Monday, July 18, 2005

Carolyn Bennett Dives Off the Deep End

I think we can define a principle of bad modern government: it's a combination of wishful thinking plus bad bureaucratic execution.

Take, for example, the musings of Public Health minister Carolyn Bennett:

Swimming lessons should be made part of every Canadian child's education, the federal minister responsible for public health says.

Carolyn Bennett said she wants the lessons to be part of the school curriculum and that the federal government should help fund the initiative.

"We've made such strides in this country, from seat belts and car seats to bicycle helmet legislation in many provinces," said Bennett. "It's time we looked at swimming safety."

"I think every kid should know what to do when they fall into water."

Okay, this is a typical example of Liberal thinking: identify a problem and think the federal government can solve it by tossing money at it.

Wanna know why this is dumb Liberal thinking?

First, childhood education is a provincial responsibility. If the federal government wants to fund water safety program, it would have to negotiate with the provinces -- and the provinces, especially Quebec, have always been stubborn about not having spending directives tied to money transfers from Ottawa.

Second, for practical purposes municipalities have to get involved. If you want swimming to be part of the standard curriculum, then that assumes that all primary schools have access to a swimming pool. Which means either individual schools get their own pool (which means the municipalities have to be consulted for zoning and construction) or arrangements have to be made with public pools (which means they have to be consulted for setting aside special times for school use, and maintenance in winter for outdoor sites). In either case, you can bet that municipalities will give a hard time, especially in smaller communities which don't currently have a pool.

Third, who are you going to get to actually run the programs? Private organizations like the Red Cross? Would those instructors have to join teachers' unions? And what about private swimming instructors, what would you do about them? Given the Liberals' thinking about health care, I'm not optimistic.

It's a bad habit to think that government can and should solve all problems. Unfortunately, too many Liberals like Ms. Bennett have the habit, and it'll take a major burn for them to unlearn it.