Saturday, October 27, 2007

Conservatives succeed in curbing poverty

The London Free Press
By Rory Leishman

Liberals and socialists like to think of themselves as compassionate champions of the poor and the needy, yet over the past 20 years, they have introduced policies that serve only to aggravate and perpetuate the evils of poverty.
Consider, for example, the historical record in Ontario. Between 1986 and 1995, first the Liberal government of former premier David Peterson and then the New Democrat government led by former Premier Bob Rae attempted to alleviate poverty by increasing welfare benefits. The results were disastrous.
John Richards, a professor in the Graduate Public Policy Program at Simon Fraser University, points out in a commentary published by the C. D. Howe Institute that in the 10 years ending in 1995, the percentage of the Ontario population drawing social assistance benefits more than doubled. With a peak of close to 13 per cent of the population relying on the dole in 1994, Ontario had the highest level of welfare dependency in the entire country.
Meanwhile, in Alberta, Ralph Klein’s newly elected Conservative government proceeded to slash welfare benefits and restrict access to the program by persons deemed to be employable. The results were no less dramatic than in Ontario: By 1998, the percentage of the Alberta population relying on welfare had dropped 4.1 percentage points to barely three per cent, the lowest level in the country.
In 1996, the Ontario Progressive Conservative government of former premier Mike Harris followed the Alberta lead, by also cutting benefits and reducing eligibility for employable adults. Within five years, the proportion of welfare dependents among the Ontario population had dropped more than 7 percentage points to less than six per cent.
By comparing changes in welfare dependency in Alberta and Manitoba, whose welfare policies have remained quite steady over the past 20 years, Richards has demonstrated that the Klein reforms had a significant impact in reducing welfare dependency. The impact of the Harris reforms is more difficult to determine, because they came just two years before the Liberal government of former prime minister Jean Chretien introduced the National Child Benefit System, which has also made welfare dependency less attractive, by increasing the incomes of low-income adults who have children and are gainfully employed.
One point is clear: Richards has demonstrated that by acting together to reduce welfare benefits in relation to the after-tax income of workers in low-paying jobs over the past 10 years, the federal and provincial governments have persuaded many potentially employable welfare recipients to move off the dole and into the paid labour force.
Furthermore, as a result of lower rates of welfare dependency and higher rates of employment, there has been a sharp drop in poverty across Canada. Using Statistics Canada’s low-income cutoffs as a poverty measure, Richards notes that the poverty rate for all Canadians declined to 11 per cent in 2005, down from 16 per cent in 1996.
Richards has had a chequered career. As a New Democrat Party member of the Saskatchewan legislature and proponent of the party’s radical Waffle movement in the 1970s, he was one of Canada’s leading left-wing ideologues. Today, as a student of public policy, he has come to understand the perverse consequences of the well-meant anti-poverty policies that he used to advocate.
Would that all Liberals and New Democrats were so enlightened. Alas, many remain wedded to the failed policies of the past. For example, members of the Toronto Task Force on Modernizing Income Security for Working-Age Adults have called upon Ottawa to introduce a negative income tax for low-income adults at an estimated annual cost of $7 billion. As Richards points out, this policy would once again reduce work incentives, increase welfare dependency and foster higher, not lower, poverty rates among employable, low-income adults.
Granted, more should be done for the poorest of the poor in Canada. Richards cites six priorities, including increased assistance for persons with a severe mental illness. Over the past 30 years, successive Liberal, Conservative and New Democrat governments have kicked most of these vulnerable patients out of mental hospitals and abandoned them to fend for themselves in the streets.
That’s shameful. It’s the alleviation of this kind of real poverty that should rank among the top priorities for every federal and provincial government in Canada.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

John Tory is not a real Tory

The London Free Press
By Rory Leishman
According to a recent poll, Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leader John Tory is trailing badly in his own riding of Don Valley West. For genuine conservatives this is good news.
Let there be no mistaking: Tory is neither a fiscal nor a social conservative. He is leading his nominally conservative party to defeat, by offering voters little more than a slightly watered-down version of the same liberalism espoused by the Ontario Liberals.
Consider the fiscal policies proposed by the two parties. While Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is promising to increase program spending to a whopping $96.6 billion in 2012, up from $82.2 billion this year, Tory says his government would increase spending to $96.3 billion, minus $1.5 billion in unspecified savings and efficiencies.
On the fiscal side, there is only one significant difference: Tory promises to eliminate the Ontario Health Premium Tax, which the McGuinty Liberals introduced, despite having repeatedly promised during the last provincial election that they would not impose any tax increases. Now McGuinty insists that the new health tax must be retained on the ground that the $2.7 billion in annual revenue which it generates is essential to boosting health-care spending and balancing the Ontario budget.
The Liberals and Progressive Conservatives also used to differ over Tory’s promise to extend public funding to all religious schools that agree to abide by the Ontario curriculum. Since the election campaign got underway, McGuinty has been successfully hammering away at this key Tory policy. And now, in the face of impending defeat, Tory has essentially scuttled his own proposal, by promising a free vote on the issue in the next Legislature.
On the most vital issue of all, there is no difference between McGuinty and Tory: Both favour unbridled abortion on demand. In the case of McGuinty, this stance is all the more disgraceful because he professes to know as a Catholic that all human life is sacred.
McGuinty and Tory also support same-sex marriage. However, earlier this year, Tory outdid even McGuinty in bidding for the homophile vote, by having himself declared an honorary “distinguished patron” of the Queer Youth Video Project at Toronto’s annual Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.
Granted, Tory does not represent all Progressive Conservative candidates. Many, including most of those in the London area, are genuine fiscal and social conservatives. Take, for example, Rob Alder in London North Centre and Jim Chapman in London Fanshawe. In response to an all-candidates’ questionnaire that was compiled and published on the internet by Citizen Impact Canada, Alder and Chapman have both indicated that they strongly oppose government funding for abortion on demand; support full disclosure of all relevant medical information to persons considering an abortion; and would direct all child-care subsidies directly to parents so they can freely choose the best available child care for their family.
Voters who are fed up with runaway government spending, ever-rising taxes, and misguided government policies should search out and vote for candidates like Alder and Chapman who stand the best chance of getting elected in their riding and making a difference for the better in the Ontario Legislature. These same voters should also hope that Tory is soundly defeated, quits politics and clears the way for the selection of a more inspiring leader for the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party.
In a referendum accompanying Wednesday’s Ontario election, voters will be asked to choose between retaining the province’s existing voting system or adopting a mixed-member proportional (MMP) system that would entail the creation of two classes of MPPs: 90 elected as they are now by a simple plurality in single-member constituencies and another 39 drawn from lists of candidates chosen by the political parties and elected essentially in proportion to each party’s share of the province-wide vote.
With MMP in effect, it would be practically impossible for voters to defeat any politician appointed near the top of the list for one of the major parties. For this reason alone, voters should reject MMP. It would be far better to stick with the existing voting system, despite its flaws, than to adopt a less democratic system of proportional representation that would give an array of party favourites a virtual lock on a seat in the Legislature.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The long-feared perils of public schools

The Interim
By Rory Leishman
In a 19th century classic, the eminent philosopher John Stuart Mill admonished parents not to hand over the education of their children to the state. He warned: “A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another: and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, a priesthood, an aristocracy, or the majority of the existing generation, in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by natural tendency to one over the body.”
Consider, in this respect, the ominous decision of the British Columbia Education Ministry to introduce a radical new course on “social justice” for Grade 12 students in the public schools. Among the legally prescribed “learning outcomes” for the course is the requirement that all students must “describe social injustice based on characteristics including … marital and family status, religion and faith, sex [and] sexual orientation.”
In particular, the ministry’s guidelines suggest that teachers require their students to “analyse specific historical and contemporary examples of injustice in Canada” in relation to such matters as “reproduction rights” for women as well as “marriage, adoption [and] spousal rights” for “people who are LGBT” – that is to say, lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered. There is even the suggestion that teachers assign their students to “describe limitations on the scope of human rights legislation” in relation to “gender” and “sex-trade workers.”
Imagine that: Perhaps some Grade 12 student in British Columbia will get an “A” this year for a homework paper urging the Supreme Court of Canada to write equality rights for prostitutes and cross-dressing homosexuals into section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Parents all across Canada should beware: Given the steadily deteriorating moral standards throughout our country, a course of twisted propaganda that begins as an option for Grade 12 students in British Columbia could soon end up as compulsory in all public schools.
Not even the publicly funded Catholic schools of Ontario are immune to the moral degradation prevalent in the secular public schools. How otherwise can one explain the decision of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association to have Michelle Landsberg, the former columnist for The Toronto Star and shameless advocate of abortion on demand and same-sex marriage, serve as the keynote speaker at the union’s annual meeting in August?
In every province of Canada, all teachers and principals employed in the public schools, both secular and Catholic, must belong to an authorized teachers’ union. It’s the leaders of these unions together with like-minded ideologues in the provincial education ministries who set the moral tone for the public schools.
To an ever increasing extent, the state is also imposing its prescribed curricula on independent schools. For example, last year, the Quebec Ministry of Education warned independent Christian schools that they must provide their students with a government-approved course in sex education. Meanwhile, during the current election campaign in Ontario, Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory is promising to extend funding to independent faith-based schools if they agree to “teach the Ontario curriculum.”
The whole point of an independent school is to teach the curriculum preferred by the parents for their children. The state should not interfere in this process unless there is reason to believe that the school is depriving its students of basic skills in reading, writing and arithmetic or serving as a breeding ground for terrorists.
As it is, we Canadians have ignored Mill’s warning about the perils of a general state education. We have allowed most of our schools to come under the control of government bureaucrats and union bosses who exercise a despotism of the mind over the children in their care.
And as Mill predicted, that despotism of the mind is naturally leading to a despotism of the body. Sooner or later, some stalwart Christian in Canada who insists that sexual intercourse should be confined within marriage between a man and a woman will be convicted and fined by a human rights tribunal and, ultimately, jailed by the appellate courts for steadfastly defying the orthodoxy of gay rights as inculcated in our state-run schools.