Where spending less is not an option... 

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Retirement planning, to the extent it's a subject on anyone's mind, usually is a cause for concern if not outright panic. Once again, it's one of those touchstones Canadians can only feel good about when they compare themselves to our American cousins.

While fewer than half of Canadians believe they've saved enough for retirement, that number is almost microscopic in the U.S. Thank you, universal health care.

If I'm in danger of losing you, take heart: this is not a column about retirement planning. That's just my usual dummy distracter. I'll get to the point sooner or later. You should know that by now.

There are many reasons retirement planning is about as high on most people's list of favourite topics as paralyzing fear of terrorism — none of us want to think about getting old. Besides, spending everything you make and whatever some bank is foolish enough to lend you is way more fun. Today we party — tomorrow... let's worry about that another day.

And then, of course, there's our fear of premature death. While we're going into debt for a bigger house, a humble home, tuition, another round for our friends, new skis, a car that's sure to get us a pneumatic blond companion, whatever, our moment of panic — induced by the fact we're spending a paycheque we won't see for another month — is overwhelmed by the thought we may die tomorrow. And really, what can be sadder than having spent a life of penury and delayed gratification, socking money away in savings and investments, your only pleasure being watching compound interest do its magic, saving for a retirement that never happens because someone just has to take their eyes off the road — to see that important Snap of their friend sporting kitten ears and whiskers, for example — who T-bones you at an intersection, killing you instantly, while you're driving to a meeting with your financial planner? Make that two more rounds for you and your friends.

Even if you're not inclined toward morbid thoughts of premature death, retirement planning is always stymied by the unanswerable question of how long you're going to live. Actuaries spend a great deal of time trying to answer that question. That's probably why you didn't choose to be an actuary. They will tell you something like this: If you're a 65-year-old woman, your life expectancy is 20.2 more years. But we all know about lies, damn lies and statistics don't we? That 20.2 more years is a statistic. Worse, it's an average, or mean, or median or some other statistical legerdemain we can't remember the definition of.

So it's not only irrelevant, it simply adds to our hopelessness because: (a) we're not a 65-year-old woman; (b) even if we were, there are 65-year-old women who never live to be 66; (c) and for every one of them, there's a 65-year-old woman who has to live to be 105 to make up for her; so, (d) that could be me and there's no way in hell I'll ever save enough to live to be 105! Bartender, another round for my friends. QED!

Now that I've convinced you it makes more sense to buy me a beer than save for your retirement, let's move on to more important business.

Governments don't plan for retirement. There are two very good reasons for this. Governments, notwithstanding their relative youth, viewed in geological time, assume they'll live forever. The other reason governments don't plan for retirement is because they believe they'll never run out of money as long as: (a) they can print the stuff, assuming they're a sufficiently senior level of government; and, (b) they can always look to taxpayers to bail their spendthrift asses out, Greece being a notable exception to this last reason.

That Canadian governments, at all levels, fall into these two traps is axiomatic. Thanks to the Supreme Court's Jordan ruling, governments in Alberta and Ontario — soon to be followed by all the rest — are setting free alleged criminals willy-nilly. They're doing that because the Supreme Court mandated they bring people to trial in a timely manner, 18 months for provincial court cases, 30 months for Supreme Court cases. Currently, Crown attorneys face a backlog that makes the time it takes to secure a daycare spot in Whistler seem like a catnap. Provinces cry they don't have more money for justice.

Other courts have mandated schools meet the overwhelming special education needs of children for whom the word 'education' seems like a cruel joke. Be that as it may, provinces and school districts are contorting themselves to meet those guidelines, not to mention fulfilling the very real need to actually educate children.

Meanwhile, vital infrastructure, trivialities like roads, bridges, ports, hospitals, sewer and water systems, require vast sums just to keep them from crumbling and bringing what we like to think of as civilization to a screeching halt. Notwithstanding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's promise to go into debt to shore up infrastructure, the progress to date on doing so is this: Nothing.

Hell will freeze over before LNG makes the provincial coffers of B.C. look like Scrooge McDuck's private, money-filled swimming pool. Won't stop Premier Christy Clark from bribing us with our own money so she can get re-elected though.

And in Tiny Town, we're budgeting as though the good times will continue to roll on and on. It wasn't too long ago, less than a year if memory serves, the mayor was musing about what might happen if the province decides it can find better ways to spend the RMI money it returns to the province's resort municipalities. To paraphrase her answer to the question, I believe she said, "We'd have to raise property taxes." This was a correct answer in a world where the words, "We'll have to spend less," don't exist.

So while it's commendable the muni wants to plough a whack of money into reserves, it's less commendable they want to spend a whack of reserves on things many seem to wonder if we really, really need. Seven million bucks on the Gateway Loop project is one of those things. A long, long time ago — April of last year — the budget for this was $3.3 million, $2.4 mil in 2016, $900,000 in 2017. The new budget is $6.79 million.

Move ahead boldly or drop back and punt? Silly question.

I believe I've already exhausted the multi-million dollar soccer Mahal.

And the cumulative expenditure on website enhancements that would put Amazon to shame are as vital as breathing.

It seems the idea of really building up reserves we might draw on if RMI vanishes or, say, 2008 returns, or the Orange One sets the world afire just isn't realistic.

Quick, another round.


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