity” in order to curb their enormous debts. The euro is hanging on for dear life (apparently), America is going to hell in a handbasket (allegedly) and Canada is—though decidedly okay—accumulating household debt at a very risky rate, according to our patron god of finance, Mark Carney. Ontario, or Onterrible, as it’s known elsewhere, is particularly gifted in the art of acquiring debt (the province is supposed to exceed $250 billion) and Toronto’s most polarizing mayor in history—Rob Ford—has, of late, spent more time tightening his own belt than his city’s. By “eating like a rabbit,” says a slowly shrinking Ford, he has shed up to 10 lb. in the past week. Toronto’s fiscal situation, meanwhile, hasn’t been so fortunate—and its citizens (myself included) haven’t exactly warmed to the idea that controversial budget cuts may be in order. So what to do? Can Ford curb the debt? And more importantly, can any Canadian leader curb his constituents’ debt without slashing popular public programs and policies?

Probably not. It would be a potential insult to our intelligence to think so. But I have a proposal: why don’t leaders cut every program and initiative that offends the average person’s intelligence, and save money in the process. What programs, you might ask? Take the one I encounter every time I use a public washroom:

“This is a message from the Public Health Agency of Canada: Wet your hands. Put a small amount of liquid soap in the palm of one hand. Rub your hands together for 20 seconds so you produce lather. Rinse your hands well with clean running water for at least 10 seconds. Dry your hands with a single use paper towel. Use hand lotion to put moisture back into your skin if your hands are dry. Model good handwashing technique to your children … Have them sing a song like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star while rubbing their hands together to teach them the amount of time it takes to clean their hands properly.”

I understand that the sentiment above has saved countless lives around the world—generally in places where handwashing is not the norm and bathroom sinks don’t operate like sliding doors—but wouldn’t a shorter and more direct message suffice on Canadian soil? “Wash hands or get SARS,” perhaps. Or for the more pedantic, “Wash hands carefully or get SARS.” The problem isn’t the what (washing hands, laudable), but the how (instructions so earnestly detailed almost nobody reads them all anyway—except maybe my mother). At the very least, cut the directions down, and we’d save some money on ink.

Instead, however, our leaders prefer to pay for the obvious idiot-proofing of Canadian society, which, though entertaining, is seldom very smart. Take, for example, this gem of a government program, common across the country: if you’re an avid gambler you can make a “voluntary self-exclusion request” that requires your provincial government to bar you from casinos—casinos that are, of course, owned and regulated by (you guessed it) your government; casinos from which our world-renowned health care system extracts a significant amount of its funds. (And considering the fact that one in eight people who start using slot machines become addicted to them, that’s a lot of funds.) Now you might think, as I did at first glance, that such a program is well-meaning: isn’t it nice that our government wants us to avoid bankruptcy (and have clean hands)? The only problem is that self-exclusion programs tend not to work; it’s widely documented that many of the most addicted gamblers who sign up for exclusion are never actually excluded. The gamblers in question have then been known (this is not made up) to sue the government for failing to turn them away from their favourite casinos. Which is like suing someone for failing to idiot-proof you against yourself, by failing to realize exactly how irresponsible you’re capable of being. And what does all this idiocy add up to? More squandering of public funds.

To suggest that the removal of such programs would make a considerable or even slight dent in any deficit might be a stretch, but it’s worth talking about regardless. This is especially true when some of our leaders present themselves as common sense alternatives to excessive liberalism, decrying “nanny state” interference and cutting social welfare and arts programs in the name of “gravy” removal. It seems odd, anyway, for an apparently gravy-conscious government to publish flyers and make public service announcements about child obesity and then (in the name of gravy no less) try to eliminate a school nutritional program.

I am not, I confess, seriously down on the handwashing posters in bathrooms. The basic mission is an important one. But if a national handwashing campaign in a First World country doesn’t qualify as gravy, and a children’s nutritional program does, then I don’t know what gravy is—besides something that Rob Ford says he’s stopped eating.


Here’s an idea: cut the programs that offend our intelligence

  1. My local library not only has detailed hand washing instructions, it also posts instructions on how to properly use a water fountain.  “Urban helplessness”, some people call it. It’s a product of the increased feminization of society, of course – women love getting advice from experts and tend to prefer a paternal, activist government.

    • I am woman. I have a mind. I do *not like* nor prefer being told how to run my life by *any* man, male or authority. No, I am not gay. No, I am not bullheaded. I have a brain and I *use* it to make logical thoughts of my own. Have since I was a kid and was told: you can’t do that! you’re a GIRL! Yeah, right. Sure. Move over buddy…I will show you how it’s done!

    • Considering that government is dominated by men one can only conclude that males are the ones promoting “urban helplessness”.  Men love to control society.

  2. So let’s begin at the beginning..like cutting MPs gold-plated pension plans. 1$ vs 23$ is very hard to swallow!!  

    • Yes, considering they have no need to show up for work as there is nothing for them to do except to nod their heads in agreement with the PM.

  3. Well that’s that.

    Thanks to my ability to willfully misunderstand the point of a column, I’ll save Canada and never wash my hands again.

  4. One point of reality seems to be missing ,overestimating  the intelligence of the average man on the street.There are thousands of beaurocrats and blood sucking lawyers who make their living because the government failed to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves.

  5. I think this article is far more insulting to the intelligence of anyone who can read than any government program in existence. 

  6. Health care management experts often talk about how $1-2 of spending on preventative care can prevent $100 of spending on acute care.  Proper handwashing is a prime example of preventative care.  Get people to wash their hands properly, and you reduce the transmission of infectious diseases like influenza and norovirus.  This reduces the number of doctor visits and reduces the number of people with compromised health who end up in hospital.  Even hospital staff do a poor job of washing their hands consistently – why would you assume that the average person knows how to do it properly?  

    Seriously, if you’re going to cite examples of stupid government spending, spend some more time finding a decent example that doesn’t expose your own ignorance.

    • And how many people who don’t know how to / simply don’t care enough to wash their hands are going to take the time to read detailed instructions on how to do so? I’ve always found those signs laughable (if not somewhat condescending).

      • That would seem to be an argument for a better public education campaign rather than an argument against the posters.  

  7. You would think in  times as tight as things are supposed to get they would start looking at alternative ways of saving money. Instead of cutting programs/healthcare/education, why  not tap into the estimated 4 billion dollar marijuana market? and also save the hundreds of millions of dollars a year the entire country spends on enforcing it’s war on marijuana. Morals are things that change over time, circumstances, and available knowledge. All three of those aredifferent now. Don’t get me wrong it’s not going toget us out of the hole… But im confident are elected officials could use an extra billion dollars every now and then.

    • I’m pretty sure if we can get Occupy to hotbox parliament for two days (just to make sure they HAVE to inhale), they’ll change their tune on MJ as a revenue source quite quickly.

  8. Over directing has also invaded the private sector. Two recent examples. The first is from a recently purchased ice cube tray. “Fill tray with water.Place in freezer. Wait until liquid becomes solid.” The second was on an item purchased prior to Christmas. “Remove price if this is a gift”  You can’t make this stuff up

  9. Honestly, on the list of programs that offend our intelligence, these don’t even rate.

    I mean really, is that all you could come up with?

    How about the plethora of micro-tax deductions Harper has given us that individually do little or nothing but end up costing a bundle in tax revenues?

    You know, like the children’s sport deduction that is now applicable to adults, that most people claiming it will spend either way?

    Or say the transit deduction that is mostly used by civil servants who will buy the damnn things anyways and hasn’t increased transit use at all?

    I mean come on.

  10. Being DUMB and DUMBER is an American thing. 

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