Friday, December 23, 2005

Bilingual Today, United Tomorrow

Big excitement for me this week, as my book was just published by McGill-Queen's University Press. It's entitled Bilingual Today, United Tomorrow: Official Languages in Education and Canadian Federalism and examines the language policies instituted by the Trudeau government, in cooperation with the provinces, to promote official language minority education, second language instruction and French immersion. It seeks to reevaluate the success of these policies, given the extensive criticisms that have been raised of the Trudeau government's approach to bilingualism.

Right now, it's available from Chapters/Indigo and in hardcover.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Would you like tax cuts with your dim sum?

I'm currently on a research trip to Ottawa, buried in archival boxes, which is why I haven't been either paying much attention to or blogging about the election. I had hoped that this would also help me get into the festive spirit, and allow me focus on friends and family for the season.

My cunning plan was going along well until Sunday. My husband and I had headed out to Yangtze for a nice meal of dim sum with a friend of ours. Although he works for the NDP, we'd managed to keep most of our weekend conversation on non-political topics. Then, we noticed a group of three people heading around the restaurant, handing out pamphlets. Our first reaction was "They're not actually campaigning in here, are they?". But yes they were. Keith Fountain, Conservative candidate in Ottawa Centre was campaigning in the middle of people's Sunday lunch.

That has to be one of the more offensive campaign strategies I've ever encountered. I don't like it when people try to sell me roses in a restaurant. I certainly don't want to be campaigned to over my meal, especially when I can't just not answer the door or the phone. I definitely don't want it from a Conservative candidate. If I lived in the riding, I would vote against him for that reason alone.

Fortunately, he was unable to spoil my appreciation of har gao and siu mai, and my friend was able to rattle his composure with some pointed questions.

If you want to guarantee that you won't be elected, then go and irritate people in the middle of their relaxation time!

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Post-secondary education policy - Questions that need answers

Paul Wells just posted the following questionnaire, which was sent by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada to all of the party leaders concerning their policies on post-secondary education and research.

I'm just posting the links for your reference here - my thoughts on this issue are in earlier posts (and I've been busy with the nitty-gritty of post-secondary education with a mountain of marking recently). Two weeks in, and we're still not seeing any discussion of education, as the leaders chase each other's tails over various gaffes. Perhaps this will shake them up, but I'm starting to feel pessimistic. Thanks for keeping this issue alive, Paul.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Promises for post-secondary education? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

And now, what will appear to be a completely self-interested post from an academic. Where are the grandiose election promises for improving the state of post-secondary education (leaving aside, for the moment, that education is a provincial area of jurisdiction, because so are at least half of the other sectors that we've seen talked about over the past week, and the feds have been funding university research since the 1950s)? Where is the promise of fantastic new research funding for the humanities and social sciences? Where are the promises for putting money back into the transfers to the provinces that flow to universities so that they can start hiring faculty again, and reduce swelling class sizes?

Apparently, this is not an issue for the Liberal party. Universities and Research development do not rate as an "issue" on their website.
Neither does it show up for the Conservatives, although they seem to have some problem with chairs - what's with the "stand up" jargon?
The NDP, at least, thinks that education and training is an issue. But their proposals, such as they are, seem to be about lowering tuition fees and reducing student debt. Worthy goals, but they aren't going to improve the state of research and teaching.

To be frank, few of the big election promises made so far have appealed to me directly. I'm not upset about the level of taxes I pay. I use the health care system about once or twice a year, and thus care about its future mainly in an abstract sense. I currently have no intention of having children, and so child care is not a pressing concern for me, although I would like for my friends to have access to a quality system. I don't think that strengthening Canada's drug laws is a good idea, and if anything, was chagrined at the death of the decriminalization bill for marijuana. And I don't watch hockey, so Duceppe's proposal didn't strike me to the core. And as regular readers of this blog know, I'm not an accountability/ethics nut. Yes, some checks in the system are a good thing, but I'm cynical enough to believe that all parties will falter at some point when in power, and don't believe the "we will be lily-white" promises of any party - even the NDP.

I do, however, care passionately about the state of Canada's universities, colleges and other research institutions. I'm surprised that more baby boomers with children in the system don't seem to care more than they do. Do they think that growing class sizes is a good thing? Is it not a problem for people that universities aren't even replacing all of the professors that retire, let alone growing their faculties to improve their research capacities? Why are we not talking about Canada's need to be a leader in innovation and research, and about the connections between a well-educated workforce and economic growth? Why are we not talking about the role of the humanities in fostering intellectual debate? And in light of the NDP's platform, why aren't we talking about the issue of the accessibility of higher education, and the best way to structure tuition, scholarships and student debt loads?

Don't get me wrong. The issues that have been raised so far in the campaign are ones that matter. They are also the same topics that are continuously aired in Parliament and in the media, while education, the poor sibling to health care, continues to be marginalized. I'd like to see our leaders talking about some other neglected issues for a change.

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Monday, December 05, 2005

My preliminary election predictions

I figured that I would wait until a few days of campaigning were underway before making my initial election predictions - my main credentials are that I did win my 2004 election pool, and I didn't have access to the internal NDP polling numbers like some of my opponents did!

I'm going to break these predictions down by region, as I believe that this election is really going to be battled out region-by-region. National polling numbers are pretty much useless, IMHO, except for how the Liberals will use their scare factor on the NDP - and look at this post by Kelly Nestruck before you fall into that trap.

Atlantic Canada: My new region of residence, and likely to be a complete snore-fest in terms of competitive races. Even the most ambitious pundits think that maybe two or three seats are in play here, one of which is Halifax. Key observation #1: Universities will be in session during this election, which will concentrate NDP voters in individual ridings. Alexa McDonough is safe. Likewise, I suspect that Andy Scott isn't going anywhere. I don't understand why the Liberals are running a star Newfoundlander candidate like Deborah Coyne in Toronto, rather than in a St. John's seat to try to knock off a Conservative, or in Efford's old riding. My own riding, Beausejour, was used to give Chretien a seat when he won the Liberal leadership, and will be returning Liberal Domenic LeBlanc.

Quebec: I think that predictions of a massive Bloc sweep through the province are overrated. My call is that they will not break 60 seats. Jean Lapierre is safe (although I reserve the right to change my opinion on that after the provincial by-election in Outremont). I think that either Frulla or Pettigrew will be defeated, but not both. Garneau is in a winnable riding for the Liberals - it was shocking that they lost Vaudreuil last time around. The Liberals' polling numbers will creep up slowly in the province over the next 6 weeks, and probably win them back most of their existing seats - with the possibility of a few breakthroughs on Montreal's south shore and in the far North, to compensate for a few tenuous ridings on Montreal island.

Ontario: A pundit's nightmare in the real election battleground. So far, Ontario does not seem wooed over by Stephen Harper, and might decide to vote Liberal to ensure that the Conservatives give him the boot and replace him with Peter McKay (who I think would have a much better shot here). I don't predict any major changes in the Conservative seat total here - I suspect that we'll see some shifts in where those seats are from (Ottawa West-Nepean looks like a potential pick-up, Oshawa a loss), but not a major shift in overall numbers.

The NDP has some solid prospects here for seat gains, which they will need to compensate for the loss of Ottawa Centre. That's right, I think that without the "Ed" factor, the endlessly running Mahoney machine, which has basically been on election footing since Mac Harb was appointed to the Senate, will eke out a win here. Gains are possible in Oshawa (particularly with the recent lay-offs at GM), around Hamilton (where a Liberal is retiring), and in Beaches-Woodbine, where former NDP cabinet minister Marilyn Churley is up against former federal cabinet minister Maria Minna. Layton's seat is not going anywhere, despite a challenge from Deborah Coyne. I still don't think that Olivia Chow is going to be able to take Trinity-Spadina though.

The Liberals need to focus their efforts on the 519 and 905 belts. There were a lot of very close races in this region last time around, and their losses to the Conservatives could be overturned this time around. I figure that the Liberals will take back Carolyn Parrish and Dan O'Brien's seats - especially with Western in school in January. I think McGuinty is safe in Ottawa South. Overall, the Liberals could win back enough seats to compensate for a few losses to the NDP. Overall, I think that seats will be shuffled in Ontario, but that the big picture remains the same after January, with the NDP up 3 or 4 seats.

Saskatchewan/Manitoba: I loathe the polling designation of the "Prairies". There is a definite ideological split along the Alberta-Saskatchewan border, which needs to be borne in mind. Manitoba will see a bit of movement in 2006 - Churchill is going to go back to the Liberals this time around, and the Grits might have a shot at retaking a couple of the Conservative seats in Winnipeg. I predict that the NDP will hold their remaining seats, and the rural Manitoba situation will stay the same. Saskatchewan, on the other hand, will be very interesting to watch. The 2004 elections shocked everyone in my election pool. The NDP is bound to make some breakthroughs here in what were very tight races last time, and I expect that discontent with the Liberals will push them over the edge. At least 2 or 3 Conservative seats in Regina and Saskatoon are turning orange this time around.

Alberta: Landslide Annie ekes out a narrow win again (I never bet against her). Every other seat, including Kilgour's, goes to the Conservatives.

British Columbia: The other big player in this election, along with Ontario. I'm going to be up until the wee-est hours of the morning here on the East coast watching those results come in. We've got a real three-way race here, and I predict the big loser will be the Conservatives, the moderate winner the NDP. I'm thinking that Vancouver Island will be sporting more orange by February, Svend will knock off Hedy Fry, and the Grewals' former ridings will be re-allocated. The Lower Mainland is ripe for the picking by both Liberal and NDP candidates.

What does all this add up to? A few Liberal losses in Quebec (to the Bloc) and Ontario (to the NDP and maybe the Conservatives), but probably an extra few seats in Manitoba and BC. Bloc gains, but moderate ones, in Quebec. Conservative losses in Saskatchewan and BC, with maybe a couple of additional seats in Ontario. NDP losses in Churchill and Ottawa, compensated for by gains in BC, SK and ON.

End result: Liberal minority with NDP holding the balance of power. Stephen Harper becomes an elder statesman of the Conservative party and Peter McKay marches through Ontario to victory in the next election against Paul Martin, who still hasn't realized that he has become a liability to his party.

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Saturday, December 03, 2005

Heather Mallick, MIA

Heather Mallick is one of the main reasons why I subscribe to the Globe & Mail. I sometimes (although not often) disagree with her opinions, but her delightfully constructed rants against the excesses of the right wing are usually the big highlight of my Saturday morning reading. I was thus very disappointed to read, via Antonia Zerbisias's blog (see the entries on December 1st), that Heather Mallick has resigned her Saturday Focus column over a conflict with the editors at the Globe. This is a major loss for that paper. While I will continue to read that paper, and enjoy discovering what HM bought this week in the Style section, her serious column - a much-needed counterpoint to Margaret Wente's almost weekly "Why I love my gas-guzzling SUV" column - was a breath of fresh air.

This week's replacement, a column by Drew Hayden Taylor about political correctness, aboriginal humour and authenticity, was an enjoyable read. However, it is not a substitute for Ms. Mallick's incisive writing, although pieces such as his should appear more frequently in the Globe.

While I'm deconstructing recent changes at the Globe & Mail, I've also been disappointed by the disappearance of the "Academia" column by John Fraser. I think that current university research, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, needs more public exposure, and that column was a nice start.

Hopefully the Globe's editors will realize the error of their ways, and come to terms with Heather Mallick. A good national newspaper needs strong columnists from all points along the political spectrum.

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Thursday, December 01, 2005

"Buying Canadians off with their own money?" Why is this coming from the left?

Recent comments from Rick Mercer have me thinking of the old Animaniacs "Good Idea/Bad Idea" sketches.

Good Idea: Rick's hysterically funny "Letter from the Desk of Stephen Harper". I almost hurt myself laughing, particularly with this bit: " In an effort to appease Ontario voters it is imperative that we bring forward an image of moderation. To this end I would like to point out that I waited a full five hours after parliament dissolved before I started in on the queers."

Bad Idea: Rick's Rant of November 29th. What in the name of all that is sane are otherwise left-leaning people doing using the line "bribing/buying off Canadians with their own money"? This is about a Conservative a talking point as you can get. One of the fundamental premises of left-wing politics is that governments should be collecting taxes to pay for initiatives that Canadians want. If you're going to complain about the flurry of last-minute spending announcements, complain that it has taken so long for the Liberals to finally start using some of the surplus on needed initiatives.

The logical extention of the case that goverment spending is "buying Canadians off with their own money" is a call to cut taxes to "give Canadians back their money." Thanks, but no thanks. I'd rather not have to raise university tuitions, increase classroom sizes, eliminate kindergartens, see more and more health care user fees, and slash welfare rates in this country. I lived through the Mike Harris years in Ontario, and have had quite enough of that approach to governance. If you believe that one of the functions of government is to redistribute income from the wealthy to the poor, and to use the pooled taxpayer income to provide services that can not be created piecemeal, then it's a good thing to have government spending. I expect this kind of rhetoric from Stephen Harper, but not from Liberals or New Democrats.

Let's all be a little more careful with where we get our talking points from, shall we?

P.S. - My apologies for my severe negligence in posting of late. It's been the end of term crunch here in Sackville. Today is my last day of lectures, so regular posting should be resuming shortly.

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