COLUMN: Focus on the basics

Two days and counting. That is how long it has taken so far to clean up from Tuesday’s record snowfall all over Eastern Ontario. School buses have been cancelled, people delayed or absent from work. All because of snow. But this is 2016, shouldn’t we have conquered this weather issue by now? Others have.

Before writing this column, I talked to a friend who lives just across the river from Ottawa in Gatineau, Quebec, where they had the same amount of snowfall.  By today the roads were clean. As soon as he crossed into Ottawa, not so much. Why is that? They have more plows on the road and clear their routes more frequently.  In Eastern Ontario, there appears to be less. Both provinces contract out their snowplowing to third parties under the auspices of their respective Ministries of Transportation. So why does Ontario get it so wrong?

It’s not just the province of Ontario, but the municipalities. This isn’t a criticism of those employees actually on the roads plowing, but to administration, which tries to do more with less, and fails. Clearing snow off the roads is one of the most basic roles of any government. It is as much a basic service as having a police force. Yet every year municipal budgets have snow removal as one of those line items that can be toyed with. It can’t.

This speaks to the bigger issue of what is government’s role in our lives? Is it having safe roads to travel on? Or arts centers? Or skating rinks? Or soccer pitches? Take your pick because government cannot do it all, nor should it.

A sound strategy for providing services would be to focus on the core services, the basics, and do those as best and as efficient as possible before doing more. That means safe and clear roads, emergency services, water and sewer where applicable. Once that is done, and done well, start doing other things.

There is no good reason for it to take two plus days to clear roads. Even in the rural parts of the county municipalities it should not take this long to clean up. While this was a one day record, it has been a very lean year when it comes to snowfall.

Instead of funding outside agencies, arts programs and even the sacred cow of municipal funding, sports programs, make sure the roads are plowed properly and quickly. For the provincial government, the same applies. Enough boondoggles and Toronto-based favouritism, plow the roads and do a better job of it. For what Ontarians pay in provincial and municipal taxes, we deserve better.