It’s a fundamental question that gets little air time: What is the purpose of government?
Can you remember the last time a politician addressed this question? No, politicians of all stripes and levels of government tackle things issue by issue – which is fine. But I want to know the underlying philosophy that informs their decisions. I’m not dogmatic – it can be a loose set of principles usually applied, not a hard set of rules that always trump all other considerations. But still: What does Joe MP, MLA, Councilor think government is supposed to do?
Let’s use a specific example: the proposed Amherst Sportsplex (http://www.cumberlandnewsnow.com/Sports/2012-10-01/article-3088230/Sportsplex-takes-another-step-forward/1)
It’s important to state from the start that most issues, including this one, involve shades of grey, not black and white. Just because a person comes out supporting one side of an issue doesn’t mean they think the other side has no merit. But decisions must be made.
First, a sportsplex made with private donations would be a welcome addition to Amherst. I suspect, though, public dollars will need to enter the picture at some point if this facility is ever to see ground broken.
Is this a project that should receive large amounts of public dollars?
I say no.
There are arguments – good arguments – supporting public investment in recreational infrastructure. A town with more facilities is more attractive to potential newcomers. Money spent on recreation may be money saved on healthcare. And Amherst could use more recreational options, right?
But let’s return to what government is for. I don’t believe government’s purpose is to create an ideal society. That’s up to individuals and willing groups of individuals. Government should generally restrict itself (there will be exceptions, of course) to what is necessary: baseline common goods a large majority of the public require, or a small minority require (not just want) and have no way of supplying themselves.
Society building should not be the role of government. I have artistic interests – the arts are very important to me – but I don’t feel government’s role is supporting arts projects in the vast majority of cases, for example.
Whether or not I think the sportsplex is a good project isn’t the point. The point is whether I’m justified taking money (in the form of taxes) to pay for it from someone who doesn’t think it’s a worthwhile project. My answer’s no.
We have become spoiled – every one of us, including me. We see the grim long-term economic forecasts, how this entitlement and that payout is unsustainable, yet we still want government to pay for “our” project, because “our” project is the exception.
It doesn’t work. Because every person has their own priorities, and if we attempt to meet even a quarter of those priorities, we’ll be bankrupt.
A sportsplex would be wonderful. A dedicated group of individuals should raise the money to build it. But the government’s contribution should be small.