Wary of unintended consequences

I’ve become aware how effective governments have become at getting me and others to change our behaviour but not always as they intended.

Recently I’ve become aware how effective governments have become at getting me and others to change our behaviour…but not always as they intended. I got the first glimmering of this awhile back when it was reported that ferry fare increases had reached the point whereby every increase resulted in a drop of ridership such that each fare boost resulted in less revenue being earned.

The 17 per cent increase announced in Greater Vernon water rates to be followed by another 17 per cent increase next year suggests that our local officials intend to follow in the footsteps of the ferry corporation.

It does not seem, as yet, to have occurred to the water rate setters that boosting usage fees unduly to fund capital improvements means users will cut back drastically on their water usage.

I find that quite astounding. I had thought everyone knew that was why capital improvements of essential infrastructure such as water was funded either by borrowing referenda, by parcel levies or directly via taxes rather than by usage fees.

Obviously, that thought was flawed.

Using less water is good and raising rates by extreme amounts gets rapid water usage drops but it does come with consequences.

People stop watering their lawns, but so what, grass is drought adapted so it just goes dormant. Trees and shrubs behave differently, they do not just die back; they die dead!

So what will happen to big boulevard tress that shade our streets on sweltering summer days if the people on neighbouring properties stop watering them for free?

If they do not die of thirst then probably by disease or insect attack as they wither and weaken.

Also, people will have second thoughts about putting in features that need water, again that’s good…but not for the advertisers, sellers, installers or maintainers of those features.

It’s not so good either for anyone in the business of selling trees, shrubs or flowers or to Vernon’s Communities in Bloom aspirations.

It’s interesting to look back on what happened when the province reduced the alcohol blow limit to .05 and gave police immediate penalty powers. Behaviour changed almost overnight and that was good.

But we still have lots of drunk drivers.

We also have lots of non drunks who cut back to just a single glass of wine with dinner when they go out and sports teams who just have a single jug of beer after a game.

That’s good too unless you are a business person who had a substantial revenue drop, been laid off or saw your tip earnings shrivel.

What I’ve learned is that relying on extreme user fees to bring about a change in behaviour usually results in extreme consequences, consequences often not as well considered as they should have been in hindsight.

It brings to mind the old adage about being careful what you wish for.

My fingers are crossed that our mayors and councillors will require the water gurus to finance our water infrastructure capital costs by proven traditional methods rather than letting them foist upon consumers excessive usage fees of the ilk that skewered the ferry corporation.

Jim Bodkin