Tuesday, 1 August 2017

"...we can serve our own best interests..."

Interesting bubbles are appearing on the surface of our social policy soup, like those in a pot of water at the boiling point. The heat is being turned up on governments to do a better job of meeting the needs of people and communities; anger and frustration are erupting more frequently. Simultaneously, however, there is creeping doubt that governments can actually perform to our expectations. We can pressure our officials for more comprehensive and efficient services, but there are limits to their ability to deliver.
We want action, not more political promises which evaporate after each election. So we are becoming restless and more willing to take matters into our own hands, out of irritation with slow, distant and bureaucratic government responses. Nobody really wants that pot to boil over into confrontation; there must be a more rational and timely way to provide public services at the grassroots where they are needed.

Years ago, communities took care of themselves because government was not a significant presence in their lives. But such an imbalance developed in the quality of life between the richer and the poorer that government stepped in to address injustices in social services such as education and health. The Equal Opportunity program of the 1970’s levelled the playing field, but it also undermined the autonomy of communities by removing vital responsibilities from resident citizens. The provision of services gravitated to provincial and federal governments; local government was constrained and local initiative withered. Today we rely on these governments to an extent which is beyond their capacity to achieve with current structures and resources.

There are many harbingers of change emerging in the simmering stew, but two are especially close to the boil in New Brunswick today. One is home care; the other is the development of Rural Communities. Though they seem unrelated, they are bubbles in the same pot; both issues are components of a community-based resurgence that could change the face of the province.

Our population is aging; most seniors want to remain in their own homes as long as possible. This is not only the healthiest option, it is also the most cost effective for taxpayers, as well as being the source of hundreds of useful local jobs. The next best thing to family care is community care. The government is currently designing a certification program for senior care workers; there are hundreds of jobs in home care going begging now which could be consolidated into a community-based system to provide services for seniors and work for professional caregivers where they live. This challenge demands immediate action.

Another major bubble is the creation of Rural Communities. The provincial government is offering support for the development of a municipal type of local government infrastructure in rural areas where requested by residents. In the regions where a Rural Community has been established, local autonomy is flourishing along with increasing citizen involvement in the economic and social well being of the community. People are getting to know their neighbours and relearning how to manage their own affairs and make decisions which affect them directly. This model, like community-based senior care, is both efficient and cost-effective because it engages people where they live, connecting them directly to the service providers on whom they depend.

Our seniors are desperate. Our rural lifestyle is threatened. We need to ensure that what we value most is protected under our own control. By stepping up and re-taking our responsibilities as communities, we can serve our own best interests while reducing the temperature of frustration and the risks of increasing turbulence.

Sue Rickards - Lower Queensbury

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