What Have YOU Done Lately?
by Walter Robinson -- Ottawa Sun

April 19, 2003

Ontario Auditor Erik Peters was the guest speaker at the Greater Ottawa Chamber of Commerce luncheon this past Thursday. He shocked the crowd with stories of provincial government blunders. Similar tales are echoed in the reports of his federal counterpart, Sheila Fraser. Millions of tax dollars wasted, little or no paperwork found and no one held to account.

The luncheon attendees responded with predictable scorn, disbelief and audible side-table chatter. Then desert was served, coffees were guzzled down, and everyone went back to the office. And that my friends, is why we have such poor government in this country: Because we tolerate it and tacitly endorse it.

Think I'm being a little harsh? I'm just getting started.

For six years your opinionated scribe has fought the good fight at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and won some victories along the way; ending bracket creep in Budget 2000; stopping the NHL subsidies scheme and getting taxpayer protection legislation passed into law in Ontario.

You can fight city hall and win.

Sadly, too many of us have become what economists call "free riders." We let others fight our battles for us, be they interest groups, the media or political parties. These groups are no substitute for individual action.

On the bright side, present outrage over the library board's unconscionable decision not to install porn filters on PCs needs to be harnessed and sustained.

And kudos to those folks who stormed the Hill last month to express support for our American friends.

Yet too often I receive calls at the CTF Ottawa office with people complaining about government waste or pointless government programs. Then the question comes: "So what are you guys going to do? And when? And gosh darn it (I've edited their language), why haven't you done something already?"

If I'm in a really snarky mood, my response is, "sorry about not working hard enough for you. I've been wasting my time with news releases, media interviews, newspaper columns and op-ed submissions, testimony before legislative committees, speeches around the country, petition and e-mail campaigns, hours of research, and meetings with bureaucrats and politicians. My family has issued an all points police bulletin in my absence. Oh by the way, are you a paid-up CTF member?"

The caller is stunned, which is the purpose of my tirade. Then I fire back with the zinger query, "So, what have you done?" And herein lies our true democratic deficit, the inability, or unwillingness, of a majority of Canadians to get off their butts and take ownership of public policy and change our country. In fairness, some folks do, but they are the usual suspects.

Now ask yourself a few questions. When was the last time you called into a talk radio program to comment on an issue or question a politician? Have you ever penned a letter to the editor of this newspaper? Have you written -- e-mail, fax or letter -- a politician a reasoned objection (not hate mail) to something they've said or done? Or words of support for a principled stand they've taken?

Are you a member of a political party? Do you attend public policy debates at your local library ... just three minutes away from your house? Do you belong to your neighbourhood association? If you don't have one, then why haven't you started one? Did you bother to vote in the last election?

When it comes to political participation, Canadians -- both individuals and businesses are -- by and large, lethargic and lazy. (Note to self: Prepare for onslaught of e-mails for daring to write the truth). Most folks are content to cast their ballot once every few years, attend a speech or luncheon here and there and go about their lives and smile while governments tax them out of existence and in return offer up wasteful programs and provide sub par services.

The irony here is that when it comes to supporting charitable activities, citizens, service clubs and businesses go above and beyond time and time again.

Yet we don't transfer this charitable ethos to the democratic realm.

As a result of our collective "let someone else fight for me" actions (an abdication of citizenship) and "let the government handle it" attitude (a dangerous state of mind) we have allowed governments to squander billions of our tax dollars, pass draconian gag-laws forbidding us to speak out during elections and tolerated laws that allow police agencies and governments to invade our privacy far too easily.

So, do you read today's column, swear at my picture and go shopping? Or do you stop, make a list of your grievances with government and vow from this day forward to take constructive steps alone and with your neighbours and friends to fix the problems and take back our country? Politicians can't fix our democratic deficit, only you can.

Robinson is federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation; these views do not necessarily reflect those of the CTF.

his e-mail address is; wjr@cyberus.ca

Letters to the editor should be sent to; oped@sunpub.com.