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A Review of French Immersion

In the Education field there are always certain debates that are always on going and that never seem to go away. And now in Ontario as we face more and more cuts from the Ford Conservatives, some of these conversations are coming up, but in a different context. It was with that in mind that I saw a story come through my Twitter feed about one of these conversations, one that I think deserves some discussion:

The debate around French Immersion programs is one that has been going on ever since they were started. Some of those debates revolve around teaching French at all, which I believe are debates not worthy of our time. But as French Immersion programs have become more and more successful, more and more families have tried to enroll their kids into them. That’s led to some serious pressure on these schools, including trying to find enough qualified teachers to teach those classes.

But the debate that’s been happening more and more has been about French Immersion programs, streaming and two-tiered education. Or at least, that’s how the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board is looking at it now. For me, this is a debate that is deeply personal. Not only am I a product of a great French Immersion program, I was blessed to get to teach in one as well when I was still in the classroom. My French Immersion education has been crucial to what I have been able to achieve in my life. I never would have had the chances to work in government or in politics without being fluently bilingual and that program opened so many doors to me in so many ways. So you’re not going to find a bigger defender of French Immersion programs than me.

Despite my support for the program though, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t reasons to be looking at real issues with the program. French Immersion programs do have a problem, one that has inadvertently created situations that force kids with help out of the program simply because of a lack of resources. In the CBC Ottawa story that is linked there, you can see examples of parents fighting to get their kids the help they need within the program. That is a situation I have lived through, but on the other side.

I have sat in meetings with parents and their students, having to tell them that if they want their child to pass into the next grade, they will need to go into an English program. And the reason for that? Most school boards don’t have funding to pay for educational assistants who speak French in French Immersion programs. So if your child has a special need or is on an Individual Education Plan (IEP), that means that the only place where they can get classroom supports is in the English system. Just because those children have special needs does not mean that they cannot success and thrive in a French Immersion program if supported; in fact, studies show time and again that special needs is no barrier to learning in a second language. Yet the province doesn’t fund these assistants for French Immersion programs, essentially forcing them to become streamed, forcing students out of them if they need help.

And when I speak of a child’s ability to thrive in a French Immersion program with special needs, I also speak from first-hand experience. I had some of those issues and I was able to succeed in French Immersion. It wasn’t easy, but I somehow made it happen, and to this day I’m so glad that I had that chance. Having a learning difficulty does not affect someone’s intelligence or capacity for learning, yet the current system for assistance for French Immersion doesn’t act as if that’s a reality. So if you want to point to improvements to French Immersion programs, you can start right there. If the province funded French-speaking EA’s for French Immersion schools, that would go a long way to stopping this streaming issue that does happen.

The question remaining though will be if this study actually looks at that, or if this turns into chance to pick on French Immersion programs and shutting them down. I’m hopeful that this study will be genuine and will really look at ways of improving French Immersion programs, not shut them down. This is a study that many in education across the country will follow the results of. So I hope that the good folks of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board will give this issue the examination that it deserves, in the spirit of ensuring that French Immersion programs are around for a long time.

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Pharmacare Surprise

Today is a day that many in Ottawa have been looking forwards now for many months, partially because of the importance of the announcement coming but also partially because of its possibility to affect the Fall election. Today was the day that Dr. Eric Hoskins released the report from his Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare. Given previous announcements from the Liberal government and their budget, many thought that today’s recommendations would mirror what was already being announced. That made the resulting recommendations come as quite a surprise, like a bolt of lightning coming out of the sky on a clear day:

Wow folks, I can honestly say that I didn’t see this coming: Dr. Hoskins is recommending that Canada implement universal, single-payer, public pharmacare. The recommendation is to do a phased in process, ending with a fully comprehensive formulary, to be in place no later than January 1, 2027. By January 1, 2022, more than half of drugs in most formularies would be covered, so while this would be a slower moving process, it would give the universal coverage. They also recommend capping any co-pays at $2 per prescription and a limit of $100 per month. That could make a huge difference in the lives of so many.

The striking thing about this report to me is how it affirms so many things that the NDP has been saying for years about the value and importance of having such a pharmacare program, things that other parties, the Liberals included, have shot down and denied. Even just as recently as this February Finance Minister Bill Morneau shot this very idea down, saying that any proposal needed to be “fiscally responsible” and that “we need a strategy to deal with the fact not everyone has access, and we need to do it in a way that’s responsible, that deals with the gaps, but doesn’t throw out the system that we currently have.” That last part is extremely instructive here, because what Dr. Hoskins seems to be proposing here is doing just that; throwing out the current system and basically saying that it’s insufficient.

We’ll see what the Liberals decide to do with these recommendations and in my opinion, that decision could make all the difference for the Fall election. The New Democrats have tried to stake out this territory on pharmacare all for themselves, clearly under the assumption that the Liberals would take a “fill the gaps” approach that wouldn’t be anywhere near as comprehensive as what is being proposed today. This policy ground was the last big place they had to stand on their own and be able to differentiate themselves, so if the Liberals actually accept these recommendations fully, the NDP would be squeezed to the point of potentially being pushed off the political map. The only difference that I can see between this recommendation and the NDP pharmacare proposal is timelines and how quickly this would be done. That’s not enough of a difference to stand on in a campaign and to maintain that ground.

For the Liberals though, this report now gives them a serious quandary. Minister Morneau was very clear on his opposition to what has now been recommended and I doubt that he was alone in the cabinet and caucus. Also the Liberals have gone a long way to run down the NDP proposal and the very idea of a national, universal, single-payer pharmacare system. To now turn around and run on it would lead to legitimate questions about their sincerity or if they have the political will to follow through on such a promise. They made many big promises in the last campaign that never came to pass, so many voters would be looking at such a promise as this through that lens, not just at the policy itself. Long story short, will Canadians trust the Liberals to actually do this? That is a question that right exists due to the Liberals track record.

How the Liberals respond to these recommendations will say a lot about not just how they feel about their current chances in the Fall, but how they also feel about where their true challenges will come. If they decide to walk away from these recommendations and not enact them, you can say that they feel very confident about where they are. If they accept them, you can say that they are worried about the Fall and feel they can eat more and more of the NDP’s lunch, a Canadian political tradition as long as any other. Today represent an interesting turn in events, one that will go a long way to saying what the result in October will look like.

“Whatever”

Across Canada many people and groups have been concerned about the rise of Conservative parties in certain parts of the country. A lot of that concern is well founded, as many of these conservative parties have promised to roll back and eliminate a lot of progressive policy that’s helped to advance these provinces and our country as a whole. One such group that has been rightfully concerned has been the LGBT community, and this is especially true in Alberta.

In Alberta we just saw the election of the Kenney Conservatives, and among the very first things that they have moved to do is attack Gay/Straight Alliances (GSAs) in Alberta schools. They have already moved a bill to do this; Bill 8 will gut protections for GSAs in Alberta schools, and allow schools to notify parents, without a students’ consent, that their child has joined a GSA. Needless to say, these changes go completely against the whole spirit of these clubs and risks outing kids against their will.

So during the provincial election this year, this topic was a big part of the debate and a big part of peoples concerns. Despite that, the Kenney Conservatives tried to downplay that and also tried to downplay Kenney’s own history of trying to deny LGBT people basic rights. These are all things that don’t fit in the consensus of what our country is today, yet they are continuing to push for this. That has led to student walkouts right after the election of the Kenney Conservatives, in support of maintaining GSA’s as they were.

But through it all, this government has ignored those pleas and have pushed forward. That all led to an awful moment the other day during a press conference that Alberta Education Minister Adriana Lagrange was giving. She was asked about this topic and here is the response that she gave:

“Whatever”? Seriously, that’s what spewed out of her mouth? She couldn’t even bare to give these youth the dignity of saying the word? What in the Hell is wrong with saying the word Minister? Geeze!!! And they wonder why people are upset and don’t trust them when it comes to this. Of course, people have not responded well to this at all:

I would say that this minister of… ummm… whatever owes some huge apologies but given the way that this group rolls, I doubt that’s coming. Needless to say though, there is a huge problem here when a Minister of Education refers to the students that she is responsible for as “whatever”. It shows that you care less about those students, or not at all, and that’s just cold and callous on a level all of its own. What parents or family member would ever accept a government minister viewing their loved one in such a way?

None, but given Jason Kenney’s track record and some of the MLA’s he’s attracted to his cause, this doesn’t come as a surprise at all. I’d hope that conservative people who are equally upset by this abhorrent behaviour will call this out and demand better. I wouldn’t expect it from Andrew Scheer, as he won’t even march in a pride parade in an election year and literally “walk the walk” when it comes to supporting the LGBT community. But I know there are many good conservatives who saw that video and were just as upset as so many other Canadians. I hold out hope that they will step up and demand better from their leaders.

In teacher’s college, one of the concepts that I was taught was the idea of “in loco parentis”, which is Latin for “in the place of a parent.” As teachers, we’re taught that we must act in the best interests of our students, just as a parent would for their own children. It’s a concept that helps guide not just the way a teacher conducts themselves in the classroom, but how they approach the profession in general. I believe it is a belief in that concept and dedication to their students that pushes teachers to work long hours, on their own time and spend their own money to ensure that their students get the best that they can give them. We can all point to teachers in our lives who have shown us that same dedication. This is a concept that I would hope that a Minister of Education would be familiar with, someone who is in charge of leading a provinces education system. Yet with these words today, it’s pretty clear that Minister Lagrange doesn’t understand that. I doubt that she would stand for it if anyone referred to her kids as “whatever”, yet she did that to thousands of kids she is responsible for in Alberta and signaled to thousands more across the country how she and her government feel about them. How can she possibly lead this department with any authority, moral or otherwise, after uttering what she did? That’s a question I think that many people are asking themselves today, and it’s one that this minister should be asking herself as well.

A Positive Update from the Senate

With only two weeks left in the scheduled sitting of the House of Commons, there are many pieces of proposed legislation that are still in limbo for many reasons. For one piece in particular, Bill C-262, it has been held up in the Senate by Conservatives who have wanted to try to kill it by running out the clock. As I pointed out just last week, things were looking very bleak as Conservative Senators were using procedural rules and crap games to try to stifle the will of the elected chamber. It was undemocratic behaviour at it’s worst. Well today we got some good news on this front, news that we very welcomed in this corner of the internet:

Folks, after years of work and two Parliaments, Bill C-262 has reached what amounts to the final steps of becoming law. The Senate Aboriginal Peoples committee reported the bill back to the Senate this morning, intact and ready to face Third Reading. Committee Chair Lillian Dyck did a great job running her meeting today and deserves huge kudos for ensuring that a small minority of Conservatives failed in their attempt to deny democracy.

But there is a bit more to this story today, something that I believe needs to be told here. I was watching the blow by blow in the committee over Twitter, and I was quite stunned by some of what I was hearing was taking place in that Senate committee room. I was so stunned by it I had to go and look at the video, seeing it with my own two eyes. From that, I clipped a small piece of that meeting, but enough to give you a full taste of how the “honourable” Conservatives were conducting themselves today in their attempts to kill this bill:

After having watched that, I don’t think that the quotes around honourable are sarcastic enough to convey how less than honourable that who display was. The rest of the meeting played out in a very similar way, with members of the Conservatives trying to yell down the majority on the committee, saying without a hint of irony that they were stiffing free speech. Yes, the same people who were trying to drown the will of the elected politicians, which is the will of the people, were complaining that someone was trying to shut them down. This display was amazingly hypocritical and tacky, but completely what I’ve come to expect from some of those Conservative members.

Personally, I enjoyed watching Senator Murray Sinclair standing firm in the committee, not ceding an inch of ground to the Conservatives who have spent the last months trying to kill the bill that he is sponsoring in the Red Chamber. When Conservative Senator Dennis Patterson asked that Sinclair withdraw his comment about him trying to run out the clock, when that is exactly what he was doing, Sinclair’s reaction was priceless and what a true leader of the people looks like. These Independent Senators used the rules of the Senate and got this bill out of committee, completely within the word and spirit of the rules, while the Conservatives tried to pervert them.

I don’t expect the Conservatives to back down on this now, as they seem to find inexhaustible energy and indignation when it comes to fighting Indigenous rights. The display that we saw in the committee today was very similar to the scenes we saw twenty years ago when Reform Party MPs acted the same way trying to stop the Nisga’a Treaty. I would like to have thought the ugliness that we saw back then would never rear their ugly heads again in our Parliament, but the Conservative members of that committee delivered that in spades today.

Today was a good day for democracy, despite the fact that it took all this time to finally get to this point. Now that this bill is going back to committee, my genuine hope is that the remaining Senators ensure that third reading finished quickly and send this bill to the Governor General to get Royal Assent. I hope that the remaining Senators in the Red Chamber take their duty seriously and ensure that this extremely important piece of legislation finishes the final steps of this long journey, ensuring that it becomes law.

Sticking into the Federal Election

Way back in April, which seems like ages ago right now, the Ford Conservatives brought forward their controversial budget. That budget included many controversial items, but there was one that not only seemed very out of bounds but has also raised the ire of many in Ford’s own usual supports. That item was forcing anti-Carbon pricing stickers onto gas pumps across Ontario. Well today we got an interesting update on that front, one that while not shocking is shocking in its gall:

Yes folks the Ford Conservatives, the supposed defenders of everything “Free Speech” and individual liberty, are going to be forcing every gas station in Ontario to take their stickers by August 30th. That effective date is not a mistake or an accident by the way; that’s just a couple of weeks before the start of the Federal election, one that Mr. Ford himself said that he was going to stay the heck out of. Hmmm, maybe it’s just me but that’s not staying out of it at all.

And everyone let’s be clear, there is nothing innocent about what the Ford Conservatives are doing here. They are going to fine any gas station that dares to ignore them $10,000 per day. Think about that amount folks and compare it to these other fines that the Province of Ontario charges for various offences:

  • Sell cannabis to person who appears to be under 25 years – $400
  • Refuse to surrender suspended driver’s licence – $25.00
  • Employer failing to pay wages on regular pay day – $295
  • Discharge of sewage from pleasure boat – $300
  • Hunt specially protected wildlife – $200
  • Unlawfully discharge firearm from a vehicle – $500
  • Drive motor vehicle, no permit – $85.00
  • Driving motor vehicle with open  container of liquor – $175

Look at that list and think of the comparison here to the fines that Ford wants to charge gas station owners every single day they refuse to obey him. That is absolutely insane and complete overkill on the behalf of the Ford Conservatives, especially over bloody stickers on a gas pump. Therefore, it’s very understandable that the Ontario Chamber of Commerce is so opposed, saying its members are concerned about the “political nature” of the stickers. They also see this requirement as a violation of their rights and freedoms, and that’s because it is.

Before todays news about the timing, you could have made an argument about the right of the government to communicate a message, despite the fact that the message the Ford Conservatives want to put out there is false because it is completely one-sided and without context. But if we were to accept that rationale, why the rush to get these things onto pumps across Ontario by the end of the Summer? If there were no other reasons for this, they wouldn’t need to rush, but if those stickers didn’t go onto pumps until November, well they would miss the chance to proselytize during the Federal election. You know, the one that Ford has said he was going to stay out of. Ha!

If I were a member of the Scheer Conservative caucus or one of their candidates in Ontario or anywhere else for that matter, I would be mad at this move in Ontario. By doing this, not only is it guaranteeing that Doug Ford is going to be wedged into everything without any effort from the Liberals, NDP or anyone else. It’s going to remind voters of everything that the Blue Team wants voters to forget. Also though, it forces Andrew Scheer into a difficult position. Does he condemn Ford for this overreach to appease the member of groups like the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, a group that has many Conservative members and supporters in it’s ranks. Or does he back Doug, not condemn this and confirm the narrative that exists out there about him being subservient to Conservative Premiers like Ford, all while refusing to stand up for Free Speech, something that he’s always claimed himself to be a champion of. That’s surely being caught between a rock and a hard place, a place that could have totally been avoided if Ford had just backed down.

And all of this over a piece of legislation that stands a good chance of getting struck down by the courts when it gets there. Is the pain and trouble that comes from this move really worth the negligible benefit they might get if people buy the torqued message that Ford is trying to sell? I would argue it’s not, but if anything, this kind of overreach is true to form for this side of the political spectrum. Despite closing down Queen’s Park for five months, it looks like we’re going to see and hear a lot of Doug Ford because despite his promise to stay out of this campaign, it looks like he’ll be unable to help himself.