Filling the glass?


In Negotiating gaps: adult educators between policy and practices, Tannis Atkinson says,
Around the world, adult educators need to find creative new ways to highlight global inequities in ‘economies of literacy’ (Blommaert, 2008) and to unsettle long-standing patterns of dominance and exclusion. We can start by asking about the origin of our belief that literacy will lead to social inclusion, and that government policies will address inequities. We can also ask how we ourselves benefit from social relations that privilege specific culture- and class-specific literacy practices. But perhaps we also need to ask how we can work towards a world in which it is much more common to ask whose literacies are de-valued, and why.
In Canada, we are looking for partners that will support us in this work. I posted about the Declaration and questions for political parties in September.This network is asking the political parties running in the federal election how they see government policies addressing inequal access to education and their vision of how adult education promotes social inclusion.

The literacy network has received two replies so far.

The first one arrived on September 24 and was from the NDP. They responded in broad terms about the importance of literacy and how they would ensure that money committed to literacy would actually be spent on literacy - no more lapsed funds.
Literacy and basic skills are central to the enjoyment of health, job opportunities and community participation. ...
An NDP government will make adult literacy and skills development a priority, ensuring that the funds devoted to these important programs get spent and working with stakeholders to ensure that Canadians have access the to the skills training and literacy programs they need. ...

Under the guise of directing money to where it was needed most, the Conservatives cut funding for literacy organizations. They argued that resources were being wasted on administration and research, but the reality is that the Conservatives simply allowed a large portion of literacy funding to lapse instead of redirecting it towards new projects.
On the questions of federal leadership and supporting research and professional development, the NDP pledged to return to a model of community development and asset building.They showed that they were familiar with the Conservative arguments for cutting funds and pledged to reverse the cuts.
The NDP recognizes that effective literacy programs require a wide range of activities, including research, information sharing, innovating, and scaling up best practices. We also recognize the reality that organizations have overhead costs, and that without funding for administration many essential tasks can simply not be done. That’s why an NDP government will reverse the Conservatives short-sighted approach to funding and will work with the sector to ensure that core funding is available for the full range of programs necessary. 
On September 30 the Liberals replied. They see literacy as a route to jobs and global competitiveness. They do not mention the role of literacy in community and social participation.
It is critical that Canadians have the opportunity to improve their skills and work credentials, to help meet the needs of a modern economy and to ensure that Canadians have good-paying, middle class jobs.

Lifelong learning and literacy must become a Canada-wide priority to both enhance our standard of living and economic competitiveness in the years ahead because these skills are vital to ensuring employability and success in today’s society.
Today, there are too many hard-working Canadians who are looking to upgrade their skills and find better jobs, but do not have access to the training that they require. A Liberal government will make it easier for adults to get the additional skills they need to acquire and retain good jobs throughout their working lives.
They speak about restoring and increasing funding to the Labour Market Agreements that was cut when the Conservative government implemented the Canada Jobs Grant program.
A $200 million annual increase in funding to be delivered by the provinces and territories and focused on training for workers who are not currently eligible for federal training investment. This will undo Stephen Harper’s cuts in 2014 to the Labour Market Agreements, which help Canadians outside the labour market get the basic literacy and numeracy skills they need to find a decent job.
All the other funding they mention is also tied to employment outcomes.

It is difficult for this party to speak about federal leadership and supporting research as they are the party that closed the National Literacy Secretariat and it seems their thinking hasn't changed since the last time they were in power. They even mention their old cost-cutting justification - accountability - in their response.

Liberals understand the fundamental role that the not-for-profit sector plays in both policy development and program delivery for Canadians. The Liberal Party of Canada is committed to renewing the federal government’s partnership with civil society.

A Liberal government will work in collaboration with non-governmental organizations, including adult education providers and researchers, to explore more effective ways to provide funding for the important work you do. Our party understands that we must improve funding delivery mechanisms to support the not-for-profit sector to achieve accountability, while at the same time providing adequate, predictable, and stable funding.

The federal Liberals and the Ontario Liberals seem to be on the same page when it comes to literacy - that publicly-funded literacy is for those who are focused on employment outcomes and that while the sector is welcome to pursue research and professional development, we are to do that on our own dime.

The parties weren't asked about exclusion of certain literacies from the dominant discourse but they were asked about the linguistic rights of francophones.

The NDP responded with a commitment to linguistic rights and talking about the abolition of the Court Challenges Program.
The NDP is fully committed to complying with the Constitution and to protecting the linguistic rights of Canadians. For Canadians to be able to exercise those rights, the federal government needs to ensure that the proper resources are there. The NDP has called on the government to increase its support for the Roadmap for Canada’s Official Languages which includes funds for access to education in the minority language.

The NDP was strongly opposed to the abolition of the Court Challenge Program. This program provided essential resources to ensure the protection and enhancement of minority language rights. We also voiced our concerns with the Languages Rights Support Program, as it seems to respond only in part to communities’ needs.
The Liberals made a similar commitment to linguistic rights and talked about cuts to the CBC.
Canada was built on the idea that Francophones should be able to feel at home in this country, regardless of the province in which they live. It is largely due to our duality that we have become a society in which people from diverse cultures, origins, and religions can come, live, and feel at home. ...

Further, a Liberal government will look for opportunities to promote French language and culture, both in Qu├ębec and also for Francophones and francophone communities across the country. CBC/Radio-Canada is also a vital national institution that brings Canadians together, promotes and defends our two official languages, and supports our shared culture. Our public broadcaster reflects minority communities and is a vital voice throughout the country. 
They were also asked about using a literacy lens for cross-sectoral policy-making.

The NDP focused their response on working with Indigenous peoples.
Certain populations struggle more with literacy and basic skills than others. Literacy levels and training are certainly of great concern among Indigenous peoples, for instance. That’s why an NDP government supports policies to increase literacy and basic skills among Indigenous peoples, including support for education and ASETS. We will also ensure that literacy and essential skills are considered in other sectors as required.
The Liberals spoke about working across juridictions rather than across sectors and included Indigenous governments as one of those jurisdictions.
A Liberal government will work in partnership with provincial, territorial, municipal and Indigenous governments to integrate literacy and essential skills development into sectoral policies, where relevant.
So what is it to be literacy people? How should we try to fill our glass on election day?

The Half Full Glass

It looks as though there is something optimistic in the air these days.

I had lunch with some literacy friends and in the midst of talking about the number of literacy program closures and lapsed funds we suddenly started to see opportunities again. We started to talk about how the election might bring us new federal allies and that we need to dust off the work we were doing to build a pan-Canadian network for literacy workers and learners and for literacy research in practice (see below).

The Canadian Union for Public Employees (CUPE) launched their new book Transformations: Literacy and the Labour Movement and the website Learning in Solidarity (learninginsolidarity.ca) this week. The book looks at the past, present and future of how the labour movement and the literacy movement work together. I, sadly, could not attend the launch but I have heard that the conversation quickly turned to the future and how labour can speak to power (policymakers) about the importance of literacy work in building equity in all facets of life, not just as a tool to ensure labour market participation.

Some people have written a Declaration that "calls on parties to take a stand on seven proposals and to reveal their plans for putting adult education back on track in Canada." I don't know if they were thinking about the Declaration of Persepolis but I like to think that they were because that was written at another optimistic time.

And Suzanne Smythe, one of the Declaration signatories, has written a policy note for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives about what happened when the federal government dismantled any semblance of a pan-Canadian literacy network and shifted funding into private hands through the Canada Jobs Grant.


It is looking good out there. Our people are getting their mojo back. The ice is cracking. We are hoping for an early spring. We are getting ready to seize the moment.

Here are some of those earlier works on pan-Canadian networks:

Building a Pan-Canadian Strategy on Literacy and Essential Skills: Recommendations for the Federal Government (2002)

A Framework to Encourage and Support Practitioner Involvement in Adult Literacy Research in Practice in Canada (1999)

Developing a Framework for Research in Practice in Adult Literacy (2005)

Focused on Practice: A Framework for Adult Literacy Research in Canada (2006)

Hoist by their own petard?

Here is some financial literacy from Unifor for the long, hot election campaign.



You you know that old literacy equals GDP trope that has become the bane of our existence? Perhaps it is true after all and the Harper Government™ financial management woes are a result of lapsing so much of our literacy funding - bwahahahaha!

The PDF of the report is here: http://www.unifor.org/sites/default/files/documents/document/909-harper_economic_critique_eng_0.pdf

Conviviality in the Face of Zombies




from here


The Toronto Star has published an article about Canada's imaginary skills gap in May and it just came to my attention today - finger on the pulse as usual :)

The article is by Sachin Maharaj who is a graduate student at OISE (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education).
If we really had a large skills gap, wages in STEM fields would be very high and unemployment would be very low relative to non-STEM fields. But there is almost no evidence of this. In fact, the median salary of science and technology grads is actually lower than those in non-STEM fields, and the unemployment rate in STEM and non-STEM fields is virtually identical. The report therefore concludes that contrary to popular opinion, “Canada appears to have a well-functioning labour market, where individuals are choosing fields of study and occupations based on factors such as market signals and personal preferences.”

That so many people continue to believe in existence of a skills gap, despite the facts, is why Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has dubbed it a “Zombie Idea,” an idea that should be killed by evidence, but refuses to die. Krugman pins the blame on the fact that influential people and the media have kept repeating the skills gap narrative for years now, to the point where it has just become accepted wisdom. He thinks part of the reason for this is to divert attention away from widening income equality and so that workers can be blamed for their own struggles. But while I doubt that is a major motivation among government and business leaders here in Canada, that does not make the skills gap story any more real. So perhaps it is time to put this myth to rest and focus our efforts on more pressing issues.

We talked about this Zombie idea in our post about the Temporary Foreign Worker program and you can find links to more articles about the skills gap myth there.

The trope of blaming workers for their own struggles - especially when it comes to people who are viewed as needing to upgrade their literacy skills - is not new of course.
... the influential Jump Start report of 1989 stated, "There is no way in which the United States can remain competitive in a global economy, maintain its standard of living, and shoulder the burden of the retirement of the baby boom generation unless we mount a forceful national effort to help adults upgrade their basic skills in the very near future (p.iii)."

by Tom Sticht

The IALS discourse also acts as an important disciplinary mechanism of neoliberalism. Its framing of literacy is used to convince people who live in the Global North that economic competition is inevitable, that each of us is responsible for our nation’s GDP, and that some people in our midst—usually racialized people who are not fluent in an official language—are a drain on our individual and national prosperity. It is used to convince ‘good citizens’ to fear unproductive people who are hampering the economy, and to blame themselves rather than the structures of capitalism if they become ‘unproductive’ or unemployed. Finally, literacy as it has been constructed in IALS has been used as justification for undermining the social safety net: one of the most recent reports based on IALS data (Coulombe et al, 2005) concludes that investments in ‘human capital accumulation’ are more beneficial to national economies than policies that support social infrastructure.


As Tannis says:
In Canada, government departments which support adult literacy insist that programs focus on a narrow range of literacy outcomes tied to a framework of Essential Skills that articulates key competencies identified by the OECD through PISA and IALS. Increasing numbers of practitioners experience a profound disconnect between the real needs of learners in their classes and the demands placed on them by state funders. In addition, they now feel pressured to spend more time on paperwork than on working with the adults who the programs exist to teach.

Practitioners often respond to this predicament with dismay, puzzlement and frustration. They bemoan the fact that policies and funding seem driven by accountability rather than attempts to meet the needs of people who are marginalized because they lack basic education. Practitioners feel that the government policies are irrational, and most do not believe it is possible to effect change. While some may be aware that these pressures result from the past decade of neoliberal economic policies, the field as a whole has been unable to respond effectively to the poisoned environment in which they now work. 
I met up with some literacy workers at a work event the other day and we were talking about how we might have to start again - unfunded in a basement library as they did in Parkdale, Toronto many years ago.

Later that week, I went to a poetry reading where one of the founders of that program was reading and another was attending. We talked about the program briefly and Arthur Bull started talking about the Learning Circles Project and how what we learned there informs his work now. The other founder, Michelle Kuhlmann, was a researcher on the Powerful Listening Project and her work there and in a community based literacy program keeps our field connected to the needs of learners.

We cannot return to the old days and we cannot shake the zombie ideas. So what can we do? How can we keep community development and asset-building approaches alive in our work? Here are some ideas from those founders:

We called our time together deep listening. We needed this experience and we were very open about how we entered this time with each other, looking for what would emerge each time, and cherishing the time together. This is a very personal reaction to a research project, but I was also aware how it related to the field we work in everyday. There was this lingering feeling about how unusual our research situation was compared to the experience of keeping up with our daily life in literacy. When feelings of discomfort and difference arise in our work we are on the spot and have to choose the best response for the moment but can be left with disturbing feeling and questions that are not resolved even for years. These feelings and experiences surfaced and lived in our storytelling. I don’t mean that we “used” the stories as much as we experienced them together.
by Michelle Kuhlmann, Powerful Listening

there is a hard-to-define element that seems to be a prerequisite for any successful learning circle. This is best described by the word conviviality; that is, the enjoyment people take in each other’s company. Again and again, when asked why they come to a group, people expressed the idea that they like spending time with the other people in the group. All of the above elements - safe place, peer learning, self-determination, group thinking - contribute to this atmosphere of enjoyment. It is also something that has a life of its own, that the group itself can create and nurture. Of course this is not something that can be made into a rule, or produced on demand. Nevertheless, it should never be far from our minds as we think about learning circles.

How are these elements of the group dynamic created?  There are undoubtedly many factors, but the overriding one seems to be the role of the facilitator. Clearly this is different from the traditional role of the teacher or instructor. It involves a number of different facets. ...

Another feature of facilitation that we noticed in a number of the cases is that the facilitator was thoughtful about being, and acting like, an equal with the participants in the group. The leadership role of the facilitator seemed to be to all about leading the group to where they take over.

At the same time, we observed that the facilitator’s role in fact shifts within the group, and sometimes even during a single session. The facilitator is almost always the person who has the responsibility for the overall life of the group. As such, he or she is always paying attention to what is happening in the group, and adjusting his or her role accordingly. This role might shift from time-keeper, to storyteller, to peacemaker to teacher, to traditional facilitator. This attention and adaptability seems to be at the heart of what makes a good facilitator in a learning circle.



Balancing Acts


We know that our conditions of life are deteriorating. ... Interesting jobs are sliced up, through digital Taylorism, into portions of meaningless drudgery. The natural world, whose wonders enhance our lives, and upon which our survival depends, is being rubbed out with horrible speed. Those to whom we look for guardianship, in government and among the economic elite, do not arrest this decline, they accelerate it.

The political system that delivers these outcomes is sustained by aspiration: the faith that if we try hard enough we could join the elite, even as living standards decline and social immobility becomes set almost in stone. But to what are we aspiring? A life that is better than our own, or worse?

For some reason this article made me think of all I have been reading about the precariat lately.
Guy Standing is a scholar at Soas, who was once a high-up at the UN's International Labour Organisation. In his vocabulary, to be at the sharp end of modern capitalism is to be a member of the precariat: a split-off from the shrinking working class, and one which is growing in size, though not yet in influence.
His 2011 book The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class set out its story: the term was originally used in 1980s France to denote temporary and seasonal workers, but now, with labour insecurity a feature of most western economies, it is the perfect word for a great mass of people, "flanked by an army of unemployed and a detached group of socially ill misfits", who enjoy almost none of the benefits won by organised labour during the 20th century. In Standing's view, they increasingly resemble denizens rather than citizens: people with restricted rights, largely living towards the bottom of a "tiered membership" model of society, in which a plutocratic elite takes the single biggest share, while other classes – the salariat, free-ranging "proficians", and what remains of the old working class – divide up most of what remains.
A Precariat Charter: From Denizens to Citizens – review
by John Harris, The Guardian, April 9, 2010

This is not a new phenomenon of course
What these harsh economic conditions have produced in Canada, as they have in other capitalist nations like the U.S., is a split in the working class between a relatively better-paid, more secure stratum (but one that is not immune to the effects of recession, as the present period is demonstrating), and a large "surplus population" of unemployed and underemployed workers, forced either to fill low-wage Jobs or to remain idle, waiting to be called up during a period of exceptional economic expansion. ... While in the Marxist sense all productive workers face exploitation, members of the surplus population face an extra measure of it in that they receive a significantly smaller portion of the product of their labor than other workers-- often below the amount required for normal standards of subsistence. They are what has been termed "superexploited".

but we are all surplus labour now.

Here is Andrew Cash on the issue of the precariat in my neighbourhood:


In 2013 Cash put forward a private member's bill C-542, the Urban Workers Strategy Act, designed to grant urban workers greater access to social support mechanisms and basic labour standards. (Read the Rabble article by Ella Bedar - an intern! - about the Bill here.)

According to Cash, you are an urban worker if your source of income is vulnerable or precarious because you work without benefits, workplace pensions or job security in the following circumstances:
(a) as an employee on a short-term contractual basis, whether continuously or intermittently;
(b) as a self-employed individual;
(c) as an employee on a part-time basis; or
(d) as an intern.
The McMaster University study, It’s More than Poverty, was prepared by the Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario (PEPSO) research group, a joint university-community initiative.

The United Way follow up to the 2013 study, The Precarity Penalty, can be found here and an overview can be found here.
Lewchuk's study shows that nearly 44 per cent of working adults face some level of precarity, a fact that Statistics Canada labour force data doesn't always show. While roughly half of this group work in temporary or contract employment, the other half work jobs that might on the surface appear stable, but in reality contain many of the characteristics of precarious labour, such as irregular and inconsistent scheduling and a lack of any benefits beyond basic wages.
by Ella Bedar, Rabble, May 22, 2015
The longer-term trend points to more insecure employment, said Prof. Lewchuk. “Each time there’s a recovery, the level of security is a little bit lower than the previous boom. I think this is because the competitive pressures are greater – firms are looking to cut costs … technology has changed, and there’s an infrastructure where they can go to temp agencies, and get not just unskilled workers, but they can get CEOs now.”
by Tavia Grant, The Globe and Mail, May 21, 2015

This is not a Canadian phenomenon. In May of this year the International Labour Organization published The World Employment and Social Outlook: The changing nature of jobs.


What was once viewed as a passing crisis now seems to be the new normal, producing deep psychological unease within the workforce and growing inequality between those with stable incomes and those without.

Global financial officials are worried to the point they've again started using the term "hysteresis," borrowed from physics, to warn that long-established unemployment is becoming "structural" and therefore harder to correct, as the jobless lose skills and companies grow addicted to cheaper, temporary labour.

The Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, often called the developed world's think tank, describes this ugly phenomenon as the rise of the precariat — a play on the working-class proletariat and meaning those trapped in precarious lives with neither material nor psychological welfare.

by Brian Stewart, CBC News, June 01, 2015

So what does this have to do with literacy work, literacy workers and adult education policy?

Many literacy workers and adult educators have been members of the precariat for as long as we can remember. A small group of us actually approached a public sector union in the late 1990s to see about how we could work together for "greater access to social support mechanisms and basic labour standards" but the union was not ready work with us. Maybe they will get ready now.

As we have mentioned a few times on this blog, on this contested ground that is adult education, the battle for a system that is accountable to learners has been lost. The primary "customers" for adult education and training are employers. Governments at all levels and in all jurisdictions try to design training that meets the needs of employers and programs are assessed by their ability to meet labour market outcomes instead of educational ones. However, the labour market outcomes expressed by these bureaucrats and policy makers - a permanent, stable, well-paying job - are not possible for most workers and are at odds with the needs of employers "addicted to cheaper, temporary labour."

And this is where we fit in.
As anyone who’s watched a TED talk, read a David Brooks column, or attended an Aspen Ideas Festival can tell you, there’s hardly a single issue currently vexing Americans that the 1 percent doesn’t think can be solved with more “education.” Urban poverty? Education! Stagnant wages? Education! Police brutality? Education! ... If you can think of a problem that might be at least mitigated by redistribution, you can bet that there’s some sage of the plutocracy out there insisting that we focus on education instead.

So how are we going to fulfill our mandate?
In response, the Westminster [British government] consensus insists that [the precariat] should be subject to regimes that are not just cruel, but dysfunctional. In other words, it doesn't actually matter if so-called welfare-to-work programmes actually help people, or just screw them up: the point is that they visibly punish them in pursuit of a political dividend. In that sense, the precariat is not only at the cutting edge of the economy, but at the receiving end of a postmodern politics that values the manipulation of appearances much more highly than reality. 
A Precariat Charter: From Denizens to Citizens – review
by John Harris, The Guardian, April 9, 2010

Are we going to continue to design "boutique" programs that profess to prepare workers to be "nimble" and "flexible" enough to meet the mercurial needs of capricious employers? Or will we be adherents of the critical perspective
while liberals see literacy education as a technical process of compensating for cognitive skill deficiencies among the poor (to permit them to better adjust to the needs of the economy), adherents of the critical perspective view such efforts both as ineffective - because they do not deal with the root cause of poverty - and as oppressive - because they better accommodate the poor to the structures which exploit them. For their part, they would make adult basic and literacy education a vehicle for the awakening of critical social consciousness among members of subordinate social classes and a means of support for collective efforts to radically transform the class system.

Colouring inside the lines

After slashing funding to literacy organizations and chastising the field for not being prepared for the cuts and for way it has frittered away taxpayer dollars on "countless" research papers, the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES) has put out a Call for Concepts for Innovative Training models. As Brigid Hayes points out, it is the first call in two years.

In her most recent post Brigid documents how difficult it is to assess proposals for innovation when the field has very little information about what projects have been funded and the outcomes of those projects. OLES has not done a very good job of posting details and outcomes of the projects they fund.

In any case, as the first of the "innovative" training models involves replicating proven programs in a new place or for new people and the second is about integrating Literacy and Essential Skills (LES) into existing programs, it is only the third option that would allow for any innovation at all and as that model is tied to labour market outcomes rather than educational ones, it is a fairly boxed-in innovation.
Concept Papers must fall under one of the following Innovative Training Models:
  • Expansion of a proven LES model: this would include models that have been successfully applied within Canada or outside of Canada that could be replicated in a different region or with a different target audience and/or increased in scale;
  • Integration of LES into other programs: application of LES into an existing employment and/or training program; or
  • New LES model: development and testing of new approaches with the potential to improve labour market outcomes for Canadians.
Always with the labour market outcomes. Long gone is the idea that literacy is about culture, self-directed learning and community development.

I don't have much more to say. The main point of this post is to tell you to follow Brigid on this issue just in case you missed her blog.

Your City, My City

I was hesitant to read the Maclean's article, Welcome to Winnipeg: Where Canada’s racism problem is at its worst because the headline seemed like click bait to me and I am not sure if Maclean's is the best source for lessons on racism - here and here. (Full disclosure: my father was an editor at Maclean's from 1984 until 1996.)

Also - I wondered by what measure is Winnipeg the MOST racist city (it seems tweets is one and overhearing racist comments is another) and how is labelling it such helpful to what we need to be doing about racism in ALL Canadian cities ... and towns and villages.

That said, the article focuses on the unspeakable violence and discrimination faced by Aboriginal people and is a harrowing read.

After the article appeared, the mayor of Winnipeg called together some civic leaders and held a press conference.
When I watched this video, I couldn't help thinking about my own city and what might have happened if Toronto had been labelled the most racist city - the article does say that Ontario is second only to Manitoba in hate crimes.

The article says that the people of Winnipeg elected a mayor who is Metis without knowing it.
In the days after the election, Bowman was anointed the city’s first Metis mayor by local media, although his heritage came as a surprise to most Winnipeggers.
Well, we all know now.

The article says he is reluctant to address racism in his city
[Winnipeg Mayor Brian] Bowman, in an interview with Maclean’s shortly after his swearing-in, took pains to downplay talk of a racial divide in the city: “Racism affects many communities around the country,” he said. “I don’t like the tag—‘divided.’ It predisposes that everyone in different groups thinks a certain way. That’s just not the case.”
though this anecdote and quote appear later
Just before his official swearing-in, on Nov. 4, Bowman made a last-minute addition to his speech. He chose to open by acknowledging that council had gathered “on Treaty 1 land, and in the traditional territory of the Metis Nation,” a simple, but deeply moving nod. ...
“I see a real opportunity right now—with the level of engagement over these very serious and difficult issues—to make a difference,” Bowman told Maclean’s. “If my own family’s heritage can assist in building bridges in various communities in Winnipeg, then that’s an opportunity I fully intend on leveraging. I want to do everything I can.”
 In the press conference he speaks like the mayor of the second quote. I guess time will tell.

Over here in Toronto, we have replaced a mayor who was openly racist with one who cannot acknowledge white privilege. Or male privilege - here and here. Our openly racist former mayor continues as a city councillor.

Another way that Winnipeg is different from Toronto is that they have appointed a police chief who is Jamaican Canadian. He is the first black police chief in Canada. That in itself does not mean that Winnipeg policing is less racist than here of course,
Tyler Henderson, a 28-year-old Ojibway nursing student at the University of Manitoba, says he feels racism every time he walks out his front door. Henderson says Winnipeg police stopped him 15 times last year. “You fit the description,” police tell him when he asks what he did wrong. Once, police claimed he’d pulled to a stop a few inches beyond the stop line. “It makes me mad,” he says. “But there’s nothing I can do.” Some young indigenous men are stopped twice per month in the inner city, according to University of Manitoba criminologist Elizabeth Comack.
but Chief Clunis, according to the article, is encouraging Winnipeg address the issue of racism
...on Dec. 5, the city’s police chief, Devon Clunis, delivered more surprising remarks, calling on Winnipeggers to engage in a “difficult” conversation on the city’s ethnic divide. He asked residents to recognize white privilege, suggesting their “affluence” resulted from historic inequity. “Some people simply feel indigenous people choose to be a drunk on Main Street or they choose to be involved in the sex trade. No. We need to have those specific conversations—and try to understand why those individuals are living in those conditions.”


In Toronto, we have a police chief who had to be brought kicking and screaming to suspending the hated and hateful police carding procedures.

I guess we all need to have some of those "difficult" conversations - and then do something.


Mind the Gap

The Fraser Institute is at it again. In their mission to
measure, study, and communicate the impact of competitive markets and government interventions on the welfare of individuals
they have released a study Comparing Government and Private Sector Compensation in British Columbia.

The introduction states:
While British Columbia’s government has returned to an operating surplus, the province still faces fiscal challenges as it continues to borrow to pay for capital expenditures, thus increasing government debt. In fact, a recent study warned that the province’s fiscal position could become unsustainable unless the government restrains spending in the future (Wen, 2014) [This is another Fraser Institute study called Capital Budgeting and Fiscal Sustainability in British Columbia.]

As the BC government struggles with growing debt and looks for ways to restrain spending, now is an opportune time to examine the compensation levels of government employees, particularly in light of ongoing collective bargaining negotiations between the government and its public sector unions.
The report concludes that
The empirical analysis of wage data and a survey of available non-wage benefit data [there is insufficient data to calculate or make a definitive statement about the differences in non-wage benefits between the public and private sectors in British Columbia, the available data suggest that the public sector enjoys more generous non-wage benefits than the private sector. (p. 28)] for British Columbia indicate that government workers in the province enjoy both higher wages and likely higher non-wage benefits than their private sector counterparts. Specifically, British Columbia’s public sector workers (including federal, provincial, and local government workers) enjoy a 6.7 percent wage premium, on average, compared to private sector workers, after adjusting for personal characteristics such as gender, age, marital status, education, tenure, size of establishment, type of job, industry, and occupation. When unionization is included in the analysis, the wage premium for the government sector in British Columbia declines to 3.6 percent.
Could this be an argument for more unionization of private sector workplaces? Considering the Fraser Institute's vision is
a free and prosperous world where individuals benefit from greater choice, competitive markets, and personal responsibility.
probably not. It is more likely that they are recommending that the provincial debt can be retired by cutting the public sector 6.7% "wage premium."

But the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives portrays the situation differently.

Using data and analyses from the CCPA study Narrowing the Gap: The Difference That Public Sector Wages Make, one of the authors, Kate McInturff, in an article titled Who gets paid more? points out that
wages are higher in the public sector precisely for those groups of people who experience the greatest discrimination in the private sector—because the public sector goes further in correcting those discriminatory practices. Salaries are lower in the public sector for the groups least likely to experience discrimination on the basis of race and sex.
She proposes that in order to bring public sector compensation in line with the private sector, public sector employers would need to
  • lower the wages of women, Aboriginal workers, and visible minority workers
  • raise the wages of the highest paid employees
  • shrink or eliminate non-wage compensations for workers who have accepted a public sector wage penalty because the public sector offered benefits such as pensions
  • spend more money on compensation for the workers at the top end of the scale.
    (The highest paid public sector workers see their salaries top out at just under half a million dollars annually while the top private sector workers receive compensation packages worth twenty times that much. The CEO of Rogers Communications makes a base salary of $1.1 million, has a pension worth $1.9 million and receives additional benefits totalling $23.8 million)
  • react to market volatility and economic shocks by laying off workers (oil prices fall, nurses get laid off)
The picture that CCPA paints is one of a public sector that is making moves to increase pay equity and shrink the pay gap.

Most public sector jobs are unionized and wages and benefits are collectively bargained by elected representatives who are accountable to their membership and representatives of elected governments that are accountable to their constituencies. This accountability structure means that the people at the bargaining table must balance budget constraints, long term community and economic health, individual rights, and fair employment standards.

The accountability structure in the private sector is much different and these reports show us that the outcome for workers, especially in non-union workplaces, reflects that difference.