Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Our Responsibilities Trump Any Me-First Attitudes

Last week, a resident in my community wrote a letter to complain that she 'awfully tired' of having to pay for public transit services that she does not use. Published on the 23rd of March 2012, she wrote in Tri-City news,

"Don’t believe me? Let’s recap. Lower Mainland mayors, including those in the Tri-Cities, got together last fall and voted to have all drivers shell out two cents more per litre at the pump to pay for a public transit line. I’m supposed to pay for a transit line I’ll never use, so that someone else can have a better ride? I am supposed to ensure my neighbour who doesn’t drive has faster, better, more comfortable transit service? Really?" (Letter from Francine Maxwell, Port Moody)

One can tell that she is frustrated about having to pay more at the gas pump for her car. The logic is this. Why should car drivers be punished simply because they use a car? If they do not use the bus or the subway, they should not be paying for it right?

Not so simple.

This week, one reader rebutted her logic. In his letter entitled, "In a democracy, we pay for greater good," S Hyde explained that democracy does not always mean fairness to everyone. In a democracy, there is no room for a 'me-first attitude,' but to accept that in a democracy, the public good trumps over individual benefits. Hyde has a point. After all, in any election, a majority vote will win the election. Even if the winning vote is puny, democracy submits that the winner is the one with the most votes.

While I am not so sure about the part of 'greater good,' I feel that Hyde has some good pointers. Here is his direct response to Ms Maxwell.

"I don’t have kids who attend public schools and I have fortunately never had a hospital stay but I am informed enough to realize people require an education and, if sick or hurt, access to get medical attention. By your logic, we shouldn’t have to pay for schools, public parks, recreation centres, health care, employment insurance, roads, etc. if we never use them." (S Hyde, Port Moody)

As I think about it, there are many things that I pay on a monthly basis that I hardly use. For example, the Medical Health Plan, where hundreds of dollars each month have to be paid to the BC Government in order to pay for medical services throughout the province. Based on the logic of a 'if-I-don't-use-it-I-don't-pay' attitude, it makes funding or planning for any medical infrastructure impossible.  As responsible residents in any city or community, we all have a role to play. Paying taxes is one role that we do. Not everything can be made fair for everybody. I think of the recent gas tax increase that had been approved by the respective mayors, I frown at the list of mayors who voted against the proposal. For example, the mayors from Burnaby, Richmond, and New Westminster all voted against the additional 2 cents per litre of gas surcharge throughout the province. On the one hand, I understand that they are representing the interests of their respective cities. On the other hand, I wonder how they will vote if they do not already have a transit system in their cities. Mind you, Burnaby, New Westminster, and most recently, Richmond have already had a world class skytrain system built in their cities. What makes me disappointed is that the opposition was led by a Richmond mayor, whose city of Richmond is the beneficiary of an over $2 billion Canada Line, paid largely by tax payers all over BC and Canada!

Personally, I dislike paying more taxes. I get irritated each time I watch the pump prices go up. Having said that, we do not run a country on the basis of feelings, whether we like it or not. Neither do we conduct ourselves based on "what's in it for me" atttitude. If everyone cares only for themselves, there is no community.

Well said, Mr S. Hyde. We need to be reminded on a regular basis that we live in a city and we need to live up to our responsibilities as city dwellers. I cautiously applaud his 'greater good' logic because there are some things in which we cannot apply the greater good explanation. For example, what if a person has a rare illness and cannot afford medical care? What about the marginalized who remain on the fringes of society, and are considered a minority?


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