Tag Archives: provincial

Lessons Learned: When You Turn Bridges into Pulpits or Planks, Divides Form

By Jay Menard

[Note: I wrote this the day after the provincial election, but sat on it as an experiment… hoping the narrative it discusses would change and render it moot. It hasn’t.]

If you’ll indulge me for stepping away from the “Chicken Little” narrative that has dominated the social media universe since the Conservative majority election (and, let’s face it, even before), I honestly believe that Thursday night’s result offers liberals — both small and large-L — an incredible opportunity.

The opportunity? To build bridges.

The challenge is, the very behaviour and beliefs that led to the Conservative majority are precisely the things that may prevent them from seizing that opportunity. This year, I avoided discussing the elections online because I knew it was fruitless — there was no room for debate or discussion and no minds would be changed — but now, in “The Aftermath,” I hope there are are some lessons that can be learned for the betterment of us all.

In London, this is especially true with a municipal election coming up that I fear will just build upon the arrogance, intolerance, and division that we saw at the provincial election. Continue reading

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Faith-Based Funding an All or Nothing Proposition

By Jason Menard

A group called the Multi-Faith Coalition for Equal Funding of Religious Schools is demanding that the Ontario government provide financial support for all religious education system – but what they’ve done is open a Pandora’s Box which may result in the final separation of Church and State when it comes to education.

As it stands now in this province you have the existing Public and Catholic school boards. Grandfathered in from time immemorial, or Confederation in 1867, the Roman Catholic school board has been guaranteed funding. And now, as our communities change so too must we look at what’s fair in a new light.

Because we’ve always done it is no longer a valid argument. To deny one faith the right to have their religion-based education system funded smacks of discrimination. In fact, in 1999 a United Nations committee found that Ontario was violating the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

So, in this case, equality is the right thing to do – but there are two ways to get there. We can either provide funding for all religions to establish school boards and run educational systems – or we can cut off the flow of money to the Catholics.

While in a perfect world we’d be able to offer across-the-board-funding, the fact of the matter is that we don’t have the necessary resources to be everything to everyone. Which makes the choice clear – one publicly funded school board open and accessible to all, and those who want their children educated in an alternative system will have to foot the bill on their own.

In this country, the only two types of school boards that should be funded are ones based on language – English and French, befitting our status as a bilingual nation. We are a secular society and, as such, our government has no place in defining its practices – or funding programs – based on religious beliefs.

Maybe, at one time, it made sense to offer a separate Catholic school board due to the religious demographic makeup. But increasingly Ontario is benefiting from an influx of immigrants – many of whom are representatives of a wide variety of religions. By choosing to publicly fund one religion over another, we are in fact tacitly affirming their second-class citizen status. But it’s not just enough to cut off funding and wash our collective hands of the teaching of religion in the classroom – that would be depriving our children of a valuable learning opportunity. Instead, we need to get creative with our education system and work towards developing a curriculum that meets the needs of today’s reality and anticipates the requirements of the future.

Instead of guaranteed funding for one religious system, the Ontario government, and those of all provinces around Canada, should redirect those resources towards the creation and implementation of a new program in our school system – the teaching of faith.

The issue of religion in the school system is a touchy one for many. There are those who would love to see a return to the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in the public system and the distribution of those little red New Testaments. And that’s truly a fine proposition – as long as they’re accompanied by little blue Talmuds, little yellow Qurans, and a rainbow of texts outlining the belief systems from around the world.

We need to stop focusing on one religion at the expense of another. Atheist, agnostic, Christian, Buddhist, Islamic, Jewish, or whatever — we all will benefit from a generation that has grown up learning about each other’s religions, beliefs, or lack-thereof. Intolerance and hate breed from ignorance. Understanding the shared concepts of religions, in addition to where they differ, will bring us closer together as a people.

And, by teaching faith, we are in fact bringing out students closer together. We would enable students with different religious beliefs to share their stories, their particular practices and rituals, and their history with their classmates – opening them up to a greater world of understanding. In addition, beyond learning the respective tenets of the various belief systems, our students would be able to explore the nature of faith and why it has existed since the earliest humans. An examination of why certain people believe will help gain insight into the human character.

The world around us is changing rapidly. And, as our world becomes increasingly multi-cultural, a learning system that embraces all belief systems from Atheist to Zionist would help our next generation learn about tolerance and prepare them for an increasingly integrated society.

We are less segmented and our cultural fabric is interwoven with threads from a variety of races, creeds, and religions. And not one thread is more important than another – which is why, in an all or nothing proposition, the Ontario government must choose nothing at first, and then work to develop a public program that includes all for the benefit of everyone.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Family Squabbles Threaten to Undermine Liberals

By Jason Menard

Generally, to run a government, you need your finger on the pulse of the populace. However, Dalton McGuinty and the Ontario Liberals’ style of governance has seen that same finger used to point out blame at each an every opportunity.

To date, the modus operandi of the Ontario platform has been to find the best scapegoat and deflect criticism. But when you build your foundation on shifting blame, can you really be surprised when the whole house collapses?

Now that the statute of limitations on blaming the Harris/Eves government for all the provinces ills has expired, McGuinty has found a new target towards which to deflect criticism – the federal Liberals. Whether it’s the variance in gas prices in Ontario or the injustices of an allegedly unfair equalization program, McGuinty has worked hard to demonize the federal Liberals and cast them as the source of many of the provinces ills.

While the “I’m doing the best with what I can” platform may work in some cases, it can be a fatal recipe when you’re casting blame within the same family. Like it or not, the average voter sees little difference between the federal and provincial bodies of the respective Parties. And, for the most part, the defining policies and beliefs that guide these Parties is the same.

So, when you’re all painted with the same colour, why would you be surprised when your differences all begin to blend together? Instead of tearing each other apart, Liberal supporters of both the federal and provincial variety need to understand that to ensure the continued strength and political success that the Party has enjoyed, it needs to work to support one another. Essentially, whether you’re on the Varsity squad or in the Juvee ranks, you have to remember that you’re pulling on the same sweater and playing for the same team.

While McGuinty may have able to ride his focus on Ontario’s gap between what we contribute to the nation and what we receive in return to improved short-term ratings, has that been done at the long-term expense of undermining Party credibility?

Of course, this isn’t a one-sided argument. Ontario is arguably the most important province when it comes to deciding who wins federal elections. The composition of the existing minority government just goes to prove the power that Ontario can wield over the nation. As such, it’s imperative for Prime Minister Paul Martin and the federal Liberals to patch up the Party’s differences to present a more unified front going forward.

The federal Liberals can’t afford to look down their noses at provincial politics. They can’t run the risk of treating McGuinty as nothing more than an uppity kid brother who doesn’t know his place in the pecking order. His arguments need to be respected and action has to be taken if they want to continue to obtain the overwhelming support that the province has given to them.

But, while the risk is there, the lack of strong, powerful alternatives in the federal ranks means that there’s a little more wiggle room. At the provincial level, there is no such room. Despite being trounced in the last election, the Conservative party has enjoyed recent support. And the NDP remains a viable choice for those finding themselves on the centre-left range of the political spectrum. In fact, in 2004 the Hamilton East riding went overwhelmingly NDP (63.6 per cent) in its by-election to replace the seat vacated by the passing of Liberal Dominic Agostino.

Unfortunately, a significant number of people in our society don’t get to know their individual representatives or appreciate the unique aspects of each candidate’s platform and beliefs. They look to the example set by the Party leaders and the generic stances and beliefs that the Party is known for when it comes to casting their ballots. As such, how can confidence in a particular Party not be undermined when the respective wings can’t co-exist to get their house in order?

By targeting criticism at his federal brethren, McGuinty is essentially cutting of his nose to spite his face and runs the risk of cannibalizing votes in future elections. By undermining the credibility and integrity of the federal Party, McGuinty runs the very real risk that electors will apply those negative Liberal feelings to the provincial ranks.

It’s the basic laws of nature – when you annoy those who are farther up the food chain and nip at the bigger fish, you often end up finding your way to extinction.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Quebec Win an Opportunity for Both Sides

By Jason Menard

Monday’s landslide victory for the Quebec Liberal Party, while significant, should not be considered the death knell for separatism in the province of Quebec. In fact, if the right cards aren’t played, future generations looking back at this week’s election may see it as the watershed moment for a renewed sovereigntist movement.

The separatist forces within Quebec find themselves at a crossroads. Its leadership is aging and the youth of Quebec – and even some soft-separatists – have found a more comfortable fit within Mario Dumont’s Action Démocratique party.

The separatist movement is in dire need of an infusion of youth and fresh ideas to deal with the realities of the 21 st century. Ironically, it could be the actions of the new Liberal government that could provide that new infusion of youth.

Historically, separatism flourishes in times where the PQ is not in government. The party is better able to concentrate on its raison d’etre and not be bogged down with more difficult issues such as balancing a budget or improving health care.

A number of factors led to the PQ’s current loss, ranging from residual resentment over forced mergers, union disenchantment, and lack of faith in the leadership. The PQ was strongest with charismatic leaders such as Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard – suffice to say Bernard Landry did not captivate the masses in the same way as they, or even Mario Dumont, did.

However, the electorate’s political memories are short. These next few years of Liberal government are key. Mismanagement or public relations nightmares akin to those of their federal counterparts could spark a groundswell of disenchantment in voters, which could be quickly fanned into a blaze of anti-federalist sentiment within the youth of Quebec.

While good government may be the mantra, the reality of the situation is that the underlying causes of Quebec separatist feeling are still there. While French-English equality is greatly improved in the province itself, the essential fact of the matter is that French Canadians are still surrounded by an overwhelming sea of English. Consider the concerns Canadians as a whole have in protecting their culture from the overwhelming American influence, and now transfer that to an even smaller population of French-speaking people warding off the influences of English on their culture in this day and age where borders are disappearing courtesy of a number of influences, ranging from the Internet to Television.

If the provincial Liberals aren’t able to satisfy the needs of the masses, then we could see a startling reversal of fortune during the next election. Which is why it’s important for Jean Charest to separate himself (no pun intended) from his federal brethren and be almost belligerent in his efforts to bring to the fore the needs and desires of the Quebec population to the extent where he must be more pro-Quebec than even his PQ predecessors. Anything less, regardless of the intent, will be seen as a weakness by those soft federalists and separatists who donned Liberal red this election.

It is also important that the rest of Canada does not take an out-of-sight-out-of-mind attitude towards Quebec. While the majority of people outside of Quebec may have finally breathed a sigh of relief, it’s important for Canadians across the country to continue to work towards improving relations with Quebec. They say a watched pot never boils, and by maintaining a focus on Quebec, federalists as a whole can work to prevent separatist sentiments from bubbling up.

By no means does this mean acquiescing to all of Quebec’s demands, but rather it does mean that we now need to move away from a confrontational style of negotiation between the provinces to a more open concept rooted in mutual understanding and support. There also needs to be a fundamental understanding and appreciation of the role culture plays in each society.

There are those that will apply the overly simplistic Darwinian theory on cultural survival, essentially stating that society should be able to be stand on its own two feet and survive on its own without outside aid. However, we live in a more enlightened age wherein it’s hopeful that we as a country have come to a point where we see how we benefit from being a bilingual nation, with two strong yet distinct societies living under one flag.

If Canada is truly worth working for, then now is not the time to rest, but to redouble our efforts as a whole for the future.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved