McGuinty should listen to McGuinty

Posted on April 4, 2008 in Debates, Education Debates, Social Security Debates – comment – McGuinty should listen to McGuinty
April 04, 2008
Jim Coyle

Back in 1995, when a lot that’s happened since seemed inconceivable, Dalton McGuinty sent a note up to a correspondent in the Queen’s Park press gallery attached to a page of Hansard.

“Hope you write something about the impact of the Harris cuts on Ontario’s children,” said the member for Ottawa South. “If you do, you might find my comments in the attached of interest.”

Those comments, interesting to be sure, said short-changing programs affecting children was easy.

“You see, the damndest thing about kids is they just can’t get their act together to oppose these things,” McGuinty said. “They don’t organize themselves, they don’t picket, they don’t show up on the lawn outside here to protest and demonstrate, and of course they don’t even bother to vote.”

A lot has changed. McGuinty is premier. Children in need now look to him for help. What’s more, there are insistent voices making sure kids’ interests are met.

Two visited Queen’s Park this week. One – Campaign 2000 – to push for poverty reduction; another – People for Education – to report on how far the public school system falls short of its potential as a launching pad to success and catalyst for community building.

Both organizations are informed, focused, passionate, respectful of the improvements made by McGuinty’s Liberal government, but relentless in spotlighting the distance still to travel.

Together, they represent the files – poverty and education – on which expectations are highest for the premier.

And arriving as they did along with a Royal Bank analysis suggesting Ontario was sliding toward recession, and census data showing the new face and corresponding needs of the province’s urban areas, they also constitute the sound of distant thunder.

The child poverty rate in Ontario has been rising since 2001, despite a growing economy, said Jacquie Maund of Campaign 2000. Based on most recent data, one child in eight lives in poverty, she said. Rates are double the average for those in aboriginal, new immigrant and lone-mother-led families.

She said 70 per cent of low-income children live in families where at least one parent works, but still cannot earn enough to lift the family above the poverty line.

Maund said McGuinty should set a target of reducing the number of Ontario children living in poverty by 25 per cent within five years, by half in a decade.

With a poverty strategy due by year-end, the budget of 2009, Maund said, should be “the budget of poverty reduction.”

Yesterday, People for Education said in its report on urban and suburban schools that, as the census shows, the landscape has changed “but education funding, policy and services have not kept up.”

“There still is a constant kind of shifting of money around to try and either cover gaps or make sure you can turn on the lights in the morning,” said executive director Annie Kidder. “We’re kind of operating without a vision for what our schools could and should be doing.”

Governments are looking to revitalize cities, reduce poverty, engage youth, build safe neighbourhoods, she said. “Schools can be at the centre of all those things – if they have appropriate policy, funding and leadership.

“Schools are the place where you can have the biggest, greatest, most lasting effect. If you make the investment in schools, you can actually change people’s lives.”

The Dalton McGuinty of 1995 was unequivocal on these issues. When it comes to investing in kids, he said, “short-term savings will be greatly outweighed ultimately by the long-term costs.”

Counsel for the ages.

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