Various Veins

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A long time ago I was on my way home from work, not paying much attention to the speedometer. As I came to the top of the rise just before the gate to the gun club I saw traffic stopped ahead. It was my first encounter with a radar trap and it cost me most of a month's wages.

I learned something about fines. Not only did it lighten my wallet, it diverted money from food and other necessities for my family. I deserved to be punished, but my wife and kids did not.

Over the years fines have been increased to larger and larger amounts as governments attempt to make the roads safe. There may be another motive for jacking up fines. The income serves as a sort of tax to cover expenses. The same sort of thinking drives municipalities to charge for illegal parking. As in my case this impoverishes families living near the poverty line. It may not be as immoral as government run lotteries, but it's close.

From time to time we read about crippling fines being levied against corporations. We may get a certain pleasure knowing the fat cats are nailed for their greed or neglect. If the cost were only to the fat cats we might rejoice in knowing they are contributing to the government coffers just like the speeders and illegal parkers. In fact this isn't what happens.

The cost of fines is passed on to shareholders, many who may not take the loss any better than my wife and kids did. If the corporation produces consumer goods the cost will result in a price rise to people who did nothing wrong.

Is there a better way to mete out punishment? One way to ensure it gets the right target would be to bring back flogging and stocks, those wooden contraptions with holes for wrists and ankles, and sometimes necks. In our kinder and gentler society those measures are frowned on.

There is a better way to handle some problems. It lends itself to cases where government inspectors find conditions that endanger consumers or the spread of pests or disease across borders in either direction.

There is precedence for sending in managers to correct problems. It is used in native communities, and it causes resistance such as a hunger strike. This is understandable because it implies the aboriginal people are incapable of managing their own affairs. That was the belief that saddled them with the Indian Act.

If such measures are acceptable in reserves, why are they not acceptable in other situations? Suppose, for example, a plant that processes foods is found to be failing to control sanitation, something that in the extreme kills people. It happened in Alberta not so long ago. Instead of a warning followed by fines for noncompliance, send in a team to direct the correction of the condition. If the corporation lacks the money to carry out the work, the ministry involved would back loans. Where a fine might result in bankruptcy and loss of jobs, everyone would win. Jobs would be saved. The cost could be born over time as the corporation found its footing, or it could be written off and recaptured through the income taxes of workers and share holders.

If the products of the plant are exported, saving the plant will add to the national income. It will also maintain confidence in Canada's goods in trading partners. This latter is no small consideration.

It may be argued that using the carrot instead of the stick is too expensive. It was handing inspection over to the plant management in the expectation of lowering ministry budgetary needs that resulted in the horror we witnessed in Alberta. Letting the fox guard the chicken house can be costly.

What if conditions were caused by incompetent or dishonest management? Enforce a change and disallow severance pay. That puts the whip where it belongs.

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