Cuts unlikely to improve happiness

When there’s less to go around, priorities are identified pretty quickly.

Politics are always fascinating to me.

I prefer to watch from afar, seeing how others play the game rather than getting involved myself. It’s rather exhausting, always trying to be one step ahead of your opponent, trying to guess their next play and reacting to their actions in a way that keeps you in power.

I’d rather watch how the story unfolds, which suggests I picked the right profession.

This was one of the reasons I checked out Western Edge’s presentation of Proud, a play by Michael Healy and loosely based on current Canadian politics.

The other reasons, of course, being that Western Edge always puts on a good show and Hockey Night in Canada isn’t nearly close enough to the playoffs to make me give up a Saturday night.

It was kind of like a Quentin Tarantino script, but for Canada. The two main characters have an extended conversation about ideas, which is at once entertaining and enlightening. Rather than discussing what a Big Mac is called in France, however, they were talking about engaging Canadians in politics and how the best way to do that is not by making life better but by taking the easy road away.

When government is big, when times are good, programs and services get paid for. Need child care? Let’s create a national program subsidized by the taxpayer. Feel unsafe in your neighbourhood? Let’s put more money into fighting crime and change laws so that criminals have a harder time getting out of prison. Child poverty? Increase the baby bonus so that parents have more money to cover increasing household bills.

People feel more secure. They can afford more things. But are they happier?

Our fictional prime minister from the play argues they aren’t. People are actually happier when they’re engaged in debate, when they’re fighting for something, whether it’s state-funded childcare or environmental protection.

It’s when aspects of our life, things we take for granted, are threatened that we decide what we believe in and stand up for those things. When there’s less to go around, priorities are identified pretty quickly.

The first omnibus budget passed by the majority Conservative government contained not just spending priorities, but also major changes to environmental and other legislation. Cuts happened, notably in Canadian Coast Guard facilities on the West Coast and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The provincial government opposed those cuts, but there was no uprising or increase in debate over the choices our government made.

A better example might be the annual budget debate at Nanaimo’s city council table. Each and every decision our local politicians make will have a direct impact on our lives.

Take the theatre I watched the play in Saturday. It needs hundreds of thousands of dollars in external upgrades. Faced with the cost, council was understandably skeptical of spending that much money on a small arts venue.

But the arts community rallied, highlighting the value of their little venue on Victoria Road. So council earmarked more than $160,000 to at least fix the worst of the problems.

It seems more like we’re pulled in a dozen different directions. There is not enough money for all the things the people want but rather than fully fund a few things, governments get caught in the trap of underfunding a lot of things.

Jobs, family and life keep people from engaging on everything, so they pick and choose and you get a lot of things supported by a handful of people. And are those people happy? Perhaps when they get a few few spare hours to take in a play.