May 5, 2022·edited May 5, 2022Liked by Paul Wells

Paul, I'm so impressed with how you keep on top of so many issues and express them to the general public so well.

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May 6, 2022Liked by Paul Wells

I for one would read quite a bit more about the diminished "state capacity" we see so widely.

Are there remedies?

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May 5, 2022·edited May 5, 2022

I agree with Russil that this column is "... both interesting (as always) and somewhat depressing ..."

I also think that we really are in a bad way when we have governments that are afraid to do anything because we object when they do ANYTHING. The old adage that we get the government we deserve has never been more true than it is today.

Ultimately, I attribute this disfunction to a society that always want more, more, more but is unsatisfied at anything because everything is unsatisfactory. [Spoiled children, you know.]

In truth, this is, to me, a symptom of a society that is spoiled and unwilling to take responsibility for it's own issues; we expect governments to do things for us that we can (and should) do ourselves and we expect governments to solve problems that are essentially unsolvable and that we just have to learn to deal with.

So, to quote those Nike advertisements, we should "Just do it" and we should simply learn to lump it on a vast number of fronts as life is not perfection and we need to deal with reality, unpalatable as it may from time to time be.

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How are spoiled children responsible for our inability to procure military hardware on time or on budget or for say the premier of Ontario building a useless and environmentally destructive highway?

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Shane, you ask a good question. First off, I define the population of Canada and, more specifically, electorate as the spoiled children. There are many reasons that I call much of the electorate spoiled children. Just a few reasons:

We (i.e. the population of Canada) all want a better environment (however defined) but are unwilling to pay additional amounts to achieve that. Full disclosure: I personally feel that many of the proposed measures are foolish but they are "generally" accepted as meritorious but the population who apparently want those measures is unwilling to accept any modest cost to possibly accomplish them.

Military hardware, you ask. Well, we are so concerned about externalities such as gender this, language that, regional this, fairness the other - all very much oriented to make sure that "everyone" gets their "rightful" share - that nothing can be done toward military procurement.

The population of Canada is - rightfully - horrified at the state of drinking water on reserves and the government campaigns on that horrification. But, once elected, they are too busy, have too few resources, etc., etc., etc. to do anything about that situation. And the population of Canada is too busy with their hand out always demanding more, more, more to hold the government to account for the lack of drinking water on reserves.

An Ontario highway, you ask. If the electorate of Ontario ultimately elect the Ford gang [nice ring, that, no?] then they will have accepted that particular bribe. Is not the electorate responsible for whom the vote in?

My point is, there is no such thing as nirvana on Earth so all choices require compromise but the Canadian electorate is absolutely unwilling to see one group get "something" without demanding, "What about me?"

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I guess I just don't know how you can generalize like that, I would say we can likely agree that people are uninformed but maybe we just have a different definition of spoilt? I can't imagine that the electorate is all that different now than it was 60 years ago. Pork barrel politics were around back then (I think the term originates in the 1800's lol).

What we have suffered is a clear decline in state capacity which I would chalk up more to the lack of serious crises for 40 years lulling Canadian politicians into a severe sense of false-security + that uninformed electorate (which maybe you could argue is akin to being spoilt). That seems to explain just about every issue you're mentioning.

I'd also say its very hard to hold a government to account when they mostly do and propose variations of the same thing. Neither Cons nor Libs have fixed the drinking water issue, so do we just keep voting out the other for example until someone does? Same with prison reform, another issue that disproportionately effects First Nations and people from low-income backgrounds.

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How very bleak. Of course pricing can be a tool to encourage transit ridership while discouraging personal vehicles, by pricing road usage (or, less directly, by increasing gas taxes).

I would also argue that using lower fares to generate increased demand for transit may, in some circumstances, be useful for making the political case to subsequently invest in transit, by neutering the argument that the investment would be wasted for lack of ridership.

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A post that's both interesting (as always) and somewhat depressing. In Vancouver, the Canada Line opened three months ahead of schedule (in 2009, ahead of the Winter Olympics) and on budget. The Broadway Line is currently under construction; it's more expensive because it's using a tunnel-boring machine instead of cut-and-cover, but it hasn't turned into a big political controversy.

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How did we ever build an Adam Beck Generating Station in Niagara Falls that lit up an entire province; the original Highways 400 and 401; the St. Lawrence Seaway; and the grand daddy of them all: the Canadian Dream of an east coast-west coast transcontinental railroad that ties together this great land. And all the too numerous infrastructure projects all built before the first rocket got off the ground at Cape Canaveral Florida in the 1960's, built and paid for by a hard working, visionary society that could see the future and wanted to be part of it. Challenges galore, doable, obviously. What's the difference to today? Today's projects are not special to an entire populace. Society, fueled by governments pandering to every hand out, gives everyone a "say". When you try to please EVERYONE, you please NO ONE. So you're paralyzed, watered down, nobody buys into the "dream", they just want what's in it for them. Society is so used to getting their way, which usually means things are stopped more than they get done, that everything takes on giant implications for everything except what its purpose is. This, to me, is the definition of pandering: being told I can have what I want, when I want it, without having to sacrifice or pay for it. Willful denial of reality, hey, let the "other" guy pay for it. But we ALL are the other guy, duh! Proportionately more was built, and more was done and paid for, including two world wars, in the first 50 years of the 20th century, than has been accomplished with waaaayyyy more since. Think about that. Why?

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Visibility. It's easier to buy into a dream when all you have to work with is an op ed in the daily journal. Now a guy in Thunder Bay doesn't even have to get out of the house to see how 12 construction workers are standing around a busted drainhole for 6 hours on the 407, that information gets force fed to him 24/7 through the wonders of the internet. No wonder everybody is indignant with everybody and everything.

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I've always thought public transit should be free. There are many pluses actually too many to mention. The biggest problem is when will the bus arrive at my stop, fix that and I'm all in.

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I think the $9.5K EV/charger subsidy is equally ill-conceived. Do we really need to give public funds of that magnitude to someone buying a $50K vehicle?? This would be on top of the 5K the federal government is already giving.

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“when governments spend money on things they don’t get the things they hoped to buy”

I think you’re missing a comma here.

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I liked Ford's announcement for the removal of license plate fees and the gas tax but not for the commonly accepted reason: they are utilization-based road maintenance funding models however electric cars are not consuming gas, and self-driving ride sharing is going would not work with those models. We were going to have to find another way to fund road maintenance anyway.

Reading your article, I'm starting to think the same way about public transit.

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On a side note, here's a vote buying idea that crosses a lot of spheres: Electrical service retrofit grant/subsidies. I'm talking about helping home-owners retrofit their 100A service to the 200/300A service required to have an EV charging/grid supply station.

The eco-energy retrofit program was a huge success both politically and and for the economy. An electrical service retrofit program would have the same impact and the added future benefits of reducing the barrier to electrification, as well as spreading the demand for upgraded service.

With 2 Billion$ we could upgrade 100 000 homes. That's...2% of the private households in Ontario.

We're screwed.

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May 11, 2022·edited May 11, 2022

Public transportation is a service and as such should be affordable and efficient to meet a growing need. I'm not sure how you could walk this back in 2024? Could the loss of revenues be sustainable?

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Scott Alexander on cost disease seems relevant to the transit issue, almost more than any other area of spending. https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/02/09/considerations-on-cost-disease/

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May 6, 2022·edited May 6, 2022

Who took the photo on the subway ? (Great photo).

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It's a commercial photo. I subscribe to a service (Shutterstock) so I can illustrate these posts without rights hassles, if I don't have my own photos.

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Economist William Mitchell:

The government could address the inflationary pressures by, for example, making all public transport free of charge, thus encouraging a transition away from the reliance on private cars.

If the whole world did that simple change, workers would be better off, the environment would return to the reduced emission levels we witnessed during the early days of the pandemic when the cars went off the road, AND, the greedy OPEC oil producers would be forced by the shrinking profits to reduce oil prices.

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Between them Lib-NDP-Green currently have the support of nearly 60% of Ontarians. When are are going to get real democracy representing the will of the people?

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Great article. The list goes on, down to things as simple as letting our PM residence fall into complete disrepair (which will now cost many times more the original price for repairs, if it’s ever fixed). You and Matt Gurney, and likely others, have been beating the state capacity drum for a while now, please tell me this is known to people inside government and there are attempts to fix it??

We seem good at things that have been largely unchanged for 50 years - redistribution of wealth, education, postal service, air safety various types of other inspections far to numerous to mention but anything that seems to involve either massive change or massive expenditure or both is an utter embarrassment. Healthcare, where we spend incredible sums for mediocre returns, procurement, infrastructure, etc. I am a longtime believer in big government but I find it hard to continue believing and quite ironic that government keeps expanding in the face of its own failures.

What do we do to change this???

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