Saturday, March 5, 2011

One good program does not justify majority, or even minority for Harper

Globe and Mail Editorial, March 5, 2011
Pathways to Education, which will receive $20-million over four years, is a remarkable program devised by a community health centre in Toronto's inner city. That program is a kind of neighbourhood watch for each and every high-schooler who might otherwise fall through the cracks. There is mandatory tutoring, for those whose marks fall below a certain threshold. There are mentors and support workers. There is financial aid – free transit tickets or lunches (whatever is needed to get a student to school) and $1,000 a year toward postsecondary tuition.

Its results are astonishing. It cut the dropout rate among 700 students from 56 per cent to 12 per cent, the Boston Consulting Group found in its assessment. It sent the rate of study in university or college to 80 per cent, from 20. (Most were the first in their family to go.) The assessment found a $600,000 lifetime benefit to society for each student in the program (and 93 per cent of eligible students were enrolled). The program is now in 11 locations in four provinces. It will be in 20 locations by 2016.
For $861-million, the size of the 36-per-cent annual corrections budget increase from 2009-10 to 2012-13, how many more investments like the one in Pathways could Canada make? How many more young people could be kept out of prisons by intervening in their lives at the right moment?
Ottawa's wrong-headedness on prisons involves more than just money. The government is squandering its energies figuring out all the ways to keep people in prison longer. It should be focusing on fostering innovation and producing a more educated population, thereby keeping people out of prison.
While one has to applaud the innner city program, Pathways to Education for its remarkable statistical results, the cynic in me says that in the context of this government, the program is more of a political campaigning tactic than an authentic measure in support of kids dropping through the cracks. Jason Kenney has been charged with improving the Conservatives grab of immigrant votes and this program is one simple way to make a positive impression by the Conservatives in the kitchens of many immigrant homes.
Spraying dollars at transit tickets, and lunches is a concrete tactic to get the notice of those struggling with such logistics. And the drop in drop-out rates clearly demonstrates the success of the program.
Somehow, I always thought the provincial governments were charged with education policy, practice and funding, so I have to wonder how the provincial governments are reacting to this intervention by the always-cunning, opportunistic and mean-spirited Harper neo-cons to invade their turf.  The feds might have joined with the provinces to create this program. Alternatively, the feds might have recommended such an initiative, so obvious to anyone seriously considered an assault on school drop-out rates as all provincial ministers of education are supposed to be doing as part of their job, rather than take the rug out from under the provincial governments and pull the votes to the Conservatives in so doing.
Any government that sends out a memo to its largest departments instructing them to change, in all future announcements, the phrase "Government of Canada" to "the Harper Government" is neither to be trusted, nor genuflected to, even when the occasional idea works. There are too many other notions, like the attempt to put more people in prison for longer terms, that tarnish any attempt to generate a reputation for social justice by this government, no matter what it is called.
Thomas Walkom's assessment in his Saturday column in the Toronto Star (March 5, 2011), is more enlightening on the tone, attitude and approach of this government:
There is an old-fashioned, bitter element to Harper’s brand of conservatism, as if its practitioners are working out long-standing grudges against enemies they’ve resented since high school — liberals, leftists, gun critics, Toronto people.

Yet in another sense his take-no-prisoners approach is very modern. Like a quick email sent in a moment of anger, it leaves no room for subtlety.
Things are either black or white. If you criticize his approach to Afghanistan, you support the Taliban. If you argue with his views on the Middle East, you are anti-Semitic. If you question his fascination with incarcerating more Canadians, you are soft on crime.
When his party engages in sharp practices — like the alleged election-expenses scam Crown prosecutors now accuse the Conservatives of undertaking — the response is defiant: Everyone else does this; why can’t we?
The fact that everyone else doesn’t break Canada’s election financing laws is ignored.
Indeed, the fact that Conservatives face charges at all only proves what Harperite Conservatives always knew: They are persecuted; the leftish elites have stacked the cards against them; they must strike back harder.
Canadians must be highly sceptical, if not cynical, when considering any approach of this government, and while we can all hope that drop-out rates continue to decline from high schools across the country, the decline is not the stuff of the hill being climbed by the goverment to a majority in the next election.

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