Few however, engage with Federal politics using an ‘educational lense’ in the popular parlance. They may become involved in Federal politics for other reasons, but education is seldom front of mind. We at TLER would like you to consider the following issues to motivate you to engage in federal politics with education on your agenda. Here are a few of the reasons.
The Scheer private school tax plan
The Scheer Tories understand that direct involvement in education is off the table however there remains a significant lobby within the Tory ranks that supports privatization of education. Scheer ran as a social conservative for his party leadership and granting a significant tax credit to users of private schools or homeschooling was one of his leading issues. He has subsequently looked at national polling that shows this to be a net loser so he “says” it is off the table “for now”. It remains the great white shark of privatization although we only glance its ominous dorsal fin periodically. I have seen the polling on this issue through a former role as a liaison to OSSTFs pollster. In Ontario for example, a persitant 15% of those polled favour public support for private education. A further breakdown showed than this represented 1% of Liberals, 1% of NDP supporters and half of Tory supporters. The Greens were not tested at the time. They may have a few ‘off the grid’ granola types who like to homeschool but we doubt it is significant. To date this remains one of those difficult issues for Tories. Their own base wants it but it is a huge vote loser in a general election.
First Nations education
The tragedy of FN education in Canada is a major subset of the overall shame of Canada which opens us up for international contempt. This is Canada’s original sin as a settler society which took this land by conquest using divide and conquer tactics, alcohol, and even the army when necessary at Batoche and Duck Lake. The brutality of this included the first use in history of the Gatling gun, the first machine gun, against Metis and their FN allies. The further cultural genocide and trama caused by the deeply shameful residential schools period has left deep scars on FN and an understandable relactance to engage in ‘white man’s education’. The racist treatment of FN children in white schools persists to this day with focal points in Thunder Bay but really from coast to coast.
FN education on the reservations is the sole responsibility of the Federal government as per section 91: 24 of the constitution which still to this day refers to FN as “Indians”.
When we even consider the basic funding of FN education on a per student basis, it is almost always far less than the funding in the closest public school board. This almost misses the point. Progressive educators since WW2 have advocated for what is known as compensatory education, in other words funding schools in high poverty areas at much higher rates of per pupil funding to help compensate for historical patterns of low achievement. It is to the everlasting shame, we must say of the Federal Liberal party who has governed Canada for most of the last century. When Liberals pose as a progressive party, it must be pointed out that FN education is on them. The Tories have had little time in government and expectations for them on this file are so low that they are simply cast as an accessory after the fact.
Post secondary education and tuition
It is well known to those who follow university, or college finance in Canada that education is a provincial responsibility, nevertheless, the federal government is highly involved in post secondary education. Most acknowledge a constitutional problem in Canada. The provinces have responsibility for very expensive social programs such as health, education and social services, yet the federal government has far greater access to more progressive revenue sources through the taxation system. This problem is worked out through a long series of federal grants to provinces. The feds would like many strings attached but the provinces oppose the strings. As a result there are few strings. The greatest federal support for post sec ed comes from The Canadian Social Transfer - a big bundle of cash that rolls in many areas of health education and other services.
The main direction of fed money in post sec is for “human capital formation” and research. There are grants for research including the well known Social Sciences and Humanities Research Grant or SSHRC. There are grants to support indiginous education, tax credits, money through student loans, research chairs, youth employment, and so on. All in, the fed support for post sec ed is over $15 billion per year.
It would seem one of the greatest possible reforms through the feds is the abolition of tuition by substitution of federal money for the student portion of tuition but this is Canada so it would have to be worked out through a long series of federal-provincial agreements. Nevertheless, if the feds approach a province with a proposal to offer grants to provinces in lieu of student tuition, it would be awkward to say the least, for a province to refuse and be eaten alive by their own constituents. As the Godfather Don Corleone understood, you make them an offer they can’t refuse.
The following paper from CCPA outlines the issue and progressive reforms needed to mitigate the funding issues.
The poverty issue in education is critical.
There is simply no reform in education policy that could do as much to improve educational outcomes in Canada as the reduction in child poverty rates would do. This runs the gamut from preschool to post graduate education. It is well known that the richer a student is the more likely they are to be successful and the poorer the less likely. Finland is a world leader in education in no small measure due to the fact that child poverty is 5%, compared to 9% in Canada and 20% in the USA. The poor need not always be with us. This is purely a policy decision. There are two ways to significantly reduce poverty. The first is to drive up wages with a higher minimum wage (to date, the feds cannot even set a $15 federal minimum wage). Make unionization easier, use infrastructure building to flood society with well paid jobs in a Green New Deal that causes a labour shortage and a competition for labour. The second way is known as the ‘social wage’ which involves socializing major aspects of poor and working class people’s family budget by including drugs, dentistry, vision, within medicare, offering a national childcare policy and abolishing tuition.
A National Childcare Program
As Charles Dudley Warner said, and Mark Twain loved to repeat “everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it.” Well the Liberals love to talk about a national childcare program but never actually do it. Chretian and Martin promised it, it has been promised by Liberals for decades but they never actually do it. All parties like to say we promise $X million dollars to cover X number of spaces and call it national childcare. This is not national childcare. The Quebec model of $10 a day max is the model for childcare. Again, although parents need support desperately, the provinces have the jurisdiction and the feds have the money. Even a very progressive government must go through tortuous negotiations with Tory provinces who want fed money to pay for it but also want all the credit locally.
In conclusion, your interest in the politics of education may arise from your job as a teacher or ed worker, an active parent, a trustee or MPP/MLA, a party person, an education union person, but if you are a big supporter of education broadly speaking, if you see it as the great equalizer, the great liberator of the individual mind, and the best tool for social equity, please take education seriously as an issue in federal elections as
well as provincial and school board votes.
Education and the Federal Election
Many of us who have engaged in the political school wars over the decades understand that according to Canada's constitution, in sections 91 & 92 of former BNA act and now the constitution, education is primarily and almost exclusively the prerogative of the provinces. This applies mainly to K12 education but the province is also the lead dog on early childhood education and post secondary education, Many of us engage strongly with provincial politics and many also understand the important role of school boards in the political process.