My time working in politics showed me a lot of things and exposed me to a lot of situations. But one thing that I saw too much of that I never understood, nor likely ever will, is some peoples out and out dogged adherence to certain ideological views. What I mean by that is some people who never, ever move off their ideologies, no matter how crazy, craven or just downright cruel it can make them look.
In those cases, their rationales for ignoring a proposed solution to a serious problem might be consistent to their ideology to a crazy degree, but it creates nonsensical explanations to try to contort themselves into those that position. It was that thought that ran to my mind when I saw this piece from Manitoba yesterday, which turns into a disturbing example of this:
Okay everyone, I get that some people’s ideology doesn’t care for government involvement in certain things, I get that. I get that some people believe that government shouldn’t provide certain services; I disagree with that but whatever, it’s a point of view. But this story and the Manitoba Conservatives reaction to it just really rubbed me the wrong way and blew my mind in its blind adherence to conservative ideology, but also in just how cold and uncaring it made it all seem, let alone ignoring the evidence around school breakfast programs.
This issue comes from a more personal place for me. I taught for five years, mostly in schools that had many low-income families who struggled to get by. We had a school breakfast program, that was open to all kids to get a good meal before the start of school. That meal helped those kinds perform much better in class, gave them better focus and helped them truly achieve to the best of their potential. Studies have shown that time and again, shown that kids who come to school hungry perform worse because of the stresses and health concerns that come from without getting a good breakfast. It’s an idea that’s worked and it’s proven.
Yet when Manitoba Conservative Premier Brian Pallister was asked by the Manitoba NDP about instituting a universal breakfast program for students from kindergarten to Grade 12, the answers that came back were just mind-blowingly blinded by ideology. “If children are going to school hungry, then parents aren’t fulfilling their responsibilities” he said. “The member should not ignore the unfilled responsibilities of Manitoba parents…. Families first, Madam Speaker — not state-funded cafeteria meals” he continued. A universal breakfast program would have the “unintended consequence” of separating children from valuable time with their families he told us. “You don’t take the meal and give it to an institution and take it away from a single mom, so she doesn’t get time with her child” he continued.
Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew replied to those statements with words that really echoed a lot of my reactions when I read this story. He said that he doesn’t “understand the values of a person who would stand up and say we shouldn’t feed hungry children.” Neither do I. As someone who was raised Catholic I don’t remember where it said in The Bible to “let the children starve because of the failings of their parents” or that “Helping to nourish the child of your neighbour will destroy their bonds and home, so never do it.” As Kinew went on to say, “I think all Manitobans would agree that feeding a hungry child in a way that helps to benefit the schooling of all children in Manitoba is a good idea.” I think that goes for all Canadians too, and I think that because we see parents, families, businesses and volunteers step up everyday to help run, fund and supply school lunch programs in every corner of the country.
Yet what Premier Pallister is trying to suggest is that the state should do nothing because the issue is really a matter of the failure of the parents, acting like it is a moral failing on their part, which is just as ignorant as the rest. On top of that, having school lunch programs are no more a risk to the structure and health of the family unit as day care centres or same sex marriage, other things we were told would ruin the family as we know it if they came to be. Those warnings proved to be totally unfounded and wrong, and guess what, they are in this case too.
But the part of this that probably bothers me the most is that this is the elected leader of a government in Canada suggesting that it’s best for society if a child goes to school starving, that somehow they’d be at a greater risk if someone helped them. That’s cold, cruel and immoral in my mind, not to mention a terrible way to run a government. The miniscule amount of money it would take for the province of Manitoba to provide school breakfasts would be a great investment to ensure that those kids are getting the most out of the education that the province is also paying for.
None of that seems to matter because, well, it doesn’t perfectly fit within Mr. Pallister’s world view and that’s just wrong. I have my own ideological views, but I am also able to accept that sometimes good ideas can come from other ideologies. No one has cornered the market on good ideas and sometimes that simply means helping people while we deal with the underlying issues that create students going to school hungry to begin with. We can do both at the same time, it’s not an either/or and it’s surely not some moral hazard as Mr. Pallister tried to paint it. Those answers say more about Mr. Pallister and his government than anything else, and those are the kinds of cold, cruel words that stick in the minds of voters much longer than any accomplishments they make. When I give advice to aspiring politicians and politicos, I point to examples of whom to be like and not. Folks don’t be like Pallister here because if you can’t put your own ideology aside to make sure that a starving child is fed before school in the morning, you are the problem here, not the other way around.