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Opinion: Bill Walton, Making Molehills

Playing Whack-a-Mole game
20220825 mole walton

Helga, my therapist, told me the other day that I had to stop making molehills out of mountains. She, being from the Old Country and having studied in Vienna, I thought had mixed up the idiom about making mountains out of molehills. It was something, I believed, many of us do on occasion. I tried to correct her usage of that confusing language, English as spoken here, but I ought to have known better than to question my therapist.

No, William, she said, what you do, and I think far too many others in this modern world do, is make molehills out of mountains. You see a serious problem in society and instead to getting right at the task of fixing the issue, you chip away, taking small steps in the hope that many small steps will give you the desired result. However, what happens in numerous cases is that you become bogged down by problems in the molehill fixes and seem to forget about the mountain. Seht den Bäumen vor lauter Wald, she said.

Helga knows I can be a little slow on the uptake (especially since I do not speak German) so she explained: Look at the mess in the Health Care system, not only here in Ontario, but across Canada. The premise of the Canadian healthcare system was that everyone should have ‘free’ or at least affordable health care. Nothing is free, of course, but through the tax system, all Canadians should have access to doctors, hospitals, pills and potions as required to lead a healthy life. The problem was that the healthcare system became more complicated than it appeared back when Tommy conceived of the idea.

In those good old days, if you did not have a family doctor, you simply went to the local practitione and he or she looked after you. You paid what the Doc thought was a reasonable fee, no doubt sometimes assessing your ability to pay. No cash? A dawn-crowing rooster will do. With the new plan, the government paid the doctor’s fee, putting a cap on the number of patients a doctor might treat. However, things got themselves complicated: physicians found it more practical to have the patient come to the office – where the tools of the trade were available. New diagnostic devices appeared and with them came costs to use them – costs not anticipated by Tommy – nor the governments of the day.

Through scientific research, clinical studies, improvements in equipment, better diagnosis, education, and even exploration of what makes us tick, mentally and physically, so much has changed since Tommy Douglas proposed ‘free’ healthcare for all. Each new technique and every new concoction brought its own molehill of issues – financial and even ethical problems.

Lurking always in the background was the question of private health care for those who could afford it. The fear of the advocates of public health care was that allowing the somewhat wealthy people to opt out of the system would take away not only tax funding but lure doctors away from public health to private enterprise – where they could heal more people and make more money.

Helga’s dissertation continued with examples of the molehills created by trying keep the public healthcare system running: the system pays for a bed in the hospital hallway but if you want semi-private you must pay for it; have eyesight issues – the system pays for the exam but you pay for the Ray Bans; need an ambulance – just call - but be prepared to cover the cost of the petrol; can’t hear? Get the ear exam under the system, but pay for the ear buds; toothache – call the tooth fairy. Need a bed in a Long-Term Care Home – best you book a room in the great beyond ASAP. Who saw that coming? Another molehill at Stats Can. The healthcare system has become a field of molehills.

The solution, she said, was that we ought not to have created the mountain (social healthcare) in the first instance. What we needed was a guaranteed income so people could pay for their healthcare, either from their pocket or by third-party insurance. I suggested that too would create molehills of quality of care for the less affluent. Maybe, she said. Anyway, says I, what about local molehills – things that we can fix right here at home?

I guess therapists must keep up with local issues so they can treat patients who have traumas caused by politics because she immediately said the theme, according to DD, in almost all of the 29 candidate’s platforms is ‘transparency’. People feel they are entitled to know what is happening at City Hall, not only in the Chambers but in the committee rooms, even down the street in restaurant backrooms. This she said was a mountain in North Bay.

Hiring an information officer was a molehill. Tweeting by elected officials is a molehill. Duct taping the mouths of senior staff is a molehill. Catch and Release by the courts is a molehill. The Integrity Commissioner turned out to be a mole saith the Solicitor. Limiting public presentations is a molehill. North Bay Hydro is a molehill owned by the people we elect refusing to tell us about said company. The One-Bite dog policy is a molehill. To stop her rant, I asked Helga if she had ever played ‘whack-a-mole’ and she inquired if that was another idiom.

Perhaps Helga is correct: we need to step back and look at the mountain. Our Healthcare system is crumbling and the molehill band-aids are not going to fix it. Throwing money at the moles is not going to fix a system that needs re-thinking. The transparency problem with North Bay council is not unique to North Bay – there is a growing distrust of governments at all levels and it may be the result of the people we have elected – or a system called democracy that just does not work today as originally conceived. And, this idea of a ‘strong mayor’ being a benevolent dictator smells already. See what happens to transparency under that proposed molehill, she laughed.

Was life simpler when we could make mountains out of molehills? At least when you had made a mountain of a mess of something you could accept the responsibility and move on to the next molehill. Worked for me.


Bill Walton

About the Author: Bill Walton

retired from City of North Bay in 2000writer, poet, columnist
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