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To infinity, and beyond!

So, starting in 2013, a company is going to be offering space excursions for normal run-of-the-mill folks. Provided you’re a normal, run-of-the-mill folk who happens to have gazillions of dollars just hanging around.

Me? I’d love to do it, but am a few gazillion short of the fee. But I AM willing to pony up a few bucks to send one of our distinguished Canadians on the trip. It is said that seeing the earth from space is a life changing experience and that the whole meaning of the word “perspective” becomes crystal clear. Most, if not all, of our so-called political leaders could use that.

So, who’s with me and who should we send? Harper (maybe he won’t return)? Iggy? Ezra Levant? Rob Ford?

Hmmm… I know!


Who’s looking after the kids? Child care policy in Canada

Last night, I attended my first meeting as a Board member of the child care facility that my son attends. I have always been impressed by the level of commitment displayed by those involved in this field – either as professionals or as volunteers. It has been a long time since I sat around a table with like-minded persons to discuss specific child care related issues. When my teen was a pre-schooler, I sat on the Board of her child care Co-op in Guelph, Ontario. It was a learning experience to be sure. Difficult to access funding programs, uncertainties about the funding and always discussions about subsidized spaces were the common topics of each Board meeting.

In the intervening 13 years or so, it might be expected that the issues had changed. After all, we are purported to be a caring society. One that veers a little to the left in the sense that, in general, we believe the state has a role to play in the care of our kids.

Imagine my surprise when 75% of the conversation around the table last night was geared to accessing funding programs, uncertainties about the funding and discussions about subsidized spaces.

OK. I wasn’t really that surprised that nothing has changed – at least not for the better.

Canada’s child care system was and continues to be a patch work quilt of jurisdictions and agencies. Cities and town, provinces and territories. Not-for-profits, for-profits and Co-ops. Public agencies and private. It’s all over the map. As much as we like to brag about our system of health care, we should be equally ashamed of how we have allowed government after government to trivialize or downright ignore the need for a consistent and well-considered national child care policy and the programs to implement such a policy.

The Conservatives have seen it fit to bail out automakers but scoff at the idea of a national system.  Here’s your C-note a month, parents. Now shut up. GM? You need cash? Well c’mon into my office. Minister Flaherty will fix ya up!

The Grits and Dippers have acknowledged the need for a consistent policy in the past. They recognize the basic fact that a child care system that is comprehensive and professional benefits all. It is not only the parents who benefit – especially lower income folks who, in the absence of subsidies, would be forced to stay at home with their kids instead of working to supplement already meager incomes – but all of society does so. Whether you are a parent or not, giving kids a head start will help them become intelligent and productive contributors to society. The kids of today will be our doctors, engineers, and teachers of tomorrow. They will also be paying taxes to support the social systems (e.g., health care) THAT WE WILL ALL DRAW UPON AS WE GET OLDER.

So I don’t want to hear any crap from those who have chosen NOT to have kids about the whole inequity of it all.

Ergo, I am pleased to see that Iggy is reiterating the pledge to work toward a new way of doing things.

The Liberals were in the midst of delivering on a $5-billion national child-care program before they were thrown out of power in the 2006 election. When Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservatives came to office, that program was abandoned, in favour of the $100-a-month cheques to Canadian parents known as the Universal Child Care Benefit.

Ignatieff said that if the Liberals are returned to government, that money will keep flowing to parents, but a national child-care program will also be phased in, as soon as the budget can handle it.

“They give the money to families, fine. Anything that helps families is a good idea. But there aren’t the spaces. If you don’t create the spaces, families don’t have a choice. That’s what we’re saying.”

While I realise that the economic shitstorm and the CPC’s fiscal ineptitude has created a scenario where it will be difficult for the Grits to deliver immediately on this pledge, I do hope that they have in place a detailed plan to implement as soon as budgetary conditions permit.


Confidence in Parliament – Conference Board Report

The Conference Board of Canada recently released their latest report card on an aspect of Canadian society or its institutions. This time they have focussed on Social performance.

I personally like these reports. The Conference Board is by and large a non-partisan group that truly tries to analyze aspects of Canadiana from an arms-length perspective.  From a guy who makes a living analyzing stuff (I don’t want to be too specific) and looking at how others analyze stuff, I do take what these folks say seriously.

The study is based on the World Values Survey; a project based in Stockholm, Sweden that aims to assess the state of sociocultural, moral, religious and political values of different countries around the world.

I find one of the indicators developed from these results to be of special interest: Confidence in Parliament.  While it is generally acknowledged that public confidence in government institutions has waned in recent years (to put it mildly), some of the conclusions reached by the Board are particularly thought-provoking.

Respondents were asked the question:

“Could you tell me how much confidence you have in parliament: is it a great deal of confidence, quite a lot of confidence, not very much confidence, or none at all?”

Canadians today have less confidence in parliament than they did in the past. The share of respondents reporting a high level of confidence fell from 42 per cent in 1982 to 38 per cent in 2006. That is not a huge drop, but still should be noted.

Overall, Canada is given a “C” grade. Kinda like in elementary school when you went home and said, “well, I didn’t do as bad as Mikey – who got an “F”! Not great but not as bad as Mikey.

In this case, The U.S. is Mikey (Thanks Dubya!).

How have the grade results changed over time?

Trust in Parliament

While Canada’s relative grade improved to a “B” in the current decade, it did so only because recent data are not available for Norway.

As much as I would like to blame the Harperites for this seeming lack of confidence in our top national institution, to do so would be wrong. It is not only the fault of the current government but it is really a phenomenon that began with (IMO) the election of Mulroney in 1984 and has worsened through to the current day.

People are lacking confidence because government have done little to inspire it.  I like to use the “politics of cynicism” to describe the current regime, and I don’t take that back. But nor do I only confine that moniker only to the ReformCons – they have simply perfected it.

It is important that Canadians regain this sense of trust in their elected leaders’ ability to make wise decisions.  As the report points out, the loss of confidence in a this institution may have more serious ramifications.

According to University of Toronto researchers Neil Nevitte and Mebs Kanji, “Occasional citizen dissatisfaction with a particular government is neither unusual nor necessarily problematic.”2 But “more problematical is the possibility that deep and sustained dissatisfaction might corrode regime support. The worry is that dissatisfaction with particular governments might turn into dissatisfaction with the workings of democracy more generally.”3

I have given up on Harper as a source of inspiration as a way to augment our levels of confidence, but please, Mr. Ignatieff or Mr. Layton… please break this pattern and give us something to re-engage us.