Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Off to the Races

Well my dear readers, it’s election season! It’s official on May 2nd Canadians will be asked to go to the polls to fulfill their civic obligations and cast their ballots. I, of course, am incredibly excited. Every political junkie will be happy to get their fix. If you are a regular reader I would like to encourage you to Follow this blog (see to the right) and recommend it to interested friends. I’m hoping the election expands my readership.

The mission of the Orange Tory will be simple in this election:

1. Provide analysis of the issues

2. Help readers see through the spin, and come to a decision

3. Offer endorsements of candidates


5. Predictions

The first thing I would like to say is that I am currently undecided in this election. That means part of this blogging experience will be me coming to an informed decision on whom to cast my ballot for. I am not saying that I’m right. I assume many of the people who read my blog have different values and beliefs from myself and will (and should) come to their own conclusions.

I’d like to help my readers by checking out this link. CBC has partnered with Vote Compass to help them figure out where Canadians are politically and which party might match them best. Take it with a grain of salt however. I imagine that most Canadians will end up somewhere in the middle which will favour that they are Liberals. In addition not all issues are equal. Maybe you care more about the environment than defence. That will shift where you belong. According to Vote Compass I’m a Liberal, or they are closest; a party I have never voted for. I ended up at the dead centre of the grid, at the meeting of the x- and y-axes. Try it out!

So far I am a little disappointed in the campaign. Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff ruled out the possibility of forming coalitions. I truly believe that coalitions are more democratic and are necessary for our democracy to make progress. I’m very hesitant to endorse a coalition involving the separatist Bloc Quebecois though. If some combination of the Conservatives, Liberals, New Democrats and Greens could make a majority to form government, I’d like to see it. It would be a government with a majority of Canadians’ views in it (over 50%).

To conclude my first post on the 2011 Federal election I want to discuss the goals of the parties.

Conservative Party – 143 seats at dissolution - Harper is angling for his majority. Polls have the Conservatives in the high 30’s and low 40’s, which mean they are very close to getting the 155 seats they need to get their majority.

Liberal Party – 77 seats at dissolution - The Liberals are in some trouble. They are polling in the mid-twenties. The Liberals need to get up into the 30’s to threaten the Conservatives. Michael Ignatieff is posturing for a majority Liberal government, but a minority government seems a more likely target.

NDP – 36 seats at dissolution - The New Democrats are at risk. Despite polling at 19 or 20% it looks like they are posed to lose some seats. In 2008 the NDP won a few seats over Conservatives by only a few percentage points. If Conservatives are on an upswing it threatens the New Democratic position in many ridings. There are six seats that the NDP won over the Conservatives with less than 5% of the vote. They are precarious at best. The NDP are on the offensive, and we’ll see how they perform.

Bloc Quebecois – 47 seats at dissolution - The Bloc are looking to poach Conservative seats around Quebec City and elsewhere. The Liberal support is low, but it is unlikely to sink lower. The NDP are looking to win more seats in the Belle Province off the Bloc. The Bloc is almost maxed out in their seat numbers.

Green Party – 0 seats at dissolution – The Greens are fighting for their first seat in parliament. Their best shot is in British Columbia where leader Elizabeth May is running in Saanich-Gulf Islands.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Forty Runs Empty

To my dear readers – in my typical political junkie style, we’re about to enter a supremely entertaining period of time. The three opposition parties have announced their intentions to voice against the Conservative’s federal budget. For those unfamiliar, the failure of the government to get its budget passed is considered a vote of no confidence. That means the government has lost control of the House of Commons and must call an election.

Back to my comment about this being a political junkie’s dream. Canada does not have regularly scheduled elections on a federal level. Except in the case of national emergency we must hold an election every five years, but it is typically less, and at the whim of the government to ensure that they will preserve or gain a majority government. With an election writ about to be issued the political addicts will me will fall off the wagon (not that I ever got rehab) and we’ll be waist deep in polls and promises.

However this parliament has fallen as a result of the combined will of the opposition parties. Their withdrawal of support from the Conservatives has finally led to the collapse of the second Harper minority government. All evidence seems to indicate that the Conservatives were aiming for this outcome given that they had recently been running election-style ads on television. The Liberals, assuming an election was coming has met the Conservatives on this front. The opposition quickly went to work making sure the government fell on their terms.

I am personally very surprised that the government is going to fall on the budget. The Conservatives, suspecting that there would be an election called on the budget, packed it full of goodies. The trick is that the Conservatives get to say “Look at what the Liberals/NDP/Bloc voted against, they’re against working families!” Most Canadians can see through the ploy, but it can help.

The opposition originally was going to kick out the Tories on the back of their violation of Parliament’s rights. The Harper Conservatives have been found guilty by the Speaker of the House of withholding information from the House regarding the budget. The House’s primary role is to pass the budget. This dereliction of duty is a key violation of its constitutional responsibility. In recent months I have made several favourable comments about Harper but his government’s misleading of Parliament may be too far for a person of my political persuasion.

I hope to use the Orange Tory to provide effective election coverage, predictions and endorsements if one is called later this week. And so ends Canada’s fortieth Parliament, now let’s get to work on building the forty-first.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

DSBN Academy: Road of Good Intentions

In January the District School Board of Niagara announced plans that they would introduce a new school called DSBN Academy. The new school is not to deal with overwhelming student enrolment, in fact Niagara suffers from quite the opposite. No, the purpose of the DSBN Academy is one of social promotion.

The school, when it opens, will provide a program for students grades six to eight, and will gradually expand to a full six to twelve school. While only serving seventy-five students upon opening the school will be incredibly costly, and here’s why.

DSBN Academy’s mission is provide a stepping stone for low-income children whose parents do not have a post-secondary education a path into a post-secondary career. Students will be required to submit their parents’ tax returns to ensure that they meet the low-income qualification. In addition, these students are not to be behavioural students, or those with learning disabilities. Niagara is a vast school board. It stretches from Hamilton to the American border, the width from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie. The DSBN Academy is intended to be situated in Welland, a central location in the region. A summary of what the DSBN Academy is can be found here.

Its centrality is key because all of the students will be provided free transportation to the school with bussing. This is where part of the problems begin. The cost to bus students to the Academy is estimated to be about $500,000 per year. The program in general is going to be quite expensive, and the cost per pupil is considerably greater than that of regular schools.

After the Board of Trustees approved the plan it was met immediately with strong and vocal opposition. I attended the Board meeting in which it was approved. Many of the trustees earnestly expressed a desire to help poor students succeed and break the cycle of poverty. This is a truly laudable goal, but whether or not DSBN Academy addresses that is a different story altogether. Various figures have come out to oppose it ranging from Tim Hudak, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario to Peter Kormos, NDP MPP for the riding the school would sit in. The Left hates the idea of class-based segregation, and find the entire program slightly offensive. It also strikes at the core of public education, that a single school cannot serve an entire community. The Right sees the program as folly. This is a financial sinkhole and very impractical. In addition, a charter school and educational reform would be far more worthwhile.

My first impression is that if DSBN Academy gets off the ground it will be highly successful. Why? Well, if you remove the economic barriers to success, and only take those students who are motivated and willing to work hard are going to do quite well. Especially if you surround them with peers who want the same things, and are similarly motivated. Parents who send their children to this school will already be involved in their education, which is a huge factor in success.

When I first heard about DSBN Academy I thought it sounded like a Charter School within the public system, like Geoffrey Canada’s charter school in Harlem. Charter schools are becoming increasingly popular and successful south of the border, but they have not made a major appearance in Canada. Low-income families have to enter lotteries to win scholarships to enter these schools as they flee the public system.

I worry that the turn to a school like this is a sign that the Board has given up on the existing schools to provide meaningful service to the low-income students. Why can’t a regular high school in Fort Erie, Welland or Lincoln provide the same path to a post-secondary future? The concept behind the DSBN Academy is a good one – providing low-income students a path to university or college – but that should be the mission of every school. I applaud the initiative of the Board of Trustees, but I find this path to be misguided. The millions that will be spent on this Academy could be far better invested in programs, such as breakfast programs, and investment in school resources. Let’s make the schools we have work instead of opening new ones.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Senate: Ask the Question

This week NDP leader Jack Layton asked for a referendum on the Senate at the next possible convenience. With the likelihood of Canadians going to the polls sometime in the Spring of 2011 that would be soon. Simply put, the New Democrats would like to consult the Canadian public on their thoughts on the future of the Senate. A truly novel idea in a democracy.

The NDP, in an ideal world, would like to abolish the Senate. According to their line of thinking the unelected upper house is an antiquated embarrassment in a modern nation-state like ours. In fact, the NDP does not recognize any NDP Senators because they refuse to sit in the body. The question on the referendum would be simply do you want to keep the Senate, or scrap it? The referendum would have no legal impact, but it would definitely have a political impact.

It would make the major parties speak in the issue of the Senate and rapidly educate the Canadian public on the issue of Senate reform. The Senate is a highly undemocratic institution, and really is just a house for political insiders and stooges of Prime Minister. The provinces have long ago scrapped their upper chambers.

The Conservatives oppose the referendum because it has no value, which I disagree with. It clearly has value, just not one the Conservatives benefit from. To be rid of the Senate would require a constitutional amendment, which politically is almost impossible in our country. Still. The Conservatives are pushing through a reform package, but after five years the reforms are stuck – of course – in the Senate. An elected Senate, with terms, is not on the horizon.

However, if the Canadian public loudly voiced their opinion than it would be difficult for the Senate or Conservatives, or Liberals, or whoever to resist reform. If I could shape events I would set the following question:

What should the future of the Canadian Senate be?

A. Maintain as is.

B. Make the Senate democratically elected with terms.

C. Abolish the Senate.

I have a feeling that, before a campaign, two thirds of Canadians, maybe more, would support option B. With 70%+ support for reform Canadian politicians would have a hard time maintaining their stance that reform is impossible.

I support the NDP and their call for a referendum on the Senate, though I’d reshape the question. If Canada is a democracy it is time to act like it and look like it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Is When that Important?

In my recent blog post titled, “Student Success, Provincial Failure” I described that I would like to add some prescriptions to what I view as the problems with the Ontario public education system. First, before I go on I want to point out that not all aspects of Student Success are objectionable, in my view. Aspects do have merit.

The mission of the Ontario government at present is to increase the number of graduates, as part of this strategy the government made it very difficult for students to leave high school. Previously students could drop out at age 16, and it has since been upped to 18. This was years ago, but the point is the same. Some students are not ready for a high school education in their adolescents. A combination of life circumstances, maturity and intellectual ability seems to hamper some students.

Instead of imprisoning students who want nothing more than to leave, why don’t we let them leave? While I could not put a reasonable estimate on it, it seems to me that teachers spent the majority of their time on a small number of students, those with learning issues and behavioural issues. If we allowed those with behavioural problems to leave and begin their working lives we may be better served. Cutting out the most problematic 1-3% of a school population could be hugely beneficial. Anyone with teaching experience just has to think of the times when “that student” is away and how much more smoothly the class runs.

My solution is as follows. We should dramatically increase the quality and availability of adult education. When these students are in their twenties and realize the shortcomings of not having a diploma they should be able to return to public education. The first problem is that a G.E.D. is not considered as valuable as a regular diploma. I do not see why we could not change that. First of all, I don’t see why we should distinguish between the two. This would eliminate any stigma, though any employer could do the math and see a discrepancy in age and the date the diploma was issued.

Here’s my question: Does it matter when the diploma is issued so long as it is issued? Or, is “when” important? To me, I say no. Instead of jamming programs in so that children complete an Ontario Secondary School Diploma in 4-5 years, why not just make it easier for those who do not get it at the first shot to get it at the second attempt? This kind of program would benefit those who struggled in their youth, immigrants and those seeking to improve their basic education. Seems like a no-brainer to me.