By Heather Mallick, Toronto Star, February 8, 2011
No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers. You’re done. School has been cancelled for one of Canada’s greatest homegrown products, the volunteer teaching corps that CIDA has been sending overseas for the past 50 years.
And no one knows why. I mean, they do. Obviously, the Conservatives took a dislike to someone or something. The program was run by the Canadian International Development Agency and the Canadian Teachers Federation (the national teachers union). The teachers were the bedrock, the talented generous people who travelled to Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, anywhere the education system needed a helping hand. The first Canadian teachers headed over to Nigeria in 1962. Since then, at least 1.4 million students and teachers have received Canadian help in the crowded, neglected, paper- and pencil-hoarding, book-hungry classrooms of the Third World.
The countries Canada helped included Malawi, Uganda, India, Sierra Leone and, yes, Haiti, a country that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has always made a big public show of wishing to help.
This act of destruction is classic Harper stuff, a real puppy-kicker. It’s like the December announcement that Ottawa would cease funding 10 immigrant services agencies in Greater Toronto. These small offices assisted immigrants in specific, particular ways, helping them find jobs, for instance, and showing them how to integrate into Canadian society rather than hiding fearfully at home.
The South Asian Women’s Centre received $570,000 to help 14,000 newcomers last year. It is offices like these that help prevent the ethnic enclaves that make life ultimately more difficult for new Canadians. Their message was: come out into the open, and integrate into a wonderful country. Harper’s message: stay indoors.
What are the keywords here? Women, immigrants, teaching, overseas, books . . . It’s as if certain words and ideas are tripwires that signal Ottawa to reach for a hacksaw, pointlessly so, because these programs help Canada domestically and increase our so-called soft power internationally.
This Canadian government is, by this move, signally both arrogance and retrenchment from the opportunity to serve the many parts of the world where we have effectively helped, (and done it quite differently from the Americans,) for the last half century.
This government has demonstrated its insularity, provincialism, and its refusal to even debate such decisions, for fear that the public would not accept them, as we shouldn't. Similarly, there has just been released a 14-page document outlining the secrecy behind the negotiations between Ottawa and Washington on the new border security, because the government feared that Canadians would (legitimately) protest the release of additional personal information to the Americans when they crossed the U.S.-Canada border. This kind of surrender of sovereignty is neither needed nor merited, even in the light of 9/11, although attempting to convince the Americans of that would prove foolhardy.
(For those not in Canada, try to imagine these cuts in the context of a commitment to lower corporate taxes by some $6 billion, a move the government seems committed to execute, even though it is not tied to productivity or to CEO bonus restraint, nor to capital investments, and another $20 billion to purchase 65 F-35 Fighter Jets to fight a phoney war with a phoney enemy.)
Canadian teachers have served admirably in many parts of the world, and now that opportunity is gone.
Canadian immigration workers have eased the entry into Canadian culture of thousands of immigrants, and now that service has been removed...and both simply with the stroke of someone's pen.
As T.S. Eliot wrote,
this is the way the world ends
this is the way the world ends
this is the way the world ends...
not with a bang, but a whimper.
Eliot also wrote: Let's not be narrow, nasty, and negative..