I thought I'd do the blogosphere a service with a quick refresher in both Yiddish and Classical Greek mythology.
Everybody's heard the word chutzpah before, but not always in the right context. While some people use it to mean courage, nerve, or gumption, it's not actually supposed to denote something positive. For reference, the textbook definition of chutzpah is killing your parents then asking the court for leniency because you're an orphan. Gall is about the closest English word that comes to mind.
Obviously, this is not a situation we're going to come across in society too often, so I thought I'd provide a more salient example. First, a little background:
For those not familiar with Ontario's health care system, CCACs are the bureaucracies set up to administer home care services. Two years ago, the press discovered that CCAC executives were getting monstrous salary increases during a time of supposed belt-tightening after the financial crisis. To make matters even worse, they were using funds ostensibly meant for home care services to lobby the province in the name of self promotion.
It was no surprise, then, that the province's Auditor General slammed the CCACs for waste and mismanagement, prompting the Liberal government to plan for an orderly shutdown and transfer of home care responsibilities to the LHINs (bureaucracies of questionable value in their own right).
With that in mind, this story caused some buzz on Twitter this weekend:
12 CCAC bosses hire lawyer to represent them in health-reform talks
Yes, the very same CEOs who mismanaged the province's home care while pocketing massive raises, then pressured the Ministry to delay phasing out the CCACs "for the sake of front-line workers", are now lawyering up to preserve their own skins, or at least get a fat severance before being shown the door.
If you're somewhere between irritated and seething at those CEOs right now, congratulations. You now have an understanding of chutzpah.
But the problems run deeper than that.
For the Minister of Health to put off badly needed reforms in the wake of pressure from the very same people who caused the problem is feckless. To now let things play out in a negotiated settlement with those same CEOs is hard to see as something other than a lapse in governance. Again, these aren't unionized front-line staff working under a collective bargaining agreement. These are senior executives that the government is supposed to be able to hire and fire at will, and they made a complete mess of things. They're entitled to whatever severance is in their contract and/or whatever labour laws say, but that's it.
What's most upsetting is that day after day, front-line workers in pretty much every government institution are badgered about accountability, accountability, accountability. Doctors need to be accountable for their billings. Teachers need to be accountable for students' performance. Nurses need to be accountable for medication errors. Here is the proverbial golden opportunity to hold these executives to account for mismanagement of their agencies and abuse of the funds they were entrusted with. Why heed anything they have to say, never mind negotiating the terms of their dismissal? Have them fall on their respective swords and be done with it.
Those who remember their high school Classical Studies will know that the notion of 'falling on one's sword' references the suicide of Ajax, after the mythical events of the Iliad and the sack of Troy. When Ajax is tricked into slaughtering herds of livestock in a blind rage, he cannot bear living with his dishonorable acts, in spite of his past heroics on the battlefield. It's a myth that continues to resonate more than 2000 years since first put in writing.
Sadly, the Ontario government has little interest in accountability and responsibility from its inner circles, just from the rank-and-file workers toiling on the front lines. Personally, I still think there's a use for some Ajax on our health care bureaucracies. It's just a different brand of Ajax than you'll find in a Classical Studies text.